For a long time now, I’ve been running Malcolm down as a player, diligently critiquing his every move. Mostly this is because I got into an argument about him with Andy Baker at the beginning of Philippines and Internet Feuds Are Forever. However, after last night, I cave because that was awesome, I love Malcolm for making that move, and I am thrilled CBS brought him back to do so.
(But, Andy, just so we’re clear… Pete would have done it better.)
I like these guys. These are funny guys!
Malcolm’s not the only person redeeming himself. From the comments section last week, it became clear that the fanbase is warming up to Reynold as well, and while I’ve been at best indifferent to Eddie, it was impossible to resist the beam on his face when Malcolm put the idol around his neck. The cool kids have somehow hung around for long enough to become these goofy, lovable underdogs. That Tribal Council they were loving it, and I loved them for it.
Let’s make due note here that neither Reynold nor Eddie were shocked when Malcolm pulled out his second idol—Eddie in particular should have been having palpitations at his salvation. They knew he had it, which means Reynold is already OK with Malcolm’s move from last week, and they discussed how they would play this Tribal Council together. I’m still giving most of the credit to Malcolm, but all the Amigos get a round of applause from me.
The two idol reveal wasn’t a perfect move: The Know It Alls (with bonus Brian Corridan) and Sophie on the recap podcast did a great job of debating the pros and cons of it, such as whether it would have been better to pull lower-ranking members of Stealth R US over and use the idols as leverage before Tribal Council.
I’m in agreement with Rob that it was better to reveal them publically before the vote, causing chaos at Tribal Council itself. If the Amigos learned anything last week, it’s that whoever is at the bottom of the totem pole doesn’t know they’re at the bottom of the totem pole, and thus can’t be trusted. (In fact, I doubt Stealth R Us’ hierarchy is as simple as a totem pole with one bottom member.)
The real beauty of the move was in how unprepared Stealth R Us was for it. While they might have had private discussions about how the game will go once they’ve voted off the Amigos, they should rightly have felt comfortable that they were at least two Tribal Councils away from that point. Everybody in Stealth R Us knew they had a buffer of three people between them and Jeff’s torch-snuffer; nobody had anything in place for the backstabbing portion of the game, because it was too early for it!
Had the Amigos scrambled before Tribal Council, I believe that Stealth R Us would have convened, agreed on an alternative target (probably still splitting the vote between that and Malcolm) and whoever on Stealth R Us should be flipping to the Amigos would have gone home and been of no further use to them. This way, the Amigos eliminated Phillip, who was of no use to them anyway.
Nevertheless, Stephen’s point that Malcolm should never have announced they were targeting Phillip was also valid. Once they named their target, everybody else could relax, for inertia was now a safe option. The Amigos should have sat back and let Stealth R Us talk, let them reveal their fractures, their individual views of the pecking order. At best, they might have caused so much disarray that they could have kept the idols—and you know Malcolm wanted to. It would have been the perfect crown to his move, (in fact, he safely could have done), but they gave the majority the security they needed to keep quiet, and so he couldn’t risk it. I would be curious to know how much of the whispering the Amigos were able to make out…
To be fair to the Amigos, they probably expected Phillip to freak out (and on an emotional level, they were probably looking forward to it) when he realized the game he was so proud of was about to go up in smoke. They might well have felt that throwing his name out there was the best way to fan the flames. They misjudged him, for instead Phillip’s pride and obstinacy encouraged him to call their bluff.
It would have been a better move for Phillip to simply address his alliance and say: “It has to be Sherri,” who he specified online (0:35) as being limited within the alliance, due her to Fan status. He said in his interview that he thought Sherri would be too much use to him, but logically, Sherri should cause the least upset within the group, making it worth the sacrifice. If not her, then Erik… anybody, any target other than himself!
However, logic was not really the prevailing motivation in that Tribal Council; showmanship was. As a fan, Malcolm knew this would go down a treat onscreen, and he seized every opportunity to give himself more dialogue when silence would have been the more logical (but less entertaining) virtue. Cochran was watching his own gameplan explode, and even he couldn’t stop grinning in appreciation.
