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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A desperate player makes the ugliest move in Survivor history

Tai, Zeke, Sarah, Ozzy/CBS
Tai, Zeke, Sarah, Ozzy/CBS
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  • The queen, alas, did not stay queen, and the rest of Nuku return to camp, now with bonus Debbie. She spins a yarn about having a tough time on Exile, giving the episode its title. Tai tells us he’s terrible at Tribal, which we knew. Varner knows he’s low man on the totem pole and goes to work on Zeke, who says he wants to work with him. “Whatever you want to know,” says Zeke. Hold that thought.
  • Reward challenge: We’re playing for pizza, but Probst is giving out no free samples. Ten pizzas for the winning tribe! That certainly won’t cause any #gastrointestinaldistress back at camp. Mana trails on the obstacle course most of the way, and the ball-launch is a tailor-made Ozzy special, so it’s never really close.
  • No one has been airlifted out this season, so it’s time to remind the viewer at home that Survivor is hard by dropping in on the pizza-less Mana tribe as they commiserate over the emotional toll the game takes. The Culpepper redemption tour continues as F-U Brad sheds some tears and draws on Monica as a source of strength. Aubry finds him to be genuine, as does Cirie. Since he’s already aligned with Troyzan and Sierra, it looks like Hali and Michaela are on the outs on Mana.
  • After celebratory pizza, Varner gets to work on turning Nuku against Ozzy. Sarah is open to the idea. The Immunity Challenge involves pulling rafts to different stations and collecting buoys that form a puzzle. Nuku gets out to a lead again, reaching the puzzle station while Mana is still diving for buoys. The puzzle is harder than it looks, though, and Mana pulls it out when Hali calls out “Metamorphosis.” Might have made a good episode title.
  • Varner says he’ll make his pitch one-on-one and be at peace. Sarah is pushing for Ozzy over Varner, but Zeke doesn’t want to lose Ozzy as a meat-shield. Varner scrambles, telling Sarah and Andrea that Zeke is working with Ozzy to screw them over. But more than that, he says he knows something about Zeke nobody else does. Uh-oh…
  • Ugh, this is so unpleasant and unfortunate, but here we go. As a way of demonstrating Zeke’s “capacity for deception,” Varner outs him as transgender. Zeke is absolutely shell-shocked by this, and the rest of the tribe immediately turns on Varner, quite rightly calling him out for trying to gain a strategic advantage in such a despicable manner. It’s a raw, hurtful scene all around, and Varner soon realizes he’s fucked up in a big way. We’ve become accustomed to the notion that all is fair in Survivor and betrayal is just part of the game, but this is something else entirely. This was Zeke’s story to tell at a time and place of his choosing, or never at all if that’s what he wanted. And for crying out loud, Varner is a gay man who grew up in the South! Of course he knows this!
  • After the initial shock wears off, Zeke handles it like a champ. He’s been a fan favorite on the show for a season and a half now, so if any good can come of this clusterfuck, it might be that some transphobic viewers out there might realize there’s nothing to be afraid of if their TV friend Zeke is trans. That in no way excuses what Varner did, and while I’m sure he’s been beating himself up about it since the night this took place, it’s still a hugely disappointing turn of events. Until now I was rooting for him to at least finally make the jury, but there’s no way he could stay one more minute on that island. Probst knows that, too, so they don’t even bother to vote.
  • Varner and Zeke hug it out, but I’m sure I’m not alone in dreading the reunion show. “Tonight was a complicated but ultimately beautiful night that will never be forgotten.” I’m gonna have to think about that one, Probst. I do appreciate that CBS didn’t try to play this up in promos for this week’s episode as some kind of exploitative “most shocking Survivor ever!”
  • The merge is upon us in a two-hour episode next week.