We are down to the final five of Survivor: Worlds Apart, and we really are down to two contenders for the win. Thanks to Carolyn’s use of the immunity idol, she is still in the game, and so our two contenders are Carolyn and Mike. Against all odds, Mike has managed to stay in the game, through a combination of immunity wins and idol play. In all likelihood, it is Mike’s prowess in the challenges that has prevented this season from being the first where all members of the Final Three are goats (although the argument could be made that that distinction belongs to the final three of Survivor: Samoa). Because Mike has had immunity for the last four tribal councils, his place in the game has completely changed. As the only outsider against a six-person alliance, he seemed to be in a hopeless position, living only on borrowed time. Now, I think Mike is in the best position to win. Because both Mike and Carolyn have used immunity to protect themselves, and have been able to protect themselves against a majority alliance for so long, this week’s lesson in Survivor history comes to us all the way back from season one, Survivor: Borneo, and the runner-up (and one of the candidates for a second chance on season 31), Kelly Wiglesworth.
Over time, Kelly’s game has become overly simplified, with many remembering her purely as a member of Survivor’s first ever alliance, the Tagi Four, and often the assumption is made that Kelly simply joined an alliance and rode it to the end. In reality, Kelly was in much the same position as Mike. She had been a member of the majority alliance, joining the Tagi Four on day eleven, but later disassociated herself from them. From final six onwards, it was Kelly who was public enemy number one. It was only her string of immunity wins that saved her. Like Mike, as the game drew closer to the end, Kelly found that her challenge wins put her in the most powerful position. As much as the majority alliance wanted to take her out, they simply could not beat her in the challenges and were forced to turn on each other.
Kelly’s immunity run took her all the way to second place when she chose the wrong opponent to sit next to at the Final Tribal Council. She lost in a close vote, 4-3, to Richard Hatch, who had been the founder of the Tagi Four and had been leading the campaign to vote Kelly out of the game.
At this point, I think that Mike and Carolyn are likely to finish in two positions- either first or fifth. For both of them, their game hinges on the next immunity challenge. The final five immunity challenge will be crucial- it will end up deciding the winner. If Mike wins immunity, then Carolyn goes home at fifth. Having removed his biggest physical competition, Mike would then find himself in the final four with Rodney, Will and Sierra, none of whom have been able to win immunity so far. Mike would have to be the favourite to win immunity at final four, where he could choose the two people that he wants to be sitting next to at the end.
Conversely, if Carolyn wins immunity (or if someone else manages to pull off a win) then Mike is voted out in fifth place. It is then Carolyn who is in the position of being physically the biggest threat to win final four immunity, and the game is in her hands. I honestly can’t see anyone else having a chance. When Dan went home, Rodney’s only chance to win the game disappeared. I think that Sierra could win a Sierra, Will, Rodney final three, but her problem is going to be getting there. For Sierra to win the game, she needs Mike and Carolyn to lose the remaining two immunities, and given the competition, that seems extremely unlikely.
So either Mike or Carolyn will probably win, and they will do it despite being on the wrong side of the numbers in the end of the game. They’ll win the game, and deservedly so, because they have been better at challenges. Survivor has always been about outplaying the competition. It is extremely unusual to have someone win Survivor primarily because they were good in challenges. It has happened before. Fabio in Survivor: Nicaragua is a good example of a winner that made it to the end because of immunity wins. Other winners who have needed to win immunity to protect their places in the game include Jenna Morasca from Survivor: The Amazon, Tom Westman from Survivor: Palau and JT Thomas from Survivor: Tocantins. Are these wins more or less impressive because they needed to rely on challenge strength? If Mike or Carolyn win the game, they will become the first winner who would have been voted out if not for the correct use of the immunity idol. Although all winners deserve their win, personally I am more impressed by those who had a social game strong enough to keep them on the right side of the numbers.
