Survivor: Game Changers - Jeff Pitman's recaps

Whenever CBS orders up a repeat-returnee-heavy Survivor season, a lot of career-based Survivor records are likely to fall. Survivor: Game Changers, which features two fourth-time players (doubling the previous total over the lifetime of the series) and six third-timers, is clearly no exception. So as we approach the starting line of this season, how far will various numbers be run up? Let's find out.


Could this Game be one for the books?

Breaking new ground

Before we get started on the big-time records that could fall, let's start small. Much smaller, in fact. There are a few first-time events that could take place this season, some of which are probably a bit surprising considering everyone present has played at least once. Consider:


  • Brad Culpepper might finally win his first-ever Survivor challenge! Yes, he's prized by casting and CBS alike as a former NFL player, but those professional athlete skills have yet to translate into winning a challenge. To be fair, he did finish second in a three-person Redemption Island duel, which did not qualify as losing under Blood vs. Water's duel regulations (although it would have in South Pacific), but he's still never won a regular tribal or individual challenge. Current career record: 0-for-4. Can he change this game?

  • Caleb Reynolds could attend his first-ever Tribal Council! He's such a Game Changer that he managed to be invited back without ever performing the most basic function in Survivor gameplay: Voting. Does he even know how voting people out works? Looks like we might eventually find out!

  • Sandra Diaz-Twine, Aubry Bracco, and Tai Trang could each be voted out for the first time. (Edit, h/t Mike Ladue: So could Tony Vlachos, of course!) Hmm. This seems like a far less fun topic to consider. Let's just hope this doesn't happen, and they're all the final three. Or some subset thereof.


Come here often?

You look familiar... come here often?

Perhaps the biggest of records, or at least the one with the largest numbers, is total days playing Survivor. Jeff Probst made a big deal about this in Heroes vs. Villains when Amanda passed the century mark (100 days played), and Parvati later joined her. To date, the all-time leaderboard has a top four of:


1. Boston Rob Mariano, 117 days

2. Parvati Shallow, 114 days

3. Amanda Kimmel, 108 days, and

4. Rupert Boneham, 104.5 days (the half-day thanks to Day Zero in BvsW).


As you've probably guessed, the third-time and fourth-time contestants have a chance to pass at least some of these people. Ozzy Lusth is the closest, at 104 days. So he just needs to make it to Day 4 to move all the way up to a tie for #3. Surviving two weeks will give him the all-time title.


There's a substantial gap between Ozzy and the other two contenders: Ozzy's fellow fourth-timer Cirie Fields has played 85 days thus far, so she needs to play 20 days (circa the merge) to pass Rupert, and 33 days to take the all-time lead (assuming Ozzy doesn't extend it first). After Cirie, two-time winner Sandra is next at 78 days played. Getting to the finals again will tie her with Boston Rob.

One other longevity note: Ciera Eastin is currently tied with her mother, Laura Morett, at 63.5 days played. That's right, in their first two appearances, mother and daughter each played exactly the same number of total days. But thanks to getting to play a third time, Ciera will break this tie and pass her mom on Day 1. So... maybe voting her mom out was somewhat important, after all.


Oh, and one other, other longevity note, which we bring up since Russell Hantz was so excited about in early on in Redemption Island: Sandra has played 78 straight days without being voted out. Aubry and Tai and Tony, again, have active 39-day streaks. The all-time leader? Nope, not Russell. Sorry, bro!


The actual leader is, of course, Amanda Kimmel, who lasted two full 39-day seasons (China, Micronesia) then went 30 days deep into Heroes vs. Villains before finally having her torch snuffed, for a grand total of 108 days. So Sandra's the only person with a chance of topping that this season, and has to reach Day 31. And Russell Hantz? He made it to Day 8 in S22 before being voted out, to see his streak end at 86 days. So Sandra just needs to see Day 9 to pass him.


Steel magnolia FTW?

Fire-tempered steel magnolia

She may not love leaves (or worms!), and her challenge prowess is... poor. But that's not why Cirie is a superstar. She's one of the best players ever primarily due to her social game, which provides her an impressive ability to vote people out. As you might guess, Cirie is one of the all-time leaders at doing that, with 20 total boots on her résumé, good enough for fifth place overall. She needs a decent run this time to move up, though.


That's because there's a three-way tie for second place (Russell Hantz, Boston Rob, and Amanda) with 25, and all-time leader Parvati sits just ahead of them at 26. That means six more to tie, seven for the all-time crown. Getting there would require Cirie to at least make it to the early jury, if not further. Certainly not impossible, but the early game is probably her biggest danger zone. Fingers crossed, though.


Non-VFB potential: On the flip side of these totals is the reverse outcome: attending Tribal Council and voting for someone other than the person voted out. As we noted at the end of last season, this has been on the rise in recent times, with MvGX's Bret LaBelle nearly matching Eddie Fox's seemingly untouchable nine times not voting for the bootee in a single season. But there's also a possibility of someone eclipsing Keith Nale's 14 lifetime whiff total. Ozzy Lusth has (mostly thanks to South Pacific) amassed nine non-VFBs in his three prior appearances. And Ciera Eastin is nipping at his heels with seven. Ozzy needs six more to pass Keith, and Ciera needs eight. With a little calculated effort, those totals are within reach.


Elections have consequences

Elections have consequences

There are a whole host of other, less-esteemed records relating to Tribal Council that will almost certainly be affected this season. Due in part to his voluntarily being voted out once in South Pacific (then following that up by being voted out two more times that same season), a lot of these records are chock full of Ozzy.


