It was extremely satisfying to watch this episode, and see the Brains three emerge intact. I can’t help but root for Aubry and Debbie, and even Joe, despite the fact that he adds very little to the show, and his confessionals show almost no willingness to do anything to improve his position. They’ve been set up as the underdogs, and as the audience, we are cheering for them to somehow prevail against the odds. Not only have Aubry and Debbie been set up as such strong characters, but their main opponent is Jason, someone who has been getting a ‘bully’ edit right from the very first episode. If Jason is the villain of the season, then there has to be a hero, and at the moment, Aubry and Debbie are fulfilling that role. While I enjoyed Nick’s two episodes in the limelight, and found him to be entertaining and sometimes insightful in confessional, I was happy to let go of Nick if it meant that Debbie and Aubry got to stick around a little longer.
The story of the underdog is a well-used one on Survivor. The story of Mike Holloway in Survivor: Worlds Apart comes to mind, where he had a huge alliance gunning for him, and trying desperately to beat him at every challenge. Against all odds (and with the assistance of an immunity idol), Mike won enough immunity challenges to get himself to the Final Tribal Council, where he was rewarded with the million dollars. It was a satisfying end to an epic underdog story. Not every underdog ends up victorious, but even if the underdog doesn’t end up succeeding, they are still vital to the show. Survivor may be a game show, but it is also presented as a narrative. And narratives don’t work unless the audience is invested in the story. There needs to be a hero to cheer for. There needs to be a villain, whose eventual downfall is coming. And there needs to be some suspense as well- there needs to be more than one person who could conceivably win the season. These elements mean that the Survivor editors love a good underdog story, and will milk it for all it is worth.
There are so many places that we could have gone for this week’s lesson in Survivor history. There are just so many people who have been in the same position as the Brains tribe are currently in- down in the numbers, ostracised by the majority, and completely powerless in the game. Because she has always been one of my favourite characters, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going to season eight, Survivor: All Stars, and the sixth place finisher, the Shiidevil herself, Shii Ann Huang.
Like Aubry, Debbie and Joe, Shii Ann was in a great position in her original tribe. She began the game on the Mogo Mogo tribe, along with Jenna Morasca (who quit the game on day 9), Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien, Colby Donaldson, Richard Hatch and Lex van den Berghe. She formed a tight partnership with Kathy, who in turn was close to Lex and Colby. Shii Ann played a quiet, under-the-radar game, voting with the majority of the tribe, and trying not to make waves.
When the three tribes merged into two, the Mogo Mogo tribe acquired Ethan Zohn and Jerri Manthey. Shii Ann remained part of the majority alliance and helped to vote out Richard, Colby and Ethan. Although the Mogo Mogo tribe were down in the numbers, they remained confident. This was an All Stars season, and everybody playing the game had pre-existing relationships. Lex was sure that at the merge, Tom Buchanan would vote with Mogo Mogo. Kathy had a pre-existing relationship with Rob Mariano- they had both been on season four, Survivor: Marquesas together, and remained close.
An unusual tribe swap gave Mogo Mogo the opportunity to take control of the game, when all Mogo Mogo members were ‘swapped’ over to the opposing Chapera tribe. All previous Chapera tribe members, with the exception of Amber Brkich, were swapped to the Mogo Mogo tribe. At the next Tribal Council, Lex, Kathy and Shii Ann had the opportunity to vote Amber out, taking out one-half of the most powerful pair in the game. Without Amber, Rob and his alliance would lose the numerical advantage. The two tribes would go into the merge with even numbers, and Lex was confident that Tom would vote with him. Had they voted out Amber here, then Shii Ann would have been in an excellent position to win the game- safe in the majority alliance, and not considered a threat by anyone. But of course, Lex and Kathy famously relied on their pregame friendship with Rob. Instead of voting out his closest ally, they voted out Jerri, believing that when they got to the merge, they would now be part of Rob’s alliance. During this vote, Shii Ann behaved in much the same way that she had for the entire season. She didn’t want to cause any waves, and so she passively went along with a move that would sink her entire game. She knew that what they were doing was crazy, but Shii Ann’s entire plan in All Stars was not to cause any waves. So she went along with Kathy and Lex’s plan, and voted for Jerri.
When the two tribes merged, Lex and Kathy’s plan failed. Rob made it clear that he had no intention of working with them, and the former Mogo Mogo tribe were on the outs. There were six former Chapera members united against Lex, Kathy and Shii Ann. As a result of keeping Amber in the game, Shii Ann had found herself in the role of the underdog. She tried many different tactics to infiltrate herself into the majority alliance, but she was ultimately unsuccessful and was voted out unanimously in sixth place.
