Survivor: Game Changers

Lessons in Survivor History: Abandoning the Alliance

Each week in Lessons in Survivor History, Catherine Lucas revisits another season to compare gameplay and draw from the lessons that have been learned.

Lessons in Survivor History: Abandoning the Alliance

Firstly, I just wanted to say how thrilling it is to see Cirie still in the game, and seemingly in no danger of going home at all. It is so strange that all of the other big players of the season were taken out early, and Cirie, who may be the most dangerous of them all, is being embraced by a majority alliance. For me, watching Cirie has been the best thing about the season so far. We’ve seen her creating relationships with everyone out there. Sarah told Cirie, and only Cirie, about her vote steal advantage. Michaela is completely indebted to Cirie. Aubry wants to play with Cirie. Andrea seems to be closest to Cirie. Even on the other side, we’ve seen her showing Brad and Sierra her maternal side, crying when she lost the reward for them. Everyone likes Cirie- and yet somehow, she isn’t a threat. Cirie isn’t getting votes. She’s giving these guys a masterclass in Survivor– and she’s doing it without changing the game, or reinventing the game, or even making any ‘big moves’. She’s controlling the game subtly, through her social skills. I’m not sure that she’s going to win– at some point, they have to realise what a threat she is–but she’s playing an amazing game.

I thought that Cirie and Andrea played really strongly this week. Zeke admitted that he was absolutely coming for Andrea next week, and so it was unquestionably the right decision to come after him first. It was a dangerous move, but the relationship between Zeke and Andrea had disintegrated to the point that one of them had to go. If Andrea hadn’t got Zeke out this week, then she would have gone home at the next vote.

What was amazing was that Sarah and Michaela both wanted to keep Zeke. Both of them trusted Zeke. Both of them were nervous about voting out one of their alliance members, especially with the numbers as they are. Michaela put it well: “I don’t see how getting rid of Zeke right now is a smart move. They don’t seem to see that if you leave four people on the bottom, they only need one more person to be in the majority for the rest of the game.” Sarah considered Zeke to be her strongest ally, and was making plans with him to flip between the two alliances for the next three votes. She and Zeke had made a final five plan with Brad and Troyzan. Zeke was an integral part of her plans, but when Cirie and Andrea insisted on voting against Zeke, her response was “I’m good with that.” Michaela too, said that she was good. They both voted, against their better judgement, with Cirie and Andrea. Neither of them warned Zeke that he would be going home. That’s a testament to the strength of Cirie and Andrea in this game– although they were the only two people who were threatened by Zeke, they managed to get him out of the game.


Although I do attribute the move to Cirie and Andrea and their hold on their alliance, I also think that the move was facilitated by the gameplay of those in the minority. Just a week ago, Brad, Sierra, Tai and Troyzan had a stranglehold on the game. It was a clear march to the final six, but now they are powerless, and it was a tough adjustment for all of them. I actually think that their position wasn’t as dire as they thought– they were definitely in a position where they could easily have taken control, but because all of them were so quick to abandon their alliance, seizing control was never an option. And it is for that reason that for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are taking a look back at season 20, Survivor: Heroes vs Villains, and the 8th place finisher, Candice Woodcock-Cody.

Candice began the game on the Heroes tribe, where she became fast friends with Cirie. However, she struggled to find inroads with the rest of her tribemates. When the Heroes lost the first challenge, Candice joined with the rest of her tribe and voted against outsider Sugar Kiper. When the Heroes lost the next challenge as well, Candice and Cirie then found themselves in the swing vote position. On one side, JT, James Clement, Amanda Kimmel and Rupert Boneham wanted to see Stephenie LaGrossa sent home. On the other side, Stephenie, Tom Westman and Colby Donaldson wanted Amanda out. Cirie and Candice discussed their options and decided to vote with Amanda. Stephenie was sent home, and Cirie and Candice were seemingly part of the majority alliance.

That changed the next time that the Heroes went to Tribal. Cirie and Candice voted with the majority against Tom. However, JT had decided that Cirie was actually the biggest threat in the game, and he joined with Tom and Colby to vote against Cirie. Tom played an immunity idol, and Cirie was sent home, leaving Candice without any real alliances. The Heroes tribe, particularly Amanda and James, didn’t have any trust in Candice, and after voting Tom out, they were looking for opportunities to vote her out. However, at the only other pre-merge Tribal Council that the Heroes would attend, Candice had individual immunity and James was voted out. Had she not had immunity, she would likely have gone home. Things did get slightly better for Candice leading up to the merge, as the Heroes tribe went on a winning streak, and the remaining five members of the tribe became quite close.

