Despite the storyline of the season, Dan ended up being voted out of a majority, thanks to Carolyn’s idol, thereby validating his protests that he was not at the bottom.
The editors have not been helped by this particular group of finalists. The much-maligned players of San Juan del Sur at least had a pecking order and their own plans for how to get to the final three. The Worlds Apart endgame is populated more or less entirely by followers of Sandra: “As long as it isn’t me.”
It’s a decent strategy, and it’s going to work out for one of them, but it’s hard to craft a suspenseful or satisfying storyline around something so undefined. The only constant is that everybody wants Will and Rodney for their final three (with the exception of Mike who will take anybody) and everybody is focused on dodging the vote themselves until they get to that point. The biggest omission in our sources is who Will and Rodney are planning on taking to the end. (My theory is that Will doesn’t care, and that Rodney changes his mind constantly.)
Clash of the Advantages
This week, the group came to the comfortable consensus that Carolyn was the biggest threat, which supports Tyler’s post-exit assurances that he would have had the numbers to vote her out if she hadn’t won immunity. While Tyler might well have been quietly turning people against her, she had been at least as successful in turning others against him, so why could she not parlay that influence into a loyal final three? Especially when you have somebody as single-minded as Rodney convinced he can beat anybody and who came into the game determined to take an ‘old girl’ to the end.An open playing field[/caption]
In that vein, it’s possible Carolyn’s alienation of Rodney over his birthday might be her single greatest mistake in the game. She had been on four rewards and could have made up some ground with him if she gave him her fifth. Certainly, taking a moment to deliberate and then deciding against giving her reward up was a terrible social move, right up there with Mike’s abandoned scheme of not buying his family letter.
Everybody apart from Rodney is in Carolyn’s corner—including Will who did say he would give up his reward for Rodney’s birthday (but was notably quiet about it three days later), so her game stock has, if anything, risen among the others. Yet Rodney’s loyalty was important to her, and I doubt anybody would have blamed Carolyn for making the switch.
Regardless, Carolyn became the target and was almost blindsided with her immunity idol. It’s not clear whether or not Dan’s decision to play his advantage tipped her off, but she knew the details of his advantage, and prior to Tribal Council she was hoping not to play her idol. She also trusted Sierra. As Mike suggested, she believed that if there were a plot against her, it was Dan, Will, and Rodney targeting either her or Sierra.
With this theory, the logical deduction would be that if the men had turned on the women, Dan would use his advantage to give them the majority. Therefore, it is very likely that she was only going to play her idol if Dan played his advantage. Again, we can’t be sure, but it makes the most sense, and that’s what made this one of the best Tribal Councils of the season.
Of course, Carolyn and Mike were both making a false assumption as Dan did not require his advantage to save himself—he played it because he was under a false assumption of his own… that Will might be flipping to Mike and Carolyn’s side after the reward. He explained to Rob that Sierra had told him Will was thinking of jumping ship. Maybe Sierra was making it up in order to create a rift between the three guys, maybe Will actually did talk about it, but it fits in with the paranoia that must have been rife around camp.
Dan has been pretty resistant to paranoia so far in this game, but he had an advantage burning a hole in his pocket and it made far more sense to use an extra vote to create a majority than a tie. (It’s not entirely clear what the rules around the extra vote are in the case of a tie; if he casts it in the first round, does that carry over to the second? If he doesn’t cast in the first round, is he allowed to cast it in the second? Even if he’s one of the targets?)
At any rate, if he had known that Carolyn had an idol, the only purpose in casting it would be to create a three-two-two vote split: three votes for Carolyn nullified (and her idol flushed), and Sierra hopefully voted off in the revote between her and Dan. But he didn’t know she had an idol, and he didn’t know she was wary that he, Will and Dan were conspiring against her.
While keeping an idol secret and to yourself hasn’t always been the most productive way of using it, it worked for Carolyn. It’s not clear what everybody thought had happened to the White Collar idol, whether it was never found or whether it was taken out of the game in a blindside, but Carolyn managed to keep it secret until she needed it—and this, in itself, validates her removal of Tyler an episode earlier.
