Survivor: Worlds Apart

The Survivor Strategic Game: The Right Big Move


The post-merge game on Survivor often hinges on when the big swings happen. The most likely spots are the odd numbers, where a swing vote can flip the script and not just force a tie. That trend hasn’t always held true at the final six of recent seasons, however. Jon Misch was blindsided in this spot last season while dreaming about his speech at the final Tribal Council. We also saw the infamous rock draw in Blood vs. Water and Brenda’s bitter exit in the Caramoan at six. There’s pressure on players looking towards the end to remove a prominent threat when they can. Too many past contestants have reached fourth or fifth place yet failed because they didn’t act earlier. That trend has lessened in modern Survivor, and you had to expect that either Mike or Carolyn would face the vote this week.

It was refreshing to watch the way the Carolyn handled the hidden immunity idol over such a long period of time. She used the news to secure a bond with Tyler and then quietly held it for more than 30 days. It’s one thing to keep it a secret for a short time. Finally, Carolyn also played the idol at exactly the right time. It was a “big move” that totally made sense and was employed at the perfect moment. She didn’t try to hold the idol and walk to the final four and recognized that playing it safe now made sense. In his Second Chances interview, Max pointed out that his mistake was underestimating Carolyn’s gameplay. He wasn’t the only one to make that error, and Dan paid the price this week.

Carolyn made the right play at the perfect time to save her game. Carolyn made the right play at the perfect time to save her game.[/caption]

What’s intriguing about Carolyn is the confidence she’s displayed all season. She battled an early threat from So, turned on all three former White Collar allies, and won immunities. You don’t get the sense that the jury dislikes her, which strongly contradicts Dan’s “flippers never win” argument. Her move this week saved her game, and it also was a public display that will serve her well if she makes the end. Natalie’s move at the final five last season was about more than removing Baylor. She also showed boldness in front of the jury. She didn’t need to convince the jury she made moves; they saw it. Carolyn now sits in a similar position. The challenge will be getting there to make that case.

The Lone Wolf

If Carolyn makes the finals, there’s one guy who can steal away the million. Mike has earned the respect of the jury and would likely carry all the votes but Dan’s so far. His back has been against the wall since the final nine, and Mike can sell his status as an individual battling a solid alliance. Despite what Dan thinks about the auction, Mike hasn’t really betrayed anyone with his votes. No matter what the others are plotting, they will come together to remove Mike if he loses immunity. This week’s immunity challenge was the kind of goofball contest recycled from Redemption Island (or “hero arena”) that might doom a physical player like Mike. The others may have missed their opportunity. Only Sierra had a chance. I’m expecting an obstacle course to be one of the remaining challenges, and Mike’s pretty agile for a big guy.

Carolyn is the top contender for dethroning Mike in the remaining two challenges, and history is on her side. Other strong competitors like Terry and Malcolm have lost near the end. She may only have one chance, however. There’s no place to hide for Carolyn, who was the top alternative to Mike this week. She recognized the danger after the immunity challenge, and that understanding will help her going forward. Barring an unforeseen switch, the final five immunity challenge will determine Carolyn’s fate. If she loses, she can try to sell her chances of beating Mike in the next challenge. However, that will be a tough sell to Rodney, Will, and Sierra. Each knows the best shot to win is removing Mike and Carolyn.

Final 3? I doubt it.

Final 3? I doubt it.

Does Mike have any alternatives to winning immunity? I don’t believe so, and Mike agreed this week. He may have the ability to hilariously surprise Sierra by appearing out of nowhere, but Mike isn’t sneaking up on anyone. At this week’s reward, he spoke to Carolyn and Will about being the final three. This prospect doesn’t benefit either of them. Carolyn responded affirmatively (as she should), but Will didn’t lie and made it clear he wants Mike gone. I don’t see a path for Mike beyond winning the last two challenges. If he makes the end, Mike is going to win. He won’t be able to coast, however.

