Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to write this week – I’m off to Durham, Maine for a Survivor Summit (really, it’s a planning weekend for the Durham Warriors Survival Challenge) – so rather than my usual process of overthinking and then second guessing my overthinking and then writing way too much, I’m just going to hammer out, and post, a swift response to the merge episode.
So here, with little ado about nothing, are my #HotTakes!
1) Hannah is a Hot Mess
Don’t get me wrong: I like her. She’s goofy and silly and nutty, and I like all of those things. But saying you’re ready to play on Day 20 isn’t a good thing; it means you’ve spent three weeks not really engaged in the strategy. And that’s the only reason why she’s out there, right? Because she understands the game? The producers put her in the cast to be a female strategist… but the way things have shaken out, the other players consistently keep her out of the loop; at some point, that’s her fault, not theirs. They don’t trust her and feel they don’t need her. I’m sure Professor Dawson told her that’s no way to win Survivor.
That said, I really liked how she was trying to become a bridge between Adam and the other members of the alliance. That’s smart gameplay, to be the fulcrum between different chunks of an overlarge alliance. That said, should she really want to be closely associated with Adam, given how it appears that absolutely no one trusts him?
2) Jay has a massive blind spot
Given how Zeke describes him (has anyone ever gotten so extensive and glowing a review from another player while the game was still underway?), it’s clear that Jay is charismatic. What he appears to lack, however, is the level of empathy needed to see everyone as they see themselves (which is endlessly important when you’re trying to connect and manipulate and use). Part of that is youth – the older we get, the more opportunity we have to learn that life isn’t all about us, which is why so many of the great Survivor players are 29 and up (I pick 29 rather than 30 because Kim Spradlin was 29 and I love me some Kim Spradlin) – and part of it is being charming and handsome: Cool kids, from my experience (as a college and high school teacher), develop empathy later than their nerd counterparts (for lots and lots of reasons).
My point: Jay should have been able to anticipate that Bret and Sunday were going to choose the Gen-Xers over the Millennials. Even if he didn’t see it coming, once everyone was around each other at the merge camp, Jay should have been able to read the situation. Assuming he had the numbers was a massive failure of empathy.
I hope that Jay has learned from his mistakes so that when they bring him back, he can play to his full potential. With some key adjustments, he could be really, really good at this game. He just has some growing up to do.
3) Zeke is awesome
Anyone who uses the phrase “locus of power” and the word “coterie” in the same episode enters my personal pantheon of awesome confessionalists.
He also correctly deduced that Jay has an idol.
And he understands that he’s going to have to cut ties with Adam.
And he’s not afraid to opine about delayed gratification at Tribal Council.
Man, I love this kid. Win, Zeke. Please and thank you.
4) The new reward advantage SUCKS
Winning post-merge rewards is a bad idea. Taking them away from other people? Truly asinine.
The only scenario I can see it being good for would be this: It’s the Final 4… there’s a challenge beast who can’t be allowed to win immunity… and the beast wins a reward that involves a lot of eating. In that situation, no one – other than the beast, of course – would hold it against you if you took the reward away.
Other than that, all this advantage will get you is a jury full of enemies. The people you took the reward from will hate you. The people you don’t pick to join you on the reward will hate you. And heaven help you if you interfere with the loved ones visit; do that, and pretty much everyone will hate you.
5) The pressure of the game is getting to Adam
Let’s do a quick run-down of his mistakes, shall we?
** Trying to work with Taylor. Adam is afflicted with the same empathy blindness as Jay here: Why would he think, even for a second, that Taylor would choose him over Jay? Never going to happen. Not only would the bro-code preclude it, but YOU VOTED OUT HIS GIRLFRIEND. He’s NEVER going to forgive you.
** Telling Taylor to target Will. Jay is Taylor’s boy. Will is Jay’s boy. By the transitive property of bro-hood, Will is Taylor’s boy. Taylor isn’t voting out his own boy.
** Even uttering aloud the idea that he could use the advantage to ruin someone’s loved ones visit. WHAT?!?! I mean, what could possibly be worse than that in the eyes of the jury? Taking everyone’s letters from home, throwing them into the fire, then peeing on the fire? Why would you even THINK about ripping love away from another player, never mind say it out loud to someone you reminded, OVER AND OVER AGAIN, that you ruined his game?
** His closest ally – Zeke – called him “a bad alliance member.” For Zeke to say that – and to be willing to lose a number sooner rather than later – Adam’s post-merge social game has got to be a motherhonking mess. He’s become an unpredictable variable at a time when the power players are trying to reduce the chaos in the calculus. And players like that are sent home (particularly when there are so many predictable pieces around).
6) Taylor’s edit is all over the place
On the one hand, the editors are going out of the way to show us Taylor’s efforts to play the game; we didn’t need to see Taylor talk about misleading Adam, and yet we did.
On the other hand… the whole Mason jar thing. Man oh man do the producers want us to laugh at Taylor. And don’t kid yourself; they knew exactly what kind of confessionals he was going to give them.
Oh, and can we please never see a player refer to another castaway as “my woman” ever again? There’s enough misogyny in the world (and soon, the White House). Thanks.
7) Survivor Commandment #12: Never steal food
Everything about Taylor and the merge food was awful. He used his advanced canning skills to steal from starving people; if anyone catches him in the act, or sees him digging up his secret stash in the future, his game is effectively over (if it wasn’t already). As if that weren’t bad enough, he then doubled down on the idiocy by eating more than his share of the food he didn’t pilfer, and was utterly unapologetic about it at Tribal. GOOD LORD THE ENTITLEMENT BURNS MY EYES. And this was my pre-season winner pick. FOR SHAME, BAKER. FOR SHAME.
