Survivor: Cambodia

The Survivor Strategic Game: I Got Your Back

It’s been fascinating to watch a full crop of second-time players as they maneuver through the game’s early stages. Previous all-star seasons have begun with an obvious caste system of winners, fan favorites, and random players. There are labels to attach to this group, but it feels more egalitarian. Calling someone old-school means only so much when it comes to this new season. People can adjust to the faster game and surprise others in the process. Shirin and Spencer didn’t recognize the danger in following the typical numbers game. There’s something very different happening this time, and many weren’t prepared for it.

I’ll admit to expecting the dominant group to maintain a foothold at Takeo this week. Abi-Maria would be grateful to Shirin for keeping her around, and their advantage was solid. Instead, the results showed just how fluid the game might be this time. Players like Jeff Varner and Terry have been waiting so long for their second chance. They aren’t going to go meekly to their doom and let others control their fates. This desire makes “gamebots” and manipulators the big threats. Challenge strength has barely come up during the first two weeks. It’s all about trust, and the focus on emotional play fits with that standard. There’s a need for someone who can say “I got your back” and mean it.

The editors really pushed the narrative that the game was more humane this time. When Shirin walked away and didn’t step up for Abi, she sealed her own fate. That’s the story Jeff Probst wants to convey at least. The fascinating New York Times article on Survivor this week revealed how important it is for Jeff to be more than a game show host. He wants to tell the story and spin it for maximum emotional impact. Honestly, Shirin was likely voted out because she was a strategic threat. Vytas may have been a little creepy, but his exit was also about being dangerous. The stunned reactions from Bayon to his departure showed just how imposing he was to that group. Shirin was fresh in everyone’s minds and a prime target.

Even if it’s too simplistic, I can’t dismiss the story we’re seeing on the screen. Many players do want to connect with their allies on a human level. I don’t think Terry’s move with Abi was just gameplay. It benefited him to comfort her, but he isn’t that sneaky. Savage isn’t just out to get Stephen because he’s a strategic threat. They’re just very different people, and that’s a main reason Savage doesn’t want to play with Stephen. It isn’t a terrible way to go, either. Spencer may have recognized the danger in aligning with a volatile player like Abi, but it still nearly ended his game. Bonding with people you can trust and connect with can be a good way to go. Many in this cast seem to have little room for thinkers and prefer a grounded approach.

Looking for His Spy Shack

Varner quickly found some new allies and enforced his will. Varner quickly found some new allies and enforced his will among the group.[/caption]

I can’t say enough good things about Varner. He’s such great TV! Varner’s also fun in a very different way from the standard big characters on Survivor. He plays well to the camera yet isn’t just starting drama for no good reason. Varner is a goofy guy, and he’s clearly sneaking up on people. They like having him around, so he can play differently than someone like Spencer. Varner’s conversation with Terry started the ball rolling towards flipping the script. Once they secured Abi’s vote, it was easy to push the target on Spencer and Shirin.

What’s brilliant is the way that Varner did it without standing out as a strategic threat. The fight between Peih-Gee and Abi played right into his hands, and he couldn’t expect that to work so well. Even so, he played the chat with Abi perfectly. In the eerie light of the early morning, his glee at bonding with her and Terry disguised the intelligence behind it. Varner made it seem like he just liked playing with her because they were kindred souls. He isn’t stupid; Abi is the type of person who will change her mind every day. The question he’ll face may be the same one that haunted Spencer; can Varner trust Abi down the road? Next week’s tribe swaps could make that a moot point, though.

The interesting thing about Varner’s move was how it matched the Rob Cesternino playbook from the Amazon. He joined one group and took out a rival and then pulled the minority alliance to his side to take out another threat. Rob didn’t really start until the merge, but this season doesn’t give that luxury. It’s a rare person who can betray an alliance and then enlist them for the vote at the next Tribal Council. Varner made a strategic play yet didn’t come off like a thinker, and that was quite a feat.

A Brazilian Soap Opera

Players should be careful to trust Abi too much in the future.

Players should be careful to trust Abi.

It felt a lot like high school during the pivotal night for Shirin’s game. After catching Peih-Gee talking badly about her, Abi sat outside while her allies laughed at her. It was easy to sympathize with Abi, who felt marginalized by Shirin and her allies. On the other hand, I expect that she’s very difficult to be around at camp. This week’s result showed why it was dangerous to not vote her out immediately. Wild-card players can totally disrupt the game and aren’t reliable numbers.

What’s great about having Abi in this cast is how much trouble she can cause for people who hope to stick to the plan. She’s best friends with Terry and Jeff this week, but there’s no guarantee that will continue. I’d hate to play with Abi, but she can be a benefit in the right situation. Placed on a smaller tribe, she could thrive or be the easy vote for a determined group. I’m inclined to think that Abi will be around until at least the merge, if not longer. She’s a difficult ally, but there are always bigger targets.

