Survivor: Worlds Apart

The Survivor Strategic Game: Lining Up the Pieces


When fans cite our favorite Survivor moments, we often reference stunning blindsides that completely flip the game. We also love seeing arrogant players knocked off their perch. Those events don’t happen every week, even in the best seasons. Mixed within the highlights are episodes that build characters and reveal how future votes will happen. Even with a predictable outcome, we see players forming alliances and finding immunity idols. It’s the success of these foundation-building stories that separates the good seasons from the best ones. They show how much we’re invested in the cast because we aren’t seeing the earth-shattering results that keep us chatting at the online water cooler. The editors might promise a surprise, but it’s often just a set-up for a player to fall down the road.

A less-thrilling example was San Juan Del Sur; it just wasn’t that exciting to spend time with Jon, Jaclyn, Baylor, and Missy in the post-merge game. Plans to usurp them failed, and it took a long time before we finally saw Jon’s satisfying exit. They weren’t bad people but didn’t light up the screen. I didn’t get the same feeling last night. Despite losing a part of the minority alliance in Hali, there was enough material to keep me engaged. It wasn’t top-notch Survivor, but there were interesting hints about future episodes. Mike dominated the screen time and might have a golden future, but Rodney’s plan to turn the tables at the final seven could work. We saw ugly behavior from Dan and a possible underdog story for Shirin. Joe’s challenge dominance remained, while Tyler struggled to play the middle. There are few duds in this cast, and I can see many variations to where the game is heading.

A major factor in whether this season kills will be Tyler and Carolyn’s choices. If they keep hinting at switching alliances and don’t change, it’s going to be frustrating. It will be a Monica Culpepper situation from Blood vs. Water where she repeatedly talked about flipping but towed the line. While Tyler and Carolyn have played careful games, I don’t see them drifting towards oblivion. Her idol is the perfect trump card to take charge at the right time. The editors reminded us about the White Collar idol this week in terms of Shirin, but that moment was also for the audience. If the Blue Collars are successful in removing Joe, Jenn, and Shirin (I have my doubts), Tyler and Carolyn may be on the bottom. I’m hopeful they’re having important conversations now to prepare for the right time to flip the game.

Failing the Pitch

Hali was down with a girls' alliance, but it wasn't enough to gain a majority. Hali was down with a girls’ alliance, but it wasn’t enough to gain a majority.[/caption]

Joe was the challenge dominator once again this week, so his win removed the most obvious vote. The seven-person majority had cracks, but few players seemed ready to switch teams. Dan’s awful comments gave Shirin an opportunity to make an emotional argument that he should leave. Jenn and Hali were on board; it fits with their “don’t be annoying” approach to the game. There were limits to this case, however. Sierra might hate Dan and want him gone, but she’s been a rational player and continued to vote with him. Shirin needed to sell more than a girls’ alliance to Sierra or lose the argument. Liking the No Collar girls and Joe wasn’t enough for Sierra to sacrifice her game. The numbers didn’t make sense.

The other gap was finding another vote beyond Sierra to get a 6-5 edge. Shirin made her pitch to Tyler, but it came off as a desperate move. There are gaps in the Blue Collars’ alliance that will give him a better opportunity down the road. Shirin might tell him “I’ve got your back”, but there was little past evidence to suggest they’d work as allies. In her final words, Hali realized that Sierra had flipped but wasn’t sure about the others. That fact indicates that the female alliance was probably a last-minute effort. Tyler may have convinced Shirin that he was on board, and she just told the others they were good. Hali’s shocked reaction felt weird since they were in the obvious minority. Sierra must have been quite convincing. Hali also talked at Ponderosa about Shirin flipping on her, not Will. This raises questions about the strength of her bond with Shirin and Hali’s understanding on what was happening in the game.

It’s possible that Shirin and the No Collars had no chance to convert Sierra. The danger for Sierra was giving the false impression she was on board, which could haunt her in a Final Tribal Council. It’s better to shut down their hopes before they go so far. Another challenge for the women was offering Sierra better than fifth place within their group. If one of them had pitched her separately, they could have promised her a final three deal that might have changed her mind. With everyone in a single location, there was no way to sell much beyond the satisfaction of Dan’s exit. Sierra was focused on removing Joe before the challenge, so eliminating one of his allies was smart and served her immediate purposes.

Rodney’s New Four

Will Rodney be able to line up the pieces to take control of the game?

Will Rodney be able to line up the pieces to take control of the game?

