Heading for the finish line in Worlds Apart, the game is playing out in quite an unusual way. We have six players left- Mike, who has no allegiance to anyone and must rely on immunity wins to stay alive in the game, and a tight alliance of five, with no player clearly in charge. There hasn’t been one person dominating the strategy this season. In fact, when we look at it, most of the players have played quietly, under the radar, with no one taking on the position of leadership within the alliance.
At the merge, it seemed like Rodney had control of the numbers, setting up a final four of himself, Will, Carolyn and Tyler. After Tyler’s exit this week, and Rodney vowing not to let Carolyn get to the end, it isn’t clear what Rodney’s end game plans are. It isn’t clear what anyone’s end game plans are. Although at this point of the game they must have a plan for their ideal final three, we haven’t heard any of the remaining players fully articulate it. All six should have some idea of how they are going to get themselves to the end- and get themselves there with people that they can beat, but they all seem to be focused on being loyal to the alliance. The apparent lack of planning as well as their loyalty to the alliance of six means that this week’s lesson in Survivor history comes to us from season 16, Survivor: Micronesia, and fourth place finisher, Natalie Bolton.Natalie Bolton[/caption]
Natalie was a player who had all the attributes for success. She had a great social game, with every player in the game wanting her in their alliance. She had a special talent for manipulation- it was Natalie who was famously able to convince Erik Reichenbach to give up his immunity necklace, leading to his elimination from the game. She was cutthroat, easily able to lie and betray friends and do it with a smile. There was one part of her game that let her down- and that was her loyalty. She was loyal to her alliance, even though she wasn’t in a position of power within it. Because of her blind loyalty, she simply ran out of options for herself. She’d been loyal, voted with her alliance, and in the process voted out all of the players who might have been able to help her get to the end of the game. I think that many of the season 30 alliance are going to find themselves in the same position- their loyalty will be their downfall.
Natalie started the game as one of the fans, on the Airai tribe. She quickly formed friendships within the tribe, and was never in danger of being voted out but wasn’t part of a strong alliance. Over at the Favourites tribe, a ‘couples’ alliance’ had formed, consisting of Parvati Shallow, James Clement, Ozzy Lusth and Amanda Kimmel. The alliance had recruited Cirie Fields, and were firmly in control of the tribe. However, even in the early part of the game, Parvati knew that she couldn’t remain loyal to her alliance- Ozzy and James were going to be too threatening in the individual stage of the game, and couldn’t be beaten at the Final Tribal Council.
The tribe swap put Natalie in a great position. Frightened by the couples’ alliance, Jonathan Penner and Eliza Orlins wanted to form a new alliance with Natalie and her fellow fan, Alexis Jones. Parvati, knowing that she didn’t want to remain allied with Ozzy and James, wanted to recruit Natalie and Alexis to her alliance with Amanda and Cirie. After Penner was medivaced from the game, Natalie agreed to join forces with Parvati, and remained loyal to Parvati for the remainder of the game.
There were several points in the game when Natalie could have taken control of her destiny, rather than simply following Parvati to an inevitable fourth place finish. We never saw her turn against Parvati. She might have gotten far in the game with this strategy, but she didn’t put herself in a position where she could conceivably have won the game. She was a pawn in the game, helping Parvati, Cirie and Amanda advance, and then being voted out and put on the jury, where she was a certain vote for Parvati.
Sierra, Will and Dan are playing similar games. They have followed their alliance, voted to advance the games of others, and are now left in positions where it is going to be extremely difficult for any of them to win the game. There just aren’t enough players left that they are going to be able to beat in a final three. Rodney has at least tried to take control of his own destiny, forming a core merge alliance and spearheading an unsuccessful move to take Mike out of the game. Carolyn has been jointly making decisions with Tyler, and the two of them are responsible for the final six being dominated by Blue Collar rather than No Collar. Both Rodney and Carolyn have strong arguments as to why they should win the game. And then there’s Mike. Even if Mike had made no strategic decisions at all, it wouldn’t matter. This jury loves him and is cheering on his every move. He’s played a strong game and would easily get the win if he can make it to the end.
