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Individual Games – Fair Weather Friends

After the craziness of the premiere, it’s something of a relief to see that we are going to get something approximating an ordinary season of Survivor with more than one tribe going to Tribal Council, alliances as well as backstabbings, and players actually trying to survive the elements instead of destroying the food supply.

Instead, it was mother nature going wild. On the one hand, this weather wasn’t too bad, since there were only two wet days before the sun came out
again and cheered everybody up, but on the other, the rain had wind with it, so the castaways weren’t just battered, they were blasted. As a viewer, it’s easy to shrug this off because the contestants should have known what they were signing up for, but the Codycast does a
good job of emphasizing just how demoralizing it is to be cold and wet for not just hours but days on end, and the secret scenes this week reflect that.

It Never Rains, but it Pours

jere Solana’s fire went out.[/caption]

One of the major problems with this long-term rain is the fire. It becomes apparent from Jeremiah’s secret scene that Solana’s fire went out, and so they couldn’t eat or drink. (Not sure why they couldn’t figure out some way of drinking the rain water.) Of course, all the wood was wet, so even when the rain stopped, getting the fire going again was difficult.

It’s not clear whether Luzon and Aparri had the same problem. In confessional on day seven, Kass says they’re trying to keep the fire going. Tony makes a similar statement for Aparri, though he takes the credit for the fire’s ongoing existence. Apparently it was Tony who built the little shelter for Aparri’s fire. Perhaps he got the idea from Caramoan, but props to him either way. Even if either tribe only kept a few embers glowing, at least when the time came to rebuild the fire, they would be starting from a place of heat.

Beyond that was the problem of the wind blowing away pieces of their flimsy shelter. The beauty tribe seemed relatively sheltered on their beach. We didn’t see the Brains tribe, but I’m assuming that means they weren’t hit so dramatically. (Though I like to think that in Ponderosa, Garrett and David were toasting the storm and cackling.) Of the clips we were shown, it was Brawn who got the worst of it, with Tony, Sarah and Woo (at least) all venturing out into the wind and rain to gather more palm fronds to repair their shelter.

(What went tragically under-reported here was the fate of the Spy Shack. Don’t hold out on us, CBS! Did #SpyShack make it through?)

When all is said and done, I thought this crop of Survivors handled it well. Yes, there was some shock and despair, but we did see people getting out and doing things to improve their situation instead of just hugging each other as they wait to die. Most likely there was plenty of that going on as well, but usually that seems to be all the footage the editors have for us.

This season, most players sound dispirited in their confessionals, but they’re focused on getting through. Both Alexis and Kass pointed out that it’s only day seven and they want to be here until day thirty-nine. Brice puts it into even sharper perspective when he compares this temporary situation to what his grandmother suffered in the last stages of her cancer.

Nevertheless, the weather is still an endurance contest tougher than most immunity challenges, and it’s the kind of thing players do not tolerate as well as they expected. Lindsey appears to be struggling the most with this. She’s not shedding tears in her secret scene, but she’s clearly frustrated with her own inability to deal with it. That’s a worrying sign…

I really hope she doesn’t quit, because I like Lindsey, and her analysis of her feelings reminds me what I liked about her pre-season video, but not liking your game-self is more damaging than not liking the game.

Hopefully, it was just a low point and now that she’s made it through one rainstorm (and has a tarp), she can handle another, even if she can’t quite be as enthusiastic as Woo (“Woo!”) about it. Michel’s column this week gives us some info about what weather we can expect going forward through the season.

As a whole, Brawn seemed to stay the most upbeat through the rain. We saw the least of Brains, but Kass simply describes them as being on ‘a downswing after the drama of yesterday.’ I rather get the impression that after losing two immunity challenges and virtually all of their rice, a storm is a relatively trivial addition to their list of grievances. Everybody else has been rattling along, absolutely loving the game, so the storm hit them like a ton of bricks. For the Brains? Eh. Par for the course.

If so, perhaps the storm was the saving of them. Luzon wasn’t the only (nor perhaps the most) demoralized tribe showing up for the challenge, and in a complete reversal of last week, it was Beauty who blew a huge lead, while Brains fought back from a disastrous first portion to finish safely second.

