Well that certainly took an unexpected turn, didn’t it? I knew something was up when we entered tribal council with twenty minutes left to go (nearly half the episode), but I couldn’t have predicted that kind of fall from grace.
I think it brought up a lot about the ethics found within the Survivor realm. There are some things that are okay to use against people (career/occupation, money, previous wrongs, etc.) and then there are some things that are definitely not okay to use against people, even in the game of Survivor.
One of the things I found very interesting (and major props to the show editors) was the positioning of everyone as a human being. They gave us heartfelt moments where players talked about life outside the game, their loved ones, their very real lives and how they continue them after a crazy adventure like this. And tribal further emphasized the point that everyone here is a person with real consequences attached to their actions (or non-actions). It was a very well done episode and I’m excited to dive into it. Let’s go.
We kick things off by returning from last week’s tribal council where The Queen (RIP) was finally dethroned. While everyone congratulates themselves on a job well done, Varner is upset about being left out of the vote (which, obviously he would be left out, I’m not sure why that’s surprising to him). He feels wronged and is going to play balls to the wall now… oh boy.
Zeke talks with him and lets him know that he wants to keep Varner around, he wants to work together until the very end. Varner likes this and can see a crack forming. It’s all interesting news on the Nuku 3.0 tribe. But we’ll leave it at that for now.
The reward challenge is pretty standard (but aren’t they all nowadays?). Untie ropes, make a ladder, collect a bag of balls, and catapult balls into nets. TA-FREAKING-DA. It’s not all that interesting of a challenge and nothing of note happens. I will say, though, that the reactions to the actual reward are priceless! I love me some pizza, but I had no idea how much people who haven’t had real food/sleep/anything love pizza! Special shout to Aubry, Michaela, and Hali who make everything fantastic:
I could honestly watch that gif forever. It’s so good. Alas, the girls lose the reward challenge and go back to camp empty stomached once again. And this is where we get our first humanizing of Survivor on the episode.
It starts off with Cirie and Sierra talking about the pizza. 10 pizzas for the entire tribe… that’s more than one pizza each. YUM! The tribe starts discussing life back home and why they wanted to come back out here again. How crazy they were to put themselves through this experience once more. Aubry sheds some tears. Cirie starts crying. And then, of course, Brad Fucking Culpepper starts breaking down. He talks about how different Monica was when she came back after Blood vs Water and how he never really understood.
It’s all a point in the game where people haven’t eaten real food in 16 days, slept probably a few hours a night if that, and are just mentally exhausted from everything this game throws at them. It’s nice to remember that these are people playing the game and not just characters on a TV show. The fan in me is screaming to get out there, but I don’t know that I’ve ever really given though to the “after game life” that they’re all talking about (and I’m not sure many fans have). It’s a taboo little zone that only those that have played understand and talk about. Together.
Anyway, this all segways into Brad Fucking Culpepper finding more allies in Aubry and Cirie, giving him a five person majority on the Mana 3.0 tribe. I’m okay with an Aubry/Brad/Cirie/Sierra/Troyzan alliance, but I’m not sure if that is helpful to my girl Cirie since she’ll be the only huge threat left. I don’t know, we’ll have to see.
Skip forward to the immunity challenge which is actually alright. Pull yourselves across the ocean collecting buoys along the way. Once at the end, use the buoys to spell out a phrase (metamorphosis… which holy shit what a long ass word). Nuku dominates Mana through the ocean part, but the puzzle is the deciding factor each and every time.
The tribes get stumped on the puzzle for a while. Stormtrooper? Shipwreck? Shipmaster? nobody has any idea as to what it could be… until the law student jumps in. Hali takes a look at the letters, “Hmmmmmmmmm” she says. “Try M-E-T-A,” she squeaks out. “Yes, M-E-T-A it’ll all work,” she exclaims. And with that, Mana wins immunity! And most importantly, immunity for Cirie who has NEVER GONE TO TRIBAL COUNCIL YET THIS SEASON! The real queen lives on.
