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Individual Games: A Swing Vote Built for Two

All kinds of numbers have been thrown around this week, but the magic one is two, as a few players get the swing vote right.

cochran-dawn-logo

Cochran finally gets his girl.

A new season of Survivor has started, and that means every week, I will be pounding away at my keyboard, analyzing to excess just what each contestant is doing out there. For the most part, this is an exercise in rationalization, trying to explain why players do apparently crazy things, although I’ll also speculate on where they are headed. However, if you read/watched any of the blogger roundtables for this season, one thing has already been proven: I absolutely suck at predictions.

For example, I was very insistent that nobody would possibly side with Phillip against Francesca, for much the reasons Fran stated in her interview with Rob: he’s insufferable and not good at challenges (though I must give Phillip props for the wrestling challenge; he owned Michael). To be honest, I accidentally came across a spoiler that Francesca went out first (I try my best to avoid spoilers, and this blog will be spoiler free) and I thought it must be a hoax. Voting somebody out first twice is below the belt even for Survivor—especially when there were much bigger threats than Francesca to choose from.

One thing that did not come up in our pre-season discussions and absolutely should have done was something that Erik remarked on straightaway in his online video this week: he learned more from playing with returners, Cirie, Parvati and Amanda, than he would have done in a regular season. What makes this season different from previous All-Stars is that our Favorites played with returners on their first go around (the only exceptions being Corinne and Brenda). We’ve seen that new players look to return players for guidance; we should take into account that that influence might extend into a second season… particularly if that returning player won.

America’s Next Boston Rob

Is Phillip the next Boston Rob?

Is Phillip the next Boston Rob?

There was a lot of scrambling going on at Bikal camp, but the three names most seriously talked about for the vote were Andrea, Francesca and Phillip. What these three have in common is not so much their season as that they played with Boston Rob when he won the game with possibly the most aggressive alpha male strategy we’ve seen. Obviously, Phillip’s made no bones about the fact that he’s emulating Rob’s game, complete with his own list of “BR rules”. Even so it’s striking that both Phillip and Andrea immediately set about hand-picking their own six-strong alliances. Andrea ostentatiously had a group discussion with Dawn and Francesca, but she was the one suggesting all the names. Phillip enlisted Andrea and Corinne to approach the others he had chosen—either that, or rationalized their choices to his advantage after the fact.

For the record, Andrea’s original alliance was Dawn, Francesca, Phillip, Cochran and either Brandon or Brenda (couldn’t make the name out). Phillip’s was/is Corinne, Andrea, Malcolm, Dawn and Cochran.

There are two significant problems with Andrea and Phillip’s strategies. Firstly, they’re not Boston Rob, with his age, charisma and game experience. Andrea is too young and too reminiscent of a cartoon kitten to play on that level of authority, and Phillip is a laughing-stock, who doesn’t even have Coach’s ability to nurture the less secure members of his tribe. Secondly, they’re not on Ometepe. Even in Redemption Island, many people felt that Boston Rob’s strategy would not have worked on the older Zapatera tribe; it certainly won’t fly on an All-Stars season where everybody else is just as experienced with the game.

Even before the game started, Malcolm guessed that Phillip would try to play the Boston Rob way, and acknowledged that it would be tough to take him seriously if he did (though he seems to have succeeded). Phillip’s clumsy attempts to bring Erik under his wing while intimidating him set the fan turned favorite against him. Meanwhile, Andrea has found herself going with Phillip’s alliance rather than her own, and her bid to play both sides was transparent to everybody.

Everybody but relative novice, Francesca, anyway, though even she realized what was up when it was brought to her attention and willingly went with the move to vote out her friend. It’s only to be expected that Francesca was less influenced by Boston Rob than the other two, but even she played harder than might be expected of a first boot. Malcolm thought she would play it safe for a few days, but in her pre-game interview, Francesca was preparing for a game that would start as soon as they hit the beach and emphasized that she had to solidify her position before the first Tribal Council this time around.

