Considering this episode panned out exactly the way I predicted it would last week (Bikal lose every challenge; Julia gets voted out), there was enough strategy going on to make it worth watching. While the Julia or Michael vote was always inevitable, the back and forth between the Favorites at least kept me and my husband divided about which Fan was going home. And Gota’s blossoming bro-alliance has actually got me excited about what’s going to happen post-merge.
Bikal – New Dawn Rising
For me, the best thing about the episode (and the secret scenes) was the insight into just how the Bikal Favorites work together and deal with each other. Last week, I speculated on all kinds of reasons why Julia might have voted for Dawn, and on the podcast (5:40) she confirmed that it was because Dawn seemed the most forgiving of the Favorites, based on what she knew of her from her season—and it was more or less for the same reason that she approached Dawn with the suggestion of turning on Phillip. She’s not the first person to go straight from targeting somebody to trying to align with them either, though it always seems odd.
As Julia herself pointed out (6:20) we’ll never know if she would have been better off keeping quiet, instead of testing the waters with Dawn. The episode certainly suggested that that was what made her a target, but she was feeling threatened anyway, and Dawn’s webclip (1:30) makes it clear that Bikal had decided that Julia would be the next boot long before the immunity challenge. Whether or not it cost her the chance at the merge, I can’t blame her for trying. She felt she was in danger; she tried to do something about it. That’s better than sitting tight and hoping!
It was an odd call, targeting the player who had given her the most reassurance, but then again, being compliant with Phillip hadn’t done Matt any good! Especially after that reward challenge, Phillip does stick out as Bikal’s sore thumb, and according to the podcast, even Dawn was driven to ranting about him, which was what prompted Julia to pitch her idea. Having seized her moment, she entered into the subject with Survivor-perfect theory: she gave Dawn the information of how Phillip had taken her under his wing by way of gaining her trust; she explained that she appreciated it but felt a little bullied too, fishing for Dawn’s sympathy.
For her part, Dawn sort of brushed over the sympathy cue and certainly didn’t give Julia any encouragement to continue talking about Phillip, but there’s a cut before Julia actually broached the topic of backstabbing, so it’s difficult to say whether the Fan could have known to stop talking or not. Julia did repeatedly stress that she doesn’t know what the dynamic is with the Favorites, and she doesn’t want to interfere with that, giving Dawn several openings to both give her more info and to reassure her / tell her that Phillip isn’t a problem.
So from what we heard of Julia’s side of the conversation, she did just fine, and I take back some of what I suggested last week about her poor social game. She’s definitely reserved, and I do think she’s too intimidated by some of the players to bond with them effectively (part of which is just her youth), but she knows how to talk to people. In most seasons of Survivor, I think her venture would have done her no harm—not sure it would have worked when precedent shows the minority are rarely successful in breaking up the majority, but I think the other person would have responded more openly.
Unfortunately for Julia, Dawn’s a veteran, and she’s not going to be drawn into saying too much. Her tone and face took Julia very seriously, but all she actually said was some variant of “Right.” She won’t make the mistake of not telling her alliance about a potential betrayal again. We didn’t see it, but I would have thought she’d talk to Cochran as well, if not first. (Devil’s advocate time: we haven’t seen Dawn and Cochran talk privately together for several episodes; it’s possible we’re assuming they’re a lot closer than they are, but we should still note that they’re always on the same page, and the current Phillip-Corinne situation should certainly be fostering their own alliance.) However, the important thing is that she talked to Phillip.
This blatant treachery, after she specifically said to Julia that she wouldn’t tell anybody, was both brilliant and slightly terrifying, coming, as it does, from a woman whose go-to expletive is “What the what?” It’s perhaps the first time we’ve really seen New Dawn at work. After her calm, respectful and serious tone with Julia, she approached Phillip with “Oh! Oh! Oh!” and was all eager urgency as she spilled Julia’s beans. It was almost as if she was humoring a child by joining in his game.
As the Know It Alls observed, she didn’t actually tell Phillip that Julia was conspiring against him. No sooner had she said that Julia had talked about working with him (and that that would be good for her!), than Phillip was huffing about how he’d told Julia not to tell anybody about that. I’m not sure where in the BR rules it says that you should tell your allies you’re making secret deals with outsiders, but Dawn seems totally unconcerned. (She might have missed it, but I’m guessing they’ve all got Phillip figured out by now.) Instead, she immediately jumps in with: “That’s why I told you!” Blatant sucking up.
