Hannah Shapiro was a runner-up on Survivor season 33: Millennials vs. Gen X. She'll be recapping Survivor season 34: Game Changers throughout the season. You can follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahLilNessen.
I have a visceral reaction every time I watch a loved ones episode on Survivor. I've watched the show since I was 14 years old and for 10 years the reunion of love has yet to happen without me crying. No matter what they have said or done on the show, the family visit humanizes the players. It reminds the viewers at home that the people we watch, judge and talk about are human. The game is a game played by real people who have folks worried about them back home. And that's why Survivor is beautiful.
The family visit episode is always my favorite. So, let's get to the episode!
Back From Tribal: Hungry, unhappy people!
Unlike past tribals, every player seems unhappy coming back from voting out Zeke Smith. The majority is nervous because they couldn't even come together for one vote. The minority is nervous because they don't have the numbers. Meanwhile, Tai Trang is nervous because all his friends turned on him. (Although with two idols in his pocket, he's not sitting in too much discomfort.)
Sarah Lacina talks to one of her many island BFFs, Sierra Dawn-Thomas. Sierra lets her know she has the legacy advantage and that she'll give it to her if she's voted out. I'm not sure why she offers her this, only because that may be a reason to target her. If Sarah gets her out, you get that advantage. The math isn't complicated.
Family Visit: I cry every time!
I remember the moment I realized my mom was in Fiji and I was about to see her. I had just survived a brutal tribal council and my game felt like it was falling apart. I needed love more than ever and I got it. Right before my mom came running down the beach, I turned to Zeke Smith and we hugged and wept together. Despite being enemies in the game at that point, love brought the entire cast a moment of peace and bonding. In a harsh game, we got love. It's still my favorite moment on the island as a player — and my favorite moment to watch.
I cry seeing all the tough players go soft and allow love into their island existence. Each relationship feels special and important. Sarah's hunky husband (Tai and I share the experience of flirtatious looks with hot loved ones), Brad Culpepper's tough Survivor playing wife, Troy Robertson's Brady Bunch brother, Michaela Bradshaw's hardworking mom, Aubry Bracco's cool sister, Andrea Boehlke's loving mom, Tai Trang's sweet love and Cirie Field's accomplished son are all amazing to meet. Tears are running down my face — per usual.
I find it fascinating that they did family reward teams. Usually one person is stuck with the tough task of deciding who gets to see their family. Brad, Aubry and Andrea win the food and love. I think it's hilarious that Michaela's mom scolds her when she gets upset. Moms!
The three winners get to choose two extra people to get love, which is difficult. But again, it's way less difficult than it being all on one person. They choose Cirie and Sarah.
Winners and Losers: Burgers are eaten and losers bond!
The winners all catch up with their loved ones and eat — both can energize you to the end. I love watching Monica Culpepper give her husband game advice. Monica made it 39 days on Survivor and while her gameplay was not respected by her jury, I find her tough and underrated. The respect Brad has for her as a game player and a wife is endearing.
Back at camp Michaela is emotionally charged from not getting to enjoy a BBQ with her mom. She also feels betrayed that the "Solid Six" turned on each other so quickly. If voting builds trust, her alliance didn't vote together long enough for that trust to be strong. She pulls in Tai, putting herself in a position to be a swing vote between alliances. For whatever antics Michaela may bring to camp life, she sees her moment to be strategic and capitalizes on it. Michaela, Tai, Sierra and Troyzan all high-five in the water.
At this point, Brad and Andrea seem to be the names on the table. The two alliances are battling it out with a bunch of swing votes.
Immunity Challenge: Booyah a buoy challenge!
The challenge is simple — stand on a balance beam and don't drop your buoy. Sometimes the simplest challenges are the best to watch because all there is to focus on is the fight in the players as they struggle to hold on.
Brad never drops his buoy, which means he is safe at the next vote. That messes up everyone's plan. Once again, throwing a pigskin around prepared Brad for the island games.
Pre-Tribal Council: There's a criminal loose at camp and she's changing the vote!
Andrea and Sierra are on the chopping block. Sierra is dangerous paired with Brad, who is safe due to his pretty necklace. Andrea is in a tough spot for being a threat, having orchestrated the vote against Zeke. Andrea has a large target on her back and Michaela wants to aim a machete at that target. The pieces are moving, the players are playing and the coconuts are being eaten.
The vote seems to be swinging Andrea's way, but then Sarah steps in. I have said this before, but everyone goes to Sarah this season. She is everyone's person out there and always seems to know all the plans. Sarah realizes that if Sierra leaves she may get her legacy advantage. Cop Sarah may have not gone after Sierra to get the advantage, but "criminal" Sarah wants to try.
Sarah starts to work her gameplay after finding out from Sierra about Michaela and Tai flipping. Sarah tells Michaela about Sierra's legacy advantage to try to swing Michaela back to her side of the vote.
Criminals have more fun.
Tribal Council: Decisions!
The theme of the tribal is decision making. Will your choice be right? And what are the consequences?
Articulate arguments are made, Zeke looks handsome on the jury and Sierra's torch gets snuffed.
Sierra gives Sarah the legacy advantage!
This moment will make even doubters believe in the brilliance of Sarah's gameplay. Sarah voted Sierra out, but still manages to hide it all. Every person thinks Sarah is in their pocket and she is playing them all. What?!
Sierra is able to will the legacy advantage to a player in the game, an idol at six. She gives it to the criminal.
More Survivor news, predictions and recaps
Mic has ongoing Survivor coverage. Be sure to check out Hannah's tips for preparing for Survivor, as well as her behind-the-scenes details on Ponderosa. Read Zeke Smith's thoughts on his exit and explore Ozzy Lusth's hair evolution. You can follow our main Survivor hub here.