An odd confession: Once we get a few episodes into any given Survivor season, I start itching to put on my tin foil buff and write stuff that makes readers question my sanity.
It appears that I’ve hit that point a bit earlier in the autumn than I usually do.
Time for me to court some controversy!
1) Production helped Michelle make her move.
Seating arrangements at Tribal Council are proscribed by production, so it was no accident that Hannah was isolated at the end with Michelle next to her and Jay behind her.
Remember the confessional Michelle had near the end of the episode in which she said that she might have to “try to pull strings at Tribal Council”? Think the field producer said, “That’s nice,” and then started asking about Trifornication? Not a chance. Indeed, I think it’s safe to assume that Michelle explained her plan. And that production set her up with an opportunity to pull it off. To be fair, Michelle still had to do the work, but production gets an assist on this one. (And if I were Mari, I’d be pretty pissed about that.)
Note to all future Survivor players: Pay attention to where everyone sits at Tribal. Production constantly gives away the story they’re trying to tell – and by extension, the story of what is going on within the dynamics of your tribe – if you know what to look for. Swing votes sit in the middle. Players who want to throttle one another are put in close proximity to heighten tension and create opportunities for drama. And if a member of your alliance – one whose allegiance you’re not entirely sure is yours and yours alone – is seated waaaaaaaaaay far away from you, something is up, and that something ain’t good.
2) Production helped David, too.
I highly doubt that the idol-filled coconut was in place from the outset of the game. Really, the main reason for having the idol hidden that way – rather than attached to challenge apparatus or in a box nailed to a tree – is to give production some control over who gets it. Had Lucy been out gathering firewood where David was rock hunting, that coconut would have been nowhere to be found.
As a tribe, Gen-X is boring. Production HATES boring. They put the idol into the hands of the one person who might make it interesting.
3) The Legacy Advantage is whatever production wants it to be.
First off, from a production stand-point, the logistics of the Legacy Advantage are brilliant: Players can’t neutralize it (I’m certain that all of the vote-splitting to undercut idols and the targeting of players possessing advantages pisses off Probst to no end)… and it takes out the guesswork: one way or another, the advantage is going to be played during the endgame (and you just know they’re going to promote the heck out of it).
More importantly, though, by not explicitly stating what the advantage is… it can be anything that production wants it to be. Have a minority alliance that needs an extra vote? The advantage is an extra vote. Have a challenge beast who needs an idol? It’s an idol. Have a potential winner who could really benefit from booting someone from the jury? It’s a jury member booter.
Am I sure that production left their options open? Of course not. But I’m sure they talked about it.
4) Michelle made a massive mistake
A tribe’s criteria for “why we boot people” are often set at their first Tribal Council
When Figgy was the target, the Millennial groupthink was, “We need to break up the power couple – and oblivious idiots should be punished.”
Michelle is neither an oblivious idiot nor part of a power couple.
When Michelle shifted the crosshairs to Mari, she redefined why Millennials get targeted. The new criterion? “Strategic threats should go.”
With Mari gone, who is the most dangerous strategic threat left on the Millennial tribe?
How about the player who just orchestrated a blindside?
5) The plan is to keep the tribes apart…
… until there are 15 players left, when they’ll be split into three tribes.
My reasoning: Production likes where the tribes are right now. The type of players that Probst prefers are in control of the Millennials (there’s no way he risks them getting screwed by a swap), and now that David has an idol, the Gen-Xers are going to target players that production doesn’t care about (CeCe and Lucy).
Oh, and brace yourself for a Tribe Swap that keeps the Millennials in control of two out of the three tribes (which, if they avoid turning on each other, would guarantee them at least a 6-6 tie at the merge, assuming they do so at 12).
And now it’s time for some wild character speculation based on the edit!
6) David is going to destroy a lot of games
In a premiere episode confessional, David said that he needed to find an idol to turn his game around. As predicted, he found one, which means he WILL turn his game around (which in turn means he’s making the merge).
That means that any player who we see dismissing David’s chances is going to discover that karma is cruel (Survivor editors do love their confessional irony). That list begins with Chris, who no doubt lowered his head in shame while watching this past episode. It couldn’t have been easy to relive the moment when he referred to David as a puppy dog.
Not only have we been told that David is going to be a post-merge factor, we’ve also been informed that he will play a self-interested game. There’s really no other reason to show him saying that Paul’s medical situation might be good for him. David, I suspect, is going to Cochran 1.0 the Gen-X tribe (it is no accident that we’ve heard Cochran’s name mentioned at least twice so far this season).
