SurvivorSurvivor Cagayan

Individual Games – A Social Network

Episodes where players quit are always going to be unsatisfying, and this one didn’t really do much more than set the stage for the merge. Thankfully, the merge itself is an enticing prospect, and knowing that the remaining eleven players likely make up our jury has certainly whetted my appetite for what happens next.

Both tribes have had their chance to go to tribal council now and draw up their battle lines. We’ve also had enough insights into everybody’s social game to answer some questions. Who is a target? Who needs to push their résumé more if they want to win? And who has taken themselves out of contention as surely as Lindsey?

Speaking of Lindsey, I’m going to get into her quit and the implications I think it has for Survivor, but that might well be something you’re sick of hearing about. If so, ignore this next section and skip ahead to the Solana heading.

Quitting isn’t the Problem

Clearly, one of the biggest controversies this week is Lindsey’s quit, and I find that surprising, because for me the real controversy was the alternative situation. Jeff had teased a first, and a lot of people were speculating that it might involve Lindsey and Trish getting physical with each other. Speaking personally, that avoided scenario is still the problem, not Lindsey’s quit which I felt entirely appropriate given the circumstances.

Rules of Quitting Survivor:

1: Don’t quit.

2: If you’re ignoring rule number one, hang in there until the next Tribal Council so that you can give somebody who really wants to be there (see Alexis) a few more days in the game.

3: If you’re ignoring rules one and two, do not pull a Hantz.

(Yes, I know Brandon was technically voted out, but I think we can all agree that it was his own decision to go out early and with a bang.)

I would like to stress that I am not in favor of quitting. I don’t know if Rob’s suggestion that quitters get no prize money is legal, but I would certainly like to see a stipulation that anybody who quits gets less money than the first place boot. However, in this particular instance, I think Lindsey would have quit regardless, and I’m glad she did.

Obviously, if you believe that she wasn’t really going to hit Trish and was just using that as an excuse, then that’s fair enough. It’s not how I interpret the situation. Back during the rain, I flagged up something Lindsey had said about not being happy with her own reaction to the elements, my own observation being: “Not liking your game-self is more damaging than not liking the game.”

In real life, that kind of thing is a warning sign to me. It’s the point where I stop and look at what can be changed about the situation, and if it can’t be changed, what kind of moral support is available, because in my experience (bear in mind, I’m no psychiatrist) if you don’t like yourself, then your emotional stability is going to be a problem, whether it be depression or lashing out.

While in my unqualified opinion Lindsey is perfectly sane, the elements, deprivation, and paranoia make Survivor, if you’ll pardon the clinical term, a mindf***. Even the most composed players find their state of mind affected by it, and Lindsey said going into the game that she was a slave to her emotions and would need to team up with somebody more logical. The difference between Survivor and real life problems is that you can quit it if you realize it’s taking you too far down that road, and that’s what I think happened to Lindsey.

I’m sure that there was a tantrum in there about losing Cliff and suddenly going to the bottom of the game—we’ve seen far less volatile players lose their cool over that. But those circumstances created a specific situation which Lindsey couldn’t deal with.

Had LJ gone instead of Cliff, it’s unlikely Trish would have taken up the way she did (LJ describes Trish as the instigator), and if Cliff were still around, Lindsey would have had that person to give her emotional support. Instead, both women lashed out at each other verbally, and eventually, when Trish ignored Lindsey’s repeated requests to backdown (not that Lindsey was doing a good job of letting the argument go herself), Lindsey left the camp.

LindseyBeach Only one way out.[/caption]

One of the reasons Survivor is a pressure cooker is that there isn’t really any escape. Even Trish worried that it was too cold and wet for Lindsey to spend the night outside of the shelter in her underwear. Yet had Lindsey gone back to the shelter, I think it’s highly likely Trish would have felt the need to say something else, and that would have sparked things off again.

Ideally, what I would have preferred to see would have been for Lindsey to pull herself together, think of her daughter, and let Trish’s comments roll off her. A hundred players could have done that. But Lindsey? That’s a ‘Never gonna happen’ scenario, at least not with Trish. (If you swapped Trish out for Sarah, and Cliff was still blindsided, I think there’d be an argument afterwards, but I don’t see Lindsey quitting.) For production’s part, I don’t think there’s any way you can listen to a player say they might hit another player and allow them to go back into the game.

