Okay. I’m going to do my absolute best to not rant in this piece, so let me just say, I’m upset Malcolm is gone and Sierra is here. I’ll do my best to keep it at that for now. This week, I’m not going to do a recap on all remaining players, because this week, not all of them matter (even you, Sarah, sorry). Let’s just dive into this article.
Why were you shown so much in the initial preview if you don’t make it to week four?
On some level, I respect the editors for showing Malcolm so prominently in the first preview given how lackluster he did in the game. It did a great job of deflecting the attention to him and off of players who I now believe will do better than my preseason assessment gave credit for (Zeke and Debbie). On a more surface level, however, you got screwed by a twist, albeit an interesting one. I mourn the fact you’re gone this early, and I mourn that a wholly unworthy player got an idol played for her which led to you leaving. While I may not agree with the whole concept of players getting fourth chances (especially Rupert), I firmly believe Malcolm deserves another go-around. He’s a better player than to go out with something like that. Perhaps saddest… Malcolm went out as the archetypal villager or “death fodder.” Sure, he went after and took out Ciera, but was his presence of any real consequence in this season? No. He was a background character who contributed nothing to an all-star season. That, to me, is simply wrong given the man’s caliber of play and love of this game. I can’t image what he felt seeing his name written down. Let’s try and move on.
The Twist at Hand
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly…
Let me just say, I’ve never been so upset I was right about only one person getting the boot.
The good of this twist was it forced a whole new element into the game: having to anticipate what the other tribe will do. I whole-heartedly respect this in theory, as it does, for lack of a better terminology, change the game. Watching the two tribes debate on which person they should vote out, and why, was fascinating and kept me on the edge of my seat. I’ll give production credit… I couldn’t wait to see what happened.
The bad here is rather obvious… it makes players who would normally not be targets until the Merge immediate targets. While this happens naturally in other seasons, this topic is completely different in an all-star season. Knowing how given players work in some seasons automatically gives people biases as to who it makes sense to get rid of sooner rather than later (such as Tony). While I understand the idea of eliminating huge threats as quickly as possible, I don’t understand why production would artificially create scenarios in which threats are made all the more threatening. Perhaps this is the inner-fanboy in me speaking, but let’s take a moment to consider a thirteen person Merge this season of truly worthy players (however you define that). For me, coming into this season, let take an example of a Merge of: Debbie, Andrea, Malcolm, Tony, Ciera, Michaela, Zeke, Aubry, Cirie, Ozzy, Sandra, JT, and Sarah. Sure, this list might vary from person to person, but the mere fact production would introduce a twist which puts one or more of these people in more immediate danger is baffling to me. Is production kicking themselves Malcolm is gone instead of Sierra or Hali? I can only hope so.
This twist was great, but not for an all-star season where people carry their reputations with them.
The ugly, obviously, was the fact one of the worthiest players to step on the beach went home day eleven instead of someone who most people had probably forgotten about prior to this season. Again, I don’t hate the twist, but for a season where reputation seems nearly paramount to all (look at Ciera, Tony, Malcolm and even people like Sandra, Ozzy, and Cirie who are still in the game), the bigger profile players were always going to be in trouble. Yes, Sierra was targeted by Nuku, but what big name players did Mana have? Tai? Debbie? As much as I enjoy watching them both, neither are what I would call elite players. Now take the new Nuku tribe: Malcolm, Sandra, Aubry, and JT…it was clear one of the big names was going to be in trouble. I’m sad to see any of them go, but considering Malcolm could have had such a bigger impact to the season’s story…I just didn’t see this coming.
Why the Past Matters
And Why Winners and Threats Will Always Have a Helluvuh Time Competing Against Lackluster Competition
Let’s backtrack to a season from a forgotten era for a moment…Survivor: All-Stars. Am I going to debate Boston Rob being one of the game’s all-time greats? Absolutely not. He is, and he deserves as much praise as any (shy of Parv, Queen Kim, and debatably others). But let’s think of his profile at the time of All-Stars. It was, to say the least, less than many of the returning players, and in fact, he was one of the only cast members to not at least be on the Jury. Now try and remember the first four people voted off of All-Stars: Tina, Rudy, Cesternino, and Richard Hatch. These were not small name players, but people who had found profound success. While this trend doesn’t quite hold up for the initial boots on HvV and Cambodia (Sugar, Steph, Randy, and Cirie versus Vytas, Shirin, PG, and Varner respectively—Steph and Cirie being the only players of extreme value going early), Game Changers has thus far shown big names go home quick, and I’d argue it’s partly due to this being the most stratified all-star cast (in terms of skill levels) we’ve ever seen. While many might not be as enthusiastic about Ciera as I am, she is undoubtedly a big-name player. So too are Tony and now Malcolm.
Now if this was a season packed full of juggernaut players, seeing such big names go home early would be understandable. When people like Sierra, Hali, and Varner easily outlast big names (and likely more to come—JT and Sandra at the least), I get frustrated with casting. By casting players of widely differing calibers, players who are notably less scary will do all they can to pick off those bigger names leaving a season of relative nobodies. This isn’t the lower-profile contestants’ faults, but it does lead to less notoriety coming down to the finale.
