After the exits of both Reed and Alec this week, I have to say that I am wholeheartedly rooting for a Natalie win at this point. I loved watching the twinnies on The Amazing Race, where she and Nadiya made for entertaining television as they constantly allowed their emotions to get in the way of their gameplay. It’s been a pleasant surprise to see Natalie as a single player- she is almost the exact opposite of what I expected to see- and she is consistently standing out as the most strategic and capable player this season. Pre-merge, she had her moments (fighting with John Rocker is the most obvious example, although according to Rocker’s exit interviews, she was constantly trash talking after challenges), but post-merge, her control over her emotions, and her ability to be calculating and strategic has been great to watch, especially in contrast to other players who have coasted and bumbled their way through the game.Cirie Fields[/caption]
Unlike many others, I actually really liked Natalie’s move to vote out Alec over Keith. She had everything set up this week to blindside Jon, and the only thing that stopped her was Jon winning immunity. She won’t have many opportunities left to make her move, and she needs to ensure that he doesn’t win the remaining immunities, and Keith is far more useful to her in that regard than Alec was. If Keith was out, then Natalie basically has to win immunity (Baylor, Missy and Alec are all terrible in the challenges) in order to successfully blindside Jon. She was far better to get rid of Alec, who was useless to her, keeping Keith in the game, who will hopefully help her to keep immunity away from Jon at the next tribal council. By going against the alliance, she does run the risk of alienating Jon and Jaclyn, but she alerted Baylor before making the move, and can trust that Baylor is still with her. Keith owes her his life in the game, and he will be loyal. Now, Natalie only needs Baylor to pull Missy in, which is entirely feasible, and then she once again has the numbers on her side. Natalie’s need to blindside Jon, a huge target in the game who also has an immunity idol on his side, means that this week’s lesson in Survivor History comes to us from season 16, Survivor: Micronesia, and Cirie Fields, who successfully pulled off a similar move, sending Ozzy Lusth to the jury with an idol in his pocket. To replicate the success of Cirie, Natalie will have to play her next move carefully.
Ozzy first played the game in season 13, Survivor: Cook Islands, where he was part of a closely knit four-person alliance that took him to the Final Tribal Council, where he fell one vote short, losing to Yul Kwon. Returning in season 16, Ozzy attempted to correct the mistakes he had made in his previous season, where it was his physical skills rather than his social ability that got him second place. Ozzy quickly formed a close alliance with Amanda Kimmel, James Clement and Parvati Shallow, and the foursome soon recruited Cirie and formed the majority alliance on their tribe. Unbeknownst to Ozzy, the three women in the alliance had agreed to a final three deal. Even Amanda, who had entered into a relationship with Ozzy, wasn’t willing to go up against him at the end of the game. All three of them recognised the threat that Ozzy and James posed, and agreed to vote them out before the end of the game.
Ozzy was one of the most physically capable players that the game has ever seen. In his original season, Ozzy won 5 of 6 individual immunities, and his physical strength and swimming ability were crucial in getting his alliance to the final four intact. Cirie (and some of the other players in the game) knew that although his strength was useful in the pre-merge stage of the game, there would be limited opportunities to vote him out at a later stage.
After the merge, Eliza Orlins was the obvious target, as she was on the outside of all alliances. As she was voted out, she played a counterfeit immunity idol, making it obvious that Ozzy had found the true idol on his stay at Exile Island early in the game. Knowing that Ozzy was not only a huge physical threat, but also had an immunity idol, made Cirie acutely aware of the need to get Ozzy out of the game at the next available opportunity. That opportunity presented itself at the very next immunity challenge.
At this point, Eliza’s only friend in the game, Jason Siska, was the obvious next vote out. The immunity challenge was an endurance challenge, and Ozzy dropped out in favour of food. When Jason and Parvati were the last two standing, Probst brought out a plate of food. If one of them stepped down, the entire tribe would share in the food. Jason agreed to step down from the immunity challenge in exchange for a guarantee from the rest of the tribe that they would not vote him out. Laughing and with crossed fingers, the tribe agreed, and Parvati won immunity. Cirie immediately recognised this as her chance, saying in confessional “I think this will be a prime opportunity to get rid of Ozzy”. She went to Parvati, and Parvati’s allies, Alexis Jones and Natalie Bolton, and told them to vote Ozzy. Ozzy felt so comfortable that Jason would be leaving that he never played his idol and was sent to the jury.
It was relatively easy for Cirie to blindside Ozzy because Ozzy was a threat to everyone in the game. Other players had already identified Ozzy as a threat- Tracy Hughes-Wolf said before she got voted out in the pre-merge game, “Ozzy is going to win this thing if we don’t get him out of this game.” Ami Cusack had already tried to get the numbers together to blindside Ozzy before she was voted out pre-merge. Ozzy’s physical prowess as well as his previous experience in making the Final Tribal Council meant that he was an obvious threat. The benefits of voting out Ozzy were immediately obvious to the tribe.
