Watching this week’s episode, I felt a slight case of déjà vu. We had Jason and Scot returning to their usual roles, and being depicted as the overconfident bullies. We had the women (with the notable exception of Debbie) playing extremely quiet games, and for a while there, I thought I was going to struggle to come up with a fresh take for this week’s blog. And then we got to meet Mt. St. Neal, the pus-filled volcano on Neal’s knee, which I actually found less repulsive than some of the behaviour exhibited by the men of this season, and I knew that Neal was going to be the focus of the blog.
This was an entirely different medevac to Caleb’s earlier in the season. Whereas Caleb was the tragic hero, who gave absolutely everything he had to the game, and exited on a helicopter while his tribemates cried for their loss, Neal just kind of went. It wasn’t the heroic exit of a Caleb, although Neal undoubtedly loved the game and had put just as much effort into his time on Survivor as Caleb had. We didn’t get an on-screen placard, assuring us that Neal had 100% recovered, and was looking forward to playing again one day. To be fair, though, we know that we will see Neal again on the jury, so Caleb’s exit was much more final. Neal exited the game with very little fanfare. He left the game in the same way that he had been playing– quietly.
To the newly merged tribe of Dara, Neal’s exit was more of an annoyance than a tragedy. They had spent the last three days together, reaffirming old bonds and creating some new ones. They had gotten the numbers together and made their decisions. They had come up with a solid plan to blindside Aubry, and hopefully force Neal to play his idol. And when Neal was medevaced, all of those plans had to be put on hold. They will have to hope that in three days, when they finally get to Tribal, that the relationships and strategies are still the same. Those who felt 100% comfortable going to Tribal on day 19 might not feel so comfortable on day 22. Neal’s understated exit from the game, and in particular, the reaction of his tribemates, means that this week’s lesson in Survivor history comes to us from the 16th place finisher from season 14, Survivor: Fiji–Gary Stritesky, better known as Papa Smurf.
Survivor: Fiji was a unique season for a few reasons. Firstly, it is the only season to begin with an odd number of contestants– they had 19, due to one person pulling out days before filming began. Secondly, Survivor: Fiji trialled a controversial twist. One tribe, Moto, lived in luxury. They had comfort, shelter, ample food, and even cutlery to eat it with. They had the most luxurious camp that Survivor had ever seen. In contrast, the opposing tribe, Ravu, had nothing. They didn’t even get flint to make a fire, and so they were unable to boil water. Starving and dehydrated, it was little wonder that Ravu were one of the worst performing tribes in Survivor history, losing nearly every challenge right up to the merge.
Papa Smurf was the only player on season 14 who had actually applied to be on the show. He was a huge fan of the show and believed that he was prepared for the experience. He began well and was fortunate enough to find himself on the Moto tribe, and he spent his time on Survivor living in comfort. Although the Moto tribe was dominant in the challenges, Papa Smurf himself struggled. During the tribe’s first reward challenge, he had a heavy fall, and from that point onward, his physical condition deteriorated. He struggled to breathe, and his movement was restricted. He was being monitored by the medical team, but they deemed that his condition was not bad enough to warrant pulling him from the game.
While he was struggling with his health, Papa Smurf was also struggling with the social aspect of the game. While Papa Smurf was well liked by the other members of his tribe, he was not a member of the majority alliance. He was much older than the rest of his tribe and just seemed to be too much of a physical liability for the rest of the tribe to align themselves with him. He did form a bond with Dreamz Herd and Cassandra Franklin, simply because they were the three who felt as though they were not part of the bigger group. From what we saw of Papa Smurf’s game, he never really tried to integrate himself into the majority. In fact, from what we saw in the edit, Papa Smurf was in too much physical pain to have any real impact on the game. On day ten, the struggle became too much for him to continue and he asked to leave.
When Papa Smurf left the game, he was on the bottom of his tribe. Had they lost immunity, he was almost certainly going to be voted out. Although the members of Moto were concerned for Papa Smurf and didn’t want to see anyone leave the game in that way, nobody felt that Papa Smurf leaving had really any impact on their game. He was a part of the minority alliance, easily disposable. Neal’s evacuation was received in much the same way. He was also in the minority– although Neal, with his idol, had a better chance of surviving the next Tribal Council than Papa Smurf ever had. It was clear to everyone that Neal was going to be going home in the next week– he was living on borrowed time. It will be interesting to see if they are correct. Does the medical evacuation of Neal save Aubry for a few days, or will it save her altogether?
