SurvivorSurvivor: Blood vs Water

Individual Games – Taking Aim – 10/29/13

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First off, apologies for the lack of an Individual Games blog last week. I managed to lose two days of work due to my own titanic stupidity and did not have time to rewrite. My husband has now tweaked our back-up procedure in an attempt to make it idiot-proof, but after twelve years of living with me, he knows better than to make guarantees. If you follow me on Twitter (@JohnMCochran @ChannonSarah), you should have seen the three-tweet version of the blog. You can also expect me to reference last week quite a bit as we go through this week.

As it happened, one of the things I felt most strongly about last week was that Kat would have been much more logical a choice of boot than either Laura. Like the Lauras, she’s not officially in the alliance. She might think she is, but then Laura Morett thought she was tight with Aras, and no matter what confessionals they were pulling from Laura Boneham’s first three days in the game (as many people have commented, she wore a red buff when talking about being ostracized), she’s lately seemed very complacent about her position. None of the women were a threat to flip, but Kat’s Tadhana counterpart is a much bigger threat than Laura’s. Damaging Hayden’s game would be a great perk to voting off somebody they didn’t need.

On the other hand, as I theorized in the first episode, Laura Morett probably had less pre-game connections than Kat. Tyson had already cast a vote against her, so there was likely a rift between them, and Aras didn’t trust her. (Now, with the benefit of seeing her confessionals, he’s owned that he should have worked with her instead.) I suspect lots of different—but mostly arbitrary—factors played a role in her boot.

Aras said that Laura B would have been the easy vote. I can’t help but feel that they still took the easier vote over the right one.

Kats vs. Lauras vs. Vytas

e3-lauram I didn’t think I was the Laura people were going after.[/caption]

I could see two possible reasons for Kat’s name not to even come up last week. One is that everybody is viewing her as a pawn to tuck under their wing and escort to the finals. The second is that the power players on Galang are hoping to work with Hayden.

Just from listening to the podcasts on this site, I’ve heard at least three former Survivors say they’ve met Hayden (even if, in Stephen Fishbach’s case, they never exchanged a word). By comparison, the only person to claim acquaintance with Laura Morett has been the one who played on her season. Hayden is active on the reality TV circuit, and it’s likely he made his own pre-game pacts with people rather than going through Kat. I don’t really think the Galang bros have Hayden as their post-merge Plan A, but if Stephen Fishbach and Matt Hoffman could have a secret pre-game alliance on Reality Gamemasters that ultimately came to nothing, then somebody on Galang could have an option with Hayden that they want to keep open.

In support of this theory, Kat says of the tribal swap that she knows her guys will want to work with Hayden, so he’ll be safe. She might be assuming Hayden can charm Tyson, Aras, and Gervase, but I think it’s at least as likely that Hayden discussed alliances with some of them before the game. Voting Kat off could have burned that bridge. Tina and Laura Boneham seem less likely candidates for Hayden’s pre-game deals, so they should have less motivation for saving Kat, and if Monica had any reason to do so, Kat negated that.

Whatever happened to Laura Boneham being on the radar? As far as the women are concerned, this season is following the less popular story advice of “Tell, don’t show.” We have hardly seen anything of Laura since the first episode, but suddenly we find out that everybody is annoyed with her. I feel like we’re missing out on some great comedy moments here, especially if her subtle manipulation of Kat is anything to go by.

On the other hand, she seems like a low key annoyance (especially compared to her husband), and the game is moving past the stage of voting the annoying person out to stay neutral. Players are picking sides and drawing lines now. This is the point where the easy vote transforms into the finals goat.

Personally, I don’t buy into Laura being a risk to flip, loved one or not. She was angry with Tadhana for voting her out, and as far back as episode two,
she talked about having an alliance. We’ve had no further insight into what this alliance is, but this week she may have made a reference to it when she said
of new Galang that the four girls were still sticking together, describing Katie as another girl for them.

I’ve been having an argument with former RHAP and current True Dork Times blogger, Andy Baker, over the possibility of the Galang women aligning against the men. He thinks that’s why Laura Morett was booted; I think a women’s alliance is a lazy theory.

Women’s alliances get brought up a lot but so rarely actually happen. It’s all very well to say “Let’s have the women band together against the men!” but you will probably need every woman on that tribe to agree to it if you want the majority (even when the Galang women had a five-three advantage over the men, it would only have taken one woman to pull out for the strategy to fail), and with Survivor casting decisions, odds are high that there will be two women who can’t stand each other.

