Survivor San Juan Del Sur

Lessons in Survivor History- Playing with a hot mess

Well, after watching Coyopa bumble their way through three Tribal Councils, we finally got to see some of the dynamics over at the Hunahpu camp this week. And they were, as Natalie so kindly put it, ‘a hot mess’. From Drew’s cocky arrogance that led him to throw the challenge, all the way through to a chaotic Tribal Council where four of the nine tribe members received votes, Hunahpu over-delivered on the entertainment, while perhaps underwhelming most of the audience with their strategic play. So far this season, we have seen nearly every player act in an unpredictable and sometimes unfathomable way. When we have so many unpredictable players, there are two paths that the season can take. The first is to see those players run the season, which ends in a winner that wins more by dumb luck than anything else (Season 17, Survivor: Gabon comes to mind here); the second way that the season could turn out is to have one or two strategic players navigate their way to the end despite the erratic play around them. Although both outcomes make entertaining television, I am hoping that we will see a strategic player win the season. And this week’s lesson in Survivor history comes to us from someone who has won despite being a member of both the hottest and the messiest of ‘hot mess’ tribes, the winner of season 12, Survivor: Exile Island, Aras Baskauskas.

Season 12 began with the players divided into 4 tribes- the older women, the older men, the younger women, and the younger men. Aras was a member of the younger men’s tribe, After only one immunity challenge, the tribes were amalgamated into two- Casaya and La Mina. Aras landed on Casaya, and immediately formed an alliance with some of the most unpredictable players to ever play the game. In the words of Shane Powers, “I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for 20 years, and I haven’t had a cigarette in like 31 hours.” Shane’s nicotine withdrawal and fiery temper made him an extremely unpredictable player, often yelling at his tribemates, commandeering a rock as his own special thinking seat, and using a rock (which he referred to as his Blackberry) to ‘communicate’ with the outside world. Courtney Marit was unanimously voted as the most annoying player in the game, and Danielle DiLorenzo found it impossible to get along with either Shane or Courtney, often getting into petty fights. In this group, Aras was the calm voice of reason, his job as a yoga instructor giving him the ability to work with the three other players. The core alliance of four were later joined by Cirie Fields, who thrived on the conflict, knowing that it made the target on her own back smaller, and Bruce Kanegai, who wasn’t interested in playing the strategic game, instead enjoying the adventure. When Casaya lost the first immunity challenge, Shane asked to quit the game, but was convinced to stay by Aras. Throughout the rest of the game, Shane constantly regretted giving his word to the alliance and asked multiple times to be released from it. However dysfunctional Casaya were, they managed to win challenge after challenge, and went into the merge with a numbers advantage after La Mina.

In recent Survivor history, tribes that haven’t lost an immunity challenge, particularly dysfunctional tribes like Casaya where none of the members can stand each other, quickly fall apart after the merge. Examples of this include Tandang, from season 25, who did not go to Tribal Council at all until the merge, and once the merge hit, they could not wait to start to vote each other out, and Galu from season 19, who went into the merge with an 8-4 numerical advantage, and got complacent, thinking that they could afford to vote out one of their own members before they began to eliminate the small Foa Foa group. Casaya were constantly at each other’s throats, and all of them expressed regret at the alliance that they were a part of, yet they remained together. If it were not for Terry Dietz repeatedly winning individual immunity and being in possession of the immunity idol, Casaya would have been the final 6.

In the Tribal Councils that they had attended pre-merge, they had voted erratically and emotionally. When Bobby was voted out, it was a 3-2-1-1 vote that had some similarities to this week’s Hunahpu vote. The women wanted Bobby out, as they saw him as rude and were worried that he would flip on them in the event of a merge. Aras wanted Bruce out, as he thought Bruce was the most unpredictable of a very unpredictable tribe, and Bobby voted with him. Bruce voted for Courtney, as she had irritated him and disturbed the zen of his rock garden, and finally Shane voted for Aras, because he had sworn on the life of his son not to vote for Bobby. With people voting purely on emotional grounds, as well as the strategic disunity of the tribe, the women were able to get the result that they needed, just as the Hunahpu women got their way at Tribal this week.

But however erratic their behaviour remained, after the merge the strategic behaviour of Casaya became more unified and reasonable. They voted as a group to eliminate the former La Mina members, despite La Mina attempting to get each member to flip. How did this happen? How did Aras manage to use these players to get to the end and eventually win? As there always is in Survivor, there was some luck involved. But Aras employed three strategies that ensured his continued survival in the game, and control of his erratic alliance members.

