Survivor: Game Changers recap: 'A Line Drawn in Concrete'

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Survivor

type:
TV Show
genre:
Reality TV
run date:
05/31/00
performer:
Jeff Probst
broadcaster:
CBS
seasons:
35
Current Status:
In Season

The Survivor gods are vengeful gods. We have watched their wrath in the form of a cyclone that took players off the beach and into a shelter for the first time ever on Millennials vs. Gen X. We have seen all the times they have felled contestants with injuries and infections that have shattered dreams and forced folks prematurely from the game. We bore witness to that time they mind-controlled Jeff Probst into wearing a cowboy hat for an entire season. As I said, vengeful gods.

But there is one thing that upsets the Survivor gods more than all others. The Medallion of Power? No, not that. A final three instead of final two? Close, but no. The Outcasts twist? Getting warmer. The thing that truly triggers full-on wrath-of-Survivor-gods type stuff is when someone says something like this: “We have complete control of this game… There isn’t a line drawn in the sand. There is a line drawn in concrete.”

How many times have we seen people talking all about how comfortable and in control they are, only to then watch them get blindsided that very same episode? Well, whatever the astronomical total is, you can now add one more example to the pile as Debbie started the hour chatting all about how perfect everything was and then finished it by having her torch snuffed after Sarah switched teams.

That type of overconfident blindside has become a Survivor staple, right up there with puzzles that negate the other 90 percent of a challenge and Jeff Probst looking at his shoes as he yells, “Come on in, guys!” Memo to all future Survivor players: Never talk about how awesome everything is going in your producer confessional interviews. Never! Sure, one can point out that there are no doubt just as many — more, even — examples of people saying similar stuff and then editors just not using those comments because nothing happened later to hilariously contradict it, but it still serves as the ultimate jinx. So why risk it?

The only choice the Survivor gods had by the time the players got to Tribal was whether to strike down Debbie for her insolence, or Sierra for having the sheer audacity to proclaim, “As of now, I feel like I’m in the driver’s seat and it feels great!” In the end, the gods played Eeny Meeny Miny Moe and brought Lucille down on Debbie, ousting the human roulette wheel of professional careers right out of the game. Cochran advised her to never feel comfortable, but how long did we really think that lesson would be followed? (And no, contrary to what his recent string of appearances may lead you to believe, Cochran does not count as one of the Survivor gods.)

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Okay, so that’s that. Let’s delve into what else went down and recap this son of a bitch. We begin right after Ozzy’s dismissal from Tribal Council with Debbie and Sarah offering conflicting reports on whether lines are being drawn in sand or concrete and how any tides may affect said lines. And then Zeke and Andrea are getting into it over his decision to defect — which actually left him in no man’s land after the people he defected to did not include him in their plans. “Everyone here knows you’re shady,” says Andrea, and I kind of get the feeling that she’s right judging by how Debbie and Sierra reacted to his intel last week. But Zeke’s a smart guy. He can possibly rebound.

We head off to the reward challenge, which features a big water obstacle course players have to go through before retrieving a grappling hook and then five rings. Culpepper and Cirie end up as captains, and there are two big things of note about whom they end up selecting. First off, Brad intentionally does not pick Troyzan and Sarah because he says Survivor 101 is to never bring your entire alliance on a reward. There are two problems with that.

Problem No. 1 is that when you leave alliance members behind, they are likely to flip. You see, Brad is only half right here. If you win an individual reward, the last thing you want to do is bring your two best buddies with you so that the people on the bottom of your alliance realize they are on the bottom and then get to go bond with folks trying to flip them. But in a situation like this, with Brad purposely leaving someone like Sarah back to scheme and plot and feel undervalued… well, you can see how that might have been an error in judgment. Oh, and problem No. 2 is that you can’t fit a six-person alliance on a five-person team, so simple math was sort of standing in Brad’s way of bringing his entire alliance with him anyway.

The other odd thing about the way the teams are chosen is that Michaela is the one person who was not selected. Now, there is no doubt that Michaela is not as strong in the water as she is on land (unless she is in the water wrestling while taking her bikini top off), but for neither team to select her was surprising, especially when you consider that Cirie (who has been nurturing her since the merge) was one of the folks doing the picking. Michaela reacted to the snub in her usual calm, cool, and collected manner, explaining to Jeff that she was feeling “like they some bitches… I don’t give a f— what happens. I’m just watching.” What she should have been watching was what was going on down by her feet, but we’ll get to that later.

