Each week, Catherine Lucas examines the gameplay of a contestant or a tribe and compares them to players from past seasons. It’s a mix of history, strategy, and culture in “Lessons in Survivor History”. You can expect the blogs on Monday mornings.
Lessons in Survivor History: Preventing a Pagonging
That was certainly an interesting week of Survivor. So much bad gameplay. I never thought I’d be saying this, but I actually think that if I was in charge of giving out the Fishy, it would certainly have gone to Joe. From what I saw, Joe was the only player this week that didn’t make a ridiculous, possibly game-ending mistake, which is kind of hilarious, when you think that Joe’s strategy at the moment is to go out and play as badly as possible.
I want to start by looking at the mistakes that were made by the majority: firstly, Ben. The scene where Ben insisted to Chrissy that people weren’t feeling steamrolled by him…except for perhaps Chrissy and Ashley… was one of my favourites of recent seasons. I completely agree with Ben’s strategy– I think that Cole was the right person to vote out and that Joe is a bit of a toothless tiger, but I don’t think that it was a crucial move. He could easily have acquiesced to the wishes of the women and voted Joe out this week, and then if Cole won immunity, Dr Mike is still there. But Ben was so focused on voting Cole out that he forgot about his own game. Ben is so busy making what he perceives to be the best strategic move that he forgets about the social aspect of the game. Chrissy and Ashley might be making an emotional move, but they need to have their voices heard and validated because if they start to think that they are being ignored, they do still have enough numbers left to flip the game. Ben is being very careful to develop relationships with Ryan and Devon, but in the process, he is neglecting his relationships with Chrissy and Ashley. And he might come to regret that. Chrissy and Ashley are on the bottom of the large alliance– I think that Ben’s number one ally is Lauren, and Chrissy is now just an extra number to him. And the two women have to see that their opinion was not heard this week.
Then there was Ryan, who overplayed his position with the idol. Although this was a mistake, I can’t really blame him for it. I think that the idol should be used in that way, to establish trust and build relationships. However, it cannot be the foundation of a relationship. There has to be some personal connection first. This is why sharing the idol with Devon was a fantastic idea– he solidifies trust with his closest ally. Devon has no reason to doubt what Ryan is saying. Devon has no reason to share the information with anyone else. He believes that Ryan would definitely use the idol to protect either one of them.
Ben, on the other hand, doesn’t have that built up trust with Ryan. Ryan tells Ben about the idol, and it doesn’t solidify trust. Ben knows that Ryan isn’t using that idol to protect him. He knows that the idol belongs to Ryan and only Ryan. Ben and Ryan must have had conversations before this one, but we haven’t seen them have any significant interactions. They hadn’t been on a tribe together, and the connective tissue between the two of them was Chrissy. Ben had reason to doubt the sincerity of Ryan’s offer of an alliance. Ben had noticed that Ryan’s closest ally throughout the game has been Devon, and there was no reason to think that Ryan wouldn’t want to continue to work with Devon moving forward. It was natural for Ben to seek Devon out, and use Ryan’s information against him. Now there are seeds of distrust between Ryan and Devon. Do we see Devon turn on Ryan in the future? Ryan is playing a dangerous game. He’s told Ben about his idol. He’s told Devon. He told Chrissy as soon as he found it. Too many people know about the idol now, and Ryan is practically begging to be blindsided.
And then there was the strange voting strategy. When there are seven people in the majority, and three in the minority, then the vote should be pretty straightforward. The majority were rightfully worried about an idol play, and so they decided to split the votes. Fantastic. Great play. Makes perfect sense. So you have seven votes to their three. Also, you have a mathematician among you, so really no excuse for this. Why, why, why would you split the votes 5-2? What on earth were they thinking? If Mike had played his idol correctly (a very big possibility considering that Ben literally told Mike who they were voting out), and the Healers had voted together (which really should have happened), then the idol would have cancelled out the five votes for Cole, and the three Healer votes would have carried the day. They could have gotten anyone from the majority alliance sent home. After failing to notice the missing vote last week, and their terrible grasp of the numbers this week, we’re seeing a pattern emerge. Maths is the Achilles heel of this alliance.
