Survivor: Worlds Apart

Individual Games – Real Fans

After all the hype for Season 30, there was nothing truly spectacular about its premiere—yet it made the important thing clear: this is a strong cast who have come to play. All three of the tribes have dynamic personalities driving them and that includes a number of long term fans ready to play what they consider to be the game of Survivor.

Jeff explains the tribe division as the people who make the rules, the people who follow the rules and the people who break the rules. Survivor, of course, is a game with very few rules; it is largely defined by the players themselves. As people are not strictly one-dimensional and the tribal assignations are questionable to start with, this won’t exactly be the social experiment it’s advertised as, but we can already see an imbalance in the personal make up of each tribe.

White Collar – Real Fans Don’t Build Fires

This was why White Collar couldn’t start a fire—despite having one of the highest proportions of long term fans on a tribe in recent history. Neither fact should be surprising: High flying career types can’t take six weeks off easily without it having a professional impact. They really have to want to play Survivor. The white collars have also played right into the show’s stereotype by taking an academic approach to the game. They’ve perhaps looked up survival skills, but they probably spent more preparation time studying psychology.

Strictly for Amateurs Strictly for Amateurs[/caption]

On this tribe, four people (Carolyn, Max, Shirin and Tyler) have been trying to get on the show for a few years, either applying or in the casting mix. The other two are So, who was drafted in from the Amazing Race, and Joaquin, our token straight-up, non-fan recruit. By no coincidence, these two ended up making the (wrong) decision between honest and deceive, when both volunteered for the twist sight unseen.

To be fair to So, she was also a fan of the show who had done her due diligence in preparing—even if she seemed unaware that Max had left his teaching job. (Tyler also claimed to have recognized Max, while Max and Tyler both knew So had been brought back after San Juan Del Sur. Who’s ready to lay money on which three players were looking up casting spoilers before they left?)

So only volunteered to be the second person in on the twist, once she knew she’d be sharing the target. There’s something to be said for the gamble here—at least you’re the person making the decision instead of waiting back at camp to see how your game is affected. However, So ended up with the worst possible outcome, and there’s probably not enough upside to make it worth the risk at this stage of the game. The Twinnies made a good point that So and Joaquin together, the glossiest young pair of the tribe, does look suspicious, never mind what decision they made.

I will also agree with So herself that she would have done far, far better last season with its slow-burning cast. But her loss is our gain as the white collar tribe are a delight when it comes to alliance analysis. Every fan hit the ground networking.

We’re going on So’s interviews here, so we only have her perspective, but her story fits in with the edited highlights that made the episode. So and Joaquin had a bond, but So also homed in on Shirin as an ally and told her the truth behind the decision. It’s not clear how Shirin felt about So originally, but she got good vibes from Carolyn and Max so she secured her own alliances with them, and So explained to Gordon Holmes that at one time, the three women and Max had made a final four deal. But So’s bond with Joaquin was causing concerns, so the other three quietly cast her out (as seen in the episode). The White Collars weren’t making rules, per se, but they were certainly making options for themselves.

Tyler’s place in the mix is less certain. So reports that he started out declaring they should all work as a team and not worry about strategizing until they lost a challenge. In his pre-season video, he anticipated a day one tribal euphoria, and it seems that was the audience he was playing to. Unfortunately for him, he was up against a set of gamers who were not there for camp building and tribal unity. Instead of taking people’s focus off the game, he took himself out of their shortlist for allies.

On the other hand, he warned Carolyn her name was coming up, and he along with Max was assumed to be voting with both groups come Tribal Council. We have to give him some credit for a social game—Jeff and Gordon Holmes felt that everybody was trying to make him happy, and he had become the conscience of the tribe. (Gordon Holmes was on location for the Tribal Council and this is likely something that didn’t make air.)


Open to allies

I wonder how many of the tribe are deliberately putting feelers out to Tyler, hoping to get the supposed anti-strategy player into their back pocket. It would make sense for Carolyn to build a connection with him, since she doesn’t seem to have the same bond with Max that Shirin has—and one assumes that she doesn’t tell Tyler about her idol without some level of trust. (Carolyn certainly deserves all the kudos for finding the idol. I can’t recall offhand if anybody before has successfully found an idol simply by observing where the people with the clue were looking.)

