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 New Friends
That tribe swap completely reinvigorated the season for me. To be honest, after three unanimous votes, and the Hustlers tribe so obviously the weaker of the three, boredom was starting to set in for me. And I was really sceptical about the swap into three tribes of five. I think that one of the reasons that we have been getting such straightforward votes is that in tribes of six, people are starting to play afraid. There just isn’t enough room to manoeuvre in these small tribes, and one wrong move can sink your entire game. I assumed that tribes of five would make things even worse. I was the pessimist. And I was wrong, because not only was this the best episode of the season so far, but it was the most I’ve enjoyed watching Survivor in a long time.
Not only did we get a good sense of what was going on in each tribe, but the vote was far from straightforward. I’m a fan of Joe. I know he’s not the best player out there, but I really appreciate his willingness to try anything. I was worried for Joe- and then when he played his idol I assumed Ashley was going home. I was completely blindsided (and more than a little disappointed) when the votes came out for Alan. Alan just had so much potential as a character. There is more than a little irony that this was the man who was so paranoid about the idol on the first day of the game that he forced JP to strip off his clothes. And less than two weeks later, he fell victim to the only immunity idol in the game so far. It is almost as though it was scripted. This episode was delightful, and I’m suddenly all in on this season again.
The dynamics on the swapped tribe are so, so much more interesting than the original tribes. I think that shaking the game up on day nine was perfect. Now, nobody can feel too safe. Perhaps we will stick with these tribes until the merge, or perhaps there will be another swap. It’s still early in the game, and I think a lot of the players would be expecting that they will go to two tribes before a merge. We’ve never had a three-tribe season that remained in three tribes throughout the entire tribal phase of the game. I don’t know whether this affected the game- I think that Joe has probably been itching to ‘play the game’ since he hit the beach, and he probably isn’t thinking too far ahead. But for some of them, it might make them realise that they won’t be able to make a quick partnership and sail through to the merge that way. Once they realise that power couples aren’t necessarily the key to winning the game, then the game might open up a little.
My favourite thing about this tribe swap is that by swapping into three tribes, the original tribes have been broken up quite evenly. What will be interesting is seeing if any new alliances form. Do the Healers, Heroes and Hustlers remain loyal to their original tribes, or do they form new bonds on the swapped tribe? So far, we are seeing that the original tribes are going to stay loyal. On Levu, Ashley and Alan were unbreakable. Joe and Desi were trying to protect themselves. On Yawa, Cole, Jessica, and Mike were together. Jessica told Cole and Mike about her advantage– she assumes that the three of them will just vote together. Soko seems to be the most interesting tribe– Ryan gave Chrissy the super idol for use in the first Tribal Council, and therefore they have a bond. Although Ryan and Chrissy both have someone from their original tribes with them, they were very much seeking to work together.
There is no ‘right’ strategy that fits everyone. In some circumstances, abandoning original allies and building new bonds is a strategy that has taken them far in the game. For others, it turns out to be the right thing to do to stick with your original tribemates. Better the devil you know. How do you know which is which? Should these swapped tribes be looking to form new alliances, or sticking to their original colours? For this reason, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going back to season 17, Survivor: Gabon, and eighth place finisher, Randy Bailey.
Survivor: Gabon was the last season to begin with a schoolyard pick for tribes. The two eldest castaways were given the role of team captain, and the teams were chosen. Randy was selected to be on the Fang tribe- and thanks to the schoolyard pick, Fang were terribly outmatched by the rival Kota tribe, losing the first two immunity challenges. Not only were Fang terrible in the challenges, but camp life was not going well either. Fang was plagued by infighting and negativity.
Although Randy was stuck on a terrible tribe, he was in a strong position. He voted in the majority both times, and had forged strong relationships and alliances. When the two tribes were asked to rank each other in terms of their importance to the tribe, Randy was ranked as the third most important member of Fang. Once the tribes had been ranked, they were asked to participate in another schoolyard pick, and the two tribes were swapped. Randy was moved over to Kota, along with his ally Dan Kay, and fellow Fang member Susie Smith.
On a tribe of seven, Randy was clearly in the minority. The other four members of Kota, Marcus Lehman, Charlie Herschel, Corinne Kaplan and Bob Crowley were already in an alliance with each other. However, he abandoned any allegiance to his previous tribe and integrated himself into the Kota alliance. Randy was quick to disavow his old tribemates. He threw himself into his new place on the Kota tribe and was instrumental in the Kota tribe winning the next four immunity challenges. The fact that Kota was able to stay away from Tribal Council for so long gave Randy enough time to create real friendships with the Kota alliance. By the time that Kota did lose immunity, Randy was considered completely loyal to Kota and had replaced Bob in the Kota alliance. At that Tribal Council, Randy tried to save his former Fang ally, Dan, but ultimately he didn’t have enough power to do so, and Dan was sent home.