7) Michaela is the safest player in the game
Michaela has been repeatedly identified – and shown – as someone who speaks her mind. That’s a dangerous approach in the early days of the game, but when a player like that avoids being the first boot, she can drop off everyone’s radar for a while. Castaways on the wrong side of the vote – in this case, Adam and Zeke – are obvious targets, and the powerful players within the majority alliance (Michelle and perhaps Figgy) become far more pressing problems than someone with attitude.
After a swap, Michaela won’t be ID’ed as a threat because she’ll be seen as the outer layer of the Triforce onion (a perception that Michaela will gladly reinforce). There’s also a good chance that players on both tribes will assume that Michaela – as an abrasive antagonist – won’t be in a position to assemble her own alliance. Add in that she’ll be a challenge asset, and there won’t be any reason to target her until after the merge (indeed, post-swap players will want to work with her, either as a member of the Millennial majority or as a flip-target for the Gen-Xers).
I just hope that the rest of her edit isn’t the Survivor equivalent of the loathsome “Angry Black Woman” stereotype; I fear, however, that it will be.
8) Character Assassination
Jessica is doomed. By having her disappear in episode two, the producers let us know that her only significance in the premiere was to tell us about the Legacy Advantage. Now, as soon as the Legacy Advantage is mentioned again – probably in a post-swap “Previously On” segment – that’s the episode that she goes home.
Chris isn’t winning. The fact that Paul was seen as the Gen-X leader came out of nowhere. Paul might be the titular head of the tribe, but Chris is the one who’s really running things. If he were our winner, though, we’d be given a confessional in which Chris explains that letting Paul “lead” is a strategic decision on his part. I bet Chris DID say that at some point, but it was left on the cutting room floor. We don’t need to understand his strategy because it’s immaterial to the endgame.
Hannah is screwed. Just as Aubry’s game was derailed by her “scratch out one name and write down another” blunder, Hannah’s eternal voting-booth interlude will undercut trust and faith in her and her game. Even if she gets to the end, this first visit to Tribal Council will haunt her (because it will have been talked about endlessly at Ponderosa). But WAIT! That’s not all! Hannah has already been identified as a vacillating and potentially impulsive player; that’s why Michelle ambushed her at Tribal rather than talking to her beforehand. (That said, hopefully Hannah understands that this is how the other players perceive her and strives to alter the narrative.)
Zeke is in a bad spot. He obviously made a critical mistake revealing a boot order that went beyond that night’s Tribal (note to future Survivors: don’t do that except with your One True Person). That mistake, however, reveals Zeke as someone who has relationships with almost everyone on his tribe; he doesn’t tell Jay – who has been closely linked with Taylor and Figgy from the start – if he doesn’t feel like he has a receptive audience. He also doesn’t unleash an emotional outburst on Hannah – as the CBS teaser informs us he does next Wednesday – if he doesn’t have a strong connection with her. Which is a long-winded way of saying that Zeke clearly has a strong social game (and that Adam will likely be booted before him). Two other observations: One, he had a potential winner’s quote when he said that he came here to win a million dollars… and two, he followed that up with a quote that means he’ll fall short: he claimed that having a strong ally – which in effect gave someone two votes – was against the spirit of the game. If confessional irony is in play here, and I think it might be, Zeke is going to be around in the endgame, but be alone, and he’s going to fall prey to a couple (perhaps Figgy and Taylor).
9) The Triforce – much to the chagrin of all the haters – is going to be around for a while
They were set up for a fall… but they didn’t fall. Yes, Michelle saved them. But we’ve been shown a lot of signs that they might actually have some game and earn a spot in the endgame.
The producers are going out of their way to show us a strategically aware version of Jay: Zeke reveals Michaela as the boot after Figgy to Jay, not Michelle… Jay is the one who bridged the gap between Figgy and Michaela… and Jay is the one who helped Michelle flip Hannah at Tribal Council. Yes, Jay has been exposed as unversed in Survivor history – even semi-casual fans know about Romber as a power couple that got to the end – but that, when paired with all of the surprisingly positive footage, is setting Jay up for a late-game boot, not an early one.
