Survivor: San Juan Del Sur

The Survivor Strategic Game: Let’s Get This Party Started!


It’s challenging to analyze strategy on Survivor when the final result offers few surprises. Some of the best-played games induced yawns because we could pinpoint the obvious target each time. It hasn’t been that easy so far, but we definitely saw the writing on the wall for Dale. When Jon and Jaclyn decided to vote out Kelley last week, they essentially sealed Dale’s fate at the next Tribal Council. An immunity win could have saved him, but struggles on the puzzle left him scrambling. Being a free-agent means little when you’re facing two pairs content to stick together.

There’s so much about the game that the producers can’t predict when they cast a season. They certainly didn’t expect one tribe to run out of rice after two weeks. On the other hand, it wasn’t hard to see that Dale’s personality was ill-suited for this game. He seems like a nice guy off the show, but conflicts with Missy and Baylor were too much to overcome. Dale tried his best at the end, but it takes more than 12 hours to stay afloat. By the time Dale recognized his impending doom, there was little he could do to flip the script. The “fake idol” strategy is always refreshing, but there were too many options for the other players. You never sensed that Jon and Jaclyn totally believed that Dale had the idol. The result was the season’s most predictable Tribal Council with only one likely outcome.

Despite the expected result, there’s still plenty to consider when looking forward after this week. We observed hints of past alliances that could be a major factor in the near future. There are enough different possibilities to avoid a predictable road for anyone. In fact, the power players that have received the most attention from the editors face the stiffest odds right away. Dale’s exit just secured that a real alliance exists between the two pairs on Coyopa. Their connections on the other side could help to build a dominant group that leaves a few guys without a chair when the music stops. There are numerous scenarios to consider following this episode, and we can give merit to multiple roads to victory.

Here Comes the Spider-Man

Reed showed his challenge skills once again versus Baylor. Reed showed his challenge skills once again versus Baylor.[/caption]

Let’s begin with the reward challenge, which continued the individual battles at “hero arena”. Since Keith and Wes are the only pairs separated by tribes (and already competed), Jeff gave the simple instruction to choose their strongest players. My money would not have been on Baylor and Reed in the pool. However, it made sense given the requirements of the challenge. Larger individuals would have struggled to navigate the course while blindfolded. Reed’s athletic skills also make him an underrated competitor. His easy victory against Baylor just reinforces that point. It also shows why Reed may be targeted quickly after the merge. Survivor challenges usually don’t favor beefy guys, so a skilled aerialist could reel off a bunch of wins. He’s even more dangerous than Josh and has nowhere to hide.

Reed also had the choice for Exile Island and was ready to send Julie before Natalie volunteered. It’s an interesting move on both ends and explains a lot. Natalie was thinking ahead and helped to solidify her alliance with Missy and Baylor, and she also gained favor with Julie. This move was big because it’s easy to not want to skip the reward. Natalie didn’t hesitate and removed questions about her loyalty following the tribe swap. Exile Island gives players this chance, but few have recognized its importance beyond locating the idol. The “surround and drown” plan to attract Alec has a small chance of succeeding, so keeping multiple options open is very wise. Julie’s prospects now look worse, however.

This episode revealed just how weak Julie’s game appears to her tribe mates and the viewers. She seemed noncommittal about Exile Island and clearly didn’t want to go. The downpours also pushed Julie towards to the breaking point and left her questioning the experience. She called it the “hardest night of her life,” and the game won’t be getting easier anytime soon. If we can believe the season preview and someone is going to quit, Julie is the prime candidate. Finally, she also sat out of the immunity challenge. It isn’t clear how strong her alliance is with Jeremy and Natalie either. Julie showed signs of being an under-the-radar threat earlier in the season, but it now looks like a smokescreen. The editors did her no favors and are setting her up to leave the game in the very near future.

Selling the Idol

Farmguy69 (aka Dale) wasn’t a master strategist, but it was refreshing to watch him try to change his fate. There were some major holes in his plan, however. He started by showing Jon the fake idol with the hope of pushing the vote in another direction. This plan isn’t a bad first step and led to the split vote between Dale and Keith. The problem was the huge numbers gap that he’s facing in a six-person tribe. The others could easily use a 3-2 split and nullify Dale’s one vote. He would need two allies to avoid going home while using misdirection to bypass a 3-3 tie. In essence, there was no chance it would have worked.