On the podcast this week, Marty and Rob discussed whether the producers were bearing Brandon Hantz’s meltdown in mind. I think Lindsey most definitely was.On the beach, before Jeff’s arrival, she said it was a choice between quitting and regretting it for the rest of her life, or a choice between being known as the woman who hit another woman and regretting that for the rest of her life. (Psst, Lindsey. ‘And the hitting.’ You’ll also regret the actual hitting…)

Remember how Brandon’s meltdown was hyped up before it aired? The season was being promoted as one of the craziest ever, Probst was teasing that if somebody tried to burn down the camp, they might just hand them the kerosene…. Brandon’s meltdown was not received well and ended up casting a cloud over Caramoan that production never expected. Blood vs. Water and Cagayan were filmed directly after Caramoan finished airing, and Probst has made a conscious choice to change his promotion of them.

Nonetheless the contestants going into those seasons also learned a lesson from Brandon. I don’t think it’s coincidence that both seasons featured somebody quitting, citing fear of how they were going to be portrayed on the show and/or how that would be received by the viewers.

This all comes back to casting volatile players. Lindsey said on the beach that there was a reason she was put on the brawn tribe: “I’m kind of a brute.” Clearly, she’s much more articulate and self-aware about it than a Brandon or a Na’Onka, but being able to speak rationally about your reactions won’t necessarily stop you from acting irrationally in the heat of the moment. (See J’Tia.) I don’t know if the show’s psychologists really could have anticipated that she could resort to violence, but the show cast both her and Trish (and probably Tony as well) to create conflict… to create entertainment.

There’s no use getting sanctimonious about this, because while we might have different opinions of where to draw the line, all of us viewers would rather see conflict and conflict resolution over everybody ambling calmly to the end and letting Boston Rob win. But it’s an ongoing problem with all reality series: where and when do you draw the line between good-TV volatile and bad-TV dangerous?

Compare to ‘Fight Night’ from the UK edition of Big Brother, two contestants threw trays at each other and the other houseguests had to prevent a brawl. There were death threats, live feed viewers called the police, and lines were generally crossed all over the place. Yet for some reason production kept the instigator in on-camera isolation for a few days before finally conceding they couldn’t put her back into the house.

Survivor has at least handled things better than that, and I can only hope that after the return appearances of Brandon and Colton, they’re tightening their restrictions for casting, so that we get more eccentrics (a la Coach) and less emotionally volatile people (naming no names). Still, no casting process or show psychologist is infallible. There are always going to be some people who discover mid-game that they absolutely should not be out there, and in that situation, the best thing for all concerned is to get them the hell off the beach. Even if it means quitting. (See also Micronesia’s Kathy Sleckman.)

The other issue Lindsey’s quit brings up is what responsibility should the other players take in these situations? Clearly, the onus of an individual’s mental well-being is on production rather than the other players, but Lindsey’s situation was unusual in that she had somebody actively provoking her. When Brandon started throwing rice around, Phillip smartly removed himself from the shelter rather than engage with him. Na’Onka was volatile enough, but the other players avoided arguments. (Na’Onka’s an odd case because she should probably have quit or been removed around the time she was scuffling with Kelly Bruno for the idol; when she actually quit post-merge it was at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons.) Christina Cha once called Alicia’s bluff when Alicia threatened to hit her, but she was standing up to her without escalating the situation.

I don’t think Trish would have ever turned violent, and I think it’s likely she didn’t believe Lindsey would either. But neither she nor Lindsey could leave each other alone, and on this night, none of the players tried to stop them, except for Tony. I don’t personally think Trish set out to make Lindsey quit, but LJ described it as Trish’s ‘move’ the next day and was delighted with it—because honestly, this was a great advantage for his game. Equally, I don’t know if Woo really had a close bond with Lindsey, but from a game perspective, the last thing he ‘should’ have done was to be seen offering her emotional support. (Though it was in his interests to keep her from quitting before the next vote.)

