Survivor Kaoh Rong

The Survivor Strategic Game: Tunnel Vision

When friends ask you how Survivor could possibly still be around, show them this episode. It’s a classic example of players getting tunnel vision because they had perceived strength in the game. The editors masterfully played up the arrogance from Scot and Jason while showing the moves that turned the tables. The result seemed obvious based on the edit, but a small part of me wondered if it was all a smokescreen. Were they teasing us about Tai’s dilemma? He wouldn’t really damage his game to remove Scot, right? Amazingly, the plan went as advertised and eliminated Scot with Jason’s idol in his pocket. Tai’s move was a hurricane that destroyed the expected state of the game prior to this week. His choice did a lot more than just remove Scot.

Before digging into the ramifications, I’d like to give Scot credit for playing the game. I’m always skeptical when Survivor casts a pro athlete or other known quantity in a season. Only Jeff Kent was a stronger player, and it’s definitely a close race. Scot openly discussed his status as an NBA player from that start, and that made him feel like just another contestant. Unlike John Rocker or Cliff Robinson, he was able to find allies because he wasn’t a gimmick. The other players didn’t seem to resent him, and that’s a testament to Scot’s relationship skills.

Scot Pollard, Survivor Kaoh Rong Scot trusted his ally too much and paid the price.[/caption]

Scot’s downfall was similar to what happens to many players in this game. Because of the super idol, he felt invincible and played like he wasn’t on the block. He also put too much stock in past actions in building trust with Tai. In his exit interview with Rob, Scot mentioned that Tai wouldn’t have the idol without Scot’s advice. While that point is true, expecting that help to keep him safe down the road was short-sighted. Tai’s a tricky player because he isn’t predictable. I don’t believe Scot took Tai for granted, but he underestimated his self-interest.

The other part of Scot’s narrative was the bullying and sabotage, and those actions turned off many viewers. I felt like he was condescending at times, and we saw evidence of that approach in his conversation with Aubry this week. Scot presented the request like it was a choice for her, but he was really giving an ultimatum: vote out Cydney or you’ll get no food. That doesn’t mean Scot’s a terrible guy; he just wasn’t great at the social game. What made Scot more interesting than a typical alpha male was the more human side. This week’s Ponderosa video included a moment of Scot reading a letter from his sister, who’s fighting cancer. It showed a different part of his personality than we saw on the show, but it was overshadowed by the shakier behavior.

The Architect

By hanging onto the immunity idol, Tai delivered the knockout punch to Scot’s game. He also delivered the deciding vote in the 4-2-2 split that set up Scot’s demise. Tai made the move, but its architect was Aubry. Her convincing argument relied on a three-part message: 1) Scot and Jason did not deserve to run the game, 2) Scot and Jason didn’t consider him an equal ally, and 3) Tai needed to make a big move. The final point was the most important and led to this wonderful quote: “This is your game. You’re making a big move.” Aubry cast herself, Joe, and Cydney as supporting players in Tai’s story. He wasn’t making the move to help them; this choice was a requirement to benefit his own game.

The brilliant part of this pitch is that it played to Tai’s ego without being condescending. On the surface, keeping the idol and gaining control made sense for Tai. The real truth is that it benefited Aubry and Cydney a lot more. In fact, such a blatant move probably destroyed Tai’s game. He’s front and center as a threat and has no long-term allies. Aubry was able to strike against the guys without getting any blood on her hands. Jason and Scot will understand why she pushed Tai for this move. If Tai had stuck to the plan and delivered a 3-3-2 split, the super idol would have sent Aubry home. She needed his help to keep her game alive.

Aubry Bracco and Kyle Jason

Aubry battled Jason in the challenge and earned more respect.

