Survivor: Worlds Apart

Individual Games – Over a Barrel

So far, the post-merge has been a gloomy pagonging and disturbing conflicts, but this episode showed us the light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, the last of the No Collar alliance went home, but with Mike going public with his immunity idol, we at least know that the majority alliance has to turn on one of its own now—better yet, they have to spend the next three days trying to contain themselves as the paranoia fuse burns down.

Shirin’s rollercoaster ride through the game is over, one that has been regrettably polarizing among the fans. I urge everybody, whatever your opinion on Shirin or what happened between her and Will, not to dismiss her past history when talking about it, especially on public forums. Evidently she went through a lot of trauma in her childhood and is still dealing with it. Even more evidently, it’s difficult for many people in a domestic abuse situation to get themselves out of it—and at least as difficult for them to find the support to do so. Any implications that Shirin is to blame for her childhood or that her childhood was not a problem is spreading a damning message for people who are or will be in that situation.

For further reference, I feel that her Ponderosa video is important viewing, as it gives us insight into how Shirin annoys her tribemates, into her background, and into the person she is today. It is my personal opinion that—ironically—many of the attributes that crashed her social game on Survivor are the very same ones that enabled her to escape her own domestic abuse situation.

Double Immunity

The first twist of the episode came when there were two immunity necklaces on offer. It’s happened before on Survivor that the men and women have competed for separate immunities, but traditionally, that’s been at the first challenge after the merge. (I don’t recall a time it’s happened later, but I’m happy for anybody to list the relevant occasions in the comments. Certainly, recent precedent is merge episode.)

ImmunityChallenge Multiple immunities were up for grabs[/caption]

Regardless of how fair it is, I love that it’s happening in final eight. Why? Because final eight is the calm between two potential storms at final nine and seven. It’s the even number; it’s also frequently the tail end of a post-merge pagonging. Having two immunities at the merge isn’t going to hamper strategy that much, even if one side wins both. Having two immunities when you just have two or three from the minority left means your odds are that much greater of forcing the majority to turn on themselves and reveal the pecking order.

Even though Carolyn won the female immunity, we got a desirable result. (It should be noted that there’s no guarantee Mike would have beaten Carolyn had it been a single necklace on offer; she was probably holding up half his weight.) By coincidence, both winners also had immunity idols, and that meant Mike was free to do something with his. I have not had a lot of faith in Mike to make a sensible move in this game, for reasons which are best illustrated by his immunity challenge strategy, but my hat is off to him this week, because I thought he executed that move perfectly.

I can’t be sure if he had Caramoan in mind, but it was all very reminiscent of the Three Amigos’ last stand when Eddie won immunity. Malcolm put one immunity idol around Reynold’s neck while wearing the other himself and announced that they would be voting for Phillip. Malcolm had hoped to be able to bluff the majority alliance and keep the idols, but Phillip was willing to call their bluff, and everybody else was just fine letting Phillip take that risk. Both idols were played and although Phillip went home, the majority stayed strong, leaving Malcolm.

After a great deal more time than Malcolm had to puzzle this over, the fan consensus was that he should not have announced who he was voting for, or that he, Eddie, and Reynold should each have written a different name down, forcing a three-way tie-breaker where the majority had to reveal their hand. It’s unlikely that Mike was following those online discussions, but he certainly built upon Malcolm’s template by telling Shirin to vote for Tyler while announcing that he would be writing down a different name. Nobody (except for Carolyn) could feel safe, but they were pointed in the direction of Mike’s desired result.

Mike capped it off by voting for Tyler himself but keeping his idol. It was a long shot to hope that enough people would change their vote to save Shirin while taking Tyler out, but it might have happened. The advantage of Tyler going home was twofold. Firstly, he’s perceived as running the show (by the outsiders, but they’re the ones who’ll be making the jury decision); secondly, he’s perceived as the most likely person to keep Mike from winning immunity. I’m not convinced by either of these claims—although Tyler has won an immunity, Carolyn, Rodney and Sierra have all outperformed him and/or Mike in various immunity challenges—but the perception is important, and spotlighting another threat is always a useful tactic.

