A tried and tested formula of Survivor is to have the final episode before the merge tease us up for the following week’s power struggle. This season, however, it’s hard to pinpoint the numbers—largely because of the even distribution of Tribal Councils. For the first time ever in a three tribe season, all three tribes voted somebody off pre-swap. Almost as unusually, after a severely mismatched tribe-swap, both tribes took a turn at Tribal Council.
Instead, this episode had the chance to illustrate the shifting dynamics going forward. We know the Escameca majority wants to stay True Blue to the end, but Sierra and Rodney might go against that and/or each other. We know that Tyler and Carolyn have just lost the third of their trio, but retain an idol, making them a dangerously under the radar minority. And, perhaps most surprisingly, we know that the No Collars might be bringing Shirin into their fold.
Whatever happened after Tribal Council, Shirin must have stayed calm and it sounds like Carolyn didn’t try to stir anything up either—it’s so easy to make the mistake of letting somebody know how you really feel once it’s been proven that they’re in the minority and you’re in the majority. They both got quietly passive-aggressive in their conversation by the fire the following day, and Carolyn made some pretty snide comments, but neither was foolish enough to start shouting at the other nor bring anybody else into it.
Kudos to Kelly and the No Collars too for not ganging up on Shirin as the Blue Collar men did with Sierra. Instead Hali took Shirin to the well for a heart to heart. An extended version of that scene is up at EW and should be required viewing for how to handle post-tribal council fallout whether you’re the majority or the minority. Shirin’s come under a lot of criticism for her social game, but there is more to social skills than being able to read a room. Shirin’s decision not to take it personally, and to look for ways she can deal with the problem and move forward is a great testament to her social ability.
(NB – total tangent ahoy! In that extended secret scene, Shirin says of her high school experience that she wasn’t ‘white and beautiful’ instead of the episode’s ‘beautiful and skinny’. Considering the follow up phrase is ‘I stood out for not being any of those things‘ it sounds like the original confessional listed all three together and the editing team changed their mind about which one to omit. I find it uncomfortable that they chose to avoid the racial element, especially in light of what Shirin tweeted during the episode. If you’re going to break out the sad music, Survivor, or if you want an Emmy, make a tougher statement about society. The inclusion of ‘skinny’ is also unfortunate without the context that Shirin has lost weight since high school. There’s enough unhealthy representation of body shapes in the media without having Shirin appear to describe herself as fat.)That is how it’s done![/caption]
If Shirin gives us the definitive prototype for gracious in (non-terminal) defeat, then Hali shows us how to gracefully handle a power position. She doesn’t give Sierra any false assurances, and she’s honest about how she annoyed the tribe—but she couches it beautifully, and—importantly—implies that she herself doesn’t have a problem with Shirin.
Granted, it’s easier to behave this way when the other person is being equally mature, but this is really the perfect social tutorial, and both girls were quick to capitalize on the opportunity to further their games. Shirin pointed out that she was trustworthy, that everything she had told the new tribe was ‘verifiably true’. Hali assured her that she wanted to play with her, but instead of making promises, she added the disclaimer that she had to go with her majority and gave Shirin tips on what to tone down if she wanted to fit in with the tribe.
Moreover, Hali assesses the situation perfectly in her confessional: she’s the only person in the tribe who actually likes Shirin, and Shirin is more likely to be a useful tool than a threat later in the game.
I suspect none of this would have done Shirin any good if they had made another trip to Tribal Council, but they didn’t, and now we’re at the merge- there should be bigger targets. It’s unusual for players to delay making the power grab at the merge vote; everybody will be looking to remove or at least weaken their competition, and Shirin is only a number right now. Time will tell if Shirin can get back into a position of influence, but at least she’ll have that time.
If Shirin is at the bottom of Nagarote, the No Collars have been at the top. Hali has Shirin, Jenn found an idol, and Will even got hold of bread though so far as I could tell, he did not make good on his promise of sandwiches. Say goodbye to your dreams of leadership, Will. All the tribe seemed to embrace the reward as a time to bond and forget past issues, but if there was any maneuvering and deals made, there’s no evidence of it.
The person I most want to know about is Carolyn and not just for her mysterious new shades. (They have to be medically related somehow, right?) She didn’t feed Shirin a line and pretend that she was still on her side, so does she have a connection with somebody else? Jenn, perhaps, who she first talked to about flipping? Or Will, the fellow parent? Maybe she’s plotting on an over forty sub-alliance within a No Collar majority? Or maybe (and most likely) she’s just playing nice and hanging in there until she can trade notes with Tyler and Joaquin at the merge.