A frustrated Morgan explains that LJ never stopped to look at the maze, but blindly focused on getting the ball to the outer ring, ending up in the wrong place. (My husband linked me to a great Reddit thread that shows Beauty apparently stalling, under the false impression that they had to backtrack.) I don’t know whether LJ really did fail to check out the route in advance, or if he got disoriented by the rotating maze (I love this challenge element, for what it’s worth, and hope they use it again), if he got confused by the efforts / directions of the rest of the tribe—or if the cold and wet simply threw him off his game.

None of these factors came into play for Spencer, who appeared to take the lead on the maze challenge for the Brains. While Luzon’s practice session did not avail them in the water-throwing portion of the challenge, they have learned some lessons from their failures, which included not putting J’Tia in the crunch spot. Spencer said himself that there was a risk in stepping up to the maze portion of the challenge. Thank goodness he had the nerve to do it—as I’ve said, I don’t like Matsingings.

I’m not sure if Kass was necessarily better at the maze than Tasha would have been, but I do think she’s better at stepping back. Tasha is more of a micro-manager, while what was needed here was somebody who would give Spencer slack when he needed it and trust his directions—forcing a second person onto the maze is really an exercise in coordination, and considering the Brains’ history, it’s a wonder they didn’t fall apart there. No surprise the bromance of Woo and Cliff whipped through it, but Kass and Spencer? Good going.

With Solana’s loss, the key change in the game this week is that the Brains have hope, Brawn looks unstoppable, and Beauty suddenly feels vulnerable.

Bye Bye, Butterfly

"I feel like I'm in a Survivor nightmare."

Was told to vote for Brice.

After this week, it seems that Jeremiah’s alliance with Brice and Morgan was a strictly one-sided affair pumped up by the editors. I don’t think Jeremiah ever considered himself to be with them, and it was clear the moment he told Jefra to go ahead and vote for Brice that it was over for the purple pants.

That was also the moment when I started hating Jeremiah with the irrational prejudice you can only have against a player who backstabs one of your favorites to keep a more boring player in the game. (To be fair, I quite like Alexis, but she’s a dime a dozen as far as Survivor casting goes. Brice is far more original a character.) So let me preface this analysis with the disclaimer that I may be biased against Jeremiah.

Brice can shoulder some of the responsibility for his own downfall however. His secret scene, where he is obliged to play a game of cornhole is telling. Now, as a Brit living in Virginia who has endured her own cornhole games, Brice has my full sympathy—especially since he’s not even playing real cornhole, he’s playing some sand approximation that doesn’t work properly. But that is the kind of situation where you just have to let go and embrace the game. Brice suspected his fake enthusiasm did not convince and he was right.

Brice was also right to work so hard around camp, but perhaps his problem was this inability to make himself like things that he ordinarily wouldn’t. He clearly couldn’t stand Jefra, as per his comment to Jeremiah last week about how annoying she was. Now we have to look at that comment in a different light.

It looks like Jeremiah actually gets on with Jefra just fine, and so Brice’s commentary only served to drive a wedge between the two men. Although this week Brice was willing to bring Jefra on board to get Jeremiah to work with them, had he made any comments about LJ and Alexis too?

My instinct is that Jeremiah was simply following the rule of: “If anybody asks you to be an alliance, you say yes.” He never meant what he said to Brice—though equally, he seemed incapable of lying to him in other ways, since he admitted that LJ would be voting for him. (What is it with this season and players telling other players the voting plans?) However, as far as Jeremiah’s concerned, he hit it off with LJ straightaway, and he’s going to stick with him until the endgame.

Was it a mistake? Well, as I said last week, Brice was playing a risky game with matchmaking. Jeremiah and Morgan could have come together, cut Brice out of the picture, and controlled the game. However, that’s an endgame move. Right now, the plan should be to maintain a large and loyal alliance through the merge. Voting off Alexis would have alienated LJ, perhaps irrevocably, and left the majority alliance with the potential timebomb of Brice’s dislike of Jefra.

