SurvivorSurvivor Caramoan

Individual Games: We Have A Frontrunner

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For a few weeks now, I have rebutted complaints that the outsiders are settling for fifth and sixth place by insisting that the Favorites’ pecking order is not linear and that the top foursome will turn on each other before the end. This week, I would like to announce, with considerable relish: “I told you so!”

We shall, of course, gloss over the fact that my pre-season pick to win, Reynold, also went home this week. The important thing is that he outlasted Andy Baker’s pick of Corinne. (No concessions from me this week, Baker!)

At any rate, now that the betrayal has happened and the dust has settled, we’ve lost the person who was, arguably, the most dominant player throughout the game. With Andrea gone, just two players are left from the original Stealth R Us, and they’re our original swing votes: Dawn and Cochran. Ironically, they’ve swung right back to working with the surviving members of Francesca’s alliance, though it would be fairer to say that they, as all good Survivor players should, have built a new alliance with themselves (and Brenda) on top.

The Best Power Couples aren’t Showmances

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No showmance here.

I think Cochran and Dawn might have just become my favorite strategic partnership of all time (I am admittedly fickle in this regard). I am always fond of a complementary couple, and these two have proven to be a good fit for each other. Cochran is laid back enough to counterbalance Dawn’s emotional swings, but she’s pushing the game forward when he might hesitate (At Ponderosa Phillip describes him as indecisive – 2:15). Cochran was responsible for much of the strategizing in Stealth R Us, though Dawn handled more deception to pull off the blindsides. Dawn was usually the one making the call on whose time was up, but she ran everything by Cochran first.

However what elevates them above almost any other power couple in Survivor is their history. As I noted all the way back in the first episode, their signature moment in South Pacific came when they parted ways: Cochran flipped to Upolu, she stayed with Savaii, and that marked the end of both their games. This season, they picked their relationship up off the rocks and tried again, battered but stronger for it. It’s a classic Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl Back plot, with the added fillip that since they can’t both live happily after, we know there’s a final tragic twist in the offing.

What can I say? I like a good story as much as Jonathan Penner!

The other thing that’s remarkable about Dawn and Cochran is their discretion. Somehow with just seven players left in the game, there’s still nobody worried about breaking them up, and Andrea seemed to feel it was quite safe to discuss voting Dawn off with Cochran. In order to fool people in this way, they must be spending a lot of time apart, yet in Survivor absence makes the heart grow paranoid, and Dawn and Cochran still seem to trust each other implicitly. Clearly, they have known each other a long time, longer than anybody else in the game, and that will always help, but it’s still an achievement!

One thing they’ve done very successfully is tag-team within an alliance of four. Twice now, they’ve worked together to be the secret bridge between an obvious divide: before the merge, when Cochran was Phillip’s right-hand man and Dawn was BFF’s with Corinne; in the post-Stealth-R-Us era, where Dawn exchanged moral support with Brenda, while Cochran hyper-analyzed the game with Andrea. Their alliance buddies were plotting to vote each other off, but Dawn and Cochran were working together behind the scenes.

It was a system more serendipitous than planned, but it worked beautifully. They placated their marks, gained the confidences of both sides and compared notes. They reached a decision on what they wanted to happen, then backed each other up when the alliance met for the official discussion. United we stand, divided we conquer at its finest!

NB I’m simplifying this greatly, for the sake of highlighting the theory. I don’t for a moment think that Dawn and Cochran did this for every vote… but I do think this is how the overall course of the game has steered their way.

Smart Girls Don’t Catfight; They Blindside

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Cochran was finally able to return the favor to Dawn.

Up until this point, it was Dawn who kept Cochran informed about threats to their alliances, but this week Cochran was finally able to return the favor when Andrea talked to him about her plans. As Rob pointed out on the Know It Alls, Cochran must have known how the women would react when he said she was choosing which one of them to vote out, so he had already reached the decision that it was Andrea’s time to go home. However, it’s not as if Andrea’s problems started there. She was already on everybody’s radar.

Andrea had been on everybody’s radar since the beginning, of course. Brenda wrote her name down at the first Tribal Council, then lay low until she was safely ensconced in Stealth R Us—only to seize the first opportunity to suggest Andrea for the vote again, on the Night of the Three Amigos when Phillip ultimately went home.

Dawn has been paranoid of Andrea for a long time (we have to wonder if Brenda fostered that) and has an online confessional shortly after returning from the Reynold boot where she (very rationally) analyzes Andrea’s relationship with Eddie. From the speculative words, this sounds like it was filmed before Cochran tipped her and Brenda off, though of course, she’d already talked to Andrea about potentially blindsiding Brenda that night. At any rate, she’s already predicting that Andrea won’t want to vote off Eddie and that they will have to decide if it’s time to get rid of Andrea (1:10).

