It's Kind of a Funny Story - Dan Otsuki's Survivor: Game Changers recapss

False priming


In all regards, really not how I thought this episode was going to play out. I’m not necessarily upset about it, but in my perfect world, we’d still have Brendan and Bradley would be toast. Oh well.



Sorry if I jinxed you, bud… But, hey, you’re not on my fantasy team!


Although he was my pregame winner pick, I have been riding high on back to back seasons of my picks doing very well, so I suppose this was bound to happen. Alas, I liked everything I saw out there of Brendan, and especially given Michael’s impassioned call to Sebastian and Chelsea at Tribal, I was confident either the idol would be played correctly or at least one of Seb or Chelsea would flip—maybe even both. Unfortunately, instead of emerging as a long-term hero, Brendan falls early as an old knight or mentor archetype, one gut-wrenchingly disappointing for someone who tried to play for so many years. His role was to sacrifice himself so those dear to him might survive, hopefully imparting some wisdom from his years of service along the way. While I don’t know how much wisdom he was able to provide, Brendan’s departure, I think, might just provide the boost at least one or two of the remaining OG Malolo at Malolo to last deep, with or without Sebastian and Chelsea.


A Tribal Choice

A Tribal choice

And why Sebastian and Chelsea chose right


Hey, we heard Chelsea speak multiple times this episode! My jaw actually dropped when she got her first confessional and my girlfriend honestly asked, “Have we seen her before?” So, good for you Chelsea! You’re on this season.


Sarcasm aside, as much as I wanted one or both of the alleged bottom of the Naviti five to jump ship, objectively, I think they made the right move. Morgan had just gone home, and I’m sure giving up an OG tribe-numbers advantage was not looking like a good idea. Additionally, and more importantly, as pointed out at Tribal (by Kellyn, I believe), even if Sebastian and Chelsea did decide to betray their original tribemates, they’d essentially be trading the bottom of a group of five for the bottom of a group of six. Yes, Michael tried to mitigate this by saying the four OG Malolo were only working together because they had to, but I think that was always going to be a hard sell. Michael and Brendan were clearly tight as were Steph and Jenna. Unless they’re completely oblivious to social interactions, Seb and Chelsea must’ve been able to pick up on at least some of that.


Given the assumption the Malolo four was tightknit, dwindling down their numbers a little makes a lot of sense if the end goal is dragging yourself up the tribal pecking order. Now, if Malolo loses again (which seems more likely now that they’re sans Brendan), Sebastian and Chelsea can jump ship to a group of three, not four. If they really want to play their cards close to their chest, they could also cut another OG Malolo, then switch things up when there are seven people on new Malolo in a 4-3 split.


No, the presumed-bottom-pair made the right move here, as much as I wanted them to do something different. They still have time to make a move against Bradley before the merge, and given as Malolo is weaker now, they might have ample opportunity. The only cautionary tale I’d like to mention is how early merges have been happening in recent seasons (such as at a whopping thirteen), and given as the Legacy Advantage is once again in play, I feel confident there will only be three more boots until a Merge. So, to Seb and Chelsea, tick tock. Make your moves while you can.


False Priming

False priming

Because this episode was filled with it


Much as the tagline says, this episode set up a ton of expectations for us as an audience, especially us seasoned viewers who know productions many tricks and how editing crafts a season’s narrative. From the previous preview, it seemed all but certain, should Malolo attend Tribal, Steph and the gang would not only all survive, but their survival would allow for a season long narrative of hope for the underdogs… or at least for Steph (something, I believe, she should still have in spades going forward). Not only this, the entirety of the episode’s first half centered on Naviti in the wake of Morgan’s surprise departure, barring Kellyn at Ghost Island, but I’ll touch on that more in a bit. Given how much time was spent on Naviti and its dynamics, there was at least some underlying assumption they’d lose again, forcing those dynamics to come into play immediately.


Of course, Naviti pulled off a superb comeback, the priming that logically said they’d go to Tribal turned out to be a red-herring. I thought, however, this would be a one-off thing, after all, Steph has hope! What’s more, we’re primed to know Sebastian is weary of Bradley targeting the big dudes, and given the OG Malolo’s plan to try and flip folks at Tribal, doesn’t this seem like a match made in heaven—either via an idol play or flip?


Then we get to Tribal, and Michael, especially for an eighteen-year-old, fucking killed it. I truly was beyond impressed by how he handled Tribal and the pleas he made for Naviti to start trying to cannibalize itself, despite his plan failing. I thought it was a more respectful, yet forceful, way to argue the same point Ciera tried to make in Cambodia: play the damn game (unfortunately, staying the course can be a good way to the play the game sometimes). Hell, editing even included Sebastian agreeing with Malolo. While this agreement, in most Tribals, would be an obvious red herring, taking it into account with all the other priming evidence presented, and something has to go Michael, Steph, Jenna, and Brendan’s way, right?


Oh, wait, Michael misplayed his idol? That’s okay. Sebastian or Chelsea will flip, maybe both! Oh, okay, it’s tied four-four. Still not a prob—hey. Someone spelled “Bradley” like Brendan…


To be fair, I do appreciate when editing and narrative structure in Survivor throws people for a loop. Maybe other seasoned fans saw right through this, but, to me, I was surprised. And surprise, dearest readers, is why people watch Survivor a lot of the time.


Kellyn’s Ghostly Excursion

Kellyn's Ghostly Excursion

And why we should pay attention to her


Firstly, let me say, I’m not a fan of switching when someone gets sent to Ghost Island after consistency for three Tribals. If there’s going to be artificiality in Survivor, let it at least be consistent, because, had Malolo been down one person going into Tribal this episode, things might have turned out very differently. That’s the end of my mini-gripe about this. Anyway. Kellyn.


