Survivor: Worlds Apart

The Survivor Strategic Game: Beyond the Game


When you write a blog about Survivor strategy, covering an episode like this week’s feels a bit trivial. In the most basic terms, the majority alliance stuck together and voted out the person on the bottom. Jenn left the game without much of a fight, so there was little drama surrounding the actual vote. On the other hand, this episode was a brutal example of what can happen when people spend every waking hour with each other. The results can be ugly, and we saw an unflinching look at some nasty behavior. It was a fascinating episode, but I felt beat up after watching it. Will had limited screen time up to this point, and he seemed like a pretty likable guy. That fact made his words towards Shirin even more shocking.

This scene brought to mind an experience that I had in my summer job as a teenager. I worked in food service at the local zoo, and it wasn’t a bad gig. One day, I strolled into the kitchen and was verbally berated by a co-worker. We’d always gotten along fine, but he used every unkind word in the dictionary (and some that aren’t) in this tirade. It was bewildering since I’d had no issues with the guy and wasn’t aware of any problems. Apparently, there were rumors that people had been making fun of his staff behind his back at a meeting. He mistakenly assumed that I’d been involved, despite the fact that I was off work on the day in question. It was all a misunderstanding, but this guy was beyond listening to any reason. He just kept yelling and wouldn’t admit that he’d chosen the wrong person to attack.

I’m recounting this example not to put myself in the same position as Shirin. Her background with domestic violence and abuse made her situation a lot more distressing. I’m mentioning it because of the way that Will refused to back down despite the evidence he’d made a mistake. He kept doubling down at Tribal Council and would not accept that he’d gone too far. Shirin wasn’t the lone person questioning Will’s integrity; Mike appeared to be the ringleader. Will clearly went after someone he considered an easy target. His justifiable anger at being questioned morphed into personal attacks that reached another level of meanness. There was no game strategy on display here; these feelings about Shirin had probably been building for weeks.

The conflicts in this episode went way outside the game. The conflicts went way outside the game.[/caption]

There has been some ugly behavior this season, and Jeff Probst explained it as players wanting to win. I don’t really buy that theory, however. That was the case with Mike’s failed moves at the auction, but Will’s actions can’t be that simple. It’s one thing to blow up at someone for destroying your spot in the game. Telling someone they have no friends and family is on a different scale. A definite factor is lack of comfort and sleep on Survivor. In my situation, the guy eventually calmed down and gave a partial apology. That’s harder to do in the stressful pressure cooker of this game. It brings out the best and worst in people, and that’s part of why the format works. The challenge is coming to terms with behavior that falls into uncomfortable territory. The drama is compelling, but it leaves a bad taste afterwards.

A complicating factor in this discussion is our limited perspective on what happened. We saw Will’s nasty comments on the show, but it was only a small part of the argument. While I can’t defend his awful statements, there had to be something else happening. I’m a Shirin fan and inclined to take her side, but I don’t want to set aside the complexities and just pile on Will. Sierra’s extra scene revealed a middle-of-the-road take on the fight that was different than what we saw on the show. Will looked mean and stubborn from what we saw in the edit. In a bonus scene, he broke down about missing the letters from home. I can totally sympathize with his sadness about it, yet that doesn’t excuse such personal attacks. I’ll be interested in how Will interacts with the group in the upcoming episodes.

Transforming the Auction

Following the mess of the Cagayan auction (where no one spent any money), many assumed we’d seen the last of the Survivor auction. Everyone knows there will be an advantage at the end, so no one fights to bid on bad pizza. This new version didn’t change the mold, but there were a few adjustments. The biggest one came with the editing, where food items sold in a quick montage following the early purchases. Jenn bought a massive alcoholic drink that wasn’t even identified in the rapid sequence (It was a rum punch). Another twist was kicking Will out of the auction with the first purchase. I suspected the producers might sell the advantage at the start, but this move surprised me. It felt a little cruel and inadvertently set Will on a course towards a bitter conflict. He did receive a surprise food reward buried in the ground, but that device raised suspicions even when he chose to help the tribe.

