Survivor Game Changers has left me with nobody to cheer for

Between invisible, boring, or fledgling players left in Survivor Game Changers, the gameplay has torn players down more than built anyone up.

When the full cast for Survivor Game Changers was initially revealed, it looked to provide such an interesting, calculating season of gameplay full of interesting characters. It essentially brought All-Star players and second-chancers together in a season where the game constantly changed, with twists and advantages present left, right and center.

It was a recipe for success. Now, with six players left ahead of the season finale, it’s hard to have the same enthusiasm I had going into the season. There are a myriad of reasons for this, with the blame coming down equally to the production and the players. Before proceeding, I should make it clear that the players must absolutely do what they must in order to stay alive, and any negativity surrounding how they play speaks to the results of the actions, not taking the actions themselves.

Let’s start with one of the big complaints about Survivor Game Changers; the number of advantages and idols. Almost from minute one, players were receiving bonuses hidden in events and at camp, including a Legacy Advantage, a Vote Steal and an Extra Vote. Additionally, four Hidden Immunity Idols have been placed in the game, with Tai finding three of them.

Survivor Game Changers Legacy Advantage

Screengrab via CBS

It’s tough to find the balance between what’s fresh and what’s unfair when deciding what to give players, and in a season named Game Changers, I would actually be open to as many advantages as possible. Unfortunately, progress on changing this season up has stalled dramatically, creating an uneven distribution.

Sierra Dawn Thomas found the first advantage in the first week. Troyzan found a Hidden Immunity Idol at a challenge in the second week. Tai finds his first idol in week three while finding a clue to another in week four. Debbie gets the Extra Vote, and Tai found two Hidden Immunity Idols in week five. That’s six bonus items in the first six weeks of televised fun.

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However, with players as seasoned as those on Survivor Game Changers, they’ve typically been hoarding them. Just three of the seven bonus items found this season (a Vote Steal was found in week eight) have been used so far, with last week’s Vote Steal used only because Cirie had revealed it on behalf of Sarah. They were used in weeks three, seven and eleven, respectively.

Survivor Game Changers

“Survivor Jackpot” – Troyzan Robertson, Andrea Boehlke, Sarah Lacina, Oscar “Ozzy” Lusth, Cirie Fields, Zeke Smith, Caleb Reynolds, Tai Trang, Debbie Wanner and Sierra Dawn-Thomas on the third episode of SURVIVOR: Game Changers, airing Wednesday, March 15 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Jeffrey Neira/CBS Entertainment ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

By being reluctant to use idols (thanks, Tai), Survivor production can’t infuse any more into the game. What started out as an explosive, dynamic game has become as predictable and safe as the players have acted. Just one item (the first HII) did anything change the outcome of a vote, proving the game-changing dynamic has become stagnant.

Outside of players being gunshy, some of the production twists have been slowed down, as well. Up until the merge, players swapped tribes twice, learned about the no-revote tiebreaker, produced the first-ever joint tribal council, brought back a forced Exile Island entry in an unlucky draw and forced two players to sit out of the merge feast.

Since then, there have been no changeups to the basic Survivor Game Changers gameplay since the game’s gone individual, further perpetuating the imbalance of the season. Because of all these twists and changeups, this had one of the strongest first halves in years, producing an uneven pace in the second half.

Even in the excitement, one of those early twists proved to be completely unfair for whoever went home. The joint tribal council proved to be a numbers game, with six in one tribe voting in unison against the five in the other. It would have been unfair to both Sierra and Malcolm (the vote targets) because they hadn’t been given the opportunity to socialize with both tribes or try to make a big move. It took the gameplay opportunities out in favor of pure strategy, which is counter-intuitive.

Screengrab via CBS

It’s been a confusing season, and this is in no short part because of the editing. Getting the perspectives of 20 players and making an effective story for the context of a season and an episode, separately, is very tough, but it’s now at the point where you have to read the exit interviews, secret scenes, confessionals and Survivor Ponderosa to get the real story.

From the first episode, it looked like Ciera or Michaela could go home, but we got a 9-1 Ciera exit. Caleb’s vote looked to be a toss-up, too, but he left 5-1. This past episode was the most egregious case, where Michaela was voted out with nobody ever bringing her up as a possible vote. It’s become clear since that she was a proxy target to punish Cirie, but the editors didn’t bother to try to explain that one.

Not only that, the secret scenes and Survivor Ponderosa videos have shown Survivor Game Changers players in the opposite light, sometimes. Michaela, despite getting the mildest (but most visible) villain edit on the show, has been nothing but sunshine and smiles at Survivor Ponderosa. In addition, last week’s secret scene showed Brad getting quite angry and outright vicious in his recount of Michaela’s interaction, counter to his shielded underdog edit in post-merge gameplay.

Survivor Game Changers has given the viewer a poor idea of a story; there’s nobody to cheer for or root against. With the exception of Jeff Varner (who was even given a complicated, remorseful view in his horrendous moment), the emphasis is on being a game changer or making big moves over the heroic or villainous archetypes that tell a narrative.

With the exception of Cirie overcoming her challenge performance difficulties, character growth has been non-existent. It’s like production is scared to paint anybody in a certain light in fears of fan backlash. This season has something missing from it; Survivor Game Changers is a returning season done by the numbers.

“Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow” – Sarah Lacina and Cirie Fields on the thirteenth episode of SURVIVOR: Game Changers, airing Wednesday, May 17 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

All these factors have done a number on the entertainment quality of the players remaining, as the twist and advantage imbalance has made it easier to vote out big threats and power players. All three winners were voted out in the first six votes, with the seven pre-merge players fueling the energy and editorial focus early on. As such, trying to recontextualize the players remaining ahead of the Survivor Game Changers finale has been difficult.

Troyzan has had two fewer confessionals in thirteen episodes (nine total) than Tony Vlachos had in two episodes (eleven total). Aubry has been just as quiet before the last episode. Tai is all over the place. Brad used to have control in the early game but has been a back-bencher since the merge, and the edit has suddenly highlighted his temper that was shown in his first season.

Cirie was the go-to character of interest for the second half of this season, but for all her scheming and manipulation, just failing to read an advantage showed how sloppy her gameplay has gotten. The most seasoned player imaginable got played by a cop who has been playing like a criminal. She would be the best example of someone to cheer for going into the finale had she pulled it off, but now she’s exposed, vulnerable, and likely to be voted out almost immediately.

“Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow” – Sarah Lacina on the thirteenth episode of SURVIVOR: Game Changers, airing Wednesday, May 17 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Barring Cirie somehow winning an Individual Immunity Challenge and forcing herself into the Final Tribal Council, Survivor Game Changers has been gearing up for a Sarah Lacina win. She’s certainly deserving of the title with her moves and gameplay style compared to others, but from an entertainment standpoint, the editors have had little to work with.

From the monotone confessionals to the straightforward, businesslike approach to the game, Sarah has let her actions speak for her over her words. She’s so good in convincing others to do what she wants that you think she’s the only returning player among a core of newbies. That’s more than fine from a gameplay perspective; she’ll likely end up a lot richer for it. But just because I like Kim Spradlin as my favorite winner of all time doesn’t mean I liked her season.

On Wednesday night, CBS will crown one of six remaining castaways as the Sole Survivor and make them a millionaire overnight. However, one of the most important moments of the night will be the official announcement for what comes next. As great as some of the individual moments from this season have been, the pacing has been inconsistent, the gameplay has fallen from fast-paced to sluggish, and the show’s final edit has made it hard to care about how it ends.

A squad of 18 newcomers will help shape a Survivor story of their own this Fall. I cannot wait for them to freshen things up.