The lesson we should be taking away from this week’s episode of Survivor is that the social game is harder than you think it is. Gota are all over the place as their power struggles contend against a thorn in their side, resulting in this week’s mess of a Tribal Council. Allie commented on the podcast that this was one of the ways in which the Favorites had it easier, thanks to the benefit of experience, but they’re not looking any better. Bikal’s two loose cannons are butting heads and the rest of them disagree on how long they should play along with the madness. Brandon goes so far as to say in his online clip (1:10) that the Fans are going to annihilate the Favorites who can’t stick together.
Of course, that’s Brandon, and Andy Baker made the salient observation in his blog last week that Brandon has never played on the outs before. We’ve never seen what Brandon is like when he’s not in a position of security… Until now.
Judging by Brenda and Corinne’s online confessionals on the subject, there was probably much we didn’t see of Brandon’s tirade against Dawn and Cochran, because it would have all been silence and blurred mouth. Corinne described it as “ballsiness,” but both women noted that it was a bad idea when you were one of three outsiders. When your best short-term goal is to put yourself third in line for the vote, you don’t blow up at the dominant alliance after Tribal Council.
Brenda provides an alternative post-Tribal strategy for those seeking a less emotional game, explaining that Brandon’s outburst only demonstrated how much he wanted Andrea to go home. Instead, he could have stayed calm, suggesting such phrases as: “What happened?” “I thought we were together.” “There’s a misunderstanding.”
It’s safe to assume that this was how Brenda approached the others afterwards (though possibly only after Brandon had stopped screaming). She’s known for her refusal to scramble in Nicaragua, but even back then she had a valid point that if you’re constantly running around trying to save yourself, it annoys people (e.g. Cochran’s social game in South Pacific, which was putting him into a third-place finish long before he flipped). Brandon wasn’t scrambling, but he wasn’t staying calm and keeping off people’s nerves either.
At any rate, under pressure of being on the outs, Brenda is keeping her cool and good for her. I wonder if she’s over-rating Brandon’s probability of being the next boot, because as long as Gota keeps Shamar around, Bikal will need all the brute strength they can get. She might not want to be pushy, but she definitely needs to be pro-active now and find her window into the dominant alliance. We don’t know much about her connections within Stealth R Us—she and Francesca believed that Dawn was with them, but Dawn was, well, occupied after Tribal Council, so she might have talked to somebody else, though your guess is as good as mine as to who.
The only other information we have on Brenda was her little dance with Phillip, and I’m guessing he’s the type of CEO who’s susceptible to being buttered up. Perhaps one route for her is to get taken under his wing as a side-alliance. On the other hand, I can’t believe that the rest of Stealth R Us wouldn’t be suspicious of that, and I would put my money on them convincing Phillip to vote her off. Short of a tribal swap, Brenda’s prospects remain gloomy.
Erik’s chances continue to be the best of the outsiders, although we barely saw anything of him beyond his nod-and-smile reaction to Brandon’s plans. Surprisingly, his online confessional is about how he wants Andrea to go home. Erik isn’t ducking fire, he’s taking aim. This could mean he has some security we’re not aware of—perhaps he reached an insincere agreement with Phillip after all, or a secret alliance with one of the others—but it’s equally possible that he’s well aware he’s not going to be the first one voted off, being likeable, a big challenge asset and one of the few people who can use their new Hawaiian sling. So he’s carrying on his own game, which involves eliminating the people he doesn’t want to play with.
To be fair, we must give even Brandon some credit for self-control, since after his first shocked reaction (reaction being an understatement), he did calm down and manage to have a civil conversation with Cochran. He even had the poise to wave Phillip on over when the latter stumbled across the two of them: inclusion is often a good tactic in Survivor; if nothing else, it helped Cochran here, by proving to Phillip that he wasn’t scheming behind his back.
However, as with Francesca’s olive branch, Phillip wasn’t flexible enough to accept this gesture. I doubt he had ever envisioned Brandon in his alliance, and when pushed, the only place he would find for him in his beloved metaphor was ‘middle management’. As Malcolm pointed out (0:45) that’s one of the most condescending things he could have said, and Brandon is not somebody who takes criticism well.
Stand United Before You’re Divided
It’s not just Brandon who is causing division in the tribe. It’s not even just Phillip. Obviously, Andrea is not in a good position to mend bridges with the players who want her out, but it seems Corinne isn’t helping either. Corrine might not be actively offending the outsiders, but she made it clear in her confessional that they needed to get rid of the three outsiders, because they were the three that would flip. She went so far as to say they needed to lose three challenges before a merge.
