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Individual Games: Life isn’t Fair, and Neither is Survivor

As much of a relief as it was to get back to normal Survivor, this was still a faintly depressing episode to watch, mostly because the vote was going to come down to one of the Bikal fans, none of whom had really done anything wrong and none of whom could do much to change their fate. The targets ended up being Matt and Julia, and in many ways the outcome didn’t matter, since whoever stayed would surely be going home next week. That said, I was glad it was Julia who survived the vote, if for no other reason than we had a more interesting split. Judging from fan reaction, I’m in the minority there, since everybody else would rather have seen Matt stay on our screens a little longer.

One of the reasons I blog about Survivor is so that I can give some recognition to the players who are being ignored by the camera and/or the fanbase. The players who might not be entertaining, might not appeal to the masses, but who are still players nonetheless. The underdogs of the fame game. And this week—even if it can only be for this week—that’s Julia. Call it solidarity for the easily sunburned, nasal-voiced people whose “baseline emotional level is very flat.” (3:23)

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Our Unsung Hero

Seriously though, Julia deserves our respect this episode for one very good reason: Of all the Fans, she was the only one not to turn on her own. We all talked about this before the season started… how in the previous Fans vs Favorites the Fans got to the tribal swap and let the Favorites pick them off, destroying any hope they had of controlling the post-merge game. This week, Reynold and Eddie threw Sherri under the bus, she returned the favor, and Michael and Matt betrayed Julia to save their own skins (unsuccessfully) for the merge. Julia at least tried to target a Favorite and even up the odds. Recruit she may be, but she just out-fanned everybody else by applying basic Survivor rules.

Granted, this is a different situation to Micronesia. In that season, the Fans and Favorites went into the split with a 4:4 ratio on each tribe. When the Malakal Favorites, Joel, Chet, Tracy and Erik, turned on each other, that was the first time in the game that the fans went into the minority (and even then, they would equalize post-merge, only to throw their chance of a majority away again). This season, the Fans are already at the Favorites’ mercy.

Nevertheless, it’s frustrating to see how little effort Matt or Michael seemed to put forward to find any cracks in the Favorites’ alliance. Matt explained in the podcast that they knew none of them were going to flip. He doesn’t say how they knew that, but it’s possible they anticipated the Favorites were also applying basic Survivor rules. Even so, just from the physical disparity between the tribes, they should have been forging a gameplan on the assumption that they would see multiple Tribal Councils before a merge.

Of course, also going by Matt’s podcast, it seems clear that Julia wasn’t doing anything to break into the Favorites either. In Julia’s case, the quietness is not really an editing choice. She’s genuinely not saying anything, and it appears that that’s what spooked the Favorites, since they took her silence for confidence and feared she had an idol. That might be deliberate on Julia’s part, but I think it’s serendipitous.

She’s so reserved socially, that she admits she’s glad to be on the older tribe (1:00). She doesn’t feel she’s missing out by not being with the other young people—reading between the lines, she doesn’t fit in with them. I’m guessing the reason she allegedly hasn’t said two words to Corinne is because Corinne (who most certainly would fit in on Gota) intimidates her.

I’m pretty sure Julia’s aware of her social weakness, and is trying to adapt her gameplay to it. Her low-key approach works perfectly with somebody like Phillip, because there are few things the Specialist likes better than having somebody to listen to him. Meanwhile Julia, the most studious of our recruits, dutifully set about over-analyzing everything he said to her. Julia’s intelligent enough that I expect she is taking a lot in and reaching her own conclusions, but even her online confessionals have been low on social observation, and I’m not sure she’s fully aware of what she should be looking for.

Now god knows, I’d have similar problems to Julia with the social game, so I was very interested in what she said to Phillip: “Can I ask what you see in me that’s having you give me this talk?” Instead of trying to guess where she stands in his eyes, she just asks him flat out, but in a calm, respectful way that he can appreciate. Now she can try and play up to his expectations of her.