The challenge is a fun one because seeing people fall off balance beams, slide down ramps, and lose their bathing suits is always a joy. I could watch that stuff all day. And if I’m going to be completely honest, some days I have. But the challenge hits a completely different gear once Cirie gets in the water. Because then she can’t get out of the water. Completely gassed, she is unable to pull herself up on the second platform. She tries. She tries again. She tries some more. It’s not happening. Finally, Sarah swims back to help her, meaning she too will have to do all the stages again.

At this point the challenge is over as Brad’s team wins, but Probst has an idea. After approximately the 10 millionth mention of “get up off the couch,” Jeff tells Cirie that they will all stay there with her if she wants to finish that obstacle course. With that, the rest of her teammates swim back to assist and encourage. In the end, she does it. Probst is clapping. All the players are clapping. AND I AM TOTALLY NOT CRYING SITTING AND WATCHING IT ON MY COUCH! STOP SAYING I AM CRYING! I JUST WAS CHOPPING SOME ONIONS, THAT’S ALL!

Look, I could go all purist and be like, The challenge is done, why are they making such a big deal about someone struggling in a challenge? People struggle all the time in challenges and we make fun of them and they get called out by Probst and other players for their deficiencies. So why are we making such a fuss over Cirie? Because she’s freakin’ Cirie, that’s why. And she’s earned that. And it was a nice human moment in an otherwise cutthroat game. And I love the juxtaposition when people can draw that distinction between kindness and support on a personal level while slitting someone’s throat on a strategic one. And it wasn’t even entirely her fault that her team lost, as Zeke was passed by both Debbie and Andrea on the balance beam.

If you think the moment was over the top and you rolled your eyes over that huge fuss being made over someone sucking in a challenge, I get it. You’re not necessarily wrong. But even a non-feeling strategic gamebot like myself can appreciate watching one of the true queens of the game being afforded a special non-game moment like that to prove to herself that she could get through it (yes, with a little help). “One of the most powerful moments on Survivor,” Probst called it, and he has a lot more to say about it in this week’s Q&A, so make sure to check that out.

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Speaking of checking things out: MICHAELA! LOOK BY YOUR DAMN FEET! Ah, if only she would, because there is a Secret Advantage sitting right there under her “Unpicked Loser Bench” (not an official title). But Michaela never sees it. However, as the players begin to leave, Sarah — who just competed — does. And here’s what is super interesting about what transpires. Sarah only notices the secret advantage as she’s walking towards the boat that Probst ordered brought over for Cirie and the tribe to take back to their beach. (The other tribe swam to their boat, which was probably just off camera.) Had Cirie not floundered so much, and had they been forced to dive off the pier instead of walking over to the boat on the dock, would Sarah have even noticed the advantage? Interesting to think how that one small act of kindness by Probst could potentially end up impacting the game in a big way. (Again, to be clear: Both teams take boats back to camp. He just didn’t make Cirie and company swim to theirs, and that appears to be when Sarah noticed the advantage.)

Now that Sarah had noticed the advantage, how would she get it? Very slyly, it turns out. Whenever the players are transported anywhere, it is in a blacked-out transport. On land, that means a blacked-out van. On water, it means they have to descend down into the boat, where there are either no windows or they are also blacked out. (By the way, I experienced this myself when I was embedded with the Cook Islands cast in the days before that season began. It totally screws with your equilibrium when you can’t see outside the windows and can be a one-way ticket to Barftown.)

Anyway, as soon as everyone walks on the boat, they have to walk down into that little room underneath and then can see nothing outside. So all Sarah has to do is be the last one on, and then nobody can check out what she is up to. And that’s exactly what she does, stalling by pretending to be doing something with her water shoes. Then, once the boat moves over from her dock to Michaela’s, Sarah swims over to get it after Michaela gets on board. So nobody is even in a position to see her grab the advantage at that point. Easy peasy. Well played by Sarah, and interesting to think about how she probably never would have had that opportunity had Cirie not struggled and a boat been brought over to them to board.

Back at camp, Sarah discovers that the Secret Advantage is actually a vote steal. AND WE ALL KNOW HOW WELL EXTRA VOTES HAVE WORKED OUT FOR PEOPLE SO FAR ON THIS SHOW! Dan Foley got voted out when he used his extra vote. Stephen Fishbach got voted out when he used his vote steal. Debbie was not voted out when she used her extra vote, but she wasted it because Ozzy would have gone home anyway without it (which is exactly why I argued a few weeks back that she should have taken the fake immunity idol kit). But Sarah is confident this time will be different. “I will be the first one to play this vote correctly,” she boasts. Careful, Sarah — the Survivor gods are always listening.

