Survivor Autopsy: Mamanuca Islands #7 “The Entire Freaking Post-Merge”

So there’s a lot I could and should talk about and it’s taken too much time to do so.

Yeah, I’m gonna pull out the sickness card on this one, but my health is often the least exciting part of an article. To be fair, it’s not like these merge episodes have been “exciting” but they have at least been interesting. There’s been a lot of characters that feel like they’ve finally shown up, like Missy and Baylor to a birthday party. I’d argue that so many of the big stars were pre-mergers that it feels like reshuffling the deck- a lot of the characters we are seeing now we didn’t see back then, and our Final 9 is largely comprised of characters that were treated as small fries back in the day. This is also the side effect of having an entire tribe near extinction by the Final 12- at that point, there were only three original Mana left, a quarter of the Nuku numbers.

To recap four episodes while fighting off a massive unidentified cough is itself a herculean task and I have already passed in an article thirty minutes into the episode next week so I won’t do that. Instead, there was a trick I used to do in the immediate Autopsies back when I was young and stupid and did those (last year). I used to talk about every character on their own short-form, except those eliminated, where I would give them a bigger piece of the pie.

Screw it, even though it’s like the middle of the Survivor week, I’m still doing an autopsy. A show lives and dies based on its characters, and these characters deserve to be talked about. At the very least, it’s a way to get these episodes covered in a way that won’t drive me loopy and by Jove I will take it.

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Goddamn, that intro photo is amazing. One of the best I have seen in ages.

Hali is someone I said pre-game I was glad to see again, especially in the “Parvati” role where she came in very underestimated by the fanbase and by her fellow competitor, but managed to show some chops that could be useful here. Yet, here we are again on Episode 8, and she manages to be the first juror once more. At this point, can we really say “Hali is actually a really good player”?

Well…

It’s complicated.

There are some elements that Hali excels at. She’s an amazing talker, especially at Tribal Council. Her burying Caleb with little effort was a bit extra considering Caleb was on his way out the door, true, but it showed a willingness to stand up for herself and gave her a way to connect to fellow attorney Brad. Though Brad was the one who she tried to direct the votes at during the dual tribal council, until hell broke loose she was being coy about it and managed to cover her tracks. Combine that with her philosophy of being less abrasive and going with the flow of the tribe, and you get the sense that when she’s well integrated with a tribe she’s a very powerful alliance member.

However, in this season she really was not. She couldn’t integrate from the outside looking in, and it illuminated a good few flaws in her game. This was especially illuminated in her exit, where she and Michaela were targeted as the Nuku tribe was not ready to turn on itself and Troy basically became a Nuku. Hali would try and ward off fears of her having an idol, but would only go halfway. In many ways, she would not see clearly why she was voted out, describing it as “dumb”.

It really isn’t dumb to go with the flow on an easy vote, especially on a tribe that would fracture if you went straight for the crazy vote. It took Nuku three votes to not go for the easy vote, and that was with the help of the two outside Manas. Voting out a Mana was the easiest way to get everyone to the Final 12- if enough people immediately big-moved to someone like Debbie immediately all hell would break loose. Voting for Hali then easy vote Ozzy (or traitorous Zeke) was the path of least resistance, and that’s often very valid.

So yeah, I would say that Hali is not great as a player. However, I also really don’t care. I have been on record for only really being invested in gameplay if it impacts the story in unique ways. As it stands, I was mistaken in thinking Hali had a Parvati inside her, but as far as Hali as a character? Still fun! I think “I didn’t consent” was a really amazing moment, and she came off in general as the really nice non-American trust fund kid who didn’t get commoner life but still was happy to be a supporting character to it. Really, to me, that’s what’s important.

Hali herself would wonder why she got cast, and so would many fans. She didn’t make big moves or play idols, so why was she cast? Yet, I still think highly of her because I get why she was cast- she’s adorable, weird, funny, and an interesting mixture into the season. Really, that’s what matters.

