(Note: I don’t exactly do edgic *exactly* in terms of using charts and looking at tone, visibility, etc. as fixed metrics. I prefer to look at the stories being told for each player and how it weaves together with the season. Feel free to skip the recaps if you want to dive right into the analysis of each character.)
Part 1 (Yes, I am treating this like one big episode.)
We begin with the marooning with Jeff waxing poetic about big moves and how the title “Game Changer” is being twisted to fit each contestant. Ozzy and JT get questions from Jeff, and Zeke fanboys out over being with Survivor Legends. Jeff explains the twist to the marooning, in that there is a set of tools available for the first tribe to dive in and release them from under the water, and both tribes scramble to get as many supplies as possible. Ozzy is, at first, the only one to bother going after the tool set, and the feeling from the group is that it’s not worth even trying to compete with Ozzy over the tools, with Malcolm and Hali even saying as such. Eventually, Caleb goes after Ozzy, but fails to beat him in getting the tools. Sierra finds a secret advantage. Tai falls into the water with a crate of chickens, but he manages to save the chickens and not be seriously injured. Then both tribes head out to their respective beaches. As far as any edit takeaways, the only things remotely significant are Ozzy being hyped up as a threat (because of course he is), and Tai and the emphasis on the chickens.
We then find ourselves at the Mana beach as they are unpacking their supplies from the marooning. Tony almost immediately announces that he is going to look for the idol and straight up BOOKS IT. Back at camp, everyone discusses amongst themselves that Tony going out for the idol that openly and that soon is putting a huge target on his back, and is not good for Tony’s chances. Tony says in a confessional that if anyone actually followed him he was going to pass it off as a joke, but that he will still take advantage of looking for the idol since no one was checking on him.
Our focus shifts to the Nuku beach, where Zeke continues to be a fanboy about playing with JT, Ozzy, and Cirie. We see Sarah and JT talk amicably, and Sarah talks about using her skills as a police officer to help her in the game. We then see Sierra open up her secret advantage, which is a modified version of the Legacy Advantage from the previous season, that works at both the Final 6 or the merge, and will be willed to another player should they get voted out. Ozzy mentions that Cirie is making him nervous, but Cirie and Ozzy have a conversation where they seem to be cool with each other. Ozzy, Tai and JT talk about wanting out Cirie because she isn’t a strong player. Tai specifically states he doesn’t want to get caught in the middle of Ozzy and Cirie, but then immediately does so anyway. Cirie masterfully extracts from Tai that Ozzy isn’t as cool with Cirie as he lets on.
Back at the Mana beach, we see Tony BOOK IT to work on his Spy Bunker, the evolution of the spy shack. Apparently Tony thought it was a good idea to bury himself in a hole in the ground to spy on people. Anyways, Troyzan spots him digging and Tony backpedals. Troyzan starts telling people that Tony was digging and looking for an idol and stressing he is a threat, and word spreads around camp. Ciera then starts openly plotting Tony’s demise, which Malcolm is threatened by and wants her gone.
Mana loses the immunity challenge. Varner says he wants to keep Tony around as a meatshield, and throws Ciera under the bus to his tribemates. The group decides to tell Ciera that everyone is voting for Michaela, which Ciera falls for completely. Michaela catches wind of this, and is pissed.
At tribal council (the set is super cool looking, by the way.), people make generic statements to kick off the season. Aubry makes a point about the differences between someone’s perception from TV and how they actually are on the island and how its an important distinction. Jeff asks Sandra to put a title on this first part of the season and Sandra responds “The Unknown.” Ciera is pretty unceremoniously booted. The only thing of interest was that Michaela wrote down her own name partially and then scratched it out for Ciera’s.
Mana comes home from tribal council. Tony talks about wanting to keep himself safe with other bigger threats, and he talks to Aubry and he talks to Sandra.
We then jump over to Nuku with some fun music. There is not a lot of strategy talk going on here. Instead, we find Debbie complaining about Tai and his chickens, and Tai being overbearing with his feathered friends and irritating JT, the resident grumpy, old man of the tribe.
Back over on Mana, we see Tony standing up watching everyone while they sleep, and then casually goes over to work on his bunker. Of course, Troyzan and Sandra are walking around at night talking so Tony slithers out of his bunker and confronts them. Troyzan wasn’t saying anything negative about Tony, but Tony is pretty paranoid, and Sandra and Troyzan both lie to Tony and make things way worse. Sandra is now against Tony cause of how aggressive he is being. We don’t hear from Troyzan at all about this scenario, and Sandra seems to be the one to lead the charge against Tony.
On Nuku beach, we get some feedback from Cirie that Ozzy and JT are buddies now, and that is making her nervous. We then get a scene with Cirie and Sarah looking to work together, and then another with Cirie and Zeke. Cirie also confronts Debbie about how she appears to be scrambling and talking to everyone around camp, and Debbie deflects with some standard crazy Debbie stuff.