Does it now become a justifiable, even laudable move to push somebody to quit? And in that case, do we have to revise our own opinion of quitting? I feel like we, the fans, production, and players, are creating a paradox here, where we profess that quitting is an unforgivable sin while simultaneously incorporating it into the fabric of the game.

I have no qualms with saying Lindsey should not have been cast in the first place. But last episode we saw what happens when you have two volatile players on the same tribe and it is beneficial to the majority’s game to see them provoke each other until something gives. I can’t help but feel that when we blame Lindsey for quitting, we’re making her a scapegoat to avoid looking at a much more complex issue.

Solana – Playing Close to the Chest… or Not

For the purposes of this blog, the most important thing we learned about Lindsey’s quit is that there is no way Trish is winning this game. She couldn’t let anything go when it came to Lindsey, and unless her reaction to Lindsey is an aberration, she’s eventually going to run into somebody who has a more subtle and devastating comeback than Lindsey did. Even if that doesn’t happen this game, she let her feelings for Lindsey blind her to how she was coming across. LJ and Jefra are probably both comfortable now that they can take her to the end because nobody will vote for her. Sarah and Tony might have reached the same conclusion before now.

Top Five group hug!

Top Five group hug!

This is a good thing for the Solana group. As we established last week, Trish is its lynchpin. Everybody else (with the possible exception of Woo) is going to be completely loyal to her, because they’re comfortable that she can’t win. I would expect them to enter the merge as a solid unit, planning to bring in another vote or two from their allies on Aparri.

There are a few problems here, most notably Tony. It could be he was shouting “Top Five” as a gameplay move, either to mislead the Brains into thinking Sarah couldn’t flip or to reassure LJ and Jefra. It could also be that he fully meant it. However, I’m fairly sure that any such sentiments will fall before one disingenuous question: “Wouldn’t it be awesome if you blindsided LJ?” LJ is at least wary of Tony, but I don’t think he’ll move against Tony until it makes sense to do so. I don’t have the same faith in Tony’s patience.

Of course, Tony should be taking out LJ at some point; he doesn’t want to risk Trish choosing her Boston homeboy over him. But that’s the thing about Tony: just about everything he does comes from a place of sound Survivor strategy; he’s just doing it too early or he hasn’t fully thought through the ramifications.

Take giving the clue to Jeremiah to put a target on his back. That was a great spur of the moment plan, especially considering he hadn’t seen how people were targeted for getting the clue in Blood vs. Water. But at the same time, it could have been negated so simply. As soon as he opened it, Jeremiah could have (should have!) gone straight back to his tribe and showed them what it said. No advantage would have been gained, but the post-merge target on Tony would have increased.

Perhaps for Tony, that was worth the gamble, especially when he had an idol to protect him. I don’t think he could have realised that Jeremiah was the one person who would opt for the course of inaction when presented with this ruse, but it worked out perfectly for him. Even though Jeremiah wasn’t voted off, there’s still the possibility that it will sow paranoia within Aparri post-merge. Of course, Tony’s now put himself out there as a player, but let’s face it, one way or another, he was going to put a target on his back anyway.

For example, by gleefully recounting every lie he told in the game. That’s kind of a good thing to be doing towards the end, perhaps in his final tribal council argument… not so much right before the merge, when the crosshairs shift to the aggressive game players. Still, at the same time, even if LJ and Jefra know he can’t be trusted, they have to trust him for a few more votes.

Still, what probably raised Tony’s stock the most in this game was the addition of Woo. One of the bigger mysteries of Lindsey’s quit was how she could be so unhappy when she was allied with pure joy in human form. Nothing gets Woo down. Not rain. Not being abruptly shifted to the bottom of the totem pole. Not even being bested in a fight with a chess nerd. (For the record, Spencer’s round one victory absolutely proved the merit of studying up on Survivor challenges beforehand. Woo didn’t fall for it a second time, but every fan of the show should have remembered the trick to that challenge, and I was dumbfounded nobody even thought to copy Spencer.)

