After the fireworks of the Tony-Sandra showdown, this episode was considerably more subdued. That despite a two-to-three tribe swap, which was novel and unexpected the last time. But now... mundane. The swap did put two people in extreme danger of an easy 5-1 boot, but neither ended up going to Tribal Council. So instead, Caleb found himself smack in the middle of paranoia about his reuniting with Tai, his only real alliance shown in Kaoh Rong, the season everyone had just watched before playing. Again, marketing vs. gameplay. His new Mana tribe had two easy boot options with a 4-2 majority, and they decided to vote out the guy they'd just seen on TV, who had three other castmates still present this season. And thus, Caleb Reynolds, the first Survivor player to return to the game after originally appearing on another CBS reality show, was easy pickings for his new tribe, and was himself a straightforward 5-1 boot.
With no real strategic suspense and only one challenge, there was a lot of time to fill, and Survivor decided the best way to do that was with... goats. Baby goats, mama goats, and the more figurative ones: people who'd been viewed as beatable jury goats, or who had made poor decisions in past seasons. But since this is Game Changers, they came not to bury these goats, but to praise them. A lot of those people are starting to look less like also-rans, and more like game... alterers. Maybe this season could be heading somewhere, after all?
New respect for old goats: Troyzan edition
This episode did what once might have seemed impossible: It made us root for Troyzan.
Troyzan's emotional response to the finding the idol clue, tearing up as he read it, was heartbreaking. Yes, Troyzan has always seemed infinitely more interested in Troyzan than has the audience. And he may play up his own bravado a bit for the cameras, which can be a bit irritating if you're not already rooting for Troyzan as much as he is (spoiler alert: you're probably not). But for one brief moment, Troy's alpha facade fell, when he happened upon the idol clue-in-a-bottle.
There, we briefly saw the real-life Troyzan peeking out from behind the hair and the stubble. The one who has been in love with this show since the first episode, applied 20+ times, just missing out on on season after season, who finally made it on in One World then ran smack into the Kim Spradlin juggernaut, then had to put on a brave face after being on the ballot for Cambodia - Second Chance, but again falling just short, this time in front of a live national TV audience. Here, finally getting what may well be his last shot at playing Survivor, he was just gaining traction in the game before suddenly finding himself on a new tribe, and down 5-1 in the numbers, thanks to a swap he couldn't control.
As we said pre-season, Troyzan is probably a better player than fans think, and not as good a player as Troyzan thinks. Now, armed with an idol and a fresh start in the game, Troyzan has a chance to show everyone what he's capable of doing. He could (temporarily) become a game... adjuster. Or better! Maybe.
New respect for old goats: Culpepper edition
This episode also did something almost as amazing as boosting Troyzan's likability: It gave use newfound respect for Brad Culpepper's gameplay. To be fair, Brad's doing exactly what he claimed he intended to do pre-season: easing up on the gas a bit, and letting others at least feel in charge. It's just impressive that he was actually capable of suppressing his alpha tendencies and following through with that during the game itself. His first, pre-challenge conversation with Tai, in which they both seemed to be agreeing to completely opposite plans, was amusingly awkward. But when it came time to set up the actual vote, Brad deftly guided Tai towards choosing to play rationally. (At least, rationally in a way that benefitted Brad.)
Perhaps even more amazing: At least in the edited version shown, Brad made this pitch without mentioning Monica. Because he had a really compelling argument to make there: Monica's game took off in Blood vs. Water after Brad was voted out, which freed her up to solidify her alliances with Tyson and Gervase, and to make plans in Brad's absence. Tai's situation was actually somewhat similar: everyone on Tavua saw Caleb and Tai as an obvious pair, but that was extremely problematic here, on a season where that wasn't the theme. So booting Caleb both removed that potential target from Tai, and freed him up to make bonds with the other people around him, just as as Brad's BvsW exit allowed Monica to flourish. Despite the (visible) lack of "Monica, Monica, Monica," Brad's counsel worked, and Tai saw it as his best move. Which also worked out just fine for Brad.
