SurvivorSurvivor Cagayan

Individual Games – The Plot Thickens the Brain

I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so vindicated by the first episode of a season before. Never mind that a good many of my predictions were wrong, never mind that I was dreading a Matsinging, never mind that I haven’t the first idea how I’m going to unpick the insanity that went down… I’ve been saying for the past month that everybody on the Brains tribe is doomed. Doomed.

I was fearing that we might see a repeat of Manono in One World. That tribe was full of superfans / students of the game who were eager to get out there and make their mark on Survivor—the only exceptions I recall were Jay and Leif. By comparison, the Salani tribe only had Kim (and maybe Nina) in the strategic superfan category. Manono imploded unpleasantly, and Kim made a graceful but predictable march to Final Tribal Council.

But Luzon is not a rehash of Manono. No, they’re the bastard lovechild of Tandang and Matsing, and they are comedy gold. Beyond the Brains, the potentially vacuous Beauty Tribe is handily starting fire, acing puzzles and (gasp!) showing some gameplay, while Brawn are calmly getting on with things and letting their own would be schemer and self-proclaimed King of the Jungle play his socks off.

Let’s face it though, right now, we’re watching for the Brains Tribe. And as it looks very like they will not be long for our screens, we should make the most of them while we can.

Did Somebody Order a Trainwreck?

Will I bring up the same podcast if Lindsey gets voted out next week? Will I bring up the same podcast if Lindsey gets voted out next week?[/caption]

Back on the roundtable podcast, us bloggers had a bit of an argument with Rob over who would be first off the brains tribe. He made the excellent point that in a tribe of six, you have to think of strength. I agree with that reasoning (and I should concede that these early challenges have been more physical than I expected by a long way), but I felt sure that this collection of brains were going to go the less straightforward route. (Is this paragraph completely an excuse to say: “In your face, Mr Know It All?” Yes. Yes, it is. Will I bring up the same podcast if Lindsey gets voted out next week? No. No, I won’t.)

I actually predicted that Garrett would be the first one off the tribe, and that David would stick around for a long time while the others pandered his ego. So I wasn’t totally on the mark, even if David was briefly the tribe’s leader. Honestly, I doubt that was a huge surprise to anybody. More surprising was how he dealt with the decision.

I agree with what Stephen Fishbach said on Know It Alls that this was putting the elected leaders in a colossally unfair predicament, but unlike Stephen, I loved it. A huge part of Survivor’s entertainment value comes in that it is never a fair fight, and it’s always fascinating to see how players handle the predicaments they find themselves in. David took the expectation of overplaying to the extreme when he immediately picked Garrett and calmly told Jeff that he was thinking of the later stages of the game and wanted to get out the threat.

Aside from the obvious that this is day one (hour one!) and not day twenty, what was he thinking by admitting to that? Did he want to set the tone of the game to play hard? Is his ego big enough that he needs to out himself as playing a devious game then and there?

According to his interview, David thought that perhaps the three players picked out like this might have to compete in a challenge, which actually isn’t a bad guess, considering the way Survivor works. However, he should have just admitted to that rather than his cryptic last two thirds of the game comment which did little except to give Garrett something to stew over for the entirety of his separation from his tribe.

David did at least try to explain to Garrett after the fact. His first words on reuniting were: “I had it nailed, man. I knew you’d be here!” Nevertheless, it’s hard to blame Garrett for having his guard up. Perhaps David assumed their age difference would earn him Garrett’s respect, but Garrett is used to playing his own game rather than answering to anybody—or even working as a team.

My original take on the decision for the ‘weakest’ was that you should take the rice rather than the clue and save the note for proof of your actions. Historically, one clue has not been enough to find the idol, and regardless of what you tell the other players, it’s likely somebody will suspect an idol clue will have been in play for the weakest members—failing that, it will come out at the swap. Having a clue but no idol is perhaps the worst disadvantage you can be at in the game. Just ask John Cody.

That said, I really couldn’t argue with Garrett’s decision here, seeing as he found the idol, needed it the following night, and J’Tia would have thrown the extra bag of rice on the fire anyway. Obviously, it would have worked out a lot better if he had played it the second Tribal Council, but I think it was entirely reasonable to assume J’Tia was going home. His centerfold confessional on day four was far more questionable than any of his decisions regarding the idol.

