Six episodes into Survivor: Kaoh Rong, and six blogs into the season, I am seeing a clear pattern emerging in the story. We’ve seen Jason and Scot completely disregard Alecia as a player. We’ve seen Peter and Liz treat everyone in the Brains tribe as if they were clay rather than people. Interestingly, although it seems clear that Peter and Liz were equally at fault in that situation (This week, Aubry referred to them as a perfect match), it was without doubt Peter that was edited as the arrogant, out of touch player. Peter’s social game seemed worse than Liz’s. From the perspective of the viewer, Liz was simply collateral damage. It was Peter that alienated Debbie, Joe, Neal and Aubry. But because he was better in the challenges, it was Liz that paid the price. This week, we saw the emergence of the previously invisible former RHAP blogger Nick, whose entire storyline now is that he is treating the women of the tribe (Debbie and Michele in particular) with condescension. The story of this season seems to be that of the overconfident male, underestimating the abilities of the women around him.
Debbie has repeated it now twice (three times if you count the fact that her quote was used in the opening recap) – she wants to see a woman win this game. And it seems to me that a woman winning is exactly what the editors are setting us up for. I think this season will be won by a woman: a woman who is playing a quiet and unassuming game; a woman who is being underestimated by everyone around them; a woman like Cydney, who can lie back and not get involved in conflict, or a woman like Aubry, who is able to work behind the scenes to make the move that is most logical for her; even a woman like Julia, who everyone seems to think is completely naïve and honest to a fault. At this point, I actually think all of the women left are playing games that could win them a million dollars.
For the most part, the men seem to be embracing the strategic and physical parts of the game, but neglecting to see that Survivor is in large part a social game. Jason has now irritated the women on both of his tribes. Peter’s only friend in the game was Liz. If Beauty had gone to Tribal Council, Nick would have gone home, and yet he thinks that he should be giving Michele advice on how to play. The women are going to win this season because the men are going to overlook them all until it is too late. The condescending way that Nick, in particular, was speaking to Michele, and his assumption that she is someone who needs to be carried in the game, means that this week’s lesson in Survivor history is coming to us from season 20, Heroes vs Villains, and the quintessential Survivor strong, independent woman- second place finisher Parvati Shallow.
Parvati came into Heroes vs Villains with an enormous target on her back. She was a recent winner, having won season 16, Survivor: Micronesia. Not only had she won the game, but she had done so in a devastatingly flashy way, leading a strong alliance of women, and being part of blindside after blindside. If her reputation as a schemer wasn’t enough, Parvati had another problem. She was on the Villains tribe, whereas Amanda and Cirie, her alliance partners from Micronesia, were on the Heroes tribe. Everyone on the Villains tribe assumed that Parvati was untrustworthy and was just waiting for the merge so she could flip. Not surprisingly, Parvati didn’t have a lot of potential allies on the Villains tribe.
There were two notable exceptions–two players that were prepared to align themselves with Parvati. One, Danielle DiLorenzo, aligned herself with Parvati knowing that in Micronesia, Parvati had been part of a successful women’s alliance. That alliance had included Cirie, whmo Danielle had worked with in Survivor: Panama. Danielle was willing to ally with Parvati because she thought that working with Parvati would be the best thing for her game. The other exception was Russell Hantz.
Russell only really knew how to play the game one way– and that was aggressively. He liked to be the leader of the alliance. He needed to feel like he was the one making the strategic decisions. Russell’s end game strategy was to be sitting in the final three next to two ‘weaker’ players– players that, according to Russell, did nothing in the game. In Survivor: Samoa, Russell had followed the game plan, and lost to Natalie White, despite the fact that at Final Tribal Council, Natalie didn’t talk about any strategic moves that she had made. In Heroes vs Villains, Russell intended on playing the same way. He wanted to find himself two goats, two people that did nothing but let Russell carry them to the end. And early in the game, Russell identified Parvati as one of those players. Although every other player on the Villains tribe saw Parvati as a huge threat in the game, Russell underestimated her. He went so far as to tell her that if she wanted to make it far in the game, she would have to ride his coattails, to which she responded: “I don’t ride coattails, baby.”
Watching Nick and Michele interact during this episode reminded me so much of that scene: you have the overconfident male with limited social awareness wrongly assuming that the woman he is speaking to is completely incompetent in the game. Unlike Parvati, Michele simply kept quiet and let Nick think that he was the mastermind. In confessional, she said: “Right now, what I’m going to do is just let Nick baby me, and he can believe that I need all the help that he can offer, like the innocent little girl, like I’m stupid, but actually, I’m a strong independent woman, and when it comes time to make a move, then I will. I don’t need to be carried, bro.” To Nick’s face, she just smiled and nodded, which I think shows just how good Michele’s social game is.