Dan is the person whose game has been characterised by loyalty above all else. He has summarised his own game, saying “I know it looks like I’m playing a passive game, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have schemes brewing”. I’ve seen plenty of the passive nature of his game, but I haven’t seen any hint of a scheme brewing. One thing that we have seen is that he is on the bottom of the alliance. He received two votes in the tribal council where Shirin went home, and Tyler’s explanation was “who’s the only other name I could think of that’s going to be on the block?” Dan knows that he is in trouble. At tribal council, he said “Nobody wants to say who’s on the bottom of the six– that painted a pretty clear picture to me.” But instead of scrambling, instead of trying to improve his position and secure himself a final three deal, instead of using his double-vote advantage to gain some close alliances, Dan sat back and hoped that it wouldn’t be him going home. He had to have a strong reason to believe he was safe, but his passivity showed his strong sense of loyalty to his allies.
Tyler had a great confessional this week, where he spoke about Dan’s gameplay. “I don’t know if I’d call Dan extremely gullible, I just call him extremely loyal. In this game, you know, they’re kind of one and the same.” Dan’s loyalty to his alliance, like Natalie’s loyalty to Parvati, is backing him into a corner, where he has limited time left to make his move, and limited players left to work with.
We do know that Dan wants to work with Will. When Will confessed that he had written Dan’s name down, Dan’s loyalty to Will did not waver. Instead, he reiterated to Will that they would go far together. Dan is hoping to be sitting next to Will at the Final Tribal Council, but Will doesn’t seem to be completely on board with that plan. It makes sense for Dan to keep Will around. The only conceivable way for Dan to win the game would be to face Will in a final two, and even then it would be close. As the only possible way to victory, Will has to be a part of Dan’s plans. Dan just needs to make sure that Will shares his desire to get to the end together.
I also think that Dan believes that he can beat Rodney. We have seen him make some disparaging comments about Rodney to his alliance mates. When Rodney was upset about missing out on reward, Dan repeatedly told his tribemates that Rodney wouldn’t be able to calm down, that’s just Rodney, and Rodney’s just a hot head. He might be trying to undermine Rodney in front of the potential jurors, but it isn’t going to win him any votes. Rodney might not be respected by most of the people out there, but he is liked. He makes people laugh. And if Rodney is sitting next to Dan and Will, then Rodney will win the game.
Dan is the first ever holder of the double-vote advantage- an extra piece of parchment to vote with at tribal council. If he were to use that advantage successfully, could he put himself in a winning position? Could he pull off a move so impressive that the jury would have to reward him with the win? All Dan has to do is make himself more impressive than Will and Rodney. Those are the people he sees himself taking to the end.
In this way, Dan has some options open to him. He has a slim chance, but there is something that he can do. If he does want to make a move, there’s not much space left to do it. It is obvious to everyone that as soon as Mike loses immunity, he must be voted out. It’s not debatable; he is the strongest threat, both socially and strategically. He’s the most dangerous player in the game and needs to go if anyone else wants the million dollar prize. If Mike wins immunity, then final six might be the time for Dan to make his move, pulling Will to his side and using Mike’s vote as well as the advantage to get Carolyn out.
Dan also seems to be connected to Sierra, although their pairing is more out of circumstance than design. I think that unlike Dan or Will, Sierra has a very clear idea of whom she can beat in the Final Tribal Council. She had been wanting to get Tyler out of the game, knowing that he would win the jury vote. If Sierra sticks with her current alliance, then she is in a great position to win. She simply has to keep being quiet, make sure nobody thinks she is a threat, and hope to find herself in the final three. As long as she is there with Rodney, Dan or Will, she will win. Although we haven’t seen Sierra tell us about her end game plans, I think she has put herself in a strong position. She might not have any real power in the game, but winners like Natalie White from Survivor: Samoa and Amber Brkich from Survivor: All Stars have proven that you don’t have to be strategically dominant to win your season. All you need to do is be sitting next to the right person at the end.
Natalie ended up stuck in fourth place because she failed to use any of the options available to her. She got a little caught up in playing the villain and didn’t think about how she was going to reach the end of the game. She said in confessional, “I’m in ‘I will get you’ mode. I’m in game mode. And now, I’m definitely having a lot more fun.” She enjoyed being the cutthroat villain, the person responsible for manipulating and eliminating all the strong male players. She just didn’t think ahead and plan how to get to the end with people that she could beat.
At the merge, Natalie stayed completely loyal to Parvati, not exploring other options. She didn’t reconnect with her former tribemate Erik, and despite Eliza wanting to work with her, Natalie joined Parvati in voting Eliza out of the game. While Eliza was in a powerless position, and along with Jason Siska was in an alliance of two, Natalie had the power to make a big move at this point. She never considered it.
