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: Nothing to Lose
Well, this week was one of the more frustrating episodes of Survivor that I can remember (that is, if we don’t count the mess that Australian Survivor has unfortunately become). For one thing, I was completely and utterly sucked in by the ‘next time on Survivor’ preview. I was pretty sure that we were getting a tribe swap this week- and I was extremely excited by the prospect. I don’t know about you, but for me, the whole format of this season is feeling a little stale. Perhaps it is a cultural thing, but I don’t find the Millennials vs Gen X discussion interesting at all. It feels like this is just Jeff Probst’s chance to reinforce some stereotypes. I am absolutely ready for this season to stop being about which generation works harder, spells better, or is better at throwing sandbags at things. I don’t want the actions of a few to be some kind of judgement on society. I am ready for this season to just be about these players, and the games that they are playing.
But we didn’t get a tribe swap. Instead, we got peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We got the ‘summit’- which could have been invented by the producers of Australian Survivor, as it was time consuming, completely random, and ultimately added nothing to the game. I hated that the ambassadors were chosen via a random rock draw, and then hated even more that the point of the summit seemed to be that they got a good meal and then went home. The most interesting thing about the summit was that David attempted to use it as a way to get himself further in the game. But David even being there was just a random piece of luck for the producers. Swap out David for someone like Lucy or Sunday, and the summit falls completely flat.
Nobody can accuse David of not giving this game everything he has. He knows that he is on the bottom of the tribe, and he is going to do everything he can to change his position. As he said to Ken when they were discussing trying to switch the vote from CeCe to Paul- he is playing like someone with nothing to lose. For the sake of the television viewers, I’m glad that this is the game style that David has adopted. Entertainment wise, David is certainly the star of the Gen X tribe for me. His love for the game shines through, and he is such a likable underdog that I can’t help but root for him. But while David is great to watch, and I can understand his desperation, I don’t think that his gameplay needs to improve if David is to be a realistic chance at winning the game. There is a way to play like you have nothing to lose, and succeed. And for this reason, this week’s lesson in Survivor history comes to us from season 18- Survivor: Tocantins, and the person who would ultimately finish in third place- Erinn Lobdell.
Erinn started the game on the Timbira tribe, and quickly found herself on the outs with her tribe. Although she was not voted the weakest member on day one (that honour went to Sierra Reed), she found it difficult to form bonds with the majority of her tribe. She did make one close friendship- with Candace Smith- and the two of them spent their time together, while the rest of the tribe bonded. Candace’s strong personality made Candace an early target. When Timbira lost immunity, Candace attempted to target Benjamin ‘Coach’ Wade, whom she found personally irritating. Coach found out about Candace’s plans, and was able to use the ties that he had made to flip the vote against her. Even Erinn voted against her, and Candace was voted out in a unanimous vote on day six.
With Candace gone, Erinn was quite clearly at the bottom of her tribe. She had demonstrated that she was willing to vote against the majority alliance, and Coach in particular was very much looking forward to voting her out of the game. She started the game badly, and her only friend had just been voted out. Erinn didn’t have very many options left. On day six, she was firmly on the bottom of her tribe. Like David, she felt as though she had nothing left to lose. And like David, she became willing to play a more unconventional game. But she was able to play from the bottom in a calm, rational way that led to her succeeding in the game. If David (or the other players who are currently on the bottom of their tribes, Ken, CeCe, Zeke, and Adam) want to get themselves off the bottom and into a power position, they are going to have to rely on Erinn’s tactics.
The Element of Luck
I should start by saying that like most successful Survivor players, Erinn’s game did rely on luck. Erinn got extremely lucky, and Erinn making it to the merge was almost purely dependent on chance. Erinn was lined up to be the next to go after Candace. She could not convince anyone in the tribe to align themselves with her. And then, in a stroke of luck for Erinn, her tribemate Jerry Sims got sick. Although the tribe still considered voting against Erinn, it was clear that Jerry was too ill to continue in the game. He was a liability in challenges and contributed little around camp. On day nine, Jerry was voted out of the game unanimously.
From there, the Timbira tribe went on a winning streak, allowing Erinn to avoid Tribal Council completely until the merge. Had Timbira lost any of those challenges, then Erinn would likely have been voted out. But the more challenges Timbira won, the easier it became for Erinn to hang on. Although she was never fully accepted as part of the tribe, as the merge drew closer other targets began to present themselves. Coach forgot about his animosity towards Erinn, and focussed his hatred on the tribe leader, Brendan Synott. With the help of the Survivor gods, Erinn entered the merge without a target on her back.
