Each week in Lessons in Survivor History, Catherine Lucas revisits another season to compare gameplay and draw from the lessons that have been learned.
Lessons in Survivor History: WWMD
Oh, Cirie. All of my hopes for the season have been pinned on Cirie’s shoulders. Since Sandra went home, I have been rooting for Cirie. Despite her early lack of edit, I had begun to believe. I might have been seeing what I wanted to see, but there was a tiny bit of a winner’s edit developing, right? The balance beam, lots of emotion over her family, being seen as the strategic drive behind crucial decisions in the game…and then she didn’t read the fine print, and her game is over. I don’t think she can recover from looking so silly and so disloyal in front of the jury. I don’t think she can get Officer Sarah back on her side. Even the fact that she is Cirie Fields, Survivor legend, won’t help her. Because part of the genius of Cirie’s game this time has been that she has somehow made the rest of the players out there forget who she is. They’ve forgotten what she is capable of. They’ve replaced the idea of Cirie being the best player never to win with a new idea of Cirie– Cirie the nurturing mother who struggles in the challenges. And perhaps, had Cirie not done something so foolish at Tribal Council, she would have been able to argue to a jury that every move she had made was part of the master plan. But it is hard to convince the jury that you had a master plan if nobody out there thinks of you as being a mastermind.
And not only has she blown her chance of getting the jury vote, but I think she’s blown her chance of getting there. Cirie is someone who can’t be trusted. If she’d use Sarah’s advantage against her, then who is going to want to stick with Cirie moving forward? She’s not going to win immunity, and she’s going to be easy to get rid of. Cirie’s ideal final three seemed to be herself, Sarah and Michaela. Michaela is gone, and I can’t see Sarah voting with Cirie again. Sarah has to be thinking that she can beat anyone out there right now, and she just has to get to the end with whoever will take her there. If Brad and Troyzan look like the more stable option, then she should stick with them. She’s played a strong game, and as long as she can argue her case to the jury in a clear but humble way, then there is no reason that she should lose to anybody. I was thinking that the jury would feel incredibly betrayed by the way that she used personal relationships to further herself in the game, but I think that Cirie’s mistake helped Sarah here. It showed the jury that Cirie was willing to do to Sarah what Sarah did to them. Instead of Sarah seeming to be this cold hearted strategist, she looked like the victim. And I think that might help the jury forgive her for any perceived slights. Cirie intended on improving her own chances with the jury, but I think she actually helped Sarah refine her own case.
Oh, Cirie. Why? Was Cirie really feeling like this was something that she had to do? Was she trying to build her resume? Does Cirie Fields even need a resume?
To be fair to Cirie, I think that she was primarily acting to save Sarah. She was panicked, and she didn’t have the correct read on the game, but she was thinking that if Sarah went out, she would be at the mercy of Brad and Troyzan. She felt that this was a critical time to retain her numbers, and was worried that Tai really did have a plan to get Sarah out. Cirie felt that strategically, for her position in the game to remain secure, she had to make sure Sarah was safe. It was a bonus that she also got to publicly show off her strategic chops. There was strategic benefit to keeping Sarah– it wasn’t a big move for the sake of a big move. But I do think that she was blinded by the shiny object that was Sarah’s advantage. It was going to be a big move. It was going to be a chance to grandstand in front of the jury. It was going to make for some great television. And because those things excited Cirie, she lost her ability to read the other players– usually her strength. If she had sat down and thought about where on earth Tai was going to get the votes together to target Sarah, then perhaps she would have seen that Sarah wasn’t in any immediate danger. But, blinded by the prospect of a big move, Cirie plunged headfirst into her plan without reading the fine print on the advantage. The advantage was non-transferrable, Cirie ended up looking like a snake, and now Sarah seems to be the only one left with a strong chance to win the game.
It is getting late in the game now, and Cirie isn’t the only one looking for opportunities to make a big move. The thing is though, there are only a few votes left. Not everybody is going to get their ‘big move’ moment. And what if you make your big move, only to find that what you’ve actually done is destroy your chances of getting to the Final Tribal Council? For these reasons, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going back to season 27, Survivor: Blood vs Water (or Blood Water, as it has become affectionately known), to look at the game of second place finisher, Monica Culpepper, and to ask ourselves once and for all, what would Monica do?
