Survivor Kaoh Rong

Individual Games – Past, Present and Future

Despite a tribe swap and a huge upset in the power dynamics, this was by far the dryest episode of Kaoh Rong yet. Like the premiere, it had a very balanced edit, with everybody but Joe getting a confessional, yet it lacked the cheerful vibe of that episode. Instead, we got an undercurrent of tension for this boatload of exposition as the players jostled for a position of power going forward.

Entertainment-wise, I was a little disappointed, but we now have a wealth of information on dynamics past and present and on how almost everybody handles pressure. This also falls on a week where I have time to spare, and so I’m resurrecting my Individual Games column to give you the definitive—or, at least, exhaustive—breakdown of the state of Kaoh Rong.

The precedent of the past eight seasons dictates that Survivor will have a tribe swap in episode five. However, the precedent of the past fourteen seasons says that the tribe swap will come when there is an even number of players left in the game. Thus it was that producers were able to pull a bait and switch on the contestants who genuinely thought they were there for a reward challenge (confirmed by several secret scenes).

Production’s solution to the odd number was to convert To Tang Beach into a one-off Exile Island, hiding a single red buff among the six blue and six yellow. As was done a few times in past seasons, the exile was destined to join the losing tribe to replace whoever was voted out. However, rather than exiling whoever was picked last, this time, the decision would be made entirely by random chance. Random chance picked Julia, the youngest player in the game at just eighteen.

Although this episode only took place across two days, thinking back to my eighteen-year-old self, I can’t imagine enduring forty-eight hours of desert island solitude. Hell, I’d struggle with it now. Julia went from Beauty Beach (apparently a resort compared to the other camps) to the spare, rocky surroundings of Brawn, and after last week’s episode, it was frankly disturbing to watch her report on her dehydration while failing to light a fire. We have to assume she must have had some food or water over that period since she’s alive and well in the press photos for next week, but the deprivation still happened.

One Woman Tribe One Woman Tribe[/caption]

Michele has a secret scene which implies there was some discussion at Chan Loh that Julia might quit (alternatively, it might simply be that the producer interviewing her asked if she thought Julia would quit.) Michele thought Julia would handle it, but it’s a valid point. It’s not just the food and water… it’s being on her own in that state of heat and deprivation for two days. A confessional with a field producer isn’t going to provide much in the way of emotional support, and with nothing else happening at the beach, those forty-eight hours would have been long and painful. She didn’t even have that usual exile perk of an immunity idol to look for. Small wonder she opted for a strategy of hibernation.

While being the exile secured Julia through one vote, there was little other advantage to it. By default, her exile made targets of the other beauties (resulting in the worst case scenario of taking out her closest ally in the game). She’s missed out on three days of relationship building, making her the last person in an alliance at best, expendable at worst. Finally, although there was nothing at To Tang, it’s such common practice for an exile to gain access to an immunity idol that I have to think some players will suspect her of having it. Historically, Survivor has not been kind to those who have the target of the idol but not the idol itself.

On the other hand, Julia is Julia. Although she’s kept her actual age a secret from the other players, they will still assume she’s the youngest player in the game, and that in itself will reduce her target. She’ll gain respect for sticking out this most recent experience (indeed, Michele pointed out that it would make a great argument in the final two), but her tribemates are still likely to consider the pretty, young sorority girl to be somebody to take under their wing rather than a threat to be feared. I think Julia has the breathing space to recover from this setback where more visible threats might not have done. Of course, now she’s lost Anna, she will need to redefine her game moving forward.

Flashback to Beauty

When I last blogged about the tribes, I had the most questions about Beauty. I wanted to know how they would handle adversity when they finally met it. Well, we’ve had our answer and initial results are good. As well as Julia sticking it out alone on To Tang, Caleb and Anna both fought to the bitter end in their very different exits, while the rest of the beauties stubbornly weathered the target that Julia’s red buff put on them. Moreso than any other tribe, Beauty was utterly fractured by the swap.

