It’s such a great time to be a Survivor fan. While I spend these columns digging into strategy, I mostly just love good TV. This week’s episode was filled with entertainment beyond the maneuvers following the merge. When you mix Level 1 Survivor with fun characters, it’s hard to go wrong. Jenn’s wise choice to play the hidden immunity idol capped a fast-paced story with lots of scrambling. The glee from Jenn and her allies as the votes were read was endearing. They may face a 7-4 numbers disadvantage on paper, but I don’t get the feeling we’re in store for a Pagonging. A big moment like a successful idol play can send an alliance into disarray, and it wouldn’t shock me if Jenn’s group was fine next week. There’s a definite Aitu Four vibe about them from Cook Islands, and that group went straight to the end.
I’m getting way ahead of myself, however. Let’s start with Tribal Council and the voting strategy by the Blue Collar majority. Comments about drawing lines with ice picks and chainsaws made it clear they had swayed the two pivotal White Collars. Carolyn and Tyler were the swing votes in the middle, but they seemed pretty certain on the course of action with Jeff. Since there were few doubts about the advantage, this raises questions about splitting the vote. Placing four on both Hali and Jenn would have ensured that a 4-4-4 tie was the worst result. Jenn or Hali would have gone home in a re-vote even if one had played the idol. The question mark was Will, who claimed to be on their side. If he was really a mole sent by the No Collars, a split vote would have given them the chance for a 5-4-3 result. Rob correctly pointed out in his exit interview with Kelly that a vote split was hardly a foolproof plan.
Now that we know the result, it’s too easy to criticize the Blue Collars for not splitting the vote. I will give them trouble for testing Will’s loyalty with the Hali vote, however. It’s more likely to raise doubts in Will’s mind about his new allies. Will is playing an individual game, and it doesn’t take much to change his thinking. His choice to take out Vince is a perfect example. I don’t see him going back to the No Collars, but he might build cracks in the Blue Collar alliance. They had concerns about Will revealing the target to his former tribe, but Carolyn and Tyler were hardly surefire allies. Having Will vote for Hali was too cute. It didn’t play a direct role in Kelly’s exit, but it might create problems very soon.
Targeting the Golden BoyLuc Longley or Michael Jordan?[/caption]
Given his challenge skills, Joe was the obvious target at the merge. What’s strange is that Mike was leading the charge to remove him. Last week offered a golden opportunity to eliminate the big threat. Mike’s choice to remove Joaquin made sense if he wanted Joe as an ally. His immediate decision to target Joe this week felt idiotic with individual immunity challenges happening. Mike is making moves and trying to run the game, but he’s opened the door for multiple problems. Despite the “make-up sex” with Rodney, that relationship is tenuous at best. Like Natalie last season, Rodney won’t forget about Mike’s betrayal. He’s a volatile player yet will bide his time before putting on his “hustle pants” to remove Mike.
Rodney had so many great lines this week, and it’s easy to view him as just a big character. Anyone who cites Luc Longley as an example of his spot in the game wins huge points from me. Few players take him seriously, and his chance to win is thin. Even so, Rodney could play a huge role in who survives the upcoming votes. If Will’s ready to stick with him after last week, Rodney might create a serious rift in the majority alliance. Rodney may also not be as dumb as people believe, and this scene reveals a more thoughtful guy. By removing Joaquin, Mike has lost any complete trust with Rodney. He’s also failed to eliminate Joe, which was his primary goal. Losing Kelly this week just expounds the string of miscues that could lead to Mike’s elimination. Kelly was right to point out that alliances would be clearer after the vote, and that could also make it easier to identify the leaders.
I’ve raised these points because Mike seemed convinced Joe was the best target. It’s possible this was a bad idea, however. Joe’s performance this week reminded us of his incredible skills. Even so, I don’t expect him to run the table. It benefits Mike in the near future to keep Joe around as a shield. There are still eight more Tribal Councils if we assume a final three is coming. Why not focus on keeping a numbers edge? Joe’s win forced Mike’s alliance to target Jenn, but that wasn’t a terrible idea regardless. There were few hints that she had the idol, and removing one of Joe’s close allies made sense. Jenn wisely pointed out in a bonus scene that beating Joe would cause him to go home. She doesn’t seem convinced that it’s possible to grab the swing votes and build a majority.
Starting from Scratch
This episode wasted little time before pulling the tribes together for the merge. Limited attention on the feast and no reward challenge offered lots of time for strategy. Even the twist of restarting the camp made little impact. We saw Mike giving a few orders and then everyone splitting off to chat. Hali pointed out in a secret scene that everyone worked together well, and that explains the lack of screen time on the shelter. An interesting guy to watch was Tyler, who described his “whole new life” in the game following the merge. He was on the bottom at Escameca after losing Joaquin and had options in the new Merica tribe. I’m definitely on Team Shirin in hating the name, but there’s something charming about picking a name that terrible. The choice gave Hali a chance to rave about the Constitution, so it might be worth it.
Getting back to Tyler, he spent much of the episode giving hints that he would side with the No Collars. Carolyn had made bonds while on Nagarote, and it would be easy to join them in the majority. It wasn’t clear why they chose a different path during the episode. Tyler was forthright with Mike about not trusting him, and it’s possible his direct reply was part of an agreement that we didn’t see. We did catch Kelly pitching the importance of splitting up Jenn and Hali to Carolyn, who would know about their tight bond. She might view the No Collar trio as the game’s biggest threat because they were so close. It’s easy to speculate, and I expect we’ll get more clarity during the opening scenes next week.
