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: Sometimes People Need to Shut Up
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X – Sometimes People Need to Shut Up
One of the more amusing points that Jeff Probst used to emphasize on every season of Survivor is that the players were ‘forming a new society.’ It’s a line that often drew a bit of a chuckle or an eye roll since, while many things happen in 30+ days, a new society isn’t really in the cards. I’m certainly one of the people who used to chuckle at that, but I do believe that there’s a benefit to looking at the island as a microecosystem, an extremely volatile, temporary, self-consuming eco-system that we dissect in various ways each week in the Diplomatic View. In the past few weeks we’ve talked about communication, leadership, forming alliances, and tribe swaps. This week we’re going to take a second, deeper, dive into one specific aspect of the post-swap ecosystem: where to place your loyalties moving forward in the game.
Before we can talk about that specifically, there’s one adjacent area that we haven’t really talked about, but it’s extremely relevant so we’re going to start there. Last week, when talking about tribe loyalties I mentioned:
“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.”
It seems like every season as the initial tribes shake out and alliances are formed, we see alliances make a serious mistake: discounting the people who are outside of their alliance. Part of this is human nature; generally, people ally with those they like and so they naturally want to spend time with them. It’s only natural for cliques to form in a group of 10 people, and those on the outside will feel it, and resent it. What’s surprising is how few players who find themselves on the inside actually care what the people on the outside think.
I used to attribute this to the emphasis on post-merge play, because on the show many interesting or exciting moments that occur pre-merge get assigned to the dustbin of history. Perhaps the ‘recency effect’ causes people to focus more on the big moves late in the game, where those who ended up on the outside typically went home immediately. That could cause contestants to come into the show thinking that those who don’t have the numbers are (largely) irrelevant.
However, as avid watchers of the game we know that how you treat those on the minority can have a devastating impact on your game post-merge or pre-merge. Numbers can and do shift after the merge, even if they didn’t players still need to get Jury votes to win the game. At the beginning of the game with all the twists and turns the producers can throw at you still to come, ostracizing those in the minority will almost always come back to haunt you. A strong player in Survivor will almost always try to have a personal relationship with those players that stand outside of the alliances and voting decisions. It’s not easy at all to do and it depends a great deal on how that person reacts to the position they’re in, but laying some kind of groundwork with all of the players on your initial tribe is extremely important.
We talked last week about how people on your tribe, but not in your alliance can be free agents. Treating those people badly gives them every reason to change sides. The question that remains to be answered is: Should they?
The short answer, if you’d like to skip out on the next several paragraphs is: almost always. Obviously the devil lies in the ‘almost’ there.
For the free agent player there are several possibilities post tribal swap: accepting offers from your previous tribemates to be pulled into their alliance, swapping to the opposing tribe’s alliance, and trying to forge a new alliance with people from both tribes.
The key for the free agent player is recognizing the difference between members from your original tribe suddenly valuing you, and members of your original tribe merely desperately trying to survive so they can get through to the merge. That largely will boil down to which members of the previous alliance you’ve been shuffled into a new tribe with. Generally, if it’s the leader of the former alliance that’s only now reaching out to you… you have to be extremely wary regarding their offer. The person who previously was calling the shots could clearly have looped you into the alliance if they’d wanted to before that point, so it’s unlikely any offer will have permanent effect. On the other hand, someone who was at the bottom of the previous alliance reaching out to you offers possibilities for several reasons.
Firstly, that member of the alliance likely had little influence regarding the make-up of their alliance, so your exclusion from it isn’t likely to have been their decision. Secondly, unlike the leader of the alliance who already has the best position therein, a player who was at the bottom of the alliance has every reason to try to shake up the status quo. Lastly, it’s a question of what has happened on the other tribes as a result of the shake-up. If it’s revealed that other members of the majority alliance on your former tribe have been eliminated, there’s a better chance that any offer you receive is genuine. On the other hand, if it’s members of the other tribe that are being sent home that makes it even less likely that any offer will stand once the tribes have been re-aligned.
Simply joining the other alliance isn’t a guarantee of success in some cases all a player does by doing so is trade one bad position for another. Despite how tempting the offer from the other alliance may be, joining the alliance will put you immediately on the bottom of that new arrangement. If nothing changes in that alliance’s arrangement, the switching player will clearly be the first one to go home, even if they’re well liked. One example of this is Shannon “Shambo” Waters on Survivor: Samoa, though her game played out post-merge rather than post-swap.
