SurvivorSurvivor: Cagayan

Wiggle Room: Two Questions about Survivor

Cops-R-UsCops-R-UsFridayCoverI have two things on my mind this week. Let’s start by taking a minute to expand on a possible strategy I talked about on last week’s podcast with Rob

The Intentional Matsing

Say you’re playing Survivor in the three-tribe format, ala All-Stars or Philippines or, you guessed it, Cagayan. Say you’ve lost two immunity challenges already. You’re entering your second Tribal Council. Conventional wisdom tells you to kill the weak and keep the strong.

But what if conventional wisdom is wrong? What if instead of keeping your team as strong and fit as possible, you grab onto a firm partner (or two), hasten the self-destruction, and ride the nuclear blast all the way to the merge?

Don’t resist the accident. Lean into it. It’s not the natural response. But maybe, just maybe, it’ll save your Survivor life.

Let’s dial it back and talk about the Brains’ journey. David, an intelligent man by all accounts, goes home first. Shocking? Sure, at least a bit. Most of us who slaved through pre-game analysis expected David to do better than he did; certainly not the first person out. But, okay. He overplayed his hand and got the boot. It’s happened to “strong” players before, and it’ll happen again.

garrett What if Garrett didn’t go home instead of J’Tia?[/caption]

Then comes Tribal #2, and Garrett goes home, even though J’Tia nuked the camp. I know I wasn’t the only person with his jaw on the floor at the end of the premiere. How on Earth do you send home one of your strongest competitors when your weakest competitor just destroyed the entire food supply? Absolute crazy talk. Even if Garrett demonstrated that he was much more clueless about Survivor than pre-game posturing led us to believe, certainly his muscles deserve a spot over the self-destructive weak link, no?

And that’s what got me thinking about what I call “The Intentional Matsing.” What if it actually makes sense to let your tribe wither and die in a three-tribe season? Rather than letting potential end-game threats make it to the merge — people who are strong, people you don’t trust — you kill them here and now, while hanging onto one partner to become the sole surviving members of your decimated tribe.

Let’s say Brains lost all four of the first Tribals. J’Tia and Spencer go home. Kass and Tasha remain tight. They get to next week’s switch-up, and it’s either the same deal as in Philippines (the two remaining Brains get absorbed into the larger tribes) or it’s a fully randomized switch, as it appears to be next week. Either way, Kass and Tasha, without the numbers of their now-deceased tribe, become numbers. They become people who can serve the desperate-to-play, hard-balling Tonys and Morgans of the world. Because they lack numbers of their own, and because they’re not obvious threats (like, say, the Prometheus-modeled Garrett), Tasha and Kass are very likely to get a free pass to the merge. From there, two solid partners in a 10-player game can do a whole lot of damage. Just ask Malcolm and Denise.

A lot of things have to go right in order for the Intentional Matsing to pay off. To begin with, your tribe has to suck at challenges. It’s not worth going down this road if you’re stacked like Brawn, or solid like Beauty. I think you have to lose the first two Immunities to really consider self-destruction as your best available option.

From there, you have to assume that there will be some kind of change-up coming, once four players are down for the count; historically speaking, not a bad assumption. You also have to assume that there’s conflict on the other tribes, that there are cracks and fissures that you, as a new number, can expose. You have to assume that these players who haven’t been to Tribal are ready to eat their own.

That’s a lot of assumptions, and you know what they say about assumptions.

But over and over and over we’ve heard it said that Survivor is all about the big moves. And big moves require big risks. It’s a risk to get rid of your strongest tribe members and create an environment where you’re likely to lose every time your tribe enters a challenge. Perhaps there’s no change-up. Perhaps production allows Brains to blow its brains out and Ulong itself into extinction.

If that’s the worst-case scenario, then hey, at least there’s a paid vacation at the end of the torch-snuff.

But if the assumptions are correct — that at 14, the three shall become two — executing an Intentional Matsing could position a player to become an invaluable and underestimated threat once taken under another tribe’s wing. The player buys a virtually guaranteed spot at the merge, carves out a path to become a key asset as a number for the end-game, and begins a hell of a case for a jury-winning story.

