Well, Loyal Blog Readers, we’ve had another wild and hairy week of Survivor. The episode with 9 people left in the game is often a very enjoyable one to watch, and Survivor: Caramoan didn’t disappoint. We got to witness a Survivor auction and the emergence of Cochran Donaldson, Challenge Dominator. We had Brenda eating a brain and Andrea using hers. Idol hijinks, standoffs, and more! So now that the dust has settled, where are we?
Stuck in the mud. Again.
This has been a strange season. Even though it has often seemed that alliances might be fluid, and that a shake-up might be impending, the end result at Tribal Council has consistently been the same. Survivor Caramoan is crying wolf. This is a Pagonging in sheep’s clothing. Make no mistake: Stealth R Us is having their way in this game.
I think you’ve got to hand it to Phillip. He built his alliance well. The machinery of Stealth R Us operates autonomously and perfectly, even without its pilot. There’s no stopping this train, fellas. The Three Amigos are tied to the tracks and we can all hear the whistles blowing. All aboard the eastbound train to Ponderosa.
And I’m emotionally somewhat pleased by this result, I have to say. Going into this season I wrote that I would really get a kick out of seeing Phillip play well, and I think that this week’s episode has proven that he did that. Even though he’s gone, the monument of Stealth R Us remains. Its ivory towers are unblemished. Its foundation stands strong. It’s beginning to seem inevitable that this season’s winner will be crowned atop the Tower That Phillip Built. I think that’s a notable achievement for a guy who we all wrote off as clinically insane. I think he can hang his hat on that. Good job, buddy.
I hate to be a Survivor pessimist. I really do love this game and this show. I think that if we let it, Survivor can teach us so much about ourselves. Survivor is a mirror. It shows us how we operate as thinking creatures. We get to watch how human beings attack a goal, collaborate, and compete. We get to see others endure and overcome. We see ourselves in the game, and we learn. At least I know I do.
And I get where Probst was coming from with his declaration that Caramoan was going to be “a great season”. It kind of is. Players are making big moves based on sound rational game thinking, and that’s usually all I want from a season. I want to see players play, and ostensibly we’re getting that. We’re getting lots of strategy talk, and everybody seems like they’re playing hard. What’s not to like, right?
It’s a fair question. And maybe I’m just being too hard on this season. But it seems to me that despite all of the surface-level action, we still find ourselves mired in yet another drawn-out Pagonging. In a season full of big exciting moves, we haven’t actually seen the game substantively shaken up at all since Day One. Why is that?
Because Survivor at its best—at its TRUE best, is not about flashy moves. Some good moves are flashy, that’s true—but the best moves often are not. I don’t recall Kim Spradlin or Sandra Diaz-Twine blowing up our televisions with thrills and chills. And sometimes it can be easy to mistake the entertainment value for true strategy. For me, while Survivor Caramoan has certainly entertained, it just hasn’t shown me that it has strong strategic legs. You can put lipstick on a pig, Probst, but you can’t make it sing.
And so we find ourselves walking a familiar path, Loyal Blog Readers. Reynold and Eddie will have to claw at each other’s throats for the opportunity to finish 7th instead of 8th. The magic elevator ride is over. There will be no Amigos in the Final Three. The bells are tolling. Pa-Gong. Pa-Gong. Pa-Gong. And for me—maybe because I feel emotionally attached to the Brolliance, or maybe because I just yearn to see underdogs pull off upsets—that sucks a little of the fun out of the room. Caramoan is an enjoyable season, but I have to say that I don’t LOVE it.
But perhaps I should, right? Strategy is my favorite dimension of Survivor gameplay, and many of you have pointed out—and I have agreed—that Pagonging is the correct Survivor strategy. That’s how you get to the end. This is just the game expressing its true nature. Why fight it? Isn’t Pagonging best for everyone?
On the whole, I have to say no! Pagonging is NOT best for everyone. Pagonging is only best for three people—the three on the top. For everyone else in the game—EVERYONE else, this is not the path they should be choosing. This is the bewildering aspect of Pagonging as a gameplay paradigm—in order for it to work, some players, indeed most of the players, must willfully and consistently be playing to lose.
I can’t imagine how Erik or Brenda or Sherri envisions themselves winning this game. Surely they must realize that the ground is sinking beneath their feet, right? And yet they stay the course, straight and true. It boggles the mind!
And we’ve seen this pattern play out many times in seasons past. This is certainly not a problem specific to this cast or this season. This is how Survivor almost always unfolds. But why should it be this way? What is it that compels these losers to toe the company line? What gives Stealth R Us its staying power? Why, in short, will no one make a move?
These are complicated questions that I think really get to the root of Survivor’s appeal. There’s something deeply hierarchical and compliant in our behavior as human beings. How often do we willingly take the short end of the stick in our own lives when better more fruitful options exist? As frustrating as it is to watch within the confines of the game of Survivor, the lesson is a valuable one. Sometimes, for all our best efforts and intentions, we are our own worst enemy—inside the game and out.