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:
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
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!
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
It's a euphemism for "pee on," Tai.
Ahhhhhhhh, that's a relief!
This will seem pretty impressive until about 10 minutes from now.
The female/male divide at Mana? Same.
Hooray! Some of us may leave the Nuku hellhole!
Hooray! I'm on the beige tribe!
Not one of you came up with "Gayme Changers?" Disappointing.
Hali exchanges her red buff for... a red buff. Again.
This sucks, Jeff. But hope springs eternal. Maybe Caleb will get medevacced again. Oh wait... dammit.
The green-with-envy tribe.
"Actually, it's The Australian Outback. I thought you guys already knew that."
Do I look more like Jack Sparrow with the hair down? Cool. I'm only 2 years older than Depp, you know.
Brad is excited to see the camp still has all its balls.
Troy and I both live in Florida, he was on Monica's first season, and we're old. But I'm stoked he's a dude.
You were in an alliance with Ozzy, and I was with Joey Amazing! We're twins!
Hey Sandra, you're a 2-time winner, but I just set the all-time record in days played. Also, we're voting you out.
I don't know about thaaat. Wait, yes I do. Sigh.
Please don't hate me, reddit. But come on, she's gonna win otherwise.
So our decoy options are Varner and Tai, and nobody's going to believe it's Varner. Well, that's that.
So it turns out the legs to skinny jeans work kind of like a Buff, but for your legs. Weird, huh.
I only have seven so far today, I'll bet there's another one somewhere.
Whew, good thing I drank all that water and coffee.
#Crotchidol accomplished. Again.
I'm going to exile, but it's weird they're showing me in this shiny boat.
Exile... High Society Land?
Soft drinks? Is Will coming, or something?
Also on Exile: Lots and lots of ropes. Seems unfair.
Sliding into your Exile like...
I am acting natural, Debbie.
I'm on the gray Exile tribe then? Do I get a buff?
Sure Debbie, with your expertise in everything, you could write for a Big Bang Theory spin-off. Call my people.
Hey girl, I got somethin' real important to give you... it's my pick in a box. Yeah.
It's only been 10 minutes, Debbie
Again, I really REALLY like and respect Sandra, which is why we have to vote her out
Hey guys, this challenge is mostly strength, so tough luck, Varner/Sandra tribe.
How dare you? We have Ozzy and Sarah and...
Day 16, finally getting swimsuits. GAME CHANGER.
From this angle, you can't see they're basically walking on a balance beam, but with handholds
The less-impressive angle
We'd probably be faster at this if you helped, Brad
We still have a chance guys, remember that Brad is 89% disabled!
This challenge should be over in about five seconds
Puzzle pieces, take the puzzle pieces down. Not someone who's standing in front of you, Zeke.
Oh well, time to get on with the other thing, I guess
Pretty sure it's Tai tonight. Poor guy.
Sure we did, Jeff. Sure we did.
I've never been voted out before, but I'm *pretty* sure this is what it feels like
Hooray! My third Tribal Council ever!
Is 18 idols enough for tonight? Or should I go out and look again?
Did I just say that out loud? Whoops. Here, have an idol. I keep 'em in this jar.
In *MY DAY* we had to work for idols. Sometimes three, four clues, swimming uphill both ways.
Oh my god, these people suck. Please let me go back to Exile instead.
Yay. Time to vote out Sandra.
One of us is going home, Jeff. Probably not the guy with 256 idols, though.
Actually, I picked up 10 more on the boat ride over here, so I have 266 idols now.
This is totally not fake news, Sandra: Vote Ozzy
Tai, did you just find an idol *IN SANDRA'S EAR*? WTF? How can we trust you?
Sandra, since Tai took your idol, you're finally voted out.
Surprise! You're going to Outcast Ponderosa instead. See you next episode!
I'll do it for Lill
Other Game Changers Episode 6 recaps and analysis
Episode 6 exit interviews: Sandra Diaz-Twine
Episode 6 podcasts