Guest Post: Is Creating Pre-Merge Chaos a Good Strategy on Survivor?


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

United We Stand, Divided I Conquer

Another week, another Matsing loss. I think my feelings on that are best summed up by the look Dawson gave them as she departed the challenge with Kalabaw. At this point, there are no words.

Constant defeat is not only having a negative effect on Matsing, of course. The aggressive players on Kalabaw and Tandang are strategizing into the void, constantly preparing for a Tribal Council that never comes, dividing and re-dividing their alliances to keep themselves in a safe position. At the same time, they need to keep a united front in anticipation of some form of merge. This limbo must be frustrating for them. They are ready to play the game – which is what Matt Quinlan said, a few hours before he found himself voted off One World.

Not that Matsing have been given any kind of opportunity to play the game, of course.

Matsing – United but Fallen

There’s not much to say about Matsing’s strategy here, because they’re at the point where there can be minimal scrambling and paranoia. It’s easy for the entire tribe to keep track of who is talking to who, and Russell was a fairly obvious choice, with the only spanner in the works being an immunity idol he didn’t even have. I was tremendously pleased to see both Malcolm and Denise talk to him about voting out the other. Obviously, that was essential if they wanted to blindside him, but more importantly, each attempted to make sure they would not fall victim to the idol.

Denise won that little competition, of course. If Russell had had an idol to play, Malcolm would have gone home. If Malcolm had wanted to turn against Denise himself, he didn’t have the votes to do it. The reason for that lies in the social rather than the strategic game, and part of it is, no doubt, demographics. Denise and Russell are closer in age, but Russell said in the podcast that he could tell Malcolm was a player from day one and he didn’t trust him – which might explain why he and Malcolm hadn’t discussed strategy since the first day. Malcolm came into this game planning to do more or less what Pete is doing over on Tandang; it seems he’s a little too transparent.

That’s largely irrelevant right now, because Malcolm isn’t in a position to play a strategic game. Matsing have to be prepared for the producers not to have any kind of reshuffle before a merge at twelve, leaving Malcolm and Denise to battle it out to the bitter end. If they lose again, the only way for either of them to avoid a fire-making tiebreaker is to find the immunity idol, yet the previews suggest that the two of them are searching for it together (using a different clue to the one Russell went home with). Perhaps each would rather take the gamble of the tie-breaker and save the idol for a post-merge scenario, seeing as the last surviving Matsing would need any advantage they could get. It’s a big risk to take, but there has to be a lot of solidarity between these two, and I’d be surprised if either of them wasn’t thinking: “If I don’t make it, I want you to win.”

Of course, that sentiment should probably be qualified by Malcolm’s likelihood of winning a fire-making contest. Denise did practice before going on the show, but we learned from Malcolm’s webclip that the fire he and Russell started in the first hour has only gone out once, so it’s not like Denise has had chance to practice since.

Assuming they do find the idol and one or both of them survive to a merge or reshuffle, they could sell their new tribe an entirely plausible story of the idol being played already. For example, Denise could have played it at the previous Tribal Council when Malcolm and Russell decided they needed to keep male brute strength in the tribe. If they wanted, they could try to spin that out as far as saying they don’t trust each other since that event. But while Malcolm might like such a complicated plot, Denise has her ‘keep it simple, keep it smart,’ motto, and I’m not sure that it’s really worth the effort of pretending they’re not an allied pair.

The fact is, Malcolm and Denise’s destiny at any kind of merge is to be a swing vote. They will be wooed by the players of Kalabaw and Tandang in the battle for the majority. I hope they’re planning for this, especially in the event of the pair of them being split between two (or three) tribes and reuniting at the merge. One could ally with Tandang against Kalabaw and the other could choose Kalabaw over Tandang, or perhaps simply target the biggest strategic and/or challenge threats. If they plan ahead effectively, they could reunite at the merge having marked out who the bottom feeders of the alliances are, and then pull these into a new alliance with themselves at the center. Of course, if the merge is at twelve, it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to whittle down the numbers effectively beforehand, but a tribal shuffle followed by a late merge could serve Malcolm and Denise very well.

Kalabaw – The Next Generation

Jonathan’s idol play has worked beautifully. Jeff is now totally on board with working with Jonathan and is seeking to prove his own usefulness to the alliance by bringing in his favored young people. Yes, the storyline of the older men has finally hit a lull, and it’s time to speculate in earnest on the youth of the tribe.

