Since the dawn of Survivor’s existence, the title of sole Survivor has come with a million dollar grand prize. That kind of currency has been a major motivation for a lot of players over the years. That kind of cash can truly change somebody’s life in the matter of minutes. Within the game itself, another kind of currency is even more important: trust. Episode 11 of Game Changers was like a long reminder for how important it truly is in order to go on and win that million dollars.
If we pull a Memento and start from the end of the episode, Jeff gives us the reminder to close out the show. After Zeke has been voted off in a blind side, like always he ends tribal council with a little quip. This time around he hits the tribe with: “Just because you have the numbers, doesn’t mean you have the trust”. Which essentially sums up Zeke’s episode in a nutshell.
In the same way that you can spend all your money and become broke, in a game like Survivor, you can spend all your trust. With the way Zeke played, fast and loose, and attempted to double cross his alliance with Cirie and Andrea, he was broke on trust very quickly in this game. As soon as his plan to flip on his alliance failed and got Ozzy voted out of the game, Zeke lost any chances that he would ever fully convince Cirie and Andrea to trust him again.
This episode basically hammers at that last point again and again. Zeke and Andrea are both on the winning team and get to go on a reward to a resort. There, Zeke makes a bond with Brad over football. Now on a reward, often players kind of loosen up about the game and try to have some fun. The conversation Zeke is having with Culpepper would often be seen as completely innocuous but in Andrea’s eyes, because Zeke has already broken that trust between them, it comes off as scheming.
Knowing that he backstabbed Andrea and she is not going to just let it go, Zeke similarly does not trust her. In reality, she never did anything to Zeke before he betrayed her but because he broke that trust initially, Zeke knows that he can never rely on Andrea again. He tells the viewers as much when he tries to later establish an alliance between Brad, Troyzan and himself.
Much later on in the episode, Andrea gives a confessional where she reiterates that she cannot work with Zeke anymore. She says that they went from “bffs to betrayal”. This is always an interesting angle with returning player seasons. Some of these people have real life bonds established outside of this game and when it combines with the betrayal that is naturally existing within the Survivor gameplay, it can get messy. No season made that clearer than the original All Stars in which Boston Rob burned down several real life friendships on his way to the final two with his now-wife Amber Brkich.
For Andrea and Zeke, that real life bond exists in the sense that they both played in a knock-off Survivor, Survivor Brooklyn, together. Through that, they got to know each other and become friends outside of the game. When they got put on the same tribe, they became a natural alliance from knowing each other. That’s all good until Zeke turned his knife onto Andrea and things got a little too personal.
Meanwhile, Cirie and Andrea implicitly trust each other. Andrea really wants to go after Zeke because of the initial betrayal. Cirie agrees with her ally because she wants to keep the trust between them blooming and because Zeke is not really important to her game plans. She realizes that in order to boot Zeke, they will need to get Officer Sarah on board with that plan. Cirie knows that it might be difficult because there is trust that exists between Zeke and Sarah. This is confirmed by Sarah herself after Cirie approaches her with the idea to vote off Zeke. Sarah pushes against the idea and later talks to Zeke about maybe evolving their alliance by bringing in different people. She tells the viewers, “I don’t trust them [Cirie and Andrea], I trust Zeke”.
In an attempt to try and foster some goodwill and trust between herself and Cirie, Sarah even shares with her that she has a vote steal advantage. Admitting this to someone else is letting them in the loop to something they were previously ignorant was even a possibility and could be huge for Sarah. If Cirie keeps the information to herself, Sarah knows that it means that Cirie trusts Sarah and wants to work with her. If it gets leaked, it lets Sarah know not to trust Cirie and target her as soon as possible.
So now we have an alliance of six people, Cirie, Andrea, Aubry, Michaela, Zeke and Sarah that want different things and don’t trust each other. They have only been a unit through one vote and that came to be when Sarah flipped on her original group and broke the trust of five people. This group has not really had the chance to test their faith in one another and multiple cracks are already forming because of a rift between two people. This is not conducive to a long lasting alliance that will go to the end together.
Consider the Aitu 4 for a minute. Before Candace and Penner mutinied over to Raro, Ozzy was at the very bottom of the totem pole on Aitu. Should that tribe lose another immunity, he was the next to go. For her part, Sundra was waiting for a merge to get back to Nate who had formed an alliance with the original Raros. As soon as the mutiny happened, Yul, Becky, Ozzy and Sundra were bonded through the experience. They were forced together, but that immediately made them trust each other; it was win or go home for all of them. In a game like Survivor, such a situation can only strengthen the bonds between the people involved.
Parts of the six did go through a similarly meaningful moment. Andrea and Sarah were both present when the Jeff Varner tribal council happened. It could have been a moment that bonded everybody together to form an alliance that might have been unbreakable. I think that because it was Zeke who made the initial betrayal, any kind of goodwill that he had banked up in that moment immediately went away in Andrea’s eyes.
With warring factions within the alliance of six, it became a struggle between trying to keep the group together for at least one more vote or cannibalizing themselves. Sarah desperately wants to vote off Sierra, Andrea is putting in all of her social capital to strike at Zeke. For his part, Zeke may very well have pointed his gun at Andrea but we can’t know for certain because she pulls off yet another impressive immunity win, proving once again that Ozzy was not the only braided badass on this season.
Because Zeke was an important part of Sarah’s game plan, she really works to keep him in the game. She appeals to Cirie and Andrea’s logical sides by pointing out that six against four is not a great advantage. If they vote off Zeke, it only takes one person to break their trust and suddenly they are back at the bottom of the tribe. When she sees that they aren’t swaying, she also tries to appeal to Michaela’s sense of loyalty, which has been her brand since her first season. Michaela also realizes that voting off a supposed ally when the breakdown is currently six against four seems risky.
In the end, it isn’t enough. Andrea is too burnt from Zeke’s betrayal and she only sees the possibility of revenge. Sarah has to eventually acquiesce to her need, realizing that Zeke is not worth Sarah destroying all of the trust she has built up with Cirie and Andrea. Micheala knows she has to fall in line with her side and vote off Zeke even if it clearly breaks her up inside as we see her breaking down when Zeke is booted off the tribe.
As an added bonus, we get to see another group breaking their trust with somebody at tribal council. Despite the edit not showing us anything about this, Brad, Sierra and Troyzan all turned their votes toward Tai, their fourth alliance member. He doesn’t go home and seeing all three members of his own alliance voting against him clearly indicates that they see him as a disposable member and that he is at the very bottom of the totem pole. For a man that is known to be erratic in the game and possesses two idols, that was a dangerous move to make.
The alliance of six had potential for a real Pagonging of the other side. They had the more savvy game players on their team and they had the numbers. The only thing they didn’t have was trust. Unfortunately for them, what they lacked was really the primordial item to make anything work in the game of Survivor. After all, as Sarah points out in her ongoing impressively strong edit, “trust is everything in this game” and if you don’t have it with your alliance, you can count on hanging out at Ponderosa sooner rather than later.