The queen has been dethroned, well for this season at least. Sandra will always be the queen of Survivor and honestly this season did more to cement that than any of her wins, but we will get to that. First we have a tribe swap, exile island and idols galore to get through. So let’s break it down!

We start out at Nuku on Night 13 right after J.T. was voted out. Aubry is very congratulatory of the other three and tells us in confessional that she always seems to be on the bottom. Aubry then asks Sandra why they kept her over J.T. and she says it just came down to getting revenge for Malcolm. Aubry then continues her confessional telling us that she knows Sandra is running the show and constantly cutting Aubry’s legs out from underneath her. Aubry continues and says that maybe she could learn a thing or two from Sandra.

Over at Mana on the same night, Tai is thinking about the immunity idol clue he found and decides that it meant the idol is at the well. He wets every single board attached to the well to try and find the tribe symbol. Finally, on the last one he finds it and digs. He finds his second idol within the week. The fun does not end there, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We have a tribe swap to get to.

The tribes arrive to the challenge beach for what should be a reward challenge and are confused why they had to bring the tribe immunity idols. Probst tells them its time for another swap and Aubry is visibly excited. They all draw buffs and tribes shake out like this:

Mana:
Troyzan
Michaela
Sierra
Hali
Aubry
Cirie
Brad

Nuku:
Zeke
Sandra
Tai
Varner
Sarah
Ozzy
Andrea

Debbie is left confused because he buff had nothing in it. Probst tells her to stand in the middle and explains that she will be going to Exile Island. Whatever tribe loses the immunity challenge and votes someone out will get Debbie for the next immunity cycle. Probst asks Debbie how she feels about this arrangement and she says that she is optimistic.

We then head to Mana to get to know the new tribe. Troyzan tells us that he is happy because he is not longer at the bottom of the totem pole. There are four original Mana and three original Nuku so he feels safe. Brad, on the other hand, is worried because he is on a tribe with a lot of people he does not know and he is worried by the fact that Troyzan and him are the only two guys on the tribe. The two of them go off and end up bonding over their Survivor One World connection (Troyzan played with Monica, Brad’s wife, on that season). Brad tells Troy that he and Sierra are tight and loops him into that alliance. Brad is just trying to build a majority coalition in case they have to go to tribal council.

Over at Nuku, Jeff and Sandra are bummed out because they know they are screwed if they cannot make a miracle happen. They are both original Mana, while everyone else is original Nuku plus the fact four of the five of them were on Tavua together. Sandra says she is staying calm though and will try to work some of her magic. Zeke and Ozzy start talking right away about getting Sandra out and realize for it to work they need it to be a blindside. They come up with a story about being fed up with Tai to feed them and keep them sedated on the strategy front. They also realize for this to work they need to insulate Tai so that he won’t get freaked out and spill the beans. While all of this happening Tai realizes that maybe he can find the Nuku idol in the same place he found the one at Mana and goes looking. Then, like the idol magnet he is, he finds his third idol of the game and second in his possession. Tai tells us how excited he is and also says he has no idea what he is going to do with them. As a side note here, Tai has tied the single season record for most idols found with three. He ties Tony and Russell, but he did it in just 15 days which is really impressive.

We then head over to exile island, which is not really an island, but a luxury yacht. Its stocked to the nines with food, comfort items, and alcohol. Exile is now some kind of reward instead of a hardship. As Debbie is relaxing and enjoying her food she notices another boat pulling up and its our former Survivor surprise visitor. The boat pulls up and its John Cochran! He is there for her to bounce strategy off of and be a sounding board. This is actually a cool reward and would have been useful for anyone, but Debbie. She is just too overconfident to take anything Cochran said to heart. For me, I was just happy we got to have Cochran confessionals in an episode again, as I think he is one of the show’s best narrators of all time. They do talk about the Brad blow up and Cochran advises her to appease people more and mend fences. Then he tells her that he has one more game changing advantage for her. She gets a choice of a fake hidden immunity idol kit, an extra vote or a tribal challenge advantage to be used at the next challenge. Debbie picks the extra vote and then they end up hugging it out as Debbie has an emotional release. It’s the most awkward and simultaneously Cochran thing of all time. He then says if she takes some of his advice she could do well.

