What a crazy episode, wasn’t it?
Sure, one can argue that the drama was manufactured by production for this unusual tribal council. It’s true to a certain extent, but we can argue that for every twist. The thing is that some work, some don’t work. This one worked perfectly. And for the people online currently shouting that it was a terrible twist, let’s be real. I’m as crushed as you are by the outcome, but the outcome is one thing, the twist itself is another one.
OK, let’s try to see what happened this week.
I want to focus on two moments in particular:
The Reward Challenge
It was interesting to only use two people from each tribe. You put them on the spot and it could go many ways. Also, it’s good material for the editors to create a narrative.
It shows us Ozzy still being a challenge beast (more on that in a few lines).
It shows us Malcolm still being the Golden Boy of Survivor (obviously more on that too).
Troyzan choking and blowing up his team’s lead may or may not be relevant. What it does is paint a bigger target on his back, but with an idol in his pocket, he can still turn the tables.
And more important it shows us Culpepper saving his tribe, and what it tells us in terms of storytelling is that he means business, he’s not a returning player for no reason, and he will have a major impact on this season (also, more on that later).
Obviously, the other important scene of the episode was:
The Tribal Council
Everyone standing up and chatting and debating and scrambling, half publicly, half in secret was a great moment in Survivor history. While scrambling at tribal has happened before (and we all love it), I think it was the first time that people stood up and had whole somewhat secret conversations this way, wasn’t it?
OK, let’s try to understand what went down…
Here is my take on it.
As the conversation unfolded, JT saw a golden opportunity to form a secret cross-tribal alliance with both Culpepper and Malcolm, and have Sandra voted out in the process without having to get blood on his hands.
I assume that JT told Culpepper that Nuku was voting Sierra, and he told Culpepper that if they have an idol, they should play it on Sierra (I can’t remember if JT was shocked or surprised when Tai played the idol on Sierra), or something along those lines. And Culpepper assured JT that they were voting against Sandra. This way, JT gets Sandra voted out and nobody in Nuku knows he was behind that.
However, for some reason, Culpepper decided to not follow through and screwed over JT and Malcolm.
Why did he do that? Hard to tell. An alliance between those three (plus some) would have been awesome.
Maybe Culpepper didn’t like JT’s closeness with Malcolm. Maybe he doesn’t trust JT anymore. Or he simply wanted to eliminate Malcolm as he saw him more as a threat than a potential ally.
Concerning the rest:
Brad Culpepper: See above. He saved the day in the reward challenged, he played JT and/or Nuku perfectly at tribal. He’s on a roll and in the driver’s seat at the moment.
Debbie Vanner: Nothing to relevant. She pretended to ally herself with Hali while still planning on voting her out. I think that’s the only thing about her this week.
Hali Ford: She seems to actually be playing the game this season, but nothing comes out of it. Interesting how she started the craziness at tribal, told Probst that she wasn’t ready to vote and wanted more discussion. And yet, nothing came out of it? What were her thoughts and plans at the moment? Voting with Nuku? Doubtful, that would have been suicidal. Trying to save Malcolm and have Mana vote against someone else? I gotta admit that I can’t remember who she was aligned with before the swap.
Sierra Dawn Thomas: She was pretty invisible despite being the center of attention and she could have been voted out if not for the idol. I still don’t care about her, and I don’t think she’ll have an impact this season.
Tai Trang: Wow. He impressed me. He actually played strategically and it worked. He could have as well kept his idol a secret and use it on himself or keep it for later, but no. Not only he shared it with his tribe at the right moment, and played it perfectly (with Culpepper’s help, it’s true). If anyone was wishy washy about him at Mana, those doubts must be gone now. With that move, he positioned himself as a reliable player in the tribe.
Aubry Bracco: Another almost invisible edit for Aubry. That doesn’t look good if we want her to have an impact on this season. Even her comments at tribal underlined that she didn’t really seem to have an influence on anything at the moment.
James “J.T.” Thomas Jr.: See above. The question is whether he betrayed Malcolm and Nuku or if he was betrayed by Brad because he was trying (with Malcolm) to betray Sandra? I believe it’s the latter, but Nuku will believe it’s the former. Poor JT, nothing has worked well for him on Survivor since he’s won Tocantins. But one reason he’s had so many misfortunes is that he’s always playing big and makes big moves (without bragging about that fact, are you listening Ciera Eastin?). However, they tend to backfire because of other people (Russell in Heroes vs Villains, not Culpepper). What are his options now? Praying that Nuku doesn’t return to tribal soon, and finding an idol are pretty much the only things that can save him. A second swap can be expected too, but not just yet. At this point, I’d be surprised if he makes the merge. 🙁
Jeff Varner: Still not much about him. Yet, we still see him just enough to remember that he’s here, in the middle, not making waves and riding along. At this point, I’m pretty sure that this time he will finally make the jury. Win? Very unlikely, unless he gets something going later.