My speculative theory here is that Carolyn has Tyler as a secret ally, her personal backup plan. Tyler, it must be noted, was wary of Carolyn’s idol… I don’t think he was as prepared to vote her out as he made it seem (Tyler is probably well aware that you’ll get more screentime if you talk about how the vote could go either way), but I think Tyler has more options than Carolyn. We just haven’t seen them yet.

The Vote – Real Fans Choose Honesty

So far so good, but then came the challenge, which the White Collars cruised through… only to crash and burn when the fifty piece puzzle was considerably more time consuming than anticipated. A little background on this: the White Collars guessed that the fifty piece would be literally putting the numbers one to fifty in order. This is in keeping with Jeff’s comment that the only difficulty with the easy puzzle was that it was fifty pieces. It’s been done before, as recently as season twenty-seven. Conversely, without even opening the ten piece bag, it should be obvious to fans of the show that the tree puzzle was the one from One World which was acknowledged to be difficult.

They went into that puzzle knowing they had a substantial lead on the blue collar tribe. Taking the fifty piece (Shirin’s call) probably seemed like a safe bet, but ironically it was their lead over Blue Collar that did White Collar in—that and Joe’s unexpected ability to fly through the tree puzzle. I can’t be sure that this was their rationale, but by the time Blue Collar came to choose their pieces, they had half the puzzle at the next station all ready to copy—which is exactly what Mike did.

Maybe there was a moment for White Collar to switch once Joe got going but before Blue Collar arrived, but it would have been a narrow window, and Shirin was already panicking. Suffice to say that I don’t think the White Collars threw the challenge, and the lesson learned here is that with puzzles, always opt for the one where you have a chance to copy. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to study screencaps of past puzzles before you head out there.

At any rate, while Shirin did a terrible job with the puzzle, she had laid the necessary groundwork beforehand: she had two allies, Carolyn and So, who steered the target away from Shirin. As much as it backfired, it made sense for So. The options were Carolyn and Shirin; She hadn’t connected with Carolyn, but she had made the effort with Shirin, even shared an idol clue with her. Of the two, it seemed reasonable to think Shirin would be the more loyal—especially since So was the one saving Shirin’s neck.

However, what Carolyn did was more interesting. She knew the tribe was voting based on strength (which surprised me, but I suppose the precedent of six person tribes has left even die hard fans wary). She knew that owing to So’s strong performance at the challenge, the choice was going to be her or Shirin, so the obvious, safest thing to do would be to sell Shirin down the river. Lose an ally, but stay in the game. Yet in true white-collar spirit, Carolyn did not accept the options given to her. She made her own: So.


Go ahead and rest on those laurels.

That even more than the idol is what impressed me about Carolyn. Shoehorning in your own target is a risky thing to pull off in Survivor, but it can pay off in dividends. (Cirie did this each time she played and only lost the gamble in Heroes vs Villains.) We haven’t seen enough of Carolyn to truly assess her as a player, but I like her style.

Interestingly, Max who was completely safe seemed readier to let Shirin go. It’s entirely possible he was lying to So, but it’s something to bear in mind. Did Max feel solid enough with Tyler and/or Joaquin that he was willing to abandon Carolyn and Shirin, despite their apparent closeness at Tribal Council?

The candor at Tribal Council was an eye-opener, and much more in depth than we saw. Max and Shirin made it clear early on that So was going home, which probably explains why Carolyn didn’t play her idol. According to So, Tyler was the only person Carolyn told about the idol, and considering she watched the premiere with most of the cast, I think we can assume that to be accurate.

For the record, So has stated that only Tyler knew about Carolyn’s idol—considering the entire cast has clearly been socialising and talking to each other since the season wrapped, I think we can trust that information. That said, Gordon Holmes’ notes indicate that Max said he knew So and Joaquin hadn’t found the idol. Perhaps because So had kept Shirin filled in? If Shirin doesn’t know that the idol has been found, she’s presumably going to waste a lot of time looking for it over the next few days—and no doubt everybody will be keeping their eyes open for another clue.

