Yesterday, Inside Survivor revealed the title and theme of Survivor: Season 34, the all returnee season which will air February 2017. Survivor: Game Changers – Mamanuca Islands is the mouthful of a title we will hear a lot of next year. A theme based around players that in some shape or form helped change the game. The question is – does this title apply to everyone on the cast?
The Season 34 cast is a hodgepodge of names including winners, jurors, early boots, heroes, villains, legends, and non-entities. Pinpointing a common link between these twenty castaways has proved insanely difficult. If it’s true that the originally planned theme for this season fell through, then it’s reasonable to assume production needed a generic sounding title that just about works under the circumstances. Game Changers fits that requirement. Now it is up to CBS and the producers to convince us that this cast fits the theme
Let’s go through the cast and determine whether or not they changed the game.
Disclaimer: Does not include discussion of the Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X representatives, given that we don’t know how they played in that season.
Changed the Way the Game is Played
It doesn’t take much convincing to sell Tony Vlachos as a game changer. His erratic and paranoia-charged game-play is still fresh in people’s memories. He flipped on allies several times, altering the course of the game and keeping things unpredictable. His Survivor: Cagayan victory was perhaps the biggest game changer of the past ten seasons. It gave birth to the current “big moves era” that we saw most prominently in last year’s Survivor: Cambodia. His win influenced the showy post-merge game of Natalie Anderson in Survivor: San Juan Del Sur and the in-your-face boldness of Mike Holloway in Survivor: Worlds Apart. With idols, blindsides and spy-shacks, Tony’s impact on the game is huge.
When Sandra Diaz-Twine won Survivor for the second time, it changed the game in one monumental way. It proved that a former winner could come back and win again. Previously, when winners returned in Survivor: All-Stars, they were immediately targetted due to their prior success. Many fans thought it would be impossible for someone to win the game twice. Sandra’s second victory on Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains was a definite game changer, and that is likely how CBS will sell it. Also, her “as long as it ain’t me” strategy has had a significant influence on the game. We’ve seen other players openly adopt this style of play – people like Ciera Eastin and Kelley Wentworth in Cambodia were happy to cut allies and change plans to save themselves, and even most recent winner Michele Fitzgerald used this approach.
Changed the Game their Season(s)
You can look at J.T. Thomas as a game changer in two distinct ways. In Survivor: Tocantins, he played what is perhaps the greatest social game in Survivor history. He was able to turn the game around from a severe numbers disadvantage at the merge and become the first player to play a “perfect game” – meaning he won a unanimous jury vote without ever receiving a vote against him. That is a game changer within itself. On the less positive side, you could point to J.T.’s blunder in Heroes vs. Villains, where he gave his idol to Russell Hantz, as the moment which changed the entire scope of the game that season. Whether it’s his god-like social game, or his willingness to make a bold play, CBS shouldn’t have trouble pitching J.T. as a game changer.
The self-proclaimed “gangsta in an Oprah suit”, there is no denying that Cirie Fields is a game changer. The mom that watched Survivor from her couch, she came into Survivor: Panama as a fish-out-of-water and was expected to be an early boot. But what emerged instead was a shrewd social player and killer strategist. Her read on the game dynamics in both Panama and Survivor: Micronesia allowed her to maneuver swiftly through the game, pulling off blindside after blindside. A pioneer of the 3-2-1 and “vote the goat” strategy, CBS will have no problem selling Cirie as a game changer.
In his first appearance, on Survivor: Cook Islands, Ozzy Lusth became the poster boy for challenge dominance. His efforts played a huge part in the underdog comeback of the Aitu 4, which changed the way the season was heading, and he almost won the game. His physical prowess stepped up the competitive nature of challenges in seasons to come and created a new archetype in casting, the “challenge hero” (influencing players like Joe Anglim). Also, in Survivor: South Pacific, Ozzy voluntarily sent himself to Redemption Island in an attempt to give his tribe an advantage. CBS will likely sell Ozzy as a game changer in this way.
