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: Power Perceived Is Power Achieved
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X – Power Perceived is Power Achieved
On the Diplomatic View this season we’ve been able to focus on the evolving relationships on what has been a wild season of Survivor. We’ve seen players vote out a player one week, when the week before they put their own game on the line in order to keep them in the game. It’s always difficult to evaluate a season before it’s done because the winner, final tribal council, and last few challenges can have a massive effect on how the season is remembered. As recently as a few weeks ago, with an outside chance of a Zeke, David and Jay showdown, I would have said the sky was the limit. Halfway through this week’s episode, with an ouster of Jay or David in the works, it seemed like the season might end with a whimper. However, it seemed like the always volatile Millennials were determined to keep the chances of an excellent final tribal council in play, and David’s bacon was saved.
Much of Survivor comes down to timing. As is often catalogued in David Blomberg’s ‘Why ___ Lost’ podcast, timing often plays a huge factor. Playing the game too early can earn a player an early boot and a seat on the pre-Ponderosa vacation list. Play the game too late and a player ends up on the jury enjoying all the amenities of the Ponderosa hotel. Last week I decried players who make the “Big Move” just for the sake of being able to say they’ve made one, because players need to make those moves as part of a plan that gets them to final tribal, and hopefully, a million dollars. Historically, it can be difficult to know when the timing is right without the benefit of hindsight, but sometimes there’s enough information floating around that players should have had a sense that the timing was right.
Probably the biggest case of someone who consistently failed to pull the trigger on the moment to make a big move was fighter pilot Terry Deitz. As most of you no doubt know, Terry was the first holder of a “super” immunity idol (which could be played after votes were read) and found himself with a prime opportunity to leverage it when his alliance found themselves down 6 – 4, especially when Terri then went on an immunity challenge run. Terry leveraged this phenomenal power to flip the game on its head, taking control and marching to a final council win…. or at least that’s what he should have done.
Instead, Terri kept the idol in his pocket, always holding it to guarantee his safety (despite being immune at 5 tribal councils in a row), and watching his allies be voted off one by one. He even had a chance to use the idol to curry favor with Danielle at final four, but chose not to do so. This may have informed Danielle’s choice when she won final immunity and voted Terry to the jury. Obviously there’s no guarantee that Terry would have won the game had he wielded the power of the idol, though the game was played in a less aggressive style at that point in Survivor history, it’s certainly possible the game could have flipped again.
Holding the idol guaranteed that Terri was going to have to win the final immunity challenge in order to win the game, which is something of a dicey proposition even for players who are great at challenges. Even if he had won final immunity, his argument before the jury would have been a tough one, since it would have been composed of those from the opposing alliance, as well as those players from his own alliance who he let be eliminated. Could he have made a case for self-preservation and that it’s an individual game? Certainly. But it’s not a case that’s likely to make a juror feel better.
I’ve previously given credit to Yul, both for his attempt to reach out to Penner and his willingness to walk away. Someone to whom I haven’t given the credit that she deserves is Kim Spradlin, whom I don’t mention as often as possible as one of the best to play this game. For me the culmination of Kim’s ju-jitsu came when they were down to the final 6. Initially Alicia Rosa and her alliance seemed set on forcing a situation where Kim would either need to vote out her close ally Chelsea or draw rocks, putting her own game at risk. Kim was able to turn that situation around against Tarzan by revealing his machinations to get Alicia Rosa to target Tarzan. A key component of that moment could be found in Kim’s confessional where she stated that she had to convince Alicia that Tarzan wasn’t a minion, but was a potential mastermind instead.
I haven’t spoken a lot about Kim’s season in this space, but I feel that she played an almost flawless game and she did it the first time out. The degree of difficulty on that accomplishment is honestly almost infinite. She certainly benefited from having an immunity idol and relentlessly winning immunity challenges, but as Terry demonstrated that doesn’t guarantee a trip to the finals… and Russell showed that doesn’t always get you a win.
