Individual Games – Gaming the Tribe Swap

This week, I am feeling a little disaffected with this season. Survivor’s decision to double up episodes is a royal pain in the arse for this column. I had twice as many secret scenes and interviews to take notes on, and due to an RL commitment, less time to do it in. The column I really want to write this week would be about the layers of the social game, but I just don’t have time to explore it properly. I may well revisit this theme in a post-season blog.

It doesn’t help that Jeff Probst hyped this week up as possibly the best episode of the season. I’m not sure whether he meant the first hour, second hour or entire thing, but I do know that as the second episode drew to its close, I began to assume something crazy must be about to happen at Tribal Council to warrant Jeff’s excitement. (It’s not that I expect to agree necessarily on his favorite moments, but usually, I can see why he likes something.)

Perhaps this week had no notable event, but gamewise, they were two solid episodes, two blindsides, two big decisions shifting the dynamics, and that means I’ve got a blogful to write about without tangents, so let’s get on with it.

Blue Collar finally goes to Tribal Council

No sooner do I give up predicting that Blue Collar would lose a challenge than they go ahead and do just that. Twice. Up until this point, we had seen Dan and Mike be on the outs. That was the edit, and it was even backed up by the secret scenes. We had seen Rodney bond with Lindsey, and we had seen Lindsey attack Mike as if to take the heat off Rodney. This episode, it suddenly turns out that Lindsey and Rodney can’t stand each other and that Dan and Mike are perfectly safe in a core alliance, with the ability to choose their target.

Since when!? Since when?![/caption]

As anybody who’s read anything I’ve written all season knows, I’m used to being wrong in this column. But usually it’s due to my own speculation and fan fiction. I don’t mind the editors throwing us a red herring—lord knows, I complain enough when they make things obvious—but there’s a difference between misdirection and this complete non-sequitur of an alliance.

I did pick up on a potential Mike and Kelly connection when Kelly talked about having one on one time with him—but that was in a secret scene, not the episode. We certainly weren’t given any reason to believe that Rodney and Mike were together, and this revelation that Lindsey and Sierra are the outsiders has come out of the blue.

At least it’s a little easier to see why the two women were targeting Rodney, who’s lazy and brash. Lindsey’s got into arguments with Mike and Dan, which explains why they wouldn’t like her, but in both instances (building the shelter and Mike Time), we’ve had confessionals from other blue collars that agreed with Lindsey’s perspective, implying that the men were in the minority.

From interviews and secret scenes, it appears the target on the younger women’s backs was twofold… Firstly, they bonded very tightly, very quickly, as evidenced by their braided hair and fetching wovengrass headbands. (Lindsey’s boot is a tragic loss to on-screen fashion.) Secondly, Lindsey reports that she was the only person looking for the idol. She may be wrong about this, but we can draw the conclusion that Lindsey was the most aggressive / obvious idol hunter, and that is a classic reason to target somebody.

The obvious drawback in the Blue Collar strategy was that they were targeting a pair. While Kelly had talked about a swap, it’s not clear if any of them realized that a swap almost always happens after the fourth vote off. Regardless, they should not have left somebody knowing they were on the outs right before a predictable switch up.

Obviously, there might well have been some more tangible advantages to voting Lindsey over Rodney that we just don’t know about. Both are volatile, but Lindsey seems a little sharper and prone to crusading for what she believes in. They may have felt that was more difficult to manipulate than Rodney who simply wants to feel that he’s in charge of his own game.

Nevertheless, it would probably have been better to take the risk and not split the vote, as it seems unlikely Lindsey would have played it even if she had found it. The worst case scenario would have been Rodney going home and Lindsey and Sierra going into the tribe swap intent on bringing down their old tribe. The best case would have been Lindsey going home and being able to convince Sierra that she’s still a valued member of the alliance, they just didn’t want to put her in the position of blindsiding her friend.

By playing it safe, they told Sierra she was disposable to their plans. Literally. When she predictably asked about the votes for her, Mike said to her face that it was so nobody from their alliance would go home in case of an idol play.

