Each week in Lessons in Survivor History, I will revisit another season to compare gameplay and draw from the lessons that have been learned.
Lessons in Survivor History: Trusting the Wrong Person
It isn’t very often that I find myself surprised by the outcome of an episode of Survivor. I think that if you’ve been watching the show long enough, then you know the tricks that the editors tend to use. And when both Bret and Sunday, who have had zero visibility for several episodes now, both get confessionals, it seems obvious that one of them is going home. When Jay brought Michaela’s name up, I was sure that she was merely a decoy- the editors trying to make a predictable episode just a little more exciting. This was the first episode in a long time where I have been genuinely surprised by a Tribal Council. And I loved that. I loved the unpredictability. I loved that the editors didn’t show us Jay and Will approaching Bret and Sunday. I loved that we didn’t see anyone vote for Michaela. She seemed completely safe- right up until her name was read out.
Although I did love the surprise, and the unpredictable outcome, I was absolutely devastated to see Michaela go home. She’s been the star of the pre-merge– a super competitive athlete who was emotional, but not emotional enough to let her emotions dictate her game– as seen when she voted for Mari, despite her dislike of Figgy. I was really expecting that we would get to see Michaela in the individual portion of the game, and I was excited for it.
My grief over seeing Michaela go home brings us to this week’s lesson in Survivor history, which comes to us from season 26, Survivor: Caramoan, and a woman who like Michaela, was excellent in confessional, seemed to be set up to do well in the game, but ultimately went home before the jury- 12th place finisher, Corinne Kaplan.
Survivor: Caramoan was a Fans vs Favorites season, and Corinne was joined on the Favorites tribe by nine other returning players. Many of these returning players already had friendships with each other, either from playing on the same season previously, or from socialising and attending Survivor related events. Corinne did not know anybody from her tribe. Despite this, she was able to join the majority alliance, which was headed by Phillip Sheppard and included John Cochran, Dawn Meehan, Andrea Boehlke and Malcolm Freberg. Like Corinne, Malcolm had no previous ties to the Favorites, and although the two of them were in the majority alliance, they felt uneasy about their position in the game. Neither Andrea nor Phillip really trusted Corinne, and she knew she was an outsider. Luckily for Corinne, the Favorites went on a winning streak, and after first voting out Francesca Hogi, they did not return to Tribal Council. The Favorites did choose to forfeit immunity on day 13, and in an impromptu Tribal Council held at the challenge, they unanimously voted out Brandon Hantz, whose behaviour had been unstable.
On day 14, the tribes were swapped. Corinne was on the new Bikal tribe. Bikal was physically by far the weaker tribe, and they lost every immunity challenge until the merge. Corinne was in the majority alliance, and although tensions existed between her and Phillip, they were able to continue to vote together, and two fans were sent home. During this point of the game, Corinne grew close to Dawn. Dawn was an emotional player, and Corinne spent time listening to her and assuaging her fears. Corinne knew that she didn’t want to continue on in the game with Dawn’s alliance members- she could not stand Phillip- but she did want to play the game with Dawn. Just as trusting Jay was Michaela’s downfall this week, trusting Dawn would prove to be fatal for Corinne.
At the merge, Corinne reunited with Malcolm. During the tribe swap, Malcolm had been gathering allies, and he believed that he had two fans on his side, as well as Erik Reichenbach, one of the original Favorites. Corinne had developed a close friendship with Michael Snow, who was one of the fans, and this gave their alliance six members. Their plan was to stick with the original Favorites alliance for one more vote, where they would get rid of outsider Sherri Beithman. This would then give Corinne’s new alliance the numbers that she needed to turn on Phillip. Despite being wary of Corinne, the Favorites agreed to vote for Sherri. It would seem that things were going perfectly.
And then Corinne made her big mistake. She went to Dawn, and told Dawn all of her plans. She told Dawn that once Sherri was gone, Phillip would be next. Dawn was not as trustworthy as she seemed to be– she told Cochran, and Phillip found out that Corinne was targeting him. Phillip was able to get the numbers to turn on Corinne, and she was sent home in a 7-5 vote.
Corinne and Michaela made the same mistake– they put all of their trust in the wrong person. Jay was to Michaela what Dawn was to Corinne. Both Corinne and Michaela went home feeling completely betrayed by someone that they thought had their back. Although it was a great TV moment, I really felt for Michaela when she turned to Jay, and asked him if he betrayed her. Without blinking, he responded, “Yeah. I did it.” It was cold. Michaela learnt the hard way what happens when you trust the wrong person.