To put it mildly, I disagree. Corinne’s alliance of six is a nice majority of ten, but not of twelve, when a merge generally happens these days. More importantly, it’s incredibly unlikely that there will be three more Tribal Councils before a potential tribal swap. Considering the precedent set for tribal swaps in themed tribe seasons, Stealth R Us are failing dismally if they aren’t planning for one.
The original Stealth R Us did not have to contend with a swap, and so the BR rules do not account for one (it’s possible Boston Rob guessed there wouldn’t be a swap since Redemption Island was already the big twist of the season), but Gabon featured not one but two Tribal Swaps, with members of Corinne’s original Onion alliance falling victim to both of them, thus ending her game. Honestly, I don’t understand how Corinne could have made this confessional in any context.
At least not everybody is so careless. Malcolm said that, aside from Phillip ‘the rest of us’ were trying to build a sense of unity and a strong team. One twist I’d love to see is the players split into three tribes of six next episode, and Malcolm’s the only person who might see that coming. Regardless, it’s good to know some of them are playing according to common sense, though they’re fighting an uphill battle.
Meanwhile, Cochran learned from his previous season that it’s no good to sit back and trust in your new allies. He’s already acted as mediator for Brandon, but I’d be expecting him to open a door for the others as well. Unlike Dawn, he’s got the benefit of experience when it comes to being yelled at by betrayed players (roll that Whitney clip yet again), and he seems to have taken Brandon’s outburst in his stride.
Not that I’m concerned about Dawn’s tears either. If nothing else, Sugar cried every day in Gabon, and if there’s one good thing you can say about her game, it’s that she was still standing strong at the end of it. I’d say the shouting we’ve seen from Brandon, Shamar and even Reynold are far more worrying signs of instability. Dawn gave herself her moment, mopped herself back up and three days later was delighted about the immunity challenge victory because of its boost to team morale.
Sidenote: last week, Andy made the contentious statement that Cochran was pulling the strings in the Dawn-Cochran tandem, something which Glenn rightly called him out on (along with several others of us). I commented in that thread that I didn’t think anybody was in the driver’s seat just yet. This episode, Cochran was the more active of the two, but I’m going to stand by that opinion. I think both Cochran and Dawn are biding their time and running with the game rather than trying to navigate it just yet.
If Bikal have another Tribal Council before the swap, I think Cochran and Dawn will vote with Stealth R Us again, even though Cochran’s confessional shows a streak of his old paranoia as he over-analyzes the nicknames Phillip gave them. (Yes, I’m aware that I’m in no position to criticize over-analysis.) Still, come the presumed swap, I think these two are safer than perhaps anybody else in the game, and perhaps this is exactly what they’re waiting for.
So things will continue to simmer on Bikal, since it doesn’t seem that anybody’s truly prepared to shake up the status quo, with the possible exception of Erik, and he can’t do it alone (unless he finds an immunity idol, and it’s certainly possible he’s looking). Brandon’s focus is, of course, shaking up the camp, which is a different thing. It’s going to get pretty tiresome if we continue this pattern of him making grand threats which provide meat for the promos but no actual follow through in episode.
Gota: the Director’s Cut
As for Gota, the status quo has finally been established, and it’s the cool kids who have been left out of the voting clique. The big benefit of this is that Allie has been able to give us her account of the first week, including such revelations as herself and Reynold not actually being a showmance.
Obviously, there’s always the possibility of revisionism here, as an early boot makes themselves look good. However, there’s a lot of evidence to support Allie’s story. None of us could believe that a long-time fan like Allie would make such a massive mistake, Reynold said pre-game that he had an attachment that was “complicated” back home (things are simpler now; he got married in December—Congratulations!), Laura was worried about Allie being strategic rather than half of a power-couple—oh, and at Tribal Council, Eddie and Hope were outed as the couple, not Reynold and Allie.
So let’s run Allie’s version of events (pieced together from comments throughout the podcast, although the concise version can be heard at about 15:25). Allie and Laura got together almost straightaway (in fact, Allie had singled her out before the game), then Allie clicked with Reynold and Matt, while Laura formed a connection with Sherri whom Allie mistrusted. Hope and Eddie joined in with Allie, Reynold, and Matt, but Laura didn’t like Reynold.
As a genuine friendship grew between Allie, Hope, Eddie, and Reynold, Sherri and Laura were confiding in each other. Laura informed Sherri that Allie didn’t trust her, while Sherri warned Laura that she would be the third girl in that group and offered her a better position in her own alliance. (NB Allie has to be making a lot of assumptions about this turn of events, unless she received further info from a later boot.) Laura promptly turned double agent and sold out her fellow super-fan Allie as the Cool Kid with the best head for the game.
