Survivor San Juan Del Sur is quickly becoming the tale of two players. Three episodes in, and all strategic play revolves around only two men- Josh on Coyopa and Jeremy on Hunahpu. That isn’t to say that only two people are playing strategic games; Baylor has been forced by the gender imbalance to play a very defensive game, but she has demonstrated the ability to think strategically, and in episode three we saw Wes make some strategic moves to get John Rocker voted out. The problem for all of the other players is that they are being edited as support players, there to back up Jeremy or Josh, the alliance leaders. So, is it a foregone conclusion that one of these men are winning the game? Not necessarily. There is a lot of game left to play and plenty of time for the other players to move up the totem pole. But in order to sit and successfully argue their cases at the Final Tribal Council, the supporting players are going to have to make some considered moves. Because if either Jeremy or Josh are sitting in the final three, and nothing has changed in the gameplay of the other players, then the result is a foregone conclusion.Jeremy is in a clear position of power.[/caption]
The player that interested me the most this episode was Wes. I thought that Wes had a strong, strategic episode. At the Hero Challenge, he looked at the challenge before telling the tribe “I feel like my dad wouldn’t be good at all at it.” This meant that Coyopa actually had a good shot at winning the challenge, instead of repeating the mistake of simply sending their strongest guy into the battle without any thought as to what the challenge was, as they did with John last week. When Wes won the challenge, he sent his closest ally to Exile with his dad. When Josh returned from Exile, Wes was quick to reconnect with Josh and to ask him about the idol clue. When the idea of voting John out of the tribe came up, it was actually Wes who first articulated it. Josh said to Wes “Here’s the deal”. Wes interrupted with “You want to make the big move tonight?” This made me think that Wes and Josh have been strategizing about this for a while. They both seemed to know what the other was thinking, and they both understood that the move was to get John out. Josh then sent Wes to secure Alec’s vote, which insinuates that Josh doesn’t have the same power and influence with Alec that he does with the rest of the tribe. When Wes did go to Alec, he simply told him how to vote. He said “Me, you, Josh, and Baylor are going John”. Alec obviously didn’t agree with the strategy; he mentioned how voting out their tribe’s strongest member wasn’t the smartest move, but in the end he went along with the plan. Does this mean that Wes is the one controlling Alec’s vote? It certainly suggests a more powerful position in the tribe than the edit is showing us.
Wes is in an interesting position at the moment. He seems to be close to Josh, but Josh sees Baylor as his most important ally. When she was in danger of going home, Josh said “If John doesn’t go home, it’s Baylor, and Baylor was my first ally in this game, and I know she’s with me 100%.” Although Baylor was seen in confessional saying that she didn’t fully trust Josh, her actions clearly say otherwise. She is close to Josh and wants to play the game with him. I believe that Wes and Josh are having more strategic discussions and have formed a close relationship, but the edit is clearly not giving Wes any of the credit- Josh is seen as the strategic force. Apart from Wes getting Alec’s vote, everything else was done at Josh’s impetus. The conversation that Josh and Wes had in the water suggested to me that there were strategic discussions between them that we didn’t see. We don’t actually know whose idea it was to get John Rocker out, and who is controlling whom in this relationship. Josh clearly controls Baylor’s vote, and Wes seems to control Alec’s vote. But at the moment, Wes and Josh seem to be making the important decisions together, with Josh getting all of the credit. And if this continues, then Wes cannot beat Josh in a jury vote.
On the other tribe, Jeremy is in a clear position of power. We saw his alliance form, and we saw him being portrayed as the lynchpin. After the day one hero battle, where he tearfully defeated his wife, sending her to Exile Island with his own tribe member Keith, Jeremy was easily able to convince the women to join him in an alliance. They were impressed by his obvious love for his wife and quickly developed an emotional bond to him, with Natalie dubbing him her ‘designated twinnie’. When Keith returned from Exile Island, Jeremy was able to bring him into the alliance, giving them the majority. However, Hunahpu have yet to lose immunity, so we haven’t seen whether this alliance will hold under pressure or not.