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Ozzy this season is really not presented as a big deal, which is weird for not only a four timer but for such a recognizable name. I mean, not to go full Erik Reichenbach, but it’s Ozzy. Ooooozzzzzzzyyyyy. He broke more records than anyone else this season and he made half the crowd go wild with his presence. Yet, he has just about always been treated as a side character.

I think this season Ozzy has become basically the stereotype we have for Ozzy- he fishes, he’s kind of a loner, he’s amazing at challenges, but doesn’t really do anything else. In many instances, that isn’t entirely true- he can lead and he makes a good amount of unique and, I’d argue, misguided moves. However, this season, I saw him take the path of least resistance a lot. He’s chilled out for sure- a result of, I would imagine, his age- but this season I saw a lot of him using his challenge and provider abilities to get ahead, as if this was just another stint on RI where that was all he had to worry about. And, you know what, I didn’t mind that.

There’s this thought process nowadays that you have to make big moves and play the game with passion or you don’t deserve to be there. It’s a very modern mindset that demands you treat this as the holiest of games. However, what always speaks to me is when people use this for what they want, even if it’s not playing with blood and thunder all the time. Ozzy has never felt as at home nearly as much as he was on RI during South Pathetic, as it really spoke to all his notable qualities- his expertise at challenges, his ability to provide for himself and others, and most importantly his desire to worry only about himself, what he needs, and what’s good for him. Not because of derision of others, but because that’s just how Ozzy rolls.

I think if you were to have Ozzy in a situation like he was in on Redemption Island, he would without question or pay spend at least a couple months a year there. When Ozzy was asked back to Survivor, especially on a fourth time I think we were all afraid that he would end it handing out books about his rules or something at the reunion. Instead, what we saw of him was essentially him chilling out and doing Ozzy things. That isn’t reliance on big moves, and it isn’t necessarily the best TV, but it’s relaxing. That’s how I like my Ozzy, as a relaxing background presence that just chills and fishes. Weirdly enough, I may be the only person on Earth who likes Ozzy 4.0 the best. We could use an Ozzy in each of these modern seasons.

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Debbie. So, she was a character. Possibly the biggest one there. I have covered Debbie a lot, but one thing I have yet to describe her as is as her side’s possible biggest strategist. Don’t let her antics fool you- for good moves and for bad she has always been an efficient, brutal strategist. From the moment she engineered and reversed Doctor Peter’s split vote against him and Lady Liz, this was hard to deny.

Yes, Debbie claims she has forty jobs a day. Yes, she got angry at Brad. Yes, she seems at least mild to moderately disconnected from reality. Yet, she managed to decimate your favorites and play her way into an early grave. That’s possibly the biggest way she has distinguished herself from fellow crazies- she managed to play both the crazy person character and a heavy strategist.

I think the merge has been her time to shine as not just a strategist, but an overstrategist. I think during that time every thought she had was related to strategy. It started when at the merge feast she pretended to be drunk (so she says) so others would see her as a dolt. A lot of people would argue that she actually was drunk, but I just saw her and thought “yo, I have had maybe eight sips of alcohol in my life, and I could act drunk better than you”.

Still, the fact that she turned the vote against Ozzy so abruptly was amazing. When it was announced that Zeke was on the block for going against Andrea and Cirie, it should have been him 11-1, no questions asked. Instead, Debbie cemented one alliance by telling everyone she trusted to vote Ozzy, draining the other side a potential number and leaving them untrustworthy Zeke, while still going after an easy target she could justify as being an easy vote. It was in many ways a smart move, but in how she handled it, not very smart at all.

For one, she made it abundantly clear that her alliance was the majority, no matter what. To her, she didn’t have to stay active. Once the Ozzy vote happened, she essentially won in her eyes. To quote Abi-Maria, that was a mistake. Not only did she allow her alliance no wiggle room, she also told everyone else she was not going to move either. When she was targeted, it was similar to the Savage idoling in Cambodia. Even if you don’t think they could win the jury over easily, if you’re in the minority it would be best to vote out someone you have zero confidence will flip to you.

