Survivor: Worlds Apart

The Survivor Strategic Game: No Place to Hide


I’ve been watching Survivor since the early days, and it’s easy to become overly familiar with the routine. A new cast arrives, and they build a shelter, compete in their first challenge, and visit Tribal Council. Players make the same mistakes and find themselves on the chopping block while others take control. They follow a similar path, yet each season has its own breadth and tone. When casting has done their job, even a 90-minute premiere is too short to contain them all. I experienced that sensation while watching the first episode of Worlds Apart. The cast is an engaging collection of oddballs, and most are bringing something fun to the table. Even the cringe-inducing characters are good TV.

What keeps me so intrigued by this show is how deceptively challenging it can be. There are many longtime fans within this cast, but it’s still difficult for them to play well. It’s too early to understand everyone’s strategy (if they have one), yet we’ve already seen hints on how they’ll approach the game. Some believe they need to manipulate others to gain control, while others sit back and wait for the right moment. Simply choosing the correct time to speak when building the shelter is an undervalued skill; not everyone has it. Immediate divisions appear within each tribe, and the cohesive atmosphere is gone before the end of the first day. Within tribes of six, there’s little room to hide if something isn’t working.

Another interesting aspect is the impact of the White Collar/Blue Collar/No Collar labels on the players. Despite the awkward simplicity of Jeff’s introduction to each tribe, giving them those titles can affect how they play. The No Collar group seemed determined to maintain a low-stress environment, though that harmony was already showing cracks. The delineations won’t play a long-term role once the tribes mix, and some could easily fit in other groups. Regardless, there’s a psychological impact in separating them in this manner. It could also create bonds from people like Dan and Mike who really believe in the blue collar title. It’s really just a hook for the season, but that doesn’t mean it won’t bring some people together.

Playing from the Front

In the bloggers’ initial cast predictions, I wrote the following about So, “So will be calling for big moves right from the start, but she won’t be making deals behind the others’ backs.” While I was wrong about the devious play, my thoughts on the lack of subtlety were accurate. There’s nothing wrong in theory with choosing an idol clue over beans for the tribe. The issue is creating an unconvincing lie that raises warning bells with the other players. It’s no surprise that Shirin looks to align with Max and Carolyn instead of So. Players are looking for any reason to make the first vote, and So built an immediate perception that she was unreliable. Succeeding in challenges is nice, but that isn’t enough in this Survivor era. So walked into the cross hairs by targeting Carolyn and gave her tribe just two options.

So lost the battle with Carolyn. So’s game wasn’t subtle enough to survive.[/caption]

A perfect example of why the others voted for So occurred at Tribal Council when she called out their alliance of four. While the choice was sealed by this point, it showed the reasons for making it. So tried to do too much at the start and made their decision easier. Shirin had screwed up the challenge yet was never a real consideration. Instead, So created a thin argument about Carolyn playing it safe at the challenge. She didn’t realize that Carolyn had already formed bonds with Shirin and Tyler. The behind-the-scenes work is a lot more important than the direct argument. In a tribe of thinkers (and Joaquin), So made herself a target by making waves. This was enough to seal her fate by a 4-2 vote.

Joaquin played a similar game, so why wasn’t he considered? The most obvious answer is his gender. It’s unfortunate that early boots are frequently women because they’re considered weaker in challenges. Joaquin was on the wrong side of the numbers yet wasn’t considered a target. It would have taken a Garrett-like gaffe to put him in danger. Another reason is the more laid-back way that he approached the deception. He spouted the same lies yet wasn’t as vocal. This feeling may come from the editing, which was designed to explain why So received the votes. On the other hand, he did seem less forceful about targeting Carolyn. So was making the case to everyone, which created an either/or situation for the final choice at Tribal Council.

A Dangerous Position

In similar fashion to Cagayan, Jeff began the season by asking teams to choose a representative. No one should want this role, especially if they’ve seen the show. It’s intriguing to look at how each group arrived at their choice. No one was thrilled to step up for the White Collar tribe, and Max wisely pointed out the danger in grabbing this spot. Joaquin reluctantly stepped forward, and this move set the stage for the episode’s final outcome. Dan was picked from the Blue Collars because of “wisdom” and was thrilled with the idea. Despite being an avid fan who’s driven thousands of miles to apply, I don’t get the sense that Dan is a strategist. He’s a big character and talked about “living the dream” in the introduction, but that may not translate to great success. The No Collar group chose Will, and the reason appeared to be his likability. Despite the precarious spot, his low-key attitude should serve him well.

The new twist involved choosing a second participant to help make a decision for the tribe. Jeff clearly announced their role in making that choice, which means players must either tell the truth or make up a story (more on that in a bit). So volunteered to join Joaquin, and this move fit with her style of play. There’s little subtlety to it. Mike also took the chance, yet it didn’t affect him in the same way. So much depends on how your tribe approaches the game at this stage. The least risky group was the No Collars, and I don’t expect Jenn to face any negative consequences for joining Will. Both don’t have outward personalities that seem untrustworthy, and that’s huge with this type of game device.