Trader Jeff had some surprises up his sleeve for the auction.

Trader Jeff had some surprises up his sleeve.

We’ve observed in the past that the smart players usually wait for the advantage while others foolishly eat. Shirin bucked that trend by choosing fried chicken and waffles, and it wasn’t a terrible strategy. If your game is designed to play under the radar, why out yourself as a real threat? Shirin made sure the others understood her plan, which was also wise. Mike, Carolyn, Dan, and Sierra waited patiently for the advantage, and most weren’t a surprise. We haven’t seen much from Sierra, but she’s been a steady competitor since the merge. She eventually dropped out of the running, which left the trio to pull rocks for the advantage. I can’t bypass Mike’s disastrous maneuvers, however. He seemed willing to make enemies to grab the advantage but pulled back at the last second. This was the worst possible strategy.

Mike accomplished several things with his move at the auction, and none of them were good. If he felt desperate enough to grab the advantage, he should have stuck with it at any cost. He would have angered the others but could have sold it as a game move. No half measures, Mike. Attempting the trickery and then backing down still revealed his willingness to do anything to win. Changing his mind exacerbated the issue because Dan wound up with the advantage. Mike realized his error when it was too late and tried to remedy it by caving. I can totally see his logic, but it didn’t work out as expected.

It’s strange to note Mike’s quick shift from ringleader to  the minority. He overheard Rodney’s plans to remove him and acted, but I didn’t expect such a dramatic adjustment. It makes me wonder if the editors held back details that would better explain his place on the bottom. He seemed tight with nearly everyone, particularly Dan and Sierra. His shenanigans at the auction and afterwards might have been enough to change their tunes. Messing with letters from home is never wise. Dan might have considered it a large enough betrayal to kick Mike to the curb.

Blowing Up the Camp

While Mike caused drama, Rodney made connections.

Rodney wisely made personal connections.

It’s possible that Mike could have recovered from his gaffes at the auction and retained Sierra and Dan as close allies. Unfortunately, his choice to attack Rodney at camp just compounded the situation. His enemies didn’t know that Mike was aware of them; why make it so obvious? He could have tried to retain Dan and Sierra on the side and pull a 5-4 majority against Rodney. Mike’s scene at camp solved little and painted him as a jerk. They’d just received the letters from home, so few wanted to consider the game. Even Rodney understood the personal side of receiving the letters. Mike’s apology meant little because the damage was done. To Rodney’s credit, he defended himself and saw an opportunity to recruit Dan. Subtle play is essential on Survivor, and it worked much better here.

What’s strange about Mike’s behavior is the presence of the hidden immunity idol. He played like a desperate guy who needed every advantage to stay in the game. I doubt that anyone believes Mike has the idol. In that sense, he may have inadvertently set up a surprise for down the road. That didn’t seem to be Mike’s intention, however. He’s playing full tilt in cases where sitting back would be smarter. This doesn’t mean that Mike’s game is toast, but he’ll be a prime target right to the end. Mike spent a lot of time working for Dan’s trust and focused on their blue-collar bond. He’ll need Dan’s extra-vote advantage on his side to gain an edge against Rodney’s group.

It’s also worth noting that Mike inadvertently caused Will’s outburst against Shirin. He brought up the suspicion that Will was hoarding the food, a claim that mirrors the suspicions about Dan and Mike on the first day. It wasn’t a terrible idea to raises doubts, but Tyler informing Will killed that chance. Mike succeeded in making Will look awful, but I don’t expect it helped to break up the main alliance. Will’s slim chances at the final Tribal Council are gone, but that could make him a better goat. Tyler’s move clarifies his spot within the group. Tyler has played from the middle throughout this game, but that choice puts him firmly with Will, Carolyn, and Rodney.