Phillip’s reply was that he likes people who do extraordinary things, which suggests that Julia’s been open about her race car driving. However, he described her to camera as not college-educated, though she actually attends Stanford. Her racing career isn’t anything that sounds threatening, but I’m not sure if pretending she didn’t attend college helps her at all. People get to figure out if you’re smart anyway (as Phillip did, though he bought the lie), and being open about her education might actually have helped her make bonds (e.g. with Cochran).

All that said, the point I really want to make for Julia is that quiet and reserved though she might be, her game is not passive. She’s really young and still trying to get to grips with the game (a near-casting now and an actual casting in two years might have worked out better for her), but she is trying. She looked for the idol. She worked Phillip. She tried to keep her alliance with Michael and Matt going and would have been willing to take on the Favorites with them.

The Rogue Vote

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One of the great mysteries of the episode was Julia’s vote for Dawn.

One of the great mysteries of the episode was Julia’s vote for Dawn—all the moreso, because she was very specific that it should be for Dawn, rather than just a random Favorite. What was her plan there? As far as we can tell, she never tried to flip one of the Favorites, but she knew full well they were in a minority, and Matt and Michael were so non-committal that she should not have been expecting them to do the legwork.

The biggest clue we have is her statement that the best case scenario would be if the Favorites wanted to vote for one of their people. It’s possible that somebody gave her some reason to think Dawn would be such a target, though that seems unlikely. However, if there was any division in the Favorites tribe, while the Fans presented a united front, then their three votes could be a majority or at least a tie. (It seems unlikely that that would work out for the Fans, but you never know.) Famously loyal Dawn might seem the least likely Favorite to betray her alliance, so a vote for her would not be a vote against a potential flipper.

The alternative theory is that Julia knew full well that their three votes would be meaningless, but she did not want to betray her alliance. After her talk with Phillip, she could be forgiven for assuming that she would not be the target, and it would hardly benefit her to sever her ties with whichever of the guys survived the vote—though after the guy’s response to her attempts to strategize with them, I really hope she realized they weren’t on board with her plan.

This latter reason might explain why she voted for Dawn, who, lest we forget, is the nicest person alive. On that tribe, Dawn is the least likely to hold a grudge over a vote (and indeed, she looked completely unconcerned). Alternatively, it could mean Julia has no interest in working with Dawn. We know she found an in with Phillip, and Cochran of all the players should have the most in common with her. Cochran wasn’t sure what to make of her in his initial assessment of the tribe (1:55), but that might have changed three days later—certainly she was not about to accept Michael’s suggestion that they vote for him. Finally, who in their right mind would risk the wrath of Corinne by throwing a vote her way?

What Julia did wasn’t necessarily right any more than what Michael and Matt did was necessarily wrong. But I think she’s following a valid strategy, even if she might not ultimately have the Survivor-savvy to pull something out in this game.

One more note on Julia: never talking also means never complaining. She’s not had an easy game of it. She was brutally sunburned the first day which restricted her to the shelter and the company of Shamar (and as she ended up on his no-talking list, we can imagine how that panned out). She’s a competitive person (and was acknowledged as Gota’s strongest female) but a weak swimmer, and she’s found herself on the most water-challenge-heavy season in years, unable to contribute effectively as her tribe keeps losing. She’s caught a cold from all the rain… and through all this, she doesn’t appear to have had anybody to be personally close to and draw emotional support from. As of last vote, she’s completely out in the cold, alliance-wise. Yet she’s not only still going, she still very much wants to be in the game if her reaction to the vote is anything to go by.

Julia’s chances of surviving another vote are very slim in my opinion, but I commend her for her game and determination, even if none of it was worth watching. Allegedly.

The Swing Votes’ Rise to Power

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It’s difficult to tell whether the Bikal Favorites intended to split the Fan vote the way they did.

