This episode has everyone talking for one main reason, and we’ll get to that controversial and emotional Tribal Council, but first we will blaze through the rest of the episode.
Players at the start of the episode (14)
Mana: Aubry Bracco, Brad Culpepper, Cirie Fields, Hali Ford, Michaela Bradshaw, Sierra Thomas, Troyzan Robertson (7)
Nuku: Andrea Boehlke, Debbie Wanner, Jeff Varner, Ozzy Lusth, Sarah Lacina, Tai Trang, Zeke Smith (7)
Night 16: Nuku
Varner felt blindsided by Sandra’s vote off, and tries to find an opening should the tribe go to Tribal Council again before the merge. Zeke assures him that
Day 17: Reward Challenge
“Mana getting your first look at the new Nuku tribe. Sandra, the only two time winner is finally voted out after 94 days of playing this game”-Jeff Probst.
The queen stays queen even when she’s not in the episode. Nuku manages to win the reward challenge, and the reward of 10 whole pizzas and a side of soft drinks. Ozzy was the MVP of that challenge. Despite it being a reward challenge, the loss demoralized Mana almost as much as an immunity challenge loss would have.
Day 17: Mana
There was a lot of resentment towards Nuku for winning such a huge reward. Sierra and Aubry began a conversation about how only people who have competed on the show can understand what they go through. It’s true; it’s easy for us at home to minimize the experience and think that “this is a reality show, they would not really let people starve” but this is real. It’s a tough game with real implications. People who go to the end usually lose upwards of 25 pounds. Culpepper joins the conversation and gets emotional, saying he did not fully appreciate what his wife Monica, who played two seasons and got to the end her second time, and now he really does appreciate her accomplishments. Aubry and Cirie thank Brad for opening up and Brad considers them to be potential allies.
Day 17: Nuku
Nuku is on cloud 9 after their reward challenge victory. However, Varner is not completely happy because he knows he still has work to do. Varner approaches Sarah with the plan to vote Ozzy out before the merge. Sarah is on board, thinking that this move would cement her status as a game changer.
The Immunity Challenge was a close one but it came down to the word puzzle. Hali managed to solve it, the answer being “metamorphosis”. Probst referred to the word as a core theme of the game, as you will grow as a person as you progress through it. Unfortunately for Nuku, this sends them back to another Tribal Council. Upon returning to camp, Varner asks if he could make a pitch to everyone individually and after that, he won’t strategize anymore. Afterwards, Zeke informs Varner that he has a likely chance of going home despite Varner’s efforts to shift the target off of him. Varner did not feel that Zeke was sincere in protecting Varner, and tells Sarah and Andrea that Zeke is trying to protect Ozzy to benefit Zeke’s game and he threw Sarah and Andrea under the bus by telling Varner that they were the ones trying to blindside him. Not content with that, Varner prepares to fully flip the script on Ozzy and Zeke with a big reveal at Tribal Council.
Day 18: Tribal Council Nuku
Varner explains to Probst why he feels he is on the bottom and then reveals that Ozzy and Zeke are working together and are planning on taking out the women (Andrea, Sarah, and Debbie) later on in the game. He does his best to convince the tribe to vote out Ozzy, but before he could do so, he takes it a step too far.
Varner outed Zeke as transgender, asking why Zeke withheld that information.
Zeke was shocked and did not say a word. The rest of the tribe and even Probst was speechless. Before Varner could fully continue to explain himself, Andrea, Sarah, Ozzy, Debbie, and Tai blasted Varner for outing Zeke. Ozzy was disappointed in what Varner was capable of doing just to move forward in the game. Tai was appalled, especially as a gay man himself, since he was adamant that regardless of what your identity in the LGBTQIA community is, you have the right to reveal it at your own time. Debbie, Sarah, and Andrea come to Zeke’s defense and express how glad they are to have gotten to know Zeke as a person, regardless of his gender. Sarah adds how despite her unfamiliarity with the LGBTQIA community due to her conservative background, this has opened her eyes and she’s glad to be Zeke’s friend.
Varner realizes what an awful decision he made and the consequences of his decision, and begs for Zeke’s forgiveness. Varner explains that he thoughts everyone in Zeke’s world knew, but he was gravely mistaken. Zeke said he just wanted to be known as a good player not as “Zeke the transgender player” and his tribe confirm that he will be known in the way he wishes to be known. Probst commends Zeke for his strength during this difficult period.
