SurvivorSurvivor Cagayan

The Survivor Strategic Game: Where Do We Go From Here?

For anyone excited by Survivor strategy, Cagayan has been a glorious season. I started covering the show for another site with One World, and that hardly set the standard for creative gameplay. There have been great moments in the past three seasons, but none have been as consistently surprising as this contest. Each time we seem headed for predictable exits, someone takes a chance and flips the game. Tony is unable to stick with any plan for too long, and he’s always looking to take out the threats. It’s been fascinating to watch him maneuver and execute blindsides with a few deft moves. The question is whether he’ll continue to find allies that don’t want to turn on him when they get the chance. His move against LJ eliminates a major threat, but it glues a huge target to Tony’s back for the rest of the game.

It’s easy to compare Tony’s move to Kass’ flip at the final 11, but there are major differences. First of all, he was able to convince Woo to join him. That lessens the heat because it wasn’t a solo decision that ruined a dominant alliance. It’s also a different atmosphere two votes closer to the end. Tony can sell the idea that LJ would have grown too powerful if he’d gotten any further. He also telegraphed the choice by creating the story that LJ was targeting Woo and relating it to Trish. His vote didn’t come out of nowhere, and LJ isn’t around to clarify the inconsistencies in his story. While it still might have surprised Trish, it shouldn’t feel like a dagger to the back. Everyone knew about Tony’s paranoia so this confirms the fact that he was playing that way. Of course, that doesn’t mean that he won’t face greater scrutiny.

Another factor is Tony’s past behavior in betraying Cliff to join Trish, LJ, and Jefra. He’s played this way throughout the game and has shown an ability to maintain solid relationships. Woo was shocked by the vote against Cliff, yet he still trusted Tony enough to betray his alliance and vote for LJ. That says a lot about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that’s needed to stay afloat at this point. Kass did a poor job after her vote and picked a fight with Morgan. Instead of trying to sell the strategy, she confirmed the impression that she’s a volatile player. Tony will need a much different approach next week on the return to camp after Tribal Council. He’ll need a logical explanation or risk being the next to go.

Can Paranoia Be a Good Thing?

Returning from Tribal Council, Tony was clearly seeing stars and had taken his eye off the ball. Comically, he entered the camp and immediately knocked over the torches. Instead of accepting the votes against him as a sign of respect, Tony overplayed the reaction and lost his cool. Many players have fallen into this trap and essentially voted themselves out after losing focus. Tony showed signs of heading towards a similar fate, but he channeled that fear into removing a significant rival. The idea to get LJ talking about Woo so he can sell the lie sounded dumb at the time; however, it allowed him to expand on a real conversation instead of inventing one. Like much of Tony’s play, it’s a risky move because it relies on the trust of his allies. They had to believe him over LJ, and that’s a dangerous assumption.

Will Kass and Trish work again with Tony? Will Kass and Trish work again with Tony?[/caption]

If nothing else, Tony needed Woo to make his plan succeed on all counts. In the split vote scenario, he could have removed LJ by simply becoming the fourth vote along with the former Aparri trio. Getting Woo to join him wasn’t really about numbers. Instead, it secured his story about LJ and showed Tony as a guy protecting his ally. While there are major holes in this story, it could work to keep him on their side. If Trish, Jefra, and Kass refuse to work with him, Tony still has numbers and isn’t stuck in a 4-4 scenario. In that case, I expect that few would go out of their way to protect his spot. Given the current numbers, Tony could go back to Trish and claim that he wanted to keep LJ in the dark. They might still be able to work from the 5-3 advantage and focus back on taking out the minority alliance.

I don’t expect that to happen, however. Tony did a great job in getting a positive result that seems like a huge win on the surface. The next steps will be very difficult, however. His paranoia was evident to everyone at camp, and the vote only enhances the perception that he’s a dangerous ally. Trish and LJ were playing a “game of patience”, but Tony decimated that approach to this game. It usually works to stick with the numbers and wait for the opportunity, but he will act in front of the normal spot. That means that the other players must do the same thing. If they sit back and wait for the perfect chance, they’ll be watching Tony in the final three from the stands on the jury.

Analyzing the Brains Trio

It’s remarkable to note that Tasha, Spencer, and Kass are all in the game and not in terrible positions. Each sits in a different spot, and there is a potential scenario where all three make the end. It isn’t the most likely possibility, but it wouldn’t be shocking. If the tables turn on Tony in the next few weeks, Spencer and Tasha have the social skills to form a new coalition that seizes control. Kass is the wild card who remained loyal and seems to have a strong bond with Trish. Each new betrayal gives her more ammunition to tell the jury that it’s just part of the game. Her chances of winning are still pretty slim, but they’re not entirely absent. The upheaval of the dominant alliance also helps her chances. Kass didn’t vote against LJ, so filling the jury with people she didn’t betray might shift the vitriol away from her.

One of the most intriguing players is Tasha, who isn’t receiving a lot of screen time but seems well-liked across the board. She nearly won immunity last week and took the win from puzzle master LJ this time. It was a rare case where the two final participants in the challenge both were fighting for their life, though LJ didn’t know it. Tasha also received big smiles from Sarah and Morgan when she walked into Tribal Council with the immunity necklace. She would be an interesting counterpoint to players like Tony and Kass if she makes the end. The key for her is finding a way to regain the numbers edge. She’s been identified as a threat by Trish and wasn’t targeted last time only because of the idol risk.