Firstly, if you are playing with erratic players, you need to be attentive and aware of the players around you. Aras knew who the most unpredictable players were, and he knew the keys to getting them to vote with him. He knew how important Shane’s word was to him. He knew who was the most volatile, and who could be trusted. He knew how to appease Danielle or Courtney after an argument. He correctly recognised that Bruce was not able to be controlled, that he would always be playing a different game and motivated by different things to the rest of them. The players of San Juan Del Sur will also need to be observant, watching and listening for the motivations of their allies.

Who are the unpredictable players this season? Well, judging by last night’s episode, it’s a long list! Hunahpu’s vote was certainly the most confused I’ve felt after watching a Tribal Council, and I’m not sure it is even possible to make sense of it given the information that we have been presented with.

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Drew, for all of his other, many faults as a Survivor player, did vote for Kelley, as he said he was going to do. None of the other men on the tribe seemed to do this. Natalie said “The guys are kind of a mess, you know? They’re not on the same page, which is good”. At camp, Jon raised the idea of voting out Julie in order to preserve as many pairs as possible. He presented this idea to Reed and Missy, and Keith and Drew walked up and joined the conversation. Jeremy had clearly heard the idea of voting out Julie from Jon also. When he was talking about what the men were doing, he said that Drew wanted Kelley out, and Jon wanted to vote Julie. However, once they got to Tribal Council, Jon professed to have no idea what he was doing and voted for Keith. Whether this was a throwaway vote, or this was the way that he thought the vote would go, we don’t know.

Keith had been looking for the immunity idol. When he failed to find it, he assumed that Jeremy must have it, and quickly outed Jeremy to the tribe. It was interesting that Reed went straight to Jeremy, and let him know what happened, setting Jeremy off on an emotional quest to vote out Keith. To Jeremy’s credit, once he saw he didn’t have the numbers, he did change his vote, but was not able to calm his anger against Keith, using Tribal Council as a platform to berate Keith for not coming to him with his accusations about the idol, and informing Keith (and the rest of the tribe) that Jeremy and Keith would have been in a suballiance if everything had gone according to Jeremy’s plans. Jeremy ended up voting with the women against Drew.

Reed and Keith were not seen strategizing at camp (although Reed’s quick revelation to Jeremy about Keith’s accusations did make it appear that they were in an alliance), but they were seen involved in strategy conversations. Keith was told by Jon to vote Julie, and told by Drew to vote Kelley. Reed was seen being told to vote Julie, Kelley, and Keith and seemed to be in every strategic discussion except the one that mattered- none of the women ever approached him. Reed and Keith both voted for Julie.

Jeremy’s outburst at Tribal certainly made him seem to be an emotional player. Keith’s lack of understanding about the game, and his willingness to turn his tribe against Jeremy, who he was aligned with, makes him an unpredictable player. Jon’s vote came from a self-described state of confusion. He didn’t seem to be playing emotionally, and perhaps his vote for Keith came out of what he believed was a genuine alliance with Jeremy. Reed is difficult to understand at the moment, mainly because of his lack of confessionals. He isn’t shown as playing emotionally or irrationally, and it is fair to assume that he thought the plan was to vote Julie, and he simply voted as he was told. His secret scene this week hints that he might be attempting to play a game where he uses chaos as a way to advance, and that kind of player is rational, but difficult to predict. We shall have to see where Reed’s gameplay ends up taking him.

The women seem to be playing solid games, and weren’t seen doing any of the scrambling that the men were shown doing. However, it is interesting that Natalie used the words ‘hot mess’ twice this episode- once to describe Drew, and then at Tribal Council to describe the entire tribe. Missy accused the tribe of being too selfish, of having “a whole lot of chiefs, and not very many Indians.” Natalie’s fight with John Rocker shows that even though she may be in a good position in her current tribe, she is certainly prone to emotional and erratic gameplay, and Missy’s bond with her daughter, which has been repeatedly emphasised, may cause her to make some unpredictable moves. Of course, Missy’s love for Baylor could work the other way, making Missy an extremely loyal ally to her daughter, and therefore a predictable player and valuable asset.

Over at Coyopa, Josh is clearly making unpredictable decisions every time he goes to Tribal Council, casting an irrelevant vote for Baylor, then voting for Val when his alliance had organised to split the votes, then blindsiding someone who saw him as his closest ally. Josh is not a predictable player. Baylor is in a defensive position at the moment, forced to play with anyone that will keep her alive. That motivation makes her predictable at the moment, but once she has a more secure place in the game, there are hints that she will not be so reliable. I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the scene she had with Alec, but my instinct was to think that she will blindside him in the future. She has also talked about not trusting Josh, so she may not be a reliable ally for him either. It seems that Alec will vote with Wes and can be predictably counted on to do so. With Drew gone, he doesn’t have any other options. Dale can certainly be seen as reliable; he was loyal to John to the end and was not told of the upcoming blindside because the tribe knew what his reaction would be. Dale would make a great ally, and the upcoming tribal swap might find him on the right side of the numbers. Wes’ reliability is hard to assess; on the one hand, he was open to blindsiding John, and we didn’t see his strategy behind that move, but on the other hand, he seems loyal to Josh, and so can be seen as predictable from that angle. Perhaps there is nobody who is Courtney-level irritating or Shane-level psychotic on this cast (although next week’s preview makes it seem like Jon might be the Shane of the group) but there are still players playing the game the same way- relying more on their emotions than on strategy.

