Survivor Kaoh Rong

The Survivor Strategic Game: When the Shields Fail

Players do not have an equal chance at being crowned Sole Survivor. In an 18-person season such as Brawn vs Brains vs Beauty, each player has a 5.55% chance at winning a million dollars on paper, yet this couldn’t be further from the truth on sand.

When contestants have fun playing the game, we have fun watching them play it.

These comments both were part of Nick Maiorano’s Survivor blogs while digging into Cagayan for this site. Each one feels apt following his surprisingly quiet exit from the game. When you perform a blindside well, the player doesn’t even get a chance to scramble. Nick had a blind spot with Michele and felt the numbers were in his favor. Because he hadn’t been to Tribal Council, Nick could only guess at which players were on his side. That’s a dangerous spot on Survivor. He might trust Michele and Julia because they were on Beauty, but it isn’t concrete.

Going back to the above quotes, Nick’s point about everyone not having an equal chance is correct. Seasons would play out differently each time, but some players are just better equipped for the game. Nick was a guy who knew how to play the game. In the rare times we heard his thought process, he had a good understanding of strategic play. He was one of the physical threats yet wasn’t a one-dimensional player. There were parts of Nick’s game that we’d seen in dominant figures of past seasons. That doesn’t mean there weren’t big mistakes, however.

In his exit interview with Josh Wigler, Nick spoke about knowing he was on the show both to “provide content” and to win. While that statement is true, it’s tricky to balance playing a TV character and doing well in the game. Nick was arrogant but also played up that side of his personality for the cameras. That caused some viewers to root for his demise. I wasn’t among that camp but can understand the sentiment. The question is whether that side of Nick also hurt his connections with his tribemates.

Tribal Council in Episode 32.8 of Survivor Nick and Michele finally visited Tribal Council and put their cards on the table on Day 22.[/caption]

Nick also spoke to Rob in his exit interview about misjudging Michele in his early communications. She didn’t feel that bond to really have his back when others started targeting him. Michele also seemed interested in playing her own game (Don’t carry her, bro), and sticking with Nick didn’t seem to allow that to happen. If they’d gone to Tribal Council earlier, they might have built the trust to avoid this situation. Not having that chance kept them from being close enough to stick together.

The other quote that I included from one of Nick’s blogs helps explain why I still found him an entertaining character. Even when he was talking about how beautiful and smart he was, there was a sense that it wasn’t legitimate. When Jason speaks about running the show, I don’t have the same impression that he’s playing up his skills. Nick seemed to be having fun and messing around, and that came across during the show.

Nick’s emotional Ponderosa video revealed self-awareness that we don’t see from more obnoxious players. We didn’t see that type of post-game reaction from Dan Foley, who called himself a hero. Nick was arrogant and realized it hindered his chances. It did not help his game (and probably hurt it), but Nick remained an engaging character. If I ever went on Survivor (an extremely unlikely scenario), I suspect a medevac would be more likely than a post-merge blindside. Nick stood out as a threat and needed stronger friends to avoid the target.

Nowhere to Hide

Jeremy played brilliantly last season by sticking with players who might normally stand out as threats. He wanted to align with alphas like Joe and Savage plus strategists like Stephen and Spencer. Tasha also was an aggressive player that would draw the focus away from Jeremy. His use of the shields strategy along with being likable helped Jeremy to coast to the win. This season was shot before Second Chances, but there are similarities between Nick and Jeremy’s plans. Nick’s choice to stick with Scot and Jason made sense because they might stand out as physical threats. Cydney could also garner attention due to her challenge prowess. When you combine that with the decent chance to beat the guys in the end, Nick’s decision made sense.

Nick on Survivor Kaoh Rong

Nick stood out as a threat and couldn’t hide behind the other shields.

There was a critical difference this time that greatly reduced Nick’s chances. The other players also wanted to work with Joe last season. It wasn’t hard for Jeremy to stick with him since people liked him. That isn’t the case with Scot and Jason, who set up a clear “us vs. them” mentality. When Nick started cozying up to those guys, he lost any status with the Brains and his former Beauty allies. In fact, he became even more vulnerable because he seemed to be playing both sides. Tony found a way to jump around in Cagayan, but he’s a very rare case. Nick figured that Michele and Julia would join him when he chose Brawn. Instead, it just made him look shakier because he tried to have it both ways.

