Each week in Lessons in Survivor History, I will revisit another season to compare gameplay and draw from the lessons that have been learned.
Lessons in Survivor History: Can Flippers Ever Win?
What a satisfying episode. I went into this episode thinking that Vanua would lose again, and we’d be subjected to a predictable (and devastating) Michelle boot. In the three-tribe format, with such small numbers, it is such an advantage to have the ability to sit people out of the challenges. It often results in one of the tribes getting decimated while the other two thrive- this was the situation in All Stars, Philippines, Cagayan and Kaoh Rong. Add to that the fact that Vanua still have David on their tribe, and he is one of the worst challenge performers of all time, and I didn’t give Vanua any hope of winning at all this episode. And then, not only did Michelle’s puzzle skills net them the reward win, but they then went on not to lose immunity. I was thrilled for them- and even more thrilled that we would get to see what Adam would do over at Takali.
And then there was the result. After weeks of building Figtails, Failor, or whatever we want to call them, into one of the most unbearable pairings in recent Survivor history, this week we got to see Adam’s decision- to take revenge for Mari, save Ken, split up the power couple, and endear himself to everyone watching. While Figgy and Taylor had provided much of the storyline in this early part of the season, I doubt very many fans mourned the loss of the couple. They had arrogantly assumed that they had unbreakable power in the game, and their downfall was completely justified. Adam definitely made the best decision for the viewing audience.
The question that everyone is asking this week is simple- – Did Adam make the right move for his game? Look, I’m grateful that Adam saved us from even more footage of Taylor and Figgy all over each other. I am one of Ken’s many fans, and so I’m appreciative that he seems to have a longer life in the game. But was flipping on the Millennials the right thing for Adam to do? To examine this question, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history we are going back to a player whose tribe also had the numbers, and who also made the decision to flip regardless. Knowing that Adam is a super duper fan, I’m not sure if he is going to be thrilled or horrified by this comparison, but for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going back to season 19, Survivor: Samoa, and the sixth place finisher, Shannon ‘Shambo’ Waters.
Shambo began the game on the Galu tribe, where she came close to being voted tribe leader, but ultimately lost that position to Russell Swan. Like Adam, Shambo found herself on the stronger tribe- Galu won eight out of ten immunity challenges pre-merge, and only had to vote out one of their members. Also, like Adam, Shambo was not in the dominant alliance on her tribe. Within Galu, alliances quickly began to form. Laura Morett formed a close alliance with Kelly Sharbaugh and Monica Padilla. Many of the men began to join together also. Even the tribe outsiders, Yasmin Giles and Russell had each other. Shambo found herself often alone, unable to connect with anyone in Galu.
When Galu lost immunity and went to Tribal Council on day 11, Shambo wasn’t a target. Although she hadn’t formed alliances, the rest of the tribe were more annoyed by Yasmin, who contributed very little around camp. Yasmin was voted out- with Shambo the only person to vote with Yasmin against Monica. Although Shambo tried to deny it, Monica was furious. Shambo seemed to be irrevocably on the outs with her tribe, particularly the women.
At the same time, she had been spending time with the opposing Foa Foa tribe. Survivor: Samoa had a ‘kidnapping’ twist. After a challenge, the leader of the winning tribe would select one of their members to send over to the opposing tribe’s camp. This person would remain with the opposing tribe until the immunity challenge. Shambo was sent over to Foa Foa, and to her amazement, she fit right in. The Foa Foa tribe seemed to enjoy her company, and appreciate her help. Shambo found that on the Foa Foa tribe, she didn’t feel like the awkward outsider. She actually enjoyed being with them.
On day 15, during a particularly grueling challenge, Russell was medically evacuated from the game, leaving Galu without a leader. The men of the tribe pushed to have Shambo elected as the new tribe leader, much to the annoyance of the women. The men thought that Shambo would be easily controllable as leader. They also knew that by electing her, they were stroking her ego, and making her more likely to stick with them in the long term. Ultimately, while Shambo was indeed thrilled to be elected leader, she hated the women on the tribe, particularly Laura. She was obsessed with seeing Laura (and to a lesser extent, Laura’s allies Kelly and Monica) voted out of the game.
Ultimately, when the merge arrived, Shambo made her decision. Her friendship with the Foa Foa tribe was more alluring to her than her familiarity with the Galu tribe. Like Adam this week, Shambo made the decision to flip on her original tribe and vote out the power players from Galu. She delighted in seeing her former tribesmates sent home. Ultimately though, her joy was short-lived. As soon as the Foa Foa tribe had the numbers, they quickly disposed of Shambo, and she went home in sixth place. She’d swapped herself from the bottom of one alliance straight onto the bottom of another. Has Adam done the same thing, or is he actually in a good position to use this new alliance to win the game?
