Each week, Catherine Lucas examines the gameplay of a contestant or a tribe and compares them to players from past seasons. It’s a mix of history, strategy, and culture in “Lessons in Survivor History”. You can expect the blogs on Monday mornings.
Lessons in Survivor History: Take the Shot
Firstly, thank goodness there is a tribe swap coming up. I think that I’m ready for these unanimous votes to stop, for some of these power couples to be broken up, and for the game to really start. If we kept going with the current formations, then I think we were certain to lose Lauren in another boring episode next week, probably followed by Ali the week after. It was clear right from the beginning that the Hustlers tribe were going to struggle in the challenges. They only managed to escape Tribal Council week one because the Heroes made a terrible choice in their table maze. I don’t think they were going to get lucky again. And while the Hustlers visit Tribal Council over and over, there wasn’t an awful lot going on in either of the other two tribes.
On the Heroes, Chrissy and Ben are clearly in control, but playing so intelligently that nobody else seems to realise. JP and Ashley both think they have Chrissy on their side. Alan thinks Ben is still with him. It would have been interesting to see which way they would have gone, but I think that the physical gap between them and the Hustler tribe, particularly with Patrick gone, means that losing immunity was unlikely for the Heroes. I am worried about this tribe in the event of a swap. Ashley has a lot of animosity towards Alan and is only really aligned with Chrissy and Ben out of necessity. We’ve seen that Ben doesn’t really trust Ashley and that he’s worried about JP being like a puppy, chasing whoever is offering treats. There’s not a lot of tribal unity in this group, and I think that for most of them, when they are presented with some new options, we might find that JP isn’t the only puppy on the tribe. I can see the Heroes tribe splitting and allowing themselves to be used as pawns by either the Hustlers or the Healers.
Ryan was really selling the Matsing narrative at Tribal Council this week. The narrative that the Hustlers are the underdogs. That having gone to Tribal Council twice, they are going to be the most united tribe. He almost made it sound like they would have an advantage headed into the swap. Is he right? Can we expect the Hustlers to stick together? Well, they are definitely more united than the Heroes. There are no obvious factions between them, and there doesn’t seem to be any real mistrust. But I also don’t think that there is a real bond between the four remaining Hustlers. Ryan admitted that Lauren wasn’t really fitting in. She doesn’t feel completely at home with them, and she is absolutely going to meet other players in the game who suit her personality much better. People like Chrissy and Ben are likely to present as much better allies than Ryan and Devon. I think that there is a good chance that Lauren, who has to know that she would have been the next to go, abandons the good ship Hustler, and goes searching for better horizons. And is Ali going to be happy to be the third member of the Ryan and Devon alliance? The perception there is going to be that the two boys are making the decisions. If Ali wants more power in the game, she’ll have to find an alliance where she is a pivotal part. With Patrick gone, she’ll have to find a new partner.
And then there’s the Healers. Last week, I defended Cole when he helped Joe find the idol. The way I saw it, Cole now had all of the power. He had all of the information, and he could either work with Joe, or he could use that information against him. This week, I’m not going to be so complimentary towards Cole. This week, I thought he played terribly, and any advantage that he gained last week is gone. If I was in his position, I would be trying to work with Joe. He’s clearly not doing that. We aren’t seeing Cole and Joe spend any time together, and Joe is admitting that he doesn’t trust Cole at all. So Cole has failed to cultivate that relationship.
And if you can’t work with Joe, then I guess you have to work against him. And here is where Cole did a terrible job. Because he noticed that Joe was a threat. He noticed that there was an opportunity to take him and his idol out of the game. And instead of making the move, he hesitated. He had a shot at taking out a real power player but instead left him in the game. And knowing that there is a swap coming up, has Cole lost his chance completely? You have to take your shot when you can. And for that reason, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going back to season three, Survivor: Africa, and the eighth-place finisher, Brandon Quinton.
Brandon was placed on the Samburu tribe to begin the game, and he began to bond with the younger members of the tribe. The four younger members created an alliance, ostracising the four older members of the tribe. When Samburu lost immunity, the two alliances found themselves in a deadlock. Neither side would budge. In early Survivor, when the vote was tied, the contestant who had the most previous votes would be sent home. In the case of neither person having any previous votes, the two contestants involved in the tie played against each other in a trivia contest. Lindsey Richter, from Brandon’s alliance, and Carl Bilancione, from the older alliance, received four votes each. In the trivia competition, Lindsey got more questions correct, and Carl was eliminated. This put Brandon in the majority alliance.
