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: You Can Always Be Nicer
Oh David. I really, really want you to do well in this game. Other than Michaela, who is obviously completely wonderful, David has been my favourite person to watch this season. I love the underdog story. I love seeing superfans living out their dreams. I was happy for him when he managed to wrestle that idol out of a coconut. And I really, really wanted to see him turn his game around and find himself in a position of power. But the move this week has me quite puzzled. To be honest, I am drawn to the conclusion that David’s game is 40% about improving his position in the tribe, 60% making good television. And those percentages might be generous. I think that David would love to win this game. But he would also love to be a memorable character. His gameplay is reminding me very much of Cambodia’s Jeff Varner- lots of big, flashy moves way too early in the game, and seemingly, for no reason whatsoever. It didn’t work out for Varner, and while I think that David is going to make it a lot further in the game than Varner ever managed to- I don’t see David as a swap boot- I don’t see him winning.
For television purposes, David’s move was a great one. I mean, I’d rather watch paranoid Jessica, who so far has been prone to overplaying and making big moves for seemingly no reason, than silent Lucy, who until this episode had contributed nothing to the story at all. It’s difficult to really make a judgement, based on how little we saw of Lucy, but to me it seemed that she was the more rational, predictable player of the two. I think that strategically keeping Jessica around in the hope of gaining a loyal ally makes little sense. You only have to look back once again to Survivor: Cambodia to see that. Jeremy Collins, who would go on to win the season, used his immunity idol to save his ally Stephen Fishbach. While Stephen was no doubt grateful for the gesture, it also made him acutely aware that if the two of them got to the end together, Jeremy was the certain winner. Jeremy didn’t buy Stephen’s undying loyalty, and I don’t think that David has Jessica’s loyalty either.
Jessica has already proven to be a paranoid player. After being saved by an idol, Jessica’s paranoia is going to skyrocket. Now, more than ever before, she is going to want to be making big moves. She is going to want to earn her spot in the game. She isn’t going to trust people so easily. Ken, who is one of David’s closest allies, wrote Jessica’s name down. Is she going to be able to come back to camp and happily put herself at the bottom of David’s four-person alliance? From what we’ve seen of Jessica so far, I wouldn’t bet on it. She has to know that Ken and CeCe are both more important to David than she is. David might think that he has bought Jessica’s loyalty, and he might be walking away from that Tribal Council convinced that he made the right move. In my opinion, he’s wrong.
Of Jessica and Lucy, Jessica is by far the more erratic, unpredictable player. But Lucy was the more abrasive one. When it came down to it, David made a move to work with the person that he liked more. Just like at the last Tribal Council, Ken and David targeted Paul- not because he was in any way a threat to them, but because they didn’t like his brash and often arrogant personality. Lots of people like to think of Survivor purely in strategic terms, but the truth is that the social game is far more important. To look at how important a great social game is, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going back to season 11, Survivor: Guatemala, and 14th place finisher, Blake Towsley.
Survivor: Guatemala began with a brutal eleven mile hike through the jungle to the tribe camp. Nakum were the first tribe to finish the hike, winning the more comfortable camp, but the win came at a price. During this hike, Blake along with the other males on the Nakum tribe became ill. Most of Blake’s early game consisted of being nursed back to health by Margaret Bobonich. Despite having little opportunity to make friendships or alliances, when Nakum lost the first immunity challenge, Blake joined with the rest of his tribe in voting against Jim Lynch, who had also fallen ill on the hike. After Jim left the game, the Nakum tribe rallied. Their health improved, and they won the next two immunity challenges.
With Blake in a comfortable position in the game, the tribes were swapped. Blake became a member of Yaxha. In a stroke of luck for Blake, the new Yaxha tribe had seven members, four of whom were previously members of Nakum. Blake had been joined by Danni Boatwright, Brandon Bellinger, and Bobby Jon Drinkard, three people that he felt that he had built friendships with. In fact, at Nakum, Blake’s original alliance had been himself, Margaret, Danni, Bobby Jon, and Brandon. They had a clear numerical advantage over the original Yaxha members. Blake was set up to succeed in the game. But when Yaxha lost immunity and went to Tribal Council, the alliance of four couldn’t stick together, and Blake was sent home.
Don’t take your numbers for granted.
For Blake, making the merge should have been a sure thing. He said in confessional “I think I have a pretty good chance. I don’t think it could have worked out better…I’m liking my odds right now.” Not only was he secure in his alliance of four, but he was also a strong, athletic male. His strength was needed in the challenges. Voting him out would be crazy. And so, Blake basically went into holiday mode. Certain that he had the numbers, he stopped playing the game, and began to enjoy himself. He relaxed completely, assuming that Danni, Brandon, and Bobby Jon had no other options but him. As soon as he stopped checking in with them, and stopped making sure that they were all together, he put himself in danger.
