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The Survivor Strategic Game: One Idol to Rule Them All

From a strategic perspective, the presence of immunity idols is hard to dislike because it can generate interesting dilemmas on voting strategy. Splitting the vote is rarely a good idea, yet we’ve seen plenty of examples in recent seasons. The genius in the idol is that it requires players who have it to take a chance and risk using it at the wrong time. Garrett looked silly for going home with an idol in his pocket, while Tony, LJ, and now Spencer failed in picking the right time to hand it to Probst. That mystery has kept the idol from becoming too powerful since the rules changed for the Fiji season. Now that a much different prize has arrived on the scene, how do we consider it without throwing our hands up in despair?

Before getting into the Tyler Perry idol, let’s take a look at Tony’s shenanigans with a new version of his spy shack. On the one hand, keying in on the idea that players will talk strategy while fetching water is pretty brilliant. It’s the willingness to recognize opportunities like this one that makes Tony such an interesting player. Of course, the information that he gathers isn’t earth shattering and doesn’t play a role in the final outcome. Tony realizes that he’s in danger after flipping on LJ, and Jefra is the most likely person to go against him because she lost her main ally. It’s fun to watch him peering at them from behind some leaves, and the producers must love this type of moment. Whether it does much beyond offering great TV is more doubtful. His runs through the woods feel dramatic, but they’re mostly playing to the cameras.

Is the Idol Too Special?

Tony has plenty of options after finding the "special idol". Tony has plenty of options after finding the “special idol”.[/caption]

When Tony found the “special idol”, the groans across the Internet reached a feverish pitch. He has plenty of fans, and it’s hard not to find him endearing. Even so, no one wants a player to have that much power. Tony deserves credit for searching diligently and finding the idol, but it still rigs the game in his favor. He should have a cake walk until the idol expires, and his chances for reaching the final Tribal Council are extremely high. Tony had a good opportunity to make the end without the idol and was playing a strong game. This powerful idol risks spoiling the goodwill earned by this amazing season. I’m not in the camp that’s ready to dismiss the positives because of this twist, but it’s still disheartening.

Despite these concerns, I’m staying optimistic about the rest of the season. One reason is the fact that Tony can only play the idol for himself. He can’t pass it to another player and secure a key alliance. If the votes come his way in the near future, there’s only one chance to avoid the end. The other cause for optimism is the unpredictable play from nearly everyone this season. If Tony reveals his idol, will the others let him waltz to the finish? Kass and Spencer won’t go down without a fight, and Trish is an underrated strategic player. Tony nearly revealed the idol at Tribal Council this week and then claimed it was a fake. He’s not going to take the same patient approach that helped Yul win the game. His willingness to take risks has helped Tony succeed, but that approach could also be his undoing.

Making the Safer Play

A common trend this season has seen the votes directed at players unlikely to have (or receive) the idol. Morgan was targeted for this reason, Jefra nearly left in the same fashion, and Jeremiah was the victim this time. Kass accurately predicted that Spencer had the idol, and no one believed the fashion model had found it. Once Tasha won immunity again, the obvious move was targeting Spencer or Jeremiah. Why take the risk and get defeated by the idol? This strategy has arrived in past seasons (most famously the Edgardo vote in Fiji), but I’ve rarely seen it appear so many times. The Blood vs. Water cast was frightened of being targeted because of the idol, and Tyson didn’t really need to use it. This season is much different, so it’s hard to dislike a device that’s led to such interesting game play.

Jeremiah was a likable guy who’s come across surprisingly well in his exit interviews. The editors barely gave him a chance, however. He was always the guy on the outskirts and usually followed the strategies of others. Even so, he had a shot of making waves because of his social play. Few considered him a threat on the same level as Spencer and Tasha, however, so his exit keeps more potential winners in the game. That’s been an interesting side effect of the strategy to avoid the idol. We lost stronger players like LJ and Sarah, but there are few stragglers remaining. No one gives Jefra much credit, but the other six all have a potential route towards victory. That’s rarely the case from the final seven in any season.

Rebuilding the Alliance

The underdogs tried their best to sway Jefra after their reward challenge win.

The underdogs tried their best to sway Jefra after their reward challenge win.

The challenge for Tony after removing LJ was finding an alliance that actually trusted him. Spencer realized that their bond was probably temporary. His former allies didn’t know about the blindside, so would they be ready for Tony to return to the fold? The interesting part was how Trish faced the removal of LJ. Instead of getting mad about it, she took a rational approach and believed the alliance was still strong. Trish worked to get Jefra back on board, and it wasn’t an easy task. At the reward challenge, fate placed Spencer, Tasha, and Jeremiah with the one person they could potentially sway towards their side. If anyone was ready to turn on Tony, it was Jefra. She seemed ready to join their side at the feast after their victory, but a flip would only bring a 4-4 tie. That math is rarely enough to change the game.

