I am on an extended spring break, so this week’s blog and next week’s will be shorter than usual, as I devoted my usual writing time to seeing natural wonders. (Dawn cannot be doing Survivor for the views; Utah is stunning.) So let’s get right into it!
The Wrong Target
We got the big, crazy shake-up this week that we were all waiting for when Corinne and Malcolm’s planned coup ended up crashing and burning. Corinne’s been in for a lot of criticism for how she played what should have been a sure thing, and her podcast helps to explain this and is a must listen. Yet it’s still hard to understand why she argued against the split vote in the first place. She said it was because she didn’t want to waste an idol, but as others have noted, the split vote would have been at most five votes to Reynold and five to Eddie, assuming that Sherri and Michael were roped into it as well. Their six would have been an easy majority, no matter what. No idol would have been needed!
It’s not just Corinne who should be getting grief for this. Malcolm went along with the Sherri vote as well—at no point did he pull Corinne aside and tell her to shut up and let Phillip do his thing. I tend to give Malcolm a hard time (because somebody on the internet has to), so I will also note that it was good of him to put in a shout out to his mother with the merged tribe name. As a name, it’s not as good as Dabu, but I approve of the motive.
Back to the vote: Did they know they had the six at the time that Corinne pitched the Sherri vote? It’s not clear when the scenes actually happened, but it’s reasonable to assume that Phillip started laying down his split-vote plan soon after the merge. We have an enlightening online confessional from Eddie of all people, where he talks about Sherri being the target but goes on to describe himself as being in alliance of five people. He not only excludes Michael, but says that he doesn’t care if Michael gets voted off. Michael does get included in his list of potential swing votes, at least.
I have two explanations for this. One is that the counter-alliance never got totally confirmed, which would be understandable seeing as Malcolm and Corinne had to keep their defection a secret and thus couldn’t hold any big strategy sessions with their new allies. The second is that Malcolm and Corinne were deliberately keeping their allies in the dark, perhaps to prevent Michael, Reynold, and Eddie from getting together and reforging old bonds. Either way, it would have been asking too much of Reynold to risk facing down a split vote without playing his idol.
The other advantage of taking out Sherri meant that they could put off the actual flip for one more Tribal Council. This is why I think Malcolm was on board with the idea, because back when he was on Tandang, he often talked about how he would rather wait before choosing sides, and he continued with this kind of caution after the merge. He held off actually making his move until Abi-Maria won immunity and he had no choice but to reveal his alliance and take out Penner. While he got more aggressive earlier in the game this time around, caution had paid off for him before. This time it didn’t.
Honestly, the Sherri vote didn’t really make a whole lot of sense for anybody. Last week, I said that Sherri should not be a target for a few weeks, so this alliance would give the Fans chance to regroup. I’d hoped that Michael would seize this opportunity… apparently not. While Cochran was worried about showing up the divide in the Favorites, I am now very dubious that Sherri will work with any of the other Fans again.
So why did the Favorites go along with Corinne’s pitch against Sherri in the first place? Cochran certainly didn’t buy her reasoning in episode, but he commented that they had been acceding to her demands. I think that much like Phillip, Corinne had been categorized by her alliance as somebody they need to placate. Even so, it was ludicrous for them to target Sherri in a vote when neither Reynold nor Eddie had immunity.
For that matter, I’m not quite sure why, once they rumbled Corinne’s plan, they didn’t consider voting out Malcolm. Even if they gave her the strategic credit, Andrea should have known that Corinne only had Reynold and Eddie (and possibly Erik) through Malcolm, so cutting him out would destroy the alliance just as surely.
It’s a moot point now, but that did not bode well for Malcolm’s long-term gameplan. Early on, he said that Corinne was somebody who he could beat at the end, yet when push came to shove, the Favorites he wanted on the jury believed Corinne was the person calling the shots. Malcolm would have needed to prove his initiative before Final Tribal Council. (Though that assumes going to the end with Corinne and not, say, Reynold and Eddie, was still the plan.)
In Survivor, just as with life, sometimes theoretically bad moves work out for the best. Malcolm’s caution and under the radar style meant Corinne got blindsided instead of him. Not only that, but the vote for Sherri means that he has plausible deniability of Corinne’s long-term gameplan: “Yeah, we were tight, but she never told me that was the plan!” I doubt the others will believe him, but they can’t prove he’s lying either, unless he discussed it with Erik, which, in light of Corinne’s podcast, seems unlikely.
BR Rule #68: Don’t Talk to Dawn
Corinne’s post-episode revelation that she and Dawn were very close was an interesting one. As people have pointed out, she didn’t mention her in her final words, saying instead that she only liked Malcolm and Michael, but those were clearly edited anyway, and it would have been easy for the producers to omit Dawn’s name, just so we didn’t go: “Dawn? Since when?” I did speculate last week that she and Dawn had a working relationship, in the same way that Phillip and Cochran did, so I am inclined to believe her. She’d need to have faith in somebody in that alliance or else she’d have already flipped.
