Each week in Lessons in Survivor History, I will revisit another season to compare gameplay and draw from the lessons that have been learned.
Lessons in Survivor History: The Biggest Move Is Not the Best Move
This season, particularly the post-swap portion of the game, is not Millennials vs Gen X anymore. The two generations are completely indistinguishable now. As much as Jeff Probst would like us to believe that there is a ‘Millennial’ way to play, and a ‘Gen X’ way to play, there simply isn’t and never has been. For this cast, no matter what age they are, there has been only one way to play- and that is to make big moves, and make them repeatedly. Millennials and Gen Xers alike have been flipping between alliances nearly every week, often to the detriment of their games.
Hannah has flipped on Adam, Zeke and Mari. Then she flipped on Jay. Then she flipped on Zeke. Bret and Sunday were both quick to join Zeke’s alliance, even though he had just blindsided Chris, whom they both considered a strong ally. Zeke has been aligned with a different group virtually every time he has attended Tribal Council. And then we have Will, who is so desperate to be seen making a move that he will flip on anyone- even the one person in the game who has treated him consistently with respect, Jay.
And in the midst of this highly fluid game, we have Ken. This week really highlighted just how out of his depth Ken is right now. He’s surrounded by superfans, who want to play this game at super speed. They are excited to get into the strategy, to be voting people out, and to be making moves. Ken just wants to go fishing. For Ken, strategy has little appeal. He is more concerned with providing for people and making relationships. Usually, this is the person who is most dangerous in the game. He hasn’t hurt anyone. He hasn’t had to betray any allies. He’s just been working hard around camp, building individual friendships, and looking into people’s souls. This can definitely be a winning game- just stay out of the strategy and make sure people like you.
It works for some people, in some games. But it won’t win Ken the game here. And that is because he has been unable to stay out of the strategy. If he had trusted his alliance, then he would have been in a great spot. Will would have been completely on board with voting against Zeke, and much more likely to work with Ken moving forward (especially as Will’s strategy is about eliminating the strategic threats). Zeke would have gone home without Adam spending his idol. And most importantly, Ken doesn’t come off looking foolish. His alliance knows now that he is a liability. He’s no longer such a great person to have on your side. His stock in the game went way down.
In Survivor, I think that self-awareness is the most important skill that you can have: Know what your strengths are. For Ken, he is good at building close friendships. He is good at surviving and providing for his tribe. You also need to understand your weaknesses– and for Ken, this is obviously the strategy element of the game. He should have known that when it comes to strategy, it was best that he deferred to David. Trying to ‘test’ Will’s loyalty was a terrible move, and he nearly cost Hannah her game.
For someone who is only 18, and has presumably very little life experience, I thought that Will demonstrated some impressive self-awareness this week. Although things didn’t end up going exactly as he had planned, I think that his original instincts were good. He was never going to win the game if he stuck with Zeke. I also think that he was on the bottom of that alliance, and that Zeke would have taken Bret and Sunday to the Final Tribal Council. The only path that Will had to the end was to be dragged there as a goat. It was impressive that Will realised this. Too many people are delusional enough to go to the end with a much stronger player and still believe that they can win. So credit to Will for seeing his position in the game. And once you realise that you are becoming a minor player, and are not in a position to win, absolutely you should do as Will did and try to change things up. The question for me isn’t whether or not he should have made a move because I absolutely think that he needed to do something to change his fate in the game. Where I do question Will is in the execution of the move. So to have a look at how not to make big moves, we are going back to season 23, Survivor: South Pacific for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, and we are looking at the game of third place finisher, Albert Destrade.
Albert started the game on the Upolu tribe, along with eight other first time players, and Coach Wade, who was returning to play the game for the third time. Survivor: South Pacific was an unusual season for a few reasons- there was one returning player on each tribe, Redemption Island was in play, and this was the last season that there was no tribe swap. Because of this, initial bonds were crucial, and Albert proved to be good at creating those bonds. On the very first day of the game, Albert and Coach, along with eventual winner Sophie Clarke, Rick Nelson and Brandon Hantz, made an alliance and that alliance proved strong, and throughout the tribal phase of the game. They voted together, eliminating Christine Shields-Markoski, Stacey Powell, and Mikayla Wingle.
There were some cracks within the alliance. On the Mikayla vote, Albert and Sophie had wanted to keep Mikayla in the game and vote out Coach’s close ally Edna Ma. Brandon was insistent that Mikayla was untrustworthy and should be sent home. In the end, Brandon got his way, and Mikayla was sent to Redemption Island. The other problem within the alliance was that Coach was being seen as the clear leader. The others within the alliance were able to hide behind him and use them as a shield, but they were also seeing that it was Coach that was receiving all of the credit for their moves.
