Survivor Kaoh Rong

The Survivor Strategic Game: It’s Your Gut

It’s easy to sit back and question players’ moves from the comforts of home. Viewed in the context of a condensed story, the missed opportunities are clear to us. Last week, Scot had the chance to play Jason’s idol and potentially eliminate Tai following the re-vote of a 2-2 tie. In that situation, it made little sense in Scot’s mind to play the idol. They could wait and see where the votes went and use the super idol as a last resort. Scot looked foolish when he departed, but he believed in his allies. It’s that type of gut feeling that drives so much on Survivor. Players must decide when others are lying or being straight with them, and it’s surprisingly difficult.

At this week’s Tribal Council, the comments from the group strongly implied that Tai was the target. It felt like they were goading him into playing his idol. Unlike Jon Misch, Tai read that something was happening. Aubry’s response to his question about the idol related to more than that moment. On the fly, she reassured Tai but still left the choice in his hands. “I think you’re fine, but it’s your gut.” Personally, I’d always play the idol when in doubt. Why risk going home? Even so, Tai’s hesitation benefited him when Julia left by a 5-2 vote. He moves into the final six with an idol and the advantage. Tai should be golden, but my gut tells me that Tai will be leaving in the near future. He made the right choice, but his road to get there was shaky.

It’s possible that Aubry missed a golden opportunity to flush Tai’s idol. If she’d answered differently, he might have wasted the idol. She may not have been sure about the vote, but that’s unlikely. It’s also possible that Aubry believed that keeping Tai’s idol around was good for her game. Whispering just the right answer at Tribal Council was too much to ask, even for a smart player. Aubry stuck to the middle road, and that fits with her overall strategy.

Tai's attempt to mend fences with Jason this week didn't connect. Tai’s attempt to mend fences with Jason this week didn’t connect.[/caption]

Tai’s an intriguing player because nearly everyone believes he’s dangerous in a Final Tribal Council. He’s an endearing guy with an interesting life story. Cydney spoke this week about needing to remove Tai before the end. The narrative makes sense, but it neglects the fact that Tai is an indecisive player. He relied on Scot to help him after the swap, and Aubry’s played a similar role in the past two weeks. Tai follows the lead of more knowledgeable players, which seems like a flaw someone could attack before the jury. He’s also now betrayed Scot and Jason. His thin apology to Jason this week didn’t help that situation either. The perception of Tai as a jury threat is stronger than the reality. Of course, that feeling might be enough to get him the votes against a similar noncommittal player.

The big question hanging over this week’s vote was if Cydney and Michele (especially) would help Jason and Julia blindside Tai. They ended up sticking with Aubry, Joe, and Tai, but that doesn’t mean it was a terrible idea. Having the idol and advantage makes Tai the obvious target. The problem was that no one trusted Jason and Julia enough to risk their games. They’d rather play with people like Aubry who seem more rational. Jason’s arrogance just last week can’t be dismissed just because he lost Scot. There’s no guarantee he wouldn’t turn around and go after Cydney next week. She was his top target before Tai’s betrayal. The gut feeling about Jason is that he’s a wild card who’d do anything to win. It’s hard to ever overcome that perception.

A Bit Too Obvious

Julia, Survivor 32

Julia tried to woo new allies, but it was too late.

Julia was the target because she was considered more threatening than Jason. She’s been willing to play the game and has adapted to each situation. After getting exiled at the swap, she formed a new bond with Scot that helped remove Peter. Julia maintained strong connections with Scot and Michele, which gave her a chance to work with either group. The problem was that Julia was a bit too direct with her play. Aubry and Cydney realized she was playing the middle too easily.

In her exit interview with Rob, Julia surprised me because she recognized that error. We rarely hear players talk about being arrogant and not appreciating the skills of the other players. That interview revealed that Julia had the right thought process but just needed a little more finesse. Her self-awareness following the game was rare and unexpected.

Another issue was not trying to mend fences with Aubry, especially given the power structure of the game this week. Julia has clarified in exit interviews that it just wasn’t possible. Since Neil’s exit, Aubry has slowly gained more control. Her alliance with Cydney has shaped the post-merge game. The editors have presented Aubry’s concerns with Julia for several weeks, and it was only a matter of time before she became the target. She needed to separate herself from Jason immediately, but Michele was already reconnecting with Aubry and Cydney. It probably wouldn’t have mattered, though. Once working with Aubry was off the table, Julia’s only chance was trying to focus the others on Tai.