One thing that Jeremy has in his favour is the lack of contenders for top position in Hunahpu. The women are all content to work with him. We have seen confessionals from Missy, Natalie and Kelley saying that they trust him and Julie’s decision to send Jeremy to Exile Island where he would be with her boyfriend surely demonstrates her desire to work with Jeremy. Of the men of the tribe, Keith is in Jeremy’s alliance (although seeing the idol clue and knowing that Jeremy hadn’t shared it with him did give him some doubts), and the other men are being portrayed as lazy, cocky and irritating. Jeremy referred to them as ‘cartoon characters’, and it is clear that the women share his disdain. When Hunahpu decided to spend some time working on their roof, both Jeremy and Drew gave up weaving quickly. The women all seemed to notice Drew’s laziness, but nobody commented that Jeremy had also given up. His powerful position in the tribe seems unassailable, and until Hunahpu have to visit Tribal Council, we aren’t going to know who his closest ally is. We have seen him have a strategic conversation with Natalie, where he told her to keep Drew around because he isn’t winning a million dollars.
So, on each tribe we have a clear power player, who is dominating strategically and socially. On Coyopa, this is Josh and on Hunahpu, it is Jeremy. The other 13 players in the game are facing an uphill battle to win from here, but that’s not to say it can’t be done. If they are to win the game, they will have to avoid making some simple mistakes and fight hard not to be overshadowed by the charismatic alliance leaders. This week’s lesson in history is a lesson in how not to play from this position. This week’s lesson comes from Becky Lee, who came in at third place in Survivor 13: Cook Islands.
Becky played a solid game, making strategic moves and forming close friendships. However, when she faced the Final Tribal Council, the jury made it clear that they had no respect for her, and she was unable to defend her own game. She became the first person to make it all the way to the end of the game and receive zero votes from the jury.
Becky started off the game on the all-Asian tribe of Puka Puka, where she developed the strong alliance with Yul. When the tribes were switched, she remained with Yul, and despite being a target at the first Tribal Council, she was able to get herself into the majority alliance, forming a close final four bond with Candice and Jonathan. At final 12, Becky’s game was again disrupted when Candice and Jonathan mutinied to the opposing tribe. This left Becky’s tribe Aitu with four members- Yul, Becky, Ozzy and Sundra, and this became their new final four alliance. Thanks to Ozzy’s physical strength, Aitu was able to win the remaining immunity challenges, entering the merge down in the numbers with 4 members to Raro’s 5. Yul was able to leverage his idol, convincing Jonathan to flip and vote with Aitu. This gave the Aitu four an easy path to the end of the game.
At final four, Yul voted with Becky, and Ozzy voted with Sundra, leading to a tie breaker. In an excruciating scene, both Becky and Sundra failed to make a fire with flint. They were eventually given matches and still struggled. Sundra ran out of matches, leading to Becky making the final three. After her embarrassing display there, she wasn’t going to be able to win the respect of the jury, no matter what she said or did. The jury’s perception was that Ozzy had dominated physically, Yul had dominated strategically, and Becky had simply been along for the ride. Her fire-making skills sealed this perception, and she went into the Final Tribal Council without a chance of winning. She was sitting next to the two most dominant players in the game.
Of course, it is possible to join the dominant alliance and simply ride it to the end. It is a sound strategy, and many have followed it all the way to the Final Tribal Council. The question is whether it is possible to win the game simply by joining a dominant alliance. Some have done it- Amber from season eight and Natalie from season 19 both won their seasons by playing a game very similar to Becky’s. They joined a dominant alliance, where someone else was seen to be making the decisions. The difference is that their alliances took them all the way to the jury, who were so angry at the other player that Amber and Natalie were rewarded with the million dollars. Of course, the main difference between Becky’s season and Amber and Natalie’s seasons are the dominant leaders. Yul had the respect of the jury, but he had also formed social bonds with them. The jury liked Yul. Rob and Russell both played strategically dominant games, but they didn’t play the social games, allowing a more social player to defeat them in a jury vote. I think both Jeremy and Josh are dominant players who would identify more with Yul than they would with Russell or Rob. They are strategically dominating their tribes, but more importantly they are cultivating strong relationships. At the end of the game, they will be able to parlay those relationships into a million dollars. The players this season cannot rely on the jury being angry. They need to see that right now, most of them are sitting in the Becky position. How can they get themselves into a position where they could possibly win?