So far this season, it is the Brains tribe who are the clear underdogs. And Aubry had a really interesting quote where she demonstrated her approach to her situation. She said: “I can kind of just sense what’s going on. This is totally like high school. If you look at our camp, and it’s divided by the tough guys, and around them are the girls who are kind of pretty and get along really well with those kind of people, and then kind of the people who are maybe a little shyer, a little bit nerdy on the outside…But the jocks and the pretty people, they’re not going to sit pretty forever. They age and get overripe. And then they’re done. And eventually, the misfits get revenge.”
It seems like Aubry’s strategy, for now, is to wait. She seems to think that the big alliance will inevitably crumble, and that she will get her chance for revenge. She talked about causing some trouble, but we didn’t see her actually make any moves to do so. From the story presented to us on the show, Aubry seemed to be quite defeated. She certainly wasn’t seeking anyone out, or trying to cause any fractures in the opposing alliance. It seemed to be pure luck that Cydney decided to make her move, and therefore the Brains alliance lived to fight another day. Aubry got lucky when Neal was medevaced, as she would have been sent home that night. And she got lucky again when Cydney decided to target Nick. From what we saw, the Brains alliance were not in charge of their own fate this week.
In All Stars, Shii Ann had the opposite strategy. She knew she was on the bottom, and she wasn’t going to wait for anyone to come to her. In fact, she was so proactive about making alliances that Tom joked that she had probably tried to make an alliance with a bush. She went to Rob, trying to become part of his group. When he told her that she wasn’t in his plans, she repeatedly told those in Rob’s alliance that they needed to get rid of either Rob or Amber and offered to help them do so. She loudly told everyone that Amber was in the best position to win the game, and they had to do something about it. She also noticed that people were perceiving Jenna Lewis as bossy and irritating, and tried to exploit that fact to her advantage. But all Shii Ann’s appeals fell on deaf ears, even when she won individual immunity, and the alliance had to turn on each other. No matter how hard she tried, nobody wanted to work with her. In her final words, Shii Ann said: “I really tried. I played this game as hard as I could. I played with the best of the best, but you know what? I knew I was outnumbered, and I knew they were going to vote me off.”
Something that added to the hopelessness of Shii Ann’s situation was that All Stars was unlike any other Survivor season. It was the first ever season to feature returning players, and in order to guarantee that players would be willing to return, CBS changed the prize money. While first place remained the same- one million dollars- every other prize was increased. Even the fourth place finisher still received $100,000. Because of this, the players were much more reticent about making moves. Whereas Cydney was happy to take a risk, knowing that if it backfired she’d be going home tenth instead of making the final five, nobody in All Stars wanted to take any risks at all. As long as they made the top five, they were guaranteed a good amount of prize money. While I’m sure they were all hoping to win the million, nobody in Rob’s alliance was going to be willing to take a chance as big as the chance that Cydney took this week.
The other problem that Shii Ann faced was that people seemingly couldn’t wait to get rid of her. She annoyed them. Alicia was furious with her when she celebrated her immunity win in a way that was deemed to be over the top. Even before that, when Shii Ann had tried to get into an alliance with Alicia, Alicia had quickly rebuffed her, telling her that she would be voted out, and there was nothing that could be done about it. Shii Ann couldn’t stand Jenna, and the feeling was certainly mutual, with the two of them arguing in camp often. Shii Ann simply hadn’t built the relationships necessary to flip the game. I’ve always enjoyed the character of Shii Ann, but I will admit that as a Survivor player, Shii Ann has many, many shortcomings.
I don’t think Aubry and Debbie have made the same mistakes. I think that they were able to sit back this week because they had previously made real connections with the people out there, and they could trust that people wanted to keep them around. I don’t think it was purely luck that Cydney chose this week to make her move. I think that she was presented with the fact that Debbie would be going home, and she knew that Debbie was someone that she could work with. We have seen Debbie and Cydney build a relationship back at the swapped tribes, and it was that relationship that ended up prompting Cydney to make her move so early. Not only is Debbie close to Cydney, but we also saw Nick make an attempt to save Aubry. She’d done enough with Nick to prompt him to risk his game and tell her where the votes were going. If Cydney hadn’t come up with the idea to vote Nick out, I don’t think it is inconceivable to think that Aubry could have convinced Scot and Jason to turn on him anyway. The social skills of the Brains women gave them options. They might be underdogs, and they might identify as misfits, but they haven’t been backed into a corner yet. There’s still hope that the alliance that has been put together this week will remain as the majority- and then I guess Jason and Scot become the new underdogs!
