SurvivorSurvivor: Cagayan

Individual Games – Strategic in Circles

Notice for readers who avoid the previews: In this week’s blog, I will be referencing the information from the end of episode preview. I will not be discussing the further details revealed in the promos that have aired subsequently. (I haven’t seen these myself, though I’ve heard a few things.)

One of the best decisions I have ever made in my Survivor-watching career was not to get invested in the Brains tribe. When the twist was first announced, I figured to myself that the Brains wouldn’t win, because everybody else would want to prove they could outwit a Brain. When the cast was first revealed, I looked at it and thought that Luzon was going to implode under their own strategy. Then after the premiere, I supposed that a Matsinging seemed all but inevitable.

Basically, even though they’ve always been my sentimental favorites, I have never seriously entertained hope for this tribe.

The great thing about this is that I don’t really mind when they go to Tribal Council. Forget what I said last week about hoping Beauty lose again, because the Beauty Tribal Council was just depressing television, as I watched them vote out one of the players I actually did pin my hopes on.

Conversely, the Brains are at their best when they’re going to Tribal Council, when they’re trying to figure out just what rationale they’re going to use for the vote this time, and, above all, when they’re parrying Jeff’s disbelief with their own verbal barbs. This might not be the best opening run of episodes ever, but it’s got to be close.

Better yet, it seems that the Brains’ particular vogue for overthinking the game is spilling over onto the other tribes. The title of this week’s blog comes from one of J’Tia’s webclips, where she says of her tribe: “We can strategic [sic] ourselves in circles.” And that’s exactly what each and every tribe did in Cagayan this week.

Beauty – Lessons Learned

There are a few things which we, as a fanbase, feel every Survivor should learn before going out on the show, e.g. how to start and build a fire. To that list, how about we add the basics of chicken farming? This isn’t even the first tribe that’s wondered if they need the rooster to get the hens to lay (more) eggs—it happened in One World too. Hopefully, all future Survivor players have taken in the wisdom passed on by Josh Wigler’s erudite wife.

The worrying thing about this whole sequence is that, so far as I can tell, they never did kill the rooster, which is still alive and merrily consuming its portion of feed. No, they actually killed one of the hens. The show edited events together for speed, but one of LJ’s confessionals explains that the following morning there were no eggs, and since the girls were ‘whining’ for chicken, they decided to kill the one that was looking ‘down and out’.

More horse jokes? Chose the hen over the rooster[/caption]

He does not explain why they chose this chicken over the rooster, but it seems that for all of LJ’s dinosaur egg wisdom, he wasn’t willing to commit to the fact that chickens don’t need roosters to lay eggs.

Let’s pretend we’re going on Survivor and do two minutes of research. Now we know that the rooster was having no effect on egg laying, but the stress of moving to a new place did. We saw the Beauty tribe collect three eggs, which we presume were already in production so to speak, but then the hens needed to settle in before laying any more—a fatal mistake for one of them.

I don’t know how long it could take for hens to start laying again, and it might be that your average Survivor chicken is worth more in meat than in eggs, but the wise player should hedge their bets and kill the rooster first. (Preferably out of sight of the chickens.)

As it turned out, the educational value of the chickens was twofold, as they came with another clue for the immunity idol, which Jeremiah found and read aloud to everybody. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he thought it might be instructions for caring for the chickens, but it’s still an obvious contrast between Beauty and Tony. So far as I can tell, nobody else was thinking to look for clues. LJ, of course, didn’t need to, and I thought he did a decent job of covering his tracks—I doubt the acting job would have stood up in anybody had been looking at him, but nobody was.

Noticeably absent from that scene was any kind of follow up. I rather expected that somebody would say: “Let’s go find the idol. We’ll use it for the whole tribe!” We didn’t hear so much as a confessional from anybody but LJ, but the rest of the tribe has to be looking out at the rocks and thinking about it. Are people saying airily: “I’m just going to go and look for some clams!” Are people stalking people ‘looking for clams’? Do people genuinely want to look for clams but don’t dare for fear that it will look suspicious?

Officially fair game.

High on the list of suspects.