By voting off Brice, Jeremiah has got himself into an excellent position in his tribe. LJ’s wearing the mantle (target) of leadership, but Jeremiah is his right hand man, with plenty of say in how things are going. He’s also close to Jefra, who seems to have no clue how the game works so should be ripe for his manipulation. (Plus it looks like she actually would have voted off Alexis if he had told her to.) Alexis should trust him now that he had the perfect opportunity to turn against her and chose not to take it. Finally, he’s the closest thing Morgan has to a lifeline; a little reassurance and another immunity, and he could get Morgan back in the beauty fold and have her vote in his back pocket.

Right now, Jeremiah is the lynchpin of the tribe, as was noted on Know It Alls. I’m just not convinced that he sees it, and I don’t expect him to take advantage of it. I’d say the power has shifted to LJ.

Brice claimed in interview that LJ barely talks so hasn’t got much of a social game, but while he might say little, the horse trainer has plenty going on inside. So far as we know, nobody on Beauty has found the clue that likely came with their firemaking equipment (I would love to think that it was accidentally burned), but by observing Morgan, LJ deduced where the idol should be and duly found it.

We can never be sure just how much idol hunting was done. It seems likely that Morgan would have continued looking for it, though perhaps infrequently so as not to draw attention. LJ might have noticed that she’s taken more than one trip along the reef. He himself might have made several trips to find it—for all we know, as with last season, the entire tribe might have strolled around the reef at some point, just keeping an eye out.

The monsoon provided an opportunity to really look without being disturbed. Did LJ have a cover story? Who knows, but it would be easy enough to make something up and be holding the idol without anybody being the wiser. On the other hand, if everybody thinks the idol is out on the reef, LJ disappears out there for twenty minutes, and it’s all but proven that Morgan doesn’t have it, then perhaps LJ will become everybody’s best guess for the idol’s location.

With this tribe, I honestly don’t think it will matter much, because with Brice’s departure, I believe LJ is in the Boston Rob position of having a tribe that won’t oppose him. Alexis has a head for the game, but is probably too inexperienced to readily vote out a friend. I suspect Jeremiah is as loyal as the day is long, and Jefra won’t be spearheading anything. Morgan might betray him, but she’s powerless, slated to be this group’s Andrea Boehlke.

And this is why the worst possible thing for this game would be for Beauty to take the majority after the merge. I like LJ quite a bit and certainly wouldn’t begrudge him the million dollars, but I really hope he doesn’t win… at least not in that straightforward a fashion.

Fortunately, the game shouldn’t be that straightforward. It’s possible that rather than splitting the minority tribe (most likely Brains?) between Brawn and Beauty, there will be a complete tribal swap, and members of the core four alliance could end up voted out before the merge. Even if all five current beauties do make it to the merge, they won’t be an outright majority, and Morgan might flip on them. Finally, the god idol that will come into play after the merge could trump LJ’s idol.

Or maybe I’m just plain wrong about the submissiveness of LJ’s alliance. That’s been known to happen. Once or twice… an episode.

Regardless, right now, the Beauty tribe is not the dominant one. That title belongs to Brawn.

Copping To It

"I don't trust anybody here."

The dominant Brawn.

Also right now, the dominant player on brawn is Tony. While most of Brawn are settling in for the long haul, taking things slowly, Tony is playing at a rate that would make the Brains proud. Having successfully located the idol, he’s now making sure nobody else finds the clues, because he doesn’t need anybody knowing the idol has been found.

This is all well and good, but I can’t help thinking that sooner or later, somebody on Aparri will be wondering why they’ve never found any clues and putting two and two together that Tony is always the one unpackaging the reward. At that point, Tony will be the only contender for the idol-holder.

This isn’t to excuse the rest of Aparri from failing to look for the clue—even if you’re wary of looking for the idol, locating the clue keeps your options open while narrowing everybody else’s. However, even if we’re not getting any confessionals, I have to think that other brawns are wondering about the idol, and where the other clues are since Trish turned down the first one.

