I’m going to do something a little different this week.
I’m going to invite you into my living room.
Please ignore the mess. I live with a teenager, a five-year old, and two dogs. It’s mayhem.
Watching Survivor in the Baker household is, shall we say, an experience. I am in control of the remote. I pause whenever I have some bloviating to do, which is often. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I also stop the action to test my son: “WHAT SHOULD JEREMY DO IN THIS SPOT?” His allowance is directly connected to how well he handles my questions. Speed counts. At this point, the kid is a savant. He sees my finger twitch and he’s already answering. Is it weird to be proud of that? Probably. I don’t care.
But I digress.
When I’m not offering my unsolicited opinions, I am bellowing unheeded advice at my television. I express my consternation at strategic idiocy. I point out insanity and inanity wherever and whenever it appears.
My commentary quite often includes profanity. Sorry about that. But not really, because it’s my living room.
This, my dear readers, is what I yelled at my TV screen this week as the episode unfolded.
1) SHUT THE BLEEP UP, BEN!
Ben complaining to Jeremy was awful gameplay.
For the record, I don’t think Ben was saying, “How dare you leave Tribal when we wanted to vote you out.” There seems to have been a “Lion Alliance” plan involving Jeremy, Ben, Tyson, and Tony that was left on the cutting room floor, given that Tony and Ben were the ones questioning Jeremy’s decision to leave. Whatever that plan was, and whoever else was supposed to be part of it (Nick?), it doesn’t make much difference.
No, what Ben did wrong was confront Jeremy rather than keep his options open. Ben appears to be that familiar mid-merge player who feels like he’s locked into a Final 5, one that gives him a solid chance of getting the Final 3. That makes him myopic. And dismissive of those who aren’t in his five. It’s incredibly unwise.
You simply don’t say things like, “I don’t have to listen right now, dude.” Or call someone out by saying, “In my eyes, you’re a lot bigger threat than I am,” which translates to, “I’m gunning for you.” Just awful, awful gameplay.
Ben annoyed Adam. Now he’s annoying Jeremy. Which means that the jury probably finds him annoying, too. Not a great spot if you want the $2 million.
2) WHAT THE BLEEP, KIM?
You know Michele betrayed you! Why are you on my screen right now acting like you haven’t put the pieces together? Why are you acting like she’s with you and not the majority?
The math was simple, Kim: Denise couldn’t vote. Jeremy left. Tyson got voted out. Sophie only caught two votes. Yours and Tyson’s. So Michele flipped. And yet here you are talking to her.
But wait. Of course, Kim knows all of this. She’s just keeping her possibilities open. Man oh man oh man is she good.
I do wonder, though, if part of this conversation was Michele explaining why she threw her vote at Tyson. I also wonder if there’s a confessional out there where Kim explains how she was managing this situation with Michele because she needs allies. Which oddly doesn’t bode well for Kim: as much great content as she got this episode, this was a moment where she would have seemed masterful and in complete control of a pawn like Michele.
I remain worried for Kim.
3) HOOOOOOOO, BOY, TONY’S GOING TO WORK!
A lot has been made about the number of confessionals Tony had this week. It’s far more important, though, what he said and how it’s being conveyed (context, tone, music, etc.). Sometimes confessionals are about what’s happening, and sometimes they convey what a player is thinking and feeling. If you’re looking for clues about who matters to the endgame, always focus on thought over plot.
Tony ripped off a couple of winner’s quotes. He talks about his season-long approach, and how he’s shifting gears now. And then, throughout the episode, he narrates not only what he’s doing, but why, and how that sets him apart.
“I’m always thinking when they’re not.” THIS is how Tony wins. As he tells us, he’s not stopping or slowing down. He’s zagging when others zig. And it’s working.
And then Sarah tells us about blindsides at Tribal, and how well-choreographed moves against other winners could lead to a player being able to ask, “Am I the best player out here?”
Of course, it’s Tony who orchestrates the blindside that Sarah describes. Is he the best ever? Will he be the king to Sandra’s queen? Sure looks that way.
4) BLEEP YOU, PRODUCTION
I say this a lot. Too much, really. Every time a player locates an idol or advantage my alarms go off.
That said, let’s look at Tony’s idol find.
Everyone must have been looking for the merge idol but came up empty handed. Not surprising, since both sides had an idol and there were plenty of other advantages floating around; production probably didn’t plant it. Once things started getting played, though, the jungle would be restocked.
Tony tells production that he’s going to start looking.
Suddenly, it’s there to be found.
Yes, the fact that the Extortion “Advantage” threatens to put Tony in trouble undercuts the production interference conspiracy theory (as Jeff Pitman writes this week). But idols are different beasts. Talking players out of tokens provides entertainment for one episode. Idols, on the other hand, are long-term tools that are ruthlessly effective when a player has a preternatural ability to whip them out at the right moment (with or without an assist from production). And if one gets played, there’s always another nook in another tree for the early riser.
5) I’M A HEARTLESS BLEEPING BLEEP!
Back in the day, I would have loved the fashion show. Camp life used to entertain me. Not any more.
I want strategy. Especially this season. How many times have we seen stuff go down at Tribal and wondered what the bleep just happened?
Still, I suppose the fashion show gave us more Sarah/Tony conflict. There’s certainly an effort being made to build characters up as obstacles for Tony, either on his way to FTC or when he’s there. Sarah and Kim are the most noticeable, but we’ve been given rationales for just about everyone.
After weeks of conflict, are Sarah and Tony destined to be at Final Tribal together, one hyping his strategic approach and one describing her social game? Or will this battle be fought before the war has reached its end?
Not sure ... but if I had to pick, I think Sarah falls short of the Final 3.
6) HOLY BLEEP, KIM!
