After an off season that seemed to fly by, Survivor is finally back, and I am so excited to be joining the Rob Has A Website blogging team this season. I’ve been a huge fan of Survivor for a long time, and I’m hoping to be able to use my extensive knowledge of past Survivor seasons to bring you an analysis that is slightly different. Each week, I’ll be looking back through Survivor history to find a past player whose game demonstrates some strategy that is pertinent to the season 29 castaways. I’ll be looking at previous seasons, and how the current players could use the lessons from Survivor history to improve their own game. If you haven’t seen previous seasons, and you don’t want to know spoilers, you might want to give this a miss, as I will be discussing previous winners and finalists.
Season 29 sees the return of the Blood vs Water format, last seen only two seasons ago. This time, we have all new players, and what struck me about these players right away was how different they are. As a group, they seem incredibly likable, nobody had a car crash of a premiere, and this season doesn’t seem to have any J’Tias, Garretts or Shamars. What I think we do have, though, is a group that don’t have a deep understanding of the game.
In the ‘Day Zero’ introductions to each pair, the majority were shown as being well out of their depth. We saw Julie squealing about crabs, Missy and Baylor afraid of the monkeys, Nadiya and Natalie as well as Drew and Alec arguing with each other already, and Keith telling Wes “You’re about as mentally strong as that rock”. We heard about Kelley and Dale’s volatile relationship. This left Jon and Jaclyn, who were introduced as the perfect couple, and we saw them make fire; Jeremy and Val, who were introduced by their rivalry, but made fire and were shown hand in hand and relaxed; and Josh and Reed, who were seemingly in their element, killing a crab and discussing their extensive experience with fire. Throughout the episode, Josh and Reed’s status as ‘fans of the show’ was referenced on numerous occasions, from their cocky response to Jeff’s question about fire- “If you’re going to go on Survivor, you need to know how to make fire”- to their excited arrivals to their respective camps. This was in stark contrast to the other players, who were clearly not shown to have the same knowledge of the game.
This group are a far cry from the cast of the original Blood vs Water. Obviously, there are no returning players, but even the non-returning players on the original season had a working knowledge of the game. They had all seen the game played, and had heard their loved ones’ experiences. There were some players on that season (Katie Collins, Laura Boneham) for whom Survivor had been a part of their lives for more than a decade. This group come to Survivor with a limited knowledge of the game. They don’t know the multifaceted ways that it can be played and won.
Obviously, they have all seen some Survivor. From their bios, it is clear that they have seen Cagayan, and the original Blood vs Water season. They’ve seen the way that Blood vs Water works. They’ve seen what it takes to win a Blood vs Water season. And the clear lesson from watching Tyson dominate the last season of Blood vs Water is that Survivor is an individual game. Those with loved ones voted out early were the ones that went deep in the game. Pairs were targeted and were early merge boots.
But one of the things that stood out to me about this premiere is that this group of players don’t want to follow Tyson’s path to victory. They’ve seen Blood vs Water; they have seen that it was impossible for a pair to make it to the end together, yet this group, for the most part, seemed to be committed to playing as pairs. Relationships were repeatedly emphasized, not only by Jeff Probst, but also by the players themselves. Most of these players cannot win by playing Tyson’s game or Tony’s game. Most of these players are not strong male leaders. And most of them have come into the game with an entirely different game plan. So they have two struggles. They will need to convince the other players to keep the pairs intact, that pairs are less of a threat than individuals. And they will also need to convince the jury to vote for a player that perhaps didn’t control the game, or make the risky moves that a Tyson or a Tony did. Because if they are going to play with their partner right to the end, they are going to play an emotional game. The key to Tyson’s success was that he was able to play in a logical way, without having to think about the impact that his decisions would have on someone else.
So, is it possible for a pair to dominate this game? Is it possible to win this game in an entirely new way? Or are we destined for a repeat of Blood vs Water One, dominated by an alliance made up of players who lose their loved ones early? Well, this week’s lesson in Survivor history comes to us from a player who had to revolutionize the game in order to win, who had to play the game in a way that hadn’t been seen before: season two’s winner, Tina Wesson.It was a different game in Season 2[/caption]
Tina, and the rest of the season two cast, came into a very different game. After the airing of season one, Survivor had been a hit TV show, but most viewers were disappointed by Richard Hatch, the winner. He had won by creating an alliance (an act seen at the time as being villainous) and voting out all of the ‘nice and deserving’ people, so that in the end, they had no choice but to reward him with the million dollar cheque. After season one, it seemed that the only way to win Survivor was to be villainous. The name of the game was to outwit and outplay, and to the viewers, this meant the only way to succeed was to play a cutthroat game–to stab people in the back, and the cast of season two knew this. As soon as the game began, alliances began to form. The dominant alliance on Tina’s tribe was led by Jerri Manthey, who would go down in history as the first great Survivor villain.
