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Individual Games – Good Game / Bad Game

I’m going to have to start with the disclaimer that while this week’s episode could give me no end of material, my children are on Spring Break through Monday, and thus I do not have the writing time to do it justice. Fortunately for you, I think Rob, Sophie and Mike Bloom did a sterling job on the podcast of hashing out the different perspectives.

The key factor going forward will be the individual reactions to Tony’s move (what would you do without me to state the bleeding obvious?) so, in a departure from my usual structure, here is a quick analysis of the remaining players.

Tony

Tony Tony[/caption]

As others have observed, Tony’s flip was reminiscent of Kass’ flip at the merge. Both of them seemed to abandon a strong position in one alliance for a weak position in another. (If we assume a new alliance of LJ-voters, then it’s the pairing of Tony and Woo versus the trio of Tasha, Spencer and Jeremiah.) In both cases, post-boot interviews proved that their target was planning to betray them early. And in both cases, they were probably more excited about making a move than about their desired result.

Tony did one thing right in that he brought Woo with him, making himself a voting bloc of two, and LJ is clearly not a grudge-holding type, so he’s not setting the jury-house against him. The problem was with his convoluted plan of entrapment, where he tried to trick LJ into targeting Woo. While great in theory, it backfired as not only did LJ not rise to his bait, but he got so concerned that Tony was targeting Woo that he reported back to Trish and Jefra… the irony here would have been if Tony’s alliance voted him out for his own scheme.

Instead, Tony reported to Trish his own version of events, and although she didn’t understand what was going on, she shut down any talk of voting out LJ. That was the point where abandoning the plan might have been advisable. Of course, per LJ’s interview, there was a plan in motion to get him out at final eight—assuming Kass was on board with LJ’s strategy—so I can’t say Tony was wrong to go ahead with it, but I still don’t like the execution.

Perhaps this proves the truth of Sophie’s theory that Tony has to keep making the moves or he’ll sink. Had Tony not gone through this farce of Woo-paranoia, LJ might not have been plotting to get him out as early as final eight, Trish would not have had conflicting stories that made her reluctant to listen to Tony, and none of this would have been necessary. But can we really expect Tony not to play the game in the most theatrical fashion possible? At least he lives to bulldoze through another day.

What’s his long-term plan even if he has one? Well, Tasha’s definitely an after-thought who only got included in the vote because Spencer asked. Tony seems to see Spencer and, to a lesser extent, Jeremiah as his protégés. They’re not alpha male rivals like LJ; they’re loyal sidekicks like Woo. With those three men, Tony controls four votes at final eight, and he probably plans on asking Trish for forgiveness after the fact. This would create a new majority alliance and it would be Tony at the hub of it.

If that is his plan, again the theory is perfect. He’ll control the flow of communication within the alliance and has all the choice he could want for his final three. But I don’t think Tony really has a good enough read of his tribemates or is aware enough of their read on him to pull that off.

If Tony can pull this dream alliance together, his target should be Tasha, just to make sure that Jeremiah and Spencer have no other option than to stick with Tony. The secondary target would probably be Kass, who has a friendship with Trish and… some kind of relationship with Spencer, even if a heavily strained one.

Whether through this alliance or sheer brute force through the game, what happens if Tony reaches the end? I don’t share the optimism of the podcast for Tony’s chances in the finals. Last week, Spencer’s comment about Tony made me realize that the other side has no reason to take him seriously as a player as they’ve seen through or foiled all his schemes. His own (former) alliance hasn’t necessarily been taking him all that seriously either.

Let’s speculate on a Tony-Trish-Woo final three. As I’ve previously said in the blog, Trish has a great case to present the jury, assuming she doesn’t unleash her inner Amanda Kimmel. It all depends on how ready the other players are to credit her over the overt Alpha Male that Tony is.

A woman-heavy jury will help here: Kass is her friend, she’ll vote for her. Tasha will credit her for her moves, she’ll vote for her. Jefra knows Trish saved her and LJ at the swap, she’ll vote for her over backstabbing Tony. LJ will probably vote for her too, for the same reasons, though there’s a long shot that he’ll pick Tony because Tony got him out of the game. Sarah… vote for the cop who betrayed her, or her other one-time strategic partner who betrayed her less directly? Sarah will vote for Trish. (Woo might get Morgan’s vote as the youngest and cutest of the finalists.)

