SurvivorSurvivor Cagayan

The Survivor Strategic Game: Can a Free Agent Win the Game?

We’ve been trained by the first six episodes of Survivor Cagayan to expect an unpredictable outcome. The exception might be the Alexis vote, but even that wasn’t a certainty at the time. Last week’s Tribal Council included enough chaos to spread across multiple episodes. The question is whether more surprises will come in the upcoming weeks now that one alliance has control. Morgan’s exit this time was expected and made sense given all the questions about the idol. Once Spencer won the immunity challenge and the editing made Morgan look terrible, the writing was on the wall. Kass may have talked about being a free agent, but flipping back to the Aparri group and forcing a tie made little sense.

It’s been rare for the new cast this time around to take the “easy vote” and not try to make waves. J’Tia survived a few votes where she was the obvious pick, and Cliff went home despite the Brawn tribe’s numbers after the tribe swap. Players like Tony and Kass aren’t content to let the game roll along and want to gain control at every turn. She keeps talking about how it’s her game, but that lone wolf approach rarely works on Survivor. If Kass makes the end, she can make the case of playing an individual game, but the votes probably won’t come her way. The key is influencing decisions that help your game without making it seem like you’re playing selfishly. Taking out Morgan made sense for a guy like Tony, but it may not have served Kass’ interests. Of course, last week’s faulty choice limited her options this week.

Picking up the Pieces

It was interesting to watch the different ways that players reacted to Kass’ surprise flip after Tribal Council. Spencer recovered partially from his comments after the vote despite his anger at losing his hold on the game. Focusing on whether it’s a bad move and not getting personal is the right way to go, though he could have done better. Spencer may need Kass down the road to turn the tables on the Solana alliance, and it’s wise to show that option hasn’t closed. He’s in a dangerous spot as the figurehead of a possibly doomed group. The only way to turn around his fortunes is to lie low and hope for an opportunity to flip the game at nine or seven. That fact made his win at the challenge so pivotal this week. Combining that with finding the immunity idol, and Spencer may have enough staying power to last until the group of six crumbles.

Morgan drew out the worst in Kass with their latest conflict. Morgan drew out the worst in Kass with their latest conflict.[/caption]

Despite her questionable game play, Kass has been an intriguing character. She regularly changes her mind at Tribal Council and doesn’t recognize the importance of the social game. Once she made the choice to vote out Sarah, the smart move was to commit to the Solana alliance. Instead, she wavered this week and talked about being a free agent. Playing from her gut isn’t always a terrible strategy, but you don’t tell everyone that’s your plan. No one wants to align with someone they can’t trust to stick with the plan. Kass speaks her mind and doesn’t worry about the consequences, and that style could take her far. It won’t win her the million dollars, however. If the Ponderosa videos are any indication, the jury will not appreciate her play if Kass reaches the end.

Another misstep was antagonizing Morgan, who was clearly on the outs and doing little. When an angry player with no power is picking a fight, the worst thing is to step into that battle. Kass was feeling the adrenaline of making a big move, and that’s a dangerous time. It’s fine to own the choice and not apologize, but there’s another level of just being nasty. Morgan hardly comes off any better, but she isn’t a threat to change the game. Jury management is essential in the post-merge stage and often gets underestimated. Russell Hantz was belligerent towards players he voted out in Heroes vs. Villains, and he received zero votes. There’s no benefit to taking on someone who’s probably going home if you expect them to award you the million dollars.

The Challenge of Going Solo

While Kass feels great about being a free agent, it doesn’t bode well for her chances to win. Looking at past seasons, there are few cases where players won the game without at least one strong ally. Rob Cesternino came close in the Amazon, but he didn’t walk around claiming to be on his own. He also formed a pretty strong bond with Matt for much of the game. Kass cited Sandra in her bio and clearly believes in the “anyone but me” strategy. The problem is that there are few connections between their games. Sandra was outspoken but also knew when to stick with her alliance. She might have wanted Russell out in Heroes vs. Villains, but she recognized that voting with him was usually wise. Sandra also never flipped against such a large group like the Aparri five. The key is staying away from the vote while also looking towards who will vote for you in the final round.

The winners of recent seasons have almost all come from a dominant alliance that gained control after the merge. Tyson, Cochran, Kim, Sophie, and Boston Rob remained loyal to their alliances until they’d gained control. The exception is Denise in the Philippines, but she entered the merge at a significant disadvantage. Her edge was having a strong ally in Malcolm and few long-term bonds to betray. She was a free agent by necessity and never turned against a large group of allies. She may have voted out Penner, but that was a group decision. Denise also played a subtle game and focused on maintaining personal relationships. She clashed with Abi-Maria at Tribal Council but was still rewarded with her vote in the end. Kass may not be so lucky.

Survivor 28.07 Kass

Kass can’t win the game without allies.

So what is Kass’ endgame? I expect that she’s playing it vote to vote and isn’t going to wait until the final six to change her plans. This week’s discussion with Spencer was about more than flipping this time. Although neither trusts the other, they aren’t closed off from working together. Kass misreads the situation as validating her betrayal; it’s more about Spencer’s desperation. Even so, they could join with a duo like LJ and Jeffra at the final seven. This assumes that the next two votes are Tasha and Jeremiah, which is a decent possibility. The difficulty for Kass is that this scenario hurts her chances even more. She’d end up betraying Tony, Woo, and Trish. I don’t see a final three scenario where Kass has a great chance with any two of the remaining players.