A bigger mistake was his evasiveness. When his tribe first asked him what decision he had to make, he deflected the question by saying “I’ve got a few things accomplished,” and went on to talk about finding the waterfall. Kass said on Twitter that he had told them there was no decision, which obviously conflicted with what Jeff had said.

It’s an awkward position, because any story Garrett gave them would have been revealed as false eventually, but he needed something better than that if he wanted to earn their trust. The other players might stop asking him, but they won’t stop wondering and coming up with their own theories.

Similarly, at one point, David said Garrett never told them what put him on the brains tribe. One of the things that we discussed in the podcast was whether the brains would still lie about their careers—something David, Kass and Garrett all planned on doing pre-game. Clearly, Garrett did not let on he was a poker player, but it seems he didn’t have a cover story good enough for David either.

It’s odd then that David had no such reservations about Kass, who confirmed in a local press interview that she went ahead with her lie about being an animal handler. Kass at least has actual experience on the family ranch to draw on, but I still can’t fathom how she was able to get away with this on a tribe designated for brains. As we didn’t see it on the show, that looks like it will remain a mystery although she states that people started referring to her ‘farm smarts.’ I did wonder if her ‘never trust a man in a suit’ comment was an ill-advised attempt to project her farm girl image.

Still, Kass certainly screwed up in the first few days along with David when they made themselves such an obvious pair and failed to notice that the other four had formed their own alliance. Garrett claimed that neither of them were playing the game for the first three days, although we know that Kass was good enough buddies with David to get her own way in the vote and that she had Garrett telling her she was his number one from day one. After forging a bond with the two alpha males, she could be forgiven if she thought she was keeping her finger on the pulse of the tribe. She was just wrong.

Kass’s other big mistake was telling J’Tia that she was going home. I’ll give her a pass the second time, because Garrett put her on the spot and more or less ordered her to name her vote in front of the others. But the first time? Yes, J’Tia asked who she was voting for, but Kass could have lied! It probably didn’t change anything, since it seems fairly clear Tasha and Garrett wouldn’t have voted her out anyway, but—as we have all learned—never tell somebody they’re going home. It’s just not worth the risk.

So why did somebody more cunning and ruthless than 95% of the population do it? Brain fart? Or like my theory for “man in a suit”, some overactive roleplaying? Kass prefaced her information with “Honestly,” and ended it with “I’m an honest person.” The second time she told J’Tia she wanted to vote her out, she again used the ‘H’ word. The lady doth protest too much, methinks. Is Kass desperately selling her portrayal of the cute mom by avoiding any lie that can be proven?

Still, the low key strategy is probably the right one in this tribe. While the two alpha males got into a dogfight and J’Tia kept trying and failing to prove herself, Kass, Tasha and Spencer kept their heads down and went about the business of surviving as best they could.

We didn’t see a great deal of Tasha in action this week, but she’s done as well for herself as can be expected. I liked her social game (note that she was the first one to greet Garrett, gushing wildly, when they hit the beach), and her relationship with the mercurial J’Tia is impressive. We saw Tasha calmly explain to J’Tia how she was rubbing somebody the wrong way, and later tell Jeff unapologetically that ‘this one’ was volatile—without J’Tia taking offense!

I am never in favor of aligning with the wild card, but it looks like Tasha is one of the very few people capable of pulling it off. And full kudos to J’Tia who is at least able to calm down and own her behavior—if only after the fact.

Of all of the Brains, I wonder if Spencer was actually better served by being on Luzon than on another tribe. How much of his loyal sidekick game was fully intentional, and how much of it was a result of him being overwhelmed by being so much the youngest of his tribe? Had Spencer been on Beauty, would he have been mixing it up like Brice? As it is, despite his intent to be the Cochran that doesn’t suck, I agree with the Know It Alls’ assessment that his game is very reminiscent of Cochran’s winning strategy in Caramoan.

Of course, Spencer has the same problem the rest of his tribe has in that there’s a very real chance none of them will see the merge.

Men vs. Older Women

spencer-garrett

Garrett gave us a fantastic breakdown.

Garrett gave us a fantastic breakdown of how the game developed in his interview, and while I might query his impressions of what other people were doing, his claims to his own moves and alliances are backed up by a rewatch of the episode. However, what he didn’t really get around to talking about was the toll that the game was taking on everybody. No fire means no water or rice, and we know Garrett was struggling with the deprivation—he might have recovered from the shock given time, but it’s almost certain that that affected his social game. Kass tweeted: “Ballistic @JTiaPhD > starving @GarrettAdelstei.”

