Survivor: Worlds Apart

The Survivor Strategic Game: Succeed by Failing


It’s written in stone in the rules of Survivor karma — thou shall not throw a challenge. No matter how worthy the intentions, the tribe that loses on purpose always suffers. Whether it’s Zapatera trying to get rid of Russell or Drew Christy trying to be a badass, it rarely goes well. Should this clear evidence from the past convince all new players to avoid this risky venture? It depends on the circumstances. Dumping a challenge as an original tribe seems foolish. The game is about numbers, and it helps to have allies you can trust after the tribe swap or merge. However, do the rules change after the swap? There are cases where you could make a legitimate argument that throwing a challenge makes sense.

The idea of throwing a challenge doesn’t seem as outlandish in today’s game either. Several members of the Brawn tribe (especially Sarah) tried to throw a challenge to get rid of Cliff Robinson, and there weren’t immediate consequences. This time, there was little sense that Nagarote suspected foul play. Despite Mike’s bad acting, they were too jubilant to consider that anything wasn’t on the level. I also get the sense that this overwhelming respect for “the game” has lessened in recent years. Tony betrayed allies constantly, yet didn’t face vitriol for changing sides. Natalie betrayed allies and still earned their respect at the final Tribal Council. Have we reached a kinder stage where throwing challenges is just another way to get ahead in the game? Of course, the key question is how much the move really benefits the player.

Before digging into the reasons, let’s try to distinguish who participated in the throw. The ringleaders were Rodney and Mike, and their awful performances support that idea. Sierra knew about it and also failed in the challenge, though she made it closer. Dan won his match-up but revealed in a bonus clip that he was trying not to make it too obvious. In his exit interview with Rob, Joaquin indicated that Rodney informed him of the idea, but he wasn’t on board with the move. I expect that Tyson had similar feelings. Joe seemed oblivious to their choice, and his lack of knowledge was important. Despite Rodney and Mike agreeing to tank the challenge, they had very different motives. Let’s take a look at each one.

Motive #1: Removing the Challenge Monster

Rodney found a buddy yet may have lost his way in the game. Rodney found a buddy yet may have lost his way in the game because of it.[/caption]

Rodney spends a lot of time in confessionals describing his greatness. Anyone that says “I’m Tom Brady” without being sarcastic isn’t lacking in confidence. Arrogant players frequently come up with complicated plans on Survivor. It’s a way of proving they’re better than all the other idiots in the cast. Rodney was right to target Joe as a threat because he’s likable and a challenge beast. Joe also has three No Collar allies on the other tribe. On the surface, throwing a challenge to get rid of him makes sense. Joaquin’s extra scene clearly explains the benefits of removing Joe; he’s a good kid. It would nullify the power of the Jenn/Hali/Will trio and put Rodney’s group in a prime spot. Why give Joe a chance to go on a challenge run? After devising this plan, Rodney was already counting the millions in his mind.

There’s a huge caveat to this plan, however. It only works if you’re part of a solid and loyal voting bloc. Rodney needed to have no doubts that his allies were on board for the long haul. What Rodney did was underestimate the personal interests of players like Mike and Sierra. His confidence in his own skills created a huge blind spot for others to easily manipulate. Rodney bonded with Joaquin and was re-energized by their bond. He kept repeating phrases like “walk in the park” to describe their end game. His naiveté led to great TV, though it nearly destroyed his game. The challenge throw failed and did more than give Mike’s group a chance to remove Rodney’s new pal. Joaquin’s departure makes Rodney a lone wolf with few natural allies. Tyler’s more likely to join the No Collars because of his bond with Carolyn. His former tribe mates could need Rodney as a number, but he’ll likely burn those bridges next week.

Was the mistake throwing the challenge or underestimating the other players? Both are roped in together, actually. If Rodney hadn’t pushed so hard, Mike probably wouldn’t have gone along with the move. Shirin would have probably gone home, and Rodney still could align with Joaquin. His lack of self-awareness on the ways he’d angered Sierra fit with his inability to see other possibilities. Sierra might like Joaquin and hate Dan, but she didn’t trust Rodney enough to foresee him as a reliable ally. His earlier mistakes made this throw too risky for Rodney’s game, especially with the merge right around the corner.

Motive #2: Saving a Close Ally

Was Mike's rationale for throwing the challenge good?

Did Mike’s rationale for the throw make sense?

