SurvivorSurvivor: Blood vs Water

Individual Games – The Bro of the Species is more Deadly than the Female – 11/05/13

Well, I’ve done it. In the nick of time before the merge hits, I’m confident I’ve finally got the alliances broken down, and I know who is with who and who’s going where. Does this mean I can predict who will be going home (or to Redemption Island) on Wednesday night? Not so much. Let’s be honest here, the precedent is that as soon as I feel confident, the episode will prove me wrong. So read on for what is either some mind-blowingly insightful revelation, or some truly epic fanfiction.

You can’t spell ‘Predictable’ without ‘Red I’

There is one thing I’m completely certain of and it has nothing to do with alliance and relationship theories. Based on the challenge seen in the preview, Laura Morett will be returning from Redemption Island. That stay-on-your-pole challenge has historically favored slight women; just rewatch the episode of Cook Islands where Yul explains why elephants can’t climb trees. With the exception of Ozzy, who meditates in palm trees for relaxation according to South Pacific, nobody is beating the lightweight, small-footed woman.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-4ttBVU93w

e7-lauram If Laura Morett can’t manage it, that’s going to be a major upset.[/caption]

OK, so maybe it’s not guaranteed. Laura could have an accident that takes all the skin off her feet right before the challenge, or lightning could strike… But I can assure you, despite having athletic ability on a par with Cochran’s, I would feel confident taking on John Cody and Laura Boneham in the final Redemption Island duel. If Laura Morett can’t manage it, that’s going to be a major upset.

Obviously, this is perfect for a conspiracy theory that the producers want Laura Morett back in the game for whatever reason. I don’t really care about the ins and outs of that, but it really bothers me that (this round of) Redemption Island is going to end on a duel this one-sided.

It’s one thing when it’s an immunity challenge, because if you lose immunity you’re not necessarily going home. You’ve got your social and strategic games to fall back on. But for Redemption Island, for the duel when only first place matters, it seems like a slap in the face to somebody like John Cody who has fought hard in every duel, yet essentially never had a chance of getting back in. (Even more frustrating for him, Candice should have been a shoo-in to win this based on her Cook Islands performance.)

There is one mitigating circumstance here: the big twist to Redemption Island this season was the possibility of switching in and out. Perhaps the producers were assuming that most of the guys would switch in and fight the duels for their wives/girlfriends, and they always planned on doing this duel to encourage the ladies to step up to bat. That hasn’t been the case (and it’s not clear if the players were aware you could switch more than once), but in theory John could have switched with Candice, or Hayden could have switched back with Kat, or Brad with Monica, etc., etc. Unfortunately, the way it’s panned out, the only person with a loved one to swap in is the only person who doesn’t need one: Laura Morett.

To add insult to injury, the producers showed the challenge in the preview, so rather than knowing Laura Morett will re-enter the game five minutes before she does so, we know it a week beforehand. Unless this is typical preview misdirection and Laura does somehow lose? Am I clutching at straws yet?

After miraculously making me care about Redemption Island, Survivor has sent me right back to my original jaded state. Which, I suppose, isn’t exactly a negative from my point of view. Either way, for the rest of the article, I’ll be working on the basis that Laura Morett will likely be returning.

While there is surely no hope for John, I do want to touch briefly on his game before we move onto the main tribes. Yet again, he gave the clue to Monica, and yet again she burned it—but there was one key difference this time: she talked to him as she did so, playing down any offense she might be causing him.

John has won all but one of the duels he’s participated in. If you don’t know the final challenge, he has to be the favorite to return. By opening the lines of communication, Monica has demonstrated to him that she is not holding a grudge. In his turn, John implied that he had no hard feelings either. If by some miracle, he does get back into the game, I would bet anything that Monica is the first person he approaches for help.

On Twitter, Philippines finalists, Denise and Mike Skupin, asked John why he kept giving the clue to the same person who kept burning it, and he replied that he hoped she would keep doing so, with the ambiguous explanation: “giving the clue to someone else dilutes the only real leverage I have for when I get back in the game.”

I’m not entirely sure what he means by that, but from a social-game point of view, it makes sense not to spread the clue around. People know why he’s giving it to Monica; if he gave it to somebody else, everybody would be wondering why he made that choice. I’d say it makes more sense to ask who wants the clue, but maybe that’s against the rules, or maybe he has asked and nobody’s said anything… or maybe he just wants to keep his focus on Monica.