For his own part, Garrett revealed a different side of Kass in his interview. In the episode she was very laid back and reserved in her interactions with the tribe—evidence A: the rice fairy line. Yet Garrett claims she wore her emotions on her sleeve. This is somewhat backed up by Spencer referring in episode to a fight she had with Tasha at the first Tribal Council that we never saw.

Considering that of all past players, Kass likened herself to Sandra, we should assume that she is not afraid of conflict (her twitter feed supports this theory), but at the same time, we also saw her being very gentle with J’Tia at that first Tribal Council when she thought she was going home, and working peacefully with her to build the fire the next day. Set that against the reports of her fighting and we have to say J’Tia isn’t the only unpredictable one.

That said, J’Tia has the crown. While half of the tribe were hiding their careers, J’Tia couldn’t wait to tell everybody that she was a nuclear engineer and then add that she knew how to build a great shelter. She was anxious to step up to the plate and prove herself. When that failed and after getting a scare at the first Tribal Council, she volunteered herself for the puzzle portion of the second immunity challenge.

We’ve seen that puzzle before. It’s hard, and putting in the first two or three pieces will take a long time. It’s basically designed to pile on the pressure, so I was stunned to see J’Tia doing it. I’m sure she’s great at puzzles in ordinary circumstances, and perhaps she expected to suck at the swimming so hoped to shine at the puzzle. But in Survivor, the cost of failure can be so high in the tribal stage, it’s often better to take Homer Simpson’s advice and never try.

(I’m going to go ahead and attribute some of the blame to the rest of the tribe here. I’m sure they didn’t want to do it either, but they should have known better than to put J’Tia in the hot spot.)

J’Tia’s problem is definitely insecurity and that is a terrible disadvantage in this game. She completely broke down the first time Kass told her she was voting for her, though she should have known her alliance of four would keep her safe. By the second tribal council, while her ally Tasha determinedly went to bat for her, J’Tia gave up all hope. We saw her throw the rice on the fire, but Garrett told Gordon Holmes that before that happened, she poured water over the fire.

(This provides some justification for Kass and Tasha blaming Garrett for leaving her alone, though I still think he was entirely reasonable in following them down to the water. If you believe somebody’s conspiring against you, then babysitting them is more important than the food supply. Leaving Spencer to watch J’Tia might have been a wise precaution, of course.)

With somebody that volatile around, how could Kass (and Tasha!) justify keeping her and booting Garrett? His strength in pulling the fish traps gave them a sizeable lead in the challenge at one point—the one point at which J’Tia kept out of the rest of the team’s way, busy doing the backstroke.

Why did Kass trade an alliance with Garrett that he had nurtured from day one for an alliance with Tasha who allegedly ignored her until day four? Garrett stated on the podcast that Kass had no way of knowing that she was the third with him and Spencer, because he had worked so hard to tell her she was his number one.

You know what… I seem to have heard this before. Marty assured Jane that she was safe with him after the tribal swap in Nicaragua, yet she still flipped to the younger players. Penner tried his hardest to prove to Cirie the strength of her position in his alliance in Micronesia, but she decided she was better off with two couples. And all the Russell-seeds in the world couldn’t make Betsy trust him in Samoa.

Scheming men of Survivor, I think it’s past time you learned something about us older (defined here as 35+) women: We’ve dealt with you bad boys on some level or another before. We’ve had a bad experience with you, whether in love, career, or just a casual social interaction, and we’ve learned from that. We don’t trust you. You’re slick, you’re devious, and we’re pretty sure we have you pegged as an overly inflated ego. We might not always be right in that belief, but that’s our default estimation. (I regret to say gender bias works both ways.)

One of the things I’ve noticed in Survivor fandom is that as popular as contestants like Jim Rice and Marty Piombo are, I have no interest in them and think they’re hugely over-rated as players. I am a big Penner fan, but I feel that his social game is just as transparent as the others’.

I’ve not done a survey to see if other fans in the 35+ female range share my opinion, but there seems to be a pattern on the show of these men trotting out their lines and glib promises for an older woman only to be dumbfounded when said older woman turns against them. The woman’s reaction is frequently blamed on irrationality, but in most cases, the man had little respect for the woman and either didn’t mean his promise to her or intended her to be his finals goat, so dumping him is generally the correct strategic move.