It makes me realize that we never see Dawn and Phillip talking one on one—nor has she been around for many of his group discussions. He’s forever pulling Cochran into the forest and whispering sweet nothings into his ear (or inviting him to roll around on a blanket with him), but he’s much more casual with Dawn. It seems to be lack of interest rather than active dislike, but either way, it looks like Dawn was seizing an opportunity to raise her stock with him this episode at Julia’s expense.
Keeping Phillip happy seems to be Bikal’s primary objective right now. Aside from Phillip, I don’t think any of them are expecting to win challenges (though I’m sure people like Dawn are trying and hoping to), so they’re in a holding pattern. Use the Fans as cannon fodder, try to pick right back up with Stealth R Us at the merge, and keep Phillip from getting so bored / grumpy that he changes the plan. Phillip needs to feel that he’s playing the game at all times, and cutting side-deals with the Fans is a relatively harmless distraction; wanting to vote off Corinne is not.
The eternally frustrated Corinne tells us (1:25) that she’s learned a lot about anger management from dealing with Phillip who needs 24 hour ego stroking. We heard her forced encouragement at the challenge: “That’s a nice toss, Phillip!” (I like to think she was dying a little inside as she said it.) She’s realized that you can’t talk reason into him, you just have to puff up his ego until he settles down. She’s trying her best to emulate Dawn’s approach of breathing and walking away, as we saw during their argument on the beach.
That was another example of Phillip’s bizarre social moves. I have no objection with him telling Dawn and Cochran that they are his core alliance. That’s exactly how Boston Rob worked, making everybody feel secure and think he was taking them to the final three. Yet then he told Corinne that they were having a private discussion that she was excluded from. She pointed out that she’s in their alliance, and he still made her leave until they were finished. I’m sure Corinne had no illusions about where she stood in their alliance anyway, but how can Phillip not be aware that he’s telling her she’s fourth? How can he not be wondering why she hasn’t flipped, given so much provocation?
The reason Corinne hasn’t flipped is almost certainly down to Dawn and Cochran. Dawn compares their position (2:35) to children trying to keep their fighting parents together, noting that this is highly stressful for them. What they’re telling Phillip about it, I don’t know, but Phillip is itching to vote her off, much as he was with Francesca. I am sure that Phillip wanted to vote Francesca off first partly (if not wholly) to humiliate her and reinforce his superiority in the game. I wonder if his wish to stop Corinne getting to the merge was to deny her even the privilege of being on the jury. More rationally, there’s no point in him having her as a juror anyway, as she’ll never vote for him, but I’m not sure he cares for that so much as scoring points off her.
Corinne, as we saw in the episode, fully believes that she’ll get to vote off Phillip, so we can assume Dawn and Cochran have both reassured her that that’s the plan. She might be thinking she can just use Malcolm’s idol to get him out when the time comes, but either way, she’s determined to stick Phillip out until then. Julia told us (10:00) that Corinne repeatedly said that she would not be flipping her alliance, from the moment the Fans arrived at Bikal. Despite the editors’ careful documentation of Corinne’s frustrations, she’s a loyal Stealth R Us member right now.
On the flipside, any one person in Survivor only has as much power as the other players grant them. Why is everybody pandering to Phillip so much if he’s just a figurehead. Does calling him a figurehead mean anything, if you’re still spending all your time trying to play along with his game? Even Julia and Michael were remembering to butter up Phillip besides their other game moves. Julia’s secret scene showed them preparing something for Phillip the way he likes it, an action he took for granted as being his due.
Similarly there was the reward challenge fiasco, where Bikal basically had to make a choice between giving themselves a fighting chance at the reward or keeping Phillip happy. They chose the latter (odds were low of them winning the challenge anyway), and let Phillip go full steam ahead with his self-aggrandizing strategy that ended with him, the leader of the line, falling back to the rear and getting tagged by Erik even though Corinne and Michael were carrying at least twice as much weight as he was.
