Warning: This recap for the “It Is Not A High Without A Low” episode of Survivor: Game Changers contains spoilers.
Every time the Survivor loved ones visit rolls around I find myself wondering how I’d react in that situation. Not that I’d ever volunteer to participate in Survivor. As a scrawny, neurotic type who is pale to the point of luminous and has the diet of a particularly spoilt preschooler, I wouldn’t last two seconds in the jungle. I’d either drown during the marooning or be the first contestant medevaced due to severe sunburn. But let’s say I not only make it on the show but I last all the way to the loved ones visit — I’m not sure I’d react with that same intense, emotional outpouring we see from many a Survivor contestant.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m close with my family, but we rarely express our feelings towards each other openly. Unless sarcasm counts as an emotion? The only time we use the word “love” is in greetings cards, and even then it’s like you’re forcing the pen to do something against its will. I’m British, so that explains a large part of it, we repress emotions so deep it causes stomach ulcers. A firm handshake and a pat on the shoulder is the closest we come to affection. That wouldn’t quite fit in with the melodramatic tear-fest which is the Survivor loved ones visit — it’d just be two people standing with their hands in their pockets making small talk about the weather.
Yet, the loved ones visit is always a powerful moment to those experiencing it first-hand. The pure elation and uncontrollable weeping speak to the emotional toll this twisted game takes on a human being. Thirty days might not seem a long time in the binge-all busyness of everyday life, but thirty days on an island with little food and sleep while playing a game built on lies and paranoia is enough to push you to the brink. In a situation where you can’t trust anyone, to have someone you trust implicitly there to give you a hug and offer words of comfort is a true “game changer.”
That unconditional love is present this episode; whether it’s between spouses, siblings, or a parent and child. Sarah’s husband tells her that their son is doing well. Sierra’s dad advises her to be thick-skinned and keep fighting. Andrea’s mother shares a story about how Andrea lost her sister when she was in high school but how she persevered and grew from that tragedy. Cirie’s son says he feels like he can tell his mom anything. Michaela cries while talking about how hard her mother works to provide for the family. Tai’s partner Mark says how Tai makes him a better person — unfortunately, Mark is a person and not the chicken Tai saved in Kaoh Rong… but still, pretty awesome.
It’s the sort of emotional boost that can push a player through the remaining nine days. But ultimately, it’s the ramifications of the loved ones visit which has the most impact on the game.
The team of Andrea, Aubry, and Brad win the reward challenge and therefore get to enjoy a barbecue afternoon with their family members. It’s an especially great moment for Brad as he gets to spend time with his wife Monica, a two-time Survivor player, former runner-up, and all-around neat lady. Being able to run scenarios with someone who has made it all the way to Day 39, and survived Colton twice, is a huge benefit.
But before we get there, the winning team must pick two others to join them on the reward. It’s a tried and tested twist but is just as cruel every time. At this point, it’s probably wise to throw the loved ones challenge, as no good comes from having to pick between people’s family members. The group decides on Cirie and Sarah, leaving Sierra, Troyzan, Tai, and a displeased Michaela back at camp. “We’ll give Michaela a day, and she’ll get over it,” Andrea says hopefully. But people hold grudges in Survivor — just take a look at Russell Hantz’s Twitter feed, if he hasn’t blocked you.
The winners chow down on hot dogs and burgers, while Brad tends to the barbecue and chats with his wife. You can imagine this is how they relax on an evening at Casa de Culpepper after a busy weekend of antiquing. Monica wisely points out that Michaela might be willing to flip based on her reaction to the reward snub. And she’s spot on.
Back at camp, Michaela and Tai bond over their shared outsider status. Both players feel disposable within their larger alliances. Michaela senses that the reward picks demonstrated where loyalties lie in “the five,” while Tai’s supposed allies all put their votes on him last week. The two agree that they’re in the middle and have the power to decide the direction of the game. When Sierra and Troyzan join them in the water, the four high-five over a new plan to take out Andrea, the one perceived as running the game.