In the event of a Tony/Spencer/Jeremiah final three, things are harder to predict, since a lot depends on how Trish and Woo depart the game and what moves Spencer might make aside from simply enduring. In that scenario, it looks like Tony would have the best résumé but also the best chance of alienating his jurors.

To sum up, I don’t know whether Tony’s move made a positive or negative impact on his game, but—again, like Kass—now that he’s made it, I find myself writing off his chances to win it all.

Trish

Trish

Trish

One of the things LJ said in his interview was that he wished Trish had told him what Tony had said to her. I agree with him that it was a case of Trish dropping the ball. Would it have changed anything? Perhaps not… but what I would like to have seen was Trish bringing both LJ and Tony together, ask them flat out if either wants to target Woo, and then declare the ‘misunderstanding’ cleared up. Then see what story they bring to her after that.

There are a couple of things I’m dying to know about Trish, and one of them is what her endgame plans were. On the boat with LJ and Jefra, she talked about what was good for the three of them, a lovely way of indicating that they were her final three. But that might have been a conscious choice of words to keep them happy. Last week, I suggested that she might want to pull together her female allies, Kass and Jefra, because the men were too obvious threats. Yet this week I’m thinking she could beat Tony and Woo—and LJ believed that she would stay true to her original allies.

It’s very possible that Trish was simply keeping her options open, keeping everybody happy, and making her decision at final six and/or final five—unaware that LJ and Tony were each planning to go behind her back to take out the other. That brings me to my next question: how will Trish react now that Tony’s blown her carefully forged alliance out of the water? I think Trish and Tony have each secretly felt that they can control the other—and they’re both about to find out that they’re wrong.

Trish has never been afraid to mouth off in this game, and I would not be surprised if she and Tony have a showdown as soon as they get back to camp. Tony is hardly a calming influence himself, so a post-Tribal Council argument could burn their bridges once and for all.

If Trish can avoid that, what she needs to do is to rally Tony and Woo back into her alliance, assure them she’s true to a Brawn final three, and reassure Kass and Jefra that the traitors will be punished as soon as it’s safe to do so. Then she can go straight back to voting off Tasha and/or Spencer. By taking out Morgan last week, Trish’s alliance took a huge risk in leaving some serious players in the minority. Trish has to make sure one of those Brains goes home next—it might be more profitable to go after Spencer to cut off that option for Tony, but Tasha remains the path of least resistance, as it makes sense for Tony to target her too.

The very real risk for Trish is that with LJ gone and Tony working with the minority, she is unquestionably the biggest target of the opposing side. As the hub of her alliance, she always should have been the target, but now she’s lost her shields. Trish hasn’t been in any danger since the Tribal Swap, but she’s one of my top contenders to go home on Wednesday.

Woo

Woo

Woo

The biggest mystery of all for me this week is how few people talked to Woo. Why did neither LJ nor Trish go to him with Tony’s story? Chances are, they didn’t want to get him paranoid and scrambling, but from Woo’s point of view, you want to have allies who will pass on that information. As it was, Woo’s perspective of the game this episode was entirely dependent on Tony… and it was all false.

For that matter, why didn’t Spencer and Jeremiah talk to Woo to corroborate the story Tony was feeding them? In this instance, it’s possible one of them did and we just didn’t see it—I have to hope for all concerned that they did, because Tony is a great example of why you should never rely on just one person for your information about the game.

Woo was always something of an extra in his former alliance. Everybody else had a direct connection to Trish if not each other, Woo connected through Tony and although we saw him talking to LJ last episode when Tony wasn’t around, their connection wasn’t enough to make him doubt Tony’s words. Woo never approached Trish or LJ for corroboration either.

In his new voting bloc, (which he lists as Tony, Spencer, Jeremiah and himself—note the omission of Tasha!) Woo has a chance to improve his position and, most importantly, stop being dependent on Tony. Woo’s a friendly guy who’s probably on good terms with the entire cast anyway, but if he can transfer some of his enthusiasm for the game into his relationships with his allies, make himself the sidekick for more than just Tony, he can give himself many more options.

