Survivor Blog: Doesn’t Anybody Here Like Mike?

The following is a Survivor Blog from Blogger, Sarah Freeman (@ChannonSarah)

On the face of it, the much promoted, unprecedented deal on this week’s episode of Survivor was kind of a letdown. Kalabaw exchanged their rice for the reward; no alliances were formed, no promises made for the future. Just a food exchange.

On the other hand, this was a perfect illustration of what fascinates me about this show, as everybody in the game had their own different opinion on and reaction to the deal. On the face of it, it seems obvious that trading all your rice for a single meal is a terrible blunder. And yet I’m not sure Kalabaw came off the losers in this one. Shame the same can’t be said for the immunity challenge.

Kalabaw – Happy Together

Oddly enough, the mood in Kalabaw still seems pretty upbeat, even though they’ve lost two members in three days. CBS online videos had a few camplife scenes besides the usual confessionals, in which we see them still joking around, even though confessionals make it clear that everybody’s conscious of the stakes. Another issue that kept getting mentioned in confessionals is that Tandang has had steaks and cookies for reward, while Kalabaw has yet to win a meal.

So winning this reward meant a good deal to them, but they were faced with a very physical challenge and no puzzle element. And while rolling a giant wicker ball around in the mud was a fabulous challenge idea, it ended up in a stalemate for the first point with neither team able to move. Not only that, but Michael, authority on all things injury-related, explained in an online confessional that the wicker on the ball kept breaking, creating jagged edges that took off the skin. He and several Kalabaws were concerned that the challenge would only result in people getting hurt. Falling over in the mud was essentially how Jonathan got himself med-evaced in his previous season, and Kalabaw were all too aware that they couldn’t afford to lose anybody to an injury.

(Tangent: full points to whoever called this challenge Bog Roll. I’m British and was delighted by both the toilet humor and the home slang nostalgia.)

So Jonathan brokered a deal, which is why Jonathan is such good value for this game. He’s got the initiative to think something like that up and the nerve to put it out there. And (this is the key thing) he’s got the social standing to get away with it.

Despite the edit of the episode, Katie confirmed on the Podcast that everybody except for Carter was in agreement with the deal. Both she and Jeff have webclips filmed after the reward saying they were happy with how it turned out, while an extended reward scene online shows Jeff washing the mud off Jonathan’s back and joking with him that he’s secure enough in his manhood to do this.

Perhaps Katie put it best on the podcast, when she said she loved being around Penner, but he was dangerous to play with. For this game, that is the truth of his situation. Everybody knows he’s a threat down the road, but he’s well-liked, and he was not blamed for the reward deal.

The exception to this was Carter, who was reluctant to do the deal in the first place. It’s become clear that Carter is suffering the most from food deprivation. He has very little body fat and lacks the reserves that the others are drawing from. While he probably also benefited the most from the reward, he was the most worried about losing the rice, their known quantity of food, and gambling on fishing success.

This is one way in which the gap between returning players and new ones becomes clear. Jonathan (who is an optimist anyway) was pleased to return with even two tiny fish; everybody got some protein and his effort wasn’t wasted. Carter and Katie were horrified: they had envisioned something much larger to qualify his effort as successful. It’s not that Jonathan was genuinely satisfied with the two fish, but his expectations have been lowered. He appreciates that something is better than nothing and he can try again later anyway. In this way, he’s more resilient than the others, certainly than the younger pair.

Still, the trade off for Kalabaw was a decent one. They finally got a meal, and while it wasn’t a true “We can win” victory, they had the satisfaction of knowing that they were eating it and that Tandang weren’t. They got their letters from home, a reward that’s less easy to appreciate for us at home but one which no Survivor ever wants to miss out on. I wondered if they’d bring that up at the immunity challenge, rub it in for Tandang a little more, especially since Tandang were so obviously divided over the deal in the first place. Sadly, if they did, we didn’t see it.

