SurvivorSurvivor: Blood vs Water

Individual Games – In the Eye of the Beholder – 11/19/13

The pagonging of the pairs alliance continued in what was a good episode for the majority alliance—except for Monica whose game reputation is taking a turn for the paranoid. Her paranoia might be well-founded, but paranoia tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy on Survivor.

Still, this is a near-inevitable Survivor condition, and Monica appears more poised on screen than, say, Caramoan Dawn or South Pacific Cochran. (I really don’t see the Brandon Hantz comparison… is that just me?) She might be a victim of the edit here. The show always does its best to shape our perceptions of the players—entirely appropriate in a game that is itself so dependent on perception.

Fear is not the sum of Monica’s game any more than Chief/Deputy Coconut Bandit is the sum of Tyson’s or Gervase’s. Every player out there has more dimensions than shown, and half the point of this blog is to show their game from their own point of view. Of course, Survivor is not so fair that it matters what actually motivates a player. The only important perspective is that of the jury who will choose a winner based more on reputation than anything they have to say at the final Tribal Council.

The Doormat vs. the Staunch Ally vs. the Traitor

e7-vytas Vytas has played a busy game all season.[/caption]

Shortly before getting voted out, Vytas (who was fully aware that he was going home) called Monica a doormat for flipping so readily. It’s a view that could be taken of Vytas himself. Vytas has played a busy game all season, but he’s neither achieved nor stood up for much.

His original, five guys, alliance collapsed under pressure. After the tribal swap, he fell into line with the alliance his brother had set up, abandoning all his connections with Hayden, Ciera, and Caleb to play ball with Galang. Once Aras was blindsided, Vytas just as quickly threw Katie and Tina under the bus as he begged Hayden and Tyson to let him stay one Tribal Council longer.

Clearly bad luck played a huge part, and Vytas has certainly got a lot going for his social game, but in retrospect, he was still a newbie competing with veterans. He followed the returners’ lead instead of stockpiling his own resources, and he missed the moment he needed to act.

Monica can probably relate to that. One of the good reasons she has to be paranoid is that she knows what it’s like to be blindsided, yet she’s never dealt with the post-merge game before. In many respects, she’s now a newbie competing with veterans too. (Though Tyson, Laura, and Gervase are also reaching unfamiliar ground as they grow accustomed to being on the right side of the blindside and staying in the majority alliance.)

We can’t be sure how Monica viewed Vytas’ game (or, more pertinently, how Hayden, Ciera, and Caleb viewed it), but we do have her take on the two Galang alliances in one of her secret scenes. It seems that she feels Aras and Tina betrayed the original Galang alliance, while she, Gervase, and Tyson stayed true to it. Technically, she’s right. Tyson may have voted out Aras at eleven when Aras was willing to let Tyson continue to seventh place, but Aras and Tina both reneged on that final five deal in order to let Katie and Vytas have two of the spots.

Technically Monica’s wrong, since Tyson and Gervase were angling to vote out Aras long before Tina brought Katie and Vytas into the final five. Even Monica accepted a final three deal from Vytas—though it’s probably safe to assume neither of them meant it. Nevertheless, Monica did not turn on anybody from that alliance until that final five was revoked. Even now, she’s simply changed the terms to a final three deal with the remaining members of her alliance. How good anybody’s word is on that remains to be seen.

With this final three in mind, Monica is building up a case of loyalty to present to the jury. She’s not a flipper; she preserved her alliance as best she could when two of its members strayed.

As with all jury cases, this would only work if the jury is prepared to view her in such a light. Vytas isn’t. He’s written her off as easily manipulated, feeling that Tyson flipped her with a few kind words and, had Vytas just thought to do it, he could have won her back in similar fashion.

Meanwhile, far from seeing Monica as loyal, Tina was enraged by her treachery. Yet after everybody’s explanation and sleeping on it, Tina changed her tune ruefully noting that if she trusted Aras when they didn’t, it was probably bad on her rather than bad on them.

We don’t get anybody else’s direct comment on Monica’s so-called flip. If we suppose Tyson and Gervase told Hayden, Ciera, and Caleb that they could get Monica to vote with them, then she’s played into the doormat role Vytas cast her in. She is at a disadvantage in that she’s not had a chance to get to know them before flipping to their side, though evidence of the game so far suggests she’ll get straight onto those relationships. She’s got an uphill battle, but not an insurmountable one. Or at least it wasn’t.

