Survivor: Game Changers Has A Few Final Tricks Up Its Sleeve

Survivor crowns another millionaire, but not before its final six contestants make a few more historic (and 'historic') moves.

Everything That Happened In Episodes 1-13

The name of the game is Survivor: Game Changers, Jeff Probst reminds us. The cast was packed with players who made historic moves, the season was packed with historic firsts, and, he promises, "more history will happen tonight." Everything is still very much up in the air, Probst assures us. Anything could happen. Troyzan's got an idol, Tai's got two idols, and Sarah's got a Legacy Advantage, in case you weren't paying attention.

But before we get back into the game, let's relive the entire season. Tony made a spy shack! Michaela got accused of eating some sugar! Brad crushed Debbie's heart! Zeke was outed on national television! Cirie got played by Sarah!

As we get little montages of Sarah, Troyzan, Tai, Brad, Aubry, and Cirie, the editors are trucking out some new effects and transition tricks that are sort of neat, so I guess if you're a film geek, this could be fun, but otherwise, it's only been a week since you saw them last. You know who these people are. You don't necessarily need a refresher.

Maybe I'm Amazed

In the aftermath of last week's totally bananas Tribal Council, Cirie and Sarah have an altercation over the fact that Cirie tried to steal Sarah's vote-steal. Cirie explains the complicated reasoning behind the move: she was trying to help Sarah by demonstrating to her that Tai is a rat. Sarah finally catches on, and then there's a fair amount of yelling at Tai, whom, naturally, nobody trusts anymore.

Tai observes that on his first go-round, he came across as untrustworthy and easily manipulated, so his next move of his second time out, naturally, will be to double-cross his alliance again and allow himself to be manipulated by Brad. He confesses to Brad that he's got two idols. Brad's not sure whether to believe him.

The first immunity challenge of the night is the usual obstacle-course-and-puzzle situation, but at least the obstacle course, a giant maze, is larger and more interesting than usual. There's a small amount of suspense when Brad appears to be missing a few pieces, but it's not actually very close. In addition to immunity, Brad gets a reward in the form of some lukewarm, congealed pasta to be enjoyed back at camp, and he chooses Troyzan and Sarah to join him.

The Agony Of Default

Over reward pasta, Sarah, Troyzan, and Brad decide to put their votes on Aubry. Later, Brad tells Tai that if he wants to go to the end, he'll need to give Brad some collateral: he'll have to play one idol for himself tonight and give the other to Brad for safekeeping while the tribe votes out Aubry. Naturally, Tai goes straight to Aubry and Cirie with this information, and Cirie hatches another complicated plan to counterpunch, leaving Tai in the middle of all of the action.

Tribal Council mainly consists of people yelling at Tai. It's unclear whether he chose to go along with Brad's plan, go along with Cirie's plan, or if he's going to strike out on his own and make everyone mad at him. It's Tai, so anything is possible, really.

After the votes are cast, Tai plays an idol for himself...and then pulls out a second idol and plays it for Aubry. Sarah goes ahead and plays her Legacy Advantage, since this is the only time she can play it. And then Troyzan feels a little left out, so he goes ahead and plays his idol too. Since Brad was already immune, Cirie is now the only person for whom votes would count, so by default, Cirie is now out of the game. "And for what it's worth," adds Jeff, "not a single vote in this game was for you."

Back at the soundstage, Jeff pauses the action to bring out Cirie and chat with her about her experience, which I guess would free up some time at the reunion to bring out Sia or interview a random child in the audience or some such foolishness.

Baller Moves

Survivors report to Challenge Beach for Immunity Challenge #2, in which they'll have to move balls through a maze. Aubry is totally onto Probst here: "Balls. Wow."

Actually, though, the ball talk is relatively restrained, because Jeff's way too excited about the fact that his bae, Brad Culpepper, is totally destroying everyone else. If Brad wins this one, Jeff reports in hushed tones, he will have won four immunities, which is almost five, which has only been done five other times in Survivor history. And indeed, Brad does win. While Jeff loses his mind over how awesome Brad is, Brad sticks to the theme and bawls a little bit over the fact that he's dedicating this win to his wife.