Maybe it’s just me, but that’s a compelling storyline right there, and a great background for Allie’s premature departure. Instead, Allie was reduced to being Reynold’s cuddle-buddy, with the implication being that she was voted off solely to weaken Gota’s leading man. At least with the Shamar storyline, the offensive stereotype was forced on the editors. There was so much more material they could have gone with for the women.
It’s safe to say that I like Reynold considerably more than the next person, yet I still would rather we’d seen less of him and more of Allie, Laura and Sherri. Allie’s podcast suggests a fascinating dynamic between Sherri and Laura that we haven’t seen. (Gothel/Rapunzel from Tangled, anyone?) There should be no need for Survivor to fail the Bechdel Test!
Commercial break: Don’t forget to read Michel Trudeau’s blog for why Survivor is failing the Bechdel Test. We now return to our regularly scheduled blog.
Tribe of Islands
Beyond Allie’s story of how events unfolded, we can build up an interesting picture of multiple social failures across Gota. While the cool kids always planned on working with Matt and Laura, they got on best with each other. In Reynold’s webclip he shamefacedly observes that no matter how much they try to intermingle with the rest of their tribe, they keep finding themselves going off for a swim as just the four of them. Out on the island, the days are long, and they automatically hang out with the people they like. (This puts episode one’s Cool Kids conversation in a slightly different context, if we assume they were remarking on this phenomenon.) Even worse, the shelter is too small, so their four has ended up sleeping on the beach.
It’s this kind of frank confessional that makes me cringe, because in my own vague imaginings of what it must actually be like to live Survivor, I can understand where Reynold’s coming from and can envision myself having similar struggles. However, speaking from the comfort of my living room, difficulty isn’t an excuse. You have to find a solution. The Cool Kids knew they had a problem, must have realized that they were leaving Matt to be courted by the opposition, and they just sat on it, hoping that they wouldn’t lose a challenge and that the tribe was united in its dislike of Shamar.
Ah, yes, Shamar. I have to wonder how much of his lazing in the shelter was owing to the shock of discovering nobody wanted to be friends. He probably doesn’t need emotional support in the same way the others do as they get used to their new environment, but a Survivor tribe will have a very different social dynamic to the camaraderie of a military unit. I don’t think he was expecting that, and he clearly doesn’t have the social skills to bridge the gulf between himself and the others.
Instead he retreated to the shelter and celebrated his isolation, mocking the others for their dislike of him. Yet, as erratic a strategy as his is, he knows he needs to be in an alliance to advance in the game, and his pleasure when Sherri offered him one was palpable. Sherri herself was sure that his aggression was down to insecurity and that he would calm down once he knew he could trust his alliance, yet Shamar’s confessional indicates that he got into it with Reynold after the challenge precisely because he knew he was secure and Reynold wasn’t. He could safely score points.
Despite this misjudgment on her part, Sherri seems to be playing a very manipulative game. She wooed Laura away from Allie’s group and fostered (deliberately?) the tribal resentment towards the Cool Kids. She’s got Shamar in her back pocket, and she has also drawn in another isolated player, Julia.
In Julia’s case, the isolation was largely due to a bad sunburn, worse than Cochran’s judging by the state of her face, obliging her to hide in the shelter, while everybody else worked. Except of course, Shamar. It’s entirely possible that she and Shamar have bonded, I suppose. Maybe.
Julia is also the youngest of her tribe by a few years and seems to have a more reserved personality anyway. She’ll probably form deeper bonds as the game progresses, though presumably she’ll have to make up ground in the hierarchy.
Looking for a Mastermind
Going back to Sherri, her webclip this week proposes the intriguing alternate universe theory that Shamar could have been a swing vote, and if the Cool Kids had worked on him, he could have flipped giving them the power position. It’s easy to say in retrospect that the Cool Kids and Shamar, like Francesca and Phillip, could never have worked successfully together, but mortal enemies have previously managed short-term alliances in Survivor (Eliza and Scout/Twila in Vanuatu for example); Sherri was wise to be paranoid.
It’s also a good insight into her gameplan: running numbers and playing psyches against each other. She’s going for the full socio-strategic game, and good for her. The question is: Does she have the ability to pull it off?
Julia tells us (0:20) that Sherri was insistent that she would be the sole diver in the challenge. This proved to be a horrendous strategy, since she needed breathing time to recover from each dive, a delay which the Favorites nullified by their smooth rotation. Sherri over-rated her physical abilities in an apparent desire to micro-manage the challenge. Will this carry over to her social and strategic game?