It’s probably a good thing for LJ, because at whatever point it becomes common consensus that the idol has been found, there will be any number of other potential culprits. It’s probably a bad thing for Morgan, because she will be high on that list of suspects, especially since the impending Tribal Swap will likely reveal that she had the first clue. It will be interesting to see if any Brawn members pull Morgan aside and use that information as leverage, or if they’ll spill the beans publicly and let the rift grow within the Beauties.

Considering that Morgan is already on the outs with her tribe, it would probably be more beneficial for them to talk to Morgan directly and try to gain some trust with her by offering to keep that a secret—it won’t actually help Morgan, but odds are good that she’d leap to align with somebody who is showing such concern for her best interests.

With or without somebody in her corner, Morgan is going down fighting. Jeremiah had been worried about her reaction after Tribal Council, but he had nothing prepared for it. She did a great job of calling him out in public without ranting, and then following that up with a conversation behind his back where she fed Alexis and LJ some choice tidbits Jeremiah had been saying about them. (It’s possible that Morgan’s story was true, though I think at most, it was probably Brice saying those things and Jeremiah not objecting.)

Alexis wasn’t convinced by what Morgan was saying, but she acknowledged that she had to be wary of Jeremiah afterwards. Sometimes that’s the best a player in Morgan’s position can hope for. It’s definitely terrible news for Jeremiah, who could be in trouble if the swap shuffles him into a tribe with either Morgan or Alexis—his worst case scenario is being with both of them while LJ and Jefra go elsewhere. If Alexis isn’t sure who she can trust on her former tribe, she might well default to new allies.

Last week, we talked about Jeremiah being a potential lifeline for Morgan. Clearly, that’s not how she saw it, but could Jeremiah have been more proactive in making up with her after the vote? He would have had to have been very quick off the mark, and for all we know, there were conversations that went un-aired. But as it stands, it looks like he opted to sit tight and see what happened. This is a good example of why a lot of returning players come back determined to play more aggressively.

The big question is did anybody attempt to make Morgan feel secure in the tribe? Did anybody promise her that she was above somebody else in the pecking order? Tribe swaps are always unpredictable, and Morgan is the weak spot for anybody seeking to break Beauty. Their best hope is that with the merge looming, the Beauties might be considered better allies than targets. Breaking Brawn who have both the numbers and the individual immunity threats should surely be the first priority.

Brawn – Going Rogue

This episode was a revealing one for Aparri dynamics, especially if you combine it with a deleted scene posted online that shows how the Brawn tribe goof around to keep themselves entertained. Sarah was shown doing the classic Survivor gag of pretending to talk into a phone, while Lindsey farted and joked about it. (Not a bad effort, but the Brains are still winning the comedy awards this season.)

Always looking for that next fix.

A surprising objection to fart jokes.

What surprised me about this scene was how much trouble Tony had with Lindsey’s crassness—in confessional he seemed quite taken aback by how crude all the women on the tribe are. When he tried to tease Lindsey, and she returned in kind, he couldn’t handle it and had to walk off, much to her and Sarah’s amusement. This social discomfort is a side of Tony we haven’t seen before and helps explain how he found himself in the minority on the tribe to start with.

As this happened on day nine, it also shows that, despite believing Tony’s lies, Sarah has maintained a close relationship with Lindsey who seems quite unaware that her friend is plotting against their alliance. That’s a mark in Sarah’s favor, though it’s set against the fact that she has yet to realize Tony is lying!

Last week, I worked on the false assumption that that foursome was two pairs: Woo and Cliff; Sarah and Lindsey. However, we now know that Lindsey and Cliff are very close in their own right. Moreover, Sarah felt confident enough to talk to Woo separately, and Woo actually showed interest in siding with her against Cliff.

That last was the real eye-opener for me, and the point at which Woo exceeded the expectations I had for him over the entire season. I thought he’d be the loyal sidekick, but he seemed to have no difficulty in reconciling his affections for Cliff with his intent to beat him in the game.

Honestly, if I was in the habit of giving out awards to the best player of the episode, I’d seriously consider giving it to Woo this week. Not only was he open to a side-alliance against one of his childhood heroes, but he was also ready to argue down throwing the challenge.

This was where the Brawn tribe went in a complete circle of bizarreness this episode. Throwing an immunity challenge is always a dicey move, but Sarah’s grounds for it came from false information, and then they couldn’t even succeed in throwing the challenge, because the Brains tribe was genuinely that bad.