But you do have to trust somebody in this game. Survivor is a social game. It is a game of numbers, a game of alliances. You have to test what people are saying to you, and perhaps have a healthy amount of paranoia, but ultimately when you go to vote, you have to trust in your alliances. You have to trust in the relationships that you have built. Corinne was wrong to trust Dawn. But she was right to trust others in her alliance– Malcolm wasn’t lying to her. Michael was loyal to her. Michaela was wrong to trust Jay, but right to trust Hannah. It’s Survivor. People are going to lie. Untrustworthy people are part of the game. The thing is that you need to be able to figure out who is trustworthy, and you need to do it while surviving on limited food and little sleep. It isn’t easy. So how do you do it? Well, I think that you need to ask some crucial questions.
Who do they enjoy being around?
I really do think that most fans that appear on the show make the mistake of expecting that every player is going to make the best possible game move for them. Actually, most players do make emotional moves. Most people do make their voting decisions based, at least in part, on whose company they prefer. They align with people that are similar to themselves, and vote against people who they don’t understand. And this usually works out well for their game– a strong alliance usually has friendship at its heart.
Dawn’s closest ally in the game had always been Cochran. Dawn and Cochran had played together on season 23, Survivor: South Pacific, and they had been allied in that game also. They had a strong bond, and Corinne was foolish to think that Dawn would abandon her alliance with Cochran to join Corinne and Malcolm’s alliance of fans. She had no reason to join them- she had no relationships at all with any other member of Corinne’s alliance.
Michaela’s proposed final four was herself, Hannah, Will and Jay. Now, we didn’t see a whole lot of camp life at Ikabula, and in Michaela’s exit press, she has emphasised how much they really did like each other’s company, so perhaps in her mind, she thought that they were a tight four. But I don’t think Jay ever thought that Ikabula would remain united when the merge came. He was always going to turn on Michaela. It was just a question of when.
Last week we saw Michaela interrupt Jay and Will when they had just found the immunity idol. To the audience, their horror was evident. Michaela had to have known that she had interrupted them, and discovered information that she would not otherwise have known. This should have been a red flag to her– Jay and Will might enjoy being around each other, but Hannah and Michaela were never going to be their preferred option moving forward. I actually think that if Michaela had been more open to exploring her options, she might have found Bret and Sunday to be more natural allies, both of whom obviously liked her and respected her work ethic. If she had thought about who Jay’s friends in the game really are, she would not have so quickly committed to a final four plan with her.
I also think that Michaela’s reaction to Figgy’s vote out was a big part of her downfall. We know that Jay’s closest friend in his original tribe was Taylor. We know he was working with Michelle who Figgy considered to be her closest friend. I think that Jay’s alliance with Taylor and Michelle was so important to him that he was willing to sacrifice Michaela to ensure that he got the opportunity to reunite with the remaining members of the Triforce post-merge. My favourite thing about Michaela the television character is her tendency to tell it as it is, and I thought her quote of “Bye Felicia” was hilarious, but while it was entertaining viewing, it was terrible gameplay. Taylor’s already feeling hurt and angry. Telling him that it has been “Figgy’s turn to go home for a while now” is just rubbing salt in the wounds. Jay turning on Michaela preserves his relationship with Taylor– and that is his true alliance. I think Jay’s preferred final four is himself, Taylor, Will and Michelle. When Michaela decided to make fun of Figgy, alienating Taylor and possibly Michelle in the process, she didn’t fit into Jay’s plans anymore.
What has been their gameplay in the past?
When Corinne assumed that Dawn would be on her side, she didn’t think about how Dawn’s game in Survivor: South Pacific had ended. In South Pacific, the merge had happened at 12, with both tribes at even numbers. Cochran made the controversial decision to flip and vote with the opposing tribe, a move that he warned Dawn that he was considering. Wanting to protect Cochran, Dawn didn’t tell her tribe that Cochran wasn’t completely with them, and when Cochran flipped, Dawn’s game was effectively over. Her tribe were voted out in quick succession. Dawn was not going to allow her Caramoan game to be destroyed in the same way. When Corinne told her that she was planning on flipping, Dawn immediately (and understandably) made moves to ensure that her alliance would remain in the majority. A big part of Corinne’s mistake was that she didn’t think about the player that Dawn had been in the past.
Michaela had only been to Tribal Council once before in the game– when Mari was blindsided. And at that time, she chose to trust Jay. It was Jay who came to her, and told her that if Figgy was voted out, she would be next. It was Jay that convinced her to work with Figgy, and vote against Mari. While we never saw Michaela exactly regret that vote, her reaction to Figgy’s vote out this week indicates that she never did get over her dislike of Figgy. In her exit interview with Rob, she claims that when Takali lost last week’s challenge, she turned to Adam, and repeatedly mouthed “Vote Figgy.” There is no doubt that she wanted Figgy gone. Should she trust someone who had already convinced her to vote against her best interests once in this game?
