survivor recap: a betrayal of the highest order.

Survivor Game Changers 06_Tribal

If you felt a gust of wind and the earth move under your feet last night around 8:45 p.m., that had nothing to do with weather patterns. It was the collective gasps and jaws hitting the floor of millions of Survivor viewers. Three-time player Jeff Varner knew his back was against the wall, heading into Tribal Council on Day 18. He wouldn’t be the first desperate Survivor player to pull out all the stops and go for broke in an attempt to save his own lot in the game. In his zeal to paint a target on someone else’s back, Varner did the unthinkable by publicly outing Nuku tribemate Zeke Smith as transgender, accusing Zeke as deceiving this tribe by withholding this information. Varner used Zeke’s personal life in an attempt to advance his position in Survivor. How’d that work out for him? Not great.

The remaining Nuku members—Ozzy, Sarah, Amanda, Tai and Debbie—were visibly shaken by Varner’s declaration. Even host and executive producer Jeff Probst was left speechless.

Hell, I was speechless! “This just stopped being a game,” I said to Dino as the carnage unfolded. It wasn’t fun to watch. It was sickening and infuriating. Sure, reality TV shows thrive on schadenfreude, but this was so much worse. This was a real-life attempted character assassination. There is no joy in watching that.

Survivor Game Changers 06_Ozzy Jump

There were challenges in this episode, but no one will be talking about them.

And true, Survivor likes to call itself a “social experiment,” but that always felt like a pithy way to distinguish itself from the nonsense of the Kardashians and the Honey Boo-Boo crap. It’s not a place to drag gender identity politics to the fore and call it entertainment. Sure, real life will creep into Survivor—Adam Klein’s mother from Millennials vs. Gen X, for example—but those are people owning and telling their personal stories within the context of life in a game where the players are cut off from society. It is not a place to use someone’s reality against him in a means to humiliate and advance yourself.

That makes Varner’s actions so much worse, if you ask me. He attempted to turn Zeke’s gender identity into a dividing line in the game and, in turn, damaged the integrity of the game. Survivor has very few hard-and-fast rules and Varner managed to piss all over them in one fell swoop. What’s even more aggravating: this was is big, master plan to make a big move in this game. He hyped himself heading into Tribal Council, as though he was about to make history as a true game changer. Seriously, Jeff? This is the best you could do?

What’s interesting, and heartening, is the reactions from the remaining Nuku members to Varner’s big reveal. They were not upset or angry with Zeke. They empathized with him. They were angry for Zeke. They were furious with Varner for outing Zeke in such a mean-spirited and selfish manner to the point that they essentially formed a human shield around Zeke. They refused to accept any of Varner’s weak excuses and rationalizations. They treated his actions as they were: a betrayal of the highest order.

For his part, Zeke remained silent and expressionless through most of this Tribal Council. When he did speak for himself, Zeke handled the outing with grace and class; embracing what had been heaped upon him with the subtlety of a branding iron and choosing to wear it proudly. It’s not for his own gain, either, Zeke said. Despite having no interest in being a role model, Zeke now hopes his experience will make it easier on young people who may be experiencing gender identity issues. He even showed class toward Varner through it all, but I have a hunch that may change once the game is over.

For my money, the betrayal also exposed Varner for the weak Survivor player that he is. Because you don’t want to get voted off a game show that you’ve never been particularly good at in the first place, you choose to rob Zeke of his choice in front of the entire tribe and the viewing audience at home?

What the hell, man?!?!

Survivor Game Changers 06_Probst

Even Probst was left speechless by Varner’s actions.

For weeks, I’ve been publicly saying Varner has no business being in this game. As he himself pointed out in last week’s episode, he’s never once made it to a jury. He’s not a game changer. He’s a stooge; a useful idiot whose only lasted 50 days in the game over three separate seasons. You aren’t even in Phillip “the Specialist” Sheppard’s class, man!

Once Varner realized he made an awful mistake by outing Zeke, the gravity of his actions began to set in. I do believe he was embarrassed and regretful of his actions; not only because he mounted such a personal attack on Zeke, but because he may also wind up a pariah within the LGBTQ community. But remorse alone cannot unring the bell; especially given the ugly and divisive history of public outing within the LGBTQ community.

Once upon a time it was a popular weapon of homophobes who sought to damage peoples’ lives and reputations. In the 90s, it became a weapon of choice for the pro-gay activist group Queer Nation. I’ve got to believe there are still people bearing scars from those actions, and that’s what makes Varner’s actions even more troubling. He’s 50 years old. He lived through those battles. And here he is, using that shameful tactic himself. But not even in the name of activism. He did it for personal gain. That is inexcusable.

