8:10pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
'Survivor: Game Changers' Has Zeke Aftermath and 2 Tribals in 'There's a New Sheriff In Town'
[This recap contains spoilers for the Wednesday, April 19, episode of Survivor: Game Changers.]
"I'm here to win $1 million. I'm here to play Survivor. So, let's just get back to it."
With those words, Zeke concluded a two-minute Survivor: Game Changers pre-credits introduction basically replaying the shocking events from last week's tribal council. Wednesday's two-parter began with a general rehash of last week's sentiments, with Sarah and Tai and Andrea and Zeke's whole tribe agreeing that they were inspired by his story and how he handled the crappy thing Varner did and with Zeke's determination to move forward.
"Survivor, it makes you tough, it makes you resilient, and it makes you adaptable," he said.
And then Zeke went out and tried to prove it.
Actually, Zeke went out and offered a reminder of why he was so exciting to watch in his first season, but also why he went out relatively early in his initial attempt at playing the game.
In an odd turn of events, over the course of two-plus hours dating back to last week's tribal council, Zeke went from being accused by a lone player of being deceptive because he's trans to being accused by multiple people of being deceptive for, well, being deceptive.
Probably we should view this as progress, right?
There was one unbearable way that last week's episode could have played out in which Zeke's fellow castaways actually agreed with Varner that Zeke being trans was a piece of information he needed to have shared with them. Fortunately, Survivor didn't go that way. Instead, everybody agreed after tribal and continued to agree after the merge, that Zeke was just Zeke and they should judge him as Zeke and for being Zeke.
The problem, as I'm sure Zeke would happily admit, is that Zeke being Zeke is a bit deceptive. Probably one of the smartest and most inquisitive superfans to ever play the game, Zeke went out in his first season because he pushed too hard too fast and became too much of a threat too soon. It's one thing to play the game actively accumulating the pieces of a resumé, but it's still another to rush to accumulate a resumé at the expense of putting your neck out there well before it was situationally advantageous.
Under the circumstances of Wednesday's episode, there was no reason for Zeke to turn on Andrea and Cirie as quickly as he did, and the way in which he chose to move against Andrea was astoundingly clumsy.
Probably there's a conversation to be had about whether the ripples of last week's episode had a negative effect on Zeke. Definitely there was newfound consensus that in a jury situation Zeke would be unbeatable, as Debbie put it, "He has the absolute best story." He did not have the best story before last week. Is that the price that has to be paid for tolerance and understanding? Thanks to Varner making that call that wasn't his call to make, I guess so.
There's no doubting that ripple.
The ripple we'd have to wholly speculate on is whether Andrea, a fierce Zeke defender at that awful tribal, felt an extra level of betrayal when Zeke started conspiring against her and if that made her more irritated with him than she otherwise would have been? I can't say. Andrea was definitely pissed off at Zeke. But Zeke was definitely trying to stab Andrea in the back. So was her anger out of proportion? Darned if I know.
So far, this post has talked a lot of about Zeke, albeit in a more recappy way than last week's article did, but it leaves out one key piece of information: Zeke didn't go home in either of Wednesday's two tribal councils. He got votes in both, but he was a decoy in the first.
Zeke is still in the game.
Let's talk about who did go home in Wednesday's episode, then!
Well, the first episode was a dud. It wasn't a huge dud. It was just very direct. The episode started with a merge and the announcement that Hali and Michaela were in the bottom and the likely targets. It culminated in Hali getting voted out, but whatever happened to send Hali home over Michaela was missing from the edit. We were left to infer that Cirie had somehow swayed the Sierra-bloc alliance to push votes at Hali over Michaela, but we didn't see how that happened because then there would have been zero drama at tribal and instead there was "lite" drama.
Targeting Hali was a blunder in the first place. Sierra, suddenly in power and gloating like a burgeoning despot, decided that Hali must have an idol because Hali was playing with more confidence than she showed when they played together.
Counterproposal: Hali is playing with more confidence because she's slightly older and she's played Survivor before?
So Sierra decided that Hali was confident and therefore had an idol and therefore votes had to be split with Michaela, which makes sense, but Sierra's plan was to give Hali the small number of votes, not the larger number. Zeke tried pointing out this was the opposite of what logic would require, but Sierra responded to that information by announcing that Zeke was getting too nosey and should be voted out himself at some point. But Cirie bonded with Michaela and got Michaela to show the most human and unguarded side of her personality we've seen in two seasons, and she vowed to protect Michaela and apparently she did. We just didn't see how.
Then in the second episode, none of that mattered. Following Tai's Mississippi State-over-UConn-level upset over Ozzy in a pole-clinging immunity, Debbie just announced to Sierra that they should blindside Ozzy and everybody went along with it, and Debbie sealed the deal by using her extra vote advantage against Ozzy.