Indeed, Francesca went so far as to suggest names for the vote. On an ordinary season, this is generally a good move, since most players are in “Anybody but me” mode for the first Tribal Council. Not so with experienced players. When Cochran (one of the most paranoid players in his original season) did not immediately jump on her Phillip proposal, she nervously offered up Corinne as an alternative, only for Cochran to bat that away with a casual: “I like Corinne.”

The one thing I do stand by in my initial assessment of Francesca’s chances was that she was cursed with the same problem as her season’s Matt Elrod when he returned from Redemption Island. Matt struggled with the pressures of Tribal Council and alliances that the rest of Murlonio was used to. He was influenced by his emotions, tipped his hand and was blindsided. This episode, we saw Francesca succumb to the temptation of mounting a vote against the guy she disliked. (To be fair, he was targeting her… just because you’re paranoid, etc.) Then she panicked because he was so calm. Even if he didn’t have the numbers, I’d expect Phillip to be cool and confident: he’s never been voted off; Francesca hasn’t even survived one Tribal Council.

Which isn’t to say that Phillip is playing any better than Francesca. At least she had the good sense to try and smooth over their past issues. Phillip declared in confessional that he had already buried the hatchet with Francesca but her olive branch proved that it was still a problem for her. However, he was describing her as his nemesis before the game even started, and fretting that he had to get Cochran before she did. (Francesca, for the record, did not mention Cochran pre-game, but did consider making an alliance with Phillip, just because nobody would suspect it.)

Even Andrea had noted that Phillip absolutely hated Francesca, although she rashly attempted to put both of them in one alliance, perhaps hoping for two close allies who would never conspire together against her. However, when the two turned on each other more or less immediately (the treemail webclip proves that Phillip’s alliance had established Francesca as the first boot before the immunity challenge), Andrea stuck with Phillip—because that’s what Boston Rob did.

Before the game started, Andrea was incorporating Phillip into her strategy, wanting to take advantage of the fact that he liked her and that she knew how to put up with his antics. She specifically said that last time he had somebody to tell him how to vote and this time, she wants to be that person.

I wrongly assumed that if people were going to pick up a wildcard as a pawn this time around, they’d choose Brandon over Phillip, since the former has a better track record when it comes to being liked. Instead, everybody’s gone for Phillip, and perhaps it’s because this loose cannon is currently being entirely predictable. He also makes a great figurehead for the alliance, while the individual members can make their own private arrangements with each other. Unfortunately for Francesca, in order to placate their ‘leader’, they had to sacrifice his nemesis, even if they were desperately reluctant to do so. (Even the infamously bitchy Corinne apologetically tweeted Francesca the link to the treemail webclip where she was struggling over the idea of voting her off.)

However, Francesca still could have had the numbers to prevail if it wasn’t for swing votes, Cochran and Dawn.

Destiny’s Alliance

Bikal

Bikal

Cochran received a lot of grief for flipping in South Pacific and putting himself on the bottom of an alliance, but that ignores the fact that he tried to bring Dawn with him. There’s a big difference between flipping alone and flipping as a pair. A voting bloc of two people provides a tempting opportunity for anybody who can be talked into changing up the game—just look at how Michael and Lisa were used last season.

I couldn’t be more delighted by this alliance, since they’re easily my favorite Favorites. Cochran is embarrassingly similar to myself, ten years ago, and Dawn’s somebody I find interesting and inspirational beyond her career as a Survivor player. Considering how hard Dawn took Cochran’s flip (understandably, seeing the effect it had on her game), I did not expect these two to ally, and the players themselves were cautious about the prospect pre-game, but unlike Phillip and Francesca, they were able to put aside their differences from the previous game and instead resume the relationship they had as allies.

