I loved watching the dynamic between Rodney and Joaquin this week. The two of them were so similar that they were always either going to hit it off famously or clash and end up as a major disaster. It made me extremely happy that we got to see both things happen. It was wonderful to watch them bounce off each other and strategise ways that the two of them could run the game, and it was even better to see their alliance crash and burn in such an amusing way.Protected Original Alliances[/caption]
I always find it interesting when tribes throw challenges, and particularly after the tribe swap, I think it is a strategy that should be used more often. I thought that the original blue collar tribe should have thrown a challenge earlier in the game (although that was because I was completely believing the edit, which was telling the story of a tribe that had zero chance of sticking with each other when the merge came). Throughout Survivor history, tribe swaps have been used to varying levels of success, and this week, our lesson in Survivor history comes from season 15, Survivor: China, and tenth place finisher Jaime Dugan, who spearheaded an attempt to throw challenges, with a similar strategy to that of Mike- protecting her original alliances.
Jaime was a member of the Zhan Hu tribe, which struggled in the early days of season 15. They had a poor work ethic, and plenty of dissension within the tribe. They were failing at the challenges as well, losing three members, while the opposing tribe, Fei Long, had only lost one. Despite being in a tribe that was down on the numbers, Jaime was in quite a strong position, always voting with the majority and never receiving any votes. She was closely aligned with Erik Huffman, and the two of them were in a larger alliance with Frosti Zernow, Sherea Lloyd and Peih Gee Law.
Of that alliance, Sherea was the one on the bottom. The others were annoyed by her poor work ethic and considered voting her out. Sherea knew that she would be the next to go if they were to return to Tribal. Jaime was never in any danger of being sent home, and was certain to make the merge. The biggest problem in Jaime’s game was that once she reached the merge, her tribe was going to be so decimated, and the Fei Long tribe so strong and united, that she and any remaining Zhan Hu members were likely to be picked off at the merge.
A twist in the game brought new life to Zhan Hu. They were sent a message asking them to choose the two strongest warriors from Fei Long. They chose James Clement and Aaron Reisberger, the strongest challenge performers. Fei Long got the same message, and chose Sherea and Frosti. This left Zhan Hu with three original members (Jaime, Erik and Peih Gee) and the two strongest members of Fei Long. Sherea and Frosti were at a huge disadvantage at Fei Long, where five original Fei Long members remained. As soon as they realised what was going on, the Zhan Hu tribe brought up the idea of throwing a challenge to vote out first Aaron then James.
This wasn’t a risky move for Jaime at all. She could be 100% sure of Erik’s loyalty since she had begun to flirt with him. The two of them were extremely close. Peih Gee had voted with her at numerous tribal councils, and was also a savvy player who could be trusted to act in her own self interests. Jaime had a clear numerical advantage within the new Zhan Hu, and she was right to think about taking advantage of it. When she threw the challenge, she was in no danger of going home. It was a foregone conclusion that one of the ex-Fei Long members would be voted out.
This season, we had two players vocalise their desire to throw the challenge- although for different reasons. It was Rodney who first brought up the idea saying to Mike,“We gotta make sure this challenge gets thrown so Joe goes first. Put your trust in me.” For Rodney, the motive was twofold- get rid of a major challenge threat in Joe, but more importantly, it would solidify his alliance with Joaquin and give him control of the game. For Mike, throwing the challenge was all about keeping Kelly, his ally who is alone on Nagarote, safe from the vote.
At first glance, this seemed to be a far more risky move for both Mike and Rodney than it was for Jaime. After all, even though the original blue collar tribe does have a four person majority in the new Escameca, we have seen that Sierra is not completely loyal to her old tribe. She has repeatedly voiced the desire to change her alliances, and both Mike and Rodney are aware of her hurt feelings. Surely there must have been a discussion with Sierra that we viewers didn’t see, for both Mike and Rodney to have been willing to make such a risky move. They had to have Sierra’s assurances, and they must have believed her. More than that, both of them could be sure that if they did throw the challenge, they wouldn’t be going home. Nobody wanted to get rid of Mike, and although I think Sierra would quite happily have written Rodney’s name down, he wasn’t on the chopping block either. Ultimately, although Rodney lost someone that he counted as one of his numbers, I don’t think it affected his game at all. They will still go into the merge with five blue collars left in the game. If someone is going to throw a challenge, they need to be absolutely sure that they have the numbers on their side- otherwise, it is going to be an extremely humiliating exit!
