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: Everything Old Is New Again
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X – Everything Old Is New Again
The first few seasons of Survivor were fairly straightforward, and while the formula that gave us Sue Hawk’s famous ‘Snakes and Rats’ speech was always going to work to some degree or another, the producers didn’t rest on their laurels. In the third season, Survivor: Africa, they introduced a twist that has been featured more prominently than any other: the tribe swap. In this week’s Diplomatic View we’ll discuss just why the tribe swap generates so much drama and confusion, look at some interesting cases from the past, the lesson Survivors most assuredly should have learned, and look at just why people make so many mistakes when things get switched up. All that, plus we’ll look at the specific impact on the swap this season on some of our more interesting players.
Before we can go forward, let’s look back at the very first season with a tribal shake-up: Survivor: Africa. The two tribes were ordered to send half their members on a quest, and Samburu decided to send the leader of their alliance, plus the two members of their tribe who were on the outside. When those minority former members of the Samburu tribe, Teresa Cooper and Frank Garrison, found themselves sent to Boran they immediately flipped on their previous tribe. They sold out the alliance of Silas Gaither, who was promptly votes out, and gave vital information that resulted in Silas’ alliance mate, Lindsey Richter, being voted out from the similarly shuffled Boran tribe.
Morgan was one of many people sharing my brainwaves this week, and put it quite well. To further her point, there is a demonstrable tendency of Survivor players to treat their tribe as a ‘family’, thinking that while they may disagree with people outside the family, they unify against outsiders. While that’s certainly true in the early challenges, that absolutely does not apply once things have been switched up. People will point out that you know your tribemates better, that it’s been 12 days of getting to know each other. That point is completely valid… but it ignores the fact that for some of these contestants it’s 12 days of learning that they really don’t like each other at all.
I am a firm believer in Survivor alliances, and that occasionally you need to take personal risk to further your alliance in the game so that alliance can further your personal game. I am, however, also a firm believer that you should continuously be calculating the value of your loyalty as a function of your overall place in the game. There is never any reason to stay loyal to someone just because they wore the same buff you did for a while, and every reason to turn on someone who has already chosen not to include you in their alliance. While neither Frank nor Teresa won the game, they were two of the last three members of Samburu left standing, which is not likely to have been the case had they stayed with their former tribe. That season had the first tribal swap, and it taught lessons that Survivors should have learned, but haven’t quite managed to.
While the tribe swap has been around for quite a while, there have been vast differences in how it’s been executed over the years. We’ve had tribes select members to send off, only to receive the counterparts from the other tribe. We’ve had picks by random chance (buff draw, colored rocks, breaking paint pellets, etc). We’ve even had tribes picked by schoolyard pick ‘em, with a leader chosen (either randomly, or through some other selection method).
I discussed last week that players should be prepared for a tribe swap at this point of the season, specifically because it’s such a common twist, but also because in themed seasons there is almost always a switch to balance potentially weaker tribes. Why no one could see coming was that for Survivor: Millennials vs Gen-X, they dusted off a method they’ve only used once before: shifting from two tribes up to three tribes. That this switch has been used so rarely makes it fairly certain that no player’s plans include this specific twist. Privately, it’s my second favorite version of the tribe swap (my favorite being three tribes into two), because it throws the largest wrench possible into the carefully prepared plans of the players.
This kind of swap increases the chance that a small number of players, on the outs, can leverage their position to have a potentially big impact on the game. That is a key aspect that Survivor players have to be on the lookout for: What can I do on this new (temporary) tribe, that maximizes my chances of winning the game? Sometimes it’s as simple as getting to play a few more days, when you were the next person to get voted out. In other cases it comes down to the chance to make a key vote that changes everything.
Survivor: All Stars was the scene of possibly the biggest missed opportunity. The chance for Lex and his alliance to vote Amber off the island, giving them an advantage over Rob and his alliance. Lex was faced with what, according to him, was a question of friendship vs the chance at a million dollars… and he folded to the power of Boston Rob’s personality. Part of that, admittedly, was Rob Mariano at the height of his powers manipulating his previous ties with his fellow players for his own personal Keyser Soze moment. Summers of having players out to his place for barbecues, and socializing with the larger Survivor family had left a lingering shadow in their perceptions of him. When it came down to it, though, it was completely within their power to vote Amber off, and they simply didn’t do it.
