SurvivorSurvivor Caramoan

Individual Games: Behind the Curtain

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It was, really, entirely predictable that Malcolm would go home this episode if he failed to obtain immunity. There were no major twists, game-changing developments or alliances made, and even the suspense of the immunity challenge was largely nullified by Cochran’s advantage.

And yet, it was a solidly entertaining episode. Having lost their last Crazy Character in Phillip and seeing one of their personal favorites, Golden Boy Malcolm, go home in a rote episode, the editors pulled out their A-game and gave us a well-balanced episode in which almost everybody had a moment to talk about their game and their personal journey within it. Even then, there was plenty of footage online that absolutely should have made the episode, giving us something close to a three-dimensional image of these players as people.

It’s too easy to sit in the comfort of our living room, after a solid meal and make our assessments based on the selected highlights of the game that are spoon-fed to us. As I’ve already said in this column, it’s how the players perceive each other that counts, and in order to grasp that, we first need to remind ourselves of the state the players are in.

Mostly Hungry and Depressed

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We’re around day 30, and the players are starving.

We’re around day 30, and the players are starving. No, literally starving. I thought production were being unwontedly generous with this food auction, particularly with the peanut butter, but then I watched the online confessionals. Malcolm explains that they can’t find coconuts, they’re out of rice and they have no energy to fish. They’re just lying around in camp, privately debating whether or not getting up to pee is worth it, and that would make for a terrible television show. (Your mileage may vary.)

Of course, as we all know, the way to play a Survivor auction is to hold onto your money until the game advantage comes up. Everybody knows that. We all screamed it at our televisions last night. But it’s tough to actually do.

Having promised himself he would save his money for the item he needed, Malcolm blew some of his cash just on beer, and he was one of the more restrained people. Erik was relieved that Andrea outbid him on the dilemma item, because he didn’t think he would have been able to turn down the meal. He knew full well the whole tribe would have hated him for it, but he probably would have taken the spaghetti over the beans and rice… and regretted it at his leisure.

In that vein, we have to give full kudos to Cochran and Brenda who both took the trouble to outbid Reynold on the immunity challenge advantage, despite being in a secure position. Brenda was clearly so emotionally attached to the idea of getting food that I’m really surprised she went for the strategic bid. Though she was shown looking frustrated when Cochran outbid her, I have to wonder if Cochran didn’t up her bid just so that she could save her cash for a meal. (In confessional, Cochran claims it was because Reynold was bidding (0:25), but by my calculations, Reynold couldn’t outbid Brenda anyway; it’s also possible Cochran was pushing his new challenge dominance shtick by winning the auction as well.)

Eddie, who had all his money so far as we know, did not bother to bid. Malcolm, who needed it more than anybody, had unwittingly wasted his money on the wrong auction–buying potential immunity instead of virtually guaranteed immunity. Brenda might not have been able to win with it—judging by her contorted position when she went out of the immunity challenge, I wonder if she was unable to brace herself with her bad knee, though one of her confessionals suggests she might also have been trying to keep from throwing up. Almost anybody else should have won with Cochran’s advantage. Going two knots up is a huge assist, not least because of having that knot to support your hand at the end.

The message from production seems clear: whoever buys the challenge advantage will win immunity. I’m sure that had that item come up first, Malcolm would have snapped it up. As it was, Cochran and Brenda made absolutely the right call in keeping it within their alliance. Will future players be able to follow their fine example? Or will they take the other winning strategy in a food auction: bid early, bid often, and you will eat well at some point.

Spreading the Love

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“We were people sharing in an experience.”

While the food was guaranteed to get the players up and moving around again, the letters from home were the real morale boost. Almost everybody else was able to buy their letters, and if production wanted their cast to be rejuvenated, they got their wish. Erik giddily declared (0:40), that everybody’s one big happy tribe now: “For one day, we weren’t fighting with each other and starving. We were people sharing in an experience.”