Sierra's loyalty is not up for grabs after Lindsey's exit.

On her own.

They exacerbated the situation by explaining this strategy in front of the whole tribe. They didn’t have the benefit of seeing San Juan Del Sur, but in this new era of early blindsides and vote-splitting, players need to stop ganging up on the bottomfeeder with post-Tribal Council explanations. That just reinforces the outsider’s feeling that there’s nobody in their corner. Missy and Jon made that mistake with first Keith and then Natalie, who both came away determined to have their revenge. It’s had the same effect on Sierra.

Sierra herself seemed to handle the situation well, trying to stay calm and impersonal, but the men kept talking (it seems that only Kelly had the sense to keep out of it), giving her no respite. Dan’s subsequent apology does suggest that she may have made her own heated attacks (depending on how reliable a narrator Dan is), but even then, this was a terrible way for the majority to handle the situation. Let her cool off, talk to her one-to-one… Just don’t batter her with the ways she’s in the wrong.

Kudos to Sierra for sucking it up the next day and acting excited to find out she was with the majority of her tribe at the swap. We had another wildly unbalanced tribe swap—something that’s becoming so commonplace, I’m tempted to say that players should strategize for it and make sure their core allies are of similar physical ability! Certainly, it’s perfectly defensible for the new Nagarote to plan on losing every challenge until the merge and for new Escameca to assume they won’t lose a challenge unless they throw one.

This would be great news for the Blue Collars who make up the Escameca majority—or would if it was Kelly who was with them instead of Sierra. I don’t know if Mike, Rodney, and Dan left Sierra alone with the newcomers as quickly as it seemed in the episode, but considering they knew she was feeling insecure, it was a ridiculous thing to do.

For that matter, I’m not sure if Sierra should have been so quick to advertise her position, instead of getting a better feel for Tyler, Joaquin, and Joe first. In confessional, she at least acknowledges that they are trying to butter up, but insists that they seem genuine and that they haven’t ‘hurt’ and ‘betrayed’ her. If that’s what she bases her decision on, she’s in for a rude awakening.

But she’s not decided yet, noting that she’d rather go up against the crappy people at the end. (Again… rude awakening incoming.) If that ends up being the case, Tyler, Joaquin, and Joe are probably going to be more irritated with her for saying she’ll flip and then changing her mind: wishy-washiness is an unforgivable sin in modern Survivor.

That said, for somebody who’s much newer to the game than most, I like Sierra and I’m rooting for her to score some points somewhere in this game. I said pre-season that she was the most conventional casting choice this season, but for your average season, she’d be the best of the recruited young women. Your Andrea Boehlke in Redemption Island, if you will. She’s still getting a feel for the game, and as such, she’s hopelessly behind most of the cast, but she’s going for it.

Similar plaudits go to Tyler who had the line of the episode with: “Bring me your poor, your tired, your huddled Survivors. Or to Joe, whose online confessional showed a good analysis of both his situation and tribe swap strategy. But then, Dan and Mike also know what they’re doing in confessional. (Both Dan’s confessionals this week, here and here, are worth watching.) New Escameca has yet to put its money where its mouth is… nor is it likely to until after the merge.

White Collar Break Up

I don’t have time to dwell too much on where Max and Shirin went so wrong socially, but we can acknowledge that they also had the right idea in confessional. Max was allied with everybody on his tribe: a trio with Tyler and Joaquin and a trio with Shirin and Carolyn. He told us that post-swap, he lay low, under the radar, while Shirin went after the swing vote. They had a day one alliance with Carolyn, Max had plans on using Tyler as an Alpha Male shield post merge, and part of Shirin’s active quirkiness on Nagarote was because she mistakenly thought that was endearing her to her new tribemates.

Insert metaphor here.

Trying to find the metaphor.

I suspect the key to their failure was each other. As an alliance, they weren’t crossing enough demographics to really get a pulse on their tribe. (The same might be argued of Sierra and Lindsey.) Max and Shirin validated each other in their geekery, and neither could see where it was annoying the rest of their tribe.