Everyone in the majority made a potentially disastrous choice in the voting booth. But as badly as they played the game this week, the person who would be winning the Cesty for the worst player wouldn’t be anyone in the majority. It wouldn’t go to Cole, who seemed to meekly submit to being voted out, and wasn’t trying to flip the game to his advantage. The worst player this episode was Dr Mike. I can understand his move– but I don’t agree with it at all. I think that the three Healers are in a difficult position– and the game is certainly harder to play when you have no power– but I was interested to watch the different ways that the three Healers tried to play their position. And for that reason, we are going to do something a little different for this week’s lesson in Survivor history. As we watch the Healers tribe get mercilessly pagonged by the Heroes and Hustlers, I thought we should go all the way back in Survivor history to the original season, Survivor: Borneo, and take a look at the strategies of the original Pagong tribe.
Watching Survivor: Borneo is almost like watching a completely different show. The contestants were much more interested in surviving the elements and building a society than in playing the game and voting each other out. The game had two tribes of eight people– the Tagi tribe, who were generally hardworking, and the Pagong tribe, who were portrayed as having more fun. And the game was quite even, with each tribe winning three pre-merge challenges. Both tribes knew that the two tribes would soon be merging into one, and each tribe had a different strategy. On the Pagong tribe, the idea of sticking together and voting as a unit had been discussed and rejected. They wanted to get to know those on Tagi and make their own individual decisions about who was worthy of the million dollar prize. On Tagi, there was a four-person alliance that agreed to vote together. There was also Sean Kenniff, who decided that he would vote for each person alphabetically.
Each tribe entered the merge with five people. And at that merge tribal council, we saw one of the most complicated votes that has ever happened on Survivor. The Tagi alliance of four voted together, and they all voted for Gretchen Cordy, the well-liked and respected leader of the Pagong tribe. Sticking to his alphabet strategy, Sean voted for Colleen Haskell, the youngest member of the Pagong tribe. And everyone on the Pagong tribe voted for a different person. Gretchen was voted out of the game in a 4-1-1-1-1-1 vote. After that, the Pagong tribe realised that they were now in a really bad situation. There were only four of them left, and five members of Tagi. The Pagong tribe had to decide how they were going to play the game now that they were on the bottom.
Once Jessica was voted out, Cole knew that the target was going to be on him. And to be fair to Cole, it is entirely possible that he was trying different strategies to get off the bottom– we just didn’t see it. From what we saw, Cole had one strategy to avoid being voted out and that was to play a physical game. We didn’t see Cole trying to save his fellow Healers, or trying to manoeuvre the numbers. We saw Cole talking about how good he was in the challenges, and that his best hope was just to win immunity. It’s not an impossible strategy, and to be fair to Cole, he is really, really good in the challenges. But as we saw this week, the physical game will only carry you so far. The social and strategic games are necessary if you are to win.
In Survivor: Borneo, one of the Pagong members, Greg Buis, had an unusual approach. He had stated that he was there to have fun, and he thought that alliances took away from that. If the game was going to get cutthroat, Greg didn’t want anything to do with it. He did try to create social bonds with the other players, but Greg knew that he was a huge target, and he didn’t really mind. In fact, Greg’s actions after Gretchen was voted out only served to increase the target on his back. He went into kamikaze mode when the game was no longer being played on his terms.
And this week, Dr Mike did the same. I don’t think that Mike has given up the same way that Greg had. But I think that Mike was extremely frustrated with being on the bottom and was itching to make a move. The idol has been burning a hole in his pocket for a while now, and every time Mike has been to Tribal Council, he has been blindsided by the result. Through using the idol, he could take control. He could be certain that he wasn’t going home, and after the quiet unassuming Desi was targeted last week, there is no guarantee that Mike wasn’t going home this week. And I can understand that Mike thought that by blowing up his game, he would ensure that votes were coming his way (although doing this back at camp would have been far more productive). What I can’t understand is why he would go to so much trouble to attract votes, annoying the majority alliance and possibly alienating anyone who was considering working with him- only to vote for Cole. The only way I think that Mike’s move works out is if he, Joe and Cole had worked together to get out one of the majority. Instead, Cole is gone, Mike has fewer numbers to work with, and Mike’s idol is gone too. I also think that through his attempt to attract votes, he has probably become more of a threat than Joe. Whereas I assumed that Mike would be the only Healer to survive the pagonging, I now think that Joe is much better positioned. In the space of one afternoon, Dr Mike completely blew up his game.