It’s a temporary effect, but there is a remarkable lack of negativity among this cast, now Phillip’s been voted off. Even when they’re playing hard against each other (e.g. the girls trying to stop Malcolm finding the idol both this episode and the previous one), they’re good-natured about it. On return from Tribal Council, everybody was very convivial, laughing about the big event. Gamewise, that’s a good move to butter up your potential jurors, but it’s also a nice demonstration of perspective. People are keeping aware that it is just a game. Judging by the Ponderosa videos, that kind of perspective is applying to the jury as well. Even Phillip is entirely gracious now that he’s out of competition mode.

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. In Dawn’s eyes, the letters have reminded everybody that the family visit is coming up (1:20), and she’s now worried that everybody is that much more committed to the game, trying to make it the next few days so that they can see a loved one. Depending on when (if!) the family visit occurs this season, their respective loved ones could already be on their way, but the next couple of people voted out won’t get to see them. It’s one of the most frustrating times to go home—Dawn and Cochran (and maybe Brenda) have already experienced that.

This is something else to be aware of, that we are reaching the point where the Favorites were originally voted out. Brenda and Dawn both finished in tenth place on their previous seasons, though if you ignore Redemption Island, Dawn was actually voted out at final nine. They have become the first Favorites to improve on their placing, and Cochran will join them if he survives the next episode (for in-game numbers, he’ll need to last two more votes).

That has to ramp up the paranoia as well—we certainly saw what happened with poor Francesca, and it was probably another factor in Dawn’s meltdown last week. Phillip and Malcolm were the only Favorites who previously played their endgame with a clear path to the finals (barring a last minute blindside in Malcolm’s case). Everybody else found themselves at a dead end before being voted off, and I’m sure they’re desperate to avoid the wrong turn this time. According to Andrea (0:30), Stealth R Us are the most paranoid group of people, which might explain why she didn’t just get the whole lot of them searching for the idol. She (and everybody else) would no doubt prefer it to be in her own possession.

The ironic outcome of this is that the eternal minority, Reynold and Eddie, are probably the two most confident people in the game. They’re also the least likely to see their loved ones.

Amigo down, I repeat, we have an amigo down.

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“Just FYI as soon as @MalcolmWHW bought that clue to the HII at the auction for $480 we all knew he was a gamer.”

(I totally stole that heading from Eddie’s twitter. It amused me far more than a grown woman should admit to.)

As Glenn points out in this week’s Buffington Post, we seem doomed to a Pagonging now, even though some players should be making use of Reynold and Eddie. However, they had to get rid of Malcolm. After the episode, Erik tweeted: “Just FYI as soon as @MalcolmWHW bought that clue to the HII at the auction for $480 we all knew he was a gamer. He sealed his own fate.”

Really, Stealth R Us should have come to that conclusion earlier, like when Malcolm talked Reynold out of his idol, or when he found the second one, or when he pulled out a secret idol at Tribal Council. However, we’ve talked at length about how Reynold looks the part of the Great Survivor player: the handsomeness, the athleticism, the charm… Malcolm has all those things as well, but Reynold trumps him in everything except maybe the charm.

We’ve grown so used to his daffy golden retriever edit, that it’s easy to forget how Reynold can dazzle, while Malcolm has perfected the art of hanging back and losing himself in the crowd of Alpha Males.

One of the things I actually got right was that the Amigos planned the double idol play before Tribal Council. Malcolm told us in his interview that Reynold and Eddie didn’t really have anything useful to contribute to that discussion. Nevertheless, on return to camp, Reynold was the Amigo laughing it up with Stealth R Us, making sure nobody was taking it personally, and he said ‘We’ not ‘Malcolm.’

Reynold was no doubt planning on going to the end with Malcolm, so painting himself as at least a co-strategist was absolutely the right move for him. Unfortunately, now that they have failed to swing a majority and Malcolm’s gone, Reynold’s played up the target on his own back. The auction might have revealed that Malcolm was savvier and harder about the game than Reynold or Eddie, but Stealth R Us must still be concerned about Reynold’s capabilities.

In the episode, Malcolm told Reynold to talk to Eddie, while he took care of Sherri. It was an odd move for Malcolm, who is great as a serial bromancer but is now zero for four with the MILFs. The only woman over forty who ever trusted him was Denise, and she always got the better of him as the numbers dwindled. He explained in his interview that he never trusted Erik, so the conclusion here is that Sherri was the vote he was counting on, and he didn’t want to put his game in Reynold and Eddie’s hands when it came to swinging the vote.