And while they lost their rice, it was a few days ration that was half-moldy anyway. They have had fishing success already, finding giant clams and such, so I can see why Kalabaw would think it was a good deal. And with the merge apparently coming (presumably the day after Tribal Council), I don’t think losing the rice will hurt them at all in the long run.

Yet I am left with one question… whatever happened to Kalabaw’s chickens?

Sleeping Dogs Lie

The deal did not help them win the immunity challenge, giving Kalabaw another decision about who to vote off. Katie’s departure was straightforward enough. Her main alliance was gone and she was the weakest link in challenges.

I speculated last week on why Jonathan wanted to keep Katie over Dawson to the point of trying to scapegoat Dawson for the challenge loss. This week, we learn from the webclips that she and Jonathan did indeed have some sort of alliance going. Jonathan said to camera at the end of the Return From Tribal Council video that he hoped she could step it up in the challenges because he didn’t know how much longer he could protect her.

Katie herself saw her demise coming, so she decided to try and fight for her place by picking a different target. Not the women’s choice of target, Carter. Not Denise, Dawson’s alternative. Her own choice: Jonathan. Great move; almost worked, since Carter and Jeff seriously considered it.

The thing that interests me is that Jonathan and Katie have been cuddling together at night. (Platonically! This is a long way from Malcolm and Angie – or even Jonathan and Michael.) In Katie’s secret scene, she explains that it’s because he gives off so much body heat, but she hopes that because she sleeps with him every night, he’ll also think that she’s on his side.

Back in Redemption Island, Boston Rob advised the viewing public that they should look at the sleeping arrangements to see what the alliances really are. A mere three seasons later, that advice has become outdated as players use it as a tool of deception. When Jonathan saw Katie’s vote for him at Tribal Council, he laughed aloud. I wonder how much of that was because the two cuddle-buddies turned on each other at the same vote.

It might also have been a “They got me!” reaction, thinking that his name would be on the other votes as well. Jonathan had the nerve to keep his idol in his pocket, and he did not raise his hand when asked who felt they were in danger. Yet he brought his bag and acknowledged that he could be a target.

Again, this blend of confidence and pragmatism is what makes Jonathan such good value for this game. I still don’t think he really has the social game down (as good as he is at getting along with everybody), and unfortunately he has a poor reputation thanks to Cook Islands (though, if you look at it, that season proved that Jonathan is a loyal ally). But I’m thrilled he’s still in it. I worry about Kalabaw’s chances post-merge, but with Jonathan there, I know they’ll at least go down fighting.

He needs to find a closer ally though, because even if Kalabaw seize a voting majority, sooner or later, Jeff will take him out. Right now, he’s got nobody to turn the tables on Jeff, but Jeff has Carter in his pocket. Doubtless Carter doesn’t see it that way, but that’s how Katie called it on the podcast, and I’m thinking this was the reason Carter was the one that Jeff pulled into his alliance with Jonathan. Jeff was also quick to defend Carter’s challenge performance in his webclip, saying that he’s no more a liability than anybody else.

They held off on voting Jonathan out this week, which I’m thinking was the right move. What they really need Jonathan for right now is the idol. They are not going to go into the merge with a majority. They’re going to need every resource available to them to get their alliance back in power, and that includes the idol. Voting Jonathan out on the chance that the idol would be put back into play and they could find it before a merge would be an incredible gamble.

Aside from that, as Carter has suggested a few times, Jonathan becomes the target if he’s still around. If Tandang take anybody out, it’s going to be Jonathan (assuming they don’t hedge their bets for fear of an idol). In theory, keeping Jonathan grants Carter and Jeff three more days to turn their game around, post-merge.

Aren’t we forgetting somebody?

Perhaps the most significant thing about all this scrambling is that Denise was not involved in any way, shape or form. Her name wasn’t brought up seriously for voting, to the point that Carter even forgot to use it when he infamously asked Jonathan: “Katie or Penner?” (This is exactly the sort of dumb thing I’d do on Survivor.) And although Katie tried to raise Denise’s suspicions of Jonathan, Carter and Jeff made no attempt to get the therapist’s opinion on the vote.

