Each week Christian Williams reflects on the major themes, the key points, and the anecdotes from the latest episode of Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers in Diplomatic View. He also responds to your comments and discusses your talking points. Diplomatic View should post on Sunday mornings or as early as Saturday evening.
Diplomatic View: We Can Be Heroes, Can’t We?
Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers
Almost everyone has had The Dream, on some scale large or small. That moment where, by intention or accident, everything comes down to us; we’re at the plate with two outs, down a run. There are 8 seconds on the clock; we’re down by 2 and have the basketball in our hand. We take the snap with our team needing a touchdown to win the big game. There are a thousand variations of the dream and it’s rare that we actually face that moment.
It’s no surprise that the players who go on Survivor as are eager for that moment as the rest of us. Knowing that there’s an audience of several million people watching and that if they don’t seize the opportunity they won’t get a second one, adds both pressure and some sweetness when they do come up big. Any contestant, even the recruits, who has a passing familiarity with the game knows the players who’ve established their reputations as greats of the game. They all have a dream of following in those footsteps, regardless of how realistic that dream might be.
The great thing about Survivor is that almost anyone can become a legend of the game, in the minds of fans. There is a long list of physically gifted players who’ve made their mark on the game, both male and female. We know that in the moment, out on the island, Jeff finds little as impressive as a well-muscled contestant blowing through a challenge, and part of that is because Jeff can’t really point out: ‘This gal is leaving you in the dust strategically,’ without torpedoing someone’s game. There’s a motley collection of players who have probably never stepped into a gym in their lives who make our all-time great list as fans, and who Jeff has been more than willing to credit on reunion shows, and in interviews.
It’s fairly easy to list the attributes that don’t make someone a fan favorite. As fans we look for more than just physical bona-fides (though we can’t help but be impressed by Ozzy, Joe, and Fabio as they carve through challenges); we’re not overly impressed by emotional backstories that aren’t back by gameplay, and we don’t give you credit just for lasting long in the game. As for what does make someone a favorite, it’s both astoundingly simple and hard to quantify. It comes down to resonance.
It is rarely a solitary moment, and it can be ephemeral (remember when we all loved Elizabeth Hasselbeck), but it comes down to something about that person that resonates with us and makes us respond. A contestant can even make us care about the things they care about, which is why Mark the Chicken ended up in Survivor credits, and had his own Twitter account. The counter-example of a single moment having out-sized resonance is likely Jessica Lewis. That tribal council had such high-tension: she clearly committed to her alliances strategy, and the moment she pulled the black rock she was so clearly devastated that it stuck with us.
In my article a few seasons back on the myth of the big move, I decried players who make bad decisions just so that they can stand back and say: ‘Look, I made big moves.’ With no strategy behind them, big moves don’t generally do much beyond wrecking someone’s game, making for entertaining television, and giving me 5,000 or so words to write… Maybe I should revise that article.
Each season that we do a preview, one of the aspects that we keep an eye on is the potential of a player to perform on the challenge stage and leverage that to go deep in the game. In the constant shifting tides of alliance and loyalty in the modern game of Survivor, showing that you can be relied on in challenges is a way to keep yourself safe in the early game, and something you can leverage to get deeper in the game. This isn’t an approach without risks, however. I’ll reference later Patrick’s attempt to rise to the occasion, and the downsides of trying to hog all the glory, but the biggest two issues with becoming a challenge monster are painting yourself as a threat, and what I call the Wile E. Coyote problem.
The first concern is simple. In a game where there are going to be tribe shuffles (possibly more than one) and a merge, being a physically dominant player is something that makes you a target whenever you’re with a majority of players who are not in your alliance. Post-merge, a player’s challenge success becomes a reason to get rid of them at the first opportunity, and in today’s Survivor game that can also mean the physical threat gets proactively sent home in the week or so immediately preceding the merge. Still, if your alliance is loyal and they want to take you to the end, that problem can be bypassed. The Wile E. Coyote problem is as inevitable as gravity.
Physically dominant players, tend to need a lot of food and water to keep the engine running. It’s a combination of low-body fat and high caloric output. Ironically, players that are the most physically fit, have a tendency to break down the fastest on the island. As long as a tribe is getting plenty of food, feasts, and rewards, burning the energy you need to win challenges and work around camp is fine, because the engine is getting plenty of fuel. Start to lose that input, and a player can quickly be reduced to a shadow of their former selves. This effect is worse for the athlete/ body-builder physiques than it is for the lean/fit physiques (Tom Westman being a good example, he was fit at the start, but wasn’t chiseled).