Nevertheless, Reynold went and chatted up Erik with gusto and succeeded in getting him to not only talk about strategy but to run the numbers. Miraculous! As we know, he didn’t actually seal the deal, but he worked it hard, and Stealth R Us will be aware of that. Equally, they’ll be aware that Eddie did not try to talk anybody round (perhaps after the Andrea fiasco, he’s sworn off such activities), and that Eddie didn’t try to bid on any kind of game advantage at the auction.

So can Reynold escape this target? Well, it doesn’t look like the Amigos heard anything useful at the double-idol Tribal Council, or you know they’d have been telling Andrea that Brenda wanted her out. There’s no indication that Malcolm told the Amigos where the idol clue was pointing. Moreover, Reynold’s never convinced anybody to vote with him yet. If somebody wants to make use of a two person voting bloc to shift the power structure, they need to act fast, but equally, nobody should risk going up against Reynold in the finals. He’s a good talker, he’s charming, and he’s got a fantastic underdog story.

It’s possible that Reynold can win a few crucial immunities, but he’s got a lot of challenges to go, and the promos have already shown that next week’s challenge will not be playing to his strengths. I have to believe that he is going home next week. (Which would mean that, as with Pete last season, my winner’s pick will again finish in eighth place—not too shabby, but I hoped to do better this time around!)

On the other hand, this is Reynold. The clutch guy. The guy who’s been on the outs since day one. While I can’t see how he can get any further in this game, I know he’s going to wake up next episode gunning for the win. In this week’s EW secret scene he declares that he’s more mentally prepared for the last nine days than anybody else. It’s a ballsy claim when he’s up against five veterans (even if they haven’t experienced the very end), but you can’t deny that he has the most energy out there.

By all that is sane, Reynold should be going home next episode; I just can’t help preparing for sanity to go out the window.

The most plausible advancement for Reynold is if he gets some form of immunity and Eddie doesn’t, leaving him as the last surviving Amigo and potentially a swing vote in any Final Seven power struggles. More likely, that last will be the saving of Eddie. Eddie has proven, perhaps deliberately, that he’s not playing hard, and he has no loyalties outside Reynold, save perhaps for his flirtation with Andrea. He’s a threat to win immunity, especially with Reynold and Malcolm gone, but he’s proven himself to be more fallible in challenges.

Not only that, but even if Eddie does slide through to the end, he’s not a particular threat to win. He’s got the same underdog story as Reynold, but he’s a much less dynamic player. As the last Amigo / Cool Kid / Fan standing, he might earn a couple of votes, but I don’t see that he has enough respect among the jurors to beat somebody who actually played the game. Even so I don’t think he’ll make the end, because the other players probably won’t want to go up against the Last Amigo regardless.

Endgame approaching in ten… nine… eight…

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Are Andrea and Cochran making it to the end?

Seven players left is historically a good time to shift the power of the game. This season the power alliance consists of four people (Brenda, Cochran, Dawn and Andrea) who are all savvy enough to know that no more than three of them (and probably fewer than that) will make the end. They will be looking to secure their endgame in advance and thwart their allies’ attempts to do likewise.

I got some disagreement with my assertion last week that Phillip’s co-leader was Andrea, since many people believed it had to be Cochran. My response was that Cochran seemed to be playing too withdrawn a game, hiding behind more visible leaders; I doubted that the Amigos even considered him a threat. However this week, they were targeting him, and the implication was that they only voted for Andrea because Cochran won immunity. Plainly, Cochran is playing a more overt game than I believed (though I still think Andrea’s the leader in question).

Reynold’s analysis gives us our best idea yet of how their game is coming across to outsiders (i.e. the jury). He believes that Andrea and Cochran are holding the alliance together and knocking out one would splinter Stealth R Us completely. He describes Cochran as intelligent and strategic, but feels that he’s got more of a connection with him, whereas Andrea is the more manipulative and better liar of the pair.

It’s not clear from that which of them comes out in front when it comes to jury votes (perhaps Andrea’s getting a smidge more credit; perhaps Cochran is a little more popular), but it means both of them are in a great position—and both of them have big targets on their backs.