In one way, it’s very smart of them not to trust the newcomer with a big blindside just yet. Had they decided to vote Jonathan off, she could have been left out of the vote altogether, though I’m sure Katie told her to vote for Jonathan. Katie would need her own ally against Carter and Jeff.

Still between the immunity challenge and Tribal Council, Denise was on her own, and I’m sure she felt it. There was a reason that she raised her hand at Tribal Council. Perhaps it was simply gameplay, promoting a humble image for the benefit of her new allies, but I think she meant it.

This could be a huge problem for Kalabaw. They’ve chosen to keep Denise over their original tribe members, but they need to give her a reason to stay loyal to them and not flip to Tandang’s majority. Katie confirmed that Denise told them she’d bring Malcolm onto their side and also confirmed that Denise is playing a great social game, making people feel she was on their side. But from Katie’s account, while the girls gave Denise a reason to trust them, the guys were “sketchy.” Katie’s a hopelessly biased observer in this instance, but there is absolutely no evidence that any of the men have made that investment in Denise’s trust or strategized with her beyond Jeff’s initial approach last episode.

Of course, it’s possible that while Jeff and Carter were discussing their vote, Jonathan was telling Denise to vote for Katie and simultaneously grooming her as his replacement ally. However, I don’t think that Denise, however humble she’s acting, fits Jonathan’s criteria for finals material. If she makes it to the end, she’ll have attended every tribal council of the game (actually, if the jury starts next week, she’ll attend all of them regardless), and that underdog story combined with her social game will make her insanely difficult to beat.

Sadly, this will be the case whoever she aligns with. Denise was probably my favorite before the game started, and now I am definitely rooting for her over anybody else, but I don’t see her pulling it off. She’s been fighting an uphill battle since the game began, so I won’t count her out, but… Dangit.

Tandang – There’s Something About Michael

So to Tandang and their side of the deal: the mystery bag of rice that turned out to be emptier and moldier than they hoped. Of course, as Michael explained on Twitter: “FTR, the strategy was as much 2 feed my tribe as 2 eliminate their food supply. Low food=low energy=tandangwin.” That point was still valid, no matter the state of the rice.

Actually, I think the biggest problem that Tandang had with the deal was that Michael negotiated it. It’s definitely telling that the people who were angry about the deal were Pete, Abi and Artis, the three who have previously expressed dislike of Michael. Michael’s friends, Lisa and RC, were the ones who were fine with it. (Malcolm stuck to neutral ground.) Things might have gone very differently had Jonathan had his hand between Pete’s legs, even if Pete had made the same deal.

Now I said at the top of the article that I felt Tandang came off better in the deal on paper. I also think that if you don’t speak up with your opinion at the time of the decision, you don’t get to complain afterwards. But, you know what? I’m not taking sides on this one. I made that mistake with Savaii in South Pacific and honestly, on Tandang, I don’t think there are any innocent parties. There are certainly underdogs, but that’s not the same thing.

In episode, RC reported that Pete, Abi and Artis were saying nasty things; in a webclip, Pete felt RC was catty. We are at the whims of the edit when it comes down to seeing the proof of these accusations, but I would like to quote a webclip where Pete spits his full malice at his tribe in confessional: “My tribe is a bunch of… er… people who like to give up.”

This, dear reader, is why Pete will never be the next Russell Hantz (thank God). It’s also a reminder that nobody on Tandang kills kittens for fun.

Despite the edit, we don’t have heroes or villains on Tandang, and I have sympathy for people on both sides. Artis and Pete both feared that Kalabaw would gain momentum with this “win” (In his webclips, Artis has been all about the challenges and demoralizing Kalabaw since the start of the game); Michael felt that they had continued their streak of always walking away from a challenge with something. Pete took in what Jonathan said about fishing and worried that Kalabaw were succeeding with their boat and fishing kit where Michael was failing; Michael pointed out that fishing was always going to be a big quick question mark, whereas the rice was a confirmed meal. RC and Michael were both concerned about somebody getting hurt, particularly Abi with her bad knee – though Michael added that the jury was still out on whether she really did have a bad knee.

