What an episode. Sitting down to write this blog, it was clear that I had two very different options. The main event of the episode was obviously the reward challenge, with Debbie, Cydney and Caleb all on the ground at once, all needing the assistance of medical, and Caleb eventually being pulled from the game. In all honesty, I found the scene excruciating to watch. Knowing from the previews that a medevac was coming and knowing that all the contestants were playing for was salt and pepper- it was infuriating. Having said that, I’ll admit to shedding a tear or two when Caleb was on the stretcher. The point of the scene was to elicit an emotional response, and on that level, the episode was a success.
And then came the rest of the episode, which was a bit of a mess. After the episode had obviously reached its climax at the reward challenge, we still had an immunity challenge, and one of the strangest Tribal Councils we’ve ever seen. There was no suspense. No alternate boot option. Brawn wanted to send Alecia home, and she was unanimously voted out.
I’m not sure why we had to have an immunity challenge at all. It certainly didn’t add to the episode. The previous three episodes have all had one challenge and one person leave the game. Not only that, but the whole sequence was so rushed. We didn’t get to see Alecia trying to scramble back at the Brawn camp. Instead, we went straight from the challenge to Tribal. Surely they had something else they could have shown instead- I would have been interested to see what was happening at the Beauty camp in Caleb’s absence. Also, now we move into the tribe swap with uneven numbers- not unprecedented at all, but not ideal either.
I’m sure the truth is that the challenge was already designed as a three-tribe challenge and couldn’t be put off. But the tin foil hat conspiracy theorist in me did notice how good the challenge was for the games of Jason, Scot and Cydney, who came dangerously close to having an angry and bitter Alecia around in a swap situation. Once she came into contact with the other tribes, the first thing she would have done was tell them about Jason’s idol. Now, with a loyal group of three, Jason, Scot and Cydney are in a fantastic position. They’re not going to be seen as a threat because there are only three of them. They also know that they can trust each other. Their alliance has been tested over and over again in Tribal Council. Cydney had the opportunity to vote Jason out and chose not to. They have a bond stronger than any other bond in the game.
Getting rid of Alecia puts them in a strong position. And that was why the Brawn performance in the challenge surprised me. In their situation, I am all for throwing the challenge. I think the Brains tribe should have been doing the same thing. What surprised me was the way that both tribes seemed to approach the challenge. I don’t understand the stigma behind strategically throwing a challenge, and I think that if you are going to try to throw a challenge, then go all Peih-Gee Law and Jaime Dugan on it and make sure that challenge is thrown. Drop a few puzzle pieces. Make no effort at all. But that certainly wasn’t what the Brains were doing, and I don’t think the Brawns were wholeheartedly throwing the challenge either.
Both the Brain and Brawn tribes had a dangerous player that they needed to get rid of. Both Peter and Alecia had the potential to cause chaos in the game. And yet neither the Brawns or the Brains were committed to wholeheartedly throwing the challenge. For this reason, this week’s lesson in Survivor history comes to us from an entire tribe- the Rotu tribe from Survivor: Marquesas.
There were two tribes in Survivor: Marquesas: Rotu and Mara’amu. Rotu consisted of Gabriel Cade, John Carroll, Neleh Dennis, Robert DeCanio, Paschal English, Tammy Leitner, Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien and Zoe Zanidakis. They were by far the stronger tribe- they were happy around camp and won every challenge. They referred to themselves as the love tribe, and in the early stages of the game, they never visited Tribal Council.
After a tribe swap, Rotu lost Kathy, Neleh and Paschal to Mara’amu. They gained Vecepia Towery, Sean Rector and Rob Mariano. The old members of Rotu held a 5-3 advantage over their new tribemates, and over on the new Mara’amu, Paschal, Neleh and Kathy also had a numerical advantage. It seemed obvious that the original Rotu members would stick together.
However, when Rotu finally did lose a challenge and were forced to visit Tribal Council, they didn’t vote out one of the original Mara’amu members, instead turning on Gabriel. When John had asked Gabriel to vote with them, Gabriel had given him a non-committal answer, turning John and the other Rotu members against him. Even without Gabriel, the original Rotu members still had the numbers to easily vote against Vecepia, Sean and Rob. However, the merge was drawing near, and they were running out of time.
Survivor: Marquesas was season four of the show. At this point, the accepted way to win the game was to keep the tribe as strong as possible. But on Mara’amu, Rob had been deliberately voting out the strongest. He’d been keeping around the people who were most loyal to him, whether they were pulling their weight in challenges or not. He described himself as the godfather and was playing in a completely new way– aggressively. Once the Rotu alliance realised this, they knew that they had to get rid of him. Rob was young and physically fit– a definite threat to win individual immunity when they got to the merge. The best thing that the Rotu alliance could do was to knock him out at the tribal stage of the game while they still had the numbers to do it.