That being said… even without Caleb’s medevac and Julia’s exile, Beauty would have had a huge target come the swap anyway. They had never been to Tribal Council, so on an emotional level, the other tribes resented them, and strategically, it would always make sense for Brains and Brawn to get together to take a beauty out. As a major physical threat, Caleb could easily have been booted pre-merge. The aggressive and charming Anna should have drawn attention regardless of the buff draw.

But for the sake of argument, let’s envision an ideal scenario where Beauty go six strong into a tribe swap at fourteen players left, and on one tribe they end up with a majority of four against three brains/brawn. Those four could then choose whether to forge a new post-merge majority alliance within their new tribe or they could throw the challenges in order to protect the beauties on the other tribe. It would be a hugely powerful position—if the tribe was rock solid. That’s precisely what Beauty was not.

Caleb and Anna’s interviews, along with Tai’s confessionals in the more recent episodes have revealed a lot about the dynamics on Beauty. I am always skeptical of women’s alliances, but I will concede the point here. (Though not without noting that this is the first ‘naturally occurring’ one since season sixteen. Others have either been produced by single sex tribes or the men gathering together first.) The Beauty women did indeed form an alliance based on girl power.

Anna gives a very good breakdown of this in her interview with Josh Wigler, explaining how originally, she wasn’t close with Michele but wanted to work with Julia, Nick, and Tai. (This puts her and Nick’s original confrontation with Tai over idol-hunting in a new light and helps explain why they were all so polite about it!) It’s not entirely clear how Nick lost her trust, but it’s likely that she and Nick were the most aggressive gamers out there, so it’s not surprising that they clicked and unclicked early on.

While we’ll have to wait for Nick’s side of events, he acknowledged on Twitter that she won that battle. Apparently he and Tai were also friendly with Michele, and this is probably where he started spreading the tales about Anna that she referred to in her RHAP interview.

Michele, Anna, and Julia are all smiles so far.

It’s a pinky swear, so it must be real.

However, whether due to Nick’s or Anna’s efforts, Michele decided to change her allegiance to the girls sometime during the second episode. As we then saw in episode three, Anna pulled Caleb into the alliance. Fourth in an alliance isn’t a great deal, but Caleb seemed willing to go for it in the short term, confirming in his interview that the girls successfully drove a wedge between him and Nick.

While Michele and Julia might still have preferred to eliminate Tai, it would almost certainly have been easier to get Caleb to vote Nick off. Even after Caleb was gone, Anna was pushing for Nick, and she seems to have been the dominant force in that alliance. Had Beauty ever gone to Tribal (barring the first episode), I think it would have been the former RHAP blogger going home, and I give Anna full credit for pulling that together and making herself the power player of the tribe.

But with full credit comes full responsibility. The biggest problem with this girls’ alliance was that the guys knew about it. That should never have happened. Aside from leaving themselves open to an idol play (We’ve no reason to think that Tai would play it for Nick, but the women couldn’t assume that it was Tai and not Nick who had it), tribal swaps are a part of Survivor. Anna said herself that she tried to keep her enemies close because you need to have options in those shake-ups. Players who know they’re on the bottom anyway have little to lose by flipping. Tai and Nick went into that swap with no reason to protect the female beauties, and that was the girls’ own fault.

The swap actually went in Anna’s favor in that she ended up on a tribe with Tai and a situation where his hidden immunity idol could have given Beauty a numbers advantage. Would Tai have ever really gone through with that? I still have such a hard time figuring Tai out. He clearly is prepared to play an aggressive game and give it his all, but I don’t know how savvy or forceful he actually is, and it might be that he would always have followed Scot’s advice to save his idol for later.

That said, Anna noted that her own reaction when Tai revealed his idol was to trust him less. Did Tai pick up on that and was it a factor in his decision to let her go? As he revealed his plan within an hour of them going to Tribal Council, it should at the very least have been easy for Anna to stick by his side until then, preventing Scot from getting him alone. But ultimately, as tempting as a majority must have been for Tai, it makes less sense for him to secure one for two women who had been happy to vote him out a few days earlier. He had lost Anna’s loyalty as much as she had lost his, but she should have repaired that rift before a swap.

