Survivor: Worlds Apart

Individual Games – No, I’m the Good Guy!

Well, Mike completed his predictable march to victory, eliminating our hopes that perhaps the editors had permanently changed their approach. Even the more casual fan could have guessed what was up after the season recap was told entirely from his point of view.

What was less predictable was the rest of the tribe’s decision to let him choose the last two boots and for those to be Sierra and Rodney. I had actually predicted those two to be in the final three with him… Of course, I also predicted that Blue Collar would Matsing themselves prior to the Tribal Swap. What I’m saying is that my predictions aren’t worth the paper they aren’t written on.

Yet in many ways Blue Collar was the trainwreck of the season; they just hung onto the rails until the endgame. While Mike cemented the win for that tribe, it was their gradual implosion that ended up defining the game of Worlds Apart, and it’s a matter of debate whether or not that was a good thing for the season.

Justice is a Seat on the Jury

There were some strategic reasons for Mike to take out Sierra and Rodney before the end. Taken in a vacuum, it’s arguable whether Sierra or Carolyn was the bigger threat to his challenge monopoly, but as it turned out, the final immunity challenge would have favored the long, lean and young Sierra. Mike still might have won, but Sierra would likely have come closer to him than anybody else. Putting Carolyn and Rodney through a firemaking challenge highlighted their own weakness before the jury, and might well have earned him Carolyn’s jury vote out of gratitude if she lost.

Of course, it almost certainly didn’t matter anyway, as Mike should have beaten any of them in a jury vote. (We’ll never truly know if Rodney is right to think he could have won, but I still have trouble believing he wouldn’t blow up before the jury.)

There was a more personal factor at play. Mike felt Sierra and Rodney had betrayed him, moreso than Carolyn and Will who had only joined their voting bloc at the merge—when he offered the latter two a final three deal, he really meant it.

His votes against Sierra and Rodney were partly retribution for turning against him and perhaps for making him out to be the bad guy. He had fretted in confessionals about being considered a villain. Outlasting them perhaps gave him some emotional vindication that he was in the right after all. Sierra revealed in her interview that she had found Mike’s paranoia difficult to live with even before the auction incident, and from her Ponderosa video, we learn that Mike told her he was done with her after she wrote Carolyn’s name down instead of Dan’s at the previous Tribal Council.

Eleventh Hour BFF Eleventh Hour BFF[/caption]

We didn’t see much of this tension simmering on screen, but it puts her last plea to stay into context: as ridiculous as her statement she deserved to stay because she was a better player seemed, she was trying to cater to Mike’s sense of integrity. Unfortunately for her, Mike is playing the game in overdrive, and was constantly second-guessing his own motivations. According to his interview, he decided five minutes before Tribal Council that he needed to vote off the strong competitors, and that put Sierra out.

Would it have been wiser of the other players to seize control in this moment and choose for themselves who was going home? After all, Carolyn, Rodney, and Sierra could have reached an agreement that whatever their preferences for final three, the all-important thing was that Mike not be in it, and so they should get rid of Will, the least likely person to beat him in the final immunity. Each of those three would have had a case for the win against each other. As a calculated risk, I think it would have been worth it.

However, there is no guarantee that Sierra would have won that final immunity, and it seemed their main consideration was what would happen if Mike did. The players wanted to butter Mike up, so that he wouldn’t want to vote them off, and they wanted to keep their own loyal allies in the game. If Rodney voted off Will and found himself in a group with Sierra and Carolyn, why would he trust either of them to keep him around for the finals over each other? (Actually, they probably would have done, but his wariness is understandable.)

Regardless, it was one of the few hurdles that the final five could have put in the way of Mike’s run to the million. Rodney did try to seize control of the vote at final four, but it was too late. Mike was already committed to voting out the last of the treacherous Blue Collars.

