Survivor San Juan Del Sur

Lessons in Survivor History: Playing for Respect

What a difference a week makes- last week Josh had the numbers and was poised to take control of the game, and this week he’s gone. While I am glad to see Jeremy stick around a little longer, it is a bit frustrating to see that Julie quitting has had such a huge impact on the game. Josh had his troops (or “goons”, as Jeremy sees them) gathered and ready to strike, but the extra three days gave Jon and Jaclyn the chance to become disillusioned with Josh and his allies, and they switched their allegiances voting Josh out.

The way the decision was portrayed to the viewers was incredibly interesting. While Jon and Jaclyn had strategic reasons for their decision, the reasoning that was presented was that Jaclyn found Josh’s allies personally objectionable. Keith, Wes, and Alec were seen as sexist, boorish pigs, and Jaclyn made a stand to align with the better people. Because this decision took the game away from one alliance, and gave control to the people who were previously on the outside, and because the decision was seemingly made primarily on moral grounds, our lesson in Survivor History this week comes to us from the runner up from season four, Survivor: Marquesas, Neleh Dennis.

neleh8 Neleh Dennis[/caption]

Neleh started the game on the Rotu tribe, who completely annihilated the opposing Mara’amu tribe, winning nearly every challenge. For the first 12 days of the game Neleh didn’t attend Tribal Council at all, focusing on creating bonds within her tribe, creating a particularly strong bond with Paschal English, a 56 year old judge from Georgia. Paschal became very protective of Neleh with the two of them developing a father/daughter bond that would last to the end of the game. She was well liked by her tribe and was never going to be a target for an early boot. When a tribe swap happened, she was able to solidify her bond with Paschal, and build a new close bond with Kathy Vavrick O’Brien. Socially, Neleh was a strong player. Strategically however, Neleh was in the dark- close alliances were forming around her and Neleh was oblivious to it all. When the two tribes merged, as a member of the original Rotu, Neleh was a part of the majority alliance- the Rotu Four- that was led by John Carroll and consisted of a tight four-person alliance with Paschal and Neleh as extra numbers who were expendable and could be voted out at fifth and sixth place. Kathy was also on the outside of the alliance and was desperate for Paschal and Neleh to turn against the Rotu Four, but they stood strong, ceding to John’s wishes and voting out Boston Rob at the merge.

The moment that changed the direction of the game and took the power away from John was the introduction of the coconut chop challenge where each contestant was given three ropes, each attached to a bunch of coconuts. In this challenge, the contestants answer trivia questions, with each correct answer giving them the right to chop down one of the other players’ ropes, sending coconuts falling to the ground. The Rotu Four gleefully chopped the coconuts of the players outside of the alliance, and then moved on to Paschal and Neleh. Returning to camp, Paschal and Neleh realised that they were on the bottom of the alliance, and discussed the arrogant way that John and his alliance had played the challenge. They agreed that they would not continue to vote with the Rotu Four, and that decision completely changed the game. John and his alliance were the next four eliminated, with Neleh and Paschal making it to the final four. At the final four vote, Paschal’s loyalty to Neleh meant that there was a tied vote, and Paschal was the first contestant to be eliminated by a purple rock. Neleh made it to the final two, where she came one vote short of winning the game. There are many similarities between Neleh’s game and the games played by many of the castaways on San Juan Del Sur, but which Survivors can take Neleh’s game, and improve on it? Who can not only get themselves to the Final Tribal Council, but also have the respect of the jury when they get there?

There are still three intact pairs left in the game- Keith and Wes, Missy and Baylor, and Jon and Jaclyn. Each pair has different dynamics and strategy, but they are determined to play as a unit. We haven’t seen Keith and Wes have any disagreements whatsoever yet, but we also haven’t seen them talking strategy. We know that Keith came to join Wes’ alliance, but that was more a result of Missy and Baylor blindsiding him with some votes at Tribal Council than with anything that Wes was able to do. We haven’t seen enough to really know who is making the strategic decisions in the Wes and Keith pairing. The other two pairs have been given a much clearer edit. Missy is clearly the more strategic of the mother/daughter pair, and when discussing strategy, it is Missy who takes the lead. Baylor’s opinions are not really considered by her mother, and there was no chance that Missy was going to join with Baylor’s allies. Baylor has assimilated into Jeremy’s alliance, where she has no real bonds or importance. This is Missy’s alliance, and Baylor is seen as an extra number, and given no true voice or opinion. Jon and Jaclyn seem to be a more equal partnership, where they are discussing every move that they make, and each one validates and listens to the other. In most cases, they have come to the same opinion, but where they differ, it would appear that Jaclyn has slightly more power than Jon. When Jaclyn was discussing the behaviour of the men with Natalie and Baylor, she asked the other girls why the men weren’t being nice to her, as they needed the votes of her and Jon. She told them “whatever I really want, Jon will do”, and her confidence was proven correct when it came time to vote, and Jon voted the way that Jaclyn wanted.

