Survivor San Juan Del Sur

The Survivor Strategic Game: The Myth of Loyalty


The double-edged sword of being the swing vote has become a familiar trend on Survivor. A player gives a confessional explaining their powerful role between two alliances, but there is a catch. That position rarely leads to success. That person often becomes the victim at the next Tribal Council; Christy from the Amazon is the most notorious example. Even when someone makes a solid choice and rides that wave to the end, they typically face a backlash from their victims. Bitterness grows during the post-merge phase, and the jurors rarely have kind things to say about the person that wronged them. In the first Blood vs. Water season, Monica occupied that spot yet never really shifted her allegiances. Showing a willingness to consider other options didn’t help her at the final Tribal Council. In fact, it made her seem less committed when compared to the front runner Tyson. When your vote decides the fate of a group of players, they typically don’t blame the leaders. Kass encountered a similar response last season.

Throughout this week’s episode, we heard many variations of this statement: “If Jon and Jaclyn aren’t with us, we’re screwed.” No matter which decision they made, Jon and Jaclyn would decimate a large group of players. Would the spurned alliance forgive them in the end? In a strange way, the lack of game expertise has put Jon and Jaclyn in this tricky position. They’re always willing to listen and seemed approachable, so both sides felt good about connecting with them. Jon and Jaclyn are the kind of people who get asked for directions in the mall by strangers. Josh didn’t notice the same personality with someone like Missy and understood that her interests were different from his own. By playing the middle and staying relaxed, Jon and Jaclyn ended up in a tough spot.

The idea of having real power to control the game has its allure. Knowing that you’ll shape its ultimate course is a big responsibility. The problem is that the move sets up others for success. Jon and Jaclyn saved Baylor and put Jeremy’s alliance in charge. But where does it leave them? They’ll need to make subsequent moves to ensure they don’t end up at the bottom of this group. The choice wasn’t bad on the surface, and it made sense given the awful behavior from Josh’s guys. One of the game’s major players is now gone, and we’ve moved closer to the type of free-for-all that could give Jon or Jaclyn a chance to win. If they can find a way to remove Jeremy down the road, this vote may be the start of a winning story.

The Wrong Way to Woo an Ally

Josh and Baylor worked together on the reward challenge but weren't on the same page in the game. Josh and Baylor worked together on the challenge but weren’t on the same page in the game.[/caption]

During his days at Coyopa, Josh played a huge role in the direction of the game. His switched vote ensured Val’s exit and helped Baylor to stay afloat. He also was part of the switch that eliminated John Rocker and ended the guys’ alliance. It’s no surprise to call him one of this season’s power players. On the other hand, he didn’t always make the best strategic moves. Going back to the very first Tribal Council, his vote for Baylor accomplished little more than making her distrust him. Baylor cited this vote as the reason for taking him out, though it’s unlikely that was the only factor. Josh wasn’t part of her alliance, and Baylor was going to let her mom drive the car. Missy had chosen to stick with Jeremy, so there was little chance anything would change if Josh had voted for Nadiya.

Josh accomplished little with his attempts to woo Baylor and encountered the myth of loyalty in this game. Telling someone “you owe me one vote” rarely works on Survivor, particularly when that move happened a while ago. Instead of focusing on the dangers of sticking with Jeremy and how it impacted her end game, Josh stuck with a loser argument. He seemed desperate and didn’t appear to have Baylor’s best interests at heart. This conversation spotlighted a main reason that Josh failed in the end. There was little imagination in his arguments to Baylor or Jon and Jaclyn. Simple arguments often work, yet it’s also easy to poke holes into them. Painting a convincing story about an inevitable Jeremy win should have been a top priority with Baylor. Instead, Josh tried to guilt her because of past moves that didn’t matter anymore.

