SurvivorSurvivor: Cagayan

The Survivor Strategic Game: The Zero Vote Club

An underrated skill on Survivor is the practice of jury management. Players often fail to recognize the benefits of playing a certain role in front of their fallen comrades. If they say little and play it safe, the jury won’t accept their game as legitimate. On the other hand, there’s a risk of alienating former allies by going overboard and pandering to them. Amanda really fell victim to this approach in Micronesia and was skewered in the final Tribal Council for it. A strong recent example is a player like Denise, who handled conflicts well and spoke calmly while still giving intelligent answers. Compared to less confident players like Skupin and Lisa, she was the easy choice at the final vote. The jury may be upset about being voted out, but there’s a chance to change their minds with the right strategy at Tribal Council.

Cagayan has been surprising because most players don’t recognize the importance of Tribal Council. In the pre-merge section, they gave away key details that actually changed minds right before the vote. It’s common knowledge that most votes are set in stone prior to the chats with Jeff Probst. What’s been even more surprising is the willingness to air dirty laundry in front of the jury. This week was a prime example of how not to battle with the final votes only three days away. It’s one thing to make a key point or attack someone to gain an edge, but flipping off a departing contestant is just mean. That type of move makes you look bitter and unlikable. Players that can stand apart from the fray while staying focused on the game can grab a huge edge against the more volatile ones itching for conflict.

Chaos as Self-Sabotage

Kass is inspiring chaos but isn't ready for the consequences. Kass is inspiring chaos but isn’t ready for the consequences.[/caption]

Where should I start with Kass? If there’s a model of what not to do to earn jury votes, she’s following it. She made a “big move” when she flipped on her alliance, but that choice betrayed too many people. There was a chance for damage control given the time that’s elapsed, but she kept making the situation worse. Fighting with Trish at camp was never wise, but acting so blatantly nasty was even worse. Let’s begin with her work back at camp to initiate chaos. Rob aptly pointed out in last week’s podcast that the key to creating dissension is not being the obvious person causing the problems. The art of misdirection is needed to follow this route, and Kass prefers the direct approach. When people are malnourished, tired, and wet from the rain, it takes very little to initiate conflicts. The challenge is doing this without just making everyone mad at you for starting the battles in the first place.

The reveals by Kass, Tony, and Woo at camp reminded us of the difficulties in trusting anyone at this point. Woo decided that his best chance was confiding in Tony about what really happened this past week. While this move was a bit naïve, it showed that Woo was making a choice about his allies. Tony’s decision to involve Kass and backstab his ally is the right one when thinking about the end. The danger is putting trust in someone who doesn’t act like a normal Survivor player. Choosing an ally that thinks rationally is essential because you can predict their way of thinking. Kass doesn’t follow this approach. By going back to Woo and throwing Tony under the bus, she plays both sides yet doesn’t benefit her own game. Tony’s bewilderment comes because he’s viewing Kass as a rational person.

It’s crazy to watch Kass and Tony battle like Woo isn’t even in the room. He’s the kid (or the foreign exchange student) who sits idly while mom and dad fight. This bickering benefits him in multiple ways. First of all, it draws battle lines with Tony and Kass on opposite sides. Once Trish started the conflict after the immunity challenge, there was no way that Woo could go home. This gave him a good chance to make the end if he can squeak out at least one challenge win. If Woo makes the end, his chances with the jury are better since the others are fighting. He has at least a slim chance against Tony and has a better shot against Kass. Woo mostly stayed out of the fighting and made huge gains this week. He sat back and watched Tony and Kass do silly voices and express plenty of hatred at Tribal Council. Will they be able to work together to take out Woo or Spencer? That’s a big question mark heading into the finale.

When Swears Mean Nothing

Some of the best comedy from this week’s episode was seeing the drama over Tony’s swears on his various family members. After getting caught not swearing on his wife and child to Woo, Tony went to the next level and even brought his dead dad into the mix. Tony was willing to say anything to secure Woo, but that ship had sailed. The question was how much he cared about keeping Trish. The regular idol could easily save her, but that doesn’t serve his interests. Once the options were Trish or Kass, he had only one choice. Everyone wants to take Kass to the end, and that was the key part of his choice.

Tony is running the show but needs more to win the million.

Tony is running the show but needs a few more tricks to win the million.

The trick with Tony’s game is whether the jury believes he’s a deserving player. He’s controlled most of the post-merge votes, but personality also plays a role. His comments about not talking llama were hilarious, but they’re also pretty condescending. Repeating his statements in front of the jury was even worse and made him approach bully territory. Kass still came off much worse in this exchange, and I get the impression that people like Tony for the most part. Even so, he doesn’t want to give a player like Woo a chance to emerge as the friendlier alternative. That scenario gives Tony just one route to the end in a final two. He probably loses to Spencer, and only Kass gives him a sure victory.

A Strange Exit

Once Woo made the decision to flip with Kass and Spencer, the potential for Trish to go home was likely. The surprise was the 4-1 vote against her that included Tony. We saw little to suggest that he had any interest in removing his closest ally. I rarely mention secret scenes (Sarah’s the master on that front), but this confessional from Tony reveals his reasons behind the move. It’s still unclear if he knew that Woo was voting for Trish, but his conversations with Kass and Spencer had to arouse Tony’s suspicions. The question is when Tony decided to change his plans and take out Trish. It probably happened after the immunity challenge because Spencer was gone without the victory.

