Or, Things to Yell About With Your Cat

By Dalton Ross
May 10, 2017 at 09:00 PM EDT
CBS
S34 E12
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There are certain things you probably should never tell anyone. For example, it would not be in my best interest to volunteer information about the time I peed my pants in the elevator of the Homestead resort in Virginia. Absolutely no advantage whatsoever to revealing that publicly. Nor would it gain me much respect to share the story of how I hid behind my wife from a rapidly advancing monkey during our honeymoon in Bali — essentially making it obvious mere days after our nuptials that I was willing to sacrifice her life for my own should it come to that. And it certainly would not be to my benefit to have it widely circulated that I am such a weakling that I once pulled a rib muscle… by sneezing.

Releasing any of the above information does me no favors whatsoever. And yet I do it to illustrate the point that some information is best left unshared. Which brings us to Sierra and the Legacy Advantage. First off, let’s backtrack a bit. Sierra has had a weird season from a viewer’s perspective. She was a last-minute addition to the cast when former winner Natalie Anderson had to back out due to a medical issue, and was one of the names fans openly questioned as an alleged Game Changer. How did she change the game in any way, shape, or form during her first time out? Answer: She didn’t. (But as I’ve said repeatedly, a season theme is just a marketing hook. It has no bearing on the quality of the season itself, so we shouldn’t get hung up on the show title and the fact that it was not necessarily accurate in many cases.)

After the season started, we didn’t see Sierra do a whole lot (unless you count happening to look down and find a Legacy Advantage). We didn’t see her make any big moves. We didn’t see her dominate in challenges. We didn’t see her do anything to stand out as a big threat. And yet she must have been, because we kept hearing people target her and want her out. Now, maybe this was just a function of the fact that she was tight with Brad and people wanted to break up that twosome, but if people keep bringing your name up after the merge as someone who needs to go, then you must be doing something right in terms of being perceived as a threat.

And that illustrates the occasional disconnect we have in terms of what we see and what is actually happening on the island. Much more often than not, the editors do a fantastic job of distilling 72 hours of footage into 42 minutes each week and showing us what people are thinking and why. But sometimes there is something that doesn’t quite add up, and it felt like the Sierra edit this season may have been one of them. (Incidentally, this is what makes Survivor so difficult to recap. I can only formulate my opinion based on what I see and am therefore beholden — as we all are — to the footage presented before us.)

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So even though there is not a whole lot of concrete evidence I can point to, I have to assume that Sierra was playing a good game out there by the way others talked about her. However, the tables had turned on her after Debbie was blindsided, and the rodeo queen felt she needed to get Sarah back on board. So how did she do that? By telling Sarah about her Legacy Advantage that gave her immunity at the final 6. Okay, let’s play a little game. See if you can guess my reaction upon seeing this go down. Did I…

A. Spit my Milwaukee’s Best clear across the room.
B. Turn to my cat Clawed and say, “What the hell, Clawed? Seriously, what the freakin’ hell?”
C. Gesticulate wildly and stomp out of the room like Michaela after not being taken on a loved ones reward.
D. Not really follow what was happening because I got lost in a train of thought wondering why Rob Lowe was starring in some show called Code Black when he clearly should still be grinding as The Grinder?

The answer, incidentally, is B. Yes, I talk to my cat while watching television. Yet another thing that should probably be filed under “DO NOT TELL ANYONE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.” In any event, longtime readers know I am always taking contestants to task for spilling the proverbial beans on things like having a hidden immunity idol. It’s just too risky. Information is king in this game, and when you give it away, you give away power.

I don’t want to make it seem as if I don’t comprehend the concept of building bonds of trust by sharing secrets. I do. But there are other ways you can do it. Bond on a personal level. (Not that I have ever done that with anyone in my entire life, but I hear that is something some humans do from time to time.) Tell them something else game related, which does not even have to be true, by the way. Why not tell Sarah you have an advantage that allows you to give two people immunity at the final 6 and you want the other person to be her? That incentivizes Sarah to keep you.

But instead, Sierra did the worst thing possible. She told Sarah she had an advantage that provided immunity at the final 6, but that if she was voted out she could give it to someone else, and that someone else would be Sarah. So, in essence, she said: “If you vote me out of the game I am going to give you immunity.” WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!?!? You are basically telling someone to vote you out!!! Just writing those words down is getting me so angry all over again that I am resorting to hitting caps lock buttons while throwing out multiple exclamation points. Somebody stop me before I start talking to cats!

Everything in Survivor is about risk versus reward, and the risk in revealing this secret was way too high because, again, the information Sierra was giving Sarah was incentivizing the police officer to get rid of her. It just makes no sense. “Hey, keep me in the game and I get immunity a few votes from now. But if you vote me out, I’ll give it to you.” What would you do if someone presented those two options to you? You know exactly what you would do — the same thing Sarah did.