Again, there were strategic reasons to vote out Rodney. When Will declared that nobody was going to vote against a Mama for the win, he proved that he had not seen the last four seasons. (Dawn, Sherri, Monica, Missy, and even Kass provide an argument to the contrary.) Yet Mike was very definite that he was voting based on integrity rather than strategy. (That said, Mike also had a confessional stating that his letter from home was worth more than a million dollars to him, so we shouldn’t assume his opinions are consistent from hour to hour.)

Even so, the tie could have been avoided. Rodney and Carolyn could have compared notes and agreed to vote Will, sending him home with a two-one-one majority. Rodney didn’t know Mike was lying to him, but Carolyn should have thought more outside the box. Even if she didn’t talk to Rodney, why not approach Will? Odds are good that Will would have changed his own vote to Rodney if given some pitch about voting with the majority to look good in front of the jury. Either way would have taken the risk out of it for Carolyn and given her control over the vote instead of Mike—always vital if you’re going into Final Tribal Council against a juggernaut.

From Mike’s point of view, while the drama of fire-making was attractive, the real advantage of the tie-breaker was to put the game on his terms. Not so much in who he was up against at the end, but how he was up against them. Hard work has been his mantra throughout; there was no clearer way to make that relevant to the game than by putting this camp-life survival challenge on the stage before the jury. Did her poor performance in the challenge cost Carolyn votes? Both Joe and Shirin were annoyed that anybody could be at this point in the game and not be able to make fire. I don’t think those two would have voted for Carolyn anyway, but it certainly didn’t help her case.

Carolyn did at least break the curse of the older woman being lambasted by the jury, usually for reasons pertaining to her motherhood. Hali played the mother card, but not in accusation, and while Carolyn didn’t make the best argument against it, she effectively answered. (I’m still waiting for somebody to tell the jury that they’re past the age where they should expect their mother to let them win. Not the most tactful response, but it would certainly make me feel better!)

However, Mike was always going to win. He had forged a bond with the losing alliance and been outcast by his own alliance before turning against them. An immunity run to the end is always divisive, as it seems to defeat the purpose of the social game when you haven’t had to irritate the entire journey, but equally, winning that many challenges under that much pressure is impressive, and after Terry and Ozzy fell short, it was about time somebody succeeded.

Who was the Axis of Evil's Overlord?

Who was the Axis of Evil’s Overlord?

Still, if you took Mike out of the equation for a more conventional final three, Carolyn and Rodney would have been quite the battle. The edit and Mike gave Rodney the credit for bringing that unlikely alliance together, but Carolyn claimed her own share of responsibility in her interview. Logically, it makes more sense for Kelly and Carolyn to be the ones who truly forged that alliance. It seems that the over forty crowd bonded at Nagarote, and brought in their previous allies at the merge. Still, Rodney did forge a tight bond with Will and Carolyn with Sierra, so they both deserve the kudos for their post-merge social game.

And they deserve to lose those kudos as well. Rodney’s outbursts cost him regularly throughout the game, and his jurors would only need a reminder about his birthday entitlement to think twice about voting for him. Meanwhile, Carolyn’s flexibility with allies was commendable, but she had a habit of burning her bridges. We saw how she behaved with Shirin after voting Max out, and it seems she failed to appease the No Collar girls after flipping too. Finally, she lost Rodney over said birthday entitlement. (She also lost Tyler, though I’m not sure whether she did anything specifically to push him away aside from voting him off, which I maintain was the right move at the right time.)

Yet at the same time, some of the things Carolyn did were so good. While Rodney was berating her for not telling them she had an idol on the night he tried to vote her out, she calmly and pleasantly addressed the three people who voted for her, using the argument: No more idols, no more advantages, level playing field. She presented herself as no longer a threat, and somehow they bought it!

As I said before, Carolyn was always among friends—she never flipped to the bottom of the numbers. Everybody was buttering up Mike this episode, but Carolyn was the one who had his loyalty. She accepted his previous final three deal, even if it wasn’t the one she wanted, and according to Mike, she somehow intuited that he was turning on Sierra and flipped her vote at Tribal Council. (I have trouble believing this, although if Mike didn’t tell her, I can’t imagine Rodney and Will would.) Mike didn’t do Carolyn any jury favors with the tiebreaker, but it got her a seat at the finals.

