It is so good to be back into Survivor, and returning to the RHAP team to blog my second season. If you haven’t read the blog before, I like to take a look back at past seasons and players, and look at how the current players can learn strategic lessons from Survivor‘s past.
While the premiere may not have lived up to the ‘best ever’ hype bestowed on it by Jeff Probst, it was an enjoyable episode, and strategically it was certainly a step up from San Juan Del Sur. The cutthroat approach that so many players bring to the game in Worlds Apart really highlighted some of the flaws of the blood vs water format, and it looks like we are in for a really exciting and unpredictable season. Each tribe has a strong storyline and likable characters. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what will play out.
This season sees a return to the three tribe format, last seen in Cagayan. Survivor fans have seen the format three times before: in Cagayan (season 28), Philippines (season 25) and originally in All Stars (season eight). Each time, we’ve had what Boston Rob would refer to as the ‘buffoon tribe’, a tribe that seemingly has no ability to win, and pretty much self-destructs. The first time around, in All Stars, we had Saboga, who lost two of three immunity challenges, only won one reward, and built themselves an underground shelter that flooded. Since Saboga, every three-tribe season has had one tribe suffer the same fate- the curse of Saboga, if you will. Philippines had Matsing, who lost four of four immunity challenges and Cagayan had the wonderful Luzon, who lost three of four challenges and threw their rice on the fire. What is interesting about these three tribes is that they were all the tribe who lost the very first immunity challenge of the season. Losing that first challenge on a three tribe season might just be insurmountable.
The best thing about having three tribes of six is that it forces the players to work harder. In a tribe of nine or ten people, a five-person alliance can form on day one, and then coast to the end of the game, leading to some very predictable and almost boring television. With smaller tribes, a day one alliance is unlikely to get you to day 39.
The biggest flaw of the three tribe format is that if you lose the first immunity challenge, odds are that your tribe will return to Tribal Council, probably multiple times. And with so many great characters on the Masaya tribe, I’m devastated that this is the fate which seems to await them. But the momentum is now with the blue and no collar tribes. And from this point on, the blue collar and no collar tribes have a huge advantage- they can sit their weakest player out of immunity challenges. Dan and Nina both struggled with the physical components of this week’s challenge. But next week, Dan and Nina won’t have to play. White collar have no choice. Their weakest players will have to compete. And that is why they will likely lose.
So, having gotten into this situation, what can the white collar tribe actually do to improve their position in the game? For the answer to that question, we are going back to season eight for this week’s lesson in Survivor history. We are going to look at the game of Jenna Lewis from Survivor: All Stars.
Jenna was on the six person tribe of Saboga, consisting of Jenna, 75 year old Rudy Boesch, Jerri Manthey, Rupert Boneham and former winners Tina Wesson and Ethan Zohn. Jenna, who had finished eighth on the first season of the show, came back hungry for success. Her philosophy was that the winners had had their chance and should be eliminated first. When Saboga lost the first immunity challenge, the thought of keeping the tribe strong wasn’t important to Jenna. She wanted to keep people in the game that she was willing to work with, and she was not prepared to work with any former winners. Jenna, Jerri, Rupert and Tina voted together, and Tina was the first person to get her torch snuffed.
Saboga went on to lose the next immunity challenge, at which point Jenna had to admit that the strength of the tribe was more important than any other agenda. Seventy-five years old and nursing a leg injury, Rudy was voted out, despite everyone in the tribe trusting Rudy and wanting to work with him. Having him competing in the immunity challenges made him too much of a liability. The move paid off for them- with no Tribal Council the next episode when Jenna Morasca quit the game, and Saboga finally winning immunity on day 11. On day 13, Saboga was dissolved, with Rupert and Jenna sent to join the Chapera tribe.
At Chapera, Rupert and Jenna were able to join with Rob Mariano and Amber Brkich, making an alliance that would see them all the way to the final four. This seems to be another effect of the Saboga curse- another pattern that keeps repeating itself. Rupert and Jenna made it out of Saboga to the final four in All Stars, Malcolm and Denise made it out of Matsing to the final four in Philippines and Spencer and Kass made it out of Luzon to the final four in Cagayan. Even if Masaya does go on to lose the next few immunities, it does not necessarily spell doom in the game for all of the white collar members. They need to follow the lessons of Jenna to put themselves in a good position for the inevitable tribe swap.
