Survivor: Worlds Apart

Individual Games – Nudity is Revealing

World’s Apart continues to defy our expectations with unpredictable—and often inexplicable—gameplay. In part this is due to the premise leading us to stereotype players who are far more complex than their labels. There’s also the sheer weight of fans this season (still being repeatedly emphasized in the show) which means a greater diversity of fans, with different ranges of skills and different ideas of gameplay and what the show means to them. Then too, with so many fans, it’s easy to write off the recruits. After players like Yul, Earl and last season’s Natalie, you’d think we fans would have learned our lesson on that last one.

Whatever a player’s collar or fandom, there’s still one truth that endures: Survivor is about the social game. And this is why camplife can be more revealing than any strategy, when it comes to analyzing how the game is going.

White Collar – Free Spirits

One beautifully edited scene that didn’t make the episode was the fallout from Joaquin the morning after Tribal Council. Max explains to him that Joaquin and So’s closeness was scaring Carolyn and Shirin and that the most important thing is to keep the people on the bottom feeling safe and secure—while his confessional makes it clear that Joaquin is the bottomfeeder who needs to feel safe and secure.

Disapproving Joaquin Disapproving Joaquin[/caption]

It’s a nice piece of irony, but what’s really interesting is how the group of men talk to each other. Joaquin looks only at Tyler, even when responding to Max. Tyler is meeting Joaquin’s eyes but not saying anything, while Max is looking behind Joaquin as he talks (presumably towards camp, watching for the women?) Joaquin’s tone is calm, if a little petulant, but his words are antagonistic. He’s frustrated they voted out the strongest woman and finishes by saying if they go straight back to Tribal Council “it’s on you guys.”

Either Joaquin bought Max’s story and is ready to believe he’s still in an alliance, or he’s pitching the “We need strong players” line to save himself. I’m inclined to believe the former, but there’s also room for the perception that Joaquin is in the majority. It all depends on what the other players think.

I’m surprised by the splash the nudity made this episode, considering Survivor has a long history of players who have wandered around camp in their birthday suits—Tocantins’ Tyson certainly made more fanfare over it than Max or Shirin, and his tribemates thought it was hysterical. It’s not something I’d do personally, but it’s something you should expect to deal with. Tyler may be married, but on another season, he might have needed to cuddle up to a beauty queen to keep warm at night. These are all things that contestants can clear with the spouse ahead of time.

One of Max’s motives was to get some alone time, and though I’m in the minority, I will defend this point. In an ideal Survivor world, you would be in camp keeping your finger on the pulse of the tribe at all times and making sure that no discussions can start about you. Yet keeping up that constant level of social engagement for even two days, let alone thirty-nine, is draining. Yes, it’s a million dollars, yes, it’s a once in a lifetime chance, but if social exhaustion pushes you into a silent shell or, worse, an irritable tailspin, that’s going to be more detrimental to your game than stepping out of camp for twenty minutes.

So while a blindside may have been mounted against Aras when he went off to do yoga (technically an editing trick), Aras also did yoga on the season he won. In fact, every season, somebody wins despite leaving camp for confessionals, for idol hunting or for Exile Island. Spending all your time by yourself isn’t a good idea, but you are going to have to turn your back on your tribe at some point, and that shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve already laid your social groundwork.

I can get on board with Stephen’s point on Know It Alls that making such a spectacle out of getting alone time gives Max’s tribemates a reason to talk about him. One rebuttal would be that they also know he’s not going off on his own to look for the immunity idol, but clearly we have yet to pinpoint the fine line solitude-seekers need to walk.

Is it getting hot in here?

Is it getting hot in here?

Shirin’s nudity was more practical. She wanted to do some washing in the sea without getting her underwear wet. (Tyler’s secret scene confirms she went topless too, though we don’t have Shirin’s rationale for that.) As Max had set the example, Shirin can be forgiven for following it, though her insistence on standing next to an obviously uncomfortable Tyler might not be the best game move. However, when Tyler was talking about Max’s nudity, he said it brought ‘levity’ to the tribe. Shirin put the differing reactions down to sexism, and I suspect she was deliberately annoying him.