David, Ken, and CeCe seemingly had luck on their side this week, as Jessica was credited with the inexplicable decision to vote Paul out. According to the story that we saw, Paul’s big mistake was made in his discussion with Jessica. Jessica was concerned that Chris, Bret, and Paul were closer to each other than they were to her. I’m sure they could have said the same thing about Jessica’s relationship with Sunday and Lucy, but this didn’t seem to occur to Jessica at all. Jessica confronted Paul, asking if there was a guy’s alliance. He told her that not only was there not a male alliance, but that if the idea came up, he would tell the ladies that they were on their own. It seemed to be an innocent mistake- the message that Paul intended on conveying was that he was on Jessica’s side, and yet she received the opposite message. Convinced that she wasn’t going to get to the end with Paul, Chris, and Bret, Jessica convinced Lucy and Sunday to join her in voting Paul off the island.
What we didn’t see was what, if anything, David, Ken, and CeCe had to do with saving themselves. Last week, we saw Michelle protecting Figgy and Taylor, and this week Jessica took on a similar role for CeCe, who would have gone home if Jessica had voted with her alliance. Was Paul’s slip of the tongue a lucky break for CeCe, or was there more to Jessica’s decision?
We saw Ken attempting to get Jessica to turn against Paul, but his arguments (which are basically that Paul talks a lot and doesn’t deliver on what he says) didn’t seem to sway Jessica at all. And nor should they have. The things that Ken spoke about are the very things that make Paul so valuable, and the reason that (in my opinion), Jessica should have kept Paul in the game. As long as Paul is around, he is always going to be the target. He is loud and obnoxious, and seemingly quite clueless about the game, and that makes him a great meat shield. If what we saw of Ken was his absolute best effort at convincing someone to vote with him, then I think we can say that Jessica’s decision was much more the result of luck than any skill on the part of Ken, David, or CeCe.
The reason that Erinn was able to go so far in the game was that she 100% knew that she was disposable to the people on Timbira. This meant that when the two tribes merged, she was willing to take a chance, and flip over to the opposing Jalapão tribe. Survivor: Tocantins had a twist where every episode, one person from each tribe was sent to Exile Island. Erinn spent a particularly rainy night on Exile Island with Jalapão member Joe Dowdle, and their shared experience gave Erinn confidence to vote with Jalapão. Her friendship with Joe meant that once she did flip and join the opposing tribe, she felt like she could ingratiate herself within their alliances. She didn’t just flip over so that she could be a number for Jalapão. Erinn made friendships within the Jalapão tribe, and her flip put her in a spot where she had a chance at winning the game. She knew that she had nothing to lose by voting with Jalapão- and that it was also the correct move for her game to do so.
David’s moves seem to be motivated much more by paranoia and fear than any strategic plan. Whereas Erinn had a solid relationship with Joe, David was making promises to Taylor as soon as he possibly could. I understand David’s mindset completely. He explained in confessional “Right now, I’m at the bottom with CeCe and Ken. So I need to find a way to make new friends among the Millennial tribe, because once there is a swap or a merge I’m gonna need their help to get rid of Paul.” But everything David said and did reeked of desperation. He might be an appealing number to the Millennials, but at the moment, that is all he has to offer them. He isn’t going to be part of Taylor’s end game plans. A better way to approach it would have been to let Taylor know that down the line, he was interested in working together. Making promises to vote out members of his own tribe was unnecessary- and I don’t think it helped his relationship with Taylor at all. When it comes down to it, is David really going to be okay with voting Ken out of the game? Would he vote against CeCe? I think that he was so fixated on the fact that he was on the bottom that David ended up making a Paul-like mistake and talking too much. Much better to sound out the members of the Millennial tribe and get to know them before making any outlandish promises.
Be Under The Radar
Erinn was able to flip so successfully, because at first, nobody on Timbira even realised that she wasn’t with them. Coach was so fixated on getting rid of Brendan that he was willing to work with the Jalapão members. Coach and his allies Tyson Apostol and Debbie Beebe joined with the remaining members of Jalapão- JT Thomas, Stephen Fishbach and Taj Johnson- and they formed a new alliance- the ‘Warrior Alliance’. It wasn’t until Tyson was blindsided that Coach and Debbie realised that they no longer had control of the game. By that time, Erinn was part of the Jalapão alliance and joined them to vote Debbie and Coach out of the game.