He’s certainly playing a cautious social game. Kat revealed to Gordon Holmes that during the duel, the audience was calling to John to knock his puzzle down to stop Laura copying it. John’s tweeted rationale was that he didn’t want to show deference to Kat over Laura, thus angering their loved ones. There’s something in that, though I’m not sure his passive stance will have impressed them either.

It’s worth noting that Laura will have heard everybody cheering Kat on instead of her as well… Nobody has endeared themselves to her for going back into the game, and she has been made aware of how narrow her options are.

Galang – Never place too much stock in a women’s alliance

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Laura Boneham’s fate was sealed before the episode ever started.

Since the episode, one thing that has been revealed on Twitter is that Laura Boneham’s fate was sealed before the episode ever started. Once the other women decided to keep Vytas last episode, they committed to an alliance with him. When asked, Katie confirmed that she was struggling to keep from laughing during Laura’s speech, because she knew Laura was the one going home.

While Tina and Monica might have had a different view of things, I’m guessing Tina’s in-game confessional about deliberating was pulled from earlier in the game or otherwise stitched together. Before Tribal Council, Vytas (who, despite his edit, is not a complete sociopath) was feeling sorry for Laura.

So I don’t consider that Laura made a fatal mistake with her speech. I don’t think she was right to tell Vytas either—had Vytas believed her, we would have seen him scramble which is always risky, and she certainly did take her ‘alliance’ by surprise. Yet I kind of liked her game-reasoning for what she did, which was to gain a little respect and to be seen as more of a leader in her alliance.

Don’t get me wrong, her execution of it was terrible (much like her attempts to plant the seed of doubt with Kat—oh, I truly feel we have lost a great character in Laura Boneham’s discreet edit), but Laura was playing to win and she was starting to shape her image for the jury. In her perception, she was in an alliance of women who were milling around and reluctant to step on any toes, so she decided it was time to take more of a shepherding role.

This is where I have to have sympathy with her, because what makes me think I could do any better? (OK, I totally think I could play better than a Boneham, but thankfully I’m ineligible for the embarrassment of being proven wrong on national television.) As fans of the show, we know our Survivor theory, but chances are good that we’d be ham-fisted in practice too.

Laura’s real downfall was trusting in the women’s alliance, which is something I talked about last week. Alliances based on gender are too restrictive; any given woman will probably have at least one male tribemate she works better with than at least one female. The fact that Laura felt her alliance needed somebody to take a leadership role speaks volumes… If you don’t see anybody leading the strategy discussions, that might just mean the real discussions are happening behind your back.

What really gets my eyes rolling is that in seasons to come, people will be referring to this as another example of a women’s alliance falling apart. To which I say that the alliance never truly existed in the first place. Only Laura Boneham really believed in it, for the other women it was a backup plan at best! Vytas tweeted that he, Tina, Katie, and Monica were all in a new alliance. It’s worth noting here that Tina and Monica were previously in an alliance with Vytas’ brother. It’s not a stretch to view this ‘new’ alliance as a continuation of the original one.

This isn’t intended to diminish Vytas’ game here, because he has done a wonderful job of fitting smoothly into an entirely different demographic, and from their confessionals, Tina and Monica certainly did consider voting him out. However, I don’t believe that they made a mistake in voting out Laura Boneham over Vytas. Yes, Vytas and Aras are a huge threat to keep together, but Tina and Katie, as the only other pair left in the game, absolutely need them as a shield.

Katie essentially confirms this in her secret scene—considering Katie’s bond with Ciera, they’re perhaps hoping that if Laura Morett comes back into the game, they might be able to woo her over as well (though I’m thinking that would be unlikely).

As for Monica, with a final three, it’s safe for her to be the third wheel for two pairs. If this is the final five, she’s in a good position to pick and choose how the end-game goes while being confident that every scenario will include her in the finals. Facing off against a pair isn’t a bad idea. Monica can point out that she got there on her own merits without any help from her loved one. In theory, the pair are likely to split the votes of the jurors in favor of them.

