SurvivorSurvivor Cagayan

The Survivor Strategic Game: Now It Gets Murkier

Has there been a less predictable post-merge run in Survivor history than Cagayan? It’s been interesting to note the back-and-forth jumps between losing a power player and a follower in alternate weeks. Whenever a potential trend emerges, it disappears with the next vote. Kass flipped on her alliance and talked about chaos, but she’s hung back and played it safe. Tony yelled “Final five!” at a challenge and seemed committed to his group but then flipped on LJ and Jefra. Spencer and Tasha appeared destined to survive as underdogs in the vein of Malcolm and Denise, but her time ended this week. The result is an intriguing final five where jury management becomes nearly as important as knowing your allies. Tony and Spencer sit on opposite ends of the spectrum while Kass, Trish, and Woo glide in the middle. Judging by the fiery conflicts this week, it’s going to be a bumpy ride to the end.

Let’s start with Tasha, who made quite a run and was too dangerous to keep around. Her departure made sense even when you consider the danger of Tony’s immunity idols. Tasha was part of alliances but didn’t appear to have an enemy within the group. The jury would have been thrilled to give her the million dollars, and she would deserve it after the rocky start. I’m hoping Tasha gets another chance to play because her social and challenge skills are impressive. It doesn’t stand out with dramatic moves like Tony’s, but that’s why it gave her a better shot at winning in the end. She moved under the radar until her immunity run, and that was a necessity to ensure her survival. If Tasha had lost immunity last week, there was a good chance she would have gone home instead of Jefra.

Is there anything that Tasha could have done differently? Managing Kass before her flip could have saved their alliance, but I’m guessing it would have been a temporary solution. Sometimes players just don’t have the right luck in the game. Woo is a nice guy and has a chance to win, but he drew a much better hand on the Brawn tribe. Tasha did her best to survive the Luzon struggles and then joined an alliance with a numbers advantage. Once that group crumbled, her time in the game was limited. Without an idol in her pocket like Spencer, her only recourse was to go after the immunity challenges. That plan worked out well, but it also enhanced the target on her back and led to this unfortunate exit.

Tony Has Special Powers

The episode’s first act was dominated by arguments between Tony and Kass that mostly went nowhere. Thankfully, Spencer was around to clarify that Tony wasn’t talking badly about Kass. Instead, he was describing the thrills of being a cop. That’s pretty similar, right? It’s understandable that she would be upset if those words were actually said, but there’s a time to let it go. The interesting benefit to these attacks was getting Tony to reveal the presence of the Tyler Perry idol. That wasn’t Kass’ goal with this conflict, but her verbal attacks made the defensive Tony strike back with his special powers. It’s funny that some people still don’t believe he has it. While the mystery could benefit Tony, it also removes some credit from his success in finding it. Players focus on the paranoia and not the game moves.

Tony revealed the Tyler Perry idol, but few believed him. Tony revealed that he had the Tyler Perry idol, but few people believed him.[/caption]

The arguments between Kass and Tony began right after Tribal Council, and neither was willing to let it go. On the other hand, Trish again played the diplomat and talked about understanding Tony’s move. Has anyone in the history of Survivor accepted multiple blindsides so well? I’m unsure if her quieter style would garner votes at the end, but Trish has adjusted very well to adversity. Despite his surprise moves, Tony has targeted former Beauty tribe members. Trish and Woo probably still feel like they’re heading to the final three with him. She’s proven that she can get nasty in the Lindsey situation but seems determined not to turn on Tony. Whether it’s misplaced loyalty or using him as a goat is another question. I’m hopeful that Trish recognizes the opportunity of sitting next to Tony, especially if the third person is Kass. That’s a great situation for her, but getting there may be tricky.