Mike and Carolyn find themselves on the outside of the majority alliance for the same reason- they are considered threats. Mike was the leader of his alliance pre-merge, seemingly making the decisions to vote out Lindsey and Joaquin. Tyler and Rodney both saw Mike as a threat and had been conspiring against him since the merge. Once Mike realised that his alliance was against him, he made many attempts to save himself, trying to convince Dan and Sierra that Rodney was not with them. All of his attempts were dismissed as paranoia and only served to further ostracise himself from the group. Mike has been the biggest threat in the game since he sent Joe home.
Carolyn has only emerged as a target of the alliance this week- the week after she voted to send home Tyler, her closest ally. With Mike in possession of the immunity necklace, the alliance had to target one of their own, and Carolyn, as the biggest threat left in the game, was the natural choice. Dan explained their reasoning in a confessional. “She’s kicked ass in the challenges, she’s been personable, so she’s got to go.”
The amusing thing is that while targeting players like Tyler and Carolyn, who are threats to win individual immunity sounds like a wise strategy from the majority alliance, it will be this strategy that ensures that Rodney, Will and Sierra lose the game. Voting out the physically strong leaves them with nothing standing between Mike and the million dollar cheque. It is too easy now for Mike to win every immunity, propelling him to the Final Tribal Council, where the jury, who are already cheering on his every move, will happily award him the win.
In season one, Kelly was targeted not for her ability to win challenges (she hadn’t yet won individual immunity at that point), but for her strategy, where she withdrew herself from the Tagi Four in a move that seemed calculated to win over the jury. After working with the Tagi Four to eliminate first Dirk Been (pre-merge), followed by the leaders of the opposing tribe, Pagong, Gretchen Cordy and Greg Buis, Kelly became disenchanted with the idea of an alliance. She began to befriend the remaining members of Pagong, who were all closer to Kelly’s age than the members of her alliance were. Ultimately, Kelly refused to continue to vote with the Tagi Four, and therefore, she became their biggest target.
At final six, with Colleen Haskell the only Pagong left in the game, Richard targeted Kelly. Unfortunately for Colleen, Kelly won immunity saving herself. Kelly proceeded to win the remainder of the immunities in the game, leading to an interesting situation at final four, where had Kelly played differently, she would likely have won the game.
The final four were the four original members of the Tagi alliance- Richard, Kelly, Sue Hawk and Rudy Boesch. As Kelly had immunity, Richard and Rudy, who had been an unbreakable pair, voted for Sue. Sue and Kelly both voted for Richard, causing a 2-2 tie. This was the very first season of the show. Unbelievably, there didn’t seem to be any rule in place regarding a tied vote. Both Richard and Sue were given the opportunity to plead their case. Neither one gave a strong or convincing argument. Inexplicably, on the revote Kelly changed her mind, saving Richard, who would eventually defeat her in a jury vote, and sending Sue home.
Whether Kelly would have beaten Sue in a jury vote is debatable. Sue would presumably get the Tagi votes of Richard, Rudy and Sean Kenniff. Kelly would likely still receive the majority of the Pagong votes, getting Colleen, as well as Gervase Peterson and Jenna Lewis. Just as he was in the vote between Kelly and Richard, it would probably come down to Greg’s vote. In the Final Tribal Council, Greg asked Kelly and Richard to choose a number, and then voted for Richard, ostensibly because of Richard’s choice of number. However, Richard had spent time getting to know Greg, and the two had a mutually respectful relationship. Sue did not spend the same amount of time with Greg and certainly had no respect for him. If Greg’s vote was an intentional vote for Richard, then I don’t think he would have voted for Sue. If Greg’s vote was all about choosing the right number, then who knows what would have happened. I do think that on paper, Kelly had a better chance of beating Sue.
Kelly’s immunity wins brought her to a position where she could choose her Final Tribal Council opponent, and in my opinion, she made the wrong decision. Perhaps she thought that Richard was less likable than Sue, but if she had paid attention to the social dynamics of the tribe, she would have seen that Sue had no relationship with any of the Pagong tribe. She was unlikely to win a jury vote.