The same applies to men too. If you opt for an exclusively male alliance, you’re also limiting yourself drastically. It’s not clear if compatibility issues influenced the downfall of Brad’s five guys alliance, but said downfall definitely happened. The enduring alliances tend to form more organically. One World’s all female alliance was picked from a pool of nine women and was influenced more by age than by gender; in Micronesia, Parvati was able to bring two groups of girlfriends together after swapping tribes before the merge, but Eliza’s gender neither gained her entry to that alliance nor protected her from it.

At any rate, while the mention of a women’s alliance might start my eyes rolling, it looks like Andy will be getting the last laugh on this one. Aras confirmed via Twitter that an all-women’s alliance was a threat. (It’s not clear if that was his fear or game fact.) Considering Laura Morett’s previous season (and the gender of her loved one), she’s a logical candidate to be the driving force behind any such alliance, though her loyalty to Aras suggests that that wasn’t her strategy this time.

Still, looking at the dynamics of new and old Galang, I think it’s entirely possible that in Laura Boneham’s perception of the game, the women are in an alliance. If so, perhaps Tina and Monica kept their male allies informed, but Laura Morett chose not to mention it to Aras. This is definitely in the realms of Survivor fanfiction, please note, but Laura Boneham’s reference to an alliance has been a dangling thread for a while now, and this theory fits in as well with what we’ve seen as any other.

If there was an all-women’s alliance, even one secondary to the alliance we’ve seen in-show, that would have helped Kat feel secure in her new tribe and explains how Vytas became so obvious a boot over Katie.

Vytas, aware of his peril, immediately worked on ingratiating himself to his new tribe, shamelessly recounting his troubled past for sympathy votes. It was great, but it wasn’t enough to make him feel secure. He tweeted that he couldn’t be 100% confident and that he was still fighting at Tribal Council. Indeed, he went into full Benjamin Linus from Lost mode, and while he certainly got the better of Kat in that pre-vote debate, there was something a little too cold-blooded about it. He came across as kicking Kat while she was down rather than being loyal to his tribe (compare to Philippines Denise when she had to dodge the vote at Kalabaw).

Would it have been smarter to accept that the vote was not going to change at the eleventh hour, stay quiet and hope? Then again, Vytas’ most recent experience is that the vote is far from settled at Tribal Council.

I may wonder just how the women took Vytas’ performance, but I have to commend him for staying outwardly calm. He was composed in the face of paranoia, and he bit his tongue over Tina and Laura’s mistake in a challenge he must have been desperate to win. Aras said pre-game that he told his brother the hardest thing would be keeping his temper. It seems Vytas has risen to that challenge.

Vytas’ one advantage in this new tribe is that his brother was part of the primary alliance—and it’s very likely that Vytas was in on any pre-game pacts. After Tina had introduced Katie to Galang as her daughter, she blithely went on to introduce Vytas. I swear she cut herself off after she said his name, as if remembering she wasn’t supposed to know him. That scene left me wondering if Tina and Vytas had met each other or interacted in some way before the game started, though it’s just as likely I’m over-interpreting.

Still, while All Stars may have proved that sparing Loved Ones earns you no favors in the game, keeping Vytas around acts as a gesture of loyalty to Aras. Tina was likely aware of Aras’ paranoia about a women’s alliance, so Kat’s disappearance would go a long way towards allaying those fears as well.

Has Vytas officially been inducted into the alliance in Aras’ absence? Again, that could be reading too far between the lines, but Tina was comfortable telling Monica about Kat’s disloyalty in front of Vytas, and Monica was comfortable telling Vytas that he had been the target of the vote. Survivor logic dictates that if you’re talking like that in somebody’s presence, you have reason to trust them.

This logic was my main basis for a hypothetical Hayden, Vytas, Katie and Ciera alliance, after Hayden discussed voting off Brad with this group back in episode three. If this alliance ever existed, it must have been shaken, possibly broken by the episode four vote—yet Hayden said in his secret scene that he had some kind of game relationship with Katie. If Vytas cultivated her similarly, then she represents one more ace up his Galang sleeve.

Who’s holding the cards?

The Know It Alls (and if you haven’t seen it, watch / listen to it now, because they were on fire this week) declared that the idea of Katie getting her mother to save Vytas was fanfiction. I’m calling them out on that. To me, it’s frankly ludicrous to assume that Tina a) never discussed the vote with her daughter and b) if she did, Katie did not recommend saving the guy she’s been on a tribe with for the past two weeks over the girl she met two days ago.

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Keeping Vytas has many upsides for Katie.