In Survivor: Kaôh Rōng, it looked like the trio of Kyle Jason, Scot Pollard, and Tai Trang was unstoppable, due to the possession of two individual idols that could combine into a Super Idol. That was until Aubry Bracco, champion of “emotional intelligence”, used her strategic and social skills to talk Tai into flipping on his allies. It was the vote that changed the direction of the game in Kaôh Rōng, as in one fell swoop, the trio was broken up, and the threat of the Super Idol was removed. Aubry went on to control the rest of the game, always landing on the right side of the vote, and made it all the way to Final Tribal Council.
Attempted to Change the Game
Ciera Eastin is very much a modern “big moves era” player. She has shown in both of her previous seasons that she is willing to shake up the game to save herself. Ciera is remembered most for voting out her mom and forcing a rock draw in Survivor: Blood vs. Water. Two moments that CBS could easily sell as game changers – even though they didn’t alter the course of the actual game. In post-merge Cambodia, Ciera was constantly trying to find a crack, making up lies and forcing people’s hands. Her game-changing attempts never quite led anywhere, but her potential as a game changer within an individual season is probably how CBS will pitch her for this season.
Malcolm Freberg is a similar style game changer to Ciera. He hasn’t had an overall impact that has changed the entire landscape of Survivor, but he has made big moves that categorize him as an individual season game changer. Malcolm came very close to making the Final Tribal Council and winning in Survivor: Philippines. He wasn’t able to find the same success in Survivor: Caramoan, but with his back against the wall, he pulled out all the stops – taking and giving out idols in equal measure. Like Ciera, his game-changing attempts didn’t alter his fate all that much. CBS will likely highlight his “Hold up, bro” moment as an example of how he has the potential to change the game at a moment’s notice.
In both of her seasons, Andrea Boehlke found herself in a solid position to change the game, but her attempts failed. In Survivor: Redemption Island, she won the duel to re-enter the game and tried convincing the girls to get together and strike against Boston Rob Mariano. But it was too late, and her plans fell on deaf ears. In Caramoan, she prevented Malcolm from finding the reburied idol. She managed to get the idol for herself and could effectively choose which way she wanted to get to the end. But she didn’t act fast enough and was blindsided. No doubt that CBS will highlight these moments as Andrea’s attempts at changing the game.
This one is a bit more of a stretch. But Troyzan Roberston probably falls into a similar category as Andrea in Redemption Island. Trying desperately to change the game but failing to do so. Up against Kim Spradlin and her dominant all female alliance, Troyzan had to rely on winning immunity to survive. He tried to convince others that Kim was too dominant, but he wasn’t able to get his point across in a way that made people want to align with him. He even had an idol, like Andrea in Caramoan, and was unable to use it to his advantage.
Changed Some Votes
Jeff Varner never really got going in Survivor: The Australian Outback, his game brought to an abrupt end at the first merge vote in a crucial tiebreaker. He tried to make up for that in his second chance in Cambodia, coming out of the gate swinging. The Ta Keo tribe initially split down the middle, with an alliance of “old school” mentality players versus “new school” style players. Varner believed that his fellow old schoolers needed a kick up the ass, and so he aligned his vote with the new schoolers at the first tribal council, booting Vytas who had aligned himself with the old school. But just as it seemed like new school was in charge, Varner changed the game again, targeting Shirin Oskooi at the second tribal council. Post-swap his game fell apart, but he proved he has the potential to change the game.
Debbie Wanner is more of a job changer than a game changer, but she did have her moments in Kaôh Rōng. At the Brains tribe’s first Tribal Council, Liz Markham and Peter Baggenstos thought they had control of the game. Using Debbie and Joe Del Campo as their puppets, they set their sights on Neal Gottlieb and Aubry Bracco. Debbie, however, took the game into her own hands and changed course, mounting a counter attack on the Liz and Peter duo, and sending Liz out of the game. She didn’t get a firm hold on the game again after this initial vote, but she did play with gusto and showed potential to change the game when necessary.
