Last week, I criticized the players of Caramoan for making some major mistakes, even if most of them got away with it. This week, I can’t help but feel that everybody did everything right, and yet it still came out wrong! But then, nothing was straightforward about this week’s episode, so we’re going to start by straightening things out… or trying to.
Your Internet Browser is my Whiteboard
There was a lot we didn’t see following Corinne’s departure from the game. At some point, Malcolm must have talked to somebody from Stealth R Us and sworn up and down that he was still with them, because he had kept his Enforcer position. While we’re all baffled by his continued trust of Dawn, we might equally wonder at Stealth R Us’ continued trust of Malcolm!
Sherri had also been added to their ranks, since the rest of the fans had betrayed her, so Stealth R Us were moving forward with the original post-merge plan: splitting the vote between Reynold and Eddie. Andrea laid it down that the girls were voting Reynold and the guys Eddie (which conveniently lets her off having to write down her showmance’s name), so the Stealth R Us’ plan went as follows:
Voting Reynold: Andrea, Brenda, Dawn, Sherri.
Voting Eddie: Phillip, Cochran, Malcolm, Erik.
Of course, whatever Malcolm had told Stealth R Us, he was still committed to taking control of the game via his Bro-liance. The words we were all yelling at our TV screens last week had finally filtered through, and now he was going to take advantage of the split vote to steal a majority. His problem was that since Corinne’s departure, he only had four votes he could count on:
Bro-liance: Malcolm, Reynold, Eddie, Michael.
Michael told us in his podcast that Reynold and Malcolm were working together, and certainly both of them were actively campaigning for extra allies. Reynold wooed Erik and Cochran while on reward; Malcolm targeted two of the women, Sherri and Dawn.
Malcolm does actually give a decent theory on why Dawn’s a good option: he knows she’s desperate not to repeat her mistake from her original season and miss her chance to make a move, so he’s going to present this as her best chance of changing her position in the game. He’s missed her alliance with Cochran, but we all get attached to our pet theories, and I can understand why he persisted with her.
If he just got one woman to change her vote, it made the split vote easier to overcome, since there would be only three votes for Eddie (minus his) and three for Reynold (minus hers). NB, the women originally seemed to believe that Malcolm’s target was Phillip (as per Dawn’s confessional).
Malcolm’s voting bloc: Malcolm, Reynold, Eddie, Michael, (Sherri and/or Dawn)
Sherri and Dawn naturally snitched to Stealth R Us who decided to revise the plan, abandon the split vote and take out Malcolm. Then Andrea discovered she was the target, panicked and insisted they change the vote to Michael who at least had repeatedly demonstrated his lack of an idol.
We then had one of the least subtle Tribal Councils in Survivor history. I am going with the theory that Stealth R Us were deliberately showing their hand to try and flush the idol. We know Dawn was frustrated at the idea of leaving the three strong guys with an idol before Tribal Council, so they might have reached this compromise: vote out Michael, but get the idol played. It wasn’t just Phillip talking too much—Sherri made no attempt to dissemble with her “Payback’s a bitch” comment, and Andrea was outspoken too.
So the final vote breakdown:
Voting Andrea: Reynold, Eddie, Michael.
Voting Michael: Andrea, Phillip, Cochran, Dawn, Brenda, Sherri, Erik.
Voting Reynold: Malcolm.
Yeah, about that Reynold vote…
Obviously, only Malcolm knows why he voted for Reynold. Still, it’s my job to come up with an explanation, so here goes…
Malcolm got as rattled as any sane person would when Stealth R Us took the anti-stealth approach at Tribal Council. Knowing how much the idol-fearing Favorites cherish their split votes, his assumption was that the split vote was still happening, but now it was between Reynold and himself. It’s easy to imagine Andrea sweet-talking Eddie into flipping sides.
He quite likely also recognized that they were trying to flush the idol(s). Not wanting to be forced into playing his idol, he decided to tip the scales and vote for Reynold. If the Bro-liance had held true, they’d still have the majority. If the vote was split, Reynold would go home rather than him. While that’s not a great outcome, it’s better than Malcolm going home—for a spur of the moment decision, that’s all the logic you need! Either way, he could keep his idol.
Unfortunately for Malcolm, Reynold had been listening to the talk at Tribal as well, and he came to the conclusion he should play his own idol. So Malcolm did what any good Survivor player should do: sweet-talked him out of immunity.
If I’m right (and I get as attached to my pet theories as the next person), this turns what was already a jaw-dropping move into one of the most cold-blooded things we’ve seen on the show. Malcolm used Reynold’s idol for himself, fully believing that it meant Reynold was going home, while his own immunity ticket sat in his pocket. Albert and Natalie have nothing on this guy.
