This week we saw the incredible happen- Angkor finally avoided Tribal Council. And this means that for the first time this season, Abi was not the focal point of the episode. I was really excited to see what the tribal dynamics really were on Bayon- and of course, the tribal dynamics were nothing like what I expected.
For starters, it seems that Jeremy and Fishbach have actually formed a tight bond. Last week Jeremy was talking in confessional about perhaps becoming Fishbach’s new JT, but this week we actually saw their bromance start to materialise. It was interesting, given that the edit had given us plenty of reasons to suspect that Jeremy and his alpha-alliance were going to target Fishbach that the two seemed to have a watertight bond. They were certainly making the decisions together. I’m interested to see if that bond continues once Jeremy gets back together with Savage and Joe. Savage and Joe, being physical threats, are much more useful for Jeremy’s game plan, where he wants to hide behind other strong targets. But unlike Savage or Joe, Fishbach is a strong strategic thinker, and it looks like Jeremy and Fishbach are just enjoying being around each other at the moment. This may be an alliance that lasts until the end of the game.
For many viewers, including myself, Kimmi’s emergence this episode came as a complete surprise. For four episodes, Kimmi has been verging on invisible. We’ve seen her swinging in hammocks, and briefly suggesting that Fishbach was off looking for an idol. Other than that, there has been no suggestion that Kimmi has any strong alliances, or even that she was there to play the game.
It turns out that not only did Kimmi have alliances, but she had solid relationships everywhere. Jeremy and Stephen clearly see her as integral to their plans. Monica saw Kimmi as her number one alliance. Kimmi had options in this game. And ultimately, in what Jeff Probst saw as a ‘new-school’ move, Kimmi chose to move forward with the men of Bayon and vote out Monica. Was it such a ‘new-school’ move? I’m not sure. Yes, Monica was blindsided. But in the end, I think Kimmi made quite an old-school move. She voted out someone that she didn’t like. I’m not sure if she was thinking about what was best for herself strategically. But she was definitely thinking about the good of the tribe- a very old-school value.
Unfortunately for Monica, she just completely misread her situation. She was completely loyal to Kimmi, and assumed that Kimmi felt the same way. She had a plan to go to the end with an all-women alliance, and she assumed that Kimmi, as a woman, would be happy to go along with it. Monica’s biggest mistake was simple- she misread Kimmi. She thought she had a strong ally and friend when in reality she had neither. Kimmi found her irritating, and obviously, felt more loyal to Jeremy and Stephen than she did to Monica. In Survivor, making an alliance is one thing, but you cannot neglect that alliance. You cannot simply take it for granted that because someone is part of your plans, you are in theirs. You must take notice of the way they are feeling, and the plans that they are making. For this reason, this week’s lesson in Survivor history comes to us from season five, Survivor: Thailand, and the fourth place finisher, Helen Glover.
Helen was a typical old-school player. For Helen, the good of the tribe came first, and she had an honest belief that the most deserving players should make it to the end of the game. She allied herself with the eventual winner of the season, Brian Heidik. Brian was a player that she both liked and admired. She intended to go to the end of the game with him. Unfortunately for Helen, she later found that she had put too much trust in Brian’s friendship. Brian came out to Thailand to win a million dollars. And Brian knew that he had a much better chance of winning a million dollars sitting next to Clay Jordan, a player who had nobody’s respect, than he did if he was sitting next to Helen at the end. In confessional, Brian said about Helen that she was “my loyal, trustworthy soldier Helen. I know where her head’s at. I know how she feels about me. I’m very confident.” He described Helen as ammunition that he could use to help him win the game. In other words, in Brian’s mind, Helen was a pawn.
Helen didn’t realise this until too late. When she won the family visit reward challenge, and was allowed a visit with her husband, he warned her about playing the game for herself. She reassured him that she was in a good spot because she trusted Brian. She knew that she and Brian were the hardest workers out there, and so they would go to the end together. The trouble was, Helen was so caught up in her own plan, and her own strategies, that she didn’t take notice of her ally. She didn’t see that Brian had no intention whatsoever to take her to the end. His plan was always to take the weakest players to the end.
Monica found herself in a similar dilemma this week when she was betrayed by Kimmi. To her, it was perfectly reasonable to be thinking of a women’s alliance. After all, Monica is a perceptive player, and we know that there is something of a men’s alliance out there, waiting to reform (Jeremy, Joe, Savage, Keith and Tasha). She must have noticed the strong men aligning together at the beginning of the game, and known that as a woman without a strong track record in challenges, she was going to be in trouble. I think her idea for an all-women alliance was sound. Monica is exactly the sort of player that Jeremy doesn’t want to keep in the game. He wants as many shields as possible when the merge comes, and Monica isn’t going to shield anyone. She’s a Sandra sort of player- the type who thrive when the merge comes, sliding under the radar while all the big threats eliminate each other. Monica was in trouble and was wise to be thinking about the long term.
