Survivor: Worlds Apart

Individual Games – A Nimiety of Goats

One of the questions I didn’t get around to raising last week was can Shirin win? She’s an underdog, she knows and loves the game… but when she’s so consistently disliked by the cast, can we reasonably expect anybody to vote for her. On screen, she is a delight, but we have to admit that her social game has foundered somewhere along the line.

Your ordinary player might not be aware of their in-game image, but her fellow players have helpfully pointed this out to Shirin. Your ordinary player, superfan or not, might feel discouraged or anxious about their in-game image under such circumstances… not so Shirin. Shirin has put aside this minor detail and is concentrating on playing the game she wants to play and getting herself to the end, which is wonderfully mature in real life and very commendable in game, but history has shown that the jury will find a rationale for voting for the other person. Shirin said in her pre-season bio that she wanted a goat, but I don’t think this was what she had in mind!

However, there’s a key element working in Shirin’s favor, and that is that she is not the only goat. Now that the golden boy has gone, almost everybody left in the game has some significant strike against them when it comes to the jury. As she said herself, Shirin has to be a passenger right now but she’s angling for a position of greater influence. Should she get there, she’ll have other goats to range alongside herself at the end.

The Tribal Council Spotlight

The standard, Rob Cesternino school of Survivor is to gather the bottom feeders. However, Shirin’s alliance have been working on that for the previous two votes and the only person they succeeded with was Shirin herself. It’s time to change strategies, and so Shirin looked further up the totem pole. Clearly, Dan was a non-starter, and it’s unclear if anybody has realized that Rodney is capable of long-term plotting, so she went to Mike.

Destination: Under the Radar Destination: Under the Radar[/caption]

I gave Mike some grief last week for his erratic approach to strategy and his possible reputation among this cast. I’ll still stand by that, especially since we have a scene of Joe making the idol and considering “who I sell this idea to and who’s going to believe it.” Joe made it clear in his interview that he had a lot of respect for Mike as a player, but the implication of the in-game moment was that Mike is considered gullible.

There’s an element of stereotyping here, with the Blue Collar rule-followers, but there is something cartoonish about Mike as evidenced by how popular he is to impersonate. Yet it’s too easy to write Mike off as a buffoon, or a good ole boy or even as a strategist with blind spots. Mike entered this game with a wish to be a villain—remember his dilemma at the initial choice? Although Blue Collar patriotism has taken over, he’s still got that yen for Survivor-style trickery—and that’s exactly where people are underestimating him.

This was undoubtedly a factor in Hali, Shirin, and Joe all bonding with him, and trust has become a key element in Mike’s game. Twice now, he’s used a vote as a test of somebody’s loyalty: Will in voting for Hali, and Shirin in voting for Joe. He also showboated with the idol, asking Jeff to verify it ahead of voting Joe off. Mike already had an idol and never wanted to honor that deal, so I wouldn’t be totally surprised if he would have played the idol even if he were convinced it were real, but he made sure to put it in the light of Joe trying to con him, rather than himself welching on the deal.

(Clearly, the most above board thing to do would have been to play it on Joe, testing his honesty in the most direct way possible. However, I’m in agreement with the Know-It-Alls that his allies would not have been happy with Mike taking that chance. Even if Mike wasn’t thinking along those lines, he probably wanted Joe out regardless and he certainly didn’t want to work with him if Joe survived the night, so there was little point in pretense. If the idol were real, he could always try apologizing to Joe at Final Tribal Council.)

As Jonathan Penner and Rob discussed on the podcast, the biggest benefit of his move was the performance in front of the jury. If anybody has had their doubts about Mike’s head for the game, that should have impressed them. It was somewhat reminiscent of how San Juan Del Sur’s Natalie played her idol—this one had no genuine impact on votes, but Mike was making it clear that the points scored this round were his.