And who seems to be in the Jenna position over at Masaya? Who is it that is making all the crucial decisions? Who is driving the majority alliance? Jenna established herself as the leader of the majority alliance simply by being the most vocal. It was Jenna who led the ‘get rid of the winners’ mentality. It was Jenna who made the decision to cut Rudy, despite Rupert refusing to vote against his ally. When Jenna made the tribe swap, she quietly joined with another majority alliance, and voted with them, which is what got Malcolm, Denise and Kass so far in the game also. Although I think that intentionally Matsinging- losing every tribal immunity- is a dangerous strategy, it can be an effective one. A few members of a decimated tribe can make very attractive alliance partners.
Masaya’s decision came down to strength vs trust. It was clear to all of them at Tribal Council that this vote was crucial. As Jeff Probst put it, ‘with only six people, you got to be right in who you vote out’. With only six people, you can’t afford multiple trips to Tribal Council. And as Tyler put it, “We make the wrong call tonight, we go in physically weaker, emotionally weaker, whatever weaker for another challenge, we’re going to be right back here.’ Jenna and the Saboga tribe made the call to go in physically weaker, only to lose the next immunity challenge. Masaya ended up making the same decision, and I expect we will see the same results.
So and Joaquin had shown themselves to be untrustworthy in the first few hours of the game, both stepping forward as leaders of the tribe, and then choosing a smaller bag of beans in order to get the clue for the hidden immunity idol. So’s introduction to the game made it clear to the viewers that she was dangerous. Her first confessional told us ‘I guess I’m the devil, yeah.’ But when we saw So faced with the decision to be either honest or duplicitous, she wasn’t sure. It was Joaquin, telling her that honesty was the stupid decision, who made the choice. On their way back to camp, So decided to tell their tribemates that there had been three options- honesty, deception and neutral- and they had chosen the neutral box.
In a tribe full of superfans, it is no surprise that nobody bought the lie. It was clear to Max, Shirin and Carolyn that there had been two options. The choice that So and Joaquin made immediately raised red flags, although both Carolyn and Max later expressed their opinion that deception had indeed been the right choice- So’s mistake was, ironically in not making a more believable lie. Because she was a terrible liar, she was deemed untrustworthy. However, despite their apparent untrustworthiness, both So and Joaquin had shown themselves to be assets in the challenge, with So’s focus and tenacity standing out.
On the other hand, Carolyn and Shirin both struggled in the challenge, with Shirin completely bombing on what was supposedly the easiest puzzle ever (could they not have swapped the puzzle once they saw how hard it was? The blue collars simply copied the no collar puzzle, and I don’t really understand why the white collars didn’t swap puzzles and do the same thing). Carolyn and Shirin both understood the need to keep the tribe strong- it was an unarguable fact that one of the women was going home. Carolyn said ‘it’s going to be a girl tonight. We all know that. Because everyone’s going to see the girls as weaker than the guys.’ And while So wasn’t the strongest physical player on the Masaya tribe, she was certainly the strongest woman.
Was it the right choice to send home their strongest woman? Obviously, So didn’t think so. In her final words, she said “They definitely made a mistake. You’re going to see that team self-destruct; because they did, they kicked off someone who was obviously an asset in challenges.’ And she has a point. To me, the no collar tribe, led by Joe, who was Ozzy-level amazing in the challenge (and then he even did the puzzle! He’s unstoppable!), seem unbeatable. They can sit Nina out, and although I was worried about Will’s fitness levels coming into the game, he performed just fine in the first challenge. I cannot see them losing immunity at all, and I think all of them will make the tribe swap. Blue collar are slightly more vulnerable. While Dan was a liability, he can now sit out of challenges, and the rest of them seem to be fairly fit. There are some weaknesses though- Lindsey had some trouble in the challenge, and they only got through the puzzle because they had the good sense to copy off the no collars. There is a possibility that white collar could compete with blue collar, but voting out So did not give them the best chance of doing that. I think they made the wrong decision, and I am expecting the white collar tribe to be decimated over the next few weeks. Who will be the surviving members of Masaya? Some are in better positions than others.
In All Stars, Jenna put herself in a strong position by becoming the leader and controlling the votes. She also might not have been the strongest person on her tribe, but she was not as physically weak as Rudy, meaning that if the tribe was voting based on strength, they weren’t coming for Jenna straight away. This season, Carolyn is in a similar position, but with the added bonus of having an immunity idol in her back pocket. Carolyn was presented as the decision maker this week- So was a threat to her game, and So went home. And while Carolyn is never going to be a challenge powerhouse, Shirin is looking like she is the weakest member, and if the tribe is going to vote based on strength, Shirin should be the target. Carolyn is in a great spot- for now.
Shirin is going to have to hope that her strong social bonds hold, or that Carolyn fails spectacularly in some way, or she will be out next week. Carolyn has told Tyler that she has the idol, so I don’t think Tyler is going to want to vote against her. If they realise how much they need Joaquin’s strength, then Shirin is going to have to do some scrambling. I’m not sure that Tyler and Max are going to want to keep both her and Carolyn around.