The logical question in the split-vote scenario is why not pull a Parvati and play both idols? Clearly, we know that wouldn’t have helped, because Michael would have gone home and they would have lost both idols, but if Malcolm believed he and Reynold were the targets, then he could have immunized them both, thinking that he’d guaranteed Andrea’s boot. It’s possible Stealth R Us overplayed it, and Malcolm was determined to hold onto his idol rather than play into their hands, but if Reynold had refused to hand over his, I’ll assume Malcolm would have gone ahead and played his own as well… and wasted his best hope in the game.
So Stealth R Us outplayed Malcolm, flushing one idol while successfully voting off one of his alliance. Equally, Malcolm outplayed Stealth R Us, retaining his idol and improving its secrecy—who is going to suspect Malcolm of having one now?
While both of them outplayed Reynold, kudos to him for having the guts to pass over the idol. As pointless as it ended up being, wasting an idol on somebody else shows more nerve and game-aggression than wasting it on yourself. The jury could take it the other way and feel he was an idiot for giving it up, but Survivor history is at least as much in favor of giving your idol away as it is keeping it.
Since, unlike Malcolm, I have a heart, I am glad that the anti-climactic end to this vote did not result in Reynold going home. I agree with what Stephen said on Know-it-alls that Reynold’s boundless optimism is what he’s got going for him. In many ways, he’s the anti-Dawn. You can take any plan to Reynold and he’ll eagerly run with it, eternally confident that he is on the verge of seizing power in this game. While the story of his season is that he’s always wrong, his courage is a great quality in a Survivor player. He’s not just waiting to be voted off, and his willingness to take risks helps more savvy players get their plots off the ground.
Obviously, Malcolm now gets to keep his idol and it’s not clear if Reynold’s will be rehidden at this late date. (I can never remember the precedents on this; I’m sure the commenters will!) Chances are, Malcolm now possesses the only idol in play for the rest of the game, and after his performance, nobody is going to suspect him of it.
In fact, Dawn was pretty vehement that only Reynold had an idol anyway, which seems bizarre when they don’t know what became of the Bikal one. Corinne once had a confessional where she said that the Favorites were afraid one of the Fans might have found the Bikal idol, and it was frustrating because she couldn’t tell them it wasn’t there to be found—Corinne also said she had to reassure Dawn a lot. Could Corinne have dropped a hint to Dawn at some point that she had the idol? Does Dawn (and by extension, Stealth R Us) believe that Corinne went home with it?
If this is the case, then Malcolm is well and truly in the clear. The Favorites think both idols have been taken out of play, giving him the perfect opportunity to make one final bid to seize power. His main problem is that he’s lost another number and it’s getting ever harder for him to scrape up a majority.
I’d be curious to see a confrontation between Reynold and Malcolm, should Reynold figure out Malcolm voted for him. I don’t think it will happen though… Reynold’s used to seeing his name come up, and he might not worry about who wrote it down. I think these two will continue working together going forward.
The Myth of the Puppetmaster
Last week, when I talked about the players who were choosing to play a more passive game for the time being, some of you disagreed with me on who was and wasn’t pulling strings—particularly when it came to Cochran. So the point I want to stress this week is that Survivor is about 90% perception (which I’m sure is a line I’ve plagiarized from an old boot interview, though I can’t for the life of me remember whose).
Among the fandom, the idea of the mastermind is a popular one: we want to identify the secret mastermind who is manipulating all other players, somebody to elevate to our pantheon of “Great Players.” Yet I find myself increasingly suspicious that usually there is no mastermind. There is instead a group of players who got a lucky break in alliance making and whose individual journeys to the end is taking a common road. One of them inevitably gets the better of the others, or one plays more aggressively, but that does not mean they and they alone controlled their allies.
Already this season, we’ve seen Corinne and Cochran each firmly convinced they were manipulating the other. Cochran misread Corinne, but won the round indirectly, due to his ability to hide his alliance with Dawn. Cochran is doing a much better job of manipulating Phillip, but that doesn’t matter because Malcolm has perceived Andrea to be the person in charge of Stealth R Us. No doubt he’s passed that perception onto his bro-liance, who seem in line to make up most of the jury. If Andrea doesn’t get bumped by Malcolm’s idol and manages not to screw up on her way to the end, she will be reinforcing her case rather than convincing the jury of it.
Right now, Malcolm’s idol seems to be Andrea’s biggest obstacle (though there’s plenty of time for the other players to get worried about her reputation among the jury). Phillip has her as his co-leader/deputy, she’s ‘buddies’ with Cochran, and she’s got Brenda’s loyalty as well.
