Warning: This recap for the “Survivor Jackpot” episode of Survivor: Game Changers contains spoilers.
First of all, no goats were harmed in the writing of this recap.
Usually, the most important votes on Survivor happen at tribal council, but the philosophical debate over killing a goat this episode was just as powerful as any torch snuffing. I’m no vegetarian; I had steak for dinner, but I didn’t watch the cow slaughtered in front of me while its baby whimpered in the background (that would be a weird restaurant). Seriously, this episode made me feel like I was 6-years-old again watching Bambi’s mother get shot. Thankfully, the castaways decided they didn’t want to traumatize a million children watching at home by killing momma goat in front her adorably cute offspring.
Although I suppose by the end of the episode a goat was killed, it just wasn’t the cuddly, fluffy kind; it was the Beast Mode Cowboy variety. Caleb Reynolds, a former Big Brother stalker turned Survivor medevac, was one of the more questionable choices on this Game Changers cast. It’s hard to consider almost dying for salt and pepper a game-changing move, but somehow Caleb was invited back this season with all the hype of a new Nickelback album. He lived up to that promise by lasting exactly the same amount of time as his first season, just nine days. In Kaoh Rong he was beaten by the sun, here he was defeated by Brad Culpepper and Hali Ford. I’m not sure which is more embarrassing.
Let’s break this episode down, starting with…
Drop Your Buffs
Ah, the dreaded tribe swap. Tremendous fun for us viewers. A nightmare for many a Survivor castaway. The early shake-up saw the two tribes switch into three, a twist that is becoming more and more common since it was first used in Cambodia a couple of seasons back. It’s meant to keep players on their toes, dismantle alliances, and help make the game as fluid as possible. I’m all for anything that keeps the game from becoming too rigid — unless that means bringing back Redemption Island. Never, ever again, please.
The new tribes are as follows:
Nuku: Aubry, JT, Jeff, Malcolm, Michaela, and Sandra.
Mana: Brad, Caleb, Debbie, Hali, Sierra, and Tai.
Tavua: Andrea, Cirie, Ozzy, Sarah, Troyzan, and Zeke.
Tavua is the tribe which has to start from scratch on a brand new beach. I still find this pretty unfair, particularly since the other two tribes have a bunch of food and tools from the marooning. At least in Millennials vs. Gen X, the new tribe got an extra member. Here it’s an even split, just like in Cambodia and we saw how that completely tanked the Angkor tribe.
Tai is the most pleased with his new tribe after being reunited with his former Beauty tribe member Caleb. He’s still clamoring for that stolen kiss and Caleb allows Tai a peck on the cheek, which Tai is used to because that’s how his brood of chickens greets him (yes, a group of chickens is called a brood, don’t ever say these recaps aren’t educational). Tai and Caleb formed a genuine friendship after Kaoh Rong, and anyone that follows them on social media will know that Tai even attended Caleb’s wedding last year. But the closeness of their relationship becomes a big part of why Caleb is later booted.
From the Outhouse to the Penthouse
The five former Mana members that wind up on the Nuku beach can’t believe their luck. Not only do they have a significant numbers advantage, but they’ve upgraded to an island paradise. Jeff is so impressed he says it’s like they’ve won a reward. Trained chickens roaming around freely, a huge tool kit, a fully constructed shelter, there’s even ornaments adorning the trees! “The trees have balls,” Malcolm says in awe. Not a sentence I expected to hear on Survivor; sounds more like something you’d hear someone say when describing a Lady Gaga costume.
While the ex-Manas take in the decor, JT plots up ways to keep himself safe. He comes up with an ingenious plan to take the tribe snorkeling, setting them adrift half a mile from the beach. After Malcolm damages the spearhead, it gives JT the perfect opportunity to head back to camp to “grab the pliers” which is code for “search for an idol.” You wouldn’t expect five Survivor veterans to be so gullible, allowing a former winner to go off alone while they’re stranded in the ocean like that episode of Review where Forrest MacNeil ends up at garbage island (the alternative name for Redemption Island). Do you win by default if the rest of the cast get lost at sea?
Luckily for them, JT doesn’t find the idol. He does capture a baby goat and its mother, though. I touched on this scene at the start of the recap, but this was tense and almost tear inducing. We’ve seen animals killed on Survivor before — rats, sharks, even a wild pig back in Season 2 — but seeing this helpless baby goat yelping (as in crying, not writing an online review of a local business), while the tribe debated whether or not to kill its mother was heartbreaking. And Queen Sandra, as ruthless as we know her to be, had no remorse, she was ready for a doe-licious meal (I apologize).
