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Survivor’s sprinkle of twists produces a Tribal Council typhoon

Survivor’s sprinkle of twists produces a Tribal Council typhoon
Jeff Varner and Aubry Bracco make the expressions we had while watching Survivor Game Changers' insane Tribal Council. (Photo by Jeffrey Neira/CBS Entertainment)

Toward the end of the immunity challenge, Jeff Probst started talking about the “stakes”—two tribes going to Tribal Council—”the latest twist in Survivor Game Changers.” That describes this season’s problem so far.

And yes, I’m starting with a problem even after that ludicrously insane crazy Tribal Council. Because while that Tribal Council was crazy and terrific television, it was essentially manufactured by Probst and company. I loved watching it, but the high was so artificial there’s a terrible aftertaste.

After a strong two-hour opening, Survivor Game Changers flatlined last week, and in the first half of this week’s episode, which fast-forwarded through a low-staked reward challenge (just coffee?) and Ozzy fishing (zzzzz).

The solution, it seemed, was to throw twist after twist at the cast:

  • Only two people competing in the reward challenge!
  • Only one tribe can win immunity!
  • Two tribes are going to Tribal Council!
  • Both tribes will go at the same time and vote just one person out!

You get a twist, and you get a twist, and you get a twist!

Jeff Probst hands Tribal Council over to the chaos

What Probst prepared was a Tribal that was bound to devolve into chaos because the two tribes were voting as one, yet had no time to talk or strategize.

The tribes went into it six to five, or actually six to four, with Hali not even with her team—though who can blame her, since Culpepper just called her “blue eyes.” (Between that and his talk of a “Mexican standoff,” I am missing why people are suddenly so charmed by him. So he’s working at camp and performing in challenges. Congratulations on doing the minimum.)

I am still not entirely clear what happened, and don’t have the time or patience to diagram out all of the mini groupings that got together and strategized.

A few things were clear, though:

  1. JT told Culpepper that his tribe was voting for Sierra.
  2. Hali told Sandra to vote for Culpepper.
  3. Sandra’s tribe, Nuku, didn’t listen.
  4. Culpepper’s tribe, Mana, did.

With Tai’s magic idol—which magically appeared at the very last second (hidden at camp, not at a challenge) and changed the game for the tribe with one fewer player—they were able to nullify all Nuku’s votes for Sierra, and vote for Malcolm, who was understandably devastated.

It was crazy and amazing and mind-blowing, and also weird.

Let’s talk for a second about how Jeff Probst basically handed over control of Tribal Council to the cast. I am all for following the reality and seeing what happens. And the chaos made for good television—at least for a moment, until it got confusing. But he didn’t stop it. Instead, he backed further up: “Are you guys ready to vote? I don’t want to break this up,” Probst said, ceeding all control.

After he started the voting, Hali said, “I didn’t consent,” and so Probst sat back down. Since when do the tribe members have to vote unanimously to close discussion? Are they now using Robert’s Rules of Order?

I still don’t understand why Mana chose Malcolm—they have a chance to vote out Sandra and they target Malcolm? And Sandra had a chance to get rid of Culpepper and they didn’t? And JT has a chance to target Sandra and he turns himself into a target instead?

I have many questions.

The biggest question might be just why Survivor went all Big Brother on us.*

In an interview aired before Tribal Council, Malcolm said, “Who knows what Probst is cooking up next?” Good question. But how the producers are going to disrupt the game with twists is not the question we want to be thinking about on Survivor.


* Update: In EW,  Probst explains: “At this stage in our run, our only weapon is that we have so many weapons that you don’t know which one we are going to pull out. So you can anticipate all you want, but you can’t ever be certain you have it right.”

So, expect the unexpected? Come on: Survivor is not about the twists! And the producers should not be needing “weapons” against their cast, unless they’ve done such a terrible job of casting they don’t trust the cast to play the game.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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