That’s how she played- like she knew she was ahead, when it was not a 100% certain fact. This got to the point where despite how blatant she was she still thought she could “spot” Aubry, telling her she could save herself by voting Aubry with them in an attempt to save herself from a potentially idoling. Aubry reacted how you expected, and that was the final straw for Sarah. She was tired of Debbie being commandeering and all the talk others had about her being the number six rang true at that point. Debbie took Sarah to be the swing vote last time, and it was the case here as well.

I think that remembering Debbie as a hard, overreaching player is only right and, despite people insisting otherwise, is exactly what she was. All the people mad at her for Ozzy going home can’t be mad at her because she “did nothing”, right? That’s essentially how I will remember her here- all the things Zeke said he was, Debbie actually was, to a fatal level.

 

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The last time I wrote an article I defended Zeke a little during the Varner fiasco, to a crowd full of both people who understood and people who retreated to their bubbles to shout that it never happened. Those latter people turned insanely fast, which I have never seen them do in a situation like this- generally it takes a couple months for them to stop pretending they cared. Yet, they not only turned on Zeke in general, they turned on Zeke in the situation with Varner in very questionable ways. If I never read another post unironically saying Zeke was deceptive for not being out, it’ll be too soon.

I think I have made my position clear- no matter how badly he played, no matter how not nice others have purported him to be, no matter if his post-game interviews are generally awful- if you, like so many people, can’t discuss it without immediately resorting to tired transphobia over it, that illuminates more about you than Zeke.

Still, I would like to for once not talk about that event and how trans people reacted to it, so I am gonna take a different approach. Zeke in the post-merge has been the poster child for overplaying. In the Ozzy episode he burnt all of his allies, including close friend Andrea, by trying to go after Andrea and Cirie immediately, breaking the tentative nature of Nuku. It’s clear that his desire for big moves sunk his ability to read the room, to the point where he even said that last season making a move too early was his downfall but that he would rather lose that way anyways. Well, he lost that way, so yippee.

However, while most lost their shit over the fact that Zeke played like crazy, even if it was the crazy they seem to purport, I actually liked it, because the show treated him like such a joke. Basically them laughing at him was catharsis for Spencer 2.0 and the fact that we were supposed to take him seriously. I think the best Zeke moment, which to me indicated that the edit didn’t take him seriously, was how in this week’s Previously on Sarah is shown asking Zeke if he wanted to make a move. Smash cut to confessional- “hell yeah I wanna make a move!”

I think over time Zeke may be seen as a joke character and get fans for it. His propensity for big moves is memetic and his badness is amusing, especially how production seems to show it and how this season is so full of playing it safe that he stood out. That is, except for the way he was voted out, where Andrea and Cirie pulled the mother of big moves on him. Sadly, this will all probably be overshadowed by Varner’s stunt, but as it stands I enjoyed him, especially as the antithesis of the season that was barely tolerated for it.

Still, I am looking forward to next season where I don’t have to talk about Zeke.

Pity the Living

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Ah, welcome back!

Last we saw of Cirie in really any big focus, she was trying to get somewhere on Original Nuku and no one would let her. It was an exercise in futility and watching someone run into a brick wall in the hopes that at least a few bricks would give way. It was insanely sad and did not make me hopeful for her future, whereas Sandra wrecking shop gave me hope she would last awhile. Yet, here we are at the Final 9, and Cirie is easily the biggest legend left, as all the rest have fallen by the wayside.