Much like Wile E. Coyote running off the edge of the cliff, as long as they keep winning (and eating) a physically dominant player can be fine, but the second that stops…. Well, gravity is waiting for them.
Nodetails, chimed in on Alan’s positioning in the game, and whether he can bounce back:
Back to Alan. I wonder if he could bounce back in a similar way : now that he’s had his “my word vs your word” moment, would he prioritize making his off-beat plans work less over playing a good game? Just from his first few 3 days, he seemed to get along well with Ben, and Chrissy, when evaluating him later, didn’t say anything regarding disliking or distrusting him, so I do think he has the capability to become a easily trusted person in camp, though he had proven he could blow up (which may have just been him going through with his plan than it being him actually angry). So long as people have this perception of him, he’ll have trouble forming solid allegiances with anyone else going forward, and may counteract the natural good traits he has for the game.
I don’t think that Alan’s game is completely irrecoverable, but I think it’s a question of how we define recovery. The problem for Alan is that he was always going to be someone who was targeted by any player that wasn’t allied with him. He’s athletic, he’s got a big personality, and he’s not afraid to show either of these things. By essentially scorching the earth with his previous alliance mates, he gave them every reason to hold him at arm’s length. The ‘good’ news for Alan is that arm’s length doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be willing to work with him at all because they still need him as a semi-loyal number in these stages of the game. He did well at the challenge this week and was impressive. With the tribe swap coming, if he ends up on a tribe with any of his fellows, it’s theoretically easier for them to work with him, than to create new alliances.
The bad news for Alan is that he’s got three strikes against him. Depending on how the tribes split, if he ends up with just one of his fellows (say JP), there is every chance that person will throw Alan under the bus. With his current value being his strength, he’s also a clear candidate for voting off just before the merge where he’d be able to protect himself. We’ve seen less likely players make a comeback, thanks to switches and swaps, but I’m not certain that Alan can navigate those waters well enough to pull that sort of thing off.
Damnbueno chimed in on Simone’s puzzle performance:
“When Simone failed to perform at the puzzle challenge, she became an easy boot.” — I’m so obsessive, I rewatch the challenges and even freeze frame some moments. I don’t think we saw anything to conclude Simone made any fatal mistakes here.
You’re absolutely right that Simone didn’t do anything wrong in the puzzle challenge, but in this case, it’s the perception that’s the rule. Any of the Survivor puzzles tend to feature a lot of ‘help’ from the tribe, and as damnbueno pointed out in his full comment, one of their mistakes was listening to Patrick’s bad advice. Fair or not, the credit (and blame) for puzzle outcomes will always rest on those who had hands on the pieces. That every member of that tribe has a bond with Ali, and none of them had a bond with Simone just made it that much simpler to send her off.
Two people can keep a secret, but not if they tell everybody.
Last week Cole helped Joe find his idol, and Joe wondered if he’d need to move against Cole to try to keep his secret. As we saw in the previews, Cole was quick to reveal the idol to Jessica as part of their flirtation and they quickly hatched a plan to target Joe if they ended up at tribal council. Cole then proceeded to tell the rest of his tribe about the idol, as they were conspiring to get rid of Joe, much to Jessica’s horror.
While this wasn’t discussed on-screen, by telling their entire tribe about the idol, Cole gave away a chip that he or Jessica might have been able to play post-swap. We know that Joe is off-putting, but is willing to put in the work to try to form bonds, if either Jessica or Cole ended up on a swapped tribe with him, they might have been able to leverage the fact that Joe has a hidden idol against him. But now all of the Healer’s tribe have that particular chip in their back pocket to play.
I’m a big fan of sharing information on Survivor, but of choosing the right moment to share it. Cole’s sharing of information wasn’t needed for two reasons: 1) the Healers weren’t headed to tribal council, 2) the Healers can’t stand Joe. If they had been going to tribal, and his fellow Healers had shown a glimmer of doubt about voting for Joe, then the reveal might have been helpful. By revealing it when he did, what he actually did was give Roark and Desi a chance to consider if they wanted to go with Joe and his idol instead.
