Survivor: Cambodia

The Survivor Strategic Game: It Doesn’t Take Much

We’re five episodes into this season, but much of this week felt like a new beginning. Two players directly involved in the result barely appeared during the first four episodes. The reason to vote out Monica also seemed more like those from a normal season premiere. It was our first trip to Tribal Council for the four original Bayon members, which led to forward movement away from Angkor. Beyond the vote, other small moments set the stage for the game’s next act. Alliances keep shifting, and it takes very little to turn the tide.

It’s unclear exactly where Monica fit on Bayon because of her limited screen time. The edit focused on Savage’s power alliance before the swap and stuck with the guys on the new tribe. Monica had a brief moment with Spencer last week, but it gave little indication she was in trouble. Even the opening argument about clams seemed minor in the larger scheme of things. I don’t believe her comments about a girls’ alliance sealed her fate. Instead, Kimmi used that example to make the push for Monica’s exit. Monica clearly had no idea Kimmi was targeting her, which showed a subtlety I didn’t expect from the fiery old-school contestant.

Monica had a blind spot with Kimmi. Monica had a blind spot with Kimmi.[/caption]

The most likely reason Monica was Kimmi’s target came down to personality. Monica’s quieter approach felt sneaky, and not liking her just made it easier for Kimmi. In her exit interview with Gordon Holmes, Monica called Kimmi her only friend in the game. The fact that she used the word “friend” says a lot. Kimmi has waited a long time to play the game, and there’s no time for sentimentality. If a player might stand in her way, she won’t hesitate.

It’s been fascinating to watch players from the show’s early days navigate modern Survivor. Varner seemed thrilled to make moves and fit perfectly in the faster game. Kelly Wiglesworth has looked uncertain and lost so far. That doesn’t mean she’s doomed, but we’ve seen little to suggest she’s a serious threat. Kimmi stepped forward this week to reveal an aggressiveness that could be called Hantz-like. Of course, this strategy could blow up in her face down the road. If Monica was a key player in the others’ endgames, going after her could have been disastrous. Shirin suffered this fate after trying to target Varner (according to her exit interviews). This fine line is what makes Survivor so difficult; being active only works if you know where you stand.

Fracturing Bayon

If Bayon had stuck with voting out Kelly, we may not have lost an original Bayon for quite a while. Terry is on the outs at Ta Keo, and Abi and Woo are the likely next boots at Angkor. Stephen raised a good point about the message they might send by blindsiding Monica. How will Savage react to the dissension in the original group? I doubt it will play a huge role because it was Monica. However, there’s probably a tribe swap coming in the near future. Since the 3-2-1 plan worked flawlessly, will it embolden Kimmi and others to try another daring strategy? The Vytas vote set the stage for Shirin’s exit, so the precedent has been set for targeting almost anyone. This small move could set up the dominoes for a complete sea change in the game.

Was it a good idea for Bayon to keep both Kelly and Spencer around?

Was it a good idea for Bayon to keep both Kelly and Spencer around?

What’s the benefit for Stephen and Jeremy in removing Monica? They retained a strategic player in Spencer, and I expect they plan to work with him directly. Kelly is still an unknown and probably wasn’t considered threatening enough to remove. Monica could be a “snake in the grass”, but she stuck with them and voted for Kelly. It’s possible that taking the obvious road felt too dull. This was the first Tribal Council for the main group, so why not make their mark? Jeremy and Stephen are big fans, so maybe they couldn’t help themselves.

A common trend in this season’s votes has been removing the wild cards. Players like Shirin and Varner were smart and seemed unafraid to make moves. With their second chance, no one wants to leave anything to chance. Despite Mike Holloway’s physical dominance in the most recent season, challenge strength isn’t drawing the usual big target. Even a volatile person like Abi-Maria has stuck with Savage and Tasha during their two votes. The leaders are looking to simplify the game board and line up their allies for the trials ahead. It’s an interesting shift away from removing the alpha players in all-star seasons. Monica would normally survive because Spencer and Kelly were bigger targets. Instead, some minor shadiness was her undoing.

A Solid Five

The biggest surprise this week was Ta Keo actually finishing second in the immunity challenge. Joe has benefited from the three-tribe format because there’s been little chance he would go to Tribal Council. Having other strong athletes on his tribe like Terry and Kelley has made sure they keep rolling. Both Kass and Joe had “early boot” written on their foreheads, but I assumed they’d actually visit Jeff. The positive vibes even led to a final five deal between everyone but poor Terry. This shouldn’t be a shock given that Kelley was the only original Ta Keo in this conversation. Even so, Jeremy and Savage might not enjoy hearing this news.

Ta Keo continued to dominate the challenges.

Ta Keo continued to dominate the challenges.

We’ve seen this type of scene foreshadow the actual final five in the past. South Pacific is a perfect example where an early alliance stayed true to the end. I have my doubts this group will follow that path, however. It’s more likely to play a role in someone’s doom. This might just be a set-up for Terry’s continued slide under the bus. Regardless, it’s interesting to see how Joe remains so up front with his plans. Will that approach backfire? There’s no real way that Joe could hide in the background. It’s against his personality, and going all out in challenges has kept him out of danger. Trying to secure a deal was his best choice given the obstacles in his way.

