Survivor

What Edge of Extinction Survivors Should Have Learned

rule   1

Scheme and Plot

This is still the primary rule, and it will be for as long as Survivor is airing, even when the producers throw in twists that focus on survival instead. It may seem almost silly to have to say it, but almost every season we’re surprised when somebody doesn’t realize they need to do this. Looking at the preview information about the contestants for this season, it seems like, once again, most of them know going in that they need to follow this rule, so we’ll have to see how they do.

But on the flip side, take a look at someone like Ozzy, who came in second on Cook Islands and then came back for a second sho in Micronesia (before coming back two more times). He specifically said in an interview with me after his first go-round, “I didn’t do enough politicking and did too much fishing.” I don’t think it can be summed up any better than that. Even in Ghost Island, with the reduced rations that Jeff Probst suggested would bring new focus on being a provider, scheming and plotting was still more important while all that “provider” talk fell by the wayside! Ozzy’s second time around, he did more politicking, but he also trusted that the friendships he had formed outside the game would completely carry into the game – Parvati obviously had other ideas as she actually wanted to win rather than just handing him a million dollars. And in his other return visits, he just played the same game over and over again, apparently still never moving into real scheming and plotting.

From the very beginning, you have to start making alliances and cementing relationships. And I do mean the very beginning! Yes, it can be difficult to know whom you can trust after just a couple days (witness what happened to Kel and Mad Dog way back in The Australian Outback, if you can even remember those folks), but either you do it or you’re gone. Later in the game you can rework alliances according to what is necessary to stick around, but early on you should make use of whatever relationships present themselves – if you don’t, you might not have to worry about what happens later in the game because you won’t be around.

What this means is that, first, you need to seek out alliances as soon as possible. Seek out any way to connect with people you’ve just met. You’re both cops or firemen, or one of each? You’re from the same state? Great, find a way to bond over that. Don’t be pushy – you don’t want to be instantly tagged as being overbearing about it – but look for good opportunities to form early relationships.

Second, if you are approached by somebody about being in an alliance, what do you say? To steal a line from Ghostbusters, when someone asks you if you want to align, you say “YES”! Never ever ever say “no” or “I’ll think about it.” It’s better to lie and be on someone’s good side than immediately paint a target on yourself. If you hem and haw and worry about who to trust, you’ll just end up out of the game. Don’t wait to forge bonds, do it immediately!

torches

There are too many examples throughout the years, both good and bad, to list them all here. But I’ll mention a few:

Cirie showed that making alliances immediately is more important than anything when her tribe chose to keep her and her fear of leaves over somebody who could help them build shelter, start fire, get food, etc. And she went on to become a legend.

J.T. and Stephen from Tocantins made a rather odd-appearing alliance very early and they stuck to it the whole way through. Becky in Cook Islands made a very early alliance with Yul, and they stuck together all the way to the final three. In Vanuatu, the older men joined together immediately and stayed solid, allowing them to progress much further in the game. Meanwhile, the younger men all fell quickly because they failed to consider it important.

More recently we had Tony making early alliances and then discarding them when necessary (or at least when he felt like it). And then we saw Natalie Anderson make an early alliance with Muffin, which lasted the entire game even when Natalie had other alliances that she probably intended to be the main ones.

On the flip side, many others who were voted out early said in post-game interviews that they waited until their tribe had lost an immunity challenge to approach anyone, or they didn’t know who to trust so they didn’t talk to anyone. For example, when I talked to Nina from One World, she talked about being surprised at how fast an alliance had formed without her. She said, “We hadn’t even hit the beach and they had already aligned and knew each other by first name and nicknames. I was a little surprised by that.” She, on the other hand, said, “I was wanting to wait and see where strengths and weaknesses were.” Whoops. Jimmy Johnson did something similar. In post-show interviews he said, “I really thought when it came to the point, I could form some alliances, but I wanted to get into the game a little ways to see who I could trust and bond with and go the distance with.” He waited too long… and then he was gone.

We do need to remember that the early alliance has to be big enough to be meaningful. For example, the beginning of (original) Fiji had Jessica, Erica, and Rocky in a very tight three-person alliance. But they were in a tribe of nine – you do the math.

