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Entertainment Weekly

TV Recaps

Survivor: Game Changers premiere recap: 'The Stakes Have Been Raised'

Timothy Kuratek/CBS

Posted on


5/31/00 - 1/1/70

TV Show
genre new
Jeff Probst


If you heard that sound emanating from the New York tri-state area, like a cop screaming up at the sky while cradling the body of his partner who was just one week from retirement before being shot down by the drug lord who had vowed revenge after having his high-stakes poker game broken up… well, if you heard that noise, it was me.

Tony Vlachos — the man who attempted to build an underground Spy Shack; the man who had promised to unleash “clones” on his opponents; the man who planned to find a hidden immunity idol, plant it in the bag of one of his enemies, show everyone else, and then steal his idol back; the man who sprinted off as soon as he got to the beach telling everyone he was looking for idols — is gone. One of the most entertaining players in Survivor history, taken from us way too soon.

Even worse, because of that stupid bounty hunter show Hunted, we didn’t even get two solid weeks of Tony. Because of Survivor’s late start in March, CBS has to double up Survivor episodes on a few weeks, meaning they crammed our only two weeks of Tony into a single night. UNACCEPTABLE!

I know I may have gone on record as being against the Redemption Island twist, but I am hereby pulling a 180. Bring it back! Any excuse to keep Tony. Didn’t Probst tell me something about them maybe hiding an immunity idol at Tribal Council this season? Couldn’t one just happen to fall down into the lighthouse voting urn right as Tony was casting his vote? Hell, make Tony himself the hidden immunity idol, meaning he is automatically placed right back into the game. It’s perfect, he even already created a place to hide himself back at camp — his underground spy bunker!

By the way, as much as I love Tony — and I do realize my love at this point borders on creepy and concerning — what the hell was he thinking with an underground bunker? He told me about it before the game and all I kept thinking to myself was, “Dude, do you have any idea how long it takes to build something underground that would be big enough to hide you in? That makes absolutely no sense!” Which is precisely why I loved it so much.

It sucks to lose Tony and it would have sucked to have lost Sandra. Their feud lasted only half an episode but already goes down as the best heavyweight battle in Survivor history. Boston Rob vs. Russell in Heroes vs. Villains was pretty epic, but neither of them (at that point) were winners. Here you had two winners (with three championship belts between them) going toe to toe. The self-proclaimed Queen and King of Survivor in a royal feud. And I found myself in the odd position of rooting for both of them. As much as I was eating up every second of watching these masters of the game go at it, there was an underlying sense of dread at the same time knowing we were about to lose one of them this early in the season. It’s a good thing I’m not the host of Survivor, because honestly, if I were, I would have just not shown anyone the votes at Tribal Council and read them off as follows:

Second person voted out of Survivor: Game Changers… Hali

MICHAELA: “Umm…I actually voted for Tony.”
ME: “The tribe has spoken!”
TROYZAN: “Yeah, I also voted for…”

Look, no offense to Hali. She’s a nice gal and even understands the nature of her questionable casting, telling me before the game, “I don’t know why I’m back,” and saying her brain was not even on last time she played, but I would lose her or Troyzan or anyone a million times over before cutting Tony or Sandra loose this early in the game. I have this vision in my head of Probst and the producers walking off the Tribal Council set as if at a funeral, pouring 40 ounces of beer onto the sand to honor their dead homie.

Also, can we just start the Ponderosa videos right now, please? Because I have a feeling Tony has no off switch and is still up to his crazy antics. Like, I think there is a significant possibility he has crammed himself into the freezer under all the bags of frozen veggies so he can spy on Ciera when she goes to retrieve a mint chocolate chip Klondike bar. It’s just a hunch, but a pretty solid one.

But okay, grieving over. Because it’s time to recap the rest of this double-dose of Survivor goodness. Plus, I’ve got some treats for you and a big announcement. You’ll find lots of exclusive videos throughout the recap, including a deleted scene from last night’s episode, Jeff Probst interviewed at Tribal Council right after the first torch snuffing, the full opening credits you didn’t see on TV, Tony and Ciera before the game began, and the contestants all naming the people they were surprised were included on a Game Changers season. In fact, let’s put that last one right here before I get to the announcement, because it is pretty awesome.