Woo’s unbridled, never say die enthusiasm reminds me of what was so great about Reynold in Caramoan. (OK, it was that and the Handsome.) Reynold never lost faith that things would somehow work out and never backed down from the big move. Those qualities made him a great ally for Malcolm (and directly led to “Hold Up Bro” being possible.) If Woo possesses these same attributes, then his pairing up with Mad Scientist Tony can only mean great things for the future, and I devoutly hope they remain partners in strategy.

Woo’s positive embrace of a changed game position is a great thing in a Survivor player, and I predict it will serve him well post-merge if Sarah approaches him. I can’t figure out how much of Woo is affability and how much is conscious gameplay, but so far, he’s always been open to hearing any suggestion out, yet he’s never waffled so much as to cause distrust. Somebody with his athleticism is a dangerous person to leave around post-merge, but his value as a swing vote might be able to over-ride that.

The key advantage Solana has over Aparri would be its idols. Being in possession of two hidden immunity idols could give them a lot of flexibility in the initial power struggle—if only they knew it. Neither LJ nor Tony is interested in telling the others they have them, and from what we’ve seen so far, they’re not even suspected of having an idol.

Tony may have too much confidence so early.

A man who loves his idols.

It was notable that when Woo and Tony read the clue that they gave to Jeremiah, they showed little personal interest in what it said. We’ve not seen Solana discussing the fate of their idol, but it looks pretty likely that Jefra and LJ have told them about the clue they got with the chickens and that everybody has accepted it’s no longer there to be found. (If nothing else, you know Tony would kill to hold two idols.) The natural conclusion is that Solana (LJ aside) believes Morgan has it.

Equally, we’ve not seen any discussion of what might have happened to the Aparri idol, though it’s possible LJ and Jefra have asked if they found any clues in their rewards. With Cliff blindsided, Lindsey quitting and Sarah’s absent, there’s still room to assume somebody outside of the alliance had it, though after Tony’s overt gameplay this episode, it’s likely other players are pegging him as a guy who would go looking for idols.

As it stands, Solana will be going into the first post-merge vote under the assumption that the Aparri alliance might have two or even three idols. That’s going to require some nerve (certainly on Jefra, Woo and Trish’s part) at Tribal Council. Will either LJ or Tony reveal their idols to reassure an ally or two? Or will they mistrust their allies’ paranoia to the point that they play their idols?

It’s going to be a tricky call. If either man can get through the first Tribal Council without revealing or playing their idol and keep their alliance intact, they will be in a fantastic position for the end-game. It’s just that that scenario seems a little too good to be true…

Aparri – A Precognitive Whodunnit

The legacy of Luzon continues this week, not just in losing challenges, but also in really, crazily, overthinking things. Tony shouts ‘Top Five’, and everybody rockets to the conclusion that Solana must be expecting somebody to flip. Just one specific person, mind. And that person is guaranteed to flip, so if they get this vote wrong, it’s game over.

The flipper is among us.

OK, so that was (I hope) mostly editing. The truth is, anybody not wearing green is a risk to flip to Solana post-merge, but it’s entirely possible that nobody would have done. Still, for the purposes of that vote, the best rationale to go on was loyalty. Luzon couldn’t be certain anybody will be loyal to them post-merge, but they could assess the threat, and get rid of the person who seems the least likely to stick by them.

I predicted as much last week, and even successfully pegged Alexis as the logical target. (Going to revel in that one while I can, because I don’t expect post-merge logic to be as easy to follow.) Yet it’s truly bizarre that Sarah never seemed to be considered, especially as it’s not clear just what she’s said to Aparri about where she stands.

Sarah doesn’t know herself where she stands of course. One side effect of Tony and Woo giving the clue to Jeremiah is that Sarah was left trying to second-guess their intentions. She was initially disappointed, then thought that perhaps they were trying not to put a target on her back. She’s also worried because they didn’t make any eye contact with her—she doesn’t know if they’ve cut her out or if they think she’s flipped.

