Forget the challenges, the camp life, and the trust clusters: at the end, when Final Tribal Council looms, Survivor is a game about perception. To avoid elimination when there are so few targets around requires a player to see themselves clearly, to understand how the other players are thinking, to know how their fellow castaways see themselves, and to have a strong sense of how the jury members feel about everyone left. To be on top of all of this, in other words, requires a level of empathy few can hope to embody (and is probably impossible when you’re hungry and tired… of course, that’s countered by the singular focus of the game, which is one of the qualities of the competition that keeps castaways hoping to return, because that level of immersion is all but absent in our daily lives).
So let’s take a look at how the six remaining players see themselves, see each other, and are seen by the jury… and in so doing, get a sense for who might actually win this thing.
(This is in the boot order I’m imagining for Wednesday…)
Self-perception (SP*): I assume that he thinks that if he gets to the end with some combination of Hannah/Ken/Adam, he’d win easily. Given how we’ve heard him talk about getting to the end over the last couple of episodes, it’s clear that he thinks he has a shot. He’s probably making the sort of logic leaps that most endgamers do: He can’t beat the challenge beast (Jay) or the primary strategist (David), but he can talk his way past anyone else… and with a jury that would be half Gen-Xers, and his Rainbow Connection with Zeke, he can easily imagine getting six votes and the million.
* Despite my love for baseball and statistics (what, you thought it was an accident that I ended up on Pitman’s site?), this does not mean Starting Pitcher. Cranky with me? I’m invoking the “I don’t give a ****” clause of the blogger’s code. (It’s entirely up to you what is behind the asterisks.)
Other Players’ Perception (OPP*): To everyone else, though, Bret is Jay insurance: If Jay wins immunity at F6, Bret goes home. If Jay leaves at 6, then Bret becomes Adam insurance. If Adam leaves at 5, then Bret becomes… David insurance? A goat? Both? It doesn’t matter: to the other players still in the game, Bret is a pawn to be sacrificed.
* I’m aware what OPP has meant since the Naughty With Nature’s 1991 song, and, once again, I don’t give a ****.
Jury Perception (JP*): Even if he sat next to Hannah and Ken, Bret would have a hard time winning. There are too many level heads on the jury, and I think the tone has been set (with Probst’s help) that a gamer is gonna win. Bret just hasn’t been in power enough to accrue the social and strategic standing to get the votes.
* I realize that Survivor SuperFans might think this means Jeff Probst or, for the more enlightened, Jeff Pitman. Once again, the I don’t give a **** clause is in play here.
SP: He’s basically a bad ass and he knows it. If he gets to the end, he wins against everyone but David. Given what he would have to do to get there – win three more immunity challenges – he might just beat David, too. Being on the bottom, as Jay has been for a long time now, allows a player to perceive things more clearly (he doesn’t have to buy into any of the fictions that the other players are selling). He knows that everyone wants him gone, and all he can do is crush it at challenges and hope that Kirhoffer has designed them to favor dynamic movement (rather than “stand there and hold this”).
OPP: They know that Jay’s gotta go, and the first time that he isn’t wearing the necklace, all the votes are his. Interestingly, David would be the only one not increasingly anxious if Jay wins the early-finale immunity challenges… as long as Jay is in the game, the target on David’s back is much smaller (although not entirely absent). And even if Jay beasted his way to the FTC, David still has a great shot to take it all. Adam and Hannah, meanwhile, would be losing their minds if they couldn’t vote out Jay. And wouldn’t those be fun confessionals to listen to? The bellowing and anxious body language would be unbearable.
JP: Five necklaces, a strong social game, and the utter improbability of sitting at the FTC despite being an obvious target as soon as the merge occurred with 13 players on Day 21 has a way of impressing jury members. He beats anyone not named David, and given what David would have to do to be sitting next to Jay – possibly betraying Hannah and/or Ken – Jay probably has the edge. The jury will be rooting for Jay, because he’s likeable, he’s the underdog, and he’d be disrupting David’s best laid plans, and when they’re rooting for you, the game is yours. IF you can get to the end, of course.
SP: Given the human inclination to downplay mistakes and augment achievements (in life, just as in Survivor, our self-perception is subject to massively subjective distortion) sees himself as a significant strategist who has been calling the shots all game long. And to be fair, he has been a substantive contributor to the ebbs and flows of the game. But he has made some major errors along the way, and the suspicion surrounding his connection to Taylor’s mason jar shenanigans is going to haunt him if he gets to the end.
