Survivor: Cambodia

Lessons in Survivor History- All About Timing

What a week to hit us with a double episode! There was so much going on in both episodes that it was hard to narrow down the focus this week. Of course, as a fan of RHAP, the headline is the departure of Fishbach. I loved the game that Stephen was playing, and I was definitely hoping to see him pull off the win, but his blindside made for entertaining television. For the second season in a row, the vote ‘advantage’ directly contributed to the elimination of the person holding it. After Dan Foley fumbled with his advantage in Survivor: Worlds Apart, I was thrilled to see Stephen win the advantage this season. I figured that with such an intelligent player holding the advantage, we were sure to see it used successfully this time. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Not only did the advantage make him into a bigger target, but he was also unable to manoeuvre the advantage in a way that protected himself. It will be interesting to watch out for the advantage next season, and see if it is possible to use it to better your position. I’m not sure that it is.

Although the advantage could have helped him, what really ended Fishbach’s game wasn’t an incorrectly used advantage. What ended his game was that he lacked an essential skill for Survivor players. He wasn’t able to correctly read the other players. He thought Spencer was on his side. I’ve rewatched the episode, carefully read the Twitter feeds of the players, and listened to Rob and Josh break down the episode on Know-It-Alls. I still don’t really understand how Stephen trusted Spencer so implicitly. In Survivor, the only real way to tell if someone is on your side is to watch how they vote. Spencer had voted against Stephen only three days prior. Abi may not be the best Survivor player in the world, but she does have one thing right. If someone is voting against you, the best thing to do is to remove them from the game. If someone continues to vote for you, follow Abi’s strategy. They should be dead to you.

Spencer’s move was puzzling too. He had someone in Stephen that he had a strong relationship with, both inside and outside of the game. He had taken a risk to vote with Stephen and blindside Kelly Wiglesworth. It was strange to see him discard the trust that they had built, and even stranger to hear him talking about how important it was to get Stephen out, even going so far as to say that he wouldn’t feel comfortable in the game until Stephen was gone.

Spencer’s move has completely changed his position. He’s gradually gone from being at the bottom of the game, a coin flip away from elimination, to the person who is calling the shots. Getting rid of Stephen was a power move, a pivotal point in the game. Watching, I questioned the move. I’m not sure if it was too early to make a move against his alliance, particularly when Stephen had no plans to go against Spencer at all. In the long term, Stephen keeps the target off Spencer- if people are being targeted as strategic threats, Stephen the self-professed know-it-all is on the chopping block before Spencer.

I’m still not sure that Spencer made the right move, but in Survivor, if the choice is to make a move too early or leave it too late, better to take the first option. I’d imagine that particularly in a second chances season, it would be so frustrating to be in a position where you know that you are going to lose, and there is nothing that you can do about it. It was this mentality that led Stephen to move against Kelly Wiglesworth, and it was this mentality that incited Spencer to go against Stephen. They are thinking that it is better to make the wrong move than to be sent home with regrets. Spencer’s fear was that the numbers would become too small for him to make his big move. He had to make it now or face being powerless in the game. For this reason, this week’s lesson in Survivor history comes from season one, Survivor: Borneo, and sixth place finisher, Colleen Haskell.

colleen31ep1011It’s interesting trying to compare season one to season 31, because as Kelly Wiglesworth found out, they are vastly different shows. Colleen didn’t really know what she was signing up for, as the early episodes of Survivor are more like a documentary than a strategic game show. By the time Colleen had woken up to the strategy of the game, it was too late. The numbers were against her, and she wound up at the mercy of the majority alliance. Had she made a move earlier, she could easily have been the winner of the season- and who knows what modern day Survivor would look like then!

Colleen started the game on the Pagong tribe, where she was well-liked by everybody and voted in the majority each time they visited Tribal Council. Pagong voted out the members of their tribe who were sick or weak. With the merge fast approaching, Joel Klugg brought up the idea of a voting bloc- that all the Pagong members should vote together. Nobody agreed. Gretchen Cordy, the unofficial tribe leader, saw it as immoral. She wanted to play a fair game, and so she would continue to vote as she had been all game- with her conscience. Unbeknownst to the Pagong tribe, over at the opposing Tagi tribe, alliances had been formed. Richard Hatch, Sue Hawk, Kelly Wiglesworth and Rudy Boesch were voting together.