When the merge came, there were five Heroes, and five Villains left in the game. Villain Sandra Diaz-Twine came to the Heroes, offering them her vote, but they didn’t trust her. Candice, along with the other Heroes, voted against Jerri Manthey. In a pivotal moment, Villain Parvati Shallow played an immunity idol for Jerri, protecting her from the vote. JT was sent home, and the Villains now had the numerical advantage.

Candice was now in the minority, but there was still plenty of hope for the Heroes. Sandra had wanted to flip and vote with them before, so all they had to do was get Sandra on their side. Then they would be the ones with a five-four advantage, but the leader of the Villains alliance, Russell Hantz, approached Candice. He offered her a place in his final three. And Candice, who to be fair, didn’t have that same sense of security in the Heroes alliance, went with Russell. Once Sandra realised that Candice had flipped, she knew that it was in her best interests to stay with the Villains. Candice joined Russell and the Villains and voted Amanda out of the game. It was then that the Heroes alliance was completely sunk. Although Colby made it to the final five, the Villains had complete control over the game as soon as Candice flipped, and her flip didn’t do her any good either– she was voted out at the very next opportunity.


I think that this week, Brad, Sierra, Troyzan and Tai were in the same spot as the Heroes in Heroes vs Villains. Yes, they are in the minority. Things didn’t go their way on the Debbie vote, and as Brad said, they “went from being in pretty good shape with the six to being in terrible shape with the four,” but just as the Heroes could have changed the course of the game, the minority alliance certainly had their chances. They just didn’t take them. For the Heroes, it was as simple as getting Sandra to vote with them– they knew from the previous vote that Sandra was on the bottom of the Villains alliance, and wanted to flip. What I can’t understand is how not one member of the majority alliance seemed to identify that this season, Zeke was in the Sandra spot. Zeke has been left out of votes before- he didn’t vote against Ozzy. And Zeke has been explicitly targeted by members of his alliance before– in the Ozzy vote, Andrea, Aubry and Michaela all voted for him. The tension between Zeke and Andrea has been obvious– and yet, although we saw Brad interacting with Zeke, and trying to form bonds with Zeke, we never saw Brad trying to recruit Zeke to his side. Although Zeke had previously come to Sierra offering to vote for Andrea, we never saw Sierra trying to collect on that promise.

Maybe they were too afraid of forcing a tie– even if they were to get Zeke on their side, that still leaves them with five. And the new rules mean that if the vote is tied, there is no revote. They go immediately to rocks. I can see why that would be a frightening proposition for everyone. So perhaps, instead of just trying to talk to Zeke, they should also have been spending time with Sarah– it was only last week that she was considered an integral part of their alliance, so we know that the foundational relationship is there, but flipping people over to their side never seemed to be part of the plan for any of the four members of the minority. In fact, they were much more willing to go with the Candice plan, and flip over themselves.

For Brad and Troyzan, the choice was clear: Either stick with their original alliance and stay with Sierra and Tai or go with what Zeke was proposing– a final five deal with Zeke, Sarah, Troyzan, Brad and Michaela. Zeke’s offer was instant security. He promised Troyzan and Brad that although they would be out of the loop this vote, neither of them would be going home. They just had to be willing to throw Sierra or Tai under the bus, and then next week, they would be the new majority alliance.

Brad and Troyzan voted for Tai, and seemed to make no effort at all to save their ally. Just as Candice was quick to turn on her own tribe in the interests of making a better deal for herself, Brad and Troyzan grabbed the life raft that Zeke was offering, and voted to send Tai home, jumping to another final three deal. Tai would have been a fantastic person to sit with in the end, but they chose immediate safety over long term gains.


In Candice’s case, she was getting safety in the short-term, but also thinking about her long-term game– looking at a final three deal with two villains. Nobody was going to vote for Russell. Maybe she saw that she wasn’t going to beat Amanda. She probably wouldn’t have beaten Colby or Rupert, so Russell was her best bet in a final three. Of course, in flipping, she betrayed half of the jury, and that was never going to win her the game, but I see her logic in it. For Brad and Troyzan, surely Tai is the most enticing final three partner, but Sarah has betrayed everyone on the jury, and according to exit press, she’s betrayed them in a personal way, swearing on the life of her child. Michaela doesn’t have any fans out there. Perhaps Brad reasons that all he has to do is get to the end, and it won’t matter who he is sitting there with.

For Troyzan, who has an idol, the choice was a bit more interesting. He had immediate safety either way. Both Tai and Troyzan are set on using their idols conservatively. They’ll wait until they are personally in trouble, and then play the idol, guaranteeing themselves three more days in the game if nothing else. But is that the best use of the idols in this case? Did either of them even think about using the idol to secure themselves a majority alliance? I was completely shocked that Tai didn’t play an idol this week. Why was he so sure that Sierra was going home? What was his plan if Sierra did go home? How did he not know that his entire alliance was voting for him? When it comes to Tai and his actions this week, a lot was left unexplained.

