Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X

A Diplomatic View: Self-promoting Pawns, and the Myth of the “Big Move”

A Diplomatic View dives into each week’s episode of Survivor, looking at who’s winning, who’s losing, and most importantly: how they’re doing it.

A Diplomatic View: Self-promoting Pawns, and the Myth of the “Big Move”

Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X – Self-promoting Pawns, and the myth of the “Big Move”

One of the reasons that I think Survivor is the greatest reality show, with all apologies to The Amazing Race, is that it isn’t a meritocracy. On the Diplomatic View we’ve discussed amazing (in my opinion) players that haven’t been able to win the game. Some lost at final tribal council because a jury just couldn’t award them the prize, but a long list of others never quite managed to make it that far to make an argument. Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien, Cirie Fields, Rob Cesternino, and Brenda Lowe are just a small part of the list of strong players who couldn’t quite make it to the finals, despite strong games. As we’ve discussed before, it’s not enough to simply play a good game and be a strong player. Players have to be hyper-aware of what people are doing around them, and constantly put in the work to keep people pulling in the same direction. The looser your alliance, the more work has to be put stay in control of the game.

For some players, due to a combination of circumstances, it’s pretty easy to do it… or at least they’re able to make it seem easy. In seasons like this one, there is no easy path, this game has featured many shifts of power and momentum swings, and it’s left us without what we’d call traditional alliances left in the game. To co-opt Hannah’s term, we have instead a collection of “trust clusters” with intermingled ties and connections, and the only way a player can truly feel secure is to have immunity around their neck or in their pocket. The challenge each of these players face is that in order to win the game you have to be perceived as being in control and having power, but on the journey to final tribal council that perception is a reason for your fellow players to get rid of you. On a season without clear-cut alliances, every player thinks he/she can win, and they are each trying to pad their resume with a ‘big move’ to brag about at final tribal council.

I have a confession to make. I hate the concept of “the Big Move.” This isn’t because I don’t want to see players shake up the game, and it’s not because I’ve seen great players get crossed up by them. As a fan of the game, of diplomacy, and the negotiations that are featured whenever the game is flipped on its head, I love watching the aftermath of these moves and it leads to some of the best moments we’ve seen. The reason I hate the concept, is because it inspires bad players to blow up game without any sort of plan, all so they can sit back and say ‘I made a big move!’

Big moves made in the context of a larger game plan are awesome. When we watch a player who has positioned himself/herself solidly kick off their plan to move to the front with a big blind-side or betrayal of an ally or finally letting their dominance in challenges show, it’s great. One  of the reasons we remember Fans vs Favorites so fondly was the endless parade of blindsides. Natalie completely changed my opinion of her by making big moves that were also surgical strikes. That’s great stuff… but what we get a little too often for my tastes is a player who doesn’t do much in a given season, who becomes most notable for the fact that they blew up someone else’s game. You could call it the Kass Effect.

There’s a concept in improve comedy (bear with me), called “Yes, and…” thinking. It’s basic rule is that you accept whatever the person before you did to set the scene and carry it one step further. If an actor talks about the invisible purple elephant in the room, you take a moment to point out its awesome pink polka dots. You can call it ‘Yes, and…’ or ‘What’s next…’ or anything you like, but it’s the measuring stick I use when looking back on a season of Survivor. It’s one of the reasons I respect what Parvati / Cirie / Amanda did on Fans vs Favorites. They knocked out Ozzy, they took control of the game, and they ran with that control.

At first, my conception of Will’s move this week was that I was going to hate what he did because he was demanding respect he hadn’t earned. My conception of his move was that all he was doing was handing control to David, and that if he really wanted to get credit and take control of the game, then the week before was the time to do so, and he allowed that opportunity to slide by.

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Diplomatic Disqus

There was a lot of great conversation in last week’s thread: part centered around the rock draw and part centered around my over-admiration of Parvati’s game play.

Reya made a good point that it was astounding that none of Zeke’s alliance flipped rather than face a rock draw. Particularly Will, who had threw himself in with Zeke at the beginning. Regardless of my feelings about pulling rocks in general, and that rock pull specifically, It’s hard to understand why no one in that loose coalition of players decided they’d rather protect themselves instead of voting out one of the largest game threats. You would have thought that either Will or Jay might have taken the opportunity, particularly given how things played out this week.

There was also a fair amount of back and forth regarding Heroes vs Villains, particularly as to whether Russell had an advantage by being such an unknown factor. While damnbueno  would, could, and has disagreed most vociferously, I think it’s clear that many things would have broken out differently if other players knew Russell for what he was. Too many decisions that other players made in relation to Russell that season involved, to one degree or another, the players giving Russell the benefit of the doubt. Either they took him at his word, or they thought to appeal to his better nature, or they thought he was more trustworthy than other players.

Regardless of whether Russell knew he’d lost his initial season, regardless of whether he thought his strategy was workable to win the game… his fellow players on Heroes v Villains underestimated his malicious nature in a way they wouldn’t if they’d known him.

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Key Points in Episode 12: About to Have a Rumble

 The secret, ironically, is in a secret scene

 The difficulty with being a bit player on a season of Survivor is that it’s extremely difficult to move from being a background player to being a mover and shaker. More often than not bit players who make big moves end up handing the game to someone else, (see Dreamz, the), rather than giving themselves a legit shot or argument for the big prize. The exception, which gets additional credit for degree of difficulty, is a player who recognizes that he/she needs to remove not just one power player, but all of the power players.

