After a really exciting merge episode, my hopes were once again high for this season. Unfortunately, the no collar alliance failed to capitalise on their idol play, and we are now seemingly in the midst of a predictable pagonging. The blue collar tribe is in control, with Mike as the clear frontrunner, with an idol in his pocket and calling all of the shots, my winner pick and favourite player Joe has been sent to the jury, and Jenn and Shirin, as the only outsiders left, look to be the next to leave.
However, as the only outsiders left, Jenn and Shirin find themselves in an interesting position. The majority alliance has seven people in it- and with only three spots in the Final Tribal Council, those seven will have to make moves sooner or later. We know Rodney’s plans for the Final Seven- he is going to wait it out, eliminate Jenn and Shirin, and then use Tyler, Carolyn and Will to blindside his original blue collar tribe mates. We haven’t yet seen Mike’s plans. If he sticks with the alliance of seven, he will find himself on the wrong side of the numbers. He needs to use either Jenn or Shirin to ensure his own place in the game is secure.Danni Boatwright[/caption]
Jenn seems to have mentally checked out of the game, and while she might change her mind in the coming days, she hasn’t really shown any strategic play so far. She has sat back and waited for alliances to come to her, rather than proactively changing her own position in the game. When her friend Hali was sent home, Jenn seemed to give up. Mike might be able to use Jenn to further his own game, but I don’t think Jenn will be able to take advantage of this. Shirin has shown the ability to think strategically. If she can survive the next two votes, there is every chance that she will be able to turn her position of weakness into something that can propel her towards winning the game. For this week’s Lesson in Survivor History, we are looking at someone who did just that- the winner of season 11, Survivor: Guatemala, Danni Boatwright.
Danni started the season in a good position on the physically dominant tribe of Nakum. She created strong bonds with her tribe mates and contributed to her tribe’s numerous challenge wins. Danni’s game changed when a tribe swap put her on the Yaxha tribe. The new Yaxha tribe did not physically match up to Nakum and lost several immunity challenges, entering the merge with a 6-4 numbers disadvantage. The four remaining Yaxha members- Danni, Bobby-Jon Drinkard, Brandon Bellinger and Gary Hogeboom were a tight alliance, although they were clearly in a weak position. Brandon and Bobby-Jon were the next two to be voted out, leaving Danni with only one ally left in the game. Against all odds, Danni was able to infiltrate the majority alliance, and as a result of her strong social and physical game, she made it all the way to the Final Two, where she defeated Stephenie LaGrossa in a 6-1 jury vote.
How Danni managed to come from a minority alliance all the way to the Final Tribal Council provides Shirin with a blueprint to follow. If she plays her cards the same way, then she is not necessarily in a completely hopeless position. After all, from a similar position Danni managed to win the game.
Shirin has a clear plan to improve her position. She said in confessional: “The biggest thing right now is to hitch my vote on to somebody else’s game plan and just go along with whatever they say for the next vote. But once I’m in, and once people trust me, maybe I’m not in the driver’s seat right away, but I’m in the passenger seat, backseat driving.” Shirin’s plan is simple- and very close to the Danni Boatwright blueprint for victory. First, she laid low, waiting for the majority alliance to eliminate the bigger threats. From there, she is hoping to offer her vote to the most powerful member of the alliance, going along with his plans until she gains enough power to make some moves of her own. Once cracks start appearing in the alliance, Shirin is hoping that her position will be so secure that the blue collars will eliminate each other, forgetting about Shirin until it is too late. It’s a good plan- as long as she executes it successfully.
Danni’s first and most important move upon entering the merge was to lay low and fly under the radar. This wasn’t too difficult to do. She was a part of a four-person alliance, where the other members were physically strong men. Although Danni was competent in the challenges, she hadn’t stood out as being a real challenge threat. She was quiet and didn’t start strategising right away. She simply worked hard and tried to fit in, calling no attention to herself or her game. She knew that her tribe mates were bigger targets than she was, and she had some time. She didn’t need to scramble immediately. Knowing the right time to strike was crucial, and for Danni, the right time was when she was at her least threatening- when her entire alliance had been voted out.
After Bobby-Jon and Brandon were gone, Danni and Gary were able to buy themselves some time, as the majority alliance turned on one of its own members. Jamie Newton was considered to be too volatile, and voted out by Stephenie, Rafe Judkins, Cindy Hall and Lydia Morales. Only Jamie’s closest ally Judd Sargeant was not told of the decision. With Jamie gone, both Gary and Danni hoped that the majority alliance would crumble. Ultimately, however, they held strong, and Gary was voted out next, with even Danni casting her vote against him. This left Danni seemingly alone in the game- but this is where her strong social skills allowed her to better her position.