While Jonathan maintains that he has made good connections with his tribe, Jeff clearly believes that he’s made better ones, and his view is supported by Dawson who described them as a five-strong alliance against Jonathan. At least they were, up until Jeff brought Carter on board with Jonathan. Three doesn’t make up the numbers, so my assumption there is that Dana is supposed to be their fourth, based on her athleticism and bond with Jeff.

Carter claims in his CBS webclip this week that he had decided he wanted to keep Jonathan rather than target him even before Jeff talked to him about it. That could be him spinning an “I’m not a sheep!” story for the cameras, but I wonder if there’s also something happening to make Carter and Jeff more interested in voting out one of the women.

Interestingly, Carter vaguely referred to “one of the girls or Dawson or something.” Does Dawson get a separate mention because he likes her better than the other girls or because he likes her less? I do think it’s significant that the alliance consists of the three players who have played every challenge. It’s going to be hard for them to feel that Dawson or Katie (who has done two challenges, but admits to doing the least work around camp) deserve to stick around. Of course, Survivor is not about who is or isn’t deserving, but unless they start casting robots, that’s always going to influence players’ decisions.

The main problem that the men have is that Dana, their most likely candidate for the fourth member of the challenge alliance, is wary of the men going off and talking together. She’s forging her own alliance, starting with Dawson and Katie, making it… [insert dramatic pause] … a women’s alliance.

The Dreaded Women’s Alliance

People tend to make a big deal out of women’s alliances and whether they’re a good idea or not, but honestly, they usually only happen by default, such as Vanuatu and South Pacific – even Fans vs Favorites since the alternative was for Parvati and Cirie to let Ozzy or James win. Once an all-female alliance is established, somebody invariably and regrettably trots out the ‘Girl Power’ battle cry, but on your average season, your average female player is limiting herself too much by seeking allies from a specific gender.

In Kalabaw’s case, the women have again gathered by default though Dana went into the game with the goal of turning on the alpha males at the right time, and is suggesting gathering the other women after the merge. I am less confident that the other tribes’ women will be compatible with Dana’s plans, but she seems quite satisfied with Dawson and Katie as her allies. Last week, Katie rated herself as the most strategic woman, but Jonathan felt she was a good finals opponent, and I’m guessing Dana is of the latter mindset. Meanwhile, Dawson has always intended to play the social rather than the strategic game – although she got a confessional explaining the new alliance, I don’t recall her saying anything meaningful when Dana pitched it to them. Taken at face value, these two seem perfect minions for Dana’s dreams of mid- to end-game leadership.

There are two questions here. Firstly, who is the fourth person to make up their voting majority? Secondly, is this too early to turn on the alpha males? I suspect the answer to both is that Dana’s just preparing the ground. She’s making sure she’s got back-up for the move she’d like to make. Going by the Entertainment Weekly deleted scene, she doesn’t sound interested in targeting Jeff just yet, so perhaps all she intends is to keep Jonathan as the target, should they go to Tribal Council, and otherwise, to keep the women motivated to trust her over Jeff.

As far as we can tell, Jeff brought Carter on board with Jonathan before talking to Dana about it (Jeff has previously alluded to both of them as potential allies), and Dana might be growing wary of how close the two of them are. If she’s got the girls, she’s got the majority in their group of five. More importantly, she’s forging an alliance with herself at the top rather than settling for fourth in the men’s alliance.

The more far-fetched option is that they’re planning to bring in Jonathan and his idol. I don’t see Jonathan doing it, but they might think it worth a try.

But this is all a theory on Dana’s plans. I expect Katie’s happy to play the role of her strategic partner, but what about our social player? Dawson has been watching from the sidelines for the entire game, not just the challenges, observing and filing the information away for when she might want to use it. Will she ever use it? At some point, she’ll need to move from passive to active, and I really hope she does, if only to see a different type of player jump into the fray. For her own sake, she might need to step up soon to rid herself of an ‘undeserving’ label.

This week marks the first time Dawson’s been attached to an alliance, and really, I’m reluctant to count on that considering how non-committal she’s been all game. I think it more likely that Dawson’s happy to go along with Dana’s alliance, but she’d be equally happy to jump onto a different one if that looked like working out better. I’m sure she’ll have options. I mentioned her look back to Matsing at the top of the article; when she gave that look and that wave, she was behind the rest of Kalabaw and Tandang had already left. In other words, nobody saw her gesture but Matsing. Nobody could get suspicious that she was buddying up to another tribe, but she got her brief connection with them, and when you have so little else to go on, these small gestures are often remembered in Survivor. Back in Nicaragua at the very first challenge, Na’Onka and Holly grabbed an opportunity to introduce themselves to each other; come the tribal shuffle four episodes later, Holly picked Na’Onka to join her tribe entirely because of that exchange.

