Each week, Catherine Lucas examines the gameplay of a contestant or a tribe and compares them to players from past seasons. It’s a mix of history, strategy, and culture in “Lessons in Survivor History”. You can expect the blogs on Monday mornings.
Lessons in Survivor History: Making Mistakes
Last week, I couldn’t stop singing Lauren’s praises. If you’d have asked me last week who the best player left in the game was, I would absolutely have said that it was Lauren. And I’m still impressed with the way that she recognised that she wasn’t in a good spot in the seven, pulled together that alliance of four, solidified their loyalty and made her move at the perfect time. Last week, Lauren was brilliant. But then we have this week, and I could very well be writing the column this week comparing Lauren to any of those in the Survivor hall of infamy. Was Lauren’s play this week worse that James Clement, who was voted out with two idols in Survivor China? Was she worse than JT, who gave away his idol, only to be voted out as a result in Survivor: Heroes vs Villains? Did Lauren manage to make a worse move than Erik Reichenbach, who gave away individual immunity and promptly got voted out in Survivor: Micronesia?
I think the fact that Lauren made a combination of errors makes her move worse than any of the aforementioned Survivors. In fact, I think the only reason that we can’t crown Lauren’s move as the dumbest of all time is that Woo Hwang voted out Kass McQuillen at the final three, giving Tony Vlachos the win in Survivor Cagayan, and costing himself a million dollars. Woo gave away a certain victory. Lauren was in a good spot, but there is no guarantee she would have won the game. Still, it was certainly interesting to see someone out there who obviously has a lot of natural skills that help her play the game well. However, she doesn’t have a lot of game knowledge, and clearly, a lot of her instincts are just too trusting. I’ll admit to shouting at the television when Lauren found the immunity idol and immediately called her allies over. She wanted to trust her allies completely- and as Ben showed with his idol play this week, the best way to play with advantages is to trust nobody. Lauren never guessed that Ben had an idol because she assumed that he has the same instincts she does. For Lauren, having an advantage and not sharing it with her alliance makes no sense. And so she assumed that Ben would feel the same way. But Ben realised that although advantages can bond people together, they are more powerful when used offensively. As soon as someone knows about an advantage, it loses most of its power. Once it is common knowledge, you can be outmanoeuvred. Look at Ryan’s idol last week. He made the mistake of sharing his idol with too many people, and it led to the fracture of his alliance.
So yes, I could have focused entirely on the stupidity of Lauren, who somehow managed to find an immunity idol and be voted out in the same week. But to do that would be unfair to the players left in the game. There is no Kim Spradlin out there. There’s no mastermind, pulling all the strings. Nobody is playing flawlessly. In fact, everyone is making some huge mistakes. And the bigger the mistakes are, the more the playing field becomes even. Looking at the game, there isn’t a clear frontrunner. Last week, I would have said Lauren was the frontrunner– and then look what happened to her! All of the players left have done some good things, but they have also made some significant mistakes. There have been players from past seasons who have been similar, played incredibly flawed games, and yet walked away with the million dollars. If you know you’ve made mistakes in your game, how do you overcome those mistakes to make it to the end? What should you say once you reach the end? To answer these questions, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going back to season 17, Survivor: Gabon, and the winner of that season, Bob Crowley.
Bob began the game on the Kota tribe, and they physically dominated over the opposing Fang tribe. Kota won the first two immunity challenges. During this time, Bob was able to form alliances, and he joined the ‘onion’ alliance, which consisted of himself, Corinne Kaplan, Marcus Lehman, Charlie Herschel and Jacquie Berg. When Kota visited Tribal Council, Bob voted with his alliance. He wasn’t the person who was making the decisions, he was simply a number. This would be proven when the two tribes swapped, and original Fang member Randy Bailey joined the onion alliance. Randy quickly integrated himself with the onions, and Bob was once again at the bottom of the group. The original onions turned to Randy for strategy conversations, giving Randy a voice and an input. Bob continued to play a loyal game, voting with his majority alliance. Although he was well liked by the tribe, he wasn’t strategically respected.
When the two tribes were swapped again, Bob found himself in a minority. He couldn’t stop Marcus from being eliminated, and as soon as this happened, Bob’s onion alliance were in the minority. The original Fang tribe took over the game, eliminating Bob’s alliance one by one. In an effort to save himself, Bob went to Sugar Kiper, who was part of the original Kota tribe but had been voting with the Fangs. He showed her a fake idol that he had created. At Sugar’s suggestion, he gave the fake idol to Randy, ending in Randy’s humiliating exit.
