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: Where Do Your Loyalties Lie?
I’ve been hanging out for this tribe swap since about five minutes into the first episode- and it did not disappoint. I didn’t mind the people on either the Gen X tribe or the Millennial tribe, but I was definitely sick of the theme itself. It was so delightfully refreshing to have a Tribal Council where the discussion focused entirely on strategy (who is aligned with whom, who is on the bottom, where are the possible cracks), and not on the correct spelling of the word ‘you’, or the wonders of vinyl records. For the first time, the story shifted away from looking at the different ways that the generations play the game, and we are looking at the different ways that individuals play the game- and I couldn’t be happier.
The actual tribe swap itself brought some interesting dynamics. When Jeff Probst announced that the new Ikabula tribe was going to a new beach to start over, I think my face was exactly the same as Michaela’s. I was thinking that Probst did this wrong. I didn’t want to see a new version of Survivor: Second Chance’s Angkor, people who were too starving and exhausted to even compete in the challenges. But the Ikabula tribe is no Angkor. They weren’t sent to a desolate, empty beach. Their beach looked comparable to the Vanua and Takali beaches. They had the resources there to build a shelter, and from what we saw, they didn’t have any trouble finding the energy to put the shelter together. And their tribe has some of the strongest performers. I would be surprised if we see Ikabula at Tribal at all- unless of course, the Millennial majority (Jay, Michaela, Will and Hannah) decide to throw a challenge and vote out Sunday or Bret.
On the Takali tribe, I think it is kind of hilarious that poor Adam got swapped to a tribe where the only people he knows are the lovebirds, Figgy and Taylor. I was pretty happy that Ken ended up with Jessica, who trusts him implicitly after David’s idol play kept her in the game last week. They are physically the strongest tribe with no weak links. Physical challenges aren’t going to be a problem for them. Where they are going to run into trouble will be puzzles. I think we are going to see Takali visit Tribal at least once- and it will be interesting to see whether Adam decides to stick with the Millennials or flip and vote with Ken and Jessica.
Vanua have the opposite problem to Takali. If there is a puzzle, I’d be putting my money on Zeke to solve it. But if the challenge is purely physical, they don’t have a chance. David is, by far, the weakest player in the game; Michelle wasn’t much better than David in the challenge this week. And now that they are down to four, it means that the other tribes can sit out their weakest members. The future is not looking great for Takali. David’s idol is the only thing keeping him in the game.
Every season when the tribes swap, we face the same question. What is the best way to navigate the tribe swap? What is the best strategy? Is there anything you can do to avoid seeing your game completely derailed by the tribe swap? This season, the main question is whether or not you should remain loyal to your original tribe. Is this the perfect time to make your big move, or should you sit tight, especially if you appear to be in the majority of your new tribe? Once the tribe swaps, you have to start worrying about where your loyalties lie. For this reason, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going to look at a player who got completely fooled by the tribe swap- the eleventh place finisher from season 24, Survivor: One World, Michael Jefferson.
Survivor: One World was a men vs women season, and Michael, along with the rest of the men, was placed on the Manono tribe. He was quick to form friendships within the group, and he became part of a four person alliance, along with Bill Posley, Matt Quinlan and Jay Byars. They felt that they were physically the strongest members of the tribe, and that if the men ever did lose a challenge, they would be safe. Ultimately however, the alliance was quick to fall apart. The remaining five members of the tribe aligned, and they made a move to vote out Matt. Seeing the writing on the wall, Jay and Bill joined them and voted with the numbers. Michael knew that his alliance had crumbled. As the only person not to vote against Matt, he was on the bottom of the tribe’s pecking order.
From this point on, the men were unbeatable in the challenges. However, Colton Cumbie, the leader of the opposing alliance, was desperate to vote out Bill. He convinced the tribe to agree to give up immunity, and as a result, Bill was sent home. Michael was an outsider- left in the game with nobody that was willing to work with him. On day 12, the tribe swap came- and for Michael, it should have been a lifeline for him. He was swapped onto the Salani tribe, along with Jay, Troyzan Robertson, eventual winner Kim Spradlin, Chelsea Meissner, Sabrina Thompson and Kat Edorsson. All of the best challenge performers were now on the Salani tribe, and they did not visit Tribal Council until the merge.
At the merge, Michael had to make a decision- would he try and get the men to vote together, or would he remain loyal to the swapped Salani tribe? In the end, Michael made the decision to vote with the Salani tribe, and in doing so, he ensured that none of the men had a chance to win the game. He had to decide where his loyalties were, and he made the wrong choice. How can the Gen Xers and Millennials this season avoid doing the same thing?