Of course, the loose end here is why didn’t anybody worry about an idol clue coming up on reward? (Sidenote: why didn’t an idol clue come up on reward? Did production hide one but nobody found it?) Perhaps Will assured them no clue was found, or perhaps they assumed that if Mike had found it, he would have paraded it at Tribal Council, as he did before. Or maybe they believed that Carolyn had no interest in the idol side of the game, so she wouldn’t have one. Certainly, at this point of the game, nobody’s going to give one away.
Goats vs. Underdogs
Oddly enough, after this episode, the player that appears to be playing the most solid game is Sierra. It’s not an inspiring one, by any means, but she’s stuck with the Natalie White strategy: you don’t have to outplay every other player; you just have to outplay the two sitting next to you at the end. And for Sierra, that makes perfect sense. Going into the game, she had one of the smallest knowledge bases of any player, and with her youth, she lacks the savvy and life experience that helps some of the older players maneuver around the social game.
Although the edit’s big question for Sierra has been her loyalty to the blues, she made her decision back before the merge to stick with the people that she liked less but had a better chance of beating. Dan and Rodney have driven her crazy, but she’s not only stuck with them, but also we’ve seen her strategizing with them. In fact, we’ve seen her have strategy discussions with everybody.
It’s important to note that Sierra doesn’t seem to have any particular influence over anybody (We rarely see people taking her opinions into consideration), nor is she coming up with any groundbreaking ideas. But she has that working relationship with all the players left.
At the top of the episode, Carolyn said she was working both sides and could go either way, but Sierra was the one who really had everybody believing she was with them. She might have jumped when Mike came out of the jungle, but when he hit upon the plan against Carolyn, Sierra kept her cool, didn’t try to bluff her way out of it and agreed calmly with Carolyn’s view that Mike was going a little crazy.
A successful game of Survivor requires making the most of the resources you have with the hand you’re dealt, and that’s what Sierra’s doing. We don’t know what her endgame plans were—if she also wanted to go to the end with Will and Rodney, she already knew how to set up Dan as a threat. Or perhaps she hoped to get Dan and Rodney to vote off Will for an all Blue Collar final three. Either way, with Dan gone and Carolyn having spotlighted herself into an indisputable threat, Sierra’s got a secure spot in the final three… provided they can get Mike and Carolyn out.
Again, it’s a dull strategy, but it’s also sound. As has often been said, good gameplay rarely makes for great TV. Mike is getting a little petulant that nobody will join him, complaining that it makes more sense to be on the side that keeps winning challenges and to take your chances at final three.
I don’t recall Mike looking at the game quite that way when Joe was the one who kept winning challenges, for the very good reason that nobody should play Survivor to help somebody else win. It’s not much fun to play the game from this Redemption Island standpoint of: “You lose a challenge; you go home.” Nevertheless, in Survivor, nobody owes you anything—Rodney keeps proving that lesson.
If the majority get their wish, who wins out of Sierra and Rodney? (For purposes of time, let’s leave Will as drawing dead. I have no clue what argument he could make, nor who would vote for him unless Joe retains some No Collar solidarity, or Dan wants to vote against the other finalists.)
Sierra’s nice, and that should never be underrated. At some point, she’s befriended the entire jury, and has a strong contingent of her own demographic, the younger women, in the votes. The old: “I made friends with you, but when it came to the game it was business,” argument is a classic, but isn’t as easy to pull off in Survivor’s emotionally-charged atmosphere as it should be. Sierra has been consistent and low key enough to do it.
The confessionals give us an insight into what Rodney is preparing for his final speech, and it’s a solid argument. Whether or not people have allowed him to get to the end as a goat, he’s actively pulled together his own majority, and the ability to make people laugh is a major benefit for any contestant’s reputation.
Rodney’s also readying himself to go up against one of the threats by noting that he hasn’t needed immunity or advantages to get to the end. He’s done it all through ‘hustle’. I don’t think he has a hope of beating Mike, who became the White Knight of the minority while Jenn and Shirin were still in the game, but he stands a chance against Carolyn. Of course, Rodney’s biggest enemy is himself. The moment a juror calls him out on something, he’s going to lash back. Rodney could win the game, but there’s an even better chance that, no matter who he’s up against, he will take himself down in flames.
