And so we reach final five. For a season with so little hype, that most fans assumed would be lacklustre, Kaoh Rong has certainly delivered. My favourite thing about this season has been the suspense. Even now, with so few people left in the game, there are still several viable winner options. I think that most commentators are assuming that we are going to see a final two- and if this is the case, then there is really only one person left in the game with absolutely no chance to win. The edit says otherwise, but as far as the game goes, four of the five remaining castaways still have the ability to win the million dollars. And I’m not even sure who is on the bottom of that list. Who does win in a final two scenario between Tai and Joe? I can see Jason setting his voting parchment on fire and refusing to participate if he was forced to choose between those two.
Another strength of this season has been the female casting. I knew I was going to love Cydney- but I will admit that I thought she was going to be a hugely entertaining train wreck. In my defence, she did speak about her multiple crazy personalities in her CBS introduction video. I had no idea that I would find Cydney completely compelling to watch as a strategic player. I thought that Aubry was going to be endearingly relatable, but I was worried she would find herself on the outs early, and be an early boot. Instead, she seems to be firmly in control of the game. Instead of struggling to fit in, she has people desperately wanting to play with her. And Debbie….well, who did see Debbie coming? We all knew she was going to be mad, but it was so wonderful to watch her be both crazy, and somehow strategic at the same time. Kaoh Rong has had an unusually strong female cast. With Alecia, and perhaps Jenny being the only exceptions, any of the women cast on this season had the ability to win.
And in our final five, we have three strong women, each of whom don’t need to be carried, bro. They all have a strong shot at winning the game. They’ve all got a case to make in front of the jury. But more importantly, they’ve all made the necessary social bonds. The importance of a good social game is so often underestimated. The strategic game, the big moves, that’s what makes good television. But it is the behind the scenes, the smaller moments, the listening, the relating to people on a human level. That’s what really wins the game. At the Final Tribal Council, the jury will award the million dollars. And they have to feel some sort of bond with the person that they vote for. Because this season has really highlighted the social strengths of the three women who are left in the game, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going back to season 12, Survivor: Panama, and fourth place finisher and eternal fan favourite, Cirie Fields.
Cirie is the epitome of someone who used the social game to further herself whilst still having strong strategic acumen. Survivor Panama began as a season with four tribes, each with four people on it. The four tribes were divided by gender and age, and Cirie found herself on Casaya, the older women’s tribe. From the outset, Cirie was the underdog. She was a fan of the show, but had no outdoor experience, and famously declared herself to be afraid of leaves. When the older women lost the first challenge, Cirie was on the chopping block. She was able to survive in the game using her social skills. She had built a relationship with two of the other women, Melinda Hyder and Ruth-Marie Milliman. The other member of Casaya, Tina Scheer, was struggling to interact with her tribe. Her son had recently passed away, and Tina was overwhelmed by her grief. Cirie was able to use Tina’s isolation to her advantage, and despite the fact that Tina was easily the strongest physical player on the tribe, Cirie was able to convince Ruth-Marie and Melinda to vote her out.
The four tribes then merged into two, with Cirie left on Casaya. Immediately, a strong alliance was formed on the new Casaya tribe- and Cirie was not a part of it. When Casaya lost immunity, Cirie was told that either she or Melinda would be sent home, and whichever one survived this Tribal Council would be the next one out. Melinda was voted out that night, but Cirie’s position on the tribe was clear. She was on the outside of the alliance, and seemed destined to be the next person sent home. However, Casaya went on a winning streak, giving Cirie nine more days to ingratiate herself in the tribe. Their winning streak also gave the majority alliance time to implode. When Casaya next visited Tribal Council, Cirie did not receive a single vote.
Cirie had managed to guarantee her safety, and became a core member of the alliance. She did this not by making big moves, but by making strong relationships. If we were ranking the most dysfunctional tribes that have ever been on Survivor, Casaya would certainly make the list. Most of the members of the alliance couldn’t stand each other. Shane Powers and Courtney Marit in particular were volatile and emotional players, and the two of them struggled to coexist peacefully. Danielle DiLorenzo also had a hot temper, and didn’t get along with Shane. Within this, Cirie was a calming presence. Aras Baskauskas, who would eventually go on to win the season, identified that he could not trust Shane, Courtney or Danielle as strategic partners. And although he had never intended on aligning with Cirie, he found that he needed someone who could listen calmly, and give sage advice. Cirie became that person for him. Danielle struggled to bond with Courtney, Shane or Aras. She needed a friend, and Cirie became that person for her. Cirie went about making herself completely indispensable to everyone in her alliance.