Obviously, many of these men have had successful alliances with older women—though the difference usually is that they genuinely respected them. Take Edna Ma and Coach in South Pacific: he was stringing her along the whole time, but because of their very real friendship, she always assumed he’d go to bat for her at final six. While there certainly have been cases where an older woman has been successfully deceived by a man who didn’t respect her (Jerri and Russell in Heroes vs. Villains springs to mind), there’s a trend here that male Survivor players need to start noticing.

Furthermore, when you’re living with somebody twenty-four hours a day, it’s really difficult to disguise the fact that you don’t like them. Even somebody as erratic as Jane Bright could tell that Marty Piombo was not sincere in his friendship. (That works both ways too; by day six, Garrett was just as paranoid about Kass as she was about him.)

Obviously, this is all speculation on my part. We don’t have a complete picture of what Kass was thinking, but I am willing to bet she’s dealt with more twenty-seven year old men than Garrett has, forty-one year old women. She definitely didn’t like Garrett by day six. Finally, it would not require an IQ of 130 to be concerned that he had told Spencer but not her, his alleged number one, about the David vote.

On Twitter, she has maintained that she voted Garrett off because she suspected he might have an idol, but I have to think that she would have been less concerned about that if she had actually trusted or got on with him.

Garrett’s tenuous situation was exacerbated by his decision to have an open forum for discussing the vote. Unlike most of the internet, I do kind of like this idea… Used on the right tribe, it could be a really effective way of locking down the strategy discussion. But you have to be wary of using it on a tribe of would-be schemers, and you certainly shouldn’t use it on a tribe where people don’t like you. Even Spencer resented Garrett for it.

Garrett certainly didn’t help his plan when he put Kass in the awkward position of nominating the boot. I get that he doesn’t want to be seen as a mastermind, but if you are the one insisting on open conversation, you need to step up and volunteer to be the bad guy in that discussion. Certainly, if you want to get into somebody’s good graces, don’t throw a spotlight on them like that. (Kass, of course, rose to the challenge/bait because she’s ‘an honest person.’)

However uncomfortable they were, both Spencer and Kass (initially) went along with Garrett’s plan, and for a moment it looked like this might go the way of the voluntary Tribal Council in One World, where half the tribe didn’t want to do it, but none of them had the nerve to speak up or even compare notes. Give plaudits to Tasha then, who was not afraid to fight for her game position, tell Garrett she wasn’t happy with the set up, and ultimately get Kass alone to work on her. Certainly, both Spencer and Garrett have credited Tasha on Twitter for flipping Kass and making Garrett’s boot happen.

Sidenote: it’s curious that Tasha said she only needed to have a conversation with Spencer and Garrett. Was she still clinging to the idea that they could vote Kass off, or was this a not-particularly-subtle attempt to hide her designs on flipping Kass?

Following this open forum, Garrett had a rough ride at Tribal Council. Even had he played his idol, that Tribal Council would have redefined his game, as his allies revolted. Spencer who was voting with Garrett helped Jeff pile on the scorn, while J’Tia—the person who had destroyed their food supply—was scoring points off him at every turn.

Three days earlier, Garrett was a driving force in his alliance. Now he was at best a figurehead who nobody was taking seriously. There was no jury present, so he could have recovered from this bashing, but he would have had an uphill battle of image rehabilitation.

Except he wasn’t given that chance. Tasha and Kass chose to get rid of Garrett, even though that seemed to effectively destroy any chance they had of winning challenges.

The Legacy of Matsing

What was Kass' motivation?

What was Kass’ motivation?

There’s been a lot of discussion on whether this was the right move or not. I can’t speak for Kass and Tasha’s actual motivations, but I think it was the best move in the scenario Garrett gave them. It’s all about the lessons you learn from Matsing and Denise.

For Tasha, who was losing her closest ally and moving to the bottom of the totem pole, it seems to be a more straightforward promotion to top dog. Kass on the other hand stays at third—i.e. the position that will require at least one immunity win to survive to the presumed tribal swap. Surely it would have made more sense for her to keep the challenge strength!

However, Matsing steadily weeded out its weak links and still failed to place any higher than last. According to Garrett’s interview, he was preparing for the ‘lose every challenge’ scenario from day one. I doubt he’s the only person who had Philippines in mind.

