Survivor: San Juan Del Sur

Lessons in Survivor History- How to win from a losing tribe

Episode two might have been titled ‘Method to My Madness’, but as a viewer, I saw a lot of madness, and not much method going on at all. The complete dominance of the Hunahpu tribe meant that most of the screen time was devoted to the state of affairs over at Coyopa. Yes, we saw Jeremy make an alliance with most of the women of Hunahpu, and we saw him promise Keith that he would last at least one Tribal Council, but until we see them actually have to vote someone off, it is difficult to see where their loyalties truly lie. The storyline has focused on Coyopa, and we have seen plenty of madness from them.

Jeff Probst summed up the positions of the two tribes before the immunity challenge. One tribe has yet to lose a challenge; the other tribe is yet to win, and it is confusing as to why this is. The two tribes seem quite evenly matched. If anything, the presence of John Rocker, easily the biggest guy in the game, as well as the fact that the Coyopa women- especially Val and Jaclyn- are physically stronger than the Hunahpu women (Julie, Kelley, Missy)- should give Coyopa a slight edge. But instead, they haven’t been able to win any of the challenges, and they are depicted as a fractured and dysfunctional tribe. Josh made an analogy at Tribal Council, likening the Coyopa tribe to a Broadway preview show- they just need to make a few adjustments.

Coyopa-at-Tribal-Council What is going wrong at Coyopa?[/caption]

What is going wrong at Coyopa? What adjustments need to be made? Is Coyopa as a tribe destined to go down the path of season four’s Mara’amu, season 25’s Matsing, or season 28’s Luzon- all tribes that were known for being dysfunctional, often beaten in the challenges, and repeatedly having to return to Tribal Council to vote out yet another member? It seems improbable that we will ever see another Ulong, from season 10, who were so poor in the challenges that they returned to Tribal Council again and again, eventually dwindling down to just one member. Part of modern Survivor is that if the tribes are incredibly unbalanced, then a tribe swap will happen. This will be especially true in a Blood vs Water season, where production will not want to see all of the pairs split up before the merge.

Coyopa’s mistakes have, for the most part, been small and easily correctable. The first challenge was an extremely physical one, and Val had no chance of beating her husband there. Add to that the fact that Val did absolutely nothing to put herself in the situation where she had to compete, and that challenge defeat was completely excusable. Then came the immunity challenge, where the size and athleticism of John gave them an advantage, but they were beaten on the puzzle. Nadiya’s exit interview suggested that the reason for this was that they had no strategy about who should do the puzzle, so the first four tribe members there got the job. That ended up being Dale, Alec, Josh and Jaclyn. On the surface, it may have been wiser to use Nadiya, who had experience on The Amazing Race, but Hunahpu didn’t use Natalie either. This was a puzzle that took both tribes a long time, and I think a fair bit of luck came into finding the solution. So again, this seems to be an excusable failure.

The second episode showed much more madness and lack of strategy on Coyopa’s part. They actively played a role in both challenge losses, and in voting out first Nadiya and then Val, their strongest women, they may have set themselves up for future defeats. The first challenge was in the ‘Hero Arena’, where John took on Julie in a duel which required balance and agility–two things that John does not have in abundance– and Julie was able to defeat him and win reward for Hunahpu. The only logical excuse for this was that they had discussed this at camp, and he had decided that if they had the choice, John would compete in the duel. When he won the right to nominate someone to compete, John quickly nominated himself without thinking about what the challenge was. Looking at the challenge, it was clearly not going to be easy for the biggest guy out there. I get the feeling that this tribe is not really communicating well when it comes to challenges and that was confirmed in the immunity challenge, one-on-one wrestling duels. At Tribal Council, Dale said that the problem with Coyopa was that they had a lack of strategy- they were just throwing match-ups out there. This meant that Alec got beaten by his much bigger brother, Drew. Josh got beaten by Reed. Dale suggested that if they had thought about it, instead of being motivated by their own egos, they could have won the challenge.