What’s the Right Choice?

Choosing "Deceive" was a dangerous move this early in the game.

Choosing “Deceive” was a dangerous move this early in the game.

The main decision for each pair was “Deceive” or “Honest”, but each move created secondary choices beyond it. If you take the larger bag of beans, it’s important to sell the idea as reinforcing team unity. It’s also essential not to overplay the sacrifice. Others might think you’re trying too hard to build sympathy. The best work came from Will and Jenn, who kept it simple and weren’t tempted by the idol. The others accepted their explanation, and the pair avoided the major pitfall. Less successful were Dan and Mike, who made the same choice yet didn’t sell it to Sierra and Lindsey. Several factors contributed to this reaction. The first is the girls just not liking Dan; they’re inclined to believe very little. The bag wasn’t that large, so deciding they were being played was easy. Dan will probably face the consequences of their interpretation more than Mike — the hero of the immunity challenge.

Despite the allure of the immunity idol, the safest choice was definitely “Honest”. In a tribe of six, the most pressing goal is staying with the numbers. Even if So had found the idol, it wouldn’t be enough to overcome a 4-2 majority in the long run. In most cases, the best move is getting the rice and using the goodwill to form alliances. The exception might be in the White Collar tribe because it includes fans like Max and Shirin. So and Joaquin could have ended up on the bottom just because of how their personalities fit within this group. It’s a mostly serious bunch that isn’t walking around singing “We Are Family.” The only way to have a shot at selling “Deceive” was to create a very convincing story, and So and Joaquin failed spectacularly. Here’s the strange explanation from So:

We had kind of a dilemma. There were three boxes. There was one that said “Honest”, one that said “Deceive”, and one that said “Neutral”. We picked “Neutral” because if we picked “Honest” or “Deceive”, there was gonna be some sort of caveat with it. So, I don’t know what would have happened.

Let’s consider this explanation for a minute. They admit to not picking “Honest” because of a caveat, but it’s such a vague description. The lie needed more details to have any shot at all. This quote sounds like a hastily organized lie, and So doesn’t seem to believe it herself while she’s talking. Admittedly, Joaquin and So were stuck in a difficult position. When you arrive with that small bag of rice, no lie is going to completely win over the tribe. Joaquin tried to step in and say that they didn’t know what would happen if they picked “Honest”, but he’s even less convincing. What makes this moment so entertaining is the immediate cut to reactions from Carolyn and Shirin that poke holes in their story. Selling a flimsy lie to this group was impossible. It’s also refreshing to have players that understand the game within this cast. They’re reacting in the same way that longtime fans respond to the show.

Doing the Legwork

The No Collar tribe was the most cohesive, with one glaring exception.

The No Collar tribe was the most cohesive, with one glaring exception.

The early stages of Survivor are tricky because they require both patience and willingness to make small moves. The easiest way to become a target is going overboard with strategy. On the other hand, doing nothing could put you on the wrong side of the numbers while alliances form. Sometimes just giving a weird guy a hug is the best move. A standout character was Vince, who formed an alliance with Jenn and ruined it through paranoia and creepiness. Citing his weakness as an “intense attraction to women”, Vince seemed most concerned with other activities than connecting in the game. Jenn did her best in a sticky situation and even endured a very long hug to keep him on board. It seems unlikely that Vince could gather any numbers to vote her out, but why take a chance?

Another odd yet effective approach came from Rodney, who employed the Vytas strategy of revealing sad details from his past to garner sympathy. He isn’t as smooth yet still found allies in Lindsay and Sierra. I hadn’t pegged Rodney as a player, but it’s actually a pretty good strategy. There are limits to this approach, but he should be in good shape in the near future. On the opposite end is Dan, who seems incapable of connecting with the women. Calling people “stupid” is rarely smart, no matter what they’re doing. The best question mark in this group is Kelly, who seems comfortable in the tribe while others make a bigger impression. Dan is stomping around in his underwear, Mike is puking up scorpions, and Rodney is trying to be smooth. Sometimes just standing still is the right idea.

I was nervous for Shirin going into this episode because she looked to be the weakest physical competitor on the White Collar tribe. Recognizing this fact, she wisely connected with Carolyn and Max. Those choices made sense given their place in the group. Carolyn was the obvious target as the older woman, so she’d be more open to an alliance. Max was the game’s other big super fan, so they should have common ground. The question mark was Tyler, but pitching to the “big man” was easier with three on board. Shirin moved early before her back was against the wall and barely received much notice as a target.