Any way you look at it, Luzon are now two down on the other tribes and demoralized. It’s going to be hard for them to make a comeback no matter their lineup. As a tribe, you should be looking to win challenges, but as an individual, I bet everybody’s wondering how they can get or keep themselves in the top two. (If so, this is half the problem with the tribe.)

Kass should be balancing the probability of winning challenges against the probability of being voted off. Going down the “Vote off the Weak!” route could be a disaster for her.

In the scenario where J’Tia goes home second, Kass not only becomes the weakest link, but Garrett and Spencer don’t need her vote anymore. Should Luzon lose the third immunity challenge, it makes perfect sense for the men to reforge their alliance with the sporty Tasha and send Kass home. Considering how uncertain Garrett felt about Kass, I think it’s very likely she would have been his choice for the third Brains boot.

Now let’s remember how things worked out for Denise in Matsing. She was one of the strongest players anyway, so she could go with voting off the weak, but at the second tribal council she was the swing vote between two pairs: Roxy and Russell; Malcolm and Angie. She voted against Roxy, but then Malcolm was strong-armed into Angie’s ouster at the third Tribal Council. This made Denise the lynchpin of the tribe for the fourth and final Matsing vote. Neither Russell nor Malcolm voted for her, leaving her completely safe.

I don’t know if this was how Denise planned it, or if Kass is thinking along those lines, but I am sure that J’Tia can’t survive another vote, even if Tasha has no intention of keeping her promise. Kass would have had no argument to oust Garrett or Spencer over herself, but she should certainly be able to get Spencer’s vote against J’Tia, and I don’t think Tasha will go to rocks for her ally.

Ironically, it was Garrett who introduced this strategy into the game. If he was right in his interview declaration that neither Kass nor Tasha thought about engineering a safe final two position for themselves until day four, then it’s likely that it was his own scheming that tipped them off.

Had he shown more loyalty to his original foursome, would Tasha have courted Kass’ vote? After that challenge, odds were good that he could have talked Tasha into voting J’Tia off anyway. The only reason she was scrambling was because he made it into a battle for the top two.

This is all said in retrospect, so I’m not intending it as criticism, but I do appreciate the irony.

If we continue along the route of Philippines, who gets the coveted lynchpin spot of the final three? Kass was reassuring Spencer immediately after the vote, but I’ve already noted that Tasha has a strong social game. Either woman might prefer an ally close in age and gender, or they might feel that Spencer’s youth makes him a potential pawn for the endgame. (They’d be wrong.) All three players have been allied with each other at different times, and we haven’t seen enough of them to know who’s got the social game to come out on top.

Would it even matter though, when the other tribes have seen Philippines as well? Are either Solana or Aparri really going to let this season’s Malcolm and Denise get through to the endgame?

No, I’m standing by my pre-game assessment that every person on the Brains tribe is doomed—only now I’m adding the qualification that each and every one of them will be gone too soon. All the brains were great characters who would have been fun on a more evenly distributed tribe, but the real standout for me on a rewatch of the episode was how funny they were. Kass and Spencer are just as quick with the deadpan comments in camp as in confessional, and J’Tia was absolutely on point with her mockery at the second Tribal Council. Perhaps the elusive criteria for the Brains is their ability to craft one-liners?

Either way, I salute Luzon for making one of the biggest, fastest impacts of any tribe in Survivor history. Your respective games might have been destroyed the moment you got in the helicopter, but you’re still the tribe to watch this season.

Crouching Beauty, Hidden Idol

morgan

Get to know her name.

Fortunately for us, the rest of the tribes also seem solidly cast and are promising some genuine gameplay once their turn in the spotlight comes. Let’s start with Beauty, where, predictably LJ is picked as the leader. He’s the same age as Jeremiah, but he looks much older than the rest of the tribe. (Not an insult—LJ has one of those faces that will not be ageing for the next two decades.) LJ didn’t look happy with the nomination, but he was wise enough not to fight it. Give him bonus points for already knowing Morgan’s name as well.

The weakest of the tribe was more of an open field (i.e. anybody but Jeremiah), but most of us were leaning towards Morgan. Fun fact: of the RHAP bloggers’ two fantasy survivor leagues, Morgan wasn’t drafted in either. On the plus side, she had nowhere to go but up in our estimations and that’s exactly what she proceeded to do.