Meanwhile, Rob knew that the merge was coming soon. His plan was to team up with the opposing tribe and flip the game. To get to the merge, Rob only needed to survive one vote. The upcoming immunity challenge was extremely important. Both Rob and John felt that the result would decide their fate in the game. Strategically, the right move for the Rotu tribe was to throw the immunity challenge, just as this week the Brawn and Brain tribes should have intentionally thrown the challenge. John knew how important it was that they had the opportunity to vote Rob out of the game before he got to the merge. Ultimately, though, Rotu failed to throw the challenge, and Rob made it to the merge. Luckily for Rotu, Rob was unable to convince anyone to join him in voting John out, and so he became the first person voted out of the merged tribe. Brains failed this week to get Peter out. Will they be as lucky as the Rotu tribe, or will Peter successfully destroy the Brains tribe?
Rotu failed to throw the immunity challenge for a simple reason– Rob knew that if they lost, he was going home. Because Rotu had already sat many of their members out of the reward challenge in a failed effort to win some food, they had no choice in who would play the immunity challenge. Rob, Sean and Vecepia all had to play– and each of them was desperate to win. In the challenge, Rob took the lead role and was able to win immunity for the tribe while John looked on helplessly from the sidelines, unable to intervene.
Rotu had allowed Rob the opportunity to take his fate into his own hands, and he had seized the opportunity. John and his alliance had known the correct strategic move to make, but when it came to the challenge, they had failed to execute it. Luckily for them, although Rob made the merge, he was easily voted out at the first post-merge Tribal. Had Rob won individual immunity, he would have been there for the infamous coconut chop challenge, where John’s dominant alliance was exposed and quickly voted out. In each of his returning seasons, Rob Mariano has shown that he is a dangerous player who likes to control the game. Rotu were right to target him– but they should have ensured that they were able to vote him out pre-merge.
Watching the previews, I assumed that once the medical evacuation happened, that we would move straight to a tribe swap. It makes much more sense to swap with even numbers, and so I assumed that unless Alecia was the one medivaced, she would make it to the swap. The players were clearly thinking the same thing- both Peter and Alecia mentioned the upcoming swap, and both of them were looking forward to the chance to flip on their tribemates.
Alecia must have been fairly certain that a tribe swap was imminent, because when the Brawn Tribe returned back to camp after the reward challenge, she went into kamikaze mode. Not only did she immediately begin blasting Scot for his treatment of her, she told her tribe that “there might be a split tomorrow. And I really hope there is.” If Brawn weren’t thinking of throwing the challenge already, that comment must have sealed it for them. She wasn’t even pretending to put up with them anymore, she was openly telling them that she couldn’t be trusted. Jason felt so frustrated by her that he walked away, saying in confessional that “Alecia is so far on the bottom now we’re just waiting. That Tribal Council’s signed, sealed and delivered”. Alecia knew that her days on the Brawn tribe were numbered. I’m sure she was devastated when she turned up to the immunity challenge and realised that she wasn’t going to get the tribe swap that would have saved her game. Jason and Scot on the other hand, must have been delighted.
Over at the Brains tribe, it is Peter who is on the outs. Last episode his closest ally Liz went home. That Tribal Council made it very clear that Peter and Neal didn’t get along. When the group returned to camp, Debbie made a token effort to comfort Peter and tell him that Liz was voted out, but they still wanted Peter around. But Peter wasn’t fooled, and Debbie knew this. She said in confessional “Peter’s position in the tribe has knocked his ego down ten notches. He’s a total narcissist, but he knows he’s still on the periphery.” Debbie knew that Peter hadn’t truly accepted her olive branch. Peter’s plan for the game was pretty much identical to Alecia’s plan- wait for the swap to happen, and then quickly flip to another alliance. He said, “Once there’s a merge or a swap, I’m going to take them out one by one.” Unlike Alecia, Peter was wise enough to save his thoughts for confessional, but the Brains tribe should be observant enough to see the way that Peter is feeling, and assume that his plan is to flip.
Brawn went into the immunity challenge knowing that they had to lose the challenge- and they did, although it was a close call. In the race for the puzzle pieces, Brawn was in the lead the whole way. Cydney led the sprint into the jungle. Jason and Scot were first into the water, and the first ones back to the beach. Up until they hit the puzzle, they were in the lead. And then they put Alecia in charge of the puzzle. Unless Cydney was somehow working to screw things up, this doesn’t seem to be the most effective way to throw a challenge. In fact, we heard Cydney correcting Alecia when she put the wrong piece down.