Back on Mana, we see Sandra talking to Hali about flipping on Tony, and then confirming with Troyzan and Varner. Troyzan goes to bring in Michaela. It appears to be that the current alliances are: The Big Threats (Tony, Malcolm, Caleb, and Aubry) and The Nobodies + Sandra (Sandra, Troyzan, Varner, Michaela, Hali). Tony scrambles with his alliance on trying to get Sandra out.
The challenge happens. Caleb hurts himself, which is the second time he has had an injury in this first episode. (He had a small earlier scene falling on a rock.) Mana gets stomped in the beginning, but Malcolm almost brings them the win and has a very impressive comeback. Nuku still wins cause there was water involved and they have Ozzy.
After the folks at Mana talk about how bummed they are that they lost, Tony continues to scramble trying to get rid of Sandra, and Sandra continues her charge on Tony. At Tribal Council, a bug flies into Sandra’s hair. The only other noteworthy thing is many of the guys talk about wanting to keep strong players, Tony scrambling, and Troyzan rolling his eyes at the whole thing.
Tony ends up going home 8-2, with two votes on Aubry. Sandra gives him a fiery farewell.
I thought the premiere was fun considering two big characters went home back to back. The episode was built around the inevitable Sandra vs. Tony conflict, and, for what it was, it could not have been done any better. While we got a lot of strategy talk from Mana, most of the true character moments and insight came from the Nuku tribe. The main theme of the season is changing the game in two ways. The first; who had changed the game and earned their spot on the season. The second; who will change their game to succeed where they had once failed. For the big name players, those who protect and continue on with their legacy will be going far. For the nobodies, those who acknowledge their past mistakes and articulate how they will change have a good shot at winning.
Aubry had a diminished role for someone who got 2 votes in her second tribal council. Her storyline so far has been one of being a threat, but not being THE threat. As the swap is happening next episode, it is likely her importance will expand now that she is no longer associated with Tony. If she does go far, her early episode diminished visibility could be due to being shielded from any negativity on being on the wrong side of the vote, and being in an alliance with Tony. If her edit continues to be small, she could be getting idoled out in the future.
Michaela’s main themes are being an unknown, and by extension an outcast, and hating to lose. Michaela has recognized that she needs to downplay her strategic strengths, but also acknowledged that she won’t be able to contain her emotions. We see Michaela getting very, very irritated by her tribe losing. Losing challenges in the pre-merge might be a theme for Michaela. If she makes the merge and this theme continues with a negative tone, she could go on an immunity run only to lose and be promptly voted out. Of the two Millenials vs. Gen X returnees, I actually think Michaela is in worse shape, as much as I don’t care for Zeke.
Holy shit. Survivor is finally acknowledging Sandra as the kick-ass player she always has been. Sadly, Sandra is playing far too hard far too early, and I can’t imagine that it will pay off for her in the long run. Sandra has never had to go to tribal council this early, and definitely not in both of the first two tribals of the season. The gameplay that has gotten her through the pre-merge has always been quiet, and she tries to pit others against eachother. This time, she put herself up against Tony. In this case, changing her game might not be the best for Sandra, and she might not make the merge if she keeps it up. It could also be what she needs to win for a third time. How the swap goes will strongly dictate Sandra’s chances to keep going. It is possible that her early game edit so far is circumstantial to her stand-off with Tony, and if she calms her game down she should still be okay. However, if her gameplay remains the same going forward, Sandra isn’t likely a three-time champion.
Hali was mostly in the background this episode, and while she didn’t have many confessionals, she was always seen around camp strategizing and playing the game. The one confessional she did give was quite strong; she said that while everyone else are snakes in the grass, she is a cobra ready to strike. Hali clearly wants to play a more proactive and aggressive game than her attempt in Worlds Apart, and hopefully we will see more of this storyline unfold after the swap.
Malcolm is a fun narrator, and I forgot how much I enjoyed him. He got lots of screentime and was the one to walk us through the events of the Mana tribe and how alliances were shaking up. He was also shown to be a good performer in the challenge, but just came up short because he wouldn’t give himself a break. Maybe this could be a sign of a later downfall? My only concersn with Malcolm so far are that he hasn’t given us anything other than narration, and he hasn’t had any personal content. Additionally, he made it clear he wanted to keep strong people in the tribe… yet he voted out Tony. If Malcolm only pops up when his tribe is going to lose a challenge; that does not bode well for his chances.
I have to give Caleb some credit, the guy actually has strategic chops. He was able to quickly articulate his plans and explained why he wanted to keep strong players around. He was also shown to be great in challenges and hold his own with Ozzy. He seems well liked at camp. Sadly, Caleb has a similar problem that Malcolm does; he wants to keep the strong, but he still votes out Tony, doing the opposite of what he explained to be in his best interest. He also was shown falling down on some rocks and injuring his arm in a challenge. Could he be getting medevacked again? Caleb’s main story has been being Tony’s pawn, and now that Tony has been voted out, Caleb is without a leader. Maybe he will find one in his new tribe, and if so, he will go as far as his new leader. If he can’t and he goes to Tribal multiple times, he might be going home. I hope he doesn’t, I really enjoy Caleb.
