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The Strategic Game – Check Your Brains at the Door

 

brains2 The “brains” stumbled around and made frequent mistakes.[/caption]

Making predictions with a brand-new cast on Survivor is so difficult, and this week’s astounding premiere just reinforces that fact. After the disappointing One World, I didn’t expect to see an entirely new group of players competing again for the million dollar prize. Those frustrations make this cast even more refreshing. They may have watched the show, but it’s very different to actually play the game. The “brains” stumbled around and made frequent mistakes, while surprise power players emerged on the other tribes. If the opening two hours are any indication, this is going to be an amazing season.

I’m thrilled to be joining the Rob Has a Website team of bloggers this season, and I couldn’t have asked for a better episode to start. My focus is the strategy side of the game (hence the title), particularly decisions that will impact more than the individual’s place in the competition. I’ll explore the choices in front of the contestants and whether they made the right pick to move forward. It’s difficult to know where this season will go, but you can gather clues from what everyone’s doing right from the start.

David and Garrett learned the hard way that you can never get too comfortable. For very different reasons, they underestimated the importance of not making enemies within a small tribe of six. You can get away with isolating a few players in a group of 10. That doesn’t work in a case where one miscalculation can send you packing. Both guys didn’t expect their opponents to change up the game at the start. We’ve been trained to anticipate the easy boot at the start of each season. The Brains are not your normal Survivor tribe, so not being on your toes at all times is a huge blunder.

The Season’s First Mistake

spencer-garrett

Targeting Garrett may not have been the right move.

Small twists like having a tribe choose a leader rarely have such an impact on the first vote. It’s clear the producers wanted someone to assume they can take charge right away and make a mistake. David was the right man for the job. Citing that he’s playing for the last 2/3 of the game, he blatantly told Garrett that he’s on the outs. That’s not a wise move and sealed his fate. It’s possible that David could have spun the pick afterwards by claiming he didn’t want to ostracize anyone. Even so, calling out your strategy to everyone is rarely a wise idea. David had to assume that three players weren’t going to leave the game. The show isn’t going to cut more than 15% of its cast in the first 10 minutes.

What was the right move for David? Sarah and LJ picked the obvious choice, but for different reasons. It’s clear that Sarah wanted no part in hurting anyone and went to the older woman to save face. That makes sense and could be explained away with a brief apology. LJ’s concern with the “hot girl” is a bit shallow, but he brought that up in a confessional and could sell the idea to his tribe that Morgan is a weaker competitor. David’s right choice was to pick Kass for being older or Spencer for being the smallest and youngest player. They wouldn’t have been thrilled with the move, but at least there was an explanation beyond being a threat.

Despite the mistake in picking Garrett, David could have fixed the problem in several ways. If he was dead set on removing the ridiculously muscular guy, he needed to build a strong four-person alliance. Once you take a shot and call out your intentions, you can’t back off and expect Garrett to join you. The other option was playing to his ego and telling Garett that he chose him because he’s the best player. How could that strategy not work with a guy who’s that proud of himself? David also underestimated the importance of Tasha and J’Tia as a two-person voting block. It’s very difficult to overcome a committed duo in a tribe of six unless you’re certain of your four-person alliance.

The Problem with the Open Forum

The second hour saw a shocking demise for Garrett, who joined the murderer’s row of James, Ozzy, Andrea, and others by leaving the game with an idol. The editors gave hints of an Osten-like demise from the beefcake who seemed drained after three days. That wasn’t a good sign, but his strategic moves were much worse. In a strange way, Garrett’s logic in wanting to remove any doubt about the vote makes sense. Players have used this tactic in the past; Dan Berry’s tribe basically gave him a 12-gun salute before voting him on in Panama. The problem was the clumsy way Garrett tried to execute the plan. Holding everyone at camp just made him look ridiculous and raised the paranoia among the group.

jtia

Somehow, J’Tia stayed in the game.

The most surprising part of Garrett’s exit is the fact that it kept J’Tia in the game. This is a player who not only performed terribly in both challenges and led the construction of a disastrous shelter. She also threw all their rice in the fire! That trifecta of terrible behavior would earn most players a unanimous vote. The most recent season these contestants saw was Caramoan, and the Brandon Hantz effect has already taken hold. I’m guessing that J’Tia may regret her choice while sitting in a downpour with no food. The others will probably feel even dumber for keeping her around.

