An underexamined but consistent thread this season has been the contrast between Nick's two faces: publicly decrying the untrustworthiness and/or high-powered gameplay of others, while quietly playing a slithery, manipulative game himself. Charming and straight-up on the outside; making big moves behind the scenes.
Nick's game thus far most resembles a mix of Thailand winner Brian Heidik and South Pacific-vintage Coach Wade. From Brian, Nick has taken a general level of sketchiness concealed beneath a smooth exterior, along with forming final multiple close "final two"-type alliances. From Coach, part of Nick's public persona in the game is the grand old chestnut of "honor and integrity" while (again like Coach) actually playing with ... a general level of sketchiness. He's a slippery little sucker, that Nick Wilson. And the clue that tipped off why he's gotten away with it all so far came from, of all places, a completely unrelated scene featuring the Mayor of Slamtown, John, talking about dancing: Misdirection.
That's because Nick's other big parallel with Coach has been the nicknames. Coach gave pet names to his allies, such as The Wizard or Assistant Coach; whereas Nick has been a geyser of creative names for his alliances: Mason-Dixon, the Rockstars, the Thoroughbreds. Where it's served as misdirection is that Nick has worked to make it seem more like an inside joke than some scurrilous game maneuver: When he and Mike do the air guitar thing, or he and Christian call each other Mason or Dixon, it's silly, it distracts from the seriousness of talking about voting someone out. In that way, it's a really clever piece of misdirection.
The other part of Nick's game that has really stood out, of course, is publicly portraying himself as a straight shooter, loudly worrying about all these scurrilous strategists surrounding him. All while privately celebrating making big moves himself. After the Jessica blindside, Nick was quick to tell Bi, Carl, and Davie that the entire vote had all been Gabby's fault. You just can't trust her. She's making big moves. (Never mind that his sort-of ally Elizabeth set it up, or that he and his other ally Christian viewed themselves as the swing-vote decision-makers who actually executed the blindside.)
Again this episode, after the Natalie boot, while Mike appeared to be leading the charge, Nick at least helped propel the "Whoa, that Angelina is really dangerous" watercooler discussion among the Jabenis not named Angelina. Later, when the Angelina/Lyrsa boot decision had to be made, he reinforced to Mike that the vote was an opportunity to "take out a big player" in Angelina. After, of course, making clear his dismay at someone lying to trick another player out of a jacket, and Can You Imagine what she'd do for a million dollars?
Part of the seeming novelty here is that this is a style of play that has largely fallen by the wayside in recent years. Contrast it, for example, with the extreme candor of Adam Klein in Millennials vs. Gen X: Being sincere and friendly with his nemeses (such as Jay Starrett), while telling them he was going to (try to) vote them out. Adam's style is an open, public embrace of making moves and high-powered gameplay, whereas Nick's is privately doing these same things, while publicly professing the opposite. Or at least raising alarms when the big moves are being made by other people.
Part of the reason for the recent infrequency of this strategy is that it's unclear if it will work, even if Nick makes it all the way to the finals. Reversals this extreme tend to generate a lot of angry victims along the way. Trust is an exceedingly scarce quantity in Survivor, and violating trust while continuing to profess piety can lead to explosive consequences. Heidik won by the tiniest of margins—one vote—despite going up against a seemingly slam-dunk opponent, quintessential goat Clay Jordan. And Coach, of course, fell two votes short of the total he needed to win. Could the same fate await Nick?
On the plus side, to the extent pre-jury Tribal Council performance has any predictive value (spoiler: it doesn't), Nick's been numerically spotless so far: He leads all contestants (along with fellow Rockstar Mike White) with three people voted out in three Tribal Council visits, while receiving zero votes against him. And yet hints are arising that he probably can't keep this up forever. Just listen to Lyrsa's final words: "I'm super pissed at Nick, because I didn't know he was a flip-flopper."
On the one hand, yeah, it's fine, she's not a juror, it won't come back to haunt him. On the other hand, the next person out will most likely be a juror. Will they be less upset? We shall see.
So it's a dangerous path Nick is treading. But it's also a daring one, and one that could still pay off. That's because there's one critical difference between Nick and his predecessors: He's a lawyer. Yes, jurors were mad at Heidik and Coach. But remember, Heidik was a used car salesman/ soft-porn actor, and Coach was, well, a soccer coach/ symphony conductor. Maybe they can deliver a prepared speech or pep talk, sure, but they're not (necessarily) skilled at arguing, at convincing people, at changing their minds. (Even if minds are rarely changed at Final Tribal.)
