Survivor San Juan Del Sur

The Survivor Strategic Game: Look Out Below!

It’s difficult as fans to wrap our heads around the surprise exit that we saw this week. The editing set up a showdown between Josh and Jeremy after the merge and then showed both the door in rapid succession. The giants have crashed to the earth, and their departures raise huge questions about the rest of the season. Part of the confusion comes from the lack of a clear narrative to explain Jeremy’s end. There were a few hints of dissension in the alliance, but they felt more like set-up than evidence for the next vote. The erratic behavior from Jon and Jaclyn to vote out Jeremy is baffling, but there is some logic to it. Instead of waiting for the perfect time to strike, they’re acting immediately and not worrying about the consequences. Where did Jeremy go wrong? The answer is rooted in his long-term fandom.

Jeremy had the right mix of qualities to succeed on Survivor; he was likable, athletic, and understood the game. He recognized the importance of building strong allies from the start and found a core group with Natalie and Missy. He only visited Tribal Council once on Hunahpu, and his alliance eliminated a possible wild card in Drew. Jeremy could see the endgame and felt confident his bonds would hold and remove the others in Josh’s alliance. His approach had often succeeded in past seasons, and Tyson had led from the front in the first Blood vs. Water season. The problem for Jeremy was misreading each person’s role, especially Missy’s. He didn’t recognize her willingness to take out allies to further her own game.

The other blind spot was Jon and Jaclyn, who came off initially like recruits who understood little about Survivor. While it’s obvious they aren’t experts, those rough edges have made them more willing to keep shifting their strategy. Jeremy considered Jon and Jaclyn as pawns to keep in line with kind rewards. Their lack of knowledge made them seem less threatening in Jeremy’s eyes, but it actually increased the danger. Jon is impulsive and willing to set aside worries about making people angry. This approach means relying on him to act rationally is difficult. He’s more concerned with removing power players than dealing with the consequences. For that model, we only need to look back to last season.

The Power of Tony Vlachos

Jon was more willing to take out Jeremy because of recent Survivor history. Jon was more willing to take out Jeremy because of recent Survivor history with Tony.[/caption]

It’s no stretch to say there aren’t many long-time Survivor fans in this cast. A guy like Jeremy based on his strategy on watching a lot of winners, but that’s an exception. Newbies will obviously focus on the most recent season, and Cagayan offers an intriguing model with Tony. Few can play his intense game well, but that doesn’t mean players won’t try. A guy like Jon watched Tony flip repeatedly on his alliance and still receive the jury’s votes in the end. Meanwhile, Jeff Probst keeps pushing the cult of big moves in every interview and at Tribal Council. Who wouldn’t be swayed to try and match Tony’s play? Jon has the idol, so he’s more willing to take risks. He also is playing with Jaclyn, who’s an equal partner in their choices. Working as a pair gives each of them an ally in case a bad choice makes them a bigger target.

Tony was a master at mending fences with spurned allies right after Tribal Council. He found a way to get Trish back on his side after betraying her trust multiple times. This episode began with Jon asking “Does everyone hate me?” following his vote against Josh. Missy tells him it doesn’t matter, and that’s not entirely true. It does shed some light into her thought process about voting decisions. Missy takes a clinical approach to removing threats, and she didn’t hesitate to turn on Jeremy. She’s Heidik-like in her willingness to set aside emotions with the vote. The one exception is with her daughter, and it will be interesting to see if their goals conflict down the road. Baylor appears willing to follow her mom’s lead, but that approach won’t do her any good if she reaches the final Tribal Council.

Jeremy’s Downfall

Where did Jeremy go wrong? The obvious answer is that he was a strong guy and doomed unless he won immunity, but that’s too simple. Instead, there were several actions from Jeremy that pushed his allies to move against him. After going to Exile Island and failing to locate the idol, Jeremy knew Jon had it. When the clue essentially says “Go here, dummy,” it’s impossible not to find the idol. Jeremy had several options on what to do with this information. He could have kept it to himself and told only Natalie. The problem with this choice was Jon’s realization that Jeremy knew his secret. Jon still might go after Jeremy to protect this information. Another option was approaching Jon with this knowledge and using it to secure their alliance. This could backfire since Jon already considered Jeremy a threat, but it had potential. Instead, Jeremy took a hybrid approach that was worse than either option.

Jeremy may have come on too strong with Jon about the idol.

Jeremy may have come on too strong with Jon about the immunity idol.