Joaquin is obviously in some trouble. He’s the only one who voted with So, and he has been outed as someone who is more than willing to play dishonestly. On the outside of the majority alliance, and with little understanding of the game, I’m not sure what Joaquin can do to save himself, besides giving a mighty effort in the challenge. And that is really Joaquin’s only shot at making it any further in the game- that the remaining members of Masaya realise that they will need to start voting based on strength if they are to have any hope in the game at all.
And that brings us to Tyler and Max, who this week were the crucial swing votes. At the moment, their strength is valued by the tribe, but they also seemed to have everyone willing to trust them. At Tribal Council, So tried to blow up Max’s game, telling the tribe that Max had committed to an alliance with her and Joaquin, and he also keeps making comments that make him seem a little less than 100% honest and trustworthy. He said at Tribal Council that he would have chosen to deceive, but that he would have done a better job lying about it. He told Jeff Probst that he was excited the ‘Survivor gods’ had given him so much drama at his first tribal council. It sounded like Max wanted to be seen as the villain, and that might be his undoing. Tyler, on the other hand, was the picture of trustworthiness, and if Joaquin is the next out, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the women stick with Tyler over Max.
One of the interesting things about Jenna Lewis’ game, and something that repeated itself every time we have seen the three tribe format was that early misfortune was translated into late game success. Because Jenna started off on Saboga, when the tribe swap happened she wasn’t seen as a threat. Interestingly too, the tribe swap came after she voted off an ally she knew she could trust (Rudy) and she ended up with a far more loyal ally in Rupert. When Saboga was dissolved, Jenna ended up with Rupert by default, but it was a partnership that lasted until the final four. Even though Rupert couldn’t stand Jenna, and wished he wasn’t allied with her, he was far too loyal to ever betray her. He was so loyal that he stayed helplessly by her side, despite it being clear that at final four, Jenna would join with Rob and Amber and vote him out. From this point, if she wins final three immunity, Jenna wins the game.
I really, really didn’t want to see Masaya vote out So. I thought it was the wrong decision, and they should have gone for strength. But from here, with their strongest woman gone, they are likely to be doomed as a tribe, and the white collar members should start thinking individually. They just need to hang on until the tribe swap- which traditionally happens after four people have left the game. Once they get to the tribe swap, they’ll have two things in their favour. Firstly, their small numbers will help them to seem less of a threat, and sneak under the radar, and they will be easily assimilated into bigger alliances. But more importantly, visiting Tribal Council early, while it is a bad thing for your tribe, can often be an advantage for your individual game.
In All Stars, Jenna played hard out of the gate. She was nervous, and desperate to make an impact in the game. By the time she arrived at Chapera, she was a much calmer player. At Saboga, she was the always vocal leader, almost forcing the other members to vote with her. At Chapera, she was able to sit back and make social bonds. She made herself (and Rupert) available as extra votes for Rob, and it was that calmer, under the radar approach that got her so close to winning the game.
Both the blue collar and no collar tribes will be tribes divided by the time they get to the tribe swap. I really don’t see no collar losing immunity, but winning in the challenges won’t translate to a happy camp. Next week’s preview suggests that Nina is going to lose her temper with the rest of the tribe, and Vince’s weird and creepy attitude towards Jenn will cause division also. At blue collar, the division is coming from Dan, whose intense and anti-social behaviour is going to cause problems, and possibly from Mike, who is going out of his way to include Dan, and may end up isolating himself in the process. When they get to a tribe swap, their first priority is going to be voting out the people that have been annoying them for weeks, and not in staying unified as a tribe.
Survivor history is not on the side of Masaya. It would completely shock me if this was the tribe that breaks the Saboga curse, and goes on to remain strong despite losing the first immunity challenge. From here, I’m interested to see who remains in Masaya when the tribe swap happens (my guess would be Shirin, Carolyn and Tyler), and to see how well they can assimilate with the other players. If the trends of history continue, two of those three have an excellent chance of making final four.
So the question that interests me is: is history going to repeat itself? Is there any hope for white collar as a tribe at this point? And if the answer is no, could that actually be a good thing for their strongest players? If I had to place bets on it, I think we are going to see a repeat of what happened to Jenna Lewis and Saboga- and I am going to be so disappointed every time we lose a white collar member. They bring so much to the table in terms of entertainment and strategy. Unfortunately, the area in which they really need to excel is in immunity challenges. Although I hope I am wrong, I can’t see that happening.