It also appears that they were quite blatantly relegating Carolyn to the sidelines without even realizing it. Max and Shirin worked out the strategy. Max and Shirin touched base with each other to discuss what was happening going forward. Carolyn was simply told what to do. It’s difficult to accurately assess the situation, based on the little we see, but if they weren’t keeping Carolyn as an equal strategic partner, then it’s small wonder she felt no security in their alliance.

Of course, it’s just as possible that Carolyn’s sheer distaste for Max and Shirin (I wondered if that was a red herring on production’s part, but apparently not!) has led her to avoid strategy discussions with them, and they’ve put it down to her own lack of interest in strategy. Either way, they can be forgiven for thinking that it would be a lunatic idea for Carolyn to flip on them. They were loyal to her, and if she had stuck with White Collar, they could have entered the merge as a five-strong unit.

There are a few things we need to take into account here. It’s entirely possible that the edit was misleading, that Kelly made the decision to go with No Collar and Jenn tipped Carolyn off. In her confessional, Kelly considered herself not Carolyn the swing vote and declared that she found Max and Shirin annoying too. Considering Carolyn’s in-episode confessional about being the swing vote, one of these woman is rationalizing that vote so that she can see herself in the power position.

Carolyn probably did have the final influence over the vote, however. For most of the tribe, the confessionals maintain that the choice of who is going home comes down to which of Max and Shirin is more annoying. Yet from what they describe, it seems that Shirin was the greater nuisance around camp. The fact that it was Max who went home has Carolyn’s fingerprints all over it. Tyler has a confessional confirming that before the swap, she was anxious to get Max out.

Max put this down to Carolyn getting votes at the first Tribal Council, and being upset to hear that Max had told Joaquin to vote for her. Max thought she understood that she was the alternative vote, but did she understand that Max was mandating it? I agree with Max that Carolyn should have been aware that Joaquin and So had to vote for somebody, but she could have interpreted that information as Max protecting Shirin. Carolyn knew that So didn’t have an idol; Max couldn’t be so sure—yet he did make it obvious to So that she would be going home at the Tribal Council itself.

Carolyn wasn’t disposable to Max’s plans… he would apparently have gone to rocks for her. But it’s possible that from that moment, Carolyn saw herself as the bottom of that threesome: the one to be sacrificed should things go wrong. And in that, she was probably correct.

There was another angle here. While Max seemed unaware of Carolyn’s alliance with Tyler and Joaquin, she probably did know (either from Tyler or Max himself) that Max had a mock alliance with the other men, and that he was putting a lot of effort into his relationship with ‘The Big Man’, Tyler. She might well have been paranoid that the three men would take each other to the final three, leaving her out.

Either way, the best way for Carolyn to secure her place in the alliance was to boot Max. If we’re assuming this level of paranoia, then we should also assume that she didn’t trust Tyler and Joaquin to go through with her plan to vote Max off. (Tyler does make it clear that he would have done so to keep Carolyn comfortable.) Therefore, she seized the opportunity to do it in their absence—and to do her backstabbing before the jury stage.

New besties!

New besties!

The other thing we should take into account is that Carolyn might never have planned to secure a White Collar majority at the merge. Technically, five isn’t going to be a majority anyway, and the tribe with the most numbers at merge time is also going to be the biggest target. Perhaps she’s pulling a delayed Intentional Matsing: vote off Max and Shirin to make White Collar the clear minority, let the bigger targets fight it out amongst themselves and then pull in the pieces for a victory, a la Denise (who Carolyn cited in her bio).

Certainly, the historical precedent is for original alliances to fall by the wayside after a swap from three tribes to two, so it’s not unreasonable for Carolyn to seek out a new alliance with No Collar, particularly if she thinks she can manipulate Hali and Jenn more successfully than her original allies.

Then again, maybe she didn’t think it through at all; maybe she simply can’t stand Max or Shirin. I’m not hugely impressed by Carolyn’s move, but I don’t think it was necessarily the wrong one, as counter-intuitive as it feels. A lot will depend on how she plays it from here and how successfully she’s worked her tribemates. (Hali commented that Carolyn was more on board with their alliance than they were, which is probably a good sign.)

