I’m really enjoying Survivor: Second Chances, but at the same time I find myself more than a little baffled by it. Monica’s exit last week was confusing. If we are to believe the story that we were shown on the show, Kimmi was single-handedly responsible for that one, making a split second emotional decision to turn on Monica, and bring Jeremy and Stephen with her. But if you believe Stephen’s blog or Jeremy’s tweets, then there was so much more to that move.
And then this week we had another blindside, and once again I don’t think we got the full story. From what was shown on screen, Savage made Ciera feel unsure; therefore, the women banded together, recruited Spencer, and voted against Woo. We didn’t see what Woo did wrong, or how the target shifted from Savage to Woo, and as an audience we are left to fill in the gaps ourselves.
I think part of the problem has been having the two tribe swaps. Alliances are confusing. These players have pregame alliances. They have alliances from their original Bayon/Ta Keo groups. And then they have the alliances from their second tribe. It’s difficult to fit all that information into the episode. I also think that this season, the editors struggled to tell the story of three tribes. As it was the Angkor tribe that would be spending the most time at Tribal Council, the show focused on their story, virtually ignoring what was happening at Bayon or Ta Keo. So as we approach the merge, alliances are unpredictable not only because of the multiple tribe swaps and heavy pregaming, but also because we just haven’t seen enough of many of these players. We don’t know where they stand.
This week was the first time that Kass visited Tribal Council. And if the story is to be believed, she was faced with a decision- vote out Spencer, her archnemesis, or vote with Ciera, her closest ally. The show took glee in referencing the rivalry of Kass and Spencer, from the moment that they ended up on a tribe together. The first thing that Kass said was that she was feeling “a little hesitant about Spencer, ’cause you know, maybe there’s not a love connection there”. In fact, nearly the entire story of the episode centred around Kass and Spencer. Would the former rivals be able to work together? Would Kass get the revenge that she apparently craved? And with the grudge between Kass and Spencer being the focus of the episode, there was only one place that I wanted to go to for this week’s lesson in Survivor history- and that is to season 13, Survivor: Cook Islands. And I have to admit that I am cheating a little bit here. At the beginning of the season, I set myself a challenge. This season, I am only writing about those who fit the criteria for Survivor: Second Chances– that is, those who have played once and never won the game. And this week, I wanted to write about Parvati Shallow’s Cook Islands game- but as Parvati is a three-time player of the game, I can’t do that. So instead, I am looking to the man who finished just ahead of Parvati. The fifth place finisher of Survivor: Cook Islands, Adam Gentry.
Survivor: Cook Islands began as a four tribe season, and Adam was placed on the Raro tribe, along with Parvati, Candice Woodcock, Jonathan Penner and Flicka Smith. Adam, Parvati, Candice and Penner formed an early alliance, which would last until deep into the game. After only six days, there was a tribe swap. Adam was separated from his closest ally, Candice, with whom he had forged a romantic relationship. He remained on Raro with Parvati and was able to rely on his physical strength to remain in the majority alliance.
On day 20, the game completely changed. The tribes were offered the chance to mutiny- to voluntarily switch tribes. Despite the fact that on the opposing tribe, Aitu, Candice and Jonathan were a part of the majority alliance, Candice took the opportunity to reunite with Adam. She stepped off the mat. Faced with the prospect of being without the person who he saw as his closest ally, Penner followed her.
At Raro, Penner immediately regretted his decision. The Raro tribe were a younger crowd, and didn’t have the work ethic that Penner respected. He missed his Aitu alliance, and knew that he was on the bottom of the Raro alliance. Candice, who he had thought was his closest ally, despised him. For his part, although Adam was thrilled to have Candice around again, he did nothing to welcome Penner or to make him comfortable in the tribe.
The new Raro tribe were far superior in numbers, yet they continually lost immunity challenges. Somehow, Penner was able to survive each Tribal Council, and the Raro tribe eventually entered the merge with a 5-4 majority over the Aitu tribe. The Aitu tribe only needed to convince one person to flip, and that person was Penner. Penner was faced with an unenviable choice, knowing that either way he went, people would be angry with him. If he voted with Raro, there was a chance that he would be the one going home. If he voted with Aitu, he betrayed his tribe, but at least he knew that he was safe. At the first post-merge Tribal, Penner voted for Raro member Nate Gonzalez. At that moment, Adam’s game, along with the games of the remaining Raros, was doomed.
Adam (along with Parvati and Candice) blamed Penner entirely for the struggle they now faced to stay alive in the game. And that grudge led the remaining Raro members to almost give up. From this point on, their game became more about outlasting Penner than it was about winning. Instead of trying to work the numbers back in their favour, Adam and his tribemates became fixated on getting Penner out. And when your main objective stops being about winning the game, it is impossible to bring yourself back on track. Kass did well to look past her feelings about Spencer and put her game first. The question is, how long can she actually work with Spencer? Would she have been better off to just cut Spencer now, before the damage to her game becomes catastrophic?