Casaya may have been a bit of a mess at camp, but the challenges were a different story. Casaya won the majority of immunity challenges, and entered the merge with a huge numerical advantage. They were able to quickly dispense of most of the opposing tribe, and Casaya would have been the final five- if it wasn’t for Terry Dietz, who repeatedly won immunity, and also had possession of an idol that could be played after the votes were read. At the final six, Casaya were forced to turn on each other, but once again, Cirie wasn’t in danger. Danielle was the original target, but Cirie, knowing that Danielle was a useful ally, and also knowing that Courtney was the person that most people wanted to take to the final two, orchestrated Courtney’s blindside. Knowing that Aras and Danielle were her closest allies, Cirie ensured that Shane would be the next person out.
At the final four, Terry and Aras both had immunity. Terry had made a final two deal with Danielle (a deal that she would later renege on), and voted for Cirie. Aras, who had every intention of taking Cirie to the end, voted for Danielle. Cirie and Danielle were forced to build a fire to determine who would go through to the final three. Despite Aras’ coaching, Cirie was unable to defeat Danielle in the fire making contest, and she was sent to the jury. Really, the fact that she even managed to make it to a fire making competition was amazing. Cirie had been the biggest threat to win the game, and yet she managed to make it all the way to the final four without being a target. The only vote she received was in the first tribal. Her strong social skills, and her ability to make people like her so much that they were willing to compromise her own game got her far, and nearly got her to the win.
The women this season have been playing a very Cirie-like game, and it’s been impressive. There are three women left in the game, and all of them are there because of their social skills. Cydney has been strong since the start. On the Brawn tribe, she managed to keep herself in everyone’s good books. From the very beginning, people have wanted to align with Cydney. Everyone on that tribe thought they were in an alliance with her at one point- and all of them made the mistake of trusting her too much. Darnell thought she had his back, only for her to vote against him. Jenny thought that they were partners- only for Cydney to tell Jason and Scot about Jenny’s plans for a women’s alliance. Alecia thought Cydney was her only friend in the game- and Cydney wasted no time telling the men about Alecia’s idol clue. And of course, Jason and Scot trusted Cydney implicitly, only for her to turn on them and start a whole new alliance. Cydney has been excellent at getting people on her side for as long as she needs them.
Like Cirie before her, Cydney is just someone that people want to be around. People overlook her as a threat because they like being around her. At the tribe swap, Debbie was falling over herself to align with Cydney. Now that we know how close Cydney and Michele are, we can assume that their friendship started at the tribe swap also. At the merge, she met up with Aubry, and the two of them connected. Aubry was willing to vote against Debbie, her ally since the start of the game, to start heading down a new path with Cydney.
Another Cirie-like quality that Cydney has is her ability to avoid being a target. During Survivor: Panama, Cirie formed tight friendships with both Aras and Danielle. Both of them would have taken her to the end. She was able to use both of them as numbers, first against Courtney, and then against Shane. But despite being in such a strong powerful alliance, nobody ever noticed that Cirie was pulling the strings. We haven’t seen Cydney being labelled as a threat either. Tai thinks that Michele is a threat, and that Cydney is simply a disposable fourth member of his alliance. We’ve heard Tai and Aubry both being mentioned as threats repeatedly. But of the people left in the game, nobody seems to be too worried about Cydney. It’s like they’ve forgotten that it was Cydney who turned on the Brawn tribe and flipped the game.
Cydney and Michele are obviously a lot closer than anyone realises. For the last few votes, they have been a pair. Even as far back as the Nick vote, Cydney was confident that Michele would vote with her. I don’t think that Michele would have voted out Julia so easily if it wasn’t for the fact that she was 100% confident that she could trust Cydney. Michele and Cydney are a pair- and like Cirie was able to do with Aras and Danielle, Cydney has managed to hide the true extent of their loyalty from the rest of the players in the game. Tai seemed to have no question that Cydney would vote for Michele. Aubry seemed to have the same belief. Everybody knows that Aubry and Joe are a pair, but Cydney and Michele aren’t going to vote against each other either. They are dangerous. But like Cirie, Cydney is being underestimated at the moment.
For me, the most impressive part of Cirie’s game in Panama was that despite being the strongest strategic and social player, she had nobody looking to vote her out until the final four. Nobody was talking about her as a jury threat. In fact, she had multiple people in the game who would have taken her to the end. Aras was working towards getting to the final two with Cirie, where he would certainly have lost. Does Cydney have people that are willing to go to the final two with her? Does Aubry? Does Michele?