This is, of course, a case of picking your battles. The Favorites made the decision to keep Phillip around because he’s beatable at the end and he’s so busy blowing hot air that he’s creating a very good smokescreen for their own plans. He’s getting his way at the moment, but that does not necessarily mean he’s controlling the game.
Corinne is following Dawn’s example in learning how to tolerate Phillip, but Dawn is ready to advance to the next level and start influencing him. It looks like she’s now trying to imitate Cochran’s indulgence of his eccentricities. Cochran’s superfan status provides him with not just knowledge of the game but also a deep appreciation of the personalities on it. He’s got more patience for playing around with Phillip than most of the other players on his tribe, because he’s genuinely interested in getting to meet the character from his television. In South Pacific he became a student of Coach Chi; in the Caramoan he’s taking arm wrestling lessons from the Specialist. He’s wry about it, but deprecation (self or otherwise) is Cochran’s style. He’s still getting a huge kick out of the interaction.
And it works, for characters like Coach and Phillip thrive on this attention. They’re playing themselves up for the fans watching the show; having Cochran around lets them add audience participation to their act. Cochran himself is self-aware enough to recognize this, and this time around, he’s making full use of his bond with Phillip. He might have struggled to keep a straight face when Phillip told him he threw the challenge, but he was fully on board that it was a good move and only told the cameras that it was a fictional one.
While Cochran might be quietly firm to Phillip about points he disagrees on (such as when Phillip told him he wanted Corinne out before the merge), he keeps out of any arguments. Dawn was drawn into giving Corinne some support over the disagreement about Michael, but Cochran never said a word. He’s not there to choose sides or stick his neck out over a minor detail, but we have seen him stand up for anything he felt strongly about: voting Matt out instead of Julia; not voting Corinne out before the merge.
Yet he stays soft-spoken and unassuming—all the way down to his unabashed and public speculation that the treemail reference to “the weak” meant that he could contribute to the challenge. Caramoan is a much better advert for Cochran as a lawyer than South Pacific was.
Normally, I am all in favor of voting off the crazy people, because most players are deluding themselves when they think they can control them. For Cochran and Phillip, I’ll make an exception. I’m pretty sure that Cochran does have Phillip eating out of his hand in a way he might not be able to do with a more cynical player such as Corinne or Malcolm. Much as I might roll my eyes at the thought of having Phillip on my screen for the rest of the season, it seems unlikely that Phillip will ever turn on Cochran. Instead he’s using Cochran as his confidante, and annoying all the potential members of the jury. Most important of all, Cochran can out-argue him at the end because he understands how the players perceive both of them, whereas Phillip lacks that self-awareness.
I’m assuming that Cochran is leaving his options open regarding the end-game, but the overall plan he and Stealth R Us are working towards seems to be a final four of Phillip, Andrea, Dawn and Cochran. Here, Cochran is perfectly positioned. Nicest Person Alive Dawn is theoretically the biggest jury threat, so Andrea and Phillip will vote her off instead of him. Should Dawn win immunity, Cochran’s got an alliance with her so (again theoretically) she should take him to the end, and it will just be a matter of persuading Phillip to vote off Andrea. Cochran can definitely beat Phillip, and depending how the game pans out, he’s got a fighting chance against Andrea and Dawn.
Dawn might also consider this a reasonable final four, or maybe she and Corinne have bonded enough that Dawn’s considering taking both her and Phillip to the end as jury goats—Corinne’s riskier than Phillip, but if she gets to the end with him, she’s clearly not been able to influence the game the way she wanted! My guess is that Dawn’s more open in her plans than Cochran.
Phillip believes he can beat anybody, because he’s the Boston Rob of this game, but he likes Andrea and Cochran better than anybody else; no doubt he will happily grant them the honor of being his runners up. Andrea is also intending to be the Boston Rob figure, and while she’s using Phillip as a goat, she’s more focused on having an unbeatable game than going against people she can beat.
Corinne’s long term plans are much harder to figure out, since we’re seeing her commentary rather than her strategy. It might be she’s not thinking about the endgame at all yet, but I hope she has something more concrete than voting Phillip out sometime.
