Jeff Varner has a taste of power — that he likes a little too much.

Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS
S31 E2

I know you want to talk about the huge shift in alliances and allegiances that sent the power duo of Ta Keo into scramble and survive mode. I understand we need to discuss the theory that Shirin’s game was ultimately undone when she didn’t stand up for Abi, after she complained herself that nobody stood up for her just one season ago. And I’m aware that we need to bow down and worship at the altar of Jeff Varner.

But before we do any of that, let’s pause for the cause to chat about Andrew Savage’s Playboy collection, shall we? First off, can I ask a question? Am I the only one not buying that whole cover story about Savage only having a huge stack of Playboy issues lying around because his “firm represented them”? That sounds about as believable as my middle-school girlfriend from Canada. A super-hot South African model comes over, sees Savage rocking Miss January through Miss December, so of course he makes up some line about it being solely for work reasons. That’s like me telling my wife I need to watch 17 straight seasons of Big Brother “for my job.” Which I totally do. If she asks. Seriously, back me up on this one.

But back to Savage. Hoarding Playboys! “For the articles,” I’m sure. Look, we can make fun all we want, but sometimes after a dude has pushed over a giant palm tree, he just wants to relax with a stack of Playboys. Nothing wrong with that! Savage hunts for Playboys the way Fishbach hunts for hidden immunity idols. Only Savage is apparently a bit more successful at it. So at least if Andrew doesn’t win the million dollars, he still has that treasure waiting for him back at home. Oh, and also his wife. Okay, let’s recap this amazing topsy-turvy episode of Survivor: Cambodia—Second Chance!

Ring! Ring! Hello, Ms. Wiglesworth, this is your Survivor wake-up call. Welcome to the game. We begin the morning after Jeff Varner’s flip to team New School as Wiglesworth realizes that “My alliance needs to get our crap together.” But while Kelley Wentworth is off hiding her idol (so nobody can rummage through her bag and steal it the way Peih-Gee stole Abi’s bracelet), Jeff Varner has another surprise in order.

It seems Varner has gotten a taste of power… and he likes it. “I would like to decide who’s next, now.” And then comes this: “My whole plan with voting out Vytas was to teach the old-schoolers to play this game finally and to set the pace to get rid of Shirin and Spencer. They’re playing too hard strategy-wise. I want to get one of them out of the mix.”

WAIT, WHAT?!? You aligned with them to immediately vote them out? And you voted out one of your alliance members to wake up the rest of your alliance? Does he not realize how loony tunes this is? Have you no respect for numbers, Jeff Varner?!? This game is all about numbers!!!! Honestly, this is one of the craziest things I have ever seen and echoes exactly what Spencer said while voting at Tribal the night before: “Jeff Varner is a crazy person.”

What is he thinking? The chain of events that would have to happen in perfect order to now flip the entire tribe back against Spencer and Shirin is so unlikely it is not even worth calculating the probability of it happening. I mean, it couldn’t actually work, right? Could it…?

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Abi-Maria Gomes. Abi likes long walks on the beach, making and breaking day one alliances, and attacking Michael Skupin with flying coconuts. She was perhaps one vote away from going home the night before, but now she just became the most important player in the game. And that is a truly frightening thought. “Abi is an absolute drama queen,” says Spencer who goes on to call her “the permanent liability,” which also sounds like the name of some George Clooney legal thriller that underperforms at the box office yet garners mild-to-moderate Oscars buzz. This fall, George Clooney IS…The Permanent Liability.

“Abi is here to start fights,” continues Spencer. “And this is cancer for a tribe and a deadly cancer for an alliance.” Prophetic words. Where Spencer sees issues, Varner sees opportunity and thinks Abi could be the perfect person to bring all the way to the end. If only he could find a way to separate her from her alliance. If only there was a way to use her hot-headedness against her and the others Varner wants to get out.

NEXT: Flip-flop and you don’t stop

Why, helloooooooo. What’s this we have here? Peih-Gee is bitching to Shirin about Abi. And now Abi is jumping into the frame exclaiming, “I heard everything you just said.” And now I am jumping off my couch because nothing is more awkwardly delightful to watch than someone eavesdropping and intruding upon a negative conversation about them.