At the merge, both tribes had equal numbers, with six people each. When Upolu were able to convince John Cochran to flip and vote with them, they assumed control of the game, and voted out the opposing Savaii members one by one. It was at this point that Albert’s game began to fall apart. Like Will, Albert was in a position where he was likely to get to the end of the game, but unlikely to win. And also like Will, Albert was self-aware enough to realise that there was a problem. And so, he made up his mind that he was going to do everything that he could to try and win the game.
Ultimately, Albert was successful in reaching the Final Tribal Council. But all of his efforts along the way were fruitless- he received zero votes, and Sophie, who had been his ally since the very first day of the game, was declared the winner. So, where did Albert go wrong, and how can Will avoid making the same mistakes?
What relationships do you have?
Part of Albert’s strategy was to attempt to build good will with the Savaii members, who would be sitting on the jury. His way of doing this was to constantly promise to work with them, only to renege on the promise and continue to vote with his alliance. He let them believe that they had hope in the game, only to tell them that he couldn’t get the numbers together, and that they would be going home. He continually tried to make the big moves, but instead of creating bonds with the jury, he was actually just destroying any chance that he had to win. At the Final Tribal Council, one of the Savaii members, Whitney Duncan, said to Albert, “Albert, you are sleazy. Little sleazy. I felt like you buttered people up when you knew they were leaving the game, and I don’t feel like you had any real intention to make a big move against your alliance.”
To be fair to Albert, he actually did have intentions of moving against his alliance– but every time that he presented Sophie with an idea for a big move, she shot it down, pointing out that the best way for them to win the game was to stick with Upolu. Albert wasn’t wrong to stick with his alliance. If he had voted with Savaii, then he would never have made the Final Tribal. Just look at Cochran’s game– he flipped to vote with Upolu and was voted out in seventh place. Because of the lack of tribe swap, Survivor: South Pacific wasn’t a season that was going to reward big moves. Albert had no relationships at all with the Savaii members, and putting his game into their hands would have been the wrong move. They had no incentive to work with him.
Unlike Albert, Will actually went through with his big move. He isn’t going to be accused of leading people on. He told David that he was ready to start playing hard, and he meant it. He followed through on his intentions. My question is whether or not his timing was correct. He doesn’t seem to have any solid relationships with the people on David’s side. He had a relationship with Hannah from his time on Ikabula, but last week he was saying that he didn’t trust Hannah at all and voted against her. He clearly doesn’t like or trust Ken and has no reason to. We haven’t seen him bonding with either David or Adam. Deciding to join this alliance would be a terrible play for Will.
I think that ultimately, Will’s plan is to swing back and vote with Jay again. Now that Zeke, the biggest threat in the game, is gone perhaps Will feels like he can step into that power vacuum. Perhaps he knows that he doesn’t have sufficient relationships within David’s alliance, and so he will try and return to Jay. The question is: Has he already burnt those bridges? By voting out Zeke, has he destroyed any chance of a working relationship with Bret and Sunday? And, should those people all end up on the jury, is Will going to be able to get any of their votes?
Will gave his reason for voting against Zeke in confessional, when he said “despite the moves I made, despite the things that I have done in this game, people still don’t give me the credit I deserve, and that can ruin my shot at winning this game.” The trouble is that when you start to see Survivor as a series of moves that you have made and forget about the relationships that you are meant to be forging, that can also ruin your shot at winning this game. Albert made it to the end, but people saw his attempts at friendship as phony. They realised that he was more interested in them as chess pieces that he could make moves with and hadn’t seen them as people. At the moment, Will is facing the same problem.
Is this move going to help or hurt your game?
Albert’s biggest move in the game came when only the members of his alliance were left in the game. Although Sophie had been Albert’s closest ally throughout the game, he began to recognise how strong she was. He didn’t want to go to the end with her anymore, fearing (correctly) that he would lose. His ideal final three was himself, Coach and Rick, and Albert wanted to vote Sophie out of the game immediately. Coach’s plan was to vote against Brandon who then won immunity.