Though Varner tried to weakly defend his actions, Probst and the Nuku tribe were having none of it. Ultimately, he gave up and copped to committing an awful deed, resulting in what felt more like an excommunication than a vote. Probst all but announced he himself was voting Varner out of the game; not even allowing a proper vote. My impression is Probst was pissed off that Varner would not only use Zeke’s personal life in such a manner, but he stained the game. It will make for an interesting reunion episode, that’s for sure.

Outside the game, I’ll be curious to see if Varner can repair the damage he’s done to his own reputation. I may be in the vast minority here, but I’ve always believed a person deserves redemption if he or she truly wants it, earns it and works for it. Zeke may or may not ever be able to forgive Varner for what he did, but I do hope Varner is allowed the chance to redeem himself.

Either way, I’m pretty sure Varner just played his last game of Survivor.

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…until we meet again.


Brit, TJ & I on New Year’s Eve, 1993.

I got the call yesterday that an old friend from my college days died. Even though TJ and I hadn’t spoken in several years, the news hit me like a kick in the gut. It knocked the wind out of me and left me at a complete loss for words. TJ and I met sometime during my freshman year of college. Our paths crossed often, as we ran among the same circles of friends. Like a VENN diagram, our paths kept crossing.

Somewhere along the way, our mutual interest in music clicked—probably when I learned he worked at Camelot Music at University Park Mall—and that’s what set the wheels in motion. Over the next several years TJ and I, along with several other students at IU South Bend—Brit, Tom, Robin, Mark, Pat…and too many others to name here—became the big circle of college friends. Between student newspaper, student government, campus activities, trips to conventions and trips to Florida for Spring Break, these were the people with whom I spent most of my time. Invariably, TJ became something of the hub for all most of us.

All the guys hung out at TJ’s house; “the Den,” as we knew it. Whenever I was hanging out there, I could count on seeing at least two or three other people who’d just show up. Usually, Brit, TJ and I hung out. Or Tom, TJ and I. Or maybe Rob H. would come over. And then Brit’s here again.

It’s a good thing TJ’s parents and sisters were so cool with it, because we spent countless hours in that Osceola basement room of his.

TJ’s collection of CDs rivaled mine; probably dwarfed it, actually. If you recall, this was long before the internet was a thing, so our only conduit to new music was MTV and Camelot Music. TJ had the hookup on the occasional new stuff coming down the pike. Our mutual interest as audiophiles evolved to a point where I purchased a cheap mixing board and would take it to TJ’s house, where we’d record what would be described as podcasts today. Our maiden voyage was TJ, Tom and I. Then, while I was away at Spring Break, TJ and Brit took over and made mixtapes.


My continued love of Badfinger is all TJ’s fault.

In case you ever wondered whom to blame for my love of the 70s band Badfinger, blame TJ. He stumbled upon original vinyl pressings of Straight Up and No Dice. The sound quality was horrible, through no fault of TJ, but rather whomever previously owned the copies. “It sounds like they were played with a nail,” he once said. But we slapped those albums on cassettes and played the hell out of them on a daily basis.

You may recall me talking about Celestial Navigations recently (featuring actor Geoffrey Lewis in storyteller mode). I hooked into those recordings, courtesy of TJ.

Later on, TJ and I became de facto DJs for our friends’ parties: Kim Hall’s graduation party and Audrey Knoblach’s New Year’s Eve party. What I remember the most about Kim’s party is it rained like a son of a bitch! It poured buckets; so much so, that we had to move the party indoors, off the back porch.


Halloween 1989: The Phantom (me), the Sky (Tom) & the Joker (TJ).

Music nerd-dom aside, all the time we spent together back then continues to inform my decisions today. No, seriously. TJ was one of the most ridiculously organized people I knew. He had organizational systems for everything. When we were in student government together, I picked up on his systems and have used them in some form ever since. You laugh, but it’s true.

After college, we all went our separate ways, but kept in touch. Around 1997, when I moved back to South Bend for a job, TJ and I began a weekly ritual of getting together every Wednesday night at Mr. D’s for a beer (or three). We kept this ritual until I began working at a casino and my work hours prevented it.

Somewhere around Spring 2001, TJ called me from out of the blue. We hadn’t spoken much lately for the simple fact that we were just living our day-to-day lives. His father had gotten very sick and was in the hospital. From the tone of his voice, I knew it was serious; more than just a routine procedure. I know he reached out because we’re friends. I also assumed he reached out because, not even a year prior, my dad died.

I went up to the hospital the following night. TJ, his sisters, mother and entire extended family were there. Having been in similar situations, I could feel the tension, anxiety and stress in the air. Everyone was pleasant and chatty, but it was clouded by such a palpably nervous atmosphere you could cut it with a knife. I don’t know if everyone there realized how grave it was for TJ’s dad, but they put on brave faces and hoped for the best; TJ included. When I left later that night, TJ walked down to my car with me. This was the only time he let his guard down. I think he knew he had to be strong for his mother and sisters. “Kevin, I’m losing my dad,” he said to me when we were outside. I really didn’t know what to say.

