Words cannot truly express how sad I was to see Debbie voted out. Firstly, because Debbie was such a unique character, completely different from the traditional ‘older woman’ type that is usually cast. I thoroughly enjoyed watching her, and I think that she had a lot more to offer the show in terms of entertainment. I’m also disappointed because the women weren’t able to manoeuvre past the super idol, and now Scot, Tai and Jason, who all acted so poorly this episode, are in a position that is seemingly invincible. Not only do they have the super idol protecting them, but they have also made themselves into ultimate goats. It absolutely makes sense for Julia to want to work with them- I’d be volunteering for their team, too. She would easily beat any combination of those three in a Final Tribal, and she knows it. They are so obnoxious that they would be perfect to take to the end.
I wish that the women (Aubry in particular) had the guts to take the idol on, and force the men to use it. I can understand Aubry’s wish to keep Cydney in the game, but all they have done is buy Cydney three more days. Now they are in the exact same position, but with their numbers dwindling. Julia’s loyalty to Cydney and Aubry is doubtful. The edit has indicated that Michele is closer to Julia than she is to Cydney, although Cydney seemed incredibly confident that Michele would vote with her this week. This means that if the men are forced to use their super idol, the target is always going to be either Aubry or Cydney, and I think that they would go for Cydney out of spite. I really think that Cydney is living on borrowed time now. That super idol looks like it is going to be played. And the night that the super idol is played will be the night that Cydney goes home. As long as that idol is in the game, Aubry is always going to have to play defensively, and I think that it would have been in her best interest to force the men to play the idol, and let Cydney go. Once the men have played their idols, they will lose nearly all their power in the game. Aubry should have seen this, and gone with Debbie’s plan.
The other player in all this is Joe. After this week’s episode, it was the play of Joe that confused me the most. Is he playing the game? Is he aware of what is happening around him? Does he have a plan, a way to get to the end and win, or is he just existing from day to day, avoiding the vote, but not really caring about what is happening around him? In this season’s RHAP Bloggers Roundtable Preview, it was Sarah Freeman who predicted that Joe was someone who had “based all his life’s decisions on what would be the biggest adventure”, and remarked that Survivor would (temporarily, at least!) satisfy Joe’s longing for adventure. I think she was spot on. While most people nowadays sign up to play Survivor because they crave the money, or they crave the feeling of being on television, I think that Joe genuinely did sign up for this primarily because he wanted the experience. That in itself doesn’t necessarily make him a bad player, but it does make him unusual, particularly in new school Survivor.
Joe’s motivations are unique, and because of this, his gameplay is sometimes difficult to understand. But in the end, he is out there playing the game the best way that he knows how. Every player has a reason for their actions. They all play the game in a way that they think will benefit them. Joe is no different. So, what is the reason behind his play? And how can the other players in the game use him for their own ends? For this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going back to Survivor: Marquesas, and the 12th place finisher, Gabriel Cade.
Gabriel had originally applied for the game back in season one before anyone really knew what the game was all about. He was eventually cast for season four and placed on the Rotu tribe. By this time, the players were a little savvier. They knew that the show was only nominally about surviving the elements, and was mostly about surviving the other players. They knew that the best way to survive was to make a strong alliance with people that you could trust. Gabriel knew this too, in theory. But Gabriel was a unique character in Survivor because, although he knew what the game entailed, he steadfastly refused to play. This refusal to engage in game politics was eventually his downfall, and Gabriel was the first member of Rotu voted out.
At first, Gabriel didn’t really need to engage much with the actual game. The Rotu tribe were by far stronger than the rival Mara’amu tribe, and that gap widened as Mara’amu consistently voted out people who were strong challenge performers. Gabriel himself was a huge asset in the challenges, almost single-handedly winning challenges for his team. Rotu referred to themselves as the ‘love tribe’- for the first ten days of the game, none of the Rotu members visited Tribal Council. They were instead able to focus on building relationships within the tribe, and establishing a comfortable camp life. Both of these things were perfect for Gabriel’s skill set. He had extensive outdoors experience and really enjoyed camp life. He was also able to forge strong relationships and was well-liked by his tribe.
On day ten, the game changed. There was a tribe swap and Gabriel’s three closest friends, Kathy Vavrick O’Brien, Paschal English and Neleh Dennis, were both moved to Mara’amu. Gabriel remained at Rotu with four other members of his original tribe- John Carroll, Robert DiCanio, Zoe Zanidakis and Tammy Leitner. They were joined by three players who had previously been at Mara’amu- Sean Rector, Vecepia Towery and Rob Mariano, one of the most aggressive players who had ever played the game. With this new tribal dynamic, Gabriel would no longer be able to successfully avoid playing the game.