Million Dollar Immunity
With these three locked in for the finals together, that means Mike and Carolyn become allies by default. They don’t have the majority of course, so what’s imperative is that they find the immunity idol that production is bound to hide. I don’t know if they can find it in the next couple of days, but it’s the only way for both of them to be immune.
Of course, logically, it doesn’t make sense for these two to try and keep each other in the game. Carolyn can’t beat Mike at the end and she is his biggest competition at the final immunity challenge. If one of them finds an idol and then wins immunity, the last thing they should be doing is saving the other person. It might make more sense to protect somebody else, by way of currying favor just in case somebody else wins the final four immunity, but right now, Mike and Carolyn are playing against each other. They need to find that idol as much to prevent the other from doing so as to protect themselves.
However, there is one very good reason for Mike and Carolyn to align with each other, and that is to win a jury vote. Jurors have a habit of voting for their last surviving ally, and Mike has already forged an underdog bond with Jenn and Shirin. If Carolyn can be his ally and see him voted off by the others, she becomes the new underdog representative, which she needs after annoying Hali and Jenn with her post-merge flip. (Though Shirin at least has been impressed by how she handled Tyler and her idol.)
This does bring up the point of is there anything you can do to mitigate the threat of the challenge beast underdog? Should the majority have kept Mike from bonding with Shirin and Jenn? Could they have done so without stirring up more paranoia among themselves and would it have made a difference?
Certainly, past history (i.e. Ozzy in South Pacific and Terry in Panama) suggests that the true benefit of winning your way to the end in the minority is that you don’t backstab anybody, so Mike might have picked up those votes anyway. Nevertheless, the bonding time with Shirin and Jenn locked down their votes and likely Hali and Joe’s as well. That’s a full half of the eventual jury.
Let’s not forget that, at Ponderosa, Tyler perceives Mike as somebody who is lying and flipping, the amoral antithesis to Dan (in an ironic reversal of their edits.) Dan believed that Mike was manipulating Carolyn… While Mike’s role as the season’s big schemer is debatable, to say the least, it’s important to note that there’s a rationale there for jurors who want to vote based on strategic play.
Sierra or maybe even Rodney might win one of the two remaining challenges, but it’s more likely that either Mike or Carolyn will win both, and short of the other person finding an idol, Wednesday’s finale is going to come down to who can win the final five immunity. While Carolyn has an edge on Mike in most endurance challenges (barring balance), it’s more likely that the final immunity challenge will represent endurance (especially when last season had an obstacle course / puzzle combo in that slot,) so the penultimate one will be something different, and Mike is the better all-rounder.
Logic dictates that Sierra should be the boot if Mike wins final immunity. After all, everybody wants Will and Rodney at the end, and I fully believe that Carolyn would vote her off in a heartbeat. But Mike has been so consistent in asserting himself as True Blue despite his reputation that I expect him to urge Sierra and Rodney to vote off Will.
Will might be the biggest goat in the game, but Mike knows he can beat anybody, so he doesn’t need to take that into consideration. And above all, it’s important to Mike’s game that he be the good guy. He might well cast Will’s boot in the light of judgment for the way he treated Shirin and his lack of gameplay: “He didn’t deserve to be here on day 39. These other two did.” Sierra and Rodney don’t have to go along with it, but it assures them of a spot in the final three, and their big hurdle at that point will be beating Mike, not the other finalist.
Accordingly, I’m calling a final three of Sierra, Rodney and Mike, with Mike being our sole survivor, and a decidedly anticlimactic end to the season. Granted, the past couple of seasons, I have been equally convinced of who would win, and yet Spencer and Keith are still in contention for Second Chances. Still, I believe the biggest mystery left to be resolved in Worlds Apart is whether or not John Kirhoffer will have the balls to put Jeff Probst through another puzzle challenge…