To this day, I regret that. This is not about me, right now, but that always bothered me. I even apologized to TJ a few months later, after his dad died. I felt like I let him down. Having just gone through a similar experience with my dad, you’d think I would be able to offer some words of comfort or wisdom. I had nothing. I think I was too sad, knowing what they were feeling and going through.

And a word, for a moment about TJ’s mother, whom I always loved. At the funeral for TJ’s dad, she said to me (knowing about my dad), “this must be hard for you.” She just lost her husband and she’s looking out for me.

It’s probably been at least 10 years since I last spoke with TJ. The last time we connected was on Myspace, if that tells you anything. I knew he’d gotten married, but that’s about all I knew. Nothing bad happened. There was no falling out or anything. Again, life gets in the way.

Even though we haven’t spoken in years, TJ always remained a friend. He was still a part of one of those circles from way back when, even if that circle got a little less active. After all, most of us in that circle no longer live near one another. TJ moved to the Indianapolis area. I moved to Vegas. Brit’s over in The Region, near Chicago. Tom’s in California. Robin’s in Detroit. And several others I haven’t named have moved around too, I’m sure. If not that, people have families now. It’s fairly cliché, when you stop to think about it.

Anyway…I’ve spent a lot of time tonight reflecting on all those days, nights, weekends, parties, bowling leagues, student government meetings and other nonsense we shared back before I was even 21. Goddamn, we had some fun back then. Yeah, it’s nearly a lifetime ago, but those memories feel like they happened just yesterday. And even though years and miles separate us, I’m glad TJ was a big part of those memories.

But, yeah. It’s still like a kick in the gut today. That being said, I’ll leave it on this song, a favorite of mine and a favorite of TJ’s.

Until we meet again, friend.


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survivor recap: the queen is dead…long live the queen

Queen is Dead.pngActually, I don’t care that much about Sandra to actually call her “the Queen,” but let’s be honest. You don’t win Survivor twice without being a pretty savvy player. As the only two-time winner of this game, no one came into the Game Changers season with a bigger target across her back. For my money, Sandra lasted much longer in this game that I expected. She isn’t a particularly physical player, but her ability to manipulate and work the alliances to her advantage to make it past the first one or two Tribal Councils this season was pretty impressive. In fact, I was bracing for her magic to work one more time and blindside Tai, who’s currently sitting on two Immunity Idols.

Sanddra Torch

After 94 days, Sandra’s torch was finally snuffed out.

Alas, it was not meant to be. I’m wondering if Sandra’s tribe mates were throwing a little kabuki theater out there to make her believe she was still in the game and Tai was about to get his torch snuffed out. I honestly don’t understand why they had all that whispering drama if the numbers were already there. Nevertheless, Sandra went out fighting right to the end. I’m guessing she knew the jig was up, but wasn’t about to throw in the towel. I respect her for respecting the game to not give up. And while I thought it was classy that her tribe mates applauded her out of respect as she left the island, I’m pretty sure it was the goats who were really happy on this night!

How Did We Get Here?
After (yet) another shakeup, reshuffling the castaways into two tribes, players were once again scrambling for alliances. Well, everyone but Tai. He was busy collecting Immunity Idols like Star Wars action figures. Because of the odd number of castaways, one player was the odd man out. Naturally, it was the oddest of them all: crazy Debbie. She was sent off to “exile” for a few days. Of course, her exile experience was pretty sweet: a boat stocked with food and a visit from Survivor: Caramoan Sole Survivor John Cochran who came aboard to dispense wisdom and advice to the most wisdomless player in the game.

Look, we get it. Debbie’s good for TV because she’s…eccentric. She’s also hard-headed, tone deaf, immature and consumed by pride and insecurity (though she’d never admit it). Watch her conversation with Cochran. Everything she said with her mouth was completely contradicted with her body language; up to and including a creepy and invasive hug that went on nearly too long. I Cochran is a budding television writer, but his acting skills to keep Venus Flytrap at bay and (somewhat) on message was impressive.


“Somebody, help me. Please? Someone? Anyone? Help?”

Better than the food and visit from Cochran, Debbie also collected an advantage to be played later in the game: a second vote at Tribal Council. On paper, this sounds like a great advantage—and it is—but Debbie’s going to have to be smart to play it. The last time we saw this advantage in play was during Survivor: Second Chance, and it didn’t work out so well for Stephen Fishbach. He used both of his votes in the very Tribal Council that saw him get eliminated. Fishbach was one of the smartest players ever in this game. Giving this advantage to Debbie is like giving a gun to a chimpanzee: even though the monkey has no idea how to use it, someone’s gonna get shot.

sandra-camera-face-survivor-dirty-deedOne More Word About Sandra
Here are a few more points to consider about Sandra. She’s now played Survivor three times. She won the first two times (Pearl Islands, Heroes vs. Villains). Prior to this season, she’s only had three votes against her in 94 total days in the game, placing her in eighth place on the Most Days list. Here’s the most interesting stat on top of all that: she’s never won individual immunity. Not once.