After Kelly’s exit, Rodney’s final four plans seemed broken. He needed allies within their alliance to grab control from Mike. Following Jenn’s surprise idol play, he got back to work and used his hustle pants to try to secure Tyler. I’m skeptical it will work, but it could happen if Carolyn tries to dethrone Mike. Rodney would consider himself the ring leader, but his moves would serve Carolyn and Tyler’s interests. His bond with Will remains interesting, especially after Mike’s decision to test Will in the last Tribal Council. Rodney shuts down Will’s confusion pretty quickly, which might not have been the best move if he wanted to get Will on board with taking out Mike. Hali mentioned in her Gordon Holmes interview that Will wanted to play with grown-ups. That makes his choice to align with Rodney even stranger. Rodney’s technically older, but is he really more mature?

Rodney’s initiative to build an alliance was smart, but his social game remained terrible. Bickering with anyone over food can only hurt your game, even if it’s someone outside of your alliance. Rodney just gave Shirin and others another reason to hate him. If there’s a choice between Rodney and someone else down the road, his poor behavior could be the difference. Rodney may believe that Shirin is pointless in the game, but piling on makes no sense. He also looked foolish in begging Joe to join the reward and walked right into Joe’s comment about him eating more. Others may underestimate Rodney and think he’s a joke, and that might serve his ends. On the other hand, respect is needed to gain votes in the end. Alienating the No Collars and Shirin is an easy way for Rodney to assure that he can’t win. He’s waiting for his time at the final seven, but Rodney needs to shore up his social game to have any real shot.

Mad Treasure Hunt, Revisited

So much of this season connects to Cagayan, especially the three-tribe format, oddball theme, and big characters. I couldn’t help but think of Woo’s “ninja stealth mode” when Tyler spotted the idol clue dropping into Joe’s mouth. Yes, that actually happened. Joe’s laid-back attempt to try Carolyn’s soda and grab the clue was very silly. Up to that point, Joe had made excellent choices. After destroying the reward challenge, he picked the four right people to flip the game. Joe understood the importance of picking the swing votes. Carolyn and Tyler were crucial to any strategy, and making Will and Shirin happy was wise. On the other hand, Jenn was angry that she was snubbed. There’s always a risk to upset your allies, so it’s best not to win. Plus, the only person that Joe seemed to connect with on the reward was Tyler. The idol clue gave him an opportunity to secure a bond, but luck was not on Joe’s side. He underestimated the Vlachos-like skills of Mike, who received the hero edit this week.

Mike's glorious edit this week may be setting him up to win the game.

Mike’s glorious edit this week may be setting him up to win the game.

If you aren’t a fan of Mike, this episode should be a concern. Mike’s vigilant efforts to spy on Joe and Tyler were presented as endearing moves in “spy shack “territory. Tyler’s concern with being targeted made it easy for Mike to learn about the idol clue. While others seemed to give up quickly with the search, Mike’s efforts won him the idol. Before he found it, Mike preemptively congratulated Joe to make the target on Joe even larger. It’s an interesting move because it might cause people to re-consider voting for Joe if they believe he has the idol. In this case, it worked because Joe played along and stopped looking for the idol. Mike talked about eating termites and seemed to be losing his composure. The editors presented his success like the end of a heroic quest. He even did a goofy dance on the spot. It didn’t match Tony’s hilarious reaction to finding the idol, but it was in the general ballpark.

The weird part of Mike’s desperate search was the reason for such great efforts. Mike believed that once they voted out Joe, he would be next on the chopping block. The obvious question is why Mike keeps trying to remove Joe. Wouldn’t it make sense to keep the shield for a few more Tribal Councils? I recognize the challenge in suggesting they vote out anyone but Joe when the chance arrives. Mike would raise suspicions about his motives. Even so, the idol won’t save him forever. He describes the battle with Joe as a clash of the titans but understands that eliminating Joe won’t secure the win. Mike talks about needing an immunity run after beating Joe, and there’s no guarantee he can do it. I like his enthusiasm for Survivor, but Mike will need to watch his back for the rest of the game.

The Saga of Dan

Dan's premature excitement at the challenge mirrored his victory lap in the game.

Dan’s premature excitement at the challenge mirrored his victory lap in the game.

Mike recognizes the danger, which puts him miles ahead of his closest ally. Dan’s nasty comments towards Shirin were just the next step in a long run of ugly behavior. Why can’t Survivor cast a Dan who’s a great player? Dan Berry was the most likable one, but he was too weak. Dan Foley is falling beneath Dan Lembo territory. If he believes that winning is possible, why would Dan alienate a potential jury member? I can’t envision a scenario where Dan could win the game. There aren’t two other players that are more disliked at this point. Rodney has some enemies, but even he would beat Dan. Dan constantly talks about being a super fan, but he is modeling his game off the wrong players. It mirrors the social game play from Russell Hantz, who ridiculed people before their exit. We all know how that ended.