OPP: They know that Adam has been playing the game hard even if he hasn’t always been playing it well. He loses to David on the strategy front… he loses to Jay on the basis of his all-around game (an ending that the hammock scene about mothers and loss might portend, and yet it felt to me like a powerful moment that sets the stage for their emotional departures and their eventual return to the game)… and he beats everyone else.
JP: Adam would be the most divisive finalist from this group of six, wouldn’t you say? Some of them hate him (Taylor), some of them don’t respect him (Chris, probably), and all of them are annoyed by him (even his primary allies got frustrated by him). He beats any and all non-factors – Bret, Ken, Hannah – but anyone with a resume (Jay and David) will destroy him.
SP: Like most players who reach Day 36, Hannah believes that she has a chance to win the game. As she told us in a confessional, she feels she deserves a Final 3 spot, which is why she lobbied for Sunday’s ouster. While it’s tempting to assume that Hannah has, on some level, admitted that she’s a goat by targeting Sunday (“That FTC seat is MINE!”), that’s not at all how she sees herself: presumably, she feels she can beat Bret and Ken (and maybe Adam), and believes that everyone will be going after David and Jay, which means, in her mind, that she’s got a shot.
OPP: I think all of them assume they can beat her… which means she’s locked up a F3 spot.
JP: Hannah herself said that she didn’t really start playing the game until after the merge. That means the Millennials probably don’t hold her strategic acumen in the highest regard, and that’s the only card Hannah can really play, right? Strategy? Her social game, which involves blind loyalty to players who can beat her, isn’t gonna get her any votes, and she’s hardly a challenge beast. Zero Vote Club, here she comes.
BONUS THOUGHTS: While voting out Sunday all but assured Hannah a seat at the Final Tribal Council, it also guaranteed that she will be a jury question punching bag (unless they opt to not ask her anything at all). What Hannah needed to do was take the riskier path, keep Bret and Sunday in the game, work with them, hope that no untimely necklaces or idols came into play for Jay, Ken, and David, and then have a Final 4 showdown with Adam. If the Cacophonous Confessionalist won the F4 immunity challenge, he’d win the game; if he lost, then Hannah would be sitting with the only two players she had a chance to beat. Instead, Hannah is going to remain loyal to Adam (who played an idol for her) and David (who was willing to go to rocks to save her). Not a winning strategy, that. Both of them would and will beat her easily. Sigh.
SP: He’s Coach 2.0: Not as delusional as Tocantins Coach and not as strategically instrumental as South Pacific Coach; he’s Heroes vs. Villains Coach, someone still playing the honor and integrity card, but without the awareness and social skills needed to get to the end with a chance to win. Ken sees himself as the moral and ethical alternative to players like David and Adam; if the jury didn’t like being betrayed, and they value respect as much as Ken does, then (in Ken’s mind) maybe they’ll give him the million.
OPP: They see Ken as David’s loyal follower who has no chance to win the game, even if he’s up against Hannah and Bret. (I keep coming back to that hypothetical… obviously, the season would be edited far differently had this been our Final 3, but given what we’ve seen of them in THIS edit, who the heck would win? Bret, because he’s more charismatic and relatable?)
JP: They, too, see Ken as a sidekick… and someone whose social game is limited to esoteric, metaphysical discourse masquerading as fireside banter. He, too, is likely to get zero votes, unless Hannah’s on the jury, and she’ll write his name down because he’s hot (and his brother’s hot, too). And now that I think about it, Jessica might hand him $100K also, since she saw fit to give Ken the Legacy Advantage. The moral of the story? Great abs = jury votes.
SP: He knows that if he gets to the end he wins because everyone, including Probst, keeps saying it. Which is one of the primary double-edged swords of Survivor: To be perceived that way is to become a target, but if you can get to the end, the title is yours. He’ll do all he can to stoke the “Jay’s gotta go” fires, and then play the loyalty card with Ken and Hannah. Will that be enough? Probably. If he can get to the Final 4 with Ken in the game, the worst case scenario is fire building (and wouldn’t THAT be a hell of an ending – the man who ran from coconut chopping creating fire to earn a seat at the Final Tribal Council; I now want this to happen, but if it can’t, I want David to pull a Kaiser Soze and totally crush the final immunity challenge and reveal that he was sandbagging the entire time); Ken simply isn’t turning on David at this point. If David were to draw it up, he’d want Jay to win the first immunity challenge so that they can vote out Bret (Adam and Jay won’t want to go to rocks this late in the game, and David/Hannah/Ken will hold tight)… and then eliminate Jay at F5 (to preserve all of the fictional Final 3 deals until the Final 4)… at which point it becomes everyone against Adam.