For Jaime, the biggest problem turned out to be actually executing the strategy. She and Peih Gee decided together to throw the immunity challenge, and vote out Aaron, who they thought had better alliances than James. During the challenge, Jaime threw away one of their puzzle pieces making it impossible for them to win. At Tribal Council, she admitted to throwing the challenge, and she and Peih Gee explained that if they had won immunity, either Sherea or Frosti would have been voted out. This was their only chance to get back on an even footing before the merge.
Things started to turn against Jaime when they showed up at the next reward challenge and were unable to connect with either Frosti or Sherea, who were both avoiding eye contact. What Jaime hadn’t realised was that both Frosti and Sherea had been excited to join Fei Long, especially Sherea, who knew she had been at the bottom of the Zhan Hu alliance. Both Frosti and Sherea had been attempting to ingratiate themselves within the Fei Long tribe, and Sherea had referred to the tribe swap as a new start for her game. The two people that Jaime and Peih Gee thought they needed to save actually didn’t want to play the game with them at all. Jaime said “We’re so into keeping Sherea, Frosti, Peih Gee, Erik and I together. We thought we would do anything to save them. Throw a challenge to save them. But we did it, you know. But Frosti won’t make eye contact with us. We don’t know if he’s changed his mind, switched over with them. You know, everything’s just unknown.” Frosti had changed his mind. He considered himself a part of Fei Long. When they realised that they couldn’t be sure of Frosti and Sherea’s loyalty, Peih Gee and Jaime decided not to throw the next challenge. They went on to win the next immunity (which ironically, James was trying to throw, as Fei Long had given James an immunity idol and were hoping that he could vote Jaime out of the game), and Sherea was voted out of the game.
Jaime’s mistake was not in throwing the challenge- I think that throwing the challenge was the right thing to do. Her mistake was in not making the people at the bottom of her alliance feel secure. Sherea knew that she was fifth in the Zhan Hu alliance. She saw the way that Fei Long didn’t seem to like Jean-Robert Bellande, and thought that there was a chance for her to find herself a better position in the game with them. Frosti was able to form a close friendship with Courtney Yates, which made him feel more secure than he had done with Jaime. Jaime simply made it too clear to Frosti and Sherea that they were not wanted, and when they joined Fei Long, they immediately stopped seeing themselves as members of Zhan Hu. The blue collars could afford to throw a challenge because they trust Kelly. If it was Sierra on the other side, they would not have made the same decision.
The method that Mike used to throw the challenge was really smart. He was able to talk to Kelly, to tell her exactly what was going on. He was able to reconnect with her, tell her that he was still on her side, that she could still trust him. He didn’t have to worry about Kelly’s loyalty. He knows that when the merge comes, she will be a part of his alliance. Immediately after the challenge, Kelly confirmed this. She said in confessional, “When I knew Mike was throwing the challenge and helping me out, that was the first time in my life I think I totally ever trusted somebody wholeheartedly, like they got my back. And I can’t wait to get back with my blue collar tribe where I belong.” Throwing a challenge after a tribe swap is a solid strategy- as long as you know that you can trust your allies on the other side. Mike was able to speak with Kelly, to be sure that their promises still stood, and he can be certain that any relationships that she is creating over at Nagarote will not interfere with her alliance with him.
Once Sherea was voted out of the game, Jaime went into the merge with a 5-4 numbers disadvantage. Her new tribe mate, James, unsurprisingly went straight back to his original alliances on Fei Long, and her original tribe mate Frosti, seeing the numbers disadvantage, stuck with his new Fei Long allies. She was voted out at the first opportunity, becoming the first member of the jury.
Both Rodney and Mike were thinking about the merge and how they could enter the merge with the numbers. Rodney’s plan was simple- get rid of the immunity threat (Joe) and give himself as many options as possible. With Joe gone, Rodney could work with both the blue collar tribe and, through his bond with Joaquin, the white collar tribe. Of course, he didn’t exactly need to get rid of Joe to put himself in a strong position- Rodney’s options would have been the same at the merge whether Joe had been voted out or not. The only advantage that Rodney mentioned to getting rid of Joe was that there would now be one less strong male to compete against in individual immunity challenges. I can understand why Joe seems terrifying to Rodney. He annihilated the first immunity challenge, proving that he is both athletic and excellent at puzzles, and I’m sure he will be the favourite to win immunity next week. But it would be extremely unlikely that Joe would win every single immunity challenge. Even Ozzy couldn’t pull that off. The bigger advantage of getting Joe out is that it weakens the no collar tribe, who are likely to be set up against the blue collars in the post merge game.
