When I was watching the finale of Second Chances and the preview for Kaoh Rong was shown, one question obviously stood out- why is CBS hyping up the medevacs for this season? The conclusion that a lot of fans (including me) came to was that the season was going to be lacklustre. The only reason to watch this season was to see people get hurt. Three episodes in, it has become clear that our expectations for this season were far too low. This is a dynamic cast, with so many interesting plot points and so many possible winners. But it is unavoidable- the medevacs are coming, and they are going to change the course of the game.
As a commentator, it makes it difficult. The previews have indicated that at least one player will be evacuated from the game next week. Does this mean that the remaining 14 players will be spared Tribal Council? Traditionally in three tribe seasons, this is the time that the three tribes merge into two. This suggests that there will be no Tribal Council next week, and every player who manages to get through the challenge without being medically evacuated will make the tribe swap. And from the tribe swap, everyone’s position in the game changes.
Usually, at the tribe swap the biggest threats find themselves targeted. Winning challenges is no longer the most important thing, especially if you want to protect your allies on the other tribe. Players like Jason, Scot and Peter, who have been protected because they are assets in the challenges, are going to find themselves in trouble. Conversely, someone like Alecia, who has been on the chopping block since day one, should be able to sit back and relax for a while. She’s the least powerful person in the game, and unless she does something ridiculously stupid, she should be safe.
Alecia’s position in the game is so good right now because she has been underestimated the whole time. That seems so far to be the story of the season. Alecia keeps being overlooked, and yet she is still in the game (and has the potential to destroy the games of Cydney, Scot and Jason in a tribe swap). Peter and Liz underestimate the entire Brains tribe and end up paying the price. The truth is that every player out there should be regarded as dangerous. Underestimate the other players at your own peril. For this reason, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going back to season 16, Survivor: Micronesia, and 12th place finisher, Tracy Hughes-Wolf.
Tracy played in the first Fans vs Favourites season, and she started on the Fans tribe. The Fans tribe can be best described as dysfunctional. In fact, they were so dysfunctional that they ended up building two separate shelters- one for the ‘older’ members of the tribe- Tracy, Chet Welch and Kathy Sleckman- and one for the seven younger members. Within the younger members, there were two alpha males vying for a position of leadership.
Tracy was in a terrible position. She was in an alliance of three, and the three of them were completely shunned by the rest of the tribe. It seemed certain that once the Fans tribe lost a challenge, it would be a member of Tracy’s alliance that would go home. Kathy had an immunity idol that granted her immunity at one Tribal Council, but Tracy was unprotected. Although the Fans won the first challenge, they did lose the second. Tracy’s ally Chet put in a woeful challenge performance, and the tribe were determined to vote him out. At this point, Tracy could have played the ‘anyone but me’ game. She could have allowed her allies to get voted out, wait and hope for a lucky tribe swap. But Tracy instead took her fate into her own hands, much to the surprise of her tribemates.
Tracy noticed the power struggle that was going on in the younger alliance. Mikey Bortone seemed to be the leader, but Joel Anderson harboured his own ambitions. When it looked like Chet would be voted out, Tracy went to Joel and offered herself as a pawn. She told Joel that he could use the votes of Kathy, Chet and himself to take control of the tribe, and that proved to be a tempting offer. Using Tracy’s alliance, Joel made a move against Mikey’s closest ally, Mary Sartain.
At this point, Tracy was still on the bottom. She was still on an alliance of three in a nine-person tribe. But now she had a foothold with Joel. And so when the fans returned to Tribal Council, Tracy was able to convince Joel to once again use her as a pawn. She told Joel that if he voted Chet out of the game, he would never again have the numbers that he needed to move against Mikey. Joel was seduced by the promise of power, and he voted with Tracy and her alliance. Mikey was sent home.
At this point, it was Tracy who was essentially deciding who went home on the Fans tribe. She’d saved Chet from elimination twice, and directed the vote towards the younger members of the tribe. But despite this, nobody in the tribe seemed to be wary of her. They all seemed to take it for granted that they would be able to vote her out whenever they wanted. Nobody saw her as a serious player. Like so many players this season, the Fans tribe made the mistake of underestimating a player who actually possessed some serious Survivor skill. They were expecting Tracy to be their pawn. They didn’t see her strategic ability. And for Joel, it led to his downfall.
When the tribe swap arrived, Tracy and Chet remained together, along with Joel and Erik Reichenbach. They were sent to the Malakal tribe, along with four of the original Favourites, Cirie Fields, Ami Cusack, Ozzy Lusth and Amanda Kimmel. With four Fans and four Favourites, it should have been a deadlocked vote. But Joel was keen to work with Ozzy, and was looking to vote out the weakest challenge performer- Chet. Tracy again worked to save her ally, and when Cirie realised that Joel was targeting the weak members of the tribe, she turned the vote on him. Tracy joined the Favourites to vote Joel out.