Andrea has probably been aware of how obvious a threat she is, judging by her own paranoia. She’s played a very dominant game, and I agree with Glenn Holford that she probably would have won if she had survived this vote… but I doubt that was ever going to happen with returners. They’re too jaded to allow such an obvious contender near the end. There’s a reason Cochran wasted no time in debating whether it should be Brenda or Andrea going home.

Even the Fans can figure that one out. Sherri explains that she trusts Brenda more than Andrea, adding that while Brenda might not have ticked anybody off, she hasn’t sucked up to the jury, and Andrea has.

Sherri goes on to list all the people Andrea thinks she’s got in her back pocket (almost everybody left in the game). Certainly, Andrea seemed to have more connections and friendships than anybody else; by way of contrast, according to her interview, she had no idea Brenda and Dawn were so tight. She and Reynold confirmed that Dawn’s camouflage is that she’s so effusively friendly with everybody (and we should be aware of the possibility that the edit is giving more weight to certain friendships than Dawn is!), but if nobody sees Brenda and Dawn as a pairing that makes her more accessible.

When it comes down to it, whose final three deal are you going to trust? The girl who is tight with Eddie and Cochran, or the girl who does not have a particular close ally? We know Andrea really did want to take Sherri to the end, but I can’t imagine Sherri felt convinced of that. I don’t know if Brenda has made a final three pact with Sherri, but I’m guessing at this point that most people have told Sherri they’ll take her to the end. (I’m not entirely sure if this is because people dislike her or because they simply don’t respect her as a player.)

Quitting to Win

The tension between Brenda and Andrea came to a head when they were left fighting it out for immunity again in a challenge where the alliance’s common goal was to outlast Reynold. Unlike the tidal challenge, Brenda and Andrea could see that they were the only two left, but rather than strike a deal to bring the challenge to an end, they chose to battle it out, ultimately creating a final stage of balancing on one leg. From a pure entertainment perspective, it was much more satisfying seeing Andrea win her necklace through her own merits rather than because Brenda forfeited, but from a strategic perspective?

The episode focused on how Andrea was suspicious of Brenda’s desire to keep competing, but it turns out that Brenda was worried about Andrea for the same reason (1:45). Both girls are strong competitors who each wanted the necklace in their own right (Brenda had won it once already, but there’s no obligation to take turns!), and I think their paranoia was a simple result of already having each other on their radars.

Still, acquiring that kind of target does put the ones who quit the challenge for food in a new light. It was predictable that Erik would jump for donuts. He said he’d choose spaghetti for himself over beans and rice for his tribe… of course, he’s going to choose donuts over immunity (especially if you believe the theory that he’s sand-bagging challenges). But Eddie’s a different story. Eddie is lower on the pecking order than Erik. Eddie needs immunity or at the very least to keep Reynold from winning it! So why on earth would he jump off at the first opportunity?

In his xfinity interview with Gordon Holmes, Reynold (loyal bro to the end) pointed out that “If you think Erik is a good strategist, then you can say the same thing about Eddie.” He’s right. I feel it’s entirely reasonable to give Erik the benefit of the doubt, because he’s a superfan and has played before. But that doesn’t mean Eddie isn’t thinking along the same lines.

In-game, Reynold calls Eddie more of a realist than he is. (Talk about damning with faint praise!) While Reynold contorted himself wildly on his floating doghouse, trying to beat two lithe young girls—one of which (paddleboard instructor Brenda) literally did this for a living—Eddie got to conserve energy and eat, secure in the knowledge that Reynold was the real target. Had Reynold won, that would have backfired horribly on him, but it was a pretty safe bet that Reynold was never going to win.

Aside from that, being seen as a non-gamer was a vital factor in Eddie’s survival the next Tribal Council. While Malcolm apparently sealed his fate by going for the idol at the food auction, Eddie’s resolutely chosen food over immunity every time. I don’t think this is entirely calculated, but I do think he has to be aware of how this comes across. He himself observes with pleasure that it’s the two girls who are the challenge threats (1:30).

Despite his faith in his own hotness, Eddie does not have enough of an ego that he needs to be seen as a physical competitor. He’s perfectly happy sliding by, knowing that at least half of the alliance of six will have to screw each other over to get to the final three (1:20). That’s solid awareness of Survivor theory there… let’s give him props for that.