Got to vote with those you trust
In Shambo’s case, she had absolutely no chance of a relationship with the women in her tribe. She felt disrespected and undervalued by the men, but the men had shown willingness to work with her. In fact, Shambo’s eccentricities, which had made her an outsider in the pre-merge, now made her the perfect ally. She was someone that had no credibility, and no chance for votes if she should make it to Final Tribal Council. She absolutely had the option to continue to work with Galu, and had she taken that option, there is every chance that she would have made it to the end of the game.
But often the people with whom you spend the most time are not the people who command the most trust. Shambo had spent plenty of time with the men of Galu- enough time for her to know that they had no respect for her. She had spent little time with Foa Foa, but the Foa Foa tribe had never made her feel like the outsider. They had made her feel valued. They had welcomed her hard work ethic, and been grateful for her help. Whereas Shambo felt like her own tribe were the ‘90210 crew’, and she had no chance at being accepted there, she felt a part of Foa Foa.
Shambo didn’t flip on her original tribe for game reasons. For her, it was about which group she felt accepted by. The group that validated her ego was the group that she chose to move forward with. Although Adam is certainly less emotional than Shambo (basically every player that has ever played the game is less emotional than Shambo), emotions did play a part in his decision. Despite Adam saying that he truly liked the person that he was voting for, we know that he didn’t really care for Taylor or Figgy. He has previously referred to them as a ‘worthless partnership’. He called Figgy ‘very controlling’, and accused her of lying constantly. Adam has never been a Figgy fan- and to make things worse, he voted against her in the Mari vote. He knows that Figgy was angered to see her name written down in that first Tribal Council, and that she hasn’t forgotten it.
And then there is Ken and Jessica- in this case, the Russell Hantz to Figgy’s Laura Morett. Adam already knows that Figgy has a grudge against him. He knows that he and Figgy haven’t gotten along well in the past. It feels like he has more in common with Ken and Jessica. He should (and probably does) realise that Ken and Jessica are in the minority at the moment, and they need to get Adam on their side. They’ll happily promise Adam anything in the world, as long as it keeps them safe. But just as Russell Hantz had no intention of keeping Shambo around when her vote was no longer necessary, there is every chance that Adam is superfluous to the plans of Ken and Jessica. The difference in this situation is that unlike Shambo, Adam actually has the game sense necessary to anticipate this, and hopefully make moves to protect himself.
The argument that Ken and Jessica made to get Adam to come with them was twofold. Firstly, they vowed to protect him in the game, telling him that they wouldn’t write his name down, and they would fight for him, but I don’t think that was the argument that won him over. What Ken and Jessica are saying now, in a desperate situation, might not be something that Adam can count on. I think that the most persuasive part of Ken and Jessica’s argument was the way that they used their personalities. Ken said: “Do you want to sit over there with me and David and Jess? Or do you want to sit over there with Taylor and Figgy, the cool kids, knowing that you are on the bottom?” Adam voted for the people that he felt personally more comfortable with moving forward. Just as Shambo felt she had more in common with Foa Foa, I think that Adam’s primary motive for switching was to put himself in a position where he could move forward with people that he actually enjoys being around.
What about the numbers?
The biggest risk in Adam’s move is that he is just one person, and the Millennials still hold a numerical advantage. If they do join back together at the merge, then he is in a vulnerable position, and although I’m sure he is glad to have the idol, it only protects him for one vote. Shambo faced a similar problem- at the merge, there were eight Galu members, up against only four members from Foa Foa. At the merge, knowing how big their numerical advantage was, Galu decided to team up with Foa Foa and vote out Erik Cardona, whom they saw as untrustworthy. From there, Russell was able to use an immunity idol to get Kelly out of the game, leaving the numbers as six Galu, four Foa Foa. When the opportunity came to vote out Laura, Shambo voted with Foa Foa, causing a five-five split. Unwilling to go to rocks to save his ally, John Fincher switched his vote, sending Laura home, and giving Foa Foa (and Shambo) the numbers. Could the Millennials fall apart in a similar way? Adam has to hope so, because if the Millennials join together and form the majority at the merge, then he is in some serious trouble.
Luckily for Adam, there are definitely signs of the Millennials, like Galu, having their internal conflicts to deal with. As Jessica said at Tribal: “There was contentiousness within that tribe. And if you make the merge, it’s still going to be there”. We saw in the vote against Mari that there are clear factions within the tribe. Zeke and Adam are on the bottom. Hannah is just a number, desperate to be used by either side. Jay and Taylor are a close alliance, and that won’t be changed by Figgy’s departure. The variables are Michaela, who doesn’t seem particularly close to anyone, and Will, who barely talks. Judging by the idol hunt at Ikabula, it is safe to say that Will is part of the Taylor/Jay alliance. Michelle was clearly close to Figgy, but we’ve seen her working very well with Zeke over the past two episodes. Could Michelle be a number for Zeke and Adam, or does she go back to Jay and Taylor when the merge comes? Of course, it is also possible that Vanua lose immunity again, and Michelle joins her friend Figgy at losers’ lodge. With so many smaller alliances, there is definitely room for Adam to manoeuvre his way further into the game. He isn’t automatically on the outs just because he turned on the Millennials.
