SurvivorSurvivor Cagayan

Individual Games – R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Well, who would you vote for?[/caption]

There is something of a pattern emerging in the Cagayan post-merge: Somebody from the majority gets voted off followed by somebody from the minority… followed by somebody from the majority. (If this holds true, Spencer can rest easy next episode.) However, even on the episodes where the minority gets taken down, there has always been the possibility of a bigger move coming into play, and it’s because of this that every other week, I come away from the Survivor episode feeling disappointed.

Such is the case this week as Kass and Woo abandoned their chance to flush the special idol which would have been immensely satisfying on every level. I’ll hang in there in hopes of a successful coup on Wednesday, but as this season draws to a close, I’m growing a little concerned with the flaws in everybody’s game. I’m in agreement with Stephen Fischbach that I could be satisfied with any of the remaining players winning… but I’m starting to realize that, by the same token, I can’t be completely satisfied with the eventual victor.

No Survivor is an Island

Last week, I noted how Jefra and Kass had defended each other to Tony on two separate occasions and suggested that this meant Jefra was a key ally to Kass. Kass’ behavior this week supports that interpretation. When LJ was voted off, his closest ally Jefra was furious while Kass more or less shrugged off the blindside. Once Jefra was gone, it was Kass getting into a full on argument with Tony. (By the same token, Trish’s equanimity suggests that she was committed to the Brawn final three all along.)

It might simply be a two strikes and you’re out philosophy, but this was probably the most aggressive we’ve seen Kass with another player. Even her secret scenes were uncharacteristically gloomy, and by all accounts it’s unheard of for her to stay in bed so late. (The rain is another possible culprit. The secret scenes this week suggest that the weather this episode was much worse than we saw, with rain and wind battering them for forty-eight hours straight while they starved.)

At any rate, Kass’ bad temper led to her mishearing Tony and thinking he called her a bitch. This led to an irreconcilable conflict as although Tony rightly protested that he was innocent, Tasha had already agreed with Kass that that was exactly what he had said. (Because, of course, that was in her best interests.) Spencer wasn’t about to refute the story either, and Woo chose not to get involved. It wasn’t until the episode aired that Kass realized she had been mistaken.

One of the problems here is that Tony is condescending and dismissive of the other players’ games, particularly the social one his female allies are playing. He hasn’t been telling them to their face, but chances are they’ve picked up on how he feels about it. This might be why Morgan described him as misogynistic. Likewise, the remaining women don’t hold Tony’s game in high regard—nor have they been afraid to tell him so on occasion. Note how Woo’s the one who called Tony’s game brilliant, and he’s also the one who Tony has included in all his blindsides? Probably not a coincidence.

Tony revealed the Tyler Perry idol, but few believed him.

My game’s better than yours.

However, this is no excuse for Kass to tell Tony he is condescending to his face! That almost never works out well in Survivor… except for the person Kass compared herself to pre-season: Sandra. Considering the comparisons between Tony and Russell Hantz, it makes sense to look at how Sandra won that season: by openly standing up to Russell, she won favor with the jury.

The difference between that situation and this is that Sandra wasn’t responsible for any of the jurors—indeed, at every turn she had tried to flip to the Heroes’ side only for them to refuse her. Her illogical, emotion-based argument included admitting that she had always failed in her strategy to vote Russell off, reminding the jurors that she had, at heart, been on their side. She presented herself as their ally, though it took until the Final Tribal Council for them to accept her.

Tony has betrayed two of the players on the jury, but four of them are there because of Kass, and playing up Tony as the villain isn’t going to make them forget that. She should be emphasizing strategy and making the game less personal. In judicial terms, she might be thinking of herself as the defendant and Tony as the plaintiff, but the latter role is more suited to the jury. In Survivor, you have to convince the prosecution to acquit you.

Of course, there’s a fine line here between handling Tony with tact and being seen as submissive. Trish has swallowed Tony’s shenanigans, determinedly supporting his game to further hers but her profile is too low. Every time she has a chance to articulate her own contribution (e.g. at Tribal Council), she falls short though her confessionals show she’s insightful enough.