Is this the latest evolution of the hidden immunity idol? It’s historically been used to save one person for one vote, to secure alliances or feed paranoia… Is it now seen as an opportunity for the spotlight at Tribal Council? To showcase yourself as a player (if in a superficial fashion.) Mike didn’t even have a real idol, but he was still able to create a moment that will be remembered by the jury.

Due to the vote split, Joe could not have got away with wearing his fake idol to deter votes at this Tribal Council. There are scenarios where that would have worked, and it’s kind of a shame that such a good fake was essentially wasted. Good try, though… Had Mike brought the fake idol instead of the real one to a critical Tribal Council, we’d have had a serious contender for the Biggest Mistake in Survivor History.

Mike wasn’t the only person showboating at Tribal Council. Shirin couldn’t be nearly as dramatic, but I liked how she laid out her options for voting between Joe and Jenn (and while we’re at it, kudos to both Joe and Shirin for running those numbers and exploiting the majority’s vote split.)

In reality, there was no benefit to Shirin in saving Joe—it would have sabotaged her chances of getting in with the majority, and in the likely event of him winning immunity again, she would have all but guaranteed her own boot. But her hypothetical disadvantages increased the value of her ‘favor’ to Mike in voting the way she did. It also let her take ownership of the vote, highlighting her role in eliminating the biggest threat of the game.

The danger of hamming it up at Tribal Council is that you increase the target on your own back. In Shirin’s case, that’s unlikely to be an issue. She’s a bottom feeder, and while she can have the final say in this vote, that doesn’t put her in a position of power next time.

It was riskier for Mike, who’s the acknowledged leader of the Blue Collars. I think it was too good an opportunity to pass up (building a little trust with Will was a nice extra touch), but considering how paranoid Mike was about being targeted after Joe, I’m surprised he’s not trying to stay further beneath the radar.

The Next Biggest Threat in the Game

However, as I said last week, I disagree with Mike’s assessment that he’s the next biggest threat in the game. True, he’s pretty high up there once you consider his competition. Dan and Rodney are more underrated than Mike is, Sierra and Will have little prior knowledge of the game, and Shirin and Jenn have no allies. Carolyn seems to be underestimated as the older women of Survivor usually are, and of course, they don’t know she has an idol.

Then there’s Tyler. As good as Tyler has been about keeping a low profile, his only drawback is that he’s not a Blue Collar. He’s in the alliance of seven, he talks to people, he’s good athletically, he’s smart, he knows the game… He’s also not a cartoon character, which is a hefty advantage in a cast full of people who are hard to take seriously.

In Joe’s Ponderosa video (which is compelling as well as insightful—do take the time to watch), Joe and Hali credit Tyler for Hali’s boot, with Joe commenting that Tyler was watching everything before making his decision and that he might win it. Mike himself has a very nice assessment of Survivor gameplay, and includes Tyler in his list of current players who think about the game in that way. (For the record, Mike’s list excludes the women, Will, and Rodney.)

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Tyler takes his low profile literally.

The Blue Collars might not be aware of Rodney’s plan to betray them at final seven, but they may well be wary that Tyler is looking for a way to do it. Are they anticipating final nine being a crisis point, while White Collar and No Collar can still team up to have the numbers over Blue Collar? This might be a genuine danger, since Tyler commented that he’s been deliberately reassuring and encouraging Jenn over the past two days, with a view towards making a deal with her soon.

Tyler doesn’t specify what his actual plan is, but it doesn’t mesh with Rodney’s. Rodney’s scheme seems to be to continue the pagonging of the opposition, then at final seven, when Mike and Dan believe that the Blue Collars have the majority, he will flip on them. If he wants Mike, Dan, and Sierra to be seventh, sixth, and fifth respectively, who finishes fourth?

I’m 90% sure that Rodney would want Carolyn at the finals, judging by his previous comments about older women (and recent precedent that they are doomed in front of the jury.) Kelly and Joaquin were probably also contenders at one point too. Who replaces them? Tyler or Will? We don’t have a real feel for Rodney’s relationship with or opinion of either, but Tyler was the add-on to that alliance.

