Each week, Catherine Lucas examines the gameplay of a contestant or a tribe and compares them to players from past seasons. It’s a mix of history, strategy, and culture in “Lessons in Survivor History”. You can expect the blogs on Monday mornings.
Lessons in Survivor History: Fight for Your Game
I know that not everyone agreed with me last week, but I do still believe that gender has a huge impact on the game of Survivor. I also believe that the game is evolving to a point that it is more difficult for women– and Desi being the latest person voted out does support this. I’ve never said that the men get together with the intent of voting out women. I don’t believe that at all, but I do believe that there are two perceptions that are working against the women in the game.
Firstly, the perception is that the women are less likely to have the idol– and this is something that is backed up by fact. I thought the discussion that Andrea and Rob had on the podcast last week was really interesting, where it was said that women were judged harshly for trying to find an idol, whereas men were excused for the same behaviour. Andrea pointed out that women gravitate towards playing a more social game, and so they are less likely to be alone. Whatever the reasons, it is true that statistically, the idol is more likely to be in the hands of a male player, and more likely to be played for a male player. And because of this, we have players like Jessica going home at the merge– the safest option. Of course, women can use this to their advantage. No one expected Kelley Wentworth to have an idol in Cambodia, and so the majority alliance didn’t worry about splitting their votes, allowing Wentworth to use her idol to get Andrew Savage out of the game. Being underestimated isn’t a bad thing.
The other perception that women have against them is that they are often thought of as threatening. This is essentially what happened to Desi this week. Joe has definitely been the more aggressive player. Joe has found two idols. Desi has won a challenge and hasn’t offended people. And once upon a time in Survivor history, Joe would have been the obvious target, but now people are recognising that the quieter, more under-the-radar players are the more dangerous. The players who have the strongest social connections are the new targets. I think that in this season, the women have been named as threatening, whereas Ben is the only male whose name has been brought up as a threat to win. Every exit interview has named Chrissy as the person that is pulling the strings, and Ryan seems to be getting away scot free. And I’m not sure about why this is happening. Is Ryan just that good? Is it that his famed social game really is winning him this game?
I know that some will disagree, but for me, the fact that the last two new player seasons have been dominated by men is more than a coincidence. I think a pattern is emerging where strong female players face an uphill battle to make it to the end. I think that women who are being cast need to think about how they will be perceived. I think that they need to be aware of the recent history. And I hope that the women of season 36 can navigate their way through the early portion of the game, and avoid another pre-jury where we just see woman after woman being voted out because there is a pattern, and to quote the great Papa Bear: “It is real, and it is happening.”
But clearly, the main factor behind Desi being in trouble this week wasn’t her gender. It was her original tribe. The Healers have really been a sinking ship since the tribe swap. I do wonder if future players will see the way that this season has been playing out and realise that winning all the pre-merge challenges is a terrible idea. Because the Healers had faced no adversity in the game, it was easy for the Heroes and the Hustlers to join forces against them. Cole and Joe haven’t helped matters– it is easy for the rest of the group to see them as the enemy when Joe is making cracks at Ben’s military service, or when Cole is eating ridiculous amounts of food.
As long as Joe and Cole are there, the Healers will remain the enemy, and the Heroes and Hustlers will remain united. And that is why Desi was the person voted out. Nobody is angry with Desi. It is completely feasible that those who feel they are on the bottom of the alliance of seven will want to work with Desi. It’s much less likely that they will want to work with Joe. And so, as the person most likely to cause disruption to the alliance, Desi, went home. But she didn’t have to. Instead of putting her vote on Lauren, Desi only had to vote for Joe to make sure that she stayed in the game. And for that reason, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going back to season 14, Survivor: Fiji, and seventh place finisher, Alex Angarita.
Alex, much like Desi, had an easy time in the early portion of the game. He was on the Moto tribe, and his tribe dominated in the challenges. Fiji was set up with a twist– Alex’s Moto tribe were the ‘haves’, who lived in relative comfort, had plenty of food and a sturdy shelter. The opposing Ravu tribe were given nothing, and could not even make a fire to boil water. As Ravu were starving and dehydrated, they found winning immunity to be an impossible task. Moto only visited tribal council once– when they were given the choice between losing immunity or losing their luxury camp, they chose to lose immunity– and although Alex wasn’t driving the strategy, he voted with the majority alliance.
