Sorry for being so late this week. Better late than never!
I’m beginning to get a sense that this season is almost the Anti-Game Changers season. With no idols or advantages whatsoever, there is a real lack of paranoia going on with the players. Avi talked about his strategy being able to cater for any surprise – but is it possible that he and the players generally know that idols and advantages aren’t in the game and so they won’t be surprised by them?
I feel as though this season demonstrated why there is a need for, at least, the spectre of an idol or something that can turn the game into turmoil. People start making decisions off hunches and bad information, in a way that they just don’t as often when they only have to rely on their reads of people’s loyalty and who they are voting for.
I really hope that, assuming NZ Survivor comes back next year (and the ratings suggest it ought to), they come back with some additional twists in the pocket. Redemption Island isn’t much of a twist to begin with, and it’s been even less impactful given no-one has managed to win two duels yet.
Having said all that – I feel as though the season has still had plenty of life and that has come through characterisation. The season feels more like a very deliberate story being told; less like you are out there living with it and feeling their paranoia, and more like the story is already written and we are simply reading it. It somehow works well, even though it makes things feel more telegraphed and nothing feel spontaneous. But I still wouldn’t mind some spontaneity turning up somewhere along the line...
So, what’s on the ticket this week?
A brief diversion into NZ culture (please stay calm)
One benefit of writing this so late this week is it came after Nick Iadanza’s Know-it-Oz and I think that this week Nick really nailed a part of New Zealand culture that is probably defining the way in which the viewer consumes this show (especially the non NZ viewer), and that is just how relaxed and understated New Zealanders are.
The reactions at the merge feast, and the approach to the game generally, does genuinely reflect the way New Zealanders see the world. So we spent ages hauling a massive log across the beach and then we had to move beach? Sweet as. So we’re starving and we just got heaps of food? Choice. Perhaps the best example of this of all was Sala’s reaction to the impending immunity challenge at the end of the second episode... a laugh and the response “cool”. That’s New Zealand in a nutshell.
But there was a similar moment which was much more critical to the week’s outcome. In the first episode, Avi had a chat to Tom in which they talked about their potential strategic options, and at the end of that conversation it was clear to me that Avi, quietly and without fuss, already understood that he and Tom had parted strategic ways. There was no massive effort to convince Tom to go a different way across the intervening days. There was no paranoia or second guessing. The facts were the facts, Avi’s way forward was decided, and that was that – he could go back to playing cards with the boys and allowing his game to play out socially rather than strategically.
I was left in no doubt that Avi was voting against Michael’s alliance and against his mate Tom, but the moment happened in the blink of an eye compared to a strategic decision made on Survivor. In the context of two and a half hours of content for a single vote, I wasn’t really sure if the context of Avi’s decision having been made that quickly and decisively would be apparent to an American, a Canadian, or an Australian.
Edit growing pains (breaking down their own tile stack)
However, despite the pains taken to show Avi and Shannon hanging out with the boys, the overall arc of the show and edit focus left very little suspense about which alliance was going to come out on the bottom this week. As I wrote last week, the edit seemed to make it clear that Michael’s group was the losing group (and, thus, that Georgia would go home).
There was an even more bizarre growing pain this week, though. After the first episode of the week, I intended to come in here full of praise, as the episode carefully and with balance gave reasons why each of Michael, Lee and Jak could be the target of the NewHermosa alliance. I left that episode feeling like there was a genuine possibility each of the three could go (although, as Jeff Pitman pointed out, they did accidentally spoil that Michael would win the immunity challenge when showing Barb’s faint.)
But come the next episode, suddenly Lee is all over the episode. He’s getting confessionals left, right and centre after having been virtually ignored before then. He gets a plot about how he put a horn on the fire and how he is, apparently, inconsiderate of others when doing things around camp. This reminds me a lot of the Rob Cesternino All Stars edit, where the show implied he was being voted out for being lazy when the reality was he was being blindsided for being a strategic threat. Rather, with Lee, I feel confident the reason he was targeted was that, with Michael off the board, Lee was the biggest threat left in that alliance to win challenges.
The end result was that while halfway through the week the show created real tension, it pulled it all away again by the time of the vote. There’s some real hits in the editing, but also some real misses. Let’s hope they continue to work on this assuming second season and beyond.