So they have had two bad episodes. Hunahpu definitely have the momentum at the moment. And the story completely revolves around Coyopa and their alliances and relationships. Jeremy’s alliance was given a short amount of airtime in the premiere, and was then completely ignored in episode two. My guess is that the story is definitely showing us that Coyopa is the weaker tribe, and setting them up for multiple visits to Tribal Council. So how should you play the game if you are a member of the weaker tribe? If you are on a tribe that is constantly losing, what are the best strategies to adopt? What has worked in the past?

There are many winners that have come from the weaker or outnumbered tribe. Vecepia, in season four, was the first. Chris from Survivor: Vanuatu was able to overcome not only being the last from his tribe, but also being the only male standing at final seven. JT from Tocantins is another good example, as is Denise, who won Survivor: Philippines. There are lessons to be learned from the way that each of these winners played the game. But this week’s lesson in Survivor history comes from the winner of season 14, Survivor: Fiji’s Earl Cole.

Jeff Probst lists Survivor: Fiji as one of his least favourite seasons, and while I don’t agree with his assessment, I can understand it. The pre-merge game was extremely predictable due to a twist that has never been repeated- the Haves vs Have Nots. In this twist, one tribe, Moto, was given a luxurious shelter, food rations, and access to fire, whereas Earl’s tribe, Ravu, was given nothing. They had a basic shelter, limited food, and no access to flint. Without fire, they were unable to boil water, leading to the starving, dehydrated Ravu losing nearly every challenge they attempted. They lost five immunity challenges in a row and were only saved from going to Tribal Council in episode four because Moto voted to keep their luxurious camp in exchange for giving Ravu immunity.


Despite Earl’s tribe being unable to win immunity, Earl himself was never in danger.

Despite Earl’s tribe being unable to win immunity, Earl himself was never in danger, and if it wasn’t for a throwaway vote that he received at the third Tribal Council, he would have gone all the way to the end without getting a single vote against him. As a strong male in a physically weak tribe, his name was never brought up as an option; however, his allies were not as physically strong as he was, yet Earl was able to protect them all. How did he make it to the merge and then to the final Tribal Council in a strong position, despite being on a tribe that because of the huge discrepancy in living standards had no hope of winning challenges? How did he avoid getting voted off by the stronger tribe once the merge did come? He used four simple strategies, and I think that the smarter members of Coyopa can use the same strategies to see their games advance no matter what ends up happening to their tribe.

Luck is a part of Survivor. Perhaps different winners have enjoyed varying degrees of luck, but every winner needs some luck on their side. Luck was definitely on Earl’s side too, and after losing five straight immunity challenges, after voting off four tribe members, there was a tribe swap. Earl was moved from the primitive Ravu camp over to camp Moto, where he was able to win the next three immunities. I think that Coyopa can expect a tribe swap to save them also. The last Blood vs Water, season 27, saw a similar problem in which the returning players won four of the first five immunities. A tribe swap happened in episode six. Much of the drama in a Blood vs Water season comes from watching loved ones play together, so if one tribe is dominating, I’d expect a tribe swap to be coming.

When a tribe swap does come, it can be beneficial to be part of the tribe that has been going to Tribal Council repeatedly. Earl ended up on a tribe where there were 3 ex-Moto and 3 ex-Ravu. The three Ravu members were united, having been through the experience of living at the Ravu camp, and attending Tribal Council every three days. They had voted together over and over. They knew where their loyalties lay, and they felt as though they could trust one another. The Moto members didn’t have the same trust in each other. Cassandra felt as though she had been on the outs with her original tribe. She was an outsider, very much ready to flip on them. And Moto hadn’t had the chance to visit Tribal Council and get rid of their dangerous outsiders. By the time the merge came, Cassandra was very much a part of Earl’s alliance. This can be seen in many seasons. In season 28, the Luzon tribe were put into a power position after a tribe swap, simply because they were loyal to each other in a way that the Solana tribe was not. Alexis and Jeremiah knew that Morgan was an outsider and couldn’t wait to get rid of her.

