Hi. I’m Josh Wigler. I like long walks on the beach, infrequent trips to tribal council, food auction challenges and Kim Spradlin.
Welcome to The Wiggle Room.
There are a few reasons for the odd title I’ve given to my little slice of RHAP. For one, my last name is weird and I’ve always wanted to name a room after it. That’s one life-goal down! (Note: my life-goals are sad.) More importantly, the name speaks to what I’ll be focusing my Survivor blogging on in the weeks to come: the wiggle room that players have to work with to stay alive in this game.
It’s been said before: Survivor is a game of inches. Often times, the difference between the right and wrong move comes down to a last-minute pivot this way or that. What would have happened if Lex had kept Jerri over Amber? If Penner had said yes to a final four deal with Lisa and Skupin? If Brandon hadn’t self-destructed and give his immunity necklace away for a second time? (Okay, that last one is just wishful thinking, but you get the idea.) That’s what always fascinates me about Survivor: the inspired decisions, the bad calls, the damned-if-you-do’s and the damned-if-you-don’ts. And that’s what I’ll be talking about all season long, for better or worse. (Smart money says it’ll more often be “for worse.”)
As a warm-up before Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs Favorites kicks off in earnest, let’s look at the players we’ve seen before. What kind of wiggle room did they have in the days, hours and minutes leading up to their Survivor demise? What could they have done to keep their shot at the million alive? And what, if anything, do their past mistakes tell us about what we’ll see in the weeks ahead?
Grab your spots, we’ll get started…
Like other Redemption Island returnees, Andrea is the victim of a simple truth: she was on a season with Boston Rob, where he was basically the only real returning player, no less. (Four episodes of Russell Hantz doesn’t really count.) It’s hard enough to win Survivor with returnees in the mix; try doing it with one of the all-time greats standing beside you.
That aside, Andrea missed a few key opportunities to flip the game — particularly with her island boyfriend Matt Elrod, who wanted to work with Zapatera to oust Ometepe after the merge. The plan never made it as far as tribal council, as Matt had a change of heart and proceeded to tell Rob all about the shelved scheme. Could Andrea have salvaged the moment? It’s easy to say sure, that all she needed to do was talk some sense into the strategically-bankrupt Matt, add two numbers to the Zaps, and proceed as planned. Rob’s hidden idol could have gotten in the way, or the Zaps could have gone after another player — Grant or Phillip — to change the game. But such a flip never occurred. In Andrea’s defense, it was a scary maneuver to consider, especially when Matt already blew the element of surprise. But embracing fear is a big part of the successful Survivor experience. Andrea clung to safety instead of taking a risk, and that’s where her game evaporated. She couldn’t pull the trigger on the island’s biggest threat, settling instead for a Redemption Island-enhanced fifth place finish.
Assuming she’s learned from her past, Andrea will want to make bigger moves early on in Caramoan — whether or not she actually makes those moves remains to be seen.
There are some who believe that Brandon could have won South Pacific. Even former contestants from that season claim that if he had made it to the end, he would have gotten their vote. That’s a baffling prospect to me, because I just don’t see any way that Brandon Hantz ever makes it to the end of Survivor without imploding first. It’s a minor Survivor miracle that Brandon found an air-tight alliance who saw the value in keeping such a destructive force of nature close to the vest. That’s what Brandon’s longevity came down to, plain and simple. But he couldn’t even leverage his clear-cut goat status to make it into the finals; that says a lot about how tolerable Brandon is on the day-to-day.
What could Brandon have done differently to stay alive on South Pacific? The easy answer is, DON’T GIVE YOUR IMMUNITY NECKLACE AWAY, EVER EVER EVER, LIKE, NEVER EVER. The real answer is, it doesn’t matter. Brandon was never winning Survivor, and he never will. If Brandon Hantz wiggles his way to a Caramoan championship, I’ll eat my buff.
There are infinite ways to cook eggs. There is only one way to avoid Survivor death: scramble. If Brenda is as bright as she presents herself, she learned this lesson after failing to do literally anything to avoid the fatal path of Hurricane NaOnka.