Mind you, it isn’t always the best idea to stay in a tribal alliance. Outback’s Amber, for instance, should not have continued voting with her tribe after Jerri was booted. She should have approached the remaining Kuchans and formed an alliance that would at least have carried her a bit further. She probably would still not have made it to the finals, but she could at least have had a better chance. Obviously, Amber made up for this misstep in All-Stars, but the China season made us wonder about this issue anew, as the pecking order present in Todd’s alliance was pretty obvious, and it seemed like several of the members should have taken the hint and jumped ship to join up with the opposition to overthrow Todd. But they never did. Players need to keep a close eye on that pecking order. If you’re not near the top, it’s time to rework things!

As part of this, players need to appear to be part of the overall tribal alliance, but they should also keep their options open. This is precisely what Rob, Alex, and Matthew did in Amazon, pretending to still be part of the all-male tribal alliance, but actually being out to get rid of Roger and Dave. Rafe did something similar in Guatemala, convincing his tribemates he was their ally while apparently planning to go far with Danni instead. Players need to be opportunistic – convince the others in their original alliance that everybody should be loyal, but then take whatever opportunities they have to form other alliances to keep them safe and jump alliances if the need arises.

torches

There are too many examples throughout the years, both good and bad, to list them all here. But I’ll mention a few:

Cirie showed that making alliances immediately is more important than anything when her tribe chose to keep her and her fear of leaves over somebody who could help them build shelter, start fire, get food, etc. And she went on to become a legend.

J.T. and Stephen from Tocantins made a rather odd-appearing alliance very early and they stuck to it the whole way through. Becky in Cook Islands made a very early alliance with Yul, and they stuck together all the way to the final three. In Vanuatu, the older men joined together immediately and stayed solid, allowing them to progress much further in the game. Meanwhile, the younger men all fell quickly because they failed to consider it important.

Tony made early alliances and then discarded them when necessary (or at least when he felt like it). Then we saw Natalie Anderson make an early alliance with Muffin, which lasted the entire game even when Natalie had other alliances that she probably intended to be the main ones.

On the flip side, many others who were voted out early said in post-game interviews that they waited until their tribe had lost an immunity challenge to approach anyone, or they didn’t know who to trust so they didn’t talk to anyone. For example, when I talked to Nina from One World, she talked about being surprised at how fast an alliance had formed without her. She said, “We hadn’t even hit the beach and they had already aligned and knew each other by first name and nicknames. I was a little surprised by that.” She, on the other hand, said, “I was wanting to wait and see where strengths and weaknesses were.” Whoops. Jeremy in David vs. Goliath not only wanted to wait until the tribe lost a challenge before strategizing, but he active campaigned against anyone else scheming and called out people for doing so in a tribal meeting that he pulled together! What did he get for his troubles? He was the first one gone from his tribe. Jimmy Johnson did something similar. In post-show interviews he said, “I really thought when it came to the point, I could form some alliances, but I wanted to get into the game a little ways to see who I could trust and bond with and go the distance with.” He waited too long… and then he was gone.

We do need to remember that the early alliance has to be big enough to be meaningful. For example, the beginning of (original) Fiji had Jessica, Erica, and Rocky in a very tight three-person alliance. But they were in a tribe of nine – you do the math.

Mind you, it isn’t always the best idea to stay in a tribal alliance. Outback‘s Amber, for instance, should not have continued voting with her tribe after Jerri was booted. She should have approached the remaining Kuchans and formed an alliance that would at least have carried her a bit further. She probably would still not have made it to the finals, but she could at least have had a better chance. Obviously, Amber made up for this misstep in All-Stars, but the China season made us wonder about this issue anew, as the pecking order present in Todd’s alliance was pretty obvious, and it seemed like several of the members should have taken the hint and jumped ship to join up with the opposition to overthrow Todd. But they never did. Players need to keep a close eye on that pecking order. If you’re not near the top, it’s time to rework things!

As part of this, players need to appear to be part of the overall tribal alliance, but they should also keep their options open. This is precisely what Rob, Alex, and Matthew did in Amazon, pretending to still be part of the all-male tribal alliance, but actually being out to get rid of Roger and Dave. Rafe did something similar in Guatemala, convincing his tribemates he was their ally while apparently planning to go far with Danni instead. Players need to be opportunistic – convince the others in their original alliance that everybody should be loyal, but then take whatever opportunities they have to form other alliances to keep them safe and jump alliances if the need arises.