Once Aras had secured an alliance, and gotten to know the people in it, Casaya formed a bond of loyalty. Even when they didn’t like each other, even when Shane was threatening to kill Courtney, they would not vote against each other until La Mina was decimated. The loyalty that was created revolved around two things- the bonds that Aras and Cirie managed to form with each Casaya member, and the lack of an alternate option. Danielle may not have liked being in an alliance with Shane or Courtney, but she did trust Aras and Cirie. Shane was in the same position. For Shane, loyalty was even more important- he had sworn on his son’s life to stay faithful to the alliance, and he was going to keep that promise no matter what. Casaya also recognised that their best chance of winning in a final two was to be sitting next to another Casaya member (preferably Courtney), which stopped them from wanting to work with the La Mina members.

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Recognize the tribe?

Loyalty on this season is going to be an interesting concept- more than half the players out there still have their loved ones in play, and it seems that some players (Dale, Reed, Keith, Jon) have no reason to be loyal to their tribe. With a tribe swap imminent, finding the loyal players will be essential for winning this game. You can align yourself with irritating, unreliable people that don’t seem to have any strategical gameplay, but you need to know that those people will vote in a logical and predetermined way. I think that a lot of these players are learning the game, and will follow the lead of a stronger player. The stronger player just has to identify the players that are most likely to vote and play the game in a rational way.

Aras’ third strategy was one that happened more by luck than by design- before Casaya’s first Tribal Council, he told Cirie that she was in trouble, and if she wasn’t voted out then, she would be voted out at the first opportunity. However, thanks to Casaya winning the next two immunity challenges, Aras got to spend some more time with Cirie, and the two of them formed a strong partnership. Cirie was able to help Aras strategise, but she was also able to simply give him friendship, and as the rest of their alliance was exhausting and high maintenance, Cirie and Aras gave each other support. Aras never tried to make his way through the craziness of Casaya alone, he leaned on Cirie. When asked at the Final Tribal Council who contributed the most to his success in the game, his answer was “Cirie. One, just as a friend, you need to have somebody that you can just relate to. And then at other times, strategic. I mean, we helped each other; we both took each other on a rewardIit was a mutually beneficial relationship.” Finding a player that can be trusted is crucial in any game of Survivor, but even more so when you are playing with allies that are prone to irrational and unpredictable moves and actions.

Of course, once you have found that player, it is imperative that you remain self-aware and observant. It is extremely unlikely that Aras could have beaten Cirie in a final two, and yet, his plan was to sit next to Cirie at the Final Tribal Council. At final four, Aras voted with Cirie against Danielle, and if it were not for Danielle’s fire making skills, Aras would have voted out the only person that he could have beaten. He may have needed Cirie’s friendship to get to the end, but to give himself the best chance to win, he needed to cut his strategic partner at final four.

Assuming that the pairs will want to work together, there are a few duos who have so far played a steady, rational game. Missy and Baylor have both voted with their alliances and haven’t irritated anybody around camp. Wes and Keith seem to be predictable- Keith voted the way he was told, and although Wes was willing to blindside John, he is loyal to Josh. But this episode, although I agree that Drew had possibly the worst vote out episode in history, and did plenty of crazy things, I don’t think he was wrong when he identified Kelley as a threat. She has been playing a solid, predictable, rational game, sitting back and not making any unnecessary moves. Her Dad is still in the game, and I think Dale is about as loyal an ally as it is possible to have in Survivor. We may not have seen Kelley strategizing, but she went from being a possible target to only getting one vote, and the person who threatened her place in the game was voted out. She actually managed to vote with her alliance, unlike half of her tribe, and is sitting in a good place in Hunahpu. We know that a tribe swap is coming, and I think Kelley is well-placed there too- best case scenario, she is placed with Dale and enough pairs to give them the majority, but even in the worst case scenario, there will be bigger threats to take care of than Kelley. She is in a good position to make a deep run into the game, but if she wants to win, she will have to follow Aras’ plan- just as Aras was a calm and rational player who was able to control a group of emotional players, Kelley will have to do the same if she wants to build up a résumé to argue her case in front of a jury.

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