I have to admit, I have found this week’s blog quite difficult to write. Last week, I received a great tweet from @bellatriksfang, who pointed out that Abi’s willingness to flip on her Ta Keo allies meant that I could just reprint the blog from the week before (where I had compared Abi to Sugar from Survivor: Gabon), and just replace every reference to Terry and Varner with Tasha and Savage. And she’s right. Survivor is constantly focusing on the poor Angkor tribe, and while they do make for some entertaining television, their gameplay is quite repetitive. Every week, someone is attaching themselves to Hurricane Abi, thinking that they will be the one to control her. And every week her emotional and unpredictable play is destroying somebody’s game. There are still half of the remaining cast who have yet to visit Tribal Council, and this means that the edit has been uneven. We’ve been watching the Abi and Jeff show.
It had to end at some point, and this week it was Varner’s turn to get burned. At Tribal Council, while Tasha and Savage debated whether to keep Woo or Varner, I was almost shouting at my screen: “Just vote Abi out!” But somehow Abi remains safe. We can already see Tasha’s frustration with Abi seeping out, and I don’t know how much longer Abi is going to stay loyal. Once the merge happens, there will be no shortage of people who are whispering sweet nothings into Abi’s ear. She’s a valuable ally- she is likely the only person in the game who literally has zero percent chance to win the game. If Tasha and Savage continue to keep her around, it will be at their own peril.
So this week, I wanted to look at another player’s game. Most of the Ta Keo and Bayon members are presumably playing quiet and peaceable games, making friends and living in harmony. We’ve hardly heard from players like Ciera, Monica, Keith or Kimmi at all. Kass has been deliberately staying out of trouble. And until we see these players go to Tribal, we won’t truly know how well they are playing, but one player looks to be in a really solid position and that is Jeremy.
Jeremy has come into this game with a plan, and it actually reminds me of the game that was played by Todd Herzog, the winner of Survivor: China. He’s aligned himself with people that are stronger than he is (for Todd, this was Aaron and James), so that he is not going to be the most obvious target when the merge comes. He’s also aligned with people that are weaker than he is (For Todd, this was Courtney, and having Courtney around meant that Todd knew that if his tribemates were voting to keep the tribe strong, then he would be safe) and whom he trusts. Jeremy’s set himself up with alliances that should protect him at the merge, and, for this reason, this week’s lesson comes to us from Survivor: Caramoan, and the fourth place finisher, Eddie Fox.
Eddie, like Jeremy, was a firefighter and an obvious physical threat. He was an asset in challenges pre-merge, and he seemed that he would be a threat for immunity post-merge. However, due for the most part to luck on Eddie’s part, he managed to do what very few physical players can- at the merge, Eddie was not seen as a threat. Nobody was targeting Eddie, and they should have been. He did have the physical ability to win immunities, and he was a genuinely nice guy who was liked by the jury. He finished the game only one immunity win away from winning the million dollars.
Survivor: Caramoan was a Fans vs Favourites season, and Eddie started the game on the Fans Tribe. He hit the beach and instantly became part of a watertight four-person alliance of all of the ‘cool kids’, which was unfortunate because he was on a tribe of ten people. The other six, led by Sherri Beithman, joined together. Eddie’s alliance was decimated as the fans lost early challenges, with Eddie himself barely scraping through the vote. Each time he was saved, it was his physicality that saved him. The tribe needed him for the challenges. By the time the tribes were swapped, Eddie’s alliance was down to two people- him and Reynold Toepfer.
At the merge, Eddie and Reynold linked up with Malcolm Freberg, another strong male. Malcolm convinced the two Fans to join him in a new alliance, telling them that as the three biggest physical threats in the game, they needed to protect each other. Malcolm could see what Jeremy sees this season- the danger in entering the merge without any protection. The three of them, who started to refer to themselves as the ‘three amigos’ did stay together, but they were always on the wrong side of the numbers.
Of the three, Eddie was clearly the least threatening. Malcolm was a returning player and had already shown himself to be charming and strategic. Reynold had shown that he was able to find immunity idols without clues. And Eddie had not shown much of anything. It was Reynold who was the bigger threat in challenges and had won individual immunity. And it was Malcolm who was making the flashy moves, most notably making the famous double idol play, where he used immunity idols to protect both himself and Eddie, forcing the majority alliance to turn on each other and voting out Phillip Shepherd.
