In Book VII of The Republic, ancient Greek philosopher Plato imagines a conversation between his brother Glaucon and his teacher Socrates which outlines an analogy for human existence: Most of us are chained in a cave while shadows – cast by objects moving in front of the fire of “truth” – move on the blank wall in front of us. We can’t directly witness reality; all we can see are the flickering images of truth distorted by the process of projection. Only a philosopher, freed from her shackles, is able to perceive truth by looking right into the heart of the fire.
Don’t worry, I’m not claiming that I’m the philosopher from the allegory; I’m chained to the wall with the rest of you. But I do think that one can get a sense of “truth” by carefully studying the shadows being projected on our TV screens; if one is patient and perceptive, one can get a feel for the shape of things passing between the fire and the wall. And in so doing, get a glimpse of the “truth.”
So what the hell does any of that have to do with Survivor?
Over the past week, the Survivor blogging community – the brilliant team here at RHAP as well as writers across the blogosphere and twitterverse – has done an exceptional job in breaking down what happened in Survivor: Caramoan Episode 2: “Honey Badger.” I began to wonder, what’s left for me to cover? Have they left me anything to talk about?
That’s when I realized that we needed to talk about the people we weren’t talking about, the castaways who weren’t getting confessionals, the players who are out there for just as many hours as the rest of ‘em, only they’re not getting camera time.
What I needed to do was study the silhouettes on the wall and try to uncover the truth behind the truth.
So that’s what I did.
And so I give you The Game of Shadows.
1) Corinne: I’ll admit it, I’m a bit worried about my pick to win it all. She came into the season as the queen of confessionals, and yet we’re not seeing her AT ALL. On the one hand, we could read this as, “She’s a non-factor, so why use up our precious air time on her when we can show Phillip dancing instead?” On the other hand, though, maybe the producers are giving Corinne the slow burn; they’ll allow her to emerge from relative anonymity when her narrative kicks into gear.
She’s in a dominant alliance, she’s playing nice (so far), and, if the promos are any indication, not only does she have a sub-alliance with Malcolm, but the two of them “make a big discovery” (can this be anything other than an immunity idol?). She’s not being set up for an early exit (they’d at least be giving us some of her scathing character assassinations, wouldn’t they?), so can we assume that she’s safe for the time being?
Given what she says in one of the Secret Scenes this week, I think we can. Blogger extraordinaire Sarah Freeman excoriated poor Corinne for saying that losing challenges wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Favorites, but I would argue that Corinne was being savvier than any of the other members of Stealth-R-Us. Corinne knows all too well that tribe swaps can undo the best laid plans – she had to endure not one but TWO swaps in Gabon – so she’s already planning for the one that we all know is coming (if they follow the original Fans vs. Favorites format, this’ll happen after two more Tribals). Taking out Brandon, Brenda and Erik before they have a chance to align with a few Fans and turn on the Favorites is simply smart strategy.
Even though we haven’t seen much from Corinne, she’s well positioned, she’s insulated (she’s squarely in the middle of S-R-U, which is precisely where you want to be in any alliance), and she’s got both a short and long-range plan in place.
Yes, Corinne is currently in the shadows – but I don’t think she’ll be there for long.
2) Malcolm: In last week’s column, I doomed Malcolm to relative obscurity as this season’s “Comedian.” And to some degree, that’s still accurate; his most memorable moment from episode two was accepting his nickname, “The Enforcer,” from The Specialist. But perhaps Malcolm would be better described as “The Observer”: when Phillip was telling Brandon that he’s middle-management material, Cochran wasn’t the only one listening in; when Brandon got up to walk away, there was Malcolm, kicking back in the sand, taking in everything.
Something tells me that Malcolm is doing this all the time with the Favorites. At his best – as he was in Survivor: Philippines when he joined Tandang after the dissolution of Matsing – Malcolm can be a non-intrusive, non-threatening presence. Clearly, he’s managed to shed the Heroes vs. Villains stigma of Russell, and his social game has put him in a great position within his tribe.
So why do I think he’s still going to be cut loose before the endgame? Because while he’s clearly a part of the dominant alliance, he’s not a key cog in the machine. Alliances that gab together stab together; tandems that quip together flip together. Malcolm, a born talker, is seen watching conversations, not participating in them… and that means that he’s not going to have the last word when it comes to who wins the game.
