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The Survivor Strategic Game: Chaos Reigns Supreme

When you write a weekly blog about Survivor strategy, you pray for at least one surprise move that’s worth exploring. There’s only so much to say about a Pagonging when it starts getting predictable. Any concerns on that side have been missing this entire season. Even a slightly expected boot like Alexis was hardly obvious and included plenty of tough decisions. This week’s Tribal Council took the previous highs and leapt into the stratosphere. Where should I even start with so much interesting gameplay? The risks were huge and might cost them down the road, but no one is sitting back and hoping for the best. The game play may be terrible at times, but that’s part of what makes it so exciting.

Before digging into the specifics, I can’t stress enough just how refreshing the cast has been this season. It’s no coincidence that a majority applied for the show, and even the recruits are mostly bringing it. Setting aside Lindsey’s choice last week, the players want to be there and are trying to win the game. They’re learning how to play as it happens, and that leads to on-the-fly decisions at Tribal Council. We aren’t seeing fearful competitors worried about rocking the boat and accepting their spot. Another factor is the much improved editing, which has given us a chance to spend time with more than the big characters. They’ve also done a better job in throwing up smokescreens to hide who was going home. Sarah’s exit was foreshadowed this time around, but it still wasn’t set in stone from the editing.

The Right Way to Reveal the Idol

Tony acted because he couldn't convince Sarah to flip to his side. Tony acted because he couldn’t convince Sarah to flip to his side.[/caption]

Let’s investigate each big move chronologically. After a few standard questions at Tribal Council, Tony dropped a bombshell and said he had an idol. This was an interesting play and caused the Aparri alliance to change their votes audibly to “the other one”. On the other hand, he should have stopped right there and done nothing else. Spencer also earned points by calling his bluff and forcing Tony to reveal it. First of all, what’s the benefit for Tony in showing the idol if he plans to play it regardless? If he suspected they were going to vote for him, he could have just said nothing and dropped it on them at the end. If the goal was to protect LJ, why push them to vote that way? It’s possible that Tony didn’t plan to play the idol but was thrown off by the comments at Tribal Council.

Watching the game from home, it seemed obvious that just revealing the idol took the pressure off Tony and negated the need to play the idol. That idea assumes that Tony’s just looking out for himself, however. The choice to reveal his idol and play it showed that his goal was ensuring the dominance of their alliance. Tony’s earlier confessionals about having fun with this group revealed that his “final five!” comments weren’t just bluster. At Tribal Council, he worked to keep everyone safe and knock out the six Aparri votes with the idol. Despite falling short with that plan, Tony’s willingness to make a daring play is hard to dislike. His alliance survived the day, though it wasn’t his move that saved their fate.

Before moving to the next step, there are questions about which players Tony would want in a final three. He promised Sarah a final four deal with Woo and Trish, so they’re likely his preferences at the end. Trish makes sense given her personality, but she’s proven to be a capable strategic player. Woo is tricky because he’s such a likable guy and could take the million from a bitter jury. They’re both better choices than LJ, who hasn’t drawn much anger. Jeffra seems like a logical choice, but betraying his former Brawn members to pick her could backfire. It’s a transparent move that might blow up in his face if the jury votes against Tony.

Returning the Favor

If Tony’s choice made strategic sense, it’s harder to say the same about LJ’s reciprocation. The odds of Aparri still voting for Tony after seeing the idol were extremely low, especially given their comments at Tribal Council. Even if you look at the five Solana members as a group, they still would benefit from keeping the idol. It did not appear to be a planned move from LJ since he barely made the choice before Jeff read the votes. While the move added security for their group, it was directed to the least likely candidate. Tony made his alliance with LJ clear by saving him; why not wait until the next Tribal Council to repay the favor? This move felt like a throwaway from a guy who risked so much by not playing it two weeks earlier. Despite the presence of a new idol at camp in the future, there’s no guarantee their group will find it first. LJ takes a big risk and only secured them against a very small possibility.

