It’s hard to believe that Survivor: Second Chances, which once seemed so far away, is now on the home stretch. As the game nears the end, multiple players seem to be in a good position to win- Spencer has been in control of the numbers, Jeremy and Kelley are both currently in possession of their second idols, and Tasha will be in a pivotal swing vote position next week. It’s great to have more than one player with a feasible winner’s story this late in the game. Last season, Mike Holloway’s overly positive edit soured the season a little for me, so I’m glad that the editing this season leaves a little more to the imagination.
We are so close to the end that every decision is crucial. Spencer, Tasha and Jeremy knew that it was too risky to let Joe get any closer to sitting at that Final Tribal Council, and so he was finally sent home this week. I haven’t been Joe’s biggest fan this season- in fact, I think that for me, he is the biggest disappointment. Time and time again he sabotaged his own game, voting out potential allies, and allowing people like Stephen, who was fixated on eliminating Joe, to remain in the game. This week though, I was happy to see Joe go down fighting. He made a good argument to Spencer and Jeremy. He correctly stated that right now, it is the goats who are dangerous in the game. If everyone is wanting to sit next to Abi at the end, then suddenly there are only two spots available. I’ve been saying right from the beginning that Abi is the type of player who needs to be voted out as soon as possible, for that very reason. Ultimately, I’m not sure how effective Joe’s argument was. Spencer and Jeremy seemed more frightened of the possibility of an all-women’s alliance than they were of Abi taking up a spot in the final three.
Whether Joe’s pleas gave him a chance of staying in the game or not, they did get me thinking. At this point of the game, people are looking to align themselves with people they can beat. So in one way, it’s good to be non-threatening. A player like Abi is always going to last longer than someone like Joe. But as much as you want to be slightly under the radar, without a target on your back, the worst thing is to be considered a goat. Watching this week, I found myself questioning what can be done if you become the goat. Once other players lose respect for your game, can you gain it back again? Can you go into Final Tribal Council as a goat, and change people’s minds? Or is there a point where you should just recognise that you are playing for second place? Unfortunately for Abi, Kimmi, and to a lesser degree Keith, I think that Survivor history overwhelmingly suggests that once a player is identified as a goat, that becomes their identity in the game. For this reason, this week’s lesson in Survivor history comes to us from the second place finisher of season six, Survivor: The Amazon– Matthew Von Ertfelda.
Matthew started the game on the all-male tribe of Tambaqui, where despite his challenge strength, he was never able to find himself in a majority alliance. He was unable to really relate to anyone else and couldn’t connect with anyone on a personal level. He played a strong physical game and was providing fish for the tribe, yet he found himself on the chopping block.
When a tribe swap came, Matthew, along with Rob Cesternino and Alex Bell, was moved over to the Jaburu tribe. He tried to bond with the tribe, but his advances were unwanted. When they lost immunity, Matthew was targeted for elimination, and was saved only by Rob Cesternino turning the vote against Shawna Mitchell.
Aware that he was on the outs, Matthew put his trust in Rob and spent the next portion of the game following him. In Matthew, Rob found a willing and loyal ally; however, Matthew was not yet part of Rob’s end game plans. At the merge, the two of them voted together to blindside two of the men, Roger Sexton and Dave Johnson. With these two removed from the game, Rob was firmly in control.
At the same time, Matthew was starting to emerge as a goat. He was undeniably naïve about the game and was easily manipulated by Rob. But more than that, he was portrayed as strange and a little frightening. One of the remaining women, Christy Smith, famously called him “creepy”. Rob had confessionals , which were supported with accompanying footage, about how often Matthew was sharpening the machete saying: “He sits and sharpens his machete for an hour at a time. Why does he need the machete so sharp? I think he’s going to kill us.” At this point, it seemed clear that Matthew had no chance to win the game.