The most recent example of a move where the timing was probably not quite right was Will’s elimination of Zeke. We talked about this move in the context of ‘Big Moves’ last week, and we talked about what Will’s strategy would have to be in order to navigate through the rocky waters to come. What we didn’t talk about was the timing, and how a little patience might have given him a much smoother path to final tribal council, which is a point Will himself has raised in post-game interviews. In part I think this is a case of 20 / 20 hindsight for Will. While I agree (and even said last week) that he was demanding respect that he hadn’t done anything to deserve, I think the timing of his move was what it had to be.
If he’d waited for two of the three of Jay, David, and Zeke to be eliminated, before turning the tables on the third, he wouldn’t have gotten respect for having a strategy; he would have been seen as trying to eat that player’s table scraps. There’s also no guarantee that he’d even have been able to muster the votes to do so. A point that he can argue is that waiting just one more week would have made things a lot less dangerous for him, if the player who’d been sent home was David. As we’d discussed, Zeke’s alliance ties were fairly loose, where David’s are much closer to being a traditional alliance. If Will had waited until David was gone to target Zeke, he wouldn’t have been fighting to get people to change their existing allegiances. By taking out Zeke while David was still in the game, he made it much more difficult for himself.
Andrew Martin made a good point about Jay this week and his idol play.
“Jay’s ability to read the room this season has been phenomenal. I think it’s probably been his biggest strength. He read it properly during the Taylor vote and put his vote on Taylor (knowing Taylor would vote for Adam) and kept his idol in his pocket. The following vote, he read the players at tribal and guessed correctly that the votes would not come his way, and thus he kept his idol in his pocket again. This past week he saw that people on David’s side weren’t scrambling and sussed out that something was amiss. He found out Zeke was the target and once again kept his idol in his pocket.”
I haven’t always been the biggest fan of Jay this season. I disliked his betrayal of Michaela because I thought it was a bad move for his game. I could not come close to predicting the craziness that would follow, which you know if you’ve been reading this column. I will however say that my respect for Jay’s gameplay has been growing by leaps and bounds, and it’s not just his idol play. His friendship with Adam, despite the fact that they have been on opposing track this entire time, is a sign of the level that he’s playing the game on. It is terrifyingly easy to let personal feelings of animosity leak into the game of Survivor, but Jay seems to not get too tied up in that. He’s having a degree of fun out there, he’s rolling with the punches, and he’s separating game play from personal friendships. It’s the kind of separation that makes cold-blooded game plays possible, and it’s the kind of social game that might actually get him some jury votes. I’m also reminded of what Michelle said about Jay in her post-game interview, where she described him as a big threat and a great liar.
Key Points in Episode 13: Slayed the Survivor Dragon
Dancing With the Devil By the Pale Moonlight
For the last several weeks Jay has been holding an idol in his pocket, judging each tribal council whether he has to pull it out of his pocket in order to stay safe. Each week he’s looked at his fellow juror’s and decided that he was okay to hold it another week. I don’t believe we’ve ever seen a player, who was on the outside of the numbers, hold an idol for quite that long while also intermittently being vulnerable and getting at least a smattering of votes every time he wasn’t immune. While Malcolm held an immunity idol for a long time on his second season, he wasn’t under fire until the actual tribal council where he used it.
This week, Jay finally had enough and played his idol to ensure his safety, only to again see that the vote was targeting a different player (or players). While some people will think Jay should have held his idol another week, and Jay himself likely agrees, I will say that I believe he made exactly the right decision… because the tribe should have been targeting Jay this week. With the elimination of Zeke last week, and Will in the previous vote we’ve entered the phase of the game where he strongest players should be targeted by the other strong players, and the small fry who are looking to make a case in front of the jury.