This scene was important for Kelley, who needed allies following any swap and especially after the merge. They must consider her a part of the alliance, not a former Ta Keo. The immunity idol means little if she’s an outsider, so getting the chance to join them is a bonus. Plenty of other targets remain, so Kelley’s chances to make the end just keep improving. This deal also benefits Kass, who can’t stand out as a wild card. Sticking with Joe makes total sense for her since big targets keep people from shifting attention to her. I expect that she’ll betray someone down the road, but Kass shouldn’t rush to induce any chaos very soon.

The Sympathy Game

Woo is working really hard to become a core member of Angkor.

Woo is working really hard to become a core member of Angkor.

Our brief visit to Angkor this week focused on Woo, who earned Tasha’s respect with his effort at the last Tribal Council. He also told an emotional story about his mom’s heart transplant. We saw an interesting side of Woo that wasn’t shown much in Cagayan. The editors want us to root for him, particularly against Abi. Her comments in both confessionals and to her tribemates were unfortunate. I expect they mostly relate to concerns that Woo could take her #3 spot with Tasha and Savage. Discrediting his story was a way to hope he wouldn’t connect with them.

It was clear from Woo’s confessional that he wasn’t telling the story just to gain sympathy. This wasn’t a Johnny Fairplay situation. Even so, the choice to open up wasn’t terrible. We’re 31 seasons into this show, and players still underestimate the importance of people liking you. Spencer has learned that trick this season, and Woo could benefit in a similar way. His confessions felt genuine, and it was that aspect that made Abi strike back. In an extra scene, Tasha spoke about being moved by it and feeling closer with Woo. She talked about getting the chance to see inside his shell, and that’s important to sticking with him.

If Angkor goes back to Tribal Council before the next swap, the result won’t come down to who’s more likable. Woo and Abi won’t work together, which keeps Tasha and Savage in control. Their decision should come down to which player they believe will be loyal over the long term. The right answer is Woo. He isn’t always great TV, but he’s a valuable ally in the game. Tasha saw how Tony used Woo in Cagayan, and she will probably try the same approach. Abi needs to hope they don’t lose another challenge before the game changes again.

The following picks don’t take into account the hints we saw in the previews of a medical evacuation. I have my suspicions about the victim based on the edit so far, but I’m basing these picks on the information that we currently have after five episodes.

Who’s in the best position?

Ciera: When the game began, I thought Ciera might be in trouble because of her reputation from Blood vs. Water. Thus far, she’s sat back and hasn’t rocked the boat. Not going to Tribal Council has allowed her to connect with a solid alliance. Looking at the other four members, all are more likely to be targeted. Joe is a physical threat, people don’t trust Kass, Kelley comes from the original Ta Keo, and even Keith may be considered too likable. Ciera has allies and is set up for a long run towards the end game. The challenge for her will be recognizing when to act. There will be a moment where she’ll need to move or risk being considered a follower. The trick will be not missing it. In her first appearance, she acted to force rocks but missed the real chance at the final seven. I’m optimistic that won’t happen again.

Stephen's game keeps looking better, despite a few miscues.

Stephen’s game keeps looking better, despite a few  challenge miscues.

Stephen: The editors have spent much of this season make Stephen look inept. He even hit the wrong target in the immunity challenge! Despite this fact, he remains in a strong position on Bayon. Jeremy is front and center, and Stephen has a solid bond with him. Now that they’ve visited Tribal, the vote secured the trust among Jeremy, Stephen, and Kimmi. Spencer wasn’t informed but also survived, so he’s likely to keep working with them. Even Kelly shouldn’t complain since they saved her. The danger will come when Stephen ends up back with Savage. He’ll need to keep working on his relationships to ensure the others won’t turn their back on him at that point. For now, Stephen’s path is clear.

Who’s in trouble?

Terry is having a great time but could be the next to go at Ta Keo.

Terry is having a great time but could be the next to go at Ta Keo.

Terry: If it wasn’t clear that Terry was on the bottom at Ta Keo, this week’s scene removed any doubts. While a gleeful Terry fished to provide for his tribe, the other five made a deal that didn’t involve him. We’ve seen regular confessionals where Terry raved about their challenge skills. While he’s been right about their abilities, he doesn’t seem connected on the strategy side. He’s also still focused on the tribal competitions. Terry’s best bet is to hope they keep winning and then try to grab immunity after the merge. He has few allies, and that plan would be tough with Joe, Jeremy, and others around for challenges. It’s going to be an uphill battle for Terry.

Abi: This is Abi’s fourth appearance in this section in five blogs, and I still feel like each inclusion made sense. Will the other players tolerate her for 39 days? I have my doubts, and the editors keep showing Tasha’s annoyance with Abi’s antics. She’s in a better spot than Terry, but Abi’s tribe is more likely to visit Tribal Council. The chances for escape are slimmer with Peih-Gee and Varner both gone. Abi has shown a deft ability to escape the odds against her. Right now, she’s still a long shot to make the merge.

If we believe the previews, I expect the injury will lead to a double elimination next week. That means 13 players would remain. When you add a likely swap to two tribes, it will be interesting to see how everything shakes out next week. Much of what I’ve discussed could mean little. It’s that mystery that keeps me excited about this season. There are plenty of interesting characters, and anything could happen with each new twist. Few are gliding along, and the intensity will only rise as the numbers dwindle.

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