Take for example her alliance with Shamar, directly comparing him to Phillip (as many of us have done). I have always said that aligning with loose cannons is a mistake that has hurt more people than it’s ever helped, so I am in disapproval of this move. On the other hand, on the Know-it-Alls podcast (5:40) Rob and Stephen both applauded Sherri for it. My criticism is inevitably biased by own limitations, and though I lack any point of direct comparison, I can assure you that Rob and Stephen have better social games than I do. So how good is Sherri’s? Is she being over-ambitious to cast herself in the Boston Rob role?
Moving on, there appears to be at least one serious absence on Sherri’s radar, and that’s Michael. Sherri feared Shamar would be the swing vote, and I’m guessing she figured that Matt would vote with the Cool Kids in that scenario since Shamar wouldn’t give them the majority. Yet we know that Michael and Matt have a partnership going, and indeed it was Michael’s vote that the fans were courting, with Matt wrongly certain he could call it. It appears that Sherri is completely unaware of how close Matt and Michael are and has fallen for Michael’s assurances that he’s 100% with her alliance.
Michael then, rather than Sherri, might be playing the best game on Gota. Nobody’s saying anything bad about him, everybody trusts that they have his vote, and he’s got his finger on the pulse of the tribe. His webclip provides further commentary on the Shamar-Reynold confrontation, which he dismisses as stupid but points out that everybody has been grumbling about Shamar for days, and they wanted him to know that they didn’t like him (0:53). From this accurate social reading, he moves on to wrap up with the beautifully simple point (1:40): “He’s voting with me tonight. That’s a good reason for me to keep him.”
I’m hesitant to assume that last line means Michael has his own alliance with Shamar, but it would not surprise me if Michael had made a point of cordial conversation with the prickly marine. I fully expect Michael’s done that with the entire tribe. The only potential flaw is that I don’t see him providing pastoral care (in the non-religious sense) the way Sherri is. Like Shamar, I get the feeling Michael doesn’t need the emotional support of social connections (yet), but he’s achieved a good balance in making them.
In this week’s Wiggle Room, Josh agreed with Michael’s description of the message that Bikal had sent Gota by voting off Fran. I was even more impressed with Michael’s wording and delivery. He had been put on the spot, having to pass judgment on the other tribe, and he rose to the challenge, calling the Favorites “vicious”, though there was no accusation in his tone. (Mind you, after Brandon, a few Favorites might have been sensitive to such language anyway.) The balance of paying Bikal respect for the move without sucking up is a fine one, and he struck it.
So while Michael is calmly getting himself in the good graces of everybody out there, the core alliance we’ve been told about is him and Matt (though I’d not be surprised if he also had a secret partnership with Sherri and/or others). Matt badly wanted to vote with the Cool Kids and was convinced he could get Michael on board, but we know that didn’t work out. The assumption therefore is that Michael called the shots, but to be fair, Sherri might have been the one to persuade Matt.
Matt is the one who’s going to lose ground after this Tribal Council though. He betrayed his alliance with the Cool Kids and has to be a bottom feeder in Sherri’s group. His game is now almost entirely dependent on Michael, and luckily for him, I’m sure Michael will be aware of that.
All that said, Matt has far exceeded the expectations of all of us bloggers, not just because he wasn’t the first boot, but because he’s fit in well enough with his tribe to have a choice as to which alliance he joined!
How Not to Use Information on the Idol
It’s time to talk about the hidden immunity idol, which finally reared its ugly head this episode. The predictable outcome of recent seasons is that nobody wants to spend a lot of time looking for it for fear of raising suspicions, but Reynold risked a quick hunt and got lucky. Then he continued his bid to become the show’s least reliable forecaster by declaring he wasn’t going to let anybody see the bulge in his pants.
This brings us to Laura, who went into the game looking for a target to distract the tribe from her own weakness in challenges. This week, in EW’s deleted scene, she cheerfully announces that she’s built up a Survivor Sweetheart image, and everybody thinks she’s adorable when she picks up a machete. She’s delighted to be underestimated, and I am happy to admit that I underestimated her, but I still can’t shake my initial read of Laura: that she’s overestimating herself.
As Josh pointed out, she made a mess when playing her knowledge of the idol at Tribal Council. If her intent was simply to scare Reynold out of giving it to Allie, then she met that goal. However, we know he wasn’t intending to give it to Allie anyway, and honestly, I’m not sure he ever would have done. The second Tribal Council is very early to play your idol if it’s not you going home.
What Laura had when she guessed Reynold’s secret was the power of information. The more people who know that information, the less valuable it is. Honestly, she would have been better never mentioning it at Tribal Council, but waiting until afterwards to increase her trust with her preferred allies or to use as leverage with Reynold. Instead, she got a little too excited about her secret and made one too many cryptic comments at Tribal Council. I have no problem with Jeff calling her out on it; she should have seen that coming.