Of course, all these arguments were laid out in confessionals, in private. The whole thing reminds me of the Manono tribe in episode four of One World, when they had to make a unanimous decision to give up immunity to Salani. At least four of the tribe (Jonas, Michael, Jay and the ultimately voted off Bill) had serious misgivings about the deal, but nobody had the nerve to speak up at the time that the decision was made. At least Tandang didn’t do anything as daft as give away immunity, but emotions are running too high at camp, and for this week at least, the trigger for those emotions was Michael.

I spent a lot of time last week trying to figure out why half of Tandang disliked Michael so much. This week, the editors decided to give me an answer: it’s because Michael eats uncooked rice. Michael refutes this on Twitter, claiming that they all ate the rice uncooked: “We all eat raw rice, all day 4energy. It’s rare we get a fire going bc if the constant rain.” We don’t have anybody backing him up on this, but it sounds probable enough to me. More likely the rice incident was an easier way for the cameras to illustrate a larger problem with Michael: that he’s eating too much.

Michael’s comment that chickens eat the rice uncooked reminds me of how Kucha snacked on chicken feed like trail mix in Australia. I can’t remember the exact provisions they had in Australia, but besides the chicken feed (and chickens), they were given flour. Rice too? And Michael was big on hunting in that season. Is it possible that Michael is finding himself on tighter rations this season and is having more trouble making the adjustment than the newer players?

But even this can only be part of the issue. Quoting Pete again, “Mike never listens to anybody ever. Mike does what Mike wants, and it always screws everybody over.” He also added that he didn’t want to go along with the deal but he was fed up of trying to voice an opinion against Michael.

Based on that, my suggestion last week, that Michael was making similar mistakes to Russell, was right on the money. Of course, those are just Pete’s feelings. The more volatile Artis said in his webclip (He Should Stay Far Away) that he couldn’t risk talking to Michael because he’d only blow up. Abi is, as usual, more bothered about RC.

Tribal Dysfunction

For her own part, RC didn’t care about the deal, but was utterly delighted at the dynamic of the argument and how much it revealed (No One Asked Me). Nobody asked her or Lisa for their opinion, which she interpreted to mean that they were at the bottom of the totem pole. It’s safe to assume that she pointed this out to Lisa later.

The problem (which RC likely does not consider a drawback) is that Kalabaw could see the dynamic as well. In Entertainment Weekly’s deleted scene, Malcolm says it only takes twenty minutes at Tandang camp to see the fractures; I don’t think Kalabaw needs even that. If Kalabaw had any sense at all (and they do), they were making note of exactly how the argument went down and have picked out their most likely post-merge allies already.

Although RC has worried the most about tribal unity, she is not the only person on Tandang who’s thinking about it. Abi-Maria, of all people, had a confessional discussing RC, in which she talked about wanting to get rid of her, but equally they had to keep the numbers strong for after the merge, even if Kalabaw were two down. Artis is not doing a very good job of keeping a lid on his temper, but he’s trying, and Pete is attempting to keep both him and Abi calm. Even Malcolm reports that everybody talks nicely and smiles around the campfire, even if the tensions below the surface are obvious.

They’re just all doing a terrible job. Even RC comes over passive-aggressive when she takes Michael’s side in a discussion. (Remember when Abi and Michael disagreed over the salt?) Michael revealed that they’ve argued over everything they’ve won. A frustrated Pete declared that Tribal Council was the place to get everything off their chests. I’d disagree; Tribal Council, with Probst needling you to reveal too much, is a terrible place to get things off your chests. Far better to talk it out around the campfire in a calm, controlled fashion. However, people don’t work like that, and perhaps Tandang is a perfect example of how necessary an evening of Probst-therapy is.