Know your original tribe’s dynamics.
One of Michael’s problems was that he had no real relationships within his original tribe. The men were so divided that it was easy for the women of Salani to get them to vote against each other. At the merge, Michael voted against Jonas Otsuji. Jonas and Leif Manson voted against Michael. Michael didn’t like the men who remained in the game, and they didn’t like him either. Even if Michael had wanted to stick to his original tribe, his poor social game in the early part of the game meant that it simply wasn’t an option.
Can either of the two original groups stick together, or have they made similar social mistakes to Michael? At Tribal Council, Jeff Probst said “the thought that all the Millennials are going to stick together while on three separate tribes right now could be foolish”, and Chris agreed that he didn’t think the Millennials were sticking together. Adam’s clear dislike for Figgy (He called her ‘very controlling’, a constant liar, and worthless) would indicate that Chris’ analysis of the situation is probably correct.
Chris assumes that the Gen X tribe are going to stick together. When discussing David, he said “Cece and Dave backstabbed me, and one of them has to go today. Dave bit me in the butt a couple of times, but he has at least some numbers that will survive this three tribe situation.” He expects to be able to work with David at the merge, and he expects that Ken and Jessica will also be part of that alliance. Of course, we viewers know from the summit that Chris shouldn’t be so confident about David. He promised Taylor that he would happily vote against any member of his tribe. Chris’ idea about bringing Zeke (and possibly Michelle) into the Gen X alliance is a good one on paper- but unfortunately for him, I think that once again, David is poised to bite him in the butt.
Know your next move
Michael’s other problem was that he was playing against one of the most skillful players that has ever been seen in Kim Spradlin. Kim was so charming that she was able to convince Michael, Jay, and Troyzan to vote in a way that was against their best interests. Michael should have seen that he was not part of Kim’s long-term plans, but he didn’t think he had a choice. He didn’t want to work with people that he disliked, and so he passively went along with Kim’s plans. He wasn’t a proactive player, and so he never tried to seize control of his own fate. Whether you intend to be loyal to your original tribe or the swapped tribe, I think that the most important thing is that you take a strategic approach. Don’t just go along with someone else’s plan. Think about where the game is going, and what your next move will be.
One player who is playing with some of Michael’s philosophies is Ken. Like Michael, I think that Ken is only interested in aligning with people that he likes. He turned on Paul and Lucy for purely emotional reasons, and his decision to try and align with Adam was presented in a similar light. He spoke about what a nice kid Adam was, and we didn’t see him make efforts to align with Taylor or Figgy. Like Michael, Ken is going to vote against people who annoy him, without much thought as to the strategic benefit of doing so.
For Ken, however, I think that this strategy is going to work out, particularly if he is working hand in hand with Jessica. Whereas Ken isn’t one to think about long term plans, Jessica is all about getting to day 36, where she can use her legacy advantage. Jessica’s strength is strategic thinking, Ken’s strength is his social game. Together, I think they could be dangerous. In the short term, I think they are safe. It is a no-brainer for Adam to want to work with them- he can’t stand Taylor and Figgy, and has always wanted them split up. But in the long term, once the merge hits, I think that Ken is more likely to passively follow Adam than to proactively make his own moves. And that doesn’t bode well for Ken’s game.
Know the numbers
At its heart, Survivor is a game of numbers. At the merge, there were six men, and six women. The swapped Salani tribe had three more members than the swapped Manono tribe, so it made sense for Michael to stick with them. But Survivor is complicated, and while Michael was focused on being part of the Salani majority, he lost sight of the other numbers within the game. When he agreed to send Jonas home, he unwittingly put himself in the minority. His best bet was to keep the swapped Salani tribe strong, but he simply hadn’t built the bonds with Kim, Chelsea, Kat or Sabrina that were necessary to do that. The women didn’t trust him, and so after Jonas had left, Michael found himself suddenly in the minority, and he was the next person voted out.
New-school Survivor changes all the time. Originally, Kim, Chelsea and Sabrina thought about sticking with the swapped Salani tribe. When the option to stick with the women from the original Salani tribe presented itself, Kim took it. What seems like a good idea at one moment might not be the plan by the next Tribal Council. For this reason, the smart Survivor player will keep all options in mind.
This season, it is the Millennials who have the numerical advantage. As Chris said, “Gen X is down in numbers and we do need Millennials to help going forward.” This numerical advantage has only been strengthened- Vanua, the only tribe where the former Gen Xers held the majority, just voted out CeCe, a Gen Xer. Now, the Millennials appear to have the edge on each of the three tribes- although as we should learn from the One World merge, just because a group of people have a majority, it doesn’t mean that they will automatically work together. There are certainly cracks in that Millennial tribe.