It isn’t clear how much winning the immunity challenge last week hurt Nick’s game. Scot discussed it during an extra scene, but he voted with Nick. He also lasted for a while this week in a challenge not designed for taller players. I don’t buy Jeff’s statement that it was a million-dollar mistake to stop, however. Nick had little chance to outlast Cydney and Tai. He believed the seven-person alliance would crumble after a few more Tribal Councils; that was the real mistake. Cydney had played quietly so far and didn’t seem like a candidate to push for Nick’s exit. Let’s delve into the person who really shifted the power of the game this week.

Irritated Cydney

In her pre-game videos, Cydney talked about her different personalities that might come out in certain situations. We saw glimpses of “irritated Cydney” this week after perceived slights from Jason and Scot. What’s interesting is that Cydney’s false assumption inspired her to make a positive decision for her game. Nick was checking with Julia about his own position, but it sparked Cydney’s paranoia. At least in theory, the move against Nick puts Cydney in a better position. It doesn’t guarantee that she’ll go far, but it gives her the chance to take charge.

Cydney Gillon, Survivor 32.8

Cydney’s pitch to the other women made sense.

If Cydney can downplay her role in the move to Scot and Jason, she might repair the relationship. Cydney was the driver of the new six-person alliance (voting bloc?) that removed Nick, but it wasn’t clear to those guys. The five women and Joe agreed that Nick should go, but they might disagree on the next choice. We could still see Debbie go home next week. It isn’t the most likely scenario, but crazier things have happened. I don’t get the sense that the Brains or Beauty players feel a close bond with Cydney. Making herself a free agent is dangerous.

On Survivor Know-It-Alls, Rob believed that Cydney’s move was too early at the final 10. It’s a difficult question because the game moves faster these days. We can’t assume that everyone will stand pat and wait until eight or seven to move. Cydney may have killed her chances with this move, but I don’t hate the choice. Going back to Nick’s blog idea about varying chances to win the game, Cydney’s flip increased her percent chance of winning. If she reaches the end, she can talk about this choice being a big move. The downside is that Cydney’s move also increased the odds she’d go home next week. There are major flaws in Jeff’s claim that you have to big moves. In this case, I feel like the possible benefits were worth the risk for Cydney.

Controlling the Vote

Cydney may have led the charge, but the decision came down to Michele and Julia. Cydney needed more than the three Brains to execute her plan. If the Beauty women had wanted Nick to stay, they could have made it happen. Instead, Michele and Julia decided that removing him was the right move. The danger was even lower for them because Jason and Scot don’t have the same ties as they do with Cydney. They’re right in the middle and should be able to maneuver. The women’s alliance (plus Joe) could stick together and remove the Brawn guys. If Cydney decides to re-connect with Jason and Scot, they’re likely to still target the Brains. It’s a safe position for a long run, though it may be harder to sell their game play.

Michele was my pre-season winner pick, and she has played a quiet game. Now that she’s finally visited Tribal Council, Michele can start charting a path towards victory. The challenge is standing out from the crowd without going too far. Taking out Nick is a good first step, but that move belongs to Cydney. There are also two idols in the mix (and possibly a third coming), so that’s another hurdle to overcome. If Jason plays his idol next week, he may target a threat on the opposing side. Debbie is a likely candidate to weaken the Brains trio, but there are also three Beauty players remaining. Tai has an idol, so Michele could be the next logical person to target. A potential vote split to Jason and Scot might nullify this scenario, but there are few guarantees.

Aubry, Survivor Kaoh Rong

Aubry’s choice to wait for a crack in the majority worked out quite well.

Aubry is “Cochran’s Dream Girl”, but she also was down about losing Neal and took many dumps (per Jeff) in the reward challenge. With all that said, her position improved quite a bit with Nick’s exit. Losing Debbie would have made her the obvious next choice, and now Cydney’s betrayal might push Scot and Jason to target her. Aubry was mostly a bystander to the action this week, so I don’t want to give her too much credit. She did recognize the target, which is the first step in finding a crack. The smart move was not panicking and trying to force the issue. Even after Nick revealed the split-vote plans, she didn’t overreact. Debbie received the attention from the editors by making the pitch at Tribal Council. She still seems like the bigger target at this point, which matters because of the idols.

