Game Changers – Episode 1: The stakes have been raised

 

Yeah, I know. It’s the first episode of the season, I’m super excited. The season opener always seems to take place at a time when I’m not too busy, so there you have it: a blog post. I had to, right? Then, weeks go by, I get busier, time difference doesn’t help, and I don’t keep up with the rest of the season.
Oh well, at least I get to write this one. How can I not write at least a little for an All-Star Season?

For the rest of the season, we’ll see how I can keep up.

OK, let’s get started.

 

First, a few words about this season’s first twist: no revote in case of a tie-breaker. Personally, I love it. Jeff Probst may have decided that in hopes it brings more rocks, but I don’t think it will. What it will do is that people who have a large majority will stop constantly splitting the votes and easily crush smaller minorities. This “splitting the votes” thing was very smart when it was started, but now it happens every occasion they have, and it got really boring. I think this adds another interesting layer to the game. Until a player finds a way to work around it, and everyone starts using that workaround and things need to be changed again. Who cares? That’s one of the reasons why Survivor is such an awesome game, because it constantly evolves and more often than not, because of players not because of production.

 

That marooning was pretty intense.

 

Mana Tribe

 

Aubry Bracco: We haven’t seen much of her, but she seems to be doing OK. She made the mistake to align herself with Tony, but she was smart enough to know that the tide had turn and voted against Tony without tipping him off. The two votes she got were more throwaway votes than anything else. Tony was fooled somehow into voting against her when he wanted Sandra out, and Sandra voted against Aubry most likely in case something fishy was happening and not going according to plan. Most likely in case Tony had an idol. If that was the case and everyone voted Tony. Then, Tony votes against Sandra. And Sandra is out. With Sandra voting Aubry, if Tony played an idol and still voted against Sandra, there would have been a tie between Sandra and Aubry, and most likely no consensus between the other players. Rocks would have been drawn with Tony, Sandra and Aubry immune.

Caleb Reynolds: Apparently he’s this very good Big Brother player (I’ve never watched BB), but in his first season we never really saw him strategizing. We saw a bit of that tonight. Still, I’m a little annoyed by the fact that the edit focused on the surprise effect (Tony is going home, Sandra doesn’t get a single vote) rather than showing us how we got there. My guess would be that with Michaela being the bad liar that she is, they (Caleb, Aubry and Malcolm) understood one way or another that they didn’t have enough votes to get Sandra out, so they let Tony on his sinking ship and blindsided him, it was too early in the game to stick with Tony, tell him, and create chaos. That still doesn’t explain why Tony voted against Aubry and not Sandra. He must have been aware that there were not enough votes against Sandra, but what made him think that Aubry was the target and not him? (as coming into tribal I don’t think he knew he was going home, even though that must have become obvious during tribal).

Ciera Eastin voted out first: She came off too strong too quickly. She should know that, she already played in an all-returnee season, you gotta start slowly, not make waves and not throw other people’s names around too soon. And as she was already a target from the first minute on the beach, she made the target on her back even bigger by doing that. It only made sense that everyone voted her out.

Hali Ford: She said that her first season she wasn’t really playing, but she will this time. Yeah, maybe she will… Maybe not. Nothing in her edit seemed to tell us that she’s anything but a number at the moment.

Jeff Varner: I’m pretty glad Jeff is back. As you may know, he was my original “favorite player ever” way back in the days and pretty much until Rob Cesternino came along. I was sad that he had never returned until Cambodia. And I couldn’t believe that he was actually returning after all this time when Cambodia happened. Then, he blew it. From what I understood, he too couldn’t believe he was returning so he decided to go all out from day one instead of playing smart. Still, he was more or less in control of the votes until he got screwed by the swap and Tasha. This time, he realizes that it’s probably his last time playing (I think he’s probably the only three time player to have never made the jury and barely made the merge once) and he knows it. He’s gonna be smart about that, and right now he is. Not making waves this time, going with the flow in the beginning until he can get something solid going on.