Would it have been wiser for Tony to keep his distance from this and all future rewards, so he could be the last person anybody suspects of holding the idol? Eh, there’s probably no right or wrong move here. We’ll just see how it plays out.

I suspect one of Tony’s biggest motivations in finding the clues is simply because he’s bored. He’s been out there over a week and is running out of Survivor-ish things to do that don’t involve going to Tribal Council. He’s won challenges, found the idol, found both clues for it, built a spy shack, made an ally… what he hasn’t achieved is what is usually first on the list: a majority alliance. Clearly, it’s time to mix things up a little.

So Tony tells Sarah she was right, he is a cop, and then he sells her on another lie: Cliff is plotting her demise. Last week, I thought he did a great job denying his cop-status—not getting too defensive, keeping a sense of humor about it—this week, he did the same thing by giving her a convincing little dialogue that he had supposedly overheard. (If we assume he kept this as true to life possible, then does this mean Cliff is in the habit of calling Lindsey, “Shorty”?)

It was all very authentic. We know Lindsey and Sarah are friends from their interactions last week and the way Lindsey felt free to laugh at Sarah when the hammock collapsed. As Cliff is by far the oldest of the foursome in the majority, it makes sense that he’s taken a leadership position. In Tony’s little roleplay, Lindsey was reluctant to vote off her friend, and Uncle Cliffy was reminding her that it was a game and that was how it was played. Pandering Sarah’s ego by having her described as ‘smart’ doesn’t hurt either.

However, that lie has got to play out over several days in the close quarters of Aparri’s beach, and if Tony wants to actually seize power, then he’s going to need another vote beyond Sarah’s. Who is the fourth vote he’s counting on? Woo? If Cliff was preparing to vote out Sarah, then he’d surely talk about it to his buddy, Woo, before Sarah’s buddy, Lindsey. Or is the intent for Sarah to bring Lindsey over to their side, and this is just his way of starting a rift between the two women so they don’t unite against him.

As I see it right now, there is no way for Sarah to act on this information without talking to somebody who should be able to corroborate the story but can’t. If Tony assumes she’ll sit back and let him take care of things, he’s taking a huge risk. As we saw in the premiere, that’s not who Sarah is. Like most people, I’m a little disappointed in her for falling for this story so readily, but I’ll be really surprised if she doesn’t find the holes in it before they reach the point of the tribal swap.

I don’t have high hopes for how Tony’s game will pan out, but I don’t think he’s going to be too disappointed. He’s clearly a big fan of the show’s big characters and villains: in this episode alone, he dropped references to both Phillip and Jonny Fairplay. No doubt he’s more than happy to be getting the screentime of his heroes. I’m not complaining about it either, since I drafted him in both my fantasy Survivor leagues in the hopes that he’d score some good confessional points. Suffice to say, that has proved to be a good call so far.

It does make it a little harder to figure out the dynamics of the rest of the tribe, but then, I don’t think anybody else is really playing yet. Sarah has a confessional after the challenge (and therefore, after Tony planted the lie about Lindsey and Cliff) where she is celebrating the fact that they are the only intact tribe left. They have six against the four Brains and five Beauties.

Contrary to the previews, Sarah is all about keeping a solid six, even if they don’t like each other. If she’s banking on historical precedent for merges, they’re only going to need to win one more challenge before they’re given a Brain to use as vote-out material. They only need to win two more challenges to get to the merge with their original line-up intact. Brawn haven’t had a bad showing in a challenge yet; this is entirely feasible.

At one point in this clip, she declares that the other tribes will all have to come together to get the Brawns out, and that’s never going to happen. Ordinarily, I’d say that was a guaranteed jinx, but as the line was saved for the web rather than the episode, we’ll assume that the irony fairies missed it. (But seriously, Sarah. You’ve seen the show before. Never say ‘never going to happen.’)

Certainly, Sarah’s intent is for the Brawn tribe to be the final six. No complications, just a straightforward pagonging and then let it get as dirty as they like. True, there isn’t much room to maneuver at final six, so either Sarah doesn’t like to think ahead too far, or she already feels comfortable in her position, despite Tony’s lie. The trick will be getting everybody else to feel the same way.