With extra time to think, LJ would likely have come to a different conclusion and not played the idol for Tony. The reason Parvati’s move in Heroes vs. Villains was so brilliant is that she didn’t play it for Russell. If LJ knew in advance that Tony would save him, he might have considered playing the idol for Jeffra or Trish. I’m making the assumption that he’s thinking on that level, and it isn’t clear so far. The other strong option was to do nothing. They have the numbers with Kass on their side, but the target will certainly return to LJ. The Aparri group suspected that he had an idol, and not playing it might lessen their suspicions. He could dismiss the idea that he’s a top player and coast for a little while. Playing an idol that no one knew about will create an even larger target that won’t go away.

Can Kass Win the Game?

The Aparri alliance made the right move in targeting Jeffra.

The Aparri alliance made the right move in targeting Jeffra.

Despite all the idol shenanigans from Tony and LJ, they played no role in the final vote. Targeting Jeffra was brilliant and would have delivered an Edgardo-like demise to the Solana five. That was the theory, at least. What they missed was Kass’ unwillingness to work with Sarah. The mediation by Tasha was a fascinating look at two different but equally problematic approaches. Sarah was reveling in her role as the swing vote and didn’t recognize the danger of that position. Kass wasn’t ready to treat Sarah like royalty and beg for her to join them. It’s this type of conflict that makes it so tricky to keep an alliance together in Survivor. What Kass feels about Sarah isn’t wrong, but calling her out is just bad gameplay. Even so, her questioning of trust didn’t alienate their new ally.

When Kass’ betrayal appeared, Spencer immediately claimed that she has 0% to win the game. His haughty reaction was great for a laugh, but is it true? Probably. Let’s consider a world where Kass stuck with the plan and took out Jeffra. The Aparri alliance would have a 6-4 edge and be in control of their fate. Barring immunity victories and the Tyler Perry idol, I’ll assume they become the final six. That situation would leave three Brains with Sarah, Jeremiah, and Morgan. If she gets to the end with her Luzon allies, I don’t suspect that Kass would succeed against Tasha or Spencer. Of course, she’d probably get the chance. She might defeat Morgan and Jeremiah, but there’s no guarantee. Kass seems well-spoken, but I don’t get the impression she’s that well-liked by many of the remaining players.

Getting back to our actual timeline, where does Kass stand today? She’s become number six in a tight alliance that feels stronger after this experience. Four people on the other side feel like she betrayed their entire game. If they find the Tyler Perry idol, would they still target LJ or get retribution against Kass? She’ll need to do some serious damage control in the near future. Now that they have the advantage, will the Solana five stick with Kass after removing another player? She’s become the most volatile player in the game with one vote. It’s definitely a “big move”, yet it could jeopardize her game.

The obvious comparison is the Cochran vote in the South Pacific, and he didn’t have an executable plan following the switch. The optimistic view is that Kass will find a smaller alliance with a duo like LJ and Jeffra and take out the Brawn trio. This cast doesn’t seem as tied to alliances as the South Pacific group, and there may be room to work among such daring players. Many could want to take “chaos Kass” to the end as a goat since she won’t get the Aparri votes. She’ll need to pair up with equally unpopular players to have a chance at the end. The question is whether there are any that fit that mold this time.

The Surprise Savior

Kass made the choice to flip, but the true mastermind in making it happen was Trish. She’s received a strange edit this season and has rarely appeared in a positive light. That made her brilliant move this week even more surprising. While Tony energetically failed at wooing Sarah, Trish sat back and watched as Sarah bickered with Kass. The ability to observe tribal dynamics is highly underrated on Survivor. Instead of scrambling and acting desperate, Trish walked up to Kass and lets her make the choice. It’s a simple move that relied on understanding what’s needed to make the flip happen. While Tony tried to make rational arguments, he forgot the emotional side of it. Kass just wanted to be heard and have the power.