Let’s take a second to talk about this as a whole. First of all, in my opinion, Debbie got way too many advantages for just a random draw. If they wanted to stick with the random draw, exile should have been legitimate exile. That way the other two advantages would be just enough. If they really wanted to do it like this then they should have done a school yard pick for tribes. That way the person not picked who thinks they are screwed actually is essentially being picked for all of this reward. The idea of having a sounding board is great and having Cochran being the sounding board is perfect. It’s too bad it was Debbie where it was not that useful. Even if it was not useful we could have gotten great TV. Could you imagine Cochran trying to tell Sandra how to play the game or having Ozzy go there and be like “Goddammit, not this guy again”. That would have been gold. Finally, as for the advantage chosen I think she chose the wrong one. The extra vote is very hard to deploy effectively and is only useful in certain situations. The fake immunity idol kit could have lasting impacts in multiple ways, while the immunity challenge advantage is basically a free win and a free pass from going to tribal for three days. In this case that would mean a free pass for your whole tribe to the merge. Either of those would have been so much better than the extra vote.

After this lengthy scene we head over to Nuku where Varner and Zeke are bonding. Varner is paranoid because he has never made a jury and that’s all he wants this time. Zeke is trying to bond so that he can exploit that relationship in the future. After some bonding time he drops the Tai story to Varner to tell him he is safe. Varner buys it hook, line and sinker. He even passes the story on to Sandra who says that she will definitely put Tai’s name down if it came down to it.

We then head to the immunity challenge which is a doozy. They tribes start on a platform and dive into the water. They must swim to a monkey bar structure and all get across that. From there they head to a raised platform with a large sled on it. They must drag it along the platform while some tribe mates pass big puzzle pieces to the people dragging the sled to put in it. Once they have all of the puzzle pieces they must drag it up the beach to a stopping point where they must solve a puzzle using the pieces. Since both teams are even no one will be sitting out this challenge.

As the challenge starts Mana is out to an early lead that only gets bigger as Sandra and Varner have trouble getting across the monkey bars quickly. Brad and Sierra are lifting the pieces for Mana while Zeke and Ozzy are lifting for Nuku. Nuku ends up closing the gap a little as the trip up the beach is grueling. Mana still gets to the puzzle first and have Sierra, Cirie and Aubry  solving it. Nuku finally gets to the puzzle and Zeke, Ozzy and Sandra start working on it. They barely get a piece in before Mana already has it solved in record time to win immunity. As we leave the challenge we get a confessional that Varner thinks Tai is going home for sure.

Back at Nuku everyone is super quiet as they all start to assess their situation. Zeke is super intent on getting Sandra out, while Sandra tells us that this is the first time she feels like something could go wrong. She starts to get to work and talks to Zeke, Ozzy, Sarah and Andrea telling them that the merge is right around the corner and that there are still three former Koah Rong castaways in the game. She offers to be there mole and shield. Sarah then tells us in confessional that she has Sandra pegged. Her exact quote is:

“The reason Sandra has won twice is that she doesn’t come off as the most dangerous person in this game. I almost feel like the way Sandra talks to people is she’s grooming us. She doesn’t pressure you, her voice never raises.. it’s calm.. and she just starts to suck you in.”

It’s a fantastic read on Sandra and really shows you how good Sarah is at reading people. This description is interesting, especially considering Sarah’s profession as a cop, because as I saw it described online, it sounds like Sandra is a cop grooming an informant. It’s why Sandra is so good. Ozzy even says he almost fell for it, but definitely wants her out. Tai starts getting nervous because he feels like he is not in on any of the conversations going on. He says that he is not as smart as the people around him and that worries him. He talks with Varner and Ozzy and spills the beans that Sandra is the target. The original Nuku alliance is now worried that their plan could be messed up. Varner tells Sandra about this and she says she is going to turn the heat up on Tai at tribal because she can out talk him.