3) Cochran: I know it’s odd to include the undisputed King of Confessionals in the Game of Shadows, but despite his repeated appearances sitting on his throne of stone, Cochran has receded into the background a fair bit. The most direct evidence of this: J.C.’s arbitrator status in the Phillip/Brandon labor negotiations. How is it possible that the guy who helped blindside Brandon’s alliance is now helping Lil Hantz apply for a job with Stealth-R-Us? Somehow, the endearing, scrawny sunburn victim has transmogrified from ruthless swing vote to a not-so-innocent bystander within the span of a single episode.
Oh, and no one is talking about his challenge deficiencies, either.
If there’s a game being played in the shadows, Cochran is winning it.
4) Erik: About the only constructive thing Erik accomplished this episode was somehow not saying, “You are out of your &%@#$ mind, you #&*%$ lunatic” when Brandon started feeling “revengeful.” Otherwise, Erik was a naïve non-factor for the second episode in a row. Even his Secret Scene was excessively bland: he explains that he wants Andrea gone because he got burned by strategically savvy women the last time around. Tell us something we don’t already know, Erik! Seriously, what are you doing with the other 71.5 hours that fill up each three-day cycle? Can’t you come up with compelling confessional sound-bites that the producers simply have to air? (An example: “Phillip should take a page out of Dawn’s book and adopt a bunch of kids. They could make a reality sitcom out of it: ‘Surviving The Specialist’. Think of the hijinks!”)
The good news for Erik is that he isn’t being depicted as a threat, a target, or an easy boot… which means he’ll be around for a while.
But the shadow he casts on the cave wall is both tiny and translucent. At most he’ll be a presence, not a player.
5) Brenda: In her Secret Scene, Brenda goes on at length about how Brandon butchered his post-Tribal confrontation with Dawn and Cochran, and then explains how Brandon should have handled it. She’s a deft diplomat, no doubt (although she’s stating the obvious about Brandon, not every Survivor player, even returnees, is well acquainted with “obvious”). Why, then, is Brenda so painfully unaware of her own precarious position? She believes that Brandon will be the next to go – and she’s probably right about that – but she isn’t the least bit worried that she would follow him out of the game. Umm, Brenda, you were on the wrong side of the Francesca vote! You’re the next logical target! WHERE IS THE URGENCY?
Oh, right. You’re the one who doesn’t scramble. My bad.
A swap may save Brenda temporarily, but if her flame still flickers come the merge, I’ll eat a bowl of rice prepped by Brandon (and I’ll use Michael’s really ugly hat as a bowl).
6) Laura: This D.C. debutante got a fair bit of airtime in last week’s episode, but what emerged from Secret Scenes and interviews is that there’s a LOT more going on with her than we’ve been shown. Apparently, Laura had a day-one alliance with Allie, and that one of the main reasons the Cool Kids thought they had the numbers heading into their first Tribal Council was Laura’s allegiance to youth over big, loud, and insulting ex-Marines.
Yeah, she misplayed the whole idol situation – you either approach Reynold privately or you expose him publicly; having the truth dragged out of you by Probst is never the right move – but she’s also playing a deeper social game than we’ve been shown.
When the camera isn’t rolling, Laura is definitely playing the Game of Shadows.
7) Michael: Man oh man did a lot of people turn on Michael this week! Sure, Sherri has moved to the editing forefront thanks to her aggressive courting of the numbers (and securing herself one of the largest and most antagonistic meat-shields in Survivor history). But when someone steps into the spotlight, what does she create?
And that’s where Michael likes to work.
If one could perceive social-interconnection as a visual spectrum, Michael would be in the middle of a spider web: He is connected to EVERYONE. They like him – which they should. They also trust him – which they shouldn’t.
At this moment in the game, if Sherri is Gota’s brain, Michael is its heart; she’s working the numbers, but he’s the one making that possible. For proof, one need look no further than the seating arrangements at Tribal Council: the producers arrange the order the players file in, and thus shape the social dynamics of the conversation. Where did they put Michael? Dead center.
Even the producers know that Michael is playing The Game of Shadows.
8) Matt: If we were to peer at Matt through the same social-interconnection lens we used on Michael, we’d see something far different: instead of being at the center of a web, he’s surrounded by darkness; instead of being an integral component of a constellation, Matt is a solitary star. The upside to being and early-game swing vote is that for a brief window of time, you’re important to opposing alliances. The downside, however, is that you eventually have to swing, to choose, to help one group while hurting another.
