Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers

Lessons in Survivor History: The Facts of Life

I cannot believe that we are already at the finale. The post merge game this season has flown by (the double episode didn’t help matters), and we have ended up with such an interesting final five. After the double blow of losing Joe and Lauren, I was okay with seeing Ashley go home this week. I’m sure she’s a perfectly nice person, and her ponderosa video was all kinds of wonderful, but on the show, Ashley wasn’t giving us much in the way of entertainment. She wasn’t going to be a contender to win, and so I’m not devastated to lose her just before the final episode. I was also relieved that we didn’t have to watch the majority alliance join together and unanimously vote Ben out of the game, without bothering to strategise with him at all. While I’m not the biggest fan of immunity idols and hidden advantages, that particular immunity idol saved us from some very boring television.

Have there been too many idols this season? It’s not like the producers have been hiding idols for everyone to find. They do seem to have learned from the way that Cirie went home last season, and haven’t stacked the game with so many advantages that it detracts from the game. But every time an idol has been played, it has been returned into the game. That’s not new. The difference is that this season, the players have been playing the idols. Nobody is hoarding them the way that they did in Game changers. And why would you? As Joe and Ben have both shown, if you can find one, you might as well play it, because you are absolutely likely to find another. You know what you are looking for.

What baffles me, and I’m sure baffled everyone else that was watching, was why nobody recognised how likely it was that Ben would find another idol. Not only had Ben found an idol previously, but he was also present when Lauren found hers. He’s seen the way that two idols had been hidden this season, and that gave him a huge advantage when looking. The fact that the majority alliance simply allowed him to look for the idol is confusing. Perhaps the edit misled us slightly, and they were always planning on voting for Ashley, whether Ben had an idol or not. I still think that if you know there is an idol out there, you should be doing everything you can to find it. Ben should never have been given free access to the idol. But then, this hasn’t exactly been a season filled with outstanding game play, and every week I find myself confused by the strategy of those in the majority alliance.

And this week, I’m confused that Ben was just left alone to find the idol. But I’m also confused that Ashley was the one who was sent home. It was a good reminder that what we see on the edit, and what the castaways experience on the island are two different things. We’ve seen Devon’s game. We’ve seen that he was the one who suggested that Ben become a double agent, pretending to be on Ryan and Chrissy’s side while working against them. We’ve seen Devon making the decisions about who goes home. And yet the perception of those on the island seems to be that Devon is doing nothing. In fact, I think that of the final five, four of them are going to have to work hard to explain their game at the end. Ben has made some flashy idol plays. His moves have been huge, and public. They’ve also been reckless, and resulted in him being in an extremely precarious position, but at least the jury has seen them. Should Ben make it to the end- and he only has to survive two votes- his argument for the million dollars is simple and compelling.

If Ben is the only one that the jury perceives to be playing the game strategically, then the other four players need to know that they cannot sit next to him at the end. They have to be looking at people that they can beat. And they have to be honest with themselves about their chances. This is why the decision to vote Ashley out of the game seemed to make no sense. From what we’ve seen, all of the remaining players could have beaten Ashley. Did they realise that they were getting rid of the player that Joe has publically labelled as a goat? Did they know that they were damaging their own odds of winning by doing so? Or do all of the players left have so much confidence in their own games that they felt confident sending Ashley to the jury? For this reason, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going to season 25, Survivor: Philippines, and the eventual runner up, Lisa Whelchel.

Lisa was placed on the Tandang tribe, and thanks in part to the incompetence of the rival Matsing tribe, as well as their own athleticism, the Tandang tribe never visited Tribal Council, with all six members making it to the merge. The Tandang tribe were the first tribe to make it to the merge intact, making them arguably the most successful tribe in Survivor history. However, despite their challenge dominance, internally, Tandang were a mess, and Lisa had struggled from the start. She came into the game with a secret- she had been a famous television star in her youth- and that, along with her generally more reserved personality, served to alienate her from her tribe. Early in the game, a four person alliance was formed between RC Saint-Amour, Pete Yurkowski, Abi-Maria Gomes and Michael Skupin. The alliance decided that if they were to lose immunity, they would vote Lisa out of the game.

