A Diplomatic View dives into each week’s episode of Survivor, looking at who’s winning, who’s losing, and most importantly: how they’re doing it.
A Diplomatic View: Ctrl + Alt Delete
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X – Ctrl + Alt Delete
Survivor is a game with clearly defined stages: there’s everything that happens pre-merge, there’s the merged phase, and then there’s the end game. We have talked in the past, and will talk in future, in detail about each of these phases in the Diplomatic View. A successful player must find a way to navigate through each phase of the game and, with greater frequency, that can mean making a move in an early stage that pays off well down the road. This has lead to an obsession by both players and Probst with ‘The Big Move’, but what gets a little less screentime is the big question players should ask themselves when considering a big move: ‘What’s next?’
Last week, unfortunately, with pressing deadlines related to the US Presidential Elections, I was unable to file the Diplomatic View, in fact I didn’t even get to watch the episode until around the time my article would normally go live on the site. So of course, with the Diplomatic View off for a week, Jay made one of the biggest moves in the game to this point, a smooth and cutthroat backstabbing of Michaela. In terms of ‘big moves’ this has to be up there with one of the larger pre-merge moves. Michaela was a power player on her tribe, she was a threat in immunity challenges, and she had a clear plan to get to the end of the game. There was no bigger target than Michaela. Jay correctly recognized that fact and took her down in a blindside she never saw coming. That resulted in a historical (and hysterical) tribal council.
I want to peel apart this play on Jay’s part, focusing on two specific issues. The first, why was Michaela such a target; the second, whether Jay made the right decision to blindside her out of the game.
I’ve been a fan of Michaela’s gameplay in general. I’ve thought she was a capable player, sometimes brash and fully committed to the Survivor experience. Her game had flaws, however. As I mentioned in my most recent article, Michaela was going to be at risk because she was a strong player, but she wasn’t helping that perception by acting brashly in front of the other tribes. People are willing to work with, and protect, strong players whom they feel have their best interests at heart… even when that’s not actually the case. When those strong players are dismissive or seem to be uncaring, it’s a little easier for people to think of them as threats rather than allies. Even players like Russell, who scorched the earth any of his enemies were standing on, was able to play nice (mostly) with his allies until the time came to send them packing.
Michaela is smart, outspoken, and opinionated which are characteristics that made her compelling to watch on television… but they also led her to be quite clear about how little she was going to miss Figgy, Jay’s ally. That quick dismissal of Figgy may have been a factor that stuck in the craw with Jay so that he really only needed an excuse to switch to targeting Michaela… and Michaela gave him more than enough ammunition when she laid out her vision for the end of the game with Hannah, Will, and Jay. To be clear, I don’t think Michaela did anything wrong by forming a plan to take that group to final four… I don’t even think that sharing the broad strokes of a plan are a bad idea. However, going over that plan in detail, including the elimination of other Millennials was probably too much information to share at that juncture of the game. Beyond the fact that the ties among Hannah, Jay, Will, and Michaela were relatively loose is the fact that they had ties to some of the people that Michaela was cavalierly designating as expendable.
So clearly, Jay had very good reason to see Michaela as a threat… and removing threats early in the game is often a good idea. This specific instance, I feel, was a significant mistake… and I felt that even before this week’s episode aired.
The issues that make a ‘Big Move’ worth making revolve around the following questions: 1) Will this move put me in control of the current situation? 2) Will this move put me in a better position to control the next likely scenario? 3) Will this move extend me farther in the game?
Jay’s decision to remove Michaela from the game fails all three tests. While Jay knew a merge was coming soon, he couldn’t be certain how soon that would be. The tribe he found himself on post-Michaela’s elimination would have him and Will on one side, two Gen-Xers on the other, and Hannah caught in between. By failing to clue Hannah in that something was afoot (for good reasons), Jay also effectively gave Hannah no reason to side with him in future. For the Gen-Xers there would be every reason to court Hannah over to their side, and Hannah was clearly willing to go. At the very best, removing Michaela from the game put all the power on the new tribe into Hannah’s hands, not Jay’s.