Message in a Bottle
With all the big personalities on the new Nuku tribe, it means the Mana and Tavua camps are a little lacking in flavor. The main revelation on the Mana beach is that Brad is the person responsible for the interior decorating (can you call it interior decorating when it’s in a jungle?). If you asked me before this episode which player is into antiquing and home decor, I would not have guessed the former NFL player who led an all-guys alliance in Blood vs. Water. Never judge a book my its cover, even if that cover features an image of Brad Culpepper scratching himself with the claw end of a hammer. Maybe next week we’ll discover that Ozzy spends his weekends quilting and that Debbie is a trained astronaut… wait, that one’s probably true.
On Tavua, the only story is Troyzan, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about this tribe. He’s the lone Mana amongst five former Nukus who seem solidly together, even Ozzy and Cirie patch up their differences for the time being. Andrea tells Troy that he doesn’t need to worry, but her lies are about as convincing as Sandra promising not to eat a goat before this season is over. So the swimsuit photographer goes idol searching and stumbles upon the best thing he’s seen on a beach since he photographed Kate Upton. An idol clue in the form of a message in a bottle. The clue tells him that an idol will be hidden in the next challenge, and the directions are so detailed they might as well have handed him a GPS and a flashlight.
Immunity Is Up For Grabs
At the challenge, the tribes must work their way through an obstacle course while tied together, transferring buckets of water to let down a gate before completing a picture puzzle. The two tribes to finish first win immunity and reward (a choice between pillows and blankets or spices and condiments).
The Nuku tribe get out to an early lead but by the time they reach the puzzle it isn’t long before the other tribes catch up and we have a tight finish. Sandra and Jeff complete their puzzle first for Nuku, while Cirie and Zeke just barely beat Mana to bring Tavua the victory. During the celebration, Troy slinks off to grab the idol which is underneath the puzzle board. It didn’t have quite the same nail-biting tension as when Kelley Wentworth had to pull off a similar feat in Cambodia, but good on Troy I guess? He did it. Although the last time Troy had an idol, in One World, he wasted it.
A Stolen Kiss Goodbye
In the previous occasions when we’ve seen the two-to-three tribes twist, it has resulted in someone from the majority going home. In Cambodia, the original Bayons booted Monica Padilla, and the four-strong Ta Keos ended up falling apart on Angkor, while last season in Millennials vs. Gen X, alliances flipped at every post-swap vote. There is none of that excitement here.
The vote is a clear toss up between Caleb or Hali, the two ex-Mana tribe members. The only drama comes from whether or not Tai will be on board with voting out his close friend Caleb. While Tai is initially reluctant, feeling that the betrayal will lay heavy on his heart, Brad convinces him that having Caleb around only hurts Tai’s game because people will continue to see them as a pair. Brad is right, but having a for-sure ally around is never a bad thing, and it’s a shame Tai didn’t put his foot down here and convince them to boot Hali. He could have argued that Caleb is a much more valuable challenge asset, but I understand he probably didn’t want to shake the coconut tree too much.
At tribal council, Caleb and Hali argue their cases, and even though Hali brings up some decent points, it’s difficult to get enthusiastic. You can’t transition from one of the most legendary showdowns in Survivor history last week between Sandra and Tony, to a battle between Caleb and Hali, the man who passed out for condiments versus the girl whose most memorable moment is skinny dipping. It’s like following a 12-round slugfest classic with a game of tiddlywinks.
Caleb hardly puts up a fight; he showed more determination digging in the sand in Kaoh Rong, here he goes out with a whimper (like a distressed baby goat). When it comes time to vote, Tai sticks by his original tribe and sends Caleb packing on the same day he went home in his first season. It works out well for Tai, though, as he receives another farewell kiss from Caleb before he leaves.
Players of the Week
Brad: Not only has he got an eye for design, but he showed some social and strategic chops this episode. This is a much more mellow Brad than the one we’re used to. This season he’s playing puppet master, gently pulling strings rather than kicking the puppet around like in Blood vs. Water.
JT: He may not have found the idol, but I have to give credit for being able to pull off a Survivor stranding. Also, he refused to kill the goats. Good on ya, JT.
Troyzan: He managed to find the idol clue even when the five other members of the tribe knew they should have been keeping an eye on him. Then he grabbed the idol undetected at the challenge. Now it’s what he can do with the idol that will let us know how much game Troy really has this season.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.
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