Survivor: Worlds Apart

The Survivor Strategic Game: To Hide a Little Thought


This season’s cast has quite a few diehard Survivor fans, so it’s easy to expect innovative game play. On the other hand, some players with less expertise are still figuring out the game. When it comes to the first Tribal Council, they’re looking for any reason to cast their vote. Will’s choice to eliminate Vince feels strange on the surface; it negates a chance to gain control of the No Collars. The numbers are so important in a six-person tribe, and a solid trio is nearly impossible to overcome. What made Will change his mind? An obvious factor was Nina’s revelations about concerns from Vince about Will’s physical condition. She inadvertently planted the seed in Will’s mind that led to the 3-2-1 outcome. Was it that simple? While it played a role in the outcome, Vince’s personality also raised doubts about trustworthiness.

The major plotline in the No Collar tribe has been Vince’s jealousy of the attention given to Joe. This week, he pushed Joe openly for more “acknowledgement” and created an argument that split the tribe. When you combine this rift with Nina’s hurt feelings towards the girls, the battle lines were drawn. Will shared a bond with Nina and seemed ready to join them, but aligning with Vince was different. Few want to join with the loose cannon this early, especially if they aren’t playing a nuanced game. Will is likable and playing a more straight-up game. He wanted to trust his allies, and hearing Vince’s comments about his exhaustion didn’t make that possible. Will inadvertently hindered his game to avoid playing with Vince. The young trio is unlikely to fracture anytime soon, leaving him on the outs with Nina.

Another factor in Will’s decision was insecurity about his own physical state. He struggled with the swimming, and dehydration was causing his exhaustion. Despite his claims, Will was nervous about being targeted for his health. He is a big guy and stands out in an athletic tribe, and challenge strength is often a factor in early votes. Hearing that another player was concerned about his health confirmed Will’s suspicions. Will played off the physical struggles well at Tribal Council, and he also talked about trust.  Instead of taking a clinical approach, he voted based on insecurities about Vince’s loyalty. Nina would be the next target, so Will must hope they only visit Tribal Council once before a tribe swap. His odds aren’t terrible, but I don’t believe Will’s primary concern was his probability for future success when voting for Vince. He’s an interesting player because others may underestimate him based on his big personality.

The Saga of Nina

Nina struggled to connect with the other women in her tribe. Nina struggled to connect with the other women in her tribe.[/caption]

Will made a questionable decision voting out Vince, and the real culprit was Nina. Joe’s unfortunate idea to split the vote 2-2 gave them the perfect opportunity to take charge. Will seemed ready to join Vince and Nina and remove Jenn. Will had told Vince about the split vote, so it wasn’t just a smokescreen to set up the blindside. Nina’s choice to tell Will about Vince’s concerns makes little sense. Why reveal this information? The most likely from Will would be mistrusting Vince. It’s clear that Nina didn’t intend to cast suspicions on their ally; her confused response at Tribal Council confirmed that fact. Even so, it showed a lack of understanding about how easily the tide can shift within this game.

It was a rough night in several ways for Nina, who struggled to communicate with Jen and Hali. A painful montage showed the difficulties for Nina to understand the others in basic conversations. When the girls went skinny dipping without her, it just confirmed Nina’s outsider status. It’s easy to criticize Nina for losing her cool and increasing the target, but Survivor is a tough game. Even unintended slights are heightened because the paranoia is higher. Nina didn’t handle the situation well, but her frustrations are relatable. Despite unfortunate comments about older women, Jenn and Hali don’t come off as true villains in this scenario. This isn’t the same as the way Heidi and Jenna treated Christy in the Amazon. Hali talks about wanting to get to know Nina, but she doesn’t have much experience with someone who’s deaf.

Despite the lack of negative intentions, this split was important to the game. Will bonded with Nina over his outsider status as the “only brother in the game”, and Vince saw an opportunity to target Joe’s group. In this extra scene, he also recognized qualities in Nina that resembled his mom. Jenn would have gone home if this group had stuck together, and Joe and Hali would also have ended up in the minority. Arguments that have little to do with the game do impact the votes, and that makes it even trickier. The small tribes exacerbate the importance since even a small shift can end someone’s game. The balance of power hinged on Will’s vote, and Nina almost ended up in a power position. Instead, she’s at the bottom of the No Collar tribe and almost certainly the next player gone when they return to Tribal Council.

