Guest Post: How Malcolm & Denise Found New Life on Survivor

The following is a guest post from Contributor, Glenn Holford  – @GlennHolford


I know that many of you are fans of reality TV. I am not. Big Brother holds no appeal for me, nor does The Amazing Race, Jersey Shore, Road Rules, Glass House, or the Kardashians. But Survivoris different. Survivor is something very special that has only ever existed once: an intricate and elegant televised microcosm of our society. It teaches us about ourselves. My thesis on Survivor has always been that the game is more than just a game.

Because there are very few defined rules, and the players are left free to improvise their own strategies, Survivor speaks to the challenges we encounter in our own lives. There are many paths we can walk through life. The decision of which to choose is almost never obvious. The stakes are always high, and we’re always working with flawed or limited information. Our successes and failures depend on our ability to assess, to strategize, and to collaborate. And in Survivor, just as in life, every day brings new opportunity. The tribes have split. Matsing is no more. And for Malcolm and Denise, a brand new game has begun.
If you’ve ever been the new kid at school, or the new guy at work, you know—joining a new organization is very tricky. Roles have already been carved out; pecking orders have already been established. You’re being plopped down in the middle of a functioning machine, and your new presence is inherently disruptive to the others. There’s a normal day-to-day way that people prefer to go about things, so when you’re the new guy, you can’t afford to rock the boat.So, the challenges just keep on coming for Malcolm and Denise. Even aside from being so heavily down in numbers, there’s now a lot Malcolm and Denise have to learn about how things are run on Kalabaw and Tandang. Integrating into an established organization is a minefield. Blunders are easy to make. But surprisingly, so far both Malcolm and Denise seem to be navigating their transitions very easily—even masterfully. How?
Most real-life organizations follow a five-step process when “onboarding” new employees. The goal is to quickly get the new guy educated, acclimated, and up-to-speed on the relevant aspects of his new organization. But no one is going to help Malcolm or Denise adjust. They have to do this all by themselves; all while being regarded with suspicion.  That’s tough to do.
Malcolm and Denise both have different skillsets to offer to their new tribes, and so each has adopted a distinct “value pitch”. Denise is marketing herself as kind, non-threatening, and easily manipulated. She wants her tribe to see her as an easy-to-control swing vote. The poor suckers over at Kalabaw don’t know what you and I know—which is that Denise is quick as a whip. She’s been two steps ahead of the rest of her tribe since before she put on her new red buff.
One of the things I really liked was that, just after merging with Red, Denise tells Jeff how excited she is to have a new family. This was just a throwaway word that she used very casually, but it has a very subtle and very powerful effect. Expressing devotion to the organization as a unit is one of the easiest ways to go from being viewed by others as “one of them” to being viewed as “one of us”.
Malcolm employed a similar strategy, although he went about it in a different way. Where Denise appears matronly and unassuming, Malcolm is physically imposing and conspicuous. He was able to masterfully disarm Tandang with his big goofy grin and bouncy body language, which were both a big departure from the way we’ve seen him normally compose himself around camp. Like a big, shaggy, friendly dog, Malcolm ingratiated himself to his new tribe by presenting himself as loveable and endearing. Whereas Denise has the ability to blend in with her tribe, Malcolm necessarily had to go loud.
The next key thing that both Denise and Malcolm did was to identify the key power players. To make that assessment correctly on the first day takes keen observation skills and intuition, and it’s clear Malcolm and Denise have both in spades. Denise wasted no time getting in good with Kent and Penner, and Malcolm was locked in with Pete so quickly that it sent RC reeling. These are agile strategists. They’ve been to four tribal councils already. They’re playing like veterans in a pool of rookies. To go from being ripped free of all tribal identity to seamlessly integrating and aligning with their new tribes in one day? It was stunning to watch.
Malcolm has two advantages going into Tandang. One is obvious—he’s arguably the best physical player in the game, and brings huge challenge value to his team. The other he’s kept secret—his Hidden Immunity Idol. You would think that these tribes would suspect that either Malcolm or Denise would be holding it, but if they have suspicions, they aren’t voicing them. And now it seems Malcolm has aligned himself with a second Hidden Immunity Idol. Suddenly he’s in the best position in the game.
Meanwhile, Denise is using her extraordinary social game to wedge herself in with Kent, Penner, and Carter, and, by extension, to align herself with Penner’s Hidden Immunity Idol. If Katie thought that she was going to get Denise to work with the other women, she doesn’t know Denise. Denise is sticking with the strong guys. Not only do they control an idol, but none of them are going to be targets until the merge. They all bring challenge value to the team. And she made the right call. Nobody even entertained the idea of writing her name down at Tribal Council. If you can escape the first boot, you stand a good chance of climbing the rungs.
So, if we’re to believe the edit, Malcolm and Denise just went from controlling 2 votes to controlling 8 votes and all 3 idols, and they did it all in a single episode. Wow. What else can you say? These two are serious gamers, and they know exactly what they’re doing.
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