Each week Christian Williams reflects on the major themes, the key points, and the anecdotes from the latest episode of Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers in Diplomatic View. He also responds to your comments and discusses your talking points. Diplomatic View should post on Sunday mornings or as early as Saturday evening.
Diplomatic View: Know Your Role
Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers
If you’ve read our Blogger Roundtable Preview (and you should!) then you know one of the criteria we use as a method of evaluation is the kind of things we think castaways will be good at. We judge what we think their chances are at physical challenges, their ability to survive the island’s conditions, and their ability to survive their fellow castmates. What we tend to focus on a little bit less is the contestant’s ability to complete mental challenges, though we call out the occasional gamer, and comment when someone self-professes to be good at mental challenges.
One of the reasons that I tend to focus on that a little less, is that it’s hard from the smattering of information we get at the start of the game to identify people with an affinity for puzzles and mental tests. It’s also worth noting that the puzzles on Survivor tend to be a mix of logic, spatial analysis, with a physical component to them as well. It can be the equivalent of doing a crossword puzzle while balancing on one foot, while someone constantly yells at you that you’re falling behind. I’m fairly good at puzzles, but I’m pretty sure Jeff Probst would throw me off of my game.
On every season of Survivor, there is a moment where contestant’s face a test of their soul, a test of bravery, a moment where they must balance their ego, their perception of their own intellect, and their survival in the game. That’s right, the moment where a player chooses to step forward and say ‘I’m good at puzzles!’ There are smaller echoes of this moment, no-one will forget Balancegate with Debbie last year, and far back in the past Kimmie’s excitement when she could finally eat a worm. The impact of the puzzle moment runs much deeper, because of the perception of value to other members of the tribe.
We all know that the contestants spend some time in orbit of each other before they’re able to start the game and start communicating. In that time they’re making judgments and assessments: who looks like they’d be strong, who looks trustworthy, who looks friendly, who looks like they’ll be able to fend for themselves? Some of these are obvious, it’s not hard to see that Alan or JP have more strength than a Mike or Ryan. Others are subtler, based on non-verbal communications, body type, etc. While someone like Ozzy is an open book to read at first sitting, a player like Tasha Fox doesn’t scream ‘challenge powerhouse’ at first sitting. All of those non-spoken judgments have an effect on day one, when people start getting to know their new tribemates and trying to cement alliances and their place in the game.
I will be the first person to say that this process tends to stack the deck, at least initially, in favor of players who are physically strong. They immediately jump out as useful before they get to camp, in the process of setting up the camp they have an easy time of cementing their place, and as a (often big) warm body, they also tend to do well in the sleeping politics of the tribe (i.e. the people you sleep near, you tend to ally with and vice versa). All in all, for a physical player to end up on the outs early, they normally have to commit a clear faux pas or be out-maneuvered by someone playing a fast burning game. Physical players that also have a smart or strategic bent, tend to do very well on Survivor because they’re quick to leverage that initial reaction into a permanent advantage.
This is where it becomes challenging for the ‘non-physical’ players. Almost immediately they’re assessed as either the sneaky player or the smart player, and smart’s a euphemism for sneaky on Survivor. Players are on the lookout now for the Cochran or Zeke type, not physically overwhelming, but smart and someone they have to keep an eye on. For that player, there can be two related challenges. The first challenge is playing down the threat they pose to more physical players in the game. The work-around for this tends to be trying to bond with one or more of those players so that they won’t perceive the player as sneaky or an immediate threat. The second challenge is proving that they bring something to the tribe worth keeping around. While the editors gave us plenty of humorous sound cues when Stephen Fishbach was defeated by a bundle of sticks, for non-celebrity players the sad trombone tends to follow or lead to a snuffed torch.
It’s natural for the player who doesn’t otherwise have a niche in the tribe, and who thinks they’re fairly smart, to volunteer to work the puzzles in challenges. There is definitely some risk to being in that role, but to be honest, if you’re going to get sent home for failing at a puzzle, you might have been sent home anyway. As in all things, the issue is degree. While it’s tempting, contestants should really avoid promoting themselves as the puzzle person back at camp. Far better to focus on building relationships with the tribe, being useful around camp to the extent you can, and generally just being part of the tribe. It always seems like the extent a player is punished for being bad at challenges is directly related to how large the tribe perceives them as the ‘puzzle person’. It’s also no accident that the first few puzzles are almost always worked on by more than one person… so there’s blame to be shifted around if you’re careful.