This is one of the difficulties with tribal swaps—we saw something similar in China where Peih-Gee tried to whisper to Sherea during a challenge, but Sherea ignored her for fear that her new tribe would notice. Similarly, Alexis said in her interview that she (Alexis) made the mistake of mouthing something to Jefra at the immunity challenge, Tasha noticed it, and that almost certainly factored into her boot.

What we’ve seen of Sarah so far suggests that she’s very good about forming working relationships with everybody on her tribe—and she trusts her judgement above others’, as we saw in this week’s puzzle. I doubt very much that she’s banking on Tony, Woo and Trish welcoming her back with open arms. We’ve also seen just how fast she can give up on an alliance, as she did with Cliff and Lindsey.

After the immunity challenge and the ‘Top five!’ incident, Tasha gave her assessment of Sarah, noting that Tony was clearly talking about his Solana five and that Sarah was pissed. (Tasha was very clear that she’s giving her personal view, so this isn’t necessarily what Sarah has told them.) Tasha believed Sarah is a very loyal person who stands by her word and had a strong relationship with the brawn tribe. Once she was excluded from Solana’s five, she got mad and told the brains: ‘I’m all yours.’ Tasha thought they could trust that.

While I wouldn’t put it past Sarah to be playing the Brains, we can’t disprove Tasha’s theory either. Sarah might well have been perfectly sincere, and though I lack Tasha’s faith that she’ll stay sincere, it probably did make a hell of a lot more sense to keep her over Alexis at that point in time.

However, I’d be surprised if Tony, at least, doesn’t pull her aside after the merge—and a final three deal with Tony and Woo/Trish might be a safer bet than trying to make inroads with the Luzon three (though they would at least be easier to beat in a final immunity). Or maybe she’ll keep her options open, and persuade Tony and Woo to turn on LJ with the promise of taking out a Brain next vote.

One of the biggest differences between her and Alexis is that Sarah has never used flirting as a tactic. That might well have done a lot to lower her profile. In my pre-season assessment of Alexis, I said that that there was more to her than the manic pixie dream girl image she fostered, and it seems Spencer shared my opinion. (Pro-tip to players wanting to hide their intelligence: it’s not something you can keep up long-term. You can play down your IQ, but if you dumb it down, your tribemates will get suspicious of you in the long run.)

In one respect, it made so much sense for Alexis to approach Spencer who shared her metropolis (it’s right out of the Stephen Fishbach Rulebook!) Yet to her tribe, Alexis was the pretty girl hiding brains behind giggles and working on the Brains’ only male. Holy flirt-alert, Batman!

It’s a shame because Alexis was sharp enough. The lesson here? Stop trying to be the next Parvati, ladies, because nobody will want to play with you.

Despite her physique, this has not been a concern for Morgan. Kass said last week that she liked Jeremiah because he wasn’t working the social game; if Alexis’ secret scene is any judge, she must love Morgan. Although Morgan talks up a good game in confessionals, in practice, her game involves laying around in the shelter all day, not talking to anybody. In the online scene, the rest of the tribe discussed her, with Kass particularly fascinated, while Alexis assured them that Morgan did the same thing on Solana as well.

While I would never have predicted this, it makes a lot of sense. We can’t get a feel for Morgan’s relationships with the other players because she hasn’t made any. I suspect this isn’t a deliberate strategy on her part, more likely a reaction to not enjoying herself out there, but it’s similar to what Erik pulled off in Caramoan: don’t talk strategy; be the unthreatening extra vote who isn’t really playing the game.

The problem with this strategy is that there’s really no reason for anybody to vote for her at the end—at least Erik made friends even if he refused to talk game with them. Alexis had already pegged her as a great goat to drag through the game, and unless Morgan literally wakes up, that’s exactly what somebody will do with her.

For now, however, she’s going to be one of the easiest players for the Brains to keep track of and is a perfect fit for Kass’ zombie schemes. (The game going on in Kass’ head is clearly superior to the one we’re watching: it has vengeful rice fairies, benevolent coconut fairies and zombies with crap-for-brains overlords. Not even Tony’s Spy Shack can compete with that!)