I can’t let Peih-Gee off the hook completely in this conflict. Abi’s had it out for her since the start; Shirin told Josh Wigler in her exit interview that Abi’s gut told her Peih-Gee was evil. How do you combat that kind of perception? Peih-Gee voted for Vytas, but it didn’t seem to matter. It’s like Abi can’t function without having an enemy. Peih-Gee didn’t behave great and inadvertently helped cause Shirin’s exit. I do give her credit for not letting the mess affect her vote once again. Peih-Gee’s “anyone but me” strategy is working, but things may change depending on where she lands with the swap.

They Aren’t Playing Poker

It was all smiles on Bayon here, but there was still dissension involving Savage and Stephen.

It was all smiles on Bayon here, but there was still dissension involving Savage and Stephen.

We haven’t spent as much time on Bayon, and players like Kimmi and Monica have barely graced our screens. The focus has stuck with the trio of Joe, Savage, and Jeremy and their separation from Stephen. It’s especially true with Savage, who went way overboard and said Stephen lacked morals, courage, and virtue. Turn down the hyperbole, Andrew. I’m not a big fan of Savage’s personality, but he did use Stephen’s offhand comment to his advantage. It was smart to recognize Jeremy’s emotions with missing his family, and that bonded them closer. I can’t decide if Savage is playing a delusional or brilliant game because he’s so out in front, but he’s succeeding in isolating Stephen.

Savage’s heartfelt story about meeting his wife clearly affected the tribe, even Kass. If forming social bonds is the key to this season, he’s on a roll so far. Joe is also making friends by building a sweet hammock; who knows what he’ll do with their big reward? He’s great to have around now, but Joe keeps reminding everyone he’s a threat. He stepped up and finished the puzzle again to be the hero. Joe needs to hope that some of his closest allies join him after the swap. We’ve only heard Stephen talk about taking him out, but I’m sure the threat from Joe is on everyone’s minds.

I haven’t read any spoilers about the make-up of the three tribes, so my answers to these questions reflect how people are situated at the end of this week’s episode. I expect that players who don’t adapt well could find themselves in trouble regardless of their spot after six days.

Who’s in the best position?

Kelley: I’d maintain that Kelley made possibly the best move of the week, and it was deceptively simple. Her choice to join the majority and not go down with the ship put her in a great spot. Kelley clearly wanted to work with Shirin and Spencer, but she saw the writing on the wall. It’s crucial in this type of season to adapt to every twist, and Kelley shifted her thinking perfectly. She also still has the hidden immunity idol, and no one suspects her at all. There are plenty of different ways for Kelley to do well after the move to three tribes.

We didn't hear much from Keith this week, but he's still in great shape.

We didn’t hear much from Keith this week, but he’s still in great shape.

Keith: We barely saw Keith this week on Bayon, but it’s this unessential quality that should help him succeed. You could make a similar case for Kimmi, but I’m not convinced she’ll sit back given her personality. Keith’s lack of Survivor knowledge and laid-back approach make him feel less threatening. If the players continue to target strategic threats, he should be a solid number for a long time.

Who’s in trouble?

Stephen: Once again, I was so relieved that Bayon won immunity because it kept Stephen in the game. If we can believe the edit, he was the likely first boot if they went to Tribal Council. Stephen did have a few nice moments in the hammock, and he seems more comfortable in the tribe; however, Savage still believes that he’s the prime target. No one should benefit more from the tribe swap than Stephen. There’s always a chance he could end up with Savage and Jeremy, but the odds are good that he’ll find some new allies. It’s still an uphill battle given his reputation, but I’m more hopeful Stephen’s fate could change.

Spencer survived the vote but still has a tough road ahead.

Spencer survived the vote but still has a tough road ahead to avoid being the target.

Spencer: I expect that Spencer wasn’t voted out because he’s better in challenges and a little more straightforward  of a player than Shirin. That said, the fact that he came so close to being voted out is a warning sign. Like Stephen, the right draw with the new tribes is crucial for Spencer. He’s a likable guy but stands out as a strategic threat. The fact that he played so recently in Cagayan and was a fan favorite makes Spencer a big target. This game means so much to him; seeing him break down about voting out Shirin was touching. I believe his speech at Tribal Council wasn’t just for show. The question is whether the others will give him a chance to prove his worth.

I’ve really enjoyed the first two episodes and think the Second Chances concept has completely paid off thus far. There are so many interesting players this season! I may write about strategy, but I also love hanging out with much of this cast. Even arrogant guys like Savage are interesting because they’re so different. Regardless of who comes out ahead, I’m expecting great things from this season.

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