A strange moment occurred with the other four players back at camp. Tony was ready to talk about their next move, and Trish scoffed at talking strategy. What made this discussion especially odd was what Trish did after Jefra returned to camp. She took just the right approach and admitted that Tony was causing trouble, which made Jefra feel more comfortable. It’s quite a transparent move and doesn’t seem likely to keep Tony with them for the long run. Even so, a player like Jefra just wanted to feel secure on the emotional side. Trish’s confidence was enough to keep her ally with their group and avoid a tie.

The Final Seven Opportunity

It’s tricky to make a move at eight, particularly with an alliance of five. Spencer and Tasha have options if they can target the right people to sway to their side. There are a few different choices that could pay dividends. The obvious move is to target the duo at the bottom of the alliance. Kass remains a wild card who might be willing to flip again, and Jefra still could change her mind about Tony. The strongest trio is probably Tony, Woo, and Trish, so convincing the others that they aren’t part of the final three is a wise idea. The challenge is the fact that Tasha and Spencer would be hard to beat at the end. They could make a final four deal with Kass and Jefra, but at least one of them would be there at the Final Tribal Council.

A more creative approach would involve approaching Tony and appealing to his ego as pawns willing to vote out anyone he wants. Trish or Woo could be the more likable alternative for the jury in the end, so they may pose a threat to Tony. He seems willing to change the script every few weeks or so, and this is the perfect opportunity to adjust it once again. Of course, it doesn’t make sense for Tony to reach the end with Tasha and Spencer. Even so, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t consider it. The Tyler Perry idol could have him feeling the adrenaline and make him willing to do anything to keep everyone on their toes. The smartest move is probably going after the underdogs right now, but will he follow that route?

Who’s in a great position?

Will Tony and Trish continue to work together?

Will Tony and Trish continue to work together?

Tony: This is an obvious choice. He’s back with the dominant alliance and has the Tyler Perry idol. Will he hold this power over the other players or keep it as a surprise for Tribal Council? Even if he faces the vote, could it happen twice? His focus now should be jury management. Finding this idol should give him a great chance at winning the million, but paranoia and arrogance could jeopardize that opportunity. The next few weeks will determine if he’s really a contender to get the votes at the end.

Trish: I’m still trying to determine how highly I should rate Trish’s odds of winning this game. She has built strong relationships with Tony, Woo, Jefra, and Kass. LJ’s exit didn’t come from her, and Morgan and Sarah don’t appear to have animosity towards her. If nothing else, her name isn’t coming up as a potential target. Woo appears to be a top choice along with Tony, so Trish is gliding towards the finish. The challenge for her is proving that she dodged the vote and wasn’t pulled along by the alliance.

Who’s in trouble?

Spencer and Tasha have their work cut out for them to make the end.

Spencer and Tasha have their work cut out for them to make the end.

Tasha: I’ve grown more fond of Tasha’s game with each successive week. Of course, her skills at challenges and in the social realm make her quite a target. She’s won two immunities and nearly took a third that Spencer grabbed. The balance contests play to Tasha’s strengths, and she’s become a likable underdog. I would not want to face her in the end, particularly if I’d betrayed much of the jury. For that reason, Tony and his allies should make removing Tasha their #1 priority.

Spencer: Playing the idol for himself was probably the right move for protection, but there’s nowhere for Spencer to hide without the idol. He’s taken his shots but will face the music without some very impressive game play. He’s a smart player and could find a road to victory, but the possibilities have slimmed down considerably after losing another ally. I’m holding out hope that Spencer (and Tasha) can find a way since it would lead to a more interesting season.

Can I remain in denial about the potential for the Tyler Perry idol to destroy this season? If nothing else, I’m going to take a shot at staying positive. What’s frustrating is how much we don’t need this twist to make this game work. There have been so many turnarounds and interesting moves right from the start. This is one of the best casts we’ve seen in a long time, especially when you consider new players. This idol has the potential to decimate the games of people who deserve better. On the other hand, I may change my mind completely if it leads to a few spellbinding moments.

Who’s going to win this game? Let’s take Jefra out of the discussion. Kass has an uphill climb, especially since she lost a guy she could beat this week. Woo could win in a lesser season, but there are too many capable players that wouldn’t let him do it. That leaves Tony, Trish, Spencer, and Tasha. I could make the case that each of them is the prime contender. I’ll hold my preference and see where the tide swings.

An interesting wrinkle is the potential for a final two given the number of remaining episodes. That twist might play a huge part in deciding the winner. I’d much rather see that scenario than a pointless reward challenge in the finale that gives someone (e.g., Cochran) an unfair advantage. I really hope the producers were willing to take a chance and throw a more interesting wrench into the players’ plans. The return of the final two as a surprise would keep someone from dragging a goat to the end as their lone opponent. Who wouldn’t love a final two with Tony against Trish? What about Spencer against Tasha? This type of change might overwhelm the problems of the super idol and end the season on just the right note.

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