Phillip is far too theatrical himself to get stage fright in this situation. He belongs to a certain category of players who, however divergent their actual gameplay might be, have personally cast themselves as (anti-)hero of the season and become driven by that over any other motivation. Coach and Russell are prime examples. Reynold also falls into this category, though he lacks the direct success to reinforce his image of himself. However, Reynold has held some form of immunity for every Tribal Council, which has bolstered his courage as the Underdog Hero to the point that he willingly gave Malcolm his idol last time.
And so Phillip, the only Favorite who has not been voted off, had the nerve to encourage his alliance to stay the course. Perhaps he believed he was not the true target, perhaps he hoped one of them would make the mistake of not playing his idol (though due to Erik’s flip, he could have gone home anyway). Or maybe he, like Brandon, decided he was going to go out on his own terms, resting comfortable that he was the biggest threat and was simply undone by the bad luck of an extraordinary set of circumstances. The really important thing was to look good for the cameras.
Only Speak when You have Something worth Saying
All that said, there was one person who, in my opinion, played that Tribal Council perfectly: Erik. Yes, former ice cream scooper, Erik. Last week, I was very dubious about Erik’s anti-alliance strategy, and I still am. However, that’s the game he’s choosing to play, so I’m going to judge his moves by those rules. Erik is currently voting with Stealth R Us, and they’re considering him a member, but he’s got no allegiance to them, nor to the Amigos. He’s just asking who to vote for, going with the majority and targeting the bigger threat to his game when he has an option.
At any rate, as part of this strategy, Erik has been The Silent One, the guy who mimes ‘Shhh!’ after the ‘Stealth!’ cheer. He’s actually asked people not to talk strategy with him. Yet at this manic Tribal Council, he made sure everybody was listening when he said: “There is some bonus in keeping one idol. What if one person decides not to play it?”
Honestly, I can’t be sure what Erik’s motivations were in making that statement, how much he’d thought about it (or even if everybody else hadn’t already thought the same thing), but I can figure out the ramifications of it.
By raising the possibility of the Amigos bluffing, he encouraged Stealth R Us to stick with the vote instead of scrambling for a more strategic target. Since everybody except Phillip could be (reasonably) confident that they weren’t going to get the blowback from the idols this Tribal Council, they needn’t risk it for the next one either. By the same token, Stealth R Us absolutely could not risk holding onto their idols. (Also, it cued Phillip to take his courageous last stand, though I don’t think Erik could ever have anticipated that.)
What did Erik need to get out of this Tribal Council? Keeping either alliance strong isn’t good for him, and now both have been weakened: Stealth R Us lost a core member; the Amigos, two idols. Erik might have been considered a safe alternative vote, as I’ve already suggested—his name does not seem to have been thrown around, but Erik was sat at one end of the line and could not know what was being whispered at the other. Keeping the target on Phillip was his safe bet. Best of all, he’s been wanting to get Phillip out since episode one!
Admittedly, Erik’s going with his emotions a little when he’s focusing on Phillip, but Phillip is a threat. Whether he’s controlling the alliance through skill or because everybody wants to go to the end with him (or, most likely, a little of both), he was going to the end, and now just about everybody else in Stealth R Us has a hole in their gameplans, one less vote they feel they can control. That’s going to make a free agent like Erik more valuable.
Once he’d ensured that the Bros would play their idols, Erik cheerfully voted with them: a little insurance that his preferred target was going home and a lot of satisfaction in getting rid of the fun sponge. Much like speaking up, he hasn’t written Phillip’s name down all game, but he made sure he did it when it counted.
An Alliance Without a Figurehead
One of the surprises for me was that the Amigos did target Phillip and not Andrea who was their target last week. Had Malcolm not specified Phillip, I’m sure Andrea would have assumed they were voting for her. Malcolm already cited her as the real person in charge, so it would seem obvious to take her out. She gets panicky when she knows she’s being targeted and would never have taken Phillip’s sacrificial route out of the game. Not only that, but she was sat dead center in the line, perfectly positioned to whisper alternative votes to her alliance.
Yet looking at the game going forward, perhaps the Amigos were onto something in taking out Phillip. I talked last week about how well Stealth R Us was working as a group, allowing Phillip to be the leader, while the others were content to let him play out his game as long as it didn’t interfere with theirs. In this way, Phillip was an excellent buffer between the allies.
