Survivor Kaoh Rong

The Survivor Strategic Game: The Horror and the Glory

For a blog that focuses on Survivor strategy, discussing what happened is usually a pretty straightforward process. A player has left the game, so I can look into what went wrong and where the current players stand. Every once in a while, an episode appears that doesn’t fit the mold. A prime example was Will screaming at Shrin in Worlds Apart, which felt way outside the normal game. The Brandon Hantz meltdown in the Caramoan also belongs in this category. This week is tricky because there were two primary story lines, and neither involved much strategy. There was severe physical distress on screen plus ugly personal attacks. Admittedly, it was a captivating episode. On the other hand, it left me with a sour taste on multiple fronts.

Going back to the first promos during the Second Chances reunion, this season has been sold for its brutality. We caught glimpses of multiple players receiving medical treatment under the hot sun. The theme was the return of Brains vs. Beauty vs. Brawn, but it took a back seat to the conditions. This is a dangerous approach for the show, which has started focusing again on survival aspects recently. I like that trend since it connects to the early seasons, but that doesn’t mean I want to see frequent suffering. The promos raised questions about the season’s quality, and those concerns were heightened by the lack of Jeff Probst’s usual raves. You got the sense the producers just wanted this season to go away, and the attention on the injuries was a way to sell a season they didn’t like. It was a relief to find a lot to like in the first three episodes.

Caleb Reynolds being evacuated on episode 4 of Survivor Kaoh Rong The crew moved quickly once Caleb’s situation became dangerous.[/caption]

These episodes have been refreshing because they’ve focused on character development beyond just a few players. There are no duds in this cast, and we got the chance to know almost all of them. These don’t feel like a bunch of recruits on the show to grab camera time. Some know the game better than others, but all bring something to the table. Why not spotlight them instead of the carnage? It’s too early to tell why they sold the gloom over the fun. I expect this week is not the last of the trials for these players. Will production step in and adjust the game? It’s a tricky balance for the medical staff to hold back until they’re absolutely needed. Once they stepped up in the challenge this week, they clearly did great work. It’s tricky because the show’s format rewards players for being tough and dealing with physical challenges. It’s that same quest for glory that contributed to potential disasters this week.

I do have concerns with how the episode sold the injuries like a badge of honor. Caleb refused to give up until the very end! He was in a life-threatening situation, and it reminded us of the dangers of playing Survivor. Jeff and the staff were frightened by the situation, and Dr. Joe Rowles and his team acted fast to prevent the problems from getting worse. We saw a large crew working together well to possibly save Caleb’s life. It’s easy in hindsight to criticize the show for not stopping the challenge, but I won’t go that far. There were few clues that Cydney and Caleb were that far gone until it ended. I just hope there are more precautions taken down the road based on this potentially disastrous moment.

Coming on the heels of the emotionally draining medevac, the ugly behavior on Brawn felt worse than it normally would. It seemed hollow coming so quickly after losing a player. Tensions are raised on a high-stress situation like this game, and arguments do happen. I just wish there’d been less glee in the way the players (especially Scot) treated Alecia. I’ve enjoyed watching this cast, so seeing them attack each other built negative vibes that are hard to shake. Before digging into Alecia’s last stand, let’s take a closer look at Caleb’s exit.

Building the Scene

I’m starting to wonder if the Survivor editors took a course on how to project heat from a two-dimensional screen. Rarely has being a contestant felt less enticing as this season. When Jeff revealed the reward of coffee and spices, my first response was “No! They just need ice and cold water!” Where was the refrigerator reward from the Amazon when they needed it? Also, what food will get these spices? It seemed like the producers could have manufactured rewards that actually help the tribe survive. It will be interesting to see what’s offered in future weeks.

The Brawn tribe in the reward challenge on Survivor Kaoh Rong's fourth episode

The conditions turned the sand into a devastating place that put everyone in jeopardy.

On the surface, the reward challenge looked similar to many others from the show. Crawling under obstacles and through the sand is very common. I doubt there was much concern of anyone passing out or worse. The conditions probably should have given them pause, though. Caleb told Josh Wigler that it was 120 degrees on that day, which Jeff called the hottest in Survivor history. I know they have a show to produce, but there are limits to even the toughest people. There aren’t any quitters in this group, which increased the potential for disaster.