And then, after being voted out, Sierra actually gave Sarah the Legacy Advantage! WHAT?!? (See, I’m getting angry again.) What happened to her big alliance with Brad Culpepper — who, incidentally, did not vote Sierra out? First Sierra screwed herself, and then she screwed over Brad as well. I just don’t know what to do with this information other than take another huge gulp of beer, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Anyway, it all gets back to my main point: Keep your mouth shut when it comes to secret advantages and immunity idols, or lie about the power you found. Had Sierra done that, it appears she would still be in the game right now. And I would not have just publicly revealed I once peed my pants in a hotel elevator. And you would not be all grossed out and debating whether to even finish this recap. Okay, let’s go through the rest of this S.O.B., and don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for a chance to win Sierra’s original pre-game vote.

After Sierra spills the beans about her advantage, we head to the reward challenge, with the challenge apparently being who can cry the most buckets of tears. I kid, but I totally get it. And as much as I poke fun at the loved ones visit, even I am a sucker for a tearful family reunion — at least someone else’s family reunion. I mean, just because I am an emotionless robot does not mean I cannot appreciate a joyous get-together. (It actually would be pretty hilarious if I were on Survivor and everyone else was weeping and then my wife or sister or mom showed up and I was all like, “Whassup? Everything all good back home? Yo, who’s feeding Clawed while you’re out here anyway? You should probably get back and take care of that. Okay, bye. Oh, right — love you.”)

Naturally, I was moved by Tai’s reunion with Mark, and Tai’s first inquiry of, “How are the cats?” (Yeah, how ARE the cats, Mark?) Of course, my favorite thing about the loved ones visit is all the awkward things it forces Jeff Probst to say. For example, in normal society, for Jeff Probst to blurt out, “Tai, you look like you’re ready for some love”… well, that could certainly be taken another way entirely — a way that perhaps does not fit broadcast standards and practices. But here, it makes total sense. Not weird at all!

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.

One of the other (non-feline) reunions that struck me was Andrea and her mom Linda as they spoke about Andrea losing the sister who encouraged her to apply to the show. Andrea mentioned how that made her feel connected to her late sister when she was out there playing, making me instantly feel terrible for all the mean things I wrote about Andrea (and pretty much everyone else on her tribe) on the Redemption Island season.

I also dug Sierra’s dad Dan for his liberal use of hand gestures while explaining to Jeff how life is precious and you have to be thick skinned, getting to see Cirie with her son Jared (whose high school graduation she missed to be there), and then the Blood vs. Water reunion of Brad and Monica. Say what you want about F. U. Brad Culpepper — and many people said many things during his first season — but the one aspect you cannot question about the dude is his love for his wife. “She’s tougher than me, she’s stronger than me,” he said while running to her. That usually sounds like a line of B.S., but it’s really not with this guy. Brad has consistently praised his wife as his better half going back to their first season together. Lord knows I can certainly relate to that. Why my wife married a dude who spends his free time collecting 8-tracks and writing about reality television I will never know. Sometimes it’s best not to question things. Regardless, Brad’s clear affection and respect for his wife is always a welcome sight.

Okay, I’ve been talking waaaaaay too nice about everyone and everything. According to my weekly quota, it’s time for me to complain about something trivial — so complain I shall. And the complaint is this: Back in the day, when the loved ones would show up, they were often part of the challenge itself. And it was always awesome. After all, who can forget the brilliance of Colby Donaldson repeatedly berating his older brother Reed when his loved one travelled all the way out to Samoa to support his sibling for Heroes vs. Villains? If for some reason you missed it, I must insist you cease reading immediately until you watch the clip below. (The actual challenge begins at the 4:12 mark.)

The weird thing is, that was the most engaged and animated we saw Colby all season long. In any event, they never have the family members compete anymore, and that seems like a huge missed opportunity to me. Not like you’re going to get someone like Colby losing his mind every time, but it’s fun to see whose loved ones step up, and which other ones flail and fail. I asked Jeff Probst about this in our Q&A this week and you can see his response there.

So the contestant-only challenge had teams of three tethered together and racing through obstacles to get a key that then would open up a chest of sandbags that would be used to knock down targets. As soon as I saw Culpepper, Aubry, and Andrea together, I knew the challenge was over, and indeed it was a blowout, as the trio won “love and BBQ,” which sounds like some sort of VH1 spin-off reality show.

Of course, it would not be that easy, as Probst allowed the winners to pick two more players and family members to join them. I say allowed, but it really is more like forced. That’s because whenever you are picking people to include, you are also picking people to exclude. And one of those people — no names mentioned! — might just be a weeeeeeeee bit emotional and take a tiiiiiiiiiny bit of offense at not being selected. Oh, who am I kidding? It’s Michaela! Of course it’s Michaela! It’s a million, billion, trillion times Michaela!

If Michaela was not slamming the box down and then kicking it upon losing the challenge, then she was wildly throwing her arms around willy-nilly because she was not selected to go on the reward (instead of Cirie and Sarah). First off, kicking a box is stupid. What if you break your toe and then can’t compete in challenges? It can’t help but remind me of when Arizona Cardinals kicker Bill Gramatica tore his ACL while celebrating a field goal — I guess the differences being that Gramatica actually did something worth celebrating and also actually injured himself.