After Dan was sent home, the tribes were mixed up again. Randy was swapped back over to Fang, where he never had to go to Tribal Council. At this point, Randy had made his decision, and he was committed to the Kota alliance. Unfortunately for Randy, it was the Fang alliance that was able to take ascendancy at the merge, and Randy was eliminated in eighth place. So, does this mean that Randy made the wrong decision in abandoning his original bonds?
The answer is, of course, complicated. In his situation at Kota, where the original Fang tribe was outnumbered three members to four, then integrating with the Kota majority was Randy’s only option. It meant that when Kota did lose immunity, Randy was not targeted. And the Kota alliance was made up of logical players that understood the game- exactly the type of people that Randy wanted to play with. His original move to cast his lot in with Kota was correct. What Randy got wrong was that he completely abandoned his original tribe. He alienated them to the point that they could not wait to vote him out of the game, with Randy’s original tribemate Crystal Cox literally screaming in the voting booth: “You have made my life hell from day one!” Yes, you need to form new bonds on a swapped tribe, and you might want to play the game with them going forward if everything goes well. But a good Survivor player makes sure that they have options and that is where Randy’s game fell apart.
At the Yawa tribe, Ben is the only Hero, and Lauren is the only Hustler. The two of them are trying to find a crack in the alliance of three Healers. What is the best move for those Healers? Should they entertain Ben and Lauren’s ideas, or should they simply stay together and vote out the outliers? So far, it seems that they intend on staying together. Even if Jessica knows she cannot trust Cole, she’s not making any moves against him. Even if Mike knows that he wasn’t in the core power group on the Healer’s tribe, he doesn’t seem to want to move away from Cole or Jessica. I do think that this is a really strong group. They’ve got physical strength and puzzle ability, and so alliances in this group might not matter so much. If Lauren and Ben can simply form some friendships with the Healers, that will serve them well come the merge. I can’t see this group losing immunity, and so there is no real reason to start making plans. Hopefully, Cole has learnt from last week’s episode, where he orchestrated Joe’s boot– only for the Healer’s tribe to win immunity, and Cole and Joe to be swapped onto different tribes. All of Cole’s plans on the Healer beach came to nothing, and perhaps he has realised that there is no point making any big moves unless you actually plan to execute them. If the Yawa tribe avoid Tribal Council, then the best thing for the three Healers to do is to stick tight to each other.
If, by some miracle they manage to lose, then what? I really think that Mike (and perhaps Jessica) should be looking to get away from the Healers. If the Healers go into the merge as a unit, then they will all have a huge target on themselves. The Heroes and Hustlers will work together out of necessity. Not to mention the fact that if the Healers are to work together, then Mike is on the bottom of that alliance. He needs to do what Randy did- and find people whom he is more comfortable playing the game with. And both Ben and Lauren are good candidates for that position. Both are more trustworthy and dependable than Cole has proven himself to be. Putting your game in Cole’s hands is extremely dangerous. The ease with which he gave away both Joe and Jessica’s secrets should alarm the other players. If I was out there, I’d be looking to vote Cole out. Cole is an ally that neither Jessica or Mike can control. And now that they are in swapped tribes, Cole’s physical value is far less important. I think that Mike would enjoy playing the game with Ben and Lauren, and I think he needs to take the opportunity- if the tribe loses immunity. But as long as they are the strongest tribe, then all Mike needs to do is to be friendly with Ben and Lauren, and see what happens. No point making an enemy of Cole just yet.
On the Soko tribe, they might need to make decisions. They don’t have the physical strength of the Yawa tribe, and they will likely visit Tribal Council in the next week. They have the same makeup of the Levu tribe- two groups of two, and then a potential swing vote in the middle. Whereas the Levu tribe quickly moved to secure Devon’s vote, we didn’t see anybody on the Soko tribe interacting with Roark, or trying to form relationships there. All we saw of the relationships on the Soko tribe was that Ryan and Chrissy formed a quick connection.