The obvious answer to this factor would be that she doesn’t go to Tribal until the merge. That’s a good point, but also, it only guarantees that she lasts until thirteenth place. If she was the Defcon-Level-Five-On-The-Treadmill type threat she was shown as in the first two episodes to this crowd, you would think she would be booted early, or at least, when Ozzy was the vote after. Instead, she’s one of the four with no votes against her left in the final nine. Not only that, but she has done so while making some pretty snazzy moves. Sure, they’re not big moves, so you could argue their effectiveness, but they’re unconventional, interesting, and downright sneaky.

For one, she managed to get the vote from Michaela to Hali in the first merge vote. Like Brad with Caleb, it was not by going behind someone’s back, but by convincing the person in charge it was best to vote Hali in the split rather than Michaela. If Sierra was paranoid about Hali having the idol, Cirie asks her, why not vote Hali? I think that there was the pre-game connection factor involved- Sierra and Hali knowing each other and Sierra possibly working with her- but at that point, Cirie sort of forced her hand. There was no way Sierra could keep Hali and keep any sort of involvement with her specific. The vote split continued as normal, only Hali bit it rather than Michaela.

There was a reason Cirie guided the vote away from Michaela. On a gameplay level, Cirie saw that she could keep Michaela as an ally far easier than Hali. On a personal level, however, it’s because she took a sort of mentorship position with Michaela. To be frank and alienate a lot of people, which I am not scared to do, this is the first time in thirty-four seasons that two black women made the merge. What we saw in the merge episode was Cirie giving Michaela advice on how to not be hated by people who have strange intensity. It is essentially a comparison of who is coded and who is not, shown clearest by Cirie saying that she was an “older woman” mentoring a “younger woman” with a heavy pause before the comparison, and younger Michaela mentioning that she identifies with Cirie as a fellow black woman.

We’ll save further conversation on this for Michaela, as this is about Cirie. At the next vote she popped in to throw a vote on Sierra, as I think she thought it would be 11-1 with her and she would only make it 10-1-1 if she voted rogue for someone she already saw as paranoid. It was not to be, however, and Ozzy went home- amazingly without he or Cirie ever having voted each other. At that point, it seemed inevitable that Cirie would be the biggest target left especially out of her alliance…

Except no, that would be Andrea. Because… I guess, being a proactive agent against an alliance stands out more than Cirie’s specialty- sitting in the background, giggling that Cirie giggle, and stirring the pot. At this point, Cirie went into the game Nuku’s biggest target and has recently not become a target at all, even when the opportunity presents itself.

There was, of course, the big show of Probst in bringing focus to Cirie in the reward challenge. I’m actually really big on Sarah going back to help her; it shows that she won’t leave anyone behind. However, the cynical have looked down on Jeff making a show of her doing the challenge. I have to say, I’m among them. It really highlights something that isn’t true- the idea that Cirie rides on her challenge strength. She never has, she’s always been bad at challenges, but she manages to survive anyways. Drawing attention to that seems to apologize for her weaknesses, while what I liked about Sandra’s edit was that despite her placing 15th, it celebrated her strengths. If they wanted to tribute Cirie, that was the wrong way to go about it.

What managed to stick with me was how Cirie managed to start the sway on Officer Sarah in really plain terms, suggesting that she’s the bottom of the alliance. Everyone tries this to middling extents, but Cirie has a level of presumable authenticity and relatable niceness that makes her feel less like a cutthroat gamer and more like the eyes at the back of your head, despite the fact that she has proven she can and will cut a bitch to get ahead. Sure enough, Debbie went home and Andrea continues to act as her shield.

(Also, the fact that she refers to Sarah as Officer Sarah, playing to her pride as authority and her drive for power, is really, really brilliant.)

This leads us into the Final 10, where Cirie gives a freaking masterclass on how to play Survivor. A lot would talk about how Andrea managed to snipe Zeke how she did, and that was impressive- problematic considering she kind of ran over how Sarah and Michaela felt, but impressive regardless. The part that impressed me, however, was that Sierra went up to Cirie and asked how to vote, then next we see of her she’s voting Tai at Tribal.