Eventually, the tribes swapped, and Alex became a member of Ravu. Although he struggled with the conditions at Ravu, he was able to form a strong alliance. Along with original Moto members Edgardo Rivera and Dreamz Herd, as well as original Ravu member Mookie Lee, Alex formed a group that called themselves the ‘four horsemen’. They hoped that the bonds that they had on the opposing tribe would see them form a majority at the merge, and despite the fact that Ravu continued to lose the immunity challenges, Alex felt confident in his position.
The main reason for Alex’s confidence was that during his time at Ravu, his ally Mookie had found the immunity idol. At the time, only Edgardo, Alex and Mookie knew that the idol had been found, and the three men hoped to use the idol to their advantage at the merge. Alex and his alliance were then extremely lucky when at the merge, there was no individual challenge. Instead, the merged tribe were split into two teams and forced to play for tribal immunity. When Alex’s team lost, they were immediately sent to Tribal Council, with no opportunity to scramble or strategise. Alex and Dreamz voted together, along with original Moto member Stacy Kimball, to eliminate Michelle Yi, who was part of the opposing alliance. This further solidified Alex’s power going into the individual portion of the game. However, he was putting too much confidence in alliances that simply were not as strong as he hoped that they were.
The Healers approached the merge in a similar way. They assumed that they had the numbers, they knew that they had an idol, and they felt good about their position. Only Joe voiced concern that maybe they couldn’t trust Ben as much as they thought they could. Overconfident in their relationship with Ben and Lauren, and with no other relationships in the game, the Healers didn’t have many options at the merge. And when the Jessica vote didn’t go their way, they had no counterattack this week. It seemed like for most of them, the plan seemed to be ‘just win immunity’.
I think that Mike trusts that his relationship with Lauren will keep him safe, and he is happy to see some of his fellow Healers sent to the jury. Joe tried to turn the target onto Ben, with absolutely no success, and Desi voted for Lauren, and we saw no reason for that vote in the show. In her exit press, Desi said that she thought all the Healers were voting for Lauren. But even if all of the Healers did vote for Lauren, what would that accomplish? They needed someone on their side. We saw them trying to work with Devon and Ryan– but why would either of them want to vote for Lauren? Having Lauren as the intended target makes no sense to me at all, and the show gave us no indication of anybody wanting Lauren out. It seems like the Healers were trusting in the Alex gameplay– just believe that having (or finding) an immunity idol will get you through.
The idol didn’t work out for Alex. Although they had originally decided to keep the idol between the three of them, Mookie eventually made the mistake of telling Dreamz about the idol, not knowing that Dreamz had flipped to the opposing alliance. Not only was Dreamz not on his side, but Alex was running out of allies quickly. Stacy, whom Alex had hoped would stick with him, was now strategizing with eventual winner Earl Cole. And it was Stacy who proved to be Alex’s undoing. Just as the Heroes and Hustlers voted against Jessica last week, hoping to outsmart the idol, Stacy proposed voting for Edgardo, who was the most under-the-radar player in Alex’s alliance. Knowing that Alex would be debating whether to play the idol for himself or for Mookie, the majority instead targeted Edgardo, blindsiding Alex beautifully. Alex and Mookie had been told by Dreamz that Alex would be the target, and Mookie had given Alex the idol. And Alex confidently played it for himself, sure that he would be safe– but instead, his close ally was sent home.
This left Alex in a really bad position. With only Mookie as an ally, he faced an uphill battle to win the game. And he was the intended target of the next vote. But to be safe, the majority decided to split the vote between the two remaining horsemen and Alex took advantage of this. Realising that the vote would be split, he voted for Mookie, his closest ally. And that vote sent Mookie to the jury. Alex did what Desi could have done, should have done this week. Desi should have used her vote against Joe. In exit press, Desi has tried to explain her position. She’s tried to tell us why she couldn’t vote Joe and it comes down to morals. For Desi, voting against the one person who hadn’t let her down wasn’t something that she was prepared to do. She just isn’t a self-interested player, and for that reason, it is probably better that she is sitting in Ponderosa and Joe is in the game.
Alex was self-interested, and that instinct bought him another three days in the game. But that is all it bought him. He voted for Mookie, which sent Mookie home, but didn’t gain anything else for Alex. He remained public enemy number one. The majority alliance continued to target him. And when he lost the next immunity challenge, there was nothing else that he could do. He began to try and turn the group against Boo Bernis, who was irritating other castaways, but Boo won immunity. He then attempted to turn the vote against power player Yau Man Chan, but with no success. Alex was sent to the jury in a unanimous vote.
