A Diplomatic View dives into each week’s episode of Survivor, looking at who’s winning, who’s losing, and most importantly: how they’re doing it.
Loose Lips Sink… Well, You Know How It Goes
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X – Loose Lips Sink… Well You Know How It Goes
Any game that centers around communication is going to hinge on a player’s ability to control themselves and the information that they put out to their fellow players. This isn’t just a question of what they tell players; it covers non-verbal communication, whom they spend time with, and what they do around camp. Some of the best players that we’ve seen play the game describe it as work, discussing the time that they have to put in with each of the other players and how carefully they have to manage what they tell people, and what those players tell other people. That’s just the tip of what they have to deal with; there are other parts of the game that are also important, which we’ll touch on in different articles. It won’t shock you to know that we’re going to come back to the issue of communication again and again.
To give a bit of context to my personal views of the importance of communication, I’d like to roll back to Survivor: Cook Islands, and what I consider one of the top 10 diplomatic moments in Survivor. “Does it make sense, under any scenario, for us to work together again?”, as asked by Yul Kwon to Jonathan Penner opened the conversation, with Yul getting Penner to flip alliances again and give Yul control of the game. The key part of that exchange, however, was Yul walking away to let Jonathan stew on things with a “To be continued…”. Yul would reinforce that initial conversation by later revealing his idol to Jonathan and making it clear that the player the Aitu 4 would be targeting was Penner.
Walking away is such a huge moment because of constructive interference. Constructive interference (in summary), is the effect that causes small waves to interact with each other to become bigger waves. It is almost easier to produce a large wave through this effect of multiple small waves with a final wave sweeping them all up, then it is to just drop one big rock. That same effect can apply when trying to change someone’s mind or their behavior. Multiple conversations and environmental effects can have a much bigger impact on a person than one massive conversation / revelation.
To say that Jonathan was under a large amount of environmental pressure at that point would be a vast understatement. He’d found himself to be an outsider with the younger Rarotonga tribe and had watched the Aitu tribe come storming back with immunity win after immunity win. So the waves were already building up when Yul walked away to let Jonathan stew… and when he showed Jonathan the immunity idol that formed a large and fast final wave, sweeping up all the other waves and forming a tsunami that swept aside the Rarotonga tribe.
That kind of behavioral management is a key part of game theory. Many poker players use it at the table to get their opponents to make suboptimal decisions. Some players are proponents of the ‘speech game’, using constant chatter to get their opponents to do what they want them to do. True to the theory of constructive interference, it’s not normally the first time the person talks that does it… but after 4 hours at the table with someone who won’t shut up, people will make bad decisions in hope of knocking that person out of the game. You also see it at play in politics, where singular moments can have massive impact, most often a groundswell of support (or lack thereof) is built up of many such moments over time.
Of course, the effect isn’t always to your benefit… sometimes that wave that you’re building up is one that will swamp you under instead. Paul’s mistake this episode wasn’t quite an epic fail, mostly because his ship wasn’t stable enough to need a tsunami to sink it. The little bit that he did, was more than enough to wash away what was left of it.
There are other moments that I’m sure will come up over the course of this season, some of which are also examples of constructive interference. This wasn’t quite as dramatic as getting Erik to give up his immunity idol, but it sealed Yul’s win with 9 players left in the game, so it had a deeper impact… It also had echoes in this week’s episode.
Lots of great comments on last week’s article, and I was sad that I couldn’t spend quite as much time in the comments as I did last week. Hopefully, this week will be a little less crowded.
I’ll start with Damn Bueno who made several reasonable points, given what we knew at the time, that a) Michelle had revealed herself and might be in big trouble because of it and that b) it’s very difficult to move forward with an erratic ally like Figgy.
To the first part of that, I would have thought it was a tremendous risk to expose herself, but one that was justified given the alternative. As it’s actually worked out, her exposure was far less than was feared. While she was exposed, to a degree, the other Millennials are still targeting someone else in her alliance, which I’ll be discussing a bit later on.
