Survivor: Cambodia

The Survivor Strategic Game: The Front Runner

It’s common for most Survivor seasons to have at least one physical threat that becomes the prime target after the merge. That person faces steep odds against making the final Tribal Council. Mike Holloway won the game from that position, but he didn’t really occupy it until the final stretch. He also alienated tribemates in the pre-merge game and failed to stand out as the obvious threat. On the other hand, Joe held this spot from the very first challenge in both of his seasons. The fact that he survived until the final eight in Cambodia is a minor miracle. It’s a testament to his skills but also shows the limitations of his approach to the game.

In a cast of new players, it’s possible for this type of player to make the right connections and win the game. Strong physical competitors like Tom, Kim, and J.T. won challenges and the million dollars. These players found themselves on the right side of the numbers, particularly the first two examples. They also made important strategic moves along the way. It’s much tougher in a repeat appearance, however. Tom had little chance in Heroes vs. Villains, and runner-up challenge threats like Ozzie and Colby carried huge targets in their second tries. In returning player seasons where the stars go early, it’s never wise to stand out from the pack.

Joe wasn’t the only challenge beast in this cast, however. Terry arrived with a huge reputation but left for his son before the votes came his way. Jeremy, Tasha, and Spencer also did well in their first season. Even so, none carried the same glow as “Joey Amazing”. He made the wins look effortless and showed that he could conquer both puzzles and more grueling contests. Only Jeff’s storytelling skills could really derail him. Joe was a frontrunner who couldn’t hide, so he enhanced the obvious target to a place where his end was guaranteed. It’s like a comedian who realizes one joke works and just focuses on that gag.

Joe got to see his dad at the family visit but was too strong to ignore. Joe shared a warm moment with his dad before his inevitable exit.[/caption]

Is there any way that Joe could win the game? His answer in the exit interview with Rob suggested that Joe realized the huge odds against him. The bigger question is whether anyone can really play out front from Day 1 and expect to win. Joe didn’t go to Tribal Council without immunity for 29 days, which is incredible and unlikely to happen too often. I doubt future players of his type could expect that kind of cushion. Admittedly, Joe made his own luck by helping his team win challenges until the merge. Even so, he needed a real strategy for the cases where he would be vulnerable. Targeting Abi felt short-sighted; why not go after Jeremy or Spencer? Stephen was a good alternative to attack; he needed someone similar this week.

It’s easy to criticize Joe for having a one-dimensional game, but I believe he tried his best to play differently. I admire his determination and huge effort right until the very end. In his Ponderosa video, Joe looked devastated by his inability to flip the script. The Survivor game isn’t really designed for him to succeed, and modern players are too sharp to let him slide. Malcolm benefited in the Caramoan because others hadn’t seen his season. He’d gained a bit of weight and held back in the early days. Despite his eventual defeat, Malcolm played it right. Joe is a different type of guy, however. He could spend weeks mentally preparing to tank challenges but wouldn’t go through with it. Joe’s the boxer who can’t take a dive even if he’ll pay the price.

Drew Christy Was Right

Kelley Wentworth ran a brilliant campaign to draw fan support, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from her this time. Known mostly as the player who Drew Christy called the most dangerous in the game, Kelley didn’t get the chance to prove if he was right. She was doomed by a tribe swap and the great @farmguy69, also known as her father Dale. This season has gone much better for Kelley, who’s found two idols and shown a knack for getting out of trouble. This week, she won both the reward and immunity challenges and helped remove a big threat in Joe. Amazingly, Kelley didn’t seem to anger people by not choosing them for the family reward.

If there’s one reward not to pursue, it’s winning the family visit challenge. Despite wanting to spend time with family and friends, you risk alienating emotional tribe mates. The producers give the victor a cruel choice of deciding who doesn’t get to spend time with their loved one. I wouldn’t want that job. Tasha realized the danger in that spot and claimed she didn’t try to win. That might help to explain why she didn’t seem angry about not getting picked. The fluid nature of this year’s alliances also made it less treacherous.

Kelley did well but may have created too big a target on her back.

Kelley did well but may have created too big a target on her back.

Kelley had four choices and picked Keith, Kimmi, Joe, and Abi. Three have been allies with her, and Kimmi had started discussions about a female alliance. The real question is what not being picked meant for Tasha, Spencer, and Jeremy. Did Kelley feel like they would understand the omission better than the others? I expect that is part of it. Jeremy and Tasha were also aligned with Stephen, so she probably didn’t consider them top allies. Kelley understood the issues but survived the experience intact, which says a lot about her relationships with everyone.

One surprise in Kelley’s approach was her willingness to remove Joe. They voted together to take out Stephen and seemed to have a good relationship. Even so, Kelley recognized that keeping him around was foolish. Even Joe’s failure when he passed out painted a larger target on him in Kelley’s eyes. With the exception of her idol play, Kelley has thrived with small moves. She’s abandoned allies when they’re in trouble and frequently voted with the majority. She’s also kept silent about her idols, which will be crucial when the next one is needed. It’s no stretch to say that Kelley is one of the favorites to win the game.