Joe, meanwhile, has seemingly formed no relationships outside of his original tribe whatsoever. I’m not entirely sure that he even knows who Michele is. Joe’s position in the game is really interesting. He’s got the sense to know where he is and feels how powerless he has become, but we don’t see him doing anything about it. He doesn’t talk to anyone, or try to make any new alliances. Presumably, Debbie or Aubry told him to vote for Nick, because Cydney didn’t seem to approach him. He’s not being seen as his own person. Joe is just a puppet, easily controlled, and certainly not seen as a threat.
I don’t think that Joe’s approach to the game is strategic at all. I think that it is just the person that he is. He struggles to adapt to the fast pace of the game, and doesn’t know how to react when things change. Ironically, though, his lack of strategy might be the best strategy possible in his position. The way that Shii Ann made it all the way to sixth place in Survivor: All Stars was by being constantly underestimated. Lex and Kathy were seen as the big threats. Shii Ann was seen as controllable. She just did whatever Lex and Kathy told her to do. Because of that, Lex and Kathy were voted out first. Shii Ann was allowed to stay in the game. She would have been voted out seventh, but she won individual immunity, and came close to winning immunity at the final six vote, and perhaps making it to the final five. Joe is in a similar spot. Should the Brains tribe return to their position as the underdogs, Aubry and Debbie would be the targets. Nobody is coming after Joe. While I don’t think it is a winning strategy, I do think that Joe is doing the right thing if he wants to last longer in the game.
The big topic of Know-It-Alls this week was whether or not Cydney made her move too early. I really do think that if it had been Aubry who was the intended target, then Cydney would have been more likely to bite her tongue. I think the main attraction of making a move so early was that it saved Debbie, who Cydney has wanted to work with for a while. We hadn’t seen Nick interact with Cydney at all, so it makes sense that Nick is far more dispensable to her than Debbie is.
Cydney’s plan moving forward is to work with the women. I think that she recognises that she is a threat, and she will likely have to win immunity in order to get to the Final Tribal Council. Strong as she is, she’s unlikely to beat Jason or Scot in any strength-based challenges. And Tai just showed her that even in the challenge that she should excel in, he can beat her. I think she’s looking at her original alliance, and recognising that physically, she is unlikely to beat them. It makes sense for Cydney to go with the women, knowing that she stands a good chance against any of them. She’s also in a good position in the women’s alliance- Debbie and Aubry are a tight pair, and Michele and Julia are a tight pair. Unless this season gives us a final two (something that I doubt Cydney is considering just yet), then Cydney can go to the Final Three with whichever pair she thinks she could beat. The only thing I’m worried about here is whether Michele and Julia decide to continue with the women’s alliance, or whether they recognise that Jason and Scot are both likely to be goats at the Final Tribal Council. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Michele and Julia decide to work with Jason and Scot at the next vote- we haven’t seen any sign that they are particularly bonded to Cydney.
We’ve also seen that Cydney is incredibly observant, and I think she must have noticed the changing dynamics in her relationship with Jason and Scot. The audience has seen that she is no longer important to them- Scot told Nick and Jason about Tai’s idol and specifically told them not to tell Cydney- and I’m sure that Cydney has been able to read her former allies as well. She’s not in the top three with the Brawn alliance. So she definitely has to make a move against them. Remembering that the Brawn alliance has two idols, I think that Cydney has to move sooner rather than later. She is going to need all the numbers she can get if she wants to circumvent Jason’s idol, Tai’s idol, and possibly the super idol.
Aubry’s quote ended up being prophetic- she was right, the jocks and the pretty people didn’t sit pretty forever. Going forward, I expect that this will continue to be the case. Cydney’s decision has drawn a line in the sand. Even if she wanted to return to the Brawn alliance (which I don’t think she does), she has irreparably changed the way that this game is being played. No longer is everyone sitting comfortable until the final seven. I don’t think there is going to be any more sitting pretty at the Dara camp. The revenge of the misfits is coming. Shii Ann’s story shows us that the underdog doesn’t always come out on top; in fact, they often fall agonisingly short, but they can cause some chaos on their way out the door. With alliances now uncertain, I’m expecting the players remaining to become much more paranoid. And as paranoia increases, I think we’re in for an exciting finish to the season.