Another surprising move was Rodney’s attempt to build a final-four alliance with Kelly, Carolyn, and Will. This random collection of members from all three tribes would never be expected. I’m not sure anyone but Will was really interested, though. Carolyn has a close alliance with Tyler, and Kelly didn’t seem thrilled about working with Rodney. Still, it shows the potential for nearly anything to happen. I don’t expect Jenn, Hali, or Joe to betray their allies, but all bets are off with the rest. Shirin looked thrilled by Jenn’s idol play, but she’s more likely to jump between groups as a free agent. There are lots of potential threats remaining, and Jenn put herself front and center with last week’s play. Shirin might go a long way in this game if she moves slowly and veers at the right time.
Examining the Challenge
The immunity challenge was interesting because it revealed a lot about several players’ game play. The obvious mastery by Joe showed that he’ll be playing from the front. After barely surviving last week, I can’t blame him. There’s no way for a guy like that to hide. What’s more surprising is how people don’t seem concerned with Tyler’s skills. He’s tall and a strong athlete who would normally draw attention. I doubt that he’s talked about his past as an NFL kicker. He seemed to let go of the pole really easily. Tall guys don’t have a great chance in this challenge, but his quick exit was questionable. Mike also dropped in a strange fashion and seemed to just let go. He lasted far enough to not be too obvious, though.
Rodney also checked with Carolyn before dropping to ensure she could win. Could her bond with Rodney be stronger than we expect? It wasn’t great to put the weight on Carolyn to beat Joe, but that comment revealed trust on Rodney’s end. It’s likely she’d already told Rodney that she was with the Blue Collars. We also saw competitive fire out of Carolyn, who was really upset about losing to Joe. Everyone calls her “Mama C”, and she’s facing little of the nastiness that sometimes goes to older moms on Survivor. Carolyn has an immunity idol and isn’t a target right now. I haven’t included her in the section below, but Carolyn’s in a really strong position to make a deep run in this game. In an extra scene following the challenge, she referenced wanting Joe to leave. This confirms the idea that Carolyn made her choice early to join the Blue Collars, and Tyler was probably on the same page.
Who’s in the best position?
Sierra: We saw little from Sierra this week, and that isn’t necessarily a bad sign. She’s the least likely of the remaining Blue Collars to be considered a threat. The No Collars will probably target Mike if they find a way to change the numbers. Sierra isn’t a fan of Dan or Rodney, so she might sell her vote to the other group at the right time. I can see a path all the way to the end for Sierra. The challenge for her is ensuring that she makes choices that she can sell as big moves at the end. They don’t need to be huge game changers but must be separate from decisions by others. If she hangs by and slides to the end, the other possibility is facing two No Collars with a lot of Blue Collars on the jury. Regardless, I’m still feeling good about Sierra’s chances to stick around for a long time.
Shirin: Another player who should remain safe is Shirin, and she wisely hung back at the merge. Even if Jenn had left the game, Shirin’s game wouldn’t be doomed. I’m not sure many expect Shirin to make a big play, and that plays to her advantage. Unlike someone like Kass who angered five people when she flipped, Shirin could flop without the same consequences. I don’t get the sense that the No Collars feel a close bond with her; they’re tolerating Shirin because they need allies. She cites the individual game in a secret scene and understands that tribal loyalty means nothing. The most important choice for Shirin will involve when to switch her allegiance. If the next few votes are all over the map and not centered in one tribe, Shirin should coast and wait for the opportunity to improve her standing.
Who’s in trouble?
Joe: The immunity win for Joe looked easy, and that success confirmed what everyone suspected. Joe will continue to be a prime target and may need an immunity run to survive. He also could really use the mysterious advantage that Jeff hinted about at the season’s start. Despite the No Collars’ victory this week, no one will forget about Joe. He dominated the endurance challenge and seems like a nice guy. While that combination is great at the final Tribal Council, it’s dangerous with so much time remaining.
Mike: If there’s a drastic shift against the Blue Collars, I expect that Mike will be a prime target. He’s been front and center for them since the start and just lost his top ally. Mike’s also a more significant threat than Dan or Sierra. I also believe Rodney would target Mike as retribution for Joaquin if he decides to rebel against his former allies. There are multiple ways that Mike could lose; has he built enough trust with Tyler and Carolyn to ensure they stick with him? Mike will need them if Rodney wavers. He understands the high stakes and the risks of ending up on the chopping block. Can Mike retain his allies and ensure that he doesn’t follow Kelly out the door?
This was a thrilling episode that set the stage for an exciting post-merge run. In a normal situation, Jenn’s idol play would just delay the inevitable due to the numbers disadvantage. Given the three-tribe format and multiple layers within the alliances, a predictable finish seems unlikely. Will Rodney decide to make his move against Mike? Can Joe continue to win challenges? Who will locate the immunity idol in the mad treasure hunt next week? What is the major advantage that we’ve been promised? These unanswered questions and a lot more have me enthused about the upcoming episodes. There are many potential winners among the remaining cast, and few seem willing to stroll meekly into oblivion. Jenn pulled a “magic” save this week, but no one has a cakewalk to the finish. Whoever comes out on top will need a lot more special powers to avoid the vote in what’s shaping up to be a very challenging game.