Of the newcomers to their camp, Anna reports that she was wary of Peter and Scot, but she did trust Aubry. There’s a pattern here of Anna feeling safer around young people and working with those. Originally, that was enough to pull together an alliance, but when Beauty Beach became Gondol Beach, she was the youngest person in camp and had to work with people she didn’t trust.

Anna and Tai, Survivor Kaoh Rong

Stand united or fall divided?

In theory, one of the strengths of poker players should be hiding their feelings from other players, but Survivor reveals players’ secrets in different ways. If she had a ‘tell’ that allowed Nick to figure her out, the men of the tribe might also have picked up on how Anna felt about them, or perhaps it had more to do with how hard she fought to stay. It was all very well to throw Tai under the bus (Did anybody tell Tai about that?), but she only needed to say it once. Instead, Anna worked it hard.

There are two stereotypes for the young, pretty girl in Survivor: one is the coat-tailer; the other is the black widow. Peter very quickly changed his opinion of Anna from ‘quiet’ to ‘mesmerizing’, and that kind of reputation comes with a target.

Finally, there’s every possibility that the men simply wanted to forestall that ultimate campfire horror story: a women’s alliance. We don’t know if Tai told anybody, but Anna brought it up to Aubry herself. She wanted to give Aubry an option, but Aubry’s tightest ally through the first ten days of the game was Neal. It’s clear she also gets on well with Joe. Why would she want to alienate her closest friends to be fourth in a women’s alliance? Giving yourself options is all well and good, but leaving a strong threesome in the game could be dangerous. Aubry might have argued to save Anna after hearing about the Beauty girls alliance, but it’s just as possible that’s what made her pull the trigger.

If Julia had drawn a different buff, Anna might not have gone out fifth, but she had already set herself up to be a great candidate for the sixth boot. The way Beauty had broken down, Anna needed to swap into a tribe with all the Beauty women and Caleb if she wanted to retain the numbers. Outside of that best case scenario, she would require the lucky break of somebody else making themselves a bigger target (or winning through the challenges.) She didn’t get it… but an absence of good luck isn’t the same thing as bad.

Anna’s forceful gameplay made her a great addition to this cast, but there’s a time to pull back and fly under the radar. She couldn’t do that; can Julia?

Shuffling the Gondol Totem Pole

It’s difficult to judge Julia’s demeanor since we’ve seen so little of her. She seemed peppy enough when she did interact with her Beauty tribemates but that was from a place of security. She’ll be joining Gondol at the same time she learns that her closest ally has been voted out leaving her with Tai, who she doesn’t trust, and four relative strangers who she immediately has to run a challenge with. If she’s lucky, they might pull out a win, letting her bond with them in the rush of victory. The worst case scenario is if she’s instrumental in a loss.

But ultimately, Julia remains a very young girl with no power in the game (unless they believe she gained an idol or other advantage while at To Tang). While she might be seen as the next expendable number, I think it’s more likely that her arrival will hit a reset button. She has no real reason to link up with Tai, and there’s no longer a threat of a Beauty majority. Players can instead be aware of the looming merge, at final eleven if things proceed at Cagayan’s pace—potentially at ten, otherwise.

Tai himself has already cast his lot. Poor Caleb’s spot in the shelter is barely cold, yet Tai has replaced him with an older, taller guy—and Scot is mancrushing back. The show’s newest, hottest bromance was the bright spot of a largely prosaic episode. It appears Tai’s superpower is to take guys who are unpopular with the viewers and transform them into fan favorites via flirtation. Seven days ago, Scot was a bully. Now he’s player of the week on Inside Survivor’s fan poll.

One of the common sentiments last week was that Jason and Scot had dodged a bullet by voting out Alecia pre-swap and that both guys could now move forward with a clean slate, their negative sides unseen by the other players. However, both Peter and Anna mentioned that they had a negative impression of Scot just watching the interactions on Brawn. In both cases, they admit he seems nicer in person, but this is something to bear in mind for both Jason and Scot moving forward.

Like embers, alliances need a gentle touch.

Like embers, alliances need a gentle touch.