Chances are good that everybody in that majority four is feeling pretty comfortable that they can see a path to the final three, but I’m not so sure about Trish, and however safe Tony feels, there is absolutely no way he will settle for any strategy so boring as a pagonging.

Luzon Finally Gets their Win on

While I fully believe that Brawn are the tribe to watch if you’re in it for the long haul, the Brains can only be my favorites, so huzzah for their challenge not-loss. This could mean that one of them is guaranteed the merge/jury—though it depends on what schedule production is going with.

Certainly, all of them should be feeling a big dose of renewed hope. After the next tribal council, the tribes should be shuffled into two, and while there’s no guarantee that the swap will work out for them, it’s going to take a lot to put them in worse circumstances.

Like Spencer, all the men could find themselves on the bottom

Like Spencer, all the men could find themselves on the bottom.

Spencer in particular is the obvious bottom feeder: the only person left out of the previous tribal council’s blindside. He’s also the only man in the tribe, so of course, he gets to be the narrator. Yes, I realize that the internet is perhaps not the most sympathetic ear for my complaints that I don’t relate to the male, nerdy student, but my blog, so deal. After we had this same situation with Vytas last season, I will continue to suggest that they could let an older woman be our window into the tribe for a change.

Spencer, of course, lost me completely when he referred to the women of Luzon as ‘girls’ and himself as a ‘man’ in the same confessional. I’m not normally bothered by using ‘girls’ as an informal appellation—I do it myself. But that’s in the context of ‘girls and guys’. When ‘girls’ is juxtaposed with ‘man’ and said ‘man’ is literally ten to twenty years younger than the ‘girls’, it’s jarring.

To be fair to Spencer, he was using the phrase ‘odd man out.’ (though I’d say ‘odd one out’ is just as common.) And, I admit I have a tendency to think of him as ‘the kid’ which is just as condescending. He’s twenty-one, he’s achieved man status. (At least in a legal sense; I’m not getting into rites of passage here.) Finally in his position, he should be reminding himself that he can still dominate the game instead of worrying about the long odds. Mentally playing down your opponents is a psychological tactic. It’s possible the ‘girls and man’ comment was an inadvertent example of the sexism in the cultural legacy of our society—but it’s also possible that, consciously or subconsciously, Spencer was psyching himself up to keep fighting.

But is he really on the bottom? As long time readers should know, I’m not a big fan of women’s alliances as a theory. They are over-rated as a game-threat compared to how often they happen. Yes, one woman might talk about getting the girls together, but odds are very slim that enough other women will feel their interests are best served without male allies.

Take last season where Laura Morett reportedly discussed a women’s alliance, and Laura Boneham embraced the idea, but Tina and Monica wanted to stick with Aras, Tyson and Gervase, to the point where they extended their protection to Aras’ brother, Vytas, after the tribal swap.

That said, in this situation, I could see it happen, because Spencer is so far out of the women’s peer group. He’s not just male, he’s also dramatically younger than they are. He’s a student, while they’re all established in their careers—in fact, I believe all three of the Luzon women have changed careers since graduating. While the women aren’t all in the same demographic (for example, Kass is the only one married with a child), it’s easier for them to relate to each other than to Spencer.

In one respect, it might make more sense for them to vote Spencer off and keep each other around for the jury. I’ve talked before about how modern Survivor juries are male-heavy, and that this is potentially making it more difficult for female players, particularly older ones, to gain their sympathy at final Tribal Council. Clearly it’s not stopping women winning, but it means we get situations like the one where Dawn was told she couldn’t be a mother and a ruthless Survivor player. (Cue certain maternal fans ranting at their televisions.) Kass and Tasha might want to keep each other around to provide an older female perspective at Ponderosa.

Yet that’s something of a meta-game, and it would be far more straightforward for them to think that Spencer is young and scared and malleable. While they respect each other’s life experience and in-game resolve, perhaps they’d rather keep around the quiet guy who’s meekly keeping his mouth shut while being told he’s going home if they lose another challenge.

