Survivor Kaoh Rong

The Survivor Strategic Game: The Warm-up Bias

One of the thrills of watching Survivor is seeing arrogant players blindsided at Tribal Council. The editors deftly insert clips of them saying “I’m glad we lost the challenge”, and then we watch as they go down in flames. It’s easy to laugh at their downfalls, though I expect that many of us would fall prey to the same errors. I write a blog about Survivor strategy; it’s guaranteed that I’d fall into this trap! Peter and Liz seemed to view the game purely on strategic terms. Neal is a threat, so why not remove him? This decision is okay in theory, but you can’t make that choice in a vacuum. In fact, deciding to go after Neal wasn’t really the problem. Instead, it related to a common lesson that applies everywhere: Underestimate others at your peril.

I play a lot of tennis, and each match begins with a short warm-up session. It’s designed to get your muscles loose and ready to compete, but it’s also an opportunity to size up your opponent. I don’t have pretty strokes, so I’m frequently underestimated by the other guy. Each person makes assumptions that definitely impact how that player approaches the match. I’ve fallen victim to this mistake plenty of times, especially based on appearance and age. The warm-up tells you little about how the player will compete when the points matter. They could be holding back their big shots, and you know nothing about their strategic game. Peter and Liz made the same faulty assumptions when considering their tribe mates this week.

Peter and Liz targeted Neal at Tribal Council, and that seemed unwise at this early stage. The errors started much earlier, however. Joe and Debbie weren’t considered worthy because of their age. They looked at them and assumed they wouldn’t understand the game. Debbie’s kooky behavior made her seem less threatening and masked her intensity. Peter and Liz just looked at the basics and didn’t consider the possibility that the older players could beat them. This choice became a self-fulfilling prophecy; they ignored 1/3 of the tribe and then made it easier for that “voting unit” to turn on them. The decision was far too easy for Joe and Debbie.

Aubry and Peter on the Brains in Survivor Kaoh Rong Peter underestimated Aubry’s subtle game.[/caption]

We’ve frequently seen cases on Survivor where alliances have split by age during the tribal game. Vanuatu and Caramoan are just a few examples of this trend. The typical result is that the arrogant young players lose. This situation was a bit different because of the varying ages within the pairs. Aubry and Neal are 29 and 38, and Liz and Peter are 27 and 34. The difference comes with their approaches to the game. A more aggressive style is extremely dangerous, especially when it’s so blatant. Aubry might not appear strategic, but she built good relationships. You can have the world’s greatest idea, but it will probably fail if people don’t like you.

The warm-up analogy fits because Peter and Liz made their mistake at the start. If the Brains had lost the first challenge, the others might have complied just to avoid being the first boot. After eight days, players have found their sea legs and better understand the dynamics. Peter was hitting aces during the warm-up and forgot that the game hadn’t really started. Liz was drawn to a guy interested in strategy, and neither saw the eyes watching their every move. In particular, they underestimated Debbie’s perceptive read on the situation. Once the points mattered, it was too late to stop the train rushing in their direction.

No Easy Fix

What could Peter and Liz have done differently? It’s a tough question because the failure connects with their personalities. He is an ER doctor and used to running the show. You need confidence to do that job, and Peter has it in spades. Liz is smart but seems even younger than 27. Aubry is only two years older, but they appear 10 years apart. In an extra scene, Liz cited her preference for Debbie and Joe because they’ll be more predictable. She may have been right about Joe, but I don’t get the feeling he likes taking orders. Liz also misread Debbie’s inspiration and believed she wouldn’t make a move, and that perception revealed the blind side that led to her exit. Even after being voted out, she didn’t really understand the mistake.

Debbie Wanner of Survivor Kaoh Rong

Debbie proved that she’s a player who can make waves in the game.

One notable part of Liz’s confessional after the vote was recognizing Debbie’s skills at selling a lie. I was blindsided as a viewer by all her different jobs and odd quirks. It was so refreshing to recognize that she’s more than a Coach or Phillip clone. Debbie’s extra scene revealed that it was the constant strategizing that doomed Peter and Liz in her eyes. This interview reveals a surprisingly down-to-earth approach to the game. She is the goofy person we’ve seen, but those antics don’t take away from her focus on the prize. Debbie will be dangerous if the others continue to look past her. Liz definitely learned that dismissing Debbie is a bad idea.

During Tribal Council, I expected that Peter was the likely target. His comments were a perfect set-up for an arrogant fall. Peter was brazen enough to call out Neal and reveal their plans to the group. That move didn’t cause Liz’s exit, but it showed a lack of understanding about the game. It’s possible that Peter will recover, particularly following a tribe swap. Even so, he’ll need to change his entire playing style. Peter’s challenge skills were the most likely reason he’s still around. Those abilities will mean little in the near future, and it will be difficult to connect with the other Brains in a new tribe.