In the case of Jon, whilst he is the obvious physical threat in the game, those left are not necessarily threatened by him. Jaclyn obviously has no reason to want Jon out, and Missy seems to be secure in Jon’s loyalty also. Baylor clearly has a personal dislike for Jon, but she hasn’t expressed any thoughts that he could be a threat to win the game. The only person who has expressed that thought is Natalie, but his being a threat is not her ultimate motive for wanting Jon out. After she chose Jon and Jaclyn to share in this week’s reward, she said, “I’ve been wanting to get Jon out ever since he voted out Jeremy, so picking Jaclyn and Jon for the reward just showed that I am such a loyal person, and they will trust me even more. So then when I take my revenge, they’ll never see it coming.”
Natalie’s primary motive for wanting Jon out is to avenge Jeremy. Her problem is that nobody else felt betrayed by the Jeremy vote. Nobody else shares her anger. When choosing a target for a blindside, it should be someone that is a threat to win the game. Jon has annoyed a lot of people left in the game, and is responsible for ending the games of nearly everyone on the jury. Unless he’s sitting at the end with Missy and Baylor, Jon is going to struggle to get the votes to win this thing. There simply isn’t the motivation for the other players to get Jon out of the game. Keith will vote with Natalie no matter what, but if Baylor and Missy are thinking about the end game, then they won’t want to join Natalie in blindsiding Jon.
When Cirie organised the blindside of Ozzy, she deliberately only told the people whose votes she needed. Amanda, Ozzy’s closest ally, never found out about it. Anybody who might have let Ozzy in on the plan was left out, in case Ozzy was given enough information to make him play his idol. With the numbers so small, Natalie might have to play a little riskier. At final seven, she had the perfect opportunity- Keith and Alec would have voted however she told them to if it gave them some extra time in the game. Baylor’s loyalty meant that she wouldn’t have needed Missy’s vote and wouldn’t have had to risk Jon finding out. With six people left in the game, she either needs to play her idol correctly (which would tip off Jon, and probably cause him to play his own idol), or she needs to get Missy to vote with them. This is where she will need Baylor- if she and Baylor together present Missy with their case, it is probable that Missy’s loyalty to her daughter will mean that she will go with Natalie’s plan. It is a risky play, but it can conceivably work.
To successfully pull off a big blindside, timing is imperative. Unfortunately for Natalie, the perfect time to blindside Jon was at final seven. At final six, it is going to be difficult to get Jon to feel comfortable enough not to use his idol. In the worst case scenario, Jon wins immunity. At this point, Natalie will surely have to sacrifice Keith, and hope that she can vote with Baylor and Missy to get rid of either Jon or Jaclyn at final five. If Natalie continues to stay with the plan of going to the final three with Baylor and Missy, she runs the risk of Jon winning enough immunities to reach the Final Tribal Council. If Keith wins the next immunity, Jon will likely feel paranoid enough to play his idol, and Natalie may also need to play hers. In the best case scenario, Natalie will win immunity herself, and hope that Jon will feel so sure that Keith is going home that he fails to play his idol. Blindsiding Jon at this point is possible, and I hope she hasn’t missed her perfect opportunity.
As Jon has another immunity idol, Natalie will have to placate his paranoia. She did a good job of this by choosing him and Jaclyn for the reward. Although Jaclyn had her doubts about Natalie’s allegiances, Jon felt absolutely sure. He said “The more I get to know Natalie, the more reassured I am of the strength of our alliance.” She is doing a great job of fooling Jon into thinking that she is loyal, and if he had not won immunity, he would have been voted out. She has to make sure that all her hard work doesn’t go to waste. Jon is aware that he should be a target. He has said in confessional: “Right now, my fear in this game is that I’ve become the biggest threat. And that’s scary because people try to get out the largest threat.” He has played the game in a paranoid state- he voted out Jeremy because he was worried that Jeremy might discover that Jon had an immunity idol- and is just now starting to get comfortable. Natalie’s goal has to be to keep Jon in that comfortable state.
Ozzy was not a paranoid player. He genuinely believed in his alliance, and in his usefulness to the tribe. He had a romantic relationship with Amanda, and he knew that she was close to Parvati and Cirie. He could trust Amanda to tell him if something was going to happen- but he didn’t imagine that Parvati and Cirie would make the move without letting Amanda know. Before heading off to tribal, he made the comment, “This would be a good point to try and flush the idol out, but at this point I’m pretty confident in my alliance.” His experience in Survivor: Cook Islands had been with a close alliance that stayed strong to the end, and perhaps that clouded his judgement, but he never considered the interests of the other players in his alliance. He was genuinely shocked to be voted out.