Blood vs Water was a season where half the cast was made up of returning players and the other half of their loved ones. Monica began on the Galang tribe, along with all other returning players, with her husband Brad at the opposing tribe, Tadhana, with the loved ones. Galang won the early challenges, and without having to vote people out of the game, there was an atmosphere of harmony within the tribe. Monica was part of the group– there was a clear unity between most of the Galang members. It was only really Colton Cumbie, who Monica had played with in her original season, Survivor: One World, who was on the outs. Monica was playing a quiet game, getting along with her tribe, and not being a leading vote in any decision making.
However, on Tadhana, Brad was in the thick of things, and this would complicate Monica’s game. Brad was a part of the majority alliance at Tadhana, and he was instrumental in voting people out of the game. To add to the drama, Blood vs Water had Redemption Island, where those who were voted out of the game would compete in challenges. Redemption Island was a public arena, and the members of Tadhana who were sent to Redemption Island came into the challenges angry with Brad. Not only were they angry with Brad, but they were publicly calling him out as being the one in control. With so much pressure on his game, Brad couldn’t continue and was eventually voted out and sent to Redemption Island.
Monica had tried to keep things under control at her own tribe, joining an alliance that consisted of herself, Tina Wesson, Gervase Peterson, Tyson Apostol and Aras Baskauskas. When Galang did lose immunity, Monica’s alliance wanted to target Laura Morett, who was a strong challenge performer. Monica was worried that this would lead to Brad losing the challenge at Redemption Island. However, she didn’t take a stand. She voted along with her alliance, and Laura went to Redemption Island, where she did defeat Brad and sent him permanently out of the game.
The two tribes then swapped and Monica remained on Galang, along with most of the physically weaker players left in the game. She was also with one of her original allies from Galang– Tina. The new tribe predictably lost the challenges, and Monica voted along with Tina to eliminate both Laura Boneham and Kat Edorsson. Impressed by Monica’s loyalty, Tina promised her that she would now be moved up the totem pole within the alliance– and she would now be fifth. It was also made clear that Tina’s alliance was centred around the pairs in the game– Tina and her daughter, Aras and his brother– with Monica being voted out at fifth.
At the merge, Tyson (whose girlfriend Rachel Foulger had already been voted out) and Gervase (whose niece Marissa Peterson was the first person voted out) had joined with the other single players left in the game and was preparing to vote Aras out and seize control. Monica joined the alliance, voted against Aras, and became very close with Tyson and Gervase, who she would eventually sit with at the Final Tribal Council.
Monica continued to play a quiet game. She won immunity challenges, but for the most part, she wasn’t making any waves. She was loyal to Tyson and Gervase. As it became clearer and clearer that Tyson was in control of the game, the players in the minority alliance started to appeal to Monica, seeing her as the weakest link. Every vote, those who were in danger would beg Monica to vote with them– and every week, she would choose to vote with Tyson and Gervase. Her loyal strategy did get her to the end of the game, but it didn’t win her the respect of the jury, and in the Final Tribal Council, she only received one vote.
Had Monica decided that she needed to make a big move, or worried too much about her resume, then she wouldn’t even have made it to the end (unless she had managed to win immunity to get herself there). She knew that she could count on Tyson and Gervase taking her to the end. Even when other players would claim that she was on the bottom of her alliance, she knew that she was firmly in the top three. To make a big move would have been to risk that– and probably would have meant flipping from a secure final three spot onto the bottom of a bigger alliance. When Tyson’s alliance still had seven members, Tina told Monica that she was on the bottom, and should work with her. When we were down to five people left in the game, Ciera Eastin was telling Monica that she was on the bottom, and should flip and work with her. Monica was constantly being given opportunity to make big moves, but every time, had she made the big move, she would have jeopardised her spot in the end.
That last tribal council was a mess– but we did see Sarah vote with Brad and Troyzan. This puts them into a good spot. They’ve been loyal to each other throughout the game. They have proven trustworthy, and most importantly, I think that Sarah can feel confident going to the end with either of them. What she needs right now are steady allies that she can trust. If she can get to the end, I think she can beat anyone who is left in the game. So Brad and Troyzan have a clear path to the end with Sarah. In fact, after a few weeks of fighting for their lives in the game, I think that Brad and Troyzan are suddenly in an enviable position indeed. They have the advantage of people trusting them– and not only does Sarah want to work with them, but Tai feels close to them also. We saw Brad bonding with Cirie and Aubry in the pre-merge. I think that they are in a strong position to make it to the end.