Say Andrea and Phillip had agreed to vote one way, but Cochran wanted to vote another. Cochran talks Phillip round to his way of thinking, Phillip tells Andrea the plan’s changed, and chances are that Andrea will let Phillip have his way. The same process might happen the next week in reverse, but Cochran and Andrea never have to come into direct conflict. There is no power struggle.
Now we’ve removed Phillip from the equation and although, as he told Michael and Matt, he has a co-leader (which I still assume to be Andrea) to take over in case anything happens to him, are people as ready to consider somebody like Andrea their figurehead? Do the other players think they can control Andrea as easily, and more importantly, do they think they can safely take her to the end?
On the other hand, as good as Andrea’s position has been, she rarely seems to come up with the strategy (though she’s good at laying it down and making sure everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to), and at Tribal Council, she was asking “What do we do?” rather than guiding her alliance through the crisis. The other players might not need to feel threatened by her. Still, while she might not be the ideas person for the tribe, she’s still a leader, as evidenced by her resolution to go out and look for the idol alongside the Amigos, accompanied by Dawn.
Dawn gives an account of their hunt finishing with the observation that an idol should be hidden again after Tribal Coucil and hoping that “the women” can get it (3:05). I’ve frequently noticed on Twitter and her blog that Dawn likes a bit of “Girl Power!” now and again, and it would not surprise me if she would love to put together a women’s alliance. And certainly, it’s the women of Stealth R Us who are the more aggressive players. Unfortunately for Dawn, while it’s not clear who she meant by “the women”, her new best friend, Brenda, was the one whispering Andrea’s name at Tribal Council.
Remember how I’ve been saying that Brenda’s gameplan is focused on Andrea, that Andrea’s her key ally and the person she’ll try and get to the end with? Yeah, that’s just gone on the pet theory bonfire. I still think Andrea had to have been her way into Stealth R Us, but last night we saw a taste of the Brenda we got to know in Nicaragua: buddy up with somebody and then slit their throat. (Alas, poor Kelly B…)
We did see Phillip whispering to Brenda before she started saying Andrea’s name to Dawn, but based on his interview he didn’t tell her to vote Andrea. She, however, was very insistent about it. We can’t be sure how enthusiastically Brenda’s suggestion was (or would have been) received, but Brenda was comfortable saying it and was apparently only foiled by Dawn’s inability to whisper around Andrea to Sherri, Erik and Cochran. If Brenda is finally secure enough to make a blip on the radar, that tells me she believed she could get the numbers for the vote.
It makes perfect sense, in its own way. Whatever role the sweet and savvy Andrea fulfils for her allies, Brenda would be an obvious replacement. But more importantly, Brenda needs to make a move to complete her underdog story for the jury, and how better than by booting the leader of Stealth R Us and seizing control in her place? Based on what we saw in Nicaragua, Brenda could do a fair job of leading the alliance going forward, and she’s probably fully confident in her ability to manipulate players as insecure as Dawn, as inexperienced as Sherri, or as quiet as Cochran and Erik.
If Andrea and Brenda are headed for a showdown, then Dawn will find herself being the swing vote again soon, and by extension, so will Cochran.
In fact, what goes for Brenda goes for Cochran as well, perhaps moreso, since although he was a major influence on the vote pre-merge, none of the other players realize that. He’s as much underneath their radar as Brenda—but without the underdog story. Will he decide that Phillip’s departure is his cue to take a more open role in the game? I doubt it. I don’t see Cochran ever taking a visible leading role, but he’s got to work something out for the jury.
Even if they support Brenda’s plan to take out Andrea, are players like Cochran and Sherri going to be any happier seeing Brenda as the alliance leader? (I’m not going to account for Erik, since I don’t think alliance dynamics concern him.) Sherri was so sure that she was going to have Phillip reporting to her in due time (and now we’ll never know if she was right), and Cochran was able to talk Phillip round multiple times between the tribal switch and the merge.
I don’t think either of them will see Brenda (or Andrea) in the same light, but where are they going to find another figurehead? Another person who is keen on playing aggressively but who they feel they can control?
Is the New Dawn the New Phillip?