What was more interesting to me than So revealing her supposed four strong alliance was Carolyn’s decision to out herself, Max and Shirin as a threesome—specifically not mentioning Tyler, even though she trusted him enough to tell him about the idol. Is Carolyn simply very loose-lipped? Or is this more fuel for my theory that Tyler is her secret ally? If Tyler doesn’t have some agreement with Carolyn, he should be feeling very anxious after that. He was in a great swing vote position this time, but now the trio are a majority without him.

Honestly, I think Joaquin is more likely to go. He’s so much younger than everybody else, of a different background and just less in love with the game. Rob and David Bloomberg recently argued the merits of revealing your fandom to your tribe, and speculated that it was worth doing if there were other fans to align with, and Max, Shirin and Carolyn seem to prove the truth of that. (Rob and David also pondered a code word for these situations; I suggest, as a model, Max and Shirin’s exchange: “The game is afoot.” “As a very wise man once said.”)

Always Be Throwing

Always Be Throwing

The main argument for keeping Joaquin is his challenge-strength. The precedent for three tribe seasons is for the same tribe to lose the first two immunity challenges. If White Collar repeat history, can they afford to keep Shirin? Or will we see the Intentional Matsinging go into effect? Max, at least, should be aware of the arguments in favor of this approach. Even if he missed the podcasts and internet discussion of it during Cagayan’s run, I know he’s a fan of the Dom and Colin podcast, and Colin Stone is a long-standing advocate of throwing challenges. If White Collar do lose again, will Max, Shirin and Carolyn decide it’s too late for a majority come the tribal swap and commit themselves to being a solid minority instead?

That’s if they lose again. White Collar are still a strong team, and it was Blue Collar that really messed up the challenge. Not only that, but it’s Water Basketball next week, so we’re looking at Blue Collar vs the California Collars for a swimming challenge… I’m still not backing down from my prediction that Blue Collar will be making the most trips to Tribal Council.

Blue Collar – Real Fans Embrace the Experience

Dan and Mike sort of fell in together by accident in the early decision making process but have bonded over a shared enthusiasm for the show—they’re probably the biggest fans of their tribe, so it’s a little surprising that they volunteered to make the decision. This probably had a lot to do with everybody else looking to the oldest man to volunteer (first Dan, then Mike), but I would also guess that their love of the show is less academic than the white collar students of the game. I kind of like that. As online fans, it’s easy for us to get a little too focused on fans of the show needing to be familiar with the internet knowledge base—yet our list of Dos and Don’ts can make for constrictive gameplay and a predictable show.

In his excitement to be a villain, Mike had missed the memo where taking the Deceive option would to be a ludicrous idea this early on, and Dan had to talk him down. Yet somehow these guys got burned with the worst outcome after So’s when the tribe didn’t believe them anyway. Perhaps the best approach to this switch going forward is to take the deceive option but play it honest: give the clue to the whole tribe, with a view towards using the idol to secure numbers after a tribal swap or merge. It’s not as good as having your own idol, but it’s better than having a target—and with an idol that’s good to the final five, it’s a little easier to ‘share’ between six people.

Their run of bad luck continued when Dan struggled socially around camp, getting frustrated with the younger people instead of connecting with them. EW’s deleted scene shows Sierra and Lindsey discussing their tattoos. Sierra tries to include Dan by asking if he has one, and he starts going on about his dislike of tattoos. It’s painful to watch, because it’s so easy to relate to. He’s trying to explain his position and he’s explaining too hard—something I, for one, do all the time. (I know, dear reader. You’re stunned.)

With any controversial topic on Survivor, you have to go with the tide of opinion. At least half of Dan’s tribe has tattoos, and in the pre-game press photos, it should have been obvious that a lot of the cast had one somewhere. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about tattoos from Survivor, whatever you think of a particular tattoo, the correct social reaction (and game move) is to ask about the story behind it.