Chris and Bret have been making similar mistakes, and unless they correct their way of playing, I don’t think either can win the game. For both of them, the strategy seems to be that they lock down an alliance, and trust that the alliance is going to hold strong. But we don’t see them being proactive about keeping the alliance together. Perhaps both of them are trusting in the fact that their challenge strength will keep them safe. And that might be a safe bet in the Gen X tribe. We saw how impressive Chris was in the reward challenge. But once the tribes swap, challenge strength becomes less important. Can they adapt their playing style, and be more active in securing their alliances?
If Chris and Bret were doing a good job at keeping their alliance secure, then Jessica would never have believed that Paul could pull off an all-male alliance. What is worrying is not only how easily Jessica was convinced that Chris, Paul, and Bret were against her, but how easily she was able to convince Lucy and Sunday. And then, returning to camp, there was very little effort made by either Chris or Bret to smooth things over. Upon returning to camp, Chris was furious. He said in confessional: “I was just about to take the rice and throw it in the ocean and make my own tribe of one.” I hate that we are living in the post-Hantz era, where destroying the tribe’s resources in a temper tantrum is seen as a legitimate option. Chris refused to speak with Jessica and was more interested in wallowing in self-pity than with healing his relationships with the women of the tribe. This tells me that Chris and Bret are about as good at alliance management as Blake was, and unless they improve their ways, they will be headed for a similarly early exit from the game.
Is there anyone else who is taking their numbers for granted? Well, over on the Millennials tribe we have Figgy, who seems to think that she has complete control. Anyone who writes Figgy’s name down goes home, or so she tells us. From what we saw, she’s not giving Michelle or Jay any credit for keeping her alive in the game. She needs to understand that her ‘numbers’ don’t actually belong to her. Hannah and Will are seemingly following Michelle. It was Jay’s relationship with Michaela that convinced Michaela to vote with them. Figgy and Taylor are both in a bad spot if the upcoming tribe swap separates them from Jay and Michelle. Like Blake, they are going to wish that they had put more effort into solidifying their relationships with their allies instead of focusing solely on their relationship with each other.
Fit in. Don’t stand out.
One of the main reasons that Blake lost his numbers in the game was that his personality was completely different to that of the other members of the tribe. Brandon, Danni, and Bobby Jon were quiet, unassuming types of people. Blake was not. He was young, living in California, and liked to have fun. Brandon, Bobby Jon, and Danni could talk about working hard and farming. Blake liked to talk about girls and parties. Brian Corridan, one of the members of the minority alliance, noticed this and began to work it to his advantage. Brian said, “Blake is such an idiot. He’s making himself look like such a pretty boy, a frat boy, a wealthy boy. It’s great. I have a new favourite game out here, and it’s ‘bait Blake’. I’m trying to make sure he tells all his stories around people like Danni and Bobby Jon so that they see what a moron Blake is. This is awesome. He’s digging himself into a hole and I’m doing everything I can to make sure he has a shovel.”
Brian, as well as his alliance members Gary Hogeboom and Amy O’Hara felt like they didn’t fit in on the tribe. They were uncomfortable with the overtly religious nature of the discussions. Brian and Amy both voiced their concerns about fitting in, especially as they were from big cities, and didn’t really understand all of the farming talk. But unlike Blake, whose stories made him stand out, Brian, Amy, and Gary just quietly listened to their tribemates. They may not have felt like they were fitting in, but they pretended that they did. In the end, ‘bait Blake’ worked. Brian encouraged Blake to continue to tell his stories and continue to annoy Danni and Bobby Jon. Danni and Bobby Jon then flipped their votes at Tribal, voting with Brian, Amy, and Gary to send Blake home.
Jay described the Millennial tribe as dreamers. He thinks that if he was with the Gen Xers, he would be told to ‘get a 9-5’, But on the Millennial tribe, things are more laid back. They’re having fun, chasing goats, and not really worrying about whether or not they are winning challenges. Predictably fitting in with their stereotype, at the Gen X tribe it is more about hard work. Most of the members of the tribe are married or have children and that seems to have bonded them together. What will be interesting will be the upcoming tribe swap. We’ll get to see who can adapt to the other tribe’s way of thinking. Who can be like Brian, Amy, and Gary, who successfully disguised the fact that they did not identify with their tribe at all? And who is going to end up more like Blake, stick out like a sore thumb and get voted out as a result?