Once again, we witnessed the challenge skills of the Brains. Neal sat out of the challenge, and the four others were all solid. Aubry was awesome in both the reward and immunity challenges once again. Despite the fireworks with Peter last week, they’re quite a functional tribe. Unlike the original Brains, they’re also a mild-mannered group. The way that Joe and Debbie handled her collapse showed their down-to-earth approach. She’s a quirky person, but the matter-of-fact way she said “I have heat stroke” matched her approach to the vote last week. Debbie’s situation was less serious after Cydney and Caleb went down, but it was still pretty scary.

Total Mayhem

Debbie Wanner collapsing after the reward challenge

Debbie collapsing  was just the beginning.

In most cases, Debbie collapsing at a challenge would take center stage. It felt just like an appetizer this time. The close-up footage of Cydney saying “I can’t move” and going down was gripping. The terrified look on her face said it all. I had suspected Caleb might be the victim due to his extremely positive edit (similar to Terry’s last season), but he looked fresh during the challenge. The speed of his decline once the adrenaline stopped was shocking. Chaos erupted at this point, and we saw just how many people it takes to produce this show. It’s a testament to Jeff’s skills as a host that he was able to still keep the narrative moving. He rounded up the troops as the showrunner while still thinking about the audience. It was no easy feat.

In her excellent blog this week, Sarah Freeman pointed out the “cruel kind of voyeurism” in watching players reach their limits. I experienced this sensation while watching the mayhem this week. Questions lingered in my mind about whether it was right to conduct the challenge. Even so, it was riveting to watch the unfortunate results. Caleb’s situation was no joke, and this wasn’t a case where the show oversold the danger. They didn’t need to do anything but show us the footage. Jeff briefly talked to the group and quizzed Tai and Jason afterwards, but he actually showed some restraint. All things considered, the lengthy sequence was remarkable TV.

Jeff Probst and Dr. Joe tend to Caleb on Survivor Kaoh Rong

The game quickly took a back seat once Caleb’s condition worsened.

We can criticize the players’ strategic moves, arrogant confessionals, and nasty comments (more on that in a moment), but all I saw during this sequence was people caring about their fellow contestants. Quick shots of Nick holding up Caleb’s legs, Jason quietly comforting Cydney, and Tai looking devastated said it all. The stunned reactions of the Beauty tribe said plenty of that group’s cohesion. They get along well and cared about Caleb, and it’s helped them succeed. So many players had the same look of disbelief on the faces that you might see after a car accident. The game stopped following the challenge, and it was quite powerful. This is not why I watch Survivor, but it did remind me of the stakes for everyone beyond the million-dollar prize.

An Ugly Situation

Following the reward challenge, there was a brief confessional from Debbie where she talked about her daughters and thanked Joe for helping her. This scene contrasted sharply with the next moment over at the Brawn camp. Upset about being berated at the challenge by Scot, Alecia called him out for his “cheerleader” comments. Coming after Caleb’s emotional departure, this scene felt wrong on many levels. Alecia tried to stick up for herself but looked petty while Scot and Jason were condescending. It’s tricky to assess this type of sequence because we saw just a few minutes. Judging by everyone’s demeanors, it probably lasted for hours.

Jason, Scot, and Alecia in the Brawn camp

The conflict on Brawn felt worse after Caleb’s emotional exit.

The rash judgment is to call out Scot and Jason as terrible people, but that’s far too simple. It felt like they were overly harsh to Alecia, yet I doubt it came out of nowhere. Cydney seemed equally frustrated by Alecia, but she remained quiet. What bothered me was the glee in which Scot took shots at her. In an extra scene, he acknowledged his rudeness at the challenge but also talked about how he was smarter than her. Using his NBA past against Alecia also didn’t fit; he knew that comparing their athletic past favored him. Scot barely raised his voice, but the tone made his derision clear. I don’t believe they were “trying to help” Alecia like he claimed in the vote either. It’s bad to call someone out for sucking and then act like it’s all for her benefit. There was a definite clash of personalities that was exacerbated by the rough conditions.