Another reason Aubry stood out was the attention from the editors. We saw confessionals and other scenes that clearly outlined her plans. There’s a reason people have grabbed onto her story as the season’s hero. We barely heard from others like Joe and Michele about their plans. She battled against Tai at the reward challenge and then faced down Jason for immunity. While neither effort was successful, Aubry stood out as a gamer. That status will be important if she makes the end. Scot won’t look at Aubry as a weak player who floated to the end. Since the merge, Aubry has built a resume to win the game. The trick now is getting to the end.

The New Target

I loved Tai’s move because it made for amazing television and benefited Aubry. While it worked out great for her, Tai’s choice puts him in a bad spot. First of all, Jason will do everything to get revenge for this betrayal. He will try to make sure that Tai goes home immediately. Jason has few allies beyond maybe Julia, so his anger isn’t enough on its own. The bigger problem is Tai’s possession of both the immunity idol and the advantage. Jason lost his idol, so Tai is now the only player with extra powers. No one knows what about the extra vote because Dan Foley’s episode hadn’t aired. This season also was shot before Second Chances. Having a mysterious power and the idol makes Tai too dangerous to ignore.

Tai Trang, Survivor Kaoh Rong

Tai’s dilemma was fascinating TV, but it was probably a bad move.

Tai might seem like a possible goat because he betrayed Scot and Jason, but he’s still a likable guy. We saw this week how even his allies didn’t want to sit next to him at the end. Tai has also been solid in challenges, especially ones involving balance. He could defeat players like Joe, Michele, and even Jason in many contests. Tai is now the immediate new threat with the super idol extinguished. He should consider playing the advantage and idol as soon as possible. They may seem to offer him safety, but they’re really a Trojan Horse set to end his game. In an extra scene, Tai spoke about not understanding why others wouldn’t also go for the advantage. This singular approach may come back to haunt him.

It will be interesting to see if the producers decide to hide another immunity idol. I’d prefer that they don’t since we’re already at the final seven. The potential for the super idol may cause them to take a shot, though. If we assume that Tai’s idol is the last one remaining, the others will probably try to flush it by splitting the votes. This sets up Jason as the likely alternative for the split, but I wonder if Aubry would use this chance to go after Julia. She’s talked for several weeks about not trusting her and also respects her game. Jason may be around for a while.

Choose Your Reward

This week’s reward challenge spawned a trend of destroying ceramics that continued into the immunity challenge. The players’ games could shatter! It’s a little on the nose but does make for a good TV image. The producers’ choice to replace the auction with three-tiered reward challenge made sense. Instead of spending time watching contestants wait for the advantage, they simplified the process. Players could compete for food, letters from home (“love”), or a game advantage. Personally, I would have chosen the food. The hamburger, fries, and cookies actually looked good; it wasn’t Chinese food. Also, grabbing the advantage in public brings its own set of risks. I also would expect more people to go after the edge than food.

It’s easy to read the players’ choices as indicative of their feelings about their current spot. In some cases, that’s probably true. Jason and Scot believed they were safe and didn’t need the advantage. Aubry rightfully felt that she needed to go after the benefit. On the other hand, Michele could have just been hungry. Julia may have thought it would be easier to win the notes from home than the advantage. Tai seems like a guy that will always compete, regardless of how it might affect his game. This was another balance challenge, which did not favor Jason and Scot. So I don’t consider their choice to play for food a serious mistake. They were unlikely to defeat Tai, Aubry, or Julia in the other tasks. So any choice was probably a loss.

The Final Seven

We’re nearing the homestretch of this great season, so it’s time to discuss each of the final seven individually. Instead of describing who’s in the best or worst spot, I’m going to order them by their chances to win the game. It’s tricky because some players would have a good shot if they reached the end but are in danger now. Others have a clear road but a limited chance to win. The possibility of a final two also plays into this discussion. Someone like Joe might have little chance in a final three, but he could better in a final two against the right opponent. That isn’t the most likely scenario, but crazier things have happened. Let’s begin with last week’s key player.

Tai Trang, Survivor Kaoh Rong

Tai’s advantage could be a double-edged sword.