As for the announcement, some of you may have checked out my Instagram feed lately, where I posted lots of behind-the-scenes photos from location, including each of the players casting a pre-game vote for the person they wanted out of the game first. (You can check them out for yourself and follow me on Instagram @thedaltonross.) Well, I brought the original votes with me back from Fiji and am going to be giving them away each week to one or more lucky winners.

Each time someone is voted out, we will give away that person’s vote. Each week, somewhere in the recap I will ask a Survivor-related question and provide an email address for you to send an answer. We will then pick a winner each week to receive the vote. On weeks like this one, where there are two eliminated contestants, we will pick two winners, one for each. So Tony and Ciera’s votes are both up for grabs! Read on and find out how to enter and win! (I’ll also have my weekly Q&A’s with Jeff Probst, so look for those as well.)

Okay, enough yappin’. Let’s recap this son of a bitch because I am excited to get to it! Jeff Probst pulled a fast one on us in the walk-up to this season. He kept talking about how a lot of players were slow to start making moves, and he kind of almost undersold it in a way. I’m glad he did because it tempered my expectations, and therefore those expectations were blown away with what happened in these first two hours, because I kind of loved it. Actually, eliminate the qualifier: I loved it. So let’s get to it.

NEXT: Men (and women) overboard!

We begin the way every returning player season begins, with a recap of some of the biggest players’ biggest moments. There’s Tony in his Spy Shack™! There’s Malcolm giving away his extra immunity idol! There’s Sandra telling off Russell! There’s Cirie convincing Erik to give away his immunity and then voting him off! There’s… Debbie???

Debbie’s a hoot, for sure. Just a little odd, that choice there. (I was actually convinced there was some sort of editing editor in the opening segment seeing how we were not treated for the millionth time to Ciera voting out her mom.) But none of that matters. All that matters is the color of Jeff Probst’s hat to kick off this season, the only clear predictive indicator as to the quality of the season to follow. And I am here to tell you right here and right now that this is going to be a great season because we have a full-scale #OrangeHatAlert, ladies and gentlemen!

That’s right, Probst is rocking the greatest of all Survivor hats as he wonders to himself if he ever got a tetanus shot while standing up on that rusty, capsized ship and belting out his famous “…one Survivor!” line. Then, after a credits sequence that lasts .385 seconds — or, approximately the same amount of time as Wanda in Survivor: Palau — we get Jeff on a different boat, and this time with 20 returning players. (By the way, you can see the full credits sequence that didn’t make it to TV later in the recap.)

Probst welcomes the Game Changers and tells them that they were “each hand picked… because you have proven you are willing to make the kind of moves to change the game!” The camera angles are a bit non-committal here and I could not see well enough from my perch on a floating dock while I was out there for this, but I am relatively confident that Probst avoided any and all eye contact with Sierra, Caleb, and Hali while delivering that last line. But hey, at least he didn’t laugh. That’s what makes him the best in the business, folks!

Anyhoo, they all applaud each other for being Game Changers and then J.T. wins the Francesca Hogi Award for saying something bold and completely unnecessary right out of the gate, informing everyone that “Sandra’s not gong to be the only two-time winner, I don’t think.” Look, that probably wasn’t the smartest thing for J.T. to say, but I suppose we should all just be happy he didn’t write that in a letter to Sandra and have Colby hand-deliver it with a hidden immunity idol.

Jeff tells the people with the blue buffs they are the Nuku tribe while the folks with the orange buff are Mana. This is especially confusing because there don’t appear to be any orange buffs! At least not as far as I can tell. I see what appear to be red buffs, but not orange. Have I suddenly gone colorblind or is this like that whole “What Color is the Dress?” thing? Seriously, I have not been this confused about anything Survivor-related since they decided to bring Brandon Hantz back to play again.

In classic Survivor fashion, the boat is loaded with supplies they have to grab before jumping off, but there is also a ring out in the water, and the first person to untie the underwater knots will win a tool kit for the tribe. Ozzy immediately takes off for it and the other tribe wisely says to themselves, “Well, no point in going for that!”

