Survivor: Worlds Apart

Lessons in Survivor History- Leveraging the Idol Play

This was a spectacular episode. The merge always brings more excitement, but this episode brought so much unexpected strategy from so many of the players, and I really enjoyed it. Last week, I couldn’t see how Mike would manage to get the numbers on his side, but he left me amazed at the ease with which he did it. Rodney’s new alliance seemed to come out of nowhere, and yet it didn’t blow up his game. The idol play was really exciting to watch, and it was so refreshing to have such an entertaining and unpredictable outcome. Jenn is hilarious, and Kelly has been mostly invisible up to this point, so I was cheering Jenn on during Tribal Council, and will be hoping that the no collar three can pull off an upset. I’d love to see one of them win the whole game.

Russell Hantz Russell Hantz[/caption]

We saw some really strong game play this week, and Jenn’s use of her immunity idol was certainly impressive. Her correct read of the situation gave herself and her alliance at least three more days in the game, and it will be interesting to see if the no collar alliance can continue to survive past next week. With no immunity idol to use, they will have to either find the idol that is still hidden at the Escameca camp, or they will need to use some savvy game play. For a look at how to leverage their second chance, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going back to season 20, Survivor: Heroes vs Villains, and eventual third place finisher, Russell Hantz. In particular, I am going to be looking at the second Tribal Council that Russell’s Villains tribe attended, where Russell was able to correctly use the immunity idol to protect himself and his close allies, blindsiding a member of the majority alliance.

The Villains tribe was divided into two factions- Rob Mariano leading a huge six-person alliance on one side, and Russell and his allies Parvati Shallow and Danielle DiLorenzo on the other. When the tribe learned of the existence of a hidden immunity idol, Russell was the only one to search for it, immediately putting a target on his back. Rob told the tribe that anyone searching for the idol would be marked, and should be voted out immediately. Assuming that Russell had found the idol, Rob came up with a plan to negate the idol’s power- they would split the votes 3-3 between Russell and Parvati, and then whoever did not play the idol would be voted out on the revote. If neither played the idol, then Russell was to be voted out.

Before Tribal Council, Russell had spoken to Tyson Apostol, who was Rob’s closest ally, and discussed voting out Parvati. Tyson had been instructed to vote for Russell, but he saw Parvati as more of a threat. In Survivor: Micronesia, which she had won, Parvati had played with three of the members of the opposing Heroes tribe. She was also well known for being charming and manipulative, and had voted off many of her previous allies in brutal blindsides. Tyson didn’t agree with Rob that Russell was the big threat- and when Russell expressed interest in voting out Parvati, Tyson saw an opportunity to vote out the true threat. Instead of voting for Russell, he switched his vote to Parvati, meaning that there were four votes for Parvati and only two for Russell.

In an incredibly gutsy move, when Jeff Probst called for immunity idols to be played, Russell stood up, walked over to play the idol, and then stopped. Instead of playing the idol for himself, Russell turned to the tribe and made a short speech. “You know, Coach, you always say loyal, honesty and trust is the best thing. No matter how this comes out tonight, I’m a stick to that. Parvati?” He handed the idol to Parvati, and she played it for herself, remarking “such a gentleman”. Realising what he had done, Tyson’s face fell. His face fell even further when Russell’s, Parvati’s and Danielle’s votes were revealed. They had voted for Tyson, sending him home.

What is interesting about this scenario is that the move, impressive though it was, should only have bought Russell one more Tribal Council. He was still ostensibly in a bad position- a minority alliance of three compared to Rob’s alliance which still had five members. Amazingly though, Russell was able to use the move to get himself much, much further in the game. At the next Tribal Council, he had Jerri Manthey on his side, and from there he was able to get control of the numbers. Jenn, Hali and Joe are in the same bad position right now. There were eight votes against them. Logically, one of them should go home next week. But if they can follow Russell’s game plan, they might be able to get another blue collar member voted out instead.



One thing that the no collars have in common with Russell is that they have an unbreakable alliance. In Russell’s case, his searching for the immunity idol made him a target. He set himself up against Boston Rob, and was never going to be accepted into the majority alliance. Parvati was such an obvious threat that nobody wanted to align with her. Russell and Parvati had no other option- they had to play the game together. Russell playing the idol for Parvati solidified the existing bond. Hali, Jenn and Joe don’t have the same reasons to stay together- they haven’t completely alienated the rest of the tribe. I also think that the white collars were not completely against the idea of working with them and could be persuaded. But even though they may have better options, I can’t see the three no collars turning against each other. They are good friends and have voted together at three Tribal Councils now. They have a solid bond and that is the most important thing to have moving forward. They can trust each other, and now they have to work on swinging enough people to their side.

