Survivor Caramoan

Baker’s Dozen: Why Everything You Think About the Survivor Premiere is Wrong

I don’t know about you, but when I saw one of the commercials for the upcoming episode of Recruits vs. Returnees – the one which showed Phillip giving a code name to each member of his alliance – I thought, “Hey, I want an idiotic nickname, too!”

Given that I’m the last of the RHAP bloggers to post this week, and that I don’t believe in covering the same ground (why tell you what you already know?), I’m going to give myself my very own Specialist pseudonym:

The Contrarian

As The Contrarian, I am going to use this Baker’s Dozen to disagree with a fair number of the post-premiere prevailing opinions as well as make arguments which you’ll be inclined to dismiss out of hand. I promise you, though, that my opinions and observations are not as foolish as they might at first seem…


Did Francesca have to be a Zane?

1) Francesca was voted out because the narrative demanded it.

Just as the people who play Survivor think in terms of both short and long-term goals, in the modern era of the show, Probst, Burnett, and the other producers approach tribe assembly with short and long-term dramatic arcs in mind. Some people are cast for their potential to be endgame threats, while others are assigned the role of conflict-generating pre-merge cannon fodder. For every Malcolm, there is a Zane.

One of the problems will this current crop of Favorites is that as a group, they’re not terribly contentious: Erik, Andrea, Cochran, Dawn, Malcolm, and Brenda aren’t really all that antagonistic, Corinne is too smart to stir the pot early, and Francesca, by herself, isn’t likely to create chaos. Brandon and Phillip are notoriously volatile, of course, but even they need catalysts to release their inner lunatics; obviously, all Brandon needed was a cute girl in a bikini (more on the Andrea/Brandon dynamic later), but if the Favorites were going to provide early episode fireworks, they needed to stoke the Phillip fires by feeding him Francesca.

I don’t think it’s much of a reach to say that from the moment that the Caramoan cast was locked down, either Phillip or Francesca was going to be the first Favorite voted out… and, furthermore, that this is precisely what production wanted. In the first few episodes, all the producers require is some drama to spice up the show while they establish the long-range story arcs which will shape the season; they prefer that their narrative exposition be enlivened with interpersonal explosions. Which is the only reason why a first boot found herself back on the show.

Truth #1: It was inevitable that the battle lines would be drawn on day one and that Phillip and Francesca would target one another.

Truth #2: A tribe of returning players was going to swiftly realize this dynamic and then exploit it, if only to avoid joining Tina, Fairplay, and Sugar in the Worst of the Best “All Star First Boot” Club.

Truth #3: The Favorites would understand why Phillip and Francesca were both there and find themselves inexorably drawn to one of two denouements: the catharsis of revenge or the tragedy of fate.

Cochran, who ultimately got to decide who went home, was clearly struggling with the forces shaping his decision. To vote out Francesca would be “cruel” and “inhumane” – it might even be morally wrong – but the sense of shame he felt didn’t keep him from writing her name down. He didn’t want to do it, but he HAD to, because the narrative – which is shaped by producers, viewers, and the show as a story-saturated saga – simply demanded it.

As Cochran discovered, sometimes when you’re trying to write the end of a story, you discover that it’s already been written.


The game looks pretty bleak for Brandon, Brenda, and Erik right now

2) Stealth-R-Us will last for one Tribal Council (at most).

Sure, the game looks pretty bleak for Brandon, Brenda, and Erik right now, but I’m relatively certain only Brandon is any immediate danger. Returning players, the good ones at least, share a few key characteristics: they’re patient, they’re ruthless, and they’re adaptable. While some key relationships will remain stable in the episodes to come – most notably Cochran and Dawn, given how much screen time was dedicated to their reconciliation – the core alliance will shift in response to forces both internal (Phillip’s insanity) and external (the inevitable tribe swap).

