Survivor: Cambodia

The Survivor Strategic Game: Protecting the Shield

There’s been quite a bit of talk this year about using a shield to draw away the attention after the merge. Jeremy learned his lesson in San Juan Del Sur and is committed to align with the big targets this time. While he’s busy finding an idol and forming bonds, others like Stephen are thinking about Joe. Jeremy’s using a clever strategy for surviving the post-merge chaos. Likable and strong physical threats like Jeremy and Joe often depart unless they reel off immunity wins. It’s wise to think ahead, especially when your tribe keeps avoiding Tribal Council.

There is a flipside to this strategy, however. If Joe wins immunity, the crowd may turn to the guy standing behind him. Having more athletes remaining could also make it tougher to win challenges. Those concerns still are weaker than being the prime target, though. Monica and Woo were likely floaters who could slide through to the end. It’s been interesting to note how few standouts have been voted out to this point. Varner was great TV and a smart guy, but I didn’t get the impression he frightened others. Vytas was considered a threat and removed, and Shirin knew the game. Regardless, they weren’t the most obvious victims when the game started.

It's been all smiles for Jeremy so far. It’s been all smiles for Jeremy.[/caption]

Jeremy’s plan to use Joe as a shield is straightforward and logical. It’s hardly the only example of this strategy, though. Everyone has considered Spencer a threat since the start. However, he keeps surviving. Why? I don’t believe it’s just because he’s treating people like people. Working with Spencer makes sense for several reasons. First of all, his poor position in the game means he’ll follow orders. Spencer is a logical player who won’t proceed to Plan C if Plan B saves him from the snuffer. He’s also a legitimate shield who scares people just as much as Joe.

Cagayan was a very popular season, and Spencer was a fan favorite all the way to the finale. He’s the best definition of what Rob calls “the new hotness” that others want to knock out. On the other hand, that opportunity should remain for a long time. Why not join with Spencer and use him to weaken the opposition? He’s a likable guy and solid at challenges, and he doesn’t play vindictively. We’ve yet to see a moment where he’s brutally deceived anyone. Spencer has little power in this game, so he remains a useful pawn at this point. The question is when to cut the cord, and that’s always a risk with Spencer. He has friends on the other side, so his loyalty could change down the road.

A Frightening Situation

It was great to see Terry sitting next to his son after leaving the game.

It was great to see Terry sitting next to his son at home after leaving the game.

Before I dig further into the strategy, I have to mention Terry’s sad exit at the start of the episode. As a parent, I couldn’t imagine the emotions he experienced while riding that boat away from camp. The lack of information had to be extremely difficult, and Terry handled it so well. It was such a relief to see the final video with Terry and his son Danny following the heart transplant. We all obsess over the intricacies of Survivor strategy, but they mean little compared to the health of our families. It doesn’t seem right to describe what his exit means to the actual game, so I’ll avoid discussing it from that perspective.

I’d highly recommend that you read Sarah Freeman’s excellent blog about this difficult moment for Terry. It reminds us of just how much these players leave behind when they decide to go Survivor. My daughters get sad when I take an overnight trip for work. Being completely out of contact for over a month sounds unthinkable. I hope that Terry gets another chance to play in the future and that his son’s recovery goes well. The Danny Strong Fund also gives you another way to provide support.

Misreading the Decoy

Awkwardly transitioning back to Survivor, it’s been interesting to watch Savage navigate the modern game. He’s so confident in his plans that it makes him vulnerable. Thus far, the only adversity Savage has faced is the lack of food and shelter at Angkor. I don’t mean to downplay that challenge, but it hasn’t impacted his ability to stay with the numbers. Savage and Tasha faced an uphill battle against four Ta Keo members, but Abi made it easier. He’s an alpha who’s used to giving orders. The edit focused on Kass, but Savage’s real mistake was misreading Ciera. His contentment at being away from Angkor clouded his judgment.

Who really drove the choice to keep Spencer?

Who really drove the move to keep Spencer?

I’ll admit that I underestimated Ciera’s abilities going into this game. She earned a reputation by voting out her mom and going to rocks, but I still wondered how much she would bring to her second chance. This week, she reminded us of why she’s a skilled and dangerous player. The fact that Savage chose Ciera as the decoy for Spencer was a warning sign. Caleb had a similar reaction to Brad Culpepper’s move to use him during Blood vs. Water. If another player believes you’re their top ally, they won’t risk alienating you with the fake plan. Savage looked at Ciera’s quiet personality (and gender) and believed she’d accept it. That was a dumb idea.

What made Ciera’s move so smart was how she didn’t confront Savage directly. Instead, she formed a new coalition where she wasn’t the obvious ringleader. Without her efforts, Spencer almost certainly would be gone. Kass played a crucial role as the fourth vote, but Ciera set the plan in motion. The result exposed a flaw in Savage’s game that could be critical. He strolled into Tribal Council with no clue the tide had turned. The way he threw up his hands after the vote showed his disbelief. There is too much at stake for this cast to take the easy road.

