SurvivorSurvivor: Cagayan

The Survivor Strategic Game: Saying Farewell to the Million

If Tony doesn’t end up winning Survivor Cagayan, he may look upon last night’s vote as the moment where he lost the game. Instead of removing a potential rival with a clear chance to win, Tony chose to flip and remove Jefra over unfounded concerns of an impending female alliance. This move could accomplish more than giving Spencer another few days on the show. It draws battle lines with his former allies that Tony may not want to have. It also puts another person on the jury where he’s solely responsible for her exit. Four people voted for Jefra last night, but she’s going to blame Tony. The options for him to get the votes at the end just keep getting tighter. This doesn’t mean that he can’t win the game. It just feels like an unnecessary move at this stage that creates more problems than it solves.

Why did Tony vote for Jefra? It seems doubtful that he just wanted to prevent a women’s alliance. I suspect that Spencer’s comments about her near betrayal last week struck a nerve. It makes sense from a logical perspective; she wanted revenge against the LJ vote. On the other hand, Spencer and Tasha are free agents who won’t be more loyal in the long run. They’re solely focused on self-preservation and realize they have a prime chance if they make the end. Tony’s betraying everyone, and there’s little sense that the jury will blame the underdogs from working to stay in the game. Jefra was likable but hardly a threat beyond her role as a number for either group. The odds were unlikely she’d flip after deciding to stick with their alliance that week. That was her chance to make a move, and she didn’t take it.

Seizing an Opportunity

Tasha and Spencer recognized the great opportunity to move ahead once again. Tasha and Spencer recognized the great opportunity to move ahead once again.[/caption]

There’s been many discussions about whether the edit’s been too kind to Spencer. While he’s definitely been presented as the underdog hero, that doesn’t mean it’s a sham. A key factor in being a good Survivor player is recognizing opportunities and taking them. It’s important to make moves, but that’s only part of the story. When Tony showed a glimmer of hope that he’d turn on Jefra, Spencer took advantage and played the conversation well. If he’d come on too strong, the desperation would have made the outcome less likely. Instead, Spencer just planted the seed and let it fester in Tony’s paranoid mind. He did the little things that helped to keep the move in play. Tony made the ultimate decision and swayed Woo to their side, but Spencer helped his cause.

It’s been interesting to note that Tasha rarely gets the chance to offer insights within her confessionals. In the cold open, Spencer talked about losing the battle and not the war. We didn’t hear from Tasha, but she certainly had similar feelings about the loss of Jeremiah. It’s that kind of editorial decision that’s under-representing her value to the game. Winning three immunity challenges is awesome, and that’s allowed her to play more cautiously; however, her choice to bond with the other women was equally as important (if not more) as Spencer’s words. They worked together as a team and convinced Tony that his decision was rational. I’m starting to believe that Tasha could defeat anyone at the final Tribal Council.

The immunity challenge win did play an important part in causing Jefra’s exit. If Woo had won the tight contest, Tony could have voted for Tasha and still lowered the chances of a women’s alliance. By limiting his choices to Spencer or someone in his alliance, she created the scenario where a flip was possible. I also don’t get the sense that Tony wants to work with Tasha in the same way that he’s collaborated with Spencer. The reasons for this hesitance aren’t clear from what we’ve seen on screen. It could relate to his hopes to keep it simple and not involve too many in the flip. There are other possible reasons, but I’ll avoid those since we haven’t seen any evidence. Regardless of why it happened, Tasha’s victory set the wheels in motion for a move that should have huge ramifications the rest of the way.

A Very Strange Auction

Jeff had a great time drooling over ribs with Woo.

Jeff had a great time drooling over ribs with Woo.

Before digging into the auction strategy, I have to mention the ridiculous scene between Jeff and Woo. It’s one of the odder moments of the season, and the editors had fun with the silly conversation by adding funky music in the background. You have to love Woo, who’s great TV despite not being an amazing player. That chat was surrounded by people spending almost none of their money for different foods. The typical pattern of the Survivor auctions has one player saving his cash to buy an advantage in the challenge or an idol clue. It’s amazing that more haven’t adopted the strategy of just waiting on the most valuable prizes. This trend should become more common after this season, especially if determined fans continue to join the cast. Tony, Spencer, and Tasha were all hoping for the edge, and it’s amazing that others like Trish were so bewildered by their approach.

Tasha blinked with the hope of another bonus, and it made sense given the 1/3 chance with the rocks. That move from the producers was interesting and a better choice than rewarding the person who yells first. Unfortunately, the incredible luck of Tony killed yet another chance to add more layers with the idols. While a scenario exists where he would need both idols to make the final four, it doesn’t seem likely. It’s more valuable for Tony to neutralize the idol and keep an underdog from using it. He holds all the cards when it comes to the idols, and this discovery makes his road a bit easier.

The idol clue basically said “go here, dummy”, but I’m relieved they didn’t provide an advantage in the immunity challenge. If Tony had received a huge edge that allowed him to win, it would have damaged Tasha’s chances and given him even more power. We’ve seen important moments in the game from this edge like Danni’s key win in Guatemala. Even so, it often removes the drama from the challenges. While the idol has its own share of issues, I’d rather not have someone get another edge beyond that power. Unlike the other members of his alliance, Tony kept playing hard and didn’t allow Spencer or Tasha to easily grab the idol clue. While it would have been more interesting for one of them to receive it, Tony deserves credit for not coasting and continuing to work actively towards the end. It’s uncertain whether this active play will earn him the top prize, but it’s been a thrilling ride.