To be fair, we shouldn’t expect Tina to have left the final call up to Katie, nor that Katie and Vytas have an official secret alliance. (Although, contrary to the Know It Alls’ assessment, she does owe him one for steering the vote away from her on day three.) Nevertheless, saving Vytas over Kat has far more benefits for Katie. If they don’t merge next episode, they’re likely to lose immunity again. Vytas should always be a great buffer for her, while Kat might be forgiven before the next challenge. Tina could also be thinking along these lines.

Mostly, I don’t see any advantage to Katie for going along with a Vytas boot over the Kat alternative, nor do I think there’s a chance in hell Tina didn’t take her wishes into account. The only other scenario I can see is if Katie’s adopting an exclusive “Whatever you want to do,” approach.

It’s surprising we never heard anything from Katie this episode because she’s in such a fascinating situation. She’s ostensibly in the minority, yet she has an automatic ‘in’ with Tina who is possibly the most dominant player on that tribe. The usual strategy is to keep a low profile, make yourself likeable and useful, but Katie immediately has some influence in the game, should she choose to put pressure on her mother.

The online confessionals provide more insight as Katie talks about how she’s trying to play it cool so their pairing doesn’t seem too threatening. She doesn’t want to seem too much of a “Mama’s girl.” Nevertheless, Tina didn’t shy away from describing Katie as her daughter either to her tribe or to Probst. She seems to be taking a matter-of-fact approach, perhaps trying to normalize their situation to stop other players reading into it.

Before the game started, Tina told Katie that they would play together until the merge and then it was every man for himself. In response, Katie’s plan was to find other loved ones wanting to play as individuals, which was one of the reasons I was so ready to believe in the Hayden, Katie, Vytas, Ciera alliance. I have been looking for signs of Katie carrying out her strategy.

Yet what struck me about this week’s confessional was Katie’s desire for a morale boost from being with her mother. Considering the way the game has panned out, it’s not surprising that Katie’s at a low ebb, but I’m guessing her strategy has so far failed. The question is, has she abandoned it completely to leave herself at her mother’s mercy?

She does say she’s built up relationships with ‘the other tribe’, which I presume refers to Hayden, Caleb, and Ciera. Yet another of her confessionals is devoted to worrying about Ciera, which implies Ciera is her only formal ally. Brad described both Katie and Ciera as ‘lucky’ in his interview with Gordon Holmes, so he was not aware of any alliance saving those two. But can we really put Katie’s continued existence in the game down to a string of coincidences?

Basically, I’m all over the place on Katie this week. Is she doing something right, or is she putting her head down and having her prayers answered?

A lot of people have wondered why Katie’s name didn’t come up for this week’s vote, considering her and Tina are now a power couple on the same tribe. My own view is that when we must be this close to a merge, one couple within a tribe aren’t necessarily more threatening than any other given couple still in the game. If you do want to target power couples, it makes more sense to target an individual immunity threatening one: the Brothers Baskauskas or Kat and Hayden. While nobody talked about breaking up those couples (tactless in view of Katie and Tina), it’s an added perk of this vote for Monica and Laura.

I’m uncertain of the likely boot should Galang go to Tribal Council again. (The probability of which merits discussion of same.) Monica and Tina are in the power position right now, since Laura Boneham, Vytas, and Katie are playing subordinate roles. Those two women are aligned, and I doubt either is ready to strain that alliance for what might be the last pre-merge boot. Either of them could have the perception of being in control: Tina might feel that she manipulated Monica into voting off her last One World ally; Monica probably views Tina as a loyal vote in her pocket. On paper, Vytas’ survival seems like a better outcome for Tina, but he was genuinely fond of Brad, and I’m sure that’s biased Monica towards him.

Still, if we assume Monica won’t be testing Tina by pushing for Katie’s vote, Vytas remains an obvious boot by demographic: a loved one and the only male. It’s also their last possible chance to weaken the male threats for individual immunity, if they want to go that route. (Though it can be argued that there will be enough immunity threats left in the game to make that strategy pointless.)

If they don’t want to start the merge by explaining themselves to Aras (or if Tina and Katie don’t want to be the last couple left standing), this might be the end for Laura Boneham… the last vote where her ‘easy boot’ status can be used against her.

Tadhana – All Things being Equal

While Galang had a definite majority, Tadhana was split evenly between its original players and the incoming Galang. In fact, the loves ones had a home turf advantage, but the returning players very quickly negated that by making themselves so obviously at home in Tadhana camp. This wasn’t just Tyson doing his coconut bandits shtick, Aras and Gervase were also throwing their weight around, letting the new players know that they weren’t going to settle for being guests.