Neleh had a relationship with Paschal that made the two of them a pair for the entire game. They were considered as one unit, with no attempts by any of the other players to split them up, and it was understood that they were voting together. It was presented to the viewers as an equal partnership with the two of them discussing strategy and coming to the same opinion together. For Neleh’s game, the best thing about playing in a pair was Paschal’s complete and total loyalty to her to the point where he sacrificed his own game. Even when faced with a tied vote and told that he would be drawing rocks with a 33% chance of leaving the game, he still could not bring himself to vote Neleh out. Paschal was an extra vote to Neleh, but he was also someone that she could completely trust.

All of the remaining pairs can completely trust each other, but do each pair have the complete loyalty that Paschal and Neleh had? Would any of them sacrifice their own game for the other? I don’t think we are going to see the Ciera Eastin move this season, where someone is forced to vote out their loved one, but it makes no sense to have a pair sitting together at the final three, where they will likely split votes and hand victory to the remaining finalist. A strategic pair should want to see their loved one on the jury, where they are a guaranteed vote and could possibly lobby the jury to make a favourable decision. In the case of Missy and Baylor, they need to realise that there is no way that Baylor is getting the votes needed to win the game, and they need to make sure that Baylor is on the jury, lobbying for her Mom over in Ponderosa. In the case of the other two pairs, it is less cut and dried. At the moment, Jon certainly seems to have a better chance in front of a jury than Jaclyn, judging by the way that Josh’s alliance treated her while Jon was on Exile Island. However, Jaclyn has been presented as strategically the stronger player, so the jury’s perception may change. In any instance, the couples should be looking to stay together as long as possible, use each other’s companionship and strategic allegiance, and then split up soon before the Final Tribal Council.

When Neleh made the decision to join Kathy’s ‘Fair Five’ alliance and change the game, she and Paschal moved to an alliance consisting of two pairs (Sean Rector and Vecepia Towery, as well as Paschal and Neleh) and one single (Kathy). That put Kathy in the position where she was the swing vote at final five. As she had been in an alliance with Neleh and Paschal since the beginning of the game, she voted with them, and Sean was voted out. At final four, Vecepia and Kathy made a final two pact, and when Vecepia won immunity, the two of them voted for Neleh. Neleh and Paschal, wanting to go to the final two together, voted for Kathy. When the votes were deadlocked and no resolution could be found, Kathy, Paschal, and Neleh all drew rocks (Vecepia’s immunity necklace meant she was immune) and Paschal drew the unlucky rock, sending him home, and meaning that neither pair made the final two together.


Missy & Baylor

We don’t know whether this season will be a final two or a final three, and in either case, a tied vote at final four would mean a fire-making challenge rather than a rock draw to break the deadlock. However, the pairs remaining still need to be careful that they don’t end up in a situation very similar to Neleh’s at final five, where somebody else has all the power. Keith and Wes might have planned to go to the final five with Josh and Reed, but at this point in the game, they won’t be able to work with the couples, and their only possible path to the Final Tribal Council is to play under the radar. For Jon and Jaclyn and Missy and Baylor, they need to be cautious about working together. If the two pairs are still together at final five, it will be Missy and Baylor with the strategic edge, as Missy has great relationships with both Jeremy and Natalie, and Baylor is a threat to nobody in a jury vote. If Jon and Jaclyn stick with Baylor and Missy, they will be voted out before the Final Tribal Council, probably in 4th and 5th place.

Neleh was completely inflexible in her game- she had committed to Kathy, Paschal, Sean and Vecepia, and she felt locked into that deal. Part of it was that she felt that the Rotu Four had been playing the game arrogantly, and part of it was that she wanted to be honest when she gave her word to Kathy. Nevertheless, despite opportunities to change the game, she refused, and stuck with the ‘Fair Five’ alliance, and then when Robert asked what her greatest regret was at Final Tribal Council, Neleh responded “the main thing I regret I guess, is having you and Zoe go when it got down to us four rather than Vee and Sean, in the end. But because of the alliances I made with the five of them, I felt like I needed to stick to that”. It probably would have been a poor strategic decision to take Robert to the Final Tribal Council, but Zoe, who had betrayed her alliance and was hated by Robert and Tammy, might have been a good option. Neleh felt that morally, she had no choice, and she voted out the Rotu Four one by one, without considering working with them.

Jaclyn may find herself in the same situation- locked into Jeremy’s alliance, and unable or unwilling to work with those outside of it. Unless she and Jon allow themselves some flexibility, they may end up with the same regrets at the end that Neleh had. Every member of Josh’s former alliance should be seen as a potential number. Jon and Jaclyn knew that by being the swing vote, they are on the bottom of either alliance. They either need to use their social games to work their way into Jeremy’s alliance, with a goal to replacing him at the top of the totem pole, or they need to have some flexibility in their game, and be willing to work with Keith, Wes, Alec and Reed in order to further themselves.

