This season, Dan Heaton will write feature blogs on issues related to Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X.
Big Moves, Bad Strategy on Survivor 33
In our changing TV landscape, the longevity of a show like Survivor is remarkable. Devoted fans return every season regardless of the specific theme or cast. It’s more than just a matter of habit too. Unlike a show like The Amazing Race that hesitates to veer from the formula, Survivor has succeeded by regularly tinkering with its format. Showrunner Jeff Probst and the producers have also made adjustments to ensure unpredictable results. One effective approach has been emphasizing the importance of “big moves” to winning the game. This idea pushes the players to make bolder choices, even when the decisions often aren’t in their best interests.
Following the brilliant chaos of Heroes vs. Villains, the show lost its footing a bit. Particularly with Redemption Island and One World, a single player understood the game’s parameters and enforced their will. Unfortunately, a strong winner doesn’t always equal a great season. When a majority of the cast is afraid to do anything, inevitability overtakes the game. Even a good one like Philippines began with quite a few expected boots. Fun and interesting characters help a lot, but they aren’t enough on their own. The show clicks when it’s both unpredictable and includes a lot of interesting characters. It’s in the producers’ best interest to build a foundation for change.
A model for playing a “BIG” game is Tony, who bounced around from alliances and barreled his way to the end. He had the moxie of Russell Hantz without the obvious arrogance. He also had the Tyler Perry idol (and another one!). It’s easier to play that style when you’re in no real danger. Few others have had that luxury. Tony moved ahead of the curve, but I doubt the same approach would succeed again. Even the contestants that know little about strategy watched Tony play. CBS probably makes them see Cagayan before they reach the island. There’s a reason that everyone talks about big moves and blindsides more now.
I wrote about this “cult of big moves” when discussing Val’s exit back in San Juan Del Sur. This trend has only increased since that point. The most common result from a bold game is Ciera’s fate in Cambodia. She ranted at her tribemates about not making moves, but it was a self-serving claim. Ciera was far too obvious to have success with savvy players. Probst loves her approach, but that doesn’t mean it works. This outspoken style will help with return appearances but not victory. In recent seasons, many players have followed that path. They execute one solid vote but are exposed as a threat by doing it. Jay removed a potential star in Michaela, but that choice flipped the target on him. It also killed his numbers and did little but expanded his own danger.
A Steadying Force
When we look back at recent winners, a common thread is their role as a reliable ally and likable player. They function more as a steadying force than a daring strategist. Michelle in Kaoh Rong is a perfect example. Aubry and Cydney executed the key moves, but the jury rewarded the person that didn’t ruffle feathers. Jeremy’s game in Second Chances was excellent, but that wasn’t just because of flashy moves. He gave his idol to Stephen, but that didn’t play a huge role in his win. Instead, the jury respected him more than Spencer or Tasha. His personality made people forget about targeting him for way too long. Denise and Sophie also fit this mold. They were smart players that understood the value of a less-invasive strategy.
The outliers are Tony and Mike Holloway, and both had extenuating circumstances. Like I described above, Tony had extra shields to enable his bold play. Mike won because of his immunity challenge skills. After Shirin left, he had no more allies beyond the idol and his athleticism. Trying to win every challenge is not a wise approach. We can look no further than Joe Anglim’s two games to recognize the flaws in that plan. Winning immunity is helpful, especially near the end. However, it occupies far too much consideration when identifying threats. The best way to avoid the vote is to build solid relationships and never get complacent.
Looking at this season, there are quite a few players that fit this bill. Production filled the Gen-X tribe with this type of character. This would allow the breakout stars to come from the Millennials. That scenario has come to pass, especially with Michaela. Unfortunately, the same traits that made her stand out doomed her game. Right now, the players best suited as steadying forces are Bret, Zeke, and Sunday. Chris has also taken that approach, but his size and athletic skills make him a larger target. David’s tribe still remembers his early moves, and Adam is fooling no one. Jessica and Ken have been steady, but we already heard rumblings of her as a target this week. It doesn’t take much to draw attention in the modern Survivor game.
The Saga of Taylor
It’s easy to blame Taylor’s demise on eating the food, but that’s more of a symptom than the cause. Taylor isn’t exactly a deep thinker, and he was ready to deliver for the producers. I’m not saying that his moves were fake; in his exit interview, Taylor seemed like the guy we saw on TV. On the other hand, his over-the-top behavior led to this week’s ridiculous Tribal Council. He was irritating at times, but Taylor was not boring. There were good TV moments despite his terrible strategy. Getting too close to Taylor has been dangerous. He’s like an albatross that drags allies down to his level. Figgy, Michelle, and Adam (probably) will suffer by getting too close to Taylor. Jay’s fate is uncertain, but his connection to Taylor hasn’t been positive so far.
Taylor is the poster child for the type of player that completely believes the “big moves” pitch. Why not openly admit his love for Figgy and food stealing? People will admire his bold play, right? Happily, that was not the case. A small part of me admires the way that Taylor didn’t try to hide his shady moves. He’s just Taylor being Taylor! That style may get him far in life, but it does not usually lead to Survivor victory. He actually did better than expected, but Taylor was playing a loser’s game. The show likes this type of goofy, dim-witted character. They’re tailor-made (no pun intended) for blindsides. No one expects them to win the game.
Taylor’s longevity also reveals the risks of getting stuck near his open strategy. Figgy did not play well, but most admit she was the brains of that power couple. That award led to her exit instead of Taylor’s. Michelle also lost because others considered her a greater threat. Just playing a subtle game isn’t enough; you also have to watch out for becoming an ally of someone like Taylor. If people think they’re unreliable and looking to make big moves, you’re guilty by association. The countermove to avoid falling prey to Probst’s sales pitch is to find solid allies. I hate to encourage dull play, but it’s worthwhile in a season of surprise casualties.
