Survivor: Worlds Apart

Individual Games – When You Can’t Win

Owing to the fact that I spent the two days after the episode aired on a short road trip, this is going to be a very hurried Individual Games blog, with more focus on the post-merge alliances than specific things that happened this episode or last. Thankfully, I should be back on my normal writing schedule next week.

As this season continues to confound my predictions, I wonder how much of it is due to this particular cast and how much is due to an overall shift in the way Survivor is played. I am disappointed that the season has been hyped so much, because I feel like I’m forever waiting to see what the hype was about instead of simply enjoying what is some very enjoyable gameplay, even if nothing stands out yet for the history books.

It’s a mixed blessing for the cast, any of whom might have fared better on another season. Yet, of those still left in the game, I feel like the biggest loser is Joe. He’s such an archetypical success story that not only did many of us predict him for the win, but many of his fellow castmates had him pegged as the biggest threat out there before they ever met him.

Actually, One Man is an Island

Joe noted early on that he’s too competitive to sandbag challenges—which, in theory, is a better move than going all out to be the next Ozzy. (We’ve had three very different individual challenges; not only has Joe won all three, but he’s also the only player to be consistently in the running for the win.) On the other hand, Rodney threw a challenge to vote Joe off before the merge, before they had even seen how he fared individually, and after No Collar’s very mixed performance in the tribal challenges.

What I do wonder is if he’s sandbagging strategy. I’m confident that Joe knows strategy, that he knew exactly what he was doing when he picked the swing votes to go on the reward… but we have no evidence that he actually talked strategy to any of those people. We haven’t seen him discuss the vote with Hali and Jenn since before the tribe swap. Both Hali and Jenn commented that he was speaking to all sorts of people outside of their ‘plans’ since the merge.

At the tribe swap, Joe outlined a plan of making himself available to people but staying laid back, hoping somebody else would start the conversation with him. At the tribe swap, that worked. At the tribe swap, that put him just under the radar enough to turn some heat on the White Collars. Is Joe still waiting for somebody else to start the conversation? Is he attempting to persuade the Blue Collars that he’s not committed to his original tribe?

If so, his efforts are in vain. Hali and Jenn are irritated by his behavior, while Blue Collar perceive the women as Joe’s numbers, rather than threats in their own right. To make matters worse, Hali’s interview revealed that she and Jenn were fully prepared to sacrifice Joe, both because they did not want to go up against him at the end and to prove a point to the other women in the game, whom they thought they could safely ally with. This episode had a scene where Joe almost gets away with the immunity idol clue only first for Tyler to spot what he’s doing and then for Mike to spy on him talking to Tyler about it—with Mike ultimately being the one to find an idol. It might as well be a metaphor for Joe’s game—his best laid plans have well and truly gone awry.

I have previously noted that ever since Parvati’s rise to Survivor stardom, nobody has let the bright and flirty girl near the finals (just look at Andrea and Brenda’s back-to-back exits in Caramoan.) Has Malcolm (even though he didn’t win) ruined things similarly for athletic young men with free-spirited hair? Maybe it was never possible for Joe to stay under the radar in this game…

Unfortunately for Hali and Jenn, they were tarred by association with Joe. Trying to join in the campaign to vote him off was almost certainly a wise move, but it didn’t do anything to change the fact that when Joe won immunity, they were the next targets.

Women’s vs. Girls’ Alliances

Hali and Jenn had Shirin on their side, and their strategy was to create a women’s alliance. Hali explained in her interview that Carolyn was included in this, though in the episode we only saw Sierra discussing it with them. It is a tenet of this blog that alliances founded on gender are too arbitrary to work, but on initial viewing, this actually made a lot of sense. Sierra and Shirin were outcasts, dissatisfied with their original tribemates, and they were not only of similar ages to Hali and Jenn (Shirin is in her thirties but only just) but had a free-spirited streak of their own. Together, they weren’t a majority, but they were a decent voting bloc. If the No Collar women could earn the trust and loyalty of the other two (and if they could avoid the vote themselves), they had a shot at seizing power at final seven.

I was less impressed to learn that they had wanted Carolyn to be part of it as well. Carolyn didn’t get on with Shirin, and it seems that Shirin can’t stand Carolyn either these days. Worse still, Carolyn never liked Hali and Jenn, preferring Kelly’s company and maybe Will’s. I accept that they had to reel in everybody they could, but a women’s alliance was the wrong bait. It’s almost certainly clear that they are closer to Shirin than to Carolyn, so she’d be on the bottom.

This problem extends to Tyler. What were they offering him, beyond the chance to reduce Blue Collar’s threat? Hali and Jenn don’t know that Rodney’s been offering final four deals to the swing votes (and Hali had Tyler pegged as her own next target), but they needed to give a better endgame plan than minimizing the Blue Collar threat—especially when Blue Collar and No Collar were equal in numbers.