Would it have been better for Mike to play his idol on Shirin, with the intention of getting Tyler out? Not really. Had Tyler gone home, Mike would still be the biggest target out there, and he’d no longer have an idol as his buffer. If the next immunity challenge didn’t favor him (which is almost certain to happen sooner or later), he would be voted out over Shirin. With Shirin gone, Mike has become a lone vote, which decreases his threat a little, and he can still point a spotlight at Tyler. The last survivor of Caramoan’s Three Amigos, Eddie, was able to squeak by until final four—Mike may present more of a threat than an Eddie, but equally, he’s no Malcolm.

The jury loved Mike's daring play; will it help him usurp the leaders?

Big Mike fans

By not playing the idol, Mike’s plan had two more possible outcomes: none of the alliance would change their vote, but they’d know he had an idol; or somebody else’s name would be written down, exposing the cracks—and they’d know he had an idol. The latter gives him the most to work with going forward, so overall, I would say mission successful. Especially since the jury loved it.

Almost as surprising as Mike coming up with a crazy move that worked, was the power alliance being so unprepared for it. They chose not to split the vote, which I think was a wise idea. By this point, they could be reasonably certain that Shirin didn’t have an idol, as she would most likely have played it or tried to use it to flip somebody (and Tyler and Carolyn knew that she couldn’t have the White Collar idol.) Splitting the vote would only have informed somebody that they were destined to go home at final six.

That said, at the end of this secret scene, Tyler hopes that an idol isn’t given to Shirin at the last minute. Will theorized that Mike and Shirin would go after Tyler or Dan if they had an idol, and he didn’t want Tyler to go. The logical assumption is that the Core Four talked about this, so why didn’t they prepare for it? After the shenanigans at Cagayan’s merge, their majority came to every Tribal Council with a Plan B.

The Core Four were destined for an outright majority after this Tribal Council, but only if they made it through intact. Would it not have been worth agreeing on Sierra or Dan as a backup plan, just to protect their numbers? Shirin told us that Jeff locked down the conversation after Mike revealed his plan, so they had no chance to call an audible, yet Tyler said of his vote: “I hope this works,” and Will voted the same way he did. Did he somehow feed Will a name, or had Dan already been raised as an alternative?

Regardless, Carolyn and Rodney were not on board with this plan, and they were proved right to call Mike’s bluff. The Core Four still have their majority, but they also have to flush an idol. They need the numbers for a split vote.

Peeking Past the Blinders

There was an odd moment at Tribal Council where Tyler actually said that his alliance should put their blinders on and focus on final six. That felt a little too on the nose, as it’s only a small jump from there to saying: “Play for sixth place.” Yet nobody reacted to it, nobody seemed to be concerned—and goodness knows it helped confirm Tyler’s reputation as the secret puppetmaster to the jury.

It’s always frustrating for the viewer to watch an alliance stolidly vote off potential allies in apparent acceptance of their own fate, but it’s fascinating too. Few players really believe they’re sixth. They think they have a core alliance, a finals deal or at least a protector.

And so we have Dan’s secret scene as he talks about not giving into the paranoia—among many other aspects of the game at this stage. It’s worth a listen, because he completely nails the game theory; the irony is that he should be paying attention to the desperate people. Just because they’re scrambling doesn’t mean they’re lying.

At one point this episode, Tyler chipped in on Dan’s conversation with the observation that Mike was a flipper. It was a lovely bit of alliance reinforcement, using Dan’s own assertion that ‘flippers never win’ to keep Dan on their track. Tyler also described Dan as not thinking beyond final six, but I don’t think that that’s entirely accurate. For Dan to believe that he hasn’t flipped on his allies, he either considers the post-merge alliance to be the definitive one, or he still believes that he’s Blue Collar strong and is going to the end with Rodney and Sierra. Even if it’s the former case, he only needs to have faith in a couple of people to be confident he has the numbers.


