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The Strategic Game – Choosing Four over Three on Survivor

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the Brains tribe’s come-from-behind survival this week. Another loss would have sent them spiraling downward and greatly diminished their chances to stay alive in the game. In the Philippines, Malcom and Denise from Matsing were absorbed into the remaining tribes after four defeats, so another last-place finish would have put the Brains one step from that scenario. The remarkable fact is how different the game board looks after just one change. The remaining Brains get the chance to recover and spend a few days not worrying about the vote. It also forces the other tribes to realize they won’t coast through the early stages and must have their plans in place for the vote.

Come-from-behind Come-from-behind[/caption]

Let’s not bury the lead too far, however. The Beauty tribe visited Tribal Council for the first time after failing surprisingly with the maze puzzle. Last week’s anticipated trio of Brice, Morgan, and Jeremiah did not stick together when the North Carolina model chose the safer route. This led to the unfortunate exit of Brice, who made quite an impression during his short tenure. This result was less thrilling from a strategic perspective but made complete sense for Jeremiah’s game. His confessional mentioned trust as a key factor, and blindsiding Alexis wouldn’t follow that approach. It’s easy to wish for an exciting vote that flipped the game on its head, but that’s a lot to ask for every week.

Did Jeremiah make the right choice? I believe so. Looking strictly at numbers, he would always be number three behind Morgan and Brice. That isn’t the case with the other four based on his bond with Jeffra and solid relationships with LJ and Alexis. Jeremiah has the chance to go far and doesn’t have the same target as the leader. Plus, it never hurts to have extra allies when the inevitable tribe swap happens. They might not lose again before the mix-up, and Morgan goes home if that happens. When they’re shifted into two tribes, there are three other players that have his back. I’m not sure Brice or Morgan would be as trust worthy. It’s a risk to make waves so early and alienate too many players.

Unlike the Brains, this tribe isn’t filled with players who are just itching to change up the game. Brice might be the sharpest one in that regard, but that ability helped to doom his chances. Jeremiah and Jeffra are the type of players that will go with the most direct route and not over think the situation. While that narrow approach could hurt them down the road, it worked in this case. Jeremiah seems uncomfortable talking strategy and doesn’t want to hurt any feelings. Going with a plan devised by LJ kept the blood off his hands and just followed the others’ lead. He maintained trust with his closest ally in Jeffra and didn’t make an unnecessary big move that could induce chaos.

The Danger of a Split Vote

beauty

The dominant alliance took a huge risk by splitting the vote to avoid the idol.

Despite the successful outcome, the dominant alliance took a huge risk by splitting the vote to avoid the idol. LJ had already found it, so he could have strongly encouraged the others to drop four on Brice. Of course, pushing too hard could raise warning signs that he had the idol. Alexis appeared to be driving the push for the split, which is a common plan on Survivor these days. Even so, just one miscalculation could send you home on a six-person tribe. Instead of hoping to force a 3-3 tie, a trio could win a 3-2-1 vote and snatch control of the numbers. It’s a tricky decision with risks from either choice.

A good example of when this approach failed happened during the fourth episode of Heroes vs. Villains. Tom and Colby were on the outs but had a chance because Tom found an idol. The dominant six-person alliance knew that he’d found it, so the wise choice was to vote for Colby. In that case, JT saw an opportunity and added a third vote for Cirie that paid dividends when Tom played his idol. It’s a slightly different situation with the idol in play, but it shows the downside of a split. An opportunistic player can use this opening to flip the game, and they lucked out when Jeremiah chose not to take a shot.

Even if Morgan had found the idol on the first day, would she give it to Brice? It’s always possible, but that’s a pretty big risk this early in the game. They’d still be down in the numbers 3-2, so the best shot was to hope that Jeremiah was a true ally. He’d shown interest in the possibility, and Morgan and Brice looked confident at Tribal Council. I realize that it’s all speculation since LJ had the idol, but this example confirms that sometimes the simpler approach is the right one. Their plan still led to Brice’s exit after the 2-2 tie, and it should end Morgan’s game if they go to Tribal Council before the swap.