I’ve not been sure about Scot’s game savvy so far, and I’d wondered just how much he was riding along with what Jason wanted to do. Now we’ve seen him in action on his own, and he played it perfectly as the laid back, gentle giant, listening to others while saying just enough to tilt the motion of the game his way. I don’t know if he was drawn to Tai anyway, or if he figured out early on that Anna was the most likely Beauty to go home so Tai was his best bet for an ally who might follow him post-merge. Either way, Tai felt secure enough with Scot to bring him into the plan to blindside Peter via idol.

If it’s dubious for Tai to secure a majority alliance where he’s low in the pecking order, it definitely doesn’t make sense for Scot who would be at the bottom. Perhaps Tai was hoping to draft Scot in with him (and maybe Nick?) post-merge to go against the girls, but even without the idol, Scot should be wanting to bring Tai as his tagalong to Brawn. Once he found out about Tai’s idol—and Tai’s willingness to play it on somebody else—it was paramount to keep Tai close and the idol in play until the merge when they could link back up with Jason and his idol.

The odds were fairly slim that any player would learn the whereabouts of two idols, so it’s a pleasure to see Scot aware of both his luck and the power it brings him. Do I think Scot could actually convert his knowledge into a super-idol play for himself? Not a chance– Jason would never go for it. Nevertheless, he’s got Tai bound to him now; he doesn’t need to give up the information about Jason’s idol yet. On the other hand, once they merge, he should probably tell Jason about Tai’s idol immediately to re-establish that trust.

As for Tai, I think he chose his path when he let Anna go. He has severed ties with Beauty and hitched his wagon to Brawn. If Nick and Michele hook up with Jason and Cydney, we might see him re-align with that pair post-merge, but I doubt he’ll be seeking them out. In theory, the Brawn minority should float safely through the next few votes, yet if their ship does founder, I expect Tai to be ready to jump again. Yet I don’t see a ready path for Tai to the end. He has nobody so loyal as to let him through to the finals.

Tai is, of course, a good contender for Gondol’s next boot if they lose another immunity challenge. But the pressure is off the beauties now that their overall numbers are down to four, and the merge is potentially just one tribal away. If they lose again, Gondol won’t have the numbers post-merge, so they’re all but forced to pin their hopes on original alliances. Those are the implications that will hold sway for the next boot.

For Julia, Tai, and Scot, the best move is to take out a brain, and there’s a known fracture in Peter (I will assume Tai and Scot are just as aware of that voting history as Anna was.) In fact, the three brains are each one-half of the pairs from their original Tribal Council, although Aubry and Joe clearly trust each other.

The weirdness of the dynamic with the brains is that despite Peter’s outsider status, he’s the only alpha. Neal and Debbie were the dominant partner in their respective duos, while Aubry and Joe have taken a quieter approach. As a consequence, we saw Peter sliding into a leadership role, explaining the optimum strategy to Aubry and advising the pair of them on who he wanted voting off. He didn’t quite lay down orders—he was happy to let them go off and talk it through—but he took control of that vote.

Which is insane when you consider how unpopular he is. Anna not liking somebody over thirty seems to be par for the course, but Tai likes all living things except Peter. Neither Joe nor Aubry trust him, though they were also smart enough to realize the wisdom in not ceding the majority to Beauty—but now that threat is out of the way.

While it would be a gamble for Aubry and Joe to assume that there is only one more vote before the merge, it would be an even bigger risk for them to let Peter get there. He knows he’s fifth on the Brains, so he will turn the tables on them as soon as he gets the opportunity.

That opportunity might be here already. If Peter knows he needs a different set of numbers for his endgame, there is no time like the present to start setting them up—and why not take the opportunity to weaken his enemy alliance while he’s at it? Tai might not like Peter, but he, Scot, and Julia have to see that it’s better to take out one of a solid foursome than the lone wolf.

Aubry and Peter on the Brains in Survivor Kaoh Rong

Miss Popularity and Public Enemy No. 1

If that’s the case, then Peter’s target will almost certainly be Joe. He describes Aubry with some affection as ‘my girl,’ and seems assured that he can trust her. As we know, this is not at all the case. Aubry is not comfortable with Peter in the game and pushed for him to go out the night Liz went home. For him to trust her is a terrible miscalculation on his part yet it speaks volumes for her social game—this is how Anna should have handled her Nick problem.