Surely it is Aubry that has the most people willing to go to the end with her. Assuming that we do have a final two, she has most of the people in the game who seem willing to go to the end with her. And from what we see, she’ll beat all of them. She’s the Cirie in this situation. Cydney and Aubry have been working together since the merge. Although I think that Cydney would prefer to be sitting at the end with Michele, she’s still working closely with Aubry. She hasn’t mentioned trying to get Aubry out. Joe was referred to as Aubry’s dog. He’ll do what Aubry wants him to, and isn’t going to vote against her. If Aubry wants him to be sitting next to her at the end, then that’s where he’ll be sitting. Tai’s final three plan is himself, Aubry and Joe. We haven’t heard what Michele’s plans are. Everyone seems to be comfortable sitting at the end with Aubry.
Aubry has played a game very similar to Cirie. Like Cirie, Aubry had a moment in the game when she was on the bottom. She was slated to go home at the merge. But she’s turned it around. She’s gone from being on the bottom of the tribe to being in a position of power. She’s wooed allies with her personality. Tai is working with Aubry because Tai likes Aubry. Because Aubry knew exactly how to exploit the bond that she had with him. Cydney and Michele both like Aubry. Most of the people on the jury like Aubry. Jason and Scot both talked at length about how much they respect her game.
The one worry for Aubry is that she hasn’t been as successful as Cirie at keeping the target off of herself. I think that this is the reason that she is keeping Tai around- as long as he has his idols, he’s the big threat. She can convince people to keep voting with her. But she is receiving compliments at every tribal. If they’ve been listening, Cydney, Michele and Tai should know how much of a threat Aubry is. Her game is continually being called out. I’m also worried that when she voted against Jason, she may have alienated Tai. Tai is the most powerful person in the game this week. He knows he’s safe. I understand Aubry wanting to keep Tai around as a threat, but for the rest of them, not blindsiding Tai when they had the chance was a mistake. Cydney was annoyed this week when Tai tried to dictate the vote. She’s going to be infuriated next week when he does the same thing. Tai holds the power next week. And if he’s not on Aubry’s side, she’s in huge trouble.
This week we saw a whole lot more of Michele. Michele’s whole story has been quite simple. She’s likable, she’s good at getting to know people and getting people to like her. And her strategy has been not to make waves, but to demonstrate her loyalty to her allies. She sees that what everyone in the game wants is someone to trust, and she has tried to become that person for Cydney and Aubry. In following this strategy, she’s made herself into a huge jury threat- but like Cirie in Panama, she’s endeared herself to the jury in such a low key way that nobody has made a move against her until now. Both Tai and Aubry recognise that Michele has a lot of friends on the jury. Nick, Scot, Jason and Julia are all likely Michele votes. Depending on who is sitting next to her, Michele could sweep a jury vote. Cydney might think that sitting at the end with Michele is comparable to sitting with Joe, but she is wrong. Neither of them have any big moves to point to in front of the jury. But while Joe has spent his time focussing on camp life, Michele has been actively making friends with people that will be voting for the million dollar prize.
In a season with a final two, you need to have one of two things going for you. Either you need to trust that you will be able to win the final immunity challenge, so that you can choose who sits next to you at the end, or you need to have an ally who can win that challenge for you. You need to be certain that you can trust that ally to take you, and that if it comes down to it, you can beat your ally.
All three of the women have proven to be physically strong. Cydney and Michele have both won immunity, and a reward challenge. Michele has been on the winning team in multiple rewards. Aubry and Joe are the only remaining players not to win immunity or reward. However, Aubry has been a stand out in challenges. She’s a strong swimmer, and has narrowly lost several immunity challenges. If the final immunity is a physical challenge, she’d have to be the favourite to win. All three of the women are in a good spot to decide their own fate in the final two.
I would love to see these three women in the final three. If they were the final three, then we get a real contest at Final Tribal Council, which would be so refreshing after just watching Jeremy sweep the Cambodia jury. Of course, while it would make for exciting television, it is an unlikely outcome. I’d assume that at least one of Joe or Tai make the final three, and if that is the case, then the final immunity challenge becomes a race for who can be sitting next to the goat at the end. Who would want to take Aubry to the end, when you could instead sit next to Joe? Who’d choose to face Cydney, when you could take Tai?
Cirie’s journey on Survivor: Panama fell agonisingly short. If it hadn’t been for Terry’s idol, which was still allowed to be played at the final four, then Cirie would have been sitting in the final three with two people who both wanted to take her to the end. Sitting next to either Aras or Danielle in a final two would have resulted in Cirie winning the game.
Obviously, not all three women are going to win. They’ve all played fantastic games, and should be proud of themselves. Survivor is a cruel game. At least two of the women are going to fall short of the goal. But hopefully, for one of them, that won’t be the case. Debbie repeatedly told us that she wanted to see a woman win this season. I’m hoping her wish becomes a prophecy, because at least one of Cydney, Aubry or Michele should be rewarded for their game play.