But that’s not the only twist. Andrea picks up a box of food but does not notice there is a secret advantage envelope right underneath. Sierra eventually spots it and proceeds to stick it in the back of her underwear. GAME CHANGER! Look, the whole jump-off-the-boat thing has been done on Survivor so many times, but I don’t care. I still love it. It’s classic Survivor, and watching people jump off a boat and have crates crashing on top of them is the best.

One fun thing you do not see is Ozzy, after retrieving the tool kit, going back on to the boat. At first Probst was not going to let him back on until Ozzy explained that he had left his shoes on there in his rush to dive in, so back on board he went to get his shoes and do a dramatic dive off the top bar, which made the opening credits that didn’t make it to TV. (Fun fact: Last year on Second Chance, Terry Dietz had to return during the scramble back to the little outrigger he arrived on because he had left his shoes there.)

The other interesting thing of note is the disorganization of the Mana tribe. They didn’t send anyone immediately to get the tool kit, therefore giving them one extra person on the boat to get supplies (until Caleb left belatedly) and yet still came away with way less food than Nuku. And then after that, they could not even paddle away from the boat. Probst was yelling at them to get it together and start paddling, but their effort seemed halfhearted at best. I remember thinking to myself, I wonder if this will carry over into the challenges. It obviously did.

NEXT: Tony digs deep… at his own camp

So off to the beaches we go! Let’s start at Mana, where Hali insists that everyone there is a snake in the grass but she is the cobra who strikes and you don’t know what hit you. Whether that is because other people don’t even realize she is there or not is open to debate, but watch those ankles and calves, everyone! Then, within seconds of hitting the beach, Tony sprints away while screaming like a lunatic. I have no idea what Tony’s strategy is here, but if I had to venture a guess it would be something like, My-plan-is-to-act-so-crazy-that-they-would-have-to-be-crazy-to-get-rid-of-me. Now, granted, that makes no sense, but that’s my best shot at it.

Later, he will start sprinting again, this time to the water well to work on his spy bunker. Again, I cannot emphasize enough what a terrible idea the underground spy bunker is. Also, what if someone, like, steps on you? So many problems with this plan. Problems like being caught digging — which is exactly what happens when Troyzan (not he real name, incidentally) walks by. Troyzan tells Malcolm, who tells Hali, who tells Ciera, Aubry, and Michaela, and they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on… (There I go dating myself again. Nobody under 40 will understand what the hell I am talking about. Then again, it’s probably a fair bet that people over 40 even don’t know what the hell I am talking about most of the time either.)

I kind of want to devote an entire paragraph to Caleb slipping and falling on the rocks, but then I feel bad. I mean, that was a hard fall. It looks like that seriously hurt. So why am I laughing? Clearly editors thought it was a funny moment as well because they put it in there. Why are we such terrible people that watching some poor guy land with a thud on rocks sends us into hysterics? And does it make me any less of a terrible person that I am openly acknowledging how terrible I am? Or does the fact that I recognize it and am still laughing make me even worse? See, this is the type of stuff I think about when I am not thinking about Survivor. When you combine them into one combo platter it’s as if the rest of my life comes to a full stop. By the way, I just devoted an entire paragraph to Caleb slipping and falling on the rocks.

Okay, so back to crazy Tony. Ciera says they should get rid of him. As much as I despise this idea, it makes sense. But now, because Ciera has been throwing names out, she has become a target. Which is kind of silly, but silly things happen on Survivor.

Meanwhile, over at Nuku, these bastards are living the high life. Their beach is stunning, they have an insane amount of food (including what appear to be 312 chickens), and they have that tool kit to build whatever the hell you build out on a deserted island. While Zeke is busy talking about how he wants to “lather myself in the blood of my enemies” — great idea for a reward, by the way — Sierra opens her secret Legacy Advantage, left for her on the boat by Ken McKnickle himself. It turns out this Legacy Advantage can be used by the owner for immunity when there are either 13 or 6 people left in the game, and like last time, must be willed to another player if the owner is voted out.