The Best Time to Search for an Idol

Another big part of this episode was the torrential downpour that lasted for 24 hours. While some players (Woo!) kept good spirits about the challenge, others struggled with the awful conditions. The most inventive approach came from LJ, who saw this as the perfect opportunity to search for the idol. He wasn’t fooled by Morgan’s lie and headed right back to her spot from the opening. The brilliance in this move is not falling prey to the typical suspicions that come with seeking the valuable prize. Trying to acquire it can draw a huge target, even on capable players like Penner. The best move is to locate it when the others are distracted and then to tell no one about it. Repeat after me, LJ. Tell no one.

When you combine the idol with Brice’s exit, LJ sits in a prime spot in the game. Losing the challenge might be a blessing since it removed a prominent opponent before a swap. The target will eventually shift to LJ, so he’ll need to stay focused and have the idol ready. Even so, it may not happen until after the merge. I’m feeling a lot better about my pick to win after this week. You never know how things will shake out, however. Brice appeared to be in control and is now out of the game. That’s the challenge for anyone who gets too comfortable early in this grueling contest.

Cops ‘R’ Us and a Daring Lie

brawn

Cops R Us (on the right)

Recognizing his outsider spot in the Brawn tribe, Tony wisely decided to reveal that he’s a cop to Sarah. While this felt dangerous on the surface, the gamble paid off and secured their alliance. This choice made sense for Tony and improved his position in the group. It’s a little trickier for Sarah, who seems well-liked across the board. Her pre-game interviews showed her interest in working with her fellow cop, so she’s pre-inclined to make this pact. It could pay dividends in the future, but you can’t be sure with a wild card like Tony. He’s playing the game so fast and could be an unpredictable ally.

The surprise move from Tony was constructing a complicated story that gave Sarah the impression Lindsey and Cliff were gunning for her. The key factor is the level of detail that he used, including doing silly voices to sell the lies. I expected Sarah to be skeptical, but her confidence in Tony looked secure. This daring move has the potential to go in so many different ways. If Sarah confronts them directly, it may turn the attention back to Tony and risk his game. On the other hand, her feelings of betrayal towards Cliff and Lindsey might doom their chances. The answer should hinge on Sarah’s trust in Tony. After mulling it over for a few days, will she start to wonder if he’s deceiving her? It’s an intriguing situation.

The other question is whether Tony is over playing by going the extra step and manipulating her. After securing the alliance with Sarah, why risk being discovered? Sarah describes the pact with Tony as “the most sincere handshake I’ve ever had in my life.” If this house of cards falls apart, there’s going to be hell to pay for her fellow cop. The previews hint at dissention within the ranks of the Brawn tribe, so it’s possible the blowback might come next week. Tony still has the idol, so even the worst-case scenario gives him an out to live another day. He deftly spotted the clue with the reward again, so his mind is still focused on the strategic game. The challenge is avoiding the target while trying so hard to gain control.

The Brains Find a Lifeboat

It was clear from the exasperated looks of relief after their win that the Brains were on the edge. J’Tia in particular cried like she’d just won the million dollars. Despite the fact that Spencer was on the bottom, I expect that J’Tia understood the danger in heading back to Tribal Council. We didn’t see much of their reaction to the storms, but it probably enhanced the problems from last week’s meltdown. When J’Tia was still asking to eat the rice, it’s clear that she’s not focused on the game. Can she recover? I’m not very optimistic, but it’s happened in the past. Holly Hoffman recovered from early season turmoil in Nicaragua after throwing Dan Lembo’s expensive shoes in the water. J’Tia’s road back may be even tougher. Tasha and Kass aren’t such committed allies to put up with much more at this point.

