While it was sad to see Dale leave the game this week, next week’s approaching merge is a tantalising prospect. The players this season have so many interwoven bonds that nearly every player is connected in some way- whether by blood relation, tribal bonds, or by Exile Island, the players of San Juan Del Sur all enter the merge with plenty of options. The existing alliances have been scrambled by the tribe swap, and the post merge game is so unpredictable at this point. It makes a nice change from the previous Blood vs Water season, where Tyson’s dethroning of Aras seemed like a foregone conclusion. This season, the merge has the potential to change the game completely.
The players this season know that the merge is coming soon, and they also know the potential of the merge. As Jeremy said, just let me make the merge, and “I can make some magic happen”. Dale tried to barter his fake idol with Jon, hoping that he could survive the next tribal council, betting that if he could survive just one more vote, he would make the merge where he would be able to put his fate into his own hands, possibly flipping to join the alliance of singles on the other side. For Dale, the prospect of the merge offered the promise of salvation, and he isn’t the only person this season to have this mindset. At different points during the episode, the merge was mentioned or alluded to by five other players, all discussing the power that the merge could bring them. Every season, players are trying to set themselves up for the post-merge phase of the game, trying to gather power and allies in order to give themselves the best chance at the million dollars. In a Blood vs Water format, with so many cross tribal bonds, this could prove harder than usual. This week’s lesson in Survivor History comes from a player who attempted to set himself up for the merge, only to see himself immediately voted out, despite having allies on both tribes, and seemingly being in a good position. This week’s lesson comes from season 18’s Brendan Synnott, who entered the merge confident that he could win the game, but was eliminated in the first post-merge Tribal Council. What mistakes did he make, and how can the players of San Juan Del Sur avoid a similar fate?Exile Alliance[/caption]
Brendan played in Survivor: Tocantins, a season with some similarities to Survivor: San Juan Del Sur. Both seasons featured Exile Island, and on both seasons Exile Island functioned in a similar way- one person from each tribe would be sent to Exile Island each episode, where they found two urns. One urn was empty, while the other contained a clue to an immunity idol hidden back at camp. Brendan was placed on the Timbira tribe, and he had a close ally from the first moment of the game. All the tribe members were asked to vote for the person they considered weakest in the game. Brendan was the only person not to vote against Sierra Reed, and this caused Sierra to trust him. She shared with him the clue to a hidden immunity idol, and the two of them were in a tight alliance for the remainder of the game. He was also considered valuable by his tribe, and was nominated as their leader, to the displeasure of Coach, who wanted that position for himself. Timbira was a physically strong tribe, and they won the majority of immunity challenges, entering the merge with a 6-4 numerical advantage over their rival tribe, Jalapao.Approaching the merge, the biggest thing that Brendan had in his favour was the ‘Exile Alliance’ that he and Taj Johnson George had created on their first trip to Exile Island. Right from the beginning of the game, Brendan was thinking about the merge. As soon as they arrived on Exile Island, Brendan said to Taj, “We need to work together”. The two of them hatched a plan to get sent to Exile Island repeatedly in order to find the clues for the hidden immunity idol. Realising that an alliance of two wouldn’t get them anywhere in the game, both Brendan and Taj brought their closest allies into the alliance- Taj brought Stephen Fishbach in, and Brendan brought Sierra in. They intended to keep this four-person alliance a secret until the merge. Taj said “Once we make it to the merge, we would have a four-way alliance that nobody knows about!” With this secret alliance, Brendan and Taj were in the position to become the most powerful players in the game. As it was Brendan’s tribe with the numerical advantage, Brendan was the most powerful person within the alliance, as it seemed that he was Taj and Stephen’s only option. However, despite the best laid plans, Brendan’s secret alliance plan didn’t exactly come together as he had planned. He became a victim, as many other Survivor players have, of planning for the merge without actually playing for the moment. Although Brendan certainly made his fair share of mistakes after the merge, most of the mistakes that caused him to be voted out actually happened quite early in the game. Brendan’s game imploded when the merge happened, but he had set up the groundwork for that explosion very early on, and there are three couples in the game that particularly need to be wary of repeating Brendan’s mistakes.
Brendan’s biggest mistake was that in playing for the merge, he forgot about the most basic but effective strategy of Survivor, building bonds with people. Within his tribe, Brendan had the respect of many, but he did not have close friendships, and was never seen trying to build alliances with anybody but Sierra. Comfortable in his alliance with Sierra, and particularly in the Exile Alliance, Brendan quite simply did not bother to create close friendships with his initial tribe.