And then, the editing of the season got very interesting. From this point onward, Matthew became almost the hero of the show. We saw him completely change his game around. He had been naïve and an easy target for Rob to manipulate, but he seemed to learn the game. He began to make strategic decisions. The relationship that he had with Rob became more of an equal partnership, beginning with Rob admitting to Matthew that their initial alliance had been a ruse, but Rob no longer trusted anybody else and wanted to work with Matthew. Matthew was physically dominant. He began to make social bonds- he won the family visit and instead of taking it for himself, he gave it up so that everyone else could see their loved ones (He was allowed to see his mother anyway. The show was much kinder back then!) Finally, we saw Matthew making moves apart from Rob. When Jenna Morasca, the eventual winner of the season, won immunity at the final four, Matthew made a final two deal with her. He also had a final two deal with Rob. Finally, in his strongest strategic move of the season, Matthew purposely failed to win the last immunity challenge, knowing that Jenna and Rob were both going to take him to the end. Once Matthew stepped down, Jenna was able to win the challenge and Rob was voted out in third place. Going into Final Tribal Council, it seemed as though Matthew had a strong chance to win. His strategic game hadn’t been as masterful as Rob’s, but surely he’d played a better game than Jenna? All we’d really seen from Jenna in the final part of the game was her crying and wanting to quit.
As a viewer, it seemed that Matthew had been able to completely revive his game. He had been thought of as a goat, but after learning the game from Rob and making some strong strategic and social moves of his own, he was seemingly going to win the game. And then somehow Jenna won the game decisively, with Matthew only able to secure a single jury vote.
The show didn’t really explain it, but listening to Rob’s coverage of the season that he did with Josh Wigler (The Evolution of Strategy, chapter six), it is clear that although Matthew did improve his game, he was never able to regain the respect of the jury. People liked Jenna and there was no question that she had been playing the game. The viewers of Survivor saw Jenna as the goat, but actually she had played a strong game. She easily beat Matthew and there is a strong chance that she would have beaten Rob as well. In reality, Matthew was the goat all along. And I’m not sure what he could have done differently. Once he realised that he was not playing a winning game, he did take steps to secure his own destiny. He did make moves of his own instead of remaining Rob’s pawn. But in the end, his reputation was set. As soon as people started to view him as creepy and weird, they had already decided that they were not going to vote for him. Was there anything he could do?
I’ve often wondered if it is possible to change people’s votes at Final Tribal Council. Matthew had a dreadful performance. Where Jenna was able to affirm her strong social bonds with people, Matthew attributed his success in the game to Rob, confirming people’s views of him as a naïve pawn. I don’t know if there is any answer that someone can give to change the perceptions of the jury. If after 39 days, you are seen as a goat, then a good Tribal Council performance is unlikely to change anything.
And Matthew’s story has me worried for some of the players this season. There is no doubt that Abi is considered a goat. Kimmi is also seen as someone that is easy to beat. And I’m wondering if there is anything that either of them can do to change things- or are they, like Matthew Von Ertfelda, stuck with their current game identity? Is there anything that Kimmi or Abi can do to win?
I’m not sure that Abi is playing to win anymore. She was attacked at Tribal Council with Joe saying: “I think you’re a threat in the game because everyone would want to take you to the end” and she didn’t respond. I think Abi knows that she is putting people offside. She knows that people want to sit next to her in the end, and she seems happy to go along for the ride. She claimed that she felt unsafe at this week’s vote, but as Joe pointed out, her body language suggested otherwise.
I don’t think Abi is looking to change her strategy. She’ll continue to make enemies, mocking people as she sends them to the jury and generally frustrating people around camp. I do wonder if she plans to try and argue her case at Final Tribal and hope that people will vote for her because of the strength of her game. Like Matthew in The Amazon, Abi has been playing a good game on paper. Despite being in the minority, she has been able to sneak past every vote. Every person who has targeted Abi in the game has been sent home. And she’s done this without trying to float under the radar or let stronger players carry her. She’s actually got a strong case to argue to a jury. But like Matthew, she’s going to struggle to get a vote. Nobody out there has any respect for her, and without creating personal bonds with people, you don’t win Survivor.
Abi was facing an uphill struggle to win right from the start. Right from the very beginning, Jeff Varner identified her as a goat. As soon as she made a big deal over her lost bracelet, she began to fashion herself as someone who would be easily beaten in the end. Varner found her delicious. He could almost see the dollar signs when he looked at her. One crazy moment doesn’t necessarily condemn you to having zero chance of winning- just ask Holly Hoffman, whose crazy moment involved burying shoes, and yet she came close to winning the game. For Abi, though, it hasn’t been one crazy moment. It’s been a long series of them, and her game is irredeemable and probably has been since her time at Angkor.