So Abi and Peih-Gee go at it back and forth, and when it’s finally over, Peih-Gee returns to the shelter and exclaims “That felt good!” This leads to lots of chuckling at Abi’s expense while the Brazilian sits alone on the beach as the rest of the tribe ignores her. Well, the rest of the tribe except one very shrewd (and perhaps kind) individual. Terry sees everyone laughing at Abi, so he goes down to offer her his company and sympathy.

Whether this was done out of the goodness of his heart or the shrewdness of his brain is inconsequential. Whenever you are in the minority on a tribe, you need to find the weakest link in the majority alliance and break it, and hot damn if that is not what Terry Deitz does right here. Abi was looking for a shoulder to lean on, and Terry has very broad shoulders. The late-night therapy work he puts in is confirmed the next morning when Varner checks in with Abi and they talk about aligning with T.D. And now — PRESTO! CHANGO! — we have a brand new majority alliance. Just like that.

Okay, let’s get into the obvious parallel that Jeff Probst will point out later at Tribal Council. Just last season Shirin was on the receiving end of a tongue-lashing and felt everyone on her tribe hung her out to dry except Mike. Here Abi believed the same thing happened to her with only Terry in her corner, and Shirin now being one of the people on the opposite end of the spectrum. A lot of people will no doubt say something along the lines of “How could Shirin do that to Abi after what happened to her just last season?” To that, I say this: I don’t think the situations are actually all that similar.

Look, I’m not out there. All I can judge on is what the editors decide to leave in the episode. Who knows what else happens out there that we did not see. But from what was shown, I really don’t think the situations are all that alike. Shirin was on the receiving end of one of the most brutal personal attacks in Survivor history. And nobody stood up to Will to tell him he was out of line. Peih-Gee and Abi had an argument, yes, but it did not seem to be anywhere close to the same level. And whom are we kidding? Abi has bragged about how much fun it is to play the villain, and we saw her stirring the pot earlier in this episode by taunting people as she intentionally broke up their conversation. Abi likes to start mischief. That’s neither a compliment nor a criticism. It’s just a fact. So the situation has to be judged a bit differently.

HOWEVER… here’s where Shirin should be taken to task. She should know better. Not on emotional grounds, but on strategic grounds. And my bet is that looking back on it, she would agree. When someone on the outer circle of your alliance feels marginalized, that’s when you need to work overtime to make him or her feel valued. That’s when you put on your best phony baloney face and go down to show support. And you certainly don’t let someone from the other alliance go down there for two hours to win her over. Better to have a permanent liability then a sudden executioner. Does that even make sense? I have no idea. But “sudden executioner” sounds like a Jean-Claude Van Damme direct to Video On Demand flick ordered up by testosterone-fueled drunks at 3 a.m. on a Saturday night (Jean-Claude Van Damme IS…The Sudden Executioner.) But the point is, you need to LOCK THAT S— DOWN, Shirin!

NEXT: Still a Fishbach out of water

Meanwhile, Over at Bayon, the tribe is welcoming a brand new member — Survivor MacGyver. Survivor MacGyver is just like any other contestant, only with a huge mullet and the ability to turn a coconut into a thermal detonator. Or a fish net into a hammock, as it were. Oh, Survivor MacGyver apparently now also wears his hair in a man bun. So there’s that.

After being treated to an entire segment of Joe worship (no Joga, today?) we get to watch Andrew Savage get all weepy talking about his Playboy collection. This leads to Kass getting weepy and Jeremy getting weepy. But Jeremy does not want others to see him cry do so he pulls a Lisa Whelchel and goes off to have his own personal #SurvivorBreakdown. “I just want to see her stomach,” he says of wife Val. “I want to be there to see it grow.” I mean, that’s generally a pretty rude thing to say about your wife…if she weren’t pregnant. But she is, so I guess it’s actually kind of cute.