From here, Tracy’s luck ran out. The Favourites now had the upper hand, and Tracy’s closest ally Chet had pretty much given up. When Chet asked to be voted out, the tribe happily obliged him. This left Tracy alone in the game, and despite trying to turn the game against Ozzy, she was unable to gather enough votes. After an impressive run in the game, Tracy was sent home in 12th place.
The reason that Tracy was able to do so much damage in Micronesia was that she was constantly overlooked. Nobody seemed to see her for the schemer that she actually was. Even right to the end, Ami was hoping to use Tracy as a pawn against Ozzy. If it wasn’t for the unlucky tribe swap, Tracy was actually a real threat to win the game- but nobody ever noticed. It probably wasn’t until they were watching the show from home that they realised how manipulative Tracy really had been out there.
This season, there are numerous candidates who are being, like Tracy, underestimated and forgotten. Alecia is an obvious one. From day one, she was the obvious candidate for elimination. But Brawn has chosen to allow her to stick around, twice choosing to vote out the person that they believed was the bigger threat. Both times, they returned to camp questioning the wisdom of their decision. But they honestly seem to think that Alecia is incapable of doing anything effective in the game. The mindset is that they can always vote Alecia out ‘next time’. But with the upcoming medevac, I don’t think they’re going to get another opportunity.
Last week, the Brawn Tribe allowed Alecia to search for the idol, supremely confident that she was never going to be able to find it. Wasn’t it delightful when it was, in fact, Alecia who ended up finding the clue? Unfortunately for Alecia, she immediately shared the clue with Cydney, which led to Jason finding it, but the fact is, it was Alecia who found the clue. She isn’t as clueless as the Brawn Tribe think she is.
In week one, I wrote about how the Brawn Tribe were courting danger with their treatment of Alecia. They are making it quite clear that she is on the bottom of the alliance and have given her no incentive to stay loyal to them. When she hits the tribe swap, she’ll definitely be on the lookout for someone to work with. And if anyone is even a little bit friendly to her, she’ll be tempted to ally with them. She’s told us that nobody in the Brawn Tribe ever asked her to be in an alliance with them, so she has no sense of loyalty towards them. If she ends up in the position where she could send Jason home, I can’t see her hesitating.
And yet, the smartest move for her would probably be to stay loyal. Jason has an immunity idol, so it is unlikely he will be voted out immediately. Like Sierra Thomas in Survivor: Worlds Apart, Alecia may emotionally want to flip on her allies. But she stands the best chance of winning if she can get to the end with two objectionable people. If Jason can leverage his idol, and Alecia stays loyal, there’s a good chance that the four Brawn members can make a deep run. The other tribes are both fractured. It may end up as it did in Cagayan, where the Brains Tribe were decimated pre-swap, but two of the three that remained were able to make the final four. Once Alecia gets near the end, there’s every chance that Jason will want to carry her there, believing that she’ll never get the votes of the jury. And sitting next to Jason (assuming he treats everyone with the same amount of respect that he is treating Alecia) and Scot (the former NBA player who definitely doesn’t need the money), I think that the little blonde girl that has been so underestimated actually has a great shot of winning.
The Brains, or more accurately, Peter and Liz, were also channelling their inner Joel Anderson this week. When are players going to learn that you cannot simply dismiss people because of their age- in fact, you cannot simply dismiss anyone on Survivor, period. Trying to play under the radar and hoping that you will be underestimated is a legitimate strategy. I think several of the players this season are using that strategy successfully. But no one is playing that strategy better than Debbie.
Last week I wrote that I thought Debbie was far more self-aware than she appeared. She’s got the self-awareness to name Coach as the player that she is most like. And this week, she showed that she was absolutely self-aware about her position in the tribe. Despite her incessant talking and bragging, she knows that nobody is taking her seriously. She said, “You know, the beautiful thing about what I’m doing is that nobody really pays attention to me, and that is precisely what I want.” The more Debbie does Debbie things- the wacky cheerleading, the numerous jobs- the more she is dismissed. Peter dismissed her and Joe as “goats”. Liz saw them as being disconnected from the game, loyal soldiers that could be ordered around. She even went so far as to call her the “court jester”.