The biggest beneficiary of early returning player alliances being constructed of slow-drying cement? Ice Cream Artist Erik. When a castaway voices what we’re thinking – as Erik did when he called Phillip a “combative idiot loser who makes everyone crazy” – we’re meant to root for him. He’s going to be pulled into the core alliance – because players like Corinne and Cochran are both looking for players who need them to survive – and in the process, he’ll outlast many Favorites who right now feel that their positions in the game are secure.


Brenda is getting an early invisible edit

3) Brenda, on the other hand, is dead in the water.

Not only is Brenda getting an early invisible edit and was on the wrong side of the Francesca vote… but also, for every Favorite who mentioned they wanted to work with Cochran there was one who said they DIDN’T want to work with Brenda (because she scared them). Give a savvy strategist an excuse rather than a pretext – “she voted against someone in my alliance,” for example – and they’ll use it to justify an elimination. Even though Cochran and Dawn aren’t likely to fully trust Andrea knowing that she was playing both sides, they’re going to rationalize Brenda’s boot by telling the others, and themselves, that Brenda had to go because she betrayed them by targeting Andrea. The truth is, everyone’s just afraid that Brenda might be better at this game than they are.

In the event that the Favorites avoid Tribal Council long enough for Brenda to make it to a tribe swap – not hard, if Brandon is the primary target and we assume that the Fans will lose an immunity challenge at least once before the swap – the picture doesn’t get any brighter. Perhaps I’m making too much of a minor moment, but Brenda received the only palpably negative reaction the Fans expressed about the Favorites as they stepped off the chopper (Julia calling her “dangerous”). Unfortunately for her, Brenda will fall victim to a classic Survivor Catch-22 (one most commonly seen in All Star/FvF seasons): Because she’s good at the game, she really isn’t very good at it. I’ll call it right now: She’s gone immediately post-swap.

Is Phillip the next Boston Rob?

Is Phillip a quitter?

4) Not only is Phillip NOT playing well, he’s going to “quit.”

I keep reading blogs and hearing podcasts which suggest that Phillip 2.0 is actually playing well so far.

You have got to be #%$&@ kidding me.

If you’ve watched this week’s secret scenes (which are largely extended Day 1 interviews), you’re aware that Malcolm predicted Phillip’s current course of action (just as I did): Phillip thinks he can emulate Boston Rob, and he fully expects the other Favorites to follow his lead. As long as doing so doesn’t conflict with the plans being laid by the serious strategists, they’ll put up with him (up to and including the teased scene where they indulge Phillip and his juvenile penchant for giving nicknames); a tribe of Favorites aren’t going to tolerate this for long, however.

Unlike Phillip, Cochran has no delusions of grandeur; he knows that he isn’t Boston Rob, and rather than assuming he can control Phillip, he instead fears him, specifically the irrational gameplay The Specialist employs. Cochran wants Survivor to be chess, not poker; where Phillip was the ace up Boston Rob’s sleeve, for Cochran Phillip is a pawn who has to be sacrificed as soon as possible.

The question we have to ask ourselves is this: What will Phillip do when he realizes that he no longer has any power in his tribe? The answer, oddly enough, is to be found in a seemingly innocuous moment from “Tree Mail,” a Secret Scene over at CBS: The first time Phillip attempts to show Andrea, Dawn, and Francesca how long he can hold his breath, he fails miserably. How he attempts to rationalize his failure is, to me, incredibly telling; Cochran, in the lead-up to this scene, correctly identifies Phillip as an “overgrown 11 year-old,” and that’s precisely how Phillip tries to explain away his ineptitude, with childish denial and delusion. When Phillip discovers that not only isn’t he in charge any more but also that he never was, he is going to deal with it as an adolescent boy would: with frustration, petulance, and anger.

As soon as Phillip knows that he cannot make it to the Final Three, he’s going to want to grab his toys, stomp out of the sandbox, and go home.

Whether he quits, tells people to vote him out, forces everyone to target him because of his disruptive behavior, fakes an injury or incurs one because he’s creating an excuse, Phillip is going to leave the game not because of any of the other players, but because of himself.