While I do believe she’s going to be around for a while to come—perhaps longer than virtually all of her OG Naviti counterparts—her edit this week pertaining to Ghost Island really confused me. She’s given multiple confessionals about how “she’s meant to be there,” and so on and so forth, and, going back to false priming, this would lead one to think she’ll win herself an advantage that helps her later on down the road. Yet, for all of her “meaning to be there,” she ultimately forgoes gambling her next vote, making her whole sojourn at Ghost Island strategically worthless. Could this mean she’s fundamentally wrong about other things in the game, therefore foreshadowing her downfall? I mean, everyone is wrong about something or other in the game at some point, so reading into this too much seems pedantic for the time being.


No, the reason why Kellyn appears to be important is her confessional at Ghost Island. Much like Chris, it would’ve been just as easy to give Kellyn only the screen time necessary to show she opted not to play Ghost Island’s game (which, just to clarify, was absolutely the right choice for her to make given the slim numbers advantage OG Naviti held), yet we were given more—personal details aplenty. Maybe that’s part of the editing power of Ghost Island, that if you go there, you’re assured to get some personal content that’s ultimately fairly meaningless to your longevity in the game. After all, Jacob’s role was built up at Ghost Island, but obviously has become meaningless, and it’s entirely possible Chris doesn’t live through his first excursion to Tribal. Still, for now, I only have the editing techniques of previous season to base assessments off of, and while I think (hope) I’ll be a little more sensitive to red herrings this season after Jacob’s early boot and this whole episode, I have to think seeing personal details about Kellyn makes a good case that she’ll be around for some time to come.




Who will never be Rob or Kim


I don’t know the exact number or statistic, but I’m willing to wager my next vote at Tribal that no player in the history of the game has ever won after saying, “I want to play the game like [insert Survivor great]” whilst in season. Sure, tons of folks do that in pregame content, but even there why the hell would you want to play a game like anyone else? I like my Tom Westman clones as much as the next guy (*silently weeps for Brendan*), but the best, most memorable players did not play the game like anyone who came before them. Take notes, Bradley.


Anyway, going back to the game at hand, while I can’t honestly say I like either Chris or Dom, at least I can find redeeming things in both of them. That’s part of the reason their dynamic is so interesting to watch! Bradley, on the other hand, irks me to no end. He’s arrogant, controlling, and represents many things I dislike about people in/entering law school. While his constant bitching provides a small oasis of entertainment every now and then, I can’t stand someone complaining that much about an experience I’ve dreamt of for going on two decades.


Still, Bradley does seem to be in a pretty decent spot so long as he can keep his watching, babysitting eyes on any potential Seb/Chelsea mutiny. And, if the preview is to be believed, if there’s a blossoming Jenna-Seb showmance, you have to think Jenna will be the next target, Steph’s undeniable greatness and Michael’s strength aside. Maybe he’ll push too hard and wind up with another target on his back, or maybe he’ll succeed. Either way, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I’d rather see someone like Jenna last than him.


Yes, if Twitter is to be believed, Bradley and Brendan are homies outside of the game, and I do respect Brendan’s judge of character, but within the game, Bradley is not Rob and he’s not Kim. My closest comparison is a straight, less dramatic Colton. With any luck, much like his horrid predecessor, Bradley will just miss out on the Merge, and we can get on with the rest of the season without Anakin Skywalker.


Final, hopeful, side note here: anyone else think Bradley and Brendan might have bonded on the loser’s trip, hence giving more credence to the fact he’s pre-Merge…? I’m grasping here.


A Closing Thought, Dearest Readers

Season rankings

My (current) rankings


As some of you probably saw, there’s a poll going around (attached to this Dalton Ross article at EW) asking fans to rank every season of Survivor from best to worst. While I honestly don’t want to dedicate a couple thousand words to explaining my likes and dislikes of each given season, I thought it would be fun to post my ranking—best to worst—of the thirty-five complete seasons we have so far! So…


  • 1. Cambodia
  • 2. Cagayan
  • 3. Palau
  • 4. Millennials vs. Gen X
  • 5. Philippines
  • 6. China
  • 7. Heroes vs. Villains
  • 8. Borneo
  • 9. Pearl Islands
  • 10. Micronesia
  • 11. The Amazon
  • 12. Cook Islands
  • 13. Tocantins
  • 14. Blood vs. Water
  • 15. Gabon
  • 16. Samoa
  • 17. Marquesas
  • 18. The Australian Outback
  • 19. Caramoan
  • 20. All-Stars
  • 21. Panama – Exile Island
  • 22. Guatemala
  • 23. Africa
  • 24. Vanuatu
  • 25. Kaôh Rōng
  • 26. South Pacific
  • 27. Game Changers
  • 28. Heroes v Healers v Hustlers
  • 29. Fiji
  • 30. One World
  • 31. San Juan del Sur
  • 32. Thailand
  • 33. Worlds Apart
  • 34. Redemption Island
  • 35. Nicaragua


This is simply my person ranking, so while I probably have Gabon a lot higher than most and HvHvH lower than at least some, please keep that in mind. Also, know that my thoughts on given seasons shift over time. Perhaps my bitterness about Ben winning last season or Michele’s victory over Aubry will erode with time, and hence, their stock will rise. Perhaps not. So, dearest readers, thoughts? How vehemently do you disagree with my list and fanboying of Palau third? Let me know!


Alright. Let’s pick us a boot! This week, Chris, Dom, Angela, Wendell, Jenna, Bradley, Michael, and Steph all seem like they have varying shots to go home. As I’m starting this season off with an impressive 0-2 on my boot picks (and as I drafted Gonzalez as my first pick…), I’m going to give this week’s prediction to my girlfriend. She says Bradley. Let’s double down!






Dan Otsuki - It's Kind of a Funny StoryDan 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