Actually, no… first she went downhill, when she got the worst possible outcome of the decision between rice and clue: she took the clue but did not find the idol. (To be strictly fair, it’s arguable that her clue was harder than Garrett’s, since Solana’s rocks seem to cover a much larger area than Luzon’s waterfall.) But then she impressed everybody when she came up with the entirely plausible cover-story that her decision was choosing between practical items and comfort—though that would have been a seriously anticlimactic twist.

The main flaw in her plan lies further down the road when the tribes swap or merge. I doubt anybody in the beauty tribe is interested in which items Trish and Garrett might have picked, but you can bet every Brawn player will be finding out who took the rice and who took the clue.

The decision of the weakest is akin to the prisoner’s dilemma: the best choice depends on what the other players did. I stand by my assertion that the safest option is to take the rice. Morgan’s lie has worked nicely for now, but she’s going to be outed in another few episodes. Then again, she does have to get there first, and for all we know, the clue might come in handy for her short term survival.

The beauty tribe overall were busy bashing expectations—helped by the inclusion of three outdoors’ types on the tribe (and Brice is now claiming he’s country-folk as well). I wasn’t worried about Solana’s camplife anyway, but let’s give them kudos for getting fire on the first day.

I was concerned about Brice who was a pre-season favorite of mine, but who I expected to be a fish out of water. I feared he could be first out. Instead, he set about pulling Morgan under his wing and informing us of tribal dynamics. The biggest surprise there is that Jeremiah is crushing on Morgan instead of Jefra, who seems to be in low regard among her tribe.

Brice is playing a great by the numbers game. Perceiving two pairs in his tribe that excluded him, he scooped up the bottom feeder to make his own partnership, and then used her ‘resources’ to woo Jeremiah, while encouraging him to dislike the other two girls. The natural progression of this plan should be that LJ, Jeremiah, Brice and Morgan are the majority going forward.

There are a couple of problems with this. One is that Jeremiah and Morgan might end up favoring each other and cutting out Brice. (Considering how deadly couples are, it’s not often we see somebody play matchmaker, and I’m curious to see where Brice goes with this plan.)

The other is that LJ is already wary of Morgan, even going so far as to guess she might have had access to an idol clue. Of course, that can also be an inducement to align with her, but if this foursome lasts long enough to interact with the brawn tribe, I wonder how the revelation of Morgan’s lie will impact their dynamic?

Still, in the short term, I’d say Jefra should be worried about her position in the tribe. Alexis… well, nothing we saw of her this episode changed my original take. She likes the Manic Pixie Dream Girl image (this is her lifestyle, not gameplay… just take a quick glance at her twitter feed) but I don’t think she’s as dumb as she comes off. Since LJ appears to be the best puzzle person of the season, Beauty don’t seem likely to make many trips to Tribal Council in the near future. I think Alexis is safe for long enough to establish her own position in the game, either on this tribe or another.

For me, the biggest question mark over Solana revolves around the idol and its clues. Presumably, there was a second clue in the firemaking reward somewhere. Sooner or later, somebody’s going to stumble across that—and most likely find the idol, going by the season’s current success rate. (Assuming Morgan doesn’t find it first.) If the second clue is labeled ‘second clue’, Morgan’s going to be hot water sooner than I first thought.

Of course, Morgan might take somebody into her confidence before that happens. She can go gathering mussels or something to disguise her search for the idol, but she might want to ask an ally for assistance. Original ally, Brice? Or her suitor, Jeremiah? By extension, will one of those two men end up holding the idol? And if Morgan does find it herself, does she tell anybody or does she keep quiet until her duplicity is revealed?

Let’s wait and see, because I need an actual finish to this blog at some point and we still have Brawn to go!

Good Cop; Bad Cop

While Garrett might have been the most unpredictable pick for the weakest player, Sarah was the surprise for the leaders. Sarah’s been hugely popular among pre-game pundits, with many people making her their pick to win. (Myself included, but I admit that I was going by the name, since she came off to me as a little too retiring in her interviews.)

sarah

Sarah seemed a more likely contender for the weakest of the tribe.

