We live in a post-truth world, one where objective reality is ignored in favor of personal perception. Of course, Survivor castaways have always lived in a manufactured world where truth is subjective. Players lie to other players, to us, and to themselves.
In literary terms, the players are unreliable first-person narrators whose stories are filtered through the lenses of a team of third-person limited omniscient narrators (producers, network execs, and editors) all of whom are unreliable first-person narrators themselves (I think we can all agree that Probst isn’t the least bit objective).
What we get, then, is a story that is so distorted, so many layers away from objective truth, that it’s sort of ridiculous to try to understand the complexity of the game, particularly one like this, where the players know that everything they’re doing and saying becomes part of the narrative, including confessionals.
And yet, here we are, left to wonder why, from the hours and hours of confessional footage, the producers have chosen to give us what we see. Every moment is carefully curated, and we’re left to wonder if it’s there to indicate or obfuscate. In the end, the winner needs to feel justified by the edit; on the flip side of the Fire Token, the edit needs to avoid being obvious.
So let’s venture into this distorted reality, shall we? Let’s take a look at what the players had to say and speculate as to why we’re hearing them say it. Let’s come to a conclusion about each moment’s inclusion.
1) “It just made her look really good, but I have to imagine everybody at the table thought, ‘Hmmm, like one person has a résumé out here. Good to know.” — Sophie
My interpretation: Not only is Denise going to get targeted because of her regicidal move on the Queen, but Sophie is going to be the one behind it.
2) “If I were these people, I would get rid of me Day 1 every single time I ever played Survivor, because if you let me get my roots into whatever cracks are there, I’m gonna build a home.” — Tyson
Combine this with Tyson’s premiere quote about losing the battle but winning the war and I think we’re meant to believe that Tyson is going to be sticking around for a while. This could be a misdirect, of course, but he was conspicuously absent from any and all radars last week, despite being lumped in with the other “big threats.” Shocking, frankly. Still, this feels like a red herring to me, although I’m entirely sure why.
3) “Sophie is playing ... but I’m cool with her. Denise is kind of the same way.” — Wendell
We’re being reminded that soon-to-be juror Wendell thinks highly of Sophie’s game, which bodes well for her reputation with the jury. It also hints at her social game and strategic influence: Wendell emphasizes that he’s “cool” with Sophie, which suggests that this matters within the merge tribe, both on a personal level and a “if I wasn’t cool with her I might be in trouble” sort of way. And while we could say all of the same things about Denise, Wendell says “kind of” -- so she isn’t seen as quite as powerful as Sophie (despite having taken out Sandra, which is saying something).
4) “People like Wendell, Nick, Adam and Michele, they’re good players, but they’re lower profile. They’re not in the spotlight. There’s no target on these people, so now is the time for me to try to get rid of all of them.” — Tony
What stands out the most to me here is that word, “try.” Yes, Wendell went home this week. But were Tony to go on a run here and take out these four players, we’d likely get a far more confident confessional from him (and you KNOW he gives some over-the-top “I got this” confessionals). I don’t think there’s any way that Tony takes out ALL of these players. Although I refuse to rule out the possibility that he makes it to the finale and that two or three of the Lower Profile Players don’t.
5) “I don’t want to be the one that’s looked at as the boss. Don’t get me wrong, I want to drive this thing. But I don’t want everybody else to know that I’m driving this thing.” — Jeremy
If Jeremy had managed to get control of the game here at the merge, this would be a winner’s quote. And he was SO CLOSE, right? If Nick had gone home, Jeremy has Wendell, Michele, and Denise on one side of him and Tony, Tyson and Ben on the other. He’d have a seven within the remaining eleven and two possible fours within that seven and multiple Final 3’s within those fours. That’s a winning game no matter how you slice the onion.
Sure, Jeremy is still in a good spot; he didn’t waste his social capital to save Wendell, and he has every reason to believe that he could pull together six players out of the eleven left.
But there’s no way to avoid the cold, hard truth: Jeremy got outflanked by Sophie. She’s the one driving this thing.
6) “I want to keep the higher profile threats, us lions, in the game, and Nick is a player that is that hyena that I’ve talked about. He just stays on the outskirts, he just waits for the lions to go at it, and that’s when he comes in to see what he can get. He’s like a scavenger.” — Tony
Tony has managed to marginalize the hyenas for the time being. The problem, narratively speaking, is that Tony has identified Nick as the head of the hyena pack, but Nick, despite having his name brought up, not only didn’t go home but also didn’t catch a single vote. You have to wonder if Tony’s plan to take out the hyenas is going to fail, and that Nick is going to outlast Tony.
7) “Everybody that has worked with him says don’t trust Adam.” — Nick
Oh, poor Adam. His edit gets worse and worse. Could he be the Zero Vote Getter at FTC? Quite possibly; when Lord and Ruler Jeff Pitman opines thus, we must listen. I still think he’ll be a relatively painless boot when a larger alliance wants to delay turning on itself, but if he manages to skate through a few Tribals, everyone’s going to be searching for ways to sit next to him on Day 39.