When the tribes swapped, John started to make his moves in the game. Wanting to secure his position in an alliance, he confronted Gabriel about his plans. John expected that Gabriel would willingly agree to a Rotu alliance, and the five original Rotu members would vote out Rob, Sean and Vecepia. This was the easiest and safest plan, both for John and for Gabriel. But Gabriel simply refused to agree to the plan, telling John: “I’m not even here to play the game, man.” When an exasperated John asked him what he was out there for, Gabriel replied: “I’m here for what we had. I’m here for that society we had of eight people. I’m here to see if eight people from all over the country, from eight different kinds of lives, can come here and do this. And live. And be happy. And do something amazing.”
Gabriel refused to agree to an alliance because he wasn’t there to play a strategic game. The strategy, the voting people out, the manipulation- none of that appealed to him. He truly was there purely for the experience of creating a new society. To John, this made him unpredictable, and therefore dangerous. He couldn’t be trusted to vote with the alliance; therefore, he was a threat. John decided that Gabriel was ultimately more of a threat than Rob, Sean and Vecepia, despite the fact that Rob was openly working against John. John was able to convince Tammy, Robert and Zoe to vote with him, and when Rotu lost immunity on day 15, Gabriel was voted out.
Gabriel had an opportunity to stay in the game. He could easily have joined forces with Rob, Sean and Vecepia, but ultimately, he chose not to do anything that would compromise his morals. He stayed loyal to his original tribemates and didn’t put up a fight at all. Once Gabriel went home, John was convinced that he now had control of the game. Actually, he was in a precarious position. Voting out Gabriel had given Rob the chance to make the merge, which could easily have been disastrous for John and his allies. More importantly, by voting out Gabriel, John had shown Neleh, Kathy and Paschal that he wasn’t someone who could be trusted. At the final nine, Neleh, Kathy and Paschal joined Sean and Vecepia, and together the newly formed five-person alliance voted out John, Robert, Tammy and Zoe. Had Gabriel been there at the merge, the original Rotu tribe would have been able to stay together. But John and his allies broke that trust, and ultimately put themselves at risk.
Gabriel Cade and Joe Del Campo are two players cut from the same cloth. Both of them are there primarily for the adventure. And both of them are reluctant to engage with the strategic side of the game. The difference is in who they are playing with. Whereas John Carroll saw Gabriel as a threat and voted him out- a move that he would come to regret, the members of the Dara tribe see Joe as a non-entity. The editors showed us how unaware Joe is by cleverly interspersing footage of Jason and Scot sneaking off with the machete with footage of Joe poking at the fire. The implication was clear- this guy doesn’t have any idea what is going on. In this case, ignorance may be bliss- his name isn’t coming up as a target at all, probably because nobody really wants to waste a vote on him. He’s playing well if his intention is simply to last, but he is clearly not playing a winning game, and it may well be too late at this point for him to start. I think that with Debbie’s elimination, Joe has missed his chance to take any control of his own fate.
I find myself completely stumped by Joe’s decision-making this week. His gameplay this episode was right up there with Gabriel’s play in Marquesas– not only did he not want to vote with the majority, but he didn’t seem to want to do anything to put himself in a good position. It was truly baffling to watch. Firstly, there was his reaction to the sabotage tactics of Jason, Scot and Tai. I thought it was telling that Joe’s confessionals talked about the sabotage from a survival point of view. He seemed to be dumbfounded by the entire scene. In confessional, he said it was “ridiculous. You don’t go back and hide tools essential for the whole tribe.” Meanwhile, the confessionals of every other player in the game focused on the strategic side. Michele spoke about how the men must have been hoping to break people down, and gain a psychological advantage that way. Aubry spoke about how she believed that the men were trying to draw votes towards Scot, so that they could successfully play their idols. They wanted to make sure that they were making the correct move in the game. Joe (and Debbie) didn’t really care about the correct game move. They wanted Scot out so that their camp life would be more harmonious, whether that benefitted their games or not.
And then there was the vote. This was one of the most complex votes in Survivor history. Going into this episode, there was one alliance of six, and another alliance of three. Although Tai, Scot and Jason seemed to be united this week, at the last vote, Tai was willing to align with the majority, and he voted for Jason. It seemed to be well known that Tai and Jason both had idols, and thanks to Tai’s performance at the last Tribal Council, everyone now knows of the existence of the super idol. A super idol can only be flushed if the majority alliance forces it to be played. And Aubry and Cydney were too afraid to let that happen (in Cydney’s case, rightfully so- because she would have been the one to go home).