But really, the best strategy for Hali and Jenn was that of attenuation, waiting for Joe to be voted off and thus diminishing the target on their own backs. Hali had been making the bonds for that, prepared to lose Jenn, but it’s not clear what relationships Jenn had with the others. The only person we can be certain Jenn likes is Hali. Still, if Joe loses immunity next week and is voted off, it’s hard to imagine Jenn will be seen as the most important target at final nine.

This applies even more so to Shirin, who lacks the security of a loyal ally, being a known outcast from her first and second tribes, and does not seem to have won any friends in the merged tribe beyond Hali (though she believes she’s getting into “the social groove.”) Despite Dan’s arguments, it’s very unlikely anybody will bother voting for Shirin, because nobody gains anything by doing so.

I do wonder if Shirin is considered the most likely holder of the White Collar immunity idol. Tyler and Carolyn know she doesn’t have it, but it would be in their best interests to encourage such rumors instead of debunking them. Perhaps Dan’s conversation with her was an attempt to get her to admit it or flush it out?

Either way, Shirin handled his barrage well and then used it as fodder for bonding with Sierra. She’s also an active participant in her alliance’s strategy, having her own conversation with Tyler. On their original tribe, Tyler seemed to be the person with the least tolerance for Shirin, so I am dubious about them regaining a working partnership, but perhaps now that he’s had a break and they’re in a larger tribe, it’s less of a problem?

Ultimately, I believe Shirin and Jenn’s future lies together. With Hali gone, Shirin will be promoted to Jenn’s personal motivator (which should inspire some wonderful confessionals from the latter), and the two of them can start advertising themselves not as an alliance, but as a voting bloc, numbers for those players looking to change things up. If Rodney thinks he can pocket two extra votes, perhaps he’ll move up his backstabbing from final seven to final nine. After all, he’s been waiting to get revenge on Mike for a long time now…

An Alliance Without a Target

Surprisingly, Rodney appears to be the only person targeting Mike, whose name has yet to come up in the No Collar strategy discussions—despite Mike’s own assertion that everybody not named Mike and Joe can relax because there’s no target on them. (I’m sure it’s been a great comfort to Hali and Jenn.) It appears that Mike has a good social game, making friendships readily and this has no doubt been a factor… but this is a cast that seeks out threats.

Then again, this is the guy who ate a scorpion, who endorsed Merica as the tribe name, who wanted to choose deceit on the first day, and who has decided that the best strategy for the second biggest threat in the game is to vote off the biggest threat and then go on an immunity run. Rodney identified Mike as the leader of their alliance, but he also called him a redneck idiot, and I suspect many other players share that perception (if perhaps more tactfully.)

This isn’t to say that Mike is a terrible player. His tactic of keeping an eye on Tyler and Joe paid off, and I loved his lie of Joe having the immunity idol. It allowed him time to look for himself and reduces suspicion that he has it. (Did Joe set Hali and Jenn to look at all? Did Tyler or Carolyn go to look? It appears that Tyler told Carolyn how the clue had slipped through her fingers. Does the clue actually point to the rehidden red idol—Mike seems to believe that the only idols in the game are the blue and yellow ones.)

Still, the swing votes have consistently failed to target the Blue Collar majority, and I have to think it’s because none of them are concerned that Mike is a threat. Mike is somebody they can outwit. The same holds true for the rest of the Blue Collars.

Dan is actually a hell of a lot more savvy than Mike when it comes to the tenets of the game. It all goes south for Dan when he talks to anybody but Mike. His social skills are so disastrous that his boot became the carrot to tempt Sierra. Anybody swinging to Blue need have no worries about facing him in the finals.

Sierra is a newcomer to the game, and among this cast, that makes her a pawn. She’s said before that she’s torn between going with the people she likes (not Blue) and the people she can beat (Blue), so we presume that she’s going for the latter. Perhaps Mike and/or Dan have offered her a final three. But the biggest problem she faces is her temptation to leave for greener pastures. She agreed to vote with Hali, Jenn, Joe, and Shirin… but didn’t. She agreed to vote with Tyler and Rodney… but didn’t. That’s potentially six jurors she’s burned, and it’s more than enough to get her stuck with the dreaded ‘wishy-washy’ label. There are any number of ways Sierra could explain her fickleness, but I expect the jury to see her as the person who consistently refused her chance to change up the game.

Then of course there’s Rodney, who’s a walking caricature. Again, many people are willing to align with Rodney, but I don’t think many people view themselves as working with him. It’s more that they’re exploiting his volatile nature for their own ends. They’re underestimating him: he’s thinking long term and holding at least one grudge to himself for now, but he has annoyed so many people that, again, he’s a safe bet to take to the end. Dan and Sierra’s ideal final three is probably themselves and Rodney, each seeing it as an easy victory for him or herself.

This is the lineup of characters that Tyler, Carolyn, and Will decided to side with-not the golden boy, the law student, and the snarker (with their superfan hanger-on). The Blue Collars: those who work hard, follow the rules and never stop to think outside the box.