The Split Vote Dilemma

I’ve written in the past about problems with the split vote, which is designed to protect against the idol but creates new vulnerabilities. That’s especially true in a six-person tribe with an apparently 4-2 split. In that scenario, all it takes is one defection to flip the script. Joe’s idea to split the vote in this episode felt like it came out of left field. We’d seen no evidence that Nina was looking for the idol. In his interview with Josh Wigler, Vince explained that he had been planting the seed to encourage the split vote. Nina spent time alone, so she could be looking for the idol. The logic makes sense and reveals how Vince was setting up Joe’s group for a fall. He wasn’t able to secure Will’s trust to ensure the plan worked, however.

If Vince was openly pushing for a split vote, a wise person might realize it was too easy. Vince wasn’t part of the four, so why would he care so much about outing the idol? Believing the lie from a wild-card player was dangerous. The split vote has become so common that the possible negative ramifications feel secondary. It’s a common Survivor tactic yet frequently backfires. If Joe was concerned about Nina having the idol, the best move was just to vote out Vince. They had to trust Will to make the split vote work, so making him their fourth vote against Vince would also ensure success.

A Blue Collar Mentality

Dan's wardrobe malfunction put him in an even more uncomfortable situation.

Dan’s wardrobe malfunction put him in an even more uncomfortable situation.

It was interesting that the episode began with the Blue Collar tribe. There was no late-night reaction to So’s exit from the White Collars. Instead, we learned the epic tale of Dan’s underwear. He may be remembered, but not in the exciting way he thinks. A note to future players: waves are trying to take your underwear. What’s brilliant about this sequence was Lindsey’s reaction to the story. Dan’s standing was so low that she didn’t believe his tragic story. Given his goals to play a big character, the idea that he would create a fictional story about lost underwear wasn’t ridiculous. He admires Rupert, who mined comedy (for some) out of wardrobe issues. Phillip Shepard also gained a lot of attention through his underwear choices. What this reaction showed was how far Dan must go to survive much longer.

Amazingly, a savior appeared on the horizon in grumpy Mike. His focus on hard work connected more to old-school Survivor and quickly alienated the tribe. Not since Butch has a player obsessed that much over firewood. Mike seemed like a down-to-earth contender at the start who could play the middle and go far. That prediction feels unlikely now given his lack of game awareness. Making friends is crucial at this stage, and you should never become the grumpy dad figure pushing everyone to work. The basketball game said plenty about Mike’s place in this group. Dan joined the other four to have fun while Mike grumbled about the lack of help. This type of behavior will get you eliminated even if you’re a strong guy. Mike’s comments about others’ lack of hard work showed his limited understanding of the game.

A counterpoint to Mike was Rodney, who’s arrogant and ready to manipulate others to gain control. On the other hand, he’s playing a laid-back game. An undervalued skill in the early stages is being relaxed and someone people like hanging out with at camp. Rodney knows that you don’t start fights over chores that aren’t that important. Mike is reading way too much into the title of the show. They need to start a fire and keep it going, but there’s no need to be constantly busy. The days are long, and the frenetic person who can’t sit still and enjoy the ride will drive people nuts. Players like Lindsey have little patience for a hard-driving workhorse who won’t take a break; it’s a long game.

Naked and Unafraid

Will Max's fandom and understanding of Survivor hurt him down the road?

Will Max’s fandom and understanding of Survivor hurt him down the road?

There was no Tribal Council hangover for the White Collar tribe; they made fire and worked as a team. We saw little of this group in this episode, so they probably are safe for a while. Beyond the challenge, their only scenes were light and involved lots of nudity. It shouldn’t be surprising that fans like Max and Shirin would have fun at camp. He channeled Richard Hatch and drew immediate comparisons from the tribe. Max cited the need for alone time in going naked, though it may have unintended consequences. Tyler questioned if Max wanted to appear dumb, and that could be part of it. I also wonder if stressing his fandom could hurt Max. When people identify you as a Survivor expert, it only works if they appreciate the fandom. There may come a time where Max becomes a high-profile target because of his knowledge.

Shirin’s nudity led to the most hilarious moment of the season. Watching Tyler and Joaquin having a mundane conversation with her while trying not to look down was brilliant. The fact that they were both fully clothed just added to the awkward fun of this moment. Joaquin didn’t seem ostracized after voting with So last week, and that speaks better for his chances. He felt like just another member of the tribe and had a fun moment with Tyler after Shirin walked away. Avoiding Tribal Council should give Joaquin a chance to make allies and not be the obvious boot the next time they lose a challenge. Tyler spoke about targeting Shirin if they lost the challenge, so it’s hardly a done deal. Joaquin did show his frustration against Max in a secret scene that hinted about his status at the bottom, but Tyler may not share the professor’s long-term plans.

