Warning: This recap for the “Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow” episode of Survivor: Game Changers contains spoilers.
Earlier this week I entered an online competition to win some Twin Peaks merchandise. I thought I had a great shot and was anxiously awaiting the winners to be announced on Monday evening, only to be sorely disappointed when my name didn’t pop up. How? Why? That signed Funko Pop figure was mine! It was then I reread the terms and conditions and realized only US residents were eligible to enter. Life lesson: Always read the fine print (the damn fine print in this instance).
My Twin Peaks tragedy means I can sympathize with Cirie’s plight in last night’s double-serving of Survivor. Admittedly, losing out on a toy doll isn’t quite as high stakes as a game for $1 million; Cirie’s error in not thoroughly reading the rules of the advantage could be a costly mistake. It’s going to require a flip chart, graphs, and several cups of coffee to explain exactly what happened in that second tribal council, so we’ll return to that in a bit.
Game of Despair?
Usually, the double-elimination-crammed-into-an-hour episode makes me want to throw things at the TV and shout obscenities, especially when it comes so late in the season. The rushed nature of an episode that has to fit in two immunity challenges plus two tribal councils robs us of compelling story-telling and character motivation. That’s how I usually feel — but this season I’m ready for it all to be over.
Firstly, I must say that any Survivor is better than no Survivor, but since the merge, this particular season has been a drag. It’s not as if the vote-offs or gameplay have been particularly dull (as this episode shows), but there is this pervading sense of hopelessness hanging around like an ex that can’t take a hint. The gloom stands out more so because of how energetic last season was with its cast of passionate and fun-loving newbies.
The players this season look despondent most of the time, akin to extras on The Walking Dead than castaways competing on Survivor. The stress and starvation obviously take its toll, but more so than usual, we’ve heard players complaining about the hardships, crying about lack of food and even questioning why they signed up in the first place (or second, third and fourth place, given that they’ve all played before). Even characters like Cirie and Tai, who are usually so positive they could turn a funeral into Mardi Gras, have been dragged into the despair.
I’m not sure what exactly is to blame. The casting of players that lack a passion for Survivor? The majority of the big personalities leaving pre-merge? The horrible Zeke/Varner situation sucker-punching the fun factor out of the season? It’s probably a combination of all those things, and it’s reached a point where the season needs to be put out of its misery like an old dog that can barely muster the energy to go outside and poop.
That’s why I’m okay with tonight’s double-whammy speeding up the process.
Andrea vs. Sarah
The first half of the episode revolves primarily around Andrea and Sarah with a small side helping of Aubry (the coleslaw if you will). Andrea is sketched out by Sarah’s pandering to the jury, and Sarah says she’s wanted Andrea out for a while because “[she] can’t stand the girl.” The animosity jumped up out of nowhere and is an example of what I mean about double-boot episodes not having the luxury of expanding on feelings and reasoning.
Aubry wins the House of Cards immunity challenge — sadly not a “who can do the best Frank Underwood impression” contest — and decides not only has she just secured the love of Cochran by beating his record but that it’s time to start padding her resume for the jury. “I’m now thinking two steps ahead and the time is nigh for Brad,” she says.
Michaela is good with Aubry’s plan but wants to make sure Brad catches them dinner before booting him out. It’s a kind of twisted last supper — your final meal is one you’re forced to prepare for your executioners. “Go fish!” Michaela bluntly tells Mr. Culpepper, like she’s taking part in the most hardcore card game in history. Brad obviously doesn’t take too kindly to the request. “I don’t kowtow to diva demands,” he tells us, which is like the reality-tv version of “I don’t negotiate with terrorists.”
Fortunately for Brad, Andrea is digging herself a hole by pushing for Sarah’s elimination. Andrea believes that the jury’s perception is that Sarah is playing the hardest and therefore they should get rid of her sooner rather than later. Aubry still thinks Brad should leave first, and Cirie says she needs Sarah to get further, also recognizing that Sarah has screwed most of the jurors over and could be beatable in the end.
The target instead shifts to Andrea, and despite all the talk at tribal council about sticking with the group and “if it isn’t broken don’t fix it,” the alliance (except for Aubry) blindside Andrea in a 6-2 vote. Andrea’s swift and unceremonious exit probably explain her lackluster pre-merge edit, her rushed ending meant less point in developing her as a major character throughout the season. Interesting note, Andrea now holds the record for most votes received in the history of Survivor.
What The Hell Happened?
Have you had your coffee? Because it’s time to break down just what on earth took place in the second tribal council of the night. If the first part of the episode was a like a simple game of checkers, then the second half was like a chess match, if that chess match was being played by The Joker and a blind orangutan.