The fact that she got the minority alliance to turn on each other was extremely brilliant, all things considered. I don’t think she knew they had three idols, but she assured that they would find it hard to work together after that, especially as Tai and Sierra both voted each other and Troy and Brad both voted Tai.

That’s the magic of Cirie, and after so long I was glad to see it make a return. I only hope that it has yet to reach its heights.

Aubry

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I don’t think we saw her exist as her own character (rather than someone else’s supporting character) until Debbie told her to vote Michaela in minute 45 of the tenth episode. And though it was late and hard to fully buy, it was easily the most invested and electrified I was all episode. We saw a lot of sides to Aubry but “genuine pissedtivity” we rarely see. Also, is it just me or does Aubry have the longest middle fingers ever?

Tai

In his continuing streak of “greatest hits of Kaoh Rong” he manages to complete the circle of life by discovering how Ozzy does it. In the Final 12 Perch challenge, it seems like a given that Ozzy will win a third time, to the point that some step down anticipating him to win. Not Tai. Tai stays up, even through Ozzy’s taunts and threats, as if Ozzy didn’t know that there was another provider, another nature boy, who could do what Ozzy did. This was a prime example, and so far without him they have not died. Ozzy ended up losing his Perch crown to a fifty-plus five foot tall gardener, but it’s not surprising when you realize that Tai has been surviving since before Ozzy was born. Guy’s pretty super and in my eyes deserves more respect.

Sarah

This season has become six degrees of Sarah Lacina, hasn’t it? Especially in the last two episodes, which were dominated in airtime by her. In many ways, it’s ironic since it focused on her game being quite like Kass in that she betrayed three of the four different jurors so far, but it’s also quiet telling as she has been open about her flips and gotten nowhere near the backlash that Kass has gotten. In many ways, that’s because despite coming off to us as power hungry, she has for the most part kept her temper about her, which is standout compared to others this season.

When Zeke flipped, people like Andrea were livid, yet here was Sarah who voted Ozzy that Tribal because she and Zeke got along well and she wanted to keep her options open. And yes, it is tiring to hear her speak of options like she’s Kim Spradlin, but that’s honestly a good way to play the game even if it isn’t as entertaining.

Plus, even though she is a cop she has that small town genuineness and naivete that reads as a bit Mary-Poehnelt-lite (her bragging about her attention to detail by saying she can spot expired registration tags is classic) but also makes her act a lot nicer than expected and genuinely drives her to help people. She’s a little bit on a power trip, sure, but she has toned down her intensity a lot from Cagayan. For my money, she’s proven me wrong and shown that despite her catastrophic exit in her first season, she has really managed to control herself for the second.

Brad

Of his alliance, he has become easily the most insulated from blowback. Still, that isn’t saying much- while he went into this game not wanting to be the quarterback, it’s gone the opposite way, and he has been seen as Sierra’s waterboy. I think Brad as a whole has reacted badly to being seen as a villain and as such has gone so far the opposite way that no one takes him seriously, even those who like him. Again, it’s perception that fails him- while he has been making some right and appropriate moves he has gone from being perceived as the big bad leader to being seen as the musclebound lackey to queen Sierra.

Sierra

Speaking of Sierra, the merge antics have ensured one thing- not Brad, not Debbie, not anyone else, has been seen as her side’s leader quite like Sierra. She said at one point that “there’s a new sheriff in town” (but don’t tell Sarah!) Whether you agree with her or not, or like that she was cast or not, it strikes me as true. She is spoken of as the head of the enemy alliance and acts as such- down to her arrogance. I recall her offering Sarah Final 3 to avoid being turned on, and I think that impacted a little, as Sarah is fond of options.

The next episode, she voted against Tai, which is questionable. Still, it’s a move fitting of Sierra, as she has shown especially in Worlds Apart that she is capable of voting out those she likes and is close to for the sake of doing better. This also affirmed the idea that she is in charge as she was shown talking to Cirie, then Brad and Troy did what she wanted regardless. Say what you want about Sierra- she is really good at swallowing her pride to get ahead.