Shambo was a typical Survivor free agent. She was on the outskirts of her original tribe and received an opportunity to spend time on the other tribe, which did the correct thing in making her feel welcome, putting Shambo’s loyalty in play. While it took a while for her loyalty to manifest itself, she did eventually swing over to Russell Hantz and the Foa Foa tribe. Her doing so marked the end of the Galu tribe, but she wasn’t destined to make it past the final six, as Russell and his group sent her home 5 – 1. Shambo is a fairly typical example of what happens to those that switch alliances, though there are exceptions to the rule.
The hardest route to success, which requires a combination of dumb luck as well as excellent game play, is forging a new alliance out of members of both tribes. This really only works when there are people on your new tribe who were on the outskirts of either alliance, and yet still have some friends in their former tribemates. This allows the new alliance a degree of certainty that they’ll be able to get the numbers on their side when they inevitably merge. Even with that, there’s every chance that forming a new coalition will put a target on your backs once that alliance becomes clear.
Yet in the end, with the rare exception of a situation where you have firm reason to believe the offer to join your old tribe’s alliance is genuine, the clear and obvious choice is to switch to whatever sanctuary you can find. Survivor is a long game with a single winner, so putting yourself in a spot where you will stay another 3, 6 or 9 days gives you a chance to change the game in your favor. The possibility of finding such an opening is only increased the more you disrupt existing alliances
There are many aspects to the gameplay of ‘Chaos’ Kass, which I disagree with but there is one kernel of truth to how she plays the game: when you’re outside the circle of power and alliances, let chaos rule the day. To quote Petyr Baelish of Game of Thrones: ‘Chaos is a ladder.’ Disrupt existing alliances, target those who are nexuses of communication, and just keep shaking things up until they fall into a configuration that benefits you. What I don’t think Kass does as good of a job at is recognizing when things have broken in her favor so she can stop shaking things up.
There is one thing that free agent players do have to keep in mind, however. Even though Survivor is a game, and even though your former tribemates shouldn’t assume you’re on their side… they will. We’ve seen at least one case where members of the displaced faction have offered their votes at tribal, just to see the person that betrayed them voted off.
In the comments this week, Reya, made a point regarding the gender balancing of the tribes in order to keep one tribe from having too large of a challenge advantage. That’s definitely something that comes into play, though to be honest, in any given season there are men on the tribe who bring very little value to the tribe in challenges. David this season has been a fairly clear example of that.
Cece’s departure wasn’t so much a case of her being targeted, as the process of elimination left no one else to go. Chris and David weren’t voting for themselves, and Michelle and Zeke were the contingent that was being courted. So if Michelle and Zeke weren’t going to go home, it was going to be Cece’s time. The real downside is that as the game progresses, we will likely be seeing more female contestants going home. Figgy’s elimination was strategic, and Michelle and Michaela are both legitimate strategic targets.
Andy Pfeiffer disagreed with my assessment of Figgy’s chances in the game, pointing out that what Figgy should have done is turn on Taylor to insure her own safety. His point was that Figgy had to see Adam’s flip coming, and she couldn’t help but plan accordingly. We’ll have a lot to discuss regarding Figgy this week specifically, as she gave us a lot of material both during and after the episode. Andy’s suggestion was that she might have been able to convince people that Taylor’s attention was getting creepy and she wanted him gone. Unfortunately, I don’t think Figgy had that club in her bag, and I’m not certain that she would have been able to get the yardage she needed even if she did.
Finally a shout-out to Sarah Freeman, who is a big reason that the Diplomatic View is here on RHAP. As she pointed out, since David had found the one idol, he knew that this season the idols were hidden in objects, bearing marks of the tribe’s symbol. While I really like how the idols are hidden this year, the players who have already found one have a clear advantage finding new ones going forward.
Key Points in Episode 6: The Truth Works Well
Sometimes, other people can’t handle your truth
Survivor is a game of imperfect information; we’ve said that before. It’s also hosted by a man who specializes in trying to get you to volunteer information that you don’t need to. Some contestants are masters at saying a lot, while not giving any information. Others completely shut down, giving Jeff the most minimal answers possible. This week, Figgy chose just about the worst path to navigate in response to Jeff’s relatively innocuous question: reminding the people on the other tribes of just how tight the core of the ‘Triforce’ is with each other, and suggesting to the people on Michelle’s new tribe that maybe they’d eliminated the wrong player. Also, if there had ever been any doubt in Adam’s mind regarding what the Millennial hierarchy would be when they returned, she removed it… specifically in how she discussed Zeke so differently.
This put Michelle in an awkward situation, as she couldn’t simply deflect Figgy’s comments, nor could she return them with equal fervor. She did about as well as she could with her quick response, though nothing that she could have said there would have removed Zeke’s doubts about the situation. It could be argued that she might not have wanted to emphasize Figgy’s comments back at camp, but not bringing them up wouldn’t have likely helped.