One item of note to mention occurred back in Thailand – Brian Heidik’s variation on this theme. He created a tribal alliance, but also a number of sub-alliances that the others weren’t aware of. He had a pact with Clay, one with Ted, and one with Helen. (Jan was along for the ride in each of them). Everybody was happy and secure – until the axe fell. This gave Brian the ability to figure out which opponent he would rather face in the final two – eventually leading to his picking, and beating, Clay. But if the others had taken a great dislike to Helen, for example, he could have simply changed his plan. This was a risky maneuver because if any of them had talked about Brian, he might have been found out. But done well, it can set up a good player right in the center of an alliance web.

Chris used a similar maneuver at the end of Vanuatu, having alliances with two duos – Twila & Scout and Julie & Eliza. He made them both feel secure and then voted out Julie & Eliza. And Todd also seemed to have sub-alliances within his alliance, helping to ensure loyalty because even though it seemed obvious to viewers that certain players should have jumped ship, they felt like their best bet was to stay with Todd.

Parvati did it in Micronesia. She had the five Favorites alliance, the all-women alliance, the three female Favorites suballiance, and the Natalie Bolton/Alexis suballiance – all going on at once! So when it looked like Amanda was going to get voted out, Parvati told Natalie and Alexis she couldn’t vote against Amanda, but she didn’t stop them from deciding to do it. If it had worked, she would have still been aligned with Natalie and Alexis (both of whom had told Cirie they wouldn’t turn on Parvati) for the final three. When it didn’t work, she still had her alliance with Amanda and Cirie. She was set either way!

We saw Tony do something similar in Cagayan. He had several alliances and sub-alliances, and bounced around among them as he felt the need. Sarah learned from him as the winner of her first season and took that knowledge to win Game Changers. She made partnerships with each individual player but also told them that nobody else would expect they would be working together so they should both keep it quiet. As we’ve seen throughout the series, this is a great way to be able to maintain a secret.

In Ghost Island, we saw a situation where a duo acted like Brian Heidik together. Winner Wendell and runner-up Domenick had Laurel, Donathan, Chelsea, Sebastian, and Angela all working with them independently and thinking they were the real alliance. Then the duo voted them out in turn. They also mimicked Brian in the way they managed to keep everyone from talking to each other about turning on them. As Sebastian told Rob in his post-game interview, “As soon as someone opens their mouth on Survivor, you go home.”

One thing you need to do if you’re going to use this type of strategy – and really, even if you don’t – is to check in with your allies frequently to both ensure they’re good and also give them comfort. This is something that came up quite a bit recently. We saw in Game Changers how Andrea may have lost an ally in Zeke because she didn’t check in with him, while Sarah, Cirie, and Brad had their games aided greatly because they did this. Then in Triple-H, Patrick came into the game already knowing Ali, but he failed to talk to her about how much he trusted her and also relied too much on her keeping him safe without actually having the important conversations with her. He just never checked in. In Ghost Island, Wendell mentioned in interviews that both he and Domenick followed the Game Changers model and checked in frequently, especially after Morgan got voted off. One other good point to note about checking in, and particularly important to the Heidik type of strategy, is that it also ensures your allies don’t have to go off talking to someone else to find out what’s going on – because then they can sometimes find out things you don’t want them to know!

An additional part of plotting and scheming can also be making good use of sneakiness. Tony had his spy shack. But long before him, we saw Sandra hiding behind the bushes in Pearl Islands and overhearing Burton and Jon talking. She was able to use that information to talk to Rupert (who mostly ignored it) and Tijuana (who changed her strategy based on it but then caused Sandra to turn against her anyway). And then she did it again in Heroes vs. Villains, spying on Russell as he tried to secretly look for the hidden immunity idol. We’ve seen others following people during idol-hunts, rummaging through belongings, you name it. All’s fair in Survivor and war!

That means other players may be doing the same thing. So if you are going to plot and scheme, make sure nobody else is listening! Just ask Rupert and Jenna L. in All-Stars about this, since they were talking about booting Boston Rob… and Rob walked up! And let us not forget Jean-Robert’s loud voice giving away his plans while Todd and Courtney were within earshot.

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