This was the week that makes me feel unsure if I know anything about Survivor at all. I knew that Worlds Apart was shaping up to be an unpredictable season, but it is only the second week, and already nearly all of my preseason predictions are looking wrong. White collar not only didn’t lose the second immunity challenge- but they won it handily, a feat that last week I would have said was near impossible. Rodney, who was absolutely, definitely going to be pre-merge cannon fodder, has turned out to be a strong strategic and social player, who is the leader of the majority alliance in the only tribe that has yet to visit Tribal Council. And most heartbreakingly, my winner’s pick, who I was so confident in- Joe- has fallen in my estimation significantly this week. Last week, I was feeling great about Joe. He made fire without flint! He made alliances! He blitzed the physical part of the challenge! And then he successfully completed a difficult puzzle! Joe had all the physical skills of Ozzy, but with the social and puzzle making skills of Cirie. He had such an impressive opening episode. And then came this week, where Joe is looking more like Ozzy, and less like Cirie, and certainly less like a viable winners pick.
The fact that we are still in the early tribal stages of the game, and yet the game is so difficult to predict makes it a really exciting time to be a Survivor fan. If I were doing power rankings last week, I would have had Vince in the top half for sure. And his exit was seemingly due to Nina’s conversation with Will, which Vince can’t really be held responsible for. Before the game started, I would have pegged Mike as the safest person out there, but now it is looking like he is at the centre of the conflict on the blue collar tribe. Mike’s strange obsession with working and collecting firewood may just save Dan from the place in Losers’ Lodge that was coming his way. I was shocked that white collar, who voted out their strongest female competitor, was the tribe that broke the Saboga Curse that I wrote about last week. They blitzed that challenge. Maybe puzzles are just white collar kryptonite! I am hoping that Worlds Apart can continue to be this unpredictable- it’s going to be a great season.
This week we got to see much more of the dynamics of the no collar tribe, and their experience has certainly not been as idyllic as last week’s episode led us to believe. We have seen the division in the blue collar tribe, and after one Tribal Council, we know some of the dynamics in the white collar tribe, although I still think that there is still some mystery as to where Tyler stands, and if Joaquin will be used as a spare vote by anybody, or simply disposed of if they have to visit Tribal again. They don’t have the pressing need for his strength anymore- the tribe swap is coming and loyalty is going to start to be more important than strength.
In no collar, we have a core alliance of Joe, Jenn and Hali, bonded together by their similar ages, interests and enjoyment of skinny dipping. With a young, cute group of players setting themselves up against the older, less conventionally attractive crowd, coupled with a surprising amount of nudity and a deaf contestant feeling isolated, we could only be going to one place in Survivor history. For this week’s lesson in Survivor History, we are going to season six, Survivor: The Amazon, and to eighth place finisher, Deena Bennett.
Season six was played with two tribes of eight, and for the first time in Survivor history, the tribes were divided by gender. On the all-female tribe, Jabiru, a division quickly formed. On one side of the tribe were the self-described “younger, cuter girls”- Heidi Strobel, Jenna Morasca and Shawna Mitchell. On the other side, the older women were bonding together- in particular Jeanne Hebert and Joanna Ward. The older women assumed that Deena was with them, but Deena recognised her position as the swing vote between the two alliances.
Traditionally, the swing vote is a dangerous spot to be in. Yes, you are the all-important decision maker at that one tribal council. But then you find yourself at the bottom of whichever alliance you chose to align with, never completely trusted, and never truly accepted as part of the group. The decision that Deena had to make was one that was very similar to the decision facing Will this week. And although Deena used different logic to make her decision, the results were the same. Both of them chose to align with the younger group in the tribe, putting themselves on the bottom of a tight friendship, and abandoning a seemingly better position with the older members. For Deena, the move paid off, and she was in a great spot at the merge. It will be interesting to see if Will can make his decision work for him the same way.
In the Amazon, the younger girl’s alliance was an alliance built on friendships and what they had in common. In Heidi’s words, “the cuter girls, me and Jenna and Shawna, kind of went off from the older women because we’re younger and we’re cuter; we’ve got better bodies”. The three girls seemed to have a friendship that was impenetrable, and coincidentally, just like our season 30 young and cute alliance, it also ostracised a deaf contestant (Christy Smith). Deena’s other choice, the alliance of Jeanne and Joanna, wasn’t exactly an appealing choice either. They were a tight twosome, and Joanna’s main strategy in the game so far had been to announce that she didn’t want to win immunity because the immunity idol offended God and was therefore bad luck. They weren’t a group that Deena was going to be able to work with strategically. In between the two groups was Christy, who was not getting along with anybody, feeling isolated by the younger girls, and having shouting matches with Joanna.