People often associate challenge dominance with being favored to win, but Sandra is the exact opposite. This is why I’ve always believed people inside and outside Survivor place too much emphasis on physical threats. Look at Ozzy. He’s won 14 individual challenges during his four seasons and has only made it to the Final Tribal Council once (Cook Islands).

Sandra stood out by being smart and strategic and knowing how to make the luck work to her advantage.


Nuku is Sarah’s roost to rule, now that Sandra is gone.

In the Driver’s Seat
With Sandra out of the way, Nuku’s got a vacancy for top dog. Ozzy seems the natural choice, but for all his physical attributes, Ozzy’s lack of strategery usually costs him in the game. For my money, Sarah’s about to become the real player at Nuku. This is her opportunity to step up and make a big move in this game. Watch your six, Ozzy!

Move of the Week
No brainer: voting out Sandra. Even her tribe mates understand what sort of a threat she is and finally took her out of the game. Until now, she’s been the sharpest, most strategic player out there. Without Sandra in the game, it’s going to open up for someone. That someone will likely be anyone but Ozzy. He’s the biggest buck at deer camp, in the eyes of his Nuku mates.


Like Harry S. Truman sitting on two nukes, Tai is now sitting on two Immunity Idols.

Employee of the Week
I’m going to give it to Tai. He’s now sitting on two idols that no one definitively knows he’s holding. That’s a huge advantage; especially for a player everyone knows is sneaky and has a nose for the idols. He’s going to have to play them wisely, though. He should be able to cruise into the merge with them, so long as his Nuku mates turn their attention to Ozzy (which we all expect to happen in three…two…)

Is This the Week Varner Finally Starts to Play?
No really. Is it? So far, he’s been a 200-lbs. bag of wet sand the rest of his team drags from one challenge to the next.

Prediction for Next Week
In an attempt to win immunity for her tribe, Debbie noisily devours 25 live grubs before she can be stopped and reminded it is not an eating challenge. Meanwhile at Mana, Aubry furrows her brow in quiet consternation.


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survivor recap: his own worst enemy.


J.T., walking us through his Survivor strategy.

In the pantheon of all-time dumbest Survivor moves ever, nothing will ever top Erik’s decision to give away his Immunity Necklace. Nothing. That’s the dumbest move ever, in a very specific sense. In a general sense, the dumbest thing a Survivor contestant can do is watch your torch get snuffed out by Probst while an Immunity Idol is in your possession. Enter: J.T.

Oh, J.T. Sweet, sad, stupid J.T. You are a former champion of this game who’s done everything in your power to delegitimize your authenticity as a champion every chance you get. Think about it. Here’s a guy who won Survivor: Tocantins over the vastly underrated Stephen Fishbach in a unanimous Final Tribal Council vote. And how did he follow that dominant performance? By cooking up the “genius” plan during Heroes vs. Villains to give his Immunity Idol to Russell Hantz—while Russell was on an opposing tribe, no less! That move, of course, led to J.T.’s ouster from the game.

If you considered that move to be an anomaly—an otherwise strong player overthinking the game during a season full of strong players—J.T.’s decisions this week should lay all that to rest.

It’s bad enough he screwed his own tribe last week, tipping off Culpepper about their voting strategy during Tribal Council (only to watch it backfire in most spectacular fashion). Forced to lie to this tribemates in the aftermath of that debacle, J.T. seemingly saved himself by finding a hidden Immunity Idol. Only to leave it at camp instead of taking it to the very next Tribal Council.

In a game where deception is often abound and players must have sharpened wits to sniff out blindsides, J.T. committed the Survivor equivalent of stepping on a rake. He was his own worst enemy.

How Did We Get Here?
Simple: Sandra is running the show at the Nuku Tribe. She locked onto J.T. after the previous Tribal Council and, like the cold-blooded serial killer she is, gutted J.T. like he was a baby goat. Think about how Sandra exposed a personal fissure between J.T. and Michaela at camp to her advantage. Remember how Sandra was, at one point, a target in J.T.’s eyes? That was ancient history once Sandra devoured all the sugar—in front of an obsequious and docile Jeff Varner, no less—and successfully convinced him it was Michaela who did it. I wouldn’t call that brilliant, but I definitely applaud the move as opportunistic and kinda funny. Although I wonder if consuming all that sugar made Sandra run to the woods. That could NOT have been pleasant.