Au Revoir, Aubry

Aubry points out to Sarah and Tai that if she's voted out and Brad wins immunity at the final four, he's definitely going to take Troyzan to the end, leaving Sarah and Tai to battle it out for the other slot. If they remove Troyzan from the equation, everyone's got a better shot at making the finals.

Sarah's feeling like she's in the middle of everything again, and she'll need to figure out which way she wants to swing. In order to make a decision, she needs to evaluate whether or not she can trust Tai. Which, given everything we've seen so far this episode, doesn't feel like the surest bet.

Aubry announces her plan to everyone at Tribal Council. Jeff asks the group if there are people left in the game that they feel like they can't beat, and everyone answers in the affirmative except Troyzan, which I guess makes everyone realize that Troyzan is an overconfident blowhard, because Aubry is voted out unanimously.

You Can't Spell Brad Without "Rad"

Predictably, final immunity combines elements from a few of the season's previous challenges. Or maybe it just feels that way, since there are obstacles and puzzle pieces and keys, like pretty much all of the challenges do. And, equally predictably, the winner is the most physically fit person left in the game: Brad. Probst loses his damn mind over the fact that in winning immunity a fifth time, Brad has accomplished something that's also happened in just under 20% of Survivor seasons up to this point. Truly, history was made here today.

Ta-ta, Tai

The vote is a no-brainer as far as Brad's concerned: the person who goes home should be the person who's betrayed him the most times -- namely, Tai. But there are other concerns: for instance, who'd be better on a jury. Brad's not terribly worried about that, though; he likes his chances against pretty much anyone left. "It's my island right now," he says to Troyzan, which is kind of mean when you consider that the only memorable thing Troyzan has done across both of his seasons was yell, "This is MY ISLAND." That's all he's got, Brad -- why take it away from him?

Tai has a plan of his own: instead of rolling over and accepting that it's one of them going home, if he and Sarah vote for Troyzan and force a tie, they'd go to a fire-making challenge. (It should be noted that Tai has a large, oozing wound on his forehead throughout this entire sequence, making it even more skip-worthy; thankfully, he puts his buff over his forehead for Tribal Council.) He raises this possibility at Tribal, but it does no good: everyone votes for him, and no fire-making challenge takes place after all. Tai doesn't really understand what went wrong: people thought he was cute and charming, and he found idols! Isn't that what the game is all about? (No, it is not.)

The Final Countdown

Day 39 begins with stock footage of beautiful sunrises and a big breakfast. Each of the final three reflects on their experience: Troyzan thinks his personality and loyalty will help him win; Sarah made big, scary moves; Brad controlled his destiny by winning challenges, and he likens the upcoming Final Tribal Council to arguing a case in court (which, you'll recall, he does for a living).

Jeff reflects on the historic and record-breaking moments of the game thus far, including Ozzy breaking the record for most days played, Cirie becoming the first person voted out by default, and Sarah becoming the first person to successfully play a vote-steal. And let's not forget mind-blowing fact that Brad is only the sixth person ever to win five whole immunities. But now, he says, there's another historic first: "We'll change Tribal Council up this year." He instructs the finalists to structure their arguments around the three tenets of Survivor: Outwit, Outplay, Outlast, and instead of everyone getting to ask one question, the jury gets to open a dialogue with the finalists, with Probst acting as a moderator.

The Final Council

Zeke kicks off the proceedings by stumping for Sarah, who, he says, played a badass, strategic game. Andrea feels a little gross about voting to give a million dollars to Sarah, who deceived so many of her closest friends in the game, but she observes that it's easier than Brad, who didn't bother trying to forge relationships. Ozzy is fully Team Brad, as is Debbie. Cirie feels that Brad's game was mostly steered by Sierra. Michaela asks Brad to tell the jury anything at all about her, and he struggles to come up with her hometown and occupation. Michaela smugly and oh-snap-ing-ly responds with "No further questions, your honor." Tai agrees that Brad's social game has been subpar: to wit.