Of course, Tyler has a tight alliance with Carolyn that the two have invested a lot in. But their tie will essentially be dissolved at final five when Carolyn’s immunity idol expires and with it, the need for secrecy. Carolyn has a close relationship with both Will and Rodney. Perhaps, like Denise with Malcolm, she’s perfectly willing to risk facing Tyler at the end out of friendship for him. Or perhaps, she’s already cut a final three deal with Will and Rodney that she’s very happy with.

It’s so hard to say because we don’t really know much about Tyler’s relationships with anybody… he seems to get on with everybody and genuinely like most people—that’s why he’s a threat—but we don’t know who he’s most interested in. For all we know, he’s best bros with Will and the pair of them have agreed on a Blue-Collarless final three with Carolyn.

In any event, a player who has given up on winning is a useful ally, and Tyler has likely been on the lookout for a vote in his pocket ever since losing Joaquin. But if Tyler wants to save Jenn, he has to persuade Rodney to turn on Blue early.

Despite this, it might actually make sense for Mike to keep Tyler around to take the target off his own back. Admittedly, I wasn’t a fan of this logic when it came to Joe. Joe is too likely to go on an immunity run. Clearly, Tyler’s also capable of winning immunity, but he’s not the all-rounder that Joe was, while still being somebody the other players should be wary of going up against at the end.

Therefore, while the Blues need to move against Rodney’s secret alliance, Mike should be directing the vote either against Rodney, the traitor in their midst, or deferring to Shirin and taking out Carolyn, the lynchpin of the whole thing—this, incidentally, will be fantastic for Shirin’s résumé if she can go straight from being the deciding vote on Joe’s boot to being the driving force behind Carolyn’s.

I don’t know if Mike agrees with Shirin’s assessment of Carolyn (I do), but taking out either of those two would destabilize that alliance far more than if they voted Tyler off. Tyler’s devotion to a low profile makes him a future threat rather than a present one, and it’s perfect for Mike’s purposes if his alliance spends the next few votes saying: “X has to be our target right now, and that will weaken Tyler who we need to take out later.”

Either Mike or Tyler could wait until final eight to make their move, but as Mike wants to save Shirin and Tyler wants to save Jenn, we’re destined to see a shift next week. At this point, the only way the status quo could be preserved is if Jenn quits.

Quitters: Below Flippers in the Power Rankings

I am historically lenient on quitters and/or people who talk about quitting on Survivor, mostly because when we cry: “You knew what it was going to be like out there!” the obvious rebuttal is that we don’t know what it’s like out there. Former players are welcome to grumble about quitters… me, I don’t feel like I’m in any position to judge. (But I will totally judge your gameplay from the comfort of my sofa. You may judge me for inconsistency.)

One of the appeals of Survivor is that it is so damned tough, and seeing people wondering how they can continue—or indeed why they should—every season is an important part of that. I do feel that there are some people who are better off quitting, e.g. Kathy Sleckman, Brandon Hantz, Lindsey Ogle… the ones who are in need of a psychological med-evac, if you will. I blame the decision to cast them, not the decision to quit.

It’s more frustrating to see people quit because they’re not invested enough in the show to soldier through—which is why it beggared belief that the show would cast Julie McGee even though they thought she was likely to quit. Or even somebody like Purple Kelly, whose destiny was perhaps less predictable, but whose casting was inexplicable even before she quit.

There weren't too many moments like this one for Jenn this week.

Never not good TV

Looking at the miserable history of quitters over the past ten seasons, I want to make it clear that even if Jenn had laid down her torch this episode (or heads out to find Jeff straight after Tribal Council), this will not stop me being a Jenn fan. She might not be a player, or a true fan of the show, or whatever, but she has been golden in every confessional, and this is true even when listing all of the reasons her Survivor experience sucks. Especially when she’s listing stuff. Never stop listing, Jenn.

