Greetings, dearest readers, and welcome back to IKoaFS. So, looks like I lied, and here’s a post. Now that I’ve taken the LSAT for the second and hopefully final time, I can get back to what really matters in life—Survivor. With that being said, I’m at least pleased this week didn’t see both Joe and Mike’s dismissals, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t rooting for Ben to get the boot in that second Tribal. That would’ve shaken up the game… and honestly, I think it would have helped Devon and Ashley out immensely, but more on that later.
The Man. The Myth. The Absent.
Please, please, please correct me if I’m wrong, but did JP not get a single confessional in his boot episode? The only time I can remember him talking was his little “piggybacking” statement at Tribal, where I once more thought, “Shit. I forgot you’re still there!” Furthermore, did production really fail to give him a boot confessional after the votes? That could be a first. Oh well, this villager archetype (unfortunately the second of the Merge section) will not really be missed, at least by me. Bon voyage!
What’s Nuts Going to Do Without His Coco?
Damn. I don’t really want to say I liked Joe—I didn’t—but his mere presence seemed to raise the general paranoia around camp. When the paranoia is up, chaos is more likely to ensue, and I do love me some chaos. Alas, Joe, it wasn’t meant to be. Whether it was your almost-thoughtful gameplay, your utter misreading of several situations, your mocking of fellow cast members, or your antics with Mike around camp, you, sir, were an archetypal fool to the bitter end. What’s more, I think Joe is one fool we might see back from this season, one whom I’m betting is destined for an early, early boot when it happens… because he just wasn’t that good at the game. Cheers, homie.
Okay, folks, we’ve reached the coveted final seven, and I have to say, this is a damn good one. Yes, parts of this season have been boring as we gotten here, but feasibly, I could see any of these seven winning. While I think Chrissy, Lauren, Mike, and even Ben have a better shot than Ryan (and he’s got a better shot than the other two), if someone told me Ashley won, I wouldn’t be utterly shocked. How many final sevens can claim that level of development (development which, just weeks ago, was sorely lacking)? With that in mind, I want to make a few plugs against this week’s rising stars, not as players, but as winners.
What Makes a Winner?
Too Late for that Little Bit of Magic?
If you look at Survivor winners, historically, there is one thing that basically each and every one of them share: emotional pull and humanity. Even with someone like Brian Heidik, a despicable person who will never play again (though he absolutely deserves to), the audience kind of got a feel for the sort of person he was. In MvGX we got the arc that was Adam, understanding why he was playing and what it meant to him. In short, unless Survivor provides us deep, personal details about a person, it’s hard for them to win. Yes, there are some exceptions—looking at you Michele—but especially in a season in which we know a lot of personal details about the final seven, how could people who don’t have much in way of substantial character be our winner?
This brings me to Ashley and Devon, two people who I vastly underestimated preseason and even throughout the game (no more Devon Zoolander cracks about this guy). There is no denying this (these) episode(s) looked very, very good for both of them, but is it too little too late? I can safely say, with the exception of both of them enjoying surfing and liking the ocean, I really know nothing about Devon and Ashley as people. It’s cool that you’re both super muscular and have proven you do actually know what you’re doing out there, but is that the same as knowing Ryan has never had a girlfriend or that he knows himself well enough that he has to rely on his social game? Have either of you shared as many personal anecdotes about your life experience as Chrissy has with her job or her being a fan or a mother? Have we heard any prophetic claims from either of you or any signs that, while you often start at the bottom, you find your way to top? We’ve heard that from Mike, just like we’ve heard about Lauren’s journey being a single mother and what being out on Survivor means to her. And can any of you claim you’ve gotten any content as emotional or poignant as Ben’s experience as a Marine? When compared here, Devon and Ashley’s personal résumés, to the audience, seem a bit barren. And if literature (and Kaoh Rong) have taught us anything, if we don’t have a protagonist we can understand over a whole narrative, the final climax can seem fallow and undeserved.