I feel the edit has been doing Cochran a disservice. For a few weeks now I’ve been getting testy with him sitting back and cracking wise while apparently putting very little effort into the game. My husband commented at the end of this week’s episode (after Cochran’s zeal at voting off Malcolm) that he was ‘a bit of an ass.’ Then the webclips won me over, particularly this one where Cochran acknowledges his jealousy of Malcolm, the superfan who is so much better a fit for this game.

I know Cochran’s challenge-shtick is tongue-in-cheek, much like Sandra’s avowals (when sat next to Russell Hantz) that she was indisputably the best Survivor player of all time, but I wish we’d seen less of that and more of this honest self-appraisal. Cochran is much more likeable this way, and he certainly comes across as more aware of what’s really going down.

To me, this was an even more vulnerable moment than the tears over the letters from home, as revealing as that was. Dawn tells us that this is the first time she’s seen Cochran cry in the game, that in South Pacific he just read his letters and put them away. That season they had their letters before the merge, so arguably it was a less stressful time, but perhaps the main difference is that in South Pacific Cochran was a neurotic mess anyway. In Caramoan he’s deliberately playing a more cool and confident game (though we’ve certainly heard him being described as paranoid).

Cochran believes (2:02) that he’d been bottling up so much emotion that it was going to fall apart sometime. Thus the letters gave him a more neutral release, as opposed to suddenly cracking under the pressure. This moment of humanity was sure to have gone down well with his more sensitive tribemates: Dawn and Erik were both touched by it, though I don’t think he needed it in the same way South Pacific’s Sophie did.

Still, he did his strategic share this episode: he ensured none of the amigos were going to get the immunity necklace and he set off with Andrea in her bid to stop one of them getting the immunity idol as well—although we have to wonder what happened to him after that bathroom break, since he never returned!

Andrea really does deserve kudos for the simplicity of her stakeout strategy. Better yet, we learn from Malcolm’s secret scene that she and Brenda returned to where Malcolm was digging and started looking for the idol themselves. I can’t decide if this means that Andrea has no problem with Brenda having an idol, that it was Brenda’s idea and she has no problem with Andrea having an idol, or that Brenda just made sure she tagged along once she realized Andrea had a clue as to the idol’s location.

Andrea was fooled by Malcolm’s bluff that he found it (and I wish that had made the episode), but she had a strategy to work around it and she didn’t let Cochran’s concern about flippers stop her. Most important of all, she had the nerve to go ahead with the split vote even though she knew she was the likely target. Somewhere in the past week, Andrea’s lost her fear of having her neck on the line.

Speaking of which, I’m not reading too much into Cochran’s failure to dictate voting policy for this week. Andrea was the one at risk, so it would seem simple Survivor etiquette to let her make the call! I might consider her the nominal leader of the alliance, but I have always believed that Stealth R Us has been a very collaborative effort, and that continues to be the case. I think it’s more interesting that neither Cochran nor Andrea have shown an inclination to turn on each other yet. Will they be that rare strategic partnership that stays loyal to the end?

While Cochran and Andrea might be leading the strategy, Brenda and Dawn are also fully in the thick of that alliance and have a solid friendship, which may or may not trump Dawn’s secret allegiance to Cochran.

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Brenda’s patience in playing the unthreatening outsider has paid off.

Brenda’s patience in playing the unthreatening outsider has paid off, and she’s now on equal footing with the surviving members of the original Stealth R Us. There are a number of people left who can plead the underdog story to the jury, but so far only Brenda can demonstrate a successful turnaround. Yes, luck has played into it, most dramatically in her pre-merge avoidance of Tribal Council (though even with her bad leg, she can take some credit for her tribe’s challenge strength), but Brenda’s social strength has cracked that alliance in a way that Erik and Sherri have not.

She’s also got a decent chance of being the next idol holder. If Andrea assumes that Malcolm got voted off with an idol in his pocket, Brenda might have free rein to dig under that tree until she finds the one hidden there. She certainly didn’t believe Malcolm’s fake-out, telling Andrea that he was probably doing it to stop them digging. The obvious deduction is that Brenda will continue to dig. (Though considering she and Andrea were shown digging under multiple trees, I am not convinced the idol will be found without another clue.)