It’s difficult to tell whether the Bikal Favorites intended to split the Fan vote the way they did. Phillip told Matt and Michael he was voting for Julia, apparently before the Favorites all got together to discuss it, but he was voting based on challenge-performance rather than avoiding the idol. That by itself might have been the saving of Julia, since it would have been the one tip the Fans had when it came to playing their hypothetical idol. Alternatively, if that scene actually came after Bikal’s strategy discussion (I’m inclined to think not), then they might have been trying to get Michael and Matt to vote for Julia to create a split-vote scenario. I.e. if Matt had played an idol, then Julia would have gone home, not Dawn.

The effect of it was that not only did they split up the power couple of Matt and Michael, but they widened the rift between Michael and Julia. I don’t exactly see Julia pitching a hissy fit over his betrayal, but it’s going to be difficult for them to get together and start plotting against the Favorites again now. More likely that they’ll stay in survival mode, and work separately on trying to get in with one or two Favorites.

With Matt’s vote-off, we’ve seen the first demise of one of our swing votes. Ever since the first episode of the season, we’ve had Dawn and Cochran on Bikal and Michael and Matt on Gota: both pairs were in the dominant alliance, had influence over the vote and had nobody targeting them. Then the swap put them both on the same tribe, and it was Michael and Matt who suffered for it.

Which means that Dawn and Cochran reign supreme as the two people with the best position in the game. Interestingly while Cochran describes having Dawn on his tribe as “a big relief,” (0:40) he doesn’t describe her as his closest ally, just that they’re very close and trust each other. That might be splitting hairs, but it’s worth remembering that while we’ve seen them make a pact, it doesn’t mean that Cochran views her as his one true alliance—if he even has one. For all we know, he might have felt the same away if Andrea had smashed purple. However, he certainly doesn’t feel as close to Phillip and Corinne, so Dawn is his main ally now, and landing together like this in the Tribal Swap will no doubt strengthen that alliance over any he might have with the Gota Favorites.

They’re in a definite power position now, due to the fact that Corinne and Phillip can’t stand each other. What we’re hearing time and again from the players in confessionals though is that they know neither of these two will flip. Corinne even says that she’s glad she’s not with the Bikal outsiders, Brenda and Erik (0:38), so she’s clearly locked to their Stealth R Us alliance. However, Corinne and Phillip are almost always going to talk to Dawn or Cochran before they talk to each other, and they’re also more likely to agree with Dawn and Cochran rather than each other.

What I noticed with the Bikal strategy discussion of Julia vs Matt was that Dawn and Cochran were presenting a very united front. Cochran justified the vote for Matt; Dawn insisted it was happening. I would lay money on them having talked it through beforehand and agreeing. Which brings us back to the same question we had when Francesca was voted off: which one of them made the call?

In Francesca’s case, I felt it was Dawn who pushed her agenda on Cochran. This time, I think Cochran had his way. It’s not because he was the one explaining the reasoning behind it—he could just as easily have been repeating one of Dawn’s observations. It’s because Julia did not want to vote for Cochran, and because Matt said on the podcast that he was very close to Dawn.

Matt actually said Dawn was rallying to keep him, which we definitely didn’t see. She might have pleaded his case before Cochran convinced her otherwise, or Matt just might be wrong. Either way, it sounds like he was the Fan she was the closest to at that point, while we have to conclude that Julia was getting on better with Cochran than Dawn. Of those two, it’s definitely a better move for Cochran to keep Julia.

I also can’t help but wonder if Matt’s the latest victim of New Dawn. I suggested with the Francesca vote that Dawn might be letting her resolve to play a ruthless game bias her against the people she likes.

The Weaker Side of Bikal

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Is Julia doomed?

As far as the other two go, Corinne was very clear that the only person she cared about being with was Malcolm. She appears to have a working relationship with Dawn and Cochran (possibly more requited on Dawn’s side), but I’m guessing her plan is just to wait until the merge and try to enjoy herself with Michael. I don’t see her sticking her neck out to save him at this point; perhaps her end-game plans are fluid, except to try and get there with people who can’t beat Malcolm in an immunity challenge.