Tipping the scales
For now, they’ll all carry on placating Phillip while making sure that he doesn’t interfere with the key points of their games. While Julia and Michael are doing well to suck up to Phillip, they were missing the point if they thought he was calling the shots on which of them went. They might have been better off preparing things for Cochran the way he liked them—though Michael’s focus on Corinne certainly did the trick for him.
On the face of it, Michael is much more of a threat than Julia: he’s game-savvy, social, he’s bonded with Corinne, the outsider of the Bikal favorites, and he’s more of an immunity threat than Julia (although probably not significantly so, since individual immunities tend to be random with required skills).
My husband was convinced that it would be Michael who was going home that night, though he was partly biased. He’d been rooting for Julia ever since he discovered she’s a Formula One fan (a whole three days previously). I thought it might be Julia, just because keeping Michael would help reassure Corinne after Phillip had made it so clear that she was at the bottom of his totem pole.
It could be more complex than that. Cochran’s online confessional (1:20) explains that the Gota Favorites are in a much better position right now than the Bikal Favorites. On Bikal, they’re losing the option of making strong bonds with Fans who they could then work with in a post-merge situation. The Gota Favorites are having plenty of time to bond, and there’s little they can do on Bikal but hope that their old allies will stick with the original plan.
Let’s measure the Bikal Fans against each other in this light. Michael’s got a strong connection with Corinne, was understanding about the Matt vote and has been throwing Julia under the bus since he hit Bikal’s beach. Julia failed to make a connection with any of the Favorites, tried to preserve her old alliance and actively conspired against Phillip. While Julia wasn’t in a position to threaten the Favorites, there’s no reason for them to suspect that she’d stick by them if they needed her after the merge.
If the worst comes to the worst, and a stronger alliance forms on Gota, then the Bikal Favorites will need any vote they can get. They’ve got a far greater hope of persuading Michael to stand by them and vote with them than they do with Julia. If they have a voting bloc of five, they only need a couple of the Gota Favorites to stay loyal, and they will stay in the majority.
And this, ultimately, was why Julia’s proactive move to save herself backfired. She noted, in online confessional, that it would be good if Michael could stay in the game with her—again, excellent Survivor theory: save your allies as well as yourself, otherwise you’re only delaying your execution! Unfortunately, this was one of the few situations where that was a bad idea.
Michael was practically invisible this episode and that’s because he’s been following Brenda’s strategy. He explains in his webclip that he has been holding himself back and trying to focus on gaining Corinne’s trust, letting her tell him about her game. (0:44) It helped that he had the feeling Julia would be voted out next (1:15), which again suggests that Julia was on the chopping block long before she proposed voting off Phillip. Still, he was trying to avoid fostering any paranoia, and that’s what Bikal was voting on.
In our mini-game of “Who made the call, Dawn or Cochran?” I think this one is pretty even. It’s more a case of who convinced the others? Cochran’s keeping Phillip under wraps, but Dawn might well be better at reassuring Corinne.
Gota – Red Flags Rising
While Michael might be playing the way Brenda did on Bikal, Gota Brenda is a different creature. After the reward challenge, Cochran observed in some disgust that she’d been catatonic for the first part of the game (0:48), but she’d had a spring in her step ever since switching to Gota. He found it alarming, but Brenda probably isn’t worth his worry. She’s been hanging tight with Andrea and I’m not changing the opinion I had last week, that Brenda’s new goal is to worm her way up the ranks of Stealth R Us.
That said, her newly visible enthusiasm reflects her social game adapting to her new circumstances. Catatonic Serenity-Brenda wouldn’t fit in with the beach party that is Gota; giggly cheerleader-Brenda does. The facility with which she has adapted is a greater cause for concern than the reason she’s changed. Brenda’s on the outs, but she’s still a good social player.
Sidenote for Brenda: she’s still limping. It wasn’t really noticeable when she was bouncing around at the reward challenge, but she’s visibly hobbling when she runs with the boat at the start of the immunity challenge. It finally dawned on me this week that we probably did see her injury: she took a hard fall on the floating tiles in the smash and grab immunity challenge before Laura was voted out. It only really seems to be running that she can’t do, i.e. putting all her weight on her leg, so we’ll see how much it affects her in the individual immunities. It might help to reduce the last of the huge target she entered the game with, however. She’s no longer this season’s Parvati; she’s the girl who went from catatonic to limping.