While they’re at it, the Survivor gods should also schedule some sort of symposium on whether they need to chill out a bit with the extra vote advantages. As a concept, I love them. And I think the fact that nobody has yet to use one that made any difference in the actual result makes them even more intriguing. But along with Sierra’s extra vote [See UPDATE below] and Debbie’s extra vote, Sarah’s vote steal makes three such occurrences in less than a full season so far. That’s probably two too many. It’s like when ABC kept airing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire 38 nights a week when that show was at its ratings peak because they couldn’t stop themselves. Sometimes less is more, and I would argue that one vote steal or extra vote per season is enough. Sprinkling other random advantages throughout the season is okay, but let’s mix them up a bit more, shall we?

[UPDATE: You can probably ignore, like, 50 percent of the previous paragraph, because as many have pointed out, we don’t know what Sierra’s Legacy Advantage is. I called it an extra vote, but that is just a faulty memory coupled with writing too fast. Now, if it turns out her Legacy Advantage is an extra vote, then come back and read that previous paragraph again in a few weeks and then it will deserve 100 percent of your attention. But for now, you can kind of dismiss it. Although I do maintain that even two extra vote type advantages in a season — if that is what it ends up being — is still too many.]

[UPDATE #2: Someone else then pointed out to me that WE DO know what Sierra’s advantage as it was revealed back in the premiere that it is immunity at either the final 6 or 13 vote. What, are you all expecting me to, like, remember things now? Jeez. Anyway, so now can you not only ignore like 75% of that previous paragraph but you can now ignore 100% of the first update. Or you can just ignore this entire recap. Anyway, SORRY!]

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Meanwhile, Team Brad is on a seaplane on their way to the reward. “I am a captain in the Civil Air Patrol,” announces Debbie, who says she is more excited for her teammates because “they don’t get to be in airplanes as much as I do, so it was really fun to watch their faces.” What do you mean they don’t get in airplanes much? It’s not 1940, for crissakes. Hell, they took an airplane to get to Fiji, for crying out loud! It’s not like you need to give them a pin-on pair of wings and a coloring book and let them stop by the cockpit to meet the captain on the way out — I’m pretty sure they’re familiar enough with airplanes.

But while they’re enjoying their getaway, Cirie is back at the beach getting to work — telling Sarah that Brad and Sierra are running things and how Sarah would not stand a chance against them at the end because people will say they carried her. Sarah wants to make a big move. The problem is, Sarah switching here is not necessarily a move that will get her any credit. Think of it this way: You have a majority of six and a minority of five. Usually when someone flips here, the credit for the move does not go to the flippee, but rather the flipper. Meaning Sarah would not gain the respect of the other tribemates, but the person who manipulated her into doing it —in this case, Cirie — would. Whether this is right or wrong makes no difference. Perception is reality out there on the island, so it will be interesting to see if Sarah is now seen as someone who made a bold game-changing move, or someone who simply got played.

Let’s head out to the I-M-M-U-N-I-T-Y challenge now, which I just spelled out in case Tai is reading and needs a little assist. This is a super fun one from the Kaoh Rong season in which players have to pull on a rope to balance a wobbly table while spelling out the word immunity with blocks. I actually got to try this one myself when challenge producer John Kirhoffer brought a bunch of his competitions to the EW PopFest convention where a bunch of Survivors — including folks from this season like Tai and Ozzy — and I competed against fans while Jeff Probst called the action. (Evidence of my victory over my EW Morning Live cohost Jessica Shaw is below.)

Anyway, I love this challenge. My favorite part of it is seeing how folks decide to carry their blocks over while holding the rope. Some go under the chin. Some go tucked in the armpit. Some go straight for the mouth. I was strictly an in-the-mouth kind of guy… which I now realize when taken out of context may just be the most horrifying sentence I have ever typed. The point is, I thought that was the best way to transfer the blocks without interfering with the rope. Of course, my jubilant victory celebration was immediately cut short when it was pointed out to me that the blocks I had just been sticking in my mouth had been in the mouths — AND ARMPITS! — of scores of other people who did it before me. To be honest, I have never quite been the same after that. Occasionally, the memory of that fateful decision will pop up and I will just start spitting into a cup, or a sink, or on the sidewalk. I’M STILL TRYING TO GET IT OUT OF MY MOUTH!!! Again, that was a truly unfortunate sentence I just typed and I would like to apologize for it.

I should feel bad for folks like Andrea and Brad, who got so close here, dropping their entire stacks with just one block to go. But I don’t. Because that’s precisely the fun of this challenge — watching people get soooo close, only to watch their blocks and dreams come crumbling down before their very eyes. Good stuff! So Troyzan wins, resulting in the second most awkward hug of the season.