I know that Brenda’s quiet game has been a disappointment for many people this season, but I’m still dumbfounded at how easily and gracefully she’s got herself to a place where she can potentially lock down her choice of final three. Her big problem is that while Andrea and Cochran are currently more visible targets, I don’t think it will take much to remind people of Nicaragua Brenda. If nothing else, the other players should be experienced enough to recognize how good a case she has for the jurors.

To the outsiders, it most likely appears that the four is comprised of two tandems: Andrea / Cochran and Brenda / Dawn. We still have yet to hear anybody making the connection between Dawn and Cochran. (It’s possible Brenda suspects, but judging by the “Brenda or Dawn?” comment in the previews, Andrea doesn’t.) I did wonder if Dawn gave it away when she sat down next to Cochran and started pep-talking him through the rest of the immunity challenge, but she was placed next to him anyway—and Dawn likes everybody.

It’s still not clear if everybody likes Dawn back… at least to the point of respecting her game. While she arguably has had more influence than anybody else in steering the game, the frequent crying could be a turn off for the jury, and it’s anybody’s guess how she’d hold up at Final Tribal Council. (I imagine insomnia on night thirty-eight is guaranteed.)

As I said, these four are going to turn on each other before the end, not least because none of them are obvious goats! However, the secret Dawn-Cochran bridge over the obvious Andrea-Brenda divide could make that tricky. It could be that Dawn and Cochran turn on each other before the end, though as of last episode, Cochran’s open to going up against Dawn in the finals. Dawn might do the betraying, but if she has to choose between Brenda and Cochran, it’s not as if either stands out as a more attractive finals opponent.

If Cochran and Dawn stay strong, it will be almost impossible for Erik and Sherri to take apart that alliance. Any attempts to work with one tandem will be betrayed to the other, and if one of the group has to go, Cochran and Dawn can protect each other (bad news for Brenda and Andrea). They are still in that swing position, and that means they are still in the safest position in the game. I don’t want to predict that they’ll both make final three, but I’m willing to wager they’ll both still be around for the final episode, and I’d be very surprised if neither of them were addressing the jury at the end.

Still Swinging

One thing we have to remember about Erik is that he’s an outsider by choice. We can’t really disparage him for failing to make his way into an alliance because he’s not trying to do that. Well, OK, we can say it’s a stupid strategy, but for all we know, he could have pulled a Brenda had he wanted to.

I’m even willing to give Erik’s strategy the benefit of the doubt still. Maybe this is something that could work for him—let’s face it, it’s got him this far. While people are wary of Erik because they can never be sure where he stands, they are not viewing him as a serious threat at this point. He’s always going to run the risk of being voted out to eliminate a wild card vote, but not if there’s a more direct threat around.

Whatever his game, Erik seemed a lot more enthusiastic this episode with Phillip gone. As we’ve already observed, he even went so far as to talk strategy with Reynold. Erik didn’t trust Reynold when he first met him, and perhaps he still doesn’t, seeing as he didn’t vote with him, but on this instance, Erik was the one doing the deceiving. No alliance does not mean no playing the game.

Speaking of deception, one of the most notable things about the post-merge game is how poorly Erik’s been doing in the individual challenges. He’s been on the winning side for almost every team challenge, yet he’s been in the bottom half of every immunity challenge. If he’s not sandbagging, I’ll be amazed.

There’s an obvious motivation for playing his abilities down now and waiting at least until the Amigos are gone, at which point he’ll lack direct competition for his own strengths. I’m sure that at least some of the other players have figured out what he’s doing, but they need to get rid of the Amigos anyway. A suspected threat is less concerning than a proven threat.

Anyway, Erik implied in episode that he would be willing to work with the Amigos at some point. Perhaps now that Malcolm’s gone, he’d help Reynold and Eddie take out somebody like Andrea if the opportunity arose, but it seems like his long term game is to help Stealth R Us vote them off. I think Erik (who already pointed out that everybody’s got to turn on each other at some point) is counting on the core four having a power struggle before final five, and he’ll get to pick which side comes out on top. If all else fails, he should be the lead contender for individual immunity by that point.

(For more debate on Erik’s game, check out this week’s Wiggle Room.)