As we know, the player Cochran (and the rest of Bikal) really needs to be paranoid about is Malcolm, who decided to try a Bro-alliance this time around. I love this idea. It’s not uncommon for a boy’s club to form on Survivor even if it isn’t as deliberate as on Manono in One World, but if you are going to form a boy’s club, this is the perfect time. Right at the merge, when you are about to become the targets, but not so far before it that the rest of the tribe gets wary and breaks up the group.
The big risk of such an alliance is that Malcolm is going to have a harder time winning immunity when he needs to. On the other hand, he saved himself a weaker group for his endgame in Philippines and that did him no good. The athletic demographic is at least more likely to take the attitude of playing with integrity and going up against the best at the end. With Reynold, Eddie and Erik around him, all he has to do is keep himself the lynchpin of the alliance so that everybody is closer to him than at least one other person.
His assurance to Reynold that they are the same person was a nice touch. Reynold’s assessment of Malcolm should be that he doesn’t have any more claim to the win than he does himself; in fact, I’m pretty sure Malcolm’s already plotting out his case to the jury and how to present himself as the lovable brains of the operation—being the instigator of the alliance works hugely in his favor.
Of course, Reynold doesn’t really have much choice but to jump at Malcolm’s offer, and he sealed the deal by telling Malcolm about his idol. It was an odd bit of deja-vu to Philippines’ Pete, though Reynold’s overall approach to the game might be totally different. Conspiracy theories abound about some players’ ability to find idols, yet it’s an even more bizarre coincidence that Malcolm’s twice been told about one by somebody he’s only known a few days.
Malcom can hardly believe it himself, assuring us that he would never do that. I believe him, but he also said that if he didn’t trust Reynold before, he definitely does now. That was presumably the whole reason Reynold told him! I’m not saying it was a great move on Reynold’s part, but Reynold knew the high stakes. As he explains to us in his online confessional (0:50), he’s been in the clutch position for the entire game. We’ve seen before on Survivor how wearing being constantly on the chopping block is, and different players react in different ways. Reynold’s method of dealing with it is to throw caution to the winds. (To an extent—he’s only told Malcolm and Eddie after all!)
Reynold’s also got the confidence boost of finding the idol so easily both times and being in the minority means he’s never had to be paranoid about who else has an idol. Ultimately, he values this information less than Malcolm does, and when it comes down to it, he would almost certainly have to play his idol immediately after the merge anyway. Telling Malcolm gains him some trust now, and gives him somebody to tip him off on how best to play it. He’s already seen the inefficiency of playing it blind.
If Reynold had a serious chance of holding onto his idol until the end-game, then I’d say he should have kept quiet. As it is, he’s had experience with being an alliance of four, and he knows they’re not going to have the numbers at the merge, so they’ll need an idol to hold together. It’s possible that if he’d said nothing, Malcolm would have played his own idol to secure the first vote, but I’m not convinced of that. Where it’s going to work against him is that Malcolm is now motivated to let Reynold play his idol and bounce out one of Stealth R Us before Malcolm has to reveal his own treachery.
The Post-merge Labyrinth
However, chances are (as the Know It Alls discussed) that idol-paranoid Stealth R Us will split the vote anyway, and Malcolm’s alliance will have to flip on the split to get the idol played effectively and to get a non-bro sent home. I.e. Stealth R Us might plan a split of 5-4-3, with the Favorites plus Michael dividing their votes between Reynold and Eddie and letting Sherri vote how she wants. Michael would presumably be vote number five, so if he was untrustworthy, they’d tie and vote out a Fan on the revote. To flush the idol and get out his target of choice, Malcolm and Erik would have to vote with Reynold and Eddie, and convince a few other people to change their votes as well.
This is why I am so hugely excited about the post-merge game. I have been increasingly concerned that we were looking at a boring pagonging of Fans post-merge, with the obvious pecking order of Stealth R Us leading us to a near-inevitable Phillip, Andrea, Dawn and Cochran final four. Now, Malcolm’s grabbed his opportunity to change up the game which creates all kinds of windows for the other players.