Escameca’s thrown challenge worked out disastrously for Carolyn. She could have reasonably counted on voting off the one person who might harbor a grudge towards her at the pre-jury stage (even if Shirin tried to throw Carolyn under the bus, Carolyn has an idol and a chance to see the vote coming and save herself). Instead, she’s lost an ally.
On the other hand, she is still here and so is her closest ally. She and Tyler still have a chance to Malcolm and Denise this thing.
Finally, there’s Kelly. There’s no sign that she was in any danger this vote, but avoiding Tribal Council has still changed her game radically…
Escameca – The Devil You Know… or The Devil You Know
We expected the division on Escameca to be between the Blue Collars and the non-Blue Collars, with Sierra as the swing vote. Indeed, Sierra expected that herself. She has a confessional which seems to predate the immunity challenge and Joaquin’s talk with her, in which she bases her decision on whether she wants to target Joaquin… or Rodney. There’s no mention of Joe.
Unless the edit grossly misrepresented the situation before Tribal Council, we have to assume that Mike and Dan pegged Joaquin for the boot fairly early on. Rodney was either Sierra’s choice of target should she betray the Blues, or else a name that Joe or Tyler had brought up to her (or perhaps they made agreeable noises when she brought it up). Importantly, she’s already commenting on how much she enjoys spending time with Joaquin, so he’s had time to court her favor.
The big upset for Sierra was that Joaquin and Tyler didn’t want to work with Joe. In his post-boot interviews, Max had talked about wanting to get rid of Joe as soon as he could, and it’s likely that this had been a topic of conversation among the White Collars. Nobody on Blue Collar comes across as a threat in the way Joe does. They’re either too young and unfamiliar with the game or too goofy and rough around the edges—or in the case of Rodney all of the above and more.
Moreover, nobody on Blue Collar has really stood out as an athlete—surprisingly enough, it’s Dan who’s stood out the most in the challenges, and he doesn’t have the physique to be an all-rounder. (I would not be surprised to see Dan win immunity at some point. Let’s hope so, as it would surely be a dream come true for him.)
Of course, Blue Collar has the numbers, and Joe himself was focusing on whittling their numbers down after Max left… he’s still chasing the 4:4:4 ratio, so perhaps he was the one who talked with Sierra about voting off Rodney.
According to Joaquin’s interview, Tyler talked with Joe a little, but Joaquin didn’t bother working him at all. Joaquin also cheerfully acknowledged that as he had Sierra, Tyler, and Rodney, he didn’t need to worry about Mike and Dan because he didn’t need their votes. This is probably the key to Joaquin’s downfall: never assume you have the numbers, keep working the minority. Firstly, you need to keep them feeling safe so they don’t scramble; secondly, you want to give yourself as many options as possible; thirdly, you want to have a good enough relationship with them that if the worm does turn, it doesn’t turn on you.
Joe apparently bonded with Mike, even if his original intent was to vote off a Blue Collar, and that was almost certainly a factor in Mike’s insistence on targeting Joaquin. (It worked the other way too, if we assume that Joe was originally targeting Rodney before having to work with the Blue Collars.) If we go back to a confessional from when they first swapped, Joe planned on having a walk and talk with Rodney, on feeling out Joaquin and Tyler, on getting to know both sides. He wanted to know where he was most likely to find success and he was hoping somebody would have the conversation with him first.
That’s level one tribe swap playing right there—particularly when you’re entering a tribe in a minority. Could another factor in targeting Joaquin have been the fact that he was so overtly working the social game, bromancing with Rodney and buttering up Sierra? Joaquin immediately comes across as an oilier, more devious guy than surfer-lookalike Joe, and the White Collar label against Joe’s No Collar doesn’t help. With that kind of disadvantage, Joaquin needed to get under the radar. Even if he had realized that, I’m not sure he knew how.
Still, Joaquin put in the effort with the person who counted, Sierra. Why didn’t she save him? Why did she go back with the Blue Collars? There are a few possible factors here, not least of which is that she might have favored keeping Joe over Joaquin. Certainly, as well as she was getting on with Joaquin, he somehow missed her animosity to Rodney, so he was not exactly filling the ‘somebody who listens to me’ void in her game.