Kass had all the power in choosing whether J’Tia or Garrett exited, and there is some merit to what she did. She cites the “anyone but me” strategy that earned Sandra multiple wins, but removing Garrett actually exposes her to more risk. Spencer is a likable guy, and Tasha doesn’t seem like a real ally. There are fewer shields to hide behind when you remove a major target this early. When a tribe mate destroys your food, you make the obvious pick and send them packing. If they decide to vote her out next time, will she burn down the camp? There are benefits to keeping an oddball around like Phillip in Redemption Island, but his behavior was just a sideshow. Keeping J’Tia puts everyone’s game at risk.

Despite the poor game play from Kass in voting for Garrett, he made her decision very easy. After Tasha balked at the open forum, he should have backed off and worked to ensure Kass’ loyalty. Instead, he kept pushing the strategy and then struggled at Tribal Council. Tasha also made an error by showing her hand about wanting to strategize. Blowing up against Garrett is reminiscent of Colton in Blood vs. Water. Even if you want to make plans, you don’t tell everyone you want to make plans. The numbers fell her way, but there are warning signs that Tasha is over playing at the start.

A Potential Mastermind Gains Control

"Today is definitely beautiful on the beautiful tribe but there are a lot of people playing dumb out here. "

Brice stood out as a possible early boot on the Beauty tribe.

Reviewing the cast list prior to this premiere, Brice stood out as a possible early boot on the Beauty tribe. He seemed smart yet didn’t have the strength to avoid the target. His tribe’s challenge success has removed that possibility, and now he has allies. There are several reasons why Brice has a strategic edge within this group. First of all, they don’t seem ready to jump into the game. LJ and Alexis are playing with coconuts, and that’s not a crude metaphor. We see Jeffra saying bland lines, and Jeremiah just wants to flirt. This is easy territory for Brice to find allies who aren’t students of the game. I expect that a majority of this season’s recruits are on the Beauty tribe. If he plays his cards right and they continue to do well, Brice could have a strong alliance ready to make waves once the tribe swap happens.

Despite being chosen as a leader, LJ received little screen time this week. Can his challenge prowess keep him on the right side of the numbers? His dominant performance in the second immunity challenge shows both his value and the giant target on his back. LJ was my pick to win the game, but I have doubts given the forces that could join against him. Avoiding Tribal Council is a good start to keep his chances alive. LJ needs to form a bond with Jeremiah and try to work with Jeffra and Alexis to turn the tables.

The other person who gets the most screen time is Morgan, for several reasons. She makes the right choice and goes after the idol, though her attempts lead nowhere. Although she’s formed a solid alliance, Morgan’s confessionals don’t show much knowledge of the game. She’s obsessed with charming guys with her looks, and that rarely leads to long-term success. Everyone looks to Parvati for this strategy, but she combined the flirting with smart gameplay. I’m not seeing that side from Morgan, but she has done a better job than Jeffra or Alexis in making allies. She seemed like the obvious first boot prior to the game, but Morgan has the best position of the girls on the Beauty tribe.

The Ridiculous, Endearing Mad Scientist

cliff-paddle

Cliff may not be able to swim, but he can paddle.

We don’t spend much time with the Brawn tribe, and most received just a few moments. Cliff and Woo enjoyed a silly boat ride that ended by tipping the boat. Lindsey clashed with Trish, who formed a bond with Tony. Cliff’s attempts to hide his career ended when Woo recognized him, but few seem concerned with his lucrative past. In general, this is the most likable tribe and should provide several fan favorites. The most likely candidate is Sarah, who dominated at both the challenges and the strategic side of the game. The experts that picked her to win must feel pretty good about that choice after the premiere.