Raising Her Hand

The season’s most powerful image thus far is the shot of a determined Shirin raising her hand against Will. His request to trade participating in the challenge for the letters from home was an odd one. The producers had to expect they could induce great drama by giving the tribe a choice. Shirin’s move went beyond the game and was her way to push back against the bully. From a game perspective, it wouldn’t help her to deny Will his letters. In a secret scene, she explained about opposing both the move for game integrity and personally. A third reason is setting herself up as a villainous goat to take to the end. I hadn’t considered that possibility, but it’s a strategic way to consider her choice. Looking beyond the game, it was a fist-pumping moment for the audience. Shirin’s been presented as the underdog by the editors since Max’s exit, and this moment cemented her spot. I doubt that Shirin is on her way out next week.

The tension was just as high at Tribal Council.

The tension was just as high at Tribal Council.

I’ve yet to mention Jenn’s exit, which felt anticlimactic following the drama. In her exit interview with Rob, Jenn clarified that she told Shirin and Mike to vote for her. That move ensured that Shirin wouldn’t exit in a split-vote scenario. It was unfortunate that Jenn lost the passion after being a player to watch for much of the season. I can understand her attitude, however. For a person like Jenn, the ugliness wouldn’t make her want to stick around. She also clarified that Will blew up at Shirin but didn’t hold Jenn to the same standard for selling the distrust. This might come down to personality differences, but it still raised even more questions about Will’s behavior towards Shirin.

A Golden Ticket

If all this wasn’t enough, Dan won an extra vote at Tribal Council! It’s strange that it feels like an afterthought to even discuss this advantage. It could play a huge role in the game, though I have a sense that it might increase Dan’s target. An extra vote isn’t as powerful as the Tyler Perry Idol (thankfully), but it could still make a big difference in the game. As the numbers dwindle, there’s a greater chance for a deadlock or slight edge. In a secret scene, Dan clarified that he can use it up until the final five. He also talks about being a bigger target because of it. He considers himself a “quiet threat”, but I’m pretty sure the others don’t share that assessment.

Mike will need Dan to make a move.

Mike will need Dan’s advantage to make a move.

I’d be more excited if the previews hadn’t shown the next steps with this advantage. The others know Dan has some edge, but not understanding it is the key. The extra vote only works if Dan’s opponents don’t suspect it will come. Like an immunity idol, the knowledge of its existence gives players a way to work around it. This shifts the questions to numbers and nullifies a possible big move. If Dan makes the end, he’ll need to overcome personal biases from many of the cast. He may talk in confessionals about running the game, but Dan must show the jury what he’s done to have even a minimal chance to steal the win.

Given all the ugly behavior that happened this week, it feels inconsequential to talk about positions within the game. Even so, this is still a battle for a million dollars with eight players remaining. If we assume a final three, the only two that seem to have no chance are Will and Dan. The idol and advantage could drastically change the alliances within a few days.

Who’s in the best position?

Tyson didn't win the challenge but remains a force.

Tyler didn’t win the challenge but remains a force.

Tyler: Rodney is technically leading the alliance, but that’s actually a bad spot. If Mike uses the immunity idol, he’s more likely to target Rodney as the leader. Shirin has also focused on Carolyn as a threat. Sitting in the middle is Tyler, who instigated the big fight by informing Will about the false rumors. He’s working behind the scenes and is an unlikely target in the near future. He’ll need to be careful after some players fall to not become the next target, however.

Who’s in trouble?

Mike: If he doesn’t win immunity, Mike is the definitive next target for the rest of the group. His idol will allow him to live another day, but it’s a long road to the finish. Mike tried to spread dissension within the tribe, but the main result was building a stronger coalition against him. If he makes the end, Mike can make a case that he’s played the game from the start. The big question is whether he can navigate the many obstacles to reach the final stage. It will be an uphill climb, especially after this week.

I have mixed feelings about this season at this point. It’s been more exciting than San Juan Del Sur and has a better cast. There have been great moments and consistent drama throughout the game. On the other hand, there’s been a lot of ugly behavior and personal attacks. In a sense, having players that care more may be the same reason we have all the conflict. I’m not ready to write off the season and still like some of the players, but we’re moving a bit too close to Brandon Hantz territory. I’m still optimistic about the season but hope we don’t have too many brutal fights down the road. There’s no obvious winner, so the stage is set for an unpredictable finish once the majority alliance crumbles.

Become a patron of RHAP