I feel like Ryan and Chrissy might be able to pull off what Randy couldn’t. They have found someone that they want to play the game with, and from the sounds of things, these two are completely loyal to each other. I think that Chrissy would vote JP out before she voted against Ryan. Not only do they have the connection that came with Ryan gifting Chrissy the super idol, but Ryan is exactly the type of player that Chrissy wants to play the game with. On the Heroes beach, when she was looking for allies, Chrissy already told the audience that JP isn’t the guy she wants to play with. She wants someone that she can strategise with, someone who can help her game, and JP, bless him, just doesn’t have it in him. Nobody seems to put much value on JP, who has been referred to as a puppy, running after whoever has treats for him. On the other hand, Ryan is someone who understands the game and sees the game in much the same way that Chrissy does. Ryan is the partner in the game that Chrissy has been looking for all along, and I think that the two of them will continue to be loyal to each other
But at the same time, where Randy joined Kota, and in doing so turned his back on Fang completely, both Chrissy and Ryan have alliances with original tribemates that they are going to be able to return to. If Chrissy and Ryan continue to stay together, then they might be able to become the anchors in a Heroes and Hustlers alliance, which would put them in an incredibly powerful position at the merge. Ben, Chrissy, Ryan and Devon playing the game together would be fantastic to watch. For the Soko tribe, voting Roark out makes a lot of sense. The Healers are the biggest threats in the game, simply due to numbers. If Roark is to stick around, she needs to offer herself up as the swing vote, and hitch herself to either the Heroes or the Hustlers. She needs to make friendships and make them quickly. I’d love to see her do it– I think that Roark certainly has more to offer the season than we have seen from her so far. But she is in an incredibly dangerous position, and in a tribe of five, I don’t know if she has enough room to make the necessary moves to get to the merge.
And then we have the Levu tribe. Where there was seemingly no thought of any cross-tribal alliances, just a mad rush to get the swing vote, Devon, onside. Ultimately, Devon formed a bond with Ashley, and decided to side with the Heroes, putting Joe and Desi on the bottom. Of course, between Jessica nullifying Devon’s vote and Joe playing his idol, it didn’t ultimately matter where Devon was voting. Joe and Desi were safe, and Alan was sent home.
I think that for both of the women on the Levu tribe, copying Randy’s move and abandoning their original tribemates should have been something that they considered. For Ashley, she ended up swapped on a tribe with Alan, who she had been campaigning against since the first Tribal Council. Alan hadn’t made his distrust of Ashley a secret. He was openly accusing her and JP of being a power couple, and telling the other Heroes that they needed to be broken up. Add that to Alan’s extreme paranoia that he displayed during the first three days, and Ashley had plenty of reasons to separate herself from Alan. In the end, though, they stuck together. I wonder how much of that was deliberate, and how much of that was just that Ashley didn’t seem to get any time to bond with Desi or Joe– they were targeting her from the beginning. Ashley stuck tight with Alan, and it served her well. He did actually end up being loyal to her. And now, thanks to Joe’s idol, she only has Devon left. Can she trust him to stick with her? Or can she and Devon break up the Joe and Desi pair?
The Joe and Desi pairing makes even less sense than Ashley sticking with Alan. At least from what we saw on screen, Ashley came into the swap not trusting Alan, but once they realised that they were together, they pledged loyalty, and Alan gave Ashley no reason to distrust him. From what we saw, they may have had their differences at the original Heroes beach, but on the new Levu tribe, they were in lock step. Joe and Desi, on the other hand? Not so much.
We can assume that Desi was on board with Cole’s plan to blindside Joe with the idol on the original Healers tribe. We saw that she was irritated with Joe, and hadn’t seen her have any strategic conversations with him. While Joe hadn’t been targeting her, the two hadn’t been working together. And then when they realised that they had been swapped to the same tribe, Joe assumed that he had Desi’s loyalty without really giving her any reason to stay loyal at all. In fact, he did the opposite, making plans without consulting her, alienating Devon by outright lying to him, and deliberately trying to pull all the votes to himself so that he could play the idol. Joe had plenty of ideas, and some of them were great, but Joe wasn’t working with Desi. He’s a one-man show, and she can come along for the ride, but she is a passenger in Joe’s game at best. He’s not making Desi feel like she has a voice.
And so next week, if Levu lose immunity again- and if there is a puzzle involved, then I think that is quite likely, I don’t think anyone should be willing to go to rocks. Desi shouldn’t have any loyalty to Joe. In fact, getting rid of Joe will lessen the target on her back. She should absolutely be willing to cut Joe if necessary. The other option is to work on Devon and Ashley. How loyal are they to each other? Would either be willing to join the Healers if it came down to it? Going to rocks in episode five would make for great television, but it would be really silly gameplay. And I think this tribe is smarter than that. Somebody is going to have to make the choice– what is more important, original tribal bonds, or new alliances?