Tina knew that she would have to be part of an alliance to make it far in the game, but she also knew that if the game was going to be awarded to the biggest villain, she had no chance. And she wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to play that way. And so, instead of simply copying the pattern for victory that Richard had demonstrated, Tina changed the direction, and the ethos of Survivor. Instead of voting with Jerri, Tina approached Colby Donaldson, convincing him to vote with her and Keith Famie, creating a tie at tribal council. When Jerri’s alliance mate Mitchell Olson was voted out, Tina and Colby now held the power in the game. And they kept repeating their mantra- that deserving players should not be voted out. Tina repeatedly said “I just want the good guys to win.” And she convinced her tribemates of this too. Season two of Survivor would not be won by a villain. It would be won by a ‘good guy’. Tina also made it clear who was deserving, and who wasn’t. Jerri was ‘undeserving’. She was voted out as soon as Tina and Colby were secure in their numerical advantage. Tina and Colby were most definitely deserving.
Tina managed to convince people that the game had to be won by a deserving person. And people allied with her, based solely on that idea. Colby took her all the way to the end, based solely on the idea that ‘the good guys’ should win. All of the players in the game bought into this ethos, and played their games accordingly.
And this is what needs to be done by the players who are serious about playing as pairs. They need to change the ethos of the game, to convince the other players that this is the right way to go, that individual players are far more dangerous than pairs. And it can be done. They’ve all seen Tyson win the game, fuelled by his love for Rachel. Doesn’t that make someone like Natalie more dangerous now than she was with Nadiya in the game?
One of the things that Tina did well was to align with people like Colby, and later Rodger Bingham, who cared more about their integrity than winning the game. She was able to sell her line of the good guys winning, because it was what they wanted to hear. Keeping their integrity and being seen as a hero was an important part of her allies’ games as well. Colby bought into the ‘good guys deserve to win’ mantra so thoroughly that when he won the final immunity challenge, he was faced with the choice of bringing Tina to the final tribal council, or bringing Keith, who was disliked by everybody. Against Keith, Colby would have won an easy jury vote. But he explained his decision to bring Tina, saying “I don’t think Keith earned the right to sit in the position of the final two of this game. I just don’t think he played the game in a fashion, or well enough, to deserve that spot.” Colby knew he was making a decision that would cost him a million dollars. But he completely believed that a deserving person should win the season. And he made his decision with that in mind.
And the players of season 29 will come up against similar choices. Should they vote off someone who has a loved one left in the game, or do they vote out the individual player? And their decisions will be influenced by what they believe. Do they truly believe that they can make it to the end with their partner? If they do, then it would be strategically advantageous to keep as many pairs intact as possible for the merge. They will make valuable allies. Also, of course, the more pairs there are left in the game, the longer you and your partner will be likely to survive. If they believe that Survivor can only be played as an individual game, then they vote out the pairs, perhaps even work against their own partner out of necessity, as Ciera was forced to do in season 27. It all depends on whether enough people believe there is a chance to work as a pair post merge.
So who are the biggest proponents of playing in pairs this season? Who should align with each other? Firstly, Missy and Baylor had their relationship emphasised repeatedly. Missy spoke about how the mother/daughter bond would make them unstoppable. In pregame interviews, Missy also spoke about how she expected that they would make Survivor history, and make it to the end of the game together. Nadiya and Natalie were the others who were most vocal in pregame interviews about playing together, and I think Nadiya’s elimination is a big blow to the possibility of a pairs’ alliance running the post-merge game. The twins spoke of a strategy to keep the pairs intact, and working with other pairs to eliminate the singles, which is exactly what the remaining players will need to do if they are to work with their loved ones.
Jeremy and Val may have talked trash about each other, and did talk about how they want to beat each other. However, after sending Val to exile, Jeremy said in confessional “For me and Val, I feel in this game, it’s all about us as a couple.” He talked about being worried about how her game was being affected. He then set about creating alliances within his tribe. The first person he approached was Kelley. They made an alliance, and agreed to be a strong two. But what was interesting was Kelley’s response to Jeremy’s offer. “If we can be a strong two, hopefully our pairs are solid.” Kelley seems to understand that this is not just an alliance between her and Jeremy. To Kelley, this alliance includes Dale and Val also. For Jeremy and Kelley, a pairs’ alliance makes sense. If they can get Missy and Baylor, and all three couples are intact at the merge, they will have enough to get the majority.