As adorable as Tai is, almost every player in the game has reservations about him, but everybody seems to like and trust Aubry, while she seems to have an accurate read on them. That’s a phenomenal talent in Survivor, and the only reservation I really have about Aubry’s ability to play is that we have twice seen her push for one person to be voted out only to immediately give way before her ally’s opinion. That might just be caution in this early stage of the game, but we don’t yet know if Aubry has the drive to play her game or if she’ll simply shore up her allies’.

Of course, if she stays this popular, she might beat her allies in the final anyway. Whereas Tai is obviously likeable, Aubry’s got a more under the radar appeal: she’s the girl next door, your best friend, rather than the prom queen. Smart players should pick up on that threat eventually, but with so many bigger targets around, Aubry’s got an excellent shot at the win.

(Note to Editor: Is it too late to change Nick’s author page to Aubry Bracco and start telling everybody she’s the blogger this season? Our approval ratings would soar!)

Chan Loh – Drawing up Battlelines

Historically, Survivor tends to have lopsided tribal swaps, but with three male-female pairs from each of the starting tribes, Chan Loh is as well-balanced as if production put it together. (Conspiracy theorists, that’s not your cue. Let’s just move on.) Although they avoided Tribal Council, it seems that the same strategy applied as to Gondol. The Brains wanted to take a beauty out to retain their majority (in this instance, Michele), and the brawns were the swing between the two rival factions.

Apart from Matsing Upside, Cydney and Jason have one other advantage over the other pairs: they are the tightest couple. Debbie and Neal were closer with Joe and Aubry, respectively, while Nick and Michele had been actively working against each other back on Beauty. Staying with Jason was Cydney’s main hope for the swap, though Jason himself would probably have been fine with either of his tribemates. The pair of them have been through several tribal councils and one medical emergency together; their alliance is a well-practised one.

Brawn Tribe, Survivor Kaoh Rong

Matsing Upside

Cydney got a reputation for staying quiet through all the Brawn drama. We know from her confessionals that the bodybuilder can talk, but in game she’s playing her cards closer to the chest. Debbie approached her, and Cydney let her chat away, before (we assume) reporting back to Jason. Then Jason simply had to say to Debbie: “You talked to Cydney?” and Debbie was off again, outlining her intentions while Jason just nodded and smiled. He tried a similar approach with Nick, though as Nick is also a big believer in listening, the two of them instead embarked upon the world’s most non-committal conversation. Somehow they managed to wind up with an alliance anyway, and thus, Brawn was positioned to decide the vote.

On the voicemail show, RHAP listener Mark pointed out that although Nick kept assuring Jason that he’d bring Michele on board, Jason was just as insistent about omitting her, going so far as to specifically say they’ll be an alliance of three (which Nick swiftly corrected to four.) Like Mark, I am all for over-interpreting a single snippet of conversation, and my confident deduction is that this proves Jason was expecting Michele to go home thus becoming redundant to his plans.

Admittedly that’s not a huge leap of logic. We already know the best strategy was to eliminate a beauty, and Michele was both weaker in challenges and more interchangeable with Julia. Yet this means that Jason wasn’t just paying lip service to Nick. He was hinting as broadly as he could that Michele was doomed but Nick still had a place with him and Cydney. Ergo once Michele was gone, Jason was planning on pulling in Nick to turn on the Brains.

I don’t want to go too far down this fanfiction track, but again, now that Beauty are down to four and squarely out of the majority on either tribe, there is no need to target them. For Chan Loh, as for Gondol, it’s the five-strong alliance of Brains that needs looking it. Perhaps even more so for Chan Loh who might not know that Peter is on the outs anyway. Jason may well now be amenable to including Michele in their numbers.

But how does Michele feel about it? We didn’t see her interact with anybody last episode, although she was hovering around the fringes in the group scenes. Despite Nick’s devotion to sticking by her, we don’t even know if she wants to work with him again. Bartender Michele is unlikely to have much in common with Cydney who has admitted she prefers working with men. And if his conversation with Nick is anything to go by, Jason hasn’t put any effort into courting Michele.

