This may come as a shock: I have a lot of strong opinions about Survivor. Many of them, as it turns out, are unpopular; even my wife and son wonder what the heck I’m talking about half the time (last week, Mrs. Baker thought I was babbling nonsense when I insisted that the jury would vastly prefer to give $2 million to someone with a family; for the record, I still think I’m right about that).
This week’s episode made me even more of a contrarian than I usually am ... as a result, I’m really curious to know what you think about this batch of strong opinions. See you in the comments section.
1) There HAS to be a competition for the family visit
I love the family visit. If you read this column, you know this. I cry, unashamedly, every season.
And yet, the family visit is as ugly as it is beautiful. Players get a brief reunion, but then — unless they win the challenge — they have to say goodbye. It is mean — by design. Survivor is constructed to be cruel.
If ever there was a family visit that would create game altering dynamics, this was it. Seven parents. Their kids are there. Talk about winners at war. Not only would they battle to win the challenge, but think about the selection process afterwards. How would Jeremy react if he wasn’t picked? Kim? Tyson? Sarah? Tony? Denise? Ben? Can you imagine the tension? The hurt feelings? The backlash? The retribution?
And THEN imagine that someone spends three fire tokens TO STEAL A SPOT ON THE REWARD. Taking it away from someone who was about to reunite with his or her family. This is the ONLY way that anyone would buy that item off the Fire Token menu, right? Your kids are RIGHT THERE. And you have the Tokens to spend. Of COURSE you spend them. And yet, you probably SHOULDN’T.
How awesome that would have been!
Instead of giving us these psychologically fascinating — and devastating — choices, Survivor, and Probst, chickened out.
2) Kids should never be involved in a family visit ever again
Don’t get me wrong. Kids are awesome. I have two, and they’re the all and the everything. Seeing all the Survivor kids playing with one another was a moment of transcendent normalcy. Compelling.
But it’s terribly unfair to the players to be reunited with their kids. It may take their heads out of the game, sure, but that’s not my primary concern. The real problem is that it fundamentally changes how the other players see them. Yes, that happens after every family visit — perceptions are altered — but having children there is vastly more impactful.
Future members of the jury will be making a $2 million dollar decision knowing that their kids frolicked in the surf with the kids of a finalist (or two, or three). That has to change the calculus, right? How can Tyson, for example, explain to his kids that he picked Sophie over the goofy guy from New Jersey whose kids were so much fun at that picnic on the beach?
And as I wrote about last week, how can Sophie, Michele, and Nick not understand just how much trouble they’re in if they’re sitting next to a parent at Final Tribal Council?
This family visit will have a massive impact on how the season plays out (even though the edit is going to try and hide it). It is as inevitable as it was avoidable. I understand why they did it this season (even if I wish they hadn’t, especially since they didn’t make it as cutthroat as they could have), but please, never again.
3) Jeremy should be pissed about the family visit dynamics
Picture this: you’re sitting in the bleachers, having been reunited with your loved one(s), and you’re looking over at the last few people waiting for their hyper-dramatic Probstian intro. You’re dimly aware of the design of this emotional parade: start with the soldier who has a great story but isn’t as high profile as some of the later parents ... the kidless trio scattered evenly throughout ... and the major impacts saved for the end.
And then it hits you: the producers saved Jeremy for last. He’s the chosen one. The headliner. The one with the best story. The one who won (according to the edit) because he turned Final Tribal into a gender reveal party. Look at that huge family! Wouldn’t it be great if they had $2 million dollars?
AND THAT’S THE PROBLEM.
Jeremy is already considered a huge threat, but he’s managed to make it this far. But then production puts the spotlight on him, and suddenly he’s on the top of everyone’s hit list. So much so that Jeremy had to screw over his alliance just to stay in the game.
4) Michele is in a great spot
Hear me out.
Yes, she got left out of the vote, and now she’s ostensibly part of the minority. And yes, once Kim, Jeremy, and Denise figure out that she’s the one who flipped — won’t take them very long — Michele is suddenly alone and adrift. Doesn’t seem like she’s in a very good spot at all.