I think Monica’s playing a very underrated game right now. She’s in a great position on her tribe, and has been active in making her own connections. While Tina might have a more obvious reason to keep Vytas around, Monica hasn’t just gone along with her wishes; she’s also put in the time and effort to build her own bond with Vytas.

I’ve already mentioned that she was currying favor with John, it’s safe to assume she has had contact with Hayden, and she has definitely met Caleb. Her alliance with Tyson and Gervase might no longer be in effect, but should Nu-Tadhana get the better of Nu-Galang post-merge, Monica has a basis for starting a new alliance. And if the Galang group takes control of the game, she’s got connections with the jury. (Perhaps due to her inexperience, Monica has clearly put a lot of thought into the jury.)

Obviously, the missing information here is what everybody else thinks of her, but so far as I can tell, she’s in exactly the position she needs to be at this point.

Oddly, the one person who was shown having reservations about keeping Vytas was the editors’ least favorite player: Katie. Katie specifically says that she’s worried about keeping Vytas around because he would be difficult to beat at the end. Now, we know from some of Tina’s previous confessionals that she doesn’t worry too much about the long term game. She’ll cross that bridge when she gets to it, though she’s already noted that in the context of Survivor she can’t trust the Brothers Baskauskas fully. Katie appears to be worrying further ahead.

As I’ve said numerous times, Tina came into this game with the philosophy that the family bond would be meaningless after the merge, and Katie accordingly intended to play separately from her mother. Good intentions usually don’t amount to much in Survivor, and it’s entirely possible both women would prefer to lean on each other now.

I have to think Katie benefits the least from this alliance. Even if it takes her to the end, what argument can she give the jury? She got into the alliance by virtue of being Tina’s daughter. Meanwhile, she’s got the post-merge waters to navigate and while the Brothers Baskauskas make a good shield, Katie is still going to be a target by association. On the other hand, does she have any other option? Even if she tries to jump ship, who’s going to believe she would flip on her mother?

I don’t know whether Katie has reached the same conclusion I have, but there’s no clear solution to the problem. At some point, she’s going to have to find a way to change up her game, but that’s likely to require more aggression than she has so far shown. I like Katie a lot, I find her very intelligent and have agreed with her observations on the game, but I think her caution might be her downfall.

Finally, what about Vytas’ motivation? Are the women wrong to trust him? Since Katie directly brings up the two pairs working with each other, then it’s likely she and Vytas have discussed this. He gains no particular benefit to breaking from that alliance as far as his case for the jury goes: while he benefited from the groundwork laid down by Aras’ social game, he was still an obvious minority who won Tina and Monica over on his own merits. He has, however, got connections with Hayden and Caleb and it’s clear that Vytas likes to play the game. I won’t rule out the possibility of Vytas betraying the women—I just don’t see why he would need to.

Unless, of course, the coup being planned on Tadhana blindsides Aras and leaves Vytas fighting for his life.

Tadhana – No, really. Never place too much stock in a women’s alliance.

e7-tyson

Aras is mistaken in trusting Tyson.

At one point in the episode, Aras told the camera that he couldn’t have asked for a better outcome in the tribe swap than to stay with Tyson and Gervase. Clearly, he’s wrong, but what I wondered at there was the implication that he trusted Tina and Monica less than the two guys. Perhaps I’m over-interpreting it, but considering the concerns that Aras had about the women’s alliance, he’s probably relieved to be in a gender majority.

Theoretically, the two boots should have convinced Aras (and Tyson and Gervase) that there’s nothing to worry about, and indeed, Aras was confident that Vytas would be sticking around this episode. Nevertheless, Gervase explains in a secret scene that nobody saw the Kat vote coming. He’s not necessarily surprised Vytas and Katie are still there, but he expected Laura Boneham would be voted out first.

This does suggest that the veterans’ alliance had some sort of agreement to work with the surviving loved ones, including Kat and Hayden. Once Kat was taken out of that equation, the Galang men’s trust in Tina and Monica was shaken.

Aras doesn’t necessarily share the same paranoid view as Gervase, but he’s almost certainly been part of that discussion. While Tina, Monica, and Katie are banking on Aras and Vytas joining their side, will Aras feel comfortable allying with people who’ve been acting against the plan? Will he be willing to get into another alliance with a female majority? Or will he try to persuade Vytas to rejoin the Tadhana bro-down?