Heart vs. Head vs. Fear

Monica quite possibly is the most paranoid person out there: the way the tribal swap panned out has led her into voting with a seven-strong alliance, out of which she only has two personal allies. Laura, in a similar position, is probably the other top contender, but at least she has a confidante in her daughter to vent to. While Tyson and Gervase are placating Monica, the coconut bandits are miscast as emotional support. Regardless, she should be keeping her fears locked down—easier said than done for everybody.

One aspect of paranoia that’s thriving on Kasama is the fear of the hidden immunity idol. Nobody knows if it’s been found, but nobody is willing to assume it hasn’t been. I am really looking forward to next week when it seems likely that Katie will be given the clue to its location. She will then have proof positive that somebody has found it. The players may not believe her story until the next split vote sends her home, but that’s going to ramp up the paranoia.

What is the correct move for Tyson now? If he tells his allies only when the secret’s virtually out, they’re likely to trust him the less. Perhaps it would be better for him to anticipate Katie’s clue and tell his chosen allies before they go to the duel, claiming he just found it that morning. Or maybe he should keep his mouth shut and ride out the anonymity until he needs the idol or it becomes invalid. I’m leaning towards the former being a more effective move in general, but I rather think Tyson will go with the latter. He enjoys a bit of chaos, will probably do very well at pointing fingers at somebody else—and, most importantly, the final reveal of his idol will be a punchline too satisfying to pass up.

Either way, right now, Tyson is the only person who doesn’t need to worry about the idol and he’s perfectly willing to play along with everybody else’s precautions. Including a split vote. So for the second post-merge Tribal Council, it was planned that the four men would vote for Vytas and the three women would vote for Katie.

This spelled trouble for Vytas: he could vote for Katie to help bump her name into the majority, but if Katie and Tina followed the same plan, he would be going home anyway. He made a valiant effort, telling them that they should stay true to each other and vote for somebody else even as he planned to write Katie’s name down. It’s not clear if Katie and Tina ever worked this move out for themselves, but in the end, he told them to write his name down, giving up hope of surviving the night.

In fact, he got so aggressive at Tribal Council that both Laura and Monica switched their votes. Actually, we don’t know why Laura switched, although she did confirm it via Twitter, explaining that she kept quiet about the switch afterwards and nobody ever knew. I find it hard to believe nobody noticed that only one Katie vote came up, but then Tina miscounted the votes the night Aras went home and believed Gervase had voted with rather than against him.

Perhaps once Monica admitted to switching her vote, this was enough of a distraction that most players didn’t realize that there should still have been one more vote for Katie. Did Monica volunteer this information or did somebody ask? Regardless, Laura’s tactic of discretion worked out better for her as Monica played up the joke of it all too hard.

It’s possible Monica revealed her move in hopes of gaining Katie and Tina’s favor. She explained in confessional that Katie’s done nothing to her and she wouldn’t have felt right writing her name down after Vytas’ attack. Monica found it tough going when Brad was attacked at the Redemption Island duels, but in that situation she couldn’t do anything to his detractors. Finally, she was able to retaliate to such a tirade with her vote, and she did not miss the opportunity.

It was a vote of emotion, though she was calm enough when she noted that it might have been a game mistake. Apparently, she wasn’t going to waste time second-guessing herself over that, so it was ironic that everybody else put her vote-switch down to paranoia, and Gervase, at least, was absolutely furious about it. I like to think that Gervase spent the hours before Tribal Council reminding Tyson how split votes worked and how deviating from the plan is a really really bad idea… only to discover that his other ally requires just as much attention.

Tyson, with the benefit of knowing there’s no actual risk of an idol being played, was less upset, though his view of Monica’s switch was influenced by personal experience. Dryly, he noted that in her mind, she’s the greatest player of all time—reflecting his wry statements about his own vote switch three years earlier.

Monica didn’t really switch her vote because she was trying to be clever, but Tyson was still dead on when he said that she effectively betrayed the other six people in her alliance. (Looks like he failed to notice Laura’s vote.)

For both Laura and Monica, this was a terrible move. Laura seems to have got away with it, but Monica should at least have showed some repentance for breaking from the plan. Nobody in her alliance was happy about it, that means none of them are inclined to think well of her motivations, and that could mean none of them place enough value in her game to move forward with her or to vote for her should she make the end.

In the grand scheme of things, this is such a small move. But from where I’m sitting, this has done more damage to Monica’s game than anything else—and a large part of that is because I don’t think she realizes it.