And should this come to pass, I can’t wait to hear the “Mockiavelli” quote Phillip will manufacture to explain it all away.


Dawn, power player or an accomplice?

5) Dawn 2.0 is Dawn 1.0

Some folks are pointing to Dawn’s willingness to vote out Francesca as a sign that she’s radically altered her approach to the game, but I’m not buying it. She may have been instrumental in Franny’s departure (if you ask me, Cochran deftly maneuvered her into choosing that path, and to shoulder the blame for it), but she’s going to be emotionally tortured by that decision. In fact, I think she’ll be so internally troubled by what she did that she’s going to ask Cochran to make the hard choices from now on.

Every Survivor tandem has one power player and an accomplice. The bad news for Dawn is that what serves her so well in life – her undeniable kindness – makes it impossible for her to be the power player in her alliance with Cochran. The good news, however, is that the accomplice can, with some calculated aggression and a little bit of luck, win a million dollars (just ask Denise).

*** I Guess It’s Time To Talk About The Fans ***


Should we Hope for the cool kids alliance?

6) The cool kids will be fine.

Okay, not all of them. But they’re not doomed to be mini-Pagonged, as many are suggesting. I’ll even go so far as to say that at least two of them will make the merge.

Reynold isn’t stupid enough to think he’s got a four-person majority on a tribe of ten (he was an accountant at one point, so I’m thinking he’s better at math than that). Clearly, he thinks he’s got Michael on his side, and he’s not entirely wrong about that: Michael is weighing his options, and he’s going to realize that the Fans need muscle – both immediately and after a tribe swap – for any of them to have a chance to make the merge.

As other members of the RHAP blogging team have pointed out, the first two challenges were extremely physical, and the Fans got crushed in the first one and should have lost the second. As a result, the Fans are going to be highly reluctant to part with any of the men, which means for now, both Reynold and Eddie are safe. Allie and Hope are going to be targets, but, thanks to some explosive personalities in the Gota camp – I’m looking at you, Matt and Shamar – I’m guessing that one or both of them will make it to the swap (probably only one – which I’ll explain in BD #13).


Michael had an EXCEPTIONAL first three days in the game

7) Michael is the Fan who, after three days, is in the best spot.

I’ve heard a fair bit of chatter that of the pre-season “Players of Interest,” Michael had the worst premiere. Anyone who thinks this is a fool. Michael had an EXCEPTIONAL first three days in the game.

All the single ladies – Sherri, Laura, and Julia – are courting him. He’s the only one Matt talks to. And it appears – from publicity stills and interactions at challenges – that Michael is in good with Reynold (who is by far the brightest member of the Cool Kids).

If the Fans head to tribal council this Wednesday, just about EVERY member of Gota would be targeted before Michael. If that’s not enough to indicate just how well positioned Michael is, there’s this: every alliance and sub-alliance within the tribe is going to consult Michael before the final decision is made about who goes.

Yeah, he fell down when getting out of the boat. So what? You can write him off for being clumsy if you wish, but not me: Michael knows what the hell he’s doing, and he’s going to be around for a while.


They ain’t so bad.

8) The Fans don’t totally suck.

Turns out that I went a bit overboard in my disdain for the Fans. Sherri clearly knows her Survivor history; she immediately identified all of the Favorites when they stepped off the helicopters (even when the rest of her under-informed tribe was stumped, she knew players like Erik). Laura proved to be perceptive, correctly pointing out that Michael was being noticeably observant on the silent boat ride. And Reynold owned the challenges (did you see him sprint through the water during the reward challenge?!) while providing some insightful and self-aware confessionals throughout the premiere.

I still think the Favorites are going to dominate the endgame… but it won’t be as easy as I initially thought.


Malcolm is a comedian?

9) Malcolm will be used only for comic relief this season.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If you were to design a Survivor player in a lab, you’d likely end up with someone a lot like Malcolm. Personally, I love the guy. He plays the game as I would play it… only he does it better. A lot better.

