It's time for a tribe switcheroo

By Dalton Ross
October 20, 2016 at 01:20 PM EDT
Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS
S33 E5

“There are definitely times to play idols for other people — namely, when you need to control the numbers or need to save an alliance partner that will ultimately help you get further in the game.”

Does that sound familiar? It should, because that was yours truly in last week’s Survivor recap while arguing why David made the wrong strategic choice in choosing to play an idol for Jessica. The basis of my verdict last week was rooted in the fact that David burned an idol trying to patch together an unworkable alliance that was nonsensical to begin with, considering it was right before an obvious tribe shake-up.

But — as Yogi Berra used to say — it was déjà vu all over again as here we were, one week later, and David once again had an idol and an opportunity to play an idol for someone else. Only this time he didn’t play it. And this time, I would argue, it would have made a lot more sense to do so.

First off, let’s be clear: This was not a slam-dunk use-or-don’t-use-the-idol scenario. If David uses the idol on CeCe and Michelle goes, then he’s out of an idol and the tribe is potentially deadlocked 2-2 should they make it back to Tribal in three days — a distinct possibility with two terrible challenge performers in David and CeCe. So things could get sticky there. And let’s not forget Chris promised to choke David in front of Jeff Probst should he use the idol. That sounds dicey, too. By not playing the idol, David is assured to get through the next vote as well. That means he can control who leaves next time. That makes sense. I won’t fault him for that. All of the above supports David’s decision to hold onto the idol.

But playing the idol would have made sense when taking a more long-term view of the game. If David plays the idol, he does two things. First off, he gets someone out (Michelle) who openly talked about wanting him gone. Secondly, he sets himself up to potentially take out two Millennials — Michelle and Zeke — thereby evening the number of Gen Xers and Millennials in the game. Plus, in getting rid of CeCe, David just made himself the biggest target on the tribe because of his piss-poor challenge performances. It’s always smart to keep a bigger target around, but David just voted his off. So there is certainly a compelling argument to using the idol as well.

Again, the unpredictability of potentially picking rocks next time out, thanks to a deadlocked tribe — say, David and CeCe on one side with Chris and Zeke on the other — throws everything in this idol-playing scenario into question. (Then again, would Chris even be there by the next Tribal? If Chris follows through on his threat to choke an idol-playing David, he’s automatically tossed out of the game. Advantage: David!)

Look, all things considered, I actually think David probably did the right thing here. Too many variables moving forward, and when you weigh all the pros and cons, holding onto the idol is probably the best course of action. But ceding numbers, making yourself the obvious next target, and leaving someone in the game who has stated they want you out also makes an argument for playing the idol a strong one — unlike last week.

Okay, there’s a lot going on this episode, so let’s recap this bad boy from the very top. We begin back at the Gen X camp after David just used his idol to save Jessica. He’s worried his tribemates will be upset with him; however, Chris says he’s not angry, but rather “just curious, why the dramatics?” Duh, you’re asking a professional television writer why he went for dramatics by standing up and making a big speech on television? That’s like asking Taylor not to say the word “bro.” He is a bro! Bros gonna bro, bro!

Anyhoo, David makes nice with everyone and then Jessica apologizes to Ken. As part of her apology, she tells Ken all about her Legacy Advantage and how she was going to give it to him had she been voted out. If I’m Ken in this situation, I say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, can you excuse me for a second?” Then I go over and find David and beat the crap out of him for using that idol and costing me a Legacy Advantage. Then I return to Jessica and hug her and tell her, “It’s okay, honey, we’re all good,” while thinking about how much I want to beat up David again.

The next morning, it’s a full-on Idolpalozza as Gen Xers scurry around looking for the replaced idol, knowing a tribe reshuffling is likely imminent. But David has an advantage the others don’t: He knows to look for the logo printed on the side of whatever object the idol is hidden in, and sure enough, he finds a suspicious-looking log and the idol tucked inside. So David is back in business.

NEXT: Three is the magic number

Off the tribes go to the reward challenge…or so they think. Because it’s actually time for a tribe switcheroo. The good part about a tribe switcheroo is it mixes everything up and we get to watch players who were getting too comfortable suddenly having to scramble. The bad part is we actually have to learn the real tribe names we (and Jeff Probst) have been blatantly ignoring for the past month. Honestly, what are they? I have no idea and have not written them down once. Seriously, does anyone know? Vanuata and Hot Tamale? Something like that?

