After an extremely chaotic post-merge game, with ever-changing alliances, things had to settle down at some point. This week, things settled down. We had an alliance that was unwaveringly loyal to each other, and together they voted against one of the two outsiders. It was quite the straightforward and predictable vote, although the editors tried to squeeze some drama out of the episode by setting Tai up as a possible alternative.
After Scot left the game in possession of Jason’s idol, Jason found himself in an extremely tricky position. In the past, Jason has not dealt well with adversity. When he was blindsided by the majority on the night Nick went home, Jason let his anger rise to the surface. Along with Scot and Tai, Jason’s strategy was to sabotage the camp, He hid the machete. He hid the axe. Scot and Tai both poured water on the fire. Jason was happy to act as obnoxiously as possible and hoped that his tantrums would even have the strategic benefit of causing chaos within the majority alliance.
But that was Jason’s strategy when he still had two idols under his control. It’s one thing to make a point of annoying everyone at camp when you know that you have at least six days to repair the damage. It’s easy to be arrogant when you have a clear and seemingly easy path to the Final Three. With the safety of the idol and the security of his alliance with Scot and Tai, Jason could do anything he pleased. Now, Jason has neither of these things. He knew that he was probably going to be the next one to go. And he had to employ a different strategy.
I have to say, I was impressed with the new Jason. There was no talk of chaos, no talk of making life hard for anyone else at camp. He told everyone that he was impressed with the move, and then he shut his mouth. He spent most of the episode not causing drama, but just observing the behaviour of the people around him, hoping against hope that his game wasn’t over. This week, the majority alliance have thrown him a lifeline, voting out Julia and leaving him as the sole survivor of his alliance. Past winners such as Chris Daugherty in season nine, Survivor: Vanuatu and Danni Boatwright in season 11, Survivor: Guatemala both show that just because Jason is alone, it doesn’t mean that he’s finished. In fact, the fact that he is now seen as less of a threat probably means that it will be easier for him to lay low and wait for the majority to implode.
I was also impressed with the plan that Jason eventually came up with. Although I think that he targeted Tai primarily for petty reasons- Tai screwed him over last week, so Jason was desperate to vote against him this week- I like the plan to get Tai out. Tai has become too powerful in the game, and he knows it. When they returned to camp after blindsiding Scot, Tai said: “We have power now, and I have the most power, because I have the idol and the extra vote.” Tai seemed to think that it had been a wise move to get away from Jason and Scot. In the alliance with Jason and Scot, Tai had no power. Now, he thinks that he is in control of the game. The fact that Tai has both the only idol in the game, as well as an advantage that nobody really understands, and that he has such a big target on his back as a result, means that for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, for the second time this season, we are going back to season 15, Survivor: China, and the seventh place finisher, James Clement, who was blindsided and sent home with not one, but two immunity idols in his possession.
In the past, I’ve always tried to write about a variety of seasons, and I’m honestly pretty annoyed that I wrote about Jean-Robert Bellande back in episode five. It isn’t my intention to continually write about the same season- but as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t think of anyone else that fit so well this week as James does. Nobody else has had such a huge advantage in the game, so late in the game, and then not gone on to win. Watching the edit of this season, I really don’t believe that Tai is the winner. I think that like James, Tai is about to make the mistake of being blindsided by his alliance. His continual refrain of “I’m not going home with an idol in my pocket” shows us that he is worried about the possibility of being blindsided. But being worried about it is one thing. Being willing to act upon his worries is another, and he showed this week that he is not willing to listen to his intuition. He’s far more reliant on Aubry to tell him what to do.
James found himself in a similar situation in China. He had a solid alliance with Todd Herzog, Courtney Yates and Amanda Kimmel. The four of them had started the game on the same tribe and had been in an alliance for the entire game. As a huge physical threat, and also the tribe’s hardest worker, James had never been in any danger of being voted out. It was partly because of James that the Fei Long tribe were so dominant in immunity challenges, winning three of the first four immunities of the game. James’ game changed when there was an unexpected tribe swap. Both tribes received a letter that allowed them to choose two members of the opposing tribe. James, along with Aaron Reisberger, was chosen to join Zhan Hu. Once at Zhan Hu, James and Aaron were at a numerical disadvantage. The members of Zhan Hu, Jaime Dugan, Erik Huffman and Peih-Gee Law, realised that after losing so many immunity challenges, they had been gifted a chance to get themselves back in the game. They threw the next immunity challenge and voted out Aaron.
