This is sadly going to be my last blog of the year (other than participation in Jury Jeopardy – I couldn’t miss that!) I am on the road from Sunday. Sadly, everything I’ve had to get done this week has caught up to me, and so this column is also going to be brief – a quick look at the craziness that was this week, and a brief look forward at my predictions for the rest of the season.
Everyone universally seems to believe Lauren is due for a second run at Survivor. I hope so, and in this case I think she’d have the chance to do even better on a second run. Lauren’s disadvantage this season was how much unlike everyone else she is, and it was challenging for her to overcome in the early running. Coming in to a returnees season where she will theoretically have at least a handful of existing relationships and a reputation as a straight-shooter, I think that people will come in actively wanting to work with her. I deeply hope we get Lauren 2.0.
Having said that, it was about half way through the episode when I said ‘if these people were smart, they’d get rid of Lauren today’. They weren’t smart. My guess is that Dr. Mike put his foot down on a Ben vote and Chrissy and Ryan followed knowing that they’d otherwise simply be putting themselves in the minority again. But I spoke last week about the need to split up the Lauren/Devon/Ashley trio, and that need was absolutely real. I expect that if Ben had gone home, those three would have run in to at least the final four (where there would be a chance someone else could sneak in if Lauren and Devon realised they’d be best off getting rid of each other), using Lauren’s advantage at 6 to guarantee the numbers. Luckily for Chrissy and Ryan, and probably Mike too, Ben had an idol and used it. Lauren’s elimination robbed us of a deserving winner, but it probably gave us a more exciting end game.
Unlike most people, I do not think that the marble challenge was the worst challenge of all time. I don’t even think it was a total bust. Perhaps, just a mostly bust.
One of the things that I think is generally fundamental to the game of Survivor is being skilled at challenges. In the early days, I liked the fact that challenges varied greatly and so a wide range of skills were relevant to challenges. Trivia? In. Eating? In. Boomerang throwing? In. The challenges seemed to be designed for a wide range of skills.
Today, though, challenges have become much more homogenous – too homogenous for my tastes. They rely on a handful of skills – physicality, balance, puzzle skills – and that’s pretty much it. And that locks a lot of people out. The family visit is one challenge that, to me, just feels like it shouldn’t automatically lock people out based on skill. It should be something that anyone can win. And this is the one thing the marble challenge had going for it.
Having said that – they have to be able to think of better challenges that ‘anyone can win’. But if that was even a part of their design philosophy behind this challenge, I think that it’s an idea they should continue to work on. Anyone should be able to win that challenge. Even Sandra.
Is a mediocre social game good play?
So Ben is still there – admittedly through the grace of an idol play – and we see in the next week on that Chrissy is talking about getting rid of Ashley instead of Ben. Chrissy was targeted early after the merge, but right now keeps getting left on the board when people bring her up as a strategic and challenge threat.
These are the two people I have ranked 1 and 2 right now in my power rankings for who is going to win this game, and there’s a solid argument that both should have been eliminated right now. So why haven’t they been?
I think that the biggest key lies in their respective social games. Both of them do seem to others, at least to some extent, like they might be beatable at the end. At the very least, it has to be casting some doubt in others about whether they are the right choice to eliminate, right now. Other players such as Devon, Ashley and Mike could continue to be seen as threats because they have played better social games, and this might see them eliminated in the late going.
A great recent example of this is Millenials vs. Gen X. Players like Jay, Bret and David had to be removed because they were well liked. Each of them had a good chance of winning over a jury on that alone, although that’s not to diminish their respective gameplay. This let Adam Klein sneak through – a man who in real life is just as likable as any of the others, but who in the context of the game had put blemishes on his own social game by blindsiding Figgy, getting involved in Taylor’s food stealing as a passive participant, and criticising his friends and allies for not making the moves he wanted to make. Adam may not have ever been perceived quite as negatively as Ben or Chrissy, but I have little doubt that those moments helped him get to the end, as people like Hannah were able to see him as potentially beatable.
The most important rule for how to win Survivor must be this – you have to get to the end first. A perfect social game seems to me to inherently damage your chance of achieving this. If either Chrissy or Ben win this game, as I expect, I think there is a genuine question to ask about whether they could have still done it with a better social game. My guess is that they’d be gone by now (or certainly by the end). In what I can only see as a paradox, we may be in a phase of Survivor where good play is bad play, and vice versa. It makes it a lot harder to critique a player for poor play when it might be exactly what they need to survive.
Bits and pieces
As any loyal reader would know by now, I’ve basically been predicting a Chrissy win all season. I deeply regret placing her second instead of first on draft day, and I still feel that way. This week Chrissy had balanced content again. It was said that she was out for vengeance and was acting emotionally, but she also got to deal effectively with things like Ben accusing her of mothering him, and was seen actively targeting Lauren instead of Ben at tribal council (the strategic choice). She was given both emotive and strategic content at the family visit. And she once again feels like a key focus of the “next week on” segment (I wonder how often that is this season – it feels like most weeks). I can’t help but feel like this season has continued to be the story of Chrissy and Ben from start to finish, and that’s what it’s setting up for at the end.
We also saw Devon call Chrissy out as a challenge threat this week, which was interesting. It backs up Jeff Pitman’s statistical analysis of Chrissy to date, but it’s something that has been generally underrated in the game until now.
So, I’m not doubling down on Chrissy, but at this point about quintupling down on this prediction. Here’s how I see it playing out. Chrissy goes on an immunity run, perhaps winning the rest, or at least 2 of 3. She gets to final tribal with Ben and one other – probably not Devon, since he seems like he’d win at this point. Chrissy’s case is about how difficult it is to play as a mother, where people feel connected to her as an older women and so feel more betrayed when she won’t work with them, and how she managed that by trying not to make strategic connections when she didn’t intend to follow through. She explains that she played the most honest game she could in the circumstances. She points out her immunity run. And she just manages to look slightly better compared to Ben.
It starts with getting rid of Ashley at 6, then Devon at 5. At 4, she intends to target Ben, but Dr. Mike goes out after a fire challenge. Faced with a final three of Chrissy, Ben and Ryan, nobody sees any easy choice, and so it has to come down to who can argue they’ve played the game the best. Chrissy manages to argue the better end game than Ryan despite the fact they’ve played similar games. Ben instead discusses his story – being the marine, needing the money for his family. The jury is split – JP, Ashley, Joe and Mike vote for Chrissy. Desi, Cole, Lauren and Devon vote for Ben. And Ryan ends up casting the deciding vote – Chrissy taking it 5-4.
It’s complete fan fiction. But I can’t wait to see how it all plays out. In the mean time – thanks for reading all season long, and all year long. See you all next year.
By day, Ben Martell is a public commercial lawyer from New Zealand.
By night, he moonlights as a self-described Survivor 'expert'.
By day or night, find him on twitter at: @golden8284