Timothy Kuratek/CBS


S34 E1
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S34 E1
March 08, 2017 at 10:00 PM EST


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!

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