Episode Themes is a guest piece from Scoofy, our resident Survivor expert, that takes a look at overarching motifs from each of the episodes. This week, we have themes from the first few episodes lumped into one large piece. Moving forward, these will be separate pieces posted each Monday. 

Episode 1.1 – Anyone But Me

In this premiere episode, there was one overarching theme: “anyone but me”.

This slogan has been the game philosophy Sandra used in both of her games – and both times she won. Typically in a first episode, we get a lot of introductory chatter and a lot of playing nice. Everyone is being conscious to be on their absolute best behavior to prevent giving anyone a reason to give them the boot until they are able to settle into an alliance. As a result, people are just looking for a reason to boot someone else out, someone other than themselves – “anyone but me”.

Beginning with the blue-buffed Nuku tribe, we are reminded of a rivalry that began in Season 16: Micronesia. In Micronesia, the women of the merged Dabu tribe decided to blindside Ozzy. Among those women was Cirie, who is not only also on this season but on the same tribe as Ozzy. We first hear about this rivalry when Sierra approaches Ozzy for an alliance and Ozzy mentions his concerns about Cirie. Sierra, wanting to go along with Ozzy’s plan, agrees that she too has concerns about Cirie. We learn that, while Ozzy may be at peace with his blindside several years ago, he is still wary of Cirie the game player. Later on, Cirie approaches Ozzy to ask them if they are good and if their prior season was water under the bridge, to which Ozzy gives the most unenthusiastic “hell yeah!” one can muster; the two shook hands. Shortly after, while walking with JT and Tai, Ozzy mentions that he is wary of Cirie and mentions that she is not physically strong and he wants to keep the tribe strong. A little bit later, Tai has a conversation by the water with Cirie where she asks Tai to tell her if she has anything to worry about. Tai is hesitant and tells Cirie that she would be ok if she repaired her relationship with Ozzy. Having just had a conversation with Ozzy where they agreed the to leave the past in the past, Cirie was surprised and questions Tai more about this which catches Tai off guard. Tai comes off as incredibly skittish and sketchy while Cirie learns that Ozzy is going to be a problem.

In a tribe where one contestant has bad blood with another contestant and everyone else is just looking to find an easy target to advance three more days, that bad blood can quickly turn into a death sentence for the castaway on the receiving end – especially when the contestant with the grudge happens to be the strongest challenge competitor on your team. Cirie has found herself in a situation where one person, Ozzy, has it out for her and everyone else is just looking to advance one more day without being the target – anyone but me.

Meanwhile, on the red-buffed Mana tribe, we are immediately re-introduced to high-energy Tony. Tony won his previous season while playing the game at a high-speed, including using many idols and blindslinding his allies. Upon reaching the beach, Tony bolts into the jungle declaring that he is looking for the idol. Originally a joke, after Tony realizes no one is following him, he realizes he has a golden opportunity to actually look for the idol. Soon after, Sandra and Caleb follow Tony to babysit him and make sure he doesn’t find the idol; he doesn’t. Later, Tony attempts to build a spy bunker – a hole in the ground that he can slide into in order to eavesdrop on strategy conversations – by digging in the dirt by the tribe’s water well. Troyzan catches Tony digging around in the dirt and immediately asserts that Tony is looking for the idol and instantly tells the others. The rest of the tribe come together where they discuss Tony and whether to target him. In the beginning days of Survivor when everyone is looking for a reason to boot someone, Tony gave them one. However, the combination of Tony’s reputation for finding idols and him being caught looking already causes them to be concerned. Ciera suggests that they split the vote between Tony and Tony’s best ally, Caleb. Ciera immediately gets resistance as Caleb is a strong challenge competitor and the tribe doesn’t want to eliminate Caleb and hemorrhage their competition skill just to flush out an idol. After this discussion breaks up, Malcolm, Aubry and Jeff discuss the previous conversation. Like Caleb, Tony is strong in challenges and the tribe doesn’t want to lose him this early. Instead, Malcolm suggests booting Ciera for playing too hard too fast and throwing names out there. This idea catches on and soon everyone – except Ciera – is aware that the plan is to vote out Ciera. To cover their tracks, the tribe comes up with a decoy plan to trick Ciera with; they tell her they are voting out Michaela, the unknown player from the not-yet-aired Season 33. When Michaela receives word that she is the decoy plan, she has a fit and almost causes the vote to switch onto her instead of Ciera. The tribe stayed the course and blindsided Ciera.