One little thing. Varner is getting older and his challenge performances are not exceptional to say the least. Still, nothing out of the ordinary either. However, the focus on his challenge failures is pretty odd, especially Probst who’s pretty tough on Varner I feel. Is it of importance? Will Varner and challenges be a story this season for some reason? Or is it just anecdotal? Odd. In any case, seeing him cry after losing the challenge was heartbreaking.
Malcolm Freberg voted out: The unthinkable happened. It’s as if millions of Survivor fans’ voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. Don’t get me wrong, mine included. It was going to be Malcolm’s season, he was depicted very positively, definitely a hero, more a fan favorite than ever. And he totally got screwed most likely by Brad Culpepper and/or JT. I really feel bad for him. He would likely have won Philippines if not for that one final immunity challenged he messed up. He never stood any chance in Caramoan (returning right after your original season is good for TV ratings, but not for your own game). This season, he definitely could have won, he definitely deserved to make the jury. Almost everything in his edit seemed to indicate that he had good chances to go far. The only thing that worried me was his narrator role in confessionals, that was an indication of the unlikeliness of a win, but it also meant he’d last long… Or not… I really hope we seem play again. I think we will.
Michaela Bradshaw: She also was pretty invisible this week too. Two weeks in a row… Not good for her prospects. However, in seasons like this one, when big things happen pre-merge, with big popular players having a big story early and then get voted out, a bunch of players are rather secondary early on and go to the foreground when merge comes. Could it be Michaela’s case? Not sure, but it’s odd how we see and hear almost nothing of her. It’s not entirely negative, being quieter is good for her game, and she’s learning that.
Sandra Diaz-Twine: It’s amazing that Sandra went through three tribal councils already, two of them when she was a potential boot, and she still has zero votes against her. This is Sandra’s super power; she’s never seen as a threat “right now”. People always want to vote her out later… And that’s how she ended winning twice… However, while it’d be amazing, I don’t see it happening a third time. Even less so because of her edit. She’s being depicted as too caricatural and too uni-dimensional at the moment: the cocky evil queen, basically, and that’s pretty much it. While it’s entertaining, I feel that it means that there is a violent revolution coming her way.
Tavua was pretty invisible as a whole tribe this week. I guess that’s what you get when winning immunity with such a big tribal council twist.
Andrea Boehlke: Nothing to say about her this week, sorry.
Cirie Fields: Same for Cirie. 🙁
Ozzy Lusth: This week we saw that Ozzy is still very good at challenges, and that he’s still good at survival stuff and being a provider for his tribe. We also saw that he still thinks that those are things that matter the most in the game of Survivor. This shows us that despite it being his fourth time playing, he still really hasn’t learned, nor hasn’t grown as a player. He’s back at doing the same things again and again. At least, he seems to have finally shed the cocky jerk persona from Micronesia and South Pacific away. We’ll see how long this lasts, he hasn’t been to tribal council yet…
Sarah Lacina: Invisible again. So far she has no impact on the game. Will she later? Doubtful.
Troy “Troyzan” Robertson: It was a very good week for him last week, not so much this week. It was underlined once again that he’s the obvious vote when Tavua goes to tribal council, except that his idol will shake things up. I believe it will be the next storyline of importance.
Zeke Smith: He was quite invisible this week.
Game changer of the week: This seems to be a team effort this week. Tai‘s idol and the way he played it (share it with the tribe, etc) is what made everything possible, but Brad seemed to be the mastermind behind the whole thing, with some help from JT (knowingly or unknowingly? that remains the biggest question)
Winner pick: Right now and as surprising as it may be, Brad is the only one who looks like a potential winner. That could mean nothing though, remember San Juan Del Sur, the winner had to be Jeremy or Josh, right? Until they got voted out back to back.
Next person voted out: With three tribes, it’s always very hard to predict. At Nuku, JT needs a miracle to survive. At Mana, Hali is still in trouble, although next week’s preview shows us Debbie making trouble. At Tavua, Cirie or Andrea could be the victim of Troyzan’s idol.
Next time on Survivor: JT is in big trouble. Debbie has a meltdown… Misdirection? Does it mean that Tavua goes to tribal? Or on the opposite that it mean that they keep on winning? What if this week’s twist became the norm with three tribes until they do down to two tribes or they merge?