The possible gender bias aside, the terms in which Tyler talked about Shirin are notable. He found it frustrating that she was growing more confident the longer she was there. That’s a firm implication that Shirin is temporary in Tyler’s gameplan—and that she’s rubbing him up the wrong way. Chances are, this dislike is mutual which would explain Shirin’s passive-aggression. Neither is helping their social game.

Putting all this together, it looks like the tribe is divided between two majorities, with Max as the common denominator. Tyler and Joaquin think they’re in a men’s alliance. Tyler has a little bond with Carolyn on the side, and Shirin is bottom of the totem pole. Carolyn and Shirin think they’re in an alliance with Max, and stringing Tyler along—though Carolyn may have other plans for him. Max seems to be planning on booting Joaquin next, though Shirin may favour booting Tyler—however, it’s unlikely either of them know about Tyler and Carolyn.

This is where the nudity could backfire on Max and Shirin, because Carolyn’s sympathies in this situation are with Tyler—and unlike Tyler, she’s coming down as hard if not harder on Max, who is driving her insane. When alliances are (deliberately, at this early stage) so tenuous, a little nudity could be the shove that pushes Carolyn and Tyler to join forces with Joaquin.

Personally though, I doubt it. It could happen, but so far as we can tell, Carolyn has a better relationship with Shirin than she does with Joaquin, and Tyler isn’t trying to make waves right now. Instead the bigger impact of the nudity is how it’s bonding Max and Shirin together, which is all the more reason for Max to stick it out with the women instead of the men.

That’s assuming they even go to Tribal Council again before a swap. After two episodes, all three tribes are averaging a second place finish, and we can’t make any predictions about who will be the losers and winners when it comes to the numbers ahead of the tribe swap. Arguably, Blue Collar’s consistency bodes well for them—until we remember the mess they made of the first challenge.

Blue Collar – All Play and No Work

On Blue Collar, it was Dan getting naked—though not intentionally. As his shirt covers more than his ‘manties’ did, it could certainly be argued that his loss is our gain.

Lindsey was inclined to believe Dan had faked it in a bid for attention, but I’m skeptical. Losing your only underwear when all you have to wear are jeans seems a bridge too far, even for a fan of Rupert. Maybe he was counting on their swimsuits being delivered soon, but his version of events seems more plausible. Either way, Lindsey’s suspicion proves that Dan has yet to win her over.

However, Lindsey might be the lone holdout. Rodney was amused by the incident and spoke fondly of Dan, who he enjoys cracking jokes with. We also saw Dan playing basketball with the others and enjoying himself—has he settled down and worked past his bad social start?

Not visiting Tribal Council has given Dan time to get past first impressions—and the swimming challenge was exactly what he needed. Clearly, his preparation for Survivor over the past fourteen years has not just consisted of applying. He’s a good swimmer. Maybe he won’t give Ozzy a run for his money, but he was the only person I saw who let his dive carry him all the way to the first platform, instead of surfacing and wasting effort in swimming there.

The season's biggest twist is that everybody can swim.

The season’s biggest twist is that everybody can swim.

Aside: kudos to every player for being a competent swimmer. Everybody started with a headfirst dive (if not a clean one), and most people jumped from the top of the wooden frame instead of climbing back down. When I saw this challenge would require all participants to swim, I fully expected somebody to have serious issues, but the only struggles were in threading the ball, not with the water. (Despite Will’s words at Tribal Council—unless he meant the water was a jinx rather than a direct problem.)

Dan had to insist that he be allowed to participate instead of sitting out and it paid off for him when he proved he could be a physical asset after all. Sierra gave him ungrudging credit for his performance; Lindsey did not complain about him. We often hear from players that their tribe sat them out of challenges against their wishes—demanding to play could backfire of course, but in a situation where you know you have the required skills, self-assertion should improve your stock in the game tremendously.