So Abi is a goat that can’t change her stripes. Everyone wants her at the Final Tribal Council, and if she gets there, I can’t see her getting anybody’s vote. The other goat left in the game is Kimmi. In a secret scene, Stephen listed Kimmi as one of the few people in the game that he was confident he could have beaten in the end. This week, we saw Spencer refer to her as easy to beat. Talking about whether Tasha would turn on him and Jeremy, he said: “I’m not 100% convinced that Tasha’s ideal final three is myself and Jeremy. Tasha might have the thought in her head- I can beat an Abi; I can beat Kimmi. I can beat Wentworth.” In Spencer’s mind, he and Jeremy are the two biggest threats to win. And Kimmi can only beat Abi. Kimmi has the self-awareness to know where she is in the game. After being left in the dark on Stephen’s blindside, she came back to camp knowing that her chances of winning were now slim. And to her credit, Kimmi has moved to change that.
As a side note, I’m not sure why we aren’t seeing Keith talked about as a goat. He has certainly done less to control the game than Kimmi, who at least masterminded the blindside against Monica. To be fair, we aren’t seeing Keith being talked about as a threat to win either. I would love to know where Keith fits in Spencer’s pecking order- is he more or less likely to win than Kimmi is? I would guess that Keith is just as much a goat as Kimmi, but for some reason, it is Kimmi and Abi who are being portrayed as the easiest people to beat in the end.
I was thrilled to see Kimmi evaluate her position and know that something had to change. I worry that like Matthew, Kimmi has left it too late. So far in the game, she has been cruising along with Jeremy and Stephen, both of whom would likely have beaten her in the end. So this week, she chose to change things up. We saw her say to Kelley, “If we get rid of Joe, that’s four women. And the girls would have the upper hand.” She was able to get Kelley and Abi on board and she assumed that Tasha would be with them also.
I loved how self-interested this move was. She abandoned Jeremy, whom she has been with from the beginning, and made an alliance that she sees as being better for her. If she manages to go with the women to the end, she knows that she can beat Abi. She just has to convince a jury that she has played a stronger game than Tasha or Kelley. But that is where she is going to run into trouble. Tasha has played hard- especially at Angkor, where she had to fight against the odds to survive. Kelley has already played one idol, and she’s been in the minority ever since the merge. She’s had to fight for every vote, and there is no doubt that her tenacity will be respected by the jury.
Kimmi is in a very similar position to Matthew- and she knows it. She said in confessional, “I didn’t come out here and leave my family just to be somebody’s pawn. I came out here to win. So it’s time for me to make my move.” Once Matthew realised that he had been Rob’s pawn, he was able to rectify things. He made moves that ultimately led to Rob’s downfall. Kimmi is looking to do the same thing as she gathers the women together for what will be a move against Jeremy. She’ll break out of his shadow and play her own game. But I don’t think it will make a difference. Kimmi doesn’t have enough respect to win a jury vote. And final seven is too late to change those perceptions.
Tasha is in an interesting position at the moment. She’s been offered a final three deal with Spencer and Jeremy. She has to know that her chances against those two aren’t good- that is, if they stick to their deal. Spencer has already admitted in confessional that he doesn’t want to go to the end with Jeremy, so I don’t think he will remain loyal to their pact. But if the three of them stay together to the end, Tasha is going to get third place, probably receiving zero votes. In that configuration, Tasha is the goat.
Her other choice is to go with the women, where she would likely be fourth in their four-person alliance. She could find herself out in fifth place depending on who manages to win immunity in the final five. It’s a risky move. But if she goes with the women, she has a good chance of sitting at the end with Abi and Kimmi- and it’s a good bet that Tasha wins in that scenario.
I believe that Tasha is the only person in the game with the potential to either receive zero votes at Final Tribal Council or to win the whole thing. If she sticks with Spencer and Jeremy, she’s guaranteed to make it to the end. But what good is it to get to the end with no actual shot at the million dollars? I think she should take the other option, and go with the women. It is true that it will be harder to reach the end this way. If she goes with the women, two of the spots in the final three are taken, and Tasha is fighting against Kelley for that final spot. She’d also have to take the risk that the final remaining man could go on an immunity streak, which would end her game. Tasha’s decision is whether she wants to take third place, or gamble for the win. I hope she’s going to be willing to take the risk.
So in the end, if you are getting to the final stages of the game, and you recognise that you have been playing as someone’s pawn, it is probably too late to change things. You need to be aware of the way you are being perceived at all times, because generally, once people see you as a pawn, it is nearly impossible for you to win. Even if Kimmi takes control of the game now and her plan for an all-female alliance succeeds, I still don’t think she’ll win. It’s sad, but even if you play the last ten days perfectly, if you already have a reputation as a goat, all your efforts can be for nothing.