It’s worth examining Peter’s comments at Tribal Council more closely. Within an eight-minute clip, Peter made the following statements:

As an ER doctor, social interactions are what I’m a professional in.

I do judge a book by its cover.”

The guy in ice cream pants could be a snake in ice cream pants.

If we want to get Neal or Aubry out, we can split the vote and forge ahead as the Brains.

Liz and I are both smart people, and we’ve thought about everything.

This transcription fails to do justice to the nonverbal cues that Peter gave during Tribal Council. He seemed too proud of himself, and he probably wanted to be good TV. Peter was thrilled to vote and ready to make a big move. It’s possible this comeuppance is just what he needs to adjust his game. It seems like a long shot, but crazier things have happened.

Liz Markham in Survivor Kaoh Rong

Peter made a lot of mistakes, but Liz paid the price.

In my last blog, I mistakenly stated that Peter was dialing back his arrogance and playing a more subtle game. In fact, my original read on Peter was more accurate. I compared him to David Sampson, who believed that his professional status gave him an edge of the rest of his tribe. There’s a similar pride in Peter, who didn’t recognize the danger after his tribe lost the challenge. In tribes of six, there’s always a risk at Tribal Council because the margins are so slim. The choice to split the vote created a situation where either Debbie or Joe flipping could ruin the plan. The chance to remove Neal was too daring a move at this stage of the game.

Cold-blooded and Doomed?

I’ve barely had the chance to discuss former RHAP blogger Nick this season. He’s received little screen time, and they haven’t been positive scenes. Don’t ruin this for the rest of us, Nick! I do feel like Nick will make his mark regardless of what happens. What I can’t figure out is Nick’s strategy if Beauty would lose a challenge. Who are his allies? I don’t expect to see Beauty at Tribal Council before the swap, but he will need to make connections. In an extra scene, Nick compared this early game to the regular season of the NFL. He believed Caleb was more dangerous as a threat due to his challenge mastery. Sitting back could serve Nick well if he makes the merge, but I’m not convinced he will reach that point.

I expect that Nick is probably talking strategy with his tribe mates, but we aren’t seeing the results on screen. The editors don’t appear to consider Nick a key part of the story right now. That leads me to two possible conclusions:

1) Nick will face a Drew Christy-like exit very soon.

2) Nick will become a surprise contender in the post-merge game.

Nick Mairaono on Survivor Kaoh Rong

Nick appears to be the odd man out on Beauty.

Despite his arrogant comments, I’m still rooting for the latter scenario with Nick. I don’t get the sense that the girls like him, and Anna told Caleb that Nick will be their target. If the three women and Caleb stick together, Nick will need a favorable trip swap to remain in a good spot and move forward. In a season where most of the cast is getting a chance to shine, it’s been weird to have Nick so far in the background.

I keep expecting Caleb to make an error, but he’s played well so far. He’s showing the “emotional intelligence” that Jeff Probst cited as a key to the game. In a secret scene, Caleb opened up to his tribe about missing home. I don’t believe this is a strategic move, but it also works on that front. We saw on the Brains what can happen when people don’t consider the social game. Everyone on Beauty seems to like Caleb and want to align with him. There will come a time when Caleb’s freakish athleticism will make him a target, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Nick is still the obvious target from this group.

Another factor to consider is Tai finally grabbing the hidden immunity idol. We spent three episodes watching him secure it, so I expect it to make an impact. Could the idol destroy the women’s alliance, or is it just another reason Nick is doomed? I love the mystery in where we’re heading on Beauty. The vote feels cut and dry, but would the editors make it so obvious? It’s a testament to this cast that I’m engaged by what’s happening with most players.

Total Mayhem

Scot and Jason on the Brawn tribe of Survivor Kaoh Rong

Scot shouldn’t trust Jason to use the idol to save him in the future.

I’ve yet to discuss the Brawn tribe, who barely avoided a third trip to Tribal Council. Jason secured the hidden immunity idol, but everyone knows about it. This knowledge could be dangerous following a tribe swap and especially the merge. It paints a larger target on his back and might not be worth the effort. Everyone wanted to make sure Alecia didn’t grab it, so that plan was successful. Scot’s naïve approach to Jason does raise warning signs. Considering the idol as anything but an individual benefit is problematic. Scot seems like a good guy, and the extra scene where he talks about his wife is touching. He just needs to be careful about putting too much of his game in Jason’s hands.

