Survivor Kaoh Rong

The Survivor Strategic Game: Back to Earth

Following the reward challenge insanity last week, it was refreshing to get back to basics this time. Although it didn’t provide a complicated result, this episode offered a clearer view on where the players are heading. The merge isn’t too far off, which makes the alliances being formed now even more important. It almost felt like a new season, with some characters acting much differently when separated from their original allies. The votes came down to tribal lines on the surface, but it wasn’t as clean cut as expected following the swap.

The big losers of the night were the Beauty tribe, particularly the women’s alliance. They were the obvious targets with five players remaining, and not going to Tribal Council gave the others another reason. The swap also didn’t work out in their favor, including the twist that sent Julia to the former Brawn beach. That random pick created a scenario where not voting out Anna or Tai made little sense for the Brains. I enjoy tribe swaps because they force players to think on their feet and adjust. We saw many examples this week of people changing their approaches to suit this different game. Power on the former tribes mattered little in this new set-up.

Anna and Tai, Survivor Kaoh Rong The swap put Anna and Tai in a tough spot, and he made better connections.[/caption]

It’s easy to blame the swap for Anna’s exit, and it definitely played a role. Even so, there were opportunities for her to survive. The Brains weren’t a cohesive unit, especially with Peter trying to prove his smarts. Tai’s revelation about the idol also gave her a chance, though it ended up providing false hope instead. Anna was in a great spot on Beauty and had the power, but there was nowhere to turn. Once Scot confirmed Tai was the target, she was out of options. Joe and Aubry are conservative players who don’t show their hand. They recognized a potential threat and didn’t hesitate; the vote made sense. Plus, who doesn’t love Tai?

I’m still not sure if Anna had much game or just charmed the audience for other reasons. One confessional in particular this week took that side of her appeal to the next level. She was a winner pick for a lot of fans, including Rob, but she never really clicked with me as a player. The editors gave us little to work from until this week, so it’s mostly speculation. I do think Anna’s exit was partially because she was a threat. Tai seems like an open book, and looking even a bit sneaky will stand out when he is the other alternative for the vote.

A major factor in Tai’s survival was definitely his personality, which connected him to Scot and the Brains. Tai is such a fun character, and it’s easy to understand wanting to keep him around. I would never have guessed that Scot and Tai would make a solid alliance, however. Escaping Brawn beach essentially transformed Scot into a different person. The guy we saw this week made intelligent points, was low-key, and handled the swap perfectly. Instead of overplaying, he took advantage of his status as the only Brawn and stuck with the majority. He also faced no danger because they seem weaker in challenges than the other tribe.

New Tribes and a Cruel Twist

It was no secret entering this week that a tribe swap was happening. The promos showed Jeff saying “drop your buffs” and players losing their minds. Two questions loomed around this big moment: how would the tribes shake out, and what was the mystery twist? Thankfully, the process in splitting the tribes did seem random. This wasn’t a Caramoan situation designed to put a certain group in control. What changed the normal process was the status of the 13th person who received a red buff. That unlucky individual had to return to the Brawn camp, aka the worst place in the world. That spot also set up the demise of the Angkor tribe in Second Chances. Julia was the “winner” of this prize, though it did help her avoid Anna’s fate.

Julia on Survivor Kaoh Rong

Camp life for Julia was no picnic all alone on the former Brawn beach.

I’m not a huge fan of the Exile Island set-up of isolating one player away from the tribes. The fact that it happened to an 18-year-old woman made it tougher to enjoy. Watching Julia break down at camp and struggle to make fire was hard to see. We get it; this season is rough! On the other hand, it did create an intriguing scenario with the numbers. Julia would join the tribe that lost the immunity challenge after Tribal Council. That situation made the game even more difficult for the other former Beauty members. If Chan Loh had lost the challenge, Nick and Michele would be in trouble. The others wouldn’t want to give them a 3-2-1 advantage.

Before digging into this set-up further, let’s review the new tribes by the numbers:

Gondol: 3 Brains (Aubry, Joe, and Peter), 2 Beauty (Tai, Anna), 1 Brawn (Scot)
Chan Loh: 2 Brains (Debbie, Neal), 2 Beauty (Nick, Michele), 2 Brawn (Jason, Cydney)
To Tang: 1 Beauty (Julia)

The twist of separating one player could have destroyed the Brains or Brawn if one of their players was chosen. It did more than just helped end Anna’s game. It also put Julia in a precarious spot for next week. If Gondol loses the next immunity challenge, she’s the most likely victim. Only Scot knows about Tai’s idol, and he’s had more time to connect with the others. The situation’s less dire for Nick and Michele; they may benefit from Anna’s departure. Jason and Cydney could be more likely to join them to take down the five Brains. If Julia goes home next week, the Brains become the target if they merge at 11. Peter would likely revolt and leave Joe and Aubry in a tough spot. It would fall on the Brawn players to be king makers.