We do know she liked Joaquin while we’re not sure how she felt about Joe, but we’ve already hypothesized that the pair of them talked about voting Rodney off. We know Joe spent time with Sierra before Tribal Council, even if we didn’t get their conversation. We also know Joe’s a very charming, laid back guy, and he’s from Arizona, neighbor to her homestate of Utah. (Admittedly, there are whole mountain ranges and a Grand Canyon between them, but it could count for something, right?)
Besides, we need to take into account the deal she was being offered. Joaquin was pitching a four strong alliance with him, Tyler and Rodney. She barely knew Tyler and she actively disliked Rodney, so in this alliance of four, she was almost entirely dependent on Joaquin. If he betrayed her, she had nobody to fall back on. (In all likelihood, Tyler would have cultivated a relationship with her over time, but gambling on potential allies is a big risk.)
By going with the other alliance, she has close links to multiple players, even if she doesn’t like them. Although he has bonded closely with Mike, Joe is new to all of them—Joe might also be a gateway to an alliance with the other young girls in the game, Jenn and Hali.
Or maybe she has chosen to stick with Blue Collar after all, as Mike and Dan (and Jeff) were urging. It wasn’t like she could go against her original tribe, but she did opt for the side with the Blue Collar majority. I’m not personally convinced that was her motivation, but it’s worth noting.
In the end, she picked the path with the most options so, whatever her own rationale, I think she made the right move. It will be interesting to see how she moves forward.
Worth Throwing For
Throwing a challenge is always a dicey prospect. I said last week that Escameca should not take the risk because neither side could be sure of having Sierra. There was a very important change in that this week, when Joaquin and Tyler decided to target Joe instead of a Blue Collar. Suddenly, Mike, Dan, and Rodney no longer had to worry that one of them would go home if they were wrong about Sierra.
When you can be reasonably confident that you’re not about to pull a Drew Christy, other advantages of challenge-throwing gain more traction. For Rodney, that was getting out potential challenge beast, Joe. For Mike and Dan, it was breaking up a power couple… but it was also about saving Blue Collar numbers. Kelly survived one Tribal Council, but they couldn’t be certain she’d survive another. (Judging by Mike’s confessional, he would have been willing to throw the first immunity, if they had thought they could have made losing such a physical challenge believable.)
According to Dan’s hilarious take on everybody’s acting abilities, all the original Blue Collars were in on the challenge throwing. (Dan won his round so it wouldn’t look too obvious.) I’m not sure how advantageous the throw was for Sierra, who might have been better off keeping her options open, but she couldn’t stop the others throwing it. Assuming the men didn’t pressure her into the throw, they have probably earned back some trust by including her in the plan.
Shout out to Mike here for his persistence in throwing the challenge despite Kelly’s terrible memory. Mere mortals like China’s James or Cagayan’s Sarah and Trish gave up in the face of inevitable victory. Mike soldiered on until he figured out a way to hand Kelly the victory in secret.
For Mike, the way this particular challenge throw went down was a huge benefit to his game, for he could let Kelly know what was going on without the others realizing they were talking. The effect this had on her was considerable. Mike was trusting her not to blow this up in his face, and he was taking the risk that his own tribe wouldn’t blow it up in his face, all to protect her neck. There can be few better ways to prove to somebody that they’re important to you, and Kelly gratefully explained that she returned Mike’s trust and would be rejoining him after the merge.
The beautiful thing is that nobody knows it. Nobody knows that Mike and Kelly have a special alliance within Blue Collar. Nobody on Nagarote know that Kelly isn’t tight with them—it’s not clear whether Kelly considered sticking with her new tribe over her old one (remember she predicted her old tribe would fall apart at a swap), but she’s confident that they believe she’ll be working with them and hopefully swinging a Blue Collar over. How appropriate that the undercover cop is now a double agent, getting information on the other side’s strategy—it’s unfortunate for Blue Collar that they don’t have an idol to make the most of this advantage.
And that brings us to what will happen at the merge… what’s being planned and what is actually most likely to happen. Historically, in three tribe seasons, the original tribes have not counted for as much as the second set of tribes. (Granted, in All Stars and Philippines the swap was actually a dissolution of the losing tribe—and the actual swap on All Stars only switched one person.) With none of the original tribes able to get an outright majority at twelve, it’s just easier to pull a dominant alliance together after going to two tribes.