The couple that have come dangerously close to repeating this mistake in season 29 is Jon and Jaclyn. Both of them began the game as outsiders in their tribe- Jaclyn almost by default, because of her gender, and Jon because he aligned himself with Drew, the one person that was annoying the rest of the tribe. In the pre-switch Coyopa, we didn’t see Jaclyn attempt to forge any kind of relationships with the men of her tribe. She seemingly had one ally (Val) and was not even seen having conversations with the men. However, post-switch, we clearly saw that Jaclyn had some sort of working relationship with Dale (or at least, he trusted Jaclyn over Baylor), and so it is possible that Jaclyn has built trust with the other members of the tribe, but we just haven’t seen it. Over at Hunahpu, Jon was seen almost as a cartoon character by Jeremy, who said in a confessional that both Jon and his ally Drew were annoying all of the girls. At the only Tribal Council that Hunahpu attended, Jon admitted to having no idea what the strategy of the vote was, and voted by himself, against Keith. He clearly had some relationship with Missy, as he chose working with Missy over working with Kelley on the new Coyopa tribe, but he didn’t fit into her strategic plans at Hunahpu. As a strong, athletic male, Jon is typical of the type of player that is usually a target come the merge. And as with Brendan in Tocantins, Jon and Jaclyn may not have as many allies as they thought. They have Missy and Baylor (both of whom have other options on the other tribe), but will Keith want to vote with them again after he received two votes during the last Tribal? Neither Jon nor Jaclyn seem to have any tight relationships on the other tribe to rely on, and that may set both of them up for an early exit despite their current good position.
If the damage is already done, then how can they avoid the fate of Brendan? How can they play the game differently, and build those all-important bonds, especially since they didn’t manage to form those bonds early in the game? Simply put, Brendan’s biggest problem was his lack of awareness. He had no idea that Coach was against him; in fact, Brendan thought they were friends. He may have had some idea that Tyson wasn’t his friend, but Brendan didn’t know that Tyson had been campaigning to get Brendan voted out for nearly two weeks, seeing him as a threat because of his ties to the Jalapao tribe. Because of this lack of awareness, Brendan was wide open to get blindsided, and if Jon and Jaclyn want to learn from his mistake, then they will have to be aware of their own mistakes, and be wary of the players that they don’t have relationships with. Jeremy and his alliance are going to see Jon and Jaclyn as a huge threat. Josh and Reed have no real connection to either Jon or Jaclyn, and their only reason to align is that they are all playing in pairs, and the pairs may need to stick together. The best Survivor players know who their true allies are, and work on building as many real relationships as possible. The more players like you, the more players will be willing to work with you.
One of the biggest flaws in Brendan’s Exile Alliance plan was that Stephen hadn’t completely bought in to the alliance. He had other options (JT in particular), and although he agreed to the Exile Alliance in principle, he had not completely committed himself to following through with it. He said “I can’t place my entire faith in this four-person alliance”, yet Brendan never realised that Stephen was not 100% with him. Brendan also failed to see that he was on the outs with his tribe, and at the time of the merge, Brendan said “my relationship with Coach has been good the entire time”, not realising that Coach’s entire Survivor experience was consumed with getting Brendan out of the game. Apart from Sierra, all of Brendan’s allies actually had other, attractive options, but Brendan just didn’t see it. Being observant is such an important quality for good Survivor players to have, and Brendan’s observational skills were exceptionally poor.
Unfortunately, the person in the Brendan position at the San Juan Del Sur merge is Jeremy. Jeremy started off the game in a strong position, at the centre of the majority alliance in his tribe, but somewhere along the way, things changed. His wife was voted out, and with so many pairs left in the game, being a single is dangerous. His alliance also changed, and at Hunahpu’s only Tribal Council, Jeremy wanted Keith out, but had to acquiesce with the wishes of the women in his alliance and vote for Drew. He is no longer at the centre of his alliance, and no longer holds all of the power. He has very few real allies, and Missy, who was one of his strongest allies, has now joined an alliance that consists solely of pairs. The thing that Jeremy has going for him is that he seems far more self-aware than Brendan was. He knew that Reed was not going to vote with him, and would flip to the Coyopa alliance. He knew that Alec was his best hope of getting a Coyopa member to flip and vote with him, although from what we saw, he didn’t sell the alliance very strongly at all, despite his intentions to ‘surround and drown’.