Troy

Sources claim he exists, but Troy Robertson could not be reached for comment, although witnesses have spotted someone who looks like him wearing a funky necklace.

Andrea

The brightest lights tend to burn quickest, and that’s what I reckon will happen to Andrea. She’s at the forefront of the opposite side’s strategic openness, and people have noticed. She made her name this season with her opposition towards Zeke, which cumulated in her getting him voted off in a way that reminds me of the second Matt vote in RI, which can’t be a coincidence for the Ometepe closest to Matt. Still, like Zeke, I think her unspoken penchant for the strategic forefront of the game will lead to her facing trouble, however- especially since she kind of strongarmed Sarah and Michaela towards the Zeke vote. That’ll be hard for them to forget. Still, her play this season has been really interesting, the shot of life this post-merge needed.

Also, I would like to point out that she and Aubry, not Cirie, are seen as a pair, which is more good news for Cirie.

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Michaela is such a unique character to me. Sure, she’s self assured, has self-control, and is more self-aware than you would think, but at the end of the day, we can see the truth, and it’s essentially as Cirie told us- Michaela is a kid. She’s remarkably baby-faced and despite being 25, really reminds me of someone who has developed a good bit but still has a ways to go. You know what, I don’t think we have ever seen that before- even in the twenty and below crowd it has generally been a show of what they are capable of despite their age. With Michaela, it shows her as plenty capable while being a kid.

The mentorship with Cirie that she took up right before merge speaks a lot to Cirie’s subtlety and ability to code herself, and Michaela’s bluntness and honesty. That scene was essentially Cirie telling Michaela how she was expected to handle herself, especially as a black woman. There is a reason that Cirie can handle herself without trouble but when Michaela so much as eats popcorn the players and audience lose their minds like Spongebob crowing about Patrick working overtime.

I think a lot of the hate she is getting isn’t surprising, and reminds me of Tasha getting a lot of hate for being kinda condescending or Alicia Calaway gets for being sour. Still, it strikes me as very overblown especially considering all the shit people have pulled this season. Every episode we’re getting beaten over the head with how much Sierra, Brad, and a few others can’t stand Michaela because she’s annoying and confrontational and whatever else, which we have seen. We have seen her being mildly confrontational and paranoid when her name comes up, and her frustration in the F11 reward challenge was palatable, but those all strike me as incredibly minor. I think people on and off show have overblown those as unforgivable crimes, which is very suspicious.

I like Michaela a lot. Of all those left, she is possibly my favorite. I really like what she brings and I feel that she is a unique addition. If Zeke feels like a Season 34 player, Michaela is a lot earlier- she values challenge strength, doesn’t mesh well with hyper-strategy, and isn’t really fond of betraying her friends, as we saw with her emotions over voting for Zeke after they became allies. She reminds me of the much beloved Ken, right down to their overly emotional natures. The fact that she is getting a lot of hate while Ken got so much love really says a lot, but it’s a lot I doubt Michaela would shy down from addressing.

That may be the extra spark that, for me, drives her ahead of Ken- both of us are young and blunt, and we both do not code ourselves to being accepted by mainstream society despite both being from groups they don’t seem to respect. I identify with her more than I expected to, as before then I would never have thought to compare myself with her as I found her insanely awesome. Still, I have found the ability to relate to her which, while for many it drives her down into their core of hatred, makes me love her more.

Final Thoughts

The post-merge has turned a lot of people off this season- a lot of people they deemed undeserving and lesser are at the merge while the Tonys and Malcolms and Sandras are not. While I get the disappointment that we won’t get another moment like Sugargate, as I have shown I like a lot of characters left and think they deserve more respect than they get. This post-merge hasn’t been nearly as great as the pre-merge, it has still been plenty good, and I think that deserves a lot more love too.

-Cameron

 

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