As with Sherri though, will it really be enough to slide through to the finals? Eddie believes he still has a good shot at winning (Reynold must be contagious), and Erik describes him as being in the same spot he was in back in the original Fans vs Favorites: the likeable non-threat. Maybe he’s right, and certainly Eddie’s now taking a very similar approach to the game as Erik, but Erik’s been thinking about this strategy for longer. I’d give him better odds of defending it to the jury (and even then, I have my doubts that he’d win).

Moreover, if Erik perceives that Eddie’s a threat, that’s immediately one player who is motivated to stick with the plan and get Eddie out next. We can add Cochran to that list too, assuming he wasn’t just testing Andrea with his remark that Eddie would beat them.

Speaking of Cochran, he flipped on the recap this episode by also choosing his stomach over the game. Considering all I just said for Eddie and Erik, the same should apply to him, right? Sorry, but we have a double standard here. While Cochran needed immunity less than the other two, he does not need to sandbag the challenges. Yes, he’s won two immunities, but everybody appreciates the irony of that because it is ironic. Nobody expects him to win any more!

Back in South Pacific, Cochran sat out another individual immunity challenge, but that was part of an agreement with the Upolu alliance: they all sit out or nobody does. Cochran claimed then that he would have liked to try the challenge, but had to go along with the group. My theory has always been that it’s better for the weaker competitors to score points for effort, and that holds true for this challenge too. Yes, Cochran tried, no, he wouldn’t have won, but he still dropped out. He cannot say he gave it his all, and that’s a black mark on the record of “The greatest challenge competitor in Survivor Caramoan.”

It also impacted his social standing, because the women weren’t happy with his choice. If looks could kill, Cochran would have dropped dead before he could jump. What he effectively did was leave the burden of beating Reynold on the women, while he ate the food they all wanted. It didn’t matter that Andrea and Brenda were so obviously going to be better at this than him. Upolu showed solidarity by sitting out of the challenge as an alliance; Cochran should have shown solidarity by competing with his.

I don’t think it’s really going to hurt Cochran in the game, but it was still a bad move. At least Erik coaxed Eddie to jump off with him. All the women were smiling when Erik jumped, and Erik isn’t even depending on his bonds with them in the way Cochran is.

Erik and Immunity

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Erik was the one to find this idol.

One of the things my husband suggested for this challenge was that Jeff should have offered up the clue to the immunity idol as a third temptation to jump, rather than handing it to the winner. This would in theory have promised more of a shake-up of the game (it could have been the saving of Reynold, who would have been more competitive in the next challenge), not to mention causing some entertaining consternation in the alliance as they would have to anticipate whether Reynold would jump or stick.

Instead, Andrea claimed both the necklace and the idol. I wasn’t convinced by her decision to let Brenda see the clue—that deal was for if Brenda forfeited. However, I liked her move of letting the entire alliance to come and dig for it. I thought last week she had been too paranoid to go that route, but we learned in the interview that it was more because Malcolm’s description of the clue applied to an awful lot of trees.

Erik was the one to find this idol, letting him complete the trifecta of immunity giveaways. (I know, the tribal immunity wasn’t his decision, but he did do the physical hand-off.) It’s open to speculation whether he gave it to Andrea or whether he was showing it to her and she took it out of his hand, but it seems he was more than happy with the excuse to get rid of it. In his confessional (0:25), he admits that he’s been avoiding the hidden immunity idol, just because he doesn’t want to have to deal with the dilemma of when to play it. He wants to play a bare bones, straightforward game.

This is about as close as we can get to Erik directly confirming Rob’s theory that he’s trying to avoid strategy just so the viewers can’t go after him for making another dumb move. Yet it doesn’t exactly refute those of us who believe he’s trying to tailor the game to his own limitations—I’d say making your game as straightforward as possible is actually an excellent idea and one too many people forget. I do think Erik is overdoing it though. Survivor doesn’t have to be about deception, but it is about seizing your opportunities.

In fact, Erik already has giver’s remorse. He had to make the decision of what to do with the idol very quickly… he found it seconds after he started digging (1:25), so he didn’t have time to think about it in advance, and then he had to make a decision on how to play it with his whole alliance looking on. (For the record, the comments about idol etiquette at 2:00 show that Erik understands idol possession better than Corinne does.)

The thing that seems to bother him more than anything else is the obvious parallels with his downfall last time. He gets very agitated (2:45) talking about how this could be the big mistake that will cost him the game. (It’s also notable that he fully believes he’s on track for the million—I don’t share his optimism, but he’s certainly not playing for runner up.) He winds up (3:20) by saying that he’s got to fix this “in the next couple of days” because he’s not “going to let the same mistake take me down again”.

Whether it’s déjà vu or fear of being labelled the dumbest Survivor again, Erik has sworn to take action. Cue his first immunity challenge win of the season.