Carolyn argued with So and Joaquin at Tribal Council and quickly made enemies, so it was hardly a perfect night for her. On the other hand, she did amazing work to grab the hidden immunity idol from under their noses. The subtle way she tailed So and located the weird tree showed an understanding of the game that I didn’t expect. Revealing the idol to Tyler secured him as an ally, and trusting her alliance at Tribal Council gave her a trump card for later. Carolyn could have easily gone home, but now she’s with the numbers and in a solid position to hang around for a while.

A New Kind of Challenge

There was a better choice to win this challenge, but it wasn't so obvious.

There was a better puzzle choice to win this challenge, but it wasn’t so obvious.

One of the producers’ best moves was creating an immunity challenge with interesting choices inside of it. Should you choose the puzzle with the least pieces despite it being harder? How does your place in the challenge determine which puzzle to select? There was also a choice between keys and nuts early within the contest. These moves added a new layer of tension that kept everyone on their toes. I was on board with the White Collars’ move to pick the 50-piece puzzle because they had the lead. Only after the other tribes blew through the 10-piece puzzle did their mistake become clear. Part of the issue was Shirin’s difficulty under pressure, but it also looked much tougher than Jeff’s description. By the time Max subbed in and took over, there was little chance of avoiding Tribal Council.

What this challenge did was create extra decisions for each tribe that could affect them later. So tried to use Carolyn’s lack of commitment in the challenge against her, and it wasn’t a terrible idea. On the other hand, Joe and Mike (especially) became heroes at the puzzle by sticking out their necks. Challenge performance isn’t stressed like it once was on Survivor, but it still took guts. Another factor is looking too good in challenges and becoming a target later. I wonder if Joe might be heading in that direction. It’s never easy to find that middle ground, especially with new tricks coming every season.

Who’s in the best position?

Tyler: I originally picked Tyler to make the merge, but his chances may be even higher than I expected. It’s hard to dislike anyone called “the big man” because of the E Street connection, and Tyler’s quiet approach could work within this group. The others seem to respect him, and his answers to Jeff at Tribal Council were sharp. He complimented So’s physical skills and didn’t get pulled into any petty fights. Tyler formed a bond with Carolyn and is most likely to have options if the tide turns against Max and Shirin.

Joe: My fellow bloggers raved about Joe’s chances before the show, and I’ll now admit they may be right. He started a fire without flint, destroyed the puzzle, and formed a bond with Jenn. How can you not like this guy? He’s in Vince’s sights, but I don’t see a coalition forming to remove him. The danger for Joe will come later; he isn’t playing under the radar and will be a huge target if he makes the merge.

Jenn easily made bonds on her laid-back tribe.

Jenn easily made bonds on her laid-back tribe.

Jenn: I planned to include a Blue Collar player here, but I’m still unsure of who’s really in control in that group. Instead, I chose another player from the most cohesive tribe in the first episode. Few players received more screen time than Jenn, who’s already been great TV. She dodged a potential minefield with Vince’s crush, and I don’t get the sense anyone dislikes her. She’s also unlikely to be the first target when they go to Tribal Council with Nina and Vince in their tribe.

Who’s in trouble?

Joaquin: There were two occasions where Joaquin failed miserably at lying, and that wasn’t good for a guy who wants to be the villain. His reaction when Carolyn asked about the vote was unconvincing. I don’t think he’s doomed for sure, however. Cracks will probably emerge in this group, especially with a guy like Max who’s obsessed with strategy. Joaquin probably needs them to avoid Tribal Council next week to give him more time to rebound from being on the wrong side of the numbers.

Dan struggled to connect with his much younger tribe mates.

Dan struggled to connect with his much younger tribe mates.

Dan: Few players had a worse night than Dan, who quickly alienated most of his tribe while building the shelter. He struggled to bond with the much younger trio of Rodney, Lindsey, and Sierra. He may love Survivor, but it’s going to take a major change for him to avoid being the first person voted out of the Blue Collars. Dan has an ally in Mike, but that won’t be enough. He needs to try and work with Kelly and hope that one of the other players struggles.

Vince: He may embody the No Collar ideal (at least in Jeff’s mind), but Vince is one of the outsiders on that tribe. Jenn is unlikely to stick with him very long, and his obsession with Joe isn’t smart this early. Vince has a chance to recover, but he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who can build a strong alliance. The awkward scenes with Jenn showed how people may not want to spend 39 days with this guy.

There’s a lot to like in this premiere, and 90 minutes allowed for more character development. This cast includes both interesting players and entertaining people. That combination made the first episode great fun, and the hype about this season feels legitimate. Most of the players looked thrilled to be on the show, and having real fans is a key part of the equation. It’s refreshing when you don’t need a huge blindside or inventive strategy to enjoy the episode. It’s great to have Survivor back on TV, and I can’t wait to see where this season goes next.

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