Dave L makes an interesting point that I overlooked:
Alan shows up, is in a good position, and immediately bullies all of the people around him and makes up lies. He acts crazy and accuses people of things that are clearly not true. He attacks his allies, but in the end he tucks his tail behind his back and just does what they say, making everybody not trust him and hate him for no good reason.
As damnbueno would point out, this was essentially the same course of story for Garrett, who got blindsided by Tasha, Kass, and J’Tia. Both players exhibit a key trait that makes them absolute nightmares to be on a tribe with, unpredictability. While uncertainty about what a player will do makes for fun viewing at home (Chaos Kass, Abi, etc), it’s the last thing that someone wants to deal with early on in the game. While I tend to think that these players can be worked with to a degree, it’s just a lot more work for the players involved and it’s often simpler to remove someone who might blow up their game.
Robert Dean chimed in on the subject of bitter juries:
It seems to me juries are bitter because someone made them bitter, and continuing to complain about them is pointless. After all, Survivor is first and foremost a social game.
Robert isn’t wrong at all. Survivor and Big Brother are social games, and I personally love that aspect of the game. My issue isn’t that people get hurt feelings, that’s natural, and when a player plays a scorched earth style of game they tend to get their due. I’ve even come to accept the overwhelming bitterness that kept Parvati from winning a second time, because she relentlessly mocked the ‘Heroes’, JT in particular.
My issue is, in all things, when there is hypocrisy involved. A fair number of the bitterest jurors get fixated on one point ‘I’m angry that you didn’t put my game above your own’. They conveniently forget that this is a person they just met, and this is a person that has a family and loved ones who they’re playing for. Most of all, they conveniently ignore the fact that were they in a position of choosing between themselves and someone else’s fate, they’d choose their own fate, every day.
Are there times in Survivor where a player should put the needs of the ‘team’ above their own? Definitely, especially when looking out for yourself doesn’t actually improve your chances of winning. At some point in Survivor, though, the game comes down to you and a million dollars. Players who end up on the wrong side of that choice, shouldn’t pretend that people who made those choices are somehow morally inferior.
So, basically, I’m saying Lex annoys me.
Sarah Channon, who we can blame for me joining RHAP makes a clear point that I did a bad job with last week when talking about early game shake-ups:
A good Survivor player should be able to play from the bottom as well as the top.
Sarah’s right. While the inevitable tribal swap is a challenge to Survivor players and tends to keep the season from being boring, it shouldn’t mark the death knell for a good player. My issue is that it makes it too easy for those players not to have a chance to play well from the bottom, but I made that point fairly badly. So thanks to Sarah for giving me an excuse for revisiting it.
Hero Tribe: Jump Ball
Alan might have been able to stay positioned well in the game if he’d suppressed his desire to ‘stir things up’ when they went to Tribal Council. However, not only didn’t he manage to smooth over the waters, he actively stirred the pot up, in case there were any dregs at the bottom of the barrel. From a strategic point of view it was an incredible waste because as we discussed last week, any diplomatic capital that Alan had with his tribe was subsumed by his unpredictability. For Chrissy, this is pretty good news, as it means the Cowboy is open to finding other allies. It also gives her a possible in with the ‘power couple’ JP and Ashley.
For a tribe with a surfeit of physically strong players, Alan’s position is now extremely tenuous, and I’m not sure that he’s the kind of player who can recover from it. His fate, from now until he inevitably goes home, is in the hands of other players and their willingness to abide by his antics. Instead of being in a position to call the shots, he’s now firmly dependent on the decisions of JP, Ashley, and others on the tribe.
The irony of this situation is that it’s actually worked out really well for JP and Ashley. Regardless of their status as a power couple, they’re definitely allied, and the remaining three members of their tribe are divided to one extent or another. So Alan’s plan to cast suspicion on them and weaken their position in the game when their alliance inevitably broke down, didn’t quite work as planned. Additionally, the perception of the two of them being a reliable twosome, is actually advantageous for them in trying to court Chrissy’s vote, since the alternative is a decidedly less reliable Alan.
Healers Tribe: Relying on the Kindness of Good Samaritans
I said last week that Joe reminded me of Tony without the subtlety. This week didn’t change that impression. I give credit to him for finding, and identifying, the idol clue. From there it was something of a comic farce. In watching the episode with Shane (former writing partner and one half of ‘Crash’), we immediately jumped to the understanding that the symbol on the tree represented the well. It simply didn’t make sense that it would be a reference to the raft. After all, the raft is likely nowhere near the position it was at when they first landed on the beach.