What we saw in this week’s aired episode didn’t show that Will was cognizant of that fact. In his aired discussions and confessions, there was far more emphasis on him getting credit for the moves that he’d made in the game. I will concede it’s possible that Will has been a big factor but his contributions have been edited out, though that seems unlikely. Thus far he’s been much more of a pawn, rather than being a player that moves the pieces on the board.

There was a key component that didn’t make it on to air this week that gives me a bit of hope for Will’s move. In a conversation with Hannah, Will made it clear he knows what has to happen– he needs to remove not just Zeke, but David and Jay as well. His goal is, in essence, to swing his loyalty to each of the opposing sides and eliminate all of the power players in turn that way.

As a strategy, it has the benefit of being the only one that will likely get him to the final council with a reasonable argument to make to win. But it’s a very difficult road he’s trying to lay before him. Switching loyalties so many times will definitely draw the ire of the jurors if he makes it to final, and there’s every chance he might get voted out as being untrustworthy long before then. The final challenge is that none of the people currently playing are stupid, so Will’s strategy will become obvious to the people left in the game. In fact, Hannah should already be wondering if the name the pendulum will swing towards after Jay’s is her own.

If Will is able to remove David and Jay from the game, he will be able to not only point to members of the jury and say ‘You’re there because of my big move,’ he’ll also be able to show that he had a larger plan which he followed to fruition. Will is trying to set himself for the rare transition from pawn to king, but if he fails to remove the other power players he won’t get much farther than king-maker.

Adventures in Idolatry

Last week David played his idol to save Ken and missed, which contributed to Jessica going home. This week Adam used his idol with laser focus… though it turned out to be unnecessary. There are some observers who’ll argue that Adam should have held on to his idol, since Will was with them. I would counter that there was too much uncertainty and the vote was too crucial for Adam to take a chance that this time Will’s loyalty was on their side of the equation. Playing the idol, which had been unknown up to that time, guaranteed that if Will was playing them things would still work out in their favor. Beyond any loyalty to David, the idol play was done out of loyalty to Hannah. While the ties between Hannah and Adam were strained by her flip to eliminate Mari, since then they have clearly come back together. Adam watched as Hannah had a close call last week, where he could have saved her, and was unwilling to risk a repeat.

The other question at hand was Jay’s idol. As Adam walked back to his seat after playing his idol, Jay knew that Zeke was going to go home. Given the way they’d voted, and the previous targeting Zeke’s departure was guaranteed… unless Jay played his idol. Needless to say Jay kept his idol in his pocket and Zeke went home. Unfortunately for Zeke, this is where the slapped together nature of his alliance came back to haunt him. Adam was willing to play his most potent asset to save Hannah, because they’ve been allies for quite some time (and it helps that Adam had individual immunity). To Jay, Zeke is an ally of convenience… and playing an idol to protect Zeke could also have immediately resulted in his elimination. It’s also worth remembering that Jay removed Michaela from the game when she was planning to take him to final four, so he’s not unwilling to see potential threats to the title go home early.

All the subtlety of a box of rocks

I like Ken, and I’ve generally liked his gameplay. Unfortunately for Ken, this week he (again) showed that his first response to unpleasant news in the game is to be brutally direct and confrontational. There are settings where that works, sometimes that’s even the best way to cut through possible misconceptions and misdirection. It could be argued that when Ken went to Jessica, to tell her about Lucy’s plan to eliminate her, that his directness was an asset… or would have been if Jessica believed him. This week’s episode of ‘Brutally Honest Survivor Theatre’ was a completely different animal.

For one thing, Ken was revealing to Zeke and his alliance that Will wasn’t trustworthy. Secondly, Ken was revealing to Will that he wasn’t trustworthy himself. Lastly, he reminded his alliance that he’s passionate, loyal, and extremely shortsighted strategically. It’s never easy to hear that you might be targeted, and we’ve seen more than enough players go into a tail spin of scrambling and negotiating when they hear the finger might be pointing their way. In this situation Ken was finding that information out from a player who, by the very act of revealing that information, was making it clear that Ken was going to be safe. From Ken’s perspective the obvious concern is that there’s no longer an immunity idol to shield him, so the risk of a misfire was very real. Confronting the other tribe wasn’t going to change that though.

Ken has been adjacent to some big moments in the game, his loyalty to David is to be admired, and he’s certainly well-liked by his fellow contestants. Ken has to realize that every time he goes charging off he comes across as a lightweight as well as a player who can’t be trusted with important information.

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Closing Points and Looking Ahead

 In order, I’ve jinxed Mari, Michaela, Michelle, and Zeke in this space. I’d like to say that this means the contestants on Survivor Gen-X vs Millennials are all playing such great games that they’re eliminating the biggest threats… but that’s not really the case. Michaela was blindsided by her ally, in part, because she shared too much of her plan. Michelle took a day off at the worst time, and Zeke fell off the back of the tiger he was riding and became lunch.

Both Jay and David are in strong positions on the tribe… but as David alluded to several times, he is an obvious boot after Zeke was removed from the game… and Zeke just got to Ponderosa. Some players may be more than willing to follow Will’s suggestion and target David, now that he’s clearly in charge. Each week that sees a big player targeted is a week that sees Sunday get a little closer to the end, and Bret as well. The question at this point is whether any of the stronger players will make it through to final tribal, and if so how bitter might the jury be when they get there.

For more blogs this season: RHAP Survivor Blog Schedule.


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