Survivor: Game Changers - Jeff Pitman's recaps

Viva la reina


Sandra put on quite a performance this season, running the game through the first five boots, which accounts for a full third of the season. This sixth episode was the season in miniature, with Sandra almost immediately facing an uphill battle, finding herself on a new tribe with four people who had been together on a Sandra-opposing tribe since Day 1 (Andrea, Ozzy, Sarah, Zeke), with just Varner in her corner, along with potential free agent Tai. Russell Hantz never had to face a swap, while Sandra had two this season. Yet even as the sun set on Day 16, and Nuku headed to Tribal Council, it looked like Sandra might still be able to work her magic and wriggle out of it. Nimbly manipulating Tai's apparent (or acted?) paranoia in the middle of Tribal Council, Sandra almost turned it around, or so it appeared. But alas, no.


Sandra came into this season with a massive target on her back, as the second-most frequently listed person (behind Tony) the other contestants wanted to vote out first, according to Dalton Ross's pre-season poll. As a two-time winner, there was virtually no conceivable way Sandra could win this season. Yet she made an indelible impact on it, and she calmly, assuredly fought her way to Day 16. Even after doing all this, she'll probably still be underestimated when that fabled all-winners season rolls around. (Dear Sandra: Please say yes when they ask.)


Sandra leaves this season still with two wins, but also still the only two-time winner. Especially in light of how this season highlighted her social/strategic game, few should now doubt her capabilities. Sandra may not be a standout challenge competitor, but she excels at two key components of Survivor: Voting people out, and avoiding the vote herself. With that in mind, here are a few of her accomplishments:


  • Sandra lasted 28 consecutive Tribal Councils without being voted out, finally getting snuffed at Tribal #29. This is the all-time record, tied with Amanda Kimmel. Russell Hantz is #3, snuffed at his 27th Tribal. The only other career snuffless streaks still active this season are Aubry (currently at 13 Tribals) and Tai (12). Among other two-time or more players, Jenna Morasca has an intact streak of 11, and Mike Skupin has 10. Jenna may continue her quest at some point, but it seems unlikely Skupin will.
  • Sandra and Cirie are the only players who have voted out more than 20 people while received 10 or fewer votes against them. Sandra's voted out 21 people, with only 6 votes against. Cirie is at 20 VFB and 9 VAP, and has yet to attend Tribal this season. If anyone votes against Cirie this season, Sandra will become the sole member of this club. Among two-time or more players, the only one with a reasonable chance of joining Sandra at some point in the future is Stephen Fishbach, currently at 15 VFB/ 5 VAP. And booting 5 people while receiving fewer than 5 votes against is still pretty difficult.
  • Sandra's also the career leader in jury votes received, with 12. On the one hand, yes, just five people (including Sandra) have faced a jury twice. But she topped all of them. And her record seems fairly safe, at least until an all-winners season, or until Survivor starts merging at 16, with a 13-person jury.


Cochran in a boat

Cochran in a boat


The game really changed this episode, when the King of Self-Deprecation (one John Cochran) counseled the Queen of Self-Aggrandizement (Debbie) at Exile Yacht. This was the first time a former player has appeared in a non-contestant role in a season, unless you count Rupert's time in Blood vs. Water. It was the best of times, it was the awkwardest of times, and it played mostly as comedy. A light interlude, where "Exile" turned out not just to have a silver lining, but be entirely constructed out of silver. Except for the parts that were gold. Speaking of which, as with Troyzan's reaction to finding his idol, Debbie's mask of bravado slipped just for an instant as she wept while hugging Cochran, and we got to see her real concerns about her position in the game. This was a great moment, even as they laughed it off with "I'm crying because I'm putting my germy smell on you," and Cochran's "Don't worry about, I'll burn the clothes when I'm outta here" reply.


Survivor is at its best when it shows the real people behind the (sometimes) larger-than-life reality-competition show characters. This was one of those moments. We don't doubt that Debbie actually is extremely confident in real life, and it's possible she sometimes amplifies that a bit for the cameras. But every Survivor player is vulnerable at some point. Sometimes it's calm, matter-of-fact concerns about being out of power, such as David Wright's early confessionals in Millennials vs. Gen X, or Sandra's pre-Tribal confessional in which she acknowledged that, for the first time in her career, things didn't feel right heading into the vote. Sometimes it's a bit tearful, such as here with Cochran and Debbie, or Adam Klein worrying about his mom last season, or Stephen Fishbach in Cambodia, fretting about the weight of expectations and making up for past mistakes. For every time someone leaps exultantly, arms extended in victory, there's also someone quietly


The Exile combinations narrowly avoided

Alternative exile timelines


Despite the sometimes cringeworthy majesty of the Exile pairing we witnessed, there are a few matchups the Survivor gods plucked away from us. Some that may even have topped When Cochran Met Debbie. For example, as several people suggested on twitter: What if we'd seen Cochran and... Ozzy?


This could have been the greatest 10 minutes in Survivor history, if only it had happened. Imagine Ozzy's narration, just on arrival: "A yacht? Eh, I was hoping to just chill and surf and catch some fish. Oh well, at least there's food and wine."


But then, Ozzy's blissful retreat from having to interact occasionally with tribemates takes a darker turn:

"Wait... now I've gotta talk to someone, too? *Groan*"


A boat approaches from afar. A smiling, bespectacled fellow waves from the foredeck.

