Survivor Hindsight Bias (actually) #5: An Audience With The Queen

I mean there’s no point talking about anything else is there?

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Damn. That picture is so weird to see. I mean, anyone could have seen this coming. A good chunk wanted it to happen, a good chunk were dreading it. Still, as inevitable as it was, the fact that this is an undoctored photo of the show’s only two-time winner having her torch snuffed is so bizarre. It’s like, this doesn’t happen to Sandra!

The fact that after not only 94 days, but 34 episodes, Sandra has officially been voted out, is kind of a landmark moment. Winners can be voted out, and generally are in their second season, but Sandra in her second season just didn’t. Not only did she survive, but she won, and was a badass doing it. She did something a lot of other truly badass winners couldn’t do and won again. Tom Westman couldn’t do it, Tina Wesson fell just short, and hell Tony Vlachos was barely let out of the gate. There have been by my count ten winners that returned to the show, some really illustrious names, and she was the only one that could pull it off.

This episode is in some ways a viking funeral for Sandra. She got some respect from players, the edit, Probst, and even producers as her goodbye at Tribal was edited quite kindly with some special heroic music. In many instances, this is all that happened in this episode. I mean, there’s Tai finding two idols (which basically sums that up), the couple of scenes where we pretend Troy is interesting on New New Mana, and the abysmal Cochran and Debbie exile scene, a scene I could not write about without incoherent hatred. Seriously, it isn’t even good enough to inspire a long rant like the jury removal twist, I just think it’s an abomination in the eyes of God.

This episode is hard to talk about anyways due to a well known “spoiler”  meant to prepare people for next episode and, while not revealing any details… has colored my perception on other players, let’s say. (It’s why I didn’t write on Caleb in the pre-game stuff, because a friend accidentally let slip that he left pre-merge and I didn’t wanna “be right” about that bullshit.) Since there’s been stuff said about characters in future episodes, best to focus on characters that won’t be there, one who is the main story regardless.

The Queen’s Reign

In Mark Burnett’s book about Survivor, the opening lines are “Richard Hatch just didn’t want to be the first person voted out”. For a lot of people, they felt the same about Sandra. There were all but prayer circles held to make sure Sandra didn’t become the first boot, and we sadly accepted that for this to happen we would have to let go of Tony or Cirie to make sure she wasn’t. There was a crowd that wanted Sandra to place 21st, but for most people, Sandra placing too low without getting a chance to show her stuff was sacrilege.

Sandra thankfully wasn’t the first boot, but the first boot was Ciera, who only had to do a little scheming on a no-scheming tribe, so her going was only impressive in that she was not Sandra (or Tony). Sandra did have subtle moments where she looked good, especially the moment where Tony tells Sandra before Tribal Council she can’t pull off her perennial “anybody but me” strategy, so Sandra gets him to say that he and Caleb have been targeted, and feigns concern and anger when Tony reveals Ciera has targeted them.

However, while that was a small moment, that was more important than we thought. Sandra had a feeling according to post game interviews that her strategy of subtlety that had largely inspired anybody but me wasn’t going to work here, and in that moment, Tony confirmed that.

After the Ciera vote, Sandra and Tony swore to make a “threats alliance”, but that very night Tony used a version of his SpyShack (he called it his SpyBunker, but I am being generous by not calling it “a pile of leaves Cirie was lucky she didn’t stumble upon”) to spy on Sandra and Troy. Sandra let him know that he also wouldn’t get to use the same strategy again by getting a counter-alliance together in, according to Varner, “fifteen minutes” and voting Tony out, with deflective mocking that established her as the season’s most lovable asshole.

All of this was very unlike Sandra’s past strategy. Sure, she could get loud too, and strategize against people if she wanted, but this was used as a backup strategy, a last resort. She could, but she wouldn’t unless she had to. Here, she flipped the emergency switch pretty quick and managed to out-big-moves the king of big moves.

At the tribe swap, she said she was leading the sheep to slaughter, and it was easy to see that as boastful. Like, goddamn it’s only been the first two votes, for all we know Aubry could become this season’s shepherd. Afterward she was swapped onto a tribe with four other tribesmates with J.T. from Nuku. While J.T. made some insane mistakes all over this season, let it be known that he is socially incredibly charming. Despite his little raft stunt, he was able to sway people to his side to the point where Malcolm was becoming friendly with him and he was almost able to infiltrate the New Nuku tribe.