A big part of keeping Ozzy secure was the performance that Cirie and her alliance gave at Tribal Council. Before Tribal, Ozzy said that he would take his idol with him and pay close attention to what happened saying, “I might end up playing it just to be safe.” At Tribal, Cirie said very little and gave short answers to Jeff’s questions. She acknowledged that Ozzy had the idol, and that that information made him a target in the game. But she still made it clear that Jason had made a terrible move in stepping down from the immunity challenge and deserved to get voted out. In season 16, Jeff’s questions in Tribal Council were far less probing, but Cirie managed to get away with giving short answers and saying very little. When asked if Jason was going to get voted out, Cirie replied, “That sounds like what he (James) said, Jeff”. Her nonchalant attitude was a big part in making sure that Ozzy didn’t feel the need to play his idol.
We know already that Jon doesn’t read the signs at Tribal Council well. But I think that coming so close to getting blindsided once will make him far more careful and observant. Last time, Natalie told him to play the idol (I’m not sure why she did that- was she being cautious, or did she just so badly want to be the person responsible for getting Jon out of the game), but this time he will be much more willing to risk it, and at the first sign of trouble, the idol will be played. Although he does trust Natalie, he admitted to having ‘weird feelings’ before the immunity challenge. After winning immunity, he admitted, “I did have a few worries about my alliance. I’m pretty sure that I was being all paranoid.” To blindside Jon will take a masterful performance from Natalie and her allies at Tribal Council. We’ve seen how good Natalie’s acting skills are- she hated every minute of that reward, yet she was able to convince Jon that their alliance was being cemented- but we have also seen how transparent Keith can be. After how badly Keith ruined Reed’s game, I am worried about the amount of trust that Natalie will have to put in him.
The only imperfect thing about Cirie’s performance in Ozzy’s blindside is that even though she was the orchestrator, she received very little of the credit. At Final Tribal Council, Parvati repeatedly took the credit for the move, and Ozzy certainly blamed Parvati for his ousting. Amanda told Cirie that she saw Parvati as a more worthy competitor than Cirie because “Parvati made bolder decisions in this game.” Parvati acknowledged the strategic strength of Cirie’s game, but labelled Cirie’s game as “more under-the-radar than mine was”. Perhaps Cirie expected jury backlash for the move, and was happy for Parvati to be getting the blame, but from what the audience saw, Cirie came up with the idea to blindside Ozzy while alone on Exile Island (although both Tracy and Ami had similar plans earlier in the game), and it was Cirie who gathered the numbers together to make the move happen. And yet somehow, the jury clearly sees the move as Parvati’s move. James said to Parvati, “You made the great move with Ozzy”, and in her response to his question, she clearly takes ownership of the move. “There was no chance for me to win this game if I stuck with you and if I stuck with Oz. There was no chance of me sitting here if I stuck with you guys. And that’s why I felt I felt like I had to make that move when I made it. It also, you know, gave me a lot of control”, she said. It certainly helped Parvati that her only opponent in Final Tribal Council was Amanda, who had no knowledge whatsoever that Ozzy was going to be blindsided, and perhaps if Cirie had made it to the end, she would have been able to argue her own case. But while blindsiding Ozzy was an excellent strategic play, there’s almost no point in doing it if your rival is going to get the credit. Cirie needed to make herself noticed at that point, and she did not.
I think that this is why Natalie has worked to keep Jon in the game until now. She wants to have the big move to help her argue her case at Final Tribal Council. If Reed had been the mastermind behind the blindside of Jon, then Reed would have had a compelling story to tell the jury. By telling Jon to play his idol, Natalie steals Reed’s story, and saves it for herself. In the narrative of this season, Natalie wants to be the hero, getting revenge for Jeremy. She doesn’t want Jon to be the only person in the game responsible for voting out power players. She is aware that Jon is building his resume up for Final Tribal Council and has admitted that he is playing a good game. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Jon can beat Natalie in a jury vote, no matter how many big moves he makes. He isn’t as likable as her, and often, that is what a jury vote most often comes down to. But I can understand her desire to take credit for the move.
I just hope that in Natalie’s quest for the big move, in her desire to get her revenge, she hasn’t missed her big opportunity to get Jon out of the game. Everything is going to have to fall perfectly for her this week if she is going to pull off the big blindside- the right people will have to win immunity, Missy will have to decide to vote with her, Jon will have to feel so comfortable that he won’t play his idol, and Keith will have to have a much better Tribal Council performance than he has so far been capable of. It’s a tall order. So far, Natalie has surprised many with her natural ability and intuition in the game. I hope she has at least one more surprise left in her- because I would love to see her win the whole season.