At any rate, almost a year after his first proposal, Cochran has won Dawn over. It makes for a storyline that Jonathan Penner would be proud of, but has it made this season’s betrayal a better move? In South Pacific, Cochran was self-admittedly too complacent after his flip, so even if Dawn had been amenable to the switch, it likely wouldn’t have helped. But he’s learned that lesson, and Dawn’s determined to be more strategic this time around. While on the face of it, these two are the outsiders in Phillip’s alliance, they could swing back next week, to make a majority with Erik, Brandon and Brenda, or pull together a couple more votes to take out a target of their own choice later.

Of all the alliances or potential alliances on Bikal, these are the pair to watch. The question is how obvious a pair are they to their tribemates?

The other question is why go with Phillip and Andrea over Francesca. Dawn explained that she saw Francesca as a bigger threat later on than Phillip, which is probably true strategically, though I’d say that Phillip’s mercurial nature is a threat to anybody’s game. However, Francesca certainly shouldn’t be considered more threatening than Andrea, and she’s also a huge asset in challenges (judging by the wrestling challenge, she’d probably be a contender for Dawn’s strong-woman crown). One of the things Dawn kept mentioning in her pre-season interviews was how she was going to have to be prepared to vote off friends this time, and I can’t help but wonder if this MO actually biased her against Francesca, who she was clearly very close to.

Alternatively, it was less about who went home than it was which alliance they joined. Neither Dawn nor Cochran had a personal target for the vote, they were more focused on themselves. In Dawn’s pre-game interview with Gordon Holmes, she said she was worried about Cochran and Brandon being so close. Did she make a deliberate choice to keep Cochran and Brandon apart?

It does seem to have been Dawn’s decision. Cochran, in his bid for a more laid back persona, has been entirely non-committal so far this season. He was even hesitant about aligning with Dawn, perhaps because he’s the one person she can backstab with a clear conscience this season. While I think these two are going to be dominant in the short term, I have my doubts that they will make it to the end together. As it stands, I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

So what of the others? Since the CBS webclips are almost exclusively pre-game for the first episode (and excruciatingly repetitive), it’s difficult to know what is actually going on. Erik, at least, seems to have figured out that he can’t emulate the winning Black Widow strategy from his former season. (Although that might explain his request for Malcolm to “Go naked!”) Ironically, one of the things he commented on pre-game was that it would be cruel to vote Francesca out first again. Pair that sentiment with his reaction to Phillip’s bullying, and I wonder if the one-time Black Widow victim will turn White Knight.

If so, Brandon will be the perfect Crusade partner, seeing as he’ll take any heat. It’s difficult to see where they might get the numbers to bring down Phillip, however. Either of them might need to sit tight and rely on their challenge ability to preserve them until they can work their way into a better spot.

The other person on the wrong side of the vote is Brenda, who has also just lost her closest ally. (Francesca’s secret scene shows the two girls comparing notes and reassuring each other about their allies.) On the other hand, considering we all expected Brenda to have a huge target on her back (even Julia reacted to her appearance with “She’s so dangerous!”), her absence from anybody’s radar is a promising sign. Instead, Andrea’s stood out at the devious flirty female, so in that respect, I have to think Brenda’s stock is rising.

Of course, it might be that concerns about Brenda were edited out of the episode, and as good as she is in challenges, she’s the weakest of the three outsiders. She’s far from safe.

Within the alliance, Malcolm is almost certainly playing as he did when he joined Tandang, agreeable to alliances and ready to joke around.(Exhibit A: faking out Cochran with a Boston Rob hand on his shoulder come time to vote.) The one thing to bear in mind there is that Malcolm was very non-committal at that point in the game, and talked a lot about leaving his options open. It’s possible he could be flipped.

In his pre-game interview, he showed interest in working with Corinne on the basis that she reminded him of a girlfriend, while he was reluctant to work with Dawn in case she wound up as a second Denise and he assumed that Cochran would not be around for very long, as he was so untrustworthy. I’m not sure how much weight to give these opinions since they were all made before he actually met them, but I’ll put them out there.