The Importance of Letters
Helping to Nix Contenders
Plug number two against Devon and Ashley came during the double episode’s first reward. Letters, for Survivor editors, are a great, easy way to let audiences feel more attached to given players by showing their heartfelt reactions to their loved ones. Now, when the time came and everyone was in tears, who was all the focus on? Lauren. Even Ben got a confessional in about the letters right before he found his idol (which I don’t want to comment on—trying to avoid conspiracy theories this week…). Ashley and Devon, on the other hand, were given no real content other than the letters helped to shore up their alliance with Lauren and Ben.
Yes, the Family Visit is this week and there’s ample time for personal content, but this would have been such a nice precursor to that for Ashley and Devon! The fact they were given nothing in way of content for the letters raises more doubts about either’s candidacy for winning than anything this season. I don’t know the numbers, but I really do wonder how many winners didn’t receive any content for a letter reward, assuming they were on the reward or received their letters in the first place, of course. I’d wager that number is pretty close to zero.
Ben versus Joe
Who Should’ve Gone?
A final, less edit-related, plug against Devon and Ashley comes down to this question: was it smart to keep Ben and lose Joe? As noted above, I think booting Ben would’ve been the better choice, though this is not an easy decision. Please note, I’m not calling either Devon or Ashley idiots for their move here, because neither option was perfect. Still, at least based on what we were shown in the episode, Joe and Mike were as loyal as one could hope to Ashley, Lauren, and Devon, perceiving them as their proverbial saviors. Even when Mike was approached by someone like Ryan, he just brushed him off. My point here is simple, I think there was less risk of Mike and Joe flipping than there is of Ben doing something to shake up the game.
Yes, Joe fills the whole camp with paranoia, but for all of his hype, he was actually a pretty tame player. He did find two idols, but he only played one (semi) correctly. Apart from that, what proof do any of the players have that Joe is truly a strategic threat in the first place? What’s more, what huge threat is there for Joe to win? Maybe, maybe he could garner a hypothetical Mike vote as well as Desi’s, but does anyone this he could have beaten any of the other people in the final eight? I’m pretty doubtful. While I was admittedly amused by Joe, he never showed me anything to make me think he was a great player in practice, and only very barely in theory.
Ben, on the other hand, has been noted as a major threat to win the game—something I think is very right. You give Ben a FTC where he can talk about how this experience helped him reconcile some of the stuff he went through as a Marine, and I have a hard time believing he doesn’t sweep the vote. What’s more, Ben seems like a much larger threat to win challenges on any consistent basis than Joe. Yes, I’d take Ashley over either of them, but still. If I was out there, I’d be more scared of competing against Ben, on all fronts, than Joe.
Finally, Ben’s ability to play the downtrodden loser with Ryan and Chrissy would have made me so worried if I was Ashley, Devon, or Lauren. If the man is that convincing, how the hell are they supposed to know when he’s lying? As mentioned above, I would think the trio must’ve known they had Mike and Joe for at least another vote or two given how puppy-dog-esque they seemed, and seeing Ben’s social prowess in full swing… he should have gone. They obviously don’t know he has an idol, but if the preview for the next episode means anything, Ben could be the dismantling force for at least one of them. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but my point stands, I don’t think Devon or Ashley win this game. Their new-found fame in these episodes is a misdirection away from the other players, and at best, one of them makes the FTC.
One Final Plug
Now that I’ve given my reasoning for why I think neither surfer wins this season, let’s look at the fisherman and what evidence there is for Lauren to come from seemingly nowhere and take the gold. Yes, her early game content was lacking, limited to a feud with Patrick and then her general annoyance with Cole. That being said, she received regular confessionals in the early stages of the game, and although many were about her issues with various people she was with, there were a few sprinkled in there about her being a single mother. This, to me, sets up Lauren as someone we as the audience should at least be silently rooting for, even though many were likely counting her out from the moment she stepped on that beach (I know I was).
