7:09pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
'Survivor: Game Changers' Reminds Us to Read the Fine Print in 'Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow'
[This recap contains spoilers for the Wednesday, May 17, episode of Survivor: Game Changers.]
Maybe it's the three straight days of somewhat frazzled upfronts week pace, but I don't have a clue what happened on tonight's Survivor: Game Changers.
I know exactly what happened. I just don't necessarily understand everything that happened: either how it happened or why it happened.
We had two votes.
In the first vote, Andrea was sent home.
I guess I vaguely get that. Andrea was playing hard and she was generally dangerous, and that's as good a reason to target her as anything. I'm sorry to have Andrea gone, because I've always liked her, but the way this season has progressed, she was going to continue to be in jeopardy every time she didn't win immunity, and since she didn't win immunity, she was in trouble.
Aubry won that first immunity, and I was pleased for her. She's been a non-factor all season other than her excited reactions to food, and that felt like a good moment for Aubry to add a line to her resumé, which even she admitted was flimsy. Aubry wanted to take Sarah out and that would have been the correct move in this circumstance if it could have somehow been orchestrated. Aubry told Andrea she wanted Sarah out and seemed to convince Andrea, but Andrea then went to Cirie who pretended to be game, but immediately told Sarah. Andrea became the target. Brad and Troyzan were more than happy to keep voting Andrea. Somehow, in a shift I missed, Aubry and Andrea voted Brad and Andrea was gone, and Aubry was left confused and crying.
"My pattern in Survivor seems to be really high highs and really low lows," Aubry sniffled after the vote. In a minute, Aubry had the high of winning immunity and breaking some BS made-up record that Jeff Probst trumpeted as having been set by Cochran ("My boyfriend," joked Aubry), and the next minute she lost her only ally, lost her chance to shift the game and found herself with only a goat's chance of advancing.
Of the two tribals, that was the clear-cut vote. People wanted Andrea out because she was a threat. She was voted out. Aubry looked like a hero and then like a chump. Sad.
The second vote was what happens if there are too many confusing moving pieces in the game and, more importantly, what happens if you don't read the fine print.
If you don't read The Fien Print, you miss out on my Better Call Saul interviews, Survivor recaps and the sparkling wit that led me to dub Downward Dog as "mutt-blecore" in a pun the show's creator called "so bad it's great" on Twitter.
If you don't read the fine print, you don't notice that Sarah's "steal a vote" advantage said on the bottom that it was non-transferrable, and if you're Cirie, you fall flat on your face strategically in probably the sloppiest tribal council ever.
I couldn't explain what happened if I wanted to. Sarah gave Cirie the advantage as a friendly sign of loyalty. Cirie only read it halfway through — after 30-plus days in Survivor, that's what happens — and decided that the steal would be the best opportunity to shake up the game, prove her loyalty to Sarah and also prove that Sarah was wrong to trust Tai over Aubry. So her hope was to butter Tai up so that he wouldn't use an idol stealing his vote and turning it against him to protect Sarah and ...
OH GRACIOUS. The point was that Tai was going to somehow go home, and Cirie was going to be the queen.
It all devolved at the tribal council where Cirie tried to play the advantage, Sarah told her she couldn't, Probst explained the meaning of "non-transferrable," and then everybody started whispering and trying to explain themselves, even Troyzan who's barely in the game at all. Troyzan tried listening in on Cirie's entreaties to Sarah, and Michaela tried to hold him off and for her trouble ...
Michaela was voted out.
"I don't see how that made sense, Sarah, but do you, Boo," said Michaela, departing.
My THR partner-in-Survivor crime Josh Wigler figures it was just an issue of Sarah targeting Cirie's chief lieutenant and leaving Cirie and Aubry effectively powerless and inert. It looked like Cirie might be on the verge of pulling off another Erik-style self-sacrifice, getting Tai to practically send himself home with two idols. Instead, she's down at the bottom with Aubry and nothing.