Hey, who wants to dig up feuds from 18 seasons ago? Ozzy, that’s who! Ozzy starts telling folks around camp that his Micronesia nemesis Cirie should be the first to go. Just one problem: One of the people he tells if Tai, who is as bad at lying as he is good at saving chickens. When Cirie later asks Tai if she’s okay with Ozzy, the Vietnamese gardener acts like he’s been hit by Mr. Freeze’s ray gun. He stands there motionless (and emotionless) for what seems like an eternity (or, roughly the same amount of time it takes Eliza Orlins or Hannah Shapiro to cast a pivotal vote at Tribal Council). It’s actually difficult to watch. Watching people lie badly is one of the most uncomfortable things imaginable. I actually was viewing this entire scene through my fingers on my face, as if that would somehow protect me from the strategic suicide happening on screen in front of me. It did not. Seriously, I can’t take it anymore. Let’s head to the immunity challenge before I gouge my eyes out.

NEXT: The last minute challenge change by producers

So, here’s what I can tell you about this first immunity challenge — the players got off easy. That’s because we tested out the challenge a few days before the players did, and it was much harder. How? Well, in the show, the Game Changers had to race out to raft, paddle out to a platform, then one person would swim out to get a set of keys and swim back. When they person returned, they would all make their way back to the beach over a series of obstacles, dig up some puzzle bags, unlock a chest with another puzzle bag, and then solve a ship’s wheel puzzle.

When we did it, however, there was one key difference. Instead of sending one person to swim out to the last platform (easy), we had to paddle the raft all the way out and around the last platform while getting the key, and let me tell you right now — that sucked. Going against the wind and the current while trying to maintain some semblance of control was, frankly, embarrassing. They have these big camera platform stations out in the water to film things, and yeah, we basically crashed into it. (I actually pushed us off it in a lame attempt to get us back on track.) We eventually had to paddle our raft backwards just to get back on course. Pathetic. No doubt noting (and laughing at) our terrible struggles, producers streamlined it and ditched that hellacious leg of the contest.

But before Probst can send the players out, he has to tell them all about a big new change to the voting rules for the season. He explains that there will be no revotes after ties this season — that if there is a tie, everyone has a chance to vote unanimously against one of the people in the tie, but if that does not happen they will go immediately to rocks, with the people in the tie safe. The purpose of the new wrinkle is meant to take away what Probst calls the majority alliance’s “free peek into the future,” where they would split their vote to see if someone had an idol, and then if they did not, just get them out on the revote. This makes it a bit harder.

I’ve already stated my position on this, but I’m a fan. Anytime you have an opportunity to make players less comfortable and take away an easy option, I’m all for it. We always focus on the game between players, but there is a game of cat and mouse between players and producers as well. Producers constantly put in new twists to shake the game up, and then players eventually find a way to exploit those rules for their own benefit. I love watching it all play out and look forward to seeing if and how this impacts the game play.

Okay, back to the challenge. So Nuku basically gets into the early lead, which is what happens when there is water and you have a guy named Ozzy on your team. It’s a comfortable lead as both teams finally make their way back to the beach and… Wait, WHAT THE HELL IS MANA DOING? DON’T LET CALEB START DIGGING!!! I hope they have that chopper on speed dial in case he decides to go Beast Mode Cowboy on this sand pit again. Let’s just say the dude has a history.

Thankfully, Caleb tags out and as a result is not carried out on a stretcher for a second time. You know what that is right there? GAME CHANGER!!! Eventually, Jeff Varner gives Mana the lead when he opens his first lock… and then promptly gives it back when he can’t open the second, leading to unsubstantiated claims of “panicking” by Probst, which Varner goes on to vehemently deny.

But hey, Mana shoudn’t worry. After all, they have Ciera on the puzzle — the exact same ship’s wheel puzzle she did in Blood vs. Water. With a huge advantage like that, they can’t lose! Oh, by the way, did I mention that Ciera lost that puzzle the fist time she did it? But no matter! She at least did it! She now knows the error of her ways! She will rise out of the ashes of her previous defeat — to her mother, no less — and taste victory sweeter than she has ever tasted. Why lose when you can win? Why be the same when you can be a… GAME CHANGER!

