What’s up y’all? It’s been awhile, but I’m back, however briefly, to elucidate my thoughts on this season thus far now that we’re at, roughly, the mid-way point. And worry not, my friends, this will be as brief as I can make it — no need to ramble on and echo many others both on here and other sites. Before I jump in, however, I’d like to extend my well-wishes to all during this remarkable time in history. Please stay safe, stay home, and if nothing else, binge some Survivor.
Better is still bad
Thankfully, pre-season, we as a Survivor community got word that Probst, at least for the time being, is putting the brakes on the Edge of Extinction (at least after this season). He clarified that while it could happen again in the future, he and production heard fan outcry and were responding. While this is a good step for the future, it doesn’t necessarily correct the issue we have before us.
Make no mistake, dearest readers, this version of the Edge is much better than Chris Underwood’s winning season ... but better is still bad. Instead of having pointless scenes cut into the real game, we now have mostly-pointless scenes cutting into the real game. Yes, I understand it’s relevant to show how the Edgers get Fire Tokens, but honestly, I just don’t care. It’s nice to see a lot of my favorites continue to get at least some screen time (given how many of them were massacred prior to the Merge), but that’s not how the game was supposed to work. While Fire Tokens make the Edge pseudo-relevant, they’re but a band-aid on a leaking dam, and I’m not into it.
As for the folks there — the only truly relevant question is who has a chance to get back and swipe a slot at about the final 6? Based on edit of those currently there, I think there are only three: Natalie and Rob, primarily, and Ethan as a longshot. I won’t delve into too much depth here — largely because the Edge is not worth the words — but Natalie’s redemption arc has been hinted at despite coming to a screeching halt since Probst’s beloved Rob was booted; Rob is, as was noted this past episode, “good at everything;” and Ethan, well, if there’s a feel-good story out there, it’s him. I don’t want to waste more time and analysis here, because I just refuse to believe a bunch of winners would vote for someone who got the boot to win ... it can’t happen twice, right?
The Fire Tokens
Not thrilled, but fine
In so many ways, Survivor has a constant underpinning of greed attached to it: what would you do for a/two million dollars? To add a more tangible manifestation of that greed into the game, then, seems something like a logical progression. My thoughts on it thus far ... they’re whatever. They’ve done more harm than good (note Sandra’s uncharacteristic foolishness, Wendell’s attempts to strong-arm some tokens from Parv, and Yul trying to finagle getting tokens in exchange for being in the line of fire), but I see the potential there in some ways. As for now, however, they’ve yet to really show any power. Furthermore, I think Tokens would feel a lot more forced without the Edge, and if we need the Edge to have Tokens, toss all them coins to your Witcher, my friends, because nothing is worth bringing the Edge back.
There is potential here, however. Think, if you will, of a hypothetical game where there is no Edge. Not only can you buy things with Tokens (like stealing a place on a reward, which is an interesting idea production has implemented — see renewed Token “Menu” above), but what if the person holding the most Tokens at the FTC got one free vote for the million? If people, throughout the game, just kept willing them Tokens, that could speak to a person’s social game, thus rewarding them for it. That being said, there are obvious issues here. If someone played that good of a social game, they’d likely win anyway, making the extra vote redundant. Further, what if someone gets their Token wealth because one person wills them 8 at the end of the game? That’s not really indicative of a good social game throughout, just one good bond. What if two people at FTC have 6 and 5 Tokens respectively? Does a single Token difference seem enough to rationalize a whole million-dollar vote?
My point is simply that I think there are creative things production can do here, should the Tokens really become a mainstay for the game post-Edge. If they do, given the vast amount of artificiality and twists already present, I’m fine with it. Not thrilled, but fine. As far as twists in Survivor go theses days, that’s about as much as I can ask for.
About damn time
While Chrissy deserved a win (yeah, I’m still bitter), Sarah, in Season 34, was the last female winner. With that, it’s about damn time we got another. Sandra may not like sharing her title, but I think (and hope), dearest readers, we’re on our way to a well-deserved female victory for the first time in 3 years. Who do I think has a reasonable shot of winning? Of those currently in the game, my order for possible winners would look like . . .
Very Likely - Sophie
Likely - Tony
Possible – Denise, Sarah, Tyson
Yes, I know, of the five names given, two of them are men, but Sophie’s game looks very good thus far. As for the men, Tony’s done a shockingly good job of remaining level-headed ... at least as much as he can. That being said, the edit has consistently pointed to Sophie being the superior player.