Clearly, I will be disappointed if she does quit now, but I personally don’t expect her to. Every season ever has taught us that it’s particularly depressing when your best game-friend is voted out, so we expected Jenn to be down this episode. We also had no fewer than five secret scenes telling us just how awesome this particular reward was, apparently because it was a luxury food rather than nutrition, and Jenn is one of only two players to miss out on both rewards since the merge. The other is Rodney who explains how depressed that made him until he cheered himself up with a chicken dinner—which meant killing one of Jenn’s pets. Let’s add some insult to those injuries. Do you want salt with that?

(It’s really easy to say that Jenn shouldn’t have bonded with the chickens, but she’s an animal lover and in a stressful game, I can see that some downtime with the chickens could be as good as meditation. At some point between now and Will’s birthday, they’ve obviously killed the rooster too, and while it seems like everybody’s aware that Jenn doesn’t like it, there have been no conflicts, so she’s handling it well enough in my book.)

Jenn knows how to grumble without whining or otherwise provoking arguments, and this week she has plenty to grumble about. I like grumbling on Survivor almost as much as I like seeing the sheer joy of being out there. Survivor is supposed to suck, so let’s not pretend otherwise.

But beyond all this, Jenn was faced with a very specific scenario this week when she seriously outlined her desire to go home: the vote was between her and Joe, the only other person she genuinely liked in this game. Joe was, by all accounts, overtly desperate to stay. Would Jenn have offered her immunity necklace to Will instead of Joe? I think not.

The fact that BFF Hali was at Ponderosa and that it currently seems impossible for Jenn to get to the end short of an immunity run probably influenced her, too, but Jenn said to Jeff that she wouldn’t outright quit. Jeff quibbled the semantics over that, and I agree with him, but perhaps Jenn’s meaning stems from her own brand of fandom.

This is the woman who hung onto her pole even when she was stung by a wasp. The woman who tried her hardest to win the next endurance immunity, even though she wanted to go home. Jenn has been dreaming of being on the show for years. Odds are pretty good that an immunity win has been part of those dreams… odds are higher that they featured a big, splashy move at Tribal Council.

Looking to go out swinging.

Looking to go out swinging.

If Jenn is convinced that her torch is destined to be snuffed anyway, then the best way to get a final dig at her opponents is to save Joe. As she said, handing off her necklace on the one night he didn’t have immunity would have been hilarious. That’s going out with a bang; laying down her torch would be a whimper.

Of course, after she failed to win immunity, Jenn did campaign to be voted off, but again, the context was there of letting Joe stay. Would she have done the same if the vote had been between her and Dan? Not a chance. I don’t think she’d even do that for Shirin, who, like Joe, would give anything to stay three more days but who doesn’t have the added perk of scaring the pants off the voting majority.

Since Joe gave some credence to it in his interview, I’ll also raise the possibility that Jenn might have been saying she wants to be voted off in order to take the target off her. I don’t believe that’s the case. Based on historical precedent, I think it’s a terrible strategy. But it’s a possibility.

With Jenn’s nadir now passed, I am expecting her to switch from wanting to go home to a Sandra-style campaign of revenge: screwing up other people’s games rather than furthering her own. And considering how well that worked for Sandra, perhaps we shouldn’t count her out as a winner. Jenn’s a very charming person, she’s upset one vote with an idol, and she’s good in challenges. Hali would vote for her in a heartbeat, and Joe will likely be rooting for her, too.

However, I find it very hard to see her getting a majority after declaring she wants out of the game—remember the whole Dawn’s teeth incident arose because Dawn said in a moment of emotion that she would pull herself from the game.

So the long-term consequence of Jenn’s moment of weakness is her own demotion to goat-status. Somebody like Shirin could make a great case against her: “I was on the bottom for most of the game and never once gave up. I kept fighting and when she would go no further, I dragged her.”

We don’t know how much Jenn’s opinion of Shirin has improved since the tribe swap, but they would make a very effective voting bloc now. (I like to think that Shirin will spend the rest of the game buzzing around with schemes and strategies for the pair of them, while Jenn sends mute pleas for help to the camera.)