Mike’s motivation was to reunite with Kelly in the event of a merge. He was worried about her on the other tribe by herself. This made me wonder why he was so worried this week that he was willing to throw a challenge, but not worried at all last week, when Kelly was surely in a far more vulnerable position. With Max gone, it seems like Shirin is a fairly obvious next boot. It was possible that the no collar tribe would turn on Kelly in order to weaken Mike and his alliance, but it wasn’t likely. The decision to throw the challenge made sense on Mike’s part, but it would have made sense last week too. In his confessional, Mike mentioned that he would be willing to throw a few challenges to save Kelly- which tells me that there are a few people that Mike thinks are expendable. I also don’t think Mike is quite prepared for a merge to come right now, although he should be. He knew that Rodney would be furious to see Joaquin voted out, but I think he assumed he would have more time to bring Rodney back to his side.
Mike’s biggest problem entering the merge is going to be numbers. Ironically, considering that he threw a challenge to save his numbers, I don’t think that going into the merge with five blue collars still standing is a good thing for Mike’s game. They are an obvious voting bloc, and an obvious threat. They have five members, but of the five only three are solidly in an alliance. Sierra is still angry with Dan and Rodney. Although she has stuck with blue collar so far, it may not take much to convince her to switch. Joe might have enough of a bond with her to be able to get her to vote with him and the no collar alliance. She might bond with Jenn and Hali, girls who are her age and have more in common with her than she has with someone like Dan. And then there’s Rodney- a loose cannon that Mike may not be able to control. He will be angry, and any trust that he had in Mike has been broken. Rodney might now be out for revenge, and that makes him dangerous. Mike is going to have a huge target on his back because he is apparently a part of such a big alliance. But the blue collar tribe is not the trustworthy alliance that will help Mike get further in the game. I think it is much more likely that the merge might reunite him with Kelly, but it will destroy his alliances with Rodney and Sierra.
In a 12-person merge, Mike needs to find an alliance of at least six, possibly seven. And this is where his strategy of throwing the challenge has threatened his game. If Escameca doesn’t throw the challenge, Nagarote probably vote Shirin out. Joaquin is still in the game, still wanting to play with Rodney, and both Tyler and Carolyn want to play with Joaquin. Mike then has an alliance of eight, assuming that Sierra stays with him (and even if she wanted to defect, an alliance of seven is still enough to control the game).
Instead, he has Dan and Kelly who are definitely on his side. Rodney who is angry that Mike betrayed him, Tyler who has just lost his close ally and is now likely to join Carolyn who has developed bonds with the no collar tribe, and Joe, who should have some sense of loyalty to Mike, but in reality is more likely to stick with Will, Jenn and Hali, his day one alliances. Shirin is a wildcard, and she could join either alliance. I think she will be more of a floater, offering her vote up to anyone that needs it and playing the ‘anyone but me’ game as far as it will take her. Both the immunity idols currently in the game are with the opposing alliance- one with Carolyn and one with Jenn. With this group of people, and with Mike having just led the charge to vote out Joaquin, who was closely allied with Tyler and Carolyn, I cannot see how Mike gets the numbers necessary to take over the game.
So while I don’t automatically condemn the decision to throw a challenge, I can’t approve of it in this instance either. I think that by throwing the challenge and voting out Joaquin, Mike has backed himself into a corner that I don’t think he is going to be able to work his way out of. If they had voted out Joe, I would have been much happier with the move.
In season 15, Jaime was absolutely right to throw the challenge. She should have thrown the next challenge too and gotten James out. Then she enters the merge with even numbers, and while things may have ended up the same way, Sherea and Frosti might have betrayed her and voted with Fei Long, if she had gone through with the plan to throw both challenges, she at least gave the Zhan Hu tribe a chance at the merge. For Jaime, throwing the challenges was her only hope of getting to the end of the game.
For Mike, who was in a strong position anyway, and for Rodney, who didn’t have the true loyalty of his allies, throwing the challenge was just too risky a move. If Mike does somehow make it to the end, I don’t think it will be because he threw the challenge, it will be in spite of it. Joaquin was never going to be a serious threat, and neither was Rodney. Mike has put himself in a position where he will immediately have to campaign for the votes of the remaining white collar tribe members- and having just voted out Joaquin, he might find that they are not interested in helping him advance any further in the game. He’s outed himself as a strategic threat and is seen as the leader of his alliance. It’s risky play, and it is very, very early in the game to be playing such a risky game.
Next week we will see the merge, and we will see the way that the numbers work out. I hope that I am wrong, and this ends up being more than just blue collar vs. no collar, with the white collars in the middle deciding everyone else’s fate. If that is what happens, I don’t expect Mike to last much longer. Throwing the challenge was dangerous strategy- and I think it is going to blow up in his face.