I just realized something: I really don’t need to write three thousand words about Survivor every week. By the time you get to this column, you’ve probably waded through a lot of blogs and podcasts and Reddit threads, and you really don’t need me to rehash what you already know. So this week -- and, who knows, maybe the rest of the way -- I’m going focus on my less mainstream ideas.
So join me, if you’re intrigued, as we go beyond the obvious.
1) Booting Morgan Was a Bad Idea
If the goal was to take control of Naviti 2.0, and move Malolo 1.0 one step closer to balancing the numbers, then all James, Laurel, Libby, and Donathan needed to do was vote out an original Naviti player. Booting Angela accomplishes that. Even if Chris is annoyed upon his return from Ghost Island, you promise him that the next target is Domenick, and you’ve got a 5-3 advantage (and there’s no way Chris is drawing rocks for Dom, Wendell and Morgan).
The problem with taking out Morgan: Now everyone on Naviti 2.0 knows that there are some truly dangerous former Malolos on their tribe (and everyone on Malolo 2.0 will make that logic leap once they see who was voted out). Had everyone gone with the “vote out Angela” plan, strategists like James could continue to operate in the shadows. No way to do that now.
To be fair, voting out Morgan gives the original Malolos a 6-2 advantage (assuming they pull in both Angela and Chris), which would allow them to split the votes on Dom and Wendell the next time they go to Tribal. So perhaps the Morgan #blindside is a better move for the tribe, since it provides a safer path at the next vote. But in terms of the individual game, James, Laurel, and Libby have just put the other players on notice that they’re forces to be reckoned with. And it’s waaaaaay too early to be perceived as a threat.
2) Libby Had a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
“James, don’t hate yourself.”
Did you hear Libby say that when they got back to camp after Tribal? It’s not so much the words that stood out to me -- although they’re not great -- it was the tone. Libby was trying to make James feel better about being the backup boot, but I’m pretty sure she accomplished the exact opposite.
** Allowed James and Laurel to win the Wendell vs. Morgan debate (even though Morgan would be invaluable in water challenges).
** Gleefully chucked her “sweet girl” camouflage aside when she told Probst that fibbers gonna fib.
** Was called out by Morgan in front of everyone at Tribal.
** Libby left Tribal with the most blood on her hands, having lost a potential ally, and with the collective perception of her as a cold-blooded bitch.
Perhaps a, “Libby, don’t hate yourself” is in order when she gets back to camp.
3) Please Stop Throwing Your Manties and Panties at Chris
Yes, his visit to Ghost Island humanized him. But just because he talked about his mother and shed a few tears doesn’t mean he’s going to make it to the family visit. My guess is that he’s going to go right back to his bull-in-a-china-shop approach to the social and strategic game, and we will soon forget his temporary softness.
Here’s my thought process: We’re always going to see how a player handles Ghost Island… if a castaway has a breakdown out there, OF COURSE that’s making the edit… Chris talked about his mother’s MS in all of his interviews, so that story was going to make an appearance at some point this season… but if Chris were a contender, we would see him talk about this with another player (like Adam with Jay in MvGX).
Bottom line: If you ask me, we just saw the peak of Chris’ personal content… in Episode 2. Doesn’t bode well for his long-term prospects. Given the rest of the edit, it looks like he’s going to slug it out with Dom and lose.
4) Are These Players Doing the Math?
Are any of these SuperFans thinking, “We swapped with 18 players left in the game… there’s no way we stay together through the merge… so we’re gonna have another swap”? Dom in particular should realize, thanks to the Legacy Advantage, that the merge is most likely at 13 (because the producers will want the LA in play at a time of maximum chaos); split the difference, and you’re swapping at 15 or 16.
My point: Everyone out there should be playing for a swap. And that means establishing relationships. Libby needed to keep Morgan. Bradley needed to keep his mouth shut about dirt vs. sand. Kellyn needed to not say, “Sucks to be you.” (To be fair, Kellyn did seem to be building some bonds; hugging is always a great idea, unless you’re Vince Sly.)
When the next swap hits—I’m still betting on 16, with three tribes of five and the 16th player going to Ghost Island—the players who survive to the merge are the ones who took the time to connect with the other castaways.
5) Section for Cynics: Malolo Idol Edition
Some things to consider:
** Jacob -- who knew he was in trouble and searched extensively -- wasn’t able to find an idol over the span of six days.
** Stephanie, Brendan, and Laurel are all students of the game. Michael and Donathan have some knowledge and awareness, too. Yet none of them were able to find an idol before the swap (we have to assume that they tried to find it, right?).
** How many hours combined do you think all of these players spent looking for an idol?
** Need I remind you that the James Idol is MASSIVE?
** And that when Michael found it, he didn’t even have to dig? It was just sitting there. On the ground. In the crook of a tree.
** Are we to assume that it wasn’t put into play until after the swap? If so, that’s pretty unfair to Jacob and Gonzalez, don’t you think? Perhaps production decided to slowly release the relics into the wild, but it would have been more balanced to give equal access to the members of both tribes.
** Then there’s the post-swap search: According to the edit, Kellyn and Bradley—SuperFans both—sat around wallowing in complacency as the Stephanie/Jenna and Michael/Brendan tandems searched for an idol. That seems… unlikely.
** The end result: A male member of a minority alliance finds the one thing that he needs right when he needs it.
6) If You Have James’ Idol…
… don’t you do whatever you can to lead members of the opposing alliance to believe that you have TWO OF THEM?