Again, in the early days of a Survivor season, people are just looking for any reason to vote someone out – anyone but themselves. Tony hit the beach and effectively screamed “target me!” as he ran into the jungle. Ciera, who also wanted to abide by the “anyone but me” strategy, wanted to take advantage of Tony putting the target on his own back. But, with Tony’s reputation, she suggested voting out Caleb, who had not yet given them a reason to want to vote him out. By doing this, Ciera effectively gave the tribe a reason to vote her out instead. The tribe was looking for a reason to boot someone out that wouldn’t hinder their challenge performance and Ciera, who was part of the losing puzzle team in the immunity challenge, gave them the ammunition to shoot her with.

Episode 1.2 – The Threat of Being a Threat

Here in episode 2, we have a general theme of “being a threat”.

We start off the episode with a scene of an antsy Tony wanting to form an alliance of threats to protect each other through the game. His proposed alliance of himself, Aubry, Sandra, Malcolm and Caleb. Involved in this alliance are good-to-great social players, good-to-great strategic thinkers and good-to-great challenge competitors. If you built a Survivor Mr. Potatohead of these players and took the strategic acumen of Aubry, the tactician strategy of Tony, the self-preservation prowess of Sandra, the social ability to get along with everyone at any time of Malcolm and the physical capabilities of Caleb, you would have one great Survivor player – the Mana Voltron.

Then, on the other tribe, we have Cirie. Cirie’s threat level has been well-documented among her previous 3 Survivor appearances. Here on her fourth try, it seems that everyone knows Cirie and what Cirie can do. On this Nuku tribe, Cirie realized that with Ozzy and JT as top dogs on the tribe and with Brad Culpepper in the mix, she is probably on the bottom. Cirie tried with Sarah, then Zeke, then Debbie to try and form an alliance to take on the men. Sarah and Zeke gave Cirie lip service, agreeing to what Cirie was selling and then saying in confessional about how they weren’t willing to sabotage their own games to help Cirie. Debbie, meanwhile, was not buying what Cirie’s pitch. One of the foremost threats in Survivor history stifled.

Meanwhile, back at the Mana tribe, the threat alliance started combusting. Late at night, Tony was up and about when he caught Sandra and Troyzan having a late night chat, wherein which he heard his name. When he confronted Sandra and Troyzan, they lied to him and lied to him poorly. Tony immediately recognized they lied to him and associated this lying to Sandra being against him. As a result, Tony decided it was time to drop the all-threats alliance and target Sandra, because he thought Sandra was targeting him. Also as a result, Sandra decided it was time to target Tony because Tony confronted her and she didn’t like that. With two members of the Survivor alliance going head-to-head, the alliance crumbled very soon after it started.

After the Mana tribe lost immunity, it became clear that it was Tony versus Sandra – both, while antics on the Fiji islands caused them to target each other, were being discussed by others because of their prior reputations. Tony is a player who was untrustworthy during Cagayan and plays at a mile a minute. Sandra is a duplicitous player who is looking out for herself and only herself. Tony had the remainder of his alliance (Aubry, Malcolm, Caleb, himself) and Sandra rallied the rest (Hali, Troyzan, Varner, Michaela, herself). However, after losing for the second time in a row to start the season, winning-first Michaela became a swing position with her hatred of losing – both sides having 4 each otherwise. The tribe discussed among each other, trying to flip each other to their side in a winners war. Ultimately, Sandra was able to successfully pull over the members of Tony’s old alliance and Tony was sent home.

In this episode, three of the biggest threats in Survivor were vulnerable to go home. If Nuku went home, it was going to be Cirie. When Mana lost, it was Tony or Sandra. The threat of being a threat was going to cost one of these Survivor legends their place in the game – and it was mostly because of their prior reputation and status as a threat.

The best way to counteract the threat level of being a threat is to surround yourself with other threats. Tony had the correct idea to fill out an alliance with big threats that could protect each other at the merge, where bullets are not necessarily certain to go in any one direction but could go in a myriad of different ways. However, in an alliance of big threat also comes big egos and, in this case, the egos were too hot, causing the alliance to combust into a civil war of sorts.

Episode 3 – Ethics and Morality

The main theme of episode 3 revolved around ethics and morality and how the contestants deal with difficult moral dilemmas. Much has been made over the years of reality TV game shows that, in order to succeed, one should be willing to leave their integrity at home; in order to succeed, one should be willing and able to lie, cheat and steal if the opportunity pops up. Here in episode 3, we have two very different examples of Survivors dealing with these predicaments.