If the Brains had visited Tribal Council once again, it could have led to Spencer’s exit. Tasha makes that clear when she talks about his need to practice before the challenge. The editors have good fun playing Strauss’ “The Blue Danube” while they prepare for the water throwing. It’s like they’re setting them up to fail, which makes the second-place finish even more surprising. Can lightning strike twice? Confidence plays such a big role in Survivor challenges, so anything could happen. It’s clear that at least a few of their players will have a say in how this season progresses after the tribe swap.

Who’s in the best position?

Beauty – LJ

LJ

LJ

Jeremiah’s vote was the deciding factor, but LJ benefited the most. Instead of facing an uphill climb against a three-person alliance, he’s leading the dominant group. Gaining the immunity idol just puts him even further in the driver’s seat. Treacherous waters are ahead, but it should be smooth sailing for a while. Messing up the final puzzle might also not be such a disaster. You don’t want to come off as too imposing in every challenge. Having a lot of the Brawn tribe around at the merge could also keep him behind the scenes when the physical threats become the targets.

Brains – Tasha

Tasha

Tasha

If anyone is exerting authority over the messy Brains tribe, it’s definitely Tasha. She’s grabbed the leadership role and should avoid the vote at least up to the tribe swap. The odds of J’Tia, Kass, and Spencer joining together to take her out seem astronomically low. Tasha clearly knows the game and wants to make moves, so it will come down to whom she aligns with from the other tribes.

Brawn – Tony

Tony

Tony

This is the trickiest group to assess because most are getting little screen time talking strategy. If we can believe the editing, Tony is the only player who’s been working all the angles right from the start. It’s possible that Woo, Lindsey, and the others have plans, but they’re not showing up on my screen. Tony has the immunity idol and is focused on keeping it a secret. He’s formed an alliance with Sarah and has worked to turn her against the others. Despite the risky nature of his play, Tony’s holding all the cards.

Who’s in trouble?

Beauty – Morgan

morgan

Morgan

I give Morgan credit for working with Brice and trying to gain the advantage by taking out Alexis. She’s been more capable than I expected and has been solid in challenges. Even so, this week’s vote made her a lone wolf against the others. If they lose next week, the odds are very good that she’ll be exiting the game. Her best hope is to make the tribe swap and then turn on her tribe to stay afloat.

Brains – J’Tia

JTia

J’Tia

Winning the challenge and getting further away from the rice destruction might be good. However, that only works if J’Tia stays on her best behavior. There was little evidence this week that it will happen. She struggled in the challenge once again, and even Tasha was irritated by her focus on the rice at camp. Despite the numbers being against Spencer, I think the extra time works in his favor. He should have more chances to form new bonds and turn the attention towards J’Tia once again.

Brawn – Tony

Tony

Tony, again.

Let me explain. Tony is working so hard to gain a foothold on the Brawn tribe. Everything looks great! What concerns me is that he stands out within this group. You don’t hear Trish complaining that she wants to make moves. Woo is thrilled by the adventure. Where does Tony fit in this tribe? If Sarah decides not to trust him, he’s in real trouble. She’s counting on this bond with a fellow cop and believes it’s genuine. The immunity idol gives him a safety net, but watch out if the walls start crumbling. I can see Sarah fighting with everything in her power to remove Tony if she gets double crossed. That makes the presence of the idol even more intriguing. It could play a huge role in the near future.

Despite the lack of real fireworks, this was still a great episode from a strategy perspective. It’s interesting to watch players who don’t really understand the game like Jeremiah try to make the right choice. I can’t remember the last season with this many fans who love Survivor in the cast. They may stumble and make the wrong moves, but there’s a different atmosphere than with seasons filled with recruits. There’s an old-school feeling to this group that makes even the secondary moments entertaining. The editors are also doing a pretty good job spreading the attention to more than just a few people. I’d like to know more about the Brawn tribe, but I’m sure that will happen soon. This season’s maintained the momentum of Blood vs. Water and has the potential to offer plenty of surprises down the road.

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