Previously on Survivor, Debbie got an extra vote from cameo Cochran, Brad and Troy connected, Varner and Sandra were on the bottom, Tai was super paranoid, but Sandra was too big a threat and was voted out.
I can’t recall the last time someone was voted out without actual votes. I think Fairplay asked to be voted out on the first “Fans vs Favorites” because of medical issues, but that’s all I can recall. This time, the callous and ultimately pointless game play decision by Jeff Varner meant that there could be no other target. He came across so poorly, I can’t imagine emotionally it would be possible to keep him.
Varner had seemingly come up with a decent plan; showing Zeke and Ozzie with a sub-alliance higher than his alliance with Andrea or Sarah, and it was working. Sarah was incensed at Zeke, and wavering on whether or not to vote out Ozzie. But as soon as Varner said “and there’s something else he’s not saying,” I had a terrible, worrying suspicion of what he was talking about. Unfortunately, he did exactly what I was worried about, and although it’s amazing television, it’s a terrible thing to do to someone.
Just because Varner may have friends in the trans community doesn’t mean anything about his move here; I recall the ignorant, racist and overall bigoted nonsense of Colton from “One World,” which he attempted to explain away due to being a minority himself. It is unfortunate, because I think Varner was essentially mostly liked by people until now. I know that I was a fan. I still think he is, at heart, a decent person, but sometimes Survivor reveals how you can be ugly.
It was interestingly an episode full of emotional reactions, with enough shown on the Mana tribe that I wondered if that was a set-up for them going to Tribal Council. The show is going out of its way to show Brad Culpepper in a positive light, with Aubry saying she was “amazed” at his emotional revelations. We also heard something rarely heard; that Survivor changes you. It was, at the time, what I thought would be the emotional apex of the episode.
But what happened wasn’t just the terrible decision by Varner; it was the amazing responses of everyone else. Tai was immediately angry and then introspective about it, realizing that Varner isn’t inherently a bad person, but someone who did a bad thing. Andrea burst into tears — what she hasn’t said is that she already knew Zeke from New York, but I doubt many people knew that.
Debbie was solid and supportive, saying exactly what you’re supposed to say, and even Ozzie calmly told Varner he should be “ashamed of [himself]”. His note about playing with people’s lives was legitimately right on. Sarah had a beautifully self-reflective revelation about her own growth, which is the sort of thing I think people often don’t understand about people who are different from who they are — that people aren’t defined by just one thing.
I was also very impressed by Probst here, who never let Varner off the hook yet gave Zeke enough time and room to compose a response. I know sometimes people badmouth Probst for different problematic behavior, but this seemed pitch perfect to me.
Of course, Zeke came off looking better than anyone else. He spoke clearly about his situation and why he chose not to talk about it on the show, and he also showed a lot of forgiveness towards Varner when he would’ve been justified in being angry. I feel bad for Zeke, but I am also very impressed by his reaction. He won’t convince everyone about his life choices, but I think it’ll be hard to anyone not to respect him.
Next time, the merge arrives and everyone is scrambling.