7:00pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
'Survivor: Game Changers' Runs The Numbers In 'Reinventing How This Game Is Played'
[This article contains spoilers for the Wednesday, May 3, episode of Survivor: Game Changers.]
OK, Survivor editors.
We need to talk a bit about this one.
I understand that some amount of creating at-home suspense for viewers is through misdirection in the editing room and that one of the easiest ways to do that is to spend the post-immunity time back at camp showing people deliberating between two sides and then having somebody say, "So it looks like I'm the deciding vote tonight" and then going to tribal with things up in the air. In a typical Survivor season, I'd guess that between four and six episodes go down in that exact way.
But when you have a situation in which you're dealing with the departure of what will probably be the most memorable player of the season, I feel like viewers need more as a takeaway than, "Well, I guess there were conversations behind the scenes that made that possible."
I don't mean to say that anything dynamic happened that could have clarified Wednesday's tribal council vote against Zeke.
The most important thing to reassure casual observers who only discover the show is still on when something happens that thrusts Survivor back into legitimate news headlines is that Zeke's elimination had nothing visible to do with the shocking tribal council in which the Oklahoma Sooners football fan and Survivor aficionado was revealed to also be trans. I say "visible," because I'm not inside anybody's head, but short of constructing ulterior motives entirely absent from the edit, Zeke went home for reasons having nothing to do with being trans.
Zeke went home, as I've said before, for being an anxious Survivor player, which isn't quite the same as being a bad Survivor player, but leaves you with equally few million-dollar prizes. I'd put Zeke's intellectual understanding of the game among the top 20 of Survivor veterans, give or take? But knowing the game and knowing when to play the game are different things, and just as he did in his first season, Zeke pushed too hard, too soon. There was no reason for him to start conspiring against Andrea two episodes ago or to do it as overtly as he did, and even if that choice didn't doom him instantly, it's why Zeke was voted out on tonight's show.
"It was a great move, worthy of the title 'Game Changers,'" said Zeke in his post-elimination confessional, quickly admitting that Andrea simply got him before he got her. And that's how the game is played, kids!
Now if only the editors could have let us fully understand exactly what happened, however ordinary it might have been.
Clarity can be better than suspense. Wednesday's episode might have been suspenseful, but it was anything but clear.
We know that Andrea has gone from coasting and on the brink of elimination to running the game in a matter of a week, in island time. She has also, frankly, probably made herself into much more of a target than she should have, with a pair of immunity wins and some really dominant challenge performances in a game that has lost its most dominant physical players. I know why Zeke wanted Andrea out, and I know why other people will now turn their attentions to her in future episodes. That means that Cirie might actually be in the driver's seat, since she was in tandem with Andrea on the necessity of ousting Zeke out now while they had the chance.
But how did we end up with that strange vote?
How did Brad, Troyzan and Sierra end up voting for Tai when the last we heard was that Andrea and Cirie were hoping to bring in Sierra on the vote against Zeke? Were they told to vote Tai because there was concern that Zeke might have an idol or some nonsense like that? And was there a different conversation with Tai that led to his voting for Sierra?
The more important question is how Michaela and particularly Sarah were convinced to go along with the vote against Zeke. Sarah had been Zeke's determined defender and had acknowledged that voting him out eventually was a good plan, but not just yet. And Michaela had very correctly done the math and decided that going from a six-four majority to a six-three advantage was smarter than going from a six-four to a five-four where another Sarah flip would erase their alliance entirely. How did both Michaela and Sarah come to write Zeke's name? Somebody swayed them, and whoever made that vote happen overcame sufficient enough emotion that Michaela was sobbing at tribal council as Zeke departed.
Again, I get why you try leaving some of that stuff vague, but as an outside observer I really need to know how I'm supposed to score things at home. Andrea gets credit for introducing the target and instigating the execution, but we've seen previously that Cirie is something of a Michaela Whisperer. If Cirie steered Michaela into the correct voting column and perhaps did the same with "Officer Sarah," then I want to know to put those numbers in her column or on her resumé. Sarah got most of the credit for last week's alliance upheaval, but what caused her to go against her instincts and against her alleged final five strategy here? Was it really just what Sarah said about not wanting to go out on a limb from her alliance and face their distrust? There had to have been an extra step, no?