Few recent Survivor casts have included so many fans who know the game, so the bewilderment from some players at Tony and Spencer’s strategies was baffling. It’s likely that the dominant group felt so comfortable that they didn’t recognize the danger. If Spencer had drawn the black rock, they would have been forced to remove one of the five. Tony’s flip made that happen anyway, but it was clear that Jefra didn’t believe she could go home. It’s also easy to underestimate just how hungry the players were at that point. Logical thinking about strategy is a huge challenge when food is so scarce. I might laugh at their excitement about food that doesn’t look that great, but many of us would do the same thing. It takes an extreme level of focus to never give up on the prize and realize that hunger is just part of the game.

The Brains Keep Surviving

In the night after the Brains tribe voted out J’Tia, Spencer made a joke that only the other two tribes were standing between them and the final three. We’ve come a long way since then, and now there are only three remaining obstacles to that scenario. In a strange way, Tony’s idols and willingness to flip gave them a better chance to reach the end. Tasha and Spencer have maintained a voting bloc that will go where the tide is heading, and Kass just lost another ally because of Tony. If he becomes the prime target this week, one of the idols will obviously save his game. If Trish and Kass decide to go after Tony, he’s more likely to go after them instead of the “pawns” like Spencer and Tasha. Since “chaos Kass” has alienated the jury, Tony might pick Trish because she’s built strong personal bonds.

Let’s assume this situation happens and Trish leaves next. That would leave a final five of Tony, Woo, Kass, Spencer, and Tasha. Would it take much for Kass to re-join her former tribe mates and take out Woo at the final five? Tony’s idols are likely void in the next vote, so they could stick together and remove the threat. This shows a possible reason for why removing Jefra was a mistake. It would have left the trio of Trish, Jefra, and Kass together, but they began as part of three different tribes. There are obvious holes in this potential scenario, yet it isn’t too far-fetched to make you wonder about Tony’s choice to retain Spencer. It keeps another player on the board with possible allies plus multiple roads to the end. Even if Woo leaves this week instead of Trish, it still puts Tony with one Brawn ally against the three former Brains at the final five. That isn’t a good place to be.

Instead of following my usual pattern, I’m going to consider the positions of all the remaining players in groups of two. We essentially have three duos that have formed working bonds that have helped them get to the end. If any of these groups can reach the final four intact, they should have a solid path to victory. A possible wrinkle is the chance of a final two, which could lead to a very interesting combination to face the jury. The votes against Jefra and Jeremiah have removed the players with the least chance to win. Everyone who’s left has at least some chance to win, which is remarkable at this point of the game.

Duo #1: Tony and Woo

Tony knows how many players remain in the game, but he slipped by letting Spencer remain.

Tony knows how many players remain in the game, but he slipped by letting Spencer remain.

Tony stands apart because he’s holding two idols, but he’s found a surprising voting buddy. One of the main reasons is Woo’s gullibility, yet the moves are giving him a possible route as a more likable backstabber. No one seems upset at Woo for flipping, and Tony is taking all the heat. On the other hand, the jury could attack Woo for riding coattails and not making his own choices. This duo is least likely to lose a team member this week since Tony will probably want to keep his ally around. Weirder things have happened, but I expect them to stick together this time. There is a possibility the others will target Woo since Tony has an idol, so I shouldn’t write him a ticket to the final five. I’m just not getting the sense that Tony will let his ally fall and face an uphill battle to the end.

Duo #2: Spencer and Tasha

I’m partial to this pair and would love to see both make the end. Tasha’s played a subtle but powerful game, and she should be the prime target for everyone. The editors have tried to convince us that Spencer is the better player, but I’m not buying it. This probably relates to their ultimate finish, but I don’t want to read too much into it. I’m not sure anyone can beat her at the end when you consider the current jury members. Spencer’s best skill is not saying too much and giving answers at Tribal Council that don’t sound phony. If he makes the end against Tony, he probably wins the game. Spencer and Tasha deserve a lot of credit for what happened this week, but they’re going to need a few more agile moves to slide through to a satisfying finish.

Duo #3 : Trish and Kass

Kass is the wild card of this season and could make serious waves.

Kass is the wild card of this season and could make serious waves.

I’ve really enjoyed watching Trish rebound, and she’s built the foundation for several key moves this season. Being on the wrong side of both the LJ and Jefra votes raises concerns, however. I don’t believe many consider her a major threat in the finals, so her route could be secure. The latest votes haven’t taken out the biggest threats, however. Her quieter strategy could actually hurt her. Kass is the biggest wild card of the final six, in more ways than one. She’s settled into an alliance, but I don’t expect that to continue. Will we see the return of “chaos Kass”? On the surface, she looks like the perfect goat for the final vote. Even so, her flip was a long time ago and followed by several from Tony. Will the jury still punish her for that move? I expect that at least Sarah, Morgan, and Jeremiah won’t be so forgiving. If Kass makes the end, she’ll need all her attorney skills to sell why she played well. This may be difficult against all of the five remaining players, especially Tony, Tasha, and Spencer.

Survivor finales are frequently a letdown, but my expectations remain high for a great finish. You wouldn’t have expected Tasha, Spencer, and Tony to all remain at this point. The two Brains have dominated most of the challenges and will probably continue that trend. They aren’t hiding from the target, yet someone else always takes the heat. Having strong players around is rare at this point and has made Cagayan such a refreshing season. The Tyler Perry idol remains a concern, but there are plenty of interesting paths even with that unfair prize in the picture. I’m intrigued by all the configurations that could battle in front of the jury. The next three weeks should be something to see.

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