When Brandon’s alliance gained the majority, they assumed that they would now be able to vote out the older alliance one by one. Samburu was physically the stronger tribe (they had won the first two immunity challenges), and it seemed that Brandon and his alliance could now coast to the end of the game. In the first two seasons of the show, there had been no twists at all. The castaways felt as though they could predict the game, and so Brandon and his allies felt incredibly safe. And as they felt that they would easily be able to vote the older members of the tribe out of the game, Brandon and his allies completely ignored their older tribemates. They were happy not to bother doing any of the work around the camp, and the gap between the two alliances widened.
Brandon’s alliance stayed together and eliminated another of the older members of the tribe. However, during this vote, Brandon’s close ally Silas Gaither received votes against him, making both Silas and Lindsey vulnerable in future tie-break situations. And on day 13, Brandon’s alliance was devastated when Survivor threw the first ever twist into the game. Silas, along with the two remaining members of the older Samburu alliance, Teresa Cooper, and Frank Garrison, had been switched to the opposing Boran tribe. Once at Boran, Teresa and Frank worked with the original Boran members to throw the tribe and vote out Silas. When Boran won immunity three days later, Teresa signalled to the Samburu tribe that they should vote for Lindsey. Because Lindsey had previous votes against her, she was sent home, leaving Brandon in a very weak position.
When the two tribes merged, there were four original Samburu members– Brandon, Teresa, Frank, and Kim Powers. There were six members of Boran. Despite Samburu being in the minority, at the merge a Boran member, Clarence Black, was sent home for being a physical threat. At Tribal Council, Clarence (along with Teresa) voted for Lex van den Berghe, who was a dominant strategic leader at Boran. Lex was furious at receiving a vote, and he mistakenly believed that one of his Boran tribemates, Kelly Goldsmith, had been the one to vote for him. As a result, Lex targeted Kelly at the next Tribal Council.
At the same time, Teresa was trying to make a move against Lex. She saw that Lex was the most powerful person in the game, and she also saw the opportunity to get him out. Kelly, knowing that Lex was writing her name down, would vote for Lex. Teresa then tried to get all of the old members of Samburu to vote with Kelly, and send Lex home. Kim agreed to vote for Lex. Frank agreed to vote for Lex. They needed Brandon’s vote. Brandon could not agree to vote with Frank, who he could not stand. Brandon voted with Lex, sending Kelly home, and alienating everyone in the game. With nobody left that trusted him, Brandon was sent home at the next Tribal Council. Meanwhile, Lex took control and was able to get to the final three, where he was an immunity win away from likely winning the game.
Without doubt, voting with Teresa and Frank would have been a risky move. Brandon had a terrible relationship with both of them. But he would have been voting with Kim, who had been his friend from the beginning, and Kelly, who he had been on a tribe with after the tribe swap. And he didn’t need to vote with Frank all the way to the end of the game. But had he been able to work with Frank for that one vote, then the endgame of Survivor: Africa is very, very different. Brandon stood a good chance of winning. As it was, he betrayed Kim, his closest friend in the game, and gave nobody a reason to trust him. He became dispensable, and consequently, he was voted out.
Just as Brandon had the chance to take a power player out of the game in Lex, Cole had the chance this week to eliminate Joe. And what was frustrating was watching him put in all of the effort, setting up the rest of his tribe so that the vote was split, getting everyone on his side, and ensuring that Joe could be blindsided– and all for nothing. I think that Cole really should have taken a risk and thrown the challenge. And it is easy to say now, with the benefit of hindsight. Cole didn’t know that a tribe swap was coming. I get that. But I think that once he had shared the information about Joe’s idol with the entire tribe, and told everyone how to vote, and locked everything down, he needed to execute the plan. He might have thought that he had time to get Joe out, but with a swap coming, Joe might slip through Cole’s fingers. Or worse, Joe might find out that Cole has told everyone about the idol, and then he would be aggressively coming for Cole. Cole is incredibly valuable in the early portion of the game. Once you are on a swapped tribe, his value starts to plummet. Physical strength is not as valuable as trust. And Cole has demonstrated that he cannot be trusted. I think that Cole is in trouble.
Had he taken the risk and thrown the challenge, then he would either have eliminated Joe, or he would have flushed Joe’s idol. If Joe had played the idol, then Cole would have had Joe as an enemy for the rest of the game– but I think that might happen anyway. The possible reward of going into a tribe swap as a close group of five, especially when the other tribes are fractured, is worth the risk. I don’t believe in big moves just for the sake of it, and Cole’s ideal play would have been to keep the information about Joe’s idol to himself until he was ready to make the move. But now the cat is out of the bag, and I think Cole needed to actually take the shot. Otherwise, he might find that Joe, like Lex in Africa, is in a position to take control of the game.