By the numbers: longevity movement
In numbers news, Sandra has now passed Russell Hantz in consecutive days played without being voted out. That bumps Russell down to the all-time #3 slot, at 86 days. Sandra's total now stands at 87 and counting. Being #2 all-time is none too shabby, but Sandra still has a long way to go to catch the all-time leader, Amanda Kimmel, who made it up to 108 consecutive days played before her first snuffing.
The Culpepper addendum: Brad is now tied in career days played with one Colton Cumbie, with 23.5 days played (the half day coming from Night Zero in Blood vs. Water). That would be the same Colton Cumbie who took out Monica Culpepper post-swap in One World. So at the start of the next Game Changers episode, simply by making it through night 9, Brad Culpepper will have passed Colton, meaning both Culpeppers have now played twice (as has Colton), and each Culpepper has now played more days of Survivor than Colton. Vengeance will finally be theirs, as soon as the "Day 10" timestamp airs.
JT is surrounded by goats
It looks particularly bleak for JT at the moment, and Ben Martell and Dan Otsuki both seem to think he's done for. That may be, but it seems too soon. If anything, the combination of this episode and the premiere vaulted JT firmly into contention for either this season's winner, or the person who falls just short (like David last season). He had his key opening sequence pronouncement, "Sandra's not gonna be the only two-time winner, I don't think," in front of the entire cast. Here, he had his entire new tribe marveling at how clever (albeit transparent) his idol-hunting ruse was, harkening back to Taj's glowing "JT is so fast!" sighs in Tocantins.
There were other little things this episode that similarly hung a glowing halo around JT. For example, when the swap happened, we cut to Michaela hugging JT. We're supposed to like Michaela, she had a similar underdog story in Millennials vs. Gen X, so those two being pleased to see each other is a good sign. Also, after making a few self-deprecating jokes and putting on a brave face in light of his 5-1 draw in the swap, we had a couple of possible foreshadowing moments. The first:
In extolling the virtues of Nuku camp and preparing to lauch his ex-Mana marooning expedition, JT says "I gotta take y'all out" to go snorkelling, with that quote subtitled over a cut to a scowling Sandra (above). That could be interpreted as either JT plotting to boot Sandra, or vice-versa. Maybe even both. Where that arrow ends up pointing may be explained by the second scene, which also involves Sandra: the goat hunting sequence.
On its face, this extended scene seemed superfluous and over-long. Nuku is hungry, JT and Malcolm catch goats, then everyone's (except Sandra's) consciences get the better of them, and the mama goat and its baby are released. Where Sandra's "That's what you get!" badgering of the already-booted Tony last episode could have been written off as a nod to long-suffering Sandra fans who've argued ad infinitum that she deserved her Heroes vs. Villains win, here it's pretty clear: The editors want us to see Sandra as the villain. Michaela even explicitly announced "Sandra was a Villain for a reason." Malcolm even piles on with "Sandra doesn't give a damn, which is just Sandra's M.O. for life, I'm starting to realize." And all the while, JT, who initiated the goat hunt, narrates his own and his tribe's change of heart. Except Sandra's.
There's a war looming between JT and Sandra. Maybe it's coming next week, as the preview suggests, maybe the week after. But it's coming. Will JT or Sandra prevail? If JT does, it will be his first step towards controlling the game. If Sandra does, it will complete her heel turn, as the new, aggressive Sandra takes down an underdog hero. Maybe it's as simple as a short-term arc in which JT targets Sandra, wins, then gets booted himself. Whatever the case, it should be interesting.
Game Changers Ep.3 vidcap gallery
I said "drop," Zeke, not fling. No flinging allowed.
Would you care for some hors d'oeuvres, ma'am?
Not really, Cirie. You've played this game for 92 days. Caleb is now up to Day 14, though.
Seriously? You guys haven't heard of a two-tribes to three-tribes swap before?