While I wouldn’t say that Natalie needed to make a big move at every opportunity, my biggest problem with her game is that she never explored any other possibilities. Just as Dan knows he is at the bottom of the alliance but waits passively for others to make the decisions, Natalie followed Parvati’s game plan. When Ozzy was blindsided, and the couples’ alliance shattered, Natalie never attempted to work with James. With Eliza voted out, Jason was desperate to work with Natalie. He was a strong force in immunity challenges and had possession of an immunity idol. Natalie didn’t consider working with him. She was an instrumental force in Jason’s not winning immunity or playing his idol, and he was sent to the jury, blindsided with an idol in his pocket. Natalie never made the power play and that inability to consider her options was fatal to her game.
Natalie’s biggest opportunity to take any control in the game was at final six, when Erik, the last remaining male in the game won immunity. With three Fans and three Favourites left in the game, Natalie, Erik and Alexis decided to vote out Amanda, deeming her too much of a threat. Unwilling to face a tied vote, Cirie decided to vote with them. Ultimately, Amanda was able to survive, as she played the immunity idol and blindsided Alexis. Had this move worked, then Natalie, Alexis and Erik could have stayed strong and made the final three together. She would have had a good chance at a jury vote, especially if she could show that getting Amanda and Jason out were primarily her moves. However, in order for that final three to happen, Natalie would have had to vote out Parvati, and we didn’t see that she was willing to do that.
Natalie’s loyalty to her alliance was in part fuelled by her admiration for Parvati. It was Parvati who had first brought her into the alliance, and it was Parvati who was behind the ideology of the all-female alliance, explaining that they were “the black widow brigade. Like all the girls are coming together and we’re spinning the guys around as much as we can. Just spinning them and spinning them until they don’t know which way is up. And then we’re devouring them.” As the person with the strongest relationships within the group, Parvati was the most dangerous member of the alliance. But there was never any thought of making a move against her. Natalie and Alexis both trusted Parvati and wanted to play the game with her. Even at final four, when Amanda, Cirie and Parvati were clearly going to vote together, Natalie still held onto the belief that Parvati would come through for her, even believing that Parvati would “go out on a limb for me” and create a tied vote. Parvati proved to be far more loyal to Amanda and Cirie, her original allies, than she was to Natalie. Even if Parvati had taken Natalie all the way to the end, Parvati would have been the winner. And Natalie needed to recognise this. Loyalty is an admirable quality in life, but in Survivor, it’s the self-interested players who end up winning.
This season, Carolyn has proven to be that self-interested player, the one who knows when to be loyal and when to cut your ally down. She’d worked with Tyler since day three. He’d proven his worth to her as a strategic partner. He’d kept her immunity idol secret. But Carolyn could see that he was dangerous. They had played almost the same game, but it was Tyler that was getting called out as a threat to win. Tyler was getting all of the credit, and so Carolyn needed him on the jury.
I like Carolyn’s move for many reasons. Although it can be dangerous to make a move too early in the game, making the move too early is better than waiting too late. We don’t know if Carolyn will get another chance to eliminate Tyler, but we do know that she would have been unwise to take him to the end. By removing Tyler, she gets rid of a huge threat, but she will be able to keep playing her under-the-radar game. With the alliance focused on eliminating Mike, Carolyn will be able to keep her head off the chopping block. Once Mike is gone, Carolyn will have virtually no competition in the immunity challenges and should feel confident about making it to the end, where she will be sitting next to some combination of Dan, Will, Rodney or Sierra. The only thing standing in Carolyn’s way is Mike- and Mike surely cannot win every remaining immunity challenge.
I have been impressed by Carolyn’s play. Like Natalie Bolton, she has hitched her game to a powerful and dominant alliance. She’s played by the side of a power player. But although Carolyn’s game so far has been loyal, she has proven to be anything but gullible. Natalie never made a move against Parvati. Will, Dan and Sierra seem completely unwilling to make any moves against their alliance. Carolyn’s move to vote Tyler out has proven that she is playing this game, and playing it hard. I admire her physical and mental toughness, and hope that she can take it all the way to the end. Because if she can’t, we might end up seeing Rodney as the winner of season 30 and that would be such an unsatisfactory ending. Assuming that Mike doesn’t win his way to the end, Carolyn is clearly the strongest strategic and social player left on the majority alliance. I wouldn’t mind seeing Mama C crowned the winner of the season.