Survivor: San Juan Del Sur

The Survivor Strategic Game: The Perception Gap


An intriguing part of analyzing Survivor is observing the huge difference between how players are presented and their own impressions following their exit. This is most common with early boots, who try so hard to create a narrative to explain why they failed. Their frequent target is the editing, which never gives credit to all their brilliant strategies. Those claims are largely moot because of the ultimate outcome, however. No matter how smart the gameplay was, it wasn’t enough to deliver success. A classic example is Garrett last season, who spent his entire interview with Rob giving an unending monologue on the misperceptions. He probably had more happening than the awful play we saw on screen, but there was a reason the other players didn’t trust him. Coming up with an idea is easy; executing it is the hard part.

Few players in Survivor’s entire history have been more proud of themselves than Drew. His interviews before the show even began revealed an arrogant guy who expected to run the game. Few people who come off this way in their videos do well. Spencer might have seemed that way at the start, but he played very differently. Drew called himself a leader and talked incessantly about the ways he was running Hunahpu. The kicker was how little we saw of that leadership. The editors went out of their way to present him as an out-of-touch dummy who did everything wrong in the social game. The first boot in a tribe often comes down to whether a person annoys the group. Keeping the fire going and building a shelter mean very little if you aren’t likable. Drew could probably build an extensive resume on what he theoretically did for the tribe, but it means nothing because he disregarded the game’s simplest rules. His “the day after” interview does little to change the idea that Drew understood very little of why his tribe mates didn’t trust him.

A Matter of Trust

Hunahpu wasn't so thrilled when they were forced to play the game. Hunahpu wasn’t so thrilled when they were forced to play the game.[/caption]

Following Hunahpu’s loss at the immunity challenge, the tribe basically all stood near each other and talked about whom to target. This is what happens when you don’t go to Tribal Council. They’ve had no experience making the tough decisions and expected to win again. Instead of listening to the others and making his case, Drew interrupted them and spoke like taking out Kelley was a foregone conclusion. His reasons about her Survivor fandom aren’t terrible; her knowledge would be rare in this cast. The problem is that nothing Drew did inspired trust in his tribe mates. Instead, they recognized that he could be dangerous because he’s so volatile. Drew wanted to run the show so badly that he stepped up at the completely wrong time. If you’re involved in the conversations and players you don’t care about are being targeted, why change the script? Being so determined just made Drew look suspicious.

There’s an interesting connection here to Sarah’s exit following the merge last season. Kass was ready to flip on her, but Sarah made it easier by refusing to play along. She wanted to run the show, and that stubborn approach turned the tables. While this week’s situation happened earlier, it also showed how saying less is often the best move. Drew wouldn’t even let Jon give his plan and just shut him down. A guy like that isn’t going to win allies, even if they weren’t planning to vote him out. A secret scene shows Jeremy talking about Drew’s crazy behavior with the flint. You don’t get the sense that Jeremy is planning to vote Drew out at that point. His attention is elsewhere, and it takes awful game play to change his mind. Even if Kelley is Drew’s biggest threat, it’s too early to stick his neck out to remove her.

I shouldn’t disregard the stellar game play from the four women, who recognized the power of sticking together amid the chaos. All they needed was Jeremy’s vote to ensure success, and that wasn’t even necessary since the others were disorganized. Another secret scene reveals a key moment that led to Drew’s exit. Natalie brought up Keith as the likely target, which should be good news to Drew. Instead, he talked about Missy and not trusting her. Once Natalie spilled the beans to her ally, Drew’s game was toast. Kelley and Julie had both heard their name thrown around, so they were easily on board. In fact, Drew even talked about voting Kelley out right in front of her. It doesn’t take a Survivor fanatic to recognize that a little more subtlety may be needed. Drew was so convinced that he was the smartest guy on the island that he didn’t even consider the danger. Better players like Misty and Kelley stayed mostly quiet and let their votes do the talking. They trusted each other and made the final result an easy move. Drew was convinced he was in control, but the reality was much different.

Tripping on the Sword

Is there ever a good time to throw a challenge? The move didn’t benefit Drew, and saying that he fell on his sword gives him too much credit. On the other hand, you can make the case that it will help the Hunahpu players in the long run. The previews promise a tribe swap, so getting the chance to go to Tribal Council was important. It solidified the alliance between Jeremy and the four women and removed a potential wild card. It’s unlikely that Drew was a solid number to use going forward, especially when you consider the danger of having too many pairs in the game. Hunahpu also avoided the Tandang scenario of being lost when they finally visited Tribal Council. Last night’s scrambling prior to Tribal Council felt very similar to the post-merge vote that took out RC.