By that logic this week’s vote should have been 4 / 3 for David & Jay… perhaps even a 3 / 2 / 2 with David, Jay, and Sunday being targets. Jay should have been at a very real risk of joining the ranks of Ozzy, James and Eric if he’d held onto his idol this week. Of course as it turns out, Jay didn’t need to use his idol and now finds himself clearly on the outside of a 4 – 2 split and needing to win immunity to insure his safety.
Hannah: “I Think I’m Going to Vote for Sunday”…. Because I’m Bad at Survivor
I like Hannah, though I haven’t always liked her gameplay this season. I think Hannah is a player who had a clear path to final tribal council at Zeke’s side, decided to flip the game to improve her chances of winning, and found herself on the edge of going home immediately thereafter. That her decision put her at risk doesn’t immediately make it a bad decision; plenty of players in this game have gotten votes or needed immunity. My problem with Hannah’s game is that it’s not clear to me what her strategy was in making that move.
Hannah was clearly going to be a goat for Zeke, and she was unhappy with that so she flipped, but the new position she finds herself in is as a goat to David. I thought there was a chance that she was playing a subtler version of Will’s pendulum strategy, but this week disproved that theory because if there was a week for the pendulum to swing, this was the week, Instead of taking the opportunity, she fiercely clung to David’s side and laid a claim to her spot as a goat.
This isn’t even a case where Hannah didn’t know that this was the chance to move against David because Adam brought the strategy to her and they debated the benefits of it. This led to Hannah coming to Adam and saying, “I think I’m going to vote for Sunday, because….”
Hannah’s stated reason for wanting to vote for Sunday and preserve David in the game is that it would make them a tighter four. Her secondary reason for voting for Sunday is that Sunday was trying to steal Hannah’s spot as a goat at final tribal council. Both of these statements were extremely disappointing for someone who wants to be a fan of Hannah, and recognize her as a superfan of the game.
In the first case, a player that’s been adjacent to the strategic side of the game has a chance to make an argument that they played the game and can imply they had a hand in specific moments of game play. Hannah has been close enough to big moves, and has the votes against her to prove it. Her argument for winning wouldn’t be the strongest, but she’s got an argument to make. That she’s seemingly committed herself to being a goat is terribly disappointing.
That dovetails into her wanting to be sure that they’re a tight final four. A tight final four will give Hannah a good chance to make final tribal council… and watch David win the game. While I wasn’t as frustrated as Adam was to hear Hannah’s argument, it was frustrating because this week Hannah clearly had a chance to explicitly take control of the game… and she opted out.
I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot… Well, Maybe I Will
Adam has been an interesting player in this game. He’s been a little random, a little nervous, and a little all over the place… but he’s been loyal to Hannah and he’s shown that he understands the moves that can be made and should be made in the game. This week Adam did all of the math on the test and laid the answers out in front of Hannah, only to have Hannah not want to pull the trigger.
I’ve written that one thing a member of an alliance has to be able to do is know when they should simply go with their alliance. Many times eliminating whoever the alliance wants to target is the right play, and a player should wait for the chance to queue up a bigger target rather than trying to force the vote to go their way. When Hannah made it clear that she was going to vote for Sunday, Adam wasn’t wrong to accept that and walk away. Fighting to force Hannah to vote his way might have simply ended up with him in the crosshairs.
In any other situation that would be the end of it and there wouldn’t have been anything Adam could have done about it. This wasn’t that situation, however. While Adam may not have known with 100% confidence how the votes were going to split out, he knew the following:
1: Sunday wasn’t voting for herself
2: David, Hannah and Ken were voting for Sunday
3: Bret and Jay were likely to vote for David
That left Adam with a chance to take the game into his own hands by voting for David and forcing the tie. This would mean a tie breaking vote with Bret, Jay, Adam, Hannah and Ken voting which would almost definitely have resulted in David going home. I can understand, in part, why he made this decision. It’s difficult to break away from all of your allies and from your friends and doing it at tribal council by forcing a tie makes that break-up as traumatizing, dramatic, and public as possible.