It wasn’t just Kass and Spencer nursing grudges this week. We also saw Stephen, in an emotional scene, reveal that he is still hurting about his loss in Survivor: Tocantins. He said: “I’ve been kicking myself, you know, just for just so many years, just for not getting rid of the golden boy last time.” For Stephen, his one mistake in Tocantins was not getting rid of JT earlier. I’d argue that he never really had the chance- it was JT’s relationship with Coach that allowed Stephen to get to the end, and had he voted out JT earlier, he would have left himself vulnerable. But perception is everything, and in Stephen’s mind, the only mistake that he needs to correct is the mistake of going to the end with JT. His focus is on eliminating the golden boy, and we saw through his tears how much it meant to him.
This season, the golden boy that Stephen is so concerned about is Joe. And he is absolutely willing to put all of his eggs in one basket, and throw everything at getting Joe out. On the one hand, he is correct. Joe is not loyal to Stephen. If everything goes the way that Joe wants it to, then Stephen will be eliminated not long after the merge. But on the other hand, he is failing to convince others to get on board with him and pushing too hard for this move could alienate his allies. Jeremy has articulated his strategy right from episode one. He wants shields around him, and Joe is the biggest shield there is. Jeremy sees that Joe isn’t completely trustworthy but doesn’t care. He doesn’t want to leave himself unprotected. He doesn’t want to be the biggest guy out there. And I don’t think that Stephen can convince Jeremy to abandon what has been his strategy for the entire game. The more he tries, the more he makes himself look like a target. Monica was voted out for being too overtly manipulative. Stephen needs to be sure that he isn’t coming across the same way.
Adam had plenty of options open to him at the merge. Even after Nate was voted out, it was still a possibility that Penner would swing back and work with Adam, Parvati and Candice. After all, Candice had been Penner’s closest ally for the entire game. The four of them began the game on the same tribe. It would have been a sensible move to try to work with Penner. Or, even though the Aitu tribe were incredibly tight, it would have been good to see Adam at least attempt to swing one or two of them over to vote with the Raro group. Of the Aitu tribe, the eventual winner, Yul Kwon, was clearly the most powerful, and he was working closely with Becky Lee. The two of them seemed locked into the final two. Perhaps one of the other two Aitu members would have been open to other options. But Adam didn’t try. His strategy was simply to get Penner out. Beyond that, I don’t think he had a plan at all.
I worry that Stephen’s obsession with voting out Joe might end similarly. Maybe he will get Joe out, but if he loses the trust of Jeremy, who is currently his strongest ally, then was it actually worth it? If he finds that without Joe in the game, everyone is suddenly coming for Jeremy, then Stephen may regret his desperate desire to eliminate Joe. I hope that Joe doesn’t become for Stephen what Penner was to Adam. I do understand that Joe cannot be allowed to make it to the end of the game. Like JT, Joe would sweep a jury vote. But Stephen knows that you cannot make big moves like that alone. Stephen came into this season with a reputation. He’s the Survivor know-it-all. He’s strategic. He can’t be trusted. I think Stephen’s made a lot of effort to distance himself from that. He’s nurtured real relationships, and he’s in a good spot in the game. The last thing he should be trying to do is making big flashy moves without the consensus of his alliance.
As interesting as I thought Stephen’s scenes were, there’s no doubt that the major story of the episode was the story of Spencer and Kass, the adversaries from Survivor: Cagayan, reunited on one tribe at last. The two of them had come into the season with an apparently rocky relationship and were happy to talk about how little they trusted each other. Spencer said in confessional: “Kass and I have feuded, and at times we’ve hated each other. So how I can get along with my archnemesis is going to determine how the game goes for me.” And Kass seemed to be thrilled to get the opportunity to once again vote Spencer out of the game. In a great confessional, she said: “I’d be more than happy to write a sad face on his card and send him on his way. Spencer Bledsoe, zero percent chance of winning this game.”
And yet as much as they talked up their rivalry, they ended up making the decision to work together. For Adam, this would never have been an option. Adam held onto a grudge, and that’s why he was never a threat to win the game. Adam and Parvati both went so far as to promise Yul their vote- if he ensured that Penner went home before they did. Yul accepted the offer. Penner was voted out seventh, with Parvati and then Adam following him to the jury. Once on the jury, Adam kept his word, casting the deciding vote to give Yul the victory. For Kass and Spencer, this flexibility, the ability to work together despite not totally trusting each other- this is what makes both of them threats to win the game.
