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: Warring Allies
Well, that was an entirely predictable outcome, unfortunately. I really, really felt for Roark, who I don’t think had many options available to her. It was just bad luck that landed her on a tribe without a single ally, as well as the bond that had been formed between Ryan and Chrissy. As soon as Ryan handed the super idol to Chrissy before that first Tribal Council, he was committing himself to working with her. I think that as a fan, he knew that what was happening was a ‘Survivor first’. He knew that he and Chrissy would make a strong strategic pair. And I think he got excited by how complicated their alliance was. Not only that, but their alliance was based on Ryan’s generosity. Chrissy was always going to feel indebted to Ryan, and I can see why that power dynamic was appealing to him. I can understand why Ryan chose not to vote with Roark. Look at the undying gratitude of Chrissy, and weigh it against Roark’s offer of bringing Ryan and Ali in with the Healers (an arrangement where the power lies with Roark, and not with Ryan). I think she did well to even get Ali on her side. I wouldn’t mind her getting a second chance–she really didn’t get much of a chance to play this season.
It was nice to see the dynamics on Levu– with Devon seemingly completely loyal to Ashley, and everyone scared of Joe. Joe’s move absolutely put a target on his back– but it also really impressed people. The question is– has he secured Desi’s loyalty? Because if he doesn’t have Desi, the idol play, impressive or not, wasn’t worth anything. And if Desi is self-interested (and she should be!), then she should realise that the merge is coming. Throwing Joe under the bus won’t jeopardise her own game. Of course, it is always possible that Joe will find another idol. He found the last clue, so he knows what to look for. And he is very Tony-like in that he is always working. For Desi, she should be appearing to work with Joe, shielding herself from a possible idol play, but I think the best move would be to work with Devon and Ashley. Devon’s fierce loyalty to Ashley really surprised me. I like that Devon is so clear about whom he wants to play the game with. Joe scares him, and can’t be trusted. And so Devon refuses to entertain the idea of voting with him. Who knows whether Devon’s loyalty would hold under pressure. But for now, his strong stance is great for his game– it is the best possible argument for Desi to come and join them.
And then there is the Soko tribe, who are ridiculously good at challenges, and unless they throw a challenge, aren’t going to find themselves at Tribal Council. The most interesting thing about the dynamics on that tribe is watching the relationships among the three Healers. Last week, I felt that working with Ben and Lauren would be good for Doctor Mike, who was obviously at the bottom of his original tribe. Now it turns out that he has replaced Cole as Jessica’s most trusted ally, and he has an idol. It seems clear that turning on the Healers would have been a hasty move. What a difference a week makes. I thought Jessica played really well, keeping Cole onside while still finding herself a strategic partner whom she could actually trust. And of course, Mike played it perfectly, using the idol as a tool to establish trust with Jessica, but still knowing in his heart that the idol belongs to him and him alone. And then there’s Cole, who is none the wiser, happily licking everything he can get his hands on. I’m sure if it was up to Lauren, they’d throw a challenge and vote Cole out, but I just can’t see Soko losing. I think that for Mike, Jessica, and Cole, their first Tribal Council will be after the merge- and that can be a really dangerous spot to be in.
The most interesting decision this week belonged to Ryan, who had a choice between two allies. At Tribal Council, Ali, who had been with him since the beginning of the game, was voting against Chrissy, who Ryan gave the super idol. Ryan had to choose which ally to continue to work with, and he chose Chrissy. Ali voted with Roark, and now she’s coming back to camp blindsided. She’s been betrayed by the person whom she probably felt closest to. Ryan chose Chrissy over her. I hated this decision. And for a look at how Ryan should have handled the situation, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going back to season 22, Survivor: Redemption Island, and looking at the game of the winner, Rob Mariano.
Redemption Island was a season with two tribes, captained by returning players. And Rob, by this season a four-time player, was placed on a tribe with eight first time players. While Rob was embraced by his tribe, Ometepe, on the opposing Zapatera tribe his fellow returning player, Russell Hantz, was ostracised. On Rob’s previous season, he had been eliminated pre-merge and had received a very favourable edit. He’d created a strong alliance and remained loyal to them. Although in his previous two appearances on the show Rob had demonstrated that he was a formidable strategist who wasn’t afraid to betray alliances, his most recent reputation was so positive that his tribe trusted him from the start. He didn’t find it at all difficult to slot into an alliance and was comfortably in the majority when Ometepe lost the first immunity challenge. Six of the nine members of the tribe were together, leaving Francesca Hogi, Kristina Kell and Phillip Sheppard on the outs.
