Another week, another uncomfortable night watching Survivor. I was bitterly disappointed to see Shirin go home this week, especially as I really felt that the edit was setting her up as the underdog, and I was sure that she would eventually outlast those who were being portrayed as her oppressors. And obviously, she didn’t. Perhaps her revenge will finally happen when we see her epic jury speech.
This season has clearly been set up as a battle of good and evil. All of the majority alliance members are being portrayed in a negative way. Those who aren’t being overtly evil have been invisible. We haven’t seen Tyler, Carolyn or Sierra do anything particularly offensive (although both Tyler and Sierra were shown to be onlookers when Will was attacking Shirin), but we haven’t seen them do anything positive either. And now, we are left with only Mike to root for.Terry Dietz[/caption]
Mike, the last remaining ‘good guy’, faces almost insurmountable odds to get to the final three. There are still seven people left in the game- a six-person strong alliance and Mike, the sole outsider. He does have two things in his favour- he has possession of a hidden immunity idol, and he has proven to be difficult to beat in the immunity challenges. And it is those two factors that bring us to this week’s lesson in Survivor history, which comes from the third place finisher in the twelfth season, Survivor: Panama, Terry Dietz.
Terry, like Mike, played a strong pre-merge game that saw him take the leadership of his tribe. He began the game on a tribe of four ‘older men’, and after three days, a tribe swap saw Terry on the LaMina tribe, where his age, as well as his physical strength, made him the natural leader of the tribe. It was Terry who was making the decisions at Tribal Council.
Terry’s obvious status as leader of the tribe led the opposing tribe, Casaya, to send Terry to Exile Island, where he followed the clues and was able to find an immunity idol. Terry’s immunity idol, only the second idol seen on Survivor, was able to be played after the reading of the votes. There was no possible way that Terry could be blindsided. The idol gave him a safety net that was to last for the rest of the game.
Casaya were the stronger tribe, and Terry’s LaMina tribe entered the merge with a 6-4 numbers disadvantage. At the merge, Terry made attempts to get several members of Casaya to switch sides and vote with him but was always unsuccessful. In the end, it didn’t matter. Terry was too strong for the members of Casaya and won five straight individual immunities, taking him all the way to final four. At final four, he was still protected by his idol. It wasn’t until Terry lost the final immunity challenge that he found himself vulnerable for the first time and was immediately voted out, finishing in third place.
Although Terry’s streak was impressive and gained him a place in Survivor history (he has the most individual immunity wins of any castaway, tied with Colby Donaldson, Tom Westman and Ozzy Lusth), ultimately it was all for nothing, as his physical strength couldn’t carry him all the way. What does Mike have to do differently in order to make it that one step further? Like Terry, Mike is currently the lone wolf in this game. He has to rely on immunity wins to carry him through the game. But unlike Terry, I think Mike is going to be able to carry himself all the way.
Terry made it all the way to the final four purely by winning immunity challenges. There’s very little chance of Mike doing the same, but it is certainly possible. Usually, immunity challenges involve a variety of skills- strength, puzzle solving, balance, speed- and there is no way that Mike has everyone covered in all of those areas. However, Terry wasn’t competing against weak players either. Aras and Danielle were former professional athletes. Terry also won challenges that rewarded different attributes- he won a memory challenge (although most of Casaya chose to sit the challenge out in favour of eating burgers) as well as several strength and speed challenges. It is possible that simply due to his desire to win, Mike has the edge in the immunity challenges. We’ve seen in Survivor: Nicaragua, when Fabio managed to win crucial immunity challenges, getting himself into the Final Tribal Council, that juries don’t mind voting for someone who played a strong physical game and didn’t betray anybody. I don’t think anyone is heading over to Ponderosa feeling bitter towards Mike. If he can get there, he wins the final vote. Terry, one of the oldest men in the game, came so close to using his challenge strength to get him to the Final Tribal Council. I think Mike has a good shot of doing even better.
But it would be much better for Mike’s game if he didn’t have to rely on challenge wins. He knows this. As soon as he arrived back into the camp after winning immunity, he began scrambling. “I’m not guaranteed to win the next immunity. So I got some work to do in order to get myself further in the game”. His first move was to go to Dan- his old ally from Blue Collar. Unfortunately for Mike, Dan seemed completely unwilling to work with him. Dan told Mike that he wasn’t going to waver from the alliance, even though he knew that there was a risk of Mike using an immunity idol against him. Mike didn’t confirm with Dan that he had the idol. After the conversation, Mike seemed resigned to the fact that he would never be able to win Dan back. What he really needs to do is to continue to have those discussions- not just with Dan, but with everybody. Try to make social inroads. And preferably, leverage the immunity idol in order to give himself a better chance at winning the game.