There are several examples of tribes making the opposite decision. The one that most jumps to mind, however, is Aaron Reisberger. Aaron was the figurehead for Todd and Amanda’s alliance on Survivor: China until he and James were stolen by the opposing tribe in a tribe switch. Their new tribe immediately threw an immunity challenge and, deciding that James was more helpful in challenges, sent Aaron home. Aaron could easily have gone deeper in the game since he served as a stalking horse for the majority on his original tribe and was in very good position with Todd and Amanda. On the new tribe, he showed less willingness towards a future working with them than James did, and that was enough to seal his fate… though, in the end his alliance still prevailed.
To a greater or lesser degree, all tribal swaps (and inevitable merges) represent a chance to shake thing up. This can come from a large litany of factors, some of which we’ve already discussed. Players that are in a minority on their original tribe(s) may find a chance to forge a new majority. Players who were already in the majority may find an opportunity to add to their web or replace allies that they’re less than happy with. Even players who are on the outskirts of one alliance may find a way to shift themselves closer to the center of power. There are definitely limits to how far, or fast, a player can change their fate… the tribal swap at least offers them a chance.
There was a lot of discussion in the comments this week, and I appreciate both the positive feedback and how committed everyone is to the discussion. Let’s all remember to be excellent to each other, even when we disagree. Things were a little heated in the comments, and I’d prefer if you’re going to be mean to someone you be mean to me… otherwise I feel left out.
So moving on to this week’s discussions:
There was a lot of back and forth on the issue of idols, how they should be played, the importance of them being played, etc. I can almost guarantee that this is not the last week that it will be a topic of discussion, nor should it be. There were almost too many people in that thread to credit, but it’s worth going back and re-reading. In regards to the context of using the idol to best advance your game vs saving it to save yourself, I have two final thoughts.
Firstly, for all the talk of Survivor being an individual game, you simply cannot win it by yourself in anything but the most extreme of cases. Judd aka Fabio, is the only player to have managed to win every single immunity competition when he was in danger, and then be voted to win simply because the rest of the jury disliked the other finalists. The only other player who had the opportunity is Colby, and he chose to bring Tina to the end. That was a result of Tina executing better strategy than Colby did. In the end, unless you win all of the final immunity challenges or are otherwise immune through them, your fate rests in the hands of at least one other player. So you will need an alliance to get you to the end, and playing your idol well can lock up that alliance for you.
Secondly, to win the vote for the million dollars at the end requires getting a majority vote, as we all know. Jurors are human just like the rest of us, and a big idol play that saves someone else and turns the tide in your favor can score you jury points. You never know just what a member of the jury will find compelling, but being able to say that you put yourself at risk to save someone else? That tends to help.
Abiel Tesfamariam, had an interesting comment to make regarding Yul’s gameplay and Parvati’s, quoting Damnbueno:: ‘”Yet revisionists continually claim that Yul knew from the moment he found the Idol that his seat in the finals was secure.” Are they the same ones who claimed Parvati was the mastermind in FvF1 and HvV?’ Now anyone who knows me, knows that those are pretty much fighting words in these here parts. I won’t rehash my previous (and voluminous) praise of Parvati here, but I will say that while Cirie was the primary motivator behind the execution of Ozzy, you can’t dismiss Parvati’s play that season. She had two separate alliances ready to carry her to the end, and that’s a pretty strong accomplishment from someone who’s first turn at the game was so… shallow.
Andy Pfeiffer also pointed out something I neglected to mention. When Lucy was laying down her instructions for Ken, she levelled her finger at him in the classic ‘Mom Lecture Position’ that I’m sure her kids have grown accustomed to. One of the many problems for Lucy was that she was replicating behavior that pisses off the people who love her back home, neither Ken nor David had any reason to love her… and were less than likely to put up with it. There is almost nothing that provokes someone into the ‘I’m a grown-ass man’ rebellion, like being pointed to and lectured at. Now, more often than not that reaction is an almost fatal mistake, but this time Ken isn’t the one who paid the price.
Key Points in Episode 5: Idol Hunting Party
Despite the title of this week’s episode, I’m not going to go very in depth into David’s idol hunt. His entire tribe looking for it was exactly the correct thing to do, and David was able to scoop the idol up from under Cece and Sunday’s noses. I will say that Cece giving up the idol hunt because she was bored, if David is correct, is terrible gameplay. One thing we all need to keep in mind is that David’s knowledge of how the idol was hidden this year (in a natural object with the tribe’s symbol on it) gave him a slight advantage. Though I’d like to think that if I was wandering the beach and saw a log with the tribes symbol on it, I might try smashing it open anyway.