Jeremy has been in a precarious position on Hunahpu, and he knows it. Kelley, one of his strongest allies, was voted out; Julie, another close ally, is showing signs of quitting; and Keith, who Jeremy was at one time considering his final three partner, betrayed Jeremy and won’t be realigning with him any time soon. Jeremy has Natalie firmly with him at the moment, but is she so loyal that she won’t desert a sinking ship, if she is given a better offer? Brendan’s mistake was to assume that Stephen and Taj had no other option but to go with him. In fact, Stephen and Taj were being courted by Coach and Tyson to blindside Brendan, and when they found out that JT (not Stephen or Taj) was Brendan’s preferred opponent at the Final Tribal Council, they decided that he was too big of a threat to keep in the game. Jeremy needs to keep in mind that his closest allies left in the game, Natalie and Missy, may not stay completely loyal to him, and he needs to convince them that he is their best option. He needs to actually execute the ‘surround and drown’ strategy with Alec, and bring him on side, and he needs to convince the other players in the game that Josh and Reed (or Jon and Jaclyn) are too big of a threat, and need to be taken out. The more he can put a target on the other players, the longer that Jeremy will be able to stay in the game.
The last nail in the coffin for the Exile Alliance was when Brendan failed to even speak to either Taj or Stephen at the merge. He got comfortable in his position, and believed that his allies would sense his loyalty. However, Brendan’s plans at the merge were to vote out Taj and Stephen’s remaining tribe members, and then to go with the Exile Alliance to the final four. When he won a reward challenge, Brendan bonded with JT, and offered JT a final two deal. When JT reported this back to Stephen, Stephen was immediately suspicious, and it made the alliance even more precarious. Brendan had plenty of options open to him- but he completely forgot to make any of his allies feel like they were part of his plans. By the time he realised this, he was too late.
The couple in this season with the most post-merge options open to them are clearly Missy and Baylor. Missy is part of an alliance with Jeremy, Julie and Natalie. Natalie made it clear that she still considered Missy an ally when she volunteered to go to Exile Island with Baylor. She said that she was doing it because “once I merge, this will prove to Missy and Baylor that, like, listen: we need to take care of Natalie.” Back at Coyopa, Jon and Missy both recognised the significance of Natalie’s move, with Jon telling Missy “Natalie’s totally with you still”, and Missy agreeing. On Exile Island, Baylor and Natalie discussed the idol clue, and Natalie made it clear that she wanted to join up with Jeremy, Missy and Baylor in a post-merge four person alliance, and Baylor agreed to the plan. It would seem that however Jeremy is voting, Julie will vote with him, so if Julie can continue to endure the elements, it would seem that Baylor and Missy have the option there of a five person alliance. Of course, joining a five person alliance where three of those people are in a tight alliance, leaving Missy and Baylor as easy vote-offs come final five might not be the best game move.
Another of Missy and Baylor’s options is to explore Baylor’s previous alliance with Josh, Wes and Alec (and by extension, Reed). Josh has previously risked his safety in the majority alliance at Coyopa to keep Baylor in the game, and has made it clear in confessionals that he considers Baylor his most important ally. I am guessing that Baylor becomes less valuable to Josh once she has her mother with her- he saw her value as someone who would vote with him no matter what, but Missy has shown that she likes to get a little more involved in strategic decisions. Missy may not be the kind of player that Josh will want to keep around, and so this may not be the best fit for them either.
Missy had been close to Keith at Hunahpu, but the last vote; where the majority alliance, fearful of an idol play, split their votes between Dale and Keith, telegraphing to Keith what his position in the alliance was, may have changed Keith’s feelings about working with Missy. Keith made it clear that he was looking forward to the merge, where he planned to work with Wes, so it seems to make sense to me that Keith, having liked Josh in the time he spent with him at Exile Island, will choose to join Josh’s voting bloc.
The last choice open to Missy and Baylor is to stay with Jon and Jaclyn, who have proven their loyalty, and try to set up a couples alliance with either Keith and Wes or Josh and Reed. Jon said that he was going to take out Dale because he needed to “line myself up so that when the merge happens, Jaclyn and I are a power couple”. However, in a pairs alliance, it is Missy and Baylor, and the social connections that they have made, who will suddenly find themselves to be the hottest pair, period. Jon sees Missy and Baylor as long term allies, whom he and Jaclyn can trust. If Missy can bring Natalie into this alliance, then she might have a way to get Baylor and herself to the final three.
At the merge, both Missy and Baylor need to work fast to re-establish the old tribal bonds that they had formed. From what I can tell, they have a decent connection to each player in the game, apart from perhaps Reed. Brendan’s mistake was to assume that Taj and Stephen were with him, without thinking about what the best option for them might be, and without reassuring them of his loyalty. Baylor and Missy need to make sure that their chosen allies know that they are looking after them, they cannot be complacent and simply assume that old bonds will be there.
The merge is always an interesting prospect, but with so many possible targets, and so many possible majority alliances formed, this particular merge promises to bring some chaos to an already chaotic game. Each player has formed enough bonds to possibly take control, with Dale, the last outsider, voted out at the last Tribal Council. We will just have to wait and see which players have the skill, the strategy, and the social know how that is necessary to reach the end.