Once Eddie’s allies had been voted out, the majority alliance started to target each other. With Reynold and Malcolm out of the game, Eddie was seen as powerless and was able to float through two more votes before finally being voted out in fourth. And this happens often in Survivor history. That least threatening member of a majority alliance is forgotten about. The majority always have bigger fish to fry, bigger threats to target. And because of that, players who enter the merge in Eddie’s position always get close to the end. Some players, such as Danni Boatwright in Survivor: Guatemala or Chris Daugherty in Survivor: Vanuatu, are able to parlay their unthreatening status into a million dollars. Both of them were like Eddie, the quietest, least physically threatening members of their alliance. Once their alliance was voted out, the other players spared Danni and Chris and began to turn on each other. Both Danni and Chris were able to do what Eddie could not- win that final immunity challenge and guarantee themselves a spot at the Final Tribal Council.
Now, I’m not advocating that anybody look to Eddie as a model for how to play Survivor. He spent most of his time in the game completely oblivious to what was going on. He played a good social game, and didn’t make any enemies, but at the same time, he didn’t make any moves. He voted against the majority at every Tribal Council that he attended. I do, however, think that players who are physical threats need to learn something from the game of Eddie and others like him. If you are a physical threat, the biggest thing that you need to find in the game is a shield. Tony Vlachos had his shields in Tasha and Spencer. As long as everyone was worried about beating them, nobody thought to come after Tony. Last season, Tyler tried to use Mike as a shield. He rallied everyone against Mike, hoping that people would forget that Tyler was also a physical threat.
There is no one way to play Survivor. Someone like Jeremy or Joe cannot play the same game as someone like Kimmi or Ciera. Their physicality cannot be hidden. For Joe, this has been something of a problem, as he is continually putting in dominant performances in the challenges, and it isn’t going unnoticed. Everyone likes him, but as Stephen noted, he is the kind of player that you vote out when you get to the merge, but I’m not sure what else Joe could be doing. He only just played last season- his challenge prowess is fresh in the memory of these contestants. He can’t pretend to be weak, and if they expect him to step up and he doesn’t perform, he starts to look untrustworthy.
Joe made the right decision this week letting Terry compete in the hero reward challenge. If Ta Keo had asked Joe to compete, I’m sure he would have dominated, but when Terry offered himself up, Joe did the right thing in keeping quiet and letting someone else have a hero moment. At the moment, it is Joe who is in the Reynold/Malcolm spot. He’s a strong and obvious target, just waiting to get picked off the second that he loses immunity. He needs to do everything that he can to jump into the Eddie spot, and to do that he needs to find someone who will become a bigger threat. He has to somehow convince at least two or three of these people that they could take him to the end and win.
It’s not easy to do, and that is why I have been so impressed by Jeremy’s game so far. He knows what happens to physically strong players when the merge comes. He’s done everything that he can to shield himself from the attack that he knows is coming. He isn’t just going to blindly trust in his alliance- that’s what led to his blindside in San Juan Del Sur. This time, Jeremy is coming in knowing that he is playing this game with self-interested people. This time he understands that given a choice between going to the Final Tribal Council with Jeremy or with Abi, the other players are going to choose to be sitting with Abi every time. He knows that he needs to somehow find someone who will happily go to the end with him, and he is working hard to do so.
Before the game even started, Jeremy already knew who he wanted to work with. He was one of the few who could articulate his mistakes from his previous season and had a plan to fix them. He wasn’t going to make an all women’s alliance on the first day. Instead, he wanted to surround himself with other players that nobody would want to take to the end. He wanted to vote out the physically weak, and leave all the targets in the game for as long as possible. The person he most wanted on his side was Joe, because as he said in the first episode, “There’s no bigger shield than Joe!” His reasoning is that when the merge comes, people are coming for Joe before they start looking at Jeremy. Jeremy’s performance in this week’s ‘hero’ challenge means that they will likely see Savage and Terry as bigger threats than Jeremy as well. He’s bought himself some breathing room.
Not only is he doing his best not to seem like a physical threat, but he wants people to underestimate his strategic acumen as well. In this way he’s taking a lesson from the winner of his season, Natalie Anderson. Natalie allowed her alliance to completely underestimate her, to the point that they believed her when she said she had made a mistake and voted for the wrong person. It wasn’t until the end of the game that it became clear to those on the jury that Natalie had been the one in control. She saved her biggest moves until last- using her idol to blindside Baylor Wilson at final five is a good example. Natalie was great at allowing other people to feel like they were the ones in control, and I think Jeremy is attempting to duplicate this ability. He’s going to keep quiet, doing everything he can to keep the target off his back.
Jeremy has himself in the Eddie position. What Eddie managed to achieve through sheer luck, Jeremy is accomplishing by skill, and it is exciting to watch. He’s placed himself in the perfect spot to go deep into this game. And this week he gave himself another option, cultivating a relationship with Stephen. He spent time with Stephen searching for the idol, gaining Stephen’s trust in the hope that Stephen would take him to the end. As a fan of Stephen, I would hope that he is smart enough not to fall into that trap, because if he does, Jeremy will destroy Stephen in the end just as convincingly as JT did in Survivor: Tocantins. We saw him in the first episode re-establishing his relationship with Keith, hoping that Keith would warn him of any impending blindsides. It didn’t work in San Juan Del Sur, but I admire the thought behind it. Jeremy’s forming relationships. People like him. And surely, if people like him, they won’t blindside him. If only that was the way that Survivor worked!