Easy Seventh vs. Insurance Policy vs. Finals Goat

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Suddenly a lot of screentime.

Tina became the latest woman to suddenly get a lot of screentime and attention on the same episode she got voted off, and seeing her in the spotlight reminded me of why I was a Tina fan to begin with. There have been few moments this season more beguiling than Tina coyly standing under the snake-vine tree with a knife, and while her fakeout when Jeff called for the idol was pointless from a game perspective, I loved that she did it.

Her teasing that she might have found the idol wasn’t the best way to sell the idea. My personal dream scenario would have been to create a fake idol and wear it around camp since most of the players wouldn’t have known the difference. It wouldn’t have saved her this time, but it should have forced a vote split (assuming Tyson didn’t cough up the proof) and the chaos resulting from that could have saved Katie next week.

Similarly, her decision to out Monica as the bottom of the group seemed misguided. If you’re going to put the spotlight on somebody, put it on the person who’s supposed to be hiding in the shadows: the puppetmaster. Back in Redemption Island Julie did this a little to Boston Rob, though she needed to take that a step further and wield the power of the jury before day thirty-nine.

I don’t know who Tina credits with leading the alliance—Tyson seems to be getting the reputation for it—but I’d love to hear her explain to Jeff just who she will be voting for at the final Tribal Council and why. Never let players keep the delusion that they can take credit at the end while their leader gets the blame.

Still, Tina’s cheerful analysis of the tribe revealed more than Vytas’ attacks: Monica was still obliged to defend herself, but she wasn’t a victim this time. With the full, unbiased attention of her allies, she had to craft a response on the spot: a response that must keep her from looking stupid or docile to prospective jurors, that makes her seem reliable and harmless to her allies and, most importantly, that should not give her gameplan away.

Unsurprisingly, she didn’t do the best job of this. Not able to reveal a concrete strategy, her rambling defense of her position only increased the appearance of nerves. Understated confidence is almost always the way to play it when put on the spot like that before the Final Tribal Council.

Still, I liked one part of her answer very much. She listed off everybody else in the seven as pairs: this paints her as the only independent player while promoting herself as a swing vote—always a useful position for an “I controlled the game,” résumé. It also hid her actual connections, since she’s got at least one final three agreement with Tyson and Gervase.

I’m not entirely sure how much stock Monica places in that agreement, but she has to see herself as higher up the pecking order than Tina does. Like her husband, she might not have the most finesse in this game, but she’s certainly not a docile player.

Laura’s blank reply when Monica asked who they would split the vote to was a huge red flag that she was the next target. Laura admitted this was the case in a deleted scene. Monica’s aware of the signs, yet she held true to her vote for Tina. She’s got faith in somebody on her tribe, and considering Gervase’s comments about her this episode, I’m guessing Monica’s closest ally is Tyson.

The big question here is how does everybody else see the pecking order? The current setup is an alliance of seven, with Katie as the outsider, Tyson as a loose ringleader (he’s avoiding making too many decisions, but most of the players are deferring to him if only to keep the leadership target off their own back) and Monica becoming widely acknowledged as an easy seventh. Even Gervase seemed willing to vote Monica off when talking to Hayden—and this could be a very good strategy for Hayden: taking out Tyson and Gervase’s original ally can only give him more power in the endgame.

Ciera’s secret scene is easily the most revealing. She says she wants to get her final four locked in place now, before they get to final seven. This is admirable logic; what concerns me is that if Ciera doesn’t have her final four in place, odds are pretty high that the others have one that excludes her.

The other interesting tidbit between Ciera’s lines is that she’s not trying to engineer an alliance that will take her to the end. Rather, she’s trying to persuade others to betray their own allies and take her as a finals goat. This is worrying for Ciera’s chances, since up until this point, I’ve thought she could make an excellent case for herself at the end. But if her strategy is to lie low and appear weak, the jury are not going to be impressed by any revelations she might have at final Tribal Council—just look at Sherri last season.

Nevertheless, Ciera’s focus is on the men and she says that the biggest hurdle to her gameplan is if they decide to stay loyal to an alliance of four guys, which immediately reminded me of Tyson’s comment in the first half of the episode about being afraid the girls would wise up and form a women’s alliance. Assuming this particular group of women would band together, with all the baggage between them, was ludicrous, but the term ‘wise up’ suggests the men are a threat.