There were very few hints that Drew actually wanted to help the tribe. He talked repeatedly about removing “the snakes” in Hunahpu. Is it a coincidence that all of his targets were women? Kelley clearly didn’t get along with Drew, but I didn’t get the sense she was out to get him. They looked ready to follow Jeremy’s lead and remove Keith until Drew forced their hand. The bad game play is what compounded the decision to throw the challenge. If you’re going to follow that path, you better have an alternative plan that involves more than shutting down conversation. Drew has claimed in exit interviews that others were good with throwing the challenge. This might explain why Jon, Jeremy, and Kelley sat out of it. However, it sounds like they agreed in theory but not in practice. The editors could have held back footage to make Drew’s choice look worse, but we don’t have enough information to make that call. Regardless of who was involved, his moves after the challenge lost him the game.

A Disorderly Council

Julie was one of four targets at a crazy Tribal Council.

Julie was one of four targets at a crazy Tribal Council.

We’ve become so accustomed to watching players stick to their guns at Tribal Council. There have been recent last-minute changes, but they have typically involved the idol. It was clear from the start that multiple players had no idea where to vote. Jon wasn’t sure about the target, which explains his Keith vote. Keith and Reed voted for Julie, which shows their place in the pecking order. There’s been little screen time for Reed, so it’s hard to know what he’s thinking. He was involved in discussions about the vote but wasn’t privy to the final call. I don’t get the impression many think he’s a threat, but he doesn’t have any strong allies. Reed has looked very strong in challenges and seems well-liked, but the editors are giving us nothing about his strategy. That’s rarely a good sign for his prospects.

Missy described the tribe as having “too many chiefs,” and that’s an apt description. Jon wanted to take out Julie because she doesn’t have a loved one, while Jeremy was angry at Keith. Everything’s been coming so easily that no one really listens to the others. The worst offender was Drew, who talked about removing the “bad energy” while Kelley rolled her eyes right next to him. Smart players reveal little at Tribal Council, but most of Hunahpu were being really transparent. When the votes were read, the smiles from Natalie, Julie, and Kelley revealed who’s playing the top game. Jon’s “good play, girls” just confirmed how much they pulled the wool over his eyes. Of course, he may not be the toughest guy to fool in this cast.

Beware of the Idol

Few players encounter the idol and don’t suffer the consequences in some way. Keith only saw the clue, and it threw his game into disarray. After minimal searching, he gave up and figured a good move was telling everyone that Jeremy had it. This was not wise. It’s unclear exactly what Keith hoped to accomplish by pinning suspicion on someone in his own alliance. Keith’s comments at Tribal Council did not make it clear that he had a plan. Predictably, the news traveled back to Jeremy. The culprit for spilling the beans was Reed, which is interesting considering his vote at Tribal Council. He’s helping Jeremy yet doesn’t seem to have real allies in his tribe.

Jeremy spent much of Council ripping into Keith for betraying their alliance. While his anger was understandable, his approach raises questions about his strategy. Jeremy did a similar thing with John Rocker following Val’s exit. Playing emotionally on Survivor is dangerous because it could distract from the goal. If Jeremy had been targeting Keith, yelling at him might have brought the idol into play. You could make the argument that Jeremy’s behavior was designed to keep Drew in the dark, but it doesn’t seem likely. The anger was too genuine to spring from clever gameplay.

Despite finding the immunity idol, Keith's position was less secure after some questionable moves.

Despite finding the immunity idol, Keith’s position was less secure after some questionable moves.

We’ve reached the point with the idol where it basically leaps out at players. Keith dug a few inches into the ground, and there it was! His reaction was priceless, and you don’t get the feeling that he’s thrilled. There was little triumphant music about this big discovery. Even so, it doesn’t seem like too many others are worried that Keith has the idol. Despite his diminished status after facing the emotional wrath of Jeremy, Keith could play a key role in the near future. So much depends on how the tribe swap goes. If he ends up in the same group as Wes (assuming that’s possible) and his Coyopa alliance mates, the idol might put them in position to take charge.

More Fun at Hero Arena

Although I prefer team reward challenges, there have been entertaining moments in the “Hero Arena”. After discovering the flint, Drew’s idea to return it for fishing gear was destined for an epic failure. Jeff Probst kept a strong poker face, but you knew he wasn’t even considering the move. From Drew’s perspective, this was a totally logical request. He needed to provide for the tribe! The other Hunahpu tribe members were too embarrassed to even look at Jeff. Drew calls himself the mastermind, but no one takes him seriously. That’s a bad sign for a guy determined to run the game. It connects to the lack of self-awareness that would later cause his demise. It’s just another part of a growing narrative about the fall of Hunahpu’s first departing tribe member.

Drew also found himself on Exile Island after volunteering to go there. Jon begrudgingly made the pick after narrowly defeating Jaclyn. What’s hilarious is the reason Jon cited for being worried about sending Drew to Exile with Jaclyn. Drew is known as a ladies’ man, but that isn’t the concern. Instead, Jon believed Drew was lazy and hoped it didn’t put too much of a burden on Jaclyn. For a guy who claims to be providing for his tribe, Drew sure has a much different reputation. Jaclyn and Drew saw the idol clue, and I wonder if Jaclyn tried to find it on Coyopa. We don’t learn if another idol is in play there, but it seems likely if they’re still using the urns at Exile. It also must be in the same location where John Rocker found it to make sure it lines up with the previous idol clues.