The first of these dilemmas occurs on Nuku beach, featuring JT, Sandra, Malcolm, Aubry, Michaela and Varner. On this Nuku beach resides many wild goats. In the conditions that these conditions play under, having a source of meat and protein that a goat would provide would be incredibly beneficial and desired. In this case, Sandra, Malcolm, Aubry, Michaela and Varner have swapped onto the Nuku tribe from the original Mana time so this situation includes their first time noticing these potential food sources roaming around just beyond the camp’s shelter. At one point, Sandra asks the rest of the tribe if they can catch a goat to eat – perhaps both as a matter of asking if they are actually able to corral one in as well as asking if production will allow them to catch one. JT, the lone original Nuku on tribe now filled with former Mana members, saw Sandra’s interest in goats as an opportunity to get into her good graces: if JT was able to catch a goat and allow Sandra to have a few good meals, maybe Sandra would repay JT by working with him or, at the least, helping him survive this numerical disadvantage he has now found himself in. JT and Malcolm set out to catch some goats. JT quickly catches a baby goat with little difficulty. While JT hands over the baby goat to Sandra to hold so he could help Malcolm catch another, the baby’s mother goat has kept herself within close distance in order to not be too far away from her baby goat, allowing Malcolm to catch her. The tribe brings the two goats back to camp and ties them up so that they can’t run away. Before they kill the goats, many of the tribemembers voice to us in confessional their hesitance of killing a baby goat or a momma goat. Meanwhile, Sandra is steadfast in her desire to eat the goats, mentioning that the goats are here for human consumption. The tribe is faced with a decision between of placating Sandra and allowing the goats to be killed and eaten or voicing their reluctance and risking being ostracized for not being part of the group.

The resolution to this moral dilemma begins when JT mentions that he can’t eat either the baby or the momma. Malcolm mentions concerns about being someone who abandons a baby goat from the mother goat on Survivor. The tribe has an open forum debating what to do. Sandra asks Varner for his thoughts and he mentions that, while he’s hungry, he can’t eat one of the goats and wants to let them go. JT agrees that he felt bad. Michaela points out how they have chickens to eat as an alternative to eating a goat. The tribe comes to a consensus to have a chicken dinner and they let the goats go. In this case, the Survivors listened to their moral and decided that they could not, in good conscience, murder a baby goat and its momma goat.

The second instance of a moral dilemma takes part on the Mana tribe and features Tai and Caleb. Tai and Caleb were very close pals when they were tribemates in Kaoh Rong until Caleb was dramatically medically evacuated off the island on a stretcher. The two remained friends in real life to a degree such that Tai was invited to Caleb’s wedding. During this episode, the tribes swapped and Tai and Caleb were shuffled onto the same tribe, along with Brad, Debbie, Sierra and Hali. Soon after realizing Tai and Caleb were on the same tribe, Probst questions the two of them about their relationship, where the two share a sweet moment of reuniting together. After arriving back to camp, Tai tried to pull Caleb into his alliance with Brad, Debbie and Sierra, making it clear that there is still a strong relationship there. Caleb has a reputation for being a strong player in competitions and a loyal ally to those in his alliances, which makes him an easy person to keep around. That is, until later in the episode when Brad realized that along with Tai and Caleb, Debbie was also from Kaoh Rong and that, if Hali is sent home and this trio from Kaoh Rong bands together, he and Sierra are on the outs of the tribe. To remedy this, Brad decides that it is better to send Caleb home than Hali; however, Brad didn’t want to be seen as the chief decision maker making decisions for Tai. As a result, Brad wanted to make his pitch to Tai and plant some seeds to allow Tai to make the decision for them. After Brad made his pitch, Tai was put into a pickle: stick with his good friend Caleb or stick with his alliance and vote Caleb out.

Tai began facing this moral dilemma when Brad made his pitch to vote Caleb out. Tai and Caleb are very good friends in and outside of Survivor. Caleb would be a strong and loyal ally to Tai in the game of Survivor. However, this loyalty between the two of them made the rest of the tribe nervous and put Tai into this situation. Tai was tasked between keeping Caleb around and risk being a threat later in the game due to Caleb’s presence, as Brad pitched to Tai, or vote Tai out and be a loyal member to Brad’s alliance. Tai ultimately decided that, despite his relationship with Caleb, he should go with his head and vote Caleb out.

It is interesting to note that two separate tribes were faced with two distinct moral dilemmas which resulted in two different resolutions. The Nuku tribe were faced with the decision to kill and eat a baby goat and its mother goat; they maintained their ethics and morality and declined. Tai was faced with the decision to keep his very good ally and friend in the game or vote him out in order to prevent their friendship from causing a target on his back later in the game; Tai opted against his heart and choose to listen to his head (in this case, Brad) by voting Caleb out of the tribe.