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The Survivor Strategic Game – The Early Victory Lap

An underrated aspect of Survivor is the challenge of staying focused through such a long game. The days fly by on our TV screens each week, but they’re long and slow for the players. It’s easy to lose concentration and get overly high or low about a certain outcome. Promising minds can jettison their games by getting too confident and forgetting about the moves to come. I call this the “early victory lap”, where players are so joyful about removing a rival that they forget that more opponents remain. Lindsey’s decision to quit after Tribal Council appeared to secure the spots for Tony and Trish. However, their careless behavior hindered these long-term prospects and may undermine this dominant position.

Few contestants have received such an unfavorable edit as Trish this season. Basking in the success of her plans at Tribal Council, her behavior towards Lindsey comes off as mean and unnecessary. It’s clear that both have strong negative feelings about the other, but being humble would have served Trish well in that situation. The uncomfortable looks from the other tribe mates said it all. Despite her victory last week, Trish made herself seem like a shaky ally for the long-term game. Of course, there’s a potential benefit in bringing her along right to the end. She’s in the Phillip position from Redemption Island but isn’t playing up the conflict to avoid the target. Instead, Trish seems to revel in taking shots at her weakened opponent.

Is there a risk to keeping Trish as a close ally? Despite success in past seasons with bringing a goat, she’s played irrationally thus far. A savvier player would have been overly kind to Lindsey while realizing she was the next to go. While she didn’t intend to push her to quit, Trish gave the final shove that made it happen. Despite removing a potential rival, there’s a danger with such ugly behavior. She’s currently an important number for the upcoming merge, but that might not always be the case. It’s unclear if she also wrote the nasty message in the sand towards Lindsey, but that’s the likely scenario. Beyond looking bad on TV, she can’t be making things pleasant at camp. At best, this is a third-place strategy.

Chaos Unleashed!

Tony may have too much confidence so early. Tony may have too much confidence so early.[/caption]

This brings me to Tony, who gained so much with both Cliff and Lindsey’s exits. Unlike Trish, he doesn’t have any blood on his hands for the quit and can rave about it behind the scenes. His position looked solid heading into a merge with strong targets like LJ and Woo still in the game. The right choice was sitting back and allowing the game to happen after the success. Instead, Tony ramped up his efforts even further! It’s like a basketball player celebrating with the fans at halftime while the game was still happening. You could see Tony counting the million dollars in his head at the beach. While it makes for very entertaining television, it may not be the wisest approach for his long-term survival.

Let’s start with his plans to take out Jeremiah with the idol clue maneuver. After winning the reward challenge, Tony and Woo got the chance to raid Aparri’s beach for supplies. Given the impending merge, the impact of these choices will be minimal. They also received a clue to the immunity idol at the Solana beach that LJ currently possesses. Tony’s decision to make up a story and give the clue to Jeremiah was brilliant in one sense. He could take out a potential rival, and no one but Woo would know the difference. This was a very risky move, however. First of all, Woo might be interested in looking for this idol. Tony didn’t show any thoughts of locating it, which would tip off a more capable player that he had one.

More importantly, Tony’s created an enemy in Jeremiah who won’t trust anything that he says in the future. If Aparri decided to go a different route (which they did), it would put a huge target on Tony. Why take the risk? He sold it like a funny move that could pay dividends, and I expect that Woo will go along with anything with his allies gone. The fact that Jeremiah stayed means that the Brains may have believed that Tony was trying to pull a fast one on them. This action might seem minor in Tony’s mind, but it will raise serious questions about his reliance for many players going forward. That’s never a wise situation.

Can a Lie Prove Trust?

Another head-scratching move from Tony is telling everyone in his tribe that he’s a cop. While his job shouldn’t raise any red flags, it reveals his original lie about being in construction. Why change his tune at this point? LJ wisely points out the contradiction in trying to prove he’s trustworthy by revealing a lie. If voting out Cliff wasn’t enough last week, Tony’s on everyone’s radar now. I’m trying to keep an open mind and think that maybe coming clean gained him something. That new alliance of five does seem united, so perhaps Tony’s decided he’s sticking with this group until the others are gone. This doesn’t seem like a wise move, however. LJ and Woo are challenge threats and arguably more likable for a jury. I expect that Tony is pushing the team dynamic this week but won’t stick with it very long.

I don’t mean to pile on Tony, but this was quite a week for the over-the-top character. After Solana’s victory at the immunity challenge, he yelled “final five!” and raised the concerns of his former ally Sarah. Given the numbers disadvantage faced after Lindsey’s exit, alienating her could be problematic. Beyond her reaction, it drew a negative response from the entire Aparri tribe. Jeff Probst has called Tony “one of the most electrifying players we’ve ever had participate”. It’s too early to tell if this is accurate at this stage of the game, but he’s definitely making waves. Tony’s certain to play again, but his chances to win aren’t heading in the right direction after this week’s antics.

A Tricky Choice

Alexis didn't convince her tribe that she was trustworthy.

Alexis didn’t convince her tribe that she was a trustworthy ally.

