Survivor: Game Changers has finally come to a conclusion, with an interesting finale that saw a few new twists, some great moments in Survivor history, and the crowning of a new Sole Survivor. While there were some really fun moments along the way, Survivor: Game Changers ultimately fell pretty flat for me, mostly because the game never evolved in a way that I personally found riveting. Some of the most interesting characters in the game were gone far too early in the season, and the ultimate victor of the season gave far too little to the camera for anyone to really buy into her as the hero of the season. I’ll try to break down my thoughts on the finale, the season as a whole, and look forward to the next season of Survivor below:
- We did get the advantage-geddon that I was hoping for at the final 6 tribal council, and to be honest, that moment made up for everything negative that came with the finale for me. I didn’t like how the game went, but I was so overjoyed that we finally got a moment where every single person played an idol or an advantage at the same time. I was kind of shocked with the set up for the moment, considering that Tai seemed to be OK voting in bloc with Brad and Troyzan, but once Tai stood up at Tribal Council to play an idol for Aubry, it became clear what was going down. With Sarah already shocking the crowd by playing the legacy advantage, Troyzan basically had no choice but to play his idol to ensure his own safety, and that just left one person out in the cold. The look of defeat on Cirie’s face was so sad when it became clear that she was the only person left to vote out, but wow, that was a historic moment for the show. It was really nice for Jeff to stop and talk the whole thing over in the way he did, offering up a lot of nice comments for Cirie since she truly didn’t get voted out, nor did she do anything wrong, other than be completely unlucky. I was anticipating that Tribal Council because of that moment, and not only did it happen, but it was actually better than I could have ever imagined it going. Fantastic Survivor moment overall.
- Sarah’s performance to win Survivor: Game Changers was impressive, but her lackluster game-play left so much to be desired, and it totally killed the season for me. Sarah reminds me a bit of Kim Spradlin in the sense that she dominated the social game and controlled the way the votes went down, but did so in such a quiet fashion that it became uninteresting and boring. I try to be objective about Survivor, but I can’t help but be letdown when I don’t feel entertained. Sarah did nothing along the way to entertain me with her game-play, and you could tell from the editing that CBS tried their best to do something with the footage she gave them, but not a lot could be done to make her a likeable, heroic Survivor winner. I do appreciate Sarah’s ability to make everyone like and trust her, and the way she made Brad and Troyzan think she was more of a non-factor in the final vote than she would be was truly magical. On paper, Sarah played a brilliant game, and she deserved to win the title of Sole Survivor. I just didn’t enjoy watching it, that’s all.
- I think the more fascinating narrative of the finale than how Sarah won the game was how Brad Culpepper’s ugly side finally shone through and cost him a chance at winning. Coming into this season, Brad was notorious as the early game villain of Blood vs. Water, who had f-bombs hurled at him left and right from Redemption Island. Brad’s early season was a stark contrast to what we had seen before, as he managed to stay cool and lead his tribe steadily (despite one hiccup with Debbie of course). It seemed like Brad had figured out that his alpha male mentality was his worst trait and corrected his game accordingly, but that all went down the drain after 36 days when the strain of the game got too much for him. Brad went on a crazy immunity streak towards the end of the game, and let that streak lead him to be over-confident and boisterous with people, as we saw with his interactions with Tai. His bullying of Tai really had a damaging effect to his image, and it damaged his relationships in the game too. His anger towards Tai blinded him into missing that fact that Sarah was the true risk to win the game in the end, and that blind rage clearly cost him the game in the end. I think Brad’s game-play is an excellent example of what could go wrong after playing over a month of Survivor; when you get tired, and hungry, and desperate, your worst flaws can take over and ruin your social game. Survivor is a game that lasts 39 days, and while it’s a tough game to deal with, you have to maintain your poise and character throughout if you want to stand any chance of winning in the end. Sarah Lacina won the game fair and square, I’m not taking that away from her, but you can clearly see how Brad Culpepper also lost the game by his own failures.
- I have to give a special mention to the third and fourth place finishers who I really enjoyed watching this season. Tai really impressed me in the finale with his ability to overcome Brad’s aggressions towards him and make some clear, decisive moves on his own. While I thought it would’ve been beneficial for him to work with Brad and Troyzan to the end, he stood up for his pride and moved against Brad, which must not have been easy for him to do. Tai has always been fun to watch on the show, but he’s been pushed around a bit over his two seasons, so seeing him come through for himself, even in a losing battle, was a really great ending to his two season story arc. I also really want to throw some praise towards Troyzan, who happened to be one of my favorite returning cast of this season. I’ve heard a lot of ambivalent or negative remarks about his play this season, but I think he played admirably when you remember his entire game as a whole. At the first tribe swap, Troyzan managed to pull the short straw, getting stuck on a tribe where he was down in the numbers 5-1. From there on he had to play a quiet reserved game to blend in and survive vote to vote, and managed to pull off a really sly move to get an idol at a challenge. His move was just as cool as the one Sarah made to get her advantage, yet for some reason because her move was more recent and decisive she gets praise and he gets nothing (you all can tell I’m salty about this season at this point right?) Troy might have been a bit of a non-factor because he set his mind on just surviving, but I thought he handled the Final Tribal Council remarkably well, and his final arguments were some of the best I’ve heard from anyone in a losing situation. Troyzan might be one of the most gracious losers in Survivor history, and that speaks volumes about his character.
- I’m already looking forward to next season, as the reveal of Season 35’s theme has got me kind of intrigued. It must be hard for the producers to keep coming up with abstract personal traits to separate tribes into for Survivor seasons, yet they’ve managed to do that and keep it interesting. The theme for the fall season will be Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, and the potential is there for a really tense game. Unlike similar seasons, these particular divisions seem much more personal, and have the potential to influence each person’s game play in a big way. I think the casting for a season like this has the potential to be pretty dynamic too, and after having another all-returnee season fall flat, I’m looking forward to some energetic rookies again!