Maybe, anyway. Maybe not. The Intentional Matsing has not been done before. We’ve seen tribes with smaller numbers take down Goliaths in the past — Jalapao versus Timbira, Foa Foa versus Galu — but not because of intentional self-implosion. And it’s not what Kass and Tasha have done here, I don’t think; if that’s what they’d intended to do, they would have kept J’Tia over spencer.

I don’t think we’re likely to ever see the Intentional Matsing in practice, but I think it’s a fun strategy to think about in theory. What do you guys think: Is the Intentional Matsing a viable Survivor strategy? Can you imagine a scenario where Matsinging your own tribe makes sense? Or am I just an idiot? I mean, I know I’m an idiot, but am I an idiot and a moron here? Take it to the comments below; I’m very curious to hear what you all think.

— — —

Onto the other thing…

A Game of Chicken

Also on the podcast, I mentioned that my wonderful wife Emily grew up raising over 100 chickens. She kept them as pets, featured them at shows, and absolutely did not eat a single one of them, even though she does eat chicken. She’s also allergic to eggs. She’s also awesome.


Emily is not a Survivor fan.

But Emily is not a Survivor fan. She’ll humor me on most other TV shows, but she won’t watch Survivor. And it’s all because of the damn chickens. She hates when they’re killed. And she hates it even more when they’re mishandled. Hence why she blames Shambo for steering her away from Survivor forever: Shambo, self-professed chicken savior, picked a chicken up by the neck and put its life at risk. That image alone has prevented Emily from ever giving Survivor another shot. There’s nothing I can do to convince her otherwise. It’s a bummer.

Still, the chicken thing got me thinking about how Emily and Survivor. How would she do on the show? She’s tough. She’s badass. She’s hilarious, a great listener, and a better cook than pretty much anyone I know. (See here for some Thai chicken wings she made for the Super Bowl. Best wings ever. The irony is not lost on me.) But I worry that if she was on a chicken-winning tribe, she would Kimmi Kappenberg herself right out of the game.

So, I asked Emily how she would handle chickens on Survivor. Here’s what she said:

“Personally, if I were in it to win it, so to speak, I would keep the hens happy, and use their eggs as a consistent food supply. The rooster is deemed useless for reproductive purposes given the longevity of the show (long term, you’d want to keep him around for breeding, flock protection). So, with that being said, it would be in a competitor’s best interest to use him in a nice chicken dinner, and to capitalize off of his plumage in creating fishing lures, etc. If you’re going to win over the tribe, you need to yield favorable results in every decision you make.”

Maybe she’d be all right at this game after all.

— — —

Okay, one more thing while I’m here.

There’s Something Happening Here

All of her story depends on the identity of her target.

Sarah has blinders on.

And what it is ain’t exactly clear.

Really simply: I have no idea what’s happening this season. In the past, I’ve been able to look at the field of competitors and have a pretty good read on which ones had real chances to walk away with the Sole Survivor title. This year, I’m stumped. I used to like Sarah, but she has blinders on in all the wrong places. I thought Garrett could do well, and we saw how that panned out. Hell, before the season, I thought J’Tia might do some damage. Technically, she did, but not the way I wanted.

This is not a bad thing. This is a good thing. Cagayan is surprising me like few other Survivor seasons have. Blood Vs. Water was a surprise, too, but at least you had an idea of what to expect from returning players. You had a sense of what to expect from Hayden; even as someone who had never watched Big Brother, I expected big thing based on his status as a reality-show winner. Even in the case of the other family members, you felt like you knew them a little bit, thanks to their affiliation with their respective returning player partners.

With Cagayan, I just can’t crack the code. I don’t see any obvious winners here. Spencer has a great edit, but he’s scratching on by the skin of his teeth. I love Woo (WOO!), and while he isn’t quite Purple Carter status, he’s been pretty quiet so far; I worry about that. And it can’t be LJ. That’s too obvious, and this season has been anything other than obvious.

I’ve been wrong about who’s going home every week. I never would have guessed David and Garrett going out back-to-back. I really thought Brice was being set up as a late-game smooth operator. I was shocked that Kass and Tasha brought Spencer along over J’Tia. For this week, I’m guessing that Morgan goes home, and guess what? I’m probably wrong.

I love being wrong about Survivor. It brings me great joy. So far, Cagayan is proving me wrong at every turn, and I absolutely adore it.

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