It should be noted that Eddie’s confessional backs this up. He described the opposing alliance in terms of Andrea, Phillip and Cochran being tight and impossible to flip. He felt Dawn could be turned, and it’s fair to assume that he got this information from Malcolm and/or Corinne. We even see Malcolm talking to Dawn in the previews for next week—not that it’s ever a good idea to trust those previews, but on the face of it, that means Malcolm, like Corinne, didn’t think it was Dawn who had betrayed them.
One qualifier to be stated here is that Corinne’s friendship with Dawn didn’t give her a place in the bro-alliance. In her webclip Corinne makes it clear that Dawn is a member of Stealth R Us who will be taken out in her turn. Rather, it seems that Dawn was probably always an extra number that she felt was in her pocket should she need it. In this scenario, Dawn is Cochran to Corinne’s Coach.
One of the nicest surprises to come out of this is that she had no idea Dawn and Cochran were so close. I did speculate last week that perhaps Dawn and Cochran weren’t as close as we believed, even though they seemed to be on the same page, but Cochran admits in confessional this week that Dawn is about the only person he’d fight to save from the vote. That’s not definitive proof that she’s the person he’s closest to, since he’s probably talking in the context of Phillip and Andrea choosing the voting target so their names are never going to come up. Still, it’s clear that she’s a vital element of his game, and since he’s the one she went to with the information, he’s probably her closest ally.
Yet apparently nobody knows! This is how you play Survivor! We have to commend Dawn for her social game, since her frequent meltdowns and (according to Corinne) constant nerves about her position in the game, along with her motherliness and previous game reputation has made her the person people go to with information. Francesca, Matt and Corinne all got very close to her before she voted them off. Julia wasn’t so fond of her, but still felt she was the most approachable of the Favorites. Surely, at some point, people are going to figure out the pattern here, yet so far it’s working.
Even Cochran cheerfully stated that history has proven Dawn is trustworthy even if it goes against her best interests. Is Cochran paying any attention to recent history? I hope he was talking from his own perspective that she’s loyal to him, but really everybody needs to be aware that Dawn, like the rest of the Favorites, is coming into this looking to rectify the mistakes from her previous game. That might include turning on Cochran when she needs to…
Having commended Dawn’s social game, it’s time to criticize it. Francesca reported that in the day leading up to her vote-off, Dawn was crying on her shoulder. Corinne said that she had also been the receptacle for Dawn’s tears, and it’s clear that Dawn’s struggling to keep her heart out of the game and vote off her friends. Sandra said on the podcast that she found that annoying and insincere: so will the jury whenever they start. We have all assumed that Dawn is a surefire winner should she get to the end, but if she finds herself compelled to tell the jurors how much she loves them and how hard it was for her to vote them off… well, that’s not how you win a jury’s sympathy.
Still, maybe she needs that poor image just to get to the end. Even as Cochran wondered how he would save Dawn from a hypothetical vote, he noted that she would beat everybody at the end, so Dawn’s closest ally isn’t considering her for final three at the moment. If she can pull a Lisa Whelchel and stay dry-eyed when it counts, she’ll at least have a better game-plan to present to the jury than Lisa did. But respect is always a big issue with the jury. If they don’t respect you going into Final Tribal Council, they’re unlikely to vote for you coming out of it.
The Anti-Decision Makers
The final nail in Corinne’s coffin was Erik’s vote. Malcolm thought he had Erik, but when push came to shove, he did Andrea’s bidding. As with last week, I am still inclined to give Malcolm the benefit of the doubt. I think the two of them probably had a decent bond. Eddie included Erik in the alliance members he was sure of (i.e. liked the best) and declared that he didn’t want to vote Erik off until much later in the game. All the evidence points towards Erik being a solid member of the bro-alliance. His biggest motivation in voting off Corinne might have been because the alternative would only lead to a tie.
I’ve spent most of the game trying to figure out what Erik’s doing when he never gives us any hints of his strategy. Corinne told us that he refuses to talk strategy with anybody, but instead asks to be told how to vote ten minutes before Tribal Council. This week, Erik’s online confessional gives us a little more insight into this ploy when he happily notes that everybody thinks he just wants a cookie. Erik is deliberately going under the radar and trying not to appear a threat.
Clearly this has worked inasmuch as out of the four bros, the four challenge threats, he’ll be the last one left standing. It’s often been said that Erik would likely have won Fans vs Favorites had he not given up his necklace, for he could have continued his immunity streak to the end. Jeff Probst has already called him out as potentially the most physical competitor of the season. Is this Erik’s entire plan? To fly under the radar and then win immunities to take the prize, a la Fabio?