There is No Matsing

Many speculated that the Masaya tribe would follow in the grand tradition of Saboga, Matsing, and Luzon and be a disaster. There’s been one group that fails in every three-tribe season, but there are few similarities with the White Collars. They’re physically fit and don’t have volatile players like J’Tia to create havoc. Matsing had three weak challenge members in Zane, Angie, and Roxy; no one fits that bill here. Joaquin destroyed both the swimming and basketball portions of this week’s challenge, and the others were solid. They’re also very down to earth now and aren’t overwhelmed by the stakes.

Another factor is dissension within the other two groups. Tandang was a dominant force in the Phillippines, and Kalabaw worked well together. The tribes are evenly matched physically here, and I expect the Blue Collars to visit Tribal Council soon. The balanced competition should lead to fairly even numbers at the tribe swap and intriguing game play following the merge. I don’t expect loyalty to bond the groups together over the long term, and there should be major shifts before the end.

Who’s in the best position?

Rodney: I underestimated Rodney before the game, and he’s formed solid bonds with most of the group. While Dan and Mike have found ways to alienate the others, his story about his sister earned their trust. Rodney is playing the early game right and not trying to do too much within his laid-back tribe. When the Blue Collars go to Tribal Council (probably next week), their first target won’t be Rodney. His fate may change after a tribe swap depending on how the numbers fall, but he’s all set right now.

Hali won't be a target anytime soon on her tribe.

Hali won’t be a target anytime soon on her tribe.

Hali: She may seem like an odd choice, but Hali should coast through the upcoming votes. Even if the numbers turn, Joe is the obvious threat and Jenn is considered his closest ally. We also saw hints that Hali was trying to form a bond with Nina. The blowback from the skinny dipping argument seemed more focused on Jenn. If Will tries to pull over someone from the young trio and target Joe, Hali is the most likely candidate. We haven’t seen much of Hali, but I don’t see her making any serious enemies.

Tyler: We saw very little of the White Collar tribe this week, so I’m sticking with my pick from the premiere. He may be outside of the Max/Shirin/Carolyn alliance yet isn’t considered a threat. Tyler also seems to have a good relationship with Joaquin, which could help if the tide shifts. I don’t feel that strongly about this pick, but I’m not ready to declare Max as safe because of his outward fandom. Carolyn has the idol, but that fact could make her a target if the others decide she’s too dangerous.

Who’s in trouble?

Mike needs to kick back and relax more often.

Mike needs to kick back and relax more often.

Mike: I’m surprised to be putting Mike in this spot. Beyond eating the scorpion, he looked solid in the premiere. His obsession with chores is a mistake from Survivor 101 that could be fatal to his game, however. The situation doesn’t look better next week. Mike’s best bet is connecting with Dan and Kelly and splitting the tribe, but I’m not sure they’re still on board with him. The Blue Collars have been second in both challenges, so the odds are high that a last-place finish is heading their way.

Nina: Will’s vote completely flipped the game for Nina. Her group of outsiders was set to take control of the No Collars, but now she’s the next one to go in that tribe. The arguments with Hali and Jenn won’t help, and Joe will stick with his allies. Nina’s only chance is to hope they can rebound in challenges and make the tribe swap without losing any more members. There will be a point in the game where others won’t consider her a threat, but getting there could be difficult.

Joaquin: This isn’t so clear since we saw little from the White Collar tribe this week. Joaquin seems to be getting along fine with the others and is a challenge beast. The obstacle for him is breaking up the solid trio that’s leading the tribe. He needs to bond with Tyler and hope that the big guy tells him about Carolyn’s idol. That information could be useful in sowing doubts, especially if Carolyn hasn’t told Shirin and Max about the idol. It’s an uphill battle for Joaquin, but it doesn’t seem impossible.

Vince talked about the others being good players in his exit interview, but I’m not entirely convinced. This season has many fans, and it’s been great TV so far. What’s interesting is how fluid the game is at this early stage. Players like Mike that we labeled contenders at the start aren’t doing well, and others like Rodney and Lindsey have been better than I expected. Max knows the game and has thrived so far, but he won’t sneak up on anyone. It will be difficult to play from the front when everyone knows he’s a good strategist. There should be few obvious votes, especially after the tribe swap. The lack of predictability is a big part in delivering a great season, and combining that with fun characters is a strong combination. I’m not ready to make any declarations about its overall quality, but we’re off to a convincing start.

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