Now there’s been a lot of debate over whether or not Erik is sandbagging, and Rob pointed out that if Erik comes out after the show and says he was sandbagging, he could just be wanting to look good. However, as it stands, Erik has been on the winning side for every team challenge save the first tribal immunity; in every individual challenge, he’s gone out early. In this challenge, not only did he win, but he had the lead at every stage.

That’s a big coincidence, coming after his crisis of confidence over the idol-giveaway and after a prediction that Andrea and Cochran would change up the vote at final seven, keeping Eddie in favor of booting a bigger threat. I would say this challenge is what Erik looks like when he’s trying.

Erik isn’t actually in danger yet, but he’s not got the best social read on people, so it’s understandable if he’s erring on the side of sooner when it comes to winning immunity. However, while I might think that Erik’s been sandbagging, I don’t believe he could have won all of these immunities had he tried. He’s going to need a lot of luck to keep a streak going between now and the finals—an immunity idol would have given him that extra buffer.

The potential wrench in Erik’s plan comes in the form of Andrea’s desire to go to the finals with him. Like Sherri, if the jury thinks he got to the end as a goat, they’re not going to pay attention to how he thinks he got there.

Full Marks for Execution

While Boston Rob might have loved playing with amateurs, there’s something deeply satisfying about watching professionals. Once Erik had kept Andrea, Brenda or Eddie from winning immunity, the stage was set for a double blindside. It’s not the first time that’s happened on Survivor and it’s considerably less flashy than a stunt such as the Three Immune Amigos, but you do have to appreciate a neat blindside. Brenda has a great online confessional, which should really be heard in its entirety, discussing the two layers of blindsiding going on within the camp and how everybody is playing their part perfectly.

There was another nice touch to it in the way they arranged the split vote so it was boys (Cochran and Erik) for Eddie and girls (Brenda, Dawn and Sherri) for Andrea. This way, if their least reliable member, Erik, decided to flip while he was secure in his immunity, he could not change the outcome of the vote—well, not short of telling Andrea to play her idol, but then his new alliance would be three against three with no idol to break the tie. Between citing Eddie as a threat and wanting to fix his mistake with Andrea’s idol, I don’t think Erik would have flipped anyway, but Brenda, Cochran and Dawn certainly made it as unattractive an option as they could.

I also give kudos for keeping alive this season’s traditions of a split vote and Eddie voting for the wrong person.

Despite the smooth blindside, perhaps the most remarkable thing at either Tribal Council was the level of candor. At the first one, Dawn remarked that it was hard for her to trust people when she had been untrustworthy herself. This isn’t news to anybody, but then Cochran upped the ante even further at the next Tribal Council when he talked about how everybody was making false final three promises, acknowledging that he’d done it himself. Again, this information in and of itself is not surprising, but it’s usually an open secret. How often is it freely discussed at Tribal Council—how often does anybody admit they’ve lied before Final Tribal Council?

It’s possible that part of Cochran’s motivation was to get people like Erik thinking that Andrea was lying to them about final three. However the greater effect overall was to set the tone of the game for the benefit of the jurors. In South Pacific, jurors Dawn and Cochran were well aware that Coach lost because he could not admit that he had played with anything other than honor and integrity. Here, they’re advertising their own self-awareness by stating they’ve lied in the game.

This is of particular importance to Dawn, who needs to show she’s got a rational side, but the whole group were demonstrating to the jurors that this is the game and these are the standards they are playing by. It’s nothing personal.

Andrea capped it off by her almost delighted reaction to her blindside, immediately complimenting the group on fooling her so completely. Really, all the jury so far has had a gracious exit, and I hope every single one of the final six has made note of that. Even without the benefit of the Ponderosa videos, they’ve been given all the clues they need that this will not be a bitter jury, and that’s going to be very important when deciding on who to vote out and who to keep for the end.

This piece of information, perhaps more than any other, could be the most influential on the endgame.

The Case for the Win

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Who is your frontrunner?

The biggest concern that the players can put aside is having enemies on the jury—at least not due to betrayals of trust. This makes somebody like Brenda (who “hasn’t pissed anybody off,”) significantly less of a threat to take to the end.

In some ways, this is a bad thing for Brenda, since she can’t claim to have been in the driving seat from the start as Dawn and Cochran can. I said she would be looking to take credit for the Andrea vote, yet it’s unclear from the episode just how much she had to do with it.

On the other hand, we know Brenda’s raised Andrea’s name before. When Cochran went to talk to Dawn and Brenda, they were telling him that they had decided they needed to vote for Eddie next—the implication being that the three of them had already discussed Andrea as a possible alternative. From Brenda’s point of view, the most recent vote might have been the culmination of days of hard work setting the stage for it. She also batted her eyes playfully at the jury as Andrea grabbed her torch, which—assuming the edit placed it at the right time—was a nicely subtle claim to ownership of the move.