As for Jeremiah, he’s up and moving, but I think the whole sequence with the immunity clue proves that Jeremiah is little more than a Walker in this game. His torch hasn’t been snuffed, and might never be, but every time something catches him off guard, he takes the side of apathy, waiting to see what will happen rather than to take the initiative. He hasn’t succeeded in making a case for himself yet, so I can’t see him faring well at a final tribal council.

Jeremiah and Morgan are unlikely to investigate their options, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be approached. They’re not flippers, but in absence of any solid ties to an ex-Luzon member, they might well remain floaters. I don’t see them playing a vital role in the power struggle next episode, but I do expect to see their votes courted in the episodes following it, and I don’t know how reliable either of them will prove to be.

Heading up the Brains

While they’re still disadvantaged by having no connections on the opposite tribe, the Brains are at least retaining their control. It seemed that all three of them were reaching a group decision on the vote, continuing to act as a bloc, but I noticed in Alexis’ secret scene, when the tribe sans Morgan were lounging on the beach, none of the Brains were sat next to each other. Standing united strategically while dividing and conquering socially is exactly what they want to be doing right now.

Was This a Preview of the Reunion?

Who is the leader of the Luzon three?

While it wouldn’t surprise me if they are trying to be on as equal terms with each other as possible for the moment, there is always going to be a hierarchy in Survivor. So who is the leader of the Luzon three? While Spencer took on narrative duties this episode, Alexis perceived Tasha and Kass to be in charge with Spencer following them. Her perception is not necessarily accurate, but it’s logical. Tasha was leading back at Luzon camp, and considering the age gap, it’s unlikely that she and Kass would be elevating Spencer’s judgment above their own.

Moreover, it doesn’t make any sense for Spencer to suddenly break out into a leadership position. He absolutely will need to step up his game post-merge, if we assume Alexis’ view is the majority one, but here and now he needs to keep Tasha and Kass happy that he’s loyal to them and their best interests. Until we see how the power plays shake out at the merge, there is no point putting a target on his own back. Right now, he has security and influence. He can keep his profile low for a couple more episodes.

Of the three brains, I’d say Kass is theoretically in the best position, because she’s got a great strategic relationship with Tasha who’s the overt leader. Kass shares the influence and credit while Tasha gets the target. If there’s an idol play next episode, I would expect Tasha to get the blowback vote.

The problem I see with Kass is that Alexis considered her and Tasha to be a tight, possibly unbreakable, pair. If Tasha wins immunity or is suspected of having an idol, the target will transfer to her righthand woman, Kass. And if anybody’s looking to break up the Brains (instead of letting them cruise unopposed to the final three), they’re going to be talking to Spencer.

I don’t think Kass and Tasha are necessarily completely loyal to each other (though I won’t rule that out), but if the perception is that they are, then that limits their options. Were they not in a power position, their pairing might prove to be an advantage, since they could advertise themselves as a swing voting bloc. However, if they fall from power now, it will be because one of them was voted out, and odds are good that the one who survives might just be starting from scratch. Of course, considering how their game has gone so far, another complete reversal of fortune is exactly what the Brains should be expecting.

Who would the Brains’ likely target be on the rival alliance? Trish is a leader by virtue of bringing that alliance together. If you take Trish out, I don’t think LJ and Tony are standing by each other. On the other hand, Trish isn’t necessarily going to be viewed as the threat here. Tony’s the one visibly playing hard, and as a quiet a game as LJ is playing, his very survival against a brawn majority after leading old Solana is going to put him in the crosshairs.

(NB two out of the three potential targets on Solana is carrying an idol. That puts the odds in Solana’s favor right there even if they don’t discuss the idols with each other in advance.)

I’m not going to make a prediction for who will be going home tomorrow night. Instead, may I draw your attention to a gender role reversal this season? The two power alliances were put together and are (ostensibly) being controlled by women, while it’s the men who are playing a subtler, more reserved game. Granted, it doesn’t seem to make any difference to the editors who are still showing us the game through the eyes of the male players.

So my prediction this week is that I will be referring back to this current dynamic and edit the next time Jeff (or anybody else) wonders why we don’t have more ‘memorable’ female characters on the show. You have been warned.

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