Remember how Anna and Peter had negative impressions of Scot due to his interactions with Alecia? It seems entirely possible that Michele could feel the same way about Jason. Remember I said that one of Michele’s confessionals made it sound like there had been speculation that Julia would quit? Jason’s a prime candidate for making that suggestion. It’s not necessarily him being cruel, but Alecia’s probably left a strong impression of the type of pretty blonde that Survivor casts, and he could be forgiven for assuming that the girls of Beauty are going to be even less functional. (I’d like to call for a moment of silence to remember Morgan McCleod…)

Again, I’m going into fanfiction territory here, but I see so many more scenarios where Michele would feel uncomfortable with the Brawns than I do where she would trust them. Then again, Neal and Debbie, both a decade her senior and also targeting her, don’t really provide an obvious alternative. No wonder she was so subdued in her confessionals this episode.

Nick, on the other hand, is typically cheerful. He’s an athlete, so he has some immediate common ground with the Brawns, and after the hash he made of things on Beauty, he’s ready for a fresh start with ‘new lies and new stories’.

Sigh. OK… So this isn’t a total surprise. One of Nick’s old Cagayan blogs had “When Should You Tell The Truth?” as it’s central theme, and his conclusion was: When it benefits you. The implication is that lying should be your default mode. (I assume within reason… I imagine in day to day camp life, Nick is OK with saying that the fire has gone out and you could only find two clams this morning.)

For me, it’s the other way around. Lie when it benefits you, but tell all the harmless truths you can. Trust is currency in Survivor and you build trust through demonstrated honesty. If Nick learned one thing from being on Beauty, it should have been that he needs to do a better job of building trust. Lying might be fun, but he needs to hold off on it for a few days, or even weeks if he can. Save it for mid-merge. Try too hard now, and like Anna—like himself on Beauty—he’ll be identified as a gamer and taken out.

The second thing Nick should have learned from Beauty was to build relationships with all the women on his tribe. We didn’t see that happen, but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. We discovered last week that he has a lot of respect for Cydney, and the previews are indicating that he and Debbie are… on good terms.

Just going to leave this riiiiight here...

Just going to leave this riiiiight here…

(It’s not my usual thing to discuss the previews, but as I won’t have time to blog for another few weeks, let me just state that one of the greatest things about Kaoh Rong is its determination to make inappropriate showmances happen. I could not be more delighted for Nick and Debbie. Just remember, Nick, one of Debbie’s self-professed superpowers is the ability to tell if she can trust a tall drink of water simply by looking at it.)

Debbie is, in general, amazing. I can’t say enough good things about her casting. To have this lunatic of a character who can snap into hardcore strategy mode at the drop of a hat? Fantastic. Can it be successful? Hey, Tony won the last Brains, Brawn, Beauty showdown. Why the hell not Debbie? If anybody can beat the older woman curse, it’s the chemist / waitress / electronics expert / model….

In my opinion, Debbie should be courted by almost every player left in the game, not so much because of her skills but because of her demographic. She’s the only woman who is older than any of the male players. (Only Tai and Joe are her senior.) Alliances that cross demographics have a huge advantage in staying on the pulse of the game, and older women are typically good at reading the social situations in the tribes. Debbie is this season’s Most Eligible Ally, and she’s making the most of that position.

I can’t decide how I feel about Debbie’s garrulous methods this episode. She was courting Cydney almost immediately, but did she need to give her all that information about being closer to Neal than she appears? (And does this mean that she and Neal are taking pains to not seem close, despite their obvious pairing as the only two Bsrains there?) If that’s all she’s fed Cydney, it’s probably harmless, but what else might she have told her? It might be that Debbie’s surprisingly measured in her words and knows how to babble without saying anything… but it’s also so easy to let something slip when you’re trying to take that tack.

Neal worried about Debbie’s chattiness for another reason, fearing that she would annoy people to the point that Beauty and Brawn would ally against her. It’s a valid point, but it suggests that Neal is underestimating the other players in the game. For most of Chan Loh, an annoying person is more likely to be seen as a goat than a boot.

