Although I do enjoy seeing a tribe swap, and I love the three-tribe format, I have to say that I was disappointed with this week’s twist. I do understand that every game of Survivor involves a certain amount of luck. But to the six new members of Angkor, who were left to start again on a beach with no food or shelter, the game was particularly unfair. They are at such a disadvantage compared to the already established camps of Bayon and Ta Keo that I cannot see how they are expected to rebound from this week’s loss. Anybody who has seen Survivor: Fiji knows how this works. When one tribe is left hungry, dehydrated and tired, and the other is thriving, the results in the challenges won’t be surprising. While the members of Angkor had to build their shelter in the rain, quickly becoming exhausted while dragging bamboo and palm fronds to the beach, Ta Keo sat down and enjoyed some chicken. It wasn’t a shock when Ta Keo easily won the challenge. Not only do they have the strongest members, but they are well fed and rested. Angkor doesn’t stand a chance.
I don’t like the ‘have and have not’ feel to this tribe swap. But that being said I do love the fact that we got such an early tribe swap. I think in an all-star game, especially one where the pregame alliances have already had such an impact on the season, anything that can be done to make the players feel uncomfortable will make for more exciting television. Jeff Varner has been playing well so far, but is that because he’s a good player or is it because he was put on a tribe with all of his pregame alliances?
I like that we somehow got three interesting and fairly even tribes. Each tribe has an even gender balance. Each tribe has strong players, both physically and strategically. And if the original tribes were going to hold true, each tribe seemingly had a majority alliance of four. For Spencer, being in the minority was nothing new. But for five other players- Kelly Wiglesworth, Terry, Kelley Wentworth, Tasha and Savage- they found that they had lost their security in the game. They were, in Varner’s words, at “the bottom of the heap.”
What was interesting to me was the way that the three different minority groups approached their situation. When you are in a minority position after a tribe swap, hope is clearly not lost. Tasha and Savage proved that this week. They aren’t the first to turn their position in the game around after an unfavourable tribe swap. That’s why this week’s lesson in Survivor history comes to us from the fifth place finisher in Survivor: Vanuatu, Julie Berry.
Survivor: Vanuatu began as men vs women, and Julie aligned herself with the other younger women on the tribe. When her ally Dolly Neely was voted out of the game, Julie found herself on the wrong side of the numbers. Although she wasn’t voting with the majority, Julie’s strong social skills ensured that she was never on the chopping block, and she was able to maintain a relationship with the women in the majority alliance. And then a tribe swap happened. Julie found herself on Lopevi- a tribe of five, with three men and Twila Tanner, who had never been part of her alliance.
There are several different ways to deal with being on the minority after a tribe swap. Terry had a unique reaction to his position- he couldn’t believe how lucky he got. Looking at the new Ta Keo tribe, he realised that they had gotten three or four first round draft picks. Of course, he includes himself and Joe in that, and Kelley is probably the other player that he is happy to be with. Terry’s strategy for this phase of the game is simple- just win. He summed it up when he said,“We don’t have the numbers, but I don’t think we’re going to need the numbers…I don’t know if we’re going to lose a challenge.”
I can understand where Terry is coming from. He’s got a solid alliance on the old Ta Keo. I assume from the message that Varner tried to send Kelly that they think they have Kimmi and Monica ready to join them. He’s ended up with four people that he has no intention of working with and doesn’t want to make them any promises he can’t keep. He’s also got a solid reason to assume they won’t lose- he is correct in saying that they have the strongest tribe, and he is eating and sleeping, unlike the Angkor tribe. It is unlikely that the new Ta Keo tribe will be visiting Tribal Council. But just because something is unlikely, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
For Julie, she could easily have made the same assumption as Terry. The Lopevi tribe was far stronger than the opposing Yasur tribe, which had ended up with all the physically weak players left in the game. When Yasur lost immunity, the women voted as a block and voted out one of their two men. Julie could have had the same strategy as Terry- just sit back and wait for the merge. Don’t go out on a limb. Don’t make any promises. Don’t lie to anyone. And if all of the immunity challenges had been strength-based, she would have been fine. However, Lopevi did end up losing an immunity challenge. And if Julie had waited until the last minute to start strategising, she would likely have been voted out.
What Julie did do was the same thing that Kelley Wentworth, Kelly Wiglesworth, Spencer, Tasha and Savage did. She noted that she was on the bottom of her new tribe, and she immediately began to take steps to rectify the situation. This is what all of the people who find themselves on the bottom of the tribe need to do. If you just wait until you lose immunity, you lose your chance. The question is what is the best course of action?