Trish had an uneven road to the fifth spot. Her battles with Lindsey revealed a nasty side that didn’t come off well, but she settled in and played a key role in several big moves. Her quiet game and calm demeanor led many to think of her as a dark horse candidate to win. That composure was nowhere this week in the ugly fight with Kass. It was intriguing to note how spot on Trish was with her comments on Kass. She frequently starts trouble and then plays the victim when she’s called on it. Trish understands how Kass works in the game, and she doesn’t take it well. It’s also odd that Kass said that she wanted Trish to hear those comments. That is probably a lie used as protection after getting discovered.

Could Kass Get Any Votes?

Since the first final three back in the Cook Islands, it’s been rare to not have at least one person receive zero votes. In fact, there have been just a few close finishes since Yul’s 5-4 win in that season. Given the lack of tension about who could win the final vote, it was time to make a change. Everything points to a final two next week, including the promos. The players don’t seem aware of it, so it will be exciting to see how they respond to the wrench in their plans. In general, the final two should give a better chance for a person to steal a victory. However, Kass doesn’t stand to gain even in that situation. The jury may not love Tony’s game, but they don’t seem to dislike him in the same way as Kass. Despite keeping the show entertaining and being good television, Kass is destined to join the zero-vote club if she makes the end.

It's immunity or bust for Spencer.

It’s immunity or bust for Spencer.

The change to a final two and other rumored adjustments should keep the players on their toes. I don’t mind the fact that they’re unaware since it forces them to adapt and not coast to the end. Spencer appears to have the inside track at getting the votes but the toughest route. He could be heading for Malcolm’s fate in the Philippines and fall just short of the final Tribal Council. If that happens, Tony will probably be sitting at the end. If he’s sitting next to Woo, he’ll need to make a calm and convincing case that his moves were strategic and weren’t personal. That’s easier said than done with a grumpy jury. The following sections dig further into each player’s possible fate:

Tony: It’s impossible to deny that Tony has brought a lot to the table this season. He’s delivered ridiculous sound bites, surprise votes, interesting strategies, and several betrayals while remaining fairly likable for the fans. You can stamp the word “all-star” on his forehead, and he may even have a shot to stand with the big-time players in a rumored legends season. The question is whether Tony has a great shot to win at the end. I claimed that he lost the game when he didn’t vote out Spencer at the final seven. Thus far, he hasn’t had another chance to rectify that error. Will the jury reward Tony for his game play despite the fact that he contributed to vote them out? That question will probably drive the finale.

Spencer: The conventional wisdom is that Spencer wins the game if he reaches the end, and it’s hard to argue with that scenario. Even so, it will take both luck and skill to blitz through that many immunity challenges. Terry Dietz was a challenge beast in Panama and looked ready to accomplish that feat but was doomed by a poorly designed balance challenge. Spencer has shown the ability to win different kinds of challenges, and Woo is the only player with a victory left in this group. If he doesn’t win at four, Spencer will need to work with Kass or Woo and try to force a tie. Losing at three is probably a death sentence. It’s a steep hill to climb, but he has a strong chance for the million if he can survive.

Woo is a long shot but still could win the game.

Woo is a long shot but still could win the game.

Woo: It’s too bad that Woo’s biggest move was nullified when Tony jumped on board and voted for Trish. He seems like a more likable alternative that could get votes from a bitter jury, but it still would be a huge challenge to beat anyone but Kass. Tony isn’t hated like Russell Hantz and should have the ability to explain his moves. Woo does not appear to be a guy who could describe his actions well enough to pull him upset. His best bet is to remove the other threats and stick with Kass for the final two. That change benefits him and gives him a chance to get rid of the other top dogs. It’s still a long shot, though.

Kass: No one has a better chance to make the end than Kass, and her actions at last week’s Tribal Council make her appearance there even more certain. I can’t see why anyone would prefer to sit next to Tony or Spencer than Kass. This is great news for her if she’s good with finishing in third place. Players like Dreamz, Becky, Sash, Dawn, Gervase, and others are set to welcome another member to the club. Kass must sit next to Woo at the end if she even wants a shot to get some votes. The jury would be angry if those were the choices, and she might be able to change some minds with a convincing speech. Given the editing and skills of Tony and Spencer, I’d be shocked if one of them didn’t make the end. Crazier things have happened, and maybe Kass can earn her nickname if she does enough to take both of them down.

My Predictions

After picking LJ to win it all and being wrong nearly every week in this blog, I’m the last guy who should be making predictions about this season. But where’s the fun in that? Without further rambling, here are my predictions for Wednesday’s highly anticipated finale:

  • Spencer wins immunity at the final four and tries to convince Woo to take out Tony. Despite the recent betrayals, Woo doesn’t commit to it because of loyalty to his ally. Spencer joins Tony and Kass to vote out Woo by a 3-1 margin.
  • The final three is a tricky balance challenge, and Tony miraculously pulls out the victory and defeats Spencer. Despite some convincing arguments, Tony makes the right choice and votes for Spencer.
  • A bitter jury takes their shots at Tony for his backstabbing and betrayals yet saves the nastiest comments for Kass. Her skills as an attorney fail against the hate, and Tony wins the million. Despite my claims in the title of this article, Kass receives Woo’s vote and loses 8-1.

I’ve been expecting a Spencer victory for a while because of the editing and his status as an underdog. However, I’ve been getting a feeling during the past few weeks that the obstacles may be too high. Despite voting out his closest ally, Tony has a clearer road to the finish. Kass wants to keep him around, and Woo could still have enough loyalty to try and stick with him. To make the end, Spencer probably needs to win five immunity challenges. That’s the same number won by Terry, Colby, and Tom. Regardless of what happens, I’m expecting great things from this finale. All four remaining players are fun characters and deserve credit for making Cagayan such a memorable season.

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