But given time, the majority alliance began to fall apart. RC and Abi had a major falling out, instigated by Pete. As the majority alliance found it impossible to stay together, Pete and Abi turned to Lisa, and offered her an alliance. Lisa also began to bond with Michael, the other person on her tribe who was a similar age to her. Michael recognised Lisa from her days as a television star, but respected her wishes to tell nobody. From an extremely insecure position in the game, Lisa began to find her footing. Her alliance with Michael would last all the way to the final three. She and Michael also began to control the game, with the two of them flipping between alliances and eliminating their former Tandang tribesmates RC, Pete and Artis.

Towards the end of the game, Lisa offered a final three deal to returning player Jonathan Penner, and his ally Carter Williams. Penner responded that he would have to think about it. Desperate to sure up her position in the game, Lisa then offered the same deal to former Matsing members Malcolm Freberg and Denise Stapley, who gratefully accepted. Together, the new final four alliance voted Penner and Carter out of the game, leaving them at final five with Abi. Since losing power in the game, Abi had become increasingly frustrating to live with. Other contestants openly discussed the lack of respect that they had towards her. She was the ultimate goat.

On the other hand, Malcolm and Denise hadn’t annoyed anyone in the game. Coming out of Matsing, who lost the first four immunity challenges, Malcolm and Denise had a compelling underdog story. Denise had attended every single tribal council. They were both obvious threats to win the game. And Abi was a member of Tandang. She was willing to vote with Michael and Lisa, and go to the final three with them. But Lisa was true to her word. She voted with Malcolm and Denise, and Abi was sent to the jury, leaving Lisa and Michael in the final four with two of the strongest players in the game.

Lisa ended up going to the final three with Denise, where she and Michael picked up one vote each, and Denise won easily. Had Malcolm been there instead, Malcolm would have won the game. Lisa and Michael had handpicked a final four alliance with two people that they could not beat. Had they decided to go against their word and join with Abi, there is still no guarantee that either Lisa or Michael could have won the game. Abi, despite her irritating behaviour around camp, had friends on the jury. It is entirely possible that Abi could have been the winner of Survivor: Philippines. But Lisa and Michael would have had a much better chance of beating Abi than they had against either Malcolm or Denise.

The reason that they voted Abi out was because they felt confident in their own games. Michael was extremely sure that his immunity wins would count for something, and felt that he could beat either Denise or Malcolm. Lisa was less sure of herself, and wanted to vote Malcolm out at the four, but she still felt okay about going against Denise. Both of them had completely the wrong read on the jury. The jury hadn’t seen them as being in control of the game- they had seen the constant flipping and seen it as wishy washy. It didn’t help that Lisa claimed at Final Tribal Council that she had only started playing the game nine days earlier. At the Final Tribal Council, it became clear that Lisa and Michael had voted out their only shot at winning when they had sent Abi to the jury.

I think that Chrissy and Ryan did the same thing this week. We’ve seen plenty of evidence from the exit press that Chrissy isn’t well liked. We’ve seen that people perceive her to be a little condescending. She’s blown up at camp after being blindsided. We’ve seen enough evidence to know that she is going to struggle to get votes at the end of the game. She has the résumé- we’ve seen plenty of players targeting her because she is smart and strategic- but does she have the social game to claim the million dollars? Not from what we’ve seen.

Ryan hasn’t had such an overtly negative edit. He’s had his moments- Dr Mike calling him out for only wanting to talk to people when he needed them for a number comes to mind- but he has tried to be gracious when on the bottom, and this week’s conversation with Devon showed that he hasn’t completely burnt any bridges. His social game is not as bad as Chrissy’s. But his strategic game hasn’t been as strong. He hasn’t been calling the shots. Even when he was in power, it was Chrissy who was perceived to be the strategic force.

Chrissy and Ryan’s best path to the end is to stick together. As the only strong pair left in the game, they will end up being a formidable force. They are the Lisa and Michael of this season- everyone left in the game should want to sit next to them, and so while they have the power to decide who goes to the end, the only decision they are really making is who they will lose the game to. I do think that Ryan and Chrissy could have beaten Ashley. I’m not sure that they beat Dr Mike. They can’t beat Devon. I think that Chrissy’s logic behind voting Ashley out was that she needed to secure her final three with Devon. Now Devon has no better options, and he is likely locked into the final three deal with her and Ryan. But at the same time, she’s acting to protect a final three deal that will likely end up with Chrissy in second place. Instead of working to protect her deal with Devon, she should have been working to create a deal with Ashley. Right now, I think that either Ryan or Chrissy will need a miracle to pull off victory- and had they been sitting next to Ashley, they had a much better shot.

