Survivor: Cambodia

The Survivor Strategic Game: Don’t Get Too Comfortable

We’re only three episodes into this season, and I’m already enjoying how the producers are messing with the formula. It’s too easy for these players to form a solid alliance and coast. The move from two tribes to three probably won’t be the last time this cast is thrown off their games. The early change-up meant that tribal bonds were less secure and could lead to unpredictable results down the road. This twist forced people to adapt and stay ahead of the curve or risk a quick exit. There’s no simple model for adjusting to poor circumstances; sometimes there’s no escape. This time, all it took was being active and seizing the right opportunity.

The three-tribe format is tricky because it removes the margin for error. Even a 4-2 edge in the numbers can be removed with just one change. Once the split becomes 3-3, a wise player may switch alliances to avoid drawing rocks. Tasha and Savage faced an uphill battle, but it was hardly insurmountable. They were joining a group with plenty of dissension from the game’s first six days. Abi and Peih-Gee had voted together during the first two Tribal Councils, but it was only a matter of time before they targeted each other directly.

Only Woo stuck with Peih-Gee when the tide shifted against her. Only Woo stuck with Peih-Gee when the tide shifted against her this week.[/caption]

On the surface, the former Ta Keo members at Angkor should have stuck together if they had any interest in re-uniting with their original tribe. Given all the fractures during the first two votes, few beyond Woo cared about unity. The Bayon members have numbers advantages on both of the other tribes, so they’ll probably maintain their overall edge into the next swap. Varner has already played like a free agent, so he’ll just keep maneuvering to stay alive. This may not be a good long-term strategy, but it’s allowed him to dodge some major hurdles.

The Trouble with Abi

It’s easy to criticize players for not voting out Abi-Maria. Shirin and Peih-Gee have already discovered the dangers of aligning with her. She may join you for a vote, but a long-term alliance is unlikely. It made total sense for Savage and Tasha to court Abi this week, however. They were on the bottom, and enticing a volatile player was fairly easy. Even before Peih-Gee targeted her, Abi was good with voting for Varner. She’s like a ping pong ball that keeps switching the people she dislikes. Next week, she could decide that Savage is an arrogant jerk and want to remove him. In the five-person Angkor tribe, Abi will have a lot of power.

Players need to be wary of putting too much faith in Abi.

Players need to be wary of putting faith in Abi.

When does Abi become a liability who needs to leave? If Angkor goes to Tribal Council next week, I think that’s the right time to remove her from the equation. Woo will follow the prevailing winds, and Varner is easier to align with than Abi. As a two-person bloc, Tasha and Savage have a lot of influence on what happens next. Abi is unlikely to work with Woo since he voted for her twice, so the danger of them joining Varner is pretty low. She’s the least rational player around, and it’s best to avoid this hurricane at all costs.

The interesting part about Abi is how much influence she’s had over the game so far. Abi has voted with the numbers all three times and played a huge role in the past two exits. She has little chance to win but is definitely following the mantra of not getting too comfortable. Given Peih-Gee’s fate, people may be nervous about battling Abi directly. They’d be wise to keep plans to vote her out a secret or risk becoming the next target. I wouldn’t want to end up in that spot. Abi isn’t playing a good game, but she’s definitely been a dangerous opponent.

The Gambler

Production must love what Varner has brought to this season. He’s great TV and is actively playing the game. There’s a reason we’ve seen so much of Varner and so little of Monica and Keith. How can you not love a guy who flicks off thunderstorms? He’s going after everyone, including the clouds! The question with Varner’s approach is how long it can last. Few players can tear through the game from the start and not get stopped eventually. This isn’t a season of newbies, and Varner’s style was exposed to everyone after the challenge this week.

Varner escaped a tight spot this week, but can his luck last?

Varner escaped a tight spot this week, but can his luck last far into the game?

I’m not 100% sure what Varner was mouthing to Kelly Wigglesworth after the challenge, but it seemed to involve her working with Kimmi and Monica. Regardless, it was far too big a gamble for that moment. Angkor had just lost and was heading to Tribal Council that night. Varner got way too cute and could have been eliminated based on the move. He survived this time but is still on the radar as a potential threat. He also called out his alliance with Kelly (assuming people caught it), which puts her in more danger if Bayon loses a challenge.

We didn’t see Varner scrambling to save his game, but I expect he didn’t spend the day in the shelter. In her exit interview with Rob, Peih-Gee confirmed that Varner was working hard to recover from his gaffe. It isn’t going to get any easier, however. He’s been a key part of each move so far, and that could play a role in his demise. Will Tasha and Savage see the value in working with Varner? She called him out as a rat, though it was more about self-preservation. They are focused on reconnecting with Bayon allies like Joe and Jeremy in the long run. They may use Varner to remove Abi or Woo, but he doesn’t seem like a reliable partner.