Angel over your shoulder, baby.

Dan talks about how his move is coming, even if he hasn’t made it yet. The most obvious move he can make is to take two allies and cast his extra vote at final six—most likely with a view to taking out Tyler. He believes he’s been keeping the jury interested in him, so from that point on, he just needs to assert himself as the leader of the new majority, and he becomes the one who navigated the merge’s stormy waters.

As it is, Dan may not have been slated for sixth place. Tyler has a wonderful secret scene on EW where he talks about building Dan up as a threat above and beyond Tyler himself. In that vein, it makes sense for Tyler to keep Dan around even through final four, so that his core alliance is too busy worrying about Dan to put Tyler in fourth place. Even if Dan scores an upset and wins the final immunity, Tyler can be confident facing off against him.

It’s hard for us, watching the show, to understand how Tyler could possibly make Dan seem like a threat, yet in many ways, he’s the perfect buffer. Dan is a student of the game, and he is doubtlessly an active conversant in all strategy discussions—and of course, there’s his mysterious advantage.

Will, at least, has bought it. Will’s vote for Dan probably stemmed from his own belief that if Mike wasn’t voting for Tyler, his vote must have gone on Dan as his other great rival, and that the Core Four needs Tyler to keep Mike from winning immunities. (This isn’t the greatest logic, after all, if Tyler’s a threat, Will doesn’t want to go to the end with him either, so they should be taking advantage of their chance to eliminate him.)

I don’t know if Tyler’s going to be able to convince somebody like Sierra that Dan’s a danger at the end, but the more people he can get to agree with him, the more credible it becomes—and Sierra’s doubt might just be a reason to vote for her instead of Dan.

Sierra had a very strong episode, being the unheeded voice of common sense as she told Dan that Tyler was too big a threat and they needed to vote him off. More intriguingly, she told Shirin that the vote would be split between Mike and Tyler. Sierra doesn’t strike me as the type to just make stuff up, so where was this coming from?

While Shirin became the target after Mike won immunity, if she had been the last of the minority, she could have become a useful vote, and perhaps this was Sierra’s plan to break the alliance of six in her favor. Shirin suggested a final three of themselves and Carolyn—was she just clutching at straws when she suggested a women’s alliance, or does Carolyn have a connection with Sierra?

While Sierra’s endgame plans remain a mystery, we continue the assumption that she plans on going to the end with people she can beat. She should pull out a win against Will and Dan, possibly even Rodney or Carolyn. Her confessionals show she’s taken on board how to play this game and I’m sure she could give a competent jury argument. However, Sierra is in the same position as Sabrina in One World. Sabrina was a lovely person who kept her eyes on the prize, but ultimately, her unfamiliarity with the game meant she misjudged the jury.

If Sierra genuinely didn’t realize that Shirin was a very real threat to take the whole thing, she’s likely to choose the wrong final three—and that includes being wrong about who will take her there.

Hard Times for the Axis of Evil

Ironically, when Shirin was voted out, she believed that Carolyn and Rodney were the two people that changed their vote. This conclusion doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (Carolyn was immune anyway, so she was the least subject to paranoia), but it reflects the popular perception of these two: not only are Carolyn and Rodney never considered threats, they’re seen as weaker players, more subject to their own whims.

Yet this pair stayed the course and called Mike’s bluff. Sierra did as well, but we know that she was OK with Tyler going home. Do we infer that Carolyn and Rodney were as well? Tyler has always been a tag-along in Rodney’s schemes. He was part of the bromance deal with Joaquin, and then he became Kelly’s replacement in the Core Four. But ‘gamebot’ Tyler isn’t somebody Rodney can bro down with—and he certainly isn’t the ‘old girl’ Rodney wanted in his main alliance.