At that first Tribal Council, Francesca and her alliance targeted the weaker members of Rob’s alliance. As they had found a hidden immunity idol, they believed that they would be safe, and would be able to pull off a blindside. However, they hadn’t counted on Phillip Sheppard being one of the most unpredictable people to ever play the game. At Tribal, he openly defected from Francesca and Kristina, telling the tribe about the immunity idol, and ensuring that Francesca was sent home. Back at camp, Phillip told Rob that Rob now owned Phillip’s vote. He had Phillip’s complete and total loyalty. Obviously, this was an attractive proposal. But Phillip was easily the most abrasive personality on the Ometepe tribe. The women, in particular, found Phillip especially grating. When Ometepe once again lost immunity, Rob’s alliance needed to split the votes–Kristina still had possession of the immunity idol, and she was going to be safe that night. To Rob’s alliance, it seemed straightforward. They would split the votes between Kristina and Phillip, flush Kristina’s idol, and vote Phillip out. But Rob had other ideas.
Knowing that Phillip would be valuable to him in the long run (not only was Phillip loyal to Rob, but Rob had seen how much Phillip irritated the tribe, and could see that Phillip would be perfect to take to the end), Rob didn’t want to send Phillip home. Instead, he managed to get his alliance to turn on one of their own. Within his alliance, Matt Elrod and Andrea Boehlke were starting to get very close. Their relationship seemed to have some romantic undertones. And that made warning bells ring for Rob. On his second season, Survivor: All Stars, Rob had also made a close romantic alliance and had used that alliance to get himself to the final two. He knew the danger of a power couple. Also, it meant that for Matt and Andrea, their primary allegiance was going to be to each other, rather than to him. Rob turned his sights on eliminating Matt, despite the fact that Matt was one of their stronger physical players, and Ometepe had yet to win an immunity challenge.
And, quite unbelievably, he managed to do it. At the next Tribal Council, Kristina played her idol, negating two votes against her. Kristina and Andrea both voted for Phillip. And with four votes, Matt was sent home. Rob had convinced his tribe that because Matt shook hands with members of the Zapatera tribe after the loss in the immunity challenge, that Matt’s loyalty was questionable. And so, despite the fact that eliminating Matt would put them at a physical disadvantage next to the much stronger Zapatera tribe, and despite the fact that Phillip was irritating everyone on the tribe, and despite the fact that Matt was part of the alliance, and Phillip was not, it was Matt who was eliminated. Rob got to continue in the game with his original allies, as well as Phillip. Ometepe only lost one more immunity challenge before the merge, eliminating Kristina. Phillip made it to the merge, and Rob was able to protect Phillip all the way to the end, ultimately sitting next to Phillip at the Final Tribal Council, where Rob won an easy victory.
I know that Ryan is no Boston Rob. And it is completely unfair to expect Boston Rob level gameplay from anyone, particularly anyone who is on their first season. It took Boston Rob four tries to get there, but I do think that there are plenty of lessons for Ryan and other players here. Ryan was in a similar situation. He has his alliance with Ali, an alliance that has kept him safe since day one, but he also has this relationship with Chrissy and Chrissy has made it clear that she is completely loyal to Ryan– something that Ali might not have done. Whereas Ali and Ryan have more of an equal partnership, Ryan feels that he has the power in the alliance he has with Chrissy and that is attractive. There is a reason that Phillip was so important to Rob.
Just like Ometepe couldn’t stand Phillip, and refused to work with him, Ali and Chrissy didn’t really gel together. We didn’t really get any reason why– we just got a confessional from Ryan saying that Ali and Chrissy were his closest allies on the tribe, and they could never work together. So far this game, we have seen Chrissy working well with men (such as Ben, JP, and Ryan), but not really making an effort to align with women. Perhaps she is doing this purposefully– look at how scared JP immediately became at the very mention of a women’s alliance. I also think that Chrissy is more intimidated by women than she is of men. She identified Roark as a dangerous, strategic player. Roark hasn’t given her any reason to make that assumption. Both Ryan and Ali have been to Tribal and have been involved in blindsides. Ryan found the super idol on day one. Roark has just been there, quietly making friends. And yet Roark is the one that Chrissy is scared of? Her confessional here was really interesting– Chrissy thinks that she is a huge threat to win the game, and so she is frightened of anyone who shows any similarities to herself. In fact, both times she has attended Tribal, she has voted for a female that she felt fit into a similar demographic to herself.
