Throughout much of this week’s merge episode, it was thrilling to watch the players scramble to ensure their alliances were in place. The stage was set for a crucial Tribal Council that would determine everyone’s future. What happened instead was a head-scratching moment that still isn’t entirely clear. Julie quit the game and received some counseling from Jeff, yet the exact reasons are murky. The most straightforward explanation is that Julie missed John and couldn’t stay without him. The editing promoted the idea that she had no interest in playing without her loved one. While her choice is frustrating to fans, something was missing in the explanation. Julie faced awful rain storms last week and was ready to give up, but she looked pretty calm this time. It’s just another part of an extremely odd season.
Looking back at the first Blood vs. Water season, Colton explained his quit by saying that it gave Caleb a better chance to succeed in the game. While it sounds like revisionist history, his absence probably helped Caleb to move further after the merge. Julie’s choice to quit was at least partially due to John being gone; I don’t see her leaving the game if he’s there. These examples raise questions about whether a Blood vs. Water season’s design sets the stage for these moves. If players are excited to compete on Survivor with their loved one, how will they react when they’re gone? Tyson, Gervase, and Monica all thrived in this scenario, but they were returning players that wanted to play the game. Julie didn’t have that same interest in giving a similar effort once John was sent packing.
The strange part is that Julie actually sat in a good spot within the game. She had solid allies in Jeremy, Natalie, and Missy and wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Even if Josh’s group had gained control and taken out Jeremy, their next target would not have been Julie. She could have at least survived the next few votes and possibly gone even further. Colton was at the bottom when he left the game, and that frustration helped to spur his exit. Julie seemed disassociated from playing despite the strong position. She’d only gone to Tribal Council once and hadn’t been on Exile Island. The exit interviews have done little to explain her thought process. Her interview with Rob outlined the reasons for her decision, but it’s still a limited argument. It’s also pretty clear that production forced her hand once they knew Julie was considering quitting. They probably didn’t want her to make the jury and then she quit down the road.
They’re All Dateable!Jeremy became a huge target once the merge happened.[/caption]
The episode began with a quick merge that was so blatant it felt like a trick. No mystery? The tree mail basically said “Here’s the merge!” It’s a pretty lazy way to set up such a key moment. There was little glorious music during the feast, and something was off about the entire sequence. The editors were essentially saying “Let’s get to the strategy!” While this approach is usually refreshing, it would have been enjoyable to have a little more creativity in the execution. The new tribe name is Huyopa, which fits with the level of innovation happening in this game. All griping aside, the merge set up an intriguing conflict between two of the major players hoping to seize control at the next vote.
The two people that have received the most attention so far are Josh and Jeremy, and each had sights on the other right away. Both guys recognized a potential threat and wanted to neutralize it immediately. Their efforts to build coalitions were intriguing and showed possibilities for an interesting battle. The question is whether it will become less engaging if one prevails too quickly. The editing suggested that Jeremy was heading home prior to Julie’s quit, though it’s hard to say if that would have occurred. Given the title of the episode, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jeremy’s fortunes get much better next week. Of course, there will be little room for him to hide given all the attention this early after the merge.
Taking Allies for Granted
One person who could play a key role in this conflict is Keith, who was Option B in the split vote that removed Dale last week. While the logic from Missy and Baylor made sense, it means little for the person who received the votes. This episode began with Keith unhappy because he recognized his place in the pecking order. When your allies don’t mind if you leave, that means you’re at the bottom. Missy tried to explain the situation, but there’s no way not to seem self-centered when discussing it. Keith took it personally, and his anger was focused on Missy and Baylor. Keith is an old-school player who believes in loyalty and isn’t thinking that strategically, but he’s a dangerous enemy given the chaos following a merge. Losing him also separates them from Wes, which could kill their chances.
It’s interesting to note how Jon and Jaclyn don’t receive the same venom despite being involved. They weren’t as closely aligned with Keith, so the blowback doesn’t strike them as sharply. Once again, Jon and Jaclyn find themselves sitting in the middle this week. Being the swing votes often comes back to haunt players, yet no one seems concerned with the likable couple. Not being considered power players could make their case difficult in the end, but that’s a long way away. They’re like the three Luzon players from Cagayan following the tribe swap. Jon and Jaclyn can just sit and wait for each side to give them an offer. They’re forced into the role of decision makers, but they’re safe in the near future.
Removing the Power Players
This isn’t a scenario where the top players don’t recognize the danger from the other side. When the merge was announced, Jeremy recognized both the challenges and opportunities of the new environment. Numbers are the key, and Jeremy’s pitch against Josh makes sense. Jon seemed good with sticking to the alliance with Missy and Baylor, and Jeremy’s part of that group. What’s refreshing is the way that both Josh and Jeremy used respect to sell their target. This isn’t about who “deserves” to win or if a person is annoying. Each guy recognized how important this vote would be and who was the biggest obstacle against their march to the million. Jeremy marshaled the allies he’s made throughout the game and used their connections like Jon and Jaclyn. It’s a trickier play because there were so many variables that could lessen his numbers. Would Baylor reconnect with Josh? Could Jon be angry about what happened in Hunahpu’s early days? Jeremy’s case was trickier because there were more moving parts.