One other potential improvement for Woo’s situation is his poor performance in the last couple of immunity challenges. (It doesn’t sound like he’s sandbagging them.) His fall out of a tree—which hopefully is not a prelude to a med-evac—could lead to an injury that will take him further out of contention in challenges. The dual effect of all this is to take the challenge beast target off his back while reminding him that he’s got to find another way to play the game.

What Woo should be doing is to encourage Tony to stand by Spencer and Jeremiah, while calmly building his own alliance with the other two men that sidelines Tony. If he can pull Jefra under his wing, so much the better. Regardless of who he targets next, he should act as ambassador to the outlying older women, form a temporary working partnership with them. In short, stop being a fan of the politics of the game and participate in them!

Yet much as I love Woo, and smart enough as I think he is about the mechanics of the game, I don’t think he’ll actually take this initiative. Woo’s hitched his wagon to Tony’s, and I suspect his fate is either to last one Tribal Council longer than the cop or to finish one place beneath him in the finale.

Jefra and Jeremiah

Jefra

Jefra

Logically, I shouldn’t lump these two together as they’re on opposing factions, but then again, I’ve not got a lot to say about either of the remaining beauties. I suspect Jefra’s main reaction to LJ’s blindside is that she’ll be hurt. I don’t see her going on a tirade afterwards… she’ll just sit next to Trish (or Kass, if Trish is busy biting Tony’s head off) and wonder why it happened. Then she’ll buck herself up, remember she’s still in the game and obediently follow somebody else’s lead.

I don’t want to write off Jefra’s ability to understand the game for herself. She has a confessional that proves she is following the progression of the game and learning the lessons of how to play it. But like Woo, she’s been a sidekick all game long and she doesn’t look interested in breaking that role.

Most likely she’ll stick by Trish and if the older woman gets taken out, she’ll be a floater for anybody willing to haul her in. It’s possible she’ll be nervous enough to bail on Trish next episode, if somebody else throws her a lifeline. She might even reach the end yet (though I doubt it), but she won’t win, barring an apparently impossible final against Kass and Jeremiah.

Jeremiah

Jeremiah

I’d say Jeremiah’s in an even worse position than Jefra—at least everybody seems to like her, and as the second youngest player in the game, she could defend a case that she allied with savvier players who could get her to the end. Jeremiah is thirty-four, the same age as LJ, yet he has avoided the initiative at all costs. He’s currently ‘righthand man’ to the youngest remaining player. Tony spoke to Spencer directly, not Jeremiah. Woo, when listing his alliance, cryptically called him: “Jeremiah of all people.”

None of this adds up to a respected social game. By working hard at camp and playing as inoffensively as possible, Jeremiah could drift to the end with one player or another, but he has no case and I have less hope for him taking control of his own fate than I do for anybody else. He’s going to follow Spencer’s orders until one of them is voted out, and then he’ll follow somebody else’s.

Kass

Kass

Kass

It was another rational week for Kass, where she explained why it would be foolish for anybody to break from their six. Call it irony, call it cognitive dissonance, call it hypocrisy, but as usual, Kass’ confessionals, when taken in a vacuum, make sense. (She has a fantastic secret scene this week where she’s excited to be that player for whom people yell at their TV: “Kass, don’t flip! You’re in this great alliance!” Kass has a very peculiar brand of self-awareness.)

One thing we do have for Kass is an example of how she reacts when she gets blindsided, going all the way back to the first Tribal Council. I won’t rule out a post-Tribal argument with Tony, but I think it’s more likely that she’ll sit back and let Trish do it. By the following morning, she’ll probably have decided that this is actually a good thing for her.

I would not be surprised at all if this is the point where Kass makes good on her free-agent small print. She said she was counting on there being other betrayals, and now Tony’s the bad guy and the game has been shaken up again. This frees Kass up to rearrange her allegiances. She’s still got Trish and Jefra, and this is a great occasion to reforge her connection with Tasha—who must have noticed Tony and Woo’s lack of interest in her.

Of course, prior to the vote, Tasha was Kass’ biggest target, and she has an interesting comment when discussing the male players’ ‘hysteria’ over the idol, that they ‘truly believe’ they’re the targets.