I’m not any more enamored with men’s alliance as a theory than with a women’s one, but the four remaining guys legitimately are in an alliance together, and seem to be socially compatible. It’s entirely possible that they’ve already agreed to be a final four together—and each of them is probably either banking on their chances of winning immunity or that they will not be the biggest target come that last vote off.

Laura can’t be planning for that. What’s her pecking order? It doesn’t include Monica, and I’m doubtful she’s entirely comfortable with her original tribe. She knows she’s still a huge target (which is why her vote switch was so surprising), and I’m sure she’s talking up the threat and nuisance that Monica represents for all she’s worth. If Ciera doesn’t have a final four locked down, we can assume Laura doesn’t, but her plan is probably to work herself and Ciera as a voting bloc, to whichever male pair will take them.

This is the biggest danger for Tyson and Gervase. I doubt they will want to work with the last pair in the game, and Ciera’s closest connections are with Hayden and Caleb. If the original Tadhana band together with Laura, a coconut bandit’s only hope is to always have immunity.

However, not even Ciera seems into this idea, let alone Hayden and Caleb. Good news for the coconut bandits, terrible news for Katie whose closest in-game relationship is with Ciera who has just become her biggest enemy.

Ciera feels that Katie’s game is too similar to her own so she wants to get rid of her friend—it was Ciera who pushed for Katie to go before Tina. (The fact that the men listened to her on this is interesting… did she convince them or did they just not feel strongly enough to argue the point?) Is she thinking that Katie is somebody who could get taken to the end in Ciera’s place? Or is she afraid that if she goes to the end with Katie, that their final arguments are too similar, and Katie would take jury votes away from her?

I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea for Ciera to have Katie in Ponderosa, talking her up to the jury, but she doesn’t need to go this early. Ciera has a great relationship with Katie, a great relationship with Caleb and obviously a great relationship with her mother. If she could pull together an alliance of original Tadhana, she would be the lynchpin, and it would be tough for any one person to rally a majority against her. She might not be able to control the immunities to get the final three of her choice, but she’d have a strong argument either way, and she’d be almost guaranteed to make it.

Perhaps Ciera is determined to keep her emotions out of her game to the point that she’s going too far the other way. Regardless, she seems so anxious to prove that she will vote off her friends and family that she’s failed to grasp this will put her fate entirely at the whim of the men. How good is Ciera’s social game at this point? Could she talk herself into the finals regardless of her position?

It’s always possible that Hayden and Caleb will pull a Tadhana alliance together in spite of Ciera’s intent—they’ll be ceding a lot of influence to Ciera if they do so, but on the plus side, it will be easier to win immunity against her and Katie than Tyson and Gervase, and Ciera’s indicating very clearly that her mother and Katie are not in her final three plans.

I’m not optimistic for Tadhana though. Caleb has admitted that he’s not saying much so that he doesn’t have to remember who he said what to. A secret alliance isn’t really his style. Meanwhile, Hayden, in view of his Big Brother game and his tendency to loyalty, is probably quite happy with his alliance of bros. If nothing else, he’s likely to feel tighter with Tyson and Gervase than he is with Katie, Ciera or Laura.

I’m not calling an all male final four yet though. If Ciera makes it to final five, there’s no real downside to Hayden and Caleb turning on Tyson and Gervase—even if the coconut bandits play the idol, it should be Ciera who suffers the blowback. However, for that very reason, we have to think Tyson and Gervase cannot make the rookie mistake of letting Ciera get to final five—instead, they need to put somebody whose loyalty is to them in fifth place… and by definition that has to be Monica.

Monica isn’t ideal as their insurance. She’s already switched her vote on a dime once, and she tends to overplay her hand. But if she goes home before Ciera or Laura, then Tyson and Gervase have to pin all their hopes on their relationship with Hayden and Caleb. True, they could try and sneak in a final three deal with Ciera themselves, but they’ve got a more solid relationship with Monica and that’s usually what tells in Survivor.

Obviously, it could be that Tyson and Gervase are confident enough they don’t feel the need to keep Monica’s option open and she will indeed go out in seventh place. Gervase has already been talking about this. I would personally think the less of both of them if they do jettison her so early, but I will concede that my good opinion is not what is driving them forwards in this game.

If they do keep her, the difficulty is that she’s going to be the ostensible next boot or the backup plan from here on out. Tyson, in full knowledge that he has the idol, can happily allay fears by saying: “OK, we’ll split the vote between Katie and Monica, just in case.” Monica is going to be significantly less comfortable in that position, even if Tyson reveals his idol to her.