Dale wasn't able to work any magic on the Coyopa tribe.

Dale wasn’t able to work any magic on Coyopa.

Understanding the numbers probably led to Dale’s second move, which felt like a variation on Marty’s deal with Sash in the first Nicaragua season. The offer to give Jon the idol after the vote was enticing in theory, but it still raised questions about why he’d make the offer. It sounded like a desperate move from a guy with no options, so the risk was too great for Jon and Jaclyn. There was no guarantee that Dale would work with them after the merge. Plus, betraying Missy would create a rift and put Jon and Jaclyn up against the majority alliance. Missy’s connections with Natalie and others on Hunahpu make her a valuable ally, and she’d never work with Dale. A wild card can be dangerous after the merge, so removing the unknown quantity was an easy choice. Even if Dale had the idol, the allure wasn’t enough.

In his interview with Rob, Dale raised an interesting question about whether his tribe mates threw the challenges to eliminate him and Kelley. It’s an intriguing concept that does make sense on paper from the others’ perspectives. If they’re convinced that no one will flip, removing two rivals prior to the merge is wise. Jon’s extra scene about frustrations with losing contradicts this idea, but maybe they should have considered it. Even if the merge doesn’t happen at 12, the two pairs could vote out Keith. Jeremy, Natalie, and Julie would probably re-connect with Missy at the merge, giving them a huge majority. Baylor also has connections with Josh, so there are multiple options. What’s strange is how few outsiders now exist given all the possible alliances for the Coyopa players.

The Biggest Loser

Jeff could hear the epic music in his head while he walked up the beach.

Jeff could hear the epic music in his head while he walked up the beach.

Jeff loves to tell the tribes how stupid they are, and this week gave him the perfect opportunity. Citing the trade in Australia, he made it clear that no tribes have needed this much help. They’ve eclipsed a very low bar. The trade was interesting because it showed dissension about the right choice. Jeremy was furious about the deal, though it’s important to note that his complaints happened during confessionals. It will be interesting to learn if this frustration carries over after the merge. Jeff took quite an impressive list of items from Hunahpu, including the tarp, hammock, bedrolls, hatchet, hammer, and pots. The moment was great TV and was clearly designed from that standpoint. I don’t see it having a huge impact on strategy beyond identifying rifts that already exist within the tribe.

Jeremy’s anger seems directed at Reed and offers more evidence that he could be in trouble. Ending up on the same tribe as Josh might not do him any favors. His reward victory helped in the short term, especially for a “meat collector” like Alec. Even so, it didn’t curry much favor with grumpy Jeremy. Being the only pair on Hunahpu was fun, but Josh and Reed had better watch their backs after the merge. The reward challenge goodwill probably didn’t last after the night of heavy rain either. I don’t think the merged tribe will end up at the Hunahpu camp. They’re living in sparse conditions, but salvation should arrive soon.

Now the Real Game Begins

Instead of digging further into this episode, I’ve decided to look ahead and see where each person sits heading into the merge. The remaining 12 players include four couples and four singles, and it isn’t clear if either group will dominate. Despite some limited strategy so far, the potential for chaos is extremely high. Most votes have been cut and dry, so the need to scramble should inject plenty of life into the next few episodes. I’m discussing the pairs together since their games are so connected. It seems like almost anything could happen, but there are hints about the most likely scenarios.

Missy and Baylor: The editors have spent a lot of time documenting the mother/daughter relationship, and Missy has showed her protective side multiple times. Are they setting up a situation where Baylor votes out her mom? They seem like the only pair where this might happen; the producers certainly hope so. Missy and Baylor are currently in a great spot and have allies in both camps. Missy has formed bonds with Keith, Natalie, and Jon that seem rock solid. Baylor rubs some people the wrong way and has frequently received votes. That reputation may hurt her long-term chances, but I don’t see it impacting her soon. Despite a pretty negative edit recently, Missy is arguably in the best situation of anyone.

Jon and Jaclyn are in love and set up well in the game.

Jon and Jaclyn are in love and set up well in the game.