In the end, though, it’s a different kind of love that decides the outcome. It’s not love between family members, but a love and bond built within the game, between players. Throughout the episode, Sarah and Sierra speak highly of their friendship. “Sarah has been my closest friend — not even alliance, friend — while being out here,” says Sierra. Sarah later tells Sierra “I love you” and “You’re my IT girl out here. Like, on a real level.”
It’s perhaps because of this friendship that Sierra bafflingly tells Sarah about her Legacy Advantage. Last week, Sierra openly admitted she’d throw anyone under the bus to survive, and her actions only get more desperate here. Describing the move as a “Hail Mary,” Sierra hopes it will allow her to weasel her way back into the game. She even promises to will the advantage to Sarah if she’s voted out. Is that meant to be an incentive to KEEP her?
Initially, it seems to work, as Sarah is more open to keeping around not only a friend but someone who is willing to share secrets with her. So when Cirie says the plan is to split up the pair of Brad and Sierra, of course, Sarah pushes for Brad as the primary target. But when Brad wins individual immunity, that plan comes to a grinding halt.
Not Here To Make Friends
The two names being thrown around after the challenge are Andrea and Sierra. The leaders of “the five,” Cirie and Andrea, quickly decide upon Sierra as next to go and pass out the info like Brad passes out hot dogs at a barbecue. Aubry says she’s down and that they don’t even need to talk about it again. But while Michaela and Tai nod and agree, they soon relay the plans to Sierra, assuring her that they’re on board for getting rid of Andrea.
It seems like Andrea’s words about Michaela getting over it in a day are going to come back to haunt her in a big way. That is until Sarah decides she wants that Legacy Advantage for herself, and so shares Sierra’s secret with Michaela, hoping to sway her back over. She wants Sierra out but without making it look like she was part of it — like an inheritance-seeking child discreetly lacing their parents’ coffee with arsenic. “This isn’t about making friends, this is about winning a million dollars,” Sarah says, after she does her best to convince Sierra she has her back.
At tribal council, Jeff Probst asks whether you can ever trust anybody that says “we have a group.” Michaela gives a fantastic response when she says: “We is relative to whoever feels like they’re the big ‘W’ at the moment. And that ‘W’ can flip upside down and be a ‘Me’ if you ain’t watching.” Even Probst lets out a whispered “wow” knowing that he was just handed soundbite gold.
Sierra and Andrea believe they have their groups, but both also realize it’s them on the chopping block, recognizing that they’ve probably been made promises by the same people. “They’re either lying to me, or they’re lying to her,” Andrea succinctly puts it. In the end, it turns out the “Me” is Sierra, as she’s voted out 5-3, including a vote from her best friend Sarah, who puts on an Emmy-worthy performance of shock and confusion. “I hope you didn’t vote for me tonight,” Sierra says in her final words as she wills her Legacy Advantage to the woman that just had a hand in eliminating her.
It’s a crafty move by Sarah and continues her goal of playing this season like a “criminal.” My worry is that these flips and tricks are going to prove to be all flash and no depth. Andrea talked last week about how solid relationships are what is needed to succeed in this game, but here is Sarah spewing the classic reality-TV cliché, “I’m not here to make friends.” In a game where your peers decide the winner, is having such a cavalier attitude toward friendship and betrayal going to be respected?
The love of a family member might be unconditional, but the love of a Survivor player can quickly turn into hatred, especially if you’re a lying cop.
Player of the Week
Sarah: I’m getting the feeling that Sarah is going to have a rough time if she makes it to Final Tribal Council, but right now, she is accomplishing everything she sets out to do. She managed to vote someone out and get them to give her their advantage.
Cirie: It’s pretty incredible that Cirie is still in this game with zero votes against her. She’s one of the all-time great social and strategic players and people seem to have forgotten. That’s a testament to how good Cirie is at Survivor. Also, sad not to see the return of her husband H.B. this episode, but her son’s fear of the outdoors all but made up for the loss.
Andrea: It does seem like the target on her back is growing larger by the day, but she’s built solid bonds and positioned herself well to dodge the missiles coming her way.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.