Is Joe as dangerous as Lex was? That’s a difficult question to answer. Brandon faced his dilemma at the final eight. At that point, Lex had shown himself to be a strong competitor in the challenges. He had been a strong strategic voice in the tribal portion of the game, and his paranoia about receiving votes was starting to dominate the merge camp. Lex had an unbreakable alliance of three, and the strong loyalty of Kim Johnson, another member of Boran. In a tribe of nine, that did leave him vulnerable. But there was no way to get rid of Lex if Brandon was not willing to work with Frank. And it should have been easy for Brandon to see that Lex was far, far more dangerous than Frank was. Voting with Frank was a small price to pay to eliminate such a skilled player.
Is Joe worth throwing a challenge for? Well, in the entire time that they have been out there, surely every player has been searching for an idol. Joe is the only one to have found one. And owning the only idol in the game makes him incredibly dangerous. I doubt that he found that clue easily. I’d say that the fact that Joe is the only one to have spotted the clue suggests that Joe is out there, looking for the idol harder than anyone. It speaks to how hard Joe is willing to play the game. He’s really working at this. He doesn’t just look like Tony Vlachos. He shares Tony’s Survivor work ethic.
It is early game. Can’t declare Joe as the most dangerous player out there right now, obviously. Lots of others are playing games that are far more likely to win. But the question is: Is he the most dangerous person out there to Cole? Does Joe pose a danger to Cole moving forward? And unquestionably, I think he does. Once the tribes swap, I don’t think it is going to take long before everyone in the game knows that Joe has the idol. And Joe isn’t stupid– he’s going to realise that the information is out, and he is going to realise where that information came from. And just like Brandon regretted not seizing the moment and getting rid of Lex when he had the chance, I think that Cole is going to regret winning that challenge. He had everything in place. Worst case scenario, at least he would have gotten rid of the idol. But now he has a powerful enemy out there– and that enemy has an arsenal to use against him. Joe’s got the idol–making an enemy out of him was an extremely risky move.
Brandon’s hesitance to make a move was based purely on emotion. He didn’t like Frank, and couldn’t trust him, and therefore refused to make a move that would benefit Frank, even if it was a mutually beneficial vote. He threw away his chance to move forward in the game because he couldn’t even forge a temporary alliance with someone that he had hated since the beginning of the game. He knew that Lex was already in a tight alliance, and knew that his best path to the end was to stick with his original tribe. But he missed the opportunity, and so lost the game.
Cole’s moves also seem somewhat based on emotion. I don’t think he meant to even tell Jessica about the idol, but caught up in the moment of being with a super cute girl, it slipped out. And his decision to tell Roark and Desi was perhaps influenced by seeing Jessica’s adoring reaction. I certainly don’t think that Cole is meticulously thinking through his every move. Cole is probably the kind of guy in the real world who acts on instinct and has always had things work out. He trusts his gut when perhaps he shouldn’t. If he had been thinking logically, he would have realised that information is power. He gave that power away.
I do wonder whether he ever had the plan to throw the challenge. Why would he so carefully plan the votes, if they were unlikely to visit Tribal Council? Not only did he give away far too much information, but he also demonstrated to the rest of his tribe that he is the one in charge. He put himself firmly in the leadership role, and any Survivor fan knows that the leader is a very bad place to be. If Cole wants to win the game, he’s going to have to stop acting impulsively, slow down, and think things through. And if he has a shot at someone that will never trust him, he should take it.
What about Jessica, Roark and Desi? They are in a fantastic place. By handing over the information about the idol, Cole handed them a whole lot of power. I’d love to see the tribe swap bring the Healers women to the forefront. We haven’t seen a lot of them yet, and I know that they have some strategy to bring to the table. At this point, they look like they’ll stick with Cole, and aren’t interested in working with Joe, but I’m not counting Joe out. I think that Cole– and possibly the Healers women too– will regret the time that they could have taken Joe out, but didn’t. For Brandon, refusing to take a shot at the most powerful person in the game led to his torch immediately being snuffed. I don’t think it is that dire for Cole. He isn’t going home this week. But nonetheless, he has an enemy in the game now. I don’t think he’s going to get a more perfect opportunity to blindside Joe. Joe’s going to be wary now. He’s going to play his idol. And Cole just might find that it is his game that ends as a result.