When the tribe came back to camp, there was a huge confrontation between Albert and Rick. Now that Brandon had immunity, Albert wanted to work with him. And Rick was furious, telling Brandon that Albert had made a final three deal with him and Coach. Albert’s only real big move in the game- flipping on his original ally Sophie, and creating a new final three deal- blew up in his face. From this point, Albert had no chance at all to win the game. Albert’s attempt to work with Brandon made Rick angry. His decision to create a new final three alliance angered Sophie, and Rick, Coach and Sophie would all have voted Albert out of the game at that Tribal Council. They would have– except that Brandon had other plans. He decided that Albert was his only friend in the game, and, as a ‘Christian man’, Brandon handed over his immunity necklace to Albert. It quickly became apparent that Coach, Rick and Sophie would vote Brandon out of the game, and Albert had the choice between giving Brandon back the necklace– a move which would have seen him voted out– or keeping the necklace and looking awful in front of the jury. He held onto the necklace, Brandon was voted out, and in the Final Tribal Council, Albert was blasted for his duplicity.
Albert had been waiting all throughout the game for his big move to happen. And he would have had a better chance to win if he had just followed Sophie’s advice and stuck to the plan. Will’s made his big move now. But was it detrimental to his game? I really think that it was. If he was so worried about eliminating threats, then why not try and go for David? Are they really going to remain afraid of his phantom idol forever? It would actually have been the perfect time to make the move, because if David did somehow manage to find another immunity idol, the person going home would have been Zeke anyway. Instead, Will flipped on his alliance, presumably angering three people. And he did it in such a way that he didn’t gain any relationships with his new alliance either. There is no point making a big move just for the sake of making a move. Will talked a lot about building his résumé, but I don’t think that a jury votes for a résumé. They want to feel good about their vote. And generally, people don’t feel good about being outsmarted by a high school student. To be honest, I still believe that Will had very little chance of winning the game whether he makes this move or not. But his ‘big move’, which he thought was so pivotal to him winning the game, has actually destroyed what little chance he had.
Owning your game
Albert’s big move ended up putting him in a terrible position to win jury votes, and at Final Tribal Council, Albert somehow managed to make things even worse when he failed to own up to what he had done. Brandon had one question for Albert at the Final Tribal Council. All he wanted to know was whether or not Albert had known that Brandon was going to be voted out when he gave up immunity. Albert attempted to dodge the question, before finally answering him with ‘no’. Brandon knew he was lying, and voted for Sophie to win. Not only was Albert’s move bad, but he didn’t even get credit for making it.
Will made his move, but Adam playing the idol for Hannah, ended up taking all of the credit. This was Adam’s night. They didn’t need Will on board. He wasn’t in the position of power that he thought he was. He might have thought that he was the most important player in the game, but in reality he has become the most disposable. He’s now the only person out there without any allies. And instead of Will emerging from this Tribal Council with the respect of the other players, he came across looking anything but respectable. You can’t take credit for a move that you actually ended up having no control over. Adam’s idol play meant that Will could have voted with either group, and made no difference to the outcome at all. It wasn’t exactly the coming out party that he had imagined.
At Tribal Council, everyone was playing to Will’s ego, and Jay in particular, told him that they had made moves together and that they had been equals in the game. However, in confessional, Jay told us that Will was “just a young kid, trying to prove himself to the whole world.” Jay might have been saying all of the right things to get Will on his side, but he actually has very little respect for Will’s game, even after Will made the big move to try and vote with David’s alliance. Will flipping didn’t even make Jay particularly angry. He just dismissed it as the misguided efforts of a kid. I think that Jay’s confessional sums up the way that the cast sees Will. He’s just a young kid. And no amount of huffing and puffing, or talking about his résumé, is going to change that.
Now that the big move is done
Will can’t take it back now. He voted against Zeke. He could go for the Adam Klein apology, tell Jay, Bret and Sunday that he completely destroyed their games, and hope for the best. He could continue to play his scorched earth game, and use Bret, Sunday and Jay to make a move against David. He could decide that an alliance with David and Hannah is his best chance moving forward. One thing that he has in his favour is that there is plenty of game left to play, and he has got plenty of options.
Albert made his mistake too late in the game. There was no correcting himself– he’d messed up, and the jury knew it. Will still has moves available to him. Perhaps if he can manoeuvre in such a way as to vote out the biggest threats, and end up sitting with two goats at the end, he might be able to pull it off. But for Will, the important thing is not to get hung up on making big moves. At the end of the game, nobody is going to be interested in his résumé. The jury are going to want to know how he related to them as people. And so Will needs to stop seeing people as pawns and start making some real friendships. Otherwise he can make all the big moves in the world, but he will never get himself into a winning position.
For more blogs this season: RHAP Survivor Blog Schedule.