The point he made that most concerns me about his overall game was that he had to play even colder this time and trust nobody but himself. I don’t personally think that’s a good idea; the majority of Survivor players take the attitude that you need one person you can trust (e.g. Dawn and Cochran), and it’s going to be brutally hard to get through the game without being able to let your guard down in front of anybody—all the moreso when you’re playing back to back. If he’s going to last any length of time in this game, Malcolm will need emotional support.

Corinne is perhaps the biggest mystery of all. Who saw her alliance with Phillip coming? Rob made the point on the roundtable podcast that he couldn’t see Corinne working with somebody she doesn’t like, and as he knows her better than I do (i.e. at all), I’m going to trust his judgment on that one. I find it hard to believe that she’ll have the patience to tolerate Phillip’s craziness for thirty-nine days, and therefore, I have to assume that their alliance is a ticking time-bomb. The bets are on for when it will go off.

I have another reason to be more pessimistic that Corinne will stick with her alliance. She features in EW.com’s deleted scene, where she says her strategy will be based on surrounding herself with people who need her. Phillip and Andrea don’t need her. Dawn and Cochran don’t need her. Brenda, Erik and Brandon? They need somebody! Corinne’s in a good position right now, and I doubt she’ll flip for a few votes, but if she’s going to stick to that strategy, she’ll have to change her alliance up at some point.

Brains before Beauty

eddie

Eddie: Considers good looks as grounds for an alliance.

And so to the fans tribe, where we have the return of the perennial Cool Kids alliance, last seen in Philippines, with RC, Abi-Maria and Pete. At least the standard for success has been set low!

In all seriousness, the clique style of alliance can be very successful. South Pacific’s Upolu tribe were tightly indoctrinated with a “Better Than Savaii” philosophy, while Boston Rob kept Ometepe on virtual lockdown against Zapatera, using “Us vs. Them.” I’m not sure how disingenuous any of Caramoan’s cool kids—Allie, Eddie, Hope and Reynold—are being, but it’s possible that one of them might be deliberately putting the others into that mindset.

Though probably not Eddie, who seems to consider good looks as grounds for an alliance. Even if we assume that he had other reasons, which were gleefully edited out, (and dear god, I hope so), he’s still operating on flawed logic. I’ll grant him that Hope is the most attractive of the girls, but I don’t see how he can be so confident in his own looks after looking into Reynold’s baby blue eyes. (Judging by the press photos for episode two, the on-location photographer agrees with me.)

Reynold, on the other hand, deliberately opted for a less attractive girl to pair off with in Allie. I’ve seen a lot of flack directed Reynold’s way over the “She’s not the cutest,” comment, but I don’t really understand why. It’s hard to consider that an insult when she’s on the same tribe as Hope. There are two ways to interpret Reynold’s strategy there: one is that he deliberately went for an ugly girl hoping to overwhelm her with the unaccustomed attentions of a handsome man (did I mention his eyes?), or he was looking for somebody who wasn’t going to attract the target that the pretty young girls have had ever since Erik gave up his immunity necklace.

I’m inclined to believe the latter, because Allie really is too attractive as to fall for the former and because Reynold specified that she was flying under everybody’s radar. When chatting up Eddie, Reynold said that it made sense for them to hook up because they’d both be around for awhile. We have to assume that nobody was targeting Allie at the time they made their alliance. It’s also worth remembering that Allie is a super-fan who proved herself very observant in her pre-game interviews, and I’d not be surprised if she and Reynold, the fast-learning recruit, have found each other a good strategic match.

As is typical for Survivor, the alliances were shown from the male point of view, so we have no idea what the girls’ motivations are. Hope compared herself to Andrea, Brenda and Parvati in her application, so it would seem logical that she’d fix on the apparently insecure Eddie as an ideal flirting victim. Allie said pre-game that she liked the look of the guys better than the girls, but (said with visible resignation) Survivor history had told her she would be better off sticking with the women.

What changed her mind? The same hormone perchance that threw aside Reynold’s assurance that he would be cool to Allie around camp? I could maybe buy that Reynold hasn’t seen Redemption Island and Boston Rob’s rules of bedtime alliances, but Allie should definitely know better, and there’s no way Reynold wasn’t shown Micronesia with its cautionary tale of Ozzy and Amanda.

