Jeffrey Neira / CBS

Survivor Says Hello To New Tribes And Old Friends

A Survivor alum makes an unexpected cameo, and the tribes undergo a second switch-up that’s very expected if you’ve ever actually seen the show before.

Swap Meet

Aubry -- who went into the last Tribal Council assuming that Michaela was going to be voted out, only to be blindsided nearly as hard as the person who actually went home -- realizes that maybe the player who's won two times in the past might actually be using some Survivor skills to steer the game.

Over on Orange Tribe, Tai -- who received a clue to an idol last episode -- realizes that the board referred to in his clue is probably one of the ones attached to the well. "Wet the boards," says the clue, and thankfully, Tai chooses to wet them with water from his canteen until he finds a marker pointing to his second idol this season.

Without any sort of treemail-related foreshadowing, teams roll up to Challenge Beach, and everyone's suspicious about what's happening next. Zeke, for one, acts way too incredulous about the potential shenanigans to come, if you ask me; there's only a finite number of things that could potentially happen here. It's not like Jeff Probst is going to produce Julie Chen and announce that they're suddenly playing Big Brother; an unexpected invite to join him on the beach almost always means a tribe swap, and indeed, that's what we're getting now: it's time to go back to two tribes. Green tribe, despite having been the most successful of the tribes thus far, is no more. Everyone chooses a wrapped buff, and the tribes shake out thusly:

Orange Tribe: Troyzan, Michaela, Sierra, Hali, Aubry, Cirie, Culpepper

Blue Tribe: Sandra, Sarah, Varner, Andrea, Tai, Zeke, Ozzy

Debbie ends up choosing an empty package, meaning she'll be sent to Exile Island until the next Tribal Council, after which point she’ll replace whoever gets voted out.

No Girls Allowed

The members of the newly-reshuffled Orange Tribe get to know one another. Brad Culpepper realizes that there are a lot of people on this new tribe that he doesn't know at all, so he attempts to suss out some common ground between himself and his new tribemates. Troyzan's a good place to start, Brad reasons, because his wife, Monica, played with Troyzan back in Survivor: One World. More importantly, Brad has a penis, and so does Troyzan, and they're the only two people on the tribe who have them. Troyzan still has a chip on his shoulder from being bamboozled by a bunch of girls the last time he played, so "you are a dude and I am a dude" is actually not a bad sales pitch in this instance.

Varner and Sandra are the odd people out on Blue Tribe, so Varner attempts to make some inroads of his own. Sandra's not quite as bothered by this new turn of events, though; she's pretty confident she'll find a way to continue running the show. To punctuate this sentiment, she drops her new catchphrase for about the twentieth time so far this season: "The queen stays queen."

Zeke, as a superfan, knows Sandra's got to be their next target, although as a superfan, he also knows it's going to be harder than it looks to put one past her. The group concocts a decoy: they'll tell Sandra and Varner that Tai's their target because he's so sneaky. As if to prove their point, Tai decides to go see if there's an idol buried at this camp in the same spot where he found one at his old camp; surprise, there is!

Debbie embarks on her trip to Exile, and admit it, you're cringing right now because you realized the show's about to take their least mentally stable contestant and isolate her from everyone in some sort of wilderness craphole. Fortunately, this time Exile Island turns out not to be an island at all, but a pretty swanky yacht decked out with every creature comfort.

Shortly after Debbie finishes chowing down on the provided feast, a boat approaches, signaling that her time as a tribe of one is fairly short-lived. On the boat is John Cochran, winner of Survivor: Caramoan, who's a relatively easy get, I'd imagine, given his post-Survivor gigs as a staff writer for half a dozen or so mediocre CBS sitcoms.

Cruising And Enthusing

Cochran explains to a starstruck Debbie that he's not rejoining the game (which would have been a twist nobody saw coming, albeit one nobody was asking for): he's just here for the day to serve in an advisory capacity. He watched Debbie's first season, though, so he admits he's not sure what kind of advice he could possibly give that she'd actually take. And indeed, she initially seems pretty confident that she doesn't need any coaching. He finally drags it out of her that there was that one blowup with Brad Culpepper, who was kind of running things, and who now has lots of time to talk strategy with lots of people who are not Debbie, so maybe she ought to be a little concerned about that.

Before he sails off into the sunset, Cochran has one more surprise for Debbie: an "Advantage Option," because at this point CBS has given up on coming up with clever names for its twists and is just shuffling around corporate buzzwords. In this one, Debbie can choose from one of three advantages: a fake hidden immunity idol kit, an extra vote, or an advantage for her tribe in the next immunity challenge. She opts to take the extra vote, and she covers Cochran’s face in grateful kisses. Honestly, that sort of makes me wish Cochran were returning to the game, because Debbie and Cochran is the showmance I never knew I needed in my life until right now.

Challenging; Assumptions

Varner and Zeke continue to bond, and it looks like Varner's definitely buying what Zeke is selling, if only because he's got no choice. Sandra is more skeptical: she realizes that getting rid of either herself or Varner is the only play that makes any kind of logical sense, so at this point she's just hoping that Blue Tribe wins the immunity challenge. And, I mean, they've got Ozzy, so I guess it's not a totally ridiculous plan.

Except that Orange Tribe destroys the puzzle portion in record time. So Blue Tribe's heading to Tribal Council. And to add insult to injury, they're gaining Debbie afterward.

As challenges go, this one's pretty bog-standard, but the fact that the Survivors have spent the last three episodes in a row voting out strong alpha male after strong alpha male means that pretty much anyone who'd be at all good at the physically taxing portion is gone, which makes it kind of fun from a schadenfreude standpoint.

Long Live The Queen

Sandra, knowing her number is up, spins a fresh argument: having three players from the same season (in Tai, Aubry, and Debbie) could cause problems for the rest of the tribe later on. Ozzy, Sarah, and Andrea leave this conversation mildly terrified because they were almost starting to believe her for a minute there. Some additional suspense is added when Tai spills the beans to Varner that Sandra's the actual target.

At Tribal, Sandra further attempts to play on the tribe's insecurities, and for a second, it looks like the tide might be turning a little bit. Sandra asks Tai to suggest a target to her, and he whispers the name "Ozzy" in her ear. Of course, he then announces it to the entire group, which would seem to negate the whispering. While Tai soapboxes about what a threat Ozzy is, everyone else whispers about voting Tai out.

All of this turns out to be completely pointless misdirection. Tai plays neither of his idols, but it turns out he doesn't need to, because Sandra's finally out of the game. More to the point, though, Sandra's catchphrase is out of the game, because the queen is not, in fact, staying queen after tonight.

Verdict

You probably can’t justify missing the downfall of the woman who might well be the greatest Survivor player of all time, but it sure feels like Sandra deserved a better swan song than to get screwed by a tribe swap in an episode dominated by ten minutes of pointless abstract talking heads courtesy of another past winner who isn't even playing this season.

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