Back at the beach, Sarah is experiencing Survivor whiplash. After Brad and the group don’t consult her in their plan to vote out Andrea, Sarah gets pissed and looks ready to flip. But then Sierra tells Sarah she wants her in the final 3, so now she wants to stay put. But then Aubry tells Sarah about Debbie making overtures to her and she’s ready to flip again. Finally, “I’m going to decide at Tribal,” Sarah tells us. I suppose that’s as good a place as any.

[Congratulations! You’ve found the super secret Survivor pre-game vote-off giveaway of the week. In case you’re new here, I am giving away all the original votes that the Game Changers cast before the game (that you can view on my Instagram feed). To enter for a chance to win Debbie’s infamous “Playboy” vote for Andrea, just answer the following question. Who was the first Survivor contestant to pose nude for Playboy? (Hint: It is not Andrea.) Email your answer to survivor@ew.com AND PLEASE MAKE SURE TO INCLUDE YOUR MAILING ADDRESS! The winner will be contacted directly. Good luck! We now return you to your regularly scheduled Survivor recap, still in progress.]

So to Tribal we go, with Debbie continuing to spite the Survivor gods while also simultaneously auditioning for the part of Vizzini in the next local production of The Princess Bride. “It is inconceivable for anyone to conclude that there is anything but a strong six sitting here tonight.” Inconceivable, indeed. However, a really interesting strategic debate breaks out here. Is this the right time to make a move if you are in the majority alliance of six? Troyzan argues it is not, opining that the deck will reshuffle at six anyway, so it doesn’t matter where you are in the pecking order now. “If you’re smart enough to get yourself to six,” he says. “Take it.”

On the other side is Michaela, who points out that if you want to make a move, you need to have the numbers, and waiting till you are down to six could be too late. “We all see who’s running the show,” she says. “And you can either do something about it while you have numbers, or you can sit here looking like Boo Boo Fool.” (I actually have no idea what she said at the end here, but it kind of sounded like Boo Boo Fool to me. I’m sure lots of you will correct me in the comment section as to what she actually said, but I’m half deaf after I sold my soul to rock & roll and spent 10 years going to stupid little punk rock shows and standing right next to giant Peavey monitors blasting out half-competent guitar licks, so you’ll have to excuse my faulty old-man hearing.)

Longtime readers know that I’ve pretty much always been of the mind that the second argument is stronger and that waiting to make a move is often a death wish. You need to seize the opportunity while you have it. However… the game has evolved and changed, and we may need to adjust our strategic thinking accordingly. The days of one alliance sticking together and riding it out to the end, with those on the top of that alliance then dispatching those on the bottom once they get there, are pretty much over. People have wised up. So Troyzan actually brings up a very good point in that there is still a huge opportunity to stick with the six, yet start planning out what to do when you get there.

Instead of voting out Debbie now, Sarah could be laying the groundwork to get rid of Brad or Troyzan down the line. That’s just as big of move and probably not all that difficult to do either. Why not focus on that, thereby staying safe for five more votes and then dropping your atomic bomb at six — plus getting all the credit for that move, as opposed to the minimal credit you may get for this one at 11? Remember, credit usually goes to the person who does the flipping, not the person who gets flipped. In this instance, waiting actually may be the better play to make.

But it’s not the play Sarah makes. As Michaela takes out a meal during the reading of the votes, Debbie is dispatched. But what a good sport she is about it. “Good luck to you all!” she beams. And then later, in her final words, she’s all smiles as she talks about how stunned she is. You know what? Good for Debbie. Make no mistake, she’s a kook. But she’s not one of those people who is only there to be a kook. Debbie strategizes and plays the game. She took out Peter in Kaoh Rong, and she was responsible for Ozzy’s ouster last week. And while she has been known to fly wildly off the handle — as when she went after Brad Culpepper — Debbie took her blindside completely in stride. So good for her. I can only hope that John Cochran was waiting for her back on Ponderosa with a hug. A very, very, very long awkward hug.

Watch PEN Fan Forum: Survivor, on the new PEOPLE/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) here, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

Okay, let’s get to the other goodies. We’ve got an exclusive deleted scene for you from last night’s episode above (and it’s a cool one that features a teary Andrea trying to make nice with Zeke, yet ends with her calling him “smug” and “condescending”), and you’ll want to check out my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster Gerneral Jeff Probst. We’ll be chatting with Debbie on EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105) at 9:40am tomorrow and later here on EW.com. And for more Survivor updates, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Now it’s your turn. Did Sarah make the right move? Were you shedding tears or rolling your eyes during the Cirie challenge finish? And who deserves to win at this point in the game? Share your thoughts on the EW message boards and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

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