Not only is Probst going to force us to learn two tribe names — he’s going to force us to learn three! That’s right, instead of a mere reshuffling, we get an expansion from two to three tribes. We’ve seen the show do this before when there are 18 players, but never 16. For one thing, 16 is not divisible by 3. So already, it’s a little awkward. For another, you’re already starting with pretty small groups when you do that. The advantage of three tribes, however, is it becomes harder for one group to form a majority and just ride out predictable vote after predictable vote over a long period of time. So let’s meet our new teams:

TAKALI (purple)

Taylor (a.k.a. “Tales”)

Figgy (a.k.a. “Figgs”)

Adam (a.k.a. “Adam”)


Ken Doll

VANUA (orange)






IKABULA (green)







Since Ikabula has to start fresh at a new beach with no shelter or food, they get an extra player — misery loves company, so why not give them more company? Speaking of miserable, that describes Michaela’s current mood post-reshuffling. “You didn’t do this right, Jeff. I’m just saying.” Ooh, looks like Michaela is getting into the spirit of the voter-fraud allegations sure to crop up on Nov. 8.

But while it’s funny when Michaela tells us “I just wanted to flick him off right there,” she does need to learn to keep those emotions in check. It’s one thing to bitch in an interview session about your new situation, but out in the open, you need to be projecting a positive attitude. Michaela is way too focused on conditions as opposed to gameplay here. In fact, she should consider herself lucky. She appears to be on a relatively strong tribe and has a four-to-two Millennials numbers advantage. I love Michaela, but she’s looking at this situation all wrong. If anything, Zeke and Michelle are the ones who got the raw deal.

Indeed, over at Vanua, Michelle is worried the numbers are stacked against them — but you never know what odd connection complete strangers may make, and the odd connection this time comes in the form of Oklahoma football. It seems Chris played college ball for the Sooners and even won a national championship in 2000. And one of the people rooting for that squad was a young Zeke, who describes that title team as his heroes. After gabbing about football — which I can only assume included a long discussion about the idiocy of college overtime rules — Zeke and Chris bond, with Chris letting his fanboy know the numbers don’t mean anything and “I’m ready to make a move.”

Over on Takali, Taylor is once again demonstrating he has no interest whatsoever in playing the game of Survivor. He tries to publicly mack on Figgy, who, in a remarkable display of restraint, informs her island lover that “You probably shouldn’t hug me.” Taylor doesn’t understand. To be honest, I am guessing there is a fair amount Taylor does not understand. “We’re doing that, even though we have numbers?” he complains. “Does it really matter, though?” UGGGGGGHHHHH!

Yes! Yes, it matters, Taylor! Let me explain to you why it matters. For one thing, anyone with a half a brain will want to target a couple to break up that voting bloc. For another, it makes you look completely unfocused on the game. Should you somehow make it to the end, people will not respect your gameplay. They will think… Taylor? Are you listening? I’m guessing you are not listening, because every time I look over at you I see you mouthing the words “you are hot” over to Figgy. I’m not sure what you hope to gain by doing this but I would recommend you cease all such activity at once before… See, there you go. You’re doing it again. I’m sitting here telling you not to do it, and yet you are doing it because you don’t even hear me because you are too focused on Figgy’s alleged hotness. You seem like a nice guy and all, but shouldn’t you be on Big Brother? That seems like a better fit for you.

And while Taylor is lost in Figgy’s hotness, Adam is possibly defecting to the other side thanks to his fellow Millennials being “a worthless partnership.” If Taylor had spent even 10 percent of his relationship energy on building more of a rapport with Adam, maybe that wouldn’t have been the case.

NEXT: An immunity challenge that truly has it all

Finally, over at Ikabula, it seems Bret has no idea what he’s doing. This is mildly interesting — usually those big, burly dudes take command when building a shelter — but Jay is showing him how to do everything. However, there is one thing Jay can’t do, and that is make fire. Even with the flint, the quest for fire is fruitless. So Michaela gives it a shot, and as soon as she starts talking about how hard she worked to put herself through college and pay off her loans, you can tell where this is all going.

As the music swells and soars, Michaela gets the fire started, and the tears follow soon after. It’s a nice moment for her and another example of her perseverance, but as one of my favorites, I hope Michaela can learn to keep her emotions in check. Sometimes you need to play more even-keeled and I’m hoping Michaela will be able to do that, but she was all over the place this episode.