Mike should also have fought to keep Ashley, and vote out Devon. But considering that he was the alternative target, he made a wise choice. However, at camp after Chrissy, Devon and Ryan went on a reward, Ben approached Mike with an offer to work together. Mike refused to hear him out at all. Had Mike and Ashley been able to establish some sort of working relationship at that time, then Mike would have been in a position to actually dictate the play for the first time. He could have gotten Devon out of the game, eliminating one of the biggest threats to win. And he still could have gone to the end with some combination of Ryan/Chrissy/Ashley and had a good chance to win. As it stands now, he’ll have to be sitting at the end with Ryan and Chrissy. And even then, I’m not sure if he can win it- he’s been so goofy for so long that I don’t know if a jury can seriously give him the money. But if he had spearheaded a move against Devon this week, he would have something to point to. He’d be more than just the court jester.

Mike is also the person who would have benefitted the most from Ben being voted out. Had Ben gone home, Mike would have been the swing vote in between two couples. He would easily have been able to manoeuvre his way to the end, and could have pointed to the final five vote as his signature move. Now Mike finds himself once again completely powerless, and time is running out for him to build a résumé. He’ll have to count on the Healer votes from the jury, and the fact that he hasn’t upset anyone but Lauren. In the ‘big moves’ era of Survivor, I don’t think that is going to be enough to win the game. This makes it absolutely inexcusable that Mike simply let Ben wander around the island by himself, giving him all the time in the world to find the idol. Mike, more than anyone else, needed Ben gone this week. And he could have made sure it happened- if he was more vigilant.

Devon probably did the right thing aligning with Ryan and Chrissy- once they were on the reward together, making a final three alliance was the obvious thing to do. If someone comes and offers you an alliance, always, always say yes. It turned out that Devon wasn’t only saying what Ryan and Chrissy wanted to hear- he was actually serious about this alliance, and voted his closest ally out of the game because Chrissy wanted him to. From Devon’s point of view, this is probably a wise move- although it would have been wiser not to have a big cheesy grin on his face as Ashley walked out the door. The only person that Devon has basically no shot of beating at the end is Ben. And voting Ben out wasn’t an option (although again, Devon was so, so stupid to let Ben just find the idol). So for Devon, he can vote with Ben and Ashley, forcing a tie and putting himself at risk, or he can vote with the rest of the tribe and vote Ashley out. If Devon had voted for Dr Mike at this week’s tribal, he would have found himself in trouble next week. Instead, he still has Ryan and Chrissy, and so he still has a place in the majority alliance- as he has all through the game. For Devon, sitting next to Ryan and Chrissy at the end would be a gift, and I think he has started to realise that.

Right now, Devon is in the best spot. I think he’s played the best game by far, and I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t win. Ben’s game has been flashier, and I think that if he gets to the end, the jury will reward him for his pluck, but Devon has been much smarter. Devon hasn’t had to rely on idol finds to keep himself alive. He’s never been targeted, and everyone has wanted Devon in their alliance. He’s gotten to the end via a series of small moves, and I hope that he will get the chance to plead his case to the jury.

I can see how some people would be rooting for Ben- he certainly is the underdog, and he has worked hard to get where he is. For me, the more impressive game is the one where you don’t need idols or immunity wins to make it to the end, but instead get there by outwitting those around you. I don’t think that ultimately Ben has outwitted the other contestants. I was disappointed (but not surprised) when Mike Holloway defeated Carolyn Rivera in season 30, Survivor: Worlds Apart, and to be honest, I think I’m prepared to be disappointed again. I’m expecting a Ben win- but hoping to see Devon pull it off.

On another note, I wanted to let the readers know that this will be my final blog for RHAP. Although I love Survivor, and will be eternally grateful for the opportunity to write about it every week, my life has gotten to a stage where I no longer have the time to commit to the blog. Thank you to Rob Cesternino, who offered me this blog despite me having no previous writing experience- I really appreciate the faith that you showed in me. And thank you so much to those who read the blog, left comments, or interacted with me over Twitter or Facebook. Your positive words have meant so much to me, and given me so much confidence in myself as a writer. Thank you for taking the time to leave your thoughts. I’ll still be around, tweeting occasionally and commenting on other blogs. Wishing all of you safe and happy holidays, and many years of outstanding Survivor seasons ahead!

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