Whatever was decided was decided before tribal, because in a season of dynamic and passionate tribal councils, this was maybe the dullest and least enlightening tribal council in memory, right up until Hali's shocked post-vote reaction, "Game changers!" to which Debbie replied, "Idiots." Now that was excellent.
On the whole, this wasn't the second Survivor experience that Zeke probably wanted. He was the 11th player voted out in Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X and he was the 11th player voted out here. He didn't ask to be outed by a desperate and mediocre former player who had no business being in a second all-stars season, but he handled what happened with Jeff Varner with an unimaginable amount of grace and candor. He remained one of the game's most quotable players and acquitted himself well physically and made an effort to be aggressive in strategy. I think you'd still say he played better in his first season, though that's a product of context. Probably not the next time, but I think Zeke'll get invited back for another Survivor season in the future if the show just goes on for 40 or 45 seasons.
A few Bottom Lines ...
Bottom Line, Part I. I'm still dreading how Probst will handle the Zeke/Varner situation at the reunion show. It'll probably get wedged between Probst's orgasmic tribute to all of the alphas who went home early and a guest appearance by somebody in a Sia wig who isn't Sia.
Bottom Line, Part II. Every week we progress without any idols or advantages being used makes me wonder if we're heading toward some unprecedented tribal with five people just throwing their idols and advantages out and forcing Jeff Probst to sift through the voting rubble. As I keep tabulating, we still have three idols, with Tai's two and Troyzan's one, Sierra's limited-use advantage and Sarah's stolen vote. It strikes me as awful short-sighted if Tai made no effort at all to bring one of his idols into play this week as a negotiating point to protect his alliance. If you've got two, it sure stands to reason that you could admit having ONE to your alliance in order to start a, "If we think they're going after Sierra, should we give her the idol at tribal in the hopes of flipping the vote and taking somebody out from the other side?" I know Tai has already used one idol on Sierra this season and I sure would feel reticent to give her another, and we know that giving her the idol this week would have had no impact. If you're Tai, how confident could you possibly be that if the votes were coming against you that you'd even know? After playing with his head and all of that in the early-going, Tai has settled back into almost the identical mode he was in in his season. Remember that? For a long time Tai looked like he was going to be hard to beat and then suddenly it was the home-stretch of the season and nobody was afraid of him at all because of how many votes he'd been clueless at. As it stands now, Tai's big moves in the game were following the herd to vote out his buddy Caleb and surrounding an idol in a vote that will be better remembered for the stupidity of J.T.
Bottom Line, Part III. Odd episode for Michaela. She began the episode with a performance in the reward challenge that was both initially dominant and ultimately characterized by yelling at people and a loss. Then she was pretty on-the-ball in her read of the numbers for her alliance, but apparently didn't win that either. Then she ended up crying even though the person going home was the one she voted for. But nobody talked about needing to get rid of Michaela because of how annoying she is/was, so that's a minor win. Michaela needs to start winning a couple individual immunities if she wants to have a final jury resumé.
Bottom Line, Part IV. Can you list "Got very excited about reward food" on a final jury resumé? If so, Aubry's making herself a worthy contender. Last week, she became a .gif with her enthusiasm for cole slaw. This week, she was thrilled by an egg. I wish she was doing anything else of equal visibility. This week's reward was a good reward, with the night in comfortable beds that we didn't see and the large quantity of food, even if I didn't find Brad appreciably fatter when he returned to camp.
Bottom Line, Part V. Even if you know how many letters each word is, a 30-letter jumble puzzle is really different. I think Andrea's role in instigating the solving of "Reinventing How This Game Is Played" by suggesting one word might be "Reinventing" was every bit as impressive as getting Zeke out.
Be back next week!