So they knew better, and they just assumed they’d get away with it because it was dark and they were groping rather than making out? Still no excuse for succumbing to temptation: Reynold indicated pre-game that he had some kind of attachment back home, and it was too dark for Allie to be outwitted by those baby blues. At least between this and Malcolm and Angie last season, it should be a few more seasons before Survivors make this kind of error again.

At any rate, the cool kids have committed the cardinal sin of making their clique obvious, and the remaining women rally against it, hauling in Michael who managed to be around at the opportune moment. Allie’s fellow blonde superfan Laura had the confessional on it, but it was Julia and Sherri discussing it at camp, and all three women seem savvy enough. Laura has extra motivation to make a big deal out of it, however; she acknowledged pre-game that her physical weakness could make her a target, and so she would be looking to point a target at somebody else, as soon as possible, even if she had to make something up for it. It was a smart plan, and good on her for putting it into action.

Survivor Algebra: 4 + X = Y; Y > 10 ÷ 2

allie

Will Allie join the women’s alliance?

The obvious problem here is that both alliances are just four-strong, which is not going to be a majority in a tribe of six. Now, one of my rules for this blog is to always assume that the players are not that stupid, no matter how much they try to prove otherwise. So let’s look back to One World, where Matt Quinlan got the four young guys into an alliance and promptly got voted out by the five outsiders. In his post-boot interviews, he explained that Colton had originally been part of their alliance too, abandoning them once he was given an immunity idol. Next boot, Bill Posley, said that they’d been talking with Troy and Jonas as well (which Jonas later backed up when he regretted letting Bill be voted off).

So who is making up the numbers on either side? Allie intended to join up with the women, and Sherri, Julia and Laura were comfortable airing their concerns in front of each other. Could there be a female alliance already (as we all originally expected), and Hope and Allie view their male allies as extras? That wouldn’t explain where the women think they’re getting their majority from, but Sherri, as Andy Baker noted in the roundtable, has been seen in a lot of publicity shots with Michael, and it’s very possible there’s an ‘oldie’ alliance between them and Matt.

Also of note is that during the firemaking, all of the cool kids were present along with Michael (and at different times, Shamar and Sherri). That was a long haul to work together, and a great way to trigger friendships and trust. Reynold joined up with Eddie one the grounds that they were strong guys—could they have made a challenge dominator alliance with Michael and Shamar? Reynold who looks older than he is (in a good way), seems the most obvious contender to connect with Michael on some level, but Michael’s used to working with young people anyway, and is savvy enough to create his own game bonds.

The episode left Shamar as a solitary figure, but while I can believe he might not be clicking on a social level, he’s playing too aggressive a game for me to think he hasn’t made deals with anybody. Beyond the potential strong guy alliance, so many other people allied with their wrestling partner that we have to consider Julia a contender. Or, considering his desire to play a Hantz-style game, perhaps he’s cut deals with the interchangeable blondes. If nothing else, I’d expect a tribe of ‘Fans’ to have at least one person ready to turn the tribe’s prickly odd man out into their own personal Phillip.

Sidenote: after watching his pre-game interview, Shamar is easily the player I’d most like to give a million dollars to, just for his devotion to his community. But I don’t think he has a chance in hell of winning. I can kind of see what he’s doing with the “calm down and don’t dehydrate” thing (though he’s not doing the lazy black guy stereotype that’s so prevalent on Survivor any favors), and as a marine, he probably can consider a shelter to be a luxury. But the others aren’t marines, and when they get cold and wet, their morale will plummet.

This might actually be his plan, since he knew he’d tolerate the elements better than his tribemates and hoped to have them distracted by their suffering. Similarly, there’s merit to his psychological theory of letting the others struggle with building a fire and then being the hero who gets it right. The trouble is its too obvious that he is sitting back and letting them struggle. He also spoke of wanting to be the Sergeant of his tribe, and that kind of military mentality rarely pans out on Survivor. Shamar needs to step up his social game; if they don’t like and respect him, his rank is never going to be higher than Figurehead.

