‘Survivor: Game Changers’ power rankings: Tribe switch provides boost for Brad Culpepper & Sierra Thomas

The first big twist of “Survivor: Game Changers” came Wednesday when host Jeff Probst asked the players to drop their buffs. After just two eliminations the teams split and swapped into three tribes of six — Mana, Nuku and the new Tavua. As always the “Survivor” gods blessed some players and cursed others — both J.T. Thomas and Troyzan Robertson were swapped onto tribes as the only member from their original team, leaving them at an obvious and immediate disadvantage.

This season we’re tracking the chances each of the remaining players has at winning by ranking and sorting them week-by-week based on their performances following the most recent episode. Last week we ranked Hali Ford and Sierra Thomas as the best positioned to win. This week the tribe switch changed everything for Hali while confirming Sierra’s place at the top. Below is the updated ranking, strongest to weakest, of the 17 game changers fighting to win. Read my analysis and then update your “Survivor 34” predictions in our weekly event.

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1. Sierra Thomas – Mana (+ 1 spot) 
2. Brad Culpepper – Mana (+ 4 spots)
3. Tai Trang – Mana
(+ 12 spots)

On paper it seems weird that three members of the Mana tribe top this week’s rankings considering Mana has lost all three immunity challenges so far this season. Sierra, Brad and Tai, however, were not part of the original Mana tribe and going forward, even if they are sent back to tribal council next week, are not only in the majority on Mana, but are also the key decision-makers there. While Brad is the reluctant leader of Mana, Sierra bests him in the power rankings simply for being less of a target in the future. Both Brad and Tai will be targeted once the merge comes — Brad for being a physical threat and Tai for not only having existing connections with other “Kaoh Rong” veterans, but for also being unpredictable.

4. Malcolm Freberg – Nuku (+ 4 spots)
5. Aubry Bracco – Nuku (+ 6 spots)
6. Jeff Varner – Nuku (+ 3 spots)
7. Michaela Bradshaw – Nuku (+ 9 spots)

The five original Mana members that were swapped on to the new Nuku tribe felt like they’d won a reward with the change-up. At the Nuku camp they were greeted by a plethora of food, comfort and even decorations. Four of those players — Malcolm, Aubry, Jeff and Michaela — sit in great positions heading forward because they’ll be calling the shots at tribal council. My guess is that Malcolm holds the most power here because he’s too strong to eliminate with Aubry and Jeff as his go-to #2 and #3 in an alliance. They’ll need Michaela so they’ll bring her along to her benefit, but I don’t see her becoming a decision-maker for now.

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8. Troyzan Robertson – Tavua (- 1 spot)

Yes, despite being the only original Mana member on the new Tavua tribe, Troyzan is in the better position than the five original Nuku after he successfully grabbed the hidden immunity idol without being seen. Troyzan knows the tribe will vote him out at their first tribal council, but with the idol he can do one of two things: 1) not tell anyone, use it at the tribal council and on his own decide which of the other five he wants out, or 2) tell a select few that he has the idol and convince them to work with him to vote someone else out without using the idol. Regardless of which path he chooses, he should be safe through at least one more episode and could even find himself in a position of power once the dust settles.

9. Debbie Wanner – Mana (- 6 spots)

The reason Debbie isn’t grouped with the other three Mana members she’s allied with at the top of the rankings is two-fold. When it came time to decide who their alliance would vote off it was Brad, Sierra and Tai that were making the decision. If Debbie is just going to be pulled along to vote how she’s told then she’ll need to also be an asset to the tribe in another way. And that is actually her second problem — Debbie isn’t someone that is crucial in physical challenges so if she’s already not crucial to making decisions in the alliance then they may consider voting her out next if she screws up a challenge and/or Hali can convince them to keep her instead.

10. Sarah Lacina – Tavua (- 5 spots)
11. Zeke Smith – Tavua (- 7 spots)

When Troyzan wields his power at the first Tavua tribal council it seems to me that Sarah and Zeke are his least likely targets. Sarah is not just an asset at physical challenges, but is not known as a threat in the social game. Zeke is still an unknown, but has shown he’s not a liability at challenges and doesn’t pose as much of a threat to Troyzan as the other members of Tavua. I give the edge to Sarah here because it’s always possible that Zeke’s connection with Cirie bites him in the ass and he goes from non-threat to threat in a matter of minutes.

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12. Andrea Boehlke – Tavua (- 2 spots)
13. Cirie Fields – Tavua (+ 5 spots)

Both Andrea and Cirie pose a similar threat to Troyzan because of their social prowess. Andrea did her best to make Troyzan feel welcome among the five original Nuku at the new camp, but he wasn’t buying it, telling the camera that she thinks she’s smarter than she is. Cirie comes with the added baggage of her three previous seasons and will always be a target. Cirie is at a further disadvantage because she’s less physically capable than Andrea at challenges and is already on the radar of Ozzy.

14. Hali Ford – Mana (- 13 spots)
15. Ozzy Lusth – Tavua (- 1 spot)

Hali and Ozzy are in two very different positions on their tribes, but both seem equally vulnerable. On Mana, Hali is the obvious target because she sits outside the dominant alliance of original Nuku members. After seeing her work hard at tribal council to have them vote out Caleb Reynolds, I wouldn’t be shocked if she manages to survive another round, but that’s a steep hill to climb. At Tavua, Ozzy should be safe for many reasons, but Troyzan holds incredible power and has the most to gain if Ozzy is the one he sends home. With Ozzy out at Tavua, Troyzan is the clear physical leader of that tribe and the others would have a hard time getting rid of him over someone like Cirie or Zeke down the road.

16. Sandra Diaz-Twine – Nuku (+ 1 spot)
17. J.T. Thomas – Nuku (- 4 spots)

If/when Nuku is sent to tribal council it’s going to be another battle between former champions with Queen Sandra taking on King J.T. this time. This battle for the crown will be very different than the previous one because J.T. is not Tony — he’s less manipulative, less paranoid and much more likable. Sandra on the other hand should be in the majority with a full set of original Mana members at her side, but Malcolm and Aubry were originally working with Tony against Sandra so the likelihood that they miss a second chance to take her out is slim. That being said, I don’t have the strength to keep Sandra at the very bottom of the rankings after the truly masterful work she did eliminating Tony without a single vote cast against her.

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Get a closer look at the Season 34 contestants by clicking through our cast photo gallery. In our “Survivor” predictions center, you get to answer the following questions before each episode airs on CBS every Wednesday at 5 p.m. PT / 8 p.m. ET.:

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Who will win Reward?

Who will win Immunity?

Will a hidden idol be played?

Will anybody quit or be medevaced?

Who will win ‘Survivor: Game Changers’? See exclusive odds

Gold Derby readers just like YOU often turn out to be our smartest prognosticators, so it’s important that you give us your predictions. You can continue to update and change your forecasts throughout the week, just click “Save” when you’ve settled on your choices. You’ll compete to win bragging rights and a place of honor on our leaderboard. Be sure to read our contest rules and sound off on the season of “Survivor” in our reality TV forum.

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