Liz and Peter had their hearts set on working with Joe and Debbie because they saw them as pawns. Peter went so far as to call them “clay”. Liz and Peter were looking for players who they could trust to remain loyal, and do as they were told. Joe, who we haven’t seen talking about the game at all, and Debbie, who is consistently doing and saying crazy things, seemed to fit that bill. But like Tracy in Micronesia, Debbie simply refused to roll over and do what Liz and Peter wanted her to do. Like Tracy in Micronesia, Debbie is a secret strategist, overlooked by everyone.
Debbie was afraid that Liz and Peter weren’t being sincere in their offers of an alliance, and so, thinking she was in trouble, she hurried to sure up the votes of Neal and Aubry. She was wrong- Liz and Peter absolutely wanted to work with her and Joe. But now she is moving forward in an alliance where she has a voice. She isn’t just going to be told what to do. Although the plan was to vote out Liz, Aubry decided that due to Peter’s unbearably condescending attitude, he deserved to go home. She didn’t go to Neal to discuss this possible change in strategy. She went to Debbie. And ultimately, as much as Aubry doesn’t seem to like Peter, Debbie got her way. Liz was the one who went home. Debbie had the choice to either mindlessly follow Peter and Liz, or to take control of her own fate with Aubry and Liz. Much like Tracy Hughes-Wolf, Debbie is a woman who likes to be in control.
For Tracy, taking control was not a winning strategy. Ultimately, I don’t think taking control was what lost her the game. I think it was the tribe swap that was her undoing. I don’t see Debbie as playing a winning game either. Sure, she’ll be able to float under the radar for a bit longer. She’ll keep playing the part of wacky Debbie, and keep being overlooked as a threat. But the trouble is going to be convincing the others to vote for her in the end. She’s already got everyone convinced that she is a joke. The over the top cheerleading routine ensured that all three tribes see her as the court jester. Nobody sees Debbie as an actual game threat.
One thing that I loved about Debbie’s move this week was the way that she pulled it off. Like Tracy, Debbie worked behind the scenes. She didn’t need to be seen as the mastermind. The way that she pitched the alliance to Aubry made it seem that it was Neal holding the alliance together. At Tribal, any plan to vote Peter out of the game was attributed to Neal. She didn’t need to get the credit for what happened. Debbie had made sure that she was safe in the game, and that was all that mattered. Tracy managed to hide her strategic side by giving Joel the credit for her moves. Debbie is using Neal in a similar way. We didn’t see much of Neal’s thoughts in this episode. Does he know that Debbie’s decision was what saved his game? Or does he see himself the same way Joel did, as the new tribe leader? If Debbie can continue to hide behind Neal, then she is in a great position going into the swap. She’s in a strong alliance with people that she likes. But nobody from the other tribes is going to think to target her. In the short term, she should be safe. But I’m not sure she’s in a winning position. Should she make the end, it is going to be tough to convince people to give her the money, especially after her continuous talking has irritated them all for 39 days straight.
For Debbie to win this game, she needs to worry less about the big moves, and more about her social game. We see in her relationship with Aubry that she can win people over. She can form genuine connections out there. She needs to do more of the motherly comforting, and less of the crazy antics. They’ll still overlook her- she is, after all, the token older woman, and that person is traditionally overlooked. But while they overlook her, they won’t dismiss her entirely. She wants to be underestimated. But she shouldn’t want them all seeing her as the ultimate goat.
Over on the Beauty Tribe, they may be underestimating Tai, but I think the truth is that they are so laid back that anyone being gone for any length of time doesn’t raise suspicion. Anna seems to be extremely confident that she is in control right now, and the all-girls alliance won’t be broken. But the Beauty Tribe won’t be together for much longer, and unless one of them is medevaced, they’ll presumably all make the swap. But what Anna (and by extension Julia and Michele) has done really well is to build a huge alliance. I think that she knew that after winning the first two challenges, Beauty wasn’t going to have to vote too many people out. Going into the swap, the Beauty Tribe is in the best position. They have a solid five. Brawn has a strong three, with Alecia who could easily be swayed. Brains have two groups of two, with Peter as the outsider. Not only do the girls have the allegiance of Tai and Caleb sewn up, they have also managed to keep Nick in the fold. We aren’t seeing Nick worried about his position in the tribe, and I think that in the event of a swap, he’ll stay loyal, never really knowing that had Beauty visited Tribal, he was the presumptive boot.
This is the way to play the game- not treating anyone like a pawn, as Joel saw Tracy, or as clay to mold, as Peter saw Debbie- but to take every person seriously, knowing that you might need them down the road. The Beauty alliance are playing smart games. I just hope they don’t find their game destroyed by medevacs. We know they are coming. We just have to hope that their impact on the game is minimal.