Carolyn is the only other player remaining who’s won an individual challenge, so she’s also Mike’s obvious target at the final five. That raises an interesting question for Mike: Should he push to align with Carolyn to initiate a 2-2 split at the final four? The problem is that he still would only have two votes at the final five. He would need to bring Sierra over, and she seems ready to stay on Goat Island until the end. Rodney’s sour behavior has made his case weaker for the jury, so facing him shouldn’t worry Sierra. There’s little benefit for her to deviate from the plan and turn on her alliance.

A Respectable Game?

It’s time to discuss the play of Dan Foley, who promised we’d remember him right at the start. Sadly, I’m not sure the audience will recall Dan for the reasons he anticipated. Dan’s awkward exit interview with Rob was one of many where he stuck to prepared talking points and refused to waver. He admitted remorse for the joke about Rodney’s mom and his treatment of Shirin, but he undercut them with long explanations of how the edit misconstrued him. Survivor is a reality show that turns three-dimensional people into character types, and I can totally sympathize with Dan’s feelings that he was presented unfairly. However, it wasn’t like Dan received a quiet edit on par with Sierra or Tyler. We saw a lot of confessionals from Dan that described his negative feelings about other players, particularly Shirin.

Being voted out wasn't the only challenge that Dan faced this week.

Being voted out wasn’t the only challenge that Dan faced down this week.

Without getting too off track, I do believe the subject of misogyny is worth discussing surrounding Dan. He referred to the RHAP Female Voices Roundtable as a “man-hating podcast” when talking to Rob, and that comment hinders Dan’s argument. Sarah, Shandy, and Heather had definite opinions but were hardly so one-sided. It was an interesting discussion that deserves more attention following the criticism from Dan. I bring this up not solely to defend three women that I respect. This term from Dan encapsulates his place on the show. He can claim that the edit was the only reason people were mad, but talking about “misandry” and dismissing that podcast reveals one-sided thinking. Dan can be angry about being attacked, but responding by going after others just proves their point. It was this same limited approach that hurt his place in the game.

I’m not here just to pile on Dan; plenty of others have rightfully taken up that mantle. The other players mostly seem to like him, and he tried his best to play the game. Playing the advantage at the final six wasn’t a terrible move, and I don’t believe it spurred Carolyn to use the idol. Dan connected with a solid alliance and was loyal to them right to the end. I expect that some players wanted Dan at their side at the end as a goat. Dan’s game was characterized by miscalculations, and it’s frustrating when he stubbornly refused to back down from positions. That inflexibility wouldn’t allow him to understand that Mike didn’t betray him. The move at the auction was a personal blow to the dedicated family man, but working with Mike might have saved Dan. If they could convince Carolyn to join, Dan’s extra vote could have built a 4-3 edge. Dan understood the math and explained it during an extra scene, but it didn’t matter. He thought of playing the advantage as his big move, but Dan was trumped by a more powerful source.

It’s easy to consider this move in hindsight, however. No one suspected that Carolyn had the idol, so Dan felt secure that his alliance was removing another threat. He was playing an okay game and fell victim to an unexpected move. It was silly to say that “flippers never win” and talk about being a hero, but he was still in an okay position. Dan wasn’t going to win the game, but a path to the end was there. Unfortunately, his Ponderosa video and exit interviews made this type of analysis feel less essential. Winning the advantage ultimately hurt Dan’s game because he became the obvious threat for Mike and Carolyn. His refusal to work with Mike also made him unimportant to Mike’s end game. Dan’s game was too black-and-white, and shades of gray are needed for most to win the game.

All the Fixin’s

Rodney’s reward challenge melancholy continued this week. Once I saw that he was randomly teamed with Dan, you just knew there was little chance he’d win. Also, Mike and Carolyn were far too strong as a combo to lose a three-on-three challenge. Jeff Probst was really milking Rodney’s situation, and Rodney didn’t let him down. Carolyn’s indecision about giving up her reward felt weird; why spend that much time deciding if she was going to say no? Afterwards, Rodney described himself as being in jail and again blamed Carolyn for the snub. His behavior might be hurting Rodney’s chances to win the game, but it probably influenced his decision to vote against Carolyn. Rodney is a force of nature who’s going to have an impact on the end game. Mike insisted at the reward that he last longer than Rodney. I have a feeling he might not get his wish, and the editors including that moment could predict a future event.