OPP: Pretty much every confessional the other players are giving right now: “If David gets to the end, he’s going to win, so that’s why we need to vote out Will and then Sunday.” When they know that you’re going to win, and yet they don’t take you out when they have the chance, then you’re going to win. Oh, sure, the other players are telling themselves that they can beat David in a late-game immunity challenge so why vote him out now, but really what they’re doing is handing him the million because that’s what weaker players do at the end, they make emotion-based decisions and indulge in the whole “if I can’t win, I want him to win” rationalization. And I get it, it’s an emotional game, but if Hannah and Adam and Ken really want to win the game (and I mean REALLY want to win the game – where it would be a life-long life-shattering event to get this close and then lose), then they would have voted out David, not Sunday.
JP: If he’s in the FTC with any combination of players that doesn’t include Jay, he wins. If he’s in the FTC with Ken and Hannah, he wins 10-0 (or 9-1 if Jessica decides to give Ken second place, knowing full well that the rest of the jury was voting for David). If he’s in the FTC with Jay, though, we could have our closest vote since Nicaragua. And that would be AWESOME.
Okay, time for some rapid fire reactions to other stuff that struck me last Wednesday.
7) Too many players made it deep into the game
Ten players made it to Day 30 this season. THAT’S HALF THE CAST. Another way to look at it: 50% of the cast stuck around for 75% of the game.
(For comparison, most of the recent seasons have six or seven players left at Day 30; Cambodia had eight and the original Blood vs. Water had nine, but the latter included the abomination that is known as Redemption Island.)
My question: What impact does this have on the game, particularly the jury? Are they inclined to be more bitter, because, as Sunday pointed out, they can see the finish line? It’s gotta hurt, and hurt bad, to be so close only to have it ripped away from you just before the end.
On the flip side, there’s less time in Ponderosa, which might be a good thing; the closer the players are to the game, the more likely they are to make informed, personal decisions rather than allowing their perception to be distorted by the other members of the jury.
There’s no way to know for sure what the impact was… all I know is that it must have had one. I’m sort of obsessed about Ponderosa in general – what happens there, and how much it effects the overall outcome of a season – and I’m really curious to know what having so many players last for a month or more did to the endgame. It would be my number one question to ask the players if I was going to the finale; sadly, though, I’m not (unless someone miraculously Kickstartered me to L.A.), so we may never know.
I’m curious to know your thoughts, though, so let me know in the comments section!
8) Will Probst regret the legacy advantage?
Whether it’s a challenge advantage or an extra vote or a Final 6 immunity idol, there’s a good chance the Legacy Advantage is going to help the majority take out Jay. Probst LOVES Jay. Probst wants the Jays (and the Joes and the Malcolms and the Ozzys) of the world to win the game because it validates his view of the world.
If the Legacy Advantage is what sends Jay packing, even obliquely, Probst is going to punch its creator in the neck, even if it’s Tyler Perry.
9) There’s a whole lotta “me” going on.
Have we ever seen this much overt (and catastrophic) post-merge self-interest? It seems like everyone is having conversations in which they talk about how various voting chunks/trust clusters benefit them (rather than taking the more humble approach and using plural pronouns like “we”). I mean, I’m sure a lot of it happens every season – the entitlement of ego makes itself known in how we frame ourselves with language – but the editors are going out of their way to show it to us. Off the top of my head, I can recall Zeke, Bret, Adam, and David all talking this way in front of other players. It’s kinda crazy (and normally unwise).
10) Jury Jeopardy
So, the True Dork Times Final 3 of Jeff, Pat, and yours truly* have been invited to a Battle of the Bloggers against the wonderful writers over at RHAP, Reality Blurred, and Inside Survivor. We’re all trying to guess who will vote for whom at the Final Tribal Council, and whoever does so best will get to mock the others relentlessly. In an alarming twist, though, whoever ends up in last place will be relegated, soccer-style, to writing about Big Brother and moderating over at Sucks. So the stakes are high.
* Jeff wins that F3 hands down, by the by; the jury will hate me, and Pat will use big words that jurors like Taylor wouldn’t understand.