For at least a week or two, we're no longer allowed to make fun of Debbie. She made a big game move. She did what she thought was necessary to make the move go through. It turned out she didn't need to use that bonus vote, but I'm not even blaming her. Debbie wanted Ozzy out and she got Ozzy out. For a brief period, let's all hail Debbie and her fake-drunk flashing and Cochran-inspired apologies.
The great thing about how abruptly Debbie pushed this agenda is that Ozzy didn't see it coming at all, which is borderline absurd because when you get to the post-merge portion of the game, when the opportunity presents itself to vote out Ozzy ... YOU VOTE OUT OZZY.
That's why the targeting of Hali and Michaela was so dumb. Even with her increased confidence and advancing legalese, Hali was a non-factor out there. She was not going to win much of anything. I still can't figure out what Michaela's doing this season. Her personality has drained away. Maybe that'll help her or maybe it won't, but she's not steering anything. Post-merge, you don't begin the voting by taking out the filler. You look at targets and you take them out when the opportunity presents itself, because you may not get that chance again. When Ozzy didn't win the first immunity challenge, somebody had to look at him immediately. Nobody did. That complacency let Ozzy think his fish made him indispensable, so he didn't imagine anybody, much less Debbie, would be gunning for him. Bad play sometimes enables good, I guess.
I'm not giving Ozzy's departure enough fanfare because I've always had limited respect for Ozzy as a Survivor player. The things he did well, Ozzy did better than anybody, but the social and strategic things that he did poorly were things he could never improve at. The pole-clinging challenge was meant to be a reminder of Ozzy's awesomeness, but instead it was a dethroning. I'm not sure that it was a coronation of Tai, but with his pocket full of idols and nobody immediately gunning for him, Tai is looking pretty good for a while.
Then again, as Sarah observed, this season isn't about alliances or trust pods or any of those other strategic standbys: "It seems we're all just a bunch of single people waiting to hook up right now."
Expect the Survivor: Game Changers meat market to continue next week.
Some Bottom Line thoughts ...
Bottom Line, I. The Marshalls Lounge was one of the most exhausting bits of product placement the show has ever done. Marshalls got a chyron, a sign above the spa and nearly everybody involved thanked Marshalls for their soaps and comfortable bathrobes and nobody complained that the bathrobes had faulty stitching or that the coconut smell of the soap masked sad desperation. Or maybe that'll be at next week's TJ Maxx Remaindered Cabana, in which nothing fits exactly right, but the prices are too low to complain.
Bottom Line, II. I'm still curious about the redemption of Brad Culpepper. Because last week's episode was unrecappable, I didn't talk about everybody crying about Brad crying with sincerity about whatever Brad got all emotional with last week. I'm still with Zeke that this is Brad strategically adjusting from how negatively he was edited in his first season, but plenty of players aren't capable of even doing that.
Bottom Line, III. I appreciated the reminder of the specifics of Sierra's legacy advantage, which she could only use with 13 and six players remaining. There was no reason to use it at the 13, and now we'll see if Sierra's still around to use it at the six. Given how forgettable Sierra was in her first season, it's funny how quickly people have cottoned to the idea that she's a power player, with Cirie calling her the Godfather controlling Brad. I don't think Brad would like to hear that.
Bottom Line, IV. This was a good episode for Andrea and Cirie to both offer reminders of why I've liked them in the past. I liked Cirie shifting into control in the first episode, and then she made a good social play with her emotion in the second. I can see how, if she's smart, Cirie could use Michaela as a battering ram to make it deeper into the game. And Cirie laughing as she voted for Sierra was terrific.
Bottom Line, V. Back to Zeke for a second. Did we know what he thought was happening or coming at tribal? He voted for Aubry, which wasn't his initially announced plan. Did he think he had other people with him? He definitely didn't think the votes were going to go the way they did. Is there anything he can do to pump the brakes and change course? Last season once he suspected he was becoming a threat, he owned it a little too much and that helped doom him. He'd be wise to go really, really quiet next week, it feels like. Zeke had lots of great quotes this week about the army he was going to amass (that he didn't amass at all). How was the episode not titled "the smiles before the bloodbath"? Come on, Survivor!
Bottom Line, V. Only four men left now, right? Three of them 47 or older? That's atypical. Troyzan's One World flashbacks must keep getting worse. I bet if you asked Troyzan, he'd tell you that he was the last man standing that season. I bet he doesn't even remember that Mark Twain lookalike who finished two places ahead of him.
Bottom Line, VI. Ozzy caught fish. I somehow suspect the castaways won't starve out there.
Catch y'all next week!