Coyopa could definitely benefit in exactly the same way. They have one more outsider- Jaclyn- to get rid of, but after that, they have a strong, loyal group. Over at Hunahpu, the outsiders seem to be Reed, Jon and Drew, although we also never saw Julie get into an alliance either. All of these players have to be considered as possibilities to flip in a tribe swap situation. This is even more the case considering that Julie, Reed and Drew have loved ones to work with. I think these three are far more likely to work with Coyopa than John, Josh and Alec are to work with Hunahpu.

Which brings me to another part of Earl’s strategy. Survivor: Fiji started in an unorthodox way. There were 19 contestants, and they all began the game on the same beach, working together to build what would later become the Moto camp. They were together until day three, when the two tribes were formed and Earl was moved to Ravu. Earl had used this early time, when most people were concentrating on building the shelter, to build alliances. Earl has mentioned in interviews that he formed an alliance with Dreamz on day one. Dreamz then became a part of the opposing tribe, and the two were not able to play together until the merge. At the merge, Dreamz was a part of the opposing alliance; however, Earl had created such a strong bond with him that he was able to convince Dreamz to flip on his alliance, giving all of the power in the game to Earl.

All of the Coyopa members have this day one (or day zero in this case) alliance, and can manipulate it to regain the power in the game. I think that at the merge, the remaining pairs are going to want to work together, either out of an emotional desire to work together or out of strategy as they try to counteract the target that will be on their backs. As Coyopa are able to vote out the unhappy outsiders of the tribe, there will be less chance of the pairs flipping to vote with Jeremy’s alliance. I can see Josh being the leader of a pairs’ alliance. It is clear that Missy will vote with Baylor rather than the other way around; we could see that from the challenge. Missy won’t do anything to hurt her daughter. Julie is an outsider, and if John is still around, her place in the game will be safer with him than with Jeremy. The same applies for Drew and Reed. The wildcard here is Jon and Jaclyn, but I am assuming that if Coyopa makes repeated visits to Tribal Council, there is no way that Jaclyn makes the merge. If she makes the merge or a tribe swap, she is definitely flipping and working with Hunahpu. It should also be clear to Coyopa who the outsiders in Hunahpu are. Jeremy, describing Jon and Drew as cartoon characters, said that it was obvious the girls couldn’t stand them. The Coyopa members need to follow Earl’s example and exploit those day zero relationships.

Another of Earl’s strategies was to make sure he had loyal allies. He used the trips to Tribal Council to vote out the people that he couldn’t trust to vote with him. Even though physically Yau Man was one of the weaker players, Earl was able to convince the others to keep him around. Earl knew that Yau Man was a reliable ally. Earl’s plan was to keep the people who were thinking about the good of the tribe, while he was thinking about the good of his own game. He was able to test his allies, and when the tribe swap came, he knew who was loyal to him and who was not. At the tribe swap, he confidently said in a confessional “They’re all about the team, and who has all the power then? That would be me.” Ravu was a tribe united by their experiences. And Earl, through working hard and creating relationships with everyone, was in the most powerful position.

This should be where Josh finds himself in trouble, because he has proven to be anything but a loyal ally. In both Tribal Councils, he did not vote the way his alliance suspected. In the first Tribal, he voted for Baylor, who had expressed desire to be allied with him. He explained this as a strategic move, to convince the men that Josh and Baylor were not working together. Baylor said: “That was a smart move, in a way, but it was also sketchy and scary that he didn’t tell me before”. However unsettled she might have been, she was still willing to work with Josh, and said: “I really hope that I can trust him.” We didn’t see any of the men questioning Josh’s vote at all. This seems to suggest to the audience that Josh will get away with his ‘sketchy, scary’ behaviour. Perhaps there is a method to his madness after all, and he is in the Earl spot in this tribe!