(Another side note: an ad midweek showed a full tribal council with Shay sitting there. I only saw it once – it appeared it was removed from future ads – and thankfully the show had all but told me Shay was going to stay anyway. Still, learning pains...)
The worst player out there (what’s worse than being voted out)
Michael really has been getting the dodo edit on the show, but he surprised me this week. He won the memory challenge, which I didn’t expect from him, and then his instincts were right on a couple of occasions when he felt he shouldn’t put all his eggs in the Tom basket. Mike probably couldn’t have changed anything no matter how he played things at this point, and he made the mistake earlier in the season of alienating Nate and Barb and putting himself in this position. But I am beginning to get the feeling that Mike is a much better player than the series is showing, and that he is being portrayed as a particular kind of character on purpose. At this point I feel as though Avi and Sala, in particular, have been portrayed quite heroically, while Mike has had the opposite treatment – an interesting bit of edit irony, given Mike proclaimed his own tribe to be the heroes back on day one.
Barb is another candidate for the worst player out there. It feels, at times, as though Nate makes all the social and strategic inroads and then Barb comes along and does her best to undo them. She can be quite blunt and I think she’d be difficult to trust with your reads on other players, as you’d worry she would say something out of turn. Having said that, so far Barb has pretty much had the right read on the situation throughout the game. I think we’ll get the best sense of Barb when her alliance has to turn on itself... my guess is she is the first to go and she won’t realise it soon enough.
Shay is a player who has gone back and forth on my ‘bad player’ radar. She raised her hand as a villain with Dee, has been voted out, voted her allies out twice and sent a hinky vote to another ally, and has seemed checked out at times. Having said that, Shay did correctly identify Tom very early in the game as someone their tribe couldn’t trust and should be removed (and we heard that from Tom’s own mouth in the first episode, showing Shay was correct), and she seems to be in a pretty good position right now. Shay is also someone who isn’t afraid of a powerplay, and if she finds the right time to make it she is still potentially a dark horse. Shay now has a pretty good chance of being the first player (I know of) to make it to the end after coming back from Redemption Island, which would be an impressive feat.
In the end, while all three of those players have redeeming features, there’s one player who seems completely at sea and who I’m not really convinced has made any good moves yet. That’s Tom.
Tom managed to survive his first tribe only by the grace of being physically strong and having Avi in his corner. Avi is persuasive, and if Tom was wise he’d realise that keeping Avi around as late as possible (at least to 4 or 5) is what gave him a shot of making the end game and actually winning.
Instead, Tom had no convincing argument for why Avi should flip. It was obvious to Avi that he would have gone out around 8 as the boys intended, and it’s hard to imagine why Avi would have bought Tom’s ‘me, you, Jak, Shannon’ final 4 scenario. Worst case scenario, Avi would see Tom as a lost cause (as he did). Best case, he’d simply think that Jak was pulling the wool over Tom’s eyes. And this all to protect an alliance where Tom was, best case, in fourth position.
By flipping, though, Tom would have found himself in the majority as part of a much more fragmented alliance. Even if Tom didn’t think Shannon was on that side, he should surely at least have realised that he and Avi had a good chance to play the middle between the Nate/Barb and Sala/Shay factions, and that it would be an alliance he wasn’t clearly on the bottom of.
Not only did Tom make the wrong strategic for his own game, but he also couldn’t read that Avi wasn’t with them (although, as I noted early in the season... Avi does have good acting skills). All in all, this week made Tom look weak socially and strategically, and it was probably a defining episode for him. While early in the season I thought he was a snake in the grass, now I’m beginning to think he is simply out of his depth. He’s there to have fun and make friends, and I don’t think he feels comfortable with the strategic aspect of the game at all.
The best player out there (this is a social game above all)
For some time now, the show has made it feel as though only Avi, Shannon, Sala or Nate have any chance of winning, and it’s hard to argue that anyone outside of that four could be considered the best player this season.
Nate seems like the weakest of the four. Much has been made of the fact that he’s a cop and he can tell when people are lying, but so far he’s been shown as being bang on. He did have confidence in the fact that Avi was with them, and that Shannon was with them, and he was right on both. However, I haven’t got any sense of what Nate’s end game plan is, and I feel like he’s still in the mindset of someone battling back from the bottom. If he wants to win, he needs to switch gears fast.