So we're saying there's a chance. Not a great one, but a chance nonetheless. At the very least, it will be interesting to see how this decidely retro strategy fares in modern Survivor.
Futures report: The burgeoning garment mercantile industry
As discussed by Rob Cesternino and Randy Bailey on the RHAP recap podcast this week, the focus on Jacketgate over the past two episodes really elevates clothes-trading into the playbook of acceptable possible Survivor moves, which is a fun development. What's funny is that this was clearly something that had already been going on for a long time, yet had never before made the editing cut. For example, as mentioned on last week's Reno-It-Alls, Tyson Apostol voted out his own pants in Blood vs. Water when Laura Morett was blindsided (he lent them to her as a sign of safety).
Now that the publicity dam has been broken, there really should be a non-zero chance that we'll see active attempts at swapping clothes for votes in Seasons 39 and beyond, right? How would this impact the game?
You could imagine a particularly well-prepared but irritating contestant buying themself an extra three (-plus) days by auctioning off an outer garment to the most believable safety-promising bidder. The handover of an item could then be saved for Tribal Council, and the reveal of the lucky recipient could usurp the idol play/non-play reveal as the key dramatic moment. A belated decision not to follow through on an agreeed-to deal could become the new ultimate backstab. There's a lot of potential here!
The question then becomes: To what extent will production allow this? If they suspect people are trying to game the system with multiple clothing layers, will the show (which must approve all clothing choices) restrict player options to short sleeves only, no jackets? And what about swimsuits?
As a sidenote, it's ridiculous that we've now reached the merge, and the contestants still haven't received their swimsuits. What entertainment purpose does withholding clothing items from the cast serve? Is there some key demographic that finds watching TV characters walking around in stained/heavily worn underwear exciting? Does Jeff Probst secretly precede every challenge-initiating "Survivors ready?" request with five minutes of unaired pointing at the contestants, giggling, and saying "Ha ha! I can see your underwear!" It just doesn't make any obvious sense. Just let them have bathing attire on Day 1 guys. Nobody is getting bent out of shape because some dude gets to wear board shorts. Well, the "old school" (pre-Pearl Islands) contestants might, because they complain about everything. But they also were given sunglasses and raincoats.
Better living through superior sleeping
Unlike the outerwear debate, it's no secret that everyone on Survivor hates sleeping on bamboo. So while it wasn't particularly groundbreaking to hear that doing so hurt Elizabeth's back, it was a little odd that everyone else on Vuku seemed so incensed at the idea of trying to do anything about it.
For example, why was splitting 10-20 or so pieces of bamboo deemed an all-day project? Even at 10 minutes apiece, that's only 2-3 hours, tops. Not to mention that if you split a piece of bamboo in half, it now takes up 50% more of the shelter's sleeping surface than it did as a complete cylinder, so you can just throw away half the bamboo you're already using.
Also, why does nobody on Survivor look to A Song of Ice and Fire for guidance? Bedding there, even for nobles, consists of fresh rushes (cut long grass) piled on the floor. Fine, on Survivor, they could be placed on a bamboo platform. Whatever. That serves as padding, protecting from back pain. Shouldn't take that long to hack off some tall grass with a machete.
Then again, had the Vukus actually put in all this work to improve their sleeping situation on Day 17, the merge comes the next day, and there would likely be a 100% chance they would then get moved to another camp. (Note: Since they didn't, the preview shows the merge is coming to Vuku/David camp.)
One further note: Davie briefly looked really good in this segment. Seeing Elizabeth was upset about something, Davie correctly insisted that Elizabeth talk about what was bugging her. That (should have) helped defuse the situation. It was socially aware, and should have made Elizabeth feel like she was respected, and her position was being heard. Things should have settled down. If that was where it ended, great. But that's not how it was shown on the episode.
Because we can't be sure everything was shown in the order it actually happened, it seems really weird that instead, after this peacekeeping gesture, everyone just decided "screw it," and racheted up the fighting. Carl complained about his lack of naptime. Elizabeth stalked off to grab more bamboo (knocking Carl with it as she stomped past him with a fresh log). Then Davie frustratedly removed Elizabeth's split bamboo and tossed it into the jungle. Can't we all just get along?
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, you can do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes
Other David vs. Goliath Episode 6 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - Lyrsa Torres