While those on Papa Smurf’s tribe felt sure that they had the game completely in control and that his evacuation had changed nothing that was not the reality. The day after Papa Smurf left the game, the Moto tribe competed in an immunity challenge. Once again, due to their superior camp, Moto won the challenge. However, they were presented with a dilemma– if they kept immunity, then they would lose their camp, and have to live at Ravu. If they wanted to stay at their camp, then Moto had to sacrifice immunity, and vote out one of their members. Conditions at the Ravu camp were clearly terrible, and so Moto made the decision to give up immunity and keep the comfortable camp.
Going into Tribal Council, the decision should have been clear. Of the original Moto tribe, all of them except for Dreamz, Cassandra and Papa Smurf had thought themselves to be part of the majority alliance. With Papa Smurf now gone, the rest of the tribe had two clear targets– Dreamz and Cassandra. However, they decided to vote out Liliana Gomez, believing her to be the bigger threat. This was a bad decision. When the tribe swap, and then the merge came, Dreamz and Cassandra were not at all loyal to the original members of Moto. They both joined forces with the members of Ravu and voted their former tribemates out, one by one. At least, Liliana had believed herself to be in the alliance, so she had more reason to stay true to them.
In all likelihood, Moto’s problem was that they hadn’t had the chance to go to Tribal Council, and so they were desperate to play the game. They saw voting Cassandra out as the easy option, and they wanted to go for the big move and get rid of Liliana. Had Papa Smurf been there, I don’t think that they would have made such a divisive move. Papa Smurf would have been voted out. It would have been a mercy killing, and it would have been unanimous. If that had happened, then Moto would have gone into the tribe swap as a much more cohesive unit. As it was, Moto were completely unable to stay together, and when the merge came, they were easily disposed of. If Papa Smurf had managed to stay in the game one more day, it would have changed the trajectory of the whole game.
When Neal went home, Nick said: “Aubry was going home and thanks to some lucky medical evacuation, she lived another day or two.” He said what we were all thinking– that Neal’s going home has made little difference to the season. Aubry would have gone home on day 19, but now she’ll make it to day 22. Nick isn’t giving her much hope of lasting beyond that. And they all know that Neal wasn’t going to win the game. Aubry may have been the one that people were voting for, but it was Neal who was seen as the enemy. Neal had seven other players who all wanted to see him gone. Surely all his medevac does is speed up the inevitable…
…Except things are rarely that simple in Survivor. The seven-person majority alliance that currently holds power in the Dara tribe is an interesting one. It would seem that it is simply made up of the three ex-Brawn members: Scot, Jason and Cydney, and the four ex-Beauties: Tai, Julia, Michele and Nick. But within those seven people, there are some extremely complicated and convoluted alliances.
Scot made it clear to everyone that he and Tai are extremely close. He sat next to him at the merge feast, joked with him, and made it obvious that the two of them had formed a bond. When talking with Neal, Nick said that the main reason that he didn’t think the Beauty tribe were going to stick together was that Tai is “super close” with Scot. Julia wasn’t shown as having a relationship with Scot, it seemed more that she was obligated to vote with him after he saved her at the previous Tribal Council. We know that Julia and Michele have been in a tight alliance since day one, yet we didn’t see any conversation between the two of them at all. This episode, Nick and Michele were portrayed as a tight pair. Last episode, it seemed that Michele was just waiting for a chance to betray him. Jason and Nick seem to have something of a relationship, and apparently everyone likes Cydney, although the only person we have seen Cydney bonding with lately has been Debbie, who is on the other side of the numbers. Michele also likes Debbie and wants to work with her, and Nick has always seen the potential of working with Debbie, who seems to adore him. Nick, Michele and Julia have all expressed that they enjoy spending time with Aubry.
The alliances here are not set in stone. Fortunately for Aubry, there is actually plenty of space for her to move. She seems resigned to her fate and seems to think that Neal’s going home made her position even worse. “With Neal gone, there’s no way the Beauties join the Brains,” she said in confessional, before lamenting that Neal had left the game with the idol in his pocket, leaving her powerless. I am not so sure that Aubry is correct about that. I actually think that although the players in the game might think that Neal’s exit was fairly inconsequential, Neal’s leaving was the best thing that could have happened for Aubry– and not only because his exit bought her a few more days in the game. Neal’s being gone is going to make Aubry a much more attractive ally.