Corinne also makes reference to Malcolm having ‘her’ immunity idol. I wonder if she would try to corner him at a challenge and ask him to pass it to her, since she’s convinced he’s not going to Tribal Council before the merge. She feels safe enough that I don’t think this will happen, but I’d love to see Malcolm’s reaction.

Phillip made the mysterious reference to a co-leader of Stealth R Us, and judging by his online confessional (0:48), my money is on Andrea. I had been concerned that her indiscretion with Brandon might break down that alliance, but he assures us that he trusts her “explicitly” and has full confidence in her over at Gota. Meanwhile, we know from Matt’s podcast that Phillip is spending his time grilling the Bikal fans on how things were on the old Gota tribe, while in episode he was cementing his authority by offering them his protection—if they behaved themselves! He might be building bonds with the Fans for the post-merge/jury portion of the game, but I’m inclined to agree with Cochran that he’s inventing a high stakes situation when there are no stakes (1:25 – listen to the actual quote; it’s great). Phillip has a compulsive need to be playing.

What’s going to happen going forward? Is Julia doomed, or am I wrong in thinking I can predict the next episode so completely? (Precedent supports the latter.) Well, like Corinne (0:25), I don’t see any way for Bikal to win a challenge. They definitely won’t win brute strength, and with Erik, Brenda and Andrea, Gota have pretty much cornered the market on agility too. Reynold’s got deadly aim; Malcolm’s great at puzzles (and if this episode proved anything it’s that Bikal lacks a puzzle person). Most damningly, Gota’s average age is twenty-eight, compared to Bikal’s thirty-seven (calculations done by Jeff Pitman of True Dork Times; if they’re wrong… well, I’m too lazy to double-check, so my respect to you for having the energy)—and Gota’s is wildly skewed by Sherri who can now sit out challenges.

So Bikal is going to Tribal Council next week. Can the target shift to somebody other than Julia? Well, now that the Bikal Favorites have a clear majority, Phillip and/or Corinne might be tempted to backstab each other before getting back to the pagonging—especially since Phillip considers Corinne to be useless at challenges. I’m guessing not though, since as I said before, Stealth R Us players are very certain that Phillip and Corinne will not be flipping any time soon. Even if one of them did decide they’d had enough of the other, I don’t see Dawn and Cochran going along with it. Without those two’s approval, Phillip (or Corinne) would be betraying their entire alliance—plus they need at least one of Dawn and Cochran to swing the vote.

Now, when it comes to which of the Fans is going home, I could see Michael going instead of Julia. Corinne does not appear to have hidden her fondness for Michael, and that might well concern the others, particularly Cochran and Phillip who are wary of Corinne anyway. Also, out of Michael and Julia, Michael is clearly the greater threat when it comes to playing Survivor. (Unless Julia’s composure is really un-nerving the Favorites.) However, Phillip works on the assumption that he can outwit anybody and he’s very driven to win challenges, so I don’t think he’d go for Michael without some serious persuasion.

To be honest, much as I like Julia, I also like Michael, and of the two, it’s Michael I’d rather see going forward if only because I think he’d have more impact on the post-merge game. However, if the merge doesn’t happen until eleven are left (as was the case in Philippines after Dana’s med-evac), then it won’t matter who it is next week. It might well be that none of the Bikal Fans will see the merge.

Gota – The Bold and the Beautiful Take a Break

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Bad news for Bikal is great news for Gota.

Bad news for Bikal is great news for Gota, who might as well start celebrating the merge now. Of the Favorites, Andrea, Malcolm and Erik all noted how much more relaxed they are here. Malcolm, in particular, talks about how Phillip would disapprove and says that he would keep pulling them aside and warning them away from the Gotas (0:50). If that’s the kind of behavior Phillip’s been indulging in, I’m surprised Brandon was the only one to have a nervous breakdown. Nurturing some paranoia is a good thing, but keeping your allies in a constant state of stress—well, OK, it’s a legitimate game move, but it’s never one I’ve been convinced by, and I’ve yet to see it work on the jury.