Looking more closely at Kass, she’s playing a different game in her mind than what we’re seeing on the screen. She’s smart yet has little understanding of the social dynamics of the game. Spencer may be a little overrated, but he’s done very well in avoiding conflict. Kass wants to want to prove her superiority and match words with anyone who questions her authority. That is not a good way to play Survivor. Few players outside of Russell Hantz have made the end with such certainty about their value while alienating nearly everyone. Removing Tasha was the right move, but Kass will receive little credit for it. There’s always a chance for her to make a huge move and change her fate, but the odds don’t look promising.

Turning the Tables

Following yet another reward challenge win for Spencer, he made a pitch to Kass and Woo to go after Tony. She was definitely willing, but he was the question mark. It’s too bad that Trish wasn’t teamed up with Kass and Spencer. Despite her subtle gameplay, she might have been more willing to rock the boat than the guy who’s voted with Tony against LJ and Jefra. Woo may talk about playing an individual game, but he’s made few decisions on his own. Tony’s used his vote multiple times, and this would be a chance to make his own choice. The issue is what would happen after losing his main ally. Woo would be the odd man out with the three former Luzon members, so he’s at the bottom of this group.

Woo considered the pitch but wouldn't take the risk.

Woo considered the pitch but wouldn’t take the risk.

From a viewer’s perspective, it’s frustrating to watch Woo struggling to take a chance. On the other hand, it did lead to some hilarious ineptitude in lying to Tony. The smart move was to be honest and say that Spencer was pushing him to switch sides. That’s the truth and much easier to explain than a strange story about removing Tasha. It’s much easier to say they made a pitch but he didn’t go for it. That’s just a small lie mixed within a true story. What’s also odd is the fact that Woo came up with the lie but didn’t go through with it. A last-minute scene explained this change with Kass deciding Tony was good to keep around, but Tasha didn’t believe this interpretation in her exit interview. Even when he was initially approached by Spencer and Kass, Woo was clearly uncomfortable with the idea. He said so little, and his potential to betray Tony didn’t seem very significant.

My Brain Just Exploded

I’m not usually a fan of splitting the vote, but the presence of multiple idols gave it more credence. They could just throw four votes at Trish and remove one of Tony’s allies, but the chance to flush the idol was too great. What gets the mind rolling is thinking about how the situation would work in the case of a tie vote. Let’s assume that Tony doesn’t play the regular idol and the split vote occurs. That would put two votes on Tony, Trish, and Tasha. Would he play the Tyler Perry idol at that point? In that case, that would leave Woo, Kass, Spencer, and Tony voting for one of the other two players. Trish would then go home in a 3-1 vote.

If Tony has the ability to play the Tyler Perry idol after the tie vote, then the situation goes much differently. The revote would have gone 3-1 against Tony, who would play it when he was about to go home. Tasha would be the victim of this move. This seems like a more likely scenario, but it’s hard to say for sure. Regardless of the intriguing possibilities, I’m still not a fan of this device. Next week is the last time that Tony can play either idol, so he could save himself and another player. If someone besides that pair wins immunity, then only two people would have a chance of going home. It gives Tony a crazy amount of power to determine his fate. The saving grace is that he can’t play the idols at the final four, so there’s still a chance to remove him there. I have a feeling that won’t happen, however. Part of me wants to see how he sells his game play before the jury. Many are bitter at him, so it would take quite a performance to turn them around and earn the million dollar prize.

Where Do They Stand?

Despite having another episode before the finale, we’re down to the final five players. Tasha had the best chance to win if she made the end, but now the situation’s a little trickier. Even so, I’d place the remaining players into three groups. You have two that have received the most screen time and plenty of attention from the editing, two that are well-liked but are playing less direct games, and a wild card that would need quite a finish to have a chance. I’ve discussed each remaining contestant below and am still trying to figure out how this season will finish. I could make a guess about who will win based on their story thus far, but going too far down that road is foolish. Instead, I’ve tried to stick to what we’ve seen in the game and their best route for winning the title of Sole Survivor.