For a guy who continued to run into Tony doing shady stuff, the dude didn’t have much of a presence. Troyzan looks to be playing a subtle game, and seems a lot friendlier than his One World incarnation. His lack of presence is bothersome and could hurt his chances. My only hope is that if Sandra’s move was a mistake, Troyzan’s involvement getting overshadowed might be for his own protection in the storyline.
Still a great narrator. Varner is taking a more backseat approach this game, which I think is a good move for him. He was taken out in Cambodia for playing too hard, too fast, and it looks as though he is learning from his mistakes. Changing your game for the better is a good sign for doing well in this season. Varner made a concerning comment, though. He said that he is familiar with being on a losing tribe. Will history repeat itself, or was this a circumstantial confessional due to going to tribal twice in a row? We will find out next week.
Andrea had one generic confessional and was otherwise invisible. Not a good premier for Andrea, and even though she hasn’t been to tribal yet, she should have at least gotten something. Hopefully her visibility improves on a new tribe, but right now I don’t think she is winning.
Seen around camp being far less aggressive and in control than in Blood vs. Water. We have seen him talking with Sierra, we have seen in talking in groups. Brad definitely seems to have learned from his past game. He even got a confessional referencing changing his game to be more like Monica’s. I’m fairly sure Brad is at least going to make the family visit. Does playing like Monica mean getting second place, or does it just mean slowing his game down? The answer to that question will determine if Brad wins or if he is a single vote runner up. Depending on how next week goes, Brad could be winning this thing. It is worth noting that he was really the only person to get positive personal content that wasn’t pure strategy.
Cirie had the most visibility on Nuku by a country mile. We see her expertly shakedown Tai for info, we see her talk to Debbie, Ozzy, and Zeke. Cirie is doing the strategic heavy lifting on her tribe. She is the current main character of Nuku, and most of the events on her side of the island revolve around her. The narrative has set up an Ozzy and JT vs. Cirie undertone that has yet to be addressed. If Cirie isn’t swapped to a tribe with either of those guys, then Cirie is likely safe until the merge. Based on the tone of Ozzy and JT compared to Cirie, I’d bet that Cirie is going to come out on top.
Sarah had a great confessional saying that she played like a cop in her last game, and this go around she is going to play like a criminal. Definitely fits the theme of changing the game. We have also seen her talk to people on her tribe and build relationships. Sarah’s story might open up once the swap happens, and from there we can see if she’s a contender to win or not.
Ozzy is still a human dolphin. It has been stressed that no one wants to go head to head against Ozzy in challenges. Unfortunately, he hasn’t gotten much content out of his rivalry with Cirie or wanting to keep strong players around. Hopefully a swap gives him some more screentime. Right now, I don’t see Ozzy winning. We do see Ozzy talking to people, namely JT and Tai. At least he is trying to be more social, and hopefully we can see him form a strong alliance after a swap.
Zeke is the Survivor super fan. He seemed far less arrogant than he did his last season. That doesn’t mean he is going to do any better, but makes him easier for me to watch, so that’s something. He is actually in a good position in his tribe, and I hate to say it, but he has a pretty clean edit.
Fan Favorite Sierra Dawn Thomas:
Her edit so far has been completely circumstantial to having found the legacy advantage. She is clearly safe until the merge, the final 6, or whenever the advantage is brought up again. If a “Previously on…” segment after next week doesn’t mention it, she is safe that episode. Until she gets any personal content, it can’t be said if she will win or not.
Very little visibility. JT just seems grumpier this go around, and has the most negative tone out of Nuku. Hopefully he swaps on a different tribe from Tai, and maybe we will see some better content. Right now, JT didn’t get much, and what he did get was pretty mixed or negative. He isn’t winning.
Tai is still the friend to all animals, but this time his edit is far more negative than before. He seems to be getting on people’s nerves instead of being adored by everyone. Tai isn’t winning, and I doubt he is making final tribal. Maybe a swap to new tribemates might help him out, since he was butting heads with JT and Cirie completely played him. He seems out of his league, and that could continue to be a storyline moving forward.
Uh. Debbie was surprisingly visible on her tribe given that they didn’t go to tribal and she didn’t really do anything. Her content was toneless or sort of negative, as the conversation with Cirie comes to mind. She might be a long term player, or her edit could explode after the swap and get herself booted quickly.
Given that the episode was going to be edited to be the Sandra and Tony showdown, it is hard to really say who has a fair chance and who is ruled out. The coming swap will really start to show the storylines for these characters, especially those on Nuku. Players who want to change their game (Sarah, Brad, Hali) are the ones to look out for. My hopes for the next episode is that the Nuku players get more screen time so we can get to know them a little better. The last thing I want to be doing is writing that Andrea is invisible each week, or that Sierra Dawn Thomas still won’t go home because of her legacy advantage.