Mike continued his surprising recovery this week and signaled his place as one of this season’s better players. It’s clear that he didn’t make the decision to throw the challenge lightly. Rodney’s bond with Joaquin could give them a numbers edge if Sierra flipped to their side. Giving that group a chance to turn the tables might kill his game. Mike’s reasons for sticking with the plan came from saving Kelly. He had no reason to believe she was safe in the majority alliance. Mike believed keeping his closest ally on the board was worth the risk of going to Tribal Council. The three-tribe format makes the numbers a lot trickier to manage, so having another person to trust completely will be so important after the merge.

So how can you weigh Mike’s risk on his own tribe versus the benefits of saving Kelly? It’s a tricky question. I don’t believe it was a terrible move, but part of my reason is the way the vote occurred. If Sierra had chosen to vote out Joe, Mike would still be safe. However, his betrayal of Rodney’s plan would put Mike in a tough spot. He would be facing an angry guy who isn’t a very rational player. Mike and Dan would have a hard time moving forward even with Kelly on their side. Mike’s hilarious efforts to tank the challenge saved Kelly regardless of whether Joaquin or Joe went home. However, he needed the right result to make the risk worth taking. Mike placed his total faith in Sierra, who spent the episode describing how much she trusted Joaquin and Tyler. He choice to not flip saved Mike’s plan.

I’m still uncertain on whether Sierra doesn’t plan to betray Mike and Dan (especially) in the future. There was a brief shot of Sierra lying on the beach next to Joe that made them look surprisingly close. She also talked in a secret scene on choosing between Rodney and Joaquin for tonight’s vote. That didn’t sound right but might reveal (depending on when it took place) a stronger bond with Joe. Sierra talked about sticking with players she can beat, and Dan is a primary contender for that title. Few have given Sierra much credit, but she could make serious waves down the road.

Changing the Momentum

Getting along was easy for Nagarote after winning a challenge.

Getting along was easy for Nagarote after winning the reward challenge.

Beyond avoiding Tribal Council, the Nagarote tribe earned other benefits when they were handed the win. It was clear that none of them expecting to win even a single challenge. Their exuberant reaction to their surprise victory at the reward challenge was about a lot more than the reward. Will’s hilarious dance and “I believe that we can win!” chant revealed more than excitement about visiting a turtle sanctuary and eating beef stew. The success bonded them together against an imposing enemy, even Shirin felt more comfortable there. She was an outsider and probably next to go, so this win gave her a glimmer of hope of surviving. It’s easier to convey a new attitude when everyone’s happy at camp. They bonded over Rodney’s idiocy and just had a fun time apart from the game. The tone was entirely different. Kelly and Jenn both talked in extra scenes about how different they felt after the wins.

Will this new unity carry over into the merge? Kelly will reconnect with Mike, and the No Collars will reunite with Joe. Shirin and Carolyn are bigger question marks. Neither seems like the obvious target at the merge, so they shouldn’t be on the chopping block. Carolyn will want to work with Tyler, who just tried to vote out Joe. I expect her to stick with the No Collars, and there’s a decent chance that Tyler could mend fences would Joe. That gives them six votes, which is probably enough given the dissension with Rodney and Shirin’s unknown status. She would be wise to stick with the No Collars at first, but it’s unclear if they’ll want to work with her. Regardless, her new focus on connecting socially did seem to pay off this week. This new momentum could bond them together or mean little very soon.

The Power of a Pair

Could Sierra and Joe become a solid pair?

Could Sierra and Joe become a solid pair?

A frequent topic this season has been the importance of splitting up power couples before they can gain control. One reason Lindsey became a threat was her tight bond with Sierra. Max’s close alliance with Shirin compounded any irritating behavior and made it easier for Carolyn to switch allegiances. Obvious pairs become the first targets, and it happened again with Rodney and Joaquin’s bromance. It’s really too bad we were denied more weeks of watching these guys bond. They had so much in common! How can a celibate guy like Mike understand their life of partying? It’s hard to understand how Rodney didn’t see the danger in getting so close to Joaquin. He talked about needing time away from his original tribe yet failed to see how they’d react to his new companion.

The pairs who might control the end game haven’t made their alliances obvious. Tyler and Carolyn formed a bond right away when she revealed the immunity idol. His choice not to tell Joaquin that she had it showed that Tyler valued this hidden friendship. We also saw few examples of Mike and Kelly hanging out in front of the other Blue Collars. Her quiet approach was perfect to keep their alliance under wraps, and there was little strategizing needed because they avoided Tribal Council. Also, Mike didn’t tell Rodney about his reasons for throwing the challenge. They’re entering the merge with no one (except maybe Dan) realizing they’re a strong pair. These two power couples should play a key role in determining the upcoming votes, and splitting them up is crucial for the others.