Last week, Josh pitched Jon and Jaclyn and contrasted the chances of Broadway stars versus a fireman. He never sold them on how they could make the end by joining him. Jon and Jaclyn had voted with Missy and Baylor during their past two Tribal Councils, so the weight rested on his shoulders to disrupt that alliance. Julie’s quit may have ruined his chances to topple Jeremy, but this week proved the limits of his argument. Once his allies started treating Jaclyn poorly, it was enough to kill any bond that Josh had constructed with her. Instead of stepping in and trying to diminish the rift, Josh let it fester and helped to ensure his own exit.

She’s A Beauty

The reward challenge required teams (!!!) to maneuver large pieces and build a temple, and the groups were chosen by a schoolyard pick. What’s frustrating is that we didn’t see the actual selection. There’s a limited amount of time to tell a story, but the pick could have offered an interesting look at tribal dynamics. The winning team of Jeremy, Natalie, Reed, Keith, and Wes crossed alliances and had a significant athletic edge over the other group. Missy wasn’t chosen, and I expect that’s more associated with her physical skills. The resulting teams related more to wanting a “Survivor-style” taco feast than building alliances. Natalie even joked at the taco bar on whether they should be talking strategy. The exception was Keith, and his attempts to play the game looked foolish and transparent.

For the first time this season, only one person went to Exile Island. Jon earned that reward because he’s a guy who can “handle it”, and that choice made a huge difference on the season. First of all, Jon received a clue to an immunity idol on Exile. Although it wasn’t super obvious, there was enough information to help him find the idol. Jon’s hero shot as he climbed the giant rock is the type they might show in a winner montage. It isn’t the most likely scenario but doesn’t feel so far-fetched after this week. Jon’s exit also left Jaclyn back at camp, where their allies ignored her. Alec, Wes, and Keith weren’t very self-aware, especially when it came to knowing their audience. Ordering the girls around and talking about farting isn’t usually a way to charm a lady. Alec’s clearly learned too much from his older brother.

Jaclyn was not happy with the poor treatment from the guys at camp.

Jaclyn was not happy with the poor treatment from the guys at camp.

I’m not convinced this rude behavior was the only reason Jon and Jaclyn chose Jeremy’s alliance. Even so, it probably played a factor. If those guys care that little for Jaclyn, they won’t hesitate to vote her out when they grab the numbers. Their lack of decorum reveals her role in the pecking order, and that impacts Jon’s spot. Despite Jeremy’s role at the top of his alliance, he’s still vulnerable if Jon and Jaclyn join Missy and Baylor to remove him. There are just more options with that group, and dealing with adults focusing on the game offers better possibilities. Jon and Jaclyn are still probably five and six in that group, but their chances to move up are higher in this scenario.

A Sticky Situation

Josh’s alliance targeted Baylor, which is a surprise when you consider the perception that she doesn’t do anything. A person that no one respects is a perfect goat. Keith called Baylor out with brutal honesty to Missy, and that’s also a poor approach. Missy is extremely protective of her daughter, and being so direct could make Keith her next target. There’s also something troubling about his ugly behavior towards Baylor after ordering her to get firewood. Keith may be totally right about her work ethic, but his approach has some problems. Missy was actually approaching Keith to see if there was any way he’d join them, and he shut that down completely. While Natalie stood by uncomfortably, this conversation between Missy and Keith drew the battle lines between the former allies.

Natalie is playing a great game and in an excellent spot.

Natalie is playing a great strategic game.

It’s surprising that no one is targeting Natalie, who’s strong and is playing a good social game. I figured she might draw attention after Jeremy won immunity. Instead, the target was Baylor because she’s “annoying”, which isn’t the most strategic reason. I expect that Josh and Reed also wanted to weaken Missy, who wouldn’t hold the same power without her daughter in the game. Baylor’s received votes at almost every Tribal Council, which sets up an underdog story that could lead her far. The problem is that she won’t have the respect of the jury if she finds a way to the end. There are few scenarios where Baylor would receive votes from too many others unless people really hate her opponents at the end.