Michele’s Arrival

I picked Michele to win the game at the start, but she’s been invisible for much of the game. No one has targeted her, and the others don’t consider her a non-entity like Joe. Michele has built solid relationships, but that’s rarely enough on modern Survivor. Jason and Julia wooed both Cydney and Michele this week, but the story focused on Michele. Her friendship with Julia made the switch feel more likely. Also, Michele had voted for Tai last week. The episode presented a major internal conflict on whether to vote out her friend. I doubt it was really a tough decision, though. She did feel bad about voting for Julia, but Michele would have gained little by flipping. She won a huge reward and immunity this week, and that confidence helped her to make the right choice.

Does Michele have a chance to take charge?

Does Michele have a chance to take charge?

Looking ahead to next week, Michele has more staying power than Tai or Jason. Her bond with Cydney may also give her an edge on Joe. Aubry has shown a willingness to go against her close ally. Joe’s a reliable guy, but she wouldn’t sacrifice her game to save him. In that scenario, Michele becomes the third member of a powerful trio. Here’s the problem, though. I don’t see Michele beating either Aubry or Cydney in the finals. She needs to reach the end with Jason or Joe to really have a chance. In the short term, removing Julia made sense. Not having a close ally will make Michele less of a target. The question is still how she can win at the end, however.

Is There a Crack?

Jason spent much of this week talking about the need for an opening in the majority. He handled Scot’s exit much better than I expected. It may be too late to salvage his game, however. The question about a potential crack is interesting because we’ve seen little consistency this season. Aubry and Cydney have stuck together, but they’ve voted out players like Debbie and Julia who voted with them. The holes are there, but someone may need to self-destruct to maintain them. Jason’s sabotage play a few weeks ago may have ended his chances to build new alliances. I’ve structured these responses in terms of the obvious answer and sleeper picks. Sadly, only Joe didn’t make the cut for one of these categories.

Who’s in the best position?

Players rely on Aubry, and that's a great sign.

Players rely on Aubry, and that’s a great sign.

Obvious Answers — Cydney and Aubry: They’re smart, capable players who aren’t looking too far ahead. They seem able to discuss a vote and not get too emotional if the other disagrees. They also have individual bonds with Michele and Joe respectively that should help avoid a coup. The question for each is whether they should take the other to the end. The smart choice would be to remove the other at the final four. The danger is an immunity run, though we’ve seen quite a balance with challenge wins this season.

Sleeper Choice — Michele: She needs to build a resume to win over the jury, and that’s going to be difficult. Setting that point aside, Michele may play a huge role in crowning a winner. Let’s assume that Tai gets blindsided holding the idol next week. Jason would certainly court Michele and Cydney once again. His target would probably be Aubry. That would put Joe and Aubry on the other side. We could have a case where Michele’s choice seals the win for another player. I’m not counting out her chances; I did pick her to win. Regardless, I don’t believe this week was the last time Michele will have to make a tough decision.

Who’s in trouble?

Kyle Jason

Jason survived this week but has a lot more challenges to overcome.

Obvious Answer — Jason: They just removed Jason’s last ally, so the most direct move for the others is targeting him. Jason’s playbook for next week is basically the same once again. He needs to sit back and look for an opening. He also should really sell the Tai blindside. Jason could present himself as a goat, but I don’t believe he sees the game that way. Jason believes he deserves to win the game, so why try to slide through? If going after Tai fails, his most likely chance is winning immunity. One victory could help collapse the fragile alliance, so I won’t count Jason out this early. I’m not rooting for him to succeed, but his laid-back approach could serve him well. Convincing the others at the end may be another matter.

Sleeper Choice — Tai: When you’re holding the advantage and the idol, it’s easy to get tunnel vision. We saw how Scot and Jason lost sight of everything but the super idol. Tai has nearly played the idol several times and thought better of it. I hope that he realizes that playing it next week is nearly essential. The extra vote at the final five is still extremely powerful. There’s also a chance Tai could win immunity in either spot. It’s just too risky to clutch the idol at this point. However, I have a feeling that Tai may push his luck one vote too far.

This episode was more straightforward but set the stage for the final run. The editors did their best to suggest another blindside was coming. Were they just laying the groundwork for next week? It would not surprise me to see Tai go home. The clues are all there. I’m still enjoying this season and expecting a strong finish. Few predicted this final six when the season began, and that’s one reason for its success. The new players don’t have the game figured out or know it all, but they’re still playing hard and looking for a route to the million.

Become a patron of RHAP