Anyway, Ciera loses again. By a lot. Seriously, it wasn’t even close. Like, I honestly think she would still be there doing the puzzle if Jeff Probst hadn’t shut it down so they could film the rest of the season. Soooooo… Game Stay the Samer, then? That’s not Ciera’s only problem. Her tribe wants her gone for reasons that remain murky at best — something about playing the game? The only hiccup occurs when Michaela learns that she’s the one they all told Ciera they were getting rid of. Not sure if you’ve picked this up about Michaela yet, but the woman can be a bit volatile. She doesn’t like being used as a pawn — and why should she? — but makes no effort to hide the fact, which is unlikely to curry much favor within the tribe.

NEXT: King vs. Queen

This makes for a smidgen of doubt as we head to our first Tribal Council, but just a smidgen. Since Ciera is clearly a goner, let’s take a minute to appreciate the Tribal Council set. I got to check it out up close, and it is awesome. A very nifty nautical shipwreck theme with capsized and beaten-up boats all over the place, and a lighthouse for voting. I absolutely love it. But you know who doesn’t love it? Ciera, because she just became the 33rd recipient of the Sonja Christopher Golden Ukulele Award for the first person voted out of the game. Unfortunately, her ouster means we will see an immediate and significant reduction in the mentions of voting out one’s mom along with accusations of “nobody making any moves.”

Well, that’ll do it for me. And I was actually able to keep this under 4,000 words so that makes us all winners. I’ll see you next week with another scoop of… Wait, what? We have a whole other hour to go? This is just halftime? Is Lady Gaga going to come out to perform as the halftime entertainment and start squatting on her piano bench in a pose that suggests she is getting ready to play the keys with her crotch?

Let’s move on to hour No. 2 then, shall we? Let’s face it, the first Tribal was pretty uneventful. Why, even one of the contestants is feeling a bit restless, and I’ll give you exactly one guess as to whom. “I’m bored,” says Hurricane Vlachos. “I’m tried of just sitting back. I gotta jump into action. It’s time to make some moves.” This, of course, is fantastic news for us and terrible, terrible news for Tony, whose attempt to break the land speed record for Survivor play against returnees can only result in his immediate dismissal.

Tony forms a “threat alliance” including him, Aubry, Malcolm, Caleb, and Sandra — which is actually a very smart thing. They will protect each other and thereby ensure that they do not become targets. He seals the deal with Sandra with a talk at the water well. In fact, all of Tony’s talks seem to happen at the water well. He’s like the Fonz from Happy Days asking people to step into his office… only to find his “office” was actually a bathroom. And Tony’s is the water well. (Side note: Does this make Caleb Ralph Malph?) “As long as our interests line up there’s no end to the damage we can do together,” says Sandra, who probably should have added, “And as long as Tony does not go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.”

The alliance lasts less than day. Early rap innovator and wide-brimmed-hat enthusiast Ecstasy from the 1980s act Whodini once opined that the freaks come out at night. Evidently that is when Tony Vlachos also unleashes his inner Mr. Hyde, because while the rest of the tribe is sleeping that evening, Tony decides to get back to work on his spy bunker (God, I wish I had talked him out of this). But unfortunately for Tony, company is on the way. Troyzan and Sandra work their way over to the water well to have their own chat, causing Tony to scurry down to the water frantically on his hands and knees like he is either taking part in some military basic training exercise or completing his audition reel for the return of Fox’s Boot Camp.

Okay, he’s just hiding so he doesn’t get caught building his nonsensical underground spy bunker. Nothing wrong with that… I mean, other than the fact that he never should have had an underground spy bunker to begin with. But then, instead of just spying on Troyzan and Sandra — which is precisely what he wanted the underground spy bunker for!!! — Tony aggressively confronts them about their nighttime chat. Now he’s done with Sandra, Sandra is done with him, and Jeff Varner is grabbing a tub of popcorn to sit back and watch the show.

And what a show it is. As Varner mentions, Sandra puts together a completely new alliance of 5 in 15 minutes, then revels to the camera about her power. “This is my game,” she tells us. “You know that saying where he says, ‘You’re only the king until the queen arrives’? I’m here.” What Sandra lacks in humility she makes up for by being a freakin’ BOSS!