There is no doubt that Tai Trang played hard in Kaôh Rōng. He was constantly looking for an edge in the game. Tai found an idol and won an extra vote advantage. He had many opportunities to change the game. His most significant game-changing votes came post-swap and post-merge. Deciding to vote our his former Beauty tribe member Anna Khait set Tai and his game on a new path, one where the other players started to view him as a flipper. His most significant vote though was when he refused to give his idol to Scot, and instead flipped to join Aubry in voting him out. Unfortunately, Tai was unable to get an actual grip on the game afterward, wasting his extra vote, and receiving no votes at the Final Tribal Council.
If anyone has a better suggestion of where to place Sarah Lacina concerning this theme then, please, let us know. This one doesn’t quite work, but it’s the only category she just about fits in. Sarah was a big part of one of the most manic tribal council’s in Survivor history – Cagayan’s double-idol, Kass McQuillen flipping merge vote. It was definitely a vote that changed the game that season. But it would be disingenuous to say that Sarah caused it – at least directly. If anyone changed the game here, it was Chaos Kass, who was born at this very tribal council. But maybe you could say Sarah’s arrogance as the swing vote was what caused Kass to flip and therefore was the catalyst for the entire thing. This particular vote is likely to be what Jeff Probst talks about when he brings up Sarah in his future cast assessment.
Much like with Troyzan, it’s a bit of a stretch to fit Brad Culpepper into this theme. He didn’t last particularly long in Blood vs. Water, and he actually had early control of the game. His significant moment, other than being yelled at by everyone on Redemption Island that could be considered a “game changer,” was when he decided to blindside John Cody. Brad had formed an all-male majority at the start of the game, but after worrying about the potential of Candice Cody returning to the game, Brad switched the vote from Ciera to John. This blindside changed the direction of the game and quickly led to Brad’s downfall. He also set a precedent for people burning immunity idol clues – so if you want to consider that a game changer, go ahead.
Now it gets to the tricky part of the cast list. Hali Ford was a perfectly likable, quirky character on Worlds Apart. But “game changer”? Hmm. She was a member of the No Collar tribe, she went skinny dipping with Jenn Brown, and came into the merge with a numbers disadvantage and wasn’t able to change her fate. So how do CBS spin her story to fit this theme? It would seem that their easiest option would be to present her as a “potential” game changer. A sort of wild-card. Focus on her quirkiness and how she had a different perception of the game than other players. There is no issue with Hali returning; it’s just going to be harder to fit her into the season’s theme.
It was evident as soon as Caleb Reynolds got stretchered out of Kaôh Rōng that he would be returning at the first opportunity. It makes sense why they put him on this season, even if he doesn’t quite fit the theme. It’s hard to say Caleb was a game changer given that he was only there for four episodes, and all we saw in that time was his relationship with Tai and his challenge performances. They can’t even spin it that his evacuation changed the game for the dominant Beauty tribe, given that their success continued with a Beauty member winning the season, and another in the final three. At best you can maybe say that his early exit lost the Beauties their numbers advantage, but that only really affected Anna – it would be a push to say Caleb is a game changer because Anna went home the episode after he left. Maybe you could say Caleb leaving caused Tai to start flipping? Who knows?!
Much like Hali, Sierra Dawn-Thomas was one of the nicer, more likable people on Worlds Apart. But it’s tough to present her as a game changer. In fact, she had numerous opportunities to change the direction of the game, but she didn’t. Again, like with Hali, CBS would most likely have to focus on her potential to change the game. Perhaps look at how her failure to change the game last time ultimately cost her, and how she regrets that, and how this time she wants to take those chances to shake up the game. On paper, Sierra is probably the hardest to sell on this theme, but there is potential for her to change perceptions.
That’s how we could see CBS spinning this theme for each player. Rather than looking at the subject as “those who changed the overall game of Survivor,” it works better if you interpret it as those that changed the game in their actual seasons. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Survivor: Game Changers – Mamanuca Islands airs March 2017.