Once Cirie outed the existence of the advantage, there was no reason for Sarah not to just play it, and if she trusted Cirie, she trusted Cirie and there was no reason to target her. It ended up being another vicious power move for Sarah, and with the legacy advantage still in her pocket, she's got at least one more life in the game. Then, with a couple votes remaining, it'll be up to everybody to decide if they think the jury might vote emotionally and punish Sarah for trying to live up to the name of the season or if they want to take out the season's dominant player.
I don't know that I'd have the easy answer. Sarah has done everything since the merge, but she's played a game where she's stabbed people in the back and emotionally manipulated them. She should win, but I can see how she wouldn't. I can imagine Brad winning a couple of immunities and then bullying the jury into giving him the million even over Sarah. Aubry's done little. Troyzan's done nothing. Tai's biggest move was going against his own instincts and following Brad and Sierra in voting Caleb out, which isn't a big move. Cirie's done stuff, and she'll always be smarter and more sympathetic than anybody else out there, but this was an ugly stumble tonight.
This was clearly not my most cogent piece of Survivor recapping, but it also wasn't the most cogent piece of Survivor editing, and I'm not sure they had the material to make more sense of things than they did. The combination of telling everybody they were "game changers" and now the introductions of strange new advantages with strange new caveats have made it impossible for anybody to play "pure" Survivor. It's not that this has become a bad season, but it's become a chaos season, and in a chaos season, the most chaotic player theoretically ought to win. But that would be too orderly. I wouldn't be at all surprised if next week we end up with an insane finale with multiple played idols and an eventual winner determined by Debbie's sense of right and wrong or something equally arbitrary. Congratulations, Troyzan!
Some bottom lines ...
Bottom Line, I. Another rationale on the vote could be Brad's frustration at Michaela's strange "Go fish" request. If Brad told Tai they were voting Michaela and he told Troyzan they were voting Michaela and then in the bedlam after Cirie's blunder somebody told Sarah that the vote was Michaela, it's possible that Sarah could have just followed the easiest, cleanest vote that would allow her to use the advantage without alienating anybody additionally. It's not like Sarah needed Michaela or lost anything in voting her out. So in one situation, Sarah was trying to weaken an alliance she didn't feel like she wanted or needed anymore. In the other, she was just shifting with the wind knowing she has an advantage for the next tribal anyway.
Bottom Line, II. I really didn't feel like Michaela was blackmailing Brad. Blackmail involves the holding of power with conditions, Michaela wasn't implying she had anything to offer. But what was she doing? She wanted fish. I get that. But she wasn't really saying, "If you go get fish, we won't vote you out" or "If you go get fish, maybe people will think you're essential and they'll decide to keep you" or "If you go get fish, I'll vote for somebody else." There was no implication that Michaela had anything to offer. She just ... wanted fish. So was she being confusingly manipulative? Was she just being artlessly hungry? I don't have a clue.
Bottom Line, III. Michaela exiting saying that the third time might be the charm for her feels like wishful thinking. As much as I liked her in her first season, I never felt like she locked in as either a player or a personality this season. There were too many fits of poor sportsmanship ("Michaela's not right. And kicks the puzzle, which always helps!") and pouting this season, including the myopic pouting that cost her the steal-a-vote advantage that Sarah found and that ended up sending her home. That's not irony. It's justice. Or karma.
Bottom Line, IV. Brad's fist-pumping, sand-kicking celebration post-immunity win was clearly an involuntary response, but it was my least favorite kind of Survivor reaction because it's the kind of thing that leaves everybody unsettled and scared and makes you look crazy. [Troyzan did the same thing back in his season when he won some ultimately meaningless immunity before he got steamrolled by the women.] I don't like that and I don't like his condescending talk suggesting that the "girls" haven't been smart enough to vote with him. The difference between Brad and everybody out there other than Sarah is that Brad has a winning resumé if he makes it that far, but I think he'll have to do a lot of bullying to bring it home. If he wins, I'll probably respect it, but I won't enjoy it.
Bottom Line, V. Poor Aubry. She was achieving Martha from The Americans levels of pathetic tonight. Since I'm still strongly of the mind that she should have won her first season, I'd be disappointed if she got dragged to the end as dead weight this time.
Finale next week!