And yet, the odds are high that no one is gunning for her any time soon. Sure, that could set her up to be a goat and nothing more. But she won’t be complacent. She finds a way to get into conversations with just about everyone. That’s power, even if it’s not the overt kind.
Who else has connections on both sides of the current schism? A lot of these players are going to end up on the jury. She has more personal relationships than pretty much anyone. That will help. Not saying she’ll win, but would you bet against her being scooped up by Sophie (who has already scooped up Nick) and tipping the balance of power enough so that she ends up with a seat at Final Tribal Council?
5) Time for a Pagonging
Production is going to try to mislead us, but I think we’re going Old School: we’re about to embark on an old-fashioned (if short-lived) Pagonging.
Jeremy, Kim, and Denise are on the wrong side of the numbers right now. And none of them have a great argument to convince the players in the majority to join them. They’re too dangerous.
Jeremy: Already being targeted. Won a returnee season. Had the headliner role at the family visit. Won an individual immunity challenge. Has tons of friends on the jury.
Kim: One of the best ever. Was in trouble early, but not only made the merge but put herself in a power position. If you worked with her this late in the game, the jury would think you fell under her spell. She, too, has friends on the Edge (poker alliance forever!).
Denise: Did you know that she took out Sandra? And then bragged about it? And played an idol to “save” Jeremy? And talked about that, too? Do you think the jury is aware of all these awesome things that Denise did?
Now, if there was a power imbalance on the other side, the above trio could possibly exploit some cracks. But I’m not seeing it. I think pretty much everyone in the majority thinks they can put together a Final 3 that they can win. They fall into two predictable categories:
Group 1: Think They Can Beat Each Other: Nick, Michele, and Ben (they may delude themselves into believing they can beat people in Group 2, but they’d be wrong about that)
Group 2: Prefer To Sit Next To People From Group 1, But Think They Can Beat Each Other: Sarah, Sophie, Tony.
I also think that there’s enough perceived flexibility that all six of them believe they can get to the end with their preferred opponents (Sophie thinking she has Nick and by extension Michele ... Sarah thinking she has Ben and Tony).
Given that the dominant alliance doesn’t have any reason to fracture, and that it’s easy to stay united when looking across the aisle at Jeremy, Kim, and Denise, I think we may be in for some easy votes.
6) Let the players whisper at Tribal
I hate it as much as anyone. The King of TDT has written about this with eloquence, honesty and snark. Go check it out and then come back; I’ll wait.
Okay, so here’s the thing: with so many trinkets in play now, and so few sustained alliances, things are going to happen at Tribal that trigger discussion. Obviously, production loves it (although they shouldn’t, because the drama created is shallow jump scares, not deep-seated terror). But more to the point, there are times when the players need it.
So give it to them.
But make them pay for it.
I’m assuming that the Fire Token economy will return in future seasons (if we have any). If so, have one of the entrees on the menu be “one minute of whispering at Tribal.” If they don’t pay, they can’t get out of their seats. They can’t huddle. They can’t whisper. If they need to say something, they need to do it before God, Country, and the Jury.
I bet some of them would pay.
7) Nick is the goat everyone wants to sit next to
Your presumptive alliance singled you out and ordered you, “Don’t say anything” (serious lack of trust). The other players talk openly about how you skulk around and insert yourself into conversations. You throw hissy fits at Tribal about how the players aren’t playing how you want them to play. And we’ve heard current members of the jury offer up a steady stream of negative opinions about you.
Yeah, you’re a goat.
8) Ben is going to win
He fits the season theme: he’s changed his game, learned how to navigate complex social dynamics, and he could get to the end without a single idol or advantage (a massive reversal, one that all of us thought was impossible). He helped take out Boston Rob. He’s part of the “big threat” alliance with Tony and Jeremy. He’s also got a strong connection with Sophie and Sarah. And he’s been giving us a ton of confessionals, shaping the story of the season, and —
— hahahahahaha, okay, I can’t keep going. Ben isn’t winning. Not a chance.