What a nice moment for the tribe. On a related matter, what a nice moment for Stephen Fishbach to stick his foot in his mouth. Which should be happening in 3…2…1… “Where did Jeremy go? Do you think he’s looking for the idol?” No, Fishbach, no! If people are already convinced you are spending too much time thinking about and looking for the idol — which they are — then questioning whether someone else is looking for it does not throw the scent off you. Rather it once again proves that you are idol-obsessed. Which you should be? But you should not make it so damn obvious. Ugh.

I like Stephen. He is a solid dude and he did a hilarious turn on last week’s Survivor Talk. I’m not sure what Savage is basing his assessment on when he says that Stephen lacks “morals, values, loyalty, dignity, courage.” That’s not my take. I like the guy. There’s no doubt he was kind of screwed with the way the tribes were divided, getting stuck with all those alpha males. Next week’s tribe swap should give him a new lease in this game. However, the dude just hasn’t done himself any favors. When I was out there those first few days, the word was that if Bayon had lost the first challenge, he was the first to go. He has been super lucky that his tribe keeps winning. Now he needs to step up his game and show us what he can do. Self-proclaimed Know-It-Alls aren’t allowed to have excuses. Get to work, Fishbach!

Let’s head to the immunity challenge and some bonus info you may have missed if you did not check out our video from yesterday. So you all know I’ve been pushing for them to hide idols in challenges for a while, and they finally did it last week. That was awesome. But there was still a clue for Bayon out there, and if they had found it, they would have had an idol in play here in this second challenge. Unfortunately for us, Fishbach and Co. have yet to locate the clue, so no idol was hidden at this challenge, but if they had, I can tell you exactly where it would have been. That’s because I helped Probst select the hiding place. We walked the entire course at a challenge rehearsal weighing the pros and cons and various spots and settled for the far side at the top of the third (and largest) A-frame.

Then I had to attempt to retrieve it without any of my teammates (including former champ Parvati Shallow) noticing. This was made all the more difficult by the fact that they all knew there was an idol somewhere and that I was going for it. But once those suckers got their competitive juices flowing, they forgot all about it and the idol was mine. (Check out video evidence of this at the end of the recap.) Oh, and here I am with the retrieved idol right after the challenge.


NEXT: Not even Woo will give Spencer and Shirin the time of day

Okay, so it wasn’t exactly Kelley Wentworth drama, but that’s as good as you’re gonna get for this week when it comes to idol hunting. In the actual challenge, the teams have to go up and down those three A-frames and then pull a giant crate with puzzle pieces to the last portion where two people have to solve a puzzle. Bayon has an extra member, so they sit Ciera (P.S. Did you know Monica Padilla is on this season? I swear! It’s totally true. I saw her waaaaaay in the background of one shot this week. You have to trust me on this one — she’s there! If Bayon had decided to be serious tricksters, they could have told Probst that Monica was sitting out the challenge and then run her anyway. He never would have noticed.)

So the teams take off from their mat and… wait, I forgot to mention the part where Probst takes back the idol. Maybe that was because… Probst forgot to take back the idol. Give the host credit here: They could have easily edited around this and not drawn attention to the mess up. It’s cool when they leave in such touches and we get to see Probst poking a bit of fun at himself with stuff like this and last season’s Botox comment. More, please.

Anyway, as I was saying, the contestants take off and have some trouble on the A-frame. Varner can’t get up the second one on his first try — a few people on my challenge rehearsal press team struggled as well — and then Savage falls off the side of the structure. Bayon gets to the puzzle first with a huge lead for Kass and Kimmi. Ta Keo finally gets there and Kelley and Peih-Gee take a stab at their puzzle. Then Spencer taps in for Kelley. Then Joe taps in for Kimmi. Then Jeremy taps in for Kass. Then Shirin taps in for Peih-Gee. Then Tata the Bushman taps in for Spencer. Then the Zingbot taps in for Joe. The whole thing is complete and utter madness, but in the end, it’s Bayon that wins again. Hooray for them.

I feel sorry for Spencer when I hear him back at camp talk about how thankful he is that he isn’t on the bottom like last time. I feel sorry for him because I know this quote in this edit is being used to make him seem out of touch with what is happening right under his nose. It’s not like Spencer is a rube or an idiot. As a player in this game, what you crave most out of an alliance partner is predictability. Unfortunately, what Spencer got is Jeff Varner — the absolute opposite of predictable.