Setting aside the fact that Tony was lying for the moment, was it right to consider throwing the challenge? I am generally opposed to challenge-throwing, since I feel the risk (losing numbers) usually outweighs the reward (voting off a threat), but there are occasions when I feel it’s merited. China, when Peih-Gee and Jaime threw a challenge to vote off Aaron and save Sherea and Frosti is my favorite example, though they didn’t/couldn’t carry the plan to its fruition.

However, that situation happened after a swap. As the Know It Alls pointed out, Sarah had no reason to think Cliff would turn on her in a swapped tribe situation, as opposed to after the merge. If they had blindsided him, they would only be alienating Lindsey before the swap.

On Twitter, Sarah cited Ozzy and Billy as an example where throwing the challenge worked. I’m not so sure I agree with her… if anything, I’d say it proved the opposite. Ozzy voted Billy off, putting the original Aitutaki tribe at a numbers disadvantage come the subsequent merge to two tribes. While Ozzy lasted to the final four (largely thanks to the mutiny), Cecelia and JP were the first ones gone on their new tribes, and Cristina (Billy’s closest friend) only managed fourteenth place. Trying to placate Billy and help him feel secure might have been the better option.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to Sarah’s situation, because Cliff feels totally secure—she’s the one fearing for her game-life. Sarah might easily have been paranoid that a swap could put her on a tribe with Cliff and Lindsey, and they could offer her as a sacrificial lamb to the new majority. Or she might have expected the show to follow precedent and dissolve Brains between Brawn and Beauty, which could possibly mean Cliff and Lindsey gaining an extra vote to blindside her. Or maybe she was thinking of Tandang, who needed a pre-merge Tribal Council to relieve the pressure.

Isn’t love great?

Thank goodness for Woo!

Regardless, I don’t like the move, but I can understand her motivation—she wants to keep as much control over her game as she can, and that means not waiting for the variables to come into effect. Still, thank goodness for Woo, who ignored Sarah’s request in favor of keeping Brawn at six strong. (It should be noted that Woo didn’t fully commit to voting Cliff off if they lost the challenge either.) Hopefully Sarah will not hold this against him.

When I first watched the episode, I felt Tony was at even greater fault for letting this plan go ahead when he knew Cliff was loyal. However, Twitter revealed that there was a simple reason for Tony’s permissiveness. He didn’t know they were throwing the challenge.

Back in the first episode, when Sarah willingly took on that starting line leadership, we learned that she wasn’t comfortable putting her game in the hands of others. I thought this meant that she would quickly ferret out Tony’s lie because she was bound to talk to the other players. I wasn’t entirely wrong: she didn’t fact check Tony, but nor did she sit and wait for him to pass on information and strategies.

Judging by his reaction when he saw her talking to Woo, Tony hadn’t bargained on this. While no doubt his initial concern was that Woo would debunk his story about Cliff, once he realized he hadn’t, he got excited that a ripple effect was starting from his lie and he now had an alliance of four—he was in the majority for the first time.

As great as that is, Tony should have been keeping Sarah under close observation after her display of initiative. Not satisfied with getting Woo in her corner, Sarah started strategizing with Trish—the woman Tony had intended to keep in his back pocket. Tony should be the filter between the two women, making sure that each is closest to him. Instead, the two women came up with a plan independently and they didn’t even tell him about it! I’m not so sure it’s Tony who has this new four-strong alliance.

Cliff tweeted that he never realized they were throwing the challenge either, which means Sarah still has her original alliance of four intact and loyal to her, even if she doesn’t know it. She then has a second, secret, majority alliance: Woo, who is closest to her, Tony who has made an endgame pact with her (probably won’t honor it, but they’re tight for now, and Trish who is willing to make plans with her behind Tony’s back.

Getting played like the train section at Toys ‘R Us.

Sarah remains the lynchpin of her tribe.

Any way you look at it, Sarah remains the lynchpin of her tribe and is certainly more popular than Tony. Here’s a puzzler for fans of the game: a Sarah/Tony final two scenario, where everything Sarah did was predicated on Tony’s lie… but Sarah was the one who did it. My money would be on Sarah to get the win, but who deserves it? Who is outplaying who?