Malcolm Freberg: It’s almost the same thing with Malcolm. He played an amazing game the first time until he blew it at final four. The second time he didn’t stand a chance; he was almost an instant target as he basically was a “glorified fan” stuck in the favorites tribe. As everyone had Russell’s performance in HvV in mind, he knew he couldn’t last too long, so he went all out too. This time, he’s back at being his charming self, and as he knows he won’t be a target early on, his best strategy is to go with the flow at the moment. Also, I noticed that many players are being cocky in their interviews (with reason or not, that’s not the question), but Malcolm stays relatively humble in my opinion, despite the fact that he can do cocky very well if needed. I see that as a very good sign.

Michaela Bradshaw: Michaela has two problems. Number one (and that’s the reason we all love her): her personality that’s so endearing on TV and probably in real life too, but it doesn’t work too well on Survivor. People have already talked about voting her out (even if it wasn’t a serious thought… yet…) because of her intense reactions to what was happening (her being the throwaway target to blindside Ciera, and her reaction to losing the second challenge – sure she didn’t get to compete, but Malcolm had no reason to let her replace him, as he’s the one who almost saved them after such a terrible start). Some people will get wary of her very soon. She’d better start being very helpful around camp, make friends and help win challenges soon. Number two : just like Malcolm in Caramoan; nobody knows her, nor knows how she plays. That’s a big disadvantage in an all-star season (once again mostly because of Russell, in season 20). Unless she gets very lucky, I unfortunately don’t see her getting very far.

Sandra Diaz-Twine: Queen Sandra is back!!! I can’t believe she is back, and I can’t believe she survived two votes already. Could she go far? Of course, like many people, I would love for her to win three times, but let’s be realistic here, it won’t happen. Yet, during this episode, she showed us why she is the queen. Honestly, voting her out during that second vote was the most logical thing to do, she was the obvious target and she got out of it with not a single vote cast against her! Even more interesting, her signature strategy is that she genuinely doesn’t care who goes home as long as it’s not her. Nowadays in Survivor, big moves seem to be the thing to the point that it makes you a target if that’s your signature (Ciera). And there, Sandra did what? She threw away her usual strategy and led the charge against Tony. She kinda made a big move (by her standards at least). Yes, that was impressive. Now, don’t let that fool you (Hi Gervase!), she still has a very big target on her back, and she could go home at any time. Now, surviving those first two votes was very important. She had time to form relationships, and even more than her strategy, it’s these relationships that can carry her far. Before the beginning of the season I thought she had no chance to win, now, I still don’t think the odds are in her favor, but her chances are not zero anymore. We’ll see…

Tony Vlachos voted out second: The only way Tony could have lasted long was to completely change and reinvent his way of playing. But can he do it? Seconds into the game, he goes off shouting that he’s going to go look for an idol. I’m sure he said it as a joke, but when nobody followed him, instead of stopping there and telling everyone “Ha! Ha! That was a joke. Funny, isn’t it?” he kept on running and started some of his shenanigans. I think he lost the game at that very moment. And yet, despite of that, he managed to form one of the best alliance we fans could dream of, only to wreck it hours later because of his own paranoia when Sandra and Troyzan poorly lied to him. Oh well. I’m sad to see him go, he’s one of the most entertaining players to ever play this game, but on the other hand, I didn’t want this season to become the Tony Vlachos show, which it probably would have, had he stayed around longer.