These references to her motherhood came full circle this week when she read her letter from her daughter. Not only did this act as a poignant reminder to viewers that Lauren is playing this game for something larger than just the pride of doing well on a gameshow, but to make a better life for her daughter. Any seasoned Survivor fan knows winning, assuming you make it to the FTC, can largely revolve around being able to construct a narrative to the Jurors about why you should win, be it merely relevant to how you played the game against your competitors or what sort of person you are outside of the game. Lauren, here, has both. She’s won multiple individual challenges (something no other player this season can claim), she spearheaded the shaking up of magnificent seven, and she was still likable enough for Chrissy to try and convince her to jump ship again, back to her and Ryan. Tack on the fact that she is a single mother, and that’s a pretty damn good story, my friends.
One confessional, however, makes all of those aforementioned facts seem secondary to me and makes me even think Lauren should be considered the front-runner to win, not just a dark horse.
Right before Lauren, Ben, Devon, and Ashley read their letters, Devon made a comment about how he heard no strategic talk from Lauren for the first portion of the game, and how she’s really changed and blossomed into her own. This immediately brought back flashbacks, to me, of Natalie White after she killed the rat. Multiple confessionals in that episode praised her for adapting to the Survivor experience, showering her with praise for how she overcame some initial discomfort, and became the Sole Survivor. Lauren, I think, is similar, though replace the discomfort of living on an island with having to insert herself into social situations with people a decade younger than her, at least to begin the game. The fact that Devon is saying it, too, given how grand of an edit he got, makes me think he either loses to her in the end, or he votes for her to win as a member of the Jury. Perhaps that last bit is too speculative, but time will tell.
A Closing Thought, Dearest Readers
Mike’s Big Moment
To me, a lot of this season’s story has been premised on Mike rising from relatively lowly positions and taking control of this game. Yet Mike has really not been in any sort of commanding position during this game, thus far. Yes, he’s voted for some ousted players, but that was him following direction out of survival necessity, not maneuvering from a place of power. This week, however, he might be in a spot in which he is necessary to two groups of players. If the preview is to be believed (and that, as always, is a big if), Ben might suspect Lauren, Devon, and Ashley of plotting against him—hence providing Devon with a fake idol. If that’s the case, it would lend to reason he would flip back over to Ryan and Chrissy, targeting one of his old alliance-mates. The problem here is, that’s three versus three. In order to ensure victory from more than a solid idol play on Ben’s part, Ryan, Chrissy, and Ben will have to compete for the good doctor’s vote with Ashley, Devon, and Lauren. This, for the first time, could lend credence to Mike’s confessional weeks ago in which he stated he’s used to starting at the bottom but rising to the top. For as hot as Devon and Ashley might seem right now after last week’s double dominance, Mike flipping (paired with Ben’s fake idol ploy) could not only put a proverbial wrench in their games, but utterly ruin them. Something tells me this is what happens. Speaking of…
Prediction time, dearest readers. Given how well all seven are playing/are edited, this week is even harder than a tribal swap. That being said, Lauren, Chrissy, and Ben seem like they probably have more in the narrative tank, so I think all three of them see the final six. Additionally, Mike does seem like something of a swing vote this week, and even at the worst, why would those in power not seek to break up Chrissy and Ryan before getting rid of everyone’s favorite urologist? This leaves Ryan, Devon, and Ashley. To me, Devon is being set up for a big fall… but I don’t think it’s this immediate. In fact, I think he could be a high-profile FTC loser. Regardless, I think he survives this next vote, simply because I think his right-hand, Ashley, will take the heat for him. So, between Ashley and Ryan, I think I’ve got to go with Ashley, if no for no other reason than she’s less developed than the other six. This is the least confident I’ve been about a pick this season though—and that’s saying a lot (remember, I picked Joe to go home five times before he actually did!).
Dan Otsuki has been watching Survivor religiously since season two, and is a recent graduate of the University of Puget Sound, where he double majored in English and Religious Studies. He's also applied to play on the show every time he's been able to do so.
Follow him on twitter: @DanOtsuki