Another couple who may be open to working to keep the pairs together is Josh and Reed. When Nadiya is discussing her alliance with Josh, she tells him that she is sure that Natalie is working with Reed. Josh agrees with her, and it seems to be clear to both that if they were to form an alliance, it would be an alliance of four not two. Of course, Josh ultimately decided not to go with Nadiya, so we really don’t know what he was thinking. The all-male alliance on Coyopa don’t seem to be thinking about the post merge game at all, or we certainly didn’t see them planning for it. It seemed to be more of a natural alliance than the Jeremy-led majority over at Hunahpu.
We also got indications that some pairs would not be interested in working together. We saw Drew and Alec, for example, continually in conflict with each other. Alec’s cocky comment that he would give Drew a front row seat to watch him win is certainly at odds with Missy and Baylor’s way of playing. Although Kelley made alliances assuming that Dale would be a part of them, the way the two of them were introduced made me think that they may also have to turn on each other. Jeff Probst’s introduction to them emphasised the volatile relationship that they had in the past. And Dale rightly seemed too worried about saving his own skin this episode to worry about making alliances for Kelley. We saw John’s frustration with Julie in their day zero introduction, and they don’t seem to be committed to playing together either.
Blood vs Water is designed to play with emotions. Survivor is designed to be played logically. It makes sense that the winner will be someone who can play selfishly, without having to look out for a loved one. If a couple is to make it to the end, they will need to make the merge with enough couples intact to form a majority. And to get to that point, they may have to vote people out purely because they are individual players. The mantra that the pairs will need to get the others to buy into is that the individual players are far more dangerous than the pairs. And Tyson, Gervase and Monica proved this on the last Blood vs Water season. They proved that their alliance was unbreakable, just as strong as the bond between brothers, and stronger than the bond between mother and daughter, as Ciera voted Laura out of the game.
If a pair is to get to the end of this game, they have to start using Exile Island strategically. Val and Keith were the two sent to Exile this episode, and they both completely wasted the opportunity. To begin with, they were asked to randomly choose one urn. Val’s urn had an idol clue; Keith’s urn had nothing. Val chose not to share the clue with Keith, and I’m not sure what she gained from this, particularly as Keith quickly reveals that he is a firefighter, making him a natural ally for Jeremy (unless maybe Jeremy and Val have discussed strategy beforehand, and they have both decided to work with the women, in which case the bad move was on Jeremy’s part for sending someone that he knew Val wouldn’t work with). If Val shares the clue, then what does she have to lose? She builds a relationship with Keith, that she may have been able to parlay into a relationship with Wes. She knows that Keith wants to work with her husband, so sharing the clue could have helped Jeremy find an idol. Instead, they enjoy a few days of small talk, before returning to the game with no strategic benefit to their time on Exile at all. Exile Island has almost been designed this season to help the pairs stick around. Savvy players need to think about whom they are sending to interact with their loved ones- preferably a trusted ally who can get as much information as possible.
Any of these players that want to work with their loved ones will have to guide their season towards a very different conclusion than we saw in season 27. They need to do what Tina did so well, and convince the majority to believe in their ethos. The other thing that Tina did brilliantly was to defend her game at Final Tribal council. When asked if she played the game ethically, she responded that she did- by her own definition of the word. She talked about strategy in both her opening and closing remarks, and mentioned strategy when asked what it was that brought her to the end. Even if a pair does make it to the end, there can only be one winner. I’d love to see a final tribal where Jeremy is arguing that he played a better game than Val, or Reed arguing that he outwitted people better than Josh did. But it is going to take a shift in the thinking of the players to see this happen. And I think those players who have been shown to have the most intelligence (Josh, Reed, Dale) don’t have any real inclination towards a pairs’ alliance.
I don’t think the gameplay in this season will resemble season 27 for many reasons. I think that Redemption Island allows players the confidence to make risky moves, and Redemption Island is gone now. I think that having no returning players should hopefully mean that we have 2 evenly matched tribes, with no need for a tribe swap. Hopefully Exile Island will provide enough inter-tribe communications so that we will avoid a post-merge pagonging. But above all, I really think that this group are emotionally attached to playing together. We will see some strong players, particularly Jeremy and Val, wanting to see the pairs play together. And we will see some resistance to that, with those that lose their loved ones fighting to stay in the game. It should make for an interesting season. Will this season be won by another Tyson, a dominant player who loses their loved one early and is able to play a purely selfish game of Survivor? Or are we in for something different, where the remaining pairs will actually be able to band together and make a push for the win? If the cast wants to see pairs remaining together, the time to start laying the groundwork for that is now.