After having an alliance that he trusted completely, the next important thing that Russell did was to use the idol play to appeal to the swing votes in his tribe. When he played the idol, he addressed Coach Wade directly. He knew the tribe dynamics- Russell had a strong three-person alliance, and Rob had a strong three-person alliance. This meant that Coach and Jerri were left as a pair, without a strong commitment to either side. Jerri also had her own vendetta against Rob, after her game in Survivor: All Stars ended prematurely when Rob successfully lobbied to protect his girlfriend and ally Amber Brkich. Jerri had seen Rob play before and knew that she couldn’t entirely trust him. She hadn’t seen Russell play, and although she understood that he was a villain, there was no reason for her to trust Rob any more than she trusted Russell.

Immediately upon returning to camp, Russell started to work on swinging Jerri and Coach. He, Parvati and Danielle were jubilant, celebrating the success of their unlikely plan. Russell had tried to form a relationship with Coach previously and now tried to appeal to that. He sold his move as a move of loyalty, a value that Coach claims to play by. Ultimately, Coach had given his word to Rob and didn’t want to break it. But Coach had also given his word to play the game with Jerri, and she began to sway towards playing the game with Russell.

Parvati said “I think Jerri is leaning more toward coming with us because she saw what Russell did for me, and I think Jerri’s a little bit jealous a man hasn’t done that for her.” Jerri began to see Russell as a more attractive ally after she saw what he was willing to do for Parvati. To protect his alliance, Russell was willing to make a risky move. Jerri then voted with Russell and his alliance to vote out Rob, which was the nail in the coffin for Rob’s alliance. The move paid off for Jerri- she stuck with Russell for the rest of the game, coming close to winning the game, but ultimately being voted out in fourth place.

If Jenn, Joe and Hali want to replicate Russell’s success in dismantling a huge majority alliance, they will need to appeal to the swing votes. They did not do a good job of that at Tribal Council this week. In contrast to Russell’s calculated idol play, the no collar tribe laughed and hugged as the Jenn votes came out and were loudly celebrating the fact that Jenn had outwitted the majority alliance. Nobody enjoys being made to look foolish, and Jenn, Joe and Hali certainly made the majority look foolish. Kelly told us that Carolyn, one of the crucial swing votes, didn’t like the no collar people, and celebrations like the one we saw at Tribal won’t get Carolyn back on their side. They made their unbreakable alliance quite obvious. Anyone who votes with them right now is likely to get fourth place, and that isn’t attractive to anybody. Their celebrations seemed obnoxious to me, and the facial expressions of the tribe showed us that they felt the same way.

Russell played his immunity idol in a way that was deliberately set out to appeal to the swing vote- Coach’s emotions. Jenn played her idol in a way that amused herself and Hali. There are definitely swing votes within the majority- Tyler even told both sides that he wasn’t committed to either of them. The no collar alliance need to use this moment to try and sway Tyler and Carolyn. Will, who for some reason had decided to vote with Rodney, could also be persuaded to come back to his original tribe mates. The blue collar alliance made it obvious that Will was on the bottom, giving him the wrong name to vote for. I am sure that Rodney will aggressively pursue Will and make sure that they are still on the same side, but Joe, Jenn and Hali also need to be aggressive about getting Will back with them.

Russell’s idol play was so successful because of the target that he chose. Tyson was at that point, playing an excellent social game. He was Rob’s closest ally, but he also had a close relationship with his ally from his original season, Coach. Jerri had always had animosity towards Rob, but she was close enough to Coach that she was willing to work with Rob’s alliance. With Tyson gone, there was no reason for Coach to stay loyal, and Jerri was able to convince Coach that Russell’s alliance was a better option for them. Tyson was also a strong challenge performer, and with him gone, the Villains tribe started to lose successive immunity challenges. Choosing the right person to idol out of the game is crucial if you want to turn your position in the minority into a better position in the game. Russell’s strategy of choosing the target that has the most social bonds is the best way to go.

Here, I think Jenn’s alliance made the correct decision. Kelly was a crucial part of the majority alliance, and with her gone, I do think that there is space for the no collars to infiltrate the alliance. Firstly, they break up the power couple of Mike and Kelly. Mike is now without his closest ally, and needs to find a new plan to get to the end. His other close allies, Rodney and Sierra, have plotted against Mike at various points of the game, leaving Mike with only Dan as a loyal alliance mate. Although there are some advantages to replacing Kelly with Dan (Dan is far more beatable as a final three opponent), Mike has definitely lost a trustworthy ally and replaced her with someone that needs to be watched. Dan’s poor social skills may end up getting Mike in trouble, and Mike will never be able to trust him the way that Kelly could be trusted.

Another advantage of getting rid of Kelly is that she is the one with all the relationships. Like Tyson in Heroes vs. Villains, Kelly is the glue holding the alliance together. As the only blue collar member to have been swapped to Nagarote, Kelly has relationships with both Will and Carolyn. She must have been a big part of the reason that they decided to flip. They think they can trust Rodney’s final four deal of Rodney, Will, Carolyn and Kelly because they trust Kelly. Although we saw Tyler and Mike talking, it was clear that Tyler was still wary of Mike due to the blindside of Joaquin. The relationships that Mike has built won’t keep Tyler and Carolyn loyal. If the no collar tribe are perceptive, they will see that with Kelly gone, the swing votes are up for grabs again.

