Dust off your torches and bring out your hand-made immunity idols: it’s time for another round of Survivor! If you can believe it, the show is heading into its 34th season of beaches, blindsides and buffs. It’s hard not to feel a little nostalgic with the series, especially since this season’s premiere marks the 500th episode, and I was 10 years old when it started. It’s a landmark moment and the perfect start to another veteran season. (I’ve lost count at the number of seasons with returning players.)
Survivor: Game Changers – Mamanuca Islands brought back 20 castaways who made a significant or subtle move that changed their game, and potentially the game of others, in their previous season(s). As much as I like the twists on Survivor, this may be the flimsiest one yet. The qualifications of a “game-changing move” could be anything! Most castaways throughout the history of Survivor have made a move, an alliance, or a regrettable decision that impacted their placement. Though, I have a feeling this twist may simply be an excuse to bring back certain fan-favorites back to the series.
Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing entertaining players like Sandra compete, and the redemption story they may achieve with their follow-up chance. However, some of these players are currently on their third or fourth attempt (like Ozzy and Cirie) and we’ve seen their gameplay to death. There’s a reason I loved veteran seasons like Survivor: Second Chances, Survivor: Micronesia, and Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains – more often than not it was a player’s first attempt at a second chance. With this season heavily focused on game-changing moves, their current gameplay will be scrutinized more so to see if they’ve learned anything from the past.
Based on the introductions aired of the castaways, they’re all aligned with the same thinking: they need to change their stance from their last season. Cirie is smart to realize that she needs to mend bridges and play a more low key game, while Sandra is the biggest surprise – she’s using her two-win history as a reason for the others to keep her around. It’s a smart move when compared to the other winners. Nobody is going to want to vote Sandra to win a third time; she’s the unofficial “goat” of the season (translation: the person brought to the end with no chance of winning). Though, I have a feeling she could surprise people if she sticks around later on.
Within the two rounds of the premiere episode, many castaways fell into the same traps from their last experience. Tony tried to assert himself as a leader and build his hiding place (which is a strategy that helped him win before), Michaela let personal feelings get to her, Ciera started throwing out names early on, and Caleb was letting himself get influenced by a stronger personality. These aren’t newbies who are getting used to the game for the first time. Many of the castaways have played countless seasons already or have watched countless seasons to be familiar with the styles of others, as well as their own gameplay. Michaela said it best herself when she picked up on her hot-tempered flaw and knew she should’ve kept it under control. Mistakes like that can cost someone the game – it nearly did as it almost caused a flip.
The two challenges featured were true to the Survivor handbook. It included an obstacle course, swimming, a puzzle and a good bit of aiming. The first one was generic enough, but the second challenge was my favorite of the night. The large snake made it more different for the players to move through the water and carry – it’s the small things (like a giant snake) that make a physical challenge more unique. I wasn’t surprised to see the Nuku tribe dominate back-to-back challenges; they have the stronger competitors and Ozzy is in their group. I can’t wait for a tribe switch to shake things up and break up a few of these pairings early on.
We were introduced to two big twists. The “legacy advantage” that Sierra discovered has been updated to make it more worthwhile in whether to use it or not. My only gripe with the twist in its previous season was that the payoff was too far in advance; by the time of play, the original holder had already been voted off and it was expected to be a hidden immunity. Now with the two different playing points (6 or 13 people left), it makes it more tempting to want to play it. The bigger, and more impactful, twist is the removal of the revote. This is a twist we all needed! Many castaways have used the tie-breaking revote as a way to flush out idols or be a safety net – it became a little anticlimactic to see people constantly split the vote. I can’t wait for rocks! Bring out the rocks and let’s start the unanimous voting discussions. I wonder who will be the first person to be unanimously cut…
I’m not surprised Ciera got the first boot of the night. It hurts to see an entertaining player willing to do anything to win get voted off, but she was the easiest option for the tribe. She started strategizing too fast and threw out too many names as the potential target. As much as I like her, Ciera’s past came back to bite her. The others knew what type of player she was and unanimously made the safer choice.
Tony’s vote off, on the other hand, is a shocker. Being a winner automatically put a huge target on his back, but the fact that he got outplayed by Sandra is hilarious. Sandra is the queen of the “anyone but me” strategy and she doesn’t make big moves. Tony challenged the two-time winner and she easily showed why she’s not a useless player – she put together an alliance that turned the tables against him. If Tony had only taken a breath, continued to work with Sandra, and diverted the attention to a different target, he would’ve stuck around. He tried using the same strategy that won him the game in Survivor: Cagayan, but everyone was already familiar with his tactics. Similar to Ciera, he didn’t learn from his past mistakes.
The 90-minute premiere episode set the foundation for an interesting season. A shakeup needs to happen ASAP to break up some of these early alliances and keep these players on their toes. I would love to have an underdog pull ahead or someone who has learned from their past mistakes to update their gameplay to a winning strategy. It’s only the first episode, we’ve got loads of time until the finale to see if that happens.