Social Grooming

Social Grooming

Between the tattoos and the hair-styling, it’s clear that Lindsey and Sierra have bonded, something I wasn’t sure about pre-game, and it looks like Kelly’s in on that as well. This gives Rodney the perfect opening for his pre-game strategy. He wanted the hot girl, because she never makes it to the end and she’ll be a vote for him. Questionable logic there, but that’s Sierra. He also wanted the older woman (in this case, Kelly) who’s smart and good in challenges, because nobody will ever see that alliance coming. I’m not sure where Lindsey fits into his one-dimensional archetypes, but she comes with the other two, and Rodney can bond with her over tattoos.

Even considering how far Survivor has come from its moral dilemma roots, I’m surprised there wasn’t more controversy over Rodney’s decision to use his sister’s death as a game tool. His pre-game interview with Gordon Holmes goes into the background (warning: it’s a disturbing read) and gives us a better view of how her death affected him, but it stood out to me as a line I couldn’t personally cross.

It’s not a total surprise though that Rodney has hit the ground running. For all the political incorrectness of his view on girls wanting a man to take the leader role, it’s one that the women on his tribe should want to embrace at this early stage. I can’t see the independent cowgirl, single mother and lesbian cop submitting to an alpha male all the way to the end—especially when he’s younger than they are. Rodney sees himself as the puppetmaster, the women see him as a figurehead, and assuming they get that far, they can all sort it out after the merge.

Far and away the biggest surprise is Mike’s exclusion from the dominant alliance. I assumed he’d be the neutral party that everybody in the tribe could relate to, but it seems he’s been damned by his early decision to make the decision, setting himself apart from the rest of the tribe. Then again, such questionable choices as eating a scorpion might also play a role in his tribe’s opinion of him.

An in-camp latrine will win them over! What could go wrong?

An in-camp latrine will win them over! What could go wrong?

On the other hand, most of Mike’s interaction in the premiere was with Dan, so we don’t know what inroads he’s made with the others. It’s clear though that his enthusiasm for the game could be his downfall. He volunteered for the twist, he wanted to take the deceive bag, just to be a villain, he also volunteered to untie the knots in the challenge which almost turned out disastrously for him. Luckily for him, no collar did the tree puzzle and Mike was not ashamed to copy it—he even thanked no collar after he finished.

Getting through the first challenge improves Mike’s chances dramatically. It means they can sit their weakest swimmer out of the next challenge, and if they do go to Tribal Council, Dan will almost certainly be voted out first—for his physicality as much as his social game. That gives Mike at least six more days to make friends and prove he’s a challenge asset. (Or conversely, six more days for Rodney’s social game to implode; I’m still not convinced the hustler can pull off the long con.)

The big milestone for Mike is the tribe swap, because if he makes it that far, the women should discover that he was telling the truth about the bag. Their guilt for ever doubting him will make them readier to trust him afterwards—which will be to their detriment. After all, Mike wanted to take the villain option from the start.

No Collar – Real Fans Get the Job Done

The No Collars made a much bigger deal of picking their leader than they did with the twist. In a tribe where five people claim to have been dreaming of being on the show for years, it was the guy who’s only seen a few seasons that volunteered to be leader, making me think that the length of the decision was entirely Will’s determination to campaign for a position that everybody wanted him to take. Unlike the other leaders, Will did not seem to ask for a volunteer to be his second, but picked Jenn himself.

Regardless of how Jenn and Will ended up there, they got through the decision with as little drama as possible. Perhaps the reason they didn’t come under suspicion like Dan and Mike was because they simply weren’t gone long enough. It’s a little surprising to see the No Collars playing it safe and unimaginative, but I like to think of this as their way of shrugging off the producers’ twists and playing their own game.

The only part of this worth noting is that Will picked Jenn. Jenn who became the object of Vince’s affections. Jenn who Joe… actually, we have no idea how Joe feels about Jenn, but we can assume from Vince’s jealousy that he’s not being antagonistic. In my original assessment of Jenn, I thought she might be too prickly to get jurors’ votes. Instead, she seems to be a beacon of charisma, and has rocketed up my One To Watch list.

What's not to love?

What’s not to love?

As amusing as the love triangle is, we just don’t have enough information on the No Collar tribe. Hali, Nina, and Will were invisible after the first five minutes, and the only alliance we’ve heard about is Jenn and Vince. There’s no point in discussing the overall tribal dynamic, and any speculation on Jenn, Vince, and Joe comes with the heavy disclaimer that any one of those three could be in a majority alliance with the other three for all we know.