Of course, Andrea believed up until watching the episode (per her interview) that Dawn had orchestrated the blindside. Perhaps Dawn feels the same way. Erik considers himself to have made the ultimate choice, while Sherri keeps telling us she’s running the game. Everybody but Eddie is probably putting this on their Survivor résumé. It really depends on who the jury wants to believe.

I will probably speculate more on the jury’s motivations for choosing a winner next week, unless there’s just too much else to write about. For now, we’ll stick to seeing how this game might pan out.

Eddie is probably still gone at final six or final five—they might want to get rid of Brenda or Erik before then, if they’re afraid either of them will go on a challenge streak, but I believe, overall, nobody’s really comfortable letting the Last Amigo get to the end, bitter jury or not.

Erik can probably be more safely viewed as a finals goat now. He’s a likeable guy, but I’m a lot less confident that anybody on this jury will vote for him than I was last week. If he gets to the end and pulls off a blinding speech in defense of his strategy, more power to him, but I don’t think the jury will count his game as playing.

Sherri doesn’t have anybody concerned about her. I won’t rule out the possibility that she might surprise us all with her jury management, but I’m going to trust the players that they can safely take her to the finals: she won’t beat anybody.

This leaves us with Brenda, Cochran, and Dawn, and of that group Cochran is easily the frontrunner. He was viewed as a co-strategist with Andrea, and while he’s not been an underdog in this game, he’s got an underdog story in his two season improvement arc—not to mention he’s definitely been the underdog who triumphed in the challenges. While other players have better average placement in the individual immunities, he’s still the only one to wear the necklace twice. He’s been described as paranoid and indecisive by other players, so his attempt to stay confident hasn’t been entirely successful, but he’s certainly not broken down in the way so many others have.

At this point, I have to believe that Cochran beats anybody if he gets to the end. He inherited this mantle from Andrea, but he must also have inherited her target along with it. While the previews are notoriously unreliable, everybody else in the game should be cognizant of the threat he poses at the end.

Brenda has certainly realized it, and if Dawn’s wise, she’ll listen to her. It looks like a showdown for Dawn’s loyalties soon, as we discover just who her final loyalty is to. It’s a trick question, since the answer should be “to herself.” A few weeks ago, South Pacific’s Sophie wondered how somebody like Dawn with an image of ‘Nice person’ can win Survivor, and I think Dawn might have inadvertently provided the answer when she described herself as being untrustworthy.

My recommendation for Dawn would be to get rid of Cochran—not necessarily now, she can wait until final four if she’s comfortable with the final immunity risk; getting rid of him too early risks making herself the most visible target. Once she gets to the end, she can point out that Stealth R Us was the most dominant alliance in the game, consisting some of the best players in the game, and she deceived and outplayed every single one of them.

It’s not the most intuitive move for Survivor and certainly wouldn’t work for any player with any jury. Nevertheless, this jury will be looking to see a Dawn who can face them down instead of crying about how hard the game is. (Andrea’s secret scene demonstrates just how Dawn might have annoyed her jurors.) I think she could beat anybody else with that strategy—the possible exception being Brenda if the latter can convince the jury that she manipulated Dawn through the endgame. However, in voting off Cochran, Dawn will gain a sympathetic juror who might talk her up at Ponderosa—something she needs if Reynold’s assessment of her (2:18) is representative of the rest of the jury.

I will probably speculate more about the jury next week, though anybody wanting to look at where the jurors’ heads are will do well to watch that last link, as even the jury saw the shake-up at final seven coming and each of them had their own prediction about who would be going home and why.

The remaining episodes should hopefully play out the battle between Cochran, Dawn and Brenda for that winning spot at final three, and while Dawn’s in the weakest position with the jury, she’s in the strongest position in the game. Cochran and Brenda are closer to her than to each other, and unless the edit’s hidden it from us, none of the other players have particularly close bonds. If the family visit can do for Dawn what it did for Lisa last season, we should see a great fight to the finish.

Right now, I’d say we’re looking at a final three of (Cochran/Brenda), Dawn and Sherri, or Dawn, Erik and Sherri. If I had to pick a winner, the smart money’s on Cochran, but Dawn and Brenda are also contenders (even if her screentime effectively eliminates Brenda—great job, editors). Whatever happens, it looks like this is going to be that rare season that doesn’t have a post-merge lull in the action, and I’m delighted to be anticipating a satisfying outcome.

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