One of the best pieces of gameplay from the past few days never made the episode, but can be seen in Tasha’s secret scene. Tasha, all innocence, asked Kass and Trish who had made the biggest move of the game. Within two minutes, the older women were arguing about who was responsible for Kass’ flip, with Trish’s idea of diplomacy being “I talked Kass into making the biggest move.” (Kass’ idea of diplomacy was to save her opinion that Trish was acting like a “fricking turd” for confessional.)

Neither woman should have allowed herself to rise to Tasha’s bait, but this is representative of one of the larger problems with these players: the general lack of respect for each other’s games. Besides the above examples of Kass, Tony, and Trish, Spencer is in the habit of calling people idiots if they don’t make the same moves he does, and Tasha had that telling confessional a few weeks ago where she described her alliance as nice fish and Tony’s alliance as piranhas and sharks. Only Woo seems to be immune, which might explain why he keeps getting included in these potential blindsides.

The result of this is that we don’t have one really tight knit alliance. The Brawns have all but locked the game down for final three, but Trish has been left out of the loop twice, and this episode Woo was prepared to vote either Tony or Trish out. Even Tasha and Spencer have been acting individually rather than working fully together to turn the game around.

On the plus side, this is a big part of why Cagayan has been so unpredictable, as few people feel compelled to loyalty. The negative is that this might explain why so many strategies seem half-baked… The power-players don’t trust anybody enough to strategize with. There’s a difference between gathering a voting bloc and sitting down with your endgame allies to brainstorm and critique gameplans. Even in an individual game, two heads are better than one.

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

Regardless of Tony’s opinion of her (and vice versa), Kass needed a new ally, and she latched onto Woo. This certainly makes sense. Woo’s almost always ready to go with any plan presented to him. The only time we’ve seen him shut one down was when Sarah asked him to throw the challenge. And that was early in the game when Woo no doubt felt he had lots of options. He’s looking considerably less comfortable these days, with Tony his only lifeline in the game. Now he’s got Kass.

Let’s not forget our earlier observation that Woo is the only person who doesn’t smack talk the other players and who tries to genuinely appreciate everybody for who they are. Kass gets paranoid the moment she feels dismissed; Woo’s the perfect ally for her.

In that light, Spencer’s inclusion seems a little harder to explain, but in the heady atmosphere of victory, on a full stomach and with his heart touched by the laughter of innocent children, Spencer is capable of benevolence towards Kass. The fact that she was willing to make a final three deal with him probably didn’t hurt either.

Final3

Possibly not Woo’s first choice of final three.

I can’t decide how sincere Kass was in that final three deal. It might just have been something to say on the spur of the moment, the carrot to get the guys to agree with her, an assurance she wasn’t just using them for the one vote. However, why would anybody not called Tasha think that they could beat Spencer? He’s the last of the underdogs, and just by virtue of that he’s a threat to win the game if he’s allowed to the end.

On the other hand, Kass thought that Tony might be another Russell Hantz in front of the jury, despite Tony being a much more convivial character. She and Spencer have been taking shots at each other for the entire season. Perhaps she’s letting her perception of him color her judgment of how the jury will view him. Yet how can she not believe he would have four votes locked up? (Though, to be fair, Spencer said he could be beaten by “certain people.” Tasha’s one, but who else is he thinking of? Tony? Trish?)

Similarly, I have to second-guess Kass’ estimation of Woo, although if she’s right that he never says anything around camp (and this is supported by the footage we’ve seen), then the castaways will not be familiar with the eager charm we’ve seen in Woo’s confessionals. Woo needs his brand of charisma to compensate for the lack of moves he’s made, but if that’s only been available to his closest allies, the jury won’t be taking it into consideration.

I’m not quite ready to write Woo off though, particularly not against Kass, who certainly has played harder than Woo but is the least likely to get rewarded for her efforts. Woo can at least point out that he was in on every plan, save for Jefra’s potential flip. Ever since his alliance seized the majority, Woo has gone into Tribal Council knowing how the votes will go down.