Part of this was certainly luck. Coach is not the kind of player that you find in every Survivor season. Erinn had nothing to do with Coach targeting Brendan and being willing to hand control of the game over to JT and Stephen. But part of Erinn’s success was in her ability to lay low and not be considered a threat. This is something that the players who are at the bottom of their respective tribes should try and emulate.
On the Millennials tribe, only Zeke and Adam voted against Figgy. According to Figgy, people who write her name down go home. This places them squarely at the bottom of the tribe. For Adam, this was a daunting prospect, but not one he was completely unprepared for. In confessional, he said “It’s been my dream since I was nine years old to play this game and have this experience, and I did not expect my first Tribal Council to be my first hashtag blindside. Now I’m gonna have to play from the bottom and it’s going to take a lot of work to, uh, get back into a position of power. But I wouldn’t count me out. I think I can get back up to the top again.”
Adam was okay with having to play from the bottom- but his plans are not exactly about laying low and hoping that the target shifts away from him. For Adam, playing from the bottom means trying to put himself in a position of power again. So he went to Michaela and gave her some completely logical reasons about why she should join him and vote against Figgy- namely that Figgy, Taylor, Michelle, and Jay are a tight four, and there is no room for Michaela in their plans. Is this the right way forward for Adam? My instinct says no- that Zeke, Hannah, and perhaps even Michaela are likely to be targeted before Adam if he tries to stay under the radar. It is also entirely possible that Figgy and Taylor are targeted. Like Adam said, Figgy does seem to suck at Survivor. By trying to lead a charge against the majority alliance right now, Adam is putting his game at risk.
Don’t Play for Third Place
In Tocantins, JT and Stephen wanted to work with Erinn because it gave them control of the game. Another reason to work so closely with Erinn was that they both believed that they could easily beat her in front of the jury. The jury was made up entirely of Timbira members, who hadn’t liked Erinn since the beginning of the game, and saw her as a traitor. In interviews since the game ended, Erinn has said that her plan was to go to the end with Stephen, and she believes that she could have won. From what we saw, I don’t think she is correct in that assessment. Erinn was on the bottom of her tribe from early in the game, and played as though she had nothing to lose. This got her to third place. But along the way, she failed to make friends with anyone on the jury, and for that reason, she was never in a position where she could have won the game.
This is the most important pitfall that the players who are currently in minority alliances must avoid. It is all well and good to take some risks, and to make moves that benefit your game. But if you do that with little regard as to the social politics of the jury, then you are setting yourself up for failure. How are those who are currently in the minority doing?
Who is in a Winning Position?
We’ve seen that Ken is well liked by both tribes. He is providing his tribe with plenty of food, despite the fact that he is on the outside of the alliance. Nobody has a bad word to say about him. I also really liked that, for Ken, his first strategy was to try and get Jessica and the women on board with voting out Paul. I thought that his idea was good; it was just his argument that was terrible. The temptation to use David’s idol and pull off an amazing blindside must have been there, but to get the women on their side was a move that will pay off in the long-term. I think that Ken knew that he was not in the majority alliance, but he was also not the next to go, and this allowed him to play in a more cautious way.
David also seems to have a lot of friends, and although he isn’t in the majority, he does have Ken, CeCe, and his idol. My worry about David is that where Ken comes across as calm and assured, David comes off as paranoid and desperate. If he really is willing to sell out his tribe to Taylor moments after meeting him, then I think David is probably headed the same way as Erinn. He’ll go deep into the game, but the jury won’t respect what he has done. CeCe is also in the minority alliance, but we see so little of her game. We saw this week that she likes Ken and she doesn’t like balance beams. She wasn’t the only one who struggled on the balance beam, but she was the only one that was blamed for it. She has received votes both times that she has gone to Tribal Council, and that doesn’t bode well for her long term chances.
On the Millennial tribe, Zeke is on the bottom. He’s been slated as the next to go should the Millennials lose immunity, which I don’t know that they will. He hasn’t done much to change his position in the game either. I know that Hannah was excruciatingly irritating after Tribal Council, and I think that after seeing Mari go home, Zeke was within his rights to be upset. But Adam was in the same position as Zeke, and he managed to be far more civil to Hannah. Hannah might be annoying, but she is also likely to be useful, and Zeke can’t afford to alienate anyone on his tribe.
I’d love to be wrong, but at the moment I think Ken is the only one on a minority alliance who stands a chance of winning the game. When people play like they have nothing to lose, it makes for great television. But it usually results in bad strategy. Ken’s calm, measured approach is far more likely to pay off than David’s frenzied attempts at alliance forming. I like David, and want him to do well, but unless he is able to control his mental state, I can’t see that happening.
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