From this point until the final four, Bob had individual immunity. His last remaining ally, Corinne, was voted out, and Bob was able to watch while the majority alliance imploded. During this time, he continued to develop relationships with the tribe, particularly nurturing his relationship with Sugar. Sugar was emotionally fragile during her time in Gabon, as her father had passed away prior. She looked to Bob (who was 57) as something of a father figure and enjoyed having him around. Sugar was also the most powerful player of the season–she had the immunity idol, and her ability to make emotionally charged decisions meant that she was often being courted as the swing vote. At the final four, when Bob lost immunity, Sugar’s alliance assumed she would work with them and vote Bob out of the game, but Sugar felt too emotionally connected to Bob. She wanted to give him a chance, despite knowing that she would lose to him in a Final Tribal Council. She voted with Bob, sending him to a fire-making challenge, which he won. This meant that the final three was Bob, Sugar (who had been playing extremely emotionally and seemed to have no real desire to win the game), and Susie Smith, who had originally been on the Fang tribe, and had played a similar game to Bob, where she was always on the bottom of every alliance, and this meant people had overlooked her. Susie won immunity at the final four– if she hadn’t she would have been voted out. So, like Bob, she had been saved by immunity wins.
At the Final Tribal Council, Sugar very quickly put herself out of the running when she answered the first question with “I don’t necessarily think you have to vote for me. But it would be nice.” Susie spoke about how much she had grown, and how far she had come. She played up her status as the underdog and said it had been her strategy to be underestimated. Of the seven jurors, three of them gave Susie their vote. Bob’s Final Tribal performance was honest. He acknowledged that he had voted with the majority when he could and hadn’t tried to have a strategic voice. He told Marcus that he had trusted his alliance to make good decisions. He apologised to Randy for humiliating him with the fake idol. And four of the jurors liked Bob’s argument and gave him the win.
Bob was not what you would call a Survivor mastermind. He wasn’t in control of the game, and often simply voted where he was told. He didn’t have a strong or powerful alliance, and he made it to the Final Tribal Council through some handy immunity wins, as well as an inexplicable decision by one of his fellow castaways. Yet he did make it to the end. And it happened that the people he was sitting with were not as well liked by the jury– and Bob convinced the majority of the jury to vote for him. He walked away the Sole Survivor despite playing, by his own admission, a game where he followed the strategy of those around him. You don’t need to be the mastermind to win the game. Sometimes, you just have to be in the right place at the right time. In Bob’s season, there wasn’t a dominant player, and that allowed him to sneak into the million dollars. I think that the same thing is happening this season. There isn’t one person out there playing what is clearly the best game. The winner is going to have to have some luck on their side. All the remaining players have made mistakes– the question is, how do they overcome those mistakes and get into a winning position?
Let’s start with Ryan and Chrissy, who were seemingly in such a good position at the merge. They were at the head of the seven-person majority and had a clear path to the end of the game. However, they had some problems with their social games and were completely blindsided when Ashley, Devon, Ben and Lauren joined together and voted JP out of the game. Coming back to camp after the blindside, Chrissy exploded with anger. Ryan had a quieter response but still couldn’t get numbers back on his side. The two of them were seemingly in an impossible position, but Ryan had the immunity idol, and when Chrissy won immunity, the two were saved. Joe was sent home, and the alliance began to splinter. This week, Chrissy was the intended target– until Ben began to get paranoid, and needed Chrissy and Ryan as numbers.
Both Ryan and Chrissy are going to struggle if they make it to the end– they were perceived as arrogant when they were in power, and they are going to need to make sure that they overcome that perception. Chrissy has made some enemies on the jury, and Ryan hasn’t exactly made friends. Dr Mike said that when he was on the bottom, Ryan wanted nothing to do with him. I think that Ryan and Chrissy are both in the perfect position to go to the end of the game now. They are a tight pair, but they are not such an obvious threat as the other tight pair in the game, Devon and Ashley. People have been wary of Chrissy’s strategic abilities, but now that everyone’s anger will be focused on Ben, and Ashley and Devon pose an obvious threat, both Ryan and Chrissy will likely be forgotten. They’re in a good spot to make it to the end– but they won’t find it easy to get the votes. They need to take a lesson from Bob and be completely honest in a Final Tribal Council.