The benefits of the three-tribe structure really stand out following the swap into two tribes. I’m not convinced the “Exile Island” twist is great, but I’ll admit it adds even more complexities. The likely contenders have been dropping quickly this season, and I’m expecting more surprises. Tribal lines will mean little in the near future, particularly with wild cards like Peter in the mix. We saw with Tai and Scot how quickly new alliances can form, especially among players without the majority. I think we‘re in store for quite a few change-ups in the future.

Putting Old Feuds Aside

Peter seemed like a flight risk given his spot at the bottom of the Brains coming into this episode. In the opening segment, Peter called himself a “neutered dog”, while Neal labeled him the cancer of the tribe. Peter is still arrogant, but at least, he realized this mess was of his own making. This helps explain while he played it safe after the swap. Peter might believe he’s smarter than everyone else, but he still recognized the power of numbers. If he could stick with Joe and Aubry on Gondol, he should have an easy road to the merge. It’s hard to pass up that opportunity. Joining with Anna, Tai, and Scot to vote out one of the Brains made little sense. It would just give the others more power that could easily be turned on him next time.

Peter tried to help out at camp, but he still managed to become a target again.

Peter tried to help out at camp, but he still managed to become a target again.

I shouldn’t give Peter too much credit, however. By telling the minority group that Tai was the target, he nearly set up his own demise. There was no way for Peter to know Tai had the idol, but why take the chance? It’s telling that Aubry or Joe wasn’t the target considered by Tai’s group. Peter also still has good feelings about both, especially Aubry. Peter won’t be able to slide under the radar even after the merge. His arrogant statements at Tribal Council also make him seem untrustworthy. It only feels like a matter of time before Peter receives a comeuppance. He’s still a likely candidate for an idol play in the future.

Scot was in the middle of everything, and he handled it well. There was little danger for Scot, so he could look ahead and secure a bond with Tai. What surprised me was how both sides trusted Scot. Aubry’s revelation to Scot that Anna was the target kept Tai from playing his idol. It’s also noteworthy that the editors gave so much credit to Scot for convincing Tai about this choice. Scot was presented like an overconfident figurehead on Brawn, but he rebounded well this week. An extra scene showed how Scot has adjusted his game. His size will make him a target after the merge, but Scot could have room to maneuver given his relationships with Jason and Tai. He is placing too much stock in his connections to the idols, so he shouldn’t put much faith in grabbing a super idol. Tai is a nice guy, but even he will act in his own self-interest over Scot’s.

Three Voting Units

There was a telling contrast on Chan Loh between Michele and Cydney’s reactions to the swap. Michele was part of the power trio on Beauty and realized it would be trickier in this set of three pairs. Cydney was openly thrilled by the swap and immediately formed a bond with Debbie. As expected, the Brawn players were the beneficiaries of the swap because they were behind in numbers. The Intentional Matsing lives! Debbie wanted to work with Brawn and chatted up Jason along with Cydney. Joining this new group has made Jason pull back, and it’s the right choice. He mainly just listened to the pitches from the other pairs. Maybe the Brawn beach was so terrible that it made everyone act poorly. Jason also seemed a lot happier in this new setting.

Neal Gottlieb on Survivor 32

Neal found the idol and is becoming a player to watch in this game.

I should also mention Neal’s discovery of the hidden immunity idol before the swap. The editors wasted little time in showing his quick work to secure it. I expect this was more to avoid delaying the impending swap than revealing Neal’s skills. He didn’t try to climb the tree, so that’s a bonus point for Neal. The most important point is that Neal didn’t reveal its existence to Debbie or anyone else. Joe stated at Tribal Council that he didn’t believe idols were in play this season. I suspect he’s going to learn that assumption is false very soon. Neal must pay close attention to where Jason and Cydney are heading on Chan Loh. If they lose the next challenge and Brawn and Beauty align, there’s a good chance they’d target him. Neal and Debbie aren’t entirely on the same page either. In a secret scene, both seemed to believe they were running the show in the pair. That contrast may create some issues down the road.

Nick also made a pitch to Jason for a four-person alliance, but that conversation wasn’t as convincing. Nick called the swap a “rebirth” for his game, and that may be true. He was the most likely target if Beauty went to Tribal Council. The odds of Nick and Michele getting into the majority are smaller, but it’s not an impossible scenario. We probably only have one Tribal Council before the merge, so at least one will survive regardless. I do see Nick as the more likely target if Beauty is the pair on the outs. His physical strength might be considered more dangerous than Michele’s. The preview for next week does show Debbie fawning over Nick, so it’s possible we’ll see a different alliance. I wouldn’t trust that clip too much, though.