(Fun note: this was the episode where Sandra was really hellbent on killing the goats despite the fact that clearly they were mama and babe. I will forever love how little of a fuck she gave next to the cattle rancher all but pleading for their lives. However, in her post-game interview, Sandra claimed the tribe did catch and kill a goat while she was in confessional, and when she came out and saw it, she was like “Lord I’m gonna get the blame for this one too.”)

Anyway, as we saw, J.T. apparently saw playing subtly and waiting for a chance to dethrone the queen was too boring. He turned the game’s difficulty level to “hard” by telling Brad who to idol, and predictably got the shit kicked out of him. J.T. did this in the hopes of getting Sandra idoled out and going back to camp bloodlessly, but Sandra didn’t even get any votes- Malcolm did.

How did Malcolm get the votes? I’ve heard that Sandra was indicating with her cockiness that she had the idol, which made the New Mana tribe swerve and vote out their backup. Maybe Brad wanted the NewKu tribe to flounder and voted out their biggest physical asset. I’m kinda forced to believe them because I still cannot believe Sandra didn’t get the votes. That twist, especially with the idol, was basically a fancy way to get Sandra out, and Sandra didn’t go. I may be more impressed by that than Sugargate!

Speaking of which, it’s time to say goodbye to our favorite spanner in the works, J.T. After royally fucking over his bestie, the tribe’s only old Nuku had suspicious eyes on him especially after, you know, talking with an old Nuku. This caught Sandra’s eye, as well as the fact that J.T. was easily provoked and really hated Michaela for… some reason. She put the target on Michaela by stealing the sugar that came with the coffee as Varner watched while looking quite like Penner’s intro shot in Micronesia. However, after J.T. obsessed about it quite openly, I think she got the idea that “holy shit, we can blindside him”.

Thus, J.T. let his anger against Michaela consume him and she, Sandra, and Varner were able to vote him out so hard he didn’t even take his idol. J.T. made a lot of mistakes but I think his biggest wasn’t inviting Brad to screw his life up or leaving his idol at camp, both bad moves themselves. His worst move was abandoning what made him great- a world class social game that didn’t need much to fish him out of tight bonds. By getting so stubborn and angry, he threw that to the wind.

When Aubry asks why J.T. went over her, Sandra said that it was because J.T. got Malcolm voted out and she wasn’t happy about that. This informed Aubry that her being on the outs wasn’t for anything she did, just what J.T. did. She even said in confessional that she had a thing or two to learn from Sandra. What those things are, we never knew, because now we get into the fateful swap, where Sandra’s game finally came to a loss.

The Queen is Dead

As soon as the tribes swapped, Sandra claims she knew she was out. About fifty-one minutes later, we saw that was the case. Ultimately, Sandra and Varner swapped 5-2, the only two Manas on a tribe with five Nukus, four of whom were on Tawhoa- Tavua, I meant Tavua. That was just two layers of the bad draw that eventually killed Sandra’s hopes. The only hope they had was getting them to turn on Tai, and while it seems he made that easy, it didn’t happen. This was the moment where Sandra’s massive target caught up with her.

Regardless, she tried. This whole segment proves what I said in the pre-game assessment of her, and perhaps a few times- “anybody but me” isn’t the do-nothing-and-accept-a-name bullshit others try and make it out to be. In this episode, we saw Zeke, the strategic head of the Sandra boot, give the two Manas the name of Tai. In how others perceive “anybody but me”, Sandra would have accepted that and slept in the shelter all day. You know, like Varner.

Instead, Sandra smelt that it was as fishy as Stephen’s awards on People, and set out to do something to ensure it was him. After TC especially, she sat with the Tavuas and claimed that it was dangerous to keep Tai around, citing the Kaoh Rong Three as a threat, and to Ozzy that physical threats wouldn’t be appreciated post-merge. At Tribal Council, she told a visibly suspicious Tai to whisper a name into her ear to get her off the block. While it didn’t work out, it did a lot to advocate for “anybody but me” as more active than it appeared. Sadly, it was not to be, but you can’t say she didn’t try.