Perhaps I’m overreacting, but at this point, does it seem that hard to believe we will see Culpepper, Sierra, and Troyzan in the final episode? Regardless of improvements Culpepper and Troyzan have made to their games, going into this season, were those the three players casuals or hardcore fans wanted to see? No… at least I’d hope not. Let’s go as far to add Hali (who’s a favorable tribal swap away from being fine), Tai, and Andrea to that finale. Is that a finale anyone would be that stoked on? I know I wouldn’t be. And this is precisely why the past matters in an all-star season. The more unknown players will always have some level of advantage over the massive threats, and that simply because no season of Survivor—especially with returnees—is a standalone story. They all build from one another. Sometimes they build you up so much that…well, just as Malcolm. Oh well…that’s life, I guess. Once valiant heroes get sliced.
The JT-Hali Paradigm
Because this Twist Bought Time, Not Position
Let’s say Tai doesn’t find an idol and the whole vote hinges on JT, an outcast on Nuku. For JT, neither of his options look all-too wonderful: (1) vote with Nuku, remaining true to his tribe who’s looking for the first available moment to dump him, or (2) backstab Nuku, siding with people he was, at one point, actually aligned with but weakening Nuku more in the process. Similarly (though not as importantly), Hali could have opted to flip her vote against Mana, thus assuring Nuku got their way. Either way, the pair was never going to move up from the bottom of the tribe. While this made them quite valuable for this vote, they’re both back on the chopping block—and that was regardless of what they chose.
As it happened, obviously, JT and Hali chose to stick with the tribes they are on. While this is hardly ideal, both essentially voted to keep their tribes strong, and as both players know the perilousness of their position, winning immunity is the best shot they have of sticking around. Now, did JT tip off Culpepper? Malcolm seems to think so. Still, unless the next episode gives concrete evidence of that, Malcolm’s boot is coming down on his head, and it very well could be the final nail Sandra needs to complete his coffin. Even if the story surrounding JT’s apparent distress over Malcolm getting booted (i.e. the editors want JT to seem sympathetic and heroic), he’s a lone knight against Sandra’s army.
Side note here…what was with Hali saying, just before the vote, she did not consent to the chosen choice? Furthermore, she followed up this odd display by saying something akin to “y’all might be sorry.” Regardless of if you’re calling your tribe dumb or the other tribe dumb, you’re unnecessarily scoffing at a whole group of people. Strange strategy for a future attorney. Even with Debbie’s little outburst in the preview, Hali is in some deep, deep trouble should Mana lose yet again.
I hate that I must do this for the second consecutive week, Culpepper is not getting the story I might have predicted. Not only is he coming across as personable and understanding, he’s showing he knows a thing or two about strategy, too. Even the little addition to his confessional while voting for Malcolm, calling him the best player/biggest threat, shows a level of humility I didn’t know Culpepper possessed. Not only that…he was probably right. While others there had swell resumes, there wasn’t a bigger triple threat there. Well-played, Brad. Are you really to be this season’s archetypal hero? I’m still not quite a true believer.
Varner Not Improving
If I was Malcolm, the person I’d most blame for my departure would be Jeff Varner. After a commanding lead you and JT fought for, you let Jeff F****** Varner try and close out the challenge. Why not use Michaela? Hell, I bet Aubry would have been good at it! Varner’s story here reminds me so, so much of his toils in Cambodia. While he might be a new and improved social player, I stand by my prediction that Varner is meant to be this story’s dramatic irony. Sad, but unsurprising.
A Closing Thought, Dearest Reader
Because Everyone Loves a Good Conspiracy Now and Then
I’m not sure I ever felt overly-real tension that Hali and/or JT were going to flip. Maybe that was because Hali and JT were either too loyal to their captors (yay, Stockholm Syndrome) or they felt they had a better chance at winning immunity with the folks they had. Maybe it was something else entirely, but my point being, both players seemed pretty solid. In a season where artificial changes seem to be becoming something of a norm, doesn’t it seem a little boring for this great twist (and again, I like it in theory) to simply get decided by votes right down tribal lines? I’m sure production was praying Mana somehow would send the other two to Tribal, but alas, the fabled rock draw did not come to pass.
Now, any writer worth a damn will tell you, it never hurts to throw in a little excitement when you can. How about potentially hiding an easy-to-find idol for the tribe down in numbers? Would that count? If you’re rolling your eyes right now, fair enough, but why would an idol suddenly appear at camp when Troyzan had to recover one post-challenge? Just seems fishy to me. It’s probably nothing…*sigh*
A bit short post this week, folks—sorry or you’re welcome. Hopefully the former. Anyway, not important. Who goes home next week, you ask? Well, I don’t see Tavua losing anyone—both because of story and tribe strength—so either Mana or Nuku ditches either Hali or JT. Well, third time is the charm, right? I’ll go JT for one more week. He’s bound to go soon, right?
Dan Otsuki has been watching Survivor religiously since season two, and is a recent graduate of the University of Puget Sound, where he double majored in English and Religious Studies. He's also applied to play on the show every time he's been able to do so.
Follow him on twitter: @DanOtsuki