We head out to our first three-tribe immunity challenge, and it is another one in the water. Seriously, how great a location is Fiji? And I’m not talking yucky season 14 Fiji, but this beautiful island locale. Absolutely stunning. And you all know how I feel about water challenges. I love them so much I just sit on my couch and mouth “you are hot” at my TV screen over and over whenever they come on. In this one, a player must dive down, retrieve a buoy, and swim it to the platform. Then the next person goes. Once a team has all five buoys, they have a choice.

A water competition with a choice? Just throw a hidden idol in here somewhere, and it’s all my wishes and dreams coming true in a single challenge. The choice in this case is that a team can start immediately shooting their balls into a basket that is far away, or take time to try and hook the basket and pull it much closer so it’s easier to score. Very cool idea. Love it.

In fact, I love everything about this challenge, even beyond the aforementioned attributes. Because if we’re all being completely honest, beyond feats of extreme athleticism and perseverance, what we as viewers also love to watch is people struggle mightily. Like, not a full-on drowning, mind you. But flailing and failing is always welcome, and there is plenty of it to go around here.


Speaking of awesome, Michaela morphs into one of the Splash Brothers, dominating the shooting portion and leading whatever her tribe is called to victory. Once Michelle also can’t get her buoy, forcing Chris to go back and get a second one, Vanua’s fate is sealed and they have their first date with Jeff Probst at Tribal Council. (Worst date ever, by the way.)

So the losers head back to the beach to begin their scheming. The Gen Xers decide to vote out a Millennial, but Chris has another plot, a plot born out of…REVENGE! He wants payback at CeCe and David for outmaneuvering him not once, but twice. (What’s that whole thing about fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…?) He gets David on board to vote out CeCe. They then go share the good news with the Millennials, with Chris telling them that if David goes back on his word, he will choke him right in front of Jeff Probst. I can only assume this would be Chris paying tribute to Robb’s greeting of Clay in the “Attack Zone,” back in Survivor: Thailand, but perhaps I am just dating myself.

NEXT: Why Survivor show themes ultimately don’t matter

Michelle doesn’t trust them, however, and attempts to form a backup plan with CeCe, trying to see if she is willing to vote off David. Not only is she not willing, but CeCe immediately reports the interaction back to the others, informing David that Michelle wants him out because he’s “weak and clumsy.” Clumsy? She wants him out because he’s clumsy? Who does she think he is, Jar Jar Binks? Are we suddenly on Naboo, and I am the one loser who actually paid enough attention during The Phantom Menace to notice the absurdity of the fact that Mr. Binks was banished from his Gungan underworld for, yes, being clumsy? Now, Michelle wants to make like Boss Nass and do the exact same thing to poor David. Meesa no thinks so!

This information leads David to trot out the whole chess analogy and need to think several moves ahead, which I’m sure has never been used on Survivor before. We know what happens next. Zeke makes his pitch at Tribal Council that the Gen Xers will need to work with the current Millennial majority going forward, while Michelle says she would vote out David tonight, even though she apparently spells David C-E-C-E. David does not play the idol and CeCe is voted out.

So far it seems producers have gotten what they wanted out of the tribe shake-up, with plenty of scrambling and the tribe alliance map being potentially redrawn on two of the three tribes. I’m sure there will be complaining from some viewers among the lines of “Why promote a theme all summer long and then do away with it after a mere month by integrating the tribes?” It’s a fair point, but to that I would say the following.

First off, do you really want to see the Millennials continue to dominate the Gen Xers? Because that’s the way things were headed. It was turning into Nicaragua all over again. Secondly, themes like “Brains vs. Brawn. vs. Beauty” or “White Collar vs. Blue Collar vs. No Collar” or “Millennials vs. Gen X” really don’t mean a whole lot when you get right down to it. They are bells and whistles. It’s a marketing play. It’s like those two different kinds of Crest toothpastes that are called different things, but when you look at the actual ingredients, you discover they are absolutely the same.


So far, I think the season is working. Not an all-time great yet, by any means, but the dynamics are strong enough to keep us engaged, and the unpredictability of the voting thanks to last-minute scrambling has been a major plus. We’ll see where it goes from here.

But I can tell you where to go from here. First, you want to go to the exclusive deleted scene in the video player below. And then you want to go check out my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst. And then you’ll want to listen to our exit interview with the ousted CeCe on EW Morning Live (SiriusXM, channel 105) at 9:40 a.m. Thursday. And then you should book your tickets to PopFest so you can compete in real Survivor challenges against former Survivor players. And then you should make sure you’re following me on Twitter @DaltonRoss to get all the Survivor scoop sent directly to you. And then… Well, I think that’s it, actually. I just got a bit carried away. As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

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