Perhaps it was just the edit, but from what we saw, Neal didn’t seem to have many real bonds out there. Debbie described their relationship as being toilet paper and toilets, but Neal was barely tolerating Debbie. We barely saw him interact with Joe, and we know that Peter and Liz didn’t like him. After the Tribe Swap, he clearly didn’t bond with Jason, and we never saw him talk to Cydney or Michele. He seems to have some sort of an understanding with Nick, but Nick sees how intelligent Neal is and doesn’t want to work with him. Aubry was the only person that Neal was shown to have made a genuine connection with. Aubry, on the other hand, has a good relationship with almost everyone. Scot and Julia might be mad at her for her wishy-washy vote at the previous Tribal Council, but everyone else genuinely likes Aubry. They weren’t voting for Aubry because they wanted her out– they were voting for Aubry because they were scared of Neal’s idol. With Neal gone, she might be able to use her proven social skills to put herself in a better position.
Although Aubry was hoping that Neal would give her the idol, I think she is in a better position without it. The way that Neal was pulled from the game meant that he had very little time to say goodbye to the tribe. The entire tribe was surrounding him, and while he might possibly have been able to manoeuvre it so that he slipped Aubry the idol, I don’t think it would have been an easy task. Idol paranoia is huge, and the last thing that Aubry needs right now is an even bigger target on her back. If the tribe thinks she has an idol, they are going to force her to play it immediately. They aren’t going to want to work with her– the distrust that they previously had for Neal now shifts onto Aubry. I think that she is in a better position if she can convince the rest of the tribe that she isn’t a threat at all and that is easier done without an idol. Aubry has also indicated that she was willing to be a free agent, to work against Joe if need be, and that makes her even less of a threat. If she can disassociate from the Brains and act as a lone wolf, then I can’t see anyone feeling like they need to target Aubry.
When Papa Smurf left the Moto tribe, it may not have seemed as though the game would have been affected, but actually, it changed the entire course of the game. Because Papa Smurf was an easy target. He was older, less fit than the rest of the tribe. He didn’t fit in socially. When Moto had to visit Tribal Council, Papa Smurf was a target that the rest of the tribe could unite against. With Papa Smurf gone, the easy target was gone. The tribe ended up making a divisive move and were never really able to recover.
I think that the evacuation of Neal will work in the same way. Neal was obviously smart. He seemed sneaky and manipulative. He had an idol. It was easy to convince the rest of the tribe that they should be afraid of Neal. It was easy to believe that Neal had a real shot of winning the game. Are players like Nick and Michele going to feel threatened by people like Joe or Debbie? Is quiet, unassuming and idol-less Aubry someone that the tribe can unite against? I don’t think so. In fact, I think that with Neal and the threat of his idol gone, people are going to start to look for the other threats in the game. The question is: Who are those threats?
As an audience, we might see those threats as Jason and Scot, but Michele told Nick that she didn’t think either of them could win: “Jason has pissed enough people off where I don’t think people would vote for him” and “Scot, I don’t think people would vote for him either, because he has the money.” I would like to think that the other players can recognise that even if nobody would vote for Jason or Scot that doesn’t mean either of them should be underestimated. Nick has dismissed both of them as idiots that can be blindsided at any time because they’ll never see it coming, but he should be careful in so easily categorising the Brawn tribe as his pawns.
At the moment, Scot is the most powerful player in the game. Scot has the absolute loyalty of Tai, Julia and Jason. It is Scot’s bond with the former Beauty tribe that is holding the majority alliance together, and so if the remaining players have any sense, they must see that Scot needs to be the next player to go. Although nobody outside of the alliance realises it, voting out Scot, and splitting the alliance of Jason and Tai, would also have the benefit of stopping the super-idol from being formed. It is at the next Tribal Council that the lines will be drawn. If Nick and Michele sit back and allow Scot and Jason to have all the power in the game, not seeing how much of a threat they really are, then Nick and Michele deserve to lose.
There’s also the fact that Jason has shown himself to be occasionally volatile. This episode, it was Debbie who was turning everyone off working with the Brains, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jason manages to do the same thing. We’ve seen multiple people tell us that they don’t like Jason. He’s lazy, he’s crass, and according to Michele, he’s upset so many people that he has little chance to win the game. Tai found Debbie’s personality off-putting. Given a bit more time, he will likely start to feel the same way about Jason.
If the tribe had gone to Tribal Council this week, then lines would have been drawn. The majority alliance would have voted together. They would have proven to each other that they could be trusted, and the Brains tribe would have been on the bottom, ready to be pagonged. As it is, this tribe now has three extra days before that line has to be drawn. Three extra days to change their minds. Three extra days to irritate others, or to be irritated by others. In Aubry’s case, she has three extra days to convince everyone that they should be targeting a bigger threat. She’s got three more days to settle herself. Those three days are going to make the world of difference. Like Papa Smurf in Fiji, Neal left the game with little fanfare, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t have a lasting impact on the season.