I’m not convinced there’s an official majority alliance, but I am sure that everybody thinks they personally have the numbers to be safe and/or control the vote. The cool kids might have had one scene laughing about being a clique, but it’s frankly ridiculous to assume they’re all playing that way.

X might as well equal Two

michael2

Michael has emerged as the fan to beat.

What all this has created is the perfect climate for another swing bloc of two, and this opportunity was happily seized by Michael, who has emerged as the fan to beat at this point of the game. His chosen ally is Matt, who we all expected to be the first boot, but now seems destined to go much further in the game. I should give Matt credit for his own social game at this point, since although he had the courage to stand up to Shamar and carry on working on the shelter, he was quick to congratulate him and soothe his ego once Shamar had made the fire.

Of course, there’s a fine line between standing up to somebody and being easily provoked. If Matt proves to be confrontational, he’s going to be difficult to manage in an alliance.

Still, he appears to be Michael’s alliance partner of choice, though for all we know, Michael had the exact same conversation with Shamar, and I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if Michael hadn’t made pacts with Sherri and Reynold (etc.) as well. It’s worth noting that Matt said Michael told him about a couple of alliances they could join, which suggests Michael has certainly had invitations to two alliances, which may or may not be the two featured in the episode.

But which of the episode’s alliances will Michael endorse? Well, the smart money would be the women who made him their fourth, instead of the apparent fifth position he’d enjoy with the Cool Kids. However, he seemed distinctly cool about joining up with the women in his confessional, which makes me wonder if Laura’s social skills match up to her head for strategy.

Of course, if Michael’s really a player worth his salt, he won’t be choosing an alliance, he’ll be choosing allies. His vote should be based on getting rid of a player that will pull one of his allies away from him, with the ultimate goal of placing himself at the center of his own alliance.

Regardless, my suspicion is that challenge ability will end up being the excuse for their first vote. If the tribe consists, as I expect, of overlapping minority alliances, then the easiest way for anybody to nudge the vote is: “I love X too, but they suck at challenges!” All the more so, because the Fans have shown a worrisome lack of strategy in their challenges so far. For the wrestling, they paired off apparently at random, choosing their own partners individually. This left Julia, most likely their strongest woman, paired up with the unbeatable Shamar. Far better to put petite Laura with Shamar; I’m thinking Julia might have been a decent match for Francesca, and definitely more than Cochran could handle.

Similarly, in the immunity challenge, Julia made fast work of the ladders in the third pairing, while Allie struggled so much in the fourth that she completely negated Eddie’s advantage in a challenge tailor-made for firefighters. Did Eddie not want to pair up with one of the uncool kids? Was Allie so eager to prove herself in a challenge that she over-estimated her abilities terribly? Who knows, but right now, Allie’s the most obvious weak link. Laura might be worse, but we can’t tell because she’s had the sense to keep a low challenge profile.

Between cuddling and challenges, Allie’s gone from under the radar to being smack dab in the middle of it. But there is still much of the tribal dynamic to be revealed, and the best speculation we can make now must be based on the edit—which is a whole other blog!

Episode One normally features rival alliances on the losing tribe, and the formation of a single alliance on the winning one. The fact that we’re starting the season with a lot of politics on both tribes raises my hopes that it will live up to its hype. All that I ask is that Phillip is not the next person off, which would just be rubbing salt in Francesca’s wounds. Even in Heroes vs. Villains, Sugar and Randy had Stephenie as a buffer at Ponderosa!

Here’s to the next episode, when I’ll most likely have to throw out half of these theories and come up with new ones.

Sarah Freeman

By day, Sarah Freeman is a stay at home mum; by night (or at least early evening), she’s an internet writer. I would love to take the discussion further: comment or tweet! More From Sarah Freeman »


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