At the next reward challenge, Fei Long was given the opportunity to ‘kidnap’ James. He shared the reward with them, and then returned to the Fei Long camp. At camp, Todd had figured out the location of the immunity idol. He gave it to James, telling him to use it to save himself at the next Tribal Council. When James returned to Zhan Hu, he was able to get their immunity idol also, leaving him with two idols. Todd had assumed that Zhan Hu would again try to lose the immunity challenge, giving James the chance to use the immunity idol. However, Jaime, Erik and Peih-Gee had decided that their best chance in the game was now to try and win immunity. Although James tried to lose the challenge, in the end, there was nothing he could do. It was an eating challenge, and when Fei Long member Denise simply couldn’t eat the balut, James had to win the challenge for Zhan Hu. The two tribes merged in the very next episode, meaning that James never got the chance to use either of his idols.
When the two tribes merged, James held onto both idols. As the biggest and strongest person out there, he was seen as a huge threat in the individual challenges. Inevitably, people started to look at ways to get James out of the game. Jean-Robert, once James’ closest ally, was disturbed to learn of the two idols in James’ possession and began to float the idea of organising a blindside. At his last Tribal Council, Jean-Robert cast his vote for James, believing that James would be sent home. Todd didn’t want anybody else directing the strategic moves of the game and organised for Jean-Robert to be sent home instead.
At final seven, the vote should have been simple. The old Fei Long tribe had five members. The old Zhan Hu tribe only had two. James went into Tribal Council believing that Peih-Gee would be going home. He was completely comfortable in his alliance and believed that they would be the final four. However, Todd and Amanda had been looking for a chance to make a move against James. They knew that his idols made him too powerful. They also knew what a hard worker James had been around camp. If James had made it to the final three, he had a good chance of winning the money. People liked and respected him. Todd and Amanda knew that going to the end of the game with James wasn’t their best strategy. Like Tai, James was not only powerful in the game, but he was seen as a real jury threat. Cydney doesn’t want to “go to no final three with no damn Tai”, and Todd and Amanda didn’t want to let James near the million either.
Before he was voted out, Peih-Gee and Erik had tried to convince James to flip over to their side. If he had agreed, then Peih-Gee, Erik, James and Denise Martin would have had the numbers over Todd, Amanda and Courtney. James did not entertain the idea. In confessional, he compared his situation in the game to the Garden of Eden. Flipping on his alliance would have been akin to eating the apple. He didn’t want to make the self-interested move. Instead, he stuck with his alliance, trusting that the bonds he had made, along with the two idols that he possessed, would get him through.
There was also every reason for James to play the idol. At this point in the game, there were seven people left. The idol was only valid until the final five. This gave James three more opportunities to play his two idols. He was physically stronger than those who remained in the game, and it is reasonable to suggest that he could have won a future individual immunity to keep himself protected. Because of this, Todd and Amanda were terrified that their plan was not going to work. Ultimately, though, James refused to bite the apple. He trusted his alliance and went to the jury without playing either of his two idols.
The parallels between Tai and James are obvious. Both are huge threats, even without any idols or advantages. For James, his perceived strength made him a threat. For Tai, he has had so many strong challenge performances and has been able to win individual immunity. Both of them are seen as social threats who would easily win if they were allowed to reach the Final Three- although I’m not sure that either of them actually had the win sewn up. Both of them are perhaps too concerned with playing the game with integrity. James didn’t want to flip on his alliance. Tai wants to stay loyal to Aubry, Joe, Cydney and Michele. The biggest difference is that Tai has shown himself to be a self-interested player. He has made big moves where he thought that they would benefit him. Just because he seems to have ultimate trust in Aubry this week, and wouldn’t dream of flipping, doesn’t mean that he won’t rejoin Jason next week and use his advantage against his new alliance. Whereas James just wanted to stay the course and go to the end with his original alliance, Tai is more concerned with getting to the end in any way possible.
At the moment, though, Tai is all about loyalty. James berated his alliance about sticking to the plan, and not biting the apple. Tai had a similar pitch at Tribal Council. He said “I have the idol. And I also have a secret advantage. I’m fully aware of that, and it’s nerve-wracking. I just got to remind my alliance- Joe, Aubry, Cydney and Michele- why shake the boat? Why jump onto a sinking ship and row with them when you’ve got a guaranteed spot?” What the two of them don’t seem to acknowledge is that it isn’t much good sticking to the plan if you are on the bottom of the alliance. Tai understands that he is ostensibly the one with the most power in the game at the moment. He can see that by using his idol and his advantage, he’s in a good position to make it to the end of the game. He should anticipate that the other players can see the same thing- and they will do something about it.