Pagong entered the merge completely unaware that the Tagi Four were together. At the merge Tribal Council, Pagong split their votes. Seven different people received votes, with Colleen voting for Richard. With the Tagi Four voting together, Gretchen was eliminated despite only receiving four out of the ten votes. Unbelievably, the Pagong members still refused to join forces, with Colleen casting a vote against fellow Pagong member Jenna Lewis at the next Tribal Council, where Colleen’s closest ally, Greg Buis, went home.

At this point, there were eight players left. When Colleen won reward, she chose Jenna to go with her, and the two of them formed an alliance. When they returned to camp, they involved fellow Pagong Gervase Peterson in their plan. The three of them resolved to vote together and set about recruiting Tagi member Sean Kenniff, who was not part of the Tagi alliance.

Obviously, there were a few problems with this plan. With eight people left, an alliance of three had very little power. Even if they were able to join with Sean, the best they could hope for was a tie. They did try to also recruit Kelly, who was feeling disillusioned with the Tagi Four, but they were unsuccessful. Kelly could see that as much as she enjoyed spending time with Colleen, she wouldn’t be able to beat her in the end. Kelly had a much better chance at beating the members of the Tagi Four, and she knew it.

Sean was a difficult person to work with. He didn’t seem to realise that there was an alliance, and he insisted on working by himself. He invented the infamous ‘alphabet strategy’, where he would vote for people based on the alphabetical orders of their first names. He refused to vote with Colleen and her alliance, leaving her with three people. At the next Tribal Council, Jenna was voted out, leaving Colleen and Gervase completely powerless. They were voted out at the next two Tribal Councils.

Colleen left her move too late. The two tribes entered the merge with even numbers, five members each. At that point, Pagong should have been working together. By the time Colleen finally realised that alliances were the only way to win Survivor, there was nobody left who was willing to work with her. Survivor is primarily a numbers game, and if you are going to make a power move, you have to have the numbers on your side.

spencer31ep1011Spencer was able to get the numbers on his side. In the space of a double episode, Kimmi and Jeremy were the only ones not to vote against Stephen. There was certainly the momentum within the camp to get Stephen out. He had the advantage in the game, and the other players didn’t know what that advantage entailed. It painted an even bigger target on Stephen’s back. He was already a threat, but now he was a threat armed with an unknown weapon. It should have been an easy sell. But Stephen had Jeremy protecting him, and so Spencer had to take a risk. Instead of sitting back and letting Jeremy have things his way, Spencer put his neck out and made his move.

I think what was most impressive about Spencer’s gameplay was the way he reacted when his plan didn’t work. Spencer gathered his numbers. He even managed to convince Tasha to vote with him, against her better judgement. She thought that Ciera was a much bigger threat, but she agreed to vote with Spencer anyway. He tried to convince Jeremy to join him. But in the end, it was for nothing. When Jeremy played the idol for Stephen, and Ciera went home, it looked like Spencer’s time had passed. But on returning to camp, Spencer said,“Jeremy pulled a fast one, and I’m pretty sure I’m being lied to, so maybe it makes sense to jump ship with whoever else is willing to jump ship and start something new.” And in the end, although Spencer lost Ciera, and Stephen was able to win Tasha back, Spencer was still able to make his move. Jeremy and Stephen split their votes, Spencer was able to take advantage of a numbers loophole, and Stephen went home.

Unlike Colleen in season one, Spencer didn’t leave his move until it was too late. You could argue that he moved too early. Spencer could be thinking that he can mend fences with his original alliance, but after he voted against them twice, he has surely lost their trust. He has now thrown his lot in with Abi, who is emotional and unpredictable, and Joe, who has a huge target on his back, and will surely be voted out when he loses immunity. Stephen and Jeremy were much more stable allies, but it’s heading towards the end game now. Spencer would be much better off sitting at Final Tribal Council with Abi and Keith, or even Abi and Joe than he would with Jeremy or Stephen. In this new alliance, the only threat that he has to worry about is Kelley. For Spencer’s end game plans, he made the right move.

Where does this leave Jeremy’s end game? I feel like Jeremy will soon run out of options. Playing the idol for jeremyjoetasha31ep1011Stephen was a flashy move, but ultimately a pointless one. Most dangerously, it put the idol right back in the game, where Kelley was able to pick it up. If Boston Rob has taught us anything, it is that the best thing about having the immunity idol is knowing that nobody else has it. In burning the idol, Jeremy makes the game a lot more unpredictable for himself. And in hindsight, of course, we can see just how badly it turned out. In the space of three days, Jeremy lost both an idol and an ally.