After that, it was simply a matter of making J.T. believe everyone was onboard with him in voting out Michaela, which didn’t seem too difficult if he didn’t even bother taking his Immunity Idol to Tribal Council. I can’t call it a blindside since J.T. simply fell victim to his own inability to read the tea leaves. He missed not just one clue, but an ENDLESS SERIES OF CLUES!”

The Deadly Sins of J.T.
I know the Seven Deadly Sins: Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. J.T.’s Deadly Sins are much simpler to identify: STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!

From the moment he got back to camp from watching Malcolm get voted out, he knew he was a target. So he runs out, finds an idol, unbeknownst to his entire tribe. SMART!

He has a five-minute chat with Sandra, Aubrey and Varner about voting out Michaela. Did it not occur to him that Sandra was all-too-agreeable to his plans, despite her obvious frustration with him over the previous vote? Did that not seem a bit too easy, J.T.? STUPID!

And then, so convinced Michaela was going home, leaves it at camp for the next Tribal Council. STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!

You never leave it at camp! Ever! Did he not see the red flags popping up at Tribal Council? Every time he tried to pile on Michaela, who was defending her? Sandra! Honestly, I’m not even sure J.T. recognized those as red flags. I think he was so convinced Michaela was going home that tuned out everything that was happening around him.

If J.T. were smart, he would’ve played his idol. Even if there weren’t as many warning signs, he should’ve played it. All signs pointed to a close vote. If you knew you were on the chopping block three days prior, chances are, you still are on the chopping block. Getting snuffed with an idol in your possession? STUPID!

It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!
As far as Reward Challenges go, this was almost a “who cares” challenge, to me. Yeah, food is always an incentive in a game where you’re starving yourself on rice and dirt, but it’s not like they were getting something really big. The winning tribes got every 12-year-old’s favorite lunch. Big deal. Especially given how physically taxing—and mentally taxing, if you’re cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs like you-know-who (more on that later)—the challenge turned out to be.

The hidden subtext to me was Michaela’s performance and how her inability to be a team player is going to bite her in the ass. In terms of sheer competitive will and intensity, no one comes close to Michaela in this game. She backs it up by usually coming through for her tribe, as she did in this challenge, digging out bags from the sand in record time. But she also leads the way in selfishness and bad attitude. I get it. I want players with a “gimme the ball” mentality. But when you turn “gimme the ball” into “all about me,” you lose me. That’s where Michaela is terrible as a team player. Her tribe knows it. I think she knows it, too. It’s unfortunate because she’s also a smart player in this game. I could very easily see her making it to the end, but her inability to get out of her own way is going to cost her votes if she’s not careful.



Debbie, plotting her next psychotic break.

Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs
In case anyone forgot one a complete nutbar Debbie is, she reminded us this week. “Oh yeah,” said the audience during her onscreen meltdown. ”NOW I remember her!”


What. In. The. HELL! Is wrong with Debbie?!?! That Gordian Knot of bad wiring she’s got inside her head creates a bizarre and frightening worldview that I can’t even begin to comprehend, to say nothing of her complete lack of self awareness. She had a bad performance at the Reward Challenge. It happens. But instead of owning it, she turns around and unleashes a machine gun-like spray of vitriol, blame and insanity at virtually each member of her tribe. Best of all, she openly called out Hali for losing the challenge. Really, Debbie? Really? Is that the hill upon which you chose to die today?

On top of that, she carries that grudge into the Immunity Challenge to the point that she’s screaming and bellowing, “I was over first!” at her tribemates like a petulant child. Seriously, Debbie. How old are you? WHY are you, Debbie?!?!

I’ve been saying it all season long, Debbie will not win this game. If I’m on her tribe, I’m more concerned with my personal safety than winning a challenge.

Meanwhile…Over at Tavua
Who the hell cares? They keep avoiding Tribal Council, so we have no idea who the dynamics are playing out. Is Troyzan actually building an alliance with Sarah? Is Ozzy deep sea fishing with a spear to relax? Is Zeke’s mustache encrusted with charred rice and snails? No one knows.

In the Driver’s Seat
Sandra has her little Nuku minions marching to the beat of her drum. And she knows it. At what point do they wise up and realize they’re being pushed around that island like a bunch of chess pieces? Clearly, Sandra is dominating the team portion of Survivor this season. I wonder if she becomes a target as soon as we reach the merge. If she doesn’t, I question the brains of some of these players. Which ones? Any of them who’ve ever watched Survivor! It kills me that no one seems to recognize a growing threat until Probst is kicking them off the island. You let a player like Sandra control the game at your own peril.

The Load of the Week
Instead of Employee of the Week, I decided to change things up a bit. Who’s the Load of the Week? Varner. Dude is lying around the joint like Jabba the Hut, pretending to be some sort of quiet mastermind while waiting for things to happen. And that’s just his performance in challenges.