Having said that, I would be shocked if their rivalry was as intense as we saw on television. I will acknowledge that both of them spoke of their distrust not only to the other players in the game but also in confessional. But there were things in the episode that seemed to point to Kass and Spencer actually having a close relationship. Perhaps they aren’t exactly friends, but they are both intelligent, and pragmatic players. I would be almost certain that there were pregame phone calls happening between them. They may not have completely trusted each other, but at least they know each other. And although Spencer did refer to Kass as the devil, in Survivor, it really is better to play with the devil you know.
Once Ciera had decided that Woo should be voted out (which I found really odd- but from what we saw, it was Ciera and not Abi who bought Woo’s name up. Abi’s smiley face on her ‘Woo’ vote showed us that Abi was thrilled to go along with the plan, but it is was seemingly Ciera’s idea.), for some reason it was Kass who was sent to recruit Spencer. Wouldn’t it make sense to send Ciera? What reason did Spencer have to trust Kass? How did they know that Spencer wasn’t going to go straight to Savage and blow up the whole plan? There must be more to Spencer and Kass’ relationship than meets the eye.
Whether Spencer and Kass had a secret pregame friendship or not, they certainly had a contentious relationship in Cagayan. And I was impressed by their ability to look past that and work together. I think that getting rid of Woo was best for both of their games. Without the Woo vote, Spencer would have gone home. Once again, Spencer was in the position where he would have gone along with any plan. As long as he gets to fight another day, Spencer will vote for anyone.
For Kass, the story is a little more complicated, and I’m still not one hundred percent sure I have a handle on it. My first thought was that she should have just gone after Savage. It was Savage who was bringing up Ciera’s name, Savage who was trying to control the tribe, and Savage who has the most allies on the other side. If you are going to make a big move, logic dictates that you should cut the head off of the snake. Woo was definitely not the head of the snake.
But Savage does have allies over at Bayon. And maybe that is what kept him safe. Kass and Ciera aren’t prepared to close the door on the idea of ‘Bayon strong’ just yet. By voting out Woo, they can still return to the other side and claim that they were loyal. Woo wasn’t Bayon; it wasn’t disloyal to vote him out. Maybe it was as simple as Abi being the deciding vote. Woo had voted for her: twice, apparently. She had no issues with Savage. It makes sense for Abi to demand that Woo was voted out, and Ciera didn’t have the numbers to disagree with her.
The biggest advantage I can see for Kass is that with Woo gone, she is less of a threat. Pregame, everyone was talking about the Cagayan four. I was convinced that one of them would be the first one off and picked Spencer for the honour. The four of them present a huge threat as a voting bloc. Now that threat is gone. The target on the remaining players from Cagayan is no bigger than the target on the three players from Survivor: San Juan Del Sur. In picking off Woo, Kass has eliminated someone who was loyal to Savage, not to her, and she has picked up Spencer, who once again found himself with nowhere to go. What is going to be interesting is where Spencer goes when the merge comes. He seemed to have a bond with Jeremy, so does he return to Jeremy, Kimmi and Stephen? Does he stick with Kass? Is it possible that Kass and Jeremy are on the same side? The interesting thing about this merge is that we simply don’t know.
Spencer and Kass avoided the trap that Adam fell into because they are more skilful players. They weren’t about to hold on to a grudge if it meant ruining their game in the process. I will be interested in watching next week to see the decision that Andrew Savage makes. Is he going to swallow his pride and attempt to work in his own best interests? Or is he going to fixate upon getting rid of Kass and Ciera, destroying his own game in the process?
Savage hasn’t shown a strong strategic side. Yes, he managed to get himself through the mess that was Angkor, but I would say that the credit for his survival there belongs to Tasha. Savage has been playing the game hard, wanting to dictate the result of every vote and panicking when he loses control. When talking about getting rid of Spencer, he said: “I mean business. This is my second chance. I’m not getting a third chance. This is it.” I can’t see him backing down. I think that whatever side of the numbers Kass and Ciera end up on next week, Savage is going to set himself up against them. In the Cook Islands, where Adam, Parvati and Candice focused only on their hatred for Penner, refusing to entertain any other strategy. They found themselves powerless in the game. I think that a similar fate awaits Savage.
I’m extremely excited about the prospect of an early merge next week. With the alliances in constant flux, it is difficult to predict just where everyone will end up. One thing is clear to me, though, and that is that in order to succeed in this game, you need to start thinking long-term. The merge is when the individual game kicks in, and this is where you need to start seeing your route to the end. But at the same time, Survivor is a game of luck. Every plan needs to be adaptable. Those who inflexibly focus their attention on seeking revenge will fail.