Brenda was the only Gota Favorite not to talk about relaxing. Her online confessional was all game and enthusiasm for it. Despite her hopeful outlook from her last game confessional, she now tells us that she had felt on the bottom of her alliance. Of course, in the interim, they had lost Brandon and she had hurt her knee, so it would have made sense for her to be on the chopping block. Now, even if her knee costs them the challenges (and bear in mind she can sit out if it looks like it will be a liability), they have three fans as a buffer.

What she’s really happy about though is being in the loop again. Despite her personification of Serenity on Bikal, she had no idea what was going on and had different people telling her different things. We never have found out who Brenda’s connections are, though after her dance with Andrea this episode, I’m confident she’s in with her. Andrea also makes reference to her ‘members’ even though Malcolm’s the only official Stealth R Us on Gota. (It’s possible she’s referring to the Favorites in general.) Brandon must have passed information to Brenda as well, though there’s no sign that she’s particularly close to her fellow outsider, Erik.

Regardless, she’s going to be in on the discussions with her Favorites now as they compare notes on the three Fans, who are intent on throwing each other under the bus. It might have been different had Reynold and Eddie been left with Julia (as Jeff had separate eggs for the women, Sherri and Julia were always going to be on opposite tribes), but once they and Sherri found themselves stuck with each other, all tribal loyalties went out of the window.

Not only has Sherri been completely isolated from her alliance, but she didn’t even get the Favorites she’d been eyeing up last week: Phillip and Dawn. Still, she’s tenacious and immediately took Brenda and Andrea off to spill the Gota beans. In her online confessional, she explains that she was not telling them everything but “exactly what I want to tell them.” (0:45) Her primary concern is to make them wary of Reynold, and obviously if she ends up coming off as stupid and garrulous, so much the better!

This makes sense, although it’s debatable what advantage she gains from it and how objective her emotions really are. Matt described Sherri’s position after the swap in much more pessimistic terms (1:55). I’m inclined to agree with Sherri that she’s in a good position, just due to the fact she’s unlikely to go back to Tribal Council before the merge at which point her challenge weakness becomes a positive thing. However, I was interested by Matt’s comment that she “thinks” she’s in a day one alliance with him to go to the end.

I’m not surprised to hear that Sherri was making final three alliances on day one—and I certainly don’t think that Matt was the only one, unless it was him approaching her. But with one word, “thinks,” Matt made it very clear that this was a false alliance. I think it quite likely that Sherri wasn’t serious about it either, but the calm composure she brings to her confessionals is not how he describes her. Instead, he talks about how she’s been getting nervous and keeps looking for the idol (something Eddie was laughing about last week).

Sherri’s been trying to cast herself in a very authoritative role since she hit the beach, and I had thought she was succeeding. Yet more and more, I’m getting the perception from the other players that she’s desperate and scrambling. It doesn’t change any of her game moves, but perception is vital in Survivor. If Sherri doesn’t have the other players’ respect, she also doesn’t have credit for how the game has unfolded on Gota, whether that’s fair or not.

Lock up your Daughters!

Which isn’t to say that Reynold or Eddie are faring any better. Whether through Sherri’s badmouthing or their own impression, the players are not buying what Reynold’s selling. Erik got a used car salesman impression from him, while Brenda felt that Sherri was telling them the truth and Reynold was playing them (1:45). Sherri herself condemned him with: “He’s not a good guy.” (0:55)

The sad thing here is that Reynold is a good guy as far as Survivor goes. I don’t recall him ever directly lying to somebody, and although he’s hiding an immunity idol, he’s played one of the most open games out there–which has included the odd post-tribal tantrum; I can see why Sherri would dislike him, but I can’t see what he’s done to be rated as evil. Even now his gameplan is to get everybody having such a good time that they’ll vote out the “misfit” Bikal Favorites so they can keep partying together. Immunity challenge-threat? Absolutely! Evil mastermind? Not so much.