OK, so having Cochran put Dawn on the vacated throne of Stealth R Us would definitely count as a crackpot theory, and I don’t really think it’s going to happen. Regardless, this was a bizarre episode for Dawn and marks a turning point for her Survivor reputation. She came into this season as the strong mother hen and Nicest Person Alive. This week, she threatened to quit rather than show her missing teeth on national television. I know I’m British and I don’t place the same cosmetic value on teeth as the average American, but I’m pretty sure this is an over-reaction.
Then Dawn told us how little sleep she’s been getting and I was brought squarely back into her corner. Actually, the reason for Dawn’s craziness is because she’s not like Phillip. Phillip, as I said earlier, has his own, unshakeable, perception of himself as the hero: he’s right in what he does and his actions should be received well. In an online confessional this week, Dawn explains that she keeps re-thinking decisions she made five days ago (0:39). I do recommend listening to all of that confessional if you want a genuine insight into the paranoia and emotional turmoil of playing. She’s very self-aware about her state, she knows how her insecurity reflects on her game, how it’s hurting her position in her alliance, and that she needs to remember it is just a game.
Of course, it’s not that easy. I am prone to insomnia myself, and I have to admit that most Wednesday nights I end up lying awake reviewing what went on in Survivor, what the players should have done, trying to figure out what we didn’t see—and I’m not even playing the game! Dawn winds up describing it as mind over matter, but it’s not… It’s mind over mind, and that’s a tough one to combat amid all the deprivations of the game.
In the end, Dawn got a good night’s sleep and calmed down, but odds are high that more sleepless nights are in her future, which means she’s in danger of returning to this state perhaps multiple times over the remainder of the game. The trigger on this occasion seems to have been her long-term deception of the three Amigos and Michael, which did not get the optimal outcome, and now she’s nervous that she’s got four (potential) jurors mad at her. Who knows how she’s going to sleep after this night’s Tribal Council with Phillip gone and Brenda trying to rally a vote against Andrea that Dawn was literally in no position to help with?
(I believe this makes Brenda the first person outside the core Stealth R Us alliance to reveal their plans to Dawn and not get immediately voted out. Perhaps the smart money should still be on Brenda to go home next!)
As we saw in episode, her volatility was a concern to her allies, and we learn from Andrea’s online confessional that she was well aware she was the target of Dawn’s paranoia. Dawn understands that she might be voted out as a liability to the alliance, which can only compound her insecurity and might make this a self-fulfilling prophecy. Usually, I approve of self-awareness in Survivor, but this is one time where it’s a negative attribute.
All that said, people do still like Dawn. Andrea was perturbed by her paranoia, yet readily went idol-hunting with her. Brenda was touched by her emotions over the retainer incident. Even Cochran is more sympathetic in his online confessional than in episode. The players want to keep her around if they can… but now they might just be influenced by the thought that she will melt down at Final Tribal Council. Dawn might not become the new leader of Stealth R Us, but she could become the new Finals Goat.
And Amigos forever we’ll be!
Before I finish, I just want to do a shout out to the best suggestion I’ve seen for how Malcolm could have played that idol move (thanks to my husband the Redditor of the family for finding this; the same theory was referenced in the comments for Sophie’s podcast as well): the Amigos should have each voted for a different person, resulting in a 1-1-1 tie and making Stealth R Us have an unstrategized revote among each other, which would really expose the fractures.
That would necessitate them playing both idols (which they did anyway), and it’s always going to be debatable what the most effective strategy would be… but I’m with the original Redditor, that would surely have made it the Best Tribal Council of all time (pending Internet Confirmation; don’t hold your breath for the consensus).
Still, it’s easy for us to come up with our theories now; all they’re really good for is preparing future Survivors who find themselves in the same very unlikely scenario. Malcolm might not have made the most of his position, but he said himself that they were still going to be three against six. Last night wasn’t so much about strategy as it was about fun and the third great episode in a row.
We have to figure that streak will be broken soon. It’s hard to imagine that the most paranoid Stealth R Us member won’t feel it’s a safer move to vote off an Amigo next week, and as good as Reynold and Malcolm are at finding idols (that’s five between them, vs everybody else’s zero), they can’t keep the whole alliance immune forever. Still, they managed to top the “Hold up, Bro,” moment from last week, which was more than we had any right to expect. One last encore for the Three Amigos and one hell of an episode for us. Thanks, guys.