Sandra was praised by her competitors on the way out the door. In addition to the above Aubry quote before the shuffle, Zeke said that people who wait to vote out Sandra end up losing hard to her- a big reason why he didn’t wait to vote out Sandra. Sarah pointed out that her way of speaking to people was always calm, never patronizing, and “groomed” people, sucking people in like Morgan’s eyes. Even Ozzy claimed that he was close to buying Sandra’s offer. Ultimately they didn’t go with her, but these weren’t just the cast reading off cue cards. These were genuine moments and spoke to the respect and cult of personality she gathered. A lot of people hear “two time winner” and are intimidated by her, but once they meet her she lowers their guard.

This does beg the question- how much of the Nuku Tribal performance was just that- a performance? I can’t give any concrete answers but from my second viewing, I think Tai was off-course and old Tavua stuck to the plan, but while doing so pumped Tai up to seem like a target. So yes, I think most of them were acting- I think that Andrea buying the plan and Zeke giving the little “who do you trust” speech to Tai were rehearsed.

However, much like Tai wasn’t told he was the decoy at first, he also wasn’t told how to act, just that the plan was Sandra and to chill out already. I think at one point he decided to stick to the plan, while the Manas hoped that Tai dug himself such a hole that he was voted out as a precaution. I don’t really bag on Sandra for buying it, but I also think it was clever for Tavua to do. If Sandra did have an idol, she’d go with it or would play it to vote Tai.

Regardless, it was just Sandra’s time. That’s really all I can say about it. Was it a shame she went down just because she entered a swap badly? Truly; we got an exit that is hard to classify as “her fault”. It wasn’t a blindside, it wasn’t something she failed to scramble out of, and it wasn’t even an incapability to sway people her way. It was just, you’re outnumbered at a swap, so begone with ye. The end of her story and her finally being voted out deserved more. I can’t blame her tribe for not waiting until the merge to vote her out, but it feels too normal for such a large character.

Long Live The Queen

That isn’t to say Sandra didn’t accomplish a lot in her time there.

Despite his literal bottom five appearance ever on this episode, Cochran put it best- every episode Sandra survived was like another win for her, so she’s basically a six-time winner. Not only did she survive, she survived three with aplomb! Especially the J.T. Tribal Council. Sugargate, by God, is just a master class of Survivor. I should have bought tickets to that shit. If TPTB charged me retroactively, I would feel like I owed them my cash. After all of that, she had zero votes. Four Tribals, zero votes.

Cochran was right, she basically did win again every time that happened.

Not only that, but she burst a bunch of myths. As I said before, she bust the myth that “anybody but me” was her waiting to hear somebody other than her. She also bust the myth that if her tribe struggled early on, she would go easily. She was the biggest target and weakest member of the whole cast (well, weakest aside from Varner, did I mention he is ass at challenges?) and it took her going to five of six Tribals to be voted out, with a swapfucking at that.

“Not surviving Tribals after a swap or after having enemy members at their Tribal” both went out the window too. While she only had J.T. added to her tribe at the swap, he upset a lot there, and there were plenty of old Nukus at the Malcolm Tribal. She also bust the myth that her sabotaging did nothing and was just her getting mad that things weren’t going her way. Her eating the sugar not only got the target off of her, but also blinded J.T. enough to blindside him.

Moreover, the idea that Sandra only got lucky and couldn’t make moves is a myth that this season drug out into the street and shot. If you called her voting out Tony with a counter-alliance, her trying to survive a bullshit twist by faking an idol, and blindsiding an idol holder with sugar, then you are way more optimistic and specific than I.

Still, this episode also busted a myth not just for Sandra but the entire game of Survivor- big moves don’t mean shit compared to how you pull them at all. What was perhaps the biggest focus of Sandra this episode? The way she talked to people and seduced them to make the moves she wanted. If you’re wondering how the underdogs joined her against Tony, how the New Manas didn’t vote her when J.T. told them to, how Michaela was comfortable enough to bring a damn teacup to Tribal, that’s how. It’s how she won twice, and it’s how she lasted this long her third time.

The queen may have lost, but as she said, the queen has stayed queen.

Next Time on… Survivor!

This is where I indicate what I have heard theorized, next-timed, or confirmed about next episode and call that twist a really shit idea. I haven’t heard of any twists (for once in a lifetime) but I have heard stuff about this episode by those trying to keep me from spending Wednesday to Tuesday sullenly staring out a window. Even Mario Lanza himself has spilled spoilers about the plot of next episode, but I won’t be as detailed as him. I will just say, be ready for a downer.

…yay Sandra!

-Cameron

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