Parvati could not stomach Russell treating her as if she were incompetent. She worked hard at showing Russell that she was her own player, culminating in Parvati finding an immunity idol, and keeping it between her and Danielle. When Russell found out what Parvati had done, he was furious. He moved to get Danielle out of the game, and if it hadn’t been for Parvati winning a string of immunities, Russell would likely have voted her out as well. As it was, Parvati made it to the final three, where the jury was furious with her, equating her alliance with Russell to a violent relationship. Although she tried to paint a picture of Russell as her pet, she couldn’t convince the jury, who voted to give the million dollars to Sandra Diaz-Twine, who had never been associated with Russell at all. Despite Parvati’s desire to be seen as an independent player, the jury saw her as Russell had originally seen her–as his pawn.
It is never ideal when you realise that other players see you as a goat. It must be a massive blow to the ego when others start treating you as a child. For Parvati, as a former winner of the game, the ego blow was too much. It is interesting to see the women this season, who are in a similar position as Parvati was with Russell and are handling their position very differently. The women left in the game seem to embrace the idea of being underestimated. For many of them, it is their main strategy in the game. They don’t seem to be in a hurry to prove that they don’t ride coattails. For now, they are happy to stay in the background and let the game play out.
Nick clearly sees Michele as a potential pawn. She’s a young, attractive bartender, and Nick has obviously identified her as a recruit with very little knowledge of the game. He said in confessional: “I have to almost coach Michele in this game. She’s young and she doesn’t really know how to manipulate, so that’s going to be my job from here on out– making sure Michele is under my wing, and making sure she says the right thing and comes across the right way.” Of course, the irony here is that it is Nick who has very little awareness of how he comes across to his tribemates. Michele has a keen understanding of the tribe dynamics. She knows she’s vulnerable on this swapped tribe, but I think she also knows that her position improves significantly when the merge comes. She isn’t a challenge threat. She isn’t an obvious social or strategic threat either. She has no target on her back at all, unlike Nick, who is setting himself up perfectly to be the typical merge boot. It was very similar to Russell, who had never won the game, trying to tell a former winner that all she had to do was follow him.
Michele was rightfully irritated by the way that Nick spoke to her, shutting down her ideas and treating her as if she were a child. She said: “The way that Nick speaks to me is not in a way that I would ever tolerate a man speaking to me in my regular life”. But instead of telling Nick that she wasn’t a child and had no intention of blindly following his orders, Michele said nothing. It was smart of her; Nick is a possible number in the future. If he thinks Michele is someone he can control, then he isn’t going to target Michele going forward. In fact, he is likely to try to protect Michele. To win Survivor, you need to make sure that the majority of people want to keep you around. Michele is making sure that keeping her around is in Nick’s best interest. I really liked the way that she dealt with Nick, and I think it speaks well of her ability to win the game.
Michele isn’t the only female being underestimated. This season, we have a plethora of them. I’ve written at length about Debbie and her strategy before. She is actively encouraging people to underestimate her by behaving in a way that is as outlandish and kooky as possible. While the other players see her as eccentric, they also see her as honest. Nobody thinks she is capable of deception, and so she has become a sought-after ally. This week, we saw Nick join the long line of people who have underestimated Debbie, as he was convinced that Debbie had a crush on him. Debbie admitted that she found Nick attractive, but emphatically stated that it would have no effect on her strategy whatsoever. Her goal was to make it to the merge, and she would have voted Nick out if it was expedient, no matter how chiselled his features are.
Julia is another female whose main strategy is to hide how much of a threat she really is. Anna was voted out last week for appearing too threatening. She was obviously strong, and obviously had the ability to manipulate the other players. For the Gondol tribe, swapping Anna for Julia wasn’t simply swapping like for like. In their minds, they had voted out someone who was a real player and replaced her with a naïve little girl. Peter had seen Anna as shady, but as soon as Julia arrived, he was desperate to work with her. He said: “I was happy Julia came in for Anna because she wasn’t, from my initial impressions, someone that was conniving.”