So unless the editors cut a scene where Reynold killed a tarsier, we’re coming right back to what I talked about last week, which is that he looks the part: the abs, the charm, the devastating levels of Handsome. You see a guy like that on your tribe in Survivor, and you plaster mental red flags all over him. In fact, Reynold should be easy prey for anybody wanting to manipulate him… though for that alone, perhaps the Handsome is helping him after all.

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I found Erik’s “Used Car Salesman” line particularly ironic.

My husband saw fit to remind me last week that he does actually read my blogs, so let me insert a disclaimer. Reynold’s handsomeness is not merely my opinion but objective fact. Just compare his stubble to the other male cast (save for Matt, whose beard is beyond compare): everybody else looks like they haven’t shaved for two weeks; Reynold looks like he’s just stepped off the set of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. As a matter of journalistic integrity (we bloggers have that, right?), I cannot write about Reynold and not mention the Handsome. It’s his defining attribute in the game.

I found Erik’s “Used Car Salesman” line particularly ironic, because that’s precisely how I felt about Malcolm when I watched his pre-season video for Philippines, and in fact I pegged him as the most likely player to get to the end and receive zero votes. My assessment was just a little bit off there… Nevertheless, Malcolm, who has more subjective levels of Handsome, has gone through the game being welcomed into alliances, while saying things to camera like “I’m an accomplished liar when it comes to women.” This is the guy Sherri should be warning her island daughters away from!

Opportunity Knocks

Malcolm’s been playing his Tandang game over at Bikal, but now the swap has isolated him from the senior members of his alliance, he’s in a good position to step things up a little. He’s got plenty of young guys, (a demographic he’s always thrived with) to start getting on his side, and Andrea’s got little choice but to be in his ear with her Stealth R Us plans.

Like Phillip, Andrea’s reluctant to just sit around and wait for the merge without over-thinking things. She’s keeping everybody on the alert with the three fans, just in case their enmity is some big ploy and they’re meeting in secret to scheme against the Favorites. (1:45) Tellingly, she’s afraid of looking like an idiot in that instance… she is determined not to come out of this as another Ometepe sheep.

We do know that Andrea is wary of Malcolm if only through his association with Corinne, and of course he wants a break from Stealth R Us for a few days. That creates a good window for Brenda who is desperate to start talking strategy. It’s less clear if Erik will be seizing this opportunity. He is relieved to be away from his old tribe, yet he hasn’t warmed to the Fans. He did say (1:50) that he knows the game’s going to keep going, but he also talked about wanting to take a breather first. I don’t see a clear path forward for Erik, and I’m still not seeing the motivation from him to change things up for himself. I hope I’m just being fooled by his laid back exterior.

As it stands, I think it’s the activities of the Gota Favorites that will have longer term implications on the game. Whatever happens with Reynold and Eddie, their challenge prowess will make them Stealth R Us’ number one target right after the merge. Even if they skate by for a little longer, I don’t see anybody willing to align with them too deep for fear that Reynold will go on an immunity run. My money would be on Sherri being the last Fan standing (pending whoever might survive Bikal), but I don’t think she’s going to find the Favorites as easy to manipulate as she hopes. She’d be better off taking a leaf out of Brenda’s book: hanging back as a complete non-threat and hoping for an opportunity, some slip of information, that she can use to change the game.

Ultimately, I think the Fans are doomed as of this episode. The moment they sold each other out, they lost their hope of getting the edge on the Favorites who seem destined to enter the merge with an eight-four advantage. It’s still very up in the air as to which Favorite will win, but as a group, this is now their game to lose. As for the Fan that goes home on Wednesday night, it will be a run shorter than they deserved.

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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