But both of them have been quiet. They’ve both had the reputation of being puppets for other people– Brad was supposedly being controlled by Sierra; Troyzan has been accused of being a puppet for Brad. They’ve been quietly trying their best to get to the end, and I think that in a season called Game Changers, there must be enormous pressure to make moves. If even Cirie thinks that she needs to pad her resume, how much more must the other players be thinking the same thing?
Troyzan has an idol. He has the opportunity to make a big, flashy move. The irony in this is that in doing so, he will make himself a less attractive person to take to the end. And is just playing an idol well enough to gain the respect of a jury? Is it worth jeopardising his chances of making the end? The easiest route to the end for him is to sit quietly and continue playing as he has been right from the beginning, but most players would say that they aren’t playing for second place. Monica was always playing a game that was going to land her in second place. Tyson had dominated the game in every respect and was clearly going to be rewarded for it. For Monica, the decision was about morals, about playing with loyalty, and playing self-sacrificially. Especially when, at the final six tribal council, Tyson went to rocks rather than agree to vote Monica out of the game, Monica felt indebted to Tyson and Gervase. She knew she would struggle to beat Tyson, but she didn’t want to turn on him and Gervase because it wouldn’t have felt like it was the right thing to do. I don’t think any of the players left share Monica’s moral compass. I think that for all of them, they’d rather go out in sixth place because they made the move, rather than go to the end and get no votes.
The jury were absolutely brutal to Monica. They had no respect for her or her game. She knew going in that it would be a struggle. She expressed doubts throughout the game, she knew that the other players were calling her a ‘puppy dog’, and thought that she was being dragged along to the end by Tyson. She had numerous opportunities to take her fate into her own hands, and she never did. Because for Monica, being happy with the way that she played the game was more important than winning. I think that she was proud of herself for physically surviving until the end.
Sarah is the Tyson here. She’s had control over every vote. It has been her driving the strategy and the action. This week, we saw Cirie trying to regain control over her own narrative- and failing. We saw Tai acknowledge that he needs a big move– and he wants his big move to be a coup against Sarah. We saw Aubry acknowledge that she needs a big move– and she wants her big move to be voting Tai out of the game. Incidentally, I think Tai’s instincts here are much better. Taking out Tai isn’t much of a move. Being the one who voted out (or idoled out) the person who has controlled the game is much more likely to get the jury on your side. These players aren’t trying to play a self-sacrificing game. They aren’t just trying to get to the end as some sort of personal achievement. They want to win- and to do so, they are going to have to control their own destiny.
So how do they do it? For Tai, the options are endless. He has two idols– and he has already played one successfully to save Sierra, who now sits on the jury. He has a bag of tricks– he just needs to use them. For Aubry, time is running out. She doesn’t have any idols or advantages. She has her social game, which she used to great effect in Kaoh Rong, but every relationship that she creates this season is cut short. She doesn’t have strong bonds with the people left in the game– Aubry’s allies are all on the jury (or pre-jury trip!), and that makes her a dangerous person to take to the end. I think that Aubry’s perceived threat level is too high for the other players to ignore her. They won’t want to play the game with her, and she’ll be voted out, without getting the chance to take her destiny into her own hands.
Heading into the finale, I think it is pretty clear that Sarah is the frontrunner. Just like Tyson, she seems to have everything set up for her to do well. But does that mean that nobody else has a chance? For Monica, final six was too late to make any move. There was nothing that she could have done at that point that would have seen her win the game. She’d already lost the game much earlier, making relationships that people didn’t see as genuine. Because for all of the talk of big moves, and resumes, and jury ‘respect’, that is ultimately what the jury vote comes down to. Aubry knows this only too well. Sarah has made all of the moves. She has controlled the game, and she has created relationships, but she has betrayed those relationships too.
If Sarah gets to the final three (and she is such an obvious threat that she might find her journey ends at the final four), she will have to make those people that she betrayed feel good about voting for her. And if she is the one with the strongest social skills, she will be able to do just that. Have the other contenders got stronger social bonds than she does? All of the exit press seems to suggest that Tai wasn’t particularly close to anybody out there. Michaela said that he was so conflict-averse that he flipped from one side to the other, multiple times a day. On the other hand, Michaela’s exit press made it clear that despite Cirie’s strategic blunder this week, she still has friends on the jury. She still has all of those hyper-emotional moments that must have created sympathy. So maybe, just maybe, there is still hope? Like most other people, I’m expecting to see Sarah take the million dollars. I am pretty sure that Cirie blew her chances this week. But I’ll be cheering for her all the same.