"OMG, it's COCHRAN?! FML!"


And we haven't even hit the awkward hugs phase yet.


But wait, there's more!

  • Cochran meets Zeke or Michaela, before their first season airs on TV: "So... you've played as many times as I have? What did you say your name was, again?"
  • Cochran is reunited with Andrea: "Andrea, I know you need to have a doomed showmance with one guy per season, so... here I am!" (Alternatively: "My advice would be: Don't trust me, since I blindsided you the last time you played. Maybe I'm misleading you right now! I should probably just quit talking, huh?")
  • Cochran and Cirie: "So... you haven't even been to Tribal Council yet? Um, keep doing that?"
  • Cochran and Tai: "Okay, here's the top-secret Reunion Show Hijackers Club handshake. Watch carefully."
  • Cochran and Troyzan (or Brad): "You know what, Troy? Every angry nerd on reddit is probably incinerating their TV right now. If you listen carefully, you can probably hear there screams now, from Fiji, ten months before they find out."


Idolvantage creep

Idolvantage creep


So far this season, through six episodes, there have been five hidden immunity idols found. Only one has been played (JT's remains buried somewhere at Nuku), leaving three still in circulation, two with Tai, one with Troyzan. For the second season in a row, there are also two advantages in play: Sierra's Legacy advantage (effectively another idol), and Debbie's Extra Vote. Also both unplayed, and both secret. In two weeks, we'll hit the merge, and there could well be a fourth idol and another Reward Steal advantage popping up, especially if one of the current idols is used or otherwise leaves the game.


How much is too much? At the merge vote, with 13 people left, we could potentially have one person immune (unless there are two necklaces, as in some seasons), three idols played, Sierra's Legacy Advantage/idol played, for five (or six) total people immune. Considering Tai and Sierra and Troyzan are all allied with Brad, they could effectively make their entire alliance immune, and just force everyone else to vote someone out, Three Amigos style. Yay?


We get it, idols introduce additional variables into the Tribal Council strategic calculus. And that leads to more daring and/or interesting gameplay. But with too many unknowable variables in play, the end result becomes essentially random, and the strategy degrades to "Oh well, anything could happen tonight. Let's just vote and hope it works." Especially in combination with the new tie vote rules, having too much uncertainty may well impede the strategy, leading to straight tribal-line, 6-5 votes in which Malcolm Frebergs go home. And nobody wants that.


We have yet to see how this plays out. Maybe it'll be fine. But if it doesn't, maybe dial the idols and advantages back a bit?


The mystery of Tai



Despite major events such as the fall of the Queen and Cochran's cameo/ Debbie's exile, perhaps the biggest character this episode was Tai. Yes, he managed to find two idols in separate camps, within a few hours of each other, making three total idol finds for him this season, all in a four-day span, *and* he didn't even play any of them at Tribal Council. But that's not even his main activity of note. Rather, it was his central position in one of the more confusing Tribal Councils in recent memory.


Just when it seemed that Tai had settled into his second season, forging strong bonds with Brad and Sierra at Mana, the swap sent him solo to a tribe with four former Tavuas (who at least had been his initial tribemates), plus Sandra and Varner. From there, everything got worse. While he was ostensibly with the majority four, almost every one of them voiced some level of distrust with him at some point during the episode. So much so that he was the obvious decoy vote with which to trick Sandra and Varner (even if Sandra didn't buy it). It's curious that his most-cited transgression was constantly looking for idols, since he allegedly found his second within hours of arriving at the new camp, which would have given him two-plus days to better integrate with his new tribe. What was he doing all that time?


All of that aside, his performance at Tribal Council was... head-scratchingly impenetrable. Was he just pretending to be against the Tavua four, in order to (re-) trick Sandra? Pretending to be flummoxed, and at a loss for words? Was this all Zeke-directed theater? Or was he really openly exploring voting for Ozzy? In her exit interviews, Sandra seemed to think everything was as shown, but it's odd that Tai would publicly announce he's voting against his erstwhile alliancemate Ozzy, then actually vote for Sandra after all, which had been the original plan, *and* not bother to play either of his idols. Something really doesn't add up there, at least with the narrative that was shown on TV.


If this was all a performance intended to trick Sandra and Varner, Tai may have turned himself into a far more formidable contestant than anyone is giving him credit for being. If he really was just stumbling and scrambling mid-Tribal, well... then maybe the opposite is true. Such a range of possibilities! Maybe all will be revealed in the next episode? Who knows? If Survivor has ever contemplating including a mid-Tribal confessional, or a The Genius-style flashback, this may have been a good opportunity to pull that trigger.


Until then, we guess Tai is just counting the days until he's reunited with Brad? As are we all, Tai. As are we all.


To hold everyone over, please enjoy this week's vidcap gallery.

Game Changers Ep.6 vidcap gallery

Other Game Changers Episode 6 recaps and analysis


Episode 6 exit interviews: Sandra Diaz-Twine

  • Gordon Holmes at (4/6/17): "Sandra: 'Grabbing that Wrong Buff Killed My Game'"
  • Dalton Ross at (4/6/17): "Sandra reveals her tribe actually did kill and eat a goat"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP (4/6/17): "Exit Interview | Latest Player Voted Out - 4/06/17"


Episode 6 podcasts