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survivor re-cap: the lady doth protest too much.

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If they were giving out awards on Survivor for most mercurial player, there’s no question who would win: Michaela; hands down. Just when I think she’s going to start playing the game for real, she resorts to her usual shenanigans (for this season, at least) of making a spectacle of herself at Tribal Council. And let’s be real for a minute here: did anyone buy her crocodile tears routine? If that’s gamesmanship, she’s going to have to explain whom she thought she was fooling. Was it her way of trying to swing a vote in the just-ousted Zeke? As though she were signaling to him, “it wasn’t me!” Do you really think Zeke would buy it, much less, respect it? After all, you’ve written Zeke’s name down THREE TIMES in the past four votes! C’mon, Michaela. Get real. The lady doth protest too much.

edbd2a54f2b5edf95a7f78fbcd0e7f87As for voting off Zeke at this stage in the game, it’s not a bad play. That being said, I was in complete agreement with Michaela about picking off one of the remaining bottom four players. This is where her understanding of the game is strong. She understands the numbers better than most players. She was keenly aware that going into the next Tribal Council at 6-3 is significantly better than 5-4. But then she completely threw that away and went along with Andrea’s plan. I suppose she knew it was smarter to just go along with the majority plan rather than rock the boat and bring attention to yourself.

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Mustache of Sadness. Zeke watches his torch get snuffed.

However, the alliances in Game Changers are proving to be fluid and ever-changing. So removing the greatest strategic threat when you have the chance makes perfect sense. Give credit to Andrea for backing her way into a smart play, even though she acting purely on emotion. Still smarting over the vote where Zeke targeted Andrea, she proved to be more about vengeance tonight than strategy. Either way, it opens the game up even more.

 

I have to admit, I thought for a moment at Tribal Council that Tai was about to make himself the dumbest Survivor player in history. He’s sitting on two immunity idols and openly states he feels like he could be at the bottom and possibly going home tonight. In fact, he even got some votes. If I’m Tai, one of those idols comes out tonight; if, for no other reason, just to be certain you don’t go home with idols in your pocket. It’s like being on house money. Even if you don’t need it, you make the remaining players believe you’re out of idols. At this point, Tai’s game can best be described as “better to be lucky than good.”

 

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Third Time’s a Charm? Andrea made it 30+ days in her two previous Survivor appearances. Can she make it to day 39 this time?

Move of the Week
This is a tough one, because the remaining nine players are making quiet, subtle moves. Even though it’s debatable if it was the best move, pragmatically, I’m going to say Andrea made the move of the week. Yes, she acted on emotion more than strategy, but coordinating a vote to blindside Zeke—one of the game’s smartest players—is a strong, bold move. Zeke plays a better three-dimensional game of Survivor better than almost anyone who’s ever played the game. Taking him out now is tantamount to taking out a queen in chess. But the prevailing question remains: was this the right time? Was it worth risking your six-person alliance right now?

 

 

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Yes, that’s really him.

Survivor Employee of the Week
Culpepper. Seems like a strange choice, given we don’t seem to hear much from him, right? That’s exactly why he earns EOTW honors. He went from the very top to the very bottom in the span of three days. He’s one of the last remaining dual threats in this game—meaning, strong at challenges, smart with the social game—and has yet to see his name written down. He’s playing a very quiet, very strong game. He did well to build a rapport with Zeke after the Reward Challenge. No, it ultimately doesn’t matter anymore, but it did force Zeke’s alliance to consider him a threat for flipping. No, that wasn’t Culpepper’s plan, but still…no one’s written his name down yet. He’s going to have his work cut out for him next week, though. With only nine players left, I’m pretty sure the shanks are about to come out.

 

sarah-lacina.jpgThe Haves
Sarah and Cirie are my only two definite Haves in the game. They’ve lined up strategies that include jury management as much as voting strategy. Given her voting advantage, Sarah has a chance to truly flip the game.

I give Sarah a better shot at making it to the end than Cirie, simply because Cirie has a reputation for being a smart player. Sarah is still in the shadows.

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I still think Troyzan has a decent outside shot at winning this game. But he needs a few stars to align first.

The Maybes
This is a long list: Andrea, Aubry, Culpepper, Tai, Troyzan and Michaela. Yes, Michaela. She earned an upgrade from me because she finally started playing the game this week. I’m still not 100 percent certain she’s got any votes on the jury or can win the game, though. I say that not because she had a hand in sealing the fates of Debbie and Zeke, but because she hasn’t orchestrated any big moves. Plus, her social game leaves much to be desired. Still, I’ll pencil her in on the low end of the Maybes; see what she does next week. But I have to be honest, I still don’t see her winning.

The remaining five Maybes all have nothing but opportunity before them. It’ll be toughest for Culpepper, I think, because he doesn’t have much of an alliance (nor any side advantages) to protect him. Troyzan and Tai, by virtue of sitting on idols, have tremendous opportunities to advance their positions in the game in a big way. It remains to be seen how strategic Tai will be, although he’s shown more game than people realize. Don’t count him out. Troyzan is a dark horse because he is a physical threat in challenges. However, like the last time he played, he’s always on the wrong side of alliances. He needs two votes to swing his way to earn a legitimate shot at making it to the end.

Aubry, still my favorite player, needs to start making moves right now. We’re down to nine and she has numbers. At some point she’s going to have to orchestrate a major move to take out a big player in the game. That means taking out one of her own; Cirie, most likely, in my opinion. Aubry’s smart and patient, but we’re making the turn into the homestretch. Time to get on your horse (yes, that was a Kentucky Derby reference).

SierraCovThe Have Nots
Sorry, Sierra. I just don’t see a path to victory for you. But this is written in pencil. It appears you’re about to step out from Culpepper’s shadow and start playing the game (finally!). To this point, your best move was really Tai’s best move. He saved you back on Day 11. Since then, you’ve been mostly coasting along. That might earn you a trip to the end, but it won’t earn you a million dollars (unless you’re sitting next to Russell Hantz). Make a bold move and we’ll talk in a week.

And I’ve just decided to downgrade Michaela to the Have Nots. Take a seat next to Sierra, Michaela. Yeah, you started to play the game, but you’re not going to win.

Predictions for Next Week
Something big is about to happen. A power alliance with Sarah in the driver’s seat will emerge. And we might see the first of three hidden Immunity Idols come into play. I don’t think the next Tribal Council will be the crazy one, but we’re going to have another nutty Tribal before we get to the end.

My only other predication is Debbie is going to remain the most obnoxious, least self aware player in Survivor history. You’re not as smart as you think you are, Debbie. And you can mutter “idiots” all you want from your perch in the jury box, but remember: you’re in the jury box. You were put there by players who were sharper than you. If they’re idiots, what does that make you?

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Cochran’s still having flashbacks to this awkward moment.

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survivor recap: a betrayal of the highest order.

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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.

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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?!?!

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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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