I’ve seen a lot of people asking this week why Malcolm didn’t approach Brenda instead of Dawn and Sherri, when she’s clearly on the bottom. The answer is she’s not on the bottom—or at least the players don’t consider her to be on the bottom, but that’s the same thing! Nobody inside her alliance or outside of it is questioning Brenda’s loyalty, and that means her position is secure. She might not be in the top three (yet) but she’s firmly entrenched in Stealth R Us.
While Brenda doesn’t get much airtime on the show, I’ve been noticing that in the press photos, she’s increasingly likely to be seen with Phillip or with Andrea. She’s probably angling to get into those two’s top three at least. If she’s got any sense, she’s also working Cochran and Dawn. I’m certain that Phillip’s final three consists of himself, Andrea and Cochran, but the others are likely to be more flexible.
As it stands, Brenda is at least making fifth place (which places her in the top half of current players), and Dawn’s currently considered to be too dangerous to take to the end, which should give Brenda fourth. A couple of game moves and/or well-placed immunity wins could put her at the end with a fighting chance to win. Due to the edit, I don’t expect that to happen, but from an in-game point of view, Brenda’s in a solid position.
Compare to Sherri, who is getting more camera time but seems to be squarely focusing her efforts on Phillip. She’s confident that she can play him, and Malcolm approved of her methods, but I am skeptical that her new Shamar will be asking her how to vote anytime soon.
While Sherri proudly tells us that she’s going to know everything about Phillip’s alliance soon, she’s assuming that Phillip knows everything about his alliance. She’s also failing to observe that while she was the only person who could do anything with Shamar, most of the Favorites know how to deal with Phillip, and at least two of them (Andrea and Cochran) know how to talk him round to what they want to do.
Sherri’s trying to latch onto the mastermind of Stealth R Us so she can play him and become the puppetmaster herself. Malcolm described Phillip as a figurehead, but for the most part, Phillip’s been getting his way, so I can see where she’s coming from. But she’s failing to see that the other players look at Phillip as a finals goat or a smokescreen. If she’s not working anybody else in Stealth R Us as well, they’re going to mistrust her interference in their plans and take her out before she can line herself up for the endgame.
When it comes to Stealth R Us, I’m in agreement with Rob that there is no mastermind. Each of them has some influence over the others. It works because there’s no power struggle: only Phillip needs to be seen as a leader, the others are comfortable that they have the measure of control they want, and everybody thinks they have an ally or two with the group that they can count on. It’s safe to say that Phillip will not be winning the jury over, but edit aside, it’s hard to pinpoint which of them is most likely to take the win. Still, right now, Andrea has the visibility for the jurors and probably the most connections within the alliance. She’s got herself in the best position of the game, and deserves kudos for it.
This does not mean Andrea’s the best player of the game. It can be argued that her visible position is only painting a target on her back, and chances are good that Malcolm will finally succeed in taking her out this week. Of course, there’s always a fine line between making yourself visible enough to win and making yourself a target, and it’s a lot harder in a returning player season, so I’ll forgive her that. There are more definite mistakes in her game when it comes to manipulation: she’s trying hard to play people but I’m not convinced she’s fully succeeded at any point.
Apparently the R stands for Romance
Phillip’s little roleplaying game was missing a romantic double-agent subplot: enter Eddie. I’ll admit it, even Eddie impressed me this week, not so much in episode as in his online confessional where he acknowledges that as much fun as he’s having with Andrea, he can’t trust her, he can’t tell her everything he knows because it will “kill” his game, and he wants to go further than her. Yes, Eddie isn’t looking to suck up to Andrea and get her to carry him to the end. He’s looking to get information from her and vote her off.
Sidenote: this seems to be Reynold’s plan more than Eddie’s, since Reynold noted that every woman they allied with got voted off. This is one of the reasons I love Reynold so much… not only has he recognized his bad luck, he’s going to try and use it to his advantage. Somebody should probably tell him that he’s not actually a character in a story and that there’s no fourth wall to break, but maybe after he’s done playing Survivor because it’s too much fun to watch.
Anyway, while Eddie is discovering that there’s more to girls on Survivor than how hot they are, Andrea is intending to do more or less the same thing to him. Pandering to a bottom-feeder is a decent move: they’re often desperate enough to sell out their friends in the hopes of getting somewhere, and it gives you a bond with a juror. Andrea was also rightly careful not to promise him anything except to save him from the next vote. As it turned out, even that was saying too much.
Watching the conversation Eddie and Andrea had right before Tribal Council was agonizing as both of them let slip vital pieces of information. Eddie was obviously agitated because he knew the plan was to split the vote between him and Reynold, and he virtually told Andrea that Reynold had the idol. (She already knew, of course.) Andrea was promising him that it wasn’t going to be him, but of course couldn’t explain why she knew he was safe. To make matters worse, she had asked in their earlier conversation if he would be prepared to vote off Malcolm.
