7:00pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
'Survivor: Game Changers' Hunts for Goats and a "Survivor Jackpot"
[This article contains spoilers for the Wednesday, March 15, episode of CBS' Survivor: Game Changers.]
Survivor: Game Changers got off to an exciting start last week with a premiere that included former winners Sandra and Tony going head-to-head for strategic supremacy, culminating in a tribal council full of shouting, taunting and name-calling.
Wednesday's episode, titled "Survivor Jackpot," was a quieter affair, despite a tribal shuffle seven days into the game, a shakeup that occurred before the opening credits, but finally had very little impact. The episode's vote, in fact, came down to two castaways who were part of the original Mana tribe that had already sent two people home last week.
"Survivor Jackpot" was still a reasonably decent episode driven by one thing that didn't happen, one thing that did happen and a strategic swing suggesting several of these game changers are taking this season's title literally and altering their personal approaches to the game.
I guess the thing that did happen wasn't really all that thrilling, either — at least not yet. Troyzan found an idol, which he knew he needed to do because he was shuffled into a newly formed Tavua tribe along with Cirie, Andrea, Sarah, Zeke and Ozzy, who were all previously on a tribe together and didn't hesitate to make Troyzan feel like an outsider. Even after letting him know that he'd be voted out if the opportunity ever came up and even after all agreeing that he couldn't be allowed to be alone and potentially find an idol, the gang left Troyzan alone long enough that ... he found a clue telling him that he could grab an idol off of a table in the upcoming immunity challenge, which he did.
Troyzan didn't change the game in his first season. He overvalues himself in that respect. He fell on the penis-side of an all-girls alliance that he was unable to stop or even slow down, but he did manage to save himself in a couple key moments and get other people sent home ahead of him for a while. Survivor: Guys Who Delayed the Inevitable Slightly wouldn't have been as catchy a title, but Troyzan has again positioned himself to put off the inevitable for himself.
As for the thing that didn't happen, it was pretty fantastic. We saw last week that the Nuku camp had scampering goats running up and down the hillside. Well, leave it to Sandra to get shuffled into the new Nuku tribe, take one look at this furry, skipping buffet and decide she wanted goat stew. And leave it to the men of New Nuku, mostly JT and Malcolm, to go out and catch first an adorable baby goat, bleating in confused sadness, and then a mama goat unwilling to leave her kid behind.
What went down from there was predictable.
Sandra wanted dinner. Or, put a different way, the GOAT wanted a goat.
"That's what they're here for. For human consumption," she said. I would tend to agree.
And Malcolm wanted to be on-camera, running through a long stretch of morally conflicted talking-head segments where he said things like, "Catching a goat was never on my bucket list" and "We won't kill him, because we have a conscience" and "It is the goat version of Bambi right now."
It's been a while since anybody on Survivor killed anything cute, or even anything with a recognizable face. It's a large gap, then, between killing a wild pig or a shark and killing a baby goat with its mother nearby begging for her child's life.
The producers of Survivor know this, and I wonder what would have happened if JT had decided that protein and kissing up to Sandra were more important than going to a PETA-approved heaven.
I wonder if this would have been a binding of Isaac situation in which, if JT/Abraham had held a knife to that baby goat's throat, The Voice of Probst would have come from heaven and been all, "What are you doing, JT? Here, have limping old nanny goat as your sacrifice." Because you know that for some portion of the Survivor audience, killing a baby goat would have been a bridge too far. Nobody laments the wanton slaughter of crabs or minnows or even the occasionally chicken, but once you sneak into the barn and witness the spring slaughter of the lambs, you're forever marked.
Have the goats stopped screaming, Clarice?
Eventually, the group agreed they'd eat a chicken for now and if they could ever catch a man-goat, especially one in arrears on his baby-goat support, they'd be find with permanently censuring him. The producers will, I'm betting, now make sure that Nuku is not the post-merge camp. Those fluffy cutlets are an attractive nuisance.
Finally, let's get to the vote.
Tai voted with his head and not his heart, even if his head and heart probably maybe should have been aligned here. Tai was reunited with Caleb and they rekindled their bromance, and Tai promised Caleb he'd try to work with him. But after Brad told Tai that after the merge, the closeness between the two would probably hurt Tai, Tai decided to play a different way this time and chose to keep Hali and boot his buddy. Short-term, this isn't a great strategy. Mana is far weaker without Caleb than with him. But if you figure that at least one more shuffle or reconstitution is coming before the merge, this was reasonably safe. You take out Caleb knowing that even if your tribe suddenly becomes useless in challenges, Hali's the easiest of subsequent votes (and Debbie's a breeze after that). This is Tai figuring that he's safe to the merge regardless and he's in better position post-merge without Caleb and he's got a decisive line on his résumé already.
Some Bottom Line Thoughts...
Bottom Line, Part I. It's so strange for anybody who watched Caleb's season on Big Brother to see the Caleb who got voted out tonight barely speaking up in his defense and then took the news of his eviction by kissing Tai on the head and leaving politely. Where did Beastmode Cowboy go? This version of Caleb came across as a vastly better human, but since when is that great TV? The editing at least tried pointing us to expecting Hali to go, but that was also based on viewer assumptions that Tai would play with his heart again. Wrong! Tai is a cold-hearted snake.
Bottom Line, Part II. Speaking of alpha cats changing their spots, I'm not prepared to say that I "like" this version of Brad Culpepper, but I respect that after coming across like a misogynistic jackass in his first season, he has been determined to be what the frogs on Twitter would call a beta cuck this time around. He's going around decorating camp and asking people what they think, and even though he had a preference to vote Caleb out over Hali, Brad let Tai make the decision and talked him through the pros and cons. The Brad from Blood vs. Water was one of my least favorite players ever. This Brad actually could win.
Bottom Line, Part III. Speaking of things that didn't happen at the Nuku camp, not only could JT not kill a goat, but even after leaving his whole tribe out on a raft a half-mile out to sea, he couldn't find himself an idol clue, leaving him at the low end of a numbers alliance for the short-term. JT' is actually in surprisingly great position. Yes, he's a former winner, but he's a former winner who completely destroyed his reputation with a game-ending blunder his second time around. So people look at JT and he's much more easily overlooked than a guy with a million bucks ought to be. In fact, the Heroes vs. Villains gaffe added fuel to the "Fishbach was the real genius behind JT" narrative that I've never wholly bought. In the season he won, JT played a great physical game, a great social game and even if he let Fishbach steer his strategic game, that was a pretty smart move, obviously. JT is back to being looked at as a lovable yokel, and he even came out this time with a couple extra pounds on his frame so that nobody would instantly view him as a strapping farm boy, especially with the Malcolms and Calebs around. Being down 5-1 in his current tribe isn't lucky for JT, but things really could be worse.
Bottom Line, Part IV. Three tribes in an hourlong episode means that people and whole tribes are going to get lost and this was not a great episode for near-invisibles like Aubry, Sarah and even normally outspoken players like Michaela and Zeke. Who would have guessed that Michaela would be such an unassuming part of Goatgate? In the challenge, I think they left in Probst repeatedly praising Sierra for being able to untie knots just because the editors knew that otherwise Sierra would basically cease to exist again. The closest Sierra came to earning screen time in this episode was the two times she said that she and Hali have no relationship from their season together, which was less convincing than reminding us that both Sierra and Hali have played together before. Shrug.
Bottom Line, Part V. Troyzan Tebowing his way to that idol by kneeling in front of the table after the challenge and feigning exhaustion was not great acting — but it was effective. Remember that when he started shaking things up and gaining little footholds of power in his season, he didn't change the game, but he did get annoying.
On to next week!