Deena went with the alliance that she thought would be easier to control, and also the alliance she trusted the most. Jeanne and Joanna were both strong-willed people, who were unlikely to listen to any strategic advice. It was on Jeanne’s recommendation that Deena had become the camp leader, a position that she knew was risky. Deena had the ability to come across as bossy, and Jeanne and Joanna had known that when they nominated her as the leader. Jeanne and Joanna saw Deena as a threat, and I think Deena knew this. She knew that she couldn’t trust the older women. The younger women had done nothing to sabotage Deena’s game, and they were much more open to listen to suggestion. She may have gone from third in the Jeanne/Joanna alliance to fourth in the younger alliance, but there was far more room to move in the younger alliance. With Jenna and Heidi in particular, Deena was able to have strategic conversations, adding her input to their moves. However, she was always aware that she did not share in the close friendship that the three younger girls had. Deena was on the outside of the friendship group.
Deena got lucky in the alliance in two ways. Firstly, Shawna was deteriorating. She was not enjoying herself out there, and was not motivated to win. She asked the tribe to vote her out. Her alliance refused. To vote out Shawna would have meant ceding control of the tribe over to the older women, and they were not willing to do that. Deena was able to convince Christy to vote with the younger alliance, and Joanna was sent home. This gave Deena the chance to show her value to her alliance, and also moved her up- Shawna could no longer be trusted to even stay in the game, let alone vote with them. Deena, Jenna and Heidi were now a three-person alliance, keeping Shawna in the game only because of her usefulness as another vote.
The second way that luck helped Deena’s game was in the tribe swap, which happened in the next episode. Deena, Jenna and Shawna remained together at Jabiru, but were joined by three of the men, Matthew Von Ertfelda, Alex Bell and Rob Cesternino. While the tribe swap showed that Shawna’s loyalty was fickle (Deena realised that once the boys arrived at the camp, Shawna may not be so into “the chick thing”), the tribe swap gave Deena the chance to cement her power in the game. While not breaking her alliance with Jenna and Heidi, Deena was approached for an alliance by Rob, and she gladly accepted. The new Jabiru tribe agreed to stay together post-merge, and start targeting the men who had been left on the Tambaqui tribe. By making it to the tribe swap, Deena saw her options open up.
From this point, Deena was in a great position in the game, with a solid alliance and relationship with nearly everyone left. Unfortunately she overestimated Jenna and Heidi’s loyalty to her, and tried to get them to join her in voting Alex out of the game. By this time, Jenna and Heidi were more loyal to Alex, and it was Deena that was sent home.
This week it was Will that was in the middle of the two groups, and they were remarkably similar to the two groups in the Jabiru tribe. He had the young cute group, who have a friendship that probably means that he will always be number four in that alliance, and he had the older group, which would have meant joining an alliance with Vince, who may not be crazy enough to think the immunity idol is cursed, but he does wear feathers in his hair. Vince is always going to want the power in the game, and was going to be difficult to work with going forward.
Unlike Deena though, I don’t think Will is making his decisions based on who he can control. I don’t think Will wants any control in this game at all. He told Vince he wanted to see Joe voted out, and then very quickly accepted Vince’s opinion that it should be Jenn- telling Vince that he never trusted Jenn either. When Joe asked who should be voted out, Will didn’t have an opinion. He didn’t try to sway either alliance to vote a certain way. He may have been put in the day one position of leader, having to make the choice for the tribe between honesty and deceit, but I don’t think Will wants control of his own destiny just yet. He doesn’t want to be voted out, but I don’t think he wants to be the one calling the shots.
Will was astute enough to see his position in the tribe. He knew he was the swing vote. He also knew that he did not have a real friendship with Joe, Jenn and Hali. Even though they considered him as part of their alliance of four, Will said “I’m pretty sure Joe came to me just because he needed my vote.” He was dispensable to that alliance, and he knew it. The thing that astounded me about this is that Joe, Hali and Jenn didn’t seem to realise how obvious it was. The only genuine connection that Will had made out there was with Nina. Nina was the only person that Will did not want to see gone. And yet the younger alliance didn’t seem to see anything strange about Will agreeing to vote out his best friend. They offered him no alternative. Joe admitted to some doubts about Will’s trustworthiness, but then sort of shrugged and said “you got to trust somebody.” Joe’s mistake was the mistake made by so many arrogant players- you cannot assume that somebody will act in your best interests. They won’t. It’s a game for a million dollars. Everyone is acting in their own best interests.