There are four votes between here and final five (counting one return from Redemption Island); four Tribal Councils with Monica’s name coming up each time? Even if she wasn’t paranoid now, she should be a nervous wreck by the end of that.

Can I Win vs. Can I win Against… the Figurehead?

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Katie remains the easiest vote.

For this week, Katie remains the easiest vote. After that, it’s Monica, but now the players have reached the final seven, so often a key power vote moment. For anybody wanting to weaken Tyson and Gervase, voting Monica off helps that, though if neither of the men have immunity, it’s also a good opportunity to take one of them out directly. It’s also an excellent time to address the Laura/Ciera pairing before they get their foothold on the endgame.

If Laura gets sent back to Redemption Island, there’s a strong argument to send Ciera out to join her. It ensures that all pairs are broken up for good. (I am perhaps being unfair to Ciera, but my assumption is that she would lose the duel before the next vote, so if she goes to Redemption Island first, breaking up pairs would not the motive to send Laura after her.)

That said, Caleb and Hayden should have learned the lesson from John’s boot that the time to break pairs is right before the last duel, which brings Ciera back to fifth place. At final six, they can make a solid argument that Monica stands a better chance of beating Laura, and if Ciera is saved for the end, Laura might throw the final duel to let her daughter go back into the game.

If something crazy happens at final seven and one of the guys gets blindsided, I have no idea what will happen for the endgame. I’m thinking that the four men will err on the side of caution and stay intact until final five. (If Redemption Island follows its own precedent, there will be two final fives, but I don’t see that that will change things. The majority will still be the majority.) My prediction is for the real power struggle to come at final six, when Ciera and Monica go head to head in a battle of insurance policies.

On the podcast, Sophie pointed out that everybody should be asking themselves: “Can I beat Tyson?” She doesn’t think anybody is. This isn’t the same as everybody else intentionally playing for second place. I expect most players are looking at the jury, thinking through their argument and deciding: “I could win.” Everybody left has enough of a story to pitch to the jury, but there is a difference between thinking how you could win and thinking how you would fare against somebody else. It’s a rookie error, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the newbie players are forgetting to consider their competition. (Hayden might well be included in this since getting to the end worked out so comfortably for him last time.)

Just watching the episodes, it seems clear to us that Tyson is the person to beat, but is it so clear in-game? He’s emerging as the ringleader, for all his attempts to hang back on decisions, but not even Tyson takes Tyson seriously, so why should the other players be doing so? He’s probably perceived more as a figurehead leader: compare to Coach in South Pacific or Phillip in Caramoan.

In both cases, those men pulled together an alliance and held it together, partly because they were savvy enough to know their Survivor theory and partly because their allies respected their game decisions, but didn’t take the man entirely seriously. With a figurehead leader, there’s always a confidence that you can beat them when you need to.

Gervase quite possibly feels that he is the Sophie to Tyson’s Coach and believes he can easily take credit for pulling strings at final three—he’d probably be warier of Monica as an opponent. I could see both Monica and Laura asking themselves if they could beat Tyson (or Gervase, or Hayden, or…) but both of them have a more immediate problem in just surviving the next few votes. They don’t have as many options for the end as the others. Still, ultimately, I don’t think Tyson is hitting red flags with many people right now.

Are they right to be so complacent? In-game estimations don’t logically carry over to the jury. The self-same players who felt Tyson was too much of a clown for them to worry about might now think the less of the players who let themselves be led by said clown. Neither Coach nor Phillip won, but Phillip only got taken out of the game by a freak set of circumstances. (To be clear, I don’t think Phillip would have won at the end, but we’ll never know.) Coach’s loss with the jury was not because they did not respect his gameplay, but because of his own lack of self-awareness—and even then, he got three votes for leading the alliance.

Unlike Coach, Tyson does have enough self-awareness to know how he’s coming across—the bigger issue is if he cares… Perhaps a million dollars would be sufficient motivation.

In this game, so dependent on perception, the figurehead might just be the strategic ideal: being the visible player without being considered a risk. Current Survivor trends acknowledge that Golden Boys like Aras cannot be allowed to the end and Sly Players like Vytas should be shut down as soon as possible. Those who, like Monica, are viewed as emotional gain no credit for their moves. Yet the figurehead goes deep, stays safe and earns respect for defying expectations. If Tyson doesn’t win with it, I fully expect that the role will pay out for somebody in the next few seasons.

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