The person on the talking end of that exchange is Tasha, who has taken over leadership of the tribe now that the alpha males have been voted out. Leading Luzon is a thankless task if ever I saw one, and Tasha spent most of the episode with the slightly wild look of a preschool teacher: She’s recognized the crisis on her hands, and she has a plan of action… but first, she’s got to put that plan into Toddler logic so that her class, sorry, tribe will understand what she wants of them.

The pressure is getting to her. She made some stupid mistakes in the challenge, throwing the bucket upside down at one point, and she appears to be doing the same at camp. Telling Spencer he’ll go home that night if they lose? You can’t do that on Survivor. The theme of the season has been to tell everybody that you’re thinking of voting for them, but Tasha was actually using it as a threat: perform or go home.

It worked in that Spencer stepped up to the plate, but what are the odds now that he’ll ever have Tasha’s back if she wants it? Say he and Tasha get swapped onto the same tribe in a couple of episodes. Spencer has all the motivation in the world to throw her under the bus to save himself.

I do really like Tasha, and I hope that now that they’ve won a challenge and can relax for a few days, she can get it together and recover the voice of calm and poise that we saw in the first episode. I also give her some credit for pulling the tribe together, even if she lost her finesse in the process—I’m just worried she’s given herself far too big a target going forwards.

What about J’Tia, who seems the most logical boot? I think for J’Tia, even more than Spencer, this win was vital. The Brains might well be assuming that the next immunity challenge is the last one they’ll do as a tribe. As such, voting out the weak link is no longer a priority. Had they lost this episode, no matter what Tasha was saying to Spencer, they would have had to give some serious thought to voting off J’Tia and keep a stable team going forward for the challenges.

J'Tia's redemption story began with tears.

A chance to bond.

Instead, they got a night off Tribal Council and, as J’Tia put it, a chance to bond. She’s still got a lot to live down with the lack of rice. Kass tweeted that they had managed to salvage some of the thrown rice, and they saved it to eat before challenges, as we saw this week. The great thing about J’Tia is still that she owns her lunacy after the fact, and honestly, there were times this episode when she seemed to be holding it together better than Tasha. But she’s still a nervous player, and I don’t think this will make her blindly loyal to Tasha just because Tasha saved her last time. I think J’Tia’s on a firm “Anybody but me” policy.

Finally, there’s Kass who, with her interior decorating line seems to be determined to take her place as Tribe Troll. (Perhaps rather than Sandra, the player she’s most like should be Tyson. The dream scenario is now Kass and J’Tia as the Rice Bandits.) I’m never quite sure just how seriously Kass is taking the game. She confirms Garrett’s assertion that she wasn’t playing the game for the first three days in an online confessional, but merely noted that now she had started, it was ‘fun’.

I can’t figure out Kass’ intentions from her own confessionals, but there was a line in one of Spencer’s regarding the challenge that struck me: “It shows that me and Kass can work great together. I think it puts us in a better spot in the tribe.” (Emphasis mine. Also, Spencer is losing more points for bad grammar than for potential sexism.)

OK, I don’t want to go overboard in interpreting this statement, but I expected him to say ‘me’ not ‘us’. At the very least, this indicates to me that whoever Spencer wants to leapfrog over in the pecking order, it’s not Kass. I’m not going to say that he and Kass are in an alliance, but in the wider context of everything that’s happened, it makes sense to me that Kass has burned less bridges with him than the other two.

Now all’s said and done, who is in the most danger among the Brains? I go back and forth. Sometimes, I think Spencer will be cut adrift as the person with the least ties to the core group. (Whoever they are!) Sometimes, I think Tasha shot herself in the foot by taking on the leadership mantle, though somebody had to. Sometimes, I think J’Tia’s just too obvious a risk to be ignored for another Tribal Council. Right now, I can’t see any reason for Kass to be voted out, but knowing this tribe, they could think of something.

To sum up, I don’t know and am quietly rooting for the Beauty tribe to lose again so that we can keep all four of these unpredictable loons. Sorry, Beauty, but once you voted off those purple pants, you became a lot duller.

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