Unbeknownst to Aras but beknownst to us, that latter course of action would be a huge mistake. The black widow gameplay is, by now, well known in Survivor, but there is a new threat that is being overlooked: the rise of the bro.

The bro-alliance is more subtle than the women’s alliance in that it’s usually not trying for a majority. It’s just a few dudes, of similar age and/or laid back lifestyle, enjoying Survivor and bonding in an acceptably manly fashion. Or at least that’s the impression I get: being neither a Survivor player nor a bro, I am not best qualified to provide a comprehensive analysis of such a relationship.

I can comment on its effects though. The interesting thing about Survivor bros is that they are natural allies, they generally have complete faith in each other—and they are preternaturally forgivable. Take Malcolm: he deceived and abandoned the would-be bromantic Pete in Philippines, and in Caramoan he voted for Reynold and sweet-talked him out of his idol at the same Tribal Council, yet the affections of both guys never wavered. In fact, Malcolm hasn’t been loyal to a single person in Survivor and remains beloved, while players like Candice and Cochran have their treachery held against them—Eddie even made Cochran promise to embrace the bro-lifestyle before voting for him to win.

Malcolm certainly deserves credit for his social game in pulling those moves off successfully, but he’s not the first bro to do so. Grant readily forgave Boston Rob for blindsiding him, Ozzy stayed loyal to Jim and Keith even though they were voting off his cuddle-buddies, JT was, in reality, untroubled by Stephen’s readiness to vote him out while Stephen, in his turn, never held a grudge for JT’s shameless final tribal performance. (For that matter, let’s not forget Coach’s unconquerable esteem of JT as a man of honor, though I’m not sure whether that comes under the bro-umbrella or not. Where’s Neil Patrick Harris when I need him?)

Perhaps the strangest thing about the bro-phenomenon is that this is exactly how you should be playing Survivor. None of these players did anything wrong within the confines of the game; the person on the losing side should respect them for their gameplay without their underlying friendship being affected. But as Survivor has proven time and time again, it’s not that simple. While we can find other examples of people readily forgiving others for their blindside (see Andrea in Caramoan), it seems to me that the footloose males are particularly prone to this. Within their bond is the unspoken rule that the game goes on and a few dirty moves are entirely permissible.

Disclaimer: I did not do an exhaustive season-by-season study for the purposes of this weekly blog. It may be that this phenomenon exists entirely in my imagination. That should not stop you going to great lengths to disprove my theory in the comments; I just wanted to point out that I’m not claiming any authoritative basis for this.

With Aras, Tyson, and Gervase, the pattern is repeating itself. Aras is completely trusting of Tyson and Gervase, they are out to get him, and that’s no reason to stop joking around with each other. I don’t know if Tyson and Gervase’s plan will succeed, but I’m willing to bet that if it does, Aras will forgive them almost instantly. (And vice versa, should Aras turn the tables on them.)

Ironically, Aras has become a target because he has a real life bro who is still in the game. I’ve seen people comment on the fact that the only two people with their loved ones left in the game are the two previous winners, but what I think is more relevant is that all the couples are out of the game. Those were the closest relationships in the game, especially if they shared a bank account (everybody but Kat and Hayden, I believe). With those gone, the crosshairs are shifting to anybody else that looks likely to be an unbreakable pair to the end.

Aras is as much odd man out on Tadhana as Vytas is on Galang: he’s the only one left with a loved one. It’s a subtle, yet important, distinction. Just as Vytas worked on fitting in with the women, Aras should be trying to adapt his behavior to the other Unloved—preferably by not mentioning his brother unless strictly necessary. Perhaps Aras feels that it would be too disingenuous to avoid Vytas’ name and that people would be made more suspicious of him. However, he has proven that talking about Vytas isn’t helping his cause.

Fortunately, Aras has got connections on Galang to fall back on—if he realizes he needs to do so. Any connections made with Caleb, Hayden, and Ciera are apparently nothing that they’re not willing to drop in favor of somebody else’s name going up on the block.

Tyson and Gervase made a very bold move in rounding up the rest of Tadhana to pitch the idea of Aras being their next target. Presumably they wanted a plan in place before the challenge—perhaps they even talked of throwing it, though considering Tyson won the challenge for them, I’m assuming they were not fixated on the idea of getting Aras out before the merge.

