Survivor: Cambodia

The Survivor Strategic Game: Clearing the Path

We’ve reached the penultimate episode of Survivor: Cambodia, and there’s a lot more uncertainty than in a normal season. Last spring, it was clear that Mike Holloway had to win all the challenges to grab the million. He accomplished that feat and rolled to the win. There’s no single narrative this time, and the multiple shifts this week were a perfect example. Keith, Tasha, and Abi felt like legitimate targets, and the editing actually pushed the least towards Abi’s exit. In fact, it’s the lack of an obvious story line that has become this season’s main theme. While each person is taking a different approach, none is gliding quietly to the end.

Looking back, there were hints that Abi could be gone. We saw her discussing plans for the endgame and even who she wanted to bring to the end. It’s often hard to figure out when Abi is playing a character. In her exit interview with Rob, Abi talked about playing up the villain role for the cameras. While that approach brings about good TV, it isn’t a good way to win the game. It’s the Phillip Shepard style, but with more self-awareness. Abi was a target from the very start, but there was always a better option. It’s hard to play the game that way and not eventually fall. Phillip made the end that way on Redemption Island, but this is a very different season.

Abi lasted quite a while after being a target at the start. Abi lasted quite a while despite being a prime target right from the beginning.[/caption]

I wasn’t thrilled for Abi to come back and was surprised to enjoy a lot of her play this season. The exasperated reactions from the other players made her a fun agent of chaos. Spencer and Tasha, in particular, have been repeatedly frustrated while working with Abi. Her emotional play was so different from the intellectuals talking about voting blocs. Kass faced a similar problem right after the merge. At that point, I wrote about how the group wasn’t interested in retaining such a volatile player. That feeling eventually happened with Abi, who was a different kind of threat. Challenge skills and smarts are the obvious reasons to take someone out, but impulsiveness can be equally dangerous. Removing Abi may seem counterintuitive, but it does simplify the game board heading towards the end.

The contrast between Abi and players like Jeremy and Tasha was particularly clear in this episode. She refused to play their game and even stonewalled their attempted conversation in the shelter. These moments reminded us of why she wasn’t the obvious goat to bring to the end. The best examples are people content to just make it. They won’t rock the boat and might even think they’re running the show. If Abi had stayed, I doubt she would have quietly drifted there. That said, it raises questions about each person’s final three plans. Tasha, Jeremy, and Spencer can talk about a final three, but it seems ridiculous to go that route. Why battle someone with a strong potential to win? I expect that all have alternate plans, especially Spencer.

Buyers’ Remorse

This was little joy at camp for Jeremy and Spencer following Joe’s departure, which felt a little strange given the emphasis on taking down the golden boy. I expect that they recognized the danger in standing out as threats. Despite having a close bond with Tasha, Jeremy’s concerns about a women’s alliance overshadowed that connection. As a long-time Survivor fan, he should remember that we rarely see that idea actually come to fruition. The odds were even less with Abi in the mix as one of the female majority. It helps to have rational players on board for any plan that goes beyond a single vote. I doubt it took much to convince Jeremy to vote for Abi.

Spencer's choice to stick with Tasha and Jeremy was quite a surprise.

Spencer’s choice to vote with Tasha and Jeremy was quite a surprise.

Jeremy’s concern made sense given the attention this season on short-term voting blocs. On the other hand, Spencer appeared to have more options. He’d voted with Kelley, Keith, and Abi against Stephen and they seemed excited to join him again. Keith even picked him as one of his two choices for the Siam Riep reward. Spencer appeared to be right in the middle of both groups, which is where you want to be. His primary concern was not playing from the bottom, which made sense given his experience in Cagayan. I expect this was why he didn’t feel comfortable veering away from Jeremy and Tasha. Despite the danger in going too far with them, it did provide a sense of security that he would remain in the majority.

That said, voting for Abi felt too safe. There’s been so much attention of playing all out and not wasting a second chance, and Spencer couldn’t pull the trigger. It’s possible that his buyers’ remorse for taking out a shield pushed Spencer to avoid doing so again. He’d follow the lead of his allies and look for another opportunity to strike in the future. We’re down to six players, so there are only so many different ways to go. Jeremy and Tasha are a pair, so he’ll need everyone else to take them out at six. A better spot appears to be at five, but there’s a risk from idols and immunity. Spencer has a road to the million, but it’s narrower without Abi.

Teflon Keith

If anyone’s game is closest to his first appearance, it’s Keith Nale. He’s now the all-time Survivor leader in voting for the wrong person at Tribal Council. Even so, there’s still a good chance he’ll reach the end. Keith is Teflon and seems able to do almost anything and survive. He was one immunity challenge win away from winning San Juan Del Sur. While I don’t expect Keith to win this season, his longevity in the game is remarkable. He frequently wins challenges and always competes hard, yet there’s always a bigger target. Spencer is the only player who’s on par with Keith in challenges. Keith dominated the reward challenge (again) and painted a giant target on his back. Even so, the chatter about removing him didn’t last very long.

Keith is a strong competitor who could still make waves.

Keith is a competitor who could still make waves.

Keith’s ridiculous explanation for his reward picks reminded us why he’s such a unique player. Forgetting Tasha’s name after voting for her last week would seem impossible with almost anyone else. It almost felt like a con job by someone trying to present himself as the least threatening person imaginable. I don’t buy that idea, however. It’s like when Phillip said he’d acted crazy in Redemption Island as part of a brilliant strategy. No one is that good. Keith is likable and good at challenges, but the rest of the game eludes him. With Abi out of the picture, the chance for Keith to steal the win is gone. Even so, he will probably impact the final result.