Power couples, showmances, and the like
One of the reasons that I think Alan will have a problem forming ties with Ashley in the game, is that his obsession with ‘outing’ JP and Ashley as a couple put those two in a difficult position. Putting aside the question of romance, what you want to find on day one is an ally that has a similar mindset, whom you can play the game with long-term. JP and Ashley found that, tied in Alan, and then had Alan make it clear that the two of them work well together. This hobbles their ability to strategize and plan, without seeming to make his words true. Ashley’s quote this week that “Every time [JP] walks out of the ocean with a different animal on his spear, something happens inside me,” only makes that forced separation more annoying for her.
I wondered a lot in the last week if Jessica and Cole would fall into the Figgy and Taylor trap, where they clearly become a showmance and face the abbreviated game stay that almost inevitably comes of that. I think that’s less likely to happen here, for one while Cole may make Jessica tingly, we know that she’s not interested in some casual fling or sneaking off to the woods for some alone time. On the other, she seems to be extremely clear about Cole’s lack of strategic play and is willing to omit him from strategic discussions if he’s not going to be able to keep things to himself.
With a tribe swap coming, it will be interesting to see whether these couples are split up, and how they fare.
Never stop fighting until the fight is done.
I give full credit to Lauren this week for realizing that she was quite likely the next to go and deciding to do something about it. While on the surface that’s fairly simple, it’s two things that many Survivor players in her position don’t do. We’ve seen people march to tribal convinced that they’re not the one going, or meekly go to the chopping block because they didn’t think they could change the situation.
Crucial to Lauren’s continued position in the game? Recognizing that the person she had to convince was Ali. I mentioned last week that Ali was the nexus of the various alliances on the Hustlers tribe, and that wasn’t lost on Lauren, the former outfielder. She made strong arguments for keeping her over Patrick, which might not have been effective if Patrick hadn’t helped argue her case.
You are the hero of your own story, but sometimes heroes lose.
Patrick was in a bit of an impossible position this week, because of his previous actions, but he made it substantially worse. Last week, Patrick’s craziness didn’t chafe his tribe as badly, because they had Simone’s ‘failure’ in the puzzle challenge as an over-riding reason to send her home. In fact, Patrick was one of the proponents last week of keeping their tribe strong and safe by sending Simone packing. What was key, however, is that he’d already been seen as a distraction, and had Ali telling him that he needed to rein it in so that he wasn’t putting so much of a target and focus on himself, something he simply wasn’t able or willing to do.
Which led up to the moment in the challenge that found him trying valiantly to knock over blocks with sandbags, struggling mightily, and clearly being unwilling to let someone step in. The upside of a hero moment is that when you succeed, you win your place and your tribe showers you with praise and questionably cooked potatoes. The downside of standing in the spotlight is that your failures are starkly evident for everyone to see. Patrick wanted his Ozzy, Malcolm, Judd moment, and each time he threw a sandbag with a little less energy behind it, that had to have ramped up the stress of the moment.
In post-game interviews, Patrick has noted that he considered knocking down the blocks to be his job, and he was focused on it to a point where he didn’t hear his tribemates offer to swap out. Though he did note he saw the other tribes do so. He was clear that he didn’t see it as not wanting to let anyone take it from him, but for all intents and purposes, it had the same effect.
Survivor is a game of imperfect players, but if you push yourself forward as the hero and fail to live up to the task… it can be unforgiving.
- Funniest moment of the episode for me: Patrick describing the kind of loyal and reliable player you want post-merge, which is not a description that applies to Patrick.
- Not sure what a red-head ever did to Lauren, but clearly it left scars. That said that was all a bit uncomfortable.
- Joe seems committed to being as blunt an object as possible. Just put the potato back on the fire, or let someone else have it. Throwing it away is simply bad form.
- What was somewhat shocking was seeing just how bad of a sport Patrick was about his elimination. Admittedly, it was a blindside, but he was extremely bitter and still seems to be in interviews.
Closing Points and Looking Ahead
We get the tribe swap next week, a bit earlier than some predicted and one the tail end of my prediction range. We’ve had just enough time to settle into our current arrangements, though the Healers tribe still hasn’t faced an actual test of loyalty. I’ve always believed that until you face a vote, any alliance talk is all theoretical because you haven’t had to back it up. That will be a key question as the tribes get re-arranged, as will the separation of the potential couples. See you next week!