Survivor is a game about perception, but has gender bias split it in half? We’ve got LJ and Tony worrying about each other with Woo as Tony’s cover story, but Kass, Trish and Tasha are the power players for the women, and if they’re focusing on each other and not the men… Maybe Kass would rather tag onto the guys’ alliance after all? She’s always seemed more comfortable working with players closer to her own age, but she might well abandon that comfort zone for the endgame.

Certainly, in the long term, I’m now expecting her to turn on Trish as well as Tasha before the end. She won’t win either way (LJ’s in-interview, off the cuff reference to ‘everybody’ hating Kass wasn’t a good omen), but she’s going to push the game in a direction that will help somebody else and that seems most likely to be Tony or Spencer.

Tasha

Tasha

Tasha

Tasha really shouldn’t be in the game by this point, but I’m so glad she’s managed to duck and cover since the merge. We now know that she was Kass’ number one target last vote, but luckily Kass wasn’t willing to push for that. Since LJ’s plan to boot Tony at final eight featured Spencer and Jeremiah, we can deduce that Tasha was the agreed target this episode. Then she won immunity, meaning Tony either had to go ahead with his plan or lose one of the numbers (most likely Spencer) that he was counting on. (I’d love to know, if Tasha had gone home and Tony and LJ had both moved at final eight, which of them would Spencer and Jeremiah have gone with?)

Tasha’s problem is that she’s doing everything right, but her target’s not getting any smaller. Kass is still focused on her, and I’m sure Trish is too. Beyond that, in their limited sample of immunity challenge performances, Tasha is the biggest threat out there. Kass revealed that she’s talking to everybody and feels that it’s Tasha’s game to lose. I don’t know if everybody else feels the same way, but the current jury are doing nothing to disprove Kass’ theory. Now that LJ’s gone, I’m willing to believe that Tasha’s playing the best social game out there—except for the minor detail that nobody wants to align with her.

As it stands, Tony and Woo aren’t including Tasha in their voting bloc. Trish and Kass have been actively trying to vote her out, and Jefra’s almost certainly been in on that too. Luckily for her, she’s vital to Spencer and Jeremiah’s numbers—that’s the kind of situation that she needs to keep creating through the end of the game.

If she can, her best move is to target Trish with Tony as Plan B. If there’s any kind of rift between Trish and Tony, Tasha should be capitalizing on that while renewing her relationship with Kass. Trish is so entrenched within her alliance that this state of flux might be the best chance they have to get her out. Once Trish is gone, Jefra is a pawn for the capturing, and then Tasha can turn her attention to wiping out the rest of the Brawn.

The above scenario will require some luck, because if Trish and Tony can maintain their relationship and alliance through LJ’s blindside, then Tasha’s got no hope that I can see save for winning immunity or playing an idol.

If she does manage to splinter the Brawn faction, the bump on her road to victory will likely be Kass. It’s likely to be very tempting for Tasha to take Kass to the end as a goat—perhaps with Spencer, in a bid to achieve their Luzon final three in spite of Kass. Yet Kass will almost certainly agree to this plan and then turn around and stab her in the back—and chances are that Spencer would help her do so. He’s not stupid either.

Kass might reach the conclusion that she has no hope of winning and wants to lose to somebody she respects, or Tasha might convince her that it’s Kass not Tasha who will run away with the jury votes… but it’s more likely that Tasha would navigate her way back to the top of the game again, only to be taken out at final four or five. What Tasha needs to do is eliminate the Brawns, get Kass to Ponderosa and fill Jeremiah’s ears with how great it would be for the underdog three to make it all the way to the end, while playing up to Spencer how Jefra is guaranteed the Solana votes if she’s at the end.

Regardless, it’s a long hard road for Tasha to get to the end. I don’t think she can do it… but if she can, it’s going to be one of the best games of all time.

Spencer

Spencer

Spencer

The secret scenes threw up one real oddity this week, when Kass stated that there were two idols out there: one regular immunity idol and one with hidden powers. True enough, but how exactly does she know? At no time does she mention Spencer in connection with them, and her implication is that both idols may still be undiscovered, so I don’t think that Spencer has confided in her or otherwise given himself away. However, we have to assume that the two idol set-up is now public knowledge, rather than something only Spencer is aware of.