It’s remarkable that I haven’t even mentioned that Alexis was voted out from the Aparri tribe. They lost the immunity challenge thanks to the magical puzzle skills of LJ, who just keeps creating a bigger target on his back. Alexis left the game in tears after a 6-1 vote, and it’s clear that the game meant a lot to her. The telling reason for her exit probably related to what Spencer called phony behavior. Playing dumb isn’t an easy feat to pull off, especially in a game like Survivor. She also over played her first strategic conversations with the Brains last week. They weren’t convinced she was a reliable ally beyond the merge, and those doubts sealed her fate. Both Jeremiah and Morgan’s comments with their votes focused on the idea that Alexis would flip. They’ve played with her the entire game, so that’s not a good sign.

The other option for the Brains was Jeremiah, who looked foolish in trying to explain the idol clue. Tony’s plan succeeded in casting doubts about his loyalty, but that wasn’t enough to seal his fate. A better move for Jeremiah would have been to show the clue to everyone to ensure they believed him. Once Tony and Woo took the clue back, there was no real way to avoid suspicion. Despite his strategic blunders, Jeremiah has managed to enter the merge with allies. It will be interesting to see if he follows Spencer’s lead and sticks with them after being saved from the vote. The fact that Tony chose him to get the clue meant that he’s already viewed as a threat. Jeremiah may need the numbers to survive the next few Tribal Councils. He seems more vulnerable than Morgan, who wasn’t considered for the vote by the Brains.

The previews for next week clearly show a merge, so I don’t see the need to consider the positions of the remaining players in their current tribe. Instead, I’m going to list players who seem to have the most options and won’t be immediate targets. Now that we’ve reached the individual stage, athleticism becomes a crutch unless you have really strong allies. I’ve also prepared a quick primer on a few players that have shown their value and could face the vote. Finally, there are two wild cards that could make an impact despite being in weaker spots on their tribes.

Who’s in the best position?

The Brains are running the show at Aparri.

The Brains are running the show at Aparri.

Tasha, Kass, and Spencer: It’s difficult to determine who’s running the show within this trio. They’re functioning like a hive mind and have full control within the Aparri tribe. Spencer is getting the best quotes from the editors, but he seems right on board with Tasha and Kass. What puts them in such a good spot is the fact that they’re won’t be targeted anytime soon. LJ is concerned about looking in Morgan’s eyes, and Tony wants to take out Jeremiah. If the numbers fall their way, they could ride this wave to the end. The two idols in play and impending Tyler Perry idol could make this tougher, however. The big question is whether the tribes will remain together or splinter into chaos. In either scenario, having a committed trio should keep them in the right spot for the upcoming votes.

Sarah: Despite being a loner from the Brawn tribe in Aparri, Sarah’s in a great spot. If she feels uncertain about her current allies, she may have a chance to reunite with Trish and Tony. That may not be the best idea, but it gives her options. Tony’s introduced doubts about his loyalty, so it could benefit her to cast him aside. Sarah’s move to not make waves has differed so greatly from the over playing of Alexis and Jeremiah at Aparri. The question is whether she’s made a strong bond with the former Brains. Do they expect her to stick around? Regardless of what Sarah decides, the key move is to be decisive and not waffle. Plenty of swing votes have found themselves heading home by refusing to commit to a side.

Who’s become a huge target?

LJ's puzzle skills have made him a huge target.

LJ’s puzzle skills have made him a huge target.

LJ: He’s rolling through puzzles and isn’t rocking the boat on his tribe. His mild-mannered approach has worked so far, but I can’t see a bigger target after the merge. If Aparri sticks together, they’re going to target LJ. His trump card is the idol, so it may come into play in the near future if he wants to survive. LJ really needs to find a numbers advantage and push the idea of alliances to get through the next group of votes. Once he plays the idol, he’s extremely vulnerable and may need some immunity wins. I don’t see too many these players acting like Monica and Gervase and coasting with him to the end.

Jeremiah: While he’s lacked the success with challenges or strategy, Jeremiah will be a target. His tribe barely trusts him, and he has enough strength to win a few individual immunities. If there was any doubt, Tony’s pick to screw up his game shows that he’s on their radar. Jeremiah has to hope that his former allies LJ and Jeffra don’t believe in the “top five!” calls and won’t maintain their new Solana bonds.

Who’s the wild card?

Woo: After losing both of his allies in a few hours, Woo looked to be in serious trouble. That dire state isn’t for sure, however. He stuck with Tony for their madcap adventure at Aparri, and the focus will be on the other tribe after the merge. I’m unsure of Woo’s strategy and don’t expect him to make a huge move, but he could avoid the vote for a while. He doesn’t have any enemies and wasn’t roped in by the Trish/Lindsey conflict. It will be interesting to see if he can stay afloat.

Morgan: It’s impressive to realize that no one seems concerned about Morgan. She was my pick to go out first on the Beauty tribe, and she’s in a better position than most of her former tribe mates. If she can stick with the Brains and maybe Sarah, she could be around for a long time. The question is whether she’s willing to float or wants to make a move to help her chances. Her mobility’s been limited since Brice was voted out, so the merge gives her a new chance.

Despite the potential for a Pagonging if one tribe grabs the numbers, I don’t see it happening with this cast. There are too many players willing to flip either through a smart strategy, pure emotions, or bad gameplay. I’d be stunned if either tribe ends up as the final five or six. When you have multiple idols, a mad scientist like Tony, and a trio that’s found its mojo, the ingredients are there for a great finish. I’m worried about my pre-game pick of LJ to survive the carnage, but no one is dead in the water. More than half of the remaining 11 players have at least a chance to win the game, and that rarely happens. The key is not getting too confident and maintaining their focus right until the last vote.

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