I’ll start with the current jury members:
Michelle: Jay > David > Adam > Hannah > Bret > Ken
The further removed one is from the game, the more likely a player is to be “objective.” Add in how logical Michelle was throughout the game (at least as far as Survivor strategy, and not dragons and dinosaurs, is concerned), and she’s going to go with what she perceives as “the best game.” That’s why Hannah is placed over Bret and Ken: Hannah will argue that she was making moves, and Michelle will believe that Bret and Ken coasted.
Taylor: Jay > David > Ken > Bret > Hannah > Adam
He’s going to vote for his boy, followed by the consensus “most aggressive game.” After that, he’ll peer through his egocentric lens and vote for Ken (because of the challenge wins; an guy like Taylor will privilege athletes over gameplay geeks just like every bro ever) over Bret (nice guy) over Hannah (she’s annoying and a girl and not a hot one like Figgy) over Adam (ongoing Figgy petulance).
Chris: David > Jay > Adam > Bret > Ken > Hannah
He will begrudgingly respect David’s moves over Jay’s post-merge passivity and challenge beasting. After that, he’ll focus on gameplay (Adam) and friendship (Bret) over challenge wins (Ken) and perceived goatishness (Hannah).
Jessica: Ken > David > Jay > Bret > Adam > Hannah
If David needs her vote – and he would if he was sitting next to Jay – then she’d vote for him. Barring that, though, she’ll throw a vote to Ken. That is, unless Jay is in the Final 3 against Ken but not David; under those circumstances, she’d vote for Jay. Bottom line: She’s voting for the best available player if they need her vote; if they don’t, then she votes for Ken.
Zeke: David > Jay > Adam > Hannah > Bret > Ken
Zeke will be all about the strategic gameplay (it’s the reverse side of the Taylor coin; strategists look for moves and jury management from their finalists). To him, David has played the best game (as he told us repeatedly before his departure). Jay didn’t do much other than survive after the merge (although there is obviously value in that); Zeke is going to reward active gameplay over the wait and watch method. The back end of the order is murky – does he respect Adam more than Hannah? Does he believe that Bret was making meaningful moves (or is the Rainbow Connection enough to vault him past Adam and Hannah)? – but safe to say that Ken is at the back of the pack.
Will: Jay > David > Adam > Bret > Hannah > Ken
Like a kid playing in a fantasy baseball league for the first time, his decision is going to be a mix of “best player available” and “whatever the older kids tell me to do.” We will undoubtedly be graced with a long-winded, overly-pontifical jury question from this kid – actually, he’s the odds-on favorite to make a grandstanding statement rather than ask anyone anything – but in the end, he’ll do what almost everyone does: Vote for the person who you’re okay having front and center on your season’s DVD cover.
Sunday: Bret > Jay > David > Adam > Hannah > Ken
She’s going to go with her heart, and that means Bret if he’s there, her surrogate son if Bret’s out and Jay is in the F3. After that, it’ll be gameplay: David then Adam. And the other two just won’t get a vote from her.
11) And now the potential jury members:
Bret: Jay > David > Adam > Hannah > Ken
Jay beats out David because the L.A. writer betrayed the Boston cop too many times. He won’t like voting for David, but he will over the rest of the crowd, both because David is a Gen-Xer, and because of the improbability of it all (although he’ll toy with voting for Adam; Sunday might have to talk some sense into him). He has no use for Hannah or Ken, though, so he’ll be happy it’s a Final 3.
Jay: Adam > David > Bret > Ken > Hannah
We weren’t given that hammock scene for Jay to side with David; Adam gets his vote (and it’s an easy one). After that, it’s about respect; he knows David played a great game, and he got to see Bret at his best on Ikabula (Bret’s social game while on that tribe is the great untold story of this season). The other two? No way.
Adam: Jay > David > Hannah > Bret > Ken
When two grown men cry together, they vote for each other, that’s just how the bro bond works. David is an easy second choice – the narrative of “I was beaten by the best” is easy to swallow – followed by three players he wouldn’t want to vote for (although he’d likely give Hannah the win in that nigh impossible Final 3).
Hannah: David > Jay > Adam > Ken > Bret
Despite her Ken crush, Hannah, like Zeke, will vote for strategists over dashing good looks because it validates her own view of the world and the game. Adam could possibly beat out Jay here – Hannah worked with him at various points in the journey to the end – but I’m guessing she would cave to the collective pressure (including from Probst and production) to reward Jay for navigating his way to the Final 3.