This isn’t to say that we can’t get a Blue Collar winner. Mike’s always talking to people, keeping tabs on the game, and he’s respected as a person if perhaps not as a player. Sandra’s proven that you can win with those attributes even if you don’t have a viable long term strategy. If Sierra, Dan and Rodney got to the end, one of them has to get the votes. And, as Dan would no doubt remind us, basic math supports the Blue Collar strategy: the current majority is seven people; four of them are Blue Collar.

Of course, the problem with Survivor math is that the numbers have an annoying habit of changing on you…

Time to Play with the Grown-Ups

Before the game even started, Rodney said he wanted to work with the ‘old girl who’s smart and good in challenges and has years on her.’ That was the person he wanted to take to the end. He kept to his word when he forged an alliance with both Kelly and Carolyn, and now that Kelly’s gone, Carolyn’s sway over him can only have increased. Hali commented on how well Carolyn got on with Rodney, and how she was acting as a mother to him—that’s not historically a good strategy in Survivor, but this might be the exception. Rodney clearly has a lot of respect for his own mother, while the others in the game are dubious enough about Rodney’s abilities that they might well credit his duplicity to Carolyn if the two wind up in the finals together.

Rodney didn’t say anything about old boys, but Will’s ended up in his alliance anyway—most likely following Carolyn and Kelly’s lead. Hali said he told her he just wanted to play with grown ups—he reportedly said something similar to Max at the tribe swap. Apparently, the young’uns at No Collar were a little too free-spirited for him; perhaps he, Carolyn, and Tyler have bonded over a shared distaste for skinny dipping? Final three deals have been forged over less!

There is one solid pointer to Carolyn and Will having a particular friendship. Hali told Josh Wigler at Parade that she claimed responsibility for the Hali vote the night that Kelly went home. Smart move on Carolyn’s part, both to conceal Will’s betrayal (it seems he pretended to be loyal to the No Collars and was at least half-believed) and to earn his favor. There was little risk to her, but he’ll remember she stuck her neck out for him.

The final cog in this alliance is Tyler, who has been resolutely diving under the radar for the entire game yet always seems to be in on the action. Although he does seem to be assuring people that he’s with them, whether it’s true or not, he has not been giving these assurances out easily. When other players approach him with their plan for the vote, Tyler wants to know what’s happening beyond that. So far as I can tell, most of the players haven’t been able to answer… the one exception is Rodney who could present him with a promise of turning on the power players at final seven. Final four is not final three, but when Tyler’s got a secret ally in Carolyn, it’s close enough.

That said, just how secret can Tyler and Carolyn really be? Does nobody think that the two White Collar swing votes are comparing notes? Has Carolyn claimed that she didn’t get on with any of her original tribe? It seems implausible that neither Rodney nor Will are considering the fact that Tyler and Carolyn might be more loyal to each other than to their new allies. Then again, maybe that’s why Carolyn has been making such a fuss of Rodney.

It’s also entirely possible that Carolyn and Tyler aren’t that loyal to each other. Perhaps each is ready to cut the other at the last vote, so they have easier opponents at final tribal council. But even in that instance, they’re still this season’s Malcolm and Denise and that is not a bad position, any way you shake it.

As it stands, things seem golden for this sub-alliance. The plan is clear: blindside the other Blues at final seven, then it’s a walk to at least the final immunity—or in Rodney’s eyes, a sure million. I’d place my money on Tyler or Carolyn, personally, but I’d place more money on something going wrong. Tyler thinks the only flaw in their plan is if Joe wins immunity through final eight. Personally, I can see a few other possibilities.

Firstly, and most simply, does Rodney have enough patience to wait another three votes for his massive blindside? Can Will stay loyal to one alliance for that long? It’s a good plan, but it’s a long time to sit on it in the paranoid hotbed that is Survivor.

Problem number two is what if Mike and Dan decide that now Hali (a lynchpin, in many ways) is gone, they can change their backup target from Jenn and Shirin to somebody like Will or Tyler. It’s a betrayal after convincing the men to vote with them in the first place, but it’s not like they’re Blue Collar, and Joe did take them on a reward.

At any rate, it’s entirely possible that they have to move up their power grab by a vote or two, and that will mean having to bring in Jenn and/or Shirin (or even Joe!) to help them. Luckily, these bottom feeders should leap at the chance to get the target off their own backs for a few votes, right? Not necessarily…

My theory is that Tyler, Carolyn, and Will believed (right or wrong) that Blue Collar would be easier to outwit, outplay and outlast. When faced with a choice of Mike, Dan, and Sierra or Rodney, Tyler, Carolyn, and Will, won’t Jenn and Shirin come to the same conclusion? Of course, all it would take is for one person to let slip what the plan is, and Mike can play his idol.

It’s very clear right now where the numbers lie, but while there aren’t many pawns in this game, there are a lot of goats. If Joe loses immunity, that will extend the status quo for one week, but there are still a lot of different directions in which the remaining players could go. Nobody should be counting their million yet.

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