The last important thing that Earl was able to do was to identify the outsiders of Moto, and convert them into loyal members of his alliance. This was clearest in his relationship with Cassandra. Cassandra felt like she was on the outside from the beginning of the game. She was the older woman in her tribe, and she was a liability in the challenges. She couldn’t swim, she wasn’t strong or athletic, and she was socially isolated as well. Her only real ally in the game was Dreamz who was also an outsider. When the tribe swap brought Earl to Moto, he quickly saw that Cassandra was on the outs and was able to bring her into his alliance. He said: “A word or two here and there in the right situation… You paint the picture the right way, and she could be right on my side”.

Once Cassandra was working with him, it was easy for Earl to convince his day one alliance, Dreamz, to join the alliance. And as it became obvious that Earl’s alliance had the numbers and the power, more and more players were willing to vote with him. Flipping Cassandra to his side was his pivotal move in the game, and that (along with his possession of an immunity idol) allowed him to move unchallenged to the final Tribal Council where he defeated Dreamz and Cassandra in a 9-0-0 vote. At the final Tribal Council, Earl talked about being part of the original Ravu, how hard it was in the beginning, and how he had made it to the end. He talked about how he had manipulated them all, had played hard, and deserved their respect. He was certainly helped by having two opponents who were hated by the jury, but the strength of Earl’s game cannot be disputed.

Who on Coyopa has the ability to get into Earl’s position, to go from a losing tribe to a position of power simply by recognising the players from Hunahpu who are most likely to flip while keeping their own alliances together? From what we have seen so far, there really are only two players with that ability- Baylor and Josh.


Baylor has the ability.

Baylor has this ability because the relationship and the closeness between her and Missy have been played up to such an extent that it cannot be insignificant to the season. Of the two of them, it is clearly Baylor who has been portrayed as the strategic player. Missy’s confessionals have been emotional, about joining Jeremy’s alliance because her gut tells her to or about comforting Natalie and wanting to help her. I can certainly see Baylor getting her mother to flip over and join the Coyopa alliance; however, the two main obstacles to this are her gender and her characterisation. Coyopa is run by a male alliance. If they are to continue to lose, the two women would be slated as the next two to go; however, Survivor history tells us that this is unlikely to happen. Male alliances on Survivor have never been completely successful, and I would expect that Josh can see that Baylor is a far more valuable ally than most of the men. The bigger problem is her characterisation- she is portrayed as a follower, only wanting to vote with Josh. Her tribe sees her as playing both sides. I can’t see her being the strong leader that can unify Coyopa.

That leaves us with Josh. As erratic as his gameplay has been, he is seen as consistently strategic. Everybody on his tribe likes him and wants to work with him- the same thing that Earl had in his favour. Another advantage is that Reed is not part of the majority alliance on Hunahpu and would definitely be willing to work with Josh’s alliance rather than stay loyal to Jeremy. He has his loyal alliance mate in Baylor, and if luck goes his way, he could definitely make it to the end.

Of course, Josh’s Broadway show analogy could prove to be true, and perhaps now that Coyopa have made a few adjustments, they will turn into an unstoppable force. It certainly isn’t out of the question. Either way, I think we are in for a chaotic game. The most powerful player at the moment seems to be Jeremy, and he is playing without a pair. Will he be able to hold his alliance together, or will those with loved ones still in the game flip to Coyopa? Is there more strategy going on at Hunahpu that we have yet to see? And is there among this group an Earl, who will clearly hold the power, or will we see a more under-the-radar winner?

If anyone at Coyopa is able to dominate the game, it is Josh. Ironically, his chances of winning the game are higher if Coyopa continues to lose. He needs to keep the Hunahpu outsiders (particularly Reed) in the game; the easiest way to ensure that happens is to keep them away from Tribal Council. Whether Josh knows this, I’m not sure, but Blood vs Water definitely brings some interesting layers of strategy to the game, and I am looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

Become a patron of RHAP