Jason’s behavior seemed less egregious this week; he even stepped away from the shelter instead of losing it. Earlier during the reward challenge, his tender behavior towards Cydney was genuine. In an extra scene, you could tell that he was really shaken by the whole situation. On the other hand, his references to “blondie” in past episodes did not look good. I don’t think anyone here is a terrible guy or hates women; that’s too simplistic. Instead, it was a case where people acted poorly under tough circumstances. Exhaustion and lack of food and water can take its toll. Minor frustrations can become much worse in this environment. I didn’t come out of this situation rooting for either guy, but there are certainly shades of gray.

One issue that stood out is the way that Jeff tried to explain Alecia’s presence on Brawn because she doesn’t “take any lip from anybody at any time for any reason”. It’s a nice attempt, but I don’t buy it. There’s a definite correlation between Alecia’s experiences this season and being incorrectly slotted on Brawn. I know that it’s just a label, but it immediately forced her to try and prove her value. A person like Scot is going to expect his tribe to behave like physical giants. Alecia isn’t a terrible athlete, but she doesn’t fit that mold. When you add in the personality differences, it was just a bad situation. Alecia didn’t seem too shaken by the situation in her day-after interview, though. She did talk about the social differences on her tribe and the lack of respect from the others, but the attacks seemed less egregious than what we saw on TV.

Another consideration is the fact that Scot and Jason could have voted her out twice. They saw that she wasn’t great in challenges and irritated them. To get high and mighty about doing Tribal Council on the beach looked foolish when they’d already had the power. Scot did vote against her when Jennifer left, but he knew it wasn’t going to happen. Alecia is probably difficult to live with at camp, but giving her more trouble is not “trying to help her”. She was the right choice strategically with the swap coming, but the way they sent her out felt unnecessary. It made Alecia into the underdog and essentially turned the audience against them.

The Strategic Game

I should mention the strategy from Scot and Jason in not trying during the immunity challenge. In her exit interview with Rob, Alecia confirmed that they seemed fine with losing. This choice made sense; Alecia openly talked about working against them after a swap. Brawn enters the upcoming swap with only three members, and it isn’t a terrible spot. The other groups each have five players and will be vying to align with Jason, Scot, and Cydney. If the tribes were split 5-4-4 going into the switch, it might create more problems for Brawn.

Peter in the Brains tribe on Survivor Kaoh Rong

Peter is a prime candidate to find a new alliance after the swap next week.

So much depends on how the numbers fall. The experience of losing Caleb may have brought the Beauty tribe closer, especially the three women. In a secret scene, the girls realized they had all the power to choose between Nick and Tai. Of course, next week may change that situation drastically. Peter is the likely candidate to jump on the Brains, especially if they don’t have an edge. Nick may also use this opportunity to find a new alliance. He was the most likely boot if Beauty lost, but now he isn’t in a terrible spot. The balance of power could shift drastically next time, and the impending merge changes the mentality. A guy like Scot could be vulnerable due to his size with the individual game ahead.

We barely saw any strategy this week, so it doesn’t feel right to set up new answers to my usual questions. Depending on how the swap goes, a power player could quickly become a victim. The edit may offer clues about who’s going far, but finding a winner’s edit isn’t always easy. A character like Tai has received plenty of screen time, but there’s no guarantee he reaches the end. We haven’t seen much of Nick, but that’s more of a symptom of the Beauty tribe’s dominance. My hope is that we’ll learn more about the real alliances now that the game is changing.

How Are the Bloggers Doing?

Before I conclude this post, let’s take a look at how the RHAP Bloggers’ predictions are faring. We made these choices before the premiere, so only bios and online videos were the guide. Now that five players have departed, we can see who read the tea leaves correctly. Let’s take a look at each question and who’s set up to become the Knowingest Blogger.

Who will be voted out first?

We all failed in picking the right choice here, which isn’t surprising given our raves about Darnell. Catherine even picked him to win the game! I’m not criticizing her for this pick; everyone thought he had the potential to go far. Only two of our first boots have left the game, and both departed this week. Sarah aptly predicted Brawn as a train wreck and was nearly right in choosing Alecia. Catherine picked Caleb because of his reputation from Big Brother, and I was also surprised that it helped him. My choice of Peter wasn’t terrible given his arrogance, and it’s hard to say if the picks of Joe (Michel) and Nick (Scott) were good. Only time will tell.