The threads which once connected Matt to Reynold, Eddie, and Hope have now snapped. He’s in a six-person majority alliance, though, so that’s not a big deal, right? Wrong. He’s on the fringes of that alliance, because as useful and helpful as Matt was in that first, crucial vote, Sherri – the signal-caller of that alliance – cannot fully trust him. He was too tight with the Cool Kids, and not tight enough with the Fantastic Four (Sherri, Michael, Laura, Julia). Add in Matt’s ongoing conflict with Shamar and you’ve got a player who thinks he’s on the inside but is really on the outside.
As we have been shown time and time again, solitary stars don’t last too long in Survivor. Eventually, they either collapse in on themselves and go supernova (like the white dwarf star Brandon), or they simply fade away. Despite burning bright in the beginning, Matt will likely follow this second path and be engulfed in the darkness of isolation, forever lost in the shadows.
9) Hope: If there is one player currently controlling Survivor: Caramoan with her unparalleled domination of The Game of Shadows, it’s the Maven of Manipulation, Miss Missouri. Forget Corinne, forget Cochran, forget Michael – this season belongs to Hope. Her observation skills are keen and her understanding of strategy is deep; everyone thinks they’re using her when in fact she’s the one who’s using them. In fact, I’d go so far as to say –
Just kidding. Hope is useless. Great casting, Probst.
10) Probst Probe: Speaking of Jeff and casting, if you haven’t listened to the interview he did with Chuck Klosterman over at Grantland, by all means check it out. Klosterman asks him some hard questions, and Probst does his best to answer them. To his credit, Jeff has never ducked the scrutiny and second-guessing that comes with his job; I may not agree with his decisions, but he always has reasons for them.
That said, after listening to the hour-long conversation, I was even more angry, frustrated, and bitter than I had been going into it.
I’m not going to get into my reaction right now – because I’m past my deadline, and I’d likely go on a thousand-word tirade – but Probst has some interesting things to say about the Survivor casting process. I’ll sum up my thoughts with this: Probst is being patronizingly disingenuous when he says he doesn’t want dumb players on the show. He, Burnett, and the rest of the producers simply don’t believe that a battle between brilliant strategists would be cinematic enough, so they cast people for conflict. Those hopefuls who aren’t antagonistic, clinically insane, and/or stupid need not apply.
Which is why I think Probst is a fool.
11) Fortunes rising: Here’s what I hope we see from Corinne over the next few weeks: she and Malcolm find the idol, and then she arranges for Malcolm’s blindside so that she can have sole possession of it. Even if this doesn’t come to pass, the fact that Corinne is safely cocooned inside The Corporation is good enough for me: she’s safe until the swap, and unlikely to be the first target after the inevitable shake-up. Let me be the first to admit, however, that if she doesn’t get a solid confessional or three this week, I’m an idiot, and Corinne is doomed.
12) Fortunes falling: I’m going to amend one of the Survivor commandments that I wrote about last week, and re-frame it as a bit of man-to-man advice for Reynold:
Keep it in your pants.
This goes for ANYTHING you have in your pants, whether we’re talking about a hidden immunity idol or a “Tiny Toepfer.” Add these errors in judgment to Reynold’s outburst in the middle of camp – and his Secret Scene admission that he has a hard time focusing on the fact that he’s competing for a million dollars – and it’s clear that Reynold just ain’t winning this game.
Indeed, Reynold is a poster boy for why the Fans don’t stand a chance this season: you can recover from novice mistakes when you’re playing against novices, but not when you’re up against people who know what they’re doing.
Reynold may be around for a while thanks to his idol… but the odds of his making it to the Final Three are plummeting towards zero.
13) Prediction time: A few days ago, I outlined an elaborate scenario where Sherri pulled Reynold (and his idol) into her alliance and then sacrificed Shamar (because he didn’t calm down after Tribal Council, despite her promise that he would).
But then I realized that I was violating a cardinal rule of elimination prediction: What is hinted at in the promos NEVER HAPPENS.
The confrontation between Matt and Shamar currently being highlighted in Survivor commercials virtually guarantees that neither of them is going home.
So if not Shamar, then who?
That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – if you’d like to keep the conversation going, leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter (@GetOnSurvivor).