Tasha isn't getting the attention but has a great shot.

Tasha isn’t getting the attention but has a great shot.

Tasha needs to avoid scrutiny for a few weeks to have an easier road to make the end. If she finds a way to get there, I wouldn’t sleep on Tasha’s chances against any of the remaining players. She’s a confident player who won’t be overwhelmed by the situation and has solid relationships with most of the cast. Her attempts to woo LJ didn’t get any traction this week, but that was clearly a mistake on his part. His careful approach isn’t a terrible way to play Survivor, so it’s easy to second guess the choice at this point. After LJ’s demise, it’s easy to see a scenario where he could have earned Tasha’s trust and flipped the attention on Tony. Once he ignored that route, it was an easy decision for her to vote with Tony and take him out.

Spencer took an interesting risk this week by trusting Tony and not playing the idol. If the 3-3 split had gone as planned, he would have been a bigger target than Jeremiah. Crossing his fingers while voting showed that he wasn’t entirely sure it was the right move. Still, it’s easy to understand why he made the choice. He needs to retain that idol as long as possible, and each step forward without playing it is a huge benefit. Also, the fact that he didn’t play it means the others won’t suspect that he has it. This was a very positive week for Spencer, and Tony got the blood on his hands. Spencer didn’t lose an ally and retained his idol, and others made more enemies for the end. While he hasn’t made “big moves”, he’s shown an ability to adapt his strategy. That’s a key trait for any successful player, especially in such a crazy season.

A Quiet Departure

LJ was a strong player because he sat back, assessed his options, and didn’t act rashly. Unfortunately, it was that same approach that led to his undoing. In his exit interview, he explained to Rob that Tony was on his radar. He wasn’t going to wait until the final six to make his move. The issue is not recognizing the danger at this stage with the split vote. Tony only needed the three minority members to take out his rival. The editors showed all the moments where LJ failed to recognize the danger. In particular, the discussion with Trish where she outlined Tony’s argument was the key moment. Instead of recognizing the danger, LJ chose to stick with the plan and didn’t expect his opponent to strike so quickly.

Could LJ have won the game? If he’d made the end, he could have made a convincing case against players like Kass and Tony. There’s still a question of whether he could have maneuvered around the obstacles even if his allies had stuck with the plan. Everyone considered him a primary threat, so there would have been little room to hide. He also had no chance once I picked him to win the game. That stigma ruined the chances of Aras, Andrea, and Penner in recent seasons. Amazingly, all three were taken out in a similar fashion after the merge. I’m apparently very good at picking the threats that can’t be past the final seven. We’ll likely see LJ again, though I still wonder if he can get much further. He’ll need to adjust his style and recognize that players like Tony are dangerous allies.

Who’s in a great position?

Tasha: I could also put Spencer in this spot, but I feel like he gets plenty of attention. I haven’t talked enough about Tasha, who’s playing a cool and deliberate game. She’s avoided the vote so far, though winning immunity made a huge difference this week. Like I mentioned earlier, having allies on the jury makes a huge difference. Morgan and Sarah are fans and will talk her up at Ponderosa. Tony’s move gives her an opportunity to join Spencer and grab another edge in the game.

Kass seems pretty happy away from everyone's radar.

Kass seems pretty happy away from everyone’s radar.

Kass: Stick with me for a second. Kass was on the wrong side this time, but it’s hardly a big deal for a free agent. Is anyone trying to vote her out at this point? The challenge for Kass is deciding where to go now that the alliance has crumbled. Should she try to work with Spencer and Tasha or hope that Tony and Woo will still join them? Regardless, Kass has more options and isn’t stuck as number six in a dominant alliance. If she makes the right choices, there is a chance that she could make it all the way to the end.

Who’s in trouble?

Tony will need allies like Woo to avoid the vote.

Tony will need allies like Woo to avoid the vote.

Tony: I don’t hate the choice to vote out LJ, but it still puts him in a dangerous position. Trish, Jefra, and Kass may decide it’s time to pay Tony back for wrecking their alliance. He’ll need to stay very aware of where the winds are blowing or risk following LJ out the door. There’s a good chance that Tony can survive and grab the numbers for a final push. If he can make it through the next few votes, Tony could move right back into the power position. I’m not entirely convinced that will happen, though.

Jefra: She’s barely appeared on our screens in recent weeks and isn’t a threat, but Jefra was LJ’s closest ally. If the new group of Woo, Tony, Tasha, Spencer, and Jeremiah sticks together, they could make the easiest choice and vote out Jefra. In many seasons, this would be the predictable outcome and come to pass. Given all the craziness this time, it’s not the most likely scenario. If she wants to prove that she’s here to play, this is the perfect time for Jefra to step out of LJ’s shadow. I don’t expect that to happen, but it could add more wrinkles into an extremely complicated game.

Where is this game heading? I’m usually pretty good at sensing where it’s going by this point. In Blood vs. Water, we knew that Tyson would win if he made the end. Who has the best chance to win this game? Spencer has gotten the best edit, but Tony, Tasha, Trish, and Woo all have the potential to grab the million. There’s even a slight possibility that Kass could win. Who knew? No matter what happens, there will certainly be more change-ups before the end arrives. A strong finish could put Cagayan into the top echelon of Survivor seasons. This cast is filled with players who are taking a real shot to win. I love this group and can’t wait to see who makes the best case in the final round.

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