[Congratulations! You found it! The super secret Survivor pre-game vote-off giveaway. Although, I’m putting this section in italics so it’s not THAT hard to find, but congratulations anyway. If for some reason you missed my whole explanation at the beginning, I am giving away all the original votes that the Game Changers cast before the game (that you can view on my Instagram feed). This week we have two votes to give away — from Ciera and Tony. Ciera voted for Sierra, incidentally, while Tony voted for Sandra — WHOOPS! Anyway, here’s how to win one of them. The question this week is: Whom did Becky defeat in the Cook Islands final 4 firemaking challenge in which neither player could light a fire so eventually were given matches — and then one person ran out of matches? Email your answer to survivor@ew.com, along with your preference for either Tony or Ciera’s vote. Winners will be contacted directly. Good luck!!! Oh, and this is only open for those in the U.S. and Canada. Sorry, overseas readers! We now return you to your regularly scheduled Survivor recap, still in progress.]

NEXT: One of the toughest Survivor challenges ever

Tony’s best bet to stay at this point is to get a challenge victory, but it will be in an absolutely brutal contest. Usually when I go out on location I am able to take part in one challenge rehearsal, but on my trip for Game Changers I was fortunate enough to take part in this second one as well. At least, I thought I was fortunate until I did the damn thing. Scott Porter (of Friday Night Lights fame) — who was out on location doing some pre-game press stuff for CBS — and I jumped into this challenge at the last minute. I was pumped! I was excited! And then the challenge began.

Let me just say something — Survivor challenges are always hard. I had to dive down 13 feet to unhook a boat in Panama for All-Stars, I had to do the most brutal dig of my life in Gabon (the same one that almost killed G.C.), I had to push a massive waterlogged crate from out in the ocean back to shore in the Philippines. None of them came even close to the snake from hell. This is easily the most difficult challenge I’ve ever done.

I actually usually do pretty well in Survivor challenges. I’m certainly no Ozzy, but I’m vaguely athletic, have decent endurance, and care way too much about winning, which helps. But I have one Achilles heal: When it comes right down to it, I am a weakling. No upper body strength, no lower body strength, no strength at all. A strong breeze has been known to knock me on my ass from time to time. So when I swam out to that cage, climbed up, jumped in, and untied the knots, it was all good in the hood. But then it came time to get the snake out of the cage. And then it was not all good. In fact, it was very bad.

Now, I’m no dummy. I knew this would not be an opportunity for me to excel or shine, so the Survivor thing to do in that situation is simple: limit your exposure. For that reason, I sagely positioned myself near the back of the 400-pound snake, right by the tail. I figured that way I might stand a chance — a chance — of Jeff Probst not falling down in a fit of laughter from his comfortable perch on the beach.

But even my strategic decision to assume a fall-back position (unlike Varner who was nakedly exposed in his terribleness) could not save me. I can safely say I did absolutely nothing whatsoever to help my team of otherwise twentysomething studs (and I include the women in that category, who also kicked my ass). That’s okay, I figured. I’ll be better once we get out of the cage. WRONG! The next stage was to get the snake across the balance beam, so guess which loser fell off the beam twice and had to go back to the beginning? This guy!

Surely I could redeem myself by tossing rings onto those poles that spelled out immunity? Nope! To be fair, this was actually the most frustrating part of the challenge and one in which everyone struggled mightily. I can’t tell you exactly how long it took to spell out the word IMMUNITY, but I honestly think it was about 30 minutes. It took FOREVER, and nine times out of 10, the ring would catch, the paddle would tilt down, and then the ring would fall off at the last second. I actually thought it was a design flaw and complained to the producers halfway through. (Granted, I complain to Survivor producers about a lot of things, so there may have been a bit of a boy-who-cried-wolf situation going on here.)

Anyway, we won the challenge (no thanks to me, and you can see it for yourself here), but I bring all this up just to illustrate how absolutely brutal this one was and also to show how Malcolm was able to catch up to J.T. on the ring toss. In the same way any challenge with a puzzle always comes down to the puzzle no matter how many physical stages there were, this really was all about the ring toss. And while Michaela was pissed she didn’t get a chance to throw, the fact is that Malcolm got his squad back in the game with his throwing, even if he ultimately came up short. Can’t fault him for the Mana loss.