Josh could sell the idea of couples sticking together and taking out the singles. He benefited from Keith’s anger towards Missy and has a strong connection with Wes. Even a small gesture like remembering Wes’ birthday could make a huge difference. Alec doesn’t look ready to succumb to the “surround and drown” plan, so that gives him the pivotal extra vote. The trick was finding one more couple from the two remaining options. Baylor was the obvious choice, though her awful poker face quickly showed where she stood. Her loyalty to Missy trumped anything that Josh did in the past. Telling Josh that she needed to “digest and come back to life… and then get back in with life” was one of the stranger responses to an alliance request. Like Sarah’s response to Tony last season, Baylor’s noncommittal answer to Josh made it clear they weren’t allies. If she makes the end, Baylor probably won’t have the ability to sell her game.
A Fireman with Two Kids
Jon and Jaclyn look amazed every time someone gives them control. Josh’s approach while they’re sitting at camp put the fate of his game in their hands. He made the hard sell against Jeremy because of his work ethic and strategic playing. Josh did struggle a bit with his case about the final Tribal Council. The scenario of Jeremy winning as a “fireman with two kids” against two Broadway performers was the reason why Josh and Reed want to remove him. It doesn’t explain why he’s a threat to Jon and Jaclyn. They have the chance to control the fates of Josh or Jeremy, so the question becomes which choice supports their game. Josh should have claimed they couldn’t beat Jeremy and downgraded his own chances. Jon and Jaclyn’s ultimate decision wasn’t clear, though they were trending Josh’s way.
The occupation question comes up frequently on Survivor, but it rarely plays a role in the final choice. People look for a person they like or vote against people they don’t respect. In the Caramoan, Cochran didn’t win because of his job. The jury liked the guy and didn’t care for Dawn or Sherri. It’s a solid case from Josh that sometimes works at this stage of the game, but it probably wouldn’t affect the final vote if Josh faced Jeremy. Prior to Julie’s quit, the editing suggested that Jeremy was heading out of the game. Jon identified that Jeremy was the target, which solidified his choice to go after Josh. If we’re to believe Jon’s conversation with Jaclyn, they’re jumping back to Josh’s group. The weird part is his comment that he doesn’t want to make the move. Until we see him vote for Jeremy next week, I’m not convinced they would have pulled the trigger at Tribal Council.
Who’s in the best position?
Natalie: Despite the dangers posed to Jeremy, no one seems concerned with Natatlie. She benefits if Josh goes home, but that doesn’t mean her game ends if that play fails. Natalie seems well-liked by the group and should survive for a while in either scenario. If Jon and Jaclyn stick with Jeremy, she’s part of a six-person alliance and sits right in the middle of that group. The pairs might gain control, but I doubt all eight of them would be the final eight. A wild card might stick around and flip the script, and Natalie has the best chance to play that role. The previews also suggest that a major shift could be in the works against the guys, and the women forming an alliance (with a few guys along) would benefit Natalie. She has a lot of options and isn’t so tied to Jeremy that losing him would end her game.
Jaclyn: There’s a real danger in being a swing vote on Survivor, yet Jon and Jaclyn have avoided any blowback from this spot. After they contributed to Kelley’s exit, Dale focused his attention on Missy and Baylor. The anger will come if they betray Jeremy, but Jon and Jaclyn have the chance to pick their allies. I’ve listed Jaclyn here because she’s contributing to their decisions but is working behind the scenes. Despite being a strong athlete, she doesn’t stand out as a challenge threat. I wouldn’t call Jaclyn a strategic expert, but her play has been solid when it’s mattered.
Who’s in trouble?
Josh: Despite a potential victory against Jeremy, there are warning signs about Josh’s future. Pushing the couples’ alliance might help him in the short run, but it could backfire if they remove the singles. If the other pairs think about the main threats when the time comes, they’ll almost certainly target Josh and Reed. By putting himself out there as the leader going after Jeremy, Josh can’t go back and lurk in the shadows. He also spent a lot of time building an alliance with Baylor, who didn’t repay the favor after the merge. I don’t see a similar moment happening with Jeremy and Natalie.
Alec: Does anyone like Alec? It’s a silly question on Survivor, but it could play a role in a Blood vs. Water season. Jeremy and Natalie have bonded like a pair, and Julie just quit the game. Alec has connections with Wes and Josh from the Coyopa days, but their first allegiances are to their loved ones. Alec is basically a number for that alliance, and they won’t hesitate to remove him when the time is right. His behavior towards Julie this week was ugly, and he also treated Baylor poorly on Coyopa. Even if Alec found a way to reach the end, his fate would not be positive.
These picks are hardly certain, and my choices would have been much easier if Julie hadn’t quit the game this week. Tribal Council would have set up the rest of the season and showed Jon and Jaclyn’s ultimate decision. Instead, there are more days for the game to change. Many fans are ready to call this season the worst ever after a very disappointing merge episode. I’m not there yet, but we really need an improvement in the near future. The pieces are in place for an exciting finish, and next week’s results should set the stage for a more interesting outcome. It can only get better, right?