The first problem was adding a third party to a tricky conversation. Instead of talking with Jon alone, Jeremy had Natalie by his side. This put Jon on the defensive and made him feel even more uncomfortable. Jeremy asked Jon about the idol but didn’t try to make a deal with him. Jon’s nervous response made it clear he was lying. Instead of using that knowledge to his advantage, Jeremy ended up just messing with Jon. There was a more delicate way to approach this situation that could have worked. Why risk alienating a guy who seems more than willing to switch sides? If we can believe the episode chronology, Jon’s next step was revealing the idol to Missy. This moment was probably vital in turning the tide against Jeremy. Missy had a strong bond with Jon, and his idol made the situation even clearer.

When the votes were read against Jeremy, Natalie’s immediate reaction focused on Missy’s betrayal. Why did it happen? Our main clue was a brief confessional from Missy where she realized that Jon and Jaclyn don’t mind making people angry. This recalls Cochran’s realization about Dawn in the Caramoan and could make Jon and Jaclyn perfect allies to bring to the end. Missy knew that Jeremy is a formidable threat, and she saw a chance to remove a major obstacle. He might be angry in the end, but she could sell the move as pivotal towards her endgame. The question is whether the jury will give Missy any more credit than Jon or Jaclyn. Flipping on everyone is one thing, but it’s hard to get over betraying close allies that you’ve had since the start of the game. I’m also unsure if Missy’s well-liked among this cast; she could make the end but might lose votes to a friendlier alternative.

Selling Their Rewards

Another big moment was the choice from Natalie and Jeremy to give up their rewards to Jon and Jaclyn. While it’s a transparent move designed to earn their trust, that doesn’t mean it’s a futile gesture. Jon spent much of the reward challenge raving about sandwiches, so it clearly meant a lot to him. Sending Jaclyn along with Jon made sense, especially since Jeremy wanted to visit Exile Island. It was worth a gamble, despite the negative result. On the other hand, we’ve rarely seen instances where giving up a reward truly led to real loyalty. Josh learned recently that even saving a person nets little in return. Giving Jon pastrami sandwiches wouldn’t change his mind from concentrating on Jeremy as a threat.

This choice is more interesting when you look at Natalie’s game, especially given her difficult spot. Natalie volunteered for Exile Island for Julie earlier to connect with Baylor, and it was a smart move. It didn’t help her this week, but it showed that Natalie was thinking about her long-term alliances. Her move this time looked obvious and didn’t pay dividends, but that doesn’t mean it was an awful choice. Natalie wasn’t worrying about short-term gains like riding on a very small fishing yacht. Even so, she’s in a tough position after losing her best ally. It’s going to be tricky for her to survive the next few Tribal Councils. By giving up rewards, Natalie has shown that she’s playing the game. The problem is that she can’t hide now that the numbers are against her.

Lighting the Camp on Fire

Keith realized he was in serious trouble about Reed's discovery.

Keith realized he was in serious trouble after Reed’s discovery of the idol.

Reed’s been largely invisible this season, but players have consistently mentioned his shady play in their exit interviews. We finally saw that side of Reed’s personality this week after Josh’s departure. Following Baylor’s win at the immunity challenge, he realized the odds were stacked against him. While digging through another player’s pack isn’t usually the smartest move, it did yield a big discovery. This raises an interesting question about Reed’s behavior: Did he go through everyone’s bags? How did Reed know to target Keith? It’s possible that Keith was less protective of his stuff than the others. The fact that he failed to destroy the clue to the immunity idol shows that he’s pretty careless. Was Keith worried that he’d forget about the powers of the idol? Regardless of the reasons, it gave Reed a prime opportunity.

It’s priceless to observe the surprised reactions to this information. Baylor’s baffled response shows just how little they respect Keith’s game. They’d never guess that he could keep the idol a secret. To Keith’s credit, he recognized the implications once he discovered that his bag had been searched. Reed, Jaclyn, Missy, Jon, and Baylor all learned about the idol. It also puts Wes in a difficult position because of a split-vote possibility. Once Natalie is gone, the two leading couples might target the guy with the idol. If Keith had kept it a secret, the idol would have been a total shock and given him new life.