A Fount of Information

Before getting to the questions, I have to discuss Tai’s strange behavior during this episode. His immunity challenge victory was impressive, but he also gave up a lot of information. Tai revealed the plan about splitting the vote openly to the group, which made little sense. He also explained the super idol to everyone at Tribal Council. While many already knew about it, any that didn’t probably now suspect he has an idol. It also raised warning signs about his ability to keep important secrets down the road. There was no reason to give that answer.

Tai, Survivor Kaoh Rong

The chicken may have given Tai bad advice.

Another oddity was Tai’s vote for Jason at Tribal Council. He seemed on board with Jason and Scot beforehand and wasn’t connected to Cydney’s plans. Nick mentioned in his exit interview that Tai was part of an original plan to remove Jason and believed it was still happening. This is not a good sign for several reasons. First of all, it shows that Tai wasn’t considered an important ally of the six who voted out Nick. Compounding the issue is the fact that he wrote Jason’s name on the parchment. Jason will be upset with Cydney but also may push to find out who voted for him. The silver lining for Tai’s short-term survival is that he isn’t considered a threat as a player.

Who’s in the best position?

Michele: After 22 days, Michele finally visited Tribal Council and came out looking solid. She wasn’t afraid to ditch her ally and quietly followed the game’s changing tide. Her choice to give up and grab the food at the immunity challenge was a little surprising but made sense. The chances Michele would be targeted were quite slim. In an extra scene, she described her thought process in stepping down at the challenge. I don’t want to over sell it as a complicated decision. She also didn’t think she could win against Tai and Cydney. Michele’s confessionals are straightforward and rarely cover much strategy; help me out here Michele! Her laid-back style appears to work for this group, so her chances are still pretty good.

Cydney: I’ll give the major caveat that Cydney is exposed as a player after this week. If the game flips and a new voting bloc emerges, she’s a likely target. With that said, I still like the move from Cydney. The three-tribe format makes for a more fluid game, and waiting too long is dangerous. Cydney started the train and now has to navigate through a more challenging field. It’s disappointing that we didn’t have any secret scenes with Cydney describing her thought process. Did we really need Scot raving about the “dream team on the reward challenge? Even in an episode where she made a huge move, Cydney still ended up in the background.

Who’s in trouble?

Jason Survivor Kaoh Rong

Jason earned sympathy with the story about his daughter, but it won’t be enough.

Jason: I wouldn’t normally include a player holding an idol within this spot. In this case, he seems like a logical choice because only Scot is a trusted ally. Jason is lucky the women didn’t choose to blindside him while he didn’t suspect it. He now has one “get out of jail free” card, but Cydney is aware of it. That limits the potential damage since they could split the vote to avoid the idol. Jason will be around for at least two weeks, but his power is greatly diminished. In a secret scene, Jason spoke about the idol guaranteeing him a shot at the final four. He also discussed how the idol made him focus on the long game. Unfortunately for Jason, he may have been looking too far ahead this week.

I really felt for Jason during his story about his daughter with autism; you could tell he meant every word and wasn’t just saying it for sympathy. On the other hand, you have to consider how it impacts his chances. In an extra scene, Nick spoke about this topic and how it shouldn’t improve Jason’s status. On the other hand, Nick also mentioned that it made Jason a bigger target. Nick won’t be the only one to consider this point when deciding who should go home.

Scot: The person who will need to scramble the most next week is Scot. I assumed that at least Tai was in his corner, but even that wasn’t the case. That distinction is crucial because it means that Scot could be reliant on Jason’s idol or winning immunity next time. I don’t believe Jason would give him the idol, so Scot is the most likely victim next week. That doesn’t mean he has no chance, however. Aubry recovered after losing Neal and found a life raft. Scot might do the same, but it could be trickier because people may consider him a challenge threat. His arrogance might also dissuade players from joining him. The previews for next week suggest that Jason and Scot won’t handle their poor situation well. I’m not ready to say that Scot is doomed, but his boat is heading towards the cliff.

I’m hedging more than usual in this blog because so much is unknown following Nick’s exit. Will the women’s alliance (and Joe) stick together and grab control, or was their bond solely to remove Nick? Jason and Tai have the idols and Scot knows about both of them. Can he leverage that information? It’s refreshing to have so many unknowns at this point. Nine players remain, and only Joe seems like an afterthought right now. Three members of each original tribe remain with a gender split of five women and four men. There is no Joe Anglim to dominate the challenges and no Mike Holloway as the expected winner. I love this type of post-merge game and can’t wait to see the next steps in the push to the finish.

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