At tribal they talk about how all of the big threats are being voted out. Sandra tells Probst that she thinks her time is up in the game because she has not heard strategy from anyone. Tai chimes in and says he is worried as well. As he talks he keeps looking at Sandra for some reason. When asked abut names being thrown around, Sarah says that she has heard a few names and once again Tai is worried. Sandra tells Tai that she is willing to work with him and he decides that he is going to tell her a name to vote for. Sandra then turns and talks to Varner. A bunch of whispering breaks out and then Tai says that he might as well just share the name with everyone and says that he told her Ozzy. He wants to continue the trend and vote out the biggest guy. Zeke then whispers to Ozzy asking if they should change their vote. Whispers start flying around throwing out Tai’s name. Eventually Zeke directly talks to Tai and asks him who he trusts because he does not seem to trust anybody. Zeke accuses him of looking for the idol all of the time and Tai denies it. Varner follows all of this up by asking if they can just vote and everyone agrees. The votes come in and Probst asks if anyone wants to play a hidden immunity idol. Tai holds firm onto both his idols and does not play one. The votes are read and an era draws to a close. Sandra is very gracious in defeat and Probst says that for the first time in 94 days her torch will be snuffed. He toys with her a little bit as he stops the snuffer inches from her torch while she pleads with him not to do it. As she leaves everyone claps for her.

Alright a few things to clean up here. First of all an interesting thing came up in the exit interviews as Sandra said that she thinks her tribe threw the challenge to get rid of her. This may not be as wild of a claim as it seems if you look at the who did what in the challenge. First of all Ozzy is the last one to dive off the platform and it seems like he could care less at that point. Then for some reason Varner is the one in front holding the rope and providing the main thrust for dragging the sled. I feel like that should have been Ozzy, no offense to Varner, but he is not exactly a challenge beast. Finally, in the little they showed of the puzzle Zeke and Ozzy seemed to just be standing around dumbfounded not really doing anything. Plus we know Ozzy is not above throwing a challenge as he did it in Cook Islands. There is no way to know if this is true, but it is a possibility.

Another question that came up was why the Nuku alliance stuck to their plan and voted Sandra when the tide seemed to be shifting towards Tai. This seems to be a little more complicated, especially when you consider the fact that Tai did not play any of his immunity idols. As a side note if you have two idols and there is that much heat on you at tribal, you play one! You have one to lose so why be greedy about it? Anyways one of the suggestions was that all of the Tai stuff was an act put forth to pull the wool over the eyes of Sandra, but I don’t buy it. There is no way Tai is that good of an actor and that seemed like real panic on his face. If he is that good then give him an Oscar right now. I think they just felt like Tai was not that much of a liability in the long run and they would rather take down the queen instead. Also Sandra said in her exit press that Tai kept grabbing his pocket like he had something in there, so she thinks that spooked Ozzy.

Finally, let’s discuss the legacy of one of the greatest to ever play the game. I said at the beginning of this article that I believed this season did more to cement her legacy than her two wins and I stand by that. In her two other seasons she was relatively under edited and we did not see much of her game. All we knew was that she was sassy, loud and played the “anyone but me” game. This time we saw the side of her that we had not seen in the edit the other two games. It was definitely there the other two times, but we saw it more this time. We saw the smooth talking and elegant ways she used to get people to trust her. She also just plain knows this game. She is a fan and has seen everything so she knows how everything works. Even more impressive is the fact that despite being a two time winner it took until her fifth tribal council of the season for her to even get one vote! Her name came up every single episode, but she did not get a single vote until this week. That is impressive. I am sad to see her go because I love Sandra and could you imagine her on a jury? That would be so awesome, but that is the way this season is going and its time for new people to shine. A lot of people are bummed that all of their favorites are going out early and I am too, but I am a glass half full kind of guy and I look at it as an opportunity for new legends to arise. Don’t judge the characters by their past season, but by what they can do this season and your enjoyment of the season will increase.

Well that’s all for this week. Next time we have a Mana break down, imploding alliances and Varner trying to make his jury wish happen. Should be interesting as it is going to be the last episode before the merge. Sorry this was a little late, I was indisposed all day yesterday and could not find time to write it. Also sorry for no movie news update last weekend, it was a busy weekend and I had no time. I will make it up by trying to do a supersized two week one this week. That should be up tomorrow at some point. Thanks for taking this ride with me! Until next time!

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