I don’t believe Reed made the right choice by trying to induce chaos at the camp. In his exit interview with Rob, Jeremy talked about being willing to work with Reed after Josh’s exit. By targeting Keith and trying to create conflict, Reed is setting himself up as a lone wolf that isn’t reliable. He may have voted with the majority this time, but Reed isn’t part of the main alliance. He could leap back and forth between alliances and sell his vote, but it takes a rare personality to do that without alienating everyone. I don’t get the sense that Reed could charm his way out of trouble, so he’ll need to keep messing around to avoid the vote. With nine players remaining, it will be difficult to maintain that strategy in the long run.

Four with Nine Equals Out

The most important question from this week’s episode (and the season) is whether this was the right time to take out Jeremy. He was clearly a threat, but making the move so soon was risky. I understand why Jon, Jaclyn, Missy, and Baylor voted to take out Jeremy now. He wouldn’t expect it, and the split vote ensured that it wouldn’t take much to send him home. That said, I think the timing was wrong. My reason comes down to simple math. In the immortal words of Brad Culpepper, “Four with nine equals out.” The two pairs have a strong foursome, but the fifth vote came from Reed. He’s a wild card, and the previews already hint that he’s building a new alliance. With nine players remaining, the other five can band together and decimate the leading couples. Natalie would certainly lend her vote to this cause.

The swing vote in this scenario is Reed, who would have more control with Wes, Keith, Alec, and Natalie. Sticking with the other four would give him fifth place but little else. What’s so tricky with either group is figuring out who are the most formidable opponents in front of the jury. Natalie could be dangerous, but she’s a valuable ally to battle the couples. Missy and Baylor aren’t well-liked, but it’s wise to remove at least one to split up the pair. That’s also true of Jon and Jaclyn. There aren’t many obvious winners remaining, so it comes down to building a small degree of trust with someone to move forward.

Who’s in the best position?

For this question, I’m focusing on players that don’t have a great chance to win. However, they’re in the middle of alliances and won’t be targets anytime soon. The blowback from removing Jeremy won’t touch Baylor, and the revelation of Keith’s idol puts Alec in a better spot.

Alec: It’s hard to find positives about a guy who lacks self-awareness to this degree. That said, we aren’t seeing anyone talking about removing him. Alec may find himself taking the Eddie model and making the finale but doing little to warrant that spot. If he ends up with the right alliance, is it possible Alec could make the final three? I see little chance he could sell his game, but weirder things have happened.

Baylor: This week’s immunity challenge was tailor-made for a strong cheerleader with good balance. Baylor deserves a lot of credit for mastering a tricky contest and winning the top prize. She’s so young and just following her mom, but the negative attention towards her is lessening. The best thing for Baylor’s game would be having Missy leave. That would remove the target of being part of a pair and could give her a shot to glide right into the final Tribal Council.

Who’s in trouble?

These choices are tricky because the alliances are so fluid. I’m picking Natalie and Keith because of where they stand after this episode, but their fates could change rapidly.

Natalie defeated Jaclyn in the reward challenge, but she's in a dangerous spot now.

Natalie defeated Jaclyn in the reward challenge, but she’s in a dangerous spot now.

Natalie: It’s hard to put Natalie in this spot because she’s my personal favorite out of the remaining cast. I’d love to see her make the end and win the million. The problem is that she just lost her main ally and was betrayed by her alliance. Natalie faces the same dilemma that Reed encountered after Josh’s exit. Will she also work to inspire chaos or sit back and hope for a new opportunity? I’m guessing she’ll choose the first option, though she must choose the right targets. Rallying the other four guys against the two strong pairs should be Natalie’s goal, regardless of how she does it.

Keith: Keeping the idol clue in his bag was a rookie mistake from Keith. Even so, he only received votes from Jeremy and Natalie. The fact that Alec voted for Reed is a good sign about his loyalties. The problem for Keith is the idol, which makes him a constant target. While it would save him for another vote, he must find a way to avoid using it if possible. The goal should be getting back with the numbers, but that could a serious challenge. Will anyone trust Keith?

This week’s Tribal Council reinforced the conflict that began last week of Wes, Alec, and Keith against Baylor and Jaclyn. While it didn’t impact the vote, it showed the rift that won’t be repaired anytime soon. This separation simplifies the possible combinations for next week’s vote. You have four versus three with Reed and Natalie as the wild cards. Everyone may band together and take out Natalie, but that seems too easy when you look at this cast. What’s interesting is how either Reed or Natalie could jump back to Missy’s group with the right timing. Now that Jeremy is gone, there are many possibilities about who could reach the end. It’s been an uneven season, but there’s a chance for real chaos in the near future. Viewers may not love the final result, but they’ll see plenty of fireworks before the last vote is cast.

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