Ultimately, Tandang got some more rice out of the deal, and the concerns that it would give Kalabaw the morale boost to win immunity proved unfounded. Yet my verdict is that they got the raw side of it, because it widened the rifts between them and, more importantly, revealed those strained relationships to Kalabaw. That’s going to hurt somebody’s game in the long run, and might just prove RC a prophet in her earlier claim that nobody from Tandang can win.

What about the short term dynamics? Pete tried to put a silver lining on the deal by noting that now everybody hated Michael, so it would be easier to get rid of him, although in his other webclip, he stated that getting rid of RC would be the best thing for the tribe, because Michael doesn’t know what he’s doing. The consensus of his group seems to be that Michael’s annoying but RC’s more dangerous. Abi has noticed that RC is trying to get Malcolm, Lisa and Artis over to their side, but like Pete last week, she’s confident that it won’t work because they have the numbers.

While I’m sure that Artis won’t flip, and Malcolm is continuing to put off his decision about which alliance to join, Pete and Abi clearly have a blind spot where Lisa is concerned. Contrary to Pete’s claim of unanimity against Michael, Lisa likes him and took his side over the deal. It was clear from Lisa’s confessional that she was aware of the problems everybody else had with the deal, so it’s likely at least one of Artis, Pete or Abi has vented to her. However, it seems she’s kept her own cards close to her chest, leaving the perception of herself as a sympathetic figure.

To be completely accurate, we don’t know how Lisa feels about Michael and RC thirteen days in. She certainly liked Michael early on, and seemed more interested in aligning with him but it was Pete who actually made an offer to her. As I said last week, the fact that Malcolm even considers siding with RC suggests that Lisa must be open to flipping too. However, she also knows that RC was targeting her early on, and another confessional this week (Finally Getting to Play) shows that she’s tired of sitting out in favor of RC playing, complaining that she’s stronger than RC in some things.

Nevertheless, she was always keen on improving her social connections with RC, and RC was genuinely delighted in how successfully Lisa tackled Denise in the challenge. There is a friendship there now. We also know from next week’s previews that she’s made a good bond with Malcolm. Right now, I’d say that Lisa is playing the best game of the entire tribe, because no matter how things fall, she’s going to be able to side with the majority. Her greatest problem will be to find a group that will take her to the end.

That brings us back to Pete, who still feels confident that he can control the game from here to the end. Personally, I wouldn’t place any bets on what will happen post-merge, but it can’t be denied that Pete is in the best position of anybody right now. He’s on the dominant tribe, he has the majority within the tribe, and he’s more popular than his volatile allies. This week, Pete has cooled off on his passion for Malcolm, saying he doesn’t know who he’ll take to the final three and noting that it might well be Abi and Artis. But he’s keeping his options open to players from the other tribe as well – the only person he’s ruling out now is lovable Lisa.

Perhaps this is why Pete seems less worried about staying united after the merge than his tribemates. He’s confident that he can play Kalabaw’s finest and control or isolate them like he has Tandang. I don’t think he’s planning on a straight pagonging.

Merge speculation

Before the season started, my guess was that the two smallest tribes would band together to take out the dominant one, and the winner would come from the second biggest tribe at the merge. Seeing as the combined forces of Matsing and Kalabaw still can’t defeat Tandang’s majority, that theory’s gone out the window, but we’re left with a number of possible scenarios.

  • Tandang’s ruling powers could target the greatest Kalabaw threats, such as Jeff or Jonathan.
  • An over-confident Tandang might decide they’re going to go ahead and get rid of RC or Michael now, just because they finally can.
  • Some combination of Kalabaw and Matsing could work with RC and Michael to bring down Pete or Abi.
  • The idol-flushing game will play out, with just about anybody being targeted as the players try to out-logic the Princess Bride’sSicilian.
  • Pete’s crew might ensure their majority by targeting the most likely flipper (Malcolm?), as happened with Matt Elrod in Redemption Island.

With this group, just about anything could happen. It seems impossible that Tandang can hold together, but crazier tribes have done it (Casaya from Exile Island being a prime example). I’ll be back next week to discuss the new dynamic. Meanwhile, let me know anything I’ve missed in the comments below!

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