If Jay assumed the merge was happening immediately, then the situation becomes even murkier. Michaela, ostensibly, supported the ideal of Millennials teaming up against the Gen-X tribe. Post-merge we can surmise that Michaela would have continued doing so, and by removing a Gen-Xer and keeping a Millennial, the numbers wouldn’t have been skewed against the Millennials. By removing Michaela from the mix, Jay removed a voice that was preaching a message that benefited him and removed his connections to those members of the tribe who’d wanted Jay / Figgy / Taylor out in the first place. Beyond that, there’s also the added benefit that as a clear leader, Michaela could have served as a stalking horse for Jay (and Michelle / Taylor) post merge. Even beyond that, is the fact that Jay had clear evidence that new ties and loyalties were forming, since Figgy had been removed from the game. With so much uncertainty, Michaela is a player Jay should have wanted to remain in the game. She had ties to him, appeared to want to take him further, and was utterly incapable of suppressing her opinions so he would clearly have seen her coming if she decided to target him.
The final question, as to whether this helps Jay last longer in the game is also a no. Beyond the issues of uncertainty and a loss of control, Michaela is a player who wanted to bring Jay to the final four. There would have been plenty of opportunities along the way, after Jay’s allies had the numbers, for him to flip the script and remove Michaela… it might even have been to his advantage to keep her longer if circumstances determined that was the best play. Having two final four alliances would have given Jay the chance to choose which one was best. Removing Michaela left him with only one.
There’s no denying that Jay made a big move in eliminating Michaela, and I appreciate that he owned it when confronted. As a move, it had a lot in common with every ‘Fail’ video on YouTube… it starts with someone saying ‘Hey watch this!’ to their friends and ends up with pain, heartbreak, and people pointing and laughing. It’s one thing to play the ‘chaos’ game when you find yourself in a position similar to what Kass did on her first season with relatively few allies forced to generate maximum uncertainty in order to improve her chances. In Jay’s position, with a fairly clear path for advancement in the game, you need to have a new plan lined up before you throw a wrench in the works. From what we’ve seen, Jay didn’t have that, so this was a bad time to knock over the Jenga tower and try to pick up all of the pieces.
We’re taking a week off from our Disqus commentary, just because of the delay since my previous column.
Diplomatic Points for Episode 8: I’m the Kingpin
While there has been, and always will be, interesting and exciting game play before the merge on Survivor… for the most part it’s the appetizer for an expensive dinner. You might really enjoy it, might even talk about it later, but it’s the entrée and the dessert course that will make you go back to that restaurant again in future. You can’t win the game pre-merge, though great players certainly set the tone before the merge begins. Once the merge happens it’s a whole new game and you have to question all of your assumptions and make sure that you’re ahead of the curve.
Some watchers of the game treat the merge as when the real game begins and, specifically on seasons like this one, it’s also typically when we leave behind whatever ‘theme’ drove casting for the season.
Adam’s trusting Taylor
As much as I liked Adam’s decision two weeks ago to turn on Taylor and Figgy, his gameplay this week was severely lacking. In Survivor you have to be aware of the difference between what you hope is true and what is most likely to be true. While you can attempt to lay plans and reach out to other players based on the former, you simply must be ruled by the latter unless you’re in truly desperate straits. So let’s look at what Adam knows about Taylor: Taylor is an impulsive player who puts gameplay fairly low on his list of priorities; Adam was responsible for the elimination of Taylor’s ‘girlfriend’ Figgy; the Taylor and Jay bromance was at least as if not more important to Taylor than the Figgy showmance. Given these factors there is almost no chance that any attempt to split the Jay from Taylor was going to work.
Now, this doesn’t mean that there was no mileage in trying. I’m a fan of the long cast and putting as many lines as possible in the water to see if you get a nibble. What this means is that you don’t put your premium bait on the line, so the secret of his advantage is something that Adam should have kept to himself. Survivor is a game of imperfect information, and there’s every reason to hold back information from your opponents if it’s to your advantage. Thankfully for Adam, he’s on the receiving end of Jay and Taylor’s inability to hide the details of their plan to send him out of the game.