Troy “Troyzan” Robertson: I’m not too sure why Troyzan has a bad reputation. I really like the guy, and I think he was one of the most interesting players in his original season, as well as one of the only people who could play the game. He got obnoxious by the end because of his frustration of not being able to get anything started against Kim because he was surrounded by idiots. See, what we saw of him this week is what I always saw in him, a very friendly and smart guy. He’s self aware enough to know of his bad reputation, so a bit like Malcolm and Jeff, he’s not making waves and making friends instead. And this time, he’s not playing with idiots, but with smart people. He actually could go far. I wonder what is the actual nature of his relationship with Sandra. When Tony caught them chatting at night, first I thought that Sandra was lying to protect her alliance with Tony against Troyzan, but no, she was actually lying to Tony to protect her the content of her conversation with Troyzan. So at this point she most likely already wasn’t tight with Tony anymore, and pretty tight with Troyzan. After all they were having a 3am chat, you usually have those with your real allies not people who want to blindside. Could Troyzan and Sandra be really tight? Hmmm…

 

 

Nuku Tribe

Not so much about the tribe as they won the first two challenges, but still a few interesting tidbits.

Andrea Boehlke: Not much about Andrea at the moment, but with her tribe winning she has no reason whatsoever to start strategizing and create trouble. That’s not her personality, and that’s what got her far twice : just being the friendly, fun, hardworking chick who doesn’t make trouble. Now, everyone should know better and while this is really who she is, she also can be very cutthroat real quick. I think she’s in a great position right now, as not many people seem to see her as a threat, when she really is one – maybe not as much as Cirie, but still very dangerous.

Brad Culpepper: A bit like Troyzan, he’s not a very popular guy among the fans (and not sure if he is very popular among other players either), but I kinda like him. I loved to hate him in Blood Vs Water. I also think he has much more to offer than what we saw. Not playing with his wife will bring out a different side of him, and we’re already seeing it. He seems to be getting along with everybody, he’s not being bossy and not making trouble. We’ll see if this lasts.

Cirie Fields: Hmmm… I had picked Cirie as my winner pre-season (I usually never pick a winner during the  preseason) but it seems that she has an even more uphill battle than I thought. The thing is that while a lot of people have history with each other this season (good or bad) those people are not on the same tribe (Tony and Sarah, Caleb and Tai, Debbie and Aubry). Ending up in the same tribe as both Ozzy and JT is one of the worst things that could have happened to her. While she’s smart to not dwell on the past (and JT seems alright too), Ozzy is not smart and of course the first thing he wants to do is to get revenge against Cirie regardless on whether it makes strategical sense or not. Luckily for him, it does make sense for most people in the tribe to get rid of Cirie (because of the gigantic threat that she is) and she got really really lucky that her tribe won the first two challenges as there’s no doubt in my mind that she would have been the first Nuku member to be voted off. Now, even if we didn’t see it, I believe that a week on the island was probably enough to create bonds with some people. Also, her conversation with Tai reminded us how good she is. Sure, Tai doesn’t have a poker face, but just through some intonations, some body language, Cirie could guess that there was something wrong and that she was indeed a target when she had been told the opposite. However, Cirie also has made her first mistake with Debbie. You don’t talk to Debbie the way Cirie did, you could rub her the wrong way and she may come after you because of that. Yes, Cirie got really lucky, and that swap next week is the only thing that could save her. Now she’s not out of the woods yet, it’ll all depends who are going to be her new tribesmates, but the only way she can go far is to avoid tribal council as much as possible until the merge. After the merge, we know that anything can happen, and that’s when she can sneak her way to the end. But will she make the merge? It will be difficult.

Debbie Vanner: The thing with Debbie is that because of her “odd” personality, people underestimate her (I know I do). Truth is that she’s very smart and she understands the game very well, and her odd way of approaching things makes it hard for other peopl to really read her (other oddballs like Coach or Phillip are pretty easy to read on the other hand, even when they’re actually playing and not trolling). We saw that with Cirie. And as she won’t be a target for a while, she could go far.