Of course, Spencer still has the advantage of possession even if it’s the lesser idol. At the reward challenge, when Tony was cutting deals with him and Jeremiah, he also gained a great tip off about how to potentially use it. It became a moot point when Tasha won immunity, but had this flip not gone ahead this vote, had Tony told him to hang tight until final eight, would it have been worth it for Spencer to save Tasha and take out somebody else?

It’s a dicey prospect because they’d still be in a five-three minority and they would be blindsiding the person they wanted to flip. They could take out LJ for Tony, but then he wouldn’t need to flip to them. Perhaps better to take out Trish and tip LJ off as to Tony’s plans in an attempt to completely shatter the alliance altogether. Not playing it would have put Spencer and Jeremiah down to a voting bloc of two, a much weaker position—though one that worked for Malcolm and Denise. Either way is a gamble, but playing it would surely have made Spencer very popular with the jury.

Still, the best case scenario was Tasha winning immunity and Tony deciding to cut LJ now rather than lose Jeremiah and Spencer. (He might have voted off LJ even if Tasha hadn’t won immunity, though it seems he was hoping to win immunity himself in order to make that move.) The gamble then became Spencer believing him and hanging onto his idol instead of playing it to be safe.

It was exactly the same situation as LJ was in back at the Tribal Swap. Not playing it was a huge leap of faith, but the best possible outcome could only be achieved that way. Now Spencer still has two sure allies and his idol. If he can keep Tony on his side, he can keep that idol in reserve for a few more Tribal Councils.

While it was Tony making the move rather than Spencer, Spencer’s stock rose dramatically this week, mostly because Tony now views him not as a rival or a target, but a sidekick… or protégé. It’s the role that Marty Piombo put Fabio in for Nicaragua, and if Fabio can win Marty’s jury vote that way, then Spencer surely won Tony’s this episode. He’s also, by default, in an alliance with Woo, which will likely influence his jury vote towards Spencer over Tasha.

Spencer continues to carve out his niche as a respected but not prominent player. He’s not directing the gameplay in the same way that the older players are, but equally that means he doesn’t have the target that they do. Of the rest, he’s got infinitely more savvy in the game and the jury will recognize that: Kass categorized him with Tasha as ‘two great competitors.’

He’s in a similar position to Aras in Exile Island’s endgame. The two standouts were Cirie and Terry, but those two were identified as threats and taken out (barely). Aras was the best of the rest. With Tony, Trish and Tasha standing out as obvious threats, Spencer can carry on supporting somebody else’s sting operation—and even if he does get to the end with one of those three, he stands a fighting chance. He knows what the jury needs to hear.

Even better, he has a lot of options in the wake of Tony’s move, though he’s probably best off helping Tasha to get Trish out, just to destabilize the Solana group once and for all. After that, it’s a question of keeping the big targets around long enough so that he doesn’t acquire one himself. The choice endgame, if he can risk it, is to partner up with Kass, the only one of the ‘big guns’ who can’t win. The problem there is that Spencer neither respects nor understands her, so he has no hope of controlling her. Still, the more malleable he is to her plans, the less likely she is to vote him off—once Trish and Tasha are gone, he’s likely to be the only person left she can really talk strategy with.

Revisiting the Chain

So that’s the individual… how does the game look as a collective? I’m going to go back to Jefra’s chain analogy. Some of the links are individual, some are pairs, but overall it looks like this:

Tasha – Spencer and Jeremiah – Tony and Woo – Trish – Jefra.

Kass is a loose link, ready to snap onto anywhere she sees fit, and I have my suspicions that Jefra’s connection with Trish is a weak one. She could easily be removed and attached somewhere else.

With this current dynamic, the important thing is which way are the men going to move next episode. Will they move towards each other, cutting out the women? Will they both take a step to the left, cutting out Trish and putting Tony and Woo on the bottom? Will they both go right, cutting out Tasha and putting Spencer and Jeremiah on the bottom? Or will they break from each other altogether, making it a battle for Jefra’s and Kass’ votes?

Going into Wednesday’s episode, I think we’re going to say goodbye to another big player: one whose name begins with a ‘T’. My money’s on Trish…. which is perhaps wishful thinking. It would be rough to see another strong player taken out so abruptly, but at the same time, it would leave everybody else so much room for maneuver. In this crazy, crazy season, should we expect any less?

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