He says all the right things (who other than Malcolm would describe his job in the first few days as “impression management”?), and he became a part of the Bikal majority alliance without much trouble, despite his inability to close out the immunity challenge (which could have been used as an excuse to vote him out). He seems well positioned for yet another deep run… so why do I think he’s going to be reduced to the role of comedian?

Because the only moment he had during the elimination deliberations and Tribal Council itself was his clever – and laugh-out-loud funny – Boston Rob homage shoulder grab of Cochran.

This might simply be reflective of Malcolm’s conscious effort to remain off the radar, but I was a bit surprised that the editors didn’t include his “objective outsider” observations. I’m sure Malcolm had a lot to say about the tribe’s evolving social dynamics; last season, we heard what Malcolm thought about EVERYTHING, so his take on the dysfunction developing around him was conspicuously absent.  Over the final third of the episode, Cochran got to talk strategy and Phillip got to express his insanity… but all Malcolm got to do was be funny.

My point? If Malcolm was going to be an endgame factor, he would have made us think instead of just making us laugh.


With that, we’ll retire The Contrarian for now and close this column with a few of our recurring BD’s…


Are Shamar's argumentative ways going to help or hurt him?

Are Shamar’s argumentative ways going to help or hurt him?

10) Off the top of my head, I can think of three Survivor commandments that were broken during the premiere, two of which are relatively common and one rare enough that I don’t think I’ve mentioned it in this blog since I started writing for RHAP.

Thou shalt not pick fights with the members of your tribe.

Given that this happens every season, clearly conflict is inevitable, but you would think so-called Fans would know that you simply can’t afford to let a disagreement escalate. For all of the press that Shamar has gotten for his passive-aggressive response to Matt’s unwillingness to follow orders, Matt is the one who came off looking bad; he simply would NOT let the fire vs. shelter issue go. Yes, Shamar and Matt buried the hatchet after Shamar helped the tribe make fire, but this issue is far from over; mark my words: one or both of these Fans are going to go home because of their tempers.

Thou shalt not cuddle with a member of your alliance.

I’d really like to see what occurred in the time between Reynold’s conversation with Allie where they agreed to keep their distance, and when they were groping one another in the shelter. Who initiated the intimacy?  Seeking security is a very human reaction to stress, so the heavy petting doesn’t surprise me (I’m guessing it happens a lot more than we’ve been shown over the years). What I really want to know is who needed that security, and why the other person involved went along with it.

My guess, given their relative ages, is that Allie needed to feel a closer bond than words alone would provide… and that Reynold decided to go along with it believing that the PR hit would be easier to deal with than the fallout of a woman scorned.

Whatever the truth may be, it’s still incredibly stupid – and they’re both going to have to scramble in the aftermath of Groan Gate.

Thou shalt not talk about splitting the votes early in the game.

Whenever a so-called strategist pitches a complex plan to split votes at an early Tribal Council, it NEVER ends well. Invariably, the less sophisticated players find it all too confusing, and the more advanced players see the plan’s architect as a threat and/or easy scapegoat. Interestingly, this same scenario played out in the first Fans vs. Favorites, and it cost Mikey B his place in the game.

Apparently, Francesca doesn’t know her Survivor history. Her desire to split the votes because of her fear that Phillip had found an idol caused her her look paranoid and desperate, and made her an easy target for the accusations of, “She’s playing too hard too fast too early.”

The lesson for all you potential newbies who have been contacted by Survivor casting (unlike yours truly; I’m waiting, Lynne Spillman)? In the early phase of the game, keep it simple. When you tell other players to split their votes, what they’re going to do is vote for YOU.