As for the unreliability of Figgy, who I agree is playing an erratic game, she doesn’t really fit into the NaOnka / Abi-Maria category that she’s been painted into. NaOnka was, essentially, a completely random factor that couldn’t be accounted for in any rational play; Figgy isn’t quite that bad. The parallel to Abi-Maria is not quite as rough on Figgy, but I’m in the minority in my opinion of Abi-Maria. While I think she would be enervating to have to deal with as an ally, requiring constant maintenance and coddling… she actually isn’t all that unpredictable. If you push the correct buttons, she’ll swing a certain way. The issue Abi’s allies seem to always run into, is that they assume once she’s swung their way that she’s going to settle in and move forward. Clearly, that’s not the case… but as long as you put in your time with her… she can be reliable. That’s probably not that far from Figgy in some ways, but I believe that Figgy’s loyalty isn’t as likely to swing with the barometric pressure.
Secondly, Andy Pfeiffer made a good point about Michelle’s public courting of Hannah’s vote at the tribal council, raising a point I blew right past in my article. By publicly courting Hannah’s vote at tribal council, and making it seem like Hannah’s vote was clearly going her way, she made it much more difficult for Will or Michaela to decide to flip their votes a different direction. Hannah’s vote was the number that made flipping pointless. So while Michelle didn’t need the insurance, by so publicly buying the insurance at tribal council, she put the nail in Mari’s coffin.
Key Points in Episode 3: Your Job Is Recon
Hannah – Bridge Demolisher
Hannah was in an interesting position this episode. She’d betrayed her alliance, in an obvious public way, and they found themselves on the bad side of a blindside. Understandably, the thing she wanted to do most of all was explain to her allies why she did what she did and to try to smooth things over. The problem is that Zeke wasn’t interested in hearing any of that. I think we can all relate to Zeke’s mindset; his position in the game had just been completely torpedoed, one of the people who participated was his closest ally, and he’s adjusting to being on the outside looking in. While nothing is worse than being the person walking out after the blindside, being the ally who watched them go isn’t very much fun either.
Into that situation steps Hannah, eager, nervous, and persistent. Her need to explain herself in this position is understandable, but Zeke wasn’t in a position to hear it. We talked earlier about Yul being willing to walk away and re-open a conversation at a later date. Hannah’s unwillingness to do that is going to be remembered by Zeke and Adam for quite some time. Even if Hannah and Zeke work together, which they have to in order to survive at this point, Zeke isn’t going to forget that Hannah wouldn’t give him space when he needed it.
The other key to constructive interference is that if you don’t send those smaller waves out at just the right times… the pattern falls apart. If Hannah had backed away, given Adam and Zeke some space, and talked with them in the morning? Things are fine with them. Instead, Hannah was there to send wave after wave of annoyance and frustration to spill over both of them.
Michelle’s Cloaking Device
The Millennials’ camp is absolutely fascinating to me and exhibited one of the trends in Survivor that I find absolutely baffling. When the Millennials get back to camp, and Hannah tried her best to make Zeke and Adam’s heads explode, Figgy was quick to crow and claim credit for Mari’s ouster. This isn’t all that surprising from Figgy, since we’ve already established that she’s a fairly extroverted and self-interested player, so having survived the vote she’s unlikely to be introspective about it. Michelle, in keeping with what we’ve seen of her gameplay, was perfectly content to sit back and let that happen.
And… it worked. Cleanly and clearly the target is still on Figgy. We saw actual conversations amongst other players on their tribe about how Michelle is the power player making all of the moves… and so they need to get rid of Figgy so that Michelle will do what they want them to do.
We’ve seen this a lot in Survivor, targeting the lieutenant and not the leader. There are times it’s a reasonable decision to do so. When you have someone who is great at challenges so you need their strength… you take out their top lieutenant, secure your numbers, and bring that person to heel. This situation is not that. There’s an over-quoted television series which features the following quote: “You come at the king, you best not miss”. Yes, the Millennials like Michelle, yes, they dislike Figgy… but you might get only one chance to make the vote go your way. When you get the chance to take control, you target the most dangerous player… not their sidekick.
I Sank My Battleship!
Paul was already on the outs last week, though the Gen-X tribe avoiding tribal council meant we didn’t get to see if he would have gone home. It seemed like the numbers had swung back towards him having some security this week with Jessica and her coterie on his side. Unfortunately for Paul, he made a significant mistake and his game flipped for good back the other way.