Where Monica went wrong was in misreading Kimmi. I really do think that Kimmi hasn’t fundamentally changed since Australia. Yes, this week she played aggressively, but her aims were very much aligned with old-school philosophy. She went after someone whom she didn’t like, and who was threatening the loyalty of the tribe. If she had been using a new-school mentality, she should have considered what Monica was saying. She should have been thinking, as Monica was, about the end game. But in the end, Kimmi made what came across to me as an intensely personal move. She voted Monica out not for strategic purposes, but simply because she no longer wanted her around. If Monica had seen the signs of Kimmi’s dislike, and not confided in her, Monica’s fate in the game could have been very different.
We only got one scene to show us why Kimmi didn’t like Monica, and it was the scene where they went clamming. Kimmi wanted to take lots of clams; Monica wanted to keep them in the ocean. It seems a pretty innocuous reason to dislike someone. From the things that Kimmi was saying, I’m guessing that there were many scenes just like that one. Many little arguments that added up in Kimmi’s head. She said: “I really need to practice my patience a little bit more because Monica is wearing my patience very thin”. I would guess that Monica had been wearing on Kimmi’s patience for a while. But either Kimmi is so good at hiding her true emotions, or Monica just never thought to notice. It never occurred to her that she could lose Kimmi, and so she never saw the distaste on Kimmi’s face.
As I watched that scene, I was reminded of last season, Survivor: Worlds Apart where Shirin and Carolyn Rivera were talking together. Carolyn had such an obvious sneer on her face, but Shirin never noticed. She took Carolyn’s loyalty for granted. Or season 29, Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, when Natalie Anderson listened to Jon Misch talk, plotting to blindside him while he obliviously chatted to her about wine. In Survivor, it is so important to know what your allies are thinking. So many times over Survivor history, players have been blindsided because they simply took their friendships for granted.
Helen felt like she and Brian were best friends. She believed that they saw the game the same way. She was never going to betray him, and she couldn’t imagine him ever betraying her. She failed to notice the bonds he had formed with the other players. And in the end, it cost her the game. Having a partner in Survivor can be a wonderful thing. If you can find someone that you can really trust, that you can bounce ideas off of, someone that you can count on to vote with you, you’ve found a valuable thing. But you need to be absolutely certain in that person. Helen was wrong when she thought that she could completely trust Brian. And Monica was wrong when she thought she could absolutely trust Kimmi.
We don’t know what Kimmi’s relationship with Stephen and Jeremy was like- we just never saw any evidence of it. But clearly, for Kimmi, keeping the tribe strong is more important than playing the individual game right now. She’s playing this game one step at a time- and that is probably a wise way to play. So far, we’ve seen Varner and Shirin both get voted out as a consequence of playing too hard.
But although Kimmi is playing a loyal game, she has also started to play an aggressive game. It would have been easy to vote out Spencer or Kelly Wiglesworth. Like Fishbach mentioned, it is a big move to vote out a member of the original Bayon. What will the other tribes think when they see that Monica is gone? Will they think that the old Bayon bonds no longer exist? It’s a risky move. It is an especially risky move from the point of view of Stephen and Jeremy. There have been hints dropped on twitter that Stephen and Jeremy were so willing to go along with the plan to vote out Monica that they deliberately threw the challenge in order to make a speedy visit to Tribal Council. From what we saw, all they had to go on was Kimmi’s word. Kimmi told them that Monica was planning an all-women alliance, and they immediately jumped on board.
I know that both Jeremy and Fishbach are intelligent players, and I doubt that they made such a knee-jerk decision. I’m sure that Monica must have appeared untrustworthy to them before this- Fishbach described her as someone who would “flip and flop all over the beach”. I am positive that they didn’t vote Monica out purely because Kimmi told them to. But it was clear that Kimmi was the instigator. She clearly had a dislike for Monica, calling her a snake, and a loose cannon. For me, the most telling thing that Kimmi said about Monica was that “she will go and step on every one of us, thinking like she owns us.”
Kimmi may not have been the only reason that Monica went home, but if Monica had been more aware of her ally, if she had noticed the way that Kimmi was feeling about her, she would have at least had a chance to fight. She wouldn’t have been blindsided. Like Helen, she put too much faith in a player who simply didn’t view the game the same way she did. I don’t think that Monica is the only person this season making this same mistake.