Back at camp, he’s no damn better. Varner over-relishes his significance in this game right now, playing up his “swing vote” status. Think about that, dude. You’re a swing vote. You know what that means? It means no one looks to you for strategy, because you’re a walking tactic. Swing voters are not big-move players. They are sneaky weasels who advance in this game by merely laying low. You can skate by for a long time in this game as a swing-voting weasel, but you’ll never win. My guess is Varner’s waiting until the merge to make moves, but that’s a risky strategy. On a tribe of five four, Varner is a distant last when it comes to a championship-earning résumé.

Move of the Week
Sandra proved that it doesn’t require A Beautiful Mind-like mathematical equations to influence this game. All it took was eating a pound of sugar to fool J.T.

Prediction for Next Week
Debbie continues her descent into madness, challenging Culpepper to a leg-wrestling match while Varner reveals to his tribemates that his spirit animal is a Coney Dog.


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survivor re-cap: “wait…what?”

Jeff-snuffing-torchIn a season called Game Changers, this week’s installment of Survivor may be the game changiest of all…so far. TWO tribes go to Tribal Council and vote off just one player? Wait…what? Whosever heard of such madness?

”My God…How Did We Get Here?!”
Since we were teased coming into this episode that two of the three tribes would be going to Tribal Council, I thought it would be a fun twist if they both went at the same time and got to listen into each other’s deliberations. Forcing them to act as two separate bodies to vote out one, singular castaway, given all the new rules on tiebreakers turned it into a near-chaotic, completely unpredictable vote.

Culpepper’s Master Stroke
The fact that Tai found an Immunity Idol just ahead of this first-of-its-kind Tribal added a wrinkle that ultimately blew up someone’s game in the most dramatic fashion possible. That “someone” turned out to be Malcolm. Once again, a potentially great player gets sent packing. For my money, this was Brad Culpepper’s master stroke. He was controlling his own tribe fairly handily. Now, his influence took out whom he considered one of his fiercest challengers.

Do I agree with Culpepper? Time will tell. But looking at the Survivor world through his eyes, it makes sense. He himself is an athletic, competitive and dominant player. He wants to be the alpha male and regards any other athletic, competitive, dominant men to be threats that must be neutralized. What remains to be seen is if Culpepper can recognize the more subtle threats.

He already knows Sandra is a force to be reckoned with, despite being somewhat enigmatic as a competitor. She’s not the greatest in challenges, so she relies on guile and smart alliances to advance her game. Sandra’s also taking a more aggressive approach to pushing around her alliance, asserting herself as the leader of her tribe. Give Sandra credit. Where most people want to avoid being a target, she stands up and embraces it.

Sandra vs. Culpepper?
Right now, these two are lining up as a pair of field generals, ready to go head-to-head in battle. It’s Rocky vs. Creed, Patton vs. Rommel and Brady vs. Manning…or something like that. The key question is can they survive their own tribemates to make it to the individual game.

I seriously wonder when Sandra’s Nuku tribemates will realize they are letting her run the game and need to take her out. I suppose everyone is thinking their best option is to be sitting next to her (and J.T.) in the end because she’s a past winner. I don’t buy that strategy. Not at all. I think these players this season will think nothing of awarding a past champion the crown again if that person outwit, outplayed and outlasted.

If I Were on That Island…
With that in mind, I’d take her out right now. If I’m on Survivor, my strategy is simple: take out the most immediate threat right away. Don’t wait. Don’t dawdle. You see a threat. You kill the threat. Period. Sure, keeping Sandra around is great for television drama. But with every passing day she wakes up on the island, that’s one more shovel of dirt on your own grave.


After hastily playing his Immunity Idol for Sierra, I’m afraid Tai is hanging on for dear life.

What was Tai Thinking?!?!
Tai found the Immunity Idol. That nearly earned him Employee of the Week honors. But then he turned around and played it with very little strategic upside. This was a vote where you weren’t even in the mix, Tai! You were safe! Who cares if Sierra goes home??? Keep that idol until the merge, man! By playing his idol for Sierra during that crazy Tribal Council, he helped his Mana tribe win a battle. But it may have cost him the war.

In the Driver’s Seat
Same as last week, Culpepper and Sandra. There is no one else on their respective tribes prepared to unseat them. Of course, that could all change once they reach the merge. What about Tavua? Hard to say, since we saw very little of camp life this week. Ozzy is always a dominant player, but often forgets the strategic side of the game. I’d say Troyzan is in the driver’s seat, by virtue of holding an Immunity Idol.


Someone’s got some ’splainin to do next week.