Mike and Carolyn are in a similar position, where the immunity necklace is going to give them the power to get to the end with their preferred opponents. At final five, Kelly only had two people left in the game that she could possibly have beaten- Sue and Sean. Kelly was also playing for a final two, so she only needed to be sitting at the end with one of those two people to get the win. Kelly wasn’t self-aware enough to see who the true threats were. She voted out Sue thinking that she could beat Richard or Rudy in a final two. She hadn’t paid enough attention to the sentiment on the jury, or to her own relationships. By leaving the alliance, Kelly had lost their votes. She didn’t have the Pagong vote locked up either, with both Colleen and Gervase saying during Final Tribal that they didn’t know who to vote for.
Mike can beat anyone at the end. Sierra said “I don’t want to be sitting next to Mike at the end. That would be shooting myself in the foot.” Nobody should be wanting to sit next to Mike at the end. The jury are enjoying watching Mike play. They are rooting for Mike to win. Of course, Dan won’t vote for Mike. But he might be the only one. We can plainly see that Joe, Jenn, Hali and Shirin are voting for Mike. I think if Sierra is on the jury, she would give Mike her vote. She’s already shown that she respects his game.
Carolyn needs to be self-aware enough to know that she can’t beat Mike, and not even entertain the thought of working with him. I think she is- she had enough self-awareness to know that she wasn’t going to beat Tyler and blindsided him despite his being her closest ally and confidante since day one. Mike is the only one who could beat her at Final Tribal Council, and she needs him gone. Her idol play seemed to be appreciated by the jury, and everyone left in the game was shocked that she could have kept her idol a secret. Her gameplay is impressive, and nobody seems to be angry with her or feel betrayed. She has Tyler’s vote, and judging by the smiles and laughter when she played the idol, she has the votes of Jenn, Joe, Hali and Shirin also. As long as Mike doesn’t win immunity at final five, then Carolyn should have the game locked up.
I am worried that this final five sets a precedent for an unpleasant way to play Survivor. Players who are physically dominant can win their way to the end, as long as the competition is weak. I don’t want the strategy for strong players to be simply to align with the weakest possible players, and then try to win enough immunity challenges to get to the end with the most unpleasant opponents. Players like Will, who has shown very little in the way of the social, strategic or physical game, get kept around because there is no chance that Will can win immunity. If this becomes the way to play Survivor, we lose out on alliances like Tina Wesson and Colby Donaldson in Survivor: Australia, Todd Herzog, Amanda Kimmel and Courtney Yates in Survivor: China and Malcolm Freberg and Denise Stapley in Survivor: Philippines. In most seasons of Survivor, there are a few goats. It is smart to go to the end with someone that can be beaten. But when there are so many goats left, it is the goats who are making the decisions. Rodney, Dan and Will were the majority alliance this week. They were deciding who went home. Watching Rodney and Will run the game is not exciting to watch.
I’d much rather watch someone like Tony Vlachos from Survivor: Cagayan play the game- Tony, who kept people he could beat, but also focused on making sure that everyone wanted to take him to the end. He did that by keeping Spencer Bledsoe in the game. As long as Spencer was around, then Spencer was considered the biggest threat to win. Tony knew that his allies wouldn’t turn on him because Spencer was a certainty to win in front of a jury. And that made for one of the best ever seasons of Survivor.
Mike’s version of Survivor, where he has surrounded himself with people that he can easily beat, both in an immunity challenge and in a Final Tribal Council, might be a more effective way to play the game. But it isn’t the most entertaining and has contributed to why this season hasn’t lived up to expectations. I’m hoping season 31 is a season where we have fewer goats with more players as real contenders to win. I’m hoping that we don’t just see a repeat of Survivor: All Stars, where all the true threats are out early. The cast looks great, and I’m feeling optimistic. I can’t wait to see these players get their second chance- and hopefully create some entertaining and exciting television.