Survivor: Cambodia

The Survivor Strategic Game: Killing the Chaos

A frequent high point of Survivor seasons is the merge episode, which usually involves messy scrambling to secure the numbers. When the game includes tribe swaps, it only enhances the confusion. This week had its share of scrambling, but the result wasn’t a huge shock. It’s been an unpredictable season, yet cautious players are now in better shape. Kass was voted out because that level of chaos was too risky; why take a chance? Both an intellectual player like Stephen and a direct guy like Savage can agree about removing the wild card. Kass’ outspoken style unified the tribe and made former allies like Spencer and Kelley unwilling to take a stand to save her.

There was a brilliant throwaway moment during the chaos that exemplified this trend. Savage was defending himself against Ciera’s accusation, but that wasn’t the most interesting thing on the screen. The camera magically caught Keith behind Savage practicing his golf swing. This hilarious shot revealed plenty about Keith and the group. They’re fighting and strategizing but don’t want the drama. Keith had no problem voting out Kass despite being her ally on Ta Keo. He seemed disenchanted by the shenanigans, and I don’t think he was the only one.

The merge put Kass and Ciera in a tough spot. The merge put Kass and Ciera in a tough spot.[/caption]

I shouldn’t be too hard on Kass and Ciera, however. The reason they started the drama was a recognition they were on the bottom. It’s easier for Tasha and Savage to play defensively when they have the majority. I doubt that Spencer moved to their side because he shared their approach to the game. Instead, he read the tea leaves and didn’t want to get left behind. Kelley made a similar judgment, and she’s shown real understanding several times on when to ditch a doomed ally. The more direct players are leading because that’s where the numbers fall. There’s no incentive for Jeremy and Stephen to rock the boat because they’re in a good spot.

Ready to Pounce

The unprecedented merge at 13 wasn’t a huge change from recent seasons, but even one vote can make a difference. If Kass’ group on Ta Keo had been together one more week and voted out Savage, it might have solidified them against the Bayon horde. Going one step further, keeping Woo and removing Savage last week now looks worse. I expect that Abi wouldn’t move against Savage over Woo, but she showed no reservations in voting for Tasha this time. It’s a challenge to keep up with all the different shifts with the limited footage that we have each week.

Tasha had no patience for Kass this time.

Tasha had no patience for Chaos Kass this time.

Kass’ honesty about the previous vote during the merge feast was stunning. She basically called out how she’d betrayed her former Bayon allies. It was clear that Kimmi wasn’t a fan of her explanation. Kass worked behind the scenes to vote out Woo last week. I’m not sure where that subtlety went this time. Players like Tasha have been waiting for Kass to slip, and she leapt right into the net. Calling out Tasha’s transparent lies felt like a desperate move. She had to know grabbing allies would be harder after disrupting camp life. It’s possible that Kass believed she could be a loose cannon and saved like a goat. That doesn’t seem possible in this group.

Once the merge feast ended, no one wasted any time getting into game mode. Jeremy seemed good with rejoining his early alliance with Savage. This move fits with Jeremy’s plan to maintain the shields. Removing the alpha males doesn’t make sense to him. Savage still focused on “Bayon strong”, which showed the simplicity of his game. Jeremy can predict what Savage will do, and that’s important for his strategy. Savage’s continued emphasis on his “brothers” is important to note. I don’t see victory in his future, but Savage can be a solid ally. He also seemed to set aside his suspicions about Stephen, and Jeremy probably helped remove those concerns.

Running the Numbers

Joe and Spencer were almost certainly among the leading fan vote getters back in May. They were standout players during their seasons and were on TV recently. That made them targets from the start, and Spencer has barely survived. Watching them connect as swing votes this week felt strange. I won’t call them close allies, but they enjoyed an unexpected position of power. Once Jeremy’s group decided to split the votes, the potential for a surprise existed. It made little sense for Joe and Spencer to stick out their necks for Kass. They need the numbers and can’t hide behind anyone. Joining the minority to remove Tasha made little sense.

The conversations among the two rival groups were fascinating because of the size of the remaining players. It was hard to even remember everyone in the game! Savage claimed to have Kelly on board (no big surprise), while Kelley spoke of having Keith (less likely). There’s no easy way to determine who’s really working together because of the two swaps. It wasn’t clear why Abi didn’t at least try to re-connect with Tasha. Ciera and Kass were part of the original Bayon, but there was no way around Savage’s fury. He couldn’t convince his allies to remove Ciera, yet there was no chance she’d re-connect with Jeremy and Stephen.

It’s easy to read too much into specific conversations and whether they predict a future alliance. Kelley and Spencer seem tailor-made to work together and discussed their options on the hammocks. They had worked together in the Vytas vote and are both huge fans. Everyone pitched the vote to Jeremy, and he’s clearly trusted by many. It’s worth noting that he wasn’t the one pushing a certain agenda like Savage. Instead, he’s playing cautiously and then moving with the tide. This happened during the Monica vote and looked similar with Kass. We haven’t heard anyone talk about removing Jeremy, and that’s a good sign for his long-term chances.