Terry had possession of the immunity idol, but he never used it to try to gain himself allies. It was his safety net, and he wasn’t going to give it up. He was always going to use it to protect himself. Mike has shown the willingness to use the idol strategically. If he can get more than just three more days in the game, he’s willing to go for it. He’ll make the bold move, announcing that he would play his idol for Shirin, only to then renege on the offer, sit back, and watch as some of the majority alliance chose to vote against each other in order to ensure their own safety.
Terry had his opportunities to use his idol. He watched his LaMina tribemates go home one by one. He didn’t offer the idol to any of them. At the merge, his tribe had a 6-4 disadvantage. Had Terry been able to use the idol to navigate that first vote correctly, then LaMina would have been back in with a chance, especially if Terry had been able to convince Bruce Kanegai, who knew that he was on the bottom of the Casaya alliance, to vote with them. Although it still would have been risky, and there was every chance that Terry could have given the wrong person the idol, the odds weren’t bad- Casaya was obviously going to vote for one of the two unprotected LaMina men, and they ended up predictably voting for the person that lasted the longest in the immunity challenge. But Terry took no risks with his idol, and didn’t even reveal that he had it until the next vote.
It wasn’t until season 13, Survivor: Cook Islands, that Yul Kwon would think to use the idol as incentive for someone to flip, telling Jonathan Penner that if he didn’t vote with Yul, the idol would be used, and Jonathan would go home. Terry didn’t think to use the same strategy- he kept the idol in his pocket. To be fair to Terry, it was the first time that anyone had ever held anything so powerful. There was no precedent in how it could be used. Mike has nearly ten years’ worth of Survivor history to draw on. He’s seen Malcolm’s infamous ‘three amigos’ play, where Malcolm was able to protect his entire alliance, and send the majority alliance into chaos by flashing immunity idols at Tribal. Terry’s strategy with the idol wasn’t entirely passive either- he did try to offer the idol to members of Casaya in exchange for them flipping on their alliance. Unfortunately for Terry, he just couldn’t figure out a way to successfully use the idol and ended up just holding onto it.
Terry’s biggest opportunity to use the idol came at final four- the last time that the idol could have been used in the game. For the first time, Terry did not have immunity. Aras had the necklace, leaving Terry vulnerable, as well as Aras’ closest ally Cirie Fields, and Danielle DiLorenzo. Terry and Danielle both knew that Aras would not vote for Cirie. Everybody left in the game knew that Terry had the immunity idol and would play it. Seeing this, Danielle asked Terry to give her the idol. In return, she promised him that she would take him to the final two. Terry was reluctant to give up his safety net.
Knowing that there would be a deadlock at Tribal Council, Aras spent the afternoon coaching Cirie in fire making, while Terry helped Danielle. When the two were pitted against each other, it was Danielle who was victorious. Terry assumed that his help had been enough to consolidate his new alliance with Danielle. But when Danielle won the final immunity challenge, she chose to take Aras to the Final Tribal Council, where she would lose in a 5-2 vote. It is likely that had Terry used his idol to secure Danielle’s loyalty, he would have won the game.
Mike is also in possession of a hidden immunity idol- and this week he showed just how immunity idols can be used to keep a player safe for more than one vote. By forcing the majority alliance to turn on each other, he demonstrated what he has been trying to tell Dan all along- that alliance is not a tight six. It is a tight four, and Dan and Sierra are on the outs. As Jeff Probst said, “for all the talking of a tight six, the votes say otherwise.” With both Tyler and Dan receiving two votes, it is clear that two of the six were swayed. There will be some confusion next week, as Mike promised that Shirin would vote Tyler, and he would vote for someone else. Tyler will assume that one of his alliance members voted for him- which surprisingly, they didn’t- and Dan will assume that Mike was one of the votes against him. We at home know that both Tyler and Will voted for Dan. Will’s vote shocked me- it was seemingly made in order to protect Tyler, and I haven’t seen any indication that Will and Tyler are that close. But if Will only wanted to protect himself, the best move was to vote for Tyler. He voted for Dan because if Mike did play the idol for Shirin, Tyler would still have a chance to stay in the game.
Surely now, Dan can see that he is considered expendable. Yes, in Tyler’s situation, he had to vote for somebody, but Dan has to be questioning why it was his name that came up. Dan’s been so angry at Mike’s paranoia, but now he can see it for himself- there is some merit to what Mike has been saying. This provides Mike with the perfect opening. For the past few weeks, Mike’s game play has been erratic and at times, self-destructive. He said himself after single-handedly losing the immunity challenge, “If my tribemates are mad at me, I mean, how much more mad can they be? I’m already their number one public enemy, so I got nothing to lose at this point.” Now, Mike needs to focus. He has found and exposed the crack in the alliance- now he just needs to go about exploiting it.