Chances are, Dawson wasn’t intending all of that with her look, but I continue to like her as a social gamer. She’s not in a great position at the moment, but assuming she doesn’t fall victim to a power struggle in Kalabaw, I think she’ll get the opportunity to stir up the game. We’ll just have to see if she’ll take that initiative.

Tandang – Conqueror vs Fallen

On the CBS website this week, RC and Pete each have a video discussing the state of the tribe after the clue to the hidden immunity idol was discovered in RC’s bag. In Pete’s (I planted a seed) he is absolutely delighted with the fact that “everybody is at war with each other”. As he said in episode, he wants to keep everybody on their toes so that they can’t play their game, they have to play his. In RC’s (I don’t know what’s going on) she is emphatic that nobody is going to win from their tribe because they are falling apart.

The thing is, both of them have entirely valid viewpoints, and that’s reflected in the title of this article. So what exactly is happening on the Tandang tribe?

Pete’s planting of the idol-clue was not pre-meditated. He had taken it from RC and Abi’s hiding place out of his own curiosity, wanting a chance to look at it himself. When he noticed RC’s bag spilling open, he stuck it in with her things more or less on impulse, knowing it would make Abi even more angry with RC. What he got was a public showdown between the two of them with the whole tribe now aware that RC had found the clue and had betrayed some agreement with Abi.

That was one of the most successful aspects of this little ploy. Lisa discussed the event in her own confessional, Play Both Sides, and never once questioned that RC had put the clue in the bag herself, because she knows RC is playing hard. I expect all of Tandang believe RC was going behind Abi’s back, with the possible exception of Michael since Pete described the situation as “RC and Mike vs everybody else.” That kind of double-dealing is what goes on in Survivor after all.

RC can’t figure it out herself. She assumed Abi put it there for some reason, (Abi being unpredictable and all), but she’s reaching the conclusion that if Abi is so angry about RC’s betrayal, her surprise might be genuine. Her rather shaky theory now is that it’s a new clue from a reward that somebody else slipped into her bag, but that should be easily disproved by the fact that the original clue has disappeared from their hiding place. I’m not sure if RC will work out that Pete is the most likely person for Abi to tell about their hiding place, or if she’ll just assume somebody else stumbled across the clue and planted it in her bag.

That’s not her focus now anyway. RC’s biggest problem is not figuring out what happened but in repairing her alliance. She’s well-aware of the social game, and although she doesn’t mention it specifically, it’s likely that she’s anticipating a merge or tribal reshuffle, and she wants to keep her tribe strong for that. After all, they still don’t have the numbers over Kalabaw, and if Tandang are too worried about targeting each other, it’s Kalabaw that’s going to come out on top when the merge hits.

The trouble is that what she’s doing isn’t working. She keeps trying to talk it out with Abi, but Abi (in the ironically titled I Know What’s Up video) does not want to waste her time listening to RC spinning a story. She actually feels that RC is bullying her by pushing her to talk. Abi’s well aware that she has a short temper and wants to get a break from RC’s insistence on revisiting an issue that makes her angry. Meanwhile, RC believes that she can’t fix what’s wrong if she and Abi can’t talk it through. They’re at a stalemate.

Chaos Comes With a Bonus

This is great for Pete. Last week, he wanted to neutralize RC by taking out Michael, yet this has neutralized her as effectively as anything else could. Everybody believes she betrayed Abi, and everybody is probably irritated with her for not just admitting it to Abi and letting the camp calm down again. There is absolutely no reason for Abi, Lisa or Artis to drift back towards RC’s alliance again. Right now, she has no power in the tribe.

I would also like to note that while Pete’s taking a leaf from Russell Hantz’s book, sowing chaos in the tribe, he’s doing a better job of it in my opinion. Russell interfered with the tribe’s physical well-being, and that was probably a factor in Foa-Foa’s losing streak. Pete is leaving the camp alone and framing people for aggressive gameplay. He’s spread mistrust rather than misfortune. Both men benefited from the chaos, but Pete’s tribe has stayed strong with him.