The Walking Dead
J.T. may have earned his way to TWD status. He was the first to shake up Tribal Council by approaching Culpepper to openly talk strategy. He went all-in and it backfired on him. He may be able to play his way out of this pickle, but it’s going to take immunity, I think.

Survivor Employee of the Week
Culpepper. He read the tea leaves better than anyone else during Tribal Council. He also backed it up by being a fierce competitor in the reward challenge. Perhaps he backed his way into it, but convincing Tai to give his idol to Sierra took guts. That was a bold move that paid off.

Move of the Week
Tai giving his Immunity Idol to Sierra. It worked, I must admit. But I do think Tai will live to regret it.

Prediction for Next Week
Sandra breaks J.T.’s glasses, Lord of the Flies style, then orders a Code Red on him in his sleep. Watch your six, J.T.!

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survivor re-cap: “drop your buffs.”

Sandra's Vote“Drop your buffs.” Thanks to last week’s teaser, we knew this was coming. But who knew the twist was going to be three tribes?!?!

Everyone. Everyone knew.

Survivor fans love the drama in part because some of it is predictable. The castaways were split into three six-member tribes: Mana, Tuku and Santa Maria. This was very predictable. We know Jeff Probst likes to mix it up so alliances get challenged (and sometimes broken) and cocky players—Sandra!!!—get taken down a peg. Well, the first part worked, but Sandra’s ego is still fully intact. Of course, she’s aided by the fact that her tribe of six provided minimal shakeup. Sandra, Aubry, Michaela, Malcolm and Varner moved over to J.T.’s beach and essentially relegated him to houseboy. The dynamics at the New Nuku played out predictably: five against one with J.T. on a mad dash through the jungle in search of an immunity idol while Sandra dreams of murdering baby goats. Seriously, what is wrong with that woman?!?!

Meanwhile, Back at Mana
Hali and Caleb joined up with Debbie, Tai, Sierra and Culpepper and immediately suspected they were at the bottom. Culpepper stepped into the leadership role rather smoothly, I should say. He wasn’t trying to be the alpha male. While Tai was waiting to steal a kiss from Caleb, Culpepper was seducing Tai to be wary of the strapping, young Caleb. That proved to be a smart play for both Tai and Culpepper; probably the smartest move yet. It made Hali’s job of begging for her Survivor life that much easier because, once again, people out there are threatened by muscular men…even though Caleb’s performance in the immunity challenge was anything but impressive.

”Tavua? What the Tavua Did I Do to Deserve This Tribe?!?!”
That must be what Troyzan was thinking. Like J.T., he was the lone former Mana member to be thrown into a pit with five former Nuku tribemates: Andrea, Cirie, Sarah, Ozzy and a mustache calling itself Zeke. Seems poor Troyzan just can’t catch a break in this game, can he? He got bounced by an unbreakable alliance of women in the One World season on Day 30.

Perhaps age and past experience led him to leave his brashness at home this time, but Troyzan knew it was do-or-die today and had to find an immunity idol to save himself. Only his idol was not buried in the woods. It was hidden in plain sight at the immunity challenge, which is an element of this game that I absolutely love! The drama and suspense of knowing there’s an idol hidden there that anyone could grab if the knew about it. Credit Troyzan for keeping his adrenaline in check—and for being a good actor—when he worked his way to the table leg where the idol was hiding.

Congratulations, Troyzan. Your tribe avoided Tribal Council, but you bought yourself a major insurance policy for at least another three days. Although I predict this could push him to the merge. Just a hunch.


Hali was spared. Let’s see if she uses this opportunity to make an actual move in the game.

“It is Time to Vote”
Thanks to coming in last, Mana faced Probst’s torch snuffer in what turned out to be a rather anti-climactic vote: five-to-one against Caleb who, once again, goes home on Day 9. At least it wasn’t in a medi-vac helicopter, though, so there’s that. It’s disappointing only because I like Caleb and think he could’ve done well in this game.

Hali was spared because she’s seen as less of a threat to Culpepper. It’s as simple as that. It wasn’t a dumb move. In fact, it could turn out to be a real turning point in this game for Culpepper. He’s the only player on that small tribe that seems to be working any longterm strategery. Hali was too busy fighting for her Survivor life. Sierra was…who the hell is she???? Seriously, I don’t remember her at all. And Debbie and Tai are Culpepper’s pawns, right now. They gave away their greatest strength—and alliance of three, had they kept Caleb around.

In the Driver’s Seat
Right now, it’s Culpepper and Sandra. I don’t think anyone’s driving the train on Tavua. Cirie, perhaps, but she needs to eliminate Troyzan and Ozzy to truly be a threat.

The Walking Dead
Still the same: Varner, Tai and Debbie. I see no path to victory for any of them…unless they team up and somehow manage to knock off everyone else. Yeah, that’ll happen.