However, when analyzing the merits of this final three, we must take into consideration who was excluded, most notably Tasha. They included her in the plan, and Tasha seemed to assume that Woo was the fourth in their deal, but our proposed final three have to fear facing Tasha at the end. (Woo shouldn’t be keen on advancing with Spencer either, which might explain his hesitation.) By working with Woo and Spencer, Kass keeps in the game the two people most likely to steal immunity from Tasha.

Similarly, I think Tasha’s immunity loss was the deciding factor in Kass and Woo abandoning the plan. After Tasha’s first immunity win back at final nine, Kass was fretting that she could go on a run, certain that nobody could beat her. Tasha’s done nothing since then to allay Kass’ fears, so I can’t imagine Kass was willing to pass up this chance to vote her off.

Tasha deserves full kudos for her challenge performances. As she noted herself, none of these challenges have been suited to a specific person, anybody could win them. She feels that the other players are psyching themselves out which is likely true, but at the same time, Tasha’s ability to focus and get the job done is the kind of X factor we see in challenge competitors like Ozzy. (Though Tasha’s weakness is how easily she loses her focus in a team challenge, getting frustrated that her team is letting her down.)

Had all the players fallen into the habit of thinking Tasha would win the challenge? Was Kass making her plans in the assumption that Tasha would hold immunity that Tribal Council? After Tasha, who is Kass willing to lose in the game? That would appear to be Trish.

I’ve been hazarding for the past couple of weeks that Kass would not want to face Trish at the end. Either that’s true, or the two have just fallen out with each other. (Or a bit of both.) It’s worth mentioning that the plan was always more about flushing Tony’s idols than it was about getting him out of the game. Trish was simply acceptable collateral damage. Or perhaps Kass wanted to eliminate one Brawn to ensure that she wouldn’t finish in fourth. Apparently, she believes she can beat Tony and Woo, but she might be willing to risk going up against Trish/Spencer and Woo, rather than fall short of the finals.

Numbers-wise, she’s still in a good spot, because while Spencer might not be happy with her failure to follow through with their plan, she and Woo are still his best chance of moving forward. She’s got that majority voting bloc of three, and she’s technically not broken from her alliance of four. From that stance, voting off Tasha was a perfectly acceptable outcome. Except of course for the part where she offered Tasha hope and dashed it at the last minute—she went one worse than Jefra here, since she didn’t let Tasha know in advance. (She couldn’t have done as there was too much risk of Tasha deciding to run to Tony and flip the script on Kass and Woo.)

Kass’ intention was for Sarah and Morgan to get over the sting of their betrayal before the final vote. She’s not helping this end by backstabbing Tasha (the one person they were clearly rooting for) so late in the game. Yes, there’s a ‘couldn’t be helped’ factor to it, but that’s where the social game comes in. Kass needed to find a way to mend a personal bridge with Tasha, before she rebuilt and burnt the strategic one.

However, for once the jury should be the least of Kass’ (and Spencer’s) worries. Right now, the real problem is that Tony still has two idols.

When the Unpredictable is Unsurprising

Flushing idols has kind of been Kass’ thing this game. Even if it’s debatable how much she had to do with the flushing, it’s always been something she’s been anxious to see happen. Even before she flipped to Tony’s side, she made that subtle-as-an-anvil hint that the strong guys should be feeling nervous which was Tony’s cue to pull out his first idol.

I’ve never been sure why Kass feels idols needs to be flushed so promptly. As Tony said this week, the risk of flushing an idol is that your target might find it when it goes back into play. Had LJ and Tony both kept their idols the night that Kass flipped, Spencer wouldn’t have found his—luckily for the majority, Spencer never parlayed it into a bargaining chip, though it did contribute to his sticking around.

However, in this case, that risk is worth it. Firstly, odds are good that a flushed idol would not be rediscovered before becoming invalid—might not even be rehidden considering there’s another one still in play. Secondly, by not flushing the idol, they are giving Tony far too much power at final five. (NB Tony confirmed that both idols will become invalid after the next Tribal Council.)

This time immunity is really up for grabs.

This time immunity is really up for grabs.