Nagarote might be putting about a theory of sticking together, but Escameca aren’t. They just blindsided Joaquin, leaving Tyler a free agent with no loyalties to them—granted they did that to Sierra right before the swap, but at least she didn’t know anybody else. Tyler has two White Collars on the other side. It’s possible they might be hoping Joe will stick with them, just to swing the majority, but they must expect Joe’s No Collar buddies to try to recruit him. Do they have any reason to think he’ll stay loyal? Perhaps they’re hoping that ‘saving’ him at the last Tribal Council (it seems that Joe was not in on the throwing) will guilt him into staying with them for one vote.
But it’s plain from Joe’s eagerness to even up the numbers that he envisions himself sticking it out with the No Collars until the end, and I’m sure Hali, Jenn and Will are hoping he’ll come back to them—they need to pull somebody over for the numbers and Joe would ensure that they keep a majority in their new alliance… though that’s bound to raise eyebrows.
Of the No Collars, I think the one most likely to be fickle is Will. We’ve already seen that he wants to play Survivor from a position of calling the shots, and that he’ll react with his vote if paranoia sets in. Logically, I’d say he should stay with the others, but this is a recruit who wants to play hard without having a full grasp of the game’s ramifications… and that makes him a bit of a wild card.
It makes all the sense in the world for White Collar and No Collar to team up and take out some of the big players at Blue Collar, but there’s a big sticking point in Tyler’s recent attempt to take out Joe. Carolyn has been buddying up to Team Red, but what does this mean for her (presumed) plan to swing Tyler over post-merge? Everybody trusted Tyler at one point in the game, but if he wants to work with the No Collars, he’s got a lot of ground to make up.
Theoretically, Tyler’s only move now is to flip to Nagarote, and I can’t wait for the confessional where he realizes he’s got to ally with Shirin again. But Shirin had at least some idea of Tyler’s animosity beforehand, and unless Carolyn’s done a hell of a lot of making up, she’ll be wary of the other woman now too. The White Collars are potentially in a great position, by virtue of their smaller numbers making them a swing voting bloc, but I don’t see them reforging an endgame alliance.
Finally, there are the Blue Collars, whose policy is to stick together and play for a Blue Collar victory—even Rodney, whatever he told Joaquin, subscribed to this sentiment. Rodney, of course, might be a little disillusioned after being left out of the loop, so Mike and Dan will have their work cut out trying to appease him, and Sierra remains a weak link, too.
With no side having a clear majority or a clear plan, I predict a very careful, evasive episode ahead. I wouldn’t be surprised if, a little like Philippines, we see a neutral target picked for the first vote, rather than anybody making a definitive power grab. Tyler is a perfect candidate: he’s not a member of Nagarote and he’s the outsider on Escameca. He’s not a number in the eventual Blue Collar / Red Collar battle for majority. Everybody can make noises about how they’re voting him off because he’s an immunity threat, when what they’re really doing is biding time.
Of course, Tyler’s one friend in the game is Carolyn, and she does have an immunity idol, but she can’t risk the wrath of the players she’s supposed to be aligned with. For both Carolyn and Shirin, it might be more beneficial to see Tyler (and each other) as a rival for their swing vote position in the endgame. Tyler’s best move now is probably to start sticking his hands in trees for Escameca’s idol, or hope for individual immunity—ten to one, he was planning to sandbag the immunity challenges post-merge, but he won’t have that luxury now. Or perhaps he’ll be saved by the players, as they have done all season, taking a completely different route to what I consider the logical one.
Joe has been talking for a long time about getting the other tribes down to four… he’s still chasing that last Blue Collar boot and he might not want to put it off another week—if he’s guilt tripped into sparing Mike, Dan, and Sierra for a round, he could target Rodney or Kelly. Kelly’s probably the more dangerous of the two, but if they think she’s a docile vote in Hali and Jenn’s pocket, then they have to go for Rodney, whose boot might bring Sierra on board with them.
Then too, Joe’s reputation for being an individual immunity threat might remain an issue—Mike and Dan ignored it this episode, but they were voting off the other guy who’s put in a strong showing at individual elements of the challenges, so I wouldn’t rule it out. They might have to vote off Joe to reassure Rodney that he’s still in a power position. (I could, however, see Jenn using her idol to save Joe, if she feels confident she’d have the numbers afterward.)
Whatever happens, it will be two weeks before I write about it. We have friends over for Easter, and realistically, I won’t have time to write a blog, even if it is the merge. Unless something so incredible happens that I have to dash off a quick blog about it, Individual Games will be back in two weeks to analyze the power dynamics of the merged tribe.