The problem, for both Adam and Hannah is that unless this season comes down to a final 4, there is a very real chance that one of them will be left out of the final given their current alliance. Ken and David will not break; this has been made clear multiple times. So if this foursome gets down to the final four either Hannah / Adam will have to flip on each other or one of them will have to make fire. Both of them are actively choosing a scenario where, in their best case, they will not both be able to make it to the finals.
If they had voted out David, the game would have been down to six. A duo of Hannah and Adam, the duo of Bret and Sunday, and Ken and Jay. There are very few scenarios that don’t work out better for Hannah and Adam than that, particularly due to the fact that Bret and Sunday would have clear evidence that Adam would have voted to keep Sunday in the game.
This would have given Hannah and Adam ready allies to vote out Jay if he didn’t win immunity, and then whittle down the remaining players as they head to the final three. It would even have given Adam the choice of knocking off Hannah and bring a full slate of goats to final three. Instead, their fate is very much in the hands of David and Ken, and they’re running out of time to change the numbers in their favor.
Power Perceived is Power Achieved
David’s position in the game is fascinating. Adam and Hannah’s perception of David’s game is such that they feel like he’s running their alliance. This manifests, at least in Hannah’s case, in a willingness to defer moves that would help their games in favor of showing loyalty to Ken and David… in hopes that the loyalty will be rewarded later.
It feels as if David has been under siege in this game since the very beginning, but in looking at the votes here’s a surprising fact: David has received a total of 5 votes across the twelve votes in eleven tribal councils that he’s attended. In part this has been due to the targeting of secondary players in his alliances, a skittishness about direct confrontation, and David being in with the power alliances.
At a certain point the perception of being a powerful player, resilient in the face of opposition, shapes the reality of the game. Whether the perception is true or not, each time David goes to tribal council without any power, survives to walk back to camp, and sees one of his opponents make the walk to Ponderosa his power in the game increases a little bit. Truthfully or not, the perception is that David is winning the game… how much will that sway the jury voters?
Closing Points and Looking Ahead
So, here we are… with the finale looming. My assumption is that we’re going to go down to a final three, and all of my predictions are based on that. If we go down to a final four, I am officially voting for Mark the Chicken to win it.
At this point, from a combination of gameplay and editing I think there are three people with a legitimate chance to win this season: David, Jay and Adam. All of the three could be eliminated before we get to final tribal council, but more than likely at least one of them will make it to the final.
I believe the perception of David is such that if he makes it to final tribal council he has a strong chance of winning. If he makes it there with two Gen-Xers, he’s a virtual lock, but he can beat many of the Millennials in a final vote with the possible exception of Jay.
Jay has an extremely strong case to make if he makes it to final tribal council. He will be able to point to being targeted early after the merge, and yet being able to make it through the game. He can point to a strong challenge record, being part of several significant votes that put power players at risk (or out of the game), and showed he was willing to gamble by holding his idol when he didn’t have individual immunity. Despite seven votes where Jay was, by consensus, the biggest threat in the game, Jay is still in the game with a path to the final tribal council. If Jay makes it to final tribal council, he has every chance to win.
That brings us to Adam. As I’ve pointed out I don’t always agree with Adam’s decision making and I think he wasted an exceptional chance to take control of the game and insure himself a chance at the final tribal council. Adam’s edit is extremely favorable, and it may just be a sign that he’ll be our winner this season. In as much as my analysis of every season is based on what I think is optimal play of the game, I generally try to keep my emotions out of it. I admit that in Adam’s case that I would find a victory for him satisfying in a way that doesn’t have anything to do with gameplay.
Not every season of Survivor has a satisfying ending, not everyone has a good ending, but this season should end fairly well. There are several players who have a legitimate case, as well as a little extra time to prove themselves. Thank you for reading along with me this season, and I hope I’ll be back next season to continue to give my perspective on the game.
For more blogs this season: RHAP Survivor Blog Schedule.