Which brings me to the biggest problem with Neleh’s game. By her own admission, she didn’t start playing the game until day 24. When she did start playing, it wasn’t because she wanted to win, it was because she believed that the Rotu Four were morally wrong. She said to Paschal “I’ve been nothing but honest to everybody. I’m following my heart today. I would by lying to my heart and to myself if I went up there and voted for Sean.” And in the interests of the game being honest and fair, Neleh joined Kathy’s ‘Fair Five’ alliance, and sent John and his allies to the jury, where they felt betrayed and angry. They had no respect for the decision that Neleh had made, firstly because they never gave her the credit for making that decision, and secondly because they resented the reasons that Neleh gave for her decision. As Tammy Leitner said in her jury speech, “you guys are hypocrites as far as I’m concerned, and you may have been the two biggest liars out on the island. While you’re condemning Rob, and John, Zoe and myself for manipulating and being deceptive, you guys were doing the exact same thing behind our backs.” Neleh was not a strong Survivor player. She spent most of the first part of the game avoiding making any strategic moves, and when she did make a move, she did it without any thought as to the end game. Her ideal final two opponent, Paschal, would have beaten her, and she never made any move to try to gain the respect of the jury. The Final Tribal Council is too late to start campaigning for respect- Dawn tried it in Caramoan, where she gave an eloquent defense of her game, and argued that she should be respected for the manipulative moves that she had made. She got no votes. As Eddie said, “Dawn, what troubles me most about you is you came out here tonight talking about how you played a strong game with everybody, and you were cold-hearted, yet the only time I ever saw you interact with other people, you were the weakest, most fragile player out here.” Neleh spent most of her time on the island being seen as nothing more than a goat, and the only reason that she managed to get so many votes is because she was sitting next to a player that was considered sneaky and disliked. Sitting next to Paschal or Kathy, Neleh would have struggled to get any votes at all. The players of San Juan Del Sur need to start thinking about the respect of the jury now.

Jaclyn made a solid move to vote with Jeremy and his alliance, but the problem is going to be with the perception of the jury. As Jeff Probst said, perception is reality, and the perception of the majority of potential jury members is that Jon is the one controlling Jaclyn. When Keith suggested that maybe they should talk to Jaclyn after they had decided who to vote out, Alec dismissed him completely. He said “I know that Jaclyn is going to do whatever Jon says”, and seemingly the other members of the alliance agreed. Jaclyn noticed the way she was being treated, and immediately wanted to vote with the opposing alliance. It was presented as an emotional move on her behalf, but strategically it makes sense. Jaclyn saw that she wasn’t being respected as a player, and if she had continued to play the same game that perception wouldn’t have changed. At this week’s tribal council, she made a real play to be seen as an independent and strategic player, and made it clear to Josh’s alliance that they were going home because they underestimated her. She said “Everybody goes to Jon, and then when he went to Exile, nobody cared to campaign with me. And then the second he got back today, it was all about Jon. And you know, me and Jon, we make decisions together”. She was being underestimated, and she did something about it. If Jaclyn makes the Final Tribal Council, she will be able to point to Josh’s vote out as the pivotal moment of the game, and make the point that she, and not Jon, was responsible for it. Whether the jury will respect her for it, or see it as an emotional decision and resent her remains to be seen. Either way, it is good to see her trying to gather respect now, rather than at the end of the game.

In this cast, there are far too many goats that have done nothing to gain the respect of their potential jury, and they need to start making similar moves. Baylor is Missy’s pawn, and will need to separate from her mother in order to have any chance of receiving votes at the end. The fact that most jurors dislike Baylor is going to make it difficult for Missy to win also. Keith told her that he saw Missy as part of the problem with Baylor, and I’m guessing that her protectiveness when it comes to her daughter will have irritated many. Add to that the general sexism displayed by Keith, Wes, and Alec (Missy sees Jon and Jeremy as “the only gentlemen”), and Missy could struggle to get the votes she needs to win. Alec would make a perfect goat, as he hasn’t done anything to gain respect, but is too delusional to notice others’ perceptions of him. I’m not sure how far Alec will make it, and perhaps he gets the votes of Keith and Wes should he be standing at the end of the game, but there is no possible way he can win, and that would make him an ideal opponent for the Final Tribal Council. Keith and Wes have both treated so many people disrespectfully that they could also be considered goats, and this leaves somebody like Jeremy, who would win against anybody left in the game, in a very tenuous position. Jeremy, Jon and Jaclyn are all threats to win the game, and the other players need to start building their resume for Final Tribal Council, before it is too late to win respect. If they have the self-awareness to see their position in the game, and the courage to start making moves and changing people’s perceptions, this should make for an exciting and unpredictable finish to the season.

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