Allies Once Again

The relationship between Jeremy and Spencer remains intriguing, particularly after Spencer voted with the other group to remove Stephen. Neither trusts the other as much anymore, but they’re still working together. It was a curious decision by Spencer to shift back to Jeremy and Tasha this week. They made a final three deal back at camp while the others enjoyed the family visit. I don’t expect them to stick to this deal, however. Spencer, in particular, has shown a willingness to shift his allegiances in the right spot. We saw multiple scenes with Jeremy and Spencer working as a pair and deciding on their next move. If Tasha bolts, they may find themselves on an island needing immunity to survive.

In an extra scene, Tasha seemed determined to work with Jeremy and Spencer against Kelley’s group. She spoke about the value of the uninterrupted time for the trio to discuss strategy. I’m not convinced this is her best move, however. Jeremy’s idol is critical to his survival, but he’s unlikely to tell his allies about it. After getting burned with Stephen’s exit, I doubt he’ll use it for either of them. The final seven is such an important vote for the endgame, and they may be outgunned. In a certain way, it could benefit Jeremy to become the target. Playing the idol as a surprise might be the way that his group can flip the numbers back. Of course, Kelley could counteract that move in the same way and potentially remove Tasha or Spencer in the process.

Will Tasha join Kimmi and turn against the guys?

Will Tasha join Kimmi and turn against the guys?

The real question is where Kimmi stands within this group. Her closest ally was Stephen, and his exit seemed to make her more proactive this week. The talk about a women’s alliance rarely leads to anything, but it makes sense for Kimmi. If she could vote with Abi, Kelley, and Tasha to remove one of the guys, it would set her up to have a shot to make the end. On the other hand, she might also benefit from sticking with the bigger targets on the other side. That strategy gives her a better chance to make the end but almost zero odds to grab the top prize. I’m not convinced Tasha cares about the women’s alliance, though. Revealing the existence to Jeremy and Spencer made it seem unlikely. Regardless of the outcome, we’re in for plenty of thrills next week.

The Threatening Goat

Abi has been the alternate vote in a lot of Tribal Councils, including the past two weeks. She’s an easy target and hasn’t shown an ability to drastically influence an alliance. That doesn’t mean she has no power, however. Abi’s vote will become more important as the numbers dwindle, and she will definitely make an impact if she reaches the end. She’s the obvious goat and has no chance to win but could play a role in who gets there. Joe’s pitch that Abi would take another player’s spot was an interesting one that may come up again.

Will Abi keep smiling right to the final 3?

Will Abi keep smiling right to the final 3?

Bringing goats to the end has become a common strategy, with Boston Rob’s Redemption Island game as the best example. In many cases, players don’t realize they’re a goat until it’s too late. Abi doesn’t fall into that category; everyone realizes why she’s around. This season is different because there aren’t too many goats. Even Keith and Kimmi would have a slight chance to make their case in the end. That situation makes Abi stand out, and everything is heightened because she’s so volatile. Some players will put their head down and take the third place check. Abi is not one of those players and certain to make serious waves.

Should the others follow Joe’s advice and take out Abi? It definitely makes sense to certain players, and not just because she’s considered a goat. Abi is essentially a pair with Kelley, so that makes her dangerous to Jeremy and Spencer. Two players voting together can make quite an impact, especially after the final seven. Kelley seems more likely to draw the target given her chances at the end. No one knows she has the idol, but that possibility is higher than with Abi. If Jeremy and Spencer want to weaken Kelley and play it safer, they might want to remove Abi.

Who’s in the best position?

Tasha is a tough competitor who could make a run with the right choices.

Tasha is a tough competitor who could make a run with the right choices.

Tasha: This was a very tough choice given the lack of firm alliances at the final seven. Kelley and Jeremy both have idols and have told no one, but they stand out as powerful targets. Abi has been targeted many times, Keith wasn’t aware of the vote against Joe, and Spencer isn’t trusted because of multiple flips. Kimmi could be in danger if the female alliance doesn’t take. This leaves Tasha, who occupies this spot because she has the most options. Tasha has the chance to make the key vote in the next Tribal Council. She’s a determined competitor and needs to consider who she can beat in the finals. Others are building their resumes, and this is the point where Tasha needs to begin making the final push to the end.

Who’s in trouble?

Spencer may want to distance himself from Jeremy.

Spencer may want to distance himself from Jeremy.

Spencer: He could still win the game, but Spencer has put himself in a tricky position. He doesn’t have an idol to protect himself and stands out as one of the bigger remaining threats. Kelley and Abi will stick together and probably bring Keith with them. If either Tasha or Kimmi joins that group, they would have four votes to take out Spencer or Jeremy. It’s been a while since Spencer has been targeted, but his time is coming with Joe out of the game. Spencer’s best bet is to start an immunity run and find the right group of allies. He made a final three deal with Tasha and Jeremy, but that may not be his best move. Spencer needs to be willing to step away from them at the right time or risk losing in the end.

There are only two episodes left, which feels strange with seven players remaining. The next Tribal Council is crucial as we enter the game’s final stage. Could Jeremy and Kelley both play their idols next week? I can envision a weird situation where a player leaves only because of re-vote. While that would be amazing, there’s a good chance one side will feel comfortable. Kelley’s not sneaking up on anyone now, which could make her the next target. Jeremy is in the same boat, although he still hasn’t been seriously considered. The players in the middle should determine who gains an edge. Joe’s exit means that almost anyone could be on the table. I can’t wait to see what happens as we sprint towards the finale.

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