Even if Mike can get Dan back on board, with Dan’s two votes, they still only have three of the eight votes. I think that Sierra would vote with Mike, but only if he was in the majority. Sierra summed up her strategy in the game so far at Tribal Council this week- “I’m just one vote.” Sierra will go where the numbers go. She doesn’t want to take any risks, and I don’t think Sierra is going to be willing to go to rocks for Mike and Dan. I can understand this strategy, and it has her in a pretty good place. The best case scenario for her would be a Will, Dan, Sierra final three, which she wins simply because she has treated every person on the jury with dignity. I think she will beat Rodney too, and perhaps even Tyler and Carolyn, depending on how long Shirin has to spread her anti-Carolyn sentiment with the jury. Sierra doesn’t need to make any moves to win the game- she only has to continue to be inoffensive, and hope that the bigger threats take care of each other.
The only person that Sierra definitely can’t beat is Mike. So it would be some insane gameplay for her to vote with him. I think his only hope would be to use the idol to get her onside. If she has the idol, she might feel safer making the big move. I do think that voting with Mike would absolutely be the wrong move for her game.
Dan believes that he can win in any final three scenario. Dan. Is. Wrong. I don’t see any final three scenario where Dan is the winner of this game, and for that reason, he should vote with Mike, who will at least guarantee him final three, rather than with Tyler, who has a multitude of goats to choose from. I think that part of Dan’s strategy is to hide what he is doing from the producers- he acknowledged, “I know it looks like I’ve been playing a passive game”- and he believes that he has the ability to explain all of his moves to the jury in a way that will make them want to vote for him. No jury votes for a person that they actively dislike. And you can see it in the facial expressions of the jury when Dan is speaking. There is no way Dan gets the money, but he doesn’t have the self-awareness to see it. His hatred of Mike is blinding him to his real position in the game. On the reward, Dan exulted that they had won because “there’s no Mike in team”, and during Tribal Council, voiced his opinion that Mike and Shirin were getting voted out because it was what they deserved.
Mike has tried to use both logic and emotional appeals as ways to reconnect with Dan and has failed on both accounts. Perhaps threatening him with the idol might work- unless he can get the majority alliance to split their votes between Mike and someone else (and they have already demonstrated that if they were to split votes at all, then Dan would be the one receiving the extra votes), then Mike votes for Dan, and Dan goes home. Dan is a valuable ally. He has the extra vote, and Mike needs all the votes he can get, and he cannot possibly beat Mike in the Final Tribal Council.
I’d like to see Mike attempt to work with Tyler, who might be willing to keep Mike around. Tyler explained his strategy as “my goal is to keep Dan focused on the others, on the evils, on the guys like Mike, the flippers, who don’t belong”. If Mike were to be eliminated, then Tyler will become the next threat. Instead of being able to focus attention on Mike, Tyler would find himself exposed. It is a similar strategy that Tony used to win Survivor: Cagayan. His alliance were so focused on eliminating the two people who were left from the minority alliance- Spencer and Tasha- that they never focused on eliminating Tony, who had been the real threat all along. Tyler needs Mike around as a decoy, and despite the animosity between them, Tyler has shown that he is able to act in a way that is good for his game, leaving emotions aside.
In Survivor: Panama, the majority alliance kept Aras around, despite the fact that Aras was a huge threat to win the game. They did this because Aras was the one with the best shot of beating Terry in a physical challenge. If not for Terry’s immunity run, then Aras would have been voted out much earlier. If Terry had ever had to use his idol, Aras would have been the person who went home as a result (Terry voted for Aras at nearly every single tribal council). Aras’ success in the game was very much tied to Terry’s.
I feel that Tyler is in a similar position. He is the only person there who has defeated Mike in an immunity challenge. Although his alliance recognise that Tyler is a threat, there is no doubt that Mike is the far bigger threat. If Mike is sitting at the Final Tribal Council, he has all four jury votes so far. That is probably enough to win. Tyler has a very good case for why the alliance should be targeting the weaker players- Dan, Will. Tyler’s strength is incredibly valuable to his alliance, and he is intelligent enough to see that. We could very well see a repeat of the Survivor: Panama end game, with Mike voted out just short of Final Tribal Council, only to see Tyler swoop in and win the game. However, I feel like the narrative has been telling a different story, and although in order to make it to the end of the game, Mike will have to overcome enormous odds, I expect him to do it. After all, every narrative ends with the good guys coming out on top.