Certainly, right now, I would say that Trish and Sarah are both viewing Tony as a potential finals goat, probably each believing that he is loyal to her above the other woman. Sarah also has Woo as an extra vote and potentially a voice of sanity. In a tribal swap, I think Sarah could be her own worst enemy if she ends up on a tribe with Cliff and/or Lindsey and feels like she needs to flip on them. If she’s lucky, she’ll have Woo as well, since he will almost certainly counsel her against it, and he remains her best chance of discovering Tony’s mendacity.

However even if Sarah and Woo are together, there’s nothing to stop Tony or Trish turning traitor. (They benefit more directly by Brawn fracturing anyway.) The biggest question I have going into the swap is will Brawn stay strong to keep their numbers advantage at the merge?

Brains – The Break Up of the Rice Girls

After blazing her trail through the game, J’Tia finally went home this week. For somebody so wholly unsuited to Survivor, she was a great character, and her story provided a dramatic arc for this three tribe stage of the game, much as Garrett’s rise and fall tied together the double episode premiere. It would most assuredly be a mistake for all concerned for J’Tia to make a return appearance, but I am very glad she was there in Cagayan. (Certain members of Luzon may have a different view.)

I was personally disappointed with her terse and defensive approach to her RHAP interview. After listening to her in confessionals and Tribal Council, I was looking forward to her being a lively and funny podcast guest, but it seems it was not to be. If anybody is still confused as to why I’m a J’Tia fan, I will have to point you to her in-game take on rice and on brains.

The question everybody’s been discussing this week is whether or not it was a good idea for Kass and Tasha to vote off J’Tia instead of Spencer, when precedent suggests that there will be a tribal swap next episode. As much as Spencer proclaimed his loyalty, it’s tough to believe he’s got any reason to be loyal to the others. I’m largely with the Know It Alls on this one, and both Rob and Stephen expanded in their own blogs on the matter. Spencer might be disloyal, but they’ve got as many options as he has, and probably less of a target.

Who the heck is Mike?

The rational player

Conversely, J’Tia’s unpredictable behavior could wreck their chances to build a new alliance. Spencer was dead on at Tribal Council when he suggested unpredictability amounts to much the same thing as disloyalty—that’s exactly why I’m always against aligning with the wild card. Spencer has struggled with his temper (with due provocation), but he’s a lot more laid back than J’Tia, and he’s played a submissive game up until this point, first following Garrett’s lead and now meekly going along with the girls. As I said last week, Kass and Tasha might see him as a more malleable player than we do.

Besides, as a rational player it should certainly be expected that Spencer would want to stick with his numbers (and what’s effectively a final three deal) rather than tag onto the bottom of another alliance. The smart move for him now is not to ditch Tasha and Kass but to try and pick up a couple of extra allies of his own to team up with the Brains trio come the merge. He can use those to create a power shift within the alliance getting himself into the safe, lynchpin spot.

In Kass’ case, as well, it makes a lot more sense to get rid of J’Tia who has that day one bond with Tasha. Not being the third wheel to another pair was probably the main reason she went with Tasha the previous Tribal Council—we shouldn’t forget that the deal Tasha offered her at the time was that J’Tia would go next.

The fact that Tasha kept wavering on their decision to vote her off should have made Kass even more certain that J’Tia should be the one to go. (Like Josh Wigler, I am of the opinion that the Tribal Council whispering was probably Tasha’s indecision and Kass telling her to stick with the plan.)

One thing I do want to stress is that Tasha and Kass are taking very different approaches to the game. Lumping them together for the purpose of analysis is an oversimplification. They might be making the same decisions, but they have different motivations for doing so, and they should be judged by those individually.

Can live with either decision.

Keeping the conversation to herself.

Curiously, and frustratingly, we didn’t see much of Spencer’s attempts to save himself. I find it hard to believe that he didn’t do any one-on-one scrambling. When Kass first declared that they should keep Spencer and J’Tia thinking that Spencer was going home (breaking the season’s trend of notifying the intended boot!) I did wonder if this was to keep Tasha from talking to Spencer, so that all his communication was coming through Kass. There’s nothing to suggest that was the case, but if they really did leave him so absolutely out of the loop, that’s shocking gameplay, especially when they want him to remain loyal.