The Front Runners

Tony: When I call Tony a “front runner”, it doesn’t mean he has the best chance with a potentially bitter jury. Even so, the presence of the idols and his willingness to make moves has put him front and center throughout the season. He seems destined to reach the end and face some tough questions about his betrayals. I expected Tony to own those moves at the end and explain why each person was a threat, but his comments at Tribal Council this week on loyalty tell a different story. Will he follow in Coach’s footsteps and not admit to all the lies? If he goes that route, Tony will not win the game. It’s also essential for him to remove Spencer from the equation. He can make the case against the other three, but competing with an underdog who fought his way from the bottom could be impossible.

Spencer may need more immunity wins to reach the finals.

Spencer may need more immunity wins to reach the finals.

Spencer: Although he’s rarely had the numbers advantage, Spencer falls into this category because he’s the antidote to Tony’s game. He rarely had the edge yet stayed alive by winning challenges and taking advantage of the opportunities when they appeared. Spencer has been lucky and benefited from overthinking by others, but he’s also played the situations well and not gone too far. He’s been sharp at Tribal Council and can articulate his positions, and that’s a skill that will be essential in the end. The question is whether he can get there. Tasha’s exit gives him nowhere to hide, and he really needs to win immunity at the final five. He’ll have a much better shot when Tony’s vulnerable with four players remaining. Next week, he’ll need to flip two players, and the idols make that even trickier. Spencer probably wins if he makes the end, but getting there is still a very tall order.

The Potential Spoilers

Trish: In the pre-merge portion of this season, Trish was one of my least favorite players. Her conflict with Lindsey was ugly, and the editing did her no favors. Since that point, she’s been a completely different player and played a key role in several big moments. Trish was the most important factor in getting Kass to join their alliance and vote out Sarah, which totally changed the game. She’s been the lynchpin in that alliance even when Tony strayed from it. The reason Trish isn’t a front runner is the perception from the jury about her play. Will they even recognize what we’ve seen on TV? Trish would need to sit next to the right people and make a strong case to change their minds. She deserves the million from my perspective, but getting the votes could be quite a challenge.

Woo: The comparisons to Fabio’s win in Nicaragua are almost too easy with Woo. He’s a likable guy who just isn’t that great at playing the game; however, he doesn’t irritate anyone (besides maybe Spencer with the pants robbery) and is a friendly presence around camp. Woo’s made solid choices to benefit his game and has used Tony as a shield. Whether that’s been his intention is another story. He’s not the most articulate guy, and explaining why he deserves the million could be a challenge. He’ll need to sit next to players the jury hates to become the likable choice against them. Tony and Kass are the best candidates to fit that mold, but Woo may have a hard time proving that he made moves and didn’t just follow Tony.

The Wild Card

Kass enjoyed the reward but may have a tough road ahead.

Kass enjoyed the reward but may have a tough road ahead.

Kass: What more can I say about Kass? She loves to inspire chaos, but it ends up making her look worse. Watching her fight with Tony this week was uncomfortable on the screen, and I expect it was even tenser in person. There’s a good chance that Kass will make the end. Who wouldn’t want to sit next to her at this point? I’m trying to determine her best approach to selling the jury. She can take credit for removing Sarah, but that vote earned her many enemies. Downplaying its importance could be wise. Kass could try to push her role as an underdog, but she needs Spencer not to be sitting next to her. I’m skeptical there’s any way she’ll convince the jury she deserves their vote, but she’s been very resilient.

Will the idols play a huge role next week? Tony should play one at a minimum, though it’s possible he’ll glide right into the final four. Despite the limited options remaining, it’s still difficult to pick the most likely candidate. Woo could get protection from Tony’s idol, and Kass is the perfect choice to keep around. That leaves Spencer and Trish, and his chances are higher to win immunity. Predicting this season has been foolish thus far, so the only thing I can say for certain is that Tony will be present in the finale. The rest is a mystery, and I’m thrilled that so many questions remain this late in the season.

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