The other person in a perfect spot to get to the end is Mike. Dr Mike has never been in control of the game. Nearly every time he attends Tribal Council he is blindsided by the result. Every alliance that he has made crumbles almost immediately. And yet, he is likely to make it to day 39. Assuming that the alliance targets Ben next, Mike then finds himself as the swing vote between two strong pairs. He can make it to the end– the question is whether he could get the votes. He certainly has friends on the jury. And he hasn’t upset anyone, so if the jury is voting for the person they like the most, there is every chance that Mike could be the next Bob Crowley and find himself winning the season.
Bob convinced people to vote for him by being humble. He admitted that he had been led along by stronger players. He wasn’t arguing that he was some sort of strategic genius, just that he was the most deserving of the three that were sitting at Final Tribal Council. Bob showed that he had an accurate read of the game. He knew who the true power players had been, and he didn’t try to take undeserved credit for anything. Mike needs to do the same thing. He’s made some terrible decisions. I have no idea why he would burn Lauren’s idol– only to vote with her a few minutes later. He wasted his own idol in a strange display last week. He can’t get to the end and claim to be the puppet master. His secret scenes reveal that Mike is quite confident in his game. And he thinks he can justify his moves. But you can’t be the court jester for 38 days and then try and claim that you ran the game. I don’t think the jury will buy it. If Mike makes it to the end, he does so because like Bob Crowley, he got lucky. He needs to own that, and if he does (depending on who he is sitting next to), then his friends on the jury will reward him with the million dollars.
Ashley and Devon have both been playing pretty well, and haven’t made any of the big, glaring errors that the rest of the cast are guilty of. Ashley has been perhaps a little too obsessed with voting Ben out and claiming it as her move, but Devon has always wisely talked her out of it. The numbers are too precarious for them to turn on their own, and now with Lauren gone, their power in the game has disappeared entirely. They have gone from the most powerful pair in the game to the most vulnerable pair. I think that their biggest mistake is being too obvious about their allegiance to each other. With the numbers as small as they are, it was a risky move for Devon to give up immunity to Ashley. It was even riskier to do it in such a public way. Their game has been all about sitting back and letting Ben and Lauren attract the target. But by making their allegiance seem unbreakable, Devon and Ashley are going to attract attention. And I don’t know if they can use the remaining numbers to deflect the target that is coming.
The way that Bob managed to make it to the end, despite losing his numbers, was to appear to be non-threatening. Nobody worried about Bob until it was too late, and he went on an immunity run. He took on the role of the fatherly figure around camp and was able to exploit those relationships when needed. At no point was anyone worried about Bob being too controlling, or too threatening. He played under the radar and watched as the more threatening players, those who demanded to direct the strategy of the season, were voted out, one by one.
Devon and Ashley have been following the Bob game plan. But Ashley, in particular, is worried that she is going to get to the end without having made a big move. Devon feels like he has a résumé: he betrayed Ryan, he set Ben up as the spy, and he’s been impacting the game. Ashley is worried about getting the respect of the jury. It wasn’t so long ago that Joe was calling her a goat, and I think he got in her head. I know that the game has changed since Survivor: Gabon. We are definitely in the ‘big moves’ era of Survivor, and Ashley does need to be thinking about what she would say if she was sitting at the end. But this week, her desire for the big move sunk her entire alliance. Big moves are great if they actually help your game. But getting Ben out this week was a big move just for the sake of it.
And that brings us to Ben. The only person to vote correctly this week. The only person who can keep a secret. To be fair to Ben, I think it was always going to be hard for him to make it to the end of the game. When you’re an ex-Marine who proudly talks about serving his country, the other players are always going to be wary of sitting next to you at Final Tribal Council. He can’t play the Bob Crowley game. Nobody is ever going to be underestimating Ben out there. And while Ben’s gameplay has increased the target on his back– being the visible leader of a large alliance, willingly becoming a double agent and betraying Ryan and Chrissy, playing the immunity idol in such a flashy way– I don’t think there was another way for Ben to be playing. He can’t stop himself from being a threat. What he needs to do is everything he can to propel himself to the end.
I was definitely impressed by Ben this week. He did well to realise that all was not well within his alliance, and I think he was correct to try and switch the target. I do question the logic of targeting Lauren, who was probably his strongest ally in the game, but I think that if he had left it any longer, he wouldn’t have been able to stop Lauren, Ashley and Devon teaming up against him. It was a risky move, and a rash move, but I think it was important. He needed to have enough numbers on his side. Ben hasn’t played a perfect game by any means. He has been accused of being a dictator, and the fact that his alliance was so easily persuaded to vote for him doesn’t speak strongly of his social game. But if Lauren couldn’t win the season, I’ll be hoping that Ben pulls it off. As Bob Crowley shows us, you really don’t need to play a perfect game to have played the winning game.