Correcting Past Mistakes

Jeff Probst has really pushed the idea of “redemption” even within a single immunity challenge. While that connection is silly, it makes sense when looking at specific votes. Tasha blames Kass for turning on her at the merge in Cagayan with the Sarah vote. She didn’t handle the conflict between Kass and Sarah well, and that error also played a role in the result. Unfortunately, Tasha didn’t handle this situation with Kass much better. She walked right into the trap and gave Kass the change to exploit her false statements. While it didn’t send Tasha home, her behavior could have caused others to doubt Tasha’s intentions.

Tasha survived because she’d done a good job securing allies at Bayon from the start. If her friends had concerns about her loyalty, they could have used Kass’ comments to remove Tasha. Instead, she exorcised her Cagayan demons and got the last laugh. Tasha did an excellent job flipping the numbers at Angkor, but the stakes are higher now. She’ll need to play better if she wants to have a shot to win the game. I don’t expect Tasha to be in trouble in the near future, but dealing with Kass is different than anyone else. She can breathe a sigh of relief and realize the most frightening outcome isn’t possible.

Jeremy is thrilled to be working with alpha guys like Savage.

Jeremy is thrilled to be working with alpha guys like Savage that he can use as a shield.

Settling unfinished business has been a common theme for this season of second chances. Stephen broke down last week and worried he’d lose to another golden boy like J.T. Spencer is constantly referencing his different play this time around, and even Kass tried to change for a while. Jeremy’s entire strategy is built on what doomed his game in San Juan Del Sur. He also doesn’t care about the merge and still has eyes on the big prize. That emotional connection for this cast will only grow as the stakes grow higher.

Eight players have left the game, and they were recent (Shirin, Vytas, Kass), not that memorable (Monica, Woo), or unable to make the same impact this time (Peih-Gee, Terry). The one exception was Jeff Varner, who played with such heart and fun that he’ll probably be back again. Plenty of compelling people are still in the game, and it’s going to be hard to watch them go.

Who’s in the best position?

Stephen: The most dangerous time for Stephen was the beginning of the game. He’s found his sea legs, and his prominence as a Survivor expert has slipped to the background. He made the merge! More importantly, Stephen is part of the dominant alliance and in just the right spot. No one considers him a challenge threat, and there are many other targets. The danger comes if Stephen decides to stick his neck out and target Joe. If the group wants Joe out, he should push that agenda. Trying to make it happen on his own will highlight Stephen’s individual game. If he removes Joe, the potential for others to then target Stephen would grow exponentially.

Kelley: I’ve been so impressed with how Kelley has navigated the twists of this game. She’s found herself on the wrong side of the numbers several times and never received a vote. Kelley wisely jumped ship when Shirin went home and did the same with Kass this time. She’s found a potential ally in Joe and has an idol that no one suspects. Kelley also seems likable and isn’t promoting her own agenda. She adapts to the circumstances and keeps working. If she can make the right small moves when it’s time, Kelley could be set up to really make an impact in the endgame.

Who’s in trouble?

Ciera: I was impressed by the way Ciera flipped the vote on Savage and Woo last week. On the other hand, she may have showed her cards too early. Making a move against a guy like Savage is dangerous, especially if you leave him in the game. If Kass hadn’t created a rift with Tasha, Ciera would probably have been the first jury member. Her frustration at Tribal Council also didn’t help her case. Unlike Kelley, Ciera didn’t look for an exit from the minority group. Chastising your fellow players rarely works. Ciera’s best chance is hoping someone tries to make a move to take out a bigger target. If not, she’ll be joining Kass at Ponderosa very soon.

People love Joe, but that makes him a target.

People love Joe, but that makes him a target.

Joe: I have mixed feelings about putting Joe in this spot. Rob accurately pointed out during the Know-It-Alls that Joe may be in a great position. Even so, winning immunity just reminded everyone of why he’s dangerous. He did consider hesitating but couldn’t help himself once the challenge got rolling. Joe’s valuable to Jeremy and others as a shield, but he’ll always be on their minds if he doesn’t win immunity. Mike Holloway proved that winning challenges isn’t a futile strategy, but there are always limits. With Kelly, Tasha, Spencer, Keith, and other formidable players still on the board, Joe won’t have any margin for error.

I’ve really enjoyed this season, and it feels like we’re just getting started. There’s little chance for a Pagonging within this group. Even if Ciera goes next (which isn’t certain), forward-thinking players won’t sit back for long. Ciera’s point about not playing for sixth was valid. She could be a valuable asset for someone who wants to flip the game. The question is whether enough players will join that effort. Many seem comfortable with their current spot, though we still have a long way to go. There are far too many contenders remaining on the board. Big moves will happen, and we’re in for a wild and entertaining finish.

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