For example, Ozzy already holds the all-time record for times being voted out, with four (once in Micronesia, thrice in South Pacific). Andrea Boehlke (twice in Redemption Island, once in Caramoan) and Cirie (once in each of her three prior seasons) are right behind him with three times each (along with Jerri Manthey, Candice Cody, Laura Morett, Tina Wesson, and Rupert Boneham), and could potentially tie him this season, unless Ozzy extends his record to five. The chances of the latter happening? Fairly high... technically 17/20, but probably actually a bit higher because of Ozzy's challenge beast reputation.


But wait, that's not all! In addition to having been voted out the most times, Ozzy is also the all-time leader in receiving votes at Tribal Council (again, mostly thanks to South Pacific), and this is an area where he may have some healthy competition. While Ozzy has a fairly commanding career lead with 27 VAP, both Ciera (23) and Andrea (22) are within striking distance of his record.


If Ozzy should somehow emerge from this season with fewer than a handful of votes against, while Ciera or Andrea gets voted against repeatedly (as Ciera did in Blood vs. Water), or unanimously booted from, say, a giant 13-person merge tribe, it's far from uncertain who will emerge from this season with the overall crown. Stay tuned.


Idol hands

Idol hands are the devil's playthings

Despite the seeming ubiquity of hidden immunity idols in recent seasons, only three Survivor players ever have found three or more hidden immunity idols over their careers. Two of them are on one tribe this season: Tony Vlachos and Malcolm Freberg, both of whom have found three (Tony in one season, Malcolm split over two, and that's not counting the one he convinced Reynold to give him at Tribal).


They're both chasing the career leader in idol finding, Russell Hantz, who has found five. Given that in two of the past three seasons, two people have found multiple idols, there's a reasonable chance one or both could tie or even pass Russell this season. The only thing holding those chances back is that, at least at the start of the game, they'll both be living in the same camp, so they'll be directly competing against each other. Ozzy is right behind them with two career idols found, and is on the other tribe, although finding three idols in a season would be a bit more challenging.


Still, never bet against Tony's idol-hunting zeal.


Challenging the record books

Challenge-ing the record books is challenging

Speaking of challenges and Ozzy, we would be remiss in not mentioning that Ozzy has eight career individual challenge wins (not counting duels). That's a lot, and on the career leaderboard, he trails only Boston Rob, who has 11. Next closest are JT and Malcolm, each with four. Can anyone pass Boston Rob?


Ozzy would need three wins to tie Boston Rob, four to pass. Those are not insurmountable totals in an average season, as Jay Starrett, Ken McNickle, and Michele Fitzgerald have all done that just in the past two seasons. But this is not an average season, and Ozzy enters it with a deserved reputation as an all-time challenge beast. Because of that, if Ozzy reaches the merge and starts winning individual challenges, he'll be targeted the second he's not immune, if not before.


JT and Malcolm have less of a stigma, JT mostly due to time passing and Malcolm due to his collapse (despite an advantage) in the final Philippines immunity challenge. And both benefit from being relative challenge non-factors in their last appearances. Still, they need seven individual challenge wins just to tie Boston Rob, and eight to pass him. Even seven wins would tie the most ever achieved in a single season. That's a pretty tall order, especially for two guys who have had success in the past. All in all, Boston Rob should probably have little concern about his spot in the record books.


Low MPF spotlight: In addition to historically adept challenge competitors, this season is also flush with some of the all-time poorest-performing challenge participants. Three of the top (bottom?) four all-time worst performers in individual challenges are among the Game Changers: Ciera (#1, at 0.342 MPF), Sandra (#3, 0.392), and Cirie (#4, 0.401). Ciera and Sandra are also among the all-time leaders in challenge sit-outs.


Adding to (or subtracting from) these averages will require them to reach the individual portion of the game, however, and the already-announced switch to three six-person tribes when 18 players remain could apply a significant amount of pressure to poor challenge performers. But the expansion swap could also work in their favor if (as Ciera almost did in Cambodia) they miraculously swap onto a challenge-dominating tribe that never again attends Tribal Council. Probably a mixed bag. But if Ciera reaches the merge and manages a surprise challenge win or two, Phillip Sheppard is waiting patiently to take over that top spot on the leaderboard.


Queen Sandra

The Queen and her numbers

If you thought you were going to get to the end of this without our mentioning a positive Sandra record, you're wrong. Sorry. Yes, obviously, simply by appearing, she is risking her perfect record of two wins in two seasons played. Should she win again, that record will be nigh untouchable. Based on pre-game interviews, the rest of the cast (even Caleb!) is well aware of Sandra's past accomplishments, though, so she should meet with at least some resistance in her pursuit of that third title.


But win or lose, there's another, lesser-known Sandra record that is also up for grabs now: Most average days played. Limiting the pool to repeat contestants (because otherwise it's Keith Famie at 41.0 days, thanks to The Australian Outback's oddball filming decisions), Sandra used to hold the title at 39.0 days. She can reclaim it at the end of the season if she reaches the finals again. If she doesn't, she needs to at least reach Day 36 to tie the two usurpers who are provisionally occupying her throne: Parvati Shallow and Spencer Bledsoe, both at 38.0 days. In a final three season that follows the MvGX filming timeline, that would be sixth place. That's doable. Long live the queen?


Other Game Changers pre-season info and commentary

  • Josh Wigler at (2/8/17): "Everything You Need to Know About Survivor: Game Changers"
  • Gordon Holmes at (2/8/17): "Jeff Probst on the Game Changers Theme, Idols, Twists, and More"
  • Rob Cesternino & Josh Wigler at RHAP (2/9/17): "Everything You Need to Know About the Survivor: Game Changers Cast"
  • Dalton Ross at (2/13/17): "Jeff Probst defends Game Changers casting"