What kind of options did Brenda have at the time of her ousting? Chase was falling all over himself to continue working with her. Her main ally, Sash, had an idol, which she did not work nearly hard enough (see: at all) to wrest away from his hands. One of Brenda’s closest friends in the game was completely in the dark, while the other was a leading force behind Brenda’s demise — and both of them were out of the game days later, by their own volition. How to parlay all of those bits and pieces into a successful stay of execution? That’s not up to me to figure out; that was up to Brenda. She struck out of the game without taking so much as a single-single-single swing.
For her second stint on Survivor, Brenda needs to take a look back at what went wrong the first time. Namely, that her arrogance cost her everything. Confidence does a body good while playing Survivor; over-confidence does not. If Brenda comes back to Survivor with a bit more scramble in her step, I like her chances. If not, her time on the island will be over easy.
To prepare for Caramoan, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks rewatching seasons featuring this year’s returning players. I’ve gotten to them all — all, except Gabon. I wish I could speak to Corinne with more recent experience, but at this point, there’s no time to make the Gabon rewatch happen. Bummer!
So, that said, here’s what I remember the most about Corinne: she is mean, and she is hilarious. Expect to see plenty of both on the upcoming season, by Corinne’s own admission in pre-game interviews. If she keeps the snark and snide comments to confessionals, she’ll be in fine shape for the game. If the claws come out at camp, however, it’ll be a Sugar-hater-lite season.
I’m pleasantly surprised to see Dawn back so soon. Personally, I would have given this spot to Holly Hoffman or Jane Bright; they strike me as more compelling characters. But I do like Dawn; she has a sweet way about her and a temperament that makes her very threatening in the game. It doesn’t hurt that she’s well-liked by her two fellow South Pacific returnees, either. If no one else wants to bite, Dawn has two allies (or, at least, friendly competitors) to turn to early on.
Her first time in the game, Dawn lost because she didn’t know how to handle critical, top-secret information. She could have twisted Cochran’s plans to flip into a shape that benefitted her continued survival. She didn’t have the know-how then that she now possesses, however. For her second at-bat, Dawn is thinking like a power-ranker. Seeing as Dawn could win the game purely on likability alone, the fact that she’s now positioned as a strategic power-house is bad, bad, bad news for the competition. If Dawn gets to the finals, she wins the game; if that’s plain as day for me, then it’s plain as day for people like Malcolm and Cochran.
Dawn is not my pick to win Caramoan — that distinction belongs to Erik the ice cream scooper. Clearly, if I’m picking Erik to win, I don’t have as low an opinion on the guy’s ability to play Survivor as his reputation warrants. I disagree with those who believe Erik is one of the biggest boneheads to ever play the game. When I rewatched his final episode recently, it was clear that Erik fell victim to one of the most expertly-crafted heists ever implemented in Survivor history; that speaks more to the ability of Parvati and pals than it does to Erik’s stupidity, in my opinion. (Not to mince words, though: Erik made an epic blunder and paid the price accordingly.)
Looking outside of his fatal mistake, Erik played a very respectable game of Survivor. He was nice to everybody, ruffled very few feathers, but wasn’t afraid to speak up when he needed to save his skin. That’s exactly what happened when his name came up before the merge, sending deadly veteran Ami Cusack packing when it should have been him. Self-preservation isn’t Erik’s strongest suit, but he’s also not without self-awareness. On top of that, he’s an absolute challenge beast; refer back to pre-merge competitions, as well as the individual portion of the game, and you’ll see a competitor who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the greatest of the greats, Ozzy Lusth, time and time again. Even if Erik is as big a numbskull as some suggest, there’s no doubting his ability to perform in challenges; sometimes, that’s all you need.
Erik enters his second Survivor life in a great position: perceived as a strategic non-entity, with enough challenge prowess to be invaluable in the early-going. Those who underestimate Erik will do so at their own peril, however. This is a guy who has to be sick of being thought of as such a Survivor dummy. This is a guy who is motivated and very much capable of improving his Survivor legacy. He won’t stand out as an easy target until it’s far too late. With the right mix of allies, challenge performance, and awareness of his surroundings, that Survivor title is Erik’s for the scooping.
Like other Redemption Island returnees, Francesca is the victim of a simple truth: she was on a season with Boston Rob. Unlike other Redemption Island returnees, she had a separate wild card working against her: the Specialist Phillip Sheppard.