Were they premature in talking to Tadhana? Tyson’s short attention span could the main factor here, but I personally like the idea of getting Tadhana on side before the merge. Gervase said that they didn’t feel they could rely on their Galang alliance after Kat was voted out, and certainly from what we know, it’s unlikely that Tina would agree to voting Aras out.

The Coconut Bandits will need Hayden, Caleb, and Ciera to get even close to a majority. Besides, without going to a Tribal Council, these three were doubting their position in the game. Making a deal with them should keep them from floating to another side, post-merge—Hayden certainly took their offer as a lifeline.

Exploring the Blood vs. Water Multiverse

So how will this pan out next episode? Are they really planning on pulling the trigger at the first post-merge vote? With the merge, the Don’t Say Anything alliance of veterans will reunite. Doubtlessly, they will assure each other that they’re still in for the final five, before turning around and muttering to their new allies not to worry, they are the real alliance. Tina or Vytas will fill Aras in on the plan for the two couples to stick together, and everybody will placate the returner from Redemption Island.

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If John returns, he is an easy target.

My guess is that many players won’t be ready to draw the line in the sand and so the Red-I returner will be considered the easy vote. If it’s John or Laura Boneham, that’s fairly straightforward unless they win immunity. However, if, as I previously anticipated, it’s Laura Morett returning, things get complicated. Laura is most likely to go to Ciera’s side and she despises Aras, which makes her a great asset to Tyson and Gervase’s plan. Bringing her on board, they have a six-five majority and can vote out Aras (or Vytas, if Aras wins immunity) there and then.

But what if Tyson and Gervase want to keep Aras around as an immunity threat shield for a bit? What if they don’t want to show their hand until later? If they’re going to pretend loyalty to Aras for a vote or two, who will Aras want to vote off? My guess is that Aras won’t want to make any big moves then either, to play down his ringleader image. This leaves him with the Red-I returner, whoever it is, or maybe Hayden if he wants to show his loyalty to Tina and Monica and get rid of one of the challenge threats.

The rest of Tadhana aren’t going to want to sacrifice Hayden, but would they cast Laura Morett out? Surprisingly, Ciera has acknowledged that the best thing for her game might be for her mother not to return, because at this point, having a pair in the game puts a target on your back. Ciera’s already standing out as the only girl in her alliance—she doesn’t need another division between her and her allies. Would she be inclined to vote her mother out at the first opportunity, to prove to her alliance that she’s committed to them? For similar reasons, she might want to steer clear of Katie for a few days too.

(One alternative route for the game to go down if Laura Morett returns is for the surviving pairs to team up. They’d have the six-five majority and could take out the individual players. While Laura might get over her issues with Aras for the sake of her game, she and Ciera would be running a huge risk of finishing in sixth and fifth. They’d need to get a promise from Katie and/or Vytas to turn on their loved ones before the end. I don’t see this happening, but I thought I’d put the scenario out there.)

If they vote Laura Morett (or any other Red-I returner) out, Tadhana are then five votes out of ten which means they can’t save one of their own in the next vote short of an idol or flipping one of the other women. (Monica or Katie seem to be the most likely options.) Tyson and Gervase might have to toss out their plan for voting off Aras, in hopes of another opportunity later. (Considering what we know of Tina and Monica’s plans, this would most likely be the Coconut Bandits’ downfall.)

It’s also possible they could pull an upset and get Aras to vote off Tina, Katie or Monica by whispering in his ear about a women’s alliance. Still, if Tadhana as a group are going to stick by their alliance and vote Aras out, then they almost have to strike next episode.

The common argument is that Tyson needs Aras to be his challenge beast shield. Tyson has generally done well out of playing second fiddle on Survivor. He’s never survived long enough to inherit the throne before, but if Ciera’s perspective is any judge, Tyson would be viewed as the ringleader of the Tadhana coup. Gervase, on the other hand, can hide behind Tyson once Aras is gone.

Gervase is another one who’s playing an under-rated game. He’s not getting the same spotlight Tyson is, but if you listen to their confessionals, Gervase talks more seriously about the game and is a reliable narrator. (Admittedly, Tyson doesn’t set the highest of bars.) Gervase has been in an influential position through the entire game, but he’s never had a target on his back. If Aras gets voted off, does Gervase bro-down with Tyson to the end-game and then take him out? Tyson at least has good odds of going on an immunity streak—he might well have to!