Firstly, over at the Angkor tribe, we have Abi. Understanding the way that others are feeling is not exactly one of Abi’s strong points. I’ve examined Abi’s game thoroughly in this blog, but basically Abi’s game so far has been to attach herself to whoever makes her feel happy. At the moment, that person is Tasha. And Tasha has done a great job listening to Abi and making her feel secure and important. Abi feels like she is safe with Tasha and Savage- if they have to go to Tribal Council again, Abi is sure that they will vote out Woo, and then Tasha and Savage will bring her in to the original Bayon alliance. Like Monica, and like Helen, Abi is getting too secure in her friendships. She hasn’t actually noticed the way that Tasha is feeling at all.
We’ve seen multiple people struggle to deal with Abi this season, and Tasha is no exception. In fact, she said: “Abi takes everything in me to just be around her…In a merge situation, it’s going to be twice as hard to manoeuvre with Abi. She’s a time bomb.” Tasha doesn’t want to stick with Abi. She’d prefer to just relax and enjoy camp life. The question is whether Abi will see this. So far, Tasha has done an outstanding job of keeping Abi happy. She’s listened, she’s cajoled, she’s sympathised. And importantly, she’s kept all her eye-rolling and annoyance with Abi for the camera. But Tasha needs to be careful. So far, Abi’s mantra throughout the game has been that if you mess with her, you’re dead. She’s had an uncanny ability to find herself new allies. Tasha isn’t actually Abi’s friend- and she needs to cut Abi before Abi realises this.
Another person who seems to have taken his friends for granted is Terry. At the moment, Terry seems to have forgotten that he is playing Survivor. The Terry who was congratulating himself on his social game in episode two has gone missing. Now we have season 12 Terry back- the Terry with no social awareness whatsoever. On the Ta Keo tribe, his strategy is quite simple- just win. But it’s a short-sighted strategy. All of his old allies from the original Ta Keo are being eliminated. Jeff Varner has gone home. It’s time for a new plan, and Terry doesn’t have one.
On the flip side, Kelley Wentworth seems to have abandoned any idea of reconnecting with her original allies and has thrown her lot in with the new Ta Keo. This week, Kelley, Ciera, Joe, Keith and Kass made a final five deal. Where was Terry when this was happening? Out in the ocean enjoying his holiday. Terry, away from the continuous danger of Tribal Council, has forgotten that Survivor is primarily a game about relationships. He’s feeling completely safe, not recognising that he is running out of allies. Woo has completely committed to Tasha and Savage. He’s a loyal player, and I think he meant what he said. All Terry has left is Kelly Wiglesworth, and I think even Wiglesworth has the awareness to see a sinking ship and jump off. In the end, for all the promise that Terry was showing early on, he’s ended up playing the exact same game.
And then there is Joe who, bless his heart, is doing everything he can to delay the inevitable. He knows that traditionally, it is the challenge threats who are targeted at the merge. And his plan to move the target away from himself is to align with as many people as possible. We saw him making a final five deal. He questioned them, saying that in his last season, he was voted out as soon as he lost immunity. Ciera responded, saying that she had no reason to vote him out, and he seemed to be satisfied with that.
I like Joe, I really do. His hair is lovely. Unfortunately, though, I worry that he is making the same mistake that Helen made. He is simply too trusting. He is trusting that everyone else is playing the same game that he is. He wants to align with people and be loyal to them. But is everyone else going to play the same game? This is Second Chances. This is high stakes. And I don’t think anyone is going to want to take Joe to the end because nobody wants to lose a million dollars again.
While Joe should be given some credit for recognising that he is a target, his strategy to avoid being voted out is just not going to work because it counts on everyone else being the same kind of player that he is. Helen thought that Brian would take her to the end because she thought that like her, he valued a good work ethic. Joe thinks that if he gets in a majority alliance, he’ll be okay because everyone else will be like him, loyal. Perhaps he thinks that he can do what Mike Holloway did last season, and win his way to the end. Perhaps his plan is to get to final eight, and with players like Kass, Keith and Ciera, perhaps he can win enough immunities to get to the Final Tribal Council. And if that’s his plan, I hope it works out for him. But in reality, wins like Mike’s don’t come along very often. A better plan would be to give the other players a reason to go to the end with him- to lose some of that golden shine. In Blood Vs Water, Tyson played up an injury. In Cagayan, Tony had the other players believing that he was like Russell, and would get no votes in the end. Joe needs to stop trusting that loyalty will get him to the end, and he needs to give the other players reason to believe that they have a chance.
Monica left the game because she trusted Kimmi too much. If she had invested more time in her relationship with Kimmi, things might have been different. She took it for granted that Kimmi viewed the game the same way that she did. She wasn’t the first player to make that mistake. And I don’t think she’ll be the last player this season to neglect her alliance partner. In Survivor, the most important skill might be making alliances, but it is so important to put the effort into keeping those alliances close.