Shirin and Jenn are running out of time to make their move. While Joe was around, he was always going to be the biggest target of the majority alliance. The majority alliance now has reason to target either Shirin or Jenn, with Shirin as the bigger target. The blue collars seem to be desperate to get rid of Shirin, and would have voted her out instead of Hali if Mike hadn’t convinced them otherwise. There is also the fact that although Jenn is still more of a physical threat than Shirin is, Jenn is no longer really playing the game. She isn’t trying to win, and if she made the Final Tribal Council, she would struggle to make a case for herself. Shirin needs to do what she can to shift the target off of herself, either by throwing Jenn under the bus or by somehow infiltrating the majority alliance.
Danni used her strong social game to infiltrate the majority. Shirin doesn’t have that same skill. The entire game, we’ve been hearing how annoying Shirin can be. We’ve been seeing the way people react to her, and from what we’ve seen, I don’t think she’s going to be able to convince people to save her because they like her. Jenn would have the same problem. Although so far in the game, people do seem to enjoy Jenn’s company, her sulky behaviour this past week won’t have endeared her to anyone. Of course, we are now playing season 30, not season 11. This is a more cutthroat game, and I think that to infiltrate the majority alliance, more than just a strong social game is required. Shirin will have to give the blue collars strategic reasons to keep her around.
Shirin has been playing under the radar since Max was eliminated. She knows that she is weak at challenges, and is hoping that her challenge performances will give the blue collar alliance another reason to keep her around. Without Max to relate to, we haven’t seen any more of Shirin’s incessant talking of past seasons of Survivor, and while she still harbours resentment towards Carolyn for her earlier betrayal, she has managed to contain her emotions, unleashing her thoughts only in confessionals. While the other players know that she is a fan of the game, they don’t see her superfandom as a threat- they see it more as a cause for mockery. Nobody left thinks that Shirin can win the game. She is exactly where she needs to be- not seen as a threat, and that is the most important step towards getting in that passenger seat and getting some power in the game.
Shirin’s plan was to target Mike, who has the most power in the game and offer him her vote. She explained to him “my numbers are done. My back’s up against the wall. So I need a new option.” Cleverly, Shirin not only begged Mike to save her life in the game, but outlined what she could do in return. She correctly identified the sub-group that has formed within the majority alliance- Rodney, Will, Carolyn and Tyler- and pointed out the danger that a player like Carolyn could pose. Mike agreed with her assessment and seemed to realise that she was offering him a chance to consolidate his power in the game. At the very least, she has given him something to think about- and if Rodney’s Final Seven plan succeeds, Mike will have no one to blame but himself.
Danni also deliberately targeted the leaders of the majority alliance. When explaining her game, she said “I didn’t want to scramble too soon. I wanted to sit back and see who was in control of the game.” When you are down in the numbers, there are really two options- appeal to those who are on the bottom of the majority alliance, and try to get them to come with you, or do as Shirin did, follow Danni’s plan, and appeal to those who already have control. Danni went to Rafe and Stephenie, and made a Final Four deal with them. With Rafe she had a Final Two deal. She offered her vote up to Rafe and Stephenie and followed their game plan, voting against her ally Gary. When Rafe and Stephenie trusted her, Danni was able to start influencing the vote- but all the while still making it appear that Rafe and Stephenie were the ones in control. Danni was driving the game from the backseat.
Rafe in particular felt closely tied to Danni. He liked and trusted her and felt that Danni would honor her word and take him to the Final Two. Because of this, he was willing to keep Danni around, betraying the members of his alliance in order to protect her. For Rafe, it made sense to get to the end of the game with the people that were willing to take him to the Final Tribal Council. With Stephenie quickly alienating many of the members of the jury, she was becoming everyone’s favoured Final Tribal Council opponent. If Danni was willing to take Rafe to the Final Two over Stephenie, then that made her a far more desirable ally to Rafe, and Rafe was able to convince Stephenie to vote out first Judd, then Cindy and Lydia over Danni, leaving a Final Three of Rafe, Stephenie and Danni. When Danni won the final immunity challenge, Rafe inexplicably decided to ‘release’ Danni from their Final Two deal. Danni happily voted Rafe out, knowing that Stephenie was a far easier Final Tribal Council opponent. At the Final Tribal Council, the jury slammed Stephenie for playing a game full of backstabbing and betrayal. Danni was able to easily win the jury vote 6-1, with only Rafe voting for Stephenie.