Desi refused to buy herself an extra three days in the game. And Joe voted for Ben– although he must have known that Desi was the other target. The other two Healers, Cole and Mike, did what was best for their games and voted for Joe. But does this actually get them anywhere? Can Cole and Mike reunite with their Yawa teammates Ben and Lauren, and actually make inroads in the game? Let’s be honest– for Cole and Mike, there was no other play. Even if the four remaining Healers had managed to get on the same page (and with not even Joe and Desi voting together, even that might have been too much to ask), there would still have been four votes going to Desi, and on the revote, she still would have been sent home. Their only hope was to flip someone to their side, and there is no real reason for any of the Heroes or Hustlers to work with them. The Healers haven’t created the relationships necessary to crack the majority alliance. And they are presenting as a united group of four– anyone flipping to join them will be at the bottom of the new alliance. When the numbers dwindle down, then there will be incentive to work with the Healers.
I don’t think Cole or Mike are under any illusions about their place in the alliance. They did what they were told to do, and they are hoping that their loyalty will be repaid when Joe is sent home before either of them. Despite the recent trend of voting out the quieter, under-the-radar players, I still think that Dr. Mike will be the last Healer standing. Not only does he have his idol, but he is the only Healer that we have seen actually creating bonds with people from the other tribes. He just needs to detach himself from Joe and Cole, who have been alienating the other players, and then Mike becomes an attractive number to be used. I do wonder if Mike has any hope of winning the entire game though. I think it depends very much on how well he uses the idol. One flashy idol move can be enough to convince a jury that Mike deserves the million. It can also be enough to make the other players target him as a jury threat. He’s got to walk a fine line between not wanting to appear to be too threatening, so that nobody is afraid to sit next to him at the end, and not wanting to appear as a goat that got dragged to the end. Nobody said this was an easy game, and I think Mike is in a really tough spot.
Joe has been given an extra three days in the game, but I think that like Alex in Fiji, this is more of a stay of execution. The comparisons to Tony are absolutely apt– Joe not only looks like Mr Vlachos, but his gameplay is almost identical. In Cagayan, Tony was always in power. He was making the decision each week; it was him directing the rest of his alliance. We never got to see how Tony’s aggressive game style would work if he was on the bottom. And now, in Joe’s game, we are seeing things play out. Joe has rubbed everyone in the game the wrong way. Without an immunity idol, his game seems pretty much over. For him, perhaps the best move was to vote for Ben. He had been loudly targeting Ben all day. He’d played with Desi since the beginning of the game, and at the very least now he can sell himself as a loyal ally. If he is going to outlast Cole or Mike, he has to have some way to pitch himself. And in not voting for Desi, he is able to talk to Ryan and Devon about making their move against Ben, and they know that Joe’s word means something. I think that Joe has now committed to the idea of getting Ben out of the game. And it is a smart move– self-interested players like Ryan and Chrissy have to know that they can’t go to the end of the game with Ben. Ben is a bigger threat to win the game than Joe is. So perhaps Joe can talk his way out of the terrible situation that he is in. I hope so because I think that Joe is one of the most interesting characters still in the game.
And then there is Cole. Cole had immunity this week, so he was in no danger. By voting with Ben, maybe he is hoping that he can buy more than three days. But like Joe, Cole is in the Alex spot. And unlike Joe, Cole doesn’t have the knowledge of the game that he would need to get himself out of the position he finds himself in. He’s made too many enemies. We’ve seen both Ben and Lauren, who are currently in a powerful position, talking about how much they dislike Cole. For Cole’s part, he seems quite oblivious to the way that people perceive him. He’s not deliberately annoying people, but without intending to he has created a situation where he is very much on the outside of the majority alliance. And I can’t see Cole finding a way through.
In Survivor: Fiji, Alex went from a position of power to the bottom of the tribe in one move. Despite desperately scrambling, he was never able to recover his power, and ended up being sent to the jury without finding any cracks in the majority alliance. This week, Desi went quietly to the jury, apparently without even putting up a fight. We will have to wait and see if Mike, Joe and Cole suffer the same fate as Alex– which would make this season so boring and disappointing to watch– or whether one or more of the remaining Healers can improve their spot in the game. The good thing about the three Healers that remain is that each of them is, in their own way, a self-interested player who will fight for their spot. And in the end, that’s what we need to see– contestants with some fight in them.