It might be that Tyson is thinking to use Hayden as his new shield for challenges at least. Herein lies the other obvious flaw to the bandits’ plan: within their new alliance, they are but two against three original Tadhana. Caleb talked about how Kat’s departure would strengthen his bond with Hayden, pointing out that while Tyson had also lost a romantic partner, Caleb and Hayden had been together since day one, and that loyalty should win out.

This brings me back to my theory from last week that, as a veteran reality star, Hayden is probably acquainted with some of the other returning players quite aside from his relationship with Kat. (For comparison purposes, Hayden’s season of Big Brother aired shortly after Heroes vs. Villains finished its run.)

I won’t dwell on the possibility that Hayden and Tyson might have a pre-game relationship, because we just don’t know. But it is worth bearing in mind that from Hayden’s perspective, he’s more of a returner than a newbie. Whether or not he knew Tyson and Gervase before the game started, they were his peers. Tyson and Gervase might have the edge on him in Survivor experience, but Hayden won his season. He probably doesn’t hold the veteran players in as much awe as the other newbies—and by the same token, he may be less wary of them.

If Tyson and Gervase are savvy enough to play up to this, they should be able to gravitate Hayden towards their side. He could be their third bro—if he’s really lucky, he could be their third coconut bandit!

Yet if Hayden’s savvy enough to use his situation, he can play both sides, telling Ciera and Caleb it’s old Tadhana to the end while swapping reality-star gossip with Tyson and Gervase. This leaves him in the swing vote position Monica has in the Galang group’s plan. At final five, he can pick and choose his final three. (Going by my bro-theory, he should put Tyson and Gervase on the jury, because they won’t hold it against him.)

Of course, after his performance in persuading Kat to play her own duel, perhaps nobody will want to let him in front of a jury! Not to mention the possibility of Gervase betraying Tyson at the end. I could see this quintet ending in a Gervase, Ciera, and Caleb final three, with Gervase calling for the votes of his bros on the jury, Ciera fiercely pitching her underdog story and Caleb… OK, I don’t know what Caleb’s case is beyond getting Brad out—he’s as invisible as Katie. The biggest hurdle to this endgame scenario is who of those three would beat Hayden or Tyson in the final immunity challenge?

Of course, nothing’s that straightforward in Survivor. What happens in my speculative timeline where Laura Morett returns from Redemption Island and helps Tadhana vote off Aras? Does Ciera take her relationship with her mother and her bond with Caleb (and maybe also Katie?) and forge a brand new sub-alliance?

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Who can Hayden work with?

Furthermore, while we know Laura Morett is the favorite to win the next challenge, Tadhana don’t, so they can’t be banking on having her vote against Aras. Whose vote are they expecting to make their five a majority? Last week, Hayden was speculating that he could work with Katie and maybe pull Tina over with her. Tyson and Gervase might have a working relationship with Tina and/or Monica that we don’t know about.

These same variables will also be in play in the alternate projection where the Galang four and Aras seize power in the merged tribe. While Aras is oblivious, Tina and Katie are already paranoid about the pairs being targeted. They might sniff out the blindside before it can be executed.

There’s one final unknown: will an idol ever be in play? Whichever camp the tribes merge to, it looks like one idol will remain buried at the other beach. Two episodes hence, somebody will know they’re in a bad position and want that clue. Assuming we have the same Redemption Island set up, it’s likely that the winner of the duel will have their closest ally in the minority…

My prediction here is that any idol will always be in the minority’s possession, and that the majority will always have enough votes to split between their targets. Ergo, the idol is unlikely to have any actual effect on the game.

For entertainment purposes, we shouldn’t need it. In many ways, I am reminded of Philippines’ post-merge where there were very few genuine pawns left, but a lot of power-players aligning and turning on each other at the drop of a hat. This season has a similar surplus of movers and shakers and very few people who are truly out of their depth. Even so, I am cautious of getting too optimistic, since the veterans vs. newbies dynamic tends to preclude power struggles between those two factions.

Regardless, my anticipation for the merge episode has been ratcheted very high. I’ll be back next week to throw out at least seventy percent of the above theories and pencil in some new ones.

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