Granted, Alecia hasn’t exactly proven herself to be a mental giant thus far. She admitted in the first episode that she was terrible at puzzles, and then proved it when all she could contribute was picking pieces up off the floor. I could see Scot and Jason agreeing to put her on the puzzle and assuming that she wouldn’t be able to do it. But it was a risky move to put Alecia’s fate in her own hands. I think that this moment was too important to take the risk. If Alecia makes the tribe swap, then Jason’s power in the game is gone. His idol will be exposed. Jason or Scot should have been on that puzzle with Cydney, ensuring that they did not accidentally win immunity.
In season four, when Rob got a chance to win immunity for the tribe, he took it. The Brawn tribe were lucky that Alecia couldn’t pull off a similar win. The Brains tribe were not so lucky. Unlike the Brawn tribe, I’m not sure that they understood the importance of losing the challenge. Perhaps they assume that there will be another challenge next week, that a swap won’t happen with uneven numbers. But we didn’t get any indication that any of the Brains understood the danger of keeping Peter around. Someone like Peter, who has little social intelligence and treats others as if they are pieces of clay, will become more and more valuable the closer that they get to the end. He dismissed Debbie and Joe as goats, but in all likelihood, it is Peter that will end up in their position.
I don’t think the Brains tribe were intending to throw this challenge at all. Firstly, they sat out Joe, who is definitely their weakest player. And then, although they struggled during the physical part of the challenge, and were the last tribe to retrieve their puzzle pieces, they wound up as the first tribe to finish. Although Debbie and Neal began the puzzle for the Brains tribe, when he saw that they were struggling, Peter asked if he could swap in. Debbie moved aside, and almost immediately Peter completed the puzzle. Probst was amazed saying: “Peter came in, and it was over!” The Brains tribe had made the same mistake that the Rotu tribe did- they had given Peter the power to decide his own fate in the game, and Peter had taken his chance. Now, just as Rob managed to last until the merge, Peter will be around for the tribe swap. For Rotu, Rob ended up being a non-factor, easily voted out, and certainly not as dangerous as they had anticipated. Will Peter be able to have more of an impact, and can he do as he intends, and bring down the Brains tribe?
The main reason that Rob failed to make an impact on the merged tribe in Marquesas was because of the nature of the game in season four. Nobody wanted to be seen as disloyal. Nobody really wanted to engage with the game and get their hands dirty. Rob set about telling everyone that would listen all about John’s tight alliance of four. But all anyone heard was his desperation. It wasn’t until after Rob was voted out that those on the outside of the alliance realised what was happening, and banded together. Rob didn’t have enough time, and he was also trying to work with people that he had no prior relationship with. They didn’t trust him.
Peter is playing in a different era, and nobody is going to have any problems accepting him into their alliance. Numbers are more important than loyalty, and if he is willing to flip on the Brains tribe, then he’s useful. As Rob has pointed out on numerous podcasts, the Brains tribe is probably in the worst position going into a swap. There is no tight group. Aubry and Joe, for example, have no real bond. Debbie voted with Neal and Aubry in a move that was motivated by self-preservation. The remaining members of the Brawn tribe are tight. They know they can trust each other. We can see that the Beauty women really like each other. They see themselves as a strong group, and although they haven’t been tested by Tribal yet, I think that those three are loyal to each other. The Brains tribe can’t say the same thing. Debbie and Joe are the only tight pair there. Exit interviews indicate that Aubry and Neal really only paired up because they were the only two not already in a pair. The Brains tribe, even without Peter, is going to have enough trouble staying together.
I think that ultimately, as was the case in Survivor: Marquesas, Peter isn’t going to have a huge impact on the game. In Marquesas, John, Tammy, Robert and Zoe were worried that Rob was going to destroy their games. In the end, it was their own arrogance that ended up getting them all voted out. Rob was a non-factor. Similarly, I think that the Brains tribe are already quite fractured. Peter might think that he has the power to take them out one by one, but I’m guessing that Debbie, Joe, Neal and Aubry are actually going to be their own undoing.
The Brawn tribe, on the other hand, could not afford to go into a tribe swap with Alecia around. She was not a benign threat, and they absolutely did the right thing in voting her out. We’re definitely approaching a swap, and the woman literally told her tribe that she would flip on them. I’d just like to see players be a little more honest about their intentions. If you want to throw the challenge, throw the challenge. Just make sure that you do it properly- in such a way that the intended target has no chance at all to defend themselves. If Alecia had pulled out an unexpected victory in that puzzle, then Jason, Scot and Cydney would have found themselves in a lot of trouble. Luckily for them, Alecia won’t be an issue moving forward. And as a tight group of three, with no enemies, I’d expect the three of them to go deep into the game.