One Last Push

Assuming the merge doesn’t come next week, it represents the final hurdle before the game changes. The balance of power is shifting toward the Brains, but that change may not favor those players in the long run. I don’t foresee a situation where any tribe grabs control. The most likely group to survive for a while is Brawn, but they’ll also draw attention as challenge threats. The most intriguing players are those who aren’t out in front yet still have solid bonds. One, in particular, has really surprised me with how well she’s navigated the social and physical challenges after a rough start. I’ll start my replies by looking at Aubry’s excellent play.

Who’s in the best position?

Aubry: I wasn’t sure what to expect from Aubry based on her pre-season info. She seemed like a serious fan, and that doesn’t always work out so well. It’s been refreshing to watch her play a cautious game while still bonding with other players. You wouldn’t immediately pinpoint Joe and Aubry as a close duo, but they’ve worked well together. She also connected with Debbie and Neal on the Brains. Aubry seemed to get along well with the new group, especially Scot. Once the merge happens, she’s unlikely to be an early target. If Aubry continues to make the right choices and doesn’t alienate the wrong people, she could make a serious run.

Brawn Tribe, Survivor Kaoh Rong

It was an exciting day for Cydney and the Brawn tribe when Jeff announced the swap.

Cydney: I was totally wrong in my assessment of Cydney before the season. She’s one of the standout players and is a lot more than physically strong. What makes Cydney stand out is her likable personality, which has made it easy for her to connect with the others. An extra scene presented her joy with the game and level-headed approach. Anyone who can bond with both Jason and Debbie is doing something right. Like Aubry, Cydney hasn’t overplayed and is letting the game come to her. She does face more danger because she’s so strong, so it will be tricky to avoid the target after the merge. Cydney may need shields like Scot, Jason, and Nick to stick around and ensure the others don’t come after her.

Neal: Rarely has a player found an immunity idol in such a mild-mannered way. We didn’t see Neal sprinting through the jungle and doing a ridiculous happy dance. Neal called himself “the king”, but he isn’t strutting around camp like Peter. When he plays the idol, the others won’t see it coming. Aubry recognized in an extra scene that he’s “smarter than he looks”, but the others may not see it. Debbie is the one making deals and talking opening about running the show. She’s also playing well, but there’s more risk in her approach. Neal is hiding in the shadows behind an odd personality. Barring an all-out attack on the Brains, he’s set up well.

Who’s in trouble?

Peter, Survivor 32

The Brains’ numbers edge could become an issue for players like Peter at the merge.

Peter: I can’t help but take cues from the editors in my assessment of Peter. They’re going out of their way to make him look ready for a downfall. I was convinced this week that Tai would play the idol and send Peter home. All of the signals were there! Peter has the numbers on Gondol for the time being, but that only saves him for one more Tribal Council (at most). He hasn’t made personal bonds with anyone, and that makes him vulnerable in the post-merge chaos. Who could trust him? Peter is a wild card who might disrupt others’ plans, but I don’t see him going too far.

Julia: Unlike Peter, I can’t really blame Julia for occupying this spot. She drew the wrong buff, and Anna’s exit puts her in a sticky situation. If Gondol loses and decides to stick with their strategy from this week, Julia will have an uphill climb to survive. It would take a dumb move from a guy like Peter to draw their attention. I don’t expect Tai to leave before Julia. He’s already had several days to charm them. If Julia can survive next week, however, she could be okay for a while. She showed a lot of resilience after being stranded on the old Brawn beach. The Beauty group is less threatening with Caleb and Anna gone, and she wouldn’t be the first target. Julia must hope they can find a way to win the next challenge.

Nick: It’s possible that Nick is just fine and could join with Michele, Jason, and Cydney to take out Debbie or Neal. On the other hand, he’s still being presented as quite arrogant. We aren’t on the Peter level, thankfully. Nick is quite good in the challenges; there’s a reason his tribe still hasn’t visited Tribal Council. He expects them to keep winning, and it’s hard to argue with that assessment. If Nick makes the merge, he could have a shot at winning some individual challenges. Of course, that fact also creates a bigger target. Like Julia, Nick has a shot to make waves if he can survive next week. It won’t get any easier for him, though.

This season might seem like a letdown after Second Chances, but I don’t see it that way. What I’ve enjoyed is watching players without so much expertise try to navigate the game. This is a strong cast of characters, and the down-to-earth way many have approached the game is refreshing. The apparent frontrunners just keep dropping, and I expect this unpredictability to continue. Following last week’s bullying and injuries, it was fun to just hang out with this group and watch them play. I’m hoping the cloud of doom stays away for quite a while. Survivor really clicks once the tribes come together, and I think we’re in store for a lot of surprises.

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