I’m hoping very much that somebody gave Spencer the head’s up before Tribal Council, even if he was wary of believing it—his comment about them patting him on the back did sound like he received confirmation it would be J’Tia going. It didn’t have to be from Kass; he has a day one alliance with Tasha, after all. However, lately, the only functional relationship we’ve had evidence of on the Brains Tribe is Kass and Tasha’s, and even that is strained.

Tasha’s online confessional this week is a despairing rant about her tribe’s challenge performance. She’s always been involved in individual athletics, and she’s struggling with depending on other players (plural) who aren’t committed to winning. She doesn’t name names, but she’s not talking about Spencer.

Kass has a follow up to that, where she talks about the difference between Tasha and herself, how she is much more focused on taking care of the players, describing Tasha as the coach barking orders and herself as the soccer mom handing out oranges.

(At one point, when Kass is talking about Tasha’s insistence on making everybody practice with blindfolds, she asks, “What if one of us got hurt doing that?” I’m glad it didn’t happen, but wouldn’t it have been the perfect cap to Luzon’s challenge failures if one of them got med-evaced from a practice session?)

This Kass and Tasha dynamic reminds me of myself and my husband, and we’ll be celebrating ten years of marriage come September, so it could actually be a great and very effective relationship. (Perhaps I’m biased in thinking my marriage is awesome, but let’s roll with it.) However, the current climate of challenge losses is not easy on them as a pair or the tribe as a whole.


Stop accepting defeat.

Whereas on Matsing, the repeated losses forged a near unbreakable bond between Malcolm and Denise, the alliances on Luzon seem to be the weaker for it. Kass and J’Tia tend to an attitude of: “We lost, we can’t change that, let’s move on.” Tasha and Spencer are more of the philosophy that they need to stop accepting defeat. That’s creating conflict.

Kass’ other confessional was on how nobody else on the tribe was interested in working, while she felt they should always be doing something to improve their camp. As with everything else, she seems resigned to it, but it’s yet another cause for division. (As LJ had much the same complaint regarding the girls on his tribe, I am rooting for him and Kass to end up together after the swap.)

Ultimately, the most important factor when it came to the last vote was the relationship that either of the older women had with Spencer, and that’s what we haven’t seen. We don’t really know how any of them feel about each other on an emotional level; on a strategic level, it’s not clear if anybody respects anybody else’s game.

The Alternate Universe Scenario

Much as I liked J’Tia, I was relieved that Kass and Tasha decided to stick with Spencer. Whether or not it made strategic sense to vote him off, it would have been very hard to see somebody go when they effectively had to do the whole immunity challenge by themselves. (At least Cliff had Woo on his side.) While players often claim they were the only person of use in the challenge, I don’t think anybody has ever had more cause to do so than Spencer.

The problem with that challenge was the emphasis it had not just on swimming, but swimming underwater, and as it turned out, the Brains tribe had ended up with three of the weakest swimmers left in the game. J’Tia was the worst of them, but they couldn’t simply adopt their usual policy of putting J’Tia where she would cause minimal damage, because Kass and Tasha weren’t much better at diving down under the water.

It shouldn’t be possible for me to say that had I been in a challenge, the tribe would have won, but for this one, I’m saying it. I’m not the fastest swimmer and I don’t think I’ve done front crawl in Spencer’s lifetime, but I’m comfortable in the water and I know how to dive down and stay down.

Future Survivor contestants, when you’re done brushing up your knowledge of chicken-care, go to a swimming pool and learn how to turn yourself upside down so that the weight of your legs drives your buoyant torso to the bottom of the pool. (Think how Woo was all but doing a handstand as he untied his buoys.) It’s a relatively easy trick to master, and there’s really not a lot of skill or stamina involved in retrieving objects from less than ten feet down. Fear of drowning is always going to be a difficulty, but swimming skill shouldn’t be.

At any rate, had Spencer not had to get four of the five buoys, getting out of the water to tag off to himself each time, it’s seems all but certain that Brawn would have succeeded in losing the challenge. Thus, if Garrett had still been around, the Brains would still be four-strong. It’s less certain that they’d have performed better at the previous immunity challenge, but I don’t think Beauty were ever going to finish that maze.


What if Garrett had stayed?