Of course, Russell still got to the end, and that was partly because Galu got Tribal Council withdrawal and turned on their own with rabid enthusiasm. This is why RC is right to panic that their tribe is too disjointed to survive the merge. Even Pete needs RC to keep their numbers strong against Kalabaw, and his big mistake was in pushing her back when she turned to him for an explanation. He’s taking pleasure in the fact that she’s so confused, but he should still pretend to be sympathetic. Similarly he needs to build some sort of bridge between Abi and RC now. He’s got what he wanted and he should be working on reminding his alliance that they all need to present a united front in case of a tribal swap. They can get rid of RC and Michael once they’ve got rid of the threats on Kalabaw.

That said, I need to add the qualifier here that Pete isn’t just about winning the overall game. I have no doubt that he does want to win, that he fully expects to, but let’s go back to what he said on his profile:

I want to be the alpha male. This show is predominately [sic] about who is the leader of the pack and that’s me.

As a wise guy once pointed out to me, although Russell Hantz has never won the title of Sole Survivor, he’s been a big Survivor winner in terms of money and infamy. This, I think, is just as important for Pete. He doesn’t just want to win, he wants to be the big character as well. I’m sure he’d love to be the Boston Rob of the season, but I’m also sure that he’d rather be the Russell than the Natalie.

I’m not optimistic that he’ll be either winner or fan favorite right now, but his decision to play the game so hard so fast has given Tandang a lot of air-time they wouldn’t otherwise have received, and his moves aren’t as ridiculous as, say, giving immunity to the other tribe (nor for that matter has he felt the need to say outrageously crude and offensive things in a bid for camera-time). So I’m happy enough with Pete at this point, and I love how interesting he’s making Tandang – even as I feel sorry for RC whose game has been destroyed almost as thoroughly as Denise’s and Malcolm’s.

Actually, you should be here to make friends

Is there any hope for RC at this point? I would say yes, and its name is Lisa. Lisa has correctly gauged the dynamics between RC and Abi, and knows that RC needs to step back and give Abi space. I noticed that both Abi and RC were venting to Lisa when they were angry, and that she kept her composure while they did so. She has a bond with both women, indeed RC stated on her facebook page that by episode three, she and Lisa had become very close.

RC also described Lisa as having a day one “sub-alliance” with Michael, presumably secondary to Michael’s day one alliance of four and Lisa’s later alliance of four. This week Lisa’s maintaining that while Pete and Abi are her alliance, she will not cross RC off her list of options. Basically, Lisa’s in a great position. She’s made an alliance with everybody except RC, who she’s formed a bond with. If Lisa takes that bond a step further and starts giving RC advice on her relationship with Abi, she might just get herself that last alliance she’s been looking for.

As with last week, just having Lisa wouldn’t give RC and Michael the numbers. Artis (like Michael) seemed to keep out of the drama at camp, and we still don’t knowwho he’s bonded with – possibly nobody. My guess is that he might get on best with Pete, but that’s based more on a lack of evidence against it than anything else. I don’t think he’ll be willing to shift to RC and Michael after the idol clue fiasco.

When it comes down to it, neither of the older men has meddled with the politics at camp so far, and I don’t expect them to start now. But if they can steer clear of Tribal Council, and if RC can give Abi some breathing room, perhaps they can all tolerate each other long enough for RC and Lisa to rope in a friendly Matsing (Denise for choice) and become a majority at final seven.

The final observation on Tandang is that nobody has noticed the immunity idol has disappeared. At one point, I’m sure I saw the rice-barrel in the background with a coconut bowl on top, right where the motif would have been. Did Pete and/or Abi put that there to make the empty spot less noticeable? Was it always there? Obviously, it’s going to get removed whenever anybody opens the barrel, but presumably Pete or Abi could try and be the person to make the rice for a little while until the rooster decoration has faded from memory.

Of course, now that the entire tribe has heard the clue, hiding the empty spot is no longer necessary. Anybody could have found the idol, and if the tribe realizes it has been found, paranoia will ramp up even more, which I’m sure will delight Pete at least.

So when all is said and done, who is united and who seems destined to fall? Well, Matsing are out of contention, since they’re so small, there’s no reason not to be united, but out of the two big powers, my guess is that Kalabaw is the stronger tribe, the tribe more likely to stick together (I’ll ignore the potential med-evac that the promos are playing up). That said, Tandang’s pro-active and enthusiastic players might just beat Kalabaw to the Matsing swing votes. In other words, I’m copping out of predictions on this one.

So that’s that until next week! Feel free to comment below, or talk to me on Twitter.

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