A competent showing in one challenge (the lack of bad swimmers this season is bad luck for Dan) will not save his skin, but if Dan is moving up the social ladder, then somebody must be slipping down. And that’s Mike, who is frustrated with his tribe’s poor work ethic.

There are some editing shenanigans going on here. As Kass said on the podcast, the basketball scene was either a phenomenal coincidence or the tribe was actually practicing for the challenge after receiving treemail. Not only that, but Mike’s online confessional specifies that only two people are being lazy. He doesn’t name names, though it’s clear from the episode that Rodney is one of them.

Ain't nobody's deputy firewood bitch.

Ain’t nobody’s deputy firewood bitch.

The important takeaway from this is that Mike’s not being as tactless as we thought. While the rule on Survivor is to be lazy if the rest of the tribe is being lazy (or at least don’t complain about it), the majority of the tribe are working hard. However, there’s the majority and there’s the voting majority. From what we saw last week, the latter consists of Rodney and the women. Mike is butting heads with the people choosing between him and Dan.

Or perhaps Mike is driving a wedge into that alliance. Kelly has a lovely confessional on EW where she explains how she’s getting one on one time with every person on the tribe, earning their trust by getting to know them personally. Mike was the person she used as her example. If Mike feels he can trust Kelly, then he presumably doesn’t feel that she is in an alliance that excludes him. More importantly, Kelly has options. If she’s one of the hard workers, then she might also be annoyed by Rodney (and whoever else) slacking off, and that might be enough for her to decide she wants to play the game with Mike and/or Dan instead.

When all is said and done, I still think Dan’s in the most tenuous position on the Blue Collar tribe, but I don’t think the majority is set in stone yet. Although feuds are developing, we can’t be sure which way the tide of popular opinion is going. The safest bet seems to be that Sierra and Kelly are staying out of the drama, and thus are in the best position to influence the vote and/or have allies at the swap.

No Collar – Make War not Love

On No Collar, the problem was not too much nudity but not enough as Nina felt excluded from Jenn and Hali’s skinny dipping session. She believed it was because of her deafness and bickered with the younger women as a result. There is definitely an element of frustration with her deafness on the girls’ part. They are not used to having to make eye contact with somebody when they talk—in the little montage, every time Nina missed what was being said, it was either because she was looking in another direction, or the speaker was. Having to be conscious of how you’re talking gets wearing, and it’s easy to gravitate towards those where you don’t have to make the extra effort.

On the other hand, the skinny dipping snub clearly had more to do with Nina’s age than her disability, and Nina’s outburst put Hali and Jenn’s backs up, widening the rift instead of bridging it.

The squabble seemed to come out of nowhere, going by Hali and Joe’s secret scenes. According to them, the tribe was all happy campers taking on the challenge of the elements with good humor. Nina herself spoke about her tribe in glowing terms, but she had a second confessional in which she explains that she’s struggling with missing her family.

No bikini needed.

No bikini needed.

I think what we’re really seeing here is the return of the classic Older Woman First Week Meltdown. Nina explains it rather well when she points out that for most of her tribe, they’re leaving behind loved ones but not dependents; Nina’s leaving behind children and grandchildren who she helps on a daily basis. She not only misses them but she’s worried about them (and probably feeling some guilt for running out on them to do some TV show in the tropics.) Being left out of the skinny dipping (and nobody wants to be the outcast on Survivor) was most likely the straw that broke the camel’s back.

While women can and do recover from this initial depression, the damage has been done. Not only has Nina antagonized two of her tribemates, but she’s apparently been spending enough time alone to make Vince’s story about finding an idol plausible. She’s not made the social connections with the younger people. Right now, it means they have no interest in keeping her around. If she can survive this stage and make it to the end, they will have no interest in voting for her to win. At best, she’s a footnote in their gameplans.