Let’s not downplay Rodney’s achievements which were impressive for somebody his age and with no prior experience of the show. I don’t regret Rodney’s omission from Second Chance, I’d like him to get a few years maturity under his belt before he makes a return, but a return seems very likely, and now that he’s had game experience, Rodney should be one to watch.

Priorities May Vary

You're welcome.

You’re welcome.

While I’m handing out plaudits, let’s give the jury their share. They didn’t lack for fire, but they also didn’t go below the belt in their own personal quests for the spotlight. Jenn did the well worn: “If you respect the game, vote for this player!” speech, but managed to inject some humor into the traditionally redundant plea for the winner. Shirin laid into Will, but gave props to both Mike and Carolyn. Dan scolded Mike, but accepted his apology when offered.

For the record, Mike’s apology was probably the best bit of jury play on display. It’s reasonably common for jurors to tell somebody what they think of them without giving the ‘defendant’ an opportunity to respond. Mike took the initiative and addressed Dan’s issues himself; not enough finalists do that. (To be fair, some do and it’s not shown, ref: Sherri from Caramoan apparently not sitting meekly down when told—Mike at least was able to deliver his response with humility and respect.)

Mike’s apology might also have been the only thing said that night which swayed a vote; Dan was the only juror to vote for somebody from his original tribe. He didn’t like any of the final three, but he had been particularly hurt by Mike’s behavior in-game. As much as Mike, Dan had a need to be the good guy, and he took Mike’s apology as an acknowledgment of that.

That same sentiment played into Dan’s reactions to his edit and the public outcry over his in-game comments. He struggled with his newfound reputation in the Survivor community, to the point that he became more interested in defending himself than in acknowledging the ramifications of what he said on the show.

Of course, Dan wasn’t the only person being pressured to discuss the misogyny and issues of domestic violence that arose this season. A few weeks prior to the reunion, Jeff Probst tweeted out a promise to address the controversy at the reunion itself, and he repeated that promise at the beginning of the reunion, saying that he would be talking to Rodney, Dan and Will about their sexist comments.

I’ve said this many times, but to me the most disturbing issue this season was the doubt cast on Shirin’s account of her past. I felt that was a terrible message to be going out to any viewers who were or would be experiencing domestic violence, and that was the point I wanted the reunion to address, to send out some message of support to those viewers—perhaps a helpline recommendation. Certainly, I wanted to see discussion on the content of the remarks, rather than who made them. Dan, Will, Rodney, and many, many others in this season and previous ones, are products of our society. Scapegoating them is a way of avoiding acknowledgment of our own gender biases.

That said, a lot of fans did want to see Dan and Will specifically held to account, so I don’t blame Jeff for taking that approach. Yet I agree with Josh Wigler that he should not have started with Dan. Will was easily the most serious offender if you looked at what was said on the show. (As grotesque as the flippancy of “Somebody slap this woman” in confessional was, it is worlds away from the cold judgment of “You have no soul,” to Shirin’s face with deliberate intent to hurt her—and that’s before we get into the “Playing the victim” response to Shirin’s revelation about her history.)

Will also hadn’t had a chance to account for himself yet in media, unlike Dan who had already had a week of press interviews. Yet it was Dan’s press interviews that Jeff Probst really wanted to address. He did a good job of cutting Dan off when he started rambling through his well-worn explanations, but he pushed him specifically on the accusations that the show had misrepresented what had happened. As Jeff acknowledged, it had offended him to have the show’s integrity questioned, and he showed the raw (yet subtitled!) footage from the “Your mother’s a whore” incident to prove that it hadn’t been the culmination of a series of yo’ mama jokes, as Dan had claimed.

While the footage was a fascinating curiosity in its own right, it felt inappropriate in the context. Firstly, that comment was far from the most offensive thing said this season, and secondly, nobody should be hugely surprised that players misremember what really happened. (Even after seeing the video, Hali could not recall that she blamed Shirin instead of Will in the immediate aftermath of her boot.)