A Ridiculous Quest for Immunity

The comedy of errors of the immunity idol search ranked among the most entertaining sequences of the season. It’s interesting to note that we still haven’t seen the Tyler Perry idol; is there a different clue for that prize? Given all the focus on Spencer with the editing, his discovery of a “normal idol” wasn’t a big surprise. What added to the fun was the scene with Woo employing his ninja skills to track Spencer’s search. Both guys also proved that they have awful poker faces when trying to be nonchalant while walking past each other. Once Woo grabbed the clue and took off, it was pure mayhem. Even the camera guy wasn’t ready for the race that ensued! If nothing else, the idol does create some very odd moments.

Should Woo have revealed the clue to his alliance? Since Spencer already knew about it, spilling the beans was a logical choice. Woo’s entire strategy is not standing out as a sneaky player and staying with the group. Sticking with the team concept makes sense at this stage and removes the chance for Spencer to spin doubts on Woo with his alliance. It’s a safe play yet fits with an approach of staying off the radar. Woo’s sitting in a great position, so why take a risk? Notifying the group also gave him more people that could prevent Spencer from finding it. It didn’t work out that way, but the decision still makes sense.

Now that Spencer has the idol, the question is how to use it. He made the right choice by keeping it secret from Kass while trying to woo her back to their group. There was too much danger that she would  jeopardize his future. The 6-3 divide now gives the leaders a chance to split the vote to avoid the idol. If he doesn’t win immunity, Spencer still needs help to use it to his best advantage. He can survive the next vote regardless, but playing it still puts him at a vulnerable spot with eight players remaining. Tasha probably goes home in that scenario, and Spencer’s a larger threat than Jeremiah. He must work diligently at breaking the alliance and retain the idol for as long as possible. Barring a switch, he’ll need an immunity win in the next two weeks to stay in the game.

The Mad Scientist’s Plans

If anyone in the main alliance might flip, it’s a risk-taker like Tony. He’s been all about solidarity and even sacrificed his idol to save LJ. Still, he’s shown an interest in rocking the boat and seems bored when nothing happens. Would Tony risk his game for more power? He’s closely aligned with Trish and has a stronger bond with LJ after the idol chicanery. Tony should coast to the final six, if not further. The question is whether he’s set up  to win. A guy like LJ will have allies on the jury and isn’t generating much anger from anyone. Tony makes waves but also has good relationships, which would make for an interesting final Tribal Council. I don’t expect he’d want to sit next to LJ in that scenario, however. There’s too much at stake to risk it.

The challenge for Tony is that Trish also has built her position, and Woo hasn’t betrayed anyone. His best combination is a random duo like Kass and Jeremiah, but making that happen would require him to betray his allies. I expect that he’s looking at Trish and Kass as his final three, but that’s hardly a done deal. The ramification of voting out Morgan instead of Tasha is the removal of another weaker player to keep around. While it made sense to avoid the idol, it slims down having a certified win in the final three. The benefit for viewers is the strong possibility that at least two (if not three) legitimate contenders will make the end. A true battle at the end has been a rarity in recent seasons.

Looking at the players sitting in a great spot, the choices are unchanged from last week. This is the first time that’s happened and shows the difference when the expected vote occurs. Both probably won’t face the vote for some time yet have built solid relationships among the group. It’s remarkable that six of the nine players still have a chance to win the game. The other three (Kass, Jeremiah, and Jeffra) would probably need to sit next to each other to have a real shot to take the million. There’s still a lot of game to play, but it would take some major shake-ups to put a guy like Jeremiah in a winning spot.

Who’s in the best position?

Trish: It’s been remarkable to watch Trish change from an irritating player clashing with Lindsey to a pretty good strategist. She’s involved in making the decisions and isn’t being pushy about the votes. After successfully pulling Kass into the fold, she’s also working to keep her happy and part of the group. Despite being a solid competitor in challenges, Trish isn’t in danger of facing the vote. She has the numbers and should have a shot at making a push towards the end. The question is whether it’s in her best interest to stay with the main group until there are only six players remaining.

Woo is having fun and in a great spot.

Woo is having fun and in a great spot.

Woo: Despite stealing the idol clue right out of Spencer’s pants, Woo didn’t face any blowback for it. He seems well-liked throughout the tribe and could win more challenges. Despite being a physical threat, Woo doesn’t have a huge target on him because Tony and LJ are larger shields. He also isn’t doing much strategizing and is just going along with the group. The danger for Woo only comes from someone like Tony flipping to the other side, and that isn’t likely to happen this week.

Who’s in trouble?

Tasha: Spencer’s immunity win and a possible idol saved Tasha this week, but her place as Plan B revealed the growing target on her back. She’s proven her value in challenges and clearly is playing the game. There also would be plenty of friends on the jury if she reached the end. Barring a massive change next week, Tasha is the most likely person to go home. It’s going to be a challenge for her to last much longer, and winning immunity seems like the best route to extending her life in the game.

Survivor 28.07 Jeremiah

Jeremiah’s time may be numbered.

Jeremiah: He’s hardly a threat to anyone, but I’m including Jeremiah because he’s part of the smaller alliance. Everyone knows there’s an idol in play, and he fits the Morgan role as the least likely person to have it. If the former Solana group again goes for an easier vote, it would fall to Jeremiah. I doubt that will happen this week, but he has few friends left in the game. A wise move is trying to re-connect with LJ and Jeffra and hope that he can push the votes towards Tasha if nothing else. In a split-vote scenario, he’d be wise to jump ship and choose one of his allies to stay alive in the game.

Will the more predictable trends continue next week? Despite the focus on conflict within the alliance in the previews, I have a feeling that may not pay off for a few more weeks. On the other hand, shake-ups in the game typically happen with odd numbers. The larger numbers advantage means that they could remove a threat and still have a 5-3 edge going forward. It’s a dangerous approach to the game and could backfire, but letting strong contenders drift to the final six is equally risky. The question is when to take the gamble and go for the big move. The paranoia’s only going to increase as the end approaches, and the player that adapts best will grab the strongest position for the final run.

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