Who will be the breakout character of the season?

Tai Trang and Caleb in Survivor Kaoh Rong

Tai has definitely been the breakout character we anticipated before the season.

In this case, our choices hit much closer to the mark. Both Scott and I picked Tai, and Catherine wisely selected Debbie. You could make the case for either as the standout thus far. Sarah’s pick of Darnell could have worked; there was potential there. The choice that may be questionable is Michel’s pick of Anna, who’s played a decent game but isn’t really a big character. It’s still early, though. I don’t see her leaving the game anytime soon.

Who will make the merge?

I’m skipping our question about the idol twist because it’s too early. I did enjoy the added steps needed to grab the idol, which inspired Tai to ridiculously climb a large tree. The most easily quantifiable task for the bloggers was selecting our 12 picks for making the merge. That left only six players on the outside, but that doesn’t mean we were successful. Let’s take a look at the results along with our initial choices in order of success:

Scott: 9/12 (Anna, Aubry, Caleb, Debbie, Elisabeth, Jennifer, Joseph, Kyle, Michele, Neal, Scot, Tai)

Michel: 8/12 (Alecia, Anna, Caleb, Elisabeth, Jennifer, Julia, Kyle, Michele, Neal, Nick, Peter, Scot)

Catherine: 8/12 (Alecia, Anna, Cydney, Darnell, Debbie, Elisabeth, Jennifer, Kyle, Neal, Nick, Scot, Tai)

Sarah: 8/12 (Anna, Aubry, Caleb, Darnell, Debbie, Elisabeth, Jennifer, Joseph, Julia, Michele, Neal, Nick)

Dan: 8/12 (Alecia, Anna, Aubry, Darnell, Elisabeth, Jennifer, Julia, Kyle, Michele, Neal, Nick, Tai)

Only five players have been voted out, and everyone has lost either three or four from their picks. Scott and Michel are the leaders with only a 40% success rate. This is not good. The biggest surprises were Liz and Jennifer, who showed up on all five lists. There’s still a chance we’ll recover from the early misses, but this was not a good start from the entire crew.

Who will be the two runners up?

Debbie Wanner on the Brains tribe

Sarah’s prediction that Joe and Debbie will make the final three could be very smart.

Nine different players appeared in our answers to this question, and two are already gone. Liz and Jennifer were chosen by Scott and Catherine, respectively. I’m intrigued by Sarah’s picks of Joe and Debbie in the final three. It felt like it might be a stretch before this season, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I also feel pretty good about choosing Julia, though Nick’s quiet edit makes me nervous he’ll go that far. Michel’s choices of Neal and Anna also have promise.

Who will be the Sole Survivor?

Unlike the runners up, the bloggers’ winner picks have not worked out as well. Only two of us still have our choices remaining in the game. Michele hasn’t received a lot of screen time, but we’ve spent less time on Beauty. So I feel good about that choice. Michel’s Nick prediction could still pan out, though we’ll need to see a lot more of him in the near future. On the flip side, Jennifer’s exit ruined the chances of Sarah and Scott to come out on top. Catherine also lost Darnell in the premiere. Picking the person you like often works out, but it didn’t click this time.

We Were Right!

I’ll close this post by including some quotes from the bloggers’ preview that have been quite accurate during the first four episodes. After the merge, I’ll check in and see how much worse our predictions look at that point.

Catherine on Debbie: “I think Debbie will make the merge, and perhaps even the final three. For Debbie, her problem is going to be trying to get people to take her seriously — particularly if she is going to be modelling her game on Coach.”

Dan on Peter: “His biggest enemy in the pre-merge game is himself.”

Michel on Jennifer: “I’m not convinced that Jennifer goes far in this game. I need to see more from her before jumping on her bandwagon.”

Sarah on Aubry: She knows she comes off as awkward, and that means she’ll be dismissed as a threat. As it turns out, she’s going to be the second youngest player on her tribe and she appears much less poised than Elisabeth; my money is on everybody wanting to secure sweet Aubry’s vote.

Scot on Anna: “I see her fitting in with the vibe at her camp and not creating waves. I see her as a silent member of a sub-majority alliance early in the game.”

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