The inclusion of the Will-Michelle conversation about what might happen if Figgy remains in the game was full of foreshadowing. It was no mistake that Will invoked the name of Parvati (who was going to be the first boot in Micronesia until Jonny Fairplay asked to be voted out). The fact that Figgy did indeed avoid elimination – as well as got credit for putting together the Triforce alliance in the Previously On segment – puts her squarely on the Parvati path, although it feels more like Cook Islands (6th place) than Fans vs. Favorites (Sole Survivor).
When Taylor was drinking from a coconut, smirking about macking, and inhale-laughing like a jackass, I had a Fabio flashback. I’m not saying that he’s going to win – and I don’t really want him to, given what we’ve seen of him so far – but I’m not ruling it out, either. If the game breaks right – and it’s set up to do just that – he’s going to be around a lot longer than most Survivor bloggers and podcasters are saying he will.
10) If Probst really loves Survivor firsts…
… and we know he does…
… then I want to see Lucy float her way to the Final 5 but get zero confessionals along the way, even in her boot episode.
Yes, I know this makes me a horrible person.
11) Fortunes rising: Ken
The edit has been kind to Ken right from the start: he cautioned the Gen-Xers not to take the Millennials lightly (a moment that was included because they won’t listen to him, they’ll underestimate the opposition, and they’ll pay a steep price for doing so; Ken comes out looking better than the rest of them, though, since he saw it coming)… the producers opted not to show how close he had been getting with Rachel before her departure (the edit protects players they want us like)… and we’re meant to root for his unlikely alliance with David.
But really, I’m putting him here simply because I like the guy, and didn’t think I would coming into the season. He’s not going to win the game (his edit would be much different if he did), but he’s going to win some challenges and be humble and handsome in doing so. I don’t yet know if he’s going to be undone by Michelle after a swap, or if David will abandon him (by not sharing his idol) after the merge, but one way or another, Ken has been a pleasant surprise thus far, and I hope he sticks around for a bit.
12) Fortunes falling: Adam
He’s on the outside of the Triforce+ alliance, his boot can be rationalized with the statement, “He’s smart and he hates us so we can’t let him flip at the swap,” and the only confessionals he’s been giving us have been of the “Summarize the plot for us, would you?” variety.
The next time the Millennials go to Tribal, he’s the most likely boot.
13) Prediction time: The One Episode Stagger
In modern Survivor, producers like to do the One Episode Stagger: plant the seeds of a boot the week before when they’re checking in on a tribe (especially when that tribe isn’t the one going to Tribal). In the premiere, when the Gen-Xers lost the immunity challenge, we got a lot of information about the budding Triforce alliance, Michelle’s connection to it, and Michelle’s relationship with Hannah – all of which was there to set us up for last Wednesday’s Mari boot. On some level, you knew it was coming, even if you didn’t see it coming, if that makes any sense.
This week, we got to see the formation of the Ken and David alliance, and hear how CeCe was their third (apparently, Lucy might be their fourth, but the episode didn’t tell us that). The fact that we didn’t get much intel from anyone else means that the Gen-X majority alliance is holding fast; even with Paul’s medical scare, Chris, Bret, Sunday, and Jessica are going to stick with their six (five if the Lucy thing is true). Frankly, if Ken, David and CeCe were going to stage a coup, we would have seen Lucy join them, and we’d have some hints that one or two of the other five were potential flippers.
Anyway, we spent enough time with the Gen-Xers last Wednesday for me to assume they go to Tribal this week.
The Chris “David is a puppy” confessional tells us who he wants to target.
But David has an idol and an ally; there’s no way that storyline ends after only one week.
So what happens?
Once the tribes don’t swap at 18, I imagine they think through the other possibilities, and realize that they’re together for at least two more eliminations, probably more (there’s historical precedent for a swap at 14 to a pair of seven-person tribes; there’s also the possibility of a novel 5v5v5 split). With three or four more boots before a shake-up, they’re likely to prioritize challenge strength. Which places David and CeCe in the crosshairs.
Narratively speaking, David ain’t going anywhere. And if he’s in extreme danger, he’ll show his idol (and given how neurotic he is, they know he’ll play it). If the tribe split is really 5-4 right now, then the majority alliance can’t split votes, so they’ll have to settle on one target and go all in. David would have to consider playing his idol to save CeCe, but again, he’s being portrayed as self-interested, so he’s keeping that idol for himself.
To be honest, though, I don’t think it even gets that far. I think David convinces Chris that he’s a loyal vote, and that there’s one player on the tribe who is both bad at challenges AND was on the wrong side of the vote when they went to Tribal.
Which means that CeCe is going home.
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