Whether or not Eddie read between the lines himself, it’s likely that he reported at least some of the conversation back to the bro-liance, and that might have contributed to Malcolm’s paranoia. Even if he didn’t, I think Andrea was well aware of how much she’d given away, and that contributed to her paranoia and the vote switch, much to the frustration of her allies. Had that conversation never happened, Malcolm might well have been the first juror.
I think the Andrea and Eddie intrigue might continue on. While he voted for her, she never actually told him how to vote, so he was left with no recourse but to go with his alliance, and she should be enough of a hard-nosed player to recognize that. He’s also in a more desperate position now: he stayed loyal to the bro-liance last episode, but could he betray them in the upcoming one? Malcolm might need to reveal his idol in order to keep Reynold and Eddie on board, but that’s giving them information they could use against him. On the other hand, after their last conversation, Andrea would be well advised to keep her distance from Eddie for a while, so she doesn’t let anything else slip. We’ll see if she learns from that lesson.
Room for Improvement
I can’t finish this blog without talking about EW’s deleted scene this week, where Erik finally reveals his strategy, which boils down quite simply to “Trust no-one.” Erik is turning his back on the alliance method of playing the game and focusing on the fact that only one person can win. I understand his point—and in light of his previous experience, I definitely understand why he’s doing it—but it’s a social game as well as an individual one.
Erik is probably counting on the fact that he won’t have betrayed anybody if he gets to the end, but equally, he’s not bonded with anybody by working together with them. Jurors do like to vote for people they personally strategized with, somebody they feel they played with, paying their due to a fellow competitor. Nobody’s strategized with Erik, nobody’s even had to fight against him outside of the challenges. He’s willfully reduced himself to an extra in the game, and unless his fellow finalists have really actively annoyed people (Phillip and… Sherri?), he’s not going to win the jury’s vote. Because he’s not essential to anybody’s game either, it’s unlikely he’ll make it to the finals anyway.
Somebody else needs to kick their social game into action this week, and that’s Cochran. He’s in a good position, but am I the only person that feels he’s been resting on his laurels? In one of his online confessionals, he remarks that he barely knew any of the players he went on the reward with. Eddie and Reynold I can understand since he’s really only known them for a few days, but he goes on to say that he doesn’t know Michael that well and he’s never taken the time to form a bond with Erik. This comes from the guy who described Julia as vanilla and Brenda as catatonic, which has to start us wondering who really has the social problem here.
I still like Cochran, but word of advice—no wait, this is me, and one word is not enough—lecture of advice: less time thinking up quips for confessionals; more time getting out there and talking to your fellow players. You’re right that Reynold’s attempt to court your allegiance was absolutely horrible, but at least Reynold’s learnt from his prior experience that he needs to make bonds with everybody. If you did the same, perhaps you wouldn’t need Dawn to keep you clued in to what’s actually going on!
All that said, this is shaping up to be a great post-merge game… just as it was in the last Fans vs Favorites. Despite all my objections to this setup due to its unfairness to the fans, is it actually the perfect formula for a quality season: plenty of players who have the knowledge base to push their game further, but also a good crop of pawns for them to use. I hated to see Michael go, because he seemed like he had so much savvy that could have been put to good use on an all-newbie season, yet I was relieved because all the power-players for this game were left behind to butt heads.
It still seems blatantly cruel to cast fans as cannon fodder, especially such long term ones as Allie, Laura, Matt and Sherri; there are surely better ways of managing the pawns to players ratio (preferably not by casting the female players from a pool of models and beauty queens). Still, the quality of gameplay is much higher than the last All Stars season, Heroes vs. Villains, not least because the Favorites are earning their title. Glenn H once asked me why I didn’t like Heroes vs. Villains, and I told him it was because nobody really played a good game or improved on their previous one (even Jerri, the only one to place higher than her previous go around, was much more interesting and aggressive in Australia).
Not so for this season: just about every returning player is trying to improve on their prior mistakes in some way or another (Erik won’t be fooled again, Cochran is staying confident, Dawn and Andrea are making decisions for themselves, Phillip’s being a leader, Brenda’s under the radar, etc…) and even the new players are stepping up their game rather than buckling under the pressure.
Since, as the title of my blog suggests, it’s the individual approaches to the game that I enjoy about the show, I am loving the current run of episodes. I’m not sure if the next one can live up to the hype of the previews (especially when the hype is on a breakdown again, though I like to think Dawn might be more restrained than Brandon), but Caramoan and its cast has officially got my attention now. Go for it, you lot. Make me proud!