Once Kass made her selection, Trish didn’t waste any time and made sure her alliance was on board. What did they have to lose? It’s clear that LJ and Tony didn’t believe the move would work. Jeffra was in tears expecting to go home, so she wasn’t buying into their new ally. The applause after Sarah’s exit was endearing because it felt like genuine relief at the surprising result. Trish was solely responsible for taking the long shot and approaching Kass. She just flipped two weeks earlier and recognized the signs with Sarah. Have I been sleeping on Trish’s game? I’ll admit that I underestimated her and need to revise my thinking. I’m not ready to declare her as a possible winner, but she’s definitely a lot closer.

Where Do We Go From Here?

This Tribal Council set up the battle lines for the rest of the season.

This Tribal Council set up the battle lines for the rest of the season.

The battle lines have been drawn between the two tribes; is there a chance they won’t last? The challenge at this point is risking the ire of the jury with a daring move. My hope is that everyone will continue to think of the end game and not shift into four easy votes. The more powerful idol will play a key role, and I’ll be curious to learn exactly how strong it is. If players have the ability to give it to another tribe member, that could remove at least one predictable vote. The question is what that accomplishes in the long run when facing a 6-4 deficit. No one seems willing to go home meekly, so I’m sure that Spencer, Tasha, and the others at the bottom will look for any holes they can find to regain the edge. Speculation feels impossible this season, but here’s my best guess at which players are in the best or worst spots.

Who’s in the Best Position?

Trish – Has the editing been hiding Trish’s skills? We saw a few scenes about her alliance with Tony and love for LJ, but it was mostly about the conflict with Lindsey. Trish has revealed a surprising confidence and ability to read a situation correctly. I love Tony’s willingness to incite chaos, but he’s in dire straits without Trish. The best part for her is that LJ, Tony, and Woo remain as shields. Trish should be safe for a while and might be able to find a solid route to the end. The question is whether she could find enough jury votes against others in her alliance.

Woo is sitting in a great spot behind the leaders.

Woo is sitting in a great spot behind the leaders.

Woo – The idol chicanery made Tony and LJ look dangerous, and Woo can sit back and avoid the target. Winning immunity was huge this week in a challenge made for him. The numbers advantage means that he’s off the map for a while, and his athletic skills could earn more victories. There will be a point where he becomes a threat, but it’s not coming in the near future. If Woo continues to stay below the radar, he may coast into the final five. The challenge is convincing the jury that he’s done enough to win. Immunity challenges may be his road to success.

Who’s in Trouble?

Spencer – His comment to Kass may be true, but it sets him up for a conflict with her right from the start. Tony and the others may give Kass the chance to pick the next victim if he sticks with them. Spencer also seems like the largest threat when you look at minority group. Tasha is a smooth player and may be equally skilled, but he’s more likely to face the vote. He’s a smart player and could find an escape, but it’s going to be a challenge with Kass shifting her loyalty away from her former allies.

Morgan – This comes mostly from the previews, where Morgan’s picking a fight with Kass. She’s also been calling her a bitter old lady on Twitter. Watch it, Morgan. Kass is only three years older than I am. She’s probably safe for the time being, but going overboard isn’t wise. The best play is to sit back and look for weaknesses. Morgan may not have that discipline to take the long view on her situation. She was on the outs in the Beauty tribe and survived; will it happen again?

I’m trying not to make a rash analysis, but it’s likely that Kass made a bad decision. If she really wanted Sarah out, why not make the play next time with her current allies? She jumped from at worst a number three spot to the bottom of a tight alliance. She believed Sarah had taken her spot, but that doesn’t seem likely. It’s an intriguing move and thrilling to explore, but it may jettison her chances. Sarah did herself no favors this week and walked to the edge of the plank so Kass could push her into the water. She was an interesting player yet too headstrong to see the layers to the game. I expect we may see her again.

Looking towards next week, the previews and Jeff Probst have promised excitement from the hunt for the special immunity idol. I’m not sure how much fun you can find in watching players looking through holes in trees, but I’ll take their word for it. Regardless, I’m skeptical of the powerful idol yet hope that it keeps the game interesting if nothing else. The sad part is that it gives so much benefit to the player who finds it. Should everything we’ve seen so far be negligible for that person? I’ve been surprised many times with this group, so I’m open to anything at this point. Thus far, it’s been a remarkably consistent season.

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