That’s entirely possible, although he was also excited this episode to be the swing vote and become valuable, which suggests he isn’t counting on that style of win. Perhaps that’s the deeper meaning to his strategy: he’s made it clear he doesn’t care who he votes for, and that makes him an extra number for anybody wanting one. On the other hand, players these days are savvy enough to recognize that he could become an extra number for their enemies, and I think Erik might find himself taken out of the game earlier than he thinks. He needs to start making some promises, whether or not he intends to keep them!
Maybe he is just waiting for the right opportunity though. He wouldn’t be the only one. There’s Sherri, who explains this week that she’s having to bide her time, but she’ll take the reins back soon. I am less confident than Sherri, since luck doesn’t always work that way, and with everybody so willing to vote her out this week, she doesn’t have the resources to create her own opportunities. If she can figure out the pecking order where others can’t, then she’s got a chance, but I’m dubious. Sherri was in a great position at the start of the game, but then she caught a bad break, and I don’t think she’ll recover from it.
I am a little more optimistic about Brenda who caught her bad break at the start of the game and has been sitting on her fingers ever since in her attempts to not look like a threat. For all her invisibility, Eddie said she’s desperate to get some sort of footing in the game (full props to Eddie who was able to give this strategic analysis without mentioning her looks once!), which matches her previous online confessionals.
I’ve been trying to figure out who Brenda’s connections are in her bid for survival. It’s not Cochran, who dismissed her as catatonic, Corinne declared she’d never said two words to her, so she’s out, and considering she wasn’t brought into the bro-alliance, Malcolm’s not an option either. I’ve theorized before that she’s distanced herself from Erik, so that leaves us with Andrea and Phillip. Phillip likes to tell everybody what to do anyway, and I’m sure Brenda’s up for dealing with that, and we’ve certainly seen signs of friendship with Andrea. Let’s assume she talks to Dawn as well, since everybody else does!
This strongly indicates that while Malcolm and Corinne chose to form their own counter-alliance, Brenda has been trying to climb the totem pole of Stealth R Us itself. Ordinarily, I prefer the “create a new alliance with yourself at the core” strategy, but Brenda has just leap-frogged over Malcolm and Corinne, which sets her as fifth—and potentially a swing vote between Phillip/Andrea and Cochran/Dawn to ensure herself a spot in the final three.
I don’t see it working out that way, however. Cochran as good as said he didn’t want to take Dawn to the end, and Andrea made it clear that Cochran’s her buddy, so she’s just as close to him as she might be to Brenda. I’d say it’s far more likely that Phillip, Andrea and Cochran all intend to go to the end together. It might be that Andrea or Cochran might each get cold feet about taking the other, and bring Brenda along instead, but they’d only do so because she’d have no hope of winning the game.
The other potential for Brenda is that she’ll now officially replace Malcolm and Brenda as a core alliance member, and as fifth in rank, she might be allowed into the strategy sessions for Stealth R Us. But perhaps not. Phillip tends to have an inflexible view of the hierarchy, and I don’t see him permitting Brenda into his inner circle at such a late date. He’s already drawn up his final four. Dawn and Cochran almost certainly won’t help her out, so that leaves her with Andrea. I could see her and Andrea having an alliance like Dawn and Cochran’s, where the two will share strategy in private. However, Brenda hasn’t got the social position to provide Andrea with information, so Andrea’s got no reason to stick her neck out for her.
The bottom line is that Brenda needs to start making herself necessary to somebody, and she might have to take a few risks for that to happen.
That’s not to say that the passive game can’t work out well for a person. When Cochran said that he would try to keep Dawn from being voted off, he more or less admitted that he is letting other people decide who’s going home, while he takes more of the “as long as it isn’t me (or Dawn)” tack. It’s not that he hasn’t influenced the vote at all; we saw him campaign for Matt’s ouster over Julia’s, and for Julia’s over Michael’s (though now we must wonder again how much of the driving force behind that was Dawn), but he has been working to meet Phillip’s vision of the game rather than his own.
And that’s one of the best ways to play Survivor. Let the aggressive players play out their game, so long as it doesn’t interfere with your standing in it. Cochran is in good favor with Phillip and Andrea, the co-leaders of Stealth R Us, plus he’s got a solid connection with Dawn, the one person that everybody talks to. Cochran might not be calling the shots, but he’s in the position to know almost everything going on in the game, and when he does need to influence something, he knows how to talk to Phillip.
As with all other UTR players, he’s got to have a care for the jury. It seems that should Phillip, Andrea and Cochran make our final three, Andrea would be the obvious winner. She’s been a visible leader while Phillip has upset everybody and Cochran’s sat back and let the others do the dirty work. Cochran’s confessionals prove that he could do a great final speech, but I don’t see why Andrea would lose the votes to him. Dawn’s speech about the decision-makers being the ones to win is not 100% accurate, but it’s certainly what most jurors are looking for!
Finally, obviously, he might not get that far. Despite their grip on the game, our mooted final three had a huge blindspot with Corinne and Malcolm which almost cost them the game. This was a rare episode where just about everybody made a huge mistake. It will be interesting to see how many of them learn from it.