So far, Shirin’s plan is very similar to Danni’s- they both played under the radar, trying not to appear as threats, and both appealed to the leaders of the majority alliance. For Shirin to replicate Danni’s successes, there are two other things that she needs to do- create a split in the blue collar alliance, and be sitting next to the right people at the end of the game.
Danni knew that she had to create cracks within the majority alliance. It wasn’t enough to simply make friends with the power players, she had to start directing the play. Her tactic was to appear to sit back, while all the while creating mischief for the other players. She said “it’s funny, the longer you stick around, the more problems you can cause, the more doors will open.” It wasn’t enough to simply be dragged to the end, Danni had to stir the pot, and have some influence on the game in order to make it to the Final Two.
While it was Rafe’s idea to target Judd when Danni had immunity, it was Danni who executed the plan. Earlier, angry over the blindside of his friend Jamie, Judd had a conversation with Danni where he acknowledged that in order to win the game, the strong players needed to be eliminated. After establishing a friendship with Stephenie and gaining her trust, Danni recounted the conversation to her, convincing Stephenie that Judd was trying to get her voted out. In Survivor: Heroes vs Villains, eventual winner Sandra Diaz-Twine employed a similar strategy, telling alliance leader Russell Hantz that Coach Wade was trying to get Russell voted out. Like Stephenie, Russell was paranoid enough to buy the lie, and Sandra was able to buy herself more time in the game. For Stephenie, voting out Judd not only angered a future juror, but also eliminated someone who wanted to work with her until the end.
For Shirin to get to the end and win, some proactive game play will be required. She knows this. She has said “the only way I’m going to get to the end is by taking big risks.” She doesn’t want to simply be dragged to the end as a goat. If she wants to make a cause for herself at the Final Tribal Council, she needs to start having some influence on the game, and it needs to happen soon. Her preoccupation with getting revenge on Carolyn may hinder her in this. She needs to work out what Mike wants to have happen. Who does Mike not completely trust? Who might be working against Mike? If she can save Mike from Rodney’s coming attack, then she would certainly gain trust and a secure position within the game. Shirin knows that “all I can do is shake things up,” and that is exactly what she needs to do. Expose the cracks in the blue collar alliance that are clearly there. Shirin needs to convince Mike to make a move against his own alliance, and to do that, she needs to convince Mike that his alliance are coming for him first.
The reason that Danni won the game so handily was that at the Final Tribal Council she was sitting next to Stephenie, the most hated player in the game. Stephenie had betrayed and voted out every member of the jury except Rafe. Danni was able to defend her game as being completely loyal, and that, coupled with the genuine friendships that she had created with most of the jury, gave her the votes she needed.
I think it is going to be quite easy from here for either Jenn or Shirin to make it to the Final Three. The difficult part will be making it to the Final Three not as a goat, but as a contender. To convince a jury to give them a million dollars- a jury that right now has very little reason to respect the games of either Jenn or Shirin. Judging by her emotions this week, Jenn might be happy to play for third place, but Shirin isn’t. As a superfan, she should know what she has to do to get herself in a better position. And the most crucial element to winning the game is going into the Final Tribal Council with beatable opponents.
Working with Mike at the moment is necessary for Shirin. He gives her a sense of security in the game, as well as a target to hide behind. But if Mike makes it to the end of the game, he wins. Without question, he has been the most influential player this season, and at every tribal council that he has attended, it has been Mike that has decided where the votes have gone. He was blindsided by Jenn’s idol play, but with every other vote he has been able to eliminate the person that he deemed to be the greatest threat to his position in the game. With the idol in his pocket and the majority alliance following his lead, if Mike reaches the end, he deserves to win the game.
I actually think that Shirin stands a good chance against anybody else. She has a great underdog story, and if she can show that since Max’s elimination, she has been in control of her own destiny, I think a jury would reward that. She isn’t a Dan or a Sierra, blindly following Mike’s instructions. She isn’t a Will, who has been taking orders from either Joe or Mike the entire game. While Tyler and Carolyn have had some pivotal moments, they have yet to emerge as power players, and the other players don’t see them as threats.
Mike needs Shirin’s vote, and should protect her. At the moment, Rodney and his secret alliance is the more immediate threat to Mike’s place in the game, and Shirin can protect Mike against that threat. My hope is that just as Danni betrayed Rafe, Shirin can find a way to turn on Mike before it’s too late. If she can, then she stands a great chance of redeeming what has so far been a quite predictable season, and giving us an unlikely winner.