Most recently, she pointed out that Jeremy and Wendell were close, noting that booting Wendell would cripple Jeremy. Tony didn’t see that. When Tony mentioned players who were like “hyenas,” Sophie, despite being one of the most under-the-radar players entering the game, was not named. I think we could, by some miracle, see Tony lose at the FTC because his biggest threat, Sophie, was right under his nose the whole time and he just didn’t see it. Like Tyson said many episodes ago, Sophie is playing so under-the-radar, he forgot her name. You want someone to embody Sandra’s gameplay, maybe even perfecting it? Sophie is well on her way.
Sophie’s edit is cluttered with little tidbits showing how underestimated she is. At the challenge this week, for example, Ben’s snide little comment that Sophie “won’t last long” as she was shivering turned out to be very wrong. She outlasted half of the players, dropping right before Ben himself. Ben also acknowledged that she’s playing hard, but he’s cool with her. To me, the mark of a stellar game is when people note how threatening you are, but don’t target you. Sophie’s still got a ways to go, but I like her upside. I severely underestimated her pre-game, and I’d be delighted with her capping off her underdog story with a W.
As for Tony, I’m thrilled he’s made it this far. As mentioned above, however, despite how solid his edit has been given the character he is, he’s got tunnel vision. Until that tunnel includes Sophie, I think he’s setting himself up to actually lose at FTC.
As for Denise, Sarah, and Tyson ... all of them have had solid edits, but they’ve all come under fire in ways that Sophie, and even Tony, have not. Denise had her snafu on day 1 with Adam, and more recently, she slew the Queen. While I think Denise owning her move was the only thing she rationally could do at the Merge Feast (it would’ve come out eventually through the grapevine anyway), it did put a very large target on her very small body. Sarah’s edit, while great, has kind of made her seem like Sophie’s righthand. Further, if pre-game interview are to be believed, she’s perceived as a huge threat, and she’s come under suspicion from Adam for things like having found an idol on Yara when she didn’t. Sophie, the true idol finder, didn’t have that suspicion, making her look better by comparison. Finally, there’s Tyson. His early storyline looked so good to me that, until he was ousted, I had him as the biggest threat to win. His edit, especially this last episode with the whole bit about his humor being a mask, is still grand, but he has been voted out once already. While Tyson might actually make a run at this, I just have such a hard time believing former winners would reward him with a million after getting booted.
In the interest of my last segment, the rest of power-ranking-esque list would look like ...
Unlikely – Michele, Jeremy, Kim
Very Unlikely – Ben
Impossible – Adam, Nick
Now, I know there’s a lot of Michele love out there, and had I been writing consistently this season, you would’ve seen it from me just a few weeks ago. What changed, then? Simple: the Yul boot. Yes, I was heartbroken that Yul departed so close to the Merge (also, side-rant, so many 20-person seasons have had a 13-person Merge in the last five years that the first time I’m legitimately okay with it, because Yul, they don’t ... salty). That heartbrokenness, however, is not the reason she’s as low as she is to me. In Yul’s final episode, she told Nick she’d do whatever he wanted her to do, ultimately folding to Wendell treating her consistently poorly (per the edit). I have an incredibly hard time believing she can win when her strategy is to just obey and to take shit from someone who was edited as an asshole this season. While the mass of airtime given to her stressing that she might not have been deserving of her original win, I haven’t seen any real change to her gameplay. The old adage that old habits die hard seems to be true for Michele. I said pre-game I thought she’d all but certainly make the finale and not win, and I’ll even double-down here. Michele will make FTC and she won’t win. It’s not impossible, but at this point, I don’t see it. Sorry Michele Stans.
Jeremy and Kim are in similar boats. Jeremy hasn’t been a big enough character this season for me to see him winning. While, yeah, his edit looked like it might pick up at the Merge, all of his content last episode circled around his relationship with now-gone Wendell. That looks bad for his chances long-term. As for Kim, her early game was rough, and while she’s recovered, all the talk of her being a phoenix ... I just don’t see it. She’s in a good place right now, but she seems to be more existing than thriving. Also, like Jeremy, I don’t think she has the screen time to justify a win, at least right now.
Ben, Adam, and Nick have all gotten varying levels of consistently negative content. While Ben had been a narrator for this season, declaring he has changed his game, Adam, too, has provided mostly-insightful content for viewers. In that vein, Ben has come off as grouchy and his early social blunders with Rob still stick in my mind. While he may have an alliance for now, I don’t see this renewed social game he’s touting in confessionals or at Tribal (also ... it wasn’t until like the final 8 that he was alliance-less last time). Adam and Nick, however, have looked generally worse, both having been consistently called shady and untrustworthy. I’d be shocked if they were both still here after next week.
That’ll about do it for me, friends. Thank you for all who read, and please stay safe, healthy, and at home.
Dan Otsuki has been watching Survivor religiously since season two, and is a recent graduate of the University of Puget Sound, where he double majored in English and Religious Studies. He's also applied to play on the show every time he's been able to do so.
Follow him on twitter: @DanOtsuki