The last advantage of getting rid of Kelly was that she was someone who was never going to turn on the blue collar tribe. She and Mike were completely committed to the idea of the five blue collars being the final five, and had little room for flexibility in her game. Every time we saw Kelly, she was talking about how much she was committed to the blue collar tribe. She said things like “I’m definitely working with the blue collar all the way to the end”, and spoke about the way that she needed to be in blue collar, where she belonged. Kelly was not going to work with the no collar alliance. She just didn’t like them or trust them like she trusted Mike. She said that “I was so depressed over there.” By getting rid of Kelly, and not Rodney, Sierra or one of the swing votes, the no collar tribe are in a position where they could possibly replicate Russell’s successes, and use the idol play to get themselves on the right side of the numbers.

If Jenn wants her immunity idol to buy her more than three more days in the game, she’s made a good start by blindsiding the right person. She needs to follow the Russell plan to make sure that the idol move does more than protect herself for one vote- it also needs to bring her some new allies, or the hopelessly outnumbered Joe, Jenn and Hali will be quickly sent to the jury.

As successful as Russell’s idol play was, in the end it was for nothing, as he reached the end but got no jury votes and finished in third place. His mistakes came as he destroyed social bonds, making fun of those who would end up on the jury, and played with a sense of arrogance that left him with no chance of winning the jury over. If the no collar alliance want to avoid a similar fate, they need to make sure that as well as trying to survive the next votes, they aren’t alienating their tribe mates- all of whom will be on the jury.

I’m worried about the social skills of the no collars. While they may not have Russell’s aggressive crash and burn style of game play, they don’t seem to be making many friends. Shirin stayed with them not out of a sense of loyalty, but in an attempt to avoid blue collar being given too much power. It is quite telling that Will, who has been with them since day one, was very quick to flip to the opposite side. It reminded me very much of Carolyn on Nagarote, who was just simply so fed up with Max and Shirin that she wanted to play the game with a new set of people, and was willing to take the risk of putting herself on the bottom of the new collar alliance. Will is taking a similar chance to join the blue collars. And while we haven’t heard him in confessional talking about how annoying the no collars are, it is clear that he doesn’t feel personally bonded to them. As far as Will knew, Hali was going home, and he obviously didn’t warn his original tribe.

Another skill that the no collars seem to lack is the ability to sell themselves. Jenn and Hali luckily ended up in the majority at the post-swap Nagarote when Carolyn approached them. They gave an attempt at selling themselves to Kelly, but when compared to Shirin’s efforts, it came off looking very half-hearted. At the post swap Escameca, Joe couldn’t manage to work with either Tyler or Joaquin, and was saved only because Rodney and Joaquin were less than subtle about their alliance. He certainly did nothing to create any relationships on his new tribe. Again this week, Hali was seen talking to Tyler, trying to get him to vote with her. When he pointed out that he didn’t know her, she made no effort to win him over. Carolyn had been on a tribe with Jenn and Hali, but we didn’t see them connecting with her. Going all the way back to their original tribe, Nina found it impossible to get along with Jenn or Hali. I don’t think the no collar tribe are good at creating relationships with people who are not like them- particularly with those who are older. Without any real relationships, they can make as many idol plays as they can, but it won’t translate to jury votes in the end. The jury will vote for a person that they like and respect. Jenn and Hali’s over the top Tribal Council celebration didn’t help endear themselves to the tribe either. They need to work on their social game if one of them is to end up winning.

Although we seemingly have seven people on one alliance and four on the other, the great thing about these three tribe seasons is that there is always room for new alliances to form. By getting Kelly out, the no collar alliance has given themselves the opportunity to turn the idol play into something that can put them back into a position of power. They only have to swing Tyler and Carolyn back to their side. So far, they have offered Tyler and Carolyn nothing more than the opportunity to vote with them. Carolyn has an offer of final four from Rodney, and I’m sure she thinks she can use the idol to get Tyler deep in the game with her. The no collars need to offer Tyler and Carolyn the chance to make it further in the game with them than they would if they stayed with the blue collars. It isn’t an impossible task, and I am hoping that they can pull it off.

This blog will be on a short hiatus while my family and I take an Easter holiday- just when the game is getting so exciting! We have unpredictable alliances, with no clear final three emerging, and Carolyn’s idol still in play. Jeff Probst has teased that there will be some sort of a new twist in the game this season, and we must be getting close to seeing that play out. I am loving seeing all my predictions turn out to be wrong- I was shocked to see no collar in the minority, there was no way in the world that I would have picked Kelly as the merge boot-I am surprised by the outcome every week, and that makes for good Survivor viewing.

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