Tadhana hasn’t been to Tribal Council since voting off Brad, and from all we saw of them last week, I felt like they’d hit the reset button on the alliances. They were back to a day two or three mentality where nobody was sure where to commit themselves. Winning the challenge was good for them, but without knowing which direction the next vote would have gone (Ciera felt it would have been her), I don’t see them having the confidence in each other to stay a strong three against Galang’s trio. In all likelihood, they won’t need it, but we’ve already seen one impossible victory this season, and Galang would probably have won this challenge had Tina and Laura only understood the directions.

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Tyson is willing to sell out Aras.

Of course, the veteran players aren’t locked together either—Tyson and Gervase were plotting to vote off Aras the morning of the tribal swap! However, the situation has changed since then, and while Tyson is continuing to work against Aras, I’m no longer so sure he’s intent on getting him out before the merge. As numerous other people have said, it seems a strange time to do it, when after the merge, Aras becomes a shield for Tyson. Perhaps Tyson is generally afraid that Aras will sweep the individual immunities, but I have a hard time believing that against this lineup of players.

The most widely-acknowledged flaw in Tyson’s gameplay is probably his short attention span. He brings it up himself this week, in EW’s deleted scene, saying that things were getting ‘too comfortable’ on Galang’s beach and the change helps him stay focused. One interpretation of this is that he’s changed his mind about eliminating Aras so early. The crosshairs will no doubt return to Aras at some point after the merge, but if Tadhana goes to Tribal Council, I’d expect the vets to crack down on the newbies.

This was a great episode for Tyson, fans of Tyson and anybody in danger of becoming a fan. Michel Trudeau has already given his opinion on how this helps his chances of being the winner; it’s certainly improved his chances of being fan favorite! Tyson’s “I’m sorry about Aras,” strategy must be manna from heaven for the producers: a player is clearly influencing the game in an entertaining way.

Generally speaking, good Survivor gameplay isn’t good television, but I really like Tyson’s gambit. It plays up to his joker image; understanding your reputation and using it is one of the biggest tests for any returning player. Tyson is acting exactly like everybody expects of him—he could even be carrying the joke on when there are no Tadhana around: “Aras, how could you do that to them?”—yet he’s putting a spotlight on Aras while, quite possibly, making Aras feel even more secure. In Survivor you should be very tight with somebody before joking about a difference of opinion.

If it’s Tyson’s intent to make Tadhana think there’s a rift between him and Aras, he’s probably failing. To me, this running gag makes them seem closer than Tyson and Gervase. Of course, that also works to Tyson’s advantage so if it’s intentional, let’s heap more kudos upon him.

The other benefit the returning players have over the newbies lay in the information given to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hayden, Caleb, and/or Ciera knew they were fishing for information, but if you’re unprepared and haven’t discussed your stories in advance, ducking those questions smoothly is no easy task. One of them absolutely should have changed the subject, but I don’t know if the veterans would have let them. Experience tells in the game yet again.

It’s another mark of old Tadhana’s uncertainty that they were attempting to curry favor with the incoming players. In an unusual example of real-time reaction, an aghast Vytas took Hayden to task on Twitter for sharing the clues to the hidden immunity idol. Both Hayden and Caleb explained they were trying to gain trust, and although Vytas protested that they could have given out fake clues, that’s easier said than done when you’re on the spot.

When giving away information, you have to balance how much you value it against how much the recipient will. A clue to an idol is a big deal, but Hayden’s already said in a secret scene that he’s been using it. If Hayden’s been unable to find the idol, it’s reasonable to assume the two clues they have aren’t specific enough, in which case they’re worth more in trust than in immunity.

That said, recent history suggests that returnees have an advantage when it comes to finding idols. None of the Tadhana vets has ever found one before, but the same was true of Tyson’s Heroes vs. Villains allies, Boston Rob and Coach, both of whom went on to find idols in their next season, and Tyson has already had one confessional about looking for likely landmarks.

I should note there are plenty of conspiracy theories about how certain players find idols so easily. That’s not my area, but I will say that a former Big Brother winner looks like a prime candidate to get a helping hand in finding an idol. If Tyson or Aras finds it when Hayden couldn’t, I would chalk that up to simple experience.

Speaking of conspiracy theories, Gervase introduced his own into the mix this week, when he tweeted that his poor swimming performance in the first challenge was strategy to make him look less threatening. Frankly, I’m skeptical (and if this twitter conversation is anything to go by, so are Tyson and Aras).