Roughly two thirds of the way through the proceedings, Michaela finally asks Troyzan a question, and nobody's more surprised to be called on than Troyzan. He barely gets a sentence out before everyone starts dragging him for riding coattails, and a moment later, everyone has forgotten once again that Troyzan's there. (It was nice of the editors to show him at all in this Tribal Council, I guess.)

Ozzy says that Brad's challenge prowess should win him the "Outplay" title, but Sarah runs with this: sure, Brad was good at challenges, but as a former professional athlete, he should be. Her own "Outplay" toolkit included such baller moves as finding the secret vote-steal advantage intended for Michaela. Honestly, this new format is a huge improvement on the old method of everyone asking a canned question or giving a speech without really caring what the response is; there's a genuine back and forth, everyone's weighing in without it feeling rehearsed, and, oh yeah, Sarah's giving one of the best Final Tribal Council performances of all time.

Everyone delivers a closing statement. Brad says he relied on his athleticism and relationships; Sarah points out that she was in on every single vote throughout the game; Troyzan, who knows he hasn't got a shot in hell, thanks everyone for letting him play.

The Big Reveal

And now it's time to vote! Zeke and Michaela vote for Sarah. Ozzy and Debbie vote for Brad. Then it's back to the soundstage to find out who's taking home the title. Sarah wins it, 7-3. Weirdly, she hugs Monica Culpepper before continuing on to celebrate with her own family.

Hey, did you know that Sarah's a cop, and her strategy this time involved playing like a criminal? You might recall this quote from the 43 times they played it over the course of the season. After a perfunctory five minutes of breaking down her nearly perfect gameplay, Probst can't stand it anymore and turns back to Brad to talk about how awesome he is at everything (apart from, apparently, fashion: he's gone from wearing a burlap sack -- literally -- at Final Tribal Council to sporting a sleeveless dress shirt and pornstache at the reunion). Brad apologizes for the fact that the edit showed him bullying Tai, but somehow not for actually bullying Tai. Probst also finds time to ask Tai why he's such a whiny crybaby.

The mot useful thing we learn from this portion of the reunion is what would happen in the event of a tie at Final Tribal Council: after setting up a very complicated hypothetical, Probst explains that the finalist who's not a part of the tie would be demoted to the jury to cast a tie-breaking vote.

A Peek At Zeke

Probst now turns to the infamous Tribal Council in which Varner outed Zeke. Thankfully, he spends most of the segment talking to Zeke, who speaks beautifully and bravely about his experience with Survivor as both a fan and as a player. When it's Varner's turn, to his credit, he owns up to his mistake and doesn't make it all about him.

The End, My Friends

After that, Probst jumps around to various favorite and favorite-adjacent contestants of his, like he's wont to do at this point in the reunion, and it's pretty skippable, as is the obligatory announcement of what kind of season we're getting in the fall. Season 35 will feature three tribes divided by the most positive traits of their profession, or something: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers. It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but it's okay; we've got a good five months to sit with it.

Probst is just about to put the reunion to bed, and viewers and Survivors alike are about to leave this season feeling generally warm and fuzzy and not at all like anything was a fiasco. Then Varner pipes up and decides that no, he IS going to make it all about him after all, and he pimps a book he's writing. Probst delivers his charity-auction and thanks-for-watching parting words through gritted teeth, and if nobody wants to lose their jobs, there's going to be a PA waiting just offstage with a stiff drink so he can start to forget this whole season ever happened.


Skeptical as I might have been about the concept of Survivor: Game Changers, let alone a few odd casting choices whose game-changing potential may have been in doubt, the season really did contain more than its fair share of memorable moments, complex strategy, and huge moves. It doesn't hurt that it all culminated in crowning a winner who not only played a tremendous game and gave an incredible Final Tribal Council performance, she was clearly not the person Jeff Probst wanted to win.

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