Eliminating the Threat
This climate that encourages fast moves led to Michaela’s exit. She would usually survive until the merge due to her challenge prowess. Plus, her tribe had the numbers edge in her post-swap tribe. Jay had little incentive to save Bret or Sunday instead of Michaela. The Millennials had the overall numbers, and the older Gen-X players were more likely to stick together at the merge. Jay used them to get rid of a threat, but he did so with 14 players remaining. There were still at least 10 Tribal Councils coming after the one where Michaela departed. She was not going to run the table, especially with so many athletes in this group.
A bigger issue was the impact of this vote on Jay’s perception in the tribe. It showed his fellow Millennials that they couldn’t trust him. Jay would not follow tribal lines after the merge and was unreliable. His ability to execute the blindside spotlighted his potential skills for the future. Jay convinced Michaela he was with her and could do the same again. Bret, Sunday, and Hannah had little interest in collaborating with Jay now. He saved the Gen-Xers but did little to gain their trust. I’m sure Bret appreciated the save, but he saw through Jay’s singular game.
Jay’s choice also differed from Adam’s vote with Ken and Jessica to remove Figgy. Adam was not part of the majority alliance after Mari’s exit. He saw little need to stick with Taylor and Figgy, and their status as a power couple made the decision easy. Adam has made quite a few mistakes since that point, but I had no problems with that vote. Unlike the friendlier Zeke, Adam’s chances of ingratiating himself to his original tribemates were lower. Why not play with the Gen-Xers? The problem for Adam is that no one trusts him now. If you’re going to flip to another group, it’s best to work to build their trust. He’s an island right now.
There’s No Going Back
I don’t expect the push for big moves to change anytime soon, and it keeps the show exciting. The trick for players is figuring out how to navigate this fast-paced game. They need to sit back and not make knee-jerk reactions, but complacency also could lead to their exit. David’s idol play for Jessica was a nervous and unnecessary move, but he’s adjusted and held back since that point. The key is staying on top of the game without acting to provide good TV. Probst loves the “voting blocs” idea because it promises constant shuffling. It’s entertaining at home because it’s hard to predict the winner. Players will torpedo their own games to execute a cool blindside.
The best model for recent success is Jeremy; he stayed proactive but wasn’t an erratic player. Not everyone can follow that style, however. Jeremy arrived with goodwill based on his San Juan Del Sur result. New players don’t have the luxury of preconceived notions about past games, which can be a blessing. On the other hand, they can freak out because of the speed of modern Survivor. We saw what happened to David after just a few days. I’m curious to see if the stable players keep rolling to the end. The remaining Gen-X players will not be the final six. The question is who will choose the right point to adjust and grab control for the endgame.
A Bloggers’ Predictions Update!
Now that we’ve passed the merge, it’s time to provide updated standings on how the RHAP bloggers’ predictions are faring. In case you missed it, we each answered a series of questions during our pre-game overview. These included winner picks, who would make the merge, and early boots. Let’s start with the current standings:
- Catherine: 14
- Sarah: 9
- Christine: 9
- Dan: 8
- Scott: 8
- Michel: 6
Catherine’s lead springs from picking Rachel as the first person voted out of the Gen-X tribe. The rest of the points all come from how many we each picked to make the merge. We only chose 12, but I gave credit to any of the 13 contestants at the merge. Catherine, Sarah, and Christine all were the best at this prediction, while Michel struggled. None of us picked David as the first to find the idol, and we also failed at selecting Mari as the first Millennial boot. None picked Michelle as the merge boot either. Still, there are many points available on the board.
This contest’s winner might come from picking the sole survivor. Thus far, only Scott and Christine have lost their picks of Mari and Michaela. My choice of Bret looked shaky at the start but might have an outside shot now. The other picks of Adam (Sarah), Will (Catherine), and Jay (Michel) remain in play. For the runners up, only Michel has lost both choices (Taylor and Figgy). Catherine’s picks of Sunday and Zeke are solid, and Christine’s choices of Adam and Will have a chance. There are still 11 players remaining, which feels crazy this far into the game.
What Comes Next?
Last week’s episode had a predictable victim but also set the stage for future conflicts. I’m curious to see how Sunday’s plot against Jessica will play out very soon. Regardless of who emerges, that rift could splinter the Gen-X alliance and give Jay and Will a shot. Adam is also a prime target after the intense scrutiny at this week’s Tribal Council. Another factor is the presence of three idols, which could lead to anyone’s exit. Both Adam and Jay could have reasons to play their idols in the near future. And what will come of Adam’s weird advantage? Will he actually steal the love at the family visit? I would not want that advantage, but it could lead to great drama in the near future.
I may not blog again before the end, so I’ll stick my neck out a little here. Bret was my original winner pick, and I can see a path for him to make it. The character moment of him getting drunk on the reward was good to see. With that said, Bret winning is the not the most likely scenario. I see a better road for Zeke based on his social game. He won’t need big moves or challenge wins to convince the jury. The danger will come if people recognize his status as a jury threat. Thus far, we haven’t seen anyone concerned about Zeke’s abilities.
Despite their prominence in the edit, I don’t expect Adam or Jay to win. Both have idols and might survive a while, but they’re too exposed as possible threats. Quieter gamers like Ken and Jessica won’t let those guys beat them. The good news is that there are a lot of contenders on the board. Even a less visible player like Sunday has a real strategy. The stage is set for an exciting and surprising finish. With two hours coming on Wednesday, we’ll learn plenty very soon. The push for big moves will continue, and the player that survives the upcoming carnage should have a much clearer path to the end.