On the plus side, she has bonded with Will, the only other parent on the tribe. Even though he wasn’t willing to go with her alliance, he was willing to save her, which meant everything for Nina’s game this episode.

Will’s decision has been hotly debated, since it seemed he had a much better deal with Vince and Nina: essentially final three instead of final four. However, as fans we tend to fast forward to the endgame. Will is more likely to be taking it one step at a time, and having four allies—five, if we assume he can make amends with Nina who has nowhere else to go—is a more attractive proposition going into a swap and merge. He’s got another thirty days to (e.g.) convince Jenn and Hali that it would be suicide to sit next to Joe at Final Tribal Council.

Of course, going by the episode, Will had a much shorter term reason for booting Vince. This could easily be editing; it’s not common for the show to make a circumstantial factor the main one if it’s a quicker and easier explanation on TV. It is entirely possible that Will always planned on going with the younger crowd. Jenn was the first player he made a connection with after all.

However, whatever the merits of voting with the trio, voting against Vince instead of Nina as he had been told is a terrible way to gain trust. Will’s rogue vote cost the tribe one of their more capable challenge players. There are two possible defenses for Will’s action here: One is that he may not have blindsided his alliance, or at least not all of them. We know Jenn was all in favor of getting rid of Vince instead of Nina. Perhaps Will discussed his vote with her ahead of time, currying her favor.


Don’t Let That Fool You

Secondly there was the point Kass raised on the podcast about keeping somebody weaker than himself. If Joe is all gung ho about keeping the challenge strong, what happens if they lose time? Would they keep Vince and vote off Will after his challenge performance? Towards the end of the challenge, Will (who plays basketball) asked to shoot, but Joe wouldn’t let him. Will can’t count on an opportunity to prove himself.

Joe, of course, has a state championship in basketball, and last week, I predicted that he would give his talent away in the challenge. I was wrong, but not for the lack of effort on Joe’s part. Although he completely choked, he did the bulk of the shooting. Vince got in a few shots and Will wasn’t allowed the ball at all. Joe behaved similarly in the previous challenge, calling people back so that he could run in—the difference being that this time he couldn’t make good on his intentions.

While there’s no denying Joe’s challenge ability, he can’t win these challenges single-handedly (just ask Spencer), and if he is struggling, he needs to trust the others. Vince might have been onto something when he accused him of bulldozing through plans at camp, and I’ll be curious to see what happens to Joe after the tribe swap when he has to mesh with people he’s not aligned with.

While we’re giving Vince credit, let’s acknowledge his plan of telling Joe and the others that Nina had an idol. (As revealed in his interview, Vince started off telling his tribe that he thought Nina was looking for an idol, then speculated that she had found it, then said she had showed it to him—all with a view towards splitting their vote so that he, Nina and Will could have a majority.) It’s a great idea, not least because it’s sowing the seeds well in advance. (As opposed to saying “I have two idols!” right before Tribal Council.)

When Jeff asked if anybody wanted to play an idol, that entire alliance looked openly at Nina. It came across as a very deliberate display of their knowledge: “We know you have it.” The question is where does that lie go next? Does Will tell them that Nina doesn’t have an idol, or does he keep that information up his sleeve in the hopes that he can use it later? For one thing, if they’re sure Nina has it, they’re not going to go looking for it themselves.

That said, Nina should be looking for it now. While Jenn is inherently more snarky than Joe or Hali, it’s clear that she doesn’t like Nina, and Nina’s own confidence that Jenn would be going home led her to say things at Tribal Council that she might not have done otherwise. With Jenn in the majority and Nina perceived as the weakest link, Nina’s got one hell of a lot of social ground to make up if she wants to survive her next Tribal Council, and it seems that immunity until the tribe swap is her only hope.

Whatever a contestant’s collar, their attitude to assorted tribemates’ nudity (and deafness) is more revealing of personal feelings than political ones. I have often said that the reality of Survivor depends on perception, but perception is rationalized by the individual’s preference. Ultimately, it’s still a popularity contest.

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