However, based on appearance alone, Sarah seemed a more likely contender for the weakest of the tribe, while Tony or Cliff would make a more obvious leader. It’s not totally surprising that neither man put themselves forward—neither LJ nor David wanted to be the leader either. Yet Sarah is one of the youngest members of the Brawn tribe (possibly the youngest). It’s happened before that a tribe has let somebody young take charge because nobody else wants to, but it doesn’t usually turn out well. (Remember GC in Gabon?)

Interestingly, what we heard of the brawn discussion was Lindsey asking: “Who’s a talker?” We don’t know if this was the tail end of a longer conversation, but it could be that Lindsey was deliberately steering the nomination away from the standard alpha male route. Alternatively, Lindsey, or the tribe as a whole, were setting the leader up to be a spokesperson for the tribe more than anything: somebody who could field Jeff’s questions. Certainly, none of them seemed to take this leadership position too seriously at camp, and we’ve not seen Sarah pushing for authority.

Nevertheless, Sarah did step up to leadership when she answered Lindsey’s question with: “I’m a talker.” So far as we know, she’s the only player who willingly volunteered for this position. Was she as eager to prove herself as J’Tia? Or did she assume that there would be a decision to be made and wanted control of it?

This week on EW, Jeff Probst made the interesting observation that leaders tend to do better than followers on the game. There’s a target that comes with leadership, but you can balance that against the credit you take for your tribe/allies’ game. And certainly, the point is usually to control your own fate rather than leave it in the hands of another.

If this was the case, Sarah would probably have preferred to be in the position of the weakest person after all, but she handled the choice as well as she could do, acknowledging that she was in a ‘sucky’ position and not trying to rationalize her pick of Trish. (Though she should really have known Trish’s name, considering Jeff had asked her a few minutes earlier.) She was the first to hug Trish at the beach and celebrate her pick of rice over an idol clue.

She hasn’t changed her mind about stepping up to the bat either, if the second immunity challenge and puzzle is any indication—and unlike J’Tia, she keeps cool under pressure.

In this line, she had no qualms about pinning Tony down on his cop status, although what struck me as odd about that conversation was how long it took her to say that she was a cop. She did eventually, but only when he asked her directly. Maybe she just felt reticent when he wouldn’t own up to it himself, but still… what is the big deal about being a cop on Survivor? I can’t recall now if we’ve ever had cops lie about their profession before, but I’m pretty sure that none of them ever got targeted for it!

Still, Sarah’s advantage over Tony is that she’s in the core of the Brawn tribe. Tony’s advantage over Sarah is that he has an idol—without having to make any decisions about a bag of rice that could hurt him down the road. He’s found the idol the ‘correct’ way: with nobody having reason to think he has it. Or do they? We know he’s a fan of Russell Hantz, so it’s no surprise he went looking for the clue—he probably went looking for the idol long before he had the clue.

Then there’s the Spy Shack. We’ve seen some pretty ambitious shelters on Survivor before, but a secret cubbyhole? I cannot imagine that this is going to work, but I hope to high heaven that the Spy Shack is a big feature of this season. Or that it will go on to have a crossover adventure with the Coconut Bandits.

At any rate, Tony seems to have spent a good deal of time away from his tribe in these early days in order to implement his secret plans. Not only does this mean he’s been missing out on tribal bonding, but I have to wonder if they’ve noticed his absences. Tribe members who disappear frequently are rarely trusted, and it was telling that Sarah called Tony a dumbass for getting hurt in the very same sentence that she described her own injury! Tony is clearly not part of Aparri’s inner circle.

Social Strength

cliff-paddle

Running the inner circle.

Who is in Aparri’s inner circle? Well, that seems to be Uncle Cliffy and his fan club: Woo, Sarah and Lindsey.

Is Cliff the first athlete not to lie about his career? He probably owes Woo a debt of thanks for that, since he was hedging about his sports career until Woo openly admitted to being a fan. That broke the ice perfectly: his career came out in an organic way, everybody was a little impressed but mostly unworried as it pertained to the game, and nobody would later be freaked out that Cliff had been keeping this secret from them.

It’s also worth noting that Woo didn’t file the information away for personal use. In Philippines, Dawson wanted but failed to use her recognition of Jeff Kent as in-game leverage, while sundry people who recognized Lisa Whelchel opted to let her know in private and assure her they wouldn’t give away her secret.