After this vote, Jeremy still has Tasha and Kimmi. More importantly, he has previous relationships with Joe and Keith, both of whom want to work with him. He had a good relationship with Kelley on San Juan Del Sur, and could perhaps rekindle that alliance. Abi knows she is on the bottom and could probably be convinced to vote against anyone. We’ve seen that she isn’t overly fond of Spencer. Jeremy can make his move, but it has to happen quickly. He has to recognise that Spencer cannot be trusted and use the numbers to get him out. For Colleen, by the time she realised what she had to do, there weren’t enough people left who were willing to work with her. Jeremy might find himself in the same situation. Spencer might not feel as threatened by Jeremy as he was by Stephen, but I don’t think Jeremy is in his end game plans.

Joe has been sitting in the Colleen spot for a while now. As soon as he let Kass get voted out, he essentially ran out of options. And this week, he survived only by the grace of Spencer and Kelley. We didn’t see Joe do anything to take control of his own game. He spoke about his position in confessional when he said, “I’ve wanted Stephen out for a while, so it sounds like a good plan. But I can’t bank on them (the other players), especially because I know they want me out of this game.” Joe recognises that he has no true allies. Right now, he’s playing the Sandra Diaz-Twine game and will vote with anybody. His strategy is essentially to win immunity, and if he loses, hope for the best. This strategy is the equivalent of Colleen’s three-person alliance, but at least Colleen had a small chance of winning if she could recruit Sean and Kelly. Joe has left himself no chance at all.


It is interesting to hear the kind of language that the other contestants use when talking about Joe. They resent that he is winning everything. They resent that he is going on every reward. Is it a coincidence that the one time Joe doesn’t go on reward, he loses immunity? It took 29 days for Joe to even be eligible to be voted out. He had been immune for nearly a month. No wonder the other players were irritated.

But it isn’t only the fact that Joe is winning challenges that is annoying his tribemates. Kelley accused him of trying to manipulate every other player. She also called him arrogant. The more I see Joe’s game and the way he interacts with others, the more I question the idea that Joe automatically wins if he makes it to the end. I think that Kelley knows she can beat him. In fact, I think that Abi is the only one that definitely can’t.

This has been a season characterised by big moves. I really think that this season, in particular, the players have accepted it as fact that if you do not make big moves, you cannot win. Generally, this mindset leads to playing an overly aggressive game and getting voted out in spectacular fashion, as Stephen can attest to. While big moves make good television, they are not always necessary. The skill of Survivor is knowing when big moves are necessary.

Spencer’s move was necessary. From what I saw, Jeremy was going to the end with Stephen and Kimmi. If Spencer had just gone with the flow, he would have ended up in the same position as Colleen, or even the same position that Ciera found herself in during her first season. If you wait until the numbers are too small, you simply run out of options.

I believe that it is necessary for Jeremy to make a move. He cannot continue to trust Spencer. At the moment, he is in a minority, and unless he moves against Spencer, his idol will be the only thing keeping him in the game. He’s in a dangerous spot and should try to regain the control that he once had. He cannot sit back as Joe has done and allow his allies to go home.

Kelley has another idol and I’m sure that she cannot wait to use it. Her first idol play was a real highlight and she seemed to see it as her coming out party. Her flashy move was her announcement to the rest of the cast that she was here to play. When she mentioned that she thought about using her immunity idol to protect Joe and ensure that Stephen went home, I hope it was for the cameras. I hope she manages to hold onto that thing until she actually needs it. Because for Kelley at the moment, the last thing she needs is to make a big move. She’s climbed off the bottom and there’s no target on her now. She absolutely shouldn’t even consider using her idol for Joe. She should have learnt from the outcome of Jeremy’s idol play. It might look good, but it is ultimately pointless.

In truth, Survivor is a complicated game, and one strategy doesn’t work for all. For Colleen, all the way back in season one, her fatal mistake was that she moved too slowly. For Stephen, in season 31, his fatal mistake was moving too quickly. Had he kept Kelly Wiglesworth in the game, he likely would have been safe this week. The biggest skill involved in playing Survivor is perception. If you can understand how the other players are thinking, then you have a good chance at winning. Survivor is all about making the right moves at the right time. Stephen’s move proved to be too soon. Joe has waited too long to make a move and is left without anyone left in the game that he can trust. Without the benefit of hindsight, I think that Spencer’s move was the right move at the right time. He’s now in the perfect position to go on and win.

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