Adam seems as if he’s someone who wants the reassurance of people trusting him and liking him. That can, unfortunately, lead to scrambling behavior that makes both your allies and enemies nervous. Adam’s position in the game is fairly good, he’s positioned with the right group of people, and he has an immunity idol. Adam needs to relax into the game; he needs to be aware of what’s happening without being skittish. In Adam’s perfect world, his name wouldn’t really come up in conversation next week. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.
The resumption of the Bromance
Taylor and Jay are obviously enjoying their Survivor experience, but a good deal of the reason they find themselves as an isolated trio has to do with how the bromance reunited this week. While no one from either original tribe would have believed it if the two of them pretended to shun each other, they could have benefited from trying to restrain the more oversized aspects of their personalities.
To be honest, a fair amount of that blame lands on Taylor. The absolute easiest way to build ill-will with your tribe is to hoard food. In the history of Survivor, we’ve seen arguments over people eating too many bananas, eating too much rice, not sharing the correct portions of beans, and cooking flour badly.
So while Taylor is correct that he was executing a ‘classic Survivor move,’ he was ignoring that it was a classic move that generates bad feelings and tends to result in people getting voted out of the game. I once described Woo as ‘the dudest bro, who ever duded, bro’ when describing his play in the game. However, watching Taylor through this game and at this tribal council, I think it’s possible that Woo has been dethroned.
Michelle’s bad timing
I was clearly impressed with Michelle in the early stages of this game, particularly because of the way in which she (and Jay) were able to flip the vote to save Figgy while keeping the weight of that particular move from weighing them down. She seemed to be well-liked and respected, and her positioning in the game seemed good as the tribe swept into the merge.
What I was surprised by was how little involvement Michelle had in the events around the tribe at the most critical moment in the game. I was shocked that she seemed willing to take a back seat as events moved forward and was dismayed when the Gen-X group started throwing her name out as a potential target that they were certain wouldn’t have an idol. The reasoning behind that decision became apparent in her post-elimination interviews. In those interviews Michelle revealed that she put her trust in Jay and Taylor (particularly Jay) to take care of things this week because everyone had been told that Michelle was friendly but was playing the game. That mean that her allies told Michelle she should relax, lay back, and not play aggressively because she might be targeted if she did.
It’s a completely understandable plan of action, and I hate it on every level.
Day one is the only time in the game that presents more opportunity for forming alliances and establishing relationships than the merge. With all of the remaining players in the game being thrown together, a player simply has to be in the mix and part of those discussions. Once people have formed nascent alliances, and then voted with those alliances, it is much harder work to get them to switch over to a different set of loyalties. Even if Jay and Taylor had been able to cement a larger alliance, that alliance would have centered around them, not Michelle. In fact part of the reason that the Nerds alliance targeted Michelle is that they didn’t think she was important enough that she’d be protected by immunity.
We’ve seen really good players go home because they took a day off from the game, been ground down and made a critical mistake, or made one tiny slip-up at a critical moment. In this case Michelle made a considered decision, at the worst possible time and put her fate in the hands of allies who weren’t as in control of the game as they thought they were.
Closing Points and Looking Ahead
I’m a big fan of Kim Spradlin and Boston Rob, who essentially marched down to their wins with very little in the way of drama in their alliance. Despite that, my favorite seasons are ones that feature scrambling, shifts, and a lot of hard work as we head towards the end of the game. This should be one of those seasons.
The numbers that currently control the game aren’t so much an alliance as a loose coalition of relationships which have generally coinciding interests of removing Jay and Taylor from the game. Within that coalition you have an intermingled nexus of relationships that could easily give us a repeat of the ‘voting blocs’ from Survivor: Second Chances until a clear final 3 emerges. At first glance, the player who is best positioned is Zeke. He has ties to two different Gen-Xers in Chris and David (neither of whom are tightly tied to each other) as well as ties to both Hannah and Adam. This should give him a clear-cut path to the final three… but it’s always possible that another player will recognize his power position and seek to correct that imbalance.
That level of uncertainty makes for a stressful game for the players, but makes for an awesome time for those of us watching at home.
For more blogs this season: RHAP Survivor Blog Schedule.