It would seem that Adam is planning on joining with Ken and Jessica and voting out Figgy or Taylor. I actually think that if he were to vote out Figgy, it would unite the Millennials, and probably improve Adam’s position in the game significantly. She is the cause of most of the disharmony amongst the Millennials. I think that Adam could do what Kim did so successfully in One World– convince his new tribe that he is working with them, perhaps even convince Ken and Jessica that he is one of their numbers, only to return to his original allegiances. With Figgy gone, I think that Adam and Zeke could be at the hub of a united group of Millennials. Whether Adam decides to vote against Failor, or to stick with them, he is going to be a pivotal player at the merge. He might be in the Kim position right now- an immunity idol in hand and links to both of the original tribes.
Know your options
If you are questioning whether or not to flip on your original tribe, you need to know two things. Firstly, what position are you in should you remain with your original tribe; and secondly, would switching to a new alliance help your position in the game? This is why we saw Figgy and Taylor make no effort to align with Ken or Jessica. They know that they are in a strong position if the Millennials stay together. What they should be thinking is that Adam might not be so incentivised to stay with the Millennials as they are.
From what we’ve seen of the Millennial tribe, Zeke is apparently on the bottom, slated as the next to go. But when he saw that he wasn’t with the rest of his tribe, he expressed dismay. He actually said that his situation was “the disaster scenario”. He is seemingly working with Chris more out of necessity than desire, and who really knows what Zeke’s plans are moving forward. He said he has zero trust in Michelle, and yet the two of them were holding hands at Tribal Council, seemingly best of friends. At the moment, I think his game is all about surviving this new phase of the game. At the merge, he could go either way.
We really didn’t see much of the dynamics on the Ikabula tribe. We saw Jay’s confidence- he said in confessional “I’m happy because we got the numbers. Four Millennials. Two Gen Xers. See you later Gen Xers, because I’m chilling. Even if we lose a challenge, I don’t care. Boom, you’re out of here.” For Jay, the Millennials sticking together is a foregone conclusion. And his trust isn’t misplaced. We’ve seen that he has a strong relationship with Michaela and Will. Even if Hannah tries to make a move, Jay still has three people on his side. I don’t see Hannah as someone who is going to go to rocks this early in the game. Jay is probably right. If Ikabula lose, it will be ‘see you later Gen Xers’, which is a pity, because I don’t think Bret or Sunday have done anything particularly wrong throughout the entire game. Although they are in the minority, they have done everything possible to appease their Millennial tribemates, from building the shelter to Jay’s exact specifications, to throwing complements around, to being the first to congratulate the Millennials after the challenge victory. Bret and Sunday are trying to find a crack in this Millennial alliance. But from what we’ve seen, for Jay, Michaela, Will and Hannah, joining forces with any Gen Xers isn’t an option they are willing to entertain.
And if all else fails, the merge is coming
In modern Survivor, a tribe swap is inevitable. And as the tribe swap becomes more common, players are finding different ways to navigate it. It would seem that you have the option to pledge loyalty to the new group or stay true to your original alliance. In recent seasons, we’ve seen a new option open up- you can actually do neither of these things. In season 30, Survivor: Worlds Apart, the dominant alliance was formed at the merge, when Rodney LaVoie, Jr formed a group of four with Carolyn Rivera and Will Simms (whom he had never been on a tribe with before), as well as Kelly Remington. Last season, Survivor: Kaoh Rong, Cydney Gillon and Aubry Bracco, who had never been on a tribe together, formed a close partnership that ended up dominating the endgame, and hopefully, the players this season can make similar moves because I am thrilled that we have finally gotten away from the Gen X/Millennial dynamic. It would be so frustrating to see the players return to those original alliances.
The player who wins this is going to be someone who doesn’t repeat Michael’s mistakes, someone who is proactive about improving their position, and someone with the self-awareness to know where they sit within each group. There is no easy formula to surviving the tribe swap, just as there is no easy formula to winning the game. Some have won by sticking with their original group, whereas some have won by forming new loyalties. But most have won by keeping their eyes open, and not allowing themselves to be fooled into putting themselves in an unfavourable position. It is easy to be fooled by the tribe swap. Michael wasn’t a great player, but he also wasn’t the first player to falsely put his hope into a new alliance– and watching the players this season, something tells me that he certainly won’t be the last.
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