What we do know is that Vince is into snap judgments. First Jenn was real, and a kindred spirit—until she threw a little appreciation Joe’s way, at which point she was no longer an honest person. I don’t know if Jenn is consciously flirting. She’s got a playful demeanor, but I have assumed she’s treating everybody on the tribe like that. My guess would be that she’s popular and quite safe for now, although a scorned (in his own mind) Vince might turn against her.

How dangerous Vince’s wrath is depends heavily on how the rest of the tribe see him. It’s possible they take him seriously, but I think the more likely risk is if somebody wants to cosset him all the way to the finals. Could Joe, Hali, or Will vote off Jenn to keep their goat happy? Probably not, but you never know. Realistically, of course, Vince’s sword of vengeance will first fall on Joe.

There was a fascinating moment in the premiere when Joe, who had tried desperately to follow somebody else’s lead in the shelter building, finally snapped in the interest of getting the job done right. On the whole, this is the sort of behavior that lowers your stock in Survivor (just ask Dan) but there are some provisos to that. If the person you’re standing up to is unpopular with the tribe, your own popularity will increase proportionately. Again, we don’t know the prevailing view of Vince, but the tribe’s sympathies are more likely to be with Average Joe than Russell Feathers.

The second excuse for speaking out is if you can follow through on your claims. We didn’t get to see how the shelter ended up, but Joe should have known what he was doing—and he’s developing a track record. He said he could make fire, he made fire. He said he would do knots, he untied knots. He flew through a puzzle (not just editing, according to Gordon Holmes) that is historically difficult. He’s Bizarro Mike and easily Nagarote’s MVP.

You know the one thing Joe can’t do? Fly under the radar. He tried to defer to Vince and couldn’t. He didn’t originally volunteer for any of the decision making in the challenge, but he tapped out first Vince and then Jenn when they struggled to advance. In his pre-game video, he tells us that he’s got a state championship in basketball, but he doesn’t want people to know that. I’m guessing after this week’s water basketball challenge, they might have an inkling.

What's not to love? (Less ironic edition.)

What’s not to love? (Less ironic edition.)

Pre-season I thought that in this strategist-heavy season, Joe might not be seen as a threat until the end-game. I am nowhere near that optimistic now. If every player in the game hasn’t already pegged him as the biggest immunity threat, chances are they will after the next challenge. That kind of thing will make him a target after a tribe swap. Of course, that kind of thing will also keep the numbers in his favor. If No Collar can keep that kind of challenge performance up (they overtook the white collars on the physical part of the challenge before they got to the puzzle), I could easily see them going into the tribal swap six strong.

The only other question for No Collar is who is paying attention to the hidden immunity idol. They won a reward and they should know from Tony’s success last season that an idol clue will be somewhere in that reward. Who’s going to look for the clue and who’s going to look for the idol?

Real Fans are a Joy to Watch

It’s not really in this blog’s remit, but I want to hand out plaudits to production for getting so much right. Over the break, I wrote a commentary on the gender bias prevalent in San Juan Del Sur, which criticized the show for enabling it. Yet this episode was rife with female narrators, and both No Collar and White Collar were presented from a woman’s perspective. (Vince did a lot of narration on his alliance with Jenn, but Jenn is the person we’re meant to relate to.)

Not only that, but we’re hearing from a lot of women that they’re fans of the show—and we’re hearing the exact same thing from the men. I lost track of how many times people made reference to how much they’ve watched the show, but the edit actively celebrated their joy in playing Survivor, from Dan and Mike’s agreement that, regardless of their position in the tribe, this was “the best day ever” to Max’s delight that he was getting rained on at Tribal Council. We’ve known for awhile that this cast was fan-heavy, but I wasn’t expecting this to be highlighted so much in the show, and I was surprised at just how relatable it made players I had no interest in otherwise.

Premieres, with their longer running time, have an advantage when it comes to a balanced edit, but a good start is always better than a bad one. I don’t know if the season can live up to its hype or potential, but Worlds Apart has us at “Hello.”

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