So for Cydney, allowing the super idol to be played was too dangerous. She trusts Aubry, and she seemingly trusts Michele too. Julia had immunity. There were only two safe routes for Cydney to take- vote out Debbie, or vote out Joe. Aubry suggested cutting Debbie loose, and was confident that Joe would vote with her. I’m not sure where she got that confidence from- Joe has shown himself to be completely loyal. He doesn’t want to rock the boat. Remember, Joe wanted to keep Peter around, even though he 100% knew that Peter was trying to vote him out of the game. Like Gabriel Cade, Joe would rather make no move at all, even if it is to his detriment. Aubry, who has been with Joe since day one, should know this. Expecting Joe to flip on Debbie, his closest ally in the game, purely because she is being “emotional” was not good gameplay on Aubry’s part.
It didn’t surprise me that Joe didn’t want to vote for Debbie. But what did surprise me was how little Joe did to save Debbie. In his confessional, it seemed that Joe’s reason for not wanting to vote Debbie out was that splitting the votes between Scot and Tai was a foolproof plan. Incidentally, splitting the votes would probably have worked, as long as Julia stayed loyal on the revote. One of the men would have gone home. But in Joe’s confessional, he said: “Aubry said should we take Debbie out, but there’s no need for that because we have such a viable force going.” It should be said that in this confessional, Joe was wearing a blue buff, and therefore this could have been taken completely out of context. But it seems that despite Aubry and Cydney telling him that they wanted to vote Debbie out, he still thought that their alliance would stick to the plan, and split the votes.
He could have told Cydney and Aubry that, yes, he would vote for Debbie, and then go ahead and vote Scot. In that scenario, Cydney goes home, and Debbie is safe. He could have told Debbie what was going on, and given her a chance to save herself. I know that in several exit interviews, Debbie has claimed that Joe did tell her what was going on, but I don’t think that any exit interviews, particularly the exit interviews of Debbie, can be taken as canon. In her Ponderosa clip, Debbie repeatedly tells us that she was blindsided, and she didn’t see it coming at all. Judging by Debbie’s words at Ponderosa, I don’t believe that Joe warned her that votes were coming her way. Perhaps he thought that he had nipped the idea in the bud, but it is so frustrating that he didn’t give Debbie a chance to fight.
I think that the best move for Joe and Debbie to make would have been to join with Scot, Jason and Tai, and vote Cydney out. Then they replace Julia in the men’s alliance, and they would be in a fantastic position to make it to the end with a collection of goats. I do recognise that this is asking Joe to be someone that he just isn’t. He prides himself on his honesty and wants to play a loyal game. I don’t think that Joe would ever flip on an alliance under any circumstance, but Jason, Scot and Tai’s sabotage tactics make it impossible to see Joe working with them, whether it is the best thing for Joe’s game or not.
Joe is now in an extremely weak position. He will refuse to work with Jason and Scot, and he is seen as dispensable by the women. Unless he finds the ability to fight for his place in the game, he’s headed for an unmemorable sixth place finish. At the moment, he looks like he’ll make the same mistake as Gabriel Cade, and simply refuse to play strategically. I completely expect that the aftermath of voting Debbie out will be very similar to the aftermath of voting Peter out. Joe will return to Aubry and vote the way that she needs him to vote. Aubry is the only one left in the game that Joe has any relationship with, and despite her being instrumental in voting for Debbie, Joe just has nowhere else to go.
John Carroll recognised that a person who refuses to play strategically can be a threat. I think that John would agree that he targeted Gabriel too early in the game, but the premise behind the move was correct. I think that Aubry is probably feeling the same way now- Joe has shown that he isn’t as easy to control as she had previously thought. Aubry wants allies that she can trust, and so she might be more willing to let go of Joe than she is to sacrifice Cydney. Unless Joe is willing to step up and be a strategic partner for Aubry, his fate will ultimately be the same as Gabriel Cade’s. I can’t really explain what it is about Joe that I enjoy- probably just his position as the perpetual underdog- but I am hoping that Joe will step up where Gabriel could not. Joe might be there for the experience, but we are at final eight now. Surely as the end draws ever closer, the million dollars looms larger, and Joe could be tempted to make some moves for his own benefit. I’d hate to see him go down without a fight, but unfortunately, that’s what the signs are pointing to. At least he’s had one heck of an adventure!