The strange part of this week’s episode was the forgotten push to remove Keith. Kimmi was committed to that plan and seemed to convince Tasha. While Keith looked comically awkward receiving a blessing, the others were plotting his demise. What’s unclear is what changed the following day. Kimmi voted with the majority for Abi, and Tasha was the target for Kelley’s group. I expect that Abi was a lot more frustrating than what we saw in the edit. Jeremy looked hesitant to commit to removing Keith, so he may also have pushed the vote another way. The editing has been pretty good this year, but the logic wasn’t as convincing this time. It felt like they were trying to guide us away from Abi and purposely didn’t sell it to the audience.

Assessing the Final Six

Instead of looking at the best and worst spots this week, I’m looking at where each player stands going into the finals. There are still question marks about where the alliances will fall, and the idols will definitely play a role. I expect they’re related to the moment in the preview where Jeff describes an unprecedented Survivor moment. I’ve sorted the players in order beginning with the least likely choice to take the million. The winner is most likely coming from the top three, but little has gone according to plan this season. I expect that more surprises are on the way.

Kimmi's formed solid relationships but has been strangely quiet in the edit.

Kimmi has formed solid relationships but has been strangely quiet in the edit.

Kimmi: It’s really too bad that Kimmi hasn’t received more screen time. She’s the only old-school player remaining and has never been seriously targeted. Kimmi has built solid relationships and mostly voted with the majority. You don’t see anyone talking badly about her. She’s been a mainstay in the extra scenes and is thinking strategically about the game. She even discussed wanting to do the all-girls alliance with Kelley. It’s hard to read the edit and believe Kimmi could make a serious push. If I’m wrong and she makes a big move, it would be quite a surprise. I’ve enjoyed Kimmi’s play this season, and I’d love to see her take a real shot.

Keith: I’m thrilled that Keith has again made it far in the game. It’s refreshing to have a guy who’s so different in the finale. He’s trying to play and used some logic to consider his picks for the reward. I don’t want to oversell his strategy, but Keith is a fun wild card. His challenge prowess also makes him dangerous for everyone. He may not win at a final Tribal Council, but Keith could take a spot from a guy like Jeremy if he grabs immunity. In that sense, he’s more dangerous than Abi and should have gone home this week. Kimmi would make a better pitch in the finals, but Keith’s path through challenge wins is more likely to happen.

Tasha: It’s clear that Tasha inspires strong reactions in other players. The argument between Kass and Savage at this week’s Ponderosa reminded us of that fact. She’s playing hard and deserves consideration as a potential winner. My hesitation in giving her better odds comes down to the competition. If Tasha goes to the end with Jeremy, I think she becomes the Gervase to his Tyson. She did excellent work at Angkor in turning the tables on a numbers disadvantage. After nearly drowning in this week’s challenge, she garnered allies and removed her target in Abi. Despite her successes, Tasha still has an uphill battle to win the game. Jeremy and Kelley have idols, and I can see Tasha being an alternative target when they’re played. She won’t sneak up on anyone and is a prime candidate to go home before the end.

Spencer is playing hard, but he's made some questionable decisions.

Spencer is playing hard, but he’s made some questionable decisions.

Spencer: There was so much great material in this week’s Boston Rob podcast, and the best involved the question of removing the goat. He made it clear that going to the end with players that can beat you is dumb. I mention this because Spencer’s choice to stick with Jeremy and Tasha may come back to haunt him. He’s walking the line between remaining a solid ally and serving his own ends. Spencer wants to be the good guy and not be the lone wolf. However, a mercenary attitude can often lead to victory. It happened right in front of him with Tony in Cagayan. Spencer needs to pull away from Tasha and Jeremy as soon as possible. If so, he could still win the game. We tend to forget that Spencer is such a thinker. He dominated the puzzle because he’d studied it in the pre-game! He can still overcome the possible mistake and succeed.

Kelley: If Kelley can play a second idol successfully, she’ll have a strong underdog story that could lead her to victory. She’s played from the bottom for most of the game and found clever ways to avoid defeat. Kelley didn’t enter with an obvious target and hasn’t stuck to a single path. She didn’t rest on her laurels after playing the idol like Jenn did last season. Despite losing Abi this week, Kelley still has a great chance to make the finals. She trusted Spencer and failed to remove Tasha, but that doesn’t mean she’s toast. Spencer might turn around and vote with her next week. If he doesn’t, Kelley must push for Keith’s exit and sell the idea he’s a bigger threat. She’d then have a free pass with the idol at the final five and be one step from the end.

The big question with Jeremy is whether he'll continue to avoid being targeted.

The big question with Jeremy is whether he’ll continue to avoid being targeted.

Jeremy: I’m mystified that no one has seriously targeted Jeremy. He played the idol for Stephen and seems like the #1 contender to win the game. The most likely explanation is the strength of his relationships. Jeremy has a lot of friends on the jury, including Stephen and Savage. He could lose in the finals, especially if Spencer or Kelley makes a convincing push. Even so, I don’t know why they’d want to face him. He should be the number one target for everyone right now. No one knows about the idol, and it’s possible everyone will go after Jeremy soon. Like Kelley, Jeremy’s ability to skip a vote is crucial. He may need an immunity win at the final four to reach the end. There are multiple ways that Jeremy could lose, but he’s still the most likely victor.

I can’t say enough good things about this season, and it’s about more than interesting strategy. This cast has been great fun! When you look at the final six, there are no dull players in the mix. We have a group of strong contenders who could make a legitimate case at the end. No one has just stuck with one alliance and been a follower. I expect that each person will take a shot next week, and that’s all we can ask for in a Survivor season. I’ve been wrong repeatedly in my weekly assessments, and that’s a great sign about how players are adapting. There’s no guarantee that Jeremy or Kelley comes out on top, and that’s how I like it. I can’t wait to see how this game ends and believe we’re in store for a thrilling finish.

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