Kelley Wentworth decided that the best way for her to get herself off the bottom of the totem pole at new Ta Keo was to make sure that she was at least above Terry. She quickly began spreading rumours about Terry having an idol, doing whatever she can to cause her new tribemates to be suspicious and see Terry as dangerous. It is going to take a lot to get Ta Keo to target Terry. In the three tribe format, keeping the tribe strong becomes much, much more important. And although Terry is older than he was when he won five individual immunity necklaces in Survivor: Panama, he is still a strong physical player.
Kelley’s in a really tough spot, and I think she has made the right decision in abandoning any alliance with Terry. The two of them were only really linked by their relationship to Jeff Varner, and now that Varner is gone, there is no reason for them to continue to work together. It is also worth noting that the strength of the Ta Keo tribe means that they are unlikely to lose more than one challenge. For Kelley, if she is ahead of one person in the pecking order, then she will make the merge with her idol intact.
With so many Bayon members, and so few of the original Ta Keo left, Kelley is going to need to have her idol if she wants a chance at winning the game. One of the biggest problems with Kelley’s strategy is that it will get her to the merge, but I’m not sure if she has a plan beyond that. Of course, in this season we have to keep in mind that there are pre-game alliances, and it is entirely possible that Kelley has many options open to her. But from what we have seen, if Terry is voted out of the game, she loses another member of the original Ta Keo, which is just going to make it even harder for her to ever get on the right side of the numbers.
Spencer and Kelly Wiglesworth took a far more low-key approach to getting themselves off the bottom over at Bayon. Stephen saw their strategy and noted that “Spencer and Wiglesworth, they’re both cosying up to us”. For Spencer and Kelly, their strategy is just to ingratiate themselves into the tribe as much as possible, trying to form relationships where they can. Spencer articulated that this would be his strategy going forward- forming real relationships with people- and we immediately saw him attempting to bond with Jeremy. Stephen was enjoying their presence, telling us in confessional, “It’s so liberating to not be in camp macho anymore”. But although Stephen was bonding with his new tribemates, relationships haven’t become alliances yet. The Bayon members still plan to stick together. And depending on how long the three tribes last for (in previous three tribe seasons, the three tribes have merged into two at 14 players), Spencer and Kelly will find themselves in trouble. They are offering the Bayon members their friendship. But from what we have seen, they aren’t offering them anything that will further them in the game. There’s no incentive to keep Spencer or Kelly around.
Perhaps if Kelly understood Jeff’s message, and especially if his message is correct, then there is another option open for her. But would Kimmi and Monica be willing to betray their alliance, particularly if they seem to be getting nothing in return? I don’t think the two women are going to be willing to take such a big risk so early in the game.
What I did like about Spencer’s approach was that he saw the new tribe as a new opportunity. At his original tribe, he was on the chopping block, almost guaranteed to be the next person voted off. Whatever happens to him over at Bayon, things can only get better for the young lad. He saw this as an opportunity to learn new skills and start over. I hope he gets that chance.
Like Kelley and Terry, or Spencer and Kelly, Julie found herself in a minority of two with a player that she had not previously been aligned with. Prior to arriving at Lopevi, Twila and Julie had been on opposing alliances. While they had never openly targeted each other, they certainly weren’t thinking about playing the game together. It would have been easy for Julie to do what Kelley Wentworth decided to do- throw Twila under the bus and move on to the merge. But instead, Julie took a more long-term view.
Seeing that she needed to keep as many women in the game as possible, Julie decided to stick with Twila. To gain Twila’s loyalty, she convinced Twila that the men couldn’t be trusted, telling her that the leader of the men, ‘Sarge’ Masters, had made both of them final four deals. She spent time talking to Twila and building a relationship with her. Instead of tossing Twila aside and ensuring that she advanced in the game, Julie gained herself an ally who she could definitely trust at the merge.
Knowing that she had secured Twila’s loyalty, both Twila and Julie worked on ingratiating themselves with the men. Twila naturally got along with the men and enjoyed their friendship. The men believed that Twila must have been on the outs with the women, and trusted her implicitly. While Twila befriended the men, Julie used her sex appeal to her advantage, sunbathing naked and flirting with all the men, particularly Sarge.