Brawn still might benefit from pulling an Intentional Matsing, but that doesn’t mean they’re screwed. Cydney is such an intriguing player, and her relationship with Alecia could help after a swap. Not grabbing the idol might actually be good for Cydney, and she has more options than a guy like Scot. Her laid-back demeanor masks an intensity that comes out rarely. Cydney wanted to get the idol but realized hiding information from her allies was dumb. Jennifer’s fate last week was a perfect example of how quickly the tide can turn.

Bracing for the Worst (Medevac)

The headline for next week is a brutal immunity challenge that will lead to a medevac. I haven’t read or watched anything beyond the short preview at the end of this episode. With that in mind, I’m not considering the chance a player gets hurt in these picks. They reflect the current state of the game, which will likely change after next week’s carnage. It just gives me another chance to be wrong about predicting this season.

Who’s in the best position?

Anna Khait on Survivor Kaoh Rong

Anna appears to have plenty of allies on the Beauty tribe.

Anna: I’m still feeling good about my winner pick of Michele, but I must admit that Anna seems to occupy the strongest role on Beauty. Julia is a close ally, and Caleb has joined their alliance. It’s important to note that Anna made the connection with Caleb and even told him their next target. At this point, Anna’s spot in the middle of their alliance looks very good. The only question is what will happen when the tribes are mixed. Anna should have options and doesn’t seem like the most likely target in most scenarios.

Aubry: This week’s real winner was Aubry, who stayed with the majority without becoming a bigger target. Liz and Peter went after Neil, and Debbie showed her true colors as a threat. Aubry’s social game has been solid, and she played it right at Tribal Council. This may be a season where an under-the-radar player can win. Several players who seemed like threats are gone. Aubry’s game looks tailor-made for making quite a long run.

Cydney: Jason is making the moves on Brawn, but he’s an obvious post-merge target. Scot is a giant, so he won’t sneak up on anyone. Will anyone suspect that Cydney has game? I’ll admit that I read way too much into the comments in her pre-game video about her other personalities. It will be fun to see if they come out when the conditions get rougher.

Who’s in trouble?

Alecia: There’s no doubt that Alecia has limited power on Brawn, and I doubt the others would flip and force a 2-2 tie. She’s shown resilience and avoided the vote so far, and her status changes drastically if she makes the merge. Alecia has little chance to win the game, but she could definitely make an impact.

Peter in Survivor Kaoh Rong

Peter could still recover but has a lot of work to do.

Peter: Can Peter recover? He’s definitely on the bottom with the Brains, but that doesn’t mean he has no chance. Like Alecia, Peter could benefit if he ends up in the right situation. The trick is just getting there. The difference with Peter is his pride, and he’ll need to take a new approach to survive.

Nick: I don’t expect Beauty to face Tribal Council before the swap, so Nick is probably good in the near future. The question is how he’ll find allies in a new tribe. The best situation is for Nick to be set up as a swing vote between competing groups. I’m not ready to count him out, but the edit is doing Nick few favors.

Let the Talk of the Super Idol Commence!

I don’t expect the next episode to focus on strategy, so I’m covering all the big news this time. The players finally learned about the potential for a super idol if they combine two regular idols. Tai, Jason, and Scot now have this knowledge and could use it down the road. I’m still not convinced the super idol will come into play, but it raises intriguing possibilities. Could Tai and Jason actually work together? It doesn’t seem like a likely pairing, but weirder things have happened. The big question is whether they’ll even reveal the idols to each other.

Tai Trang found an idol on Survivor Kaoh Rong

Tai discovered the idol and may have a chance for even more power.

I have mixed feelings about this new twist. I’m still wary of giving anyone too much power. Unlike the Tyler Perry idol, this one does require more steps to come into play. Even finding the idols was more challenging. The producers seem intent on ensuring the idols don’t remain hidden. They don’t want players to find idols alone and never tell the others about them. We saw on Brawn how the added tasks to get the idol got everyone involved. Allowing two players to combine their idols creates another scenario to make people interact. It would most likely be players from different tribes, which would encourage them to avoid sticking to tribal lines. This new twist could lead to great drama, but the jury’s still out at this point.

Next week might include a game-changing moment that completely shifts the game. If a power player leaves, it could reveal opportunities for others currently in a bad position. I’m curious to learn if we’ll also have Tribal Council following the chaos. I have my doubts, but removing two players would make a huge impact. It’s been a fun season, and casting deserves credit for putting together this diverse group. The gameplay has been all over the map, but it’s been a nice change of pace. I’m nervous about the injuries and hope they don’t cast a shadow over this promising season.

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