Becky made some clear mistakes, and the biggest one was that she didn’t try to play for herself. She never once planned to split the votes to flush Yul’s idol or get Ozzy voted out. She never even seemed to consider it. In her mind, the Aitu Four was the final four. The four of them had been bonded together by the adversity that they had faced after Candice and Jonathan’s mutiny. They were not open to any moves that would give a Raro member even a small chance to win the game. This played right into the hands of Yul and Ozzy, but both Becky and Sundra needed to make moves in order to give themselves a better chance. Their loyalty to the Aitu Four blinded them to the reality of their position.
Astute players need to identify the position that they are in and act accordingly. Becky came into the Final Tribal Council completely aware of the position she was in, but without having done anything about it. And to be fair to Becky, Yul was in possession of an immunity idol that could be played after the votes were read, and it was valid right up until the end of the game, giving him a free pass to the final three. Cook Islands was also the first time in Survivor history that we see a final three. In a final two situation, the most likely outcome is that Ozzy wins the final immunity challenge and takes Becky to the final two. It is unlikely that Becky would have beaten Ozzy, but at least she would have been able to put up an argument. She could have differentiated her game from Ozzy’s. She wasn’t able to differentiate her game from Yul’s.
In the past, many players have been stuck in the position. Monica Culpepper comes to mind- she knew that she was being perceived as Tyson’s ‘lap dog’, but she was never able to differentiate herself from Tyson at all. She was right with Tyson in all that he did, and when Tyson was asked at Final Tribal Council whether Monica or Gervase had played the better game, he responded with Monica, because she had been able to get information from the other players that Tyson and Gervase could not. However, the jury had made their mind up about Monica, and she didn’t have the respect necessary to beat Tyson. But Monica and Gervase were in the position where they could see that Tyson was playing a dominant game, but they could not make a move against Tyson without jeopardising their own game. Becky had the same problem. Getting Yul voted out was going to take a complicated move, as his immunity idol guaranteed he could not be blindsided. Any move needed to be made when there were enough players left in the game to be able to flush the idol.
The problem for both Monica and Becky was numbers. If you are to make a move against the alliance leader, you need to be making the moves early in the game. This is something that Tyson did well in the previous Blood vs Water season. He saw that Aras was the leader of the tribe, and voted with Aras until he had the numbers to take over. He didn’t let Aras get anywhere near the final three. In order to make this happen, Tyson had to lay the groundwork early, by ensuring that Gervase was on his side and would help him with his plan. It is time for some of the season 29 players to begin the same process. Could Missy, Natalie and Julie, all of whom we have seen bonding emotionally, form a suballiance with the aim of eventually replacing Jeremy? Could Keith, who is already wary of Jeremy form enough close relationships within his tribe to vote Jeremy out? Could Wes and Alec be starting to look towards voting Josh out? If the leader of an alliance is to be voted out, it takes skillful planning and analysis of the numbers. Becky never tried to split from Yul. She was closely allied to him and committed to his alliance until the end.
Because of this, she never made any moves alone. And in the end, that is the key to winning the million dollars; you need to be able to explain to a jury why you and you alone deserve the money. Becky couldn’t do this- when asked the question, she responded “I know that I was lucky to be with the people that I was aligned with, but whenever you say that Yul was the puppet-master, you don’t know all the conversations that we had on every decision that we were going to make. We decided together.” This was the truth; she had been aligned with Yul from the beginning, and the two of them had often had strategic discussions. All of their moves had, in fact, been discussed and made in tandem. But what mattered was the perception of the jury. The jury saw Yul as the puppet master and Becky as the puppet. The jury perceived all of the joint moves as Yul’s moves, and Becky was unable to claim any moves that she had made alone.
In Becky’s opening speech, she made it clear that she believed that she should win because “I would have to, you know, basically rely on my social game, and the way I can connect with people. And I wanted to form an alliance with people that I trusted, you know, that I knew that if I gave my word, and they gave their word, I could count on that. I really tried to play the social game, be fair, be honest to the best of my abilities, and um, true to my character.” History has shown that unless you are sitting next to someone who is completely hated, a Survivor jury will reward those who have made strategic moves over someone whose best move was having a strong alliance, and if any of the season 29 cast want to avoid the problem that Becky faced, being overshadowed by a dominant alliance mate at the Final Tribal Council, they need to make their own strategic moves. And they need to start laying the groundwork for those moves in the pre-merge game. It is one thing to be part of a tight alliance and to be making all of the decisions together, as Josh and Wes might be doing, but if your alliance partner is getting all of the credit for the strategy, then something has gone wrong, and it needs to be corrected.