Charting a New Course

The other new tribes both ended up with 4-2 advantages for the former Bayon members. Unlike Ta Keo, that group seems more likely to stick together and vote as a bloc. We didn’t see much from Terry or Kelly in terms of their adjustments. He was thrilled to have the “number one draft picks” and didn’t seem worried about Tribal Council. Despite his talk about improving the social game, Terry is mostly the same guy. He’s still focusing on winning challenges, which is okay to a point. I thought the editing was setting him up for a fall; Terry looked very arrogant in multiple confessionals. Surprisingly, his excitement about Ta Keo’s skills appeared to be accurate.

Terry may survive a Tribal Council on Ta Keo due to his challenge strength, and there’s only a slim chance they’d finish last. On Bayon, Kelly should have a tougher battle. We’ve already seen Spencer connecting with Jeremy and actively working to bond with the majority. His move to show his feelings was comical yet seemed to have the desired effect. It worked because Spencer told a true story and didn’t make up something ridiculous. His intentions weren’t noble, but he had the right idea. I don’t suspect that Kelly will be willing to open up and make that type of connection. The little bit we’ve seen has shown a business-like personality.

The other player in a tricky spot is Kelley Wentworth, who joined Terry on the new Ta Keo. The idol gives her one trump card, but she’d certainly prefer to avoid using it. If challenge strength is valued, she might be able to slip by Ciera or Kass in the pecking order. Neither has ruffled any feathers, so it might be tough for Kelley to replace them in the alliance. Her best move is to ensure they keep winning challenges and undermine Terry whenever possible. We already saw her attempts to throw him under the bus (along with a fun confessional) about the idol. Whatever Kelley can do to avoid being considered a target is wise. She should also work to form a bond with Joe, who’s only two years younger and may want to connect with an attractive girl. Adapting is the key to success, and Kelley’s on the right track to regain a good position.

Who’s in the best position?

Jeremy had a great week and isn't going anywhere.

Jeremy had a great week and isn’t going anywhere.

Jeremy: I’ve yet to mention Jeremy’s deft approach to securing the idol during the challenge. The others were too focused on the task at hand and never saw him. Jeremy wisely kept the idol clue to himself and recognized the importance of staying quiet. He’s already secured a solid alliance with Joe and Savage and also seems comfortable with Stephen and Spencer. Bayon includes four previous Bayon members, and no one is gunning for Jeremy. He should be in good shape for quite a while and is playing a smart game.

Joe: I did not expect that Joe would make this spot even once this season. The target on him was too large, and he’s only made it bigger with his play so far. That said, Joe is set up with the perfect group on Ta Keo. Terry loves alpha males, Kass seems relieved she isn’t the target, and Kelley is too careful to go after him. Even if they lose a challenge, Joe has enough allies to avoid the vote. His time should come after the merge, but I see little reason to doubt he’ll make it.

Who’s in trouble?

Abi's had plenty to smile about so far, but she's still in danger.

Abi’s had plenty to smile about so far, but she’s still in danger.

Abi: This may seem odd given her victory over Peih-Gee, but Abi is still in trouble because of her emotional play. Logical players should recognize that working with her is risky. Spencer aptly pointed out the dangers of aligning with Abi, and Shirin’s fate proved it. If Savage and Tasha are looking to recruit long-term allies, they’d be smarter to pick Woo. He’ll be loyal because they saved him and would be thrilled to vote out Abi. She’s been in danger twice, and I don’t expect those trends to change anytime soon.

Kelly: I can’t decide if Kelly is playing a strong under-the-radar game or a bad one. The swap did her no favors, but we haven’t seen enough to learn if she’s actively working to fix it. Given the information we have (and Varner’s miscue), I’m going to assume Kelly’s in peril. Angkor is in bad shape, so Kelly may be able to stay afloat because of challenge wins. Even so, she needs to be trying to connect with Monica and Kimmi. Kelly can’t wait until they’re heading to Tribal Council to make her move. By that point, it may be too late.

I’m intrigued to discover the next twist that production throws at this cast. My guess is that we’ll see a swap back to two tribes at 14, but it may happen sooner. Players need to be on their toes; a guy like Savage clearly wasn’t prepared for this week’s change. The demons of his first experience still haunt him, and that’s bad news for his ability to adapt. The game is moving so fast, and we’ve already seen how quickly the tables can turn on someone. We should be in store for a lot more thrills this season.

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