I’m not sure which is worse: winning but injuring yourself idiotically after, or losing and attempting to injure yourself idiotically but failing at that too, meaning now you are uninjured. Jesus, I think we just took the red pill and entered the freakin’ Matrix. Either way, Andrea notes, “We’ll give Michaela a day, she’ll get over it, and we’ll be back on track.” I’m sorry, have you met Michaela? Get over it? Don’t be so sure. Even the tougher, stronger Culpepper — who has spent a total of about one hour with Michaela — notes to her husband that the hothead will flip because she’s so angry.

Cut right to Michaela herself back at camp proclaiming, “I was really pissed off at the reward challenge.” Sure enough, next thing you know, she is high-fiving minority alliance members Sierra, Tai, and Troyzan as they make plans to oust Andrea. Hell hath, for now, fury, it seems. On a Survivor shocking scale of 1-10, with a 1 (least shocking) being Jeff Probst looking at his feet while ordering guys to come on in, and a 10 (most shocking) being the look on Jared’s face upon learning from mom Cirie where they go to the bathroom, I put Michaela’s defection at about a 2.

[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 Sierra’s vote for Tony, just answer the following question. Sierra and Ciera’s names sound the same even if they are spelled differently. What was the first Survivor season to have two players with the same name, and who were they? Email your answer of season and contestant names 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.]

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.

Well, look what we have here! A brand new immunity challenge… that, granted, looks a lot like an old immunity challenge, but still — new! In this one, contestants must balance on a narrow perch while holding a buoy between two handles. If either the buoy or player drops, they are out. As mentioned, this feels familiar, as it’s very close to the one where players have to hold on to increasingly longer handles that hold a ball in the middle. So it’s like that, only less exciting. That’s because nobody is ever adding anything on to a more difficult level. I’m not going to sit here and dwell on why this particular challenge didn’t pop for me, because the fact remains that I like that the producers are still trying new things 34 seasons in, and my appreciation for that fact outweighs my disappointment that this one was not super exhilarating.

Eventually the challenge comes down to a final two of Tai and the weaker, more delicate Culpepper spouse. I was totally expecting endurance beast Tai to take this one and was actually shocked when Brad pulled off the win. Good for him. Another notch on his belt as he tries to build his résumé should he make it to the end. God, it is so weird saying consistently nice things about Brad Culpepper. At first I thought it was like a fever or something — temporary insanity, call it — and I kept waiting for it to break where we could all go back to rolling our eyes as the former football player made everything all about himself. But no! The Culpepper 2.0 operating system is still performing bug-free, and I am as surprised as anyone to find that not even Russian hackers can penetrate his mainframe… which I suppose could also mean something else entirely.

Michaela and Tai agree to flip to take out that meanie Andrea who didn’t select them for the reward feast. Everything is all set for yet another tribal vote reshuffling, but then a little light goes off in Sarah’s head. Hey, if I take Sierra out now, I get her immunity. That would be pretty sweet. So then Sarah tells Michaela about the Legacy Advantage, which, theoretically, should make no difference to Michaela at all, because even if Sierra leaves the game, her immunity stays and gets passed on to someone else — someone who will certainly not be Michaela. So there really is no strategic advantage for Michaela to oust her, which is yet another example of how Sarah could have bent the truth to suit her needs better. Why not tell Michaela that Sierra has a special advantage that gives her immunity at the final 6, but not add in the part about it being passed on if she gets voted out? That way Michaela actually has a reason to get rid of her. It ended up not mattering, because I guess Michaela did not connect the dots, but it certainly could have, and certainly should have.

So Sierra is indeed tossed to the jury at Tribal Council, which culminates in a super-confused look on Sarah’s face when Sierra does not make a big announcement and hand her the Legacy Advantage. Unbeknownst to her, that happens after Sierra walks into the cold blue light of death and then passes it on in secret — she apparently also not connecting the dots that the person she was giving it to had just voted her out of the game. Surprise!

As I said earlier, I can’t point to any specific great gameplay on Sierra’s part this season, and her decision to share the Legacy Advantage info was self-sabotage of the highest order, but she did appear to be actively engaged and involved in the game this season, and that’s all you can ask from any contestant. So I give Sierra her props. (By the way, do people still use the word props? Is that a thing? Is it finally time for me to retire my super dope 1989 hip-hop vernacular?)

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.

Sierra may get props, but you get something even better: the exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode, above. You also get my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst, where he breaks down the loved ones visit and Sierra’s gameplay. And you also get our exit interview with Sierra, which will be on EW Morning Live (SiriusXM, channel 105) at 9:40am and then later here on EW.com. You get all that! And if you want even more you can follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

You also get this here recap now turned over to you on the message boards. What did you think of the loved ones visit? How was Sierra this season? And who are you pulling for from the final 8? Weigh in below, and I will be back next week with another scoop of the penultimate crispy!

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