By the by, there is one exception to this particular Survivor Commandment: Go ahead and steal food if you’re going to use it to frame someone else. Need the tribe to turn on a capable castaway? Put a handful of dried fruit in the bottom of her game bag and wait for the grenade to go off.
8) No talk? No chance.
There were over 30 confessionals on Wednesday night.
Three players got zero: Jessica, Ken, and Sunday.
They’re not winning.
9) The well-structured majority alliance
Alliances only hold together when the members of it feel that they’ve got a strong sub-alliance, and only hold together long term if everyone thinks (or hopes) they have a winnable Final 3 within that sub-alliance. Interestingly – and improbably – it looks like the nine players who voted together are a perfectly balanced combination of moving parts; everyone has a potential five within the nine and a three within that five. Let’s take a look:
His five: Chris, David, Zeke, Bret, Sunday
His three: Chris probably thinks he can beat any combination. (He’d be wrong about that.)
His five: David, Chris, Zeke, Hannah, Sunday
His three: David, Chris, Sunday (I don’t think he wants any part of Zeke at the end).
His five: Zeke, Hannah, David, Chris, Doesn’t Matter
His three: Zeke probably thinks he can beat any combination. (He’d be right about that.)
Her five: Hannah, Zeke, David, Bret, Sunday
Her three: Hannah, Bret, Sunday. (She probably knows that she needs two goats with her, and she’s be right about that. She still can’t beat them.)
His five: Adam, Zeke, Hannah, Ken, Jessica
His three: Adam, Hannah, Jessica. Depending on how he got there, Adam could win this. But it wouldn’t be easy.
His five: Bret, Sunday, Chris, David, Jessica
His three: Bret, Sunday… and the third SHOULD be Jessica, but he might remain loyal and keep Chris. Would be unwise.
Her five: Sunday, Bret, Chris, David, Jessica
Her three: Sunday, Bret, Jessica. Does she think she can beat Bret? She shouldn’t.
His five: Ken, Jessica, David, Bret, Sunday
His three: Ken, Jessica, Sunday. Would Ken be this ruthless? Or would his personal code force him to stick with David? Regardless, I think Ken would feel he beats anyone in this Final 5; he also would be aware that they’d be gunning for him every step of the way.
Her five: Jessica, Ken, Bret, Sunday, and David
Her three: Jessica, Bret, Sunday. She’s sharp, so knows that she can’t go to the end with Ken (he’d be seen as the stronger member of their tandem) or David (since he saved her).
I know that there are a number of combinations here that are probably a bit off – I’m writing this swiftly, so be kind in the comment section! – but the overarching point remains: I think everyone in this massive majority thinks they’ve got a potential path to victory, which means they can stick together. For now.
When they turn on each other, though, things are going to get crazy.
10) Probst Probe: DON’T MAKE PEOPLE CRY, JEFF
Getting Jessica all teary-eyed thinking about her kids when her arms are attached to a hair trigger bucket might make for good television, Jeff, but it’s completely unfair in the context of a challenge. Blurred vision. Lost focus. The body movement that accompanies emotion. These are the predictable results of plucking on that particular heartstring. This isn’t The Jeff Probst Show, Probst! Oh, now YOU’RE the one crying.
11) Survivor Commandment #34: Don’t target someone before you know who has individual immunity.
You’re a student of the game, Adam! You should know better! You can’t throw someone under the bus if the bus ain’t there yet!
Names are going to be thrown around; it’s the merge and everybody’s worried. That doesn’t mean you have to make the same mistake; in the hours and days before the first individual immunity challenge, let the other players suggest a strategy and utter a name. As long as it isn’t you – and it won’t be, if you’re not running around, paranoid and noncommittal – then all is well. That way, you avoid creating a plan that’s utterly annihilated by the immunity challenge. Why risk the target finding out and fighting harder in the challenge as a result? Why commit to a name before that important variable – the necklace – is no longer a question mark? And even if the target doesn’t win immunity, why give everyone an opportunity to second-guess your plan, and allow your intended victim to scramble?
Bottom line: The plans that work are the ones that are put in place right before Tribal. To offer up a name before then is a fool’s game. As Adam found out the hard way, when you jump the gun, things have a way of blowing up in your face.
12) Michelle leaving is a significant loss
As much as her affect unsettles me – there’s something distant about her, like a more articulate Darrah – Michelle is a solid strategist. Her breakdown of Adam’s decision to target Will was astute and accurate; she is, above all, a rational player, one who would have made smart decisions every step of the way. In her absence, expect a lot of the upcoming moves and countermoves to be overly emotional and strategically unsound.
On a related note, having Michelle as the first member of a massive jury is interesting. Will she be able to shape the Ponderosa deliberations? Does she have the needed gravitas to guide the conversations? Or will it the jury inevitably be divided along generational lines? And if that ends up happening, doesn’t it behoove a player to be sitting next to a couple of players from the opposing tribe? That’s the only way for a Gen-Xer to have a 5-5 tie on the jury, while a Millennial would have a 6-4 jury split in a F3 with two Gen-Xers and a 5-5 tie with one…
13) Prediction Time
The focus on Adam and his poor gameplay in the “Next Week On” teaser (WHY TELL PEOPLE THEY’RE ON THE BOTTOM, ADAM?!) feels like it will pay off in an episode or two, but is a misdirection for next week. We’re far more likely to see another split vote between two of the Millennials in the minority; Jay will be one of the two, and, given that Taylor has unfinished business (avenging Figgy, a narrative which got more airtime this episode), the second one will be Will.
Perhaps Taylor wins immunity, perhaps he buys himself a little time by making an appeal to Ken and Jessica, but one way or another, he sticks around to take out Adam in the next few weeks. With Jay playing his idol to save himself – the overwhelming numbers will prevent Jay from doing anything more clever with it – Will goes 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