The two of them will likely differ on who they’re giving their votes too—and this may well result in them going their separate ways, although we can probably give Shirin the edge in obstinacy right now. But ultimately, as has been the case since the merge, Mike’s side will be easier to beat at the end—and might well be easier to outwit en route to the end.

Goat vs. Goat vs. Goat

I doubt anybody plans on going to the end with Mike at this point—even Dan has said in the past that he’d rather go up against Rodney than Mike. As much of a caricature as he has become, remember that Dan is a superfan too, and judging by his argument with Shirin this week, he’s probably got into some online Survivor debate at some point.

Their brief discussion about how Kass, not Tony, was Cagayan’s flipper was so reminiscent of internet conversation that it was virtually satire. (Good luck finding two Survivor fans who can agree on a definition of flipper or on the best example of a flipper who won.) If the rest of the show features Shirin and Dan arguing Survivor semantics while Jenn lists the reasons they suck, I will be one happy viewer.

Dan has a better grasp of Survivor than he will ever be given credit for. In their own demented way, he and Mike are that classic Survivor pairing: the social charmer and the strategist… not exactly a poor man’s J.T. and Stephen, but perhaps a J.T. and Stephen in times of famine. If this is how Dan views the two of them, he knows that the social player always wins over the jury, so he can’t let Mike get to the end. Mike’s more useful to him in the jury house campaigning for the others to vote Dan (as I’m sure he would).

Meanwhile, Sierra has consistently failed to turn against her Blue Collars and has repeatedly mentioned the dilemma of playing with people she respects vs. people she can beat. Surely, by this point she has decided that she’s going to go the route of going with the goats to the end? Which means, bizarrely, she’s a lock to vote with Dan.

The problem with Dan and Sierra is that they aren’t aware of their own game image. Sierra isn’t ‘the nice one’, she’s the one who never made a move. Dan isn’t the less popular of the dominant pair, he’s the actively disliked member of the dominant pair.

(To be fair, Joe called Dan an awesome guy, so perhaps it’s just the women where Dan are concerned. Though I’m not sure if there’s a pair of women Dan can take to the end that will let him gather a majority of votes from the male jurors.)

We can never rule out the possibility of people acting against their own best interests in Survivor, so Mike may well be able to navigate the waters to the end, especially if he can keep Tyler around. Yet if I’m right in thinking that Shirin and Jenn will be joining Mike’s side against Rodney, we might well have a four-way battle royale between the goats… and whether it’s a final two or a final three, we could easily end up with a bunch of finalists who have ‘no business’ winning the game—and that will feel less anticlimactic than if Mike does march triumphantly to the million.

Shirin

She who laughs last.

And this brings us back to this week’s dilemma: Shirin may be adored by the fans, but it is blindingly obvious that the other players don’t want to vote for her to win. But the same applies to at least half of those players.

Shirin has one key advantage over these rivals. She not only knows that the others have a problem with her, but she knows precisely what their problem is, because it’s been spelled out for her. She’s also got a personal history of being unpopular and bullied, and sees this as a chance to face those demons with the wisdom and maturity she’s gained over the intervening decade.

When the jury lays into Dan or Sierra or Rodney or Will, they will be taking them by surprise, and the finalists’ carefully prepared arguments are unlikely to have ready rebuttals. Shirin can anticipate the questions she might receive and plan her answers—or better yet forestall them in her opening words. At the very least, we can expect her to stay calm under fire as she has managed to do so far in this game.

It really doesn’t hurt that she has an underdog story and multiple moves that can be credited to her.

Of course, the other reality of the goat surplus we have this season is that every player has a lot of potential options for their final three, which means we can go in almost any direction. It may be too early to simplify things down to Mike’s side and Rodney’s side. It’s definitely too early to speculate on who will be in the finals. Next episode is almost certain to be a turning point, so take this week as nothing more than available strategies for the remaining players. I’ll be back next week with fodder for predictions.

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