8) “My sense of what’s happening is that a bunch of the ‘big guys’ — Jeremy, Tony, Tyson and Ben — all got together and said maybe Wendell, maybe Nick. But a lot of power in this tribe is coming from Jeremy, and I think Wendell is Jeremy’s man.” — Sophie
I can’t remember the last time we had a player (one who talks in full paragraphs, a skill I’ve always appreciated in my time as a field producer) offer up a confessional so overflowing with staggeringly accurate game reads. What was implied by what she was saying here is that she correctly identified Jeremy as her primary antagonist, someone who could assemble an alliance that could dominate the endgame (one without her in it), and made it clear who had to leave to establish that she’s the one in power (since Jeremy himself couldn’t thanks to that cool-looking immunity necklace).
Also of note is that she got what she wanted without having to push her agenda; Nick and Wendell were the two names mentioned to her, and she simply vocalized her preference. Finally, she followed all of this up by saying that once Wendell was gone, she would scoop up Nick; given how Tribal played out, is there any doubt that this is going to happen?
9) “Wendell is on the chopping block. It’s horrible. I don’t want that. I want to work with him.” — Jeremy
When a power player tells us that he wants something, and then he does not get that thing that he wants, he’s much less of a power player than we thought he was. Jeremy may last a while longer — maybe even through the finale — but this is the week the game slipped through his fingers. To echo Adam’s admittedly badass line, “We know you just lost, Jeremy. But do you?”
10) “Adam’s been one of my closest alliance members. But at the same time you just have to kind of go with the flow, or go with the tide. So, Adam and I created a Day 1 alliance, but that may not be a Day 39 alliance.” — Denise
Ouch. There is a small mountain of dirt on Adam’s grave at this point. I do find it interesting that Denise uses water imagery here, given that this sort of symbolism gets emphasized at Tribal. If “adapt or die” is the central theme of this season, oceans/tides are currently coming in a strong second. And if Denise is embodying that theme, then she’s sticking around… probably until she falls back on old habits (trusting someone, which was central to her win) and gets betrayed.
11) “What is the plan? I don’t know. I don’t know!” — Adam
Hahahahahahahaahahah — man oh man oh man. This has gotta be brutal for Adam to watch. When the producers want to make you look bad, they are NOT subtle.
12) “I feel like the hardest thing on Survivor is being okay not being in every conversation, being a little bit out of the loop. In my head, I turn into a 12 year-old girl in high school who wants to follow every single group, but instead I have to prove to people who are in my alliance, in those groups, that I trust them, and that I don’t have to be in every conversation.” — Sophie
Once again, she speaks in paragraphs. More importantly, she reveals her growth as a Survivor player. My memory of South Pacific — which is admittedly murky at this point — is that Sophie was the one who tended to her alliance because she never fully trusted it (and with Albert there, she was right not to trust). So this moment at Tribal serves a number of purposes (which is undoubtedly why it made the episode): in-game, it tells everyone in her alliance that she trusts them (and there are a LOT of them, given how the vote went down) as well as invites them to trust her when she goes to have conversations with other players (although, as we already know from her confessional about Kim, you really shouldn’t trust Sophie); meta-game, she’s telling us, the viewers, about the “statement of purpose” on her Endgame Résumé: she changed up her game, she got players to trust her, and then did what she needed to do to make sure she made it to the end. This isn’t a winner’s quote exactly, but it's a humanizing admission that will be at the heart of her argument at Final Tribal.
13) “This is a body of water right here, this is the ocean, and you just gotta stay with the flow, and if you want to swim against the current, you’re putting yourself in danger. Right now, I think we’re all willing to go with the current.” — Tony
Here’s the thing: Currents shift. Yes, a potential hyena went home last week. But soon enough, Big Threats will be targeted. So will Big Names. Tandems will be split (I’m convinced that this was one of the underplayed facets of the Wendell boot). A whole host of excuses and pretenses will be used to justify the upcoming eliminations. Buckle up.
That said, I find it hard to believe that this week’s episode will revolve around Nick vs. Sarah, despite what the “Next Time On” editors want us to think. I suspect that Sophie — while remaining out of the fray — will put together some disparate pieces (including, quite possibly, both Nick AND Sarah) and target the Big Threats. Jeremy may be too insulated (we did hear about ripples last week — more water imagery! — and Michele and Denise might push back on a Jeremy boot), but would anyone say no to a Tyson boot? Or Tony?
Hmmmmm. I’m not ready to say goodbye to Tony just yet (despite the return of the spy shack). So, despite just giving us a “don’t let me put my roots into your crack” confessional, I’m going to say Tyson. The producers and editors have had some fun misleading us this season, so making us believe that Tyson will gain some traction would be just like them. Well, I’m not buying it. (Watch him win.)
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.