Ken: David > Jay > Adam > Hannah > Bret
This one is really tricky: If David betrays Ken, then Ken won’t vote for him because of Respect and Honor and Integrity and Morals and Ethics and all of those other big ideas that poets and writers used to capitalize for emphasis. But David knows this, so he won’t turn on his most loyal ally unless it’s a him-or-me scenario, which seems unlikely. Even if the group decides that Ken has got to go, David will refuse to write Ken’s name down (because he knows that a move like that would poison the jury). Should the Jay/Adam tandem somehow take over the game (would Bret and Hannah make so bold a move, or go along with it to take out David?), Ken votes for Jay (too much Respect for Jay’s game) over Adam (although he’ll be conflicted because Adam flipped to Jessica and Ken over Taylor and Figgy). And add Ken to the list of players who would rather not vote for Hannah or Bret.
David: Jay > Ken > Adam > Hannah > Bret
He’ll tip his cap to Jay, reward his friend, and acknowledge the player who would have to betray him for David to be on the jury – in that order. I think David likes Hannah, but doesn’t really respect her game (because it’s been in his hands for a long time now; it’s human nature to appreciate those with individual agency over someone who allowed herself to be led), and I suspect that he and Bret haven’t seen eye to eye since the Paul blindside.
** Looks like I’ve talked myself into a Jay win over David. I’m more than a little surprised about this. I guess that has a lot to do with the edit; Jay hasn’t gotten the attention that David has, which makes me a bit biased towards David.
** When Adam, who has been making moves for over a month, is most likely the third option for most of the jury, there’s been a lot of strategic maneuvering going on. Sure, not all of it has been GOOD strategy – one could argue that most of the moves have been questionable at best – but at least they’ve going down swinging.
** Clearly, I don’t think anyone respects the games played by Hannah, Ken, or Bret. I’m a jerk.
12) Three more random thoughts
** LOVED the “Puzzle with Plinko split attention timing thing” challenge. It’s such a small tweak but it’s a captivating one (the players get frustrated, the drama ratchets up, and it preys on the weaknesses inherent to a group of players who are tired and hungry and stressed out). Well done, Kirhoffer, well done.
** Can we ban the phrase “in this game” from the game? EVERYONE USES IT. “We need to vote him out – he’s a big threat in this game”… “Well, you know, Jeff, loyalty is important in this game”… “It’s wise to wait until the tide is going out to take an aqua-dump in this game”… The phrase “in this game” is really annoying (in this game).
** There have been several moments this season when – heresy warning! – it seemed to me like Probst’s deal with Mephistopheles is coming due and he’s finally getting old. He’s getting goofy and punchy with word choice an intonations before challenges, he’s starting to run awkwardly during them (ever so slightly like someone his chronological age), and there are moments during Tribal Council when he sounds like an old man telling the young whippersnappers to get off his lawn. Again, these are subtle gradations we’re talking about here – he’s not going to be asking for pudding and telling the kids to speak up and walking into Tribal Council and then look around like he doesn’t remember why he came here in the first place any time soon – but there are signs, like an aging slugger not being able to turn on a fastball, that the end is on the horizon.
BONUS: I have to wonder, are there six players in the finale because the Final Tribal Council is a fait accompli? If David is up against Ken and Hannah, how the heck is production supposed to make that dramatic? What does the jury even ask? (On the flipside, how long would a FTC with David, Jay, and Adam go?)
13) Prediction Time
6th place: Bret.
Jay wins immunity, and Adam takes the prudent path and votes with David’s three to take out Bret (although he shouldn’t).
5th place: Jay
There’s going to be at least one “anyone has a shot” immunity challenge during the finale; if Jay loses, he goes home.
4th place: Adam
Our journey character finishes in the Spencer spot.
3rd place: Hannah
No votes and maybe no questions at Final Tribal.
2nd place: Ken
Jessica will vote for him because she knows that David is going to win and Ken has a little girl and he’s a nice guy and THOSE ABS.
Sole Survivor: David
If you had told me this after the first episode, I would have laughed. A lot. There would have been snorting.
Shows what I know.
That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – if you’d like to keep the conversation going, leave a comment below!
Andy Baker is a long-time, but definitely not long-winded, Survivor blogger.
Follow Andy on twitter: @SurvivorGenius