While I’m not sure how useful Keith will prove to be, Jeremy has got another thing on his side, and that is the immunity idol, which he has told nobody about. He has first-hand experience of how quickly things can change in Survivor and having the idol there as his ‘get out of jail free card’ must give him some feeling of security. Jeremy’s in a good spot, and he knows it.
Jeremy’s been doing everything right, and should enter the merge as Eddie did- without a target on his back. Over on Angkor though, Savage is doing the opposite. While Jeremy has worked hard to surround himself with people that will shield him at the merge, Savage and Tasha are holding onto Abi, who is potentially the most dangerous person in the game. In a game where there are so few goats, Abi is a prized commodity. She’s not going to be a shield for anybody.
I’m guessing that Savage plans to reunite with Jeremy, Joe and Keith when the merge comes. Again, because that alliance hasn’t been tested by Tribal Council, we don’t actually know how strong it is, but we were shown that Savage has a close relationship with Jeremy. If things continue to go downhill at Angkor, Tasha and Savage aren’t going to have any other options.
In Survivor: Pearl Islands, Savage was voted out at the merge. There were many factors at play in that outcome- particularly the ‘outcasts’ twist, where the previously eliminated contestants were allowed a chance to rejoin the game. Understandably, Savage hadn’t factored this into his game, and he had treated his eliminated tribemates with little respect. When one of the outcasts, Lil, decided that she wanted to vote Savage out, there was little that he could do to sway her.
The biggest reason that Savage was eliminated from the game in Pearl Islands was that he went into the merge in the Reynold/Malcolm spot. He was easily the biggest threat in a minority alliance, both strategically and physically. He had been the one driving the strategic decisions and deciding whom to vote out. He had also been a giant in the challenges, stepping up and singlehandedly winning immunity for his tribe. So it was no surprise that when the opposing tribe gained the majority, it was Savage who was first to go. Interestingly, the least threatening member of that alliance, Darrah Johnson, finished in fourth place, just as Eddie did in Caramoan.
It seems to me that Savage is playing the same game. He didn’t do himself any favours in the hero challenge, showing that even without any food or sleep, he was still just as strong as anyone else in the game. Savage can’t seem to help himself. He has to stand out in front. He has to take the credit. And in doing so, he is making himself the perfect shield for Jeremy to hide behind. When Savage was once again talking about his demons from Pearl Islands, one of his concerns was that he didn’t do enough. “Did I pull my own weight?” he wondered. I thought that showed that Savage lacks the self-awareness that has put Jeremy into such a good position. Savage’s problem in Pearl Islands wasn’t that he didn’t do enough. It was that he did too much and left the other players completely unwilling to take him to the end.
In Caramoan, Eddie was able to shield himself behind players who were stronger than him both physically and strategically in Reynold and Malcolm. Because of his unassuming game, both Reynold and Malcolm were voted out in quick succession, while Eddie was incredibly close to making it to the end, where he posed a real threat to win. Strong physical players like Jeremy, Joe, Terry or Savage need to surround themselves with similar players. As Jeremy rightly saw, people are going to come after Joe or Savage first. And that will be Jeremy’s warning that he should stop feeling comfortable.
Jeremy’s strategy looks impressive on paper. He seems to have put himself into a strong alliance, with plenty of options going forward. But his strategy has yet to be truly tested. Given the chance, will Bayon vote out a weaker player, or will they instead follow the path of the original Ta Keo, and be unable to resist taking out a perceived threat?
I’d love to see one of two things happen next week. Either Bayon or Ta Keo need to lose the challenge, thus saving Angkor from yet another Tribal Council, or there needs to be some kind of a tribe swap. I don’t want to see Angkor continue to lose. Their exhaustion after this week’s challenge was scary, and if it continues, we might see some medivacs. Not only do I want to see Angkor win, I also want to see the dynamics on the other tribes. I can’t see the original Bayon members being predictable and sticking together, completely pagonging the original Ta Keos. I’d like to see Jeremy put his plan into motion. Spencer and Kelly, who are in the minority on Bayon, are both strong physical players, the kind of people that Jeremy wants to keep around. Does this mean that he will turn on his original teammates? Neither Kimmi or Monica are ever going to be targeted for their physical ability. They aren’t going to shield Jeremy. I wonder if we’ll see him put his pre-game strategy ahead of his early game friendships.