The Wrath of Alec

We didn’t spend much time at Coyopa this week, but we did see a different side of Alec. Apparently, he really doesn’t like it when people grab tree mail out of his hands. Watch out, Baylor! This sequence was interesting because it connected to Drew’s self-destruction on the other side. Alec is still dealing with issues from his childhood and has a huge chip on his shoulder. While it’s hard to say how much this negative attitude will impact his game, it isn’t a positive sign. Alec received the hero edit at the immunity challenge despite making just modest gains in the swimming race. The editors really want us to see him as an underdog, but he comes off more like a bully than an engaging young upstart. Baylor handled him well and definitely seemed like the adult in the situation. That isn’t saying a lot, however.

Considering the impending tribe swap, any statements about players’ positions must take into account the mystery of where they’ll land. Even a guy like Dale could find himself in a great spot if he reconnects with Kelley and her alliance. Five pairs remain in the game, and where they end up will influence the new few episodes. The only question is whether this will be a full swap or just involve an even swap between the pairs and singles. I’m not sure there’s a fair way to accomplish that feat, so I expect it will be a full tribe swap. In that case, there could be some major changes. The alliances within either group don’t seem so tight (especially at Hunahpu) that they wouldn’t go differently within a new tribe.

Who’s in the best position?

Kelley avoided the vote and has a change to go a long way.

Kelley avoided the vote and has a change to go a long way.

Kelley and Missy: Despite his many blunders, Drew may have a point about Kelley. She’s playing under the radar but has built a solid alliance with Jeremy, Natalie, and Missy. Dale is still alive at Coyopa, and he won’t be a major target if he can last further into the game. Other pairs will likely draw more attention than Kelley and Dale. Also, if she’s really such a fan like Drew says, Kelley may have some tricks up her sleeve down the road. Missy’s formed strong bonds with nearly everyone in her group. She was the person who consoled Julie after the mess with John. You don’t get the sense that anyone is rallying against her, and that trend should continue. Missy protected her ally (and possibly herself) against Drew and did it without drawing attention. Those skills should be especially valuable in this inexperienced cast. Her daughter Baylor is also in a good spot at Coyopa and has multiple allies that could give Missy an edge in the second half of the game.

Josh and Baylor: Most of the Coyopa tribe should benefit from a tribe swap because Hunahpu is so dysfunctional. Josh and Baylor have a strong connection and several allies in their group. They also still have Reed and Missy in the game. A bad tribe swap could doom them, but there are many different options that would still allow Josh and Baylor to thrive. There is still a concern of whether Baylor will turn on Josh at some point. His early vote for her was designed for strategy but might come back to haunt him. Baylor is gun shy after receiving four votes in the second Tribal Council, so any more suspicions of Josh could be trouble for him. He’s saved her once, but it’s still possible Baylor won’t return the favor.

Who’s in trouble?

Dale: This is the trickiest case because of the impending tribe swap. Dale currently is at the bottom at Coyopa, but that could mean little if he reconnects with Kelley or finds the right allies. Dale performed really well at the immunity challenge, so he’s hardly a weakling that pulls down the tribe. He begins this episode by talking about his need to work on his social game, and that’s definitely true. Dale needs to make new bonds within his new tribe and ensure that he doesn’t end up on the bottom once again. If Dale can get to the merge, he may be around for a long time. No one will be gunning for him at that point. He still needs the cards to fall his way in the next few weeks.

Jon won the reward challenge but has few allies at Hunahpu.

Jon won the reward challenge but has few allies at Hunahpu.

Jon: You have to feel for Jon, who seems like a good guy. He just isn’t very good at Survivor. Jon tried to strategize and make the case to remove Julie, but few of his tribe mates took it seriously. The exception was Keith, who had lost his connection to the main alliance by going after Jeremy. Jon’s connected with Drew, and that’s not a good thing. He’s athletic and easy to have around camp, but his physical skills may be a liability if the target shifts against strength. Jon does not seem like a person that could build a new alliance and ensure they all vote the right way. Instead, he’s more of a follower who’s disconnected from the happenings at Hunahpu. Jaclyn also remains, but she has limited power to influence the vote at Coyopa. Jon may have a tough road to even make the merge.

Predicting much of anything with the tribe swap is very difficult. Once Jeff says “drop your buffs”, the game might completely flip on its head. The players that should thrive are the ones that have built multiple alliances that could extend to the loved ones. I expect the strategy to really pick up once the tribes mix. The question is whether the moves will be smart or help to ensure a quick exit. Drew looked to enforce his will, but he misread the situation and basically kicked himself out of the game. I don’t expect him to be the last person to fall on his face. In a season with limited strategy, the under-the-radar players could have a huge advantage. If they stick with alliances and play it safe, that could be enough to send them well into the post-merge game. Of course, very few things have followed the plan this season.

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