Like the white collar tribe, who would only consider voting out a female, the no collars were determined to vote out the weak. Joe’s assessment was “It’s still early enough. We should probably keep the tribe strong.” Despite Vince’s power struggle with Joe, Vince wasn’t reckless enough to vote him out at their first Tribal Council, recognising that his challenge strength was too big an asset to give up. Jenn wanted Vince out, citing her lack of trust in him, but Joe was keen to go after Nina as the weakest challenge performer. For Will, the problem is that if Nina is voted out, the next weakest person is clearly Will. Despite what Will said about them losing because they sucked at basketball, it was clear to us that Will’s exhaustion cost no collar immunity. If he votes Nina out, he may be on the majority alliance, but he is a dispensable part of it, and they will come for him next. He is, after all, not as strong as Vince. Leaving Nina as a buffer is perfect strategy for Will. It is a bonus that he feels genuinely connected to her, and can work strategically with her if the opportunity arises.
So keeping Nina was smart. But why vote Vince out? Why not vote with Vince and Nina, and see Jenn go home? That way, Will is part of the majority alliance, and he still has Nina as a buffer, should the tribe start to vote based on challenge strength. One possible answer is that Vince doesn’t see Nina as the weakest link. It is possible that if Vince was to vote based on challenge strength, he would vote Will out before Nina. Vince mentioned that he has bad health. Nina told Will, “Vince is concerned that your health is getting in the way of winning challenges.” It is possible that Will didn’t feel as safe going forward in the game with Vince.
More likely though, the story that the edit presented is the truth. Will is playing paranoid and impulsively. Nina telling him that Vince was worried about his health immediately made him distrust Vince. And while he may not trust Joe, Jenn and Hali, at least he knows that they wanted to vote out Nina or Vince. They aren’t gunning for him. He said to Nina “If he’s trying to blindside me, I’m going to get him…If he wants me gone, that’s a whole different ball game.”
Vince claimed in his exit interview with Rob that he did get the chance to speak with Will after Will had the conversation with Nina, but I don’t know how likely this is. I don’t think this was a well-thought out and considered move- it seems to me like Will made an impulsive decision, and while it might not have been the best possible strategic decision, it will likely work out well for him.
Like Deena before him, Will is now the clear fourth in a four person alliance. But when Deena joined with the young person’s alliance, there were three clear boots before she was in any danger. Will has one clear boot- and that person is Nina, who is his closest friend. He has put himself into a tricky spot- and the only way out of it is to win immunities and avoid Tribal Council. Luckily for Will, there should only be two more immunity challenges before a tribe swap. And in a tribe swap, he will be able to do what Deena did, and gather some more allies, allies who see him as part of their long term plan. If the no collar tribe can win just one more immunity, Will can make it to the tribe swap. If they can win both, then he makes the tribe swap with his closest ally still in the game.
I really will not be surprised if the blue collar tribe end up throwing a challenge. We are seeing so much conflict come from their camp, and in the event of a tribe swap, both Dan and Mike should be looking to join with another alliance. They won’t be (or shouldn’t be) loyal, and they are both dangerous players to keep in the game. Of course, in Cagayan, the brawn tribe never visited Tribal Council, and after the tribe swap Tony Vlachos took the first possible opportunity to turn on Cliff Robinson- who had been the leader of the majority alliance during the first week of the game. I do think that we will see the blue collars at Tribal Council, which would be a first for a three tribe season- to see each of the three original tribes vote someone out. Will and Nina actually have a fairly good chance of making the tribe swap.
Will seems to have a good social game, with both sides coming to him for the vote, and people laughing at his jokes. If he can make it past the tribal stage of the game, he’s in for a great chance to win, but not if he continues to make the impulsive emotional moves. I don’t think Vince was going to be coming for Will. I think Vince would have voted Joe out next- I don’t think he could have resisted if the chance presented itself again. Vince also has the added bonus of being a wonderful figurehead to hide behind, while at the same time being someone who cannot possibly win the game. Being in a three person majority, where he had a strong relationship with both people in the three is surely better than being fourth in the new majority. My other problem with Will’s move is that it paints him as an emotional, unpredictable player. The others cannot ever fully trust him- he betrayed both alliances. Ideal alliance partners are people who will ‘stick to the plan’. Will is not that kind of player. He’s going to follow his gut, wherever it may lead.
For Deena, joining the younger alliance gave her more control over her own game. For Will, it has done the opposite. It is possible that he is entirely comfortable with that. But in such a small tribe, he’s put himself in a risky position. Has he sunk his own game? Or will the coming tribe swap bring him his salvation? If I had to choose, I’d say the latter. I think Will will be in the game for the long haul- I just hope he learns to play with his head rather than his emotions.