And off to work Jeff goes. With Abi already turned, he lines up Kelley Wentworth and Peih-Gee as well. And there is the beautiful irony of this entire situation — this tribe turn happened because of Abi’s fight with Peih-Gee… and now they are on the same side together! The plan is to keep all this from Shirin and Spencer so they are blindsided at Tribal Council, but do you really think Abi is capable of that in any universe under any conditions? Hell to the no! So of course she blabs about it to Shirin, almost as a brag. “They want to vote you and Spencer out.”

Not unlike The X-Files, the truth is now out there, turning Spencer and Shirin into residents of Scramble City. Population: 2. Since Terry and Varner broke the weakest chain in their alliance, S&S attempt to do the same with Woo because, well, you know… Woo. But give the Ninja Stealth Assassin credit. After Shirin says, “I will make you any deal you want right now,” Woo points out that it’s the first conversation they have even bothered to have with him. “Absolutely not,” he shuts them down. Woo 2.0, ladies and gentlemen!

NEXT: A very familiar feeling Tribal Council

The predicament has brought the robot formerly known as Spencer to the brink of his own #SurvivorBreakdown over the thought of having to vote against Shirin. It’s a shocking turnaround. With the help of Terry and a distraught Abi, Varner actually did it. He flipped the game twice in the first six days. Unbelievable. Now the only question is who will be the one to get the boot, so we head to Tribal Council to find out.

At Tribal, there is lots of talk about Survivor amnesia and how they all have fond memories of their times on the island. But not Shirin: “I don’t remember it being all awesome. I had a really rough time the first time around and I’m starting to have a rough time this time around.” Um, can someone please get two fornicating monkeys in here immediately to cheer up Shirin? Animal control, do we have an ETA on the fornicating monkeys?

Abi talks about how everyone on the tribe shunned her except for Terry, and Probst points out how it is almost verbatim to what Shirin said last season. Then Spencer makes his open plea and promise to change if people keep him, and Probst mentions how that is also almost the exact same speech he made on his last season to stave off elimination. To quote the late, great Yogi Bera — it’s déjà vu all over again.

The vote gets all the way to 4-4 and that last vote is for… Shirin. So my episode 1 pick to win is still alive — barely. His ouster would have bested my previous worst Survivor prognostication, when I picked Betsy Bolan to win Survivor: Samoa. DAMN YOU, BOLAN!!! But maybe Spencer is not in so much trouble now after all. There will be a first-ever tribe expansion next week as we go from two tribes to three. (For all you conspiracy theorists out there, I can tell you from my time on location that this was always the plan. Producers like the three tribe format, which prevents big alliances from forming and riding it out until the merge. Not that it was happening on Ta Keo, but it often does.)

But as good as the news of the tribe reshuffling is for Spencer, it is that much more haunting for Shirin. Getting voted out right before a reshuffling is flat-out brutal. You are literally a day away from a completely new lease on life in the game. You just have to survive that one vote. She couldn’t do it, and if that were me, it would drive me cuckoo for Cocoa-Puffs. “I had an awesome opening act, and then killed myself,” said Shirin in her final words. Or, more accurately, she got Varnered.

And God bless Jeff Varner. The man is a lunatic, and in all the best ways. If I were playing against him, he would scare me to death. If I were playing with him, he would scare me even more. Watching him, we can just soak it all in. Okay, enough of my yakkin.’ Make sure to check out my weekly Q&A with Jeff Probst. And we have four exclusive videos in the player below: A deleted scene from the episode, our hiding and retrieving of the second challenge idol that never was, our star-studded return episode of Survivor Talk, and my pre-game interview with Shirin. Speaking of Shirin, come back on Thursday afternoon for our Survivor Talk episode with the ousted player and a special guest. And for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Okay, now it’s your turn. What do you think of Varner’s audacious move? Were you rooting for Spencer or Shirin to go? And do you believe me that Monica Padilla is really playing this season… because she is! I swear it! Hit the message boards to weigh in, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.

Episode Recaps

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols


Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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