Carolyn, however, has been allied with Tyler since day one. She told him about her idol, and he told her what he knew about Dan’s advantage, though apparently his intent is to keep that information to himself. Carolyn had immunity anyway, so she didn’t have to worry about getting the blowback from Mike’s idol, but she made no attempt to safeguard her closest ally in the game. She never even offered him the idol.

Of course, Carolyn might have played her idol for Tyler if Mike had actually played his for Shirin. Certainly, she can assure Tyler that this was her intent. Yet, if he had gone home, that would have worked out quite nicely for her.

Going by the jury’s Ponderosa talk, Carolyn can’t beat Tyler at the end, but in this shock exit, her hands would be clean. Tyler can head off to the jury and regale them with the story of how Carolyn found an idol in the first couple of days and how she’s been his secret partner in crime ever since. She inherits his credit for the game thus far and can prove herself by navigating to the end without him (most likely by drafting Sierra or Dan into the Core Four).

No rest for the gamebot

No rest for the gamebot

Instead, Tyler stuck around, and the Core Four now have to deal with the fall out of his vote. Ideally, Will should swear blind to Dan that he voted for Tyler, that Mike was the other Dan vote. Thus Dan can feel betrayed by Mike but keep his trust in Will. The rest of the alliance can publicly berate both Will and Tyler for being so cowardly as to flip their votes, and generally make out that those two have lost ground in the pecking order. But, just as with the vote, the Core Four are not going to have time to privately work out the best plan. They’re going to have to wing it, and that’s not their strong suit.

They’re also going to be under a lot of stress. Not only can’t they get Mike out at final seven as Rodney has been planning since the merge, but they will need him to lose immunity twice if they want to vote him off ahead of final four. Personally, I am confident that will happen, but I’m not depending on it like the players are.

Everybody’s first order of business will be finding out the next target. It’s possible that they might be able to placate Dan, though I think it’s more likely that they’ll have lost him, and he’ll become their choice by default. The problem comes in splitting the vote…

In theory, the Core Four could mislead the blues into thinking the split vote would target Tyler, getting them to vote for Mike, while Rodney, Carolyn and Will all voted Dan. It would be tricky to pull off in any event, but I doubt there’s any way Dan would agree to writing Mike’s name down instead of Tyler’s now.

So the fallback plan is to split the vote 3-2-2 against Mike and Dan’s votes, and send whoever doesn’t play the idol home on the revote… But Dan has an extra vote. If he wants to go with Mike, they’ll cast three votes against somebody. Combine that with a correctly played idol, and somebody from the majority is going home.

So the real problem will be dodging the idol, and to that end, they’re probably best off not splitting the vote at all, since it only provides more leeway for somebody else to flip. Most likely, the Core Four’s best move is to feed Sierra a target and then pile all their votes on her. Mike won’t play his idol on her, so his idol and Dan’s extra vote will be wasted.

Alternatively, if Carolyn and Rodney are just fine with Tyler going home, they (along with Sierra) can secretly put their votes on him. Assuming he’s Mike’s most likely target, he’ll go home outright, and they still flush the idol and extra vote… Or perhaps they simply allow Mike and Dan to succeed in voting him off before going after them next week.

What Carolyn, Rodney, and Will need to do is to forestall Sierra from flipping to Mike and Dan’s side in order to take Tyler out. If Mike and Dan know she’s voting with them, Mike wouldn’t even need to play his idol. Even without her, he might be willing to bluff it through again: assume the majority will not have the nerve to vote for him, and keep the idol in reserve for the next vote. That would take some guts, but Mike’s all about the big, crazy moves…

Of course, all the above scenarios assume that neither Mike nor Dan win immunity. If one of them does, the Core Four’s job becomes even trickier as they have to keep their numbers feeling secure while taking out the right target. It’s not just Sierra who’s a flight risk. Will has a history of impulsive vote-changes…

Mike had his reward challenge strategy the wrong way around, but now he’s got the Core Four over a barrel. Tyler, Carolyn and/or Rodney can still get a desirable outcome, but these next three days will require them to earn that million dollars.

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