First, Aubry is experiencing her latest low, upset that all her closest relationships get “killed off.” It’s a curse she’s been carrying since her first season when Neal’s knee grew a head and caused him to get medevaced at the merge. Tai comforts Aubry because Tai’s a beautiful human being and that’s just what he does, but Cirie sees it as a suspicious act of emotional manipulation and wants to put an end to it.
Next up, Brad wins the immunity challenge and throws a celebratory tantrum on the beach by throwing sand and yelling at the sky, like Rodney on his birthday. “Vote someone else out!” he shouts at his exhausted and frankly baffled tribemates. I almost thought he was going to bust out a “This is my island!” in homage to his ally Troyzan (but that would mean referencing Troyzan who isn’t on this season). Nobody says anything about Brad’s emotional outburst because it’s Brad; if it was Michaela, I’m sure they’d have been a public debate and an afternoon of pitchfork-sharpening.
Then things really get nutty. Tai says it’s “scary time big boy time,” which is what I used to call P.E. in school whenever we played rugby. Like Aubry, he also wants to do “something big” to impress the jury and increase his chances of winning. Tai thinks taking out Sarah is the big move to make. Aubry passes this information along to Cirie, who then shares it with Sarah, warning her that Tai has his sights set on the prize and that prize is Sarah’s head in his trophy cabinet.
Sarah is reluctant to believe it, even though it’s the truth, and is instead more wary of Aubry. Now it gets even wilder. In an effort to secure trust, Sarah gives Cirie her Vote Steal advantage as insurance — on the basis that Cirie will return it after tribal council. But still worried that Sarah is going to get blindsided, Cirie decides she needs to play the advantage herself and put two votes on Tai. “If you’ve got it you have to play it,” Cirie says. The craziest thing is she wants to steal Sarah’s vote!
Cirie has crafted some creative plans in the past, including convincing someone to give up immunity (and subsequently voting them out), but using a person’s own advantage against them in order to save them is on a level only the gods of the Survivor jungle can comprehend. But it doesn’t end there. Cirie correctly surmises that Tai may have an idol (he has two) and would likely use it once he sees Cirie get up and steal a vote, so feeds him a story about how everyone is targeting him and how she is going to use the advantage to save him. Risky? Smart? Insane? All of the above.
The most shocking moment of the night, however, takes place at tribal council when Cirie announces she wants to play the advantage. “I just have to say there is a rat in this group, and the person I save by exposing this rat will thank me tomorrow when they wake up here on day 36.” She tells Jeff Probst that she wishes to steal Sarah’s vote. A pause. “Jeff, that’s actually my advantage,” Sarah interjects, “so [Cirie] can’t do that.” Confusion. Is that true? Cirie argues that the advantage is now hers since Sarah gave it to her. Sarah counters that it’s “non-transferable.” After some more back-and-forth, Probst finally gets Cirie to read the instructions, and sure enough, it includes the words “non-transferable.” Cue the Arrested Development “I made a huge mistake” meme.
Sarah takes her advantage back and then tribal descends into whisper-fest 2.0, and just like back in Episode 4, castaways start walking around, huddling in groups, muttering strategy into each other’s ears. Sarah approaches Tai. Cirie and Michaela try explaining to Sarah about their intention. Troyzan even tries getting involved, probably in a desperate attempt for air-time, but Michaela tells him to “slide to the side.” In the end, Sarah decides to play her advantage and steals Tai’s vote. And Tai still doesn’t play an idol!
I had my head in my hands at this point, not just because my brain was leaking out of my ears, but because I couldn’t believe Tai’s stupidity. I thought he was about to James Clement himself and leave with two idols in his pocket. But how wrong I am to judge. Tai clearly has some sort of sixth sense when it comes to idol usage because once again he didn’t need it. During the melee, a new plan was formed, and it’s Michaela who ends up blindsided, in a dramatic 4-2-1 vote. What started as Cirie’s attempt to save Sarah by stealing Sarah’s vote, ended with Sarah saving Tai by stealing Tai’s vote. I need to lie down; I feel like I’ve just taken a year’s worth of classes in Quantum Physics.
An erratic end to an otherwise subpar episode. I’m not sure how I feel about the Vote Steal being non-transferable, it seems somewhat limiting to the gameplay. Players can transfer idols and immunity necklaces, so why not this? It basically gives the holder the ultimate bargaining chip, they can hand someone the advantage as a sign of trust knowing that it can never be used against them. But rules are rules, and just like me and that Twin Peaks competition, Cirie missed the fine print.
Heading into next week’s finale, six players remain, and one person has a contract on their head, and there’s no fine print on this contract, the letters are bold and clear as day, CIRIE.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.