How I love thee’s game ... let me count the ways:
** Calling Tony out for targeting Jeremy. Telling it like it is. WOW.
** Watch her eyes as she studies Tony’s reaction to her accusation. ASSASSIN.
** Kim breaks down how Tony is playing double agent. Can’t get ANYTHING past her. Sure, Tony might not be the best actor. But Jeremy didn’t see it and Kim did.
** Quickly adjusting when Tony wins the immunity necklace, and finding the silver lining in Tony winning back-to-back. (She rolls with punches large and small).
** The intertwined fingers high five with Denise — she understands the language of connection.
She is so bleeping good at this game.
The idea I can’t shake (now that my temporary flirtation with Yul has ended): She’s going to be sent to the Edge ... and return at F6.
7) MICHELE, DOING WORK!
The edit is quietly giving us a Michele who is playing a sly social game:
** She admits to Kim how lost she feels, a confession of vulnerability that can engender trust.
** She asks Tony who his #1 is ... and he tells her.
** She asks Jeremy if he wants to work with Tony, and when he says yes, she leans into that, accepting it and shaping plans around it.
** She tells Jeremy, “We’ll get out of this” — and she ends up being RIGHT. Yes, she didn’t engineer the move, but the edit is giving her credit for her optimism.
** She invents a fake advantage on the spot, one that not only convinces Tony, but might make anyone and everyone less inclined to vote her out before Final 6.
** Tony trusts her to talk to Jeremy about giving him a token, and after she does, Jeremy agrees to help.
Michele is playing the game, people. If she got to the end with Ben and Nick, don’t you think she’d have a shot? I do.
8) BLEEP YOU PRODUCTION!
Here we go again.
Do you think that message in a bottle would have been buried in that spot if that’s where Danni and Adam go to collect wood?
9) WHAT THE BLEEP IS THIS?
A lot of small moments made me bellow this over and over:
Adam might quit? I don’t buy it.
Nick being described as a vampire? A reminder that no one takes him seriously.
Jeremy falling awkwardly at the end of the challenge? Wait, did he throw that? I can’t imagine he would, but that looked weird.
The immunity challenge totems looking like chess pawns? Interesting symbolism.
Nick smelling his armpits? He’s not quite getting an Adam edit, but it’s not a good look.
Jeremy working the campfire? Is he going to be in the fire-making challenge?
Ben talking about the million going fast? Is “How much of your million do you have left?” going to be one criterion at Final Tribal?
Sophie tells everyone she was voted out with an idol in her pocket? Time for a treasure hunt!
10) WHO THE BLEEP DID TONY STIFF?
He borrowed from Jeremy, Nick and Ben. Who didn’t get paid back? I NEED TO KNOW. More importantly, we need to see this play out. Did Tony stiff Ben, since he was going to vote with Jeremy and Nick? Or would that have been too obvious? Did Tony use the repayment as part of his appeal to Jeremy and Nick to flip the vote? So many questions.
11) DOOR #3, BABY!
All the pieces of the puzzle were in play:
** Final 9 is a great spot to make a move.
** There were two groups of four with Tony as the swing vote.
** The number of idols and advantages all but demand a split vote.
** Tony had the necklace, which tends to embolden players to make moves knowing that they can’t go home even if everything goes to bleep.
Of course, just having the pieces doesn’t mean you can assemble the puzzle ... Tony was masterful.
You have to admire when a player sees two clear options -- and instead creates a third one that better serves his ends.
This was Cirie’s 3-2-1 move ... only with more votes to manage.
Now, I’m not entirely sold that this was a great move. Tony is now staring at a potential 4-4 tie. But it was HIS move, and he’s got a read on these players now. He’s as good an intuitive strategist as we’ve got. He has a plan. He just doesn’t know what it is yet.
12) BLEEP YOU PRODUCTION!
In a confessional, Tony talks about waiting until the last minute before Tribal to pull together his move on Sophie.
And then, miraculously, he’s able to have every conversation he needs before they’re on lockdown.
Production has incredible powers at times like this. A number of players have complained in the past that production will allow some conversations to happen while others are cut short. We hear it all the time: often the last plan is the one that happens. And production can decide which plan that is.
Which is my way of saying this: There’s no way that production was going to head to Tribal before Tony had every conversation he needed to have.
13) I’M A BLEEPING IDIOT!
I say this a lot. Because it’s true. I’m wrong about SO MUCH every season.
** I should have bailed on Sophie weeks ago. She got a lot of great content. But she disappeared at key moments.
** Yul isn’t coming back from the Edge. The Nerd Shield thing was just another red herring in a season full of them.
** Won’t be a Pagonging, clearly.
So, what WILL happen?
When we’re looking at 4-4, it’s all about which side blinks.
On one side, we have an enmeshed alliance: Jeremy has been with Michele from the beginning ... Jeremy and Tony are working together ... and Nick has clearly hitched his game to Tony’s crazy train.
On the other side, we have the beast with two fronts: the Kim/Denise tandem and the Sarah/You’re Not Sophie But You’ll Have to Do (Ben) pair.
Sarah is clearly pissed at Tony, per the Next Time On teaser. But she’ll calm down. Does she really want to work with Ben, Kim and Denise?
More pressingly, would Ben be willing to go to rocks in an alliance with three players all of whom could beat him easily? (I mean, can he beat Sarah, Kim or Denise? Does HE think he can?) Wouldn’t he rather work with Jeremy, Tony, Michele and Nick, and try to get to the end with the latter two?
Jeremy, Michele, Nick, and Tony have had their alliance forged in the fires of Tribal. They’re united. At least until Tony decides to flip again.
Kim’s the one player who could hold together an opposing alliance ... she flipped on Jeremy ... voted for Michele ... yeah, I think she’s getting targeted, and unless she finds Sophie’s idol, she’s going home.
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.