Given that he was baffled by the clue, it made sense for him to pull someone in to try to figure it out. What I find personally amazing is how quickly Cole provided him the essential information he needed to interpret the clue, helped him find it, and then let him claim it without contestation. This isn’t a knock on Joe. If I was baffled by an immunity clue, I likely would have done the same thing. Cole is simply an incredibly honest, and upfront player, and Joe took advantage of that.
The amusing thing was Joe immediately considering that he might need to eliminate Cole as quickly as possible. There’s an old expression: Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead. Well, no one has to die on Survivor, but as next week’s previews show Cole isn’t all that good at keeping a secret.
Hustlers Tribe: Odd Person Out
A significant issue Simone faced is that she wasn’t exactly a perfect fit for the ‘Hustler’ model. She’s certainly hardworking as a diversity advocate, but that’s not quite in the same model as an entrepreneur or some of her other tribemates. We’ve seen similar odd fits in Brain / Beauty / Brawn seasons, as well as in the White / Blue / No-Collar divisions, and it almost always puts someone in a weak position for early evictions.
The other side of Simone’s issue is that as much as I’m a fan of Cirie, and her ‘off of the couch and onto the beach’ story is part of what makes her story so compelling… Simone’s version falls quite flat and did so with her tribe. To her credit, she was completely honest with how ill-at-ease she was, and she jumped in at every chance to be of assistance or to help out around camp. The drawback to her approach to this was how clearly she pointed out in each case she was doing something completely new to her. It’s one thing to lead off with, ‘I’m a neophyte out here, but I’ll do what I can’, it’s another to remind people at each step how it’s lucky you managed to gut the fish correctly because you know so little about it.
When Simone failed to perform at the puzzle challenge, she became an easy boot. She was something of an outsider from her tribe, was well-meaning but limited in her utility at camp, and didn’t seem to be able to hold her weight on the puzzle side at challenges. Worse for her is that the other person who did the puzzle was Ali, who is at the core of the nexus of relationships on the Hustler tribe. If someone was going to be blamed for the loss, and someone was, it wasn’t going to be Ali.
In the end, Simone only had two cards to play. The first would have been attempting to get the Hustlers to vote out Lauren, the oldest member of the tribe. That might have worked on other seasons, and we’ve seen older tribe members end up as the first boot before, but the Hustler mindset is a little different. Lauren is a hard worker and recognizes and respects game. Simone smartly didn’t try to pull on that thread instead she pointed the finger at Patrick.
The titular banshee is something of a handful, irritating Lauren, and generally acting like a bit of a crazy person. The argument that he’s unreliable long-term, and that she would be loyal, was Simone’s best chance of staying longer in the game. Unfortunately for her, it wasn’t one that worked.
The challenge for Ali on that tribe, knowing that Lauren dislikes Patrick and that Patrick is always on the edge of out-of-control, is keeping the animus between those two from becoming a full-scale distraction for her tribe. Having the two of them at odds isn’t a bad thing, as it keeps her in control, but if it turns into a full-scale war the backscatter could in unforeseeable ways.
- I always find Survivor romances confusing. I understand why they happen after the show, as the Survivor contestant group is something of a family, and spend a lot of time together at functions. On the island, however, after about 5 or 6 days I’m not sure anything would spin my head towards romance.
- I mentioned earlier that Simone seemed an odd fit for the Hustler’s tribe. By the same measure, Joe is a strange fit for the Healer’s tribe. It makes me wonder if that was a late switch-up to balance the tribe’s strengths.
- Chrissy talking about the idol still giving her an advantage was a bit confusing until she pointed out that she can use it as a fake idol going forward. It will be the most interesting fake idol… and if she distresses the note she received with it so that the usage instructions are excised… she can get a lot of mileage out of it.
Next week, we should see both the fall-out from Patrick’s continued behavior and the revelation of Joe’s idol. Of the two, Joe’s idol is the thorniest situation to deal with. On a tribe of 6 players there is no real way to fish the idol out. You can either blindside the idol holder, or you risk being the one he targets when he uses the idol. Aligning with the idol holder is a safer bet, though Joe doesn’t seem like the sort of person who will agreeably align, under threat of exposure.