The Gota narrator

11) Fortunes rising: Reynold. He’s a challenge stud, he’s the Gota narrator, and everything he’s done thus far – even Groan Gate – has been with a point and a purpose. He’s in this for the long haul. (More on Reynold in a moment…)

12) Fortunes falling: Brandon. In the RHAP Blogger Preseason Roundtable, here’s something I wrote about Brandon: “There is but one reason that Brandon got as far as he did in South Pacific: He was part of a first-day five-person alliance. Without Sophie, Albert, and particularly Coach keeping him in line, there’s no way Brandon avoids a game-ending, probably pre-merge, implosion.” In the preview for this Wednesday’s episode, we get our first glimpse of who Brandon is when he’s not insulated by an alliance, and I guarantee you that it only gets uglier from here. In South Pacific, he never felt the real pressure of the game; not once did he have to play from behind or bear the responsibility for any key decisions. The Francesca blindside was his first taste of Survivor adversity; if this is how he reacts when he’s not in complete control, how is he going to act when he knows his days are done?

Honestly, with every passing Hantz that CBS throws at us, I grow more impressed with Russell; all of the Hantzes react to stress with aggression, but only Russell knew how to channel it. Willie Hantz exited Big Brother after head-butting Chef Joe; one can’t help but wonder what Brandon is going to do, and who he is going to do it to. We know it starts with a verbal assault on Dawn… but where will it end?

On a related note, can people please stop giving Brandon credit for sussing out Andrea’s double-dealing? The only vibe Brandon was getting from Andrea was in his shorts, and just as he did with Mikayla, Brandon made his arousal the basis of a witch hunt. I guarantee you that he had NO IDEA Andrea was playing both sides; his sexual insecurities simply compelled him to target someone who just so happened to be making multiple alliances. Sometimes even a blind nut can find a squirrel.

13) Prediction time: One benefit of posting on Tuesdays is that I have a chance to see the CBS publicity photos for the upcoming episode. Four really obvious things jumped out at me when I looked at them: a) 25 of the 30 photos are of the Fans… b) Reynold is in 13 of them, six of them solo… c) Hope is in 8 of them (twice as many as Allie)… and d) Hope is in several shots with Reynold when Allie is nowhere in sight.

Here’s what I think all of this means:

The Fans are going to lose the immunity challenge.

Hope and Allie are going to be the two targets.

And Reynold is going to be highly instrumental in how this vote plays out.

Here’s what I think might be happening:

I’m guessing that Michael will side with Sherri, Julia, and Laura, at least for now; Michael will want to work with Reynold, and to make that possible, he’ll need to weaken Reynold’s connection to the cool kids. He’ll recruit Matt, who will do whatever Michael says, and I’m pretty sure that Shamar would be happy with any plan that doesn’t target him (if the photos are any indication, Shamar’s self-imposed isolation continues in the second episode; he appears in only one camp life image). Given that a cool kid must go, and that Reynold and Eddie are far too valuable in challenges to cut loose so soon, either Hope or Allie will get her torch snuffed…

So which one will it be?

I have a feeling that Reynold is going to catch a lot of heat for Groan Gate; showmances make everyone uncomfortable, both strategically and socially. If he wants to avoid being one of first four Fan boots, he might need to prove to the other members of the tribe that he’s focused on the game and not the girl, just as Malcolm had to do last season with the Cookie Monster. That puts the bulls-eye squarely on Allie’s back.


Is Allie next to go?

The one wild card here is how often Hope shows up in these press photos: Is she being showcased because this will be her elimination episode? Or are we seeing something more significant, a move she’s making to secure her spot? Why are we seeing Hope hang with Reynold when all we see Allie do is gather firewood?

Time for a quick pet theory: I don’t think Hope is all that into Eddie. Go back and watch the night vision conversation Hope and Eddie had at water’s edge and study her face carefully; Eddie is making all sorts of sweeping declarations, and Hope simply laughs along, passively noncommittal. While I think she’s happy to have someone interested in her, I don’t think she’d think twice about switching her attention to someone who can get her further in the game.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I think Hope will make her pitch to Reynold… and that he’ll listen.

Sorry, Allie, but I think you’re going home.


That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – if you’d like to keep the conversation going, leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter (@GetOnSurvivor).

Become a patron of RHAP