In other words, Chrissy and Ali were probably going to turn on each other at some point, and Ryan did need to make a decision about which alliance was more important to him. I just think that this should have been an internal decision, not a decision announced in the voting booth. Just because Chrissy and Ali didn’t want to work together, didn’t make it an impossibility that they would vote together at this tribal. For Ryan to make such a fuss of his social game, and declare that his social game was his biggest strength, this doesn’t look good. What Rob managed to do was to prioritise his relationship with Phillip, but at the same time continue to make the other members of Ometepe think that he was with them. I can understand Ryan preferring to work with Chrissy. And I think his relationship with Ali might be a little overstated. Ali wasn’t his number one ally on the Hustlers tribe– Devon was. And it is very possible that Ryan never had plans to work with Ali as they head towards the end of the game, but the choice he took– to blindside Ali and vote out Roark– leaves him with Ali as an enemy. And that was completely unnecessary.
How does Ryan do this? How does he get Ali and Chrissy on the same page? How can he keep his relationship with both women strong? Well, I think if he was following the Boston Rob Rules ™, then he would do what Rob did so brilliantly over the course of his game– create a common enemy. First, Rob was able to get his allies to ignore their dislike of Phillip because of their fear of Matt. Later in the game, Rob was able to shield Phillip by turning his tribe against all of the Zapatera tribe. Rob was always able to convince the Ometepe tribe that there was a bigger target, a more pressing enemy. As long as they were united in their fight against Matt, or against the Zapateras, they were never going to target Phillip. And more importantly, they were never going to target Rob.
The common enemy here was pretty obvious– Roark was the outsider. And while it would have been difficult to convince Ali to turn on Roark, it wasn’t an impossible task. Emotionally, Ali and Roark connected. Ali had been playing the game with Patrick as her closest ally, and it is no wonder that she gravitated towards Roark. But logically, it makes sense for Ryan and Ali to want Roark out. Roark’s pitch to Ali involved the two of them getting rid of the remaining Heroes– and then what? There would be six Healers left, and four Hustlers. Ali would have very little power in that situation. It only makes sense for the depleted Heroes and Hustlers to join forces, and start taking out the Hustlers. Allowing six Healers to make it to the merge would have been very foolish gameplay. What Ryan should have been doing was uniting Chrissy, JP, and Ali in a common goal: to vote one of the Healers out of the game to stop the Healer’s dominance and to try and gain some power for themselves come the merge. Within the game, it made no sense for Ali and Chrissy to be against each other, and Ryan should have been able to use his superior social skills to make them see that. Had he been able to convince them that they had a common goal, then he would have been able to protect Chrissy, while also guarding his relationship with Ali. It wasn’t a case of one or the other. He could have gone back to camp still aligned with both women.
The other thing that Boston Rob was really, really good at was making sure that he was at the centre of the alliance. Everyone in that alliance felt like they were Rob’s closest ally. They all felt like Rob was going to take them to the end. And all of Ometepe were convinced that Phillip would be voted out. Boston Rob was really good at making himself indispensable to those around him, and that ensured him the loyalty of the tribe moving forward. He made sure that everyone in the tribe needed him–whether for his skills around the camp, his skills in the challenges, or just as a friend or brotherly figure, he made sure that people wanted him around. And that kept him safe. Of course, it helped that he both had the immunity idol and had a strong run in the immunity challenges. But although he had both of those safety nets, the real strength of Rob’s game was in his social ability. Ryan says that he plays a strong social game. Can he do what Rob did, and make sure that those around him want to continue to keep him around?
I think that Ryan has made himself indispensable to Chrissy. I think that both of them are so invested in the super idol bond that they trust each other, probably more than they should have. I think that both of them want something to come of the super idol, and want to work together moving forward. I don’t think that Ryan is indispensable to Ali. I think that she has to know that he is closer to Devon than he is to her, and she should be looking out for someone that she can have those strategic conversations with. And coming back to camp after Ryan completely blindsided her, she has to know that she isn’t as important to him as she wants to be. She’s going to be betrayed, and she is going to be angry. For Ryan, the question is whether he can get her back onside, and whether she has the necessary power within the tribe to do something with that anger. Can she convince either Chrissy or JP to turn on Ryan? I think that the best move for Ali is to get back in with Ryan and vote JP out of the game if they lose again. Then, at the merge, she can gather herself some new numbers. But by leaving Ali completely out of the loop, I do think that Ryan has destroyed that relationship. Whether Ali turns on him next week, or somewhere down the line, she will turn on him. And Ryan will have nobody to blame but himself.