Jon and Jaclyn: While they don’t seem particularly knowledgeable about the game, Jon and Jaclyn also occupy a good position. He closed this week’s Tribal Council by telling her “You’re so beautiful”, and it’s hard to take him seriously as a player. Even so, Jon handled the Dale situation well and has taken a measured approach to the past few votes. Jaclyn has made blunders at Tribal Council and gave another poorly worded answer to Jeff this week. They shouldn’t be targeted immediately despite being good athletes, but it will take better game play to get them close to the end. They’ve been lucky and done okay so far, so counting out either one (particularly Jon) seems foolish at this point.

Josh and Reed: Despite their successes, Josh and Reed are probably in the most dangerous position of the four couples. Josh had allies on Coyopa and worked with Baylor and Jaclyn to take out John Rocker, but I don’t think they trust him. He worked with Alec from the start, but losing Drew has put Alec in a very different position. Reed’s challenge skills make him a threat, and exit interviews have hinted at shady behavior that we didn’t see. Josh and Reed are a dangerous couple and certain to be targets if they don’t ensure their alliances are rock solid. Even that may not be enough to save them.

Wes and Keith: Our final couple is unique because they’ve yet to play together on the same tribe. This separation could benefit them in the long run. Both are well-liked, and Wes is hiding behind more dangerous players. A secret scene shows Wes receiving a nasty sting on his foot, so it will be interesting if that plays a role in his game. Keith has an idol for protection if he uses it right, and I doubt anyone will be gunning for him right away. It’s still a long shot to think of either winning the game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Keith and Wes become the last remaining pair. A possible warning sign is the conflict between Keith and Jeremy over the idol. It may lead to nothing, but he needs to be careful or risk being targeted as an untrustworthy ally. Keith’s best move is sticking with Missy and seeing where it takes him. Of course, she didn’t seem too concerned with losing him if Dale actually played an idol this week.

Natalie: I’ve been very impressed by Natalie’s resilience after losing Nadiya in the first Tribal Council. She’s learning more about the game each week and played the Exile Island move very wisely. She could sell it as trying to help Julie, so the alternate goals wouldn’t be so obvious. There’s danger in being solo along with so many pairs, but I don’t expect her to face the vote soon. The key strategy for Natalie is ensuring that she builds relationships and has a strong alliance once the big targets go home.

Alec: It’s hard to figure out exactly where Alec sits in the game. Jeremy and Natalie approached him with their “surround and drown” plan last week, and it could pay dividends. On the other hand, we haven’t received much indication that Alec has a clear strategy. All we really know is that he has a chip on his shoulder about Drew and doesn’t like it when people read the clues. An extra scene reveals his positive attitude about the rain, and having that demeanor shouldn’t hurt. Alec’s in a pretty good spot if he plays his cards right, but I don’t get the sense he’s built truly strong alliances so far.

Julie: The editors are making a convincing case that Julie will quit in the near future. Is it too obvious? It’s been harder to read their work this season, so it’s possible this is part of a redemption edit for Julie. That isn’t the most likely scenario, and the rain might be too much for her. It’s disappointing because you could make the case that Julie’s in a decent spot. She won’t be a target and might not have enough respect for her game to win in the end. Jeremy’s extra scene shows the perception of how Julie handled the rain, and it isn’t good. Even so, it would be a shame if Julie threw in the towel.

Jeremy's in danger but still has a shot to go far.

Jeremy’s in danger but still has a shot to go far.

Jeremy: The merge episode frequently takes out a power player, and Jeremy is a prime candidate. On the other hand, there’s still a decent chance that he wins the game. Jeremy’s in a boom/bust situation where developing the right alliance could set him up for success. His grumpiness this week could lead him in unfortunate directions, so he’ll need to keep that anger in the confessionals. He can’t afford another Keith situation where the frustration comes out in front of the group.

The past two seasons have delivered great drama in their merge episodes, particularly last season with Sarah’s exit. I’m expecting similar fireworks this time and hope that it leads to a strong finish. It’s been an inconsistent start, and I’m still unsure about the Blood vs. Water concept in terms of strategy. We’ve seen a lot of emotions, and it should only increase as the stakes grow higher. Loved ones will fall short, and the quest for revenge could deliver great drama. It’s unclear where it’s going, and that unpredictability makes Survivor shine. Can this cast match our expectations? Next week should give the answers, and I’m hopeful the momentum will pick up for a strong finish.

Become a patron of RHAP