Peter had been itching to make a move against his former Brains tribe since Liz was voted out. And he has a history of underestimating people– he and Liz firmly believed that they were in control of the Brains tribe and that Debbie and Joe were loyal soldiers who would do as they were told. Debbie and Joe showed him that they were anything but, blindsiding Liz and then making it clear to Peter that he was on the bottom of the tribe. And yet, Peter never learnt his lesson. As soon as he saw Julia, he thought he had found himself that elusive loyal follower. Like Nick with Michele, Peter assumed that in Julia, he had an extra vote in his pocket. He thought that he could tell her what to do, and she would follow.
Of course, we know that he was wrong. Julia, like everyone else in the game, was put off by Peter’s overconfidence. She started to make moves of her own. It was Julia who correctly identified that in order to get the numbers on their side, she Scot and Tai had to approach Aubry, not Joe. Julia is a much stronger player than everyone is giving her credit for. She is great at being non-threatening and pleasant to be around. And I would give Julia the credit for getting Peter out– trying to get Aubry on board instead of going to Joe was a crucial move. I think it showed that Julia’s social game is more than just being nice: She’s incredibly observant too. When it was her Survivor life on the line, Julia showed that she had the ability to think clearly and act calmly. Like Michele and Debbie, Julia doesn’t mind that people think she is easily manipulated. She’s happy to play under the radar.
The player that has proven to be the biggest surprise for me this season is Cydney. Pre-season, I was basically hoping that she would be Abi-Maria on steroids. Her video talked about her multiple personalities. She was going to be so entertaining, and I couldn’t wait to watch her. And instead of crazy Cydney coming to play, what we actually have is a well-balanced, skilled player, and someone who is in probably the best position to win the game- although I have certainly been wrong about my Survivor predictions before. Knowing my past form, Cydney will probably go home next week, but at the moment, her position in the game is perfect.
Everyone seems to want to work with Cydney. She hasn’t made a single enemy throughout the entire game. What she has done really well is stay quiet. She’s playing the Danni Boatwright stealth bomber game, and she’s on nobody’s radar right now. We’ve seen how tight her bonds on the original Brawn tribe were. Every single person on that tribe believed that they had an alliance with Cydney. And one by one, she voted those people out of the game. Darnell thought he was tighter with Cydney than anyone else. She voted for him. Jenny relied on Cydney as her closest ally, and Cydney voted her out. Alecia felt so close to Cydney that she shared the idol clue with her, and Cydney still voted her out. She’s voted out three people, all of whom felt they were in an alliance with her, and she’s done it in such a skilful way that she has never been targeted.
The only thing that worries me about Cydney is that she might be in that Parvati spot. Parvati ended up working with Russell right to the end, and the jury certainly didn’t respect her for it. Cydney seems bound to stick with her original tribemates from Brawn. The way that Scot and Jason treated Alecia was deplorable. And so far, there have been no consequences for either of them. Scot, in particular, seems to have moved on unscathed–we have seen him embrace his new tribe and be embraced by them in return. He has treated everyone on his tribe with respect, and in the case where Scot makes it to the end, I can see the jury liking him enough to award him the million. Jason is another story. While Jason went somewhat missing this episode, what we saw of him was the same things we were seeing on the Brawn tribe. Debbie and Michele are targeting him, primarily because they don’t like him (although in Michele’s case, it might just be that she’ll vote for anyone, as long as she isn’t going home).
In Heroes vs Villains, I believe that Parvati’s greatest mistake was sticking with Russell, especially after he voted Danielle out of the game. By continuing in that alliance, she lost the votes of the heroes. It didn’t matter how many strategic moves that she had made, the heroes didn’t want to vote for someone that helped Russell make it to the end. I think that so far, Cydney has been really good at observing what is going on around her. She’ll need to continue with that and make sure she is observing what is going on in the jury. If Jason turns into a Russell-like figure, then Cydney needs to disassociate from him quickly. She can’t go into Final Tribal Council with the perception that she has ridden his coattails.
Parvati’s entire game was based around her being strong and independent. Russell offered her the chance to ride his coattails, and she immediately refused. She made moves without letting Russell know. She went out of her way to prove to Russell, and to the other players, that she was not under his thumb. And her gameplay did get her to the final three. Who knows, if she, and not Russell, had won the final immunity, Parvati could have won the game.
While I have all the admiration in the world for Parvati’s Heroes vs Villains game, I have to say that the understated gameplay of the women this season is really impressive. Long term, the best strategy is to keep your options open. Don’t discount working with anyone, no matter how condescending they might be. Going into the merge, the women are all in good positions, because all of the women (except perhaps Aubry, depending on how Joe feels about her now) have strong relationships with the other players. I think Debbie is going to get her wish. It is looking like a woman is going to win this thing.