Guest Post: Why Matsing Should Keep Hope Alive on Survivor

The following is a guest post from Contributor, Glenn Holford  – @GlennHolford


I’m an avid Blackjack player. It’s a perfect game in many ways—if you know the game, you can strategize effectively, but you’re never entirely free from the whims of luck. At best you can learn to assess risk, bet intelligently, and increase your advantage to the point where, over time, you’ll win more often than you lose. And, as we all know from the movie 21, one of the critical skills in Blackjack is remembering to account for variable change.

 Calm down, I promise you, this isn’t going to be a blog about math. The purpose of my blog is to talk about Survivor, and about why it’s such a compelling show. Some people seem to think that Survivor is a silly game, or just another trashy reality TV show. It is not. Survivor is a metaphor for life. And in life, just like in Survivor, and just like in Blackjack, situations are fluid. Never forget to account for the variable change.
(Now, fair warning, this episode has left some loose ends unaccounted for. This blog is going to necessarily invite speculation.)

I’m talking of course about the fate of Russell Swan and the Matsing Tribe. Going into this episode, I figured Russell’s game was over. How can he possibly last another week? Angie, Denise, and Malcolm all trust each other, vote together, and there’s nowhere left for him to hide. But I was looking at the game from the perspective of Days 1-3. Back then, the departure of Roxanne would have served as a harbinger of Russell’s doom. But it isn’t Day 3 anymore. It’s Day 9. The battle-worn Matsing tribe has been to three tribal councils now, and Russell Swan has danced merrily around the chopping block time after time after time. In fact, arguably the only thing he’s better at than avoiding getting voted out is ignoring the Hidden Immunity Idol staring him right in the face. Is it time to finally start taking him seriously?
One of the hardest things to remember as a viewer is that whenever someone leaves the game, alliances necessarily have to shift. I’ll give you an example. On Day 1, if I’m Malcolm, looking at a strong, fit, well-fed tribe, I’m wondering if we even need Russell to win. We’ve got Roxy the military chaplain. We’ve got Angie the track star. We’ve got Denise the workhorse. We’ve got Zane, and I don’t know that he can’t run yet. Who needs this Russell guy? Get him out first.
But what does Day 4 look like, if I’m Malcolm? I’ve still got three strong women, but only one other man. A man who’s “built like an ox”. Something has fundamentally shifted. Literally overnight, Russell has gone from my biggest threat to my biggest challenge asset. What happened? Variable change.
Is Matsing dead meat in this game? Probably. But that makes for boring blog entries, so let’s examine the other possibility.

Call me crazy, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that losing this immunity challenge could be a net positive thing for the Blue Tribe’s game (not that it could get worse)—that is, IF Matsing can avoid losing next week, AND if we can trust the merge precedent set by All Stars. Now that we’ve got a Matsing tribe that’s down 3 members, in theory, a merge should be imminent. And a merge, to my mind, could be an enormous stay-of-execution for our good friends in Blue.
Let’s crunch the numbers. Fifteen people are left in the game. It would make sense to assume a merge into two tribes of seven would take place on Day 13.  Even though the Matsing Tribe looks like Old Yeller right now—limping, emaciated and rabid, things might actually not be as bad as they appear. If the Blue Brigade is able, by some miracle, to avoid losing another soldier next week, they could possibly go into a merge as a solid three. Now, that isn’t a dominant alliance, but it is only one vote away from being able to flip the numbers.  And something tells me those Red and Yellow alliances are itching to vote out a couple of their own.
So let’s play out that scenario. Let’s say Matsing manages somehow to land all three on the same merged tribe together. Now you’ve got Malcolm and Denise who are very smart players and excellent communicators, entering a new tribe where SOMEONE Red or Yellow will be on the bottom.  All three Matsing members will be challenge assets for their new tribe as well. Do we really expect that the Pagonging will continue?
Penner seems to know he’s on the outs on Red. Lisa seems willing to wheel and deal on Yellow. RC may yet sense that danger is lurking for her. There are a lot of possible in-roads for Malcolm and Denise in a merge situation. But you’d have to think that their life in the game would depend on winning next week.
I think that Malcolm made the right move for the wrong reasons when he decided to keep Russell over Angie. His reasoning for keeping Russell was sheer desperation to win a challenge. He knows Russell is a physical player and can be an asset for Matsing. But that’s not the reason to keep Russell. The reason to keep Russell is that Russell can be a challenge asset for their next tribe.  
If I’m Jeff Kent or Abi/Pete, and I’m the alliance leader of my dominant tribe, maybe I look at the downtrodden Matsing Three and I think, here’s three strong, hardworking players that I can use to help win challenges. There’s only three of them, I can burn them at any time. Why not use them for awhile? Both Jeff Kent and Abi-Maria are struggling with knee injuries. If you’re handed Russell, Malcolm, or Denise, your team just became that much stronger. I’m not a card-counter, but I think the table could be hot for a Matsing comeback.  
So what happens next week? Can Matsing actually win a challenge?  Let’s play it out.
If there’s no merge before the next immunity challenge, as seems likely, then we will have 3 teams of 3 running the challenge. Since both of the other tribes have deep bullpens at this point, at first glance Matsing would seem to be likely to lose again.
Or, maybe not.
Malcolm, Denise, and Russell have always been the core of Matsing’s challenge strength. (In that order.) And it’s possible that that trio could manage to NOT BE LAST against a likely matchup of Skupin, RC, and Pete for Yellow and Kent, Dawson, and Carter for Red. Depending on the challenge, I actually think Blue could pull a Rocky II and manage, even if just barely, to not lose. 
One other thing that interested me about next week has to do with challenge design. If I think about things from a production standpoint, Matsing being down three means every tribe will have to sit out three in the next immunity challenge. Do you really think that Probst and the Survivor Dream Team were building challenges designed to be run by teams of 3 for Day 11?
If I’m designing challenges for Day 11, am I assuming three tribes of 3 participants, or am I assuming a 4-4-4 configuration? 5-5-5? These are, I would think, fundamentally different challenge configurations from a design standpoint. Wouldn’t you think that they would tend to “round up” the number of tribe members needed to run the challenge, and then just merge the tribes if need be? Or, are parts of the challenges designed to be adjustable to relative tribe size?
Guess this is one for Rob’s Fact Checkers: If anyone has insight about this particular (or any other) facet of the game, I’d love to hear your comments! See ya next week!
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