Despite my criticism, I do applaud her for trying to exploit the platform of Tribal Council, something too many players forget about. Her big problem now is that she’s tipped her hand in more ways than one. Tribal Council Laura was not your average Survivor Sweetheart, and you can be sure she’s jumped onto a few people’s radars, while Sherri might be frustrated with how she frittered away such prime information.
Reynold didn’t fare a whole lot better than Laura. He was right to get it out, right to point out that bringing your idol to Tribal Council is just Survivor 101 (the lesson he’d so recently been taught by Allie). But then he went down that heavy-handed “I’m going to play it!” road… I wasn’t a big fan of that move when Malcolm did it, and I’m even less convinced this time (though at least Reynold’s idol reveal was much more warranted than Malcolm’s).
The biggest problem is that Reynold forced himself into a lie when he did not play the idol. Lying is A-OK on Survivor, but my take on Reynold is that he wants to play on a higher ground than that. Michael sardonically referred to his confrontation with Shamar as “heroic,” reminding us that he was defending the honour of his lady, Allie. Couple that with Reynold’s Dashing Adventurer sense of fashion, and I’m pretty sure that the Hero of the Caramoan is exactly what Reynold wants to be. In many ways, he’s not another Malcolm, but rather a budding Coach.
My recommendation for the Heroic Game would have been something a little bolder: “I’m not going to play it, because I want to save it for us to use against Bikal after the merge.” Reynold’s challenge prowess means that Gota can’t really afford to lose him anyway, so it would have been worth taking the risk of a double-bluff. He would also have backed up his trite “This idol is for the tribe!” sentiment and played up to the Good Guy image that he no doubt wants to radiate at Final Tribal Council.
So how is our hero going to handle this early defeat? I’m optimistic that Reynold will bear up well. He’s played rugby against Australians, so he’s more used to failure than most who come into Survivor. Hopefully he’ll learn from the experience and move forward, with the rest of his alliance. Similarly, this might be a good wake-up call for Hope who appeared to be burying her head in the sand in her webclip where she described Gota as a close tribe who doesn’t want to send anybody home… I’m going to trust Michael’s commentary over Hope’s for the time being.
As Long As There’s an Idol, There’s Hope
Theoretically, Hope should be the next target: she’s in the minority and is no particular asset in challenges. However, Reynold’s idol is going to have a huge influence on everybody’s next move… except maybe Shamar’s, which will undoubtedly be to rub salt into the Cool Kids’ wounds. Since everybody knows that everybody knows about the idol, Sherri and Laura’s group will have to split a vote. They have the numbers to force a tie—three for Hope, three for Reynold, (up against the Cool Kids’ three votes)—and then switch on the revote to whoever doesn’t play the idol. This just requires complete faith in everybody following the plan.
It also assumes everybody is going to want to flush out the idol. History has taught us that most players prefer to align with it, and I’m sure Reynold’s seen enough of Survivor to start using his idol as alliance-bait. I can see Sherri and Laura not wanting potential challenge beasts Reynold and Eddie anywhere near their endgame plans, but what about Michael and Matt? Despite my earlier hopes, I don’t get the sense that Michael likes Reynold’s group any better than the other group, but he might well believe he can manage Reynold better than he can Sherri.
Of course, if Michael doesn’t have a preferred alliance, he might end up with a preferred target. With Allie gone, the next most powerful tandem is probably Sherri and Laura—the latter of whom also brings nothing to the table challenge-wise, creating the perfect excuse for his betrayal. Vote off Laura, weaken Sherri, and work towards what should be the ultimate goal of an alliance with Michael and Matt at the core.
Finally there’s the short term, non-committal target of Shamar. If Allie is to be believed, he is largely responsible for the Fans’ ongoing failures at challenge-strategy. All his brute strength is redundant if he’s preventing them from using the rest of their team effectively. Should Gota lose the next immunity challenge, I expect at least one person (probably Reynold) to point the finger at Shamar, and Sherri is the only person really motivated to keep him. After all the drama of last week’s Tribal Council, the temptation to take an easy vote next time will be a strong one.
I will wrap up with the note that nobody on the Fans tribe seems to be heeding the possibility of a Tribal Swap either. Now that the battle lines have been drawn, it will be interesting to see if anybody’s going to establish peace operations next episode. As it stands though, the prospects are grim for any of the current alliances to make it to the merge. And that means the swing votes (Dawn, Cochran, Michael and Matt) continue to have the best shot at making it deep into the game.