She also saw in that Tribal Council how much Jay enjoys making big moves. He isn’t afraid to rock the boat, and doesn’t mind going after a power player. It is interesting that at both Tribal Councils that he has attended, he has taken out women whom he considered to be intelligent, strategic threats. Perhaps it was a little naïve of Michaela to assume that Jay was going to be happy to make the obvious move and vote out Bret. I don’t think I can be too harsh on her here though– she couldn’t really be expected to make assumptions about Jay’s gameplay based purely on one trip to Tribal Council.
What are their options?
What she should have done, though, and what every Survivor player should do, is not to just assume that your allies are with you, but to look at what their other options might be. In the case of Corinne, she was offering Dawn a place in an alliance where Dawn knew nobody, had nothing in common with most of the alliance, and would have no power in the decision making process at all. Contrast that offer to what Dawn already had, which was a strong position in an alliance with people that she had known since before the game had even started, and it is easy to see why Dawn couldn’t trust Corinne. Dawn had no incentives to play the game with Corinne. She had better options available to her.
Jay is in a similar position. Michaela was offering him a spot in a four-person alliance. But it was an alliance in which Michaela clearly expected to be calling most of the shots. She obviously thought that by demonstrating their game plan with seashells she was reassuring her alliance, but all of them walked away feeling uneasy. She sees herself as a leader, but there was no teamwork in the decision. It was all Michaela, dictating the way that the vote would go. Michaela had already made the mistake of standing out in the challenges, to the point where she knew she was becoming the one to beat. Chris is also a monster in the challenges, but because Michaela has been much flashier, Chris has, to some extent, been able to hide his abilities. Michaela being voted out hurts Chris’ game because she would have made a great meat shield. Michaela was already a threat because of her physical game. By trying to dictate the vote, she made her strategic game a threat also, and that was too frightening for Jay and Will. They had to at least consider turning on her.
Jay certainly does have other options. He’s got Taylor, who has no idea of strategy at all, and is probably going to rely heavily on Jay to do the thinking for him. He has Michelle, and so far, we’ve seen that their relationship is a collaborative one. They come up with the plans together and then implement them together. Jay has Will following him around and agreeing with everything that Jay suggests. No wonder Jay betrayed Michaela. He has better options waiting for him on the other tribes.
What are your options?
Michaela seemed to think that sticking with the four Millennials on the Ikabula tribe was her only option. But was it really? Shouldn’t she have looked at the board, looked at who was still left in the game, and seen all of the options available to her? One of the most frustrating things about seeing Michaela go so early was that there really were so many options available to her. Adam has expressed interest in working with her, so perhaps there was a spot in the Adam/Ken/Jessica alliance. She seemed to get along with Bret and Sunday, and I think she would have fit in well with the Gen X tribe. She really could have aligned with any of the players left in the game, and so it is so upsetting to see that she chose to put all of her eggs in the Jay basket– a decision that was her ultimate downfall.
Did Jay make the right move? Ultimately, I think the Triforce is a better option for Jay than Michaela is. Although Jay did claim that he trusted Michaela, and had been in an alliance with her from the first day of the game, I don’t think she was part of his endgame plans. Perhaps there is some merit to getting her out before she has the chance to win individual immunity although the chance of her winning every single immunity challenge is very, very slim.
The best thing about voting out Michaela is that in doing so, Jay hopefully pleases Taylor and Michelle. He strengthens his alliance and adds a big move to his résumé while doing so. Yes, he runs the risk of alienating Hannah, but he’s seen Michelle work her magic on Hannah before. Hannah is easily swayed, and I think Jay is taking a calculated risk here. He thinks that he can get her back on his side. If Michaela isn’t in Jay’s endgame plans, and getting rid of her will make his alliance members happy, then it is a good move.
But did Jay really have to make a move against Michaela so early in the game? He might have gotten rid of one threat, but he is underestimating Bret and Sunday. When they rejoin their Gen X allies, they are going to pose a much bigger threat than Michaela’s take control style of leadership. He’s voted out someone who was definitely with him, and the people that he has allowed to stay in the game are still important players. While I can understand Jay’s motives for getting Michaela out, I think that leaving Bret in the game is a mistake. Michaela could easily have been blindsided in the same way later in the game. She would have been a loyal ally to Jay right up until the moment he wrote her name down. I don’t see Bret as a loyal number for Jay. If you are going to betray an ally, you have to do it at the right time, and I think this move for Jay was just too early.
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