Instead this week I’m going to look at each of the three new tribes, talk a bit about their dynamics, and what I think may be in store for them over the next few weeks. I’ll then get into the one decision I found fascinating this week, which was David’s decision to get rid of Cece, especially in light of what happened the week before. My inherent assumption is that these new tribes will last at most 4 weeks, quite likely less. If we assume that there will be twelve people at the end (9 jury + 3 finalists), then likely after 3 – 4 weeks there will be another swap with one or two tribals before the merge. Either that, or a straight merge with one or two eliminations before the jury.
Vanua: (CeCe, Chris, David, Michelle, and Zeke)
From a pure head count perspective this looked like it might be a bad arrangement for Michelle. She ended up on a tribe with essentially no allies whatsoever, and Zeke is well aware that she’s a power player amongst the Millennials. The only thing that would have made this situation worse would have been a united group of Gen-Xers on the tribe with her. Three factors worked to Michelle’s advantage almost immediately.
The first was that Zeke doesn’t seem to bear a grudge against Michelle and still seems to be thinking of her as a tribemate, if only due to a lack of alternatives. Secondly, Chris clearly bears a grudge against David and Cece and needed both Michelle and Zeke in order to go after them. Lastly is the fact that Chris, David, and Cece weren’t firmly allied on the previous tribe. Chris and David were part of the vote that targeted Cece’s ally Rachel, Cece and Chris were on different sides of the vote that results in Lucy’s removal, and what few connections they had ran through other people.
That meant that Vanua was a relatively clean playing field. It’s a situation that could easily swing control to the two players who decided to reach out to each other first. Surprisingly, those players were Zeke and Chris. While their Oklahoma ties gave them a bridge to walk across, the fact that they both felt like they were on the outside (Zeke correctly, Chris’ situation was less clear), was a clear impetus to start talking. By virtue of the numbers, and Chris’ desire to send David and Cece home, that meant Michelle automatically became the next member of their alliance.
Michelle’s game this week wasn’t perfect, however, though she had no way of knowing that the ground she was stepping on was dangerous. By twice mentioning that David should be the person to go, she makes it likely that she’ll be David’s target next week, and makes it less likely that David will be willing to work with her if they end up at tribal council again. With Chris and Zeke forming a strong partnership, Michelle and David are the outliers, and only one of them has an immunity idol. I suspect that if Vanua goes back to tribal council, Michelle will end up going home courtesy of David’s immunity idol.
Going forward, I think the Zeke / David partnership has some very interesting potential to grow in power. One of the scenarios I mentioned for shake-ups is members of two minority alliances hooking up with each other to form a new majority. While David and Zeke are just single players, they each have ties to people who were in the minority on their previous tribes. Not only that, but those players are actually fairly well set to survive the shake-up and make it to the next swap.
Takali: Adam, Figgy, Jessica, Ken, and Taylor
While some people will call Figgy controlling for trying to shut down any obvious displays of affection on the new Takali tribe, I think it’s only reasonable gameplay. Unfortunately, it comes about three weeks too late. Taylor and Figgy have both fallen into the assumption that Adam will be on their side because they’re all Millennials, but I’ve never seen a case of someone as primed to jump ship as Adam is. First, obviously, is that he wanted Figgy gone on their initial vote only to have her saved by Michelle. Secondly, there’s the reason why he wanted them gone, which is their community theatre version of Romeo & Juliet.
Adam is stuck between two ‘couples’, but while Figgy & Taylor are joined at the hips, Ken and Jessica are a newer partnership. They also, quite frankly, have had less time to annoy Adam and aren’t likely to start making out any time soon. Given that Adam has no alliance ties to bind him to Figgy and Taylor, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Takali separate these star-crossed lovers on their first visit to tribal council.
Ikabula: Bret, Hannah, Jay, Michaela, Sunday, and Will.
Of all the tribes, this one seems the most likely to follow the stereotypical removal of the two outsiders. While Michaela wasn’t a big fan of Figgy / Taylor, she was part of the vote that sent Mari home, a bloc that included Hannah, Jay, and Will. We’ve seen her be a pragmatic player, as well as an emotional one, so the question will be what rules her decisions. If Sunday and Bret had a better foundation, they might be able to pull Hannah and Michaela to their side… but there are several obstacles to them doing so.