Will this vote be a wake-up call for Savage? In the early days at Bayon, Savage aligned with Joe and Jeremy and targeted Stephen. Since that point, Stephen has formed a tight bond with Jeremy that may carry them far. Will Savage understand the new situation or stick with his original plan? The best Survivor players can adapt to almost anything, and Savage may not have that ability. With the merge coming next week, he’ll need to set aside his surprise and keep moving forward. It won’t be enough to expect his former allies to fall in line once again.

The Return of Kass 1.0?

The Survivor editors really wanted us to believe in the power of “Chaos Kass” this week. Admittedly, Kass is a fun character and good TV. She played right into the producers’ hands by selling her animosity towards Spencer. While Kass may want to vote him out, I don’t believe it was a tough decision. I usually don’t talk about pre-game alliances on this blog since they often mean little once the game begins. Even so, I couldn’t help but wonder if Spencer and Kass had a deal in place. Who would suspect it? Tasha and Kass also seemed good at the original Bayon, and selling the animosity would keep others from targeting the Cagayan players as a bloc.

If we believe the edit, Kass took a real chance by protecting Spencer. Other players are just waiting for her to prove she isn’t trustworthy. Savage may use this ammunition to target her right after the merge. Given her volatile play in Cagayan, Kass may not be the best ally for anyone. Considering the high stakes for these returning players, will they be willing to trust Kass? She’s talked a lot about playing differently, but I’m not convinced the change is real. Kass has benefited from not having to visit Tribal Council until this week. When the individual game begins, the others may decide she isn’t worth the trouble. Jeremy wants to keep the strong guys around as shields, and a player like Kass is a likely target if loyalty becomes the top concern.

Losing the Golden Boy

When will Joe's allies realize he's too dangerous to keep around?

When will Joe’s allies realize he’s too dangerous to keep around?

The switch back to two tribes created so many interesting sub-alliances within each new tribe. At Bayon, Joe had a past bond with Jeremy but made a final-five deal at Ta Keo last week. That alliance included Kelley, who looks like the odd person out on the new Bayon. Joe’s pitch to protect Kelley made sense when you consider their more recent bond. Even so, it might create problems for him if his original allies sense divided loyalties. Joe has done a good job connecting with a lot of players, but having fluid connections may be a double-edged sword. Kelley will do anything to survive, and that may include discarding Joe.

Stephen’s efforts to target Joe were fascinating, especially when you consider the connection to his Tocantins game. His emotional confessional showed how much that second-place finish still haunts him. Stephen wants to control his fate and not become a supporting player in a winner’s story. He’s treading in dangerous waters, however. Jeremy has been a good ally, but he won’t hesitate to turn on Stephen if it doesn’t benefit his game. We saw Stephen making unsuccessful pitches to Tasha and Jeremy, so he’ll need to wait or risk losing their trust. Savage might pitch for Stephen to go soon, so he’ll need allies who believe they’re all on the same page.

Who’s in the Best Position?

Keith has yet to visit Tribal Council.

Keith has yet to visit Tribal Council and is very safe.

Keith: If I had to pick a single player who’s most likely to make the final five, Keith would be the easy choice. He’s likable and hasn’t made any waves so far. He also hasn’t visited Tribal Council and seems happy with sticking with the numbers. There are a lot of big targets remaining, so few should be gunning for Keith. He’s also deceptively good at challenges and could steal immunity from the younger athletes. The only risk for Keith is falling on the wrong side of the numbers. Given all the layers to alliances because of the swaps, there’s no clear split among the players. That scenario means Keith should keep rolling along for quite a while.

Abi: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Abi’s place will change dramatically once the merge happens. She may be a wild card, but the others will be scrambling to remove the obvious threats. Abi made few waves this week and found some new allies. Her best hope is that the original Bayon starts cannibalizing itself, and we saw evidence of that with Stephen’s plot to take out Joe. There’s always a chance Abi will get herself in trouble, but she’s good for now.

Who’s in Trouble?

Savage: It was obvious from Savage’s excited confessionals that he was doomed to fail this week. While he wasn’t the target, Savage made few friends at Ta Keo with his approach to targeting Spencer. This linear thinking could doom him very soon. Savage will probably assume that the original Bayon alliance remains intact. While anything is possible, the more likely scenario is Savage putting faith in the wrong people. That happened with Kass and Ciera, and he’ll need to be less straightforward or risk losing the game very soon.

Spencer: In one sense, Spencer again found a way to survive being the prime target. On the other hand, you can look at this vote as delaying the inevitable. Spencer has gone to Tribal Council four times and been a serious target in all but one of them. His survival happened because others decided there was a more pressing threat. Spencer could keep defying the odds and win the game. That said, the fact that he’s been front and center shows the challenge for Spencer. He’s the anti-Keith and won’t be forgotten. I’m rooting for Spencer and hope he does well, but he can only survive these close calls so many times.

This was a jam-packed episode with so much to cover. The gross food challenge was amazing and included so many fun moments, including Jeremy taking an extra bite of balut and Kimmi refusing to eat a pig snout. The previews for next week showed the tribes merging, which is surprising with 13 players remaining. I’m expecting an unpredictable post-merge game with few obvious boots. Players that appeared doomed are still here, and some haven’t even visited Tribal Council. It’s been an odd but satisfying season thus far, and it feels like we’re just getting started.

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