James “J.T.” Thomas Jr.: Not much about him this week. While he’s good at challenges and also very likable, he must not forget that he has a huge target on his back. And I’m sure he’s completely aware of it. Ironically, I think we tend to underestimate JT, because of his country boy thing. The truth is that he’s one of the best players out there. And seeing how he seems to be doing well right now, he’s showing it again. I don’t expect him to make the same blunder as he made in Heroes vs Villains (and let’s be honest, if that hadn’t been Russell, that would have been a great move back then). He could go far and actually has a shot at winning again. (I’m kinda surprising myself writing this)

Ozzy Lusth: Can you believe that’s the fourth time he’s playing and he still doesn’t seem to have learned that you don’t win Survivor by just being good looking and good at challenges? Really, early in the game, in this tribe, the smart thing to do would have been to get together with the other threats against the non-threats. No, instead let’s have a vendetta against the player you know the best in the tribe. Silly. Oh well, he’ll do the same as he’s always done: win challenges, have no strategy, go far, get cocky, get blindsided (hopefully by Cirie).

Sarah Lacina: Not much about Sarah, but right now, she doesn’t need to make waves, just cruise in the middle. Good that she seems quite self-aware.

Sierra Dawn Thomas: A bit like Sarah. She’s a threat to no one at the moment, under the radar is the best place she can be. Now, if she wants to win, she just can’t stay there, like she more or less did her first season. Sure she found the advantage, but are you with me thinking that this legacy advantage is pretty much a non-factor in the game ?

Tai Trang: Oh Tai. You’re a great guy, but you’re not made for this game. He went to the end the first time around because he was one of the biggest possible goats, and he’s starting the same thing again. I guess he can’t help himself, and it would have been better if there hadn’t been any chickens. And now it’s just not one, but a bunch. And he’s already annoying people with them. Does he realize that chickens don’t go to tribal and don’t get to vote? There is no point starting a chicken alliance if that’s gonna paint a target on your back. When people start getting hungry, if the chickens are not laying enough eggs, he’d better let them eat one or two or he’s out.

Zeke Smith: He’s in a strange position. His charming personality is helping him make friends at the moment. He’s smart enough to realize that while he’d love to work with Cirie it’s probably smarter to target her. Yet, he’s an unknown factor to many other players and like Michaela (and Malcolm in Caramoan) it could play against him at some point. However, I feel that he’s one of the most strategic players in this tribe, so he just needs to make the right friends (JT?) and he could have a much easier path than Michaela.

 

 

Game changer of the week: Remember, in season 27, I started giving the “impact player of the week” award. It doesn’t mean the best player, it means the one who had the bigger impact on the outcome. Some seasons I give it a silly name (usually a quote from the first episode), but I guess this season, I’ll simply call it the “Game changer” award. And this week, of course Sandra gets it. Tony could have too, but I rarely give it to the person who gets voted out.

Winner pick: Last season, I picked Adam as the winner during the first episode. It’s the first time in 33 seasons that I picked the right winner in the first episode (I was hoping for Tyson but had picked Vytas in season 27), so I need to continue on my hot streak. However, nobody seemed to have some winner edit (I think have been changing this whole winner edit recipe in recent seasons). I’m gonna make a bold move and pick Malcolm! He’s right in the middle : not a big target, but not a player that you wonder why he was picked. He’s smart, charming, good at strategy, challenges and the social game. He could have won in the Philippines, he went further than expected in Caramoan, I think this time he’ll be unstoppable (and he had one of the most positive edits this first episode in my opinion).

Next person voted out: Hard to tell as there will be a swap. Cirie is still in trouble. Tai and Michaela too. Sandra’s got to watch her back.

 

Next time on Survivor:

As we know there’s a swap. JT starts playing hard. Apart from that the preview didn’t hint at much.

 

Ok, that’s it for today.

If you like what you read, do not hesitate to share it on social media. I still don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep up blogging all season, but if I see that enough people are interested, I may make that extra effort when I start getting busier and unlikely to blog. 🙂

 

 

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Frenchman, addicted to Survivor (yes, there is such a thing) to the point of having a blog dedicated to the show where I like to analyze and speculate about what we see every week.

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