We head to the Nuku camp where Varner knows he’s done for. He asks for one on one time with each of them to make his pitch knowing that it’s probably him. He leaves with Ozzy to get water and the other five take the opportunity to debate merits of voting out either of the two men. Debbie wants Varner out, Sarah thinks it’s time to ditch Ozzy, and Zeke doesn’t know who the better option is.
Varner comes back and pulls Zeke aside. Zeke tells him that it’s a 50/50 split between him and Ozzy, but Andrea and Sarah are going to make him feel comfortable. Varner talks with Zeke for a while and then realizes that Zeke is voting him out as well. There’s a connection between Ozzy and Zeke and the girls don’t know about it. We see Cambodia Varner come out and he’s ready to play hard and fast.
Varner sits down with Sarah and spills everything Zeke said, including the bus that’s now on top of her. Sarah is IRATE. She goes back to Andrea and says they need to get Ozzy out to hinder Zeke. Andrea counters that Zeke will be loyal for a few votes and Varner may not be. It’s decided… Ozzy needs to go.
As we head into tribal council we know that Varner has his back against a wall. He lays it out pretty clearly, “I know I’m the target tonight. That’s not a surprise.” But he decides to throw a curveball at the others, “What they don’t know is there is a connection between Ozzy and Zeke. Y’all are left out and at the bottom of this. So vote with me, and we can turn things around.” Debbie likes it, “That’s a good pitch.” People are nodding in agreement. Maybe Varner has flipped things in his favor? Maybe he can make it out alive? Maybe he…
“Zeke, why haven’t you told them you’re trans?”
It’s a moment where you can hear a pin drop. Everyone looks at Varner, takes a second to process the words he said, and then lays into him. Andrea screams that he messed up big time. Tai is crying saying Varner should know better. EVERYONE is upset at Varner for making a huge mistake, in and out of the game context. Varner tries to defend himself, but instead just digs his hole deeper. Any chance he had to stay has firmly gone out in the ocean. The guy is totally fucked.
The rest of tribal is really focused on the issue of outing someone without their consent. We all know Varner is going home, so let’s talk this through instead. Tai, a gay man, knows that what Varner, another gay man, did was absolutely wrong. By outting another person you effectively take away their voice and put them in a position that they may not have been ready for. Andrea scolds Varner because he should know better than to do something of that nature. Even Sarah, the midwest cop with a very conservative background, talks about the change she’s seen in herself now knowing this information. “Even though it was wrong for this to come out this way, I’m glad it did because it affirmed for me that you are no different.”
Zeke talks about his journey on Survivor and wanting to be known as the player and not the trans person who played. He wanted people to know all of him rather than focus on one part of him. Honestly, he has a really good attitude to the whole thing, considering he was robbed of his voice just ten minutes earlier. Even as Varner tries to bring back the good person by saying there’s no bigger cheerleader than him for Zeke, Zeke responds with, “I don’t need a cheerleader.” It’s a well handled tribal council, especially when Probst basically says, “We’re all good here? Varner is leaving? Alright, Varner, bring me your torch.” It’s a subtle way to say, you know what you did was wrong and you need to leave immediately.
And that’s it. I may do a deep dive into the Ethics of Survivor at some point because it brought about a good conversation of what’s acceptable within the realm and context of this game. Can I use a person’s occupation against them? Yes. Can I use a person’s faith against them? Probably not. Can I use a person’s gender against them, whether known or not? No. But there are lines within each of these, aren’t there? And how do we find the balance of them and what we can and cannot use without getting ourselves thrown into the fire? It’s an intriguing idea.
That’s it for this week’s recap! Check out our Power Rankings from last week to see where Varner ranked on our board and the Player Recaps to see if everyone’s story continued on the same path. We’ve got a good week coming at you, I can feel it, so stay tuned!