At Tribal Council, Tai whispered in Aubry’s ear, asking her if he should use his idol. She responded by telling him “I think you’re fine”. Some have seen this as Aubry letting a golden chance slip by. She had a shot at taking an idol out of the game. I think Aubry did the right thing in telling Tai to hold tight. She’s using Tai as a meat shield right now, the same way that Jeremy used Joe in Second Chances. As long as Tai is around, with his immunity idol, as well as the advantage (which everyone assumes is a second idol), Aubry isn’t being targeted. Aubry and Cydney are clearly the two people in charge at the moment, yet it is Tai that is taking all the heat. For Aubry and Cydney, the longer that Tai keeps his advantages, the better. Besides, in that one moment, Tai proved how much he trusts Aubry. I don’t think it is going to be difficult for Aubry to blindside Tai, whether he has an idol or not.
Then there’s Tai’s secret advantage. The Dan Foley, Stephen Fishbach, double vote advantage. We’ve seen this play out twice now. Both times, the person who used the vote doubler was voted out in the same Tribal Council. Both times, it was directly because of the vote doubler– in Dan’s case, he tipped off Carolyn so she used her idol. In Stephen’s case, the idol intensified the target on his back and united people against him. This ‘advantage’ has yet to be used successfully. And if Stephen Fishbach couldn’t work out how to use it without getting himself voted out of the game, I’m not sure what hope Tai has.
James’ essential mistake was a common one in Survivor— and one that I am worried that Tai is going to make too. He failed to see that the other players are always going to do what is best for them. The prize is one million dollars. The closer the players get to the end, the more that money starts to become real. Todd, Amanda and Courtney had the incentive to make a move against James because they would have lost to him. According to the narrative that we are being presented with, Aubry, Joe, Cydney and Michele have every reason to make a move against Tai, because he is just so sweet and lovable that he will win the money. I’m not sure that any of the people who are already on the jury would describe Tai as sweet or lovable. Scot certainly wouldn’t. I don’t think Tai has the game sewn up at all. I don’t think he beats Aubry, Cydney or Michele. He might even struggle to beat Jason. I think that the other players might spend so much energy trying to stop Tai making the end that a bigger threat, such as Aubry or Cydney, manages to slip through.
Tai only has two more possible Tribal Councils where he can play the idol or advantage. He should realise that the advantage is almost useless to him at final five. The best he can do is to force a tie. If he wants to use his advantage and make a big move with it, it really needs to be done in the next episode. His best move would be to join with Jason and Michele, and use his extra vote to give them a 4-3 numbers advantage. That would probably be Michele’s best move also– unless she and Cydney are closer than we have seen, Michele is clearly on the bottom of the women’s alliance. If Aubry and Cydney really want to go to the end together, their best bet is to take Joe. Michele also had a moment at Tribal Council where she talked about the importance of making moves and earning the respect of the jury. She may very well feel that flipping on Aubry and Cydney is the big move that she has been looking for.
If Tai plays his advantage at final six, then he still has his idol to play at final five. He only has to get himself through one more Tribal, and he’s in the final four. Once in the final four, he’s got a great shot at winning immunity and making it to the end. The other players need to see this. Cydney and Michele did the right thing in not voting for Tai this week. It would have given Jason and Julia too much power. But this week is their only chance to move against Tai. I am assuming that Aubry and Cydney will see this. I am also assuming that Tai will be too complacent to notice everyone plotting against him. Tai said in confessional “I have to dot my T and cross my I, or whatever, however you say it. So tonight, I’m bringing my idol and my advantage. I’m not going to go home with an idol in my pocket.” Getting blindsided is his biggest fear. That paranoia should be enough to ensure that he plays his idol when he needs to. But he was feeling unsafe this week, yet held onto his idol. I think he’s confident enough to do the same thing next week- and get voted out unanimously.
Of course, I could very easily be wrong about Tai. I am, after all, the mastermind who thought that Darnell was going to win the entire season. Perhaps he will play his idol and advantage perfectly. I suppose it is possible that he makes it to the end of the game, sits next to Joe and collects the million, becoming the most beloved winner of all time. It is possible. But I don’t see it as likely. I don’t think we have long before Tai joins James Clement in that exclusive club of those who made the dumbest ever Survivor moves.