Some of the best players to play the game (Cirie, Parvati, Rob, Rob C, Russell, Kim) have all talked about how much of Survivor is work, control, and awareness 100% of the time that you are playing a game. Figgy’s happiness at seeing Michelle was a nice, cute, human moment… but unfortunately those don’t tend to advance you very far in the game.
My read on the situation is that Figgy’s comment didn’t have that large of an effect on her game. Despite the editing and his responses at tribal, I don’t think Adam was torn. He was going to break up Figtails as soon as he was given the chance. The person who it is going to impact the most is Michelle.
Zeke’s 360 degree view of the game
At the beginning of the episode, Zeke made it clear that he was playing Chris and the tribal council was entirely about getting the Gen-Xers to make a mistake While he was primarily happy that he was in a power position with Chris, it was also by extension a function of the Gen-Xers giving up their power. After Figgy’s pronouncement, we get an entirely different view of the game from his perspective… namely that maybe Michelle needs to go.
Zeke is in a position to make that happen, if he wants to. Zeke has ties to all three of the other members of Vanua, though his ties to Dave are the loosest right now. The previews suggest that will be changing. Of the other three, none of them are targeting Zeke. Chris has stated he wants to get David out, and David and Michelle just want someone from the other side to go, without really caring who it is.
The complicating factor, of course, is David’s idol. Given Zeke’s wavering faith in Michelle it feels like she might end up being the one who goes, particularly if David’s idol comes into play. With David revealing he has the idol, Zeke will have a difficult choice to make between David, Chris and Michelle… it’s not a choice likely to break Michelle’s way.
Hannah’s no good, very bad episode
Having medical called for you is always a bad thing in Survivor. It immediately suggests to people that you might be too weak to continue in the game. Having panic attacks as the reason that Dr. Joe is called in is a substantially worse thing, simply because many players will be quick to attribute it to mental weakness, and a reason to target you. What Hannah tried to do, which I think was a good idea, was explain to the members of the tribe what happens to her and why.
What will happen if Ikabula goes to tribal council will be anyone’s guess, but there is a bigger target on that tribe.
There’s a difference between playing like a boss, and being bossy
I like Michaela– her gameplay, and her personality… but not everyone responds to an outsized personality in the same way. We saw two examples this week of her personality chafing against those of other players in the game, both on the same immunity challenge. The first, obviously, was how she was talking to Hannah when they were working on the ball puzzle. She was short, abrupt, and more than a bit firm with Hannah, but that’s easily attributed to being focused, intense, and wanting to be certain that they win. I’m not sure to what degree the members of Ikabula will hold that against her, but the other Millennials might not be so accepting, considering the second issue.
Helping Vanua with the puzzle, essentially sending Takali to tribal council was a huge risk, that I’m not sure was worth it. Her logic was, mostly, sound… Vanua’s Millennials seem to be more at risk, where they have the advantage on Takali. Also, Ikabula has been on a bit of a run lately, and seem to be going strong. All of these are factors that suggest she could choose to help, and maybe even that she should. In the end, I think it was a mistake, simply because it was too open, bold, and transparent.
In one swoop she suggested her loyalties to Michelle and Zeke (reinforcing to the Gen-Xers how important Michelle is), suggested that Figgy / Taylor / Adam meant less to her, and made it clear that she still views the game in terms of her original tribe. None of this is information that positions her well in the future for advancing in the game, except for within a subset of Millennials. Also, while I agree with Michaela’s comment to Adam that if they couldn’t keep control with them having the numbers, then they deserved that, she’s forgetting that Adam was on the outside of the Millennials’ alliance.
Michaela is a player who plays the game with a lot of emotion, and by the seat of her pants. That worked horribly for Figgy (and almost every player who plays in that style). While I think Michaela’s gameplay is better, I’m worried that she’s still at risk.
Closing Points and Looking Forward
There are fourteen players left in the game, and we can assume the jury will start around eleven or thirteen players. It’s possible the three tribe arrangement will last until then, but we may get one last twist before the final merge. The far more interesting scenario would be for the three tribes to be merged into two tribes for a week, just to scramble the ties between players one more time. That this might let Michelle or Michaela survive longer in the game but is completely secondary of course.
Finally, I’ve been fairly critical of the Figtails showmance, for many reasons. Partly the reasons were strategic– pairings that are too obvious are also obvious targets. The other reason is that meeting someone on Survivor is an extremely artificial construct. Rob and Amber were part of the extended Survivor family before they connected on All Stars, so there was a different context there. Figgy and Taylor didn’t quite have that backstory, and reading Figgy’s exit interviews she makes it quite clear that they’re different people on very different paths.
Outwit, outlast, outplay, and don’t hook up, boys and girls.
For more blogs this season: RHAP Survivor Blog Schedule.