However, it is clear that the majority of the Millennial tribe at least intends on sticking together. Jay doesn’t care whether he wins or loses at Ikabula, because if he loses, he’ll just vote out a Gen Xer. Michaela made it quite clear what the strategy was when she helped Zeke and Michelle at the challenge, and said to Adam, Figgy and Taylor: “There’s three of you. If you can’t figure out how to work together then you deserve to go home.” Taylor certainly intends on moving forward as part of the Millennial tribe. Even Zeke, who is below Adam in the pecking order, wavers in his game plan. At times, he wants to stick with the Millennials, and called the Gen Xers “silly” for voting out one of their own. He also talked about the possibility of voting against Michelle- but this seemed to be a reaction to Figgy, who publically declared her love for Michelle when she saw that Michelle had survived the previous Tribal Council. If Zeke sees that Figgy is gone, does he turn back to the idea of working with Michelle and the Millennial tribe? Adam is going to have to make sure that Zeke is on his side when the merge comes, or he could find himself a huge target in a minority alliance. Taylor was stupid to threaten Adam at Tribal, but the threat wasn’t an empty one. If the Millennials decide to stick together, they could very well look at Adam as the traitor, and therefore, as the biggest threat.
Repairing the damage
So, how does Adam keep himself from being targeted by an angry Taylor and his allies? Well, moving forward, Adam basically needs to do the exact opposite of Shambo’s game plan. For Shambo, flipping on her tribe was a great moment of triumph. Voting out her rival was her happiest moment in the game- and she let everyone know about it. From cheering when Laura lost immunity, to laughing when she was voted out, Shambo enjoyed her moment. As Stephen Fishbach would say, she marinated in it, and in doing so, she completely destroyed any opportunity that she had to work with members of Galu. Because of her attitude, it was easy for the Foa Foa four to carry Shambo to the final six, and then vote her out.
I’m sure that in some way, Adam is feeling kind of like Shambo was when Laura was voted out. He’s taken control of his own game. He’s made a move- and now he’s playing the game with people that he actually likes on a personal level. But he needs to get back to camp, and do his best to get Taylor on side. He said that he was hoping that the four Takali members who returned to camp would act as a four, and he needs to do his best to make that happen. Because unless they throw the next challenge and get Taylor out pre-merge, letting an angry Taylor rejoin his Millennial allies could be dangerous for Adam’s game.
For this reason, I don’t know if voting Figgy out was actually the correct move. If it was me in Adam’s spot, I would have gone with Taylor. Taylor’s easy-going, happy-go-lucky personality makes him an integral part of the Millennial alliance. Taylor does have the ability to bring people together, and there is every possibility that he could go after Adam. Conversely, Figgy has more enemies than friends. Michaela can’t stand her. Jay’s main bond is with Taylor, not Figgy. For Jay, I think that Figgy was more of a hindrance to his game, and he’ll be okay with seeing her gone. While I can see the appeal of going after Figgy, and I agree that of Failor she was the more strategic, I think that Taylor, with his infectious laugh and baby blue eyes, is by far the bigger threat.
Get into a winning spot
Poor old Shambo never stood a chance. If I could sum up her gameplay in one word, it would be…not feckless, but naïve. She truly thought that Russell was her friend, and that he would take her all the way to the end of the game. She couldn’t recognise that she was on the bottom of the Foa Foa alliance. Russell always intended on sitting in the final three with Foa Foa members. Likewise, Ken’s closest alliance is with David and Jessica. His final three seems to be already full, with no room left for Adam. How can Adam avoid going out in the Shambo spot?
It really is simple. For Shambo, once she flipped, Foa Foa (and in particular Russell), became her only option. Nobody else was willing to work with her. If Adam wants to win the game, he cannot agree to becoming the fourth person in Ken’s alliance. I’m also wary of Zeke and Chris joining the alliance- I think that in this case, Adam and Zeke make themselves extremely disposable as the two Millennials in a six-person alliance. I think that Adam needs to get Hannah (and possibly Michaela) back on his side moving forward. Working with Ken and Jessica is a great option for now. But ceding control of his game to them would be a terrible move. He cannot do what Shambo did, joining the opposing alliance, and then simply waiting to get picked off. Adam has to take control- and he is the kind of player who can do just that.
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