First, with neither Zeke nor Adam as members of the tribe, it’s far less likely that information about that first vote will come out. The only likely way would be if Hannah over-volunteers around the campfire, when asked about how that vote went down. I don’t think Hannah would be quite that reckless since it’s not information that helps her. In fact, a clever player might be able to use that to try to get the Millennials to take Hannah out, since the Millennials would ‘still’ have a 3 – 2 advantage post boot. It’s not a likely scenario, but we’ve seen smaller slights turn into alliance explosions (just ask Lex about his mystery vote in Survivor: Africa).
Secondly, neither Sunday nor Bret are really good at challenges; they’re also not good at challenges. In fact, they’re pretty bad at challenges. I’m not sure if you’ve heard… but they’re really not that good at challenges, guys. This tribe won their first immunity challenge based largely on the sweet shooting stroke of Michaela, and you can’t assume that will always be the case. Add to that a relative futility of effort at camp, and you don’t have players that you jump up to having to keep in the game.
All of this could be overcome if Sunday and / or Bret had a strong social game to make up for it. We haven’t seen much of that thus far. Bret was part of the initial elimination of Rachel, but has been on the outside of every other move. Sunday was part of the vote against Jessica, but appeared to just be a number rather than an active part of the decision. It would take a stronger personality than we’ve seen out of either player to really leverage their position moving forward. The plus for them is that their tribe is strong and the exposure of those two players to immunity challenges should be limited to one at a time.
David keeps his idol in his pocket
Last week I stated that David’s decision, while having upsides, was generally a bad move since the tribe swap was coming and David should have sensed it. Of course, if we shared David’s nose for hunting idols, maybe we’d spend those things so fearlessly too. This week David let Cece go, only toying with the idea of using his idol in confessionals. While there’s been some debate on this decision, holding the idol was clearly the right choice.
While David could have saved Cece, sending Michelle home, this would at best have guaranteed him a 2-2 tie on a tribe that would definitely be going back to Tribal Council. While he could hope that Cece would have stayed true to him at that point, it’s just as possible that Cece would have been convinced by Chris and Zeke too vote against him. Would saving Cece have made her willing to pull a rock for him? That seems pretty chancy, and even if she did, that’s a 1 in 4 shot of going home. Pocketing the idol and letting Cece go guarantees that he’s safe next week, as long as he uses it.
Plus, as David (and Chris) said, this was David’s chance to prove something to Chris. Whether that trust will be returned remains to be seen, but for at least this week, Chris isn’t choking him out by the fire. I do suspect long-term, Chris will still try to get David out. The idol play that saved Jessica was too frustrating for him, and it was David’s second betrayal from his perspective.
What David didn’t apparently consider, to his detriment, was trying to align with Michelle and Zeke to get out Cece. While the result would have been the same in terms of who went home, it makes a huge difference that David is one of the two players on the outside of that partnership rather than being at the core. Five players is a very small number, and you almost have to get yourself into the position of being the shot caller to feel safe.
While I think David will end up using his idol and bouncing Michelle at their next tribal council, the play I might be considering in David’s shoes is trying to recruit Michelle with an eye toward targeting Zeke or Chris. I don’t think David has that club in his bag, but he might get pretty good distance on a swing with it.
Closing Points and Looking Forward
Looking forward, there are definitely some players in more jeopardy than others. Figgy, Taylor, Michelle, Bret and Sunday, are all in vulnerable positions moving forward, and David would be on that list if he didn’t have his idol. The list generally covers the Millennial power players and a handful of pawns from the Gen-X tribe. If the Millennial power players do get sent home, then it suggests when the tribes are shuffled again (or merged) it will be with an almost entirely clean slate.
Partly, this is due to the Gen-X tribe never settling into a true status quo. Their first boot of Rachel was easy, but the second vote involved a deposed leader, and the third vote involved a leader getting blindsided thanks to an idol. There are many different webs of loyalty on that tribe, and none of them are all that solid except for David / Ken / Jessica. As much as I’m really impressed with Michelle’s early game, the beheading of the Millennial power group is a scenario that I’m rooting for.
What that would leave us is two core groups: Ken / David / Jessica, and Zeke / Chris / Adam, trying to either come together against the Ikabula tribe, or try to pull various members of the Ikabula tribe into their alliance. I suspect that the key in that scenario would be Michaela, but that is mostly based on her edit thus far and her outsized personality.
For more blogs this season: RHAP Survivor Blog Schedule.