The Chicken or the Idol

Carolyn also has an idol, be that life insurance, a way to secure post-merge numbers or a way to bind allies to her. But so does Jenn.

It’s been a slow season for finding idols, and judging by what Lindsey told Gordon Holmes, they’re not handing clues out in rewards this season. Still, given enough time, an idol will be found. When Jenn decided to stay away from camp while her tribemates slaughtered, prepared, cooked and ate Shirley the chicken, she had hours to herself with nothing better to do than look.

(Kudos to Jenn, by the way, for not being mad at her tribemates and for handing over the chicken herself. It was acknowledged that Jenn did not want any part of killing the chicken, but it was not a source of division in camp. All kudos withdrawn from everybody for killing the chicken and not the rooster. Guys, we talked about this last time. Repeatedly..)

At any rate, Jenn found the idol but it’s too early to tell her intentions. Did she tell anybody on her tribe about it? Did they have any suspicions that she would have taken the opportunity to hunt for it? Did she use the idol as leverage at all when pulling Kelly and Carolyn over?

Max inferred in his Gordon Holmes interview that he believed Jenn had the idol. It’s not clear if he just assumed the odds were in favor of one of the No Collars having an idol, or if he was guessing/knew Jenn had found it. However, as of the next vote, everybody’s going to be conscious of the merge, of the numbers and of the looming individual game. And that means idol speculation is going to ramp up very quickly over the next few weeks. Carolyn and Jenn will have to be on the alert—but so too should the blue collars, who will be suspected of having an idol whether or not Escameca’s is ever found.

Next Vote Strategy

Jenn isn't considered a top threat and has the idol as a bonus.

First step: find an idol. Second step…?

As everybody should assume the next vote is the last vote before the merge (while also taking into account that that’s not guaranteed), how should they play it? The most predictable route is for the weaker Nagarote to lose the next immunity challenge and send Shirin home. It’s the path of least resistance, and the players may want to enjoy the calm before the storm.

However, Shirin is now harmless. She has neither allies nor friends in this game, and as annoying as she is, she could be tucked under somebody’s wing as a number. If Nagarote are determined to stick together post-merge and try and pull in a couple of people from the other side, then Shirin should be cut. If, on the other hand, they don’t have faith in each other to stick with their five in the first post-merge vote, it might be better to keep Shirin and target somebody else.

There’s some merit to sacrificing Kelly. Before the swap, Joe said that it would only take a couple more tribals to get No Collar back on an even footing. Certainly in that scenario, the original No Collars would be the tightest unit, though they don’t have enough information to be sure of that themselves. Alternatively, it may make more sense to keep Kelly, and have Blue Collar stay five strong and an obvious target.

Finally, there’s Carolyn. They’re convinced she’s with them, that she’s voted because of personal discord rather than any over-riding strategy, but she has just demonstrably broken trust with her original alliance. A lot of her image going forward will depend on how she deals with Shirin after Tribal Council—and how Shirin herself handles it. If the No Collars have any reason to be believe Carolyn is a wild card, they might want to take her out before the merge.

Aside from Nagarote considerations, it’s entirely possible that Escameca will lose the challenge—or even decide to throw it. Suppose Tyler and Joaquin interpret Max’s departure as a sign that White Collar lost the power struggle at Nagarote and fear Carolyn is next on the chopping block? Or maybe everybody will be nervous of trusting Sierra and come to a temporary truce to get rid of her before the merge. Or they might even consider that Joe or Joaquin is clearly the biggest challenge beast out there and they need to vote him off before the individual immunities start. Or, you know, Rodney could just set another argument at camp and provoke himself or somebody else right out of the game.

Shirin remains the most likely boot, and quite honestly, even if it is somebody else (and I hope so, since what’s annoying to live with is delightful to watch), I don’t feel as if there’s any real sense of urgency in the next boot. Nobody has a clear edge in this game right now, and we don’t really know what anybody’s post-merge strategy is. We’re just marking time until the merge… and god only knows what will happen then.

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