Dan calls out the two kinds of people who play Survivor — people who don’t do anything or those that do too much and annoy everyone. Both don’t get far in the game. Unfortunately, Dan embodies aspects of both of these types. He’s showing little strategy but is going out of his way to irritate others. There’s still a chance that Dan makes the end, but he’s entering the Phillip Shepard in Redemption Island zone. The editors set Dan up for an epic fall after he nearly won the challenge. However, even being awful to Shirin wouldn’t make the majority break apart. Dan is making unnecessary enemies, and that’s the worst move at this stage regardless of where the numbers stand.

A New Sandra?

Are we sleeping on Shirin as a potential winner?

Are we sleeping on Shirin as a potential winner?

It’s been fascinating to watch how Shirin has stayed out of the spotlight following the merge. She’s been comically bad at most challenges, and it makes me wonder if she’s following the Sandra model. Shirin cites how Sandra won twice without doing well at challenges in a secret scene. In Heroes vs. Villains, the others just seemed to forget about Sandra while big targets fell. She tried to make moves and didn’t succeed, but there were always more pressing concerns than Sandra. Shirin took the abuse from Dan and tried to use it against him in the game. It didn’t work, but it shows that she isn’t trying to float to the end. Goofball moments like her problems with the zip line are creating a different persona for Shirin. Others may find her annoying, but she’s dialed it back enough to remain afloat. Mike pushed the votes on Hali because he considered her a bigger threat, and that trend should continue.

Rodney called Shirin the “most pointless player in the game”, which was strange coming from a guy who wants to flip the game down the road. He should recognize that Shirin might be a valuable number for that strategy. The challenge for Shirin will be surviving long enough to watch the Blue Collars turn on each other. If Jenn and Joe depart, she’ll be the obvious boot in the final eight. This is the major hurdle for her strategy to lead Shirin to the end. She’ll need someone to try to make a move at the final nine or will have to win a challenge to force the others to keep her. Even with the numbers stacked against her, I’m not ready to count Shirin out of making the end or even winning.

Who’s in the best position?

Can Mike navigate the tricky waters ahead?

Can Mike navigate the tricky waters ahead?

Mike: This is the easy pick. After Kelly’s exit last week, I wondered if Mike’s power would diminish. Instead, he coerced Tyler into getting an idol clue and grabbed the coveted prize. Do the others recognize the danger from Mike? I’m not sure it’s obvious for many of them. They’re all focused on Joe, so it will be interesting to see what happens if Joe departs. Mike has the idol and a large group of allies, so he’s in the prime spot for the time being. He also recognizes the danger, so this isn’t a Jon Misch situation. Mike could easily fall into a worse position, but he’s currently the #1 contender.

Carolyn: If the Blue Collars fall apart, the beneficiaries should be Carolyn and Tyler. They’re in the Malcolm and Denise spot and won’t be penalized for betraying allies. Carolyn is staying in the background yet understands the game. Her immunity idol remains a mystery to everyone but Tyler, which makes it a lot more powerful. If Carolyn finds the right time to strike, she could put herself in position to make a strong run at the finish. The question is whether she’ll need to betray Tyler to win. Denise took out Malcolm at the final four, and Carolyn might need a similar move to improve her chances.

Who’s in trouble?

Joe will need a lot of victories to reach the end.

Joe will need a lot of victories to reach the end.

Joe: Can Joe reach the end without a ridiculous immunity run? I doubt it. Even Jenn and Shirin aren’t entirely committed to sticking with him. Joe’s challenge abilities are incredible, and his puzzle skills will help with the less physical contests. Even so, there’s bound to be something that stops him. Joe’s backed into a corner where he needs to win every immunity, and that’s a very difficult spot. He’s a likable guy, and that makes his situation tougher because others are worried he’d win in the end.

Jenn: Now that Hali is gone, Jenn is the obvious vote if Joe wins immunity. It doesn’t benefit Jenn to root for Joe. Shirin might go, but she isn’t considered a threat. Could Jenn make a new alliance? Anything is possible, but I don’t see Jenn connecting with Dan or Rodney. Sierra also wasn’t willing to risk her game. Jenn’s best bet is to win immunity and look for gaps at the final nine once Joe has left.

Will the Blue Collars stick together until the final seven? I have my doubts and think something big is coming. Whether it will happen next week or at the final nine isn’t clear. Everyone is focused on removing Joe, so he might need to leave before the dissension increases. Jenn and Shirin would benefit from losing him right away. Until Joe exits, removing his allies will be the obvious alternative move to weaken his power. Going after Dan wasn’t a terrible idea, but a better pitch would involve a larger threat. Mike has the idol, but he might not see a preemptive strike this early. The board is set for a great finish, and I’m hoping we won’t need to wait three weeks before that next stage. Is it blindside time?

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