Mike was in such a good spot to start trying to form an alliance of his own. In Borneo, after losing Gretchen, Jenna Lewis realised that she was in a bad spot so she tried to approach the Tagi women, and see if she could create a female alliance. After Greg was voted out, Jenna realised that she couldn’t trust the Tagi women. She also knew that Sean was on the outside of the Tagi alliance. And so Jenna and Colleen joined with their fellow Pagong member Gervase Peterson to form a new alliance– and they tried to persuade Sean to join them. Ultimately, their alliance was unsuccessful. They didn’t have the social bonds with Sean to convince him, and Sean knew that he would be on the bottom of either alliance. For him, playing the game with the people that he knew seemed to be the better option. Jenna had left it too late to form her counter-alliance and was now helpless to stop her tribe from being eliminated one by one.
I think that Joe and Mike might have also left it too late. If they wanted to form a new alliance, and if they wanted to seize power in the game, they needed numbers and relationships. Mike had a strong relationship with Ben and Lauren and has proven to be personable in camp. The trouble was that nobody wanted to work with Joe or Cole. But now, with only two Healers left, it is possible that someone from the majority alliance will vote with Joe and Mike. They might be used as numbers, but I can’t see either of them getting into a position of power. Not only have they lost their numbers, but both of them have used idols unnecessarily, and have no weapons left at their disposal. All they have to offer is their vote. I can see at least one of them getting scooped up and used as a pawn– but they won’t be dictating the play.
In Borneo, the last of the Pagongs to be voted out was Colleen. And the night that she was voted out, the Tagi alliance were planning on turning on one of their own. Unfortunately for Colleen, Kelly Wiglesworth won immunity, and so Colleen was sent home in sixth place. But the reason that she lasted so long was that she was the least threatening member of the tribe. Like Greg, Colleen wasn’t really interested in playing the game once it became about alliances. But where Greg was outwardly trying to cosy up to the Tagi members and infiltrate the alliance, which made people feel threatened, Colleen began to withdraw from the game, strategizing less and less as the Pagong members got sent home. This non-strategising turned out to be the best possible strategy because she was under the radar, and therefore, she lasted the longest. But it wasn’t a winning strategy. Things are different now, though. This isn’t season one, and it is rare to see a tribe completely eliminated. Usually, those in the majority alliance will realise that they need the extra numbers. To be in Colleen’s position– the least threatening person in your original tribe– might be the key to making it to the end.
And the Colleen of the Healers tribe should have been Dr Mike. He’s been quiet, friendly, and not great in the challenges. He hasn’t been on anyone’s radar. But this week, he basically ruined all that. And that leaves Joe, who from the beginning has been the most aggressive player on the Healers tribe– and yet somehow has made it this far and is now in a great position. Joe’s strategy is to irritate people as much as possible, ensuring that he isn’t considered a threat by anyone. He’s seen Jessica and Desi go home, and he’s adjusted his gameplay accordingly. If people like Jessica and Desi are seen as threats, then Joe will be the opposite. It is genius, and it is working. Nobody thinks of Joe as a threat. People are starting to think of Joe as a goat. And I think everyone there, while they don’t particularly want to live with him, wants to sit next to Joe at the end.
The trouble with being the last remaining member of your tribe is that you end up in a powerless position. At the moment, Joe is hoping that he will be dragged along to the end of the game. And he might well be. But even if he gets to the end, and is able to expertly articulate his strategy, and explain that he was deliberately being over the top and as annoying as possible, I still don’t think he can get the votes. Juries vote for the person they like most. If they’ve spent the last 20 days being frustrated with Joe, feeling disrespected and irritated by him, they are still going to feel that way when voting. I think it is a brave strategy and might net him $100,000. I’m fascinated to see how it plays out, but I honestly don’t think it is a winning strategy.
The original Pagong tribe was doomed from the moment that Gretchen was voted out. And unfortunately for Joe and Mike, I think that the Healers are doomed too– probably from the moment Roark went home. The majority alliance is too cohesive– and the Healers never really got the chance to form close bonds with the other two tribes. I’d love to see things shake up–predictable pagonging never makes for good television– but the majority alliance really has no reason to include Mike or Joe in their plans. Of the two, I think that Joe is now in the best position, and I’m really invested in his game. I’d love to see what he would say if he reached the Final Tribal Council. Can’t see him winning, but I would love to be proven wrong.