But I DO have a new winner pick.
9) I’m #TeamTV, baby!
I’ve been reluctant to accept this possibility, not because I don’t like Tony -- I do, I think he’s awesome -- but because I assumed that at some point the other players would wise up and turn on him.
I was also thrown off by the periodic emphasis on his shenanigans. The ladder escapade. The return of the spy shack. Even this week’s teaser which shows Tony careening around the jungle.
But I think the edit is carefully counterbalancing all of those moments with “in control Tony.” Talking strategy. Offering Sarah advice. Winning a challenge that rewards patience (and commenting on how unlikely that seemed).
I’m feeling the manipulation. How about you? My sense is that they’re telling us that he’ll make it to the end, as preposterous as that seemed at the start of the game.
To be fair, Sophie still has a great argument to make, but she’s now slipped to #2 in my personal power rankings.
10) Yul is the second Edge returner
The one narrative thread that I’ve been waiting to see woven into the story is Sophie’s line about Yul being her nerd shield. Not only did that not come to pass, but we didn’t even see Sophie react to his elimination. I keep finding myself wondering why.
Here’s my answer: Yul wins the F6 Edge Battle. He joins forces with Sophie, or at least he thinks he does. But then, at a moment when Sophie would have been the target, she betrays him, Yul ends up taking the bullet, which paves Sophie a path to the Final 3.
That’s the sort of ruthless move that would impress the jury, no?
11) Sarah made the right move
Until she stole Denise’s vote, Sarah’s alliance had a 5-4 numbers advantage; all it would take is one flipper to turn the game upside down. Think she fully trusts Nick? With Michele on the other side?
Then add in the fact that she went into Tribal planning on using the vote steal; while players can talk themselves into using an advantage, it can be really hard to talk themselves out of it.
Then add in her game of advantage chicken with Jeremy; once everyone knew she had SOMETHING, she really had to play it. Going back to camp with an unknown advantage in your bag ups your threat level.
And finally, remember, players often assume that the other castaways think like they do. Sarah was about to pull a stunt (I’m convinced she split her stolen votes to make sure Tyson went home). She’s inclined to assume other players might try to do the same.
So she steals the vote, makes everyone assume that it’s going to be a 3-3-3 split, and then gets frisky. Sure, she could have Tyson-ed herself. But this way, the person she wants gone is gone, she’s got a move on her resume (even if Sophie got the big “us five” declaration in front of the jury), and her alliance emerged from a potentially tense Tribal with a 6-3 numbers advantage (assuming Michele sticks with them). Not bad. Not bad at all.
12) Kim done effed up
It pains me to say this, but Kim screwed up. Badly. There is no joy in Mudville.
When Sarah stole Denise’s vote, Kim’s alliance was outnumbered 6-3 (she had no reason to think that Michele would bail and make it 7-2). She had to assume that the votes would be split evenly, especially when there are two tempting targets in Kim and Tyson ...
... oh, and the fact that SOPHIE KNEW KIM HAD AN IDOL. Kim had to assume that Sophie would plan for Kim’s idol, right? That’s what vote splits are FOR. Heck, Kim had to think, “They stole one of our votes so that they could create a 3-3-3 split.”
There are only two logical things to do under these circumstances: take a massive risk and leave the idol in your bag (thinking that they’ll split between Tyson and Denise) or play the idol for yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of things I loved: Kim calmly staring down the opposing alliance looking for a tell (she’s an assassin, I tell you) ... and the fact that if she had played it right and they somehow came out on top, she would have undercut Denise’s endgame resume (“Yes, she took out Sandra, but the only reason she’s here is because I saved her”).
In the end, though, I imagine that this is the move that keeps Kim up at night.
13) Kim’s gotta go
Kim is a Mount Rushmore player.
She was in trouble early, but has risen from the ashes.
She’s a challenge beast.
She has friends on the Edge.
Her idol is gone.
Andy Baker swore he’d never play again, but the allure of an All Winners season brought him back..
Andy is no longer on twitter, but he's a regular guest at the Survivor Talk with D&D podcast.