Despite his Snake in Ice Cream Pants reputation, we see very little of Neal actually working with people. His biggest moment this episode came when he finally found the Hidden Immunity Idol. That makes two idols on Chan Loh beach, but I don’t see them finding each other. If Neal tells anybody about his, it would probably be Aubry, but I think a more likely scenario is that Neal gets blindsided one day and tries a Hail Mary by asking if anybody has another idol and is willing to save him. (It wouldn’t work, but I’d love to see the fallout as the rest of the contestants realize this season’s twist and rush to prevent Neal’s rehidden idol falling into the wrong hands.)

While I fully assume that Neal was friendly with his new tribemates and made bonds, it seems from this week’s secret scene that he let Debbie put herself out there while he stayed under the radar. That’s a great little clip to watch as it shows how two people can walk away from the same conversation with the view that they are the mastermind and the other person is… not so good at this stuff. Debbie describes herself as the commanding officer; Neal sees her as his footsoldier. Neal patiently urges Debbie not to talk so much; Debbie privately sighs over his patronising nature. Both are correct, since Survivor is all about perception. It’s really a matter of which one can enforce theirs on the other players.

For now, they’re functioning, but it’s a reminder that they’re each missing their partners. Aubry in particular was a go-between for Debbie and Neal, with a good working relationship with both of them. (Because she’s Aubry.) I don’t think the rift between Debbie and Neal is one that will cause them to turn on each other now, but if they don’t trust each other’s perceptions of the game, they will be easy marks for a blindside unless they can find a new third who gets along with both of them…

I’m a storyteller. It’s what I do.

This section is absolutely fan fiction, but bear with me a moment. Am I the only person to notice that Neal has come off the same production line as Nick? The fit nerd with pride in his appearance, a wry sense of humor, the conviction that he’s the best player out there, and practically zero emotion? When Neal gave his quip about how they had brain, brawn and beauty—”I’m talking about myself, of course,”—it was so exactly something Nick would say that I half-expected Nick to either kill or propose to Neal on the spot.

While they may butt heads over who gets to be the tribe’s narcissist, it seems to me that nDandy and nAthlete should be able to synch their OS and work well together. We know Debbie is happy to look at Nick, and she’ll give him chance to practise his self-vaunted listening skills. Debbie also observed that Michele could be one of her daughters with her dark hair and hazel eyes. As I said before, Michele doesn’t really have anything in common with these two brains, but she does at least have a nerdy side to her, and it’s entirely likely that Neal and Debbie paid more attention to her than Jason and Cydney did. Nick could go with either group, but if he wants to keep Michele on side, he might do better choosing Brains.

The merge majority?

The merge majority?

Clearly, this doesn’t make a lot of sense strategically. With five brains left in the game, everybody should give serious consideration to taking one out next Tribal Council. Even if they don’t, it’s easier to stick with the established plan of targeting Beauty than to switch to Brawn. But I think there’s a very good chance that Chan Loh will get to the merge without going to Tribal Council—they certainly will have an expectation of this possibility after their recent victory.

For the players, that means a mental shift from “How do I get the numbers in this tribe?” to “How do I get the numbers post-merge?” Other important questions: Who do I want to be with long term? Who do I work better with? Who can I beat at the end? They don’t have to target the brawns… they could just as easily make a pact that the six Chan Loh will be the post-merge majority.

My prediction is that once they start assuming they’ll be together long term, it’s the Chan Loh brains and beauties that will find themselves most compatible—and post-merge, Aubry should be able to slot right back into that group and forge Harry Potter bonds with Michele.

A lot of this is wishful thinking. For all we know, the full context of Debbie’s preview quote might be: “Nick looks like a Greek God, and like a Greek God he is a lying, sneaky bastard and we need to get him out NOW!” But Kaoh Rong has had a glorious pre-merge game, and I can’t think of a better second half than to have Debbie, Neal, Aubry, Nick, and Michele on one side, and Jason, Cydney, Scot, and Tai on the other, with the remainder falling in where they may. That’s going to be one hell of a battle.

Actually, considering how many winner picks have been taken out in the first five episodes, it’s a true testament to Kaoh Rong that we have so many dangerous players and entertaining characters left in the game. I’ve given you my ideal match up, but there are several combinations that would provide just as much entertainment.

We are in for a treat.

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