So we essentially have confirmation that if Garrett had stayed over J’Tia on day six, the tribal swap would be happening on a 5-5-4 ratio, with the Brains’ minority being much less significant. This is a great opportunity for a retrospective on Kass and Tasha’s original decision to save J’Tia. On the podcast this week, we had an interesting contrast between the guests when Coach was advocating for staying strong and winning challenges, while Josh theorized that a Matsinging had its advantages. Which of them is right, at least when it comes to Luzon?

(Before we start, let’s be strictly fair and note that Kass wanted to vote off J’Tia on day three, and it was Garrett and Spencer pushing to vote off David. Had they kept David, the Brains probably wouldn’t have lost another challenge, and Beauty would be down two members. However, for the purposes of this analysis, we’ll keep the ‘what if’ to the second vote.)

So what if Kass had voted with Garrett and Spencer, and J’Tia had gone home? Clearly, this would have been much better for Garrett who would still be in the game. As I noted at the time, his stock was low on his tribe, and we don’t really know how well he would have done in recovering from that. I kind of think that the loss of the rice would have been a much bigger issue, since Garrett was already struggling with the starvation. Unlike J’Tia, he needn’t accept the blame for the rice going home, but I don’t doubt that Kass and Tasha would have continued saying he was partially responsible.

Ironically, it would potentially have been a much more turbulent camp without the person who poured out the rice. Without any idea of Garrett’s true social range, it’s hard to predict if they could have reached an accord.

Spencer at least would have been in a much better position, since he was already distancing himself from Garrett at that Tribal Council, showing himself as the one sympathetic to the women’s grievances. He would have had a secure place in the alliance, Garrett as a shield, and, had he any sense, he could have fostered his relationships with both Kass and Tasha, promising that at the final four, they’d vote Garrett off and go to the final Tribal together. If successful at that last, he would be entering the tribal swap in the strongest possible position from the tribe of four. Spencer was absolutely right to vote for J’Tia and not Garrett.

Kass and Tasha’s respective positions are less certain. Would the two have forged an underdog bond or would they have been too busy jockeying for third place? Either or both of them might have been going into the swap looking for another alliance. Or perhaps private conversations would have given each of them comfort that they were in the top three.

The most notable improvement to their fortunes in sticking with Garrett would have been the greater numbers. The more tribemates/allies you have, the greater chance that you will be in a safe position after a shuffle. If I’m going to give Sarah grief for throwing a challenge, I have to give Kass and Tasha grief for throwing away the numbers advantage they could have had.

However, it’s important to bear in mind that this is in retrospect. At the time, Kass and Tasha could not be confident that they would not lose another challenge regardless of who went home, and they certainly couldn’t have anticipated Beauty’s failure with the maze or Brawn’s decision to throw a challenge. They had to cast their vote in consideration of what would happen in the event of a third Tribal Council—all of which I covered in my first blog for the season.

For Tasha there was the added hope that she could keep J’Tia through to a swap, either by not losing another challenge or convincing Kass to let her go back on their deal. It didn’t pay off, but it was worth a try.

For Kass, we now know that she developed a good working relationship with Tasha, likely better than any she could have had with Garrett. Tass respected Kass’ opinions, asked for advice on the vote and took it. Perhaps Kass didn’t choose between keeping Garrett or J’Tia, so much as she chose between working with Garrett or Tasha. In that respect, she absolutely made the right call.

Kass’s confessional states that her prime focus is not to be voted out. She does not mention making the tribe a strong, cohesive unit. Overall, I don’t think that voting Garrett off helped the tribe to get past its social rifts, even if it probably didn’t make them any worse. Maybe the reason Kass and Tasha were willing to take the risk with Spencer’s loyalty is because they’re not expecting their original tribe to figure in their long term game plans anyway. (Though I hope not. Even if you’ve not got the ideal alliance, you need to work with what you have.)

What does this mean for Coach and Josh’s differing views? Well, the short answer is absolutely nothing. A sample size of one tribe isn’t representative! I think a strong alliance is always the desirable option, but every tribe is going to have a different social breakdown, and for individuals, it does not help to support a strong alliance that you’re not a part of.

Either way, it is with a heavy heart that I bid farewell to Luzon. You’ve been the most amazing ride, and the new tribes have got one hell of a lot to live up to.

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