Both Troyzan and Tai missed a huge opportunity this week. Had they been able to flip Zeke to their side, and use Zeke’s connections with the majority alliance to decide where to play an idol, then they would have been able to eliminate anybody from the majority. Next week, they would (with Zeke as a member of their alliance) have a five-four majority. It would have secured their positions in the game, and whoever played the idol could have had one of those sought after, resume building big moves that Probst is always talking about. They would have had a case to present to the jury. At the moment, both Tai and Troyzan are seen as Brad’s loyal soldiers. We’ve heard Cirie explicitly say that Brad controls Troyzan. This was a chance for either one of the loyal soldiers to step up and take control of the game. This was a chance to break out of Brad’s shadow, and stake their own claim on the million. Instead, they both chose the Candice way out of the situation. Tai flipped on his alliance, voting against Sierra. And Troyzan joined Brad and Sierra in voting against Tai. Troyzan and Tai both got to hold on to their idols, and perhaps they will need them in the future. But what good is it if an idol gets you to the Final Tribal Council, but you have no shot to win? This was a pivotal moment for the two idol holders, and they missed it.


And then we have Sierra. After being one of the most loyal players that we have ever seen play the game when she played in Survivor: Worlds Apart, Sierra was not willing to stick with the minority alliance. Throughout Sierra’s Survivor career, she’s never really been on the bottom. She’s always been strongly entrenched in the majority alliance. And so this week, she really didn’t know what to do. Instead of trying to find cracks in the majority (cracks that so obviously were there, had she stopped to think about it), Sierra went to the most powerful players on the majority alliance, Cirie and Andrea, and grovelled. She begged for her place in the game. She told them she would vote however they wanted her to. She told them that she would even put a little star on it so that they would know it was her. Instead of fighting to regain power, the sheriff capitulated.

As Candice could no doubt tell her, the problem with Sierra’s plan is that all she has to offer Cirie and Andrea is her vote. And if they don’t need her vote, then they have no use for her. Whereas to Brad she was an indispensable ally, someone that he could count on to the end, to Cirie and Andrea, she’s a number. They’ll never fully trust her. Making such a clear flip to the other alliance is not the best path to winning the game. And it’s a pity, because she was playing such a strong game up until this point. I just think that Sierra has real problems playing Survivor from a position where she isn’t part of a majority.

And now, the alliance that only a week ago were referring to themselves as the ‘power six’ is in real trouble. Survivor is a numbers game, but it is also a trust game. In season 19, Survivor: Samoa, Russell Hantz and the Foa Foa tribe came into the merge with four members. Galu, the opposing tribe, had eight. But Russell’s tribe trusted each other implicitly. They weren’t going to turn on each other. Galu were full of cracks. With some sneaky social play, and some intelligent use of idols, Foa Foa were able to eliminate Galu one by one. Numbers are important, but it is better to have a smaller group who really trust each other than a larger group full of fractures.


Brad, Sierra, Troyzan and Tai could have stuck together. They have three idols and a legacy advantage among them. If they had each other’s backs, and worked together to dismantle Cirie and Andrea’s alliance, then they could easily have seized control of the game. But instead of working with each other, they were all desperate to work with the opposite side. Instead of looking for the cracks in the opposing alliance, they created cracks in their own.

How does Tai react, now that Brad, Sierra and Troyzan all voted for him? He and Troyzan had a conversation, where Troyzan promised Tai that if his name came up, Troyzan would tell Tai. Tai didn’t play his idol, so he obviously had no idea that his name was going to be written down. How do the two of them regain trust after that betrayal? It is unnerving to see your name written down. Is Sierra going to quickly forgive Tai for writing her name down? Is it something that she can just forget? I think that they have shattered the trust that they once had in each other.

Going forward, Brad’s alliance was always going to be a little outgunned–Cirie is possibly the best player of all time, and Andrea is proving that she is no slouch herself. Trying to outwit Cirie is a near impossible task. But where Brad, Sierra, Tai and Troyzan had the advantage was in the stability of their alliance. Michaela doesn’t get along with Aubry. Andrea and Zeke didn’t get along. Sarah wasn’t sure where she was voting week to week. Cirie was threatened by Zeke. Their alliance really was a powder keg waiting to explode.

That stability is gone. It didn’t have to be– they could have navigated this together, trying to work as a unit to get themselves back in the numbers. But instead, like Candice in Heroes vs Villains, they moved to secure their immediate future in the game by turning on their allies. I think that they missed a huge opportunity. They’ve made Cirie and Andrea even more powerful than they were a week ago, and having Cirie, this deep in the game, with this much control– that’s something that nobody should have let happen. She’s long been known as one of the best players to never win the game. This season, she’s in a position to make a deep run once again. She’s the most talented player out there. And like most other fans of the show, I’d love to see her get the win.


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