Rodney is in a good spot, but his reward complaints isn't doing him any favors.

Rodney is in a good spot, but his reward complaints aren’t doing him any favors.

The reward challenge illuminated the mental toll hurting the players by this point. It’s funny to watch Rodney guess “A Reward That Will Fix Wishing”, but his confusion makes sense given the conditions by this point. Dan’s random discovery of two large fruits was greeted like he found a million dollars. That shows how beaten down Rodney and others were at this point. At the immunity challenge, he repeatedly tossed the grappling hook into the ground. While I’m certain it was a difficult task, the weariness hurt Rodney in other ways. He just looks beat in these challenges. At Tribal Council, he couldn’t put together a sentence and respond to a pretty basic Probst question. We’re due for more trouble in the near future.

Assessing the Players

Next week is the two-hour finale, so I’m replacing the usual section with thoughts on each remaining contestant. The odds are strong that the winner will be Mike or Carolyn, though weirder things have happened. Could someone else grab the top prize? It’s unlikely, but here’s my take on each player (organized from least to best chance to win):

Will: He’s been quiet since his verbal tirade against Shirin, but that doesn’t mean Will has a chance. I expect to see him sitting in the final three, and there’s a chance he’ll surprise and give solid answers. Even so, he’s stuck with his alliance and played it safe;  it’s hard to consider Will as a real contender.

Rodney: It’s so difficult to analyze where Rodney stands in the game. He’s annoyed others by ranting about his birthday, yet I don’t feel like they dislike him. In fact, Carolyn was thrilled to see him down given its impact on his play. Rodney has put himself in a solid position where the two threats remain as shields. He also believes that his social game will help make his case against the jury. The downside is that either Mike or Carolyn would likely beat him in the end. A lot needs to go right for Rodney to sit next to Will and Sierra and plead his case.

Are we sleeping on Sierra as a potential winner of this season?

Are we sleeping on Sierra as a potential winner?

Sierra: I’m intrigued to find out what the jury thinks of Sierra. I’ve heard only positive feedback in exit interviews, and she’s playing the game. Like Rodney, Sierra needs to avoid sitting next to Carolyn or Mike to have a shot. In that scenario, I’d give her the best odds to be the surprise winner. In an extra scene, she talks about how “This Is Business,” and that idea could help her make the right moves. The edit is working against Sierra, but it’s possible she just doesn’t provide great confessionals. If Sierra wins a challenge and helps to remove the front runners, it might be enough to change her expected fate.

Mike: Many fans have been calling Mike the winner since the merge, and it’s hard to argue too strongly against them. Mike’s enemy is his reputation, which means that he’ll be voted out if he loses a challenge. Given his record, only needing two more wins seems entirely possible. Being a lone wolf is wearing on him, so he’ll need to stay focused or be heading to the jury. I don’t expect Mike to make an amazing case at the end, but it should be enough given the love from the No Collars and Shirin.

Carolyn: I’ve turned around on Carolyn, who really pushed the “six strong” idea after the merge. The past few weeks have reminded me of her individual game and why it deserves the million. She’s a strong, tough player and hasn’t backed down from anyone. Her primary goal for the finale is removing Mike from contention. It would take quite a shift for anyone else to stop her from winning.

The finale will have added intrigue with the announcements of the Second Chances cast happening during the reunion. If you’re looking for last-minute voting tips, you should check out the RHAP bloggers’ take on the potential season 31 cast. Our divergent responses show that Survivor fans have very different opinions on whom they’d like to see return. Even if Mike marches towards a predictable victory, we’ll have plenty more to discuss on Thursday. I’m hoping for a more interesting result, but it won’t be a dull night regardless of what happens. It’s been a wild and chaotic season, with highs like Carolyn’s idol play and lows with vicious personal attacks. I’m optimistic for an exciting finish.

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