7) More Shenanigans
If you’re Dom, bring the Legacy Advantage to the next Tribal Council and use the voting sharpie to scratch out your name and write someone else’s. Then put it in that player’s bag and see what happens. Not only would this be entertaining, it might also shake loose some key information about who trusts whom.
8) Even More Shenanigans!
Apparently, players CAN bring their “NO GAME FOR YOU” notes back from Ghost Island (one of this week’s press photos shows Donathan with his). That opens up some possibilities! How about this:
If you get your hands on an advantage, why not team up with Donathan, and have him lend you his “NOPE” note so that you can show it to everyone? (Or steal it out of his bag if you have to… leave your incriminating “FOLLOW THE FIRE” note in its place.) That way, no one will see your vote steal coming.
9) F*** Luck
Drawing rocks for who goes to Ghost Island (which removes a lot of potential strategy)?
Having the order of urns dictate access to a game?
Designing that game to be a 50/50 coin flip?
Swapping at 18?
Swapping again at 15 or 16?
Call it the Survivor Gods or Probst & The Producers (they’re roughly 79% the same thing), the forces at work that are out of the players’ control will have an immeasurable impact on how this season plays out.
Even making it to the merge is going to involve a LOT of luck.
10) The Sound of Silence
Survivor continues to struggle with silence:
** Laurel was conspicuously (and confusingly) silent this week. She was undoubtedly involved in the 4-3-1 plan. But the editorial focus was on James and Libby.
** Desiree remains an enigma. We’ve seen her on screen a few times. But she hasn’t had a confessional since the first hour of the premiere.
** Chelsea has been utterly invisible. And frankly, it’s even worse than that. During the immunity challenge, Probst bellowed (off-screen, so it could have been added in post) that Chelsea was having a hard time with the rope… but she hadn’t even touched it yet (and had no problem with it once she did).
Three women, two of them the only remaining women of color in the cast.
11) Getting to Ghost Island
We’ve been promised that the mechanics of sending players to Ghost Island will change over the course of the season. And frankly, they’ll have to: immunity after the merge (and a pot of rice and maybe an advantage) is too powerful. So what might they do?
** As mentioned above, use the swap: go to two tribes of seven at 15 or three tribes of five at 16, with the extra player going to GI.
** Perhaps the player who sits out of a challenge is sent immediately to Ghost Island.
** I fully expect that once reward challenges return, the winning group will chose a loser to go. (It would be MUCH more interesting if there’s a vote for who goes, given the potential for significant advantages later in the game. Please, after the merge, NO ROCK DRAWS.)
** I’d love to see TWO players sent to Ghost Island at the same time. Have the game be a variation on the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Would be fascinating.
** Hold on: What if one of the rewards was, in fact, a multi-person visit to Ghost Island (with a potent advantage in play)? THIS MUST HAPPEN.
12) The Little Things
** During the highly-controlled buff distribution (production got what they wanted), Michael—who picked last—was given the Tyson-esque line, “It’s fate.” Will he go on to claim the title? I doubt it. But if he does, this moment will show up in his winner’s montage.
** When Donathan returned from Ghost Island, he got light-hearted, borderline goofy, background music. He’s not winning.
** Jenna may suffer from Resting Bitch Face, but she’s hardly alone: Chris has Resting Sneer Lip and Bradley has Resting Ass Face.
** Speaking of Bradley, will part of Kellyn’s character arc be rehabbing Bradley’s image?
** All hail Mr. Wendell! When you get to talk back to Probst and have it make the edit, you’re a production favorite.
** The field producer is without a doubt telling Sebastian, “Make another candy reference.”
13) Reading the Tea Leaves
** Malolo 2.0 looks like the stronger tribe from top to bottom. Not only do they have a physical edge, but they’ve got Kellyn and Bradley on puzzles. They’re also going to be able to sit their weakest player during the immunity challenge.
** If Naviti loses the immunity challenge, the Malolo four should have a 6-2 avantage, assuming Angela and Chris join them.
** The title of the episode is “Trust Your Gut.” We’ve already seen Chris talk about going with his gut. If he’s the one who says this, then Naviti is going to Tribal.
** What would Chris need to trust his gut about? Whether or not Dom has a real idol, of course.
** In “Next Week On,” we saw idol discussions in BOTH tribes. That virtually guarantees that we’re feeling the impact of an idol at the next Tribal. One idol is a misdirect; two is a promise.
** Chris is going to hear that Dom showed the Malolos the fake idol. James will also tell him that they’re all pretty sure that Dom has a real idol, too.
** But Chris is going to trust his gut… and his gut is going to be wrong. Blinded by his myopic desire to see Dom go, he’s going to sacrifice the 6-2 advantage (and the ability to split the vote 3-3) and try to guarantee a Dom departure. He’s going to claim that he’s worried that someone (Laurel?) might flip, but really, he just wants to get Dom back for questioning him on Day 1.
** He’ll fail spectacularly: Dom will play his idol, and, without the votes split, Wendell and Dom will decide who goes home.
** Who would they target? Good question. James, for orchestrating the blindside last week? Laurel, for turning down Dom’s overtures (the expression on her face in “Next Week On” is the look of someone who is enduring, not entertaining, Dom’s pitch)?
** Wendell will defend Laurel (just like she supported him), and both he and Dom will feel that she’s the more flexible chess piece.
** Which means that James is going home.
Andy Baker is a long-time, but definitely not long-winded, Survivor blogger.
Follow Andy on twitter: @SurvivorGenius