A reign, dearest readers, has ended, and with it, yet another big-name player has gone home. Well, at least it provided a little drama before the end. Anyway, to the post and how a little mythology can go a long way in Survivor after well over thirty seasons.
Proving Why the Queen is Queen
While I still begrudgingly admit Culpepper isn’t as abysmal at this game as I wanted him to be, I’m happy to report my love of Sandra has simply flourished this season. I came into this season as a marginally large Sandra critic, yet I will leave a fan. While her ruler-archetype was destined to crash and burn, she proved to everyone out there why she’s won twice and how. Given the opportunity to play a fourth time (something I’m confident she will get), she could very well win yet again. All hail the Queen, my friends, a ruler to the bitter end.
Okay, a small disclaimer before continuing, I know I did a post two weeks back about how the past matters (just ask Malcolm). Although this post will contain some elements of that, I want to dive a little deeper into Survivor mythology and how that caused overarching themes to play out this episode/how said mythos could affect the game going forward (largely by helping Debbie).
Slaying the White Whale
Tunnel Vision Can be a Powerful Tool
Before we continue, however, we should return to the mythological figure known only as Sandra Diaz-Twine. Although you could argue Sandra fell for the exact same reasons as Malcolm and Tony (big names going home), to me, Sandra’s exit felt like Captain Ahab’s obsession with the infamous White Whale, Moby Dick. Zeke, Andrea, Ozzy, and Sarah all seemed more interested in knocking off the legendary two-time winner rather than anything else. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but the moment Tai mentions he’d be willing to ditch Ozzy… well if I was Ozzy, I would think Sandra can wait. Although Zeke made an excellent point that many have thought they could ditch Sandra at any point, especially pre-Merge when she’s down in numbers, Sandra is just that—down in numbers. Tai, however, would never have seen a blindside at that juncture coming. Tai, for all of his idol finding chops, is not nearly the caliber of player Sandra is. He never will be. From that perspective, yes, Sandra had to go. But, at least to me—a lowly fanboy who’s never played—the unpredictability of Tai paired with his ability to find idols would have made him the one that would have to go in my mind. In all likelihood, Nuku loses immunity regardless of who they ditched, so why not get Sandra out just before the Merge? Her exit, while understandable for many reasons, seemed more like a check on a Survivor bucket-list rather than a true strategic move, and I think keeping Tai is really going to come back to bite someone in the ass—likely Ozzy. Sandra was targeted because of the legend surrounding her. Simple as that.
Still, Nuku did do something Survivor has never seen before, and so the Queen was usurped, the White Whale slain.
Exile Island and Debbie
A Twist that, When Used Sparingly, Is Actually Pretty Decent—Especially If You’re Debbie
Anyone else notice the horrified reaction of the castaways when it was announced Debbie was going to go to Exile? As we the viewers rarely get more than ten minutes of Exile a week (and that was when it was decidedly in style during Survivor’s teenage seasons), we cannot fully appreciate how difficult real Exile must be. Barring a few exceptions, the complete lack of social interaction with others in similar mental states must do nothing but fuel the most extreme of paranoia, and that’s on top of usually a lacking shelter (barring the Gabon “Sugar Shack) and meager resources. Sure, in seasons past it was a place where one could find an idol, but beyond that, Exile does no one any good. It’s fair, then, to think Exile’s dour reputation within Survivor canon and lore would only be upped in an all-star season, and hence ghastly reactions come to pass while Debbie does everything she can not to lose her mind on that middle mat (maybe even explode at Hali again, because why not?).
Of course, Debbie’s Exile experience was something decidedly more pleasant, and I’d even argue incredibly beneficial to her game—her advantage aside. Firstly, Debbie was under some severe psychological and emotional stress. She would likely deny that claim fervently, but no one blows up at her tribe like that unless she’s feeling some level of pressure. With this new, plush Exile, Debbie could recuperate, chill, and go back to the game with a huge mental advantage.
Secondly, no one is going to think Debbie did anything but suffer out at Exile. Perhaps this won’t garner her much sympathy in the long run, but if Debbie was seen as a nonthreat prior to her exiling, I can’t believe anyone would think she’d come back from Exile sharper than before. I suppose this could easily backfire on her, but realistically, Debbie just has to talk about what hell she faced out there alone, and nobody would think twice to question her.
Let’s take a moment to even consider the idea that Debbie can’t contain her smug Exile trip to herself, and she spills the proverbial beans. Debbie’s unknowingly positioned herself as an unreliable narrator, both for us as viewers and for her fellow tribemates. Simply put, just because Debbie says something doesn’t mean said something is true. Debbie can brag day and night (though even she has enough sense to stay quiet about this… probably), and no one will likely believe her.
Finally, let’s touch on Debbie’s advantage. For what it’s worth and despite the historic failure of this advantage, I think Debbie made the right call. This is potentially the most useful an extra vote could be in a season of Survivor. As noted in countless blogs, podcasts, and general posts, the fatal flaw of similar advantages presented in recent seasons are the knowledge some advantage exists. Dan Foley, Fishbach, and Tai all received their advantages publicly, and while the exact nature of said advantages wasn’t said publicly, the knowledge they possessed them hurt all three—Dan and Stephen especially. Debbie, kooky and erratic Debbie, has a real opportunity to make this advantage count, and although I have little doubt a Cirie, Zeke, or Aubry could have used this advantage better and to their advantage at a likely more opportune time, who’s really going to expect Debbie to pull this out of her ass? Good luck, Debbie. You’re no champ, but in a season where many of the names I wanted to watch are dropping like flies, you give me hope for entertainment.
Oh, right, and Cochran was there.