It helped that the men of Lopevi were divided to start with. Like the women, the men had split off into two alliances- the younger men and the older men. Of the four men on the Lopevi tribe, Chris Daugherty, Chad Crittenden and Sarge were part of the older men’s alliance. Only John Kenney remained from the young men’s alliance. The older men knew that John was not on their side. They distrusted him and also felt annoyed by his poor work ethic. Julie and Twila were also able to gain the trust of the men because the opposing Yasur tribe voted out a woman, leading the men to believe that the original tribal alliances no longer held true. It seemed that the female alliance on Yasur was falling apart, and this made it easier for the men to believe that Julie and Twila really had switched sides and were now loyal to Lopevi.
When Lopevi eventually lost an immunity challenge, Julie and Twila had been accepted by the men as part of the alliance. The men agreed that John would be voted out, believing that Julie and Twila would remain with them at the merge. Once John was voted out, the women once again had a numerical advantage, and once the merge happened, Julie and Twila had options. Ultimately they chose to return to the women, where once again Julie was able to use her charms to work her way into several alliances before being voted out at the final five when Chris, Twila and Scout saw her as too big of a jury threat.
Tasha and Andrew were able to use a similar strategy this week. They may have found themselves in the minority at the new Angkor tribe, but they quickly went from a position of weakness to being the most powerful players in the game. Like Julie and Twila, they did this by acting as a pair, charming the majority, and playing the game hard. Like Julie and Twila, it looks as though this will put them in a powerful position at the merge.
Nobody wanted to be on the Angkor tribe. When Tasha realised what colour buff she had drawn, she cursed, and then quickly plastered a wide smile on her face. She kept it positive and played it well. Andrew had the opposite reaction. He couldn’t hide his anguish. He felt like his game had been taken out from under him, and he couldn’t pretend to be happy about it. And it was bad gameplay. But it was hard not to feel sorry for him- and for everyone else who had been unlucky enough to find themselves on what is essentially the ‘have-not’ tribe. His sulkiness was not doing him any favours in bonding with his new tribemates (Varner quickly surmised that “that guy is going to get on my nerves!”), but I think it was understandable. And to his credit, he turned it around- but only when Tasha was able to help him see that their situation wasn’t hopeless.
Tasha’s game was impressive. She didn’t get upset or angry about her situation. She simply said, “I’m going to play the cards that I am dealt”. She’s been on a terrible tribe before and survived it. She recognised the situation that she was in, and she came up with a plan. Firstly, she solidified her alliance with Savage, spending time alone with him strategising. This is very similar to the way that Julie played her game- make sure that your two is solid first, then try to find the cracks in the minority.
The next thing that Tasha did well was to simply sit back and observe, taking advantage of any cracks that she saw. She saw the tension between Abi and Peih-Gee. She saw that Abi needed security. She saw Jeff Varner demonstrate his loyalty to Kelly Wiglesworth, who was on a different tribe. And she acted on everything. She told Abi that things were harmonious at the old Bayon and that she would be happier in their alliance. She promised Abi that she would protect her at the merge. And in a risky move, she called out Varner for his erratic behaviour, immediately shifting the target onto him. And through these actions, she changed her position in the game. She and Savage were the ones who sent Peih-Gee home. They made the decisions.
How did it happen? How did Ta Keo squander their advantage? The answer is simple- Abi. They kept an erratic and emotional player in the game. Abi was so quick to turn on Shirin last week, and although Varner thought that he could control her, he was wrong and nearly paid for it with his life in the game. Abi was very quickly willing to jump ship again this week, thinking that Tasha and Savage would treat her right. While Varner seems to have gotten her back on his side (they voted together at least), he should be trying to get her out next week. Abi is too dangerous to continue to try to work with.
What Tasha and Savage did right- and what Julie Berry did right in Vanuatu- was to show some long-term thinking. For Tasha, there was no point in throwing Andrew under the bus. Angkor is going to lose again, and she would have been the next voted out. Her only move was to try and put herself in a position of power. And because of that decision, they are the only ones who really managed to put themselves into a better position- from the bottom of the heap to the top. The change is still possible for Spencer, Kelly, Terry and Kelley, but they will have to play more strategically–stop relying on the physical strength of the team to get them to the merge, start offering alliances rather than simply relationships. They need to follow the lead of Tasha and Savage, and Julie and Twila- because if they don’t, we are going to see a pre-merge pagonging of the original Ta Keo tribe. And it would be a pity for a season with so much promise to end up becoming quite predictable.