Shannon has played very well since the swap. She managed to do a fine job of both conveying her genuine honesty to her new alliance when they had every reason not to trust her, and also of conveying false allegiance to the other side so that they never saw her betrayal coming. I got the sense that Michael’s alliance always thought Avi was a 50/50 proposition, but they never saw Shannon’s betrayal coming. Lee’s last words said as much, after he appeared to direct them straight at Shannon. How well that works out for Shannon really depends on how bitter the jury is towards that move. Will they reward her outwitting them if she gets to the end? Shannon feels like she’s really in a Sarah Lacina spot right now, with her edit suggesting she’ll go deep but not really letting on whether she’d be respected enough at the end to win.
I’m biased towards #TeamAvi of course, but I also think he is planning a fantastic game at this point. He has a very understated way of connecting to people without ever coming across as alpha (my mother specifically pointed out how humble he was when admitting he was taught how to open coconuts in Belize), and as noted in my preseason column humility was always going to go a long way towards winning this game. I don’t think there is a soul in the game who doesn’t like Avi, and he’s in control of the game right now. While everything still points towards him being the winner, there’s still the concern that Avi has peaked too early... he already sees the whole game laid out in front of him. Is that a sign that the game really will play out that easily for him, or is it a sign that he’ll get taken out by something he won’t expect? Either way, it’s clear that people already recognise him as a threat... I think he was the top target of Mike’s alliance (except that they needed him for a vote), and I expect that’s going to be a hard target to beat going forward.
Right now, I have to say that Sala seems to be playing the best. He’s as equally loved as Avi (if not more), but with the added bonus that no-one really seems to be coming after him yet (at least, not before Avi). Sala will win this thing if he gets to the end, I have no doubt, and yet there is something in the back of my mind that says that a bunch of New Zealanders might let him get to the end anyway. If there’s anything a New Zealander hates, it’s losing to someone they don’t consider deserving. You have to bet that, in a lot of people’s minds, they will be thinking ‘if I don’t win, I hope Sala does’... and that’s a very powerful tool to have people keep you in the game.
In doing a little self-analysis, I’m sure this is a common New Zealand attitude. I myself would go into Survivor trying to align with people who I would be ok losing to, even if they were big threats and a danger to me. We want to beat the best.
So, Sala looks like he’s playing the best right now, but Avi isn’t far behind. It’ll be interesting to see how the game plays out between these guys towards the end, and if either one of them is willing to pull the trigger on taking out the other.
A new strong pair? (the edit can do subtlety!)
Amongst all of the manoeuvring for the votes of Avi and Shannon, something I noticed was that Avi and Shannon seemed to be having a few strategy sessions themselves... often shown in a wide shot of the pair of them as others talked about them both. With both Avi and Shannon ditching their previous closest allies with this vote, I wonder if we are seeing the birth of a new power couple in the game. It does seem to me, at least, as though the pair of them were clearly making their decision about which way to go together – neither would have wanted a 5/5 split.
If they are a strong pair but are able to hide it, this could be a defining strategy that enables them to decide the outcome of the game at final 6 or 7. If Sala and Shay believe they have Avi, and Nate and Barb believe they have Shannon, it might prevent all four of them from recognising that Avi and Shannon are in the middle and allow the pair to choose their side (or even pendulum Wahl-style to remove, say, Barb and Sala).
The previews this week are talking about a ‘power couple’, so it will be interesting to see who this turns out to be. Might people be on to Avi and Shannon already? (My guess is, it will actually turn out to be simply another attempt by Mike’s side to get Shay out... but let’s hope for more intrigue than that!)
Alright, that does it for this week. I’ll try to have this done much sooner next week, and fingers crossed that we have an exciting one! It looks like two vote outs already, given the instant IC (although I’m guessing it will still be Mike and Jak in some order), but you never know when the cat might be put among the pigeons.
Until then, please remember to comment and tweet at me. It’s great seeing so many non-New Zealanders taking this journey with us.
By day, Ben Martell is a public commercial lawyer from New Zealand.
By night, he moonlights as a self-described Survivor 'expert'.
By day or night, find him on twitter at: @golden8284
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