This brings me to Tony, who wants to be Russell Hantz but comes off more like Mike Skupin. He even sliced up his toe for good measure. Despite his attempts to be sneaky, it’s hard not to like the guy. There’s a mad scientist quality to him, to use AJ Mass’ categories. Sarah identified him as a cop, which was the perfect opportunity to form an alliance. Instead, he claimed to be in construction because cops are known as “strategical”. I’m not a detective, and I would have noticed that Tony was lying. All he accomplished was raising warning signs that he’s a shady character. Tony also built a “spy shack” to eavesdrop, which could be the most brilliant or idiotic move of the season. If he can really stand 10 feet from the camp and learn valuable information, I’ll be shocked. If nothing else, it delivered great television from a guy who wants so much to be a classic villain.

One smart move from Tony was recognizing that an immunity idol clue should come with the fishing reward. This led him to grabbing that prize, and his glee was endearing. Despite his initial silence about it, how can Tony not tell someone about the discovery? Based on the previews, that person will be Sarah. If they can work together and bring in Woo and Cliff, that foursome could do well. The question is whether a lone wolf like Tony can really work with an alliance. How can he prove his skills when the vote is easy? Casting deserves a lot of credit for finding a guy who’s going to make waves. He lacks the menace of Russell but has the drive to make his mark. He’s still destined for a fall, but it’s going to be a fun ride.

Who’s in the best position?

Finished puzzle with a cut.

Finished puzzle with a cut.

Brawn – Sarah

Getting picked as the leader can lead to disaster. Just ask David. Sarah made the right choice in picking a team player like Trish and has built strong relationships with everyone. Killing the challenges doesn’t hurt her case with this group either. If she can form a few tight alliances, she could be in a great position.

Beauty – Brice

While Morgan tried to put on a good face about being picked as the weakest, Brice saw through it and took advantage. Grabbing the weaker players is essential in a six-person tribe, and he’s the only one playing from the start. Jeremiah is also a wise ally since he’s not a strategist. That trio could run the show up until the tribe swap, and having allies will keep Brice from being targeted as a physical liability.

Brains – Nobody

Tasha and Kass flipped the game on Garrett, but I don’t get the sense they’re strong allies. Spencer should have the chance to stay afloat, but his position is tenuous at best. The real issue is already being down two members, including their strongest physical player. They need to find a way to finish second in the next challenge and avoid Matsing territory. Keeping J’Tia makes that difficult and puts them all in trouble.

Who’s in trouble?

Brawn – Lindsey

lindsay-sarah

Lindsay’s volatile personality may be her undoing.

This tribe seems like the most cohesive of the three, and that isn’t a big surprise. The only cracks are an argument between Trish and Lindsey over a trivial chore, but that could set the stage for more conflict in the future. Despite being chosen as the weakest, Trish has an ally in Tony that could make the difference. Cliff and Woo don’t seem ready to rock the boat (pun intended), so the first target might be the most volatile personality. Lindsey can still do well, but the fact that the editors showed that moment says a lot.

Beauty – Jeffra and Alexis

The brief scene of the three-person alliance hints that the other girls are the target. LJ might not trust Morgan, but there’s little he can do if half the tribe is united. His puzzle dominance should keep him around, but the others won’t be so lucky. Jeffra seems like the most likely target for the first vote, but either possibility could happen depending on how things shake out in the upcoming weeks.

Brains – J’Tia

Spencer may feel like he’s on the bottom after the vote, but he didn’t just throw their rice in the fire. Despite the possible benefits of having a crazy person as a shield, J’Tia’s a challenge liability and such a mess. Tasha was committed to keeping her around, but it made sense to ensure her control of the numbers. If she maintains the bond with Kass, there’s little danger in making the right choice next time. Spencer voted with Garrett but did a good job distancing himself at Tribal Council. He should have a strong chance to regain his footing and take out the obvious wild card in this ridiculous tribe.

This was an incredible premiere, though I expect the fireworks to die down for a little while. I’m pulling for the Brains to recover so we can see the strategies unfold in the other tribes. It also might benefit those groups to visit Tribal Council early in the game. Tandang’s destruction in the Philippines is a model for what happens if you go too long with the same people. Having a chance to set up the playing field and remove someone could help the strong players. This is a great cast with many interesting characters, and it’s refreshing to watch new contestants bumbling their way at the start. Who knows what they’ll do next?

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