Woo did not indulge in such shenanigans, which is probably sensible enough since I don’t think anybody’s ever benefited from knowing somebody’s secret career. Perhaps, as I theorized with Kass, this is all a bluff so people don’t suspect him of lying later. However, I’m inclined to think Woo simply is an open, friendly person. It’ll be interesting to see how he plans to marry that against the deceptive portions of the game, but I really hope that he and Cliff can keep this partnership going, because they’re possibly the most adorable dynamic duo ever.

I am not convinced that Lindsey and Sarah are nearly as delighted with Cliff as Woo is. Was it just me, or did Lindsey’s comment beginning ‘I honestly love Cliff,’ sound like it was cut off before the ‘but’? And if Sarah’s stating in confessional that Cliff is the most popular member of their tribe, I have to think she’s also pondering the ramifications of that.

While Cliff may be the most beloved, what struck me about the brawn tribe was how charming they were as a whole. The stereotype for brawn would have been a group of brash meatheads, but this lot are very friendly, readily diffusing awkward moments with a smile and a laugh. The potential exceptions, in the edited highlights that we saw, are Lindsey and Trish. When Trish suggested that Lindsey should get some wood, Lindsey immediately bristled, and that scene ended with both women doing malicious impressions of each other.

Of the two, Lindsey seemed the crueler to Trish. In her pre-season interview, Lindsey came across as a lot more grounded to me than she did in episode. I actually predicted her to be leading the cluster of twenty-nine year olds, so I’m a little disappointed she’s making enemies already.

That said, between the two women, I think Lindsey’s the safe one. When Trish called her out in episode, Sarah gave a stunned smile to somebody off-screen, suggesting that this clash had been in the offing for a while. Yet it’s Lindsey who got Sarah’s assurance that she’s fine afterwards, and later, Sarah’s next to Lindsey, laughing at her impression. Maybe Sarah considers Lindsey a solid friend, maybe she considers her a finals goat, maybe both, but she doesn’t look like she wants to get rid of her.

So that brings us back to Trish, who made what I consider to be the correct choice in rice over an idol. She also told them about her choice, and showed no ill will whatsoever. “Thanks for ousting me, Sarah!” seemed to be a throwaway joke, though perhaps this is Trish’s brand of passive aggression. After all, when she felt Lindsey wasn’t working hard enough, she was unable to refrain from commenting on it.

Trish reminded me a lot of Rupert pre-season, and Rupert is somebody else who was never able to refrain from passing judgment on his fellow players. Perhaps this is biasing my view of Trish, but I’m a little wary of how she’s going to fit in at any point in the game. Luckily for her, while she passed up her chance at finding the idol, she’s allied with it—though she doesn’t know that.

Should Brawn go to Tribal Council (and based on challenge performance so far, they’re the least likely to), how will the dynamics break down? Cliff and the three youngsters seem a lock to vote together, giving us a clear majority. Trish is rubbing Lindsey (at least) the wrong way, though Sarah is already gunning for Tony.

However, if Tony gets nervous and plays the idol, that opens things up a bit. Does he try to bring down Cliff or Woo? Does he pander to Trish’s feelings and go for Lindsey? On the other hand, nobody wants to play an idol this early (just ask Garrett), and the previews show him trying to get on Sarah’s good side. Perhaps Tony will drop Trish in an attempt to get a more secure footing in the game?

Right now, the one thing we can be most confident of is that Sarah, the person who embraced the initial leadership target, is the least targeted person on Aparri. I’m still not as high on Sarah as many people out there, but her résumé looks great: young enough to bond, old enough to have some life experience, not flirtatious enough to worry people, and not on the Brains tribe. At the end of this first week, she’s perhaps the best established player out there. I have to admit, there’s a bizarre psychological boost in seeing phrases like ‘The Fishy this week goes to Sarah,” so long may her success continue.

Picking the winner pre-season twice in a row would be pretty awesome as well.

There’s no question that this season has come roaring out of the gate, but it can’t possibly sustain this pace. My fear is that it will be that rare season with an insanely fantastic pre-merge followed by a predictable plod to the finish line with the winner earmarked a mile off. (Admittedly, a winner made obvious by the edit is par for the course these days, but one can always dream.) Still, it’s a really strong cast, as we had with Blood vs. Water and Philippines which stayed consistently exciting. While I’m nervous that we’re losing too many great characters via Luzon, the other two tribes are hardly lacking in dynamism.

My fingers are crossed, but either way, I’m really looking forward to the next couple of episodes.

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