After an intense discussion, Probst sees no reason to go to a vote. Andrea, Debbie, Ozzy, Sarah, Tai, and Zeke are in agreement that Varner is receiving their votes and Varner concedes defeat. Jeff Probst asks Varner to bring his torch, snuffed it, and sends Varner off. Zeke did give Varner a hug and assured him he forgave him on the way out.
“Tonight was a complicated but ultimately a beautiful night that will never be forgotten”-Jeff Probst
On that note, before I continue, I wish to share my takeaway from this incident and what I hope everyone does take away from it as well.
Tai, said it best: each person has the right to decide when they wish to reveal their identity public ally. If someone you know confidentially informs you they are Transgender or Bisexual or Queer or anything, do not tell anyone else. Do not assume they are ok with you telling them, regardless of what you think. Be very cautious of your words and actions because they have real consequences that cannot be undone. If you did not realize how important this is already, I hope you will now. This is something we all need to understand and live by.
Dock of Shame: Jeff Varner
JT tainted his legacy by making another dumb move, while Varner did the same except with a cruel personal move. After the swap that put Varner and Sandra in the minority alliance, I was worried that Varner would bear the dubious distinction of being the only three time player to never make the jury. Instead he inherits being the cause of one of the most brutal moments of Survivor history. I want to commend Varner on how well he played up to this point, but it’s hard to because of the unfortunate way he not only self destructed his own game but made a personal attack. Varner may not see it as a personal attack, but how else can you describe otting a transgender person? He immediately regretted his decision and saw what he did wrong though, so I hope he can learn from this and use this to do good in his community. If Zeke can forgive him, so can I.
By the Numbers:
4: The numbers of remaining original Mana players still in the game. So far Ciera, Tony, Caleb, Malcolm, Sandra, and Varner have been voted out, leaving only Aubry, Hali, Michaela, and Troyzan.
11: Including Cirie, 11 players have made it to the merge without going to a single Tribal Council. These players are Abi, Artis, Lisa, Pete, RC, and Skupin in Survivor: Philippines, Joe and Keith in Survivor: Cambodia, and Michelle and Nick in Survivor: Kaoh Rong. Of these players, only Michele Fitzgerald have gone on to win the game.
13: A continuation from the previous recap’s stat: the number of Tribal Councils Jeff Varner has attended in his 50 day Survivor career. I am a firm believer in the mental toll Tribal Councils, especially repeated pre merge visits, take on players. Varner visited 6 of the 7 Tribal Councils so far this season. The only winner to attend 6 Tribal Councils pre merge was Denise Stapley of Survivor: Philippines.
88: The numbers of days Andrea has played Survivor. Since the other players have either fell short, exceeded, or will not achieve 100 days played this season, this will become Andrea’s stat until either she achieves it or is voted out.
Survivor: Olympic Podium
Gold: Sandra (2), Brad, Tai, Zeke (1)
Silver: Jeff (2), Brad, Sarah, Sierra (1)
Bronze: Hali (2), Brad, Malcolm, Sarah, Troyzan (1)
Current Leader: Brad Culpepper: 1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze (Sandra is no longer in the game so she isn’t considered the leader as of now)
Due to the circumstances of tonight’s vote, I will do things differently. There will be no bronzes but 5 silvers and 1 gold
Silver: Andrea, Debbie, Ozzy, Sarah, and Tai
Their support for Zeke in this Tribal Council moved me. Each of them immediately denounced Varner’s personal attack and approached the situation the best way possible. I commend each of them for that and they deserve to be acknowledged. That is how you truly act like an ally for someone in the LGBTQIA community.
Gold: Zeke Smith
Likewise, Zeke handled this the best he could as well. He had every right to lash out or condemn Varner for his actions, but instead he extended the olive branch. Forgiving someone is very hard to do, especially in a high stakes environment such as Survivor. I am sure everyone has neglected to forgive someone who wronged them. I urge you to forgive that person if possible. Back to Zeke, gamewise he has continued to do well. He might have made a mistake telling Varner he was going home, but worst case scenario Ozzy would have been targeted instead of Zeke. It is clear he has made strong relationships with his fellow tribemates and he has a good chance of finding a solid group to move forward with.
Next time on Survivor:
The final 13 castaways reach the merge. If past seasons of Survivor are any indication, this will be a vital turning point in this game and this is where the gameplay reaches a new level.