Francesca wound up on the wrong side of the numbers almost immediately; any ability to pivot into a better position was rendered moot by the Robfather’s unwillingness to deviate from his own carefully laid plans. Worse still, Francesca’s thin numbers included, at least briefly, Phillip, and we all saw how that first Ometepe tribal shook out, not to mention the rest of the game. Francesca was doomed from the start, and her situation doesn’t look much improved for Caramoan. She has the baggage of being the only pre-merge boot on her tribe, and the distinction of being the only first-boot to ever play a second time. She’s the least known quantity on the Favorites tribe other than Malcolm, and she doesn’t come equipped with the obvious advantages he brings to the table. Add Phillip to the mix and you have a very combustible situation that needs diffusing ASAP. Unfortunately for Ms. Hogi, barring an early twist that keeps her away from Phillip, I see her leaving early once again.
(The real wiggle room I’m interested in as far as Francesca is concerned? Her behind-the-scenes connections. Really, of all the recent Survivors to play, a first-boot made the cut for a season labeled Fans vs. Favorites over literally anybody from Tocantins, Samoa and One World? Someone must have friends in high places! I’m baffled by the choice to bring Francesca back at all, honestly, but it is what it is.)
Things have never looked so good for the little lawyer that could. Though his past actions would seemingly doom his future Survivor endeavors, the players that Cochran is up against this season all either a) have worse reputations than he does or b) want to work with him, based on what we’ve read in pre-game interviews. Cochran has the added armor of his South Pacific buddies Brandon and Dawn, which puts an additional two votes in his pocket if they can all get along. He’s the obvious weakling on his tribe, but not much more so than the infinitely nuttier Phillip Sheppard. For the first few votes, at least, Cochran looks to be sitting pretty.
All of that is such a surprise given the way Cochran went out. He sold his tribe down the river and gained nothing but scorn in return. As others have noted since South Pacific aired, Cochran’s move wasn’t perfectly thought-out or executed, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad plan, either. It was a risk — a risk that did not pay off, but a risk all the same. It’s rare to do well in Survivor without making big moves, and Cochran knows that. My hope for him is that he doesn’t get gun-shy based on the South Pacific misfire; I hope that galvanizes him to try a big move yet again, ideally a bit earlier and a bit cleaner, this time.
Like other Redemption Island returnees, Phillip is the victim of a simple truth: he was on a season with Boston Rob. And like one other Redemption Island returnee, he had a separate wild card working against him: the Specialist Phillip Sheppard.
Describing Phillip as his own worst enemy is a fruitless exercise, though. We know this about Phillip. He can go on and on about how his eccentricities are part of an elaborate strategy, but we all know better. And honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing: as I’ve written on RHAP already, Phillip is my preferred brand of Survivor-Crazy: endlessly entertaining at tribal council, explosive at camp, and a fashion icon to boot — a true triple threat!
I don’t expect we’ll see a drastically different Phillip, because he is who he is and it’s great. But that also means that Phillip can’t place better than second. He’s already performed to the best of his Survivor ability; so instead of looking for improvement on his performance in the game, look for improvement on his performance as the resident mad-man, if that’s even possible.
Is there any doubt that Malcolm is the best-rounded returning player out there? Not in my mind. Malcolm has everything you ever need to look for in a Survivor winner: brains, brawn, charisma and everything else. Really, Malcolm only lost Philippines because a) he didn’t tell Denise what she needed to hear when she needed to hear it, and b) because not even a mulligan was enough of an advantage to help Malcolm win a challenge he was destined to lose. If either of those things happened differently — if Malcolm had promised Denise Final 3, if the challenge was literally anything else — he would have won the game, no questions asked, no argument given.
Malcolm might win Survivor one day. He certainly has the skills. It’s not going to happen this time though, thanks to the Hantz Factor. No one knows who Malcolm is, what he’s done to warrant an immediate comeback, and what he’s willing to do to further himself in the game. Those are dangerous X-factors to leave untreated for too long. I don’t believe Malcolm will go pre-merge — he has too much value for such an early exit — but he won’t last much further than that, unless he can form a tight alliance with a handful of returnees (Erik, perhaps?) and possibly even some newbies.
So, there you have it: my thoughts on how the Favorites exited the game the first time, and how they’ll fare in round two. Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter @roundhoward. Otherwise, I’ll see you later in the week when the Survivor season — and the first proper Caramoan edition of The Wiggle Room — begins. Until then, wiggle on