It might explain the disparity, but a number of other things might as well: practice in the sea, easier swimming conditions that day, the fact that he was wearing a mask—if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my attempts to get my four year old swimming, it’s that goggles are magic confidence boosters. However, if he really was playing it up that first challenge, my question is why break character now, rather than at the endgame when you can surprise everybody with your immunity streak?

What we haven’t yet seen from the Galang boys is any attempt to befriend individuals of old Tadhana, to tuck somebody under their wing with promises of protection. Ciera must be feeling bereft at the moment with her mother on Redemption Island and her best in-game friend sent to the other tribe. She has to look like easy pickings for them, unless they assume that if she’s survived this long, she must be craftier than she appears. There’s also Hayden and my theory of a pre-game Reality Bro-lliance.

Galang might be leery of Caleb after their experience with Colton (and that might make him the easy vote, should they go to Tribal Council), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out they were working one or both of the others.

Redemption Island – Getting a Clue

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Laura M let her actions speak for themselves.

With the departure of Brad and Candice, Redemption Island has become a lot more placid. I was sorry to see both of them go… I’ve been a Candice fan since Cook Islands and was enjoying her new edit, and while I’ve delighted in making fun of Brad (and even more in FUBC), he seems like a nice enough guy on a personal level. It’s a real shame that that particular storyline was so short-lived, and while a Culpepper vs. Cody season might be a bit of a pipedream, I am definitely up for it!

Laura Morett had not approved of the rantings at Redemption Island, and she didn’t instigate one this time. However, when given the chance to award the next clue, she had no problem with following precedent and giving it to the loved one of the person she blamed for her exit. Vytas deduced that she must have been mad with Aras, and he also concluded that if Aras wronged her and she had been voted off, then Aras must have some power. Vytas isn’t likely to target Aras for this, but I wonder how many of Tadhana reached the same conclusion?

At any rate, Vytas wasn’t going to risk holding onto the clue. At the time, he didn’t know there was a tribe swap, let alone how badly it would pan out for him, but I wonder if burning the clue would have been the right thing to do anyway. Even if he’d found the idol, the ladies of Galang would have voted for him to flush it out. Playing the social game is likely to have longer lasting effects. (Not to mention, he can have a go at searching for the idol using the clues he already knows.)

That said, will anybody have the nerve to burn the clue again? Quite aside from the new-tribe paranoia, the merge is looming… while I’m sure some players would be genuinely happy if the idol never became a factor, I’m equally sure that some don’t want to leave the idol behind at their camp. I don’t know if Laura or John (or Kat) will change their strategy in giving away the clue, but I find myself hoping the next winner will ask if anybody wants it.

Even better, I’d like to see somebody ask for it. That would take a huge amount of gall, and could really only be done by somebody who was already in a secure position and they would then have to show the clue to their alliance. Still, if you wanted to make sure the idol was in your alliance or even to prove whether or not somebody else has found it, that’s the way to go.

(In my dream season, Tyson would ask for the clue, make a big production out of pulling Aras and Gervase aside to show it to them and then spend the rest of their stay on Tadhana beach saying things like: “Aras, did you take their idol? That’s so presumptuous, I’m really sorry, guys…”)

One question remaining is whether or not Hayden will switch with Kat—he’s previously stated his confidence that he could win his way back from Redemption Island, and with only a couple of duels left, he might feel it’s a risk worth taking. The Galang boys might even encourage him to do so. From their point of view, John is an unknown quantity and Laura Morett definitely won’t align with them again. If they can get Hayden to pull an Ozzy, at best, the Red-I returnee will be on their side, at worst, they’ve lost an immunity challenge rival.

Either way, Aras, Tyson and Gervase are certainly going to be surprised to see Kat at the arena. Will Monica and Tina feel the need to explain there and then? If Hayden does switch, can the returning men persuade Kat that they’re on her side and potentially use her vote against Monica and/or Tina in the future? Will Kat go on an FUMC tirade or bury her head in her hoodie? With so much potential for drama, I’m betting on an anticlimax.

I’m going to leave you this week with a quote from Aras’ secret scene: “If there’s one thing about Survivor that I’ve learned, it’s you can’t control the game, you’ve got to stay adaptable.” This is true Survivor wisdom. For this season, when so much is different from the Survivor we’re all used to, it’s perhaps even more important.

I think most of the contestants left understand the value of letting the game play out instead of fighting it, but I’ll be on the lookout for all those subtle maneuvers as the players try to survive the merge. Not to mention confirmation of any of my speculative alliances—I think I’m up to three now; if I keep dreaming them up, I’m bound to get one right eventually!

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