Because Successful Survivor Nerds are Mythical
What a weird twist, Survivor. It was made all the weirder by the cult-like awe Debbie seemed to hold for Cochran. His arrival at Exile, however, illustrates my point this week beautifully: Survivor is a story, a series of them, and mythical heroes from the past can still make their appearance felt. Here, Cochran helped to coach Debbie, and although it’s unclear whether or not Debbie took it to heart (which is the only reason I might argue I’m not stoked Debbie went to Exile), it is clear that listening to an objective, outside third party—especially when that third party has won the game—is a huge benefit. Putting aside my own mixed feelings on Cochran, however, I feel like it’s odd they chose Cochran as the winner to potentially come back and talk strategy for the mere fact that he played with three of the cast members this season. What would have happened if Andrea or Ozzy (or the late Malcolm) had been there instead? Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, but why not bring back someone like Denise, Natalie Anderson, or even Sophie to talk shop? They have zero connections season-wise to this cast, and I’d argue all three played at least as impressive of games as Cochran. Oh well. I guess it is nice to see a true Survivor nerd get such high canonization.
The Legend of Jeff Varner
Will He Make the Jury?
Surely the big question on everyone’s minds is: can Varner survive another vote or two? Based purely in conventionality, he should have zero problem navigating this post-Sandra era. While, yes, he is the worst challenge-wise on his tribe, this is the small window in Survivor in which tribal challenge strength matters substantially less. Add to that he fact he seems to have bonded with Zeke whilst Sarah and Andrea appear to be looking to cut Ozzy before he becomes an even bigger threat at the Merge, Varner should have to do very little to ensure his safety…right? He should be able to do this, right? RIGHT?
I’m not too sure, actually. There have been multiple confessionals and little scenes in which Varner alludes to the fact he hasn’t made a Jury and how this experience is very much like his first two. Add the upped number of confessionals he received this week, and I worry for the man. I may think he is unworthy to be here, especially if it means someone like Ozzy leaving, but I feel the for man. Three times played and not even a Jury speech? As a fan who’d do so much to be given a single opportunity to play, I can’t imagine how it would feel to be given three chances and fail so much every time. For Varner’s sake, I hope he can hold out and manage to make the Merge. I don’t think he’s necessarily earned it, but then again, Leo won an Oscar for The Revenant. Somethings are just overdue, I think.
An End-Game Alliance Forming?
Not the One We Wanted Coming into the Season, but…
This has nothing to do with Survivor mythology or lore, but remember how we were given a seemingly meaningless scene of Sarah and Troyzan bonding last week? Now, this week, we were given a bromance between Troyzan and Brad (plus a silent Sierra). Could this be the first inkling of a finale crew starting to form? It seems pretty likely all four of these folks will be around come Merge time, and if they can just point the targets to the remaining notable players (Ozzy, Cirie, and Aubry near the top of that list, assuming all three are around then) while taking out some other physical threats like Michaela… well a solid four at the final nine or so looks pretty damn nice. Pull in Tai and Hali, maybe Andrea or Jeff? I think it’s very possible these four make up two-third of the finale. Not who I’d exactly want to see coming into this season, but just something to think about. The edit doesn’t lie very often, my friends.
A Closing Thought, Dearest Reader
Perhaps a New, Recurring Reward?
While Cochran wouldn’t have been my exact choice as a returning winner to see as a fan, if I was out there as player, I would’ve been pretty into it. With that in mind, imagine if every season Survivor offered a reward at say the final seven or eight to have a meal with a former winner? Imagine sitting down with people who’ve found success in this current Survivor metagame just as you’re nearing the end of your own adventure? I have a hard time believing a day thirty-four lunch with Jeremy Collins or even Adam Klein and Michele Fitzgerald would be anything short of helpful. These are people who know what it takes to win in recent seasons and who are truly objective in their assessments. Sure, they don’t know the game you’re playing as Cochran knew Debbie’s, but even just having the afternoon to give them a brief breakdown of where things are at and where you’re at and let them give you some advice? Now that could change a game. If I can’t win a car whenever I’m out there (and I still believe I will one day), it’d be nice to at least chat with someone who loves the game as much as I do with zero worry of getting targeted by them. Just a thought.
Okay, friends, time for a little predicting. While I feel I’m on something of a roll after JT and Sandra went back to back, this week seems harder. I’d be shocked if Mana lost, and so that leaves the seven souls on Nuku. Of them, Zeke seems the most obviously safe as he appears to have connections left, right, and center which means my preseason assessment of him not making the Merge seems pleasantly incorrect! Next, Sarah’s edit still seems like it’s that of someone who does no worse than the final seven or eight, so I think she’s safe, and Cochran’s parting words saying Debbie could actually make some waves this season make me think she’ll last at least until the Merge (which I never would’ve guessed). Tai’s got his idols, and although he might not be the best player, why not burn one at the first sign of danger? So, Andrea, Ozzy, and Varner…? All three, I think, could easily be the next boot—Andrea due to her anonymity, Ozzy due to his big-name status and obvious physical strength come the Merge, and Varner because…well it’s Jeff Varner.
Phew. This one is tough. I’m going to ignore my gut this week, and hope Varner can at least make it to the Jury. Prove me and my criticism wrong Varner, you can do it! So, if not Jeff…Andrea, my dear, it was nice knowing you.
That’s all, folks. Thanks for the read!
Dan Otsuki has been watching Survivor religiously since season two, and is a recent graduate of the University of Puget Sound, where he double majored in English and Religious Studies. He's also applied to play on the show every time he's been able to do so.
Follow him on twitter: @DanOtsuki