Survivor Employee of the Week
Troyzan. He knew he had to get an immunity idol to save himself, either this week or next. His ability to be cagey while committed to the challenge in front of his tribemates earns him this week’s honors. Let’s see if this good fortune propels him deep into the game.

Move of the Week
J.T., Varner and Malcolm deciding it was not in anyone’s best interest to slaughter a momma goat and its baby so they could eat. Whether they recognize it or not, it exposed Sandra to be a cold, dead-eyed, emotionless psychopath in this game. Sleep with one eye open, boys!

Prediction for Next Week
Sandra yells at someone. Aubry makes a snarky comment that makes me laugh. Ozzy continues to look like Chris Cornell circa 1992.

Ozzy Cornell

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survivor re-cap: “bye, felicia.”

S34 Logo Final

One episode into Survivor: Game Changers and I’m already loving it. Because this is mostly a “pleased to meet you” episode, I’ll spare you the boring rundown of the season premier.

By now, you already know the drill: 20 castaways on a boat with Jeff Probst, who promptly kicks them off his boat into the deep, blue waters somewhere near Fiji. But not before the castaways plunder as much as they can from Probst’s boat. You know the rest…build a camp, search for an idol, start forming alliances that’ll be broken five minutes later…blah, blah, blah.

I’ll break down this episode with a few random thoughts.

The Four-Timers Club
With this season of Game Changers, Ozzy and Cirie join Rob Mariano and Rupert Boneham as the only four-time Survivor competitors. Ozzy is a perennial favorite every season he plays, but usually gets hosed because he’s a physical threat. Cirie is the least likely four-timer out there. Both have gotten deep into this game (Ozzy made it to the Final Tribal in his first season, losing to Yul on the Cook Islands season). My hunch: Ozzy makes it deeper into the game than Cirie this season. Just a hunch.

Who the Hell Are You?
I’m talking about Sierra. I haven’t missed an episode of Survivor since the Season 1 finale and I have no recollection of her whatsoever. None.

Those Returning Champions
Sandra, J.T. and Tony. Already, I’m annoyed by two of them. Tony got a little too big for his britches and…well, it bit him in the ass. Although I have to say I’m already tired of Sandra and her “queen” nonsense. If her tribemates have any brains, they’ll get rid of her right away. Yeah, yeah. I know. There’s that “she’ll never win three times” thing. I wouldn’t bet on that. I’d get rid of her ASAP.

First Torch Snuffed: Bye, Felicia
It’s a dubious honor, no question. I was sad to see Ciera go already. I’ve always liked her game and wish she had a chance to play the game. I don’t disagree with the vote, necessarily, because she is a dangerous player. But I’ll miss her. **sniff**

What the Hell are YOU Doing Here?
Why in the hell did the Mana tribe let Varner take part in the most physical part of that 400-lbs. snake challenge? Because he’s a big dude and could handle carrying that snake? Well, I think he proved otherwise throughout the course of that grueling challenge.

Second Torch Snuffed: You Dug Your Own Grave, Tony
Oh, Tony. Big, stupid, troublemaking Tony. You overplayed your sneakiness and got yourself booted off the island. You should’ve kept your powder dry and not looked to get in everybody’s grill so early. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

My Dark Horse Player
I have a couple: Michaela and Caleb. Both are strong competitors and strategic players. We already know that about Michaela. Her strategery is what got her voted off the last time she played. I hope she sticks around longer this time.

Same goes for Caleb. I’m glad he got a second chance. I’m sure the producers figured they owed it to him, what with nearly killing him the last time he played. Caleb has to figure out how to keep people from targeting him for his athleticism. He appeared to have a good strategy at first, allying himself with Malcolm and Tony. Now? Hmm…

My Favorite Player
Aubry. She’s smart and competitive, but not a physical threat. That fits the profile of a winning strategy, if she plays her cards right. She’s able to work her way into almost any alliance. I hope she sticks around for awhile.

The Game Changer That Wasn’t
I just learned Survivor: San Juan del Sur winner Natalie Anderson was originally slated to be a part of this season, but backed out at the last minute. That’s really too bad. Even though she and that “twinnie” thing she had with he sister was obnoxious, she was a strong competitor and deserving champion. Natalie would’ve been a great member of this cast.

Speaking of Game Changers
I like the new rule about ties at Tribal Council. Smart players cracked the code on flushing out immunity idols to the point it got boring. Forcing them to go to rocks in the event of a tie is an awesome way to shake up the game.

Odds-on Favorite to Win
At this point, too soon to tell. Survivor: Game Changers is still in the “stewing” phase. Let’s wait a couple episodes to see how it’s setting up. I will say I don’t see a path to victory for Varner, Debbie or Tai right now. I’m not suggesting they’ll be voted off soon; just don’t see any of them winning.

Stay tuned.

The tribe has spoken…


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