It’s easy to dislike Alec from his behavior towards Baylor and Julie in past episodes. He’s a young kid who doesn’t realize how boorish he’s acting. I doubt this vote will change his style, and Alec’s chances are slim without the numbers. The surprise comes from Wes and Keith, who’ve mostly been presented as endearing. The guys’ logic that Jon would enforce his will and keep Jaclyn on their side was faulty. Jon adores Jaclyn, and it’s obvious that he takes her opinions seriously. This isn’t a one-sided relationship, and Josh’s days were numbered once Jaclyn decided to go a different way. Underestimating your opponents can be a fatal error on Survivor, and these guys did not give Jaclyn enough credit.

Who’s in the best position?

Jeremy is all smiles after winning immunity and taking out Josh.

Jeremy was all smiles after winning immunity and taking out Josh.

Jeremy: The picks this week are very obvious, but that’s how it goes after one alliance grabs control. The win at the memory challenge was timely for Jeremy and set the stage for Josh’s exit. His determined look showed just how important it was, and he stepped up to secure his spot. Jeremy is the clear front runner at this point, though his victory is hardly secure. With the exception of Baylor, all of Jeremy’s allies still have a chance to win the million. The key move for Jeremy now is to stay focused and avoid getting overconfident after his success. Plenty of solid players have looked too far ahead after defeating a rival and forgotten how many Tribal Councils remain. Reed, Keith, and others won’t go down easily.

Natalie: I love the way that Natalie is playing right now. She’s staying out of the spotlight at camp and has strong alliances with Jeremy and Missy. Natalie doesn’t have the same target as Jeremy and could make a convincing case at the end. Despite not being a Survivor expert, Natalie has learned how to play and is a determined competitor. She’s a threat to win challenges but not so imposing to draw too much attention. Natalie’s biggest hurdle is actually Jeremy, and she’d be wise to take him out before the end. Guys like Alec and Wes won’t give a woman the same credit, so Natalie must choose her opponents wisely. Missy and Baylor would be the ideal scenario for Natalie to grab the win in the end.

Who’s in trouble?

Reed: I shouldn’t win any points for making this obvious pick after Josh’s exit. We haven’t seen much from Reed so far, but that’s certain to change next week. Reed can’t hide behind Josh anymore, and exit interviews have hinted that Reed’s behavior was sneaky during the early Hunahpu days. It’s possible that Reed could survive a few votes by pinning attention on others in his alliance, but I don’t see an amazing recovery. A good strategy might be selling his status as a single and pushing attention towards Wes and Keith. This approach might give Reed a chance to survive and build a new plan while others scramble.

Keith: It’s easy to misinterpret the previews, but I’ll admit this choice was influenced by them. If the tribe knows that Keith has the idol, they’ll work quickly to flush it. Keith may survive this week by playing the idol, but his long-term prospects aren’t great. He’s also in trouble for going after Baylor and being involved with the ugly behavior that turned off Jaclyn. The impression of Keith at camp isn’t great, and his attempts to play at the reward feast were transparent. Keith needed the numbers to avoid the target, but he won’t be able to hide now that his alliance has crumbled.

This week’s episode was a return to form for Survivor and my favorite of the season. That isn’t a huge statement given the overall quality, however. The mix of entertainment and strategy worked this time, and the editing wasn’t as awkward in telling the story. While I’m not ready to move San Juan Del Sur out of the bottom tier yet, there are signs of life. The danger now is that Jeremy’s alliance will Pagong the remaining four guys in Josh’s alliance. We need unpredictable exits in the post-merge game. Without them, we’re just passing time until Jeremy’s march to the finish. My attention is focused on Jon and Jaclyn, who are building a case they could take the million. She was largely invisible at the start but has looked sharp during the past few votes. Jaclyn made the Josh vote happen this time, and that forceful play could help her and Jon to usurp the front runners and deliver a surprise victory.

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