It’s difficult to nail down everyone’s spots at the merge given the added layers of the three-tribe format. The Blue Collars have five members yet are also the obvious target. The four No Collars have the tightest bond, while the three White Collars hold the keys to victory. There are secret alliances and outsiders with grudges that could leap to other groups at any time. Next week should be fascinating, and I have high hopes for the rest of the season. Figuring out who will go next week seems impossible. In choosing the players for each question, my focus shifts now to the individual game. Powerful players could be in trouble despite their success up to this point. Let’s take a look at everyone and where they stand.

Who’s in the best position?

Carolyn was all smiles this week after the challenge wins.

Carolyn was all smiles this week after the wins.

Carolyn: She doesn’t have a warm personality, but only Shirin has faced her anger. Carolyn has an idol that no one but Tyler knows about and won’t be targeted at the start. Because there are only three White Collars, others will petition for her vote. If she handles it well, Carolyn could be safe for a while.

Jenn: Her spot here isn’t just because Jenn has an idol. It’s her laid-back attitude that makes Jenn seem less threatening than she is. Jenn has solid allies and is well-liked among the group, but she isn’t so endearing that people will worry she’s too good to keep in the game.

Will: The big guy may seem like an odd person to include in this spot. However, he’s a classic player who’s on the outs because of challenge weakness yet doesn’t stand out at the merge. He’s also a positive guy and part of a close alliance because he played it cool when votes came his way in the past.

Who’s in trouble?

Joe: He’s a challenge monster, good-looking, and people like him. That’s all I need to say.

Will Rodney find a way to recover?

Will Rodney find a way to recover?

Rodney: People like to keep goats around for the end, but Rodney’s too volatile to reach that status at this point. He needs to try and get back in with the Blue Collars now that Joaquin is gone. I don’t expect that to happen, however. He’s more likely to make a huge play that ends up backfiring in epic fashion.

Mike: He isn’t considered a threat on Joe’s level, but Mike’s the face of the Blue Collars. If the numbers go against them at the merge, he’s a likely target. I expect someone will say “Cut the head off the snake” before too long if that happens.

Who are the wild cards?

Shirin: It seems like anything could happen for Shirin now that she’s made the merge. I’m not ready to predict that she wins the game, but it’s not a stretch to think she could make the end. Shirin needs to lay low and not become a target by sitting in the middle.

Sierra: She stuck with Mike and Dan this week, but I’m not convinced that Sierra plans to stay with them for the long haul. If Rodney gets voted out, will she set her sights on Dan next? Sierra is a tricky player because there’s little subtlety, but others keep underestimating what she can do.

Dan claims it's his game; is he right?

Dan claims it’s his game; is he right?

Dan: I never would have guessed in the first week that Dan would make the merge. It helped considerably that his tribe only visited Tribal Council once. Even so, his secret scenes reveal that Dan has at least some understanding of strategy. If Mike doesn’t survive the post-merge chaos, will Dan find a way to avoid being the next one to go? His biggest asset is not being a threat in individual challenges, but he’s hardly the only one who fits that bill.

Who are the quiet contenders?

Tyler: His game took a hit with the loss of Joaquin, but it might actually help Tyler. If Joe and Mike remain as shields, Tyler could maneuver into a strong position. It’s possible he could face the vote as a challenge threat down the road, so he needs to avoid looking too strong. He’s the most likely winner at this point, though I feel like anything could happen this season.

Is anyone concerned about Hali?

Is anyone concerned about Hali?

Hali: She isn’t getting a lot of screen time, but Hali may have the right mentality for this old-school game. I don’t get the feeling that anyone dislikes Hali or will be gunning for her. The challenge will come if her alliance starts losing members. Will Hali be able to navigate the tougher waters ahead?

Kelly: Her quiet and subtle play isn’t getting Kelly many confessionals, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t playing well. Few know how close she is with Mike, and there are more obvious threats on both sides. If Kelly nears the end, she needs to ensure the others recognize that she is making moves. She’s played very well so far, and there’s potential for a deep run if the numbers fall her way.

So what happens next week? I’m expecting something on par with the incredible post-merge episodes of the Philippines. There will be major confusion and few one-sided votes anytime soon. We’ve heard so much praise about this season from Jeff Probst and the cast. It’s time for all that hype to come true.

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