Between Tony’s idols and the immunity challenge, three of the final five will be immune. Tony will be one of these, and he gets to choose another. Of his alliance, Kass seems the least likely recipient of his regular idol—in the episode, Tony did say he’d be happy to take her to the end, but I doubt Kass perceives it that way. She’s also unlikely to win immunity. Therefore, Kass should anticipate going head to head with one other person to move past fifth place. If Spencer wins immunity, that means Kass will have to convince the Brawns to turn on one of their own.

Handily for Kass, she effectively did that this episode. Yet having Woo and Spencer as her voting bloc will not help if Tony gives Trish the idol.

NB This presumes that the players are taking both of Tony’s idols into account. So far as we can tell, only Tony knows for sure that he has both idols—indeed, at one point in the episode, Kass thought he was lying about the special idol. Nevertheless, I think between Spencer and Kass, they would entertain the possibility when making their plans. They’ve both played it safe with idols before, and Woo most likely would have faith in Tony to have found the idol anyway.

Even if they are operating under the assumption that Tony only has one, he would still be a risk at final five, because he has a history of giving idols away. They shouldn’t dare to vote for him, but he might bank on that and give his idol to Trish at the last minute. Even with one idol, the odds are in favor of Tony thwarting whatever move Kass and Woo plan at final five.

So it was vital for Kass, Spencer, and Woo to flush an idol this episode, which probably explains why Kass was even less subtle than previous Tribal Councils. She did everything shy of constructing a flashing neon sign saying: “We’re voting for Tony.” She didn’t actually vote for him, because she wanted Tasha gone, but between her comments and Tony’s own paranoia about Tasha, the logical thing for Tony to do was to play one of his idols, just to be safe. After all, he still had one in reserve for final five.

Except, of course, the logical thing for Tony to do was wait until the votes were read and then play his special idol if he needed to. Even if the tribe were confident that he had the super-powered one, they still didn’t know what the special power was. Tasha explained on the podcast that he implied he could choose who was going home. Great play by Tony, and I’m sure it contributed to Kass’ decision to leave off the vote for him—after all, we’ve seen that Tony likes swift revenge in the event of ‘betrayals.’

The thing is, had the others known what the special power was, I am certain that Kass and Woo would have gone through with the Tony vote—depending on the rules, they could potentially have flushed the idol and then voted Tasha off in the revote between her and Trish. No doubt when the producers decided to keep the idol’s power secret from all but the holder, they were hoping to forestall a situation where nobody dared vote for its holder and gleefully anticipated shocked expressions when it was pulled out and played.

Instead, the specter of mystery powers prevented one of Jeff Probst’s beloved Survivor firsts: playing an idol after the votes have been read. Next tribal council, it’s unlikely anybody will even bother voting for Tony, so the hyped up super idol will never be played (following the historical precedent of Yul’s idol and Terry’s). In other words, the idol has been about as successful as we all expected.

While I initially thought Tony would be best served by announcing the idol’s powers, I’m taking that back. He’s hit upon the best way to use this idol, which was to keep everybody in the dark. As the jury didn’t know that Tony had the safety net of waiting until after the votes have been read, it looked like he was both ballsy and insightful enough to call Kass’ bluff at Tribal Council. He needs to have some answer ready for final Tribal Council in case a juror does ask him what the special power was, but he can make up something significantly weaker than the reality—or he can claim that he never found it in the first place!

Meanwhile, Tony moves forward in the strongest position of the game. He can give his regular idol to Trish next week and let the cards fall where they may. However, perhaps he’ll decide to reward Woo’s loyalty after the temptation of last episode… and that’s the point where Kass, Woo, and Spencer could reform and strike. Or maybe Kass and/or Spencer should talk Tony into firing his loose cannon at what is the last chance for a coup. We know Tony likes his odd numbered blindsides…

I should perhaps be more concerned that the finale is falling into the rote episode slot. With just four people remaining at the finale’s start, next week’s episode might just settle the question of who will seize power at the endgame. Whoever the winner, it would be deeply unsatisfactory if a season so unpredictable as Cagayan failed to keep us guessing in the final week.

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