Clearly, this tribe has deep divisions between the head-buff and neck-buff adherents. Also Hali.
Hi, Michaela. Please be my friend.
The Lannisters send their regards. (Eventually.)
Aubry: Psst, Malcolm! It goes on your head, buddy.
Finally, a tribe that has its buff-wearing together.
Look, I didn't cut off my sleeves this time, so stop with the Fred Flintstone jokes, okay?
I can't wait to see the looks on people's faces when I take control of this game, and... I can't wait!
Whoops, wrong season
The trees have balls! (He said, while manspreading.)
Seriously, enough with the balls talk.
Come on guys, I'm not idol hunting, I just wanted to sweep up!
Please, he's just doing laundry. Like that kindly Lisa Whelchel.
These are the pliers that were promised.
Let's take a moment to appreciate the intern who has to scatter "antiques" all over the beach for Brad to find.
Uh oh, Brad now appears to be a swing voter in the head-buff vs. neck-buff civil war
I'm a No Buff!
Tai's State of the Tribe address, 2017. He followed up with "Like a gymnast."
Ron Howard: It didn't.
These people are all babies! I'm the king of Samoa! .... Uh, we are in Samoa, right?
Yeah, but they were Chaotic Neutral, which is fun. This one is mostly Neutral Good. Zzzzzz.
What are you talking about? I'm Chaotic Neutral, I swear!
And I'm Lawful Good. Okay, Lawful Neutral. Okay, fine, True Neutral. Can I go to Exile/Redemption yet?
Hey, I got a confessional! Finally! Wait, it's about Troyzan? *sigh*
This is MY episode!
True statement. So... anyone up for actually trying that? Nah? Oh well.
I'm Mr. Meeseeks! Look at me!
Hi, Mr. Meeseeks, I want to be more popular with Survivor fans.
Ooh! Okay. Well, first you have to figure out what a Right Rear Corner is. It's pretty tricky!
Seriously! There's... well, nobody on this tribe, really.
JT always gets it. Except with respect to Russell's con jobs.
Can we name it? I have a lot of suggestions!
Sandra shot down all my suggestions, like "Rupert" and "Tom Brady." *sigh*
That's fine, we'll just eat JT.
Saint Malcolm blesses the goat with eternal life (offer valid for the remainder of filming).
Hooray! A challenge! We can finally be rid of Troyzan.
Hooray! A challenge! We can finally be rid of JT.
Hooray! We can finally be rid of the perception that the Kaoh Rong people are tightly connected!
Hooray! I can finally be rid of the perception that I don't know what Right Rear Corner means!
Hooray! We can finally be rid of having two working ankles!
Hooray! We can finally be rid of the perception that lawyers are good at puzzles!
Varner can finally be rid of his 16-year immunity winless streak!
Varner: The last time I won, Alicia hadn't even waved her finger in Kimmi's face yet!
Troyzan: The last time I won, I wasn't nearly so winded from untying planks! *huff* *puff* OMG!
Ooh, look! Our very own idol stand! You shouldn't have!
No, it doesn't stand for "Before Merge Caleb," why would you ask that?
I am giving another accurate confessional but am otherwise not being shown.
I am giving *another* confessional? Wait, am I the decoy boot this week, or something?
Good thing these these guys need for my excellent obstacle navigation skills.
Hey look, I'm giving a confessional, too!
Fine, I'll explain my social strategy, but I'm not giving you guys any math lessons.
In unrelated ponderings, does the Earth need the Sun?
Apparently not for the rest of the episode, at least.
Hey hey, we're Mana! We're the fun tribe!
We're not the Kaoh Rong alliance! That's silly! We're the Kaoh Rong coalition!
Don't be silly! Just because we were in all those #Dirty30 social media posts doesn't mean we're together!
Look for MC Caleb's debut mixtape to drop at the finale
Beware of lurking Sierra.
Other Game Changers Episode 3 recaps and analysis
Episode 3 exit interviews: Caleb Reynolds
Episode 3 podcasts