Thanks to that raw footage, Dan’s time at the reunion ran from advert break to advert break, and they still had to talk to Will and Rodney. I’m known for my fascination with gender issues in Survivor, but even I wanted to move on at that point. Jeff certainly seemed to be behind schedule: Will got off very lightly as he was rushed through his own controversy before Jeff tried to wrap everything up with an apology to Shirin.


A Victory for the Host

I’m a big proponent of forgiveness, accepting apologies and moving on; it’s not the same as condoning somebody’s actions. Yet I fully support Shirin’s refusal to accept Will’s apology in that situation. She wasn’t being given the chance to address her own issues, or to explain her perspective to him. Production wanted to show closure to this storyline, but they weren’t actually resolving anything. Something tells me that Jeff wasn’t going to accept an apology from Dan without having his own moment of vindication… he shouldn’t expect Shirin to be any more submissive. Again, everybody wants to stand up and be recognized as the good guy. The Hero.

Ultimately, this was the whole problem with the season. The show wanted to make use of these controversial moments, yet they were woefully under-prepared to handle such sensitive subject matter. After accusing Rodney of misogynistic remarks, all they had time for was his birthday cake, which was so inappropriate as to be comedic. (The birthday cake in itself was a great bit of television, but its unintended role as misogyny’s reward was… awkward.) Nobody paid attention to the fact that Mike and Joaquin had had their own moments of on-screen sexism, or that Lindsey had made the most violent comment of the season when she wanted to feed Rodney his own jaw. None of the women were asked for their opinion on this or any other issue, aside from Shirin who was supposed to follow the passive role of receiving the apology instead of actively participating.

I am inclined to agree with the members of the cast who regret that the show made such a big deal out of the sexism, instead of focusing on the more positive relationships out there. In a reunion that was already to be truncated with the Second Chance reveal, it was crushing that so much time was spent trying to force a resolution on a few offensive comments, without ever getting anywhere.

But the show had to pay the price for using those scenes in the final edit, and they chose to use those scenes, because it provided a good story for their winner. Mike was seen as a liar and a flipper by so much of the jury, yet he cast himself as a hero in all his confessionals. Making him the white knight for Shirin while highlighting his allies’ less savory gameplay smoothed over this apparent contradiction. Perhaps Dan was wrong in his memory, but Jeff doesn’t really have a leg to stand on if he’s claiming that the edit is not used to manipulate the truth. The edit’s sole purpose is to create a satisfying story (just ask Penner,) and that requires heroes and villains, but it’s the heroes who win.

Clearly, the artistic merits of that philosophy are debatable—I have a feeling there was a much more fun season that got buried beneath the drama—but Survivor has made its position clear. After all the hype, Worlds Apart proved to be a rough ride, and I suspect I’m not the only person who’s hoping that the next season will reach our screens with much less fanfare.

So we bid farewell to Worlds Apart and Bon Voyage to Second Chance. It’s also goodbye to Individual Games as I’ve reached the conclusion that its’ not feasible for me to do a weekly blog anymore. I am reverting to being an occasional blogger as I did for San Juan Del Sur. When I started writing about Survivor, back with Heroes vs. Villains at Reality News Online, I was a full time mother to my baby son and I wanted some mental stimulation. Now, my children are four and six years old, my life is faster-paced, and I’d like to be able to switch my brain off in my free time.

But I’ll still be around. One of the things I’ve missed this season is time to comment on other Survivor blogs and podcasts, so expect me to be chipping in here and there on Second Chance, especially if you follow me on Twitter. If San Juan Del Sur is any judge, you’ll see a couple of blogs from me per season—goodness knows, with Peih Gee, Stephen and Kass in the mix, this season is going to give me a lot to be excited about. Big thanks to everybody who has read and commented on my blog this season, major love to anybody who’s been reading my column since it’s RNO inception (so my husband and David Bloomberg, then), and all my gratitude and appreciation to Rob for hosting the blogs, Christine for editing, and Scott St Pierre who gets them up on the site. Have a great summer, all!

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