First off, where is Malcolm getting his numbers? The bro-alliance has four members, and we know that Erik doesn’t even trust Reynold. Of course, Erik doesn’t like Phillip either—in fact since Brandon left, we’ve no idea who Erik does like. Let’s trust Malcolm, assume that he’s made a bond with Erik, and that Erik will play ball for now. That said, Erik has to be the weak link in the bro-alliance, and the danger here is that Dawn, Cochran, Brenda and Andrea should all know him well enough to recognize that.
The obvious contender to be an honorary bro is Corinne who adores Malcolm. She might be a little cagey about flipping on Stealth R Us so quickly and jumping into a new alliance with two guys she doesn’t know at all, but if Malcolm offers her Phillip’s head on a silver platter, the temptation might be too great. If Corinne jumps over, chances are Michael will go with her. His relationship with Eddie and Reynold hasn’t always been the best, but I’m pretty sure he could win them back over by pointing out the game has changed and there’s no reason they can’t work together.
Who won’t be in the bro-alliance? Andrea clearly gains nothing by changing course, and is more likely to be one of their prime targets. Brenda was always an outsider, but as I’ve already said, I think she’s been working Andrea. She wouldn’t be trustworthy for the Bros. Sherri also seems to have a focus on the two girls rather than Malcolm or Erik, and she’s previously stated that she thinks she could work with Dawn and Phillip. Besides, she hates Reynold.
Nevertheless, Malcolm should have six solid votes. That’s enough to seize a majority in a split vote situation, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he conned Reynold into playing his idol anyway. From there they’ll have a clear majority, it’ll be smooth sailing for a few votes, and Malcolm can hold his own idol (and possibly Reynold’s too) in reserve for the end-game. I wonder if he’s got an explanation planned for why the bro-alliance will never need to split the vote on Stealth R Us?
For me, the most exciting thing about Malcolm’s plan is the window of opportunity it creates for the Fans. His bro-alliance is split evenly between Fans and Favorites, and their first targets will have to be Favorites. If the Fans can overcome their differences and get back together, they could potentially pull off an upset and seize control of the game again. This will require Sherri being still around at final seven, or possibly pulling Brenda in as well at final nine, but their odds are much better with the bros than with Stealth R Us who will almost certainly make Reynold and Eddie the first jurors.
Michael seems to be the most likely choice to attempt this, if he’s willing to turn on Corinne. Sherri could be the biggest obstacle, since she’ll likely feel fourth out of the Fans, and will probably have very little influence within her alliance, giving her virtually no case for the jury even if she does get to the end. Michael’s the clear winner in an all Fan final, but in a Reynold, Eddie and Sherri final three, Reynold’s ability to beat the odds will overcome his lack of social awareness and he’ll get the jury votes.
Sherri’s chances won’t be much better with the Favorites, since she’ll have a harder slog to the end, but she’ll likely have better connections with them and more sway. Of course, if she’s in a “Join us, or be voted out!” situation, she doesn’t have much choice.
The bro-alliance haven’t discussed their primary targets, but it almost has to be the leaders of Stealth R Us: Phillip and Andrea. Phillip might be the default option if that’s the way to get Corinne and Erik playing ball, but the strategic choice would be Andrea. With her gone, Brenda and Sherri are cast adrift. Sherri doesn’t know anybody else on Stealth R Us and Brenda’s game was tied to Andrea’s. With their allegiance in doubt, it will be a lot more difficult for Stealth R Us to rally and flip a Bro.
I’m not making a prediction, but I’m crossing my fingers that the Bro-alliance to be successful next week, even if I’m rooting for Dawn and Cochran overall. I know the edit does not support many of the outcomes I’ve speculated on, but I’d much rather see some major power shifts before the end than the linear progression to the finals that the pre-merge game seemed to be leading towards.
That’s all for this week. For the next two weeks, I will be on a family vacation (now that our youngest is two, we’re catching up on all the travelling we didn’t have the guts to do when the kids were babies), so the blog will run a few days late—and might even be shorter, go against my principles though that might. But one way or another, I will be blogging, since I refuse to miss the merge episode! Now, if anybody can confirm for me what time Survivor airs in Arizona and where in Las Vegas I can find the Survivor slot machine for the cheesy photo opportunity, I’ll be all set!