Clearly, Jessica had been eyeing the numbers in the majority Gen-X alliance for a few days. The question about whether the guys are doing an all-guy alliance isn’t a casual one, even if Jessica isn’t expecting an actual answer. It’s the kind of question where you provide information in the very act of asking it. She was, in a way, stating that she’s a good player and is keeping an eye on the possibilities so Paul shouldn’t underestimate her. Sometimes simply asking the question is more important than the answer you receive.
Except in this case where Paul made it clear that Jessica was, at best, the fourth person in their alliance of six. I’m not sure, even now, that Paul meant it the way it came across. He could, reasonably, have meant that if he hears about a guys’ alliance he’s going to come to Jessica and tell her that the other guys aren’t on her side. That wouldn’t have precluded him still working with her. Whatever way he meant it, that’s not the way that Jessica heard it. The combination of Paul’s control issues and his seeming disloyalty was too much for Jessica to ignore.
What we didn’t see this week is which of the Gen-X minority factions reached out to the other faction. My assumption, based on the previews of next week’s episode, is that it was Jessica who reached out to David and Ken. This is, unfortunately, one of those times where the dramatic build-up of editing kept some information from us. I’m guessing we’ll get a pretty clear idea of who reached out to whom in the opener for next week’s episode.
Last week, David found an immunity idol and formed a nascent coalition amongst the Gen-X tribe, a coalition that coalesced this week and sent Paul packing. You (and I) would think with the idol and a budding alliance in his pocket, David would be a bit more secure. We would be utterly wrong in our thinking, as David made clear at the summit.
While David didn’t quite say that he had an immunity idol and offer it up in exchange for a hug… he did roll on his back and offer up his belly for a rub. To be clear: I’m fine with trying to exchange information and vague promises to work together if there’s a tribe switch. The line between good gameplay and poor gameplay gets crossed when David offers to vote out whoever on his tribe Taylor wants.
There are simply too many unknowns to make that kind of offer at that point is the game. Is Taylor in power on his tribe? Is Taylor going to be offended by the disloyal gameplay? Are the Gen-Xers going to be in a majority when Taylor and David are on the same tribe? We don’t have those answers, and David doesn’t either… so he didn’t need to go as far as he did. Additionally, the exchange of information was asymmetrical, the Gen-Xers (thanks to David) gave far more info than they got.
Certainly, nothing David said is binding or locked in stone. You can bounce checks on Survivor just as handily as you can on Big Brother. David can easily tell Taylor to go pound sand if he doesn’t need Taylor’s help later. However, it gives Taylor ammunition to use against David later… and I feel confident saying that David won’t be able to deny it convincingly if confronted. It also adds an unnecessary complication to David’s game… something he seems ill-suited to handling comfortably thus far.
David had a chance to send a few ripples towards the Millennials, establishing some momentum to build on later. In his eagerness to be liked / accepted, I’m afraid that David may have aimed for too big of a splash that will fade by the time the tribes are shuffled up.
Closing Points and Looking Forward
So Michelle came back from Tribal Council, was correctly blamed for removing Mari… but isn’t the current target of the nascent opposition on the Millennials tribe. Paul found out that telling someone you’ll cut them loose when things get tough doesn’t work out very well, and the two tribes finally had a little interaction outside of challenges. Both tribes are still forming and re-forming alliances as players vie for control, issues which might not get settled until the inevitable tribe shuffle.
One item we can tell from the previews is that Lucy seems like she’s heading towards a classic mistake. While Paul was summarily run off from the tribe and that leaves a power vacuum on the tribe, that doesn’t mean that the tribe is desperate to have another dictator step up front and center. Lucy might feel that without Paul around to provide direction at camp, she needs to fill the gap… though why Lucy thinks now is the time to start talking is beyond me. It’s an odd mistake for Lucy to make since that bossy attitude was at the core of Paul’s downfall, but she wouldn’t be the first player to fall victim to that. What might make Lucy feel more comfortable is that her alliance just flipped the script on Paul, so it feels like her alliance is more battle-tested.
If the last few seasons have taught us anything, though, it’s that Survivor moves extremely quickly now. The Russian nesting doll model of successful alliances has one big drawback. Since everyone thinks they’re central to the alliance… the alliance can pivot quickly in such a way that you end up in the outer shell instead of at the core of the alliance in an eyeblink. Combine that with players’ willingness to take big shots when they have an opportunity, and it makes being a dictator at camp a pretty dangerous role to assume.
For more blogs this season: RHAP Survivor Blog Schedule