We head back to the Mana camp, where Sandra and Tony are trying their best to rally troops. Sandra wants to bring over some more people so they can split votes to ensure Tony or Aubry go home, while Tony and Caleb are trying to appeal to Michaela’s sense of wanting to keep the strongest players around. Caleb’s problem, however, is that he makes his pitch to Michaela about only keeping the strongest people around right in front of Varner — the same guy who just stank in the challenge almost as much as I did!

NEXT: Tribal Council fireworks

“We’re playing with fire,” Varner tells Caleb about targeting Sandra, to which Beast Mode Cowboy replies, “If you don’t ever play with it, you’ll never know you can get burned.” I mean, I guess that’s technically true, but in the context of what BMC is trying to sell it does not even come close to making a lick of sense. You need to get burned to learn you can get burned? What does that even mean? The whole point of this game is to not get burned. Presumably you already know this. If you are still — in your third season on a CBS reality show — trying to confirm that playing with fire can indeed get you burned, then you have yet to fully grasp the way this game works. Just gonna put that out there.

So we go to Tribal Council with seemingly only two terrible options in front of us: either Tony or Sandra going home. And even if something super wacky happens we’ll still probably lose another great one with Aubry, whose absence would mean there would be nobody left to end every confessional interview with, “At the end of the day…” I had hoped for a second that there was a hidden immunity idol that Tony could pull out of Sandra’s hair, but it turns out just to be a giant flying insect instead. Sure enough, the votes come back, and Tony is crushingly eliminated from the game. And then the real fireworks begin.

“Sheep being led to the slaughter,” says Tony as he stands up.

“That’s what you get for plotting against me,” responds Sandra, never one to take any lip. “That’s what you get and the queen stays queen.”

“You guys are suckers if you allow that to happen,” says Tony to the other players.

“That’s what you get,” mocks Sandra. “Take your ass home.” Then, as Tony walks off into the cold blue light of death, “Byeeeee, Tony. Say hi to Ciera for me.”

Oh. My. God. It’s all so good. I never want it to end. Why does it have to end? I take back everything I ever said about integrity of the game. Just put Vlachos back on that beach, dammit! But they won’t. Because we’re now down to 18 players, and that means our first tribe reshuffling as we go to three tribes of six each. (The preview already pretty clearly shows that JT, Aubry, Sandra, Varner, Michaela, and Malcolm will all be on a tribe together, putting JT in an instant minority alliance of one if they stick to original tribe lines — and might explain why he abandons everyone out in the water to go idol hunting.

So, it’s time to reveal my episode 1 pick to win it all (although you savvy Survivor fans may have noticed I already revealed it when I made Probst give me his pick on day one (which ended up being even more hilariously terrible than mine usually are). I made mine before the game even began and the pick, ladies and gentlemen is… Malcolm. And here’s why. The guy is solid in all three phrases of the game, yet is surrounded by people who will seem to be bigger threats in all three phases. While people focus on social, strategic, and physical threats like Sandra, J.T., Aubry, and Caleb, Malcolm should be able to skate by relatively unnoticed — yet he is at the same time a player the others respect, so if he can make it to the end, he should be able to garner some votes. So Malcolm is my official pick to win. I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to Mr. Freberg for the automatic jinx. Sorry, you earned it buddy!

Okay, just a few odds and ends before we wrap up. Don’t forget to find the secret buried question in this week’s recap and email survivor@ew.com with your answer for a chance to win one of the original pre-game votes written by Tony and Ciera. Also take a gander at our weekly Q&A with the Hostmaster General himself, Jeff Probst. You can see our exclusive Tribal Council Probst video earlier in this here recap, as well as our exclusive deleted scene below. And keep an ear and eye out for our exit interviews with Ciera and Tony, which will be on EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105) Thursday morning and then up on EW.com shortly after that. Follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss for links to all this stuff and more.

I think that’s about it. Seeing as how we have topped the 6,000-word mark, it’s time to turn it over to you all. What did you think about the first week of Survivor: Game Changers? Whom are you loving and loathing so far? Are you as bummed to see Tony go as I am? And how do you feel about the tribes being mixed up (and most likely expanded to three) for next week? Weigh in on the message boards below, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!