Tai: With an idol and the advantage, Tai has power to influence the short-term game. However, his situation feels similar to what Jason and Scot had going into this week. He’s guaranteed to make the final six and could influence that vote with the advantage. However, Tai has nowhere to hide. It may take some challenge wins for him to reach the end. Tai is a great character and basically guaranteed to return, but I don’t like his chances to win this game.

Joe: Jeff Probst did not promote this season like most recent ones, so it’s led to speculation about a random winner. Joe would fit that bill. I like Joe and appreciate having a different kind of player who’s mostly focused on the adventure. He has made alliances and doesn’t get angry when people like Aubry vote differently. People seem to like Joe, but I don’t believe they respect his game. He could be a surprise victor, but someone like Jason would have to do more to anger the others. I don’t believe that Joe will change his approach to build a resume; it will take others falling apart to give him a real chance to win at the end.

Jason: The most challenging player to analyze here is definitely Jason. In one sense, he appears dead in the water after losing the idol and his closest ally. In an extra scene, Jason spoke about the value of having such a trusted ally. It might actually help his prospects, however. Since he’s no longer the big threat, Jason may be able to sell his vote as a free agent. This assumes that Jason will take a logical approach. If he focuses more on personal revenge than on building new bonds, he’ll be gone quickly. I’m not convinced Jason has a good shot, but there’s still a slim chance he could rebound and stay afloat for a while.

Julia was not part of the plan to take out Scot.

Julia was not part of the plan to take out Scot.

Julia: We’ve seen a lot of scenes with Julia strategizing with both sides in the past two weeks. Her plan to flush out Tai’s idol this week was strange because it seemed to discount the super idol. When she implored Tai to play the idol at Tribal Council, it also missed that fact. Julia’s game feels too obvious to help her grab control. She gave the normal spiel about making big moves, but Aubry and Cydney aren’t fooled. They won’t let her sit in the middle forever. She wasn’t included in the plan against Scot because she was too close to him. Julia has a story to tell if she makes the end. The trick for her will be finding allies that actually trust her.

Michele: I’m starting to believe that my winner pick may fall short once again. No one is targeting Michele, and that’s great on the surface. Unfortunately, that also means she isn’t considered a real threat. Michele also wasn’t told about the Scot plan and was mostly invisible after her reward challenge win. The edit isn’t showing Michele as a key factor in the game. She seems perceptive and has stayed under the radar. Can she make a convincing case at the end? I believe she has the potential, but Michele needs to pick up the pace right now.

Cydney: She’s a strong, determined player who’s thrived by making solid relationships. She connected with Jason and Scot on Brawn and now has a good bond with Aubry. Despite her physical skills, Cydney is still underestimated. There are bigger fish to fry, especially now that Scot is gone. Cydney has a good chance to win if she makes the end. The challenge might be defeating her closest ally if they’re both there. Cydney may need to lose Aubry, who’s stood out as a tough competitor and strategic player. She also could face a 0-2 deficit if Scot and Jason refuse to vote for her. Those hurdles aren’t insurmountable, but there’s still more work to do.

Aubry: It’s Aubry’s season, and the rest of the players just live in it. That was my feeling right after watching this week’s episode. Aubry is a competitor but doesn’t seem unbeatable and a strategist but not such a thinker that she’s too threatening. The editors also ensured that we realized who was driving the action. It’s starting to feel similar to Natalie Anderson’s path in San Juan Del Sur. Anything could happen, but Aubry’s definitely the front runner at this point.

Way back in episode five, it seemed like Scot was putting too much stock in others’ idols. Getting two players to give up their idols to save him was expecting a lot. I dislike the super idol as a twist, but it paid off in setting up interesting dynamics. Scot remained close with Tai because he had the idol, which made sense but left him with limited options. I also believe Scot and Jason expected fear of the idol to keep them from needing it once again. They underestimated Aubry and Tai, and that led to their demise. This example shows again how deceptively challenging Survivor can be for new players. It also explains why this season has been so much fun. I’m gearing up for a thrilling finish.

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