As I said with Eddie, he’s risking being given the same treatment as Lisa and Skupin: merely swinging between alliances, always staying at the bottom, isn’t necessarily going to earn you credit for playing a strategic game. Unlike Eddie, I think Erik’s got a better view of who he wants to be up against and he’s more self-aware when it comes to arguing his game—mind you, the same thing could have been said about Lisa.

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Nobody is a safer bet to bring to the end than Sherri.

However, when it comes to swing votes, nobody is a safer bet to bring to the end than Sherri. I have more trouble pinning Sherri’s game down than any other player. All those confessionals where she declared that she had the power in this game failed to specify what her plan was. The most noticeable thing to me was that she got agitated with Erik’s potential indecision. Did she not like the idea of another swing vote? Was she worried that Erik wasn’t going to follow her instructions?

We don’t know who Sherri’s key allies are, as it seemed she was purely focused on Phillip. (This is also the impression Malcolm had of her, per his interview.) While we know that there’s a rift between her and the two Amigos, there doesn’t seem to be anybody left that she has a bond with.

While this isn’t great, the real misfortune for Sherri is that she’s not in danger of going home. Phillip told us he wanted to take her to the end, and Andrea says in confessional this week (0:15) that it would be great if she could get Sherri to the end, if she could “maneuver” her around somehow. It wouldn’t surprise me if Malcolm was being honest with her when he made his finals pitch.

If Sherri gets taken to the end as a finals goat, it’s going to be really hard for her to make an argument to win. It’s not impossible, but I have my doubts that Sherri is honestly self-aware enough to tackle the jury’s preconceptions of her.

In one of her online confessionals this week, she’s glowing with delight because she outlasted Brenda and Erik, yet at no point does she acknowledge that Brenda was sick and injured nor the possibility that Erik might be throwing it. This doesn’t take anything away from her relative success in that challenge, but it is ignoring key factors that led to her placement. The jurors aren’t going to let her get away with that kind of omission when it comes to defending her overall game.

Of course, it might be that Sherri does have a plan and has figured out a winning endgame. She proved at the start of the game that she was capable of putting together and controlling an alliance—she could have the same success at the end of it. As it stands though, she’s viewed as the finals goat, and she’s going to have an uphill battle proving that she picked her own path to the end.

The Final Tally

So as we prepare for the final battles, who is on course for victory and who isn’t? Again, I am ignoring the editing for my purposes: technically, it’s already eliminated some of my speculated outcomes. This is an assessment of how the players are performing at final eight, rather than a retrospective prediction.

Upper Tier: Andrea, Brenda and Cochran

Should any of these players reach the end, they will not need to prove themselves particularly to the jury, they just have to avoid doing an Amanda and choking. NB: I am assuming that Brenda and Andrea will not reach the finals together, and that one will be instrumental in the other’s downfall. Therefore, one of the reasons I consider Brenda’s case so strong is that she could claim she took out Andrea after so many others had failed.

Middle tier: Dawn, Erik and Reynold

These players could go either way: the jury could love them, or the jury could hate them. They each have a good argument for the win, but it’s not clear if they’ll be able to make it or if it will be enough if the jury’s already against them.

Lower tier: Eddie and Sherri

These players are very unlikely to win the jury over. I won’t rule them out from the win with so much of the game left to play, but I don’t see that they have the resources they need to raise their ranking.

Please note that I’m not saying that anybody in the upper tier beats anybody in the middle tier at final three—Dawn has as at least as good a case as anybody in the upper tier, her meltdowns lowered her score because the jury are more likely to see her as weak. Reynold and Erik have a less strategic argument, but they’ll have an underdog story and can win the jury over with the right spin on it.

 

What I can’t do is predict how the endgame will pan out. It seems virtually impossible for Reynold or Eddie to reach the end, while Dawn, Cochran and Sherri are the ones most likely to escape the vote. However, the four people in the power alliance are all independent thinkers, Erik’s the good kind of wildcard, and Reynold’s the clutch guy. We could have almost any combination of people in the final three, and even better, I can root for almost all of them on some level.

At final eight, the game is both rife with possibility and players who have earned their shot. What more could a self-respecting fan ask for?

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