I think this is another way that Chris is going to be in some trouble. He’s quite inflexible, and at the moment, Gen X are down in the numbers. The likelihood of him being in a position where he has to adapt and start fitting in with the Millennials is quite high. The likelihood of him successfully doing so is not. Nobody on the Millennial tribe is going to want to be bossed around. In his everyday life, Chris admits to being the alpha leader. In this situation, he’s going to want to tone that down a little.
If Taylor and Figgy end up together, then they will never be able to fit in. They cannot seem to help themselves, and their displays of public affection are certainly going to make them a target. If anyone this season is going to fall victim to the ‘bait Blake’ game, it is these two. Figgy got very lucky when Mari went home. If the Gen X tribe get any say in the vote at all, I think that either Figgy or Taylor will be eliminated at the next tribal.
Don’t be annoying. You’ll be okay.
When I write these blogs, I am often reminded of what is often referred to in RHAP as the ‘Hali Ford Rules’- don’t be annoying, don’t be a weirdo, and you’ll do okay. Blake is someone in Survivor history who really, really could have done with a pep talk from Hali before he left. He had very little self-awareness, and therefore, he continued to tell stories about himself, his college fraternity, the drinking that he had done, and the women that he had known. He told his stories seemingly without realising that his audience was primarily made up of people who considered themselves to be quite religious (The tribe prayed together often, so there really is no excuse for Blake not to have known this). Danni and Bobby Jon in particular found his stories infuriating. And the more he told the stories, the more annoying he became. Danni and Bobby Jon had to make the choice at Tribal Council- did they want to move forward in the game with Blake, whom they could not stand, or did they want to move forward with Brian, Amy, and Gary, all of whom were likable people? Despite it being in their best strategic interests to keep Blake around, Danni and Bobby Jon made the decision to move forward with people that they enjoyed being around instead of just voting along tribal lines.
At the Gen X tribe, every decision has been made on the same basis. Rachel, Paul, and Lucy have all lost the game because someone in the tribe found them to be irritating. It was not the best strategic move for Jessica to vote against Paul. But Paul’s big mouth and habit of putting his foot in his mouth caught up with him. And it is not the right strategic move for David to throw away his idol, saving Jessica and sending Lucy home. If he found Lucy to be someone who was less irritating, less dictatorial, then I don’t think he would have made that move. And had he voted for Jessica, then he would still have his idol. David is a fan of the show. He should guess that a swap is coming (The swap was definitely on Adam’s mind, as one of the reasons that Adam was desperate to go idol hunting was that he knew he had to find it before the swap happened). And in the event of a swap, there is no guarantee that he ends up on a tribe with any of his allies. Besides, hasn’t he already promised Taylor that he is going to vote all the Gen Xers off, one by one? I don’t think that Jessica is going to be a loyal number for David either way, but the fact that the tribes are swapping next week makes David’s move even worse.
Survivor is an emotional game played with real people. As David said in confessional, “Out here, you have to be careful not to say the wrong thing, or rub people the wrong way because you can really piss some people off.” This season, there are a lot of players out there (mostly on the Gen X tribe) that are making moves based mostly on how they are feeling. Ken refused to work with Lucy because he didn’t like the way that she spoke to him. He said to David, “It’s very, very simple. This morning, when you and I were scolded and told not to speak to anyone, I was done.” Ken refused to even consider any strategic benefits to working with Lucy. She was incredulous about this. She thought that he should be grateful just to be offered the chance to stay in the game. Chris made the decision to target Jessica rather than mend fences with her. He said, “I don’t like Jess. I can’t stand her, so if I can help chop Jess, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Every vote involves the emotions of every player. While we’d like to think that people can look at every situation logically, analyse the strategic benefits, and then make the move, the reality is that when you are out there, hungry and removed from the comforts of home, you vote to keep people that you want to spend time with. Nobody wants to spend 39 days with a Blake. Good players need to give others not only a strategic reason to keep them around, but more importantly, a social reason. Lucy knew that her personality was so abrasive that not even her husband and kids like her all the time- and yet she didn’t tone it down for complete strangers. Pregame, Paul knew that his biggest problem would be talking too much- and then his incessant talking was what made Ken and David target him. So many players forget the value of the social game.
Basically, Blake’s mistake was to be too arrogant, and too much of a jerk. If you want to win Survivor, don’t do that. But this week showed us that it’s not just about making sure the majority like you. It’s a tricky game, and this week, Lucy’s fate was in the hands of one person. Had she played a quieter game, she would easily have made it to the merge. It was her abrasive personality that was her downfall, just as Blake’s arrogance was his. The players still remaining in the game need to remember not to have the same regrets as Lucy- if she could have been nicer to David and Ken, she wouldn’t have been voted out. Sometimes, especially in Survivor, a little congeniality goes a long way.
For the complete schedule of Survivor blogs: RHAP Survivor Blog Schedule.