Apologies for missing last week. I’m going to do my best to cover two weeks in one pop, but with that amounting to five hours of content... that’s a big ask! I’ll do my best.
I’m going to spend most of my blog this week on one topic – that of ‘integrity’, or ‘honour’, or whatever other words you might think about along with those two. Does it have a role in Survivor? Can someone talk about honour and integrity and win? How has it impacted the players this season? How will it impact the outcome of the season?
On that note, what’s on the ticket this week?
Is integrity required to win? (Does integrity belong in Survivor?)
It isn’t uncommon to hear people say that honour and integrity doesn’t have a place in Survivor. Nick Iadanza has been talking all season about how frustrated he has been with some of the players who talk more about loyalty this season (such as Sala and Avi), and how it doesn’t have a place in the game. There’s no doubt that Nick isn’t alone either – there are plenty of people who get frustrated with this kind of talk within the game.
That talk isn’t without basis. We’ve seen many juries turn on those who talk a lot about honour and integrity but ultimately can’t walk the talk for the full duration – people like Lee in Australian Survivor and most notably Coach back in South Pacific. If you come into Survivor and preach that once you make your word, there is no way it can be broken, then you are almost certain to lose – either because you get betrayed first by someone who doesn’t see things as immutably as you do, or because you ultimately realise you do have to break your word to get to the end. The chance of winning Survivor without a single lie or betrayal is almost zero, and the chance of winning with lies and betrayal after preaching a game of integrity is also slim.
On the other hand, there has been an increasing acknowledgement in recent seasons that players who play like Russell Hantz – a cutthroat game without any integrity whatsoever – cannot win the game of Survivor. Ultimately, the jury has to respect your game, and it doesn’t matter how strong your game is strategically if they dislike you so much that they couldn’t vote for you to win.
There is general agreement now that you need a good social game to win Survivor, but still it feels as though the link between a good social game and a certain level of integrity and loyalty isn’t understood.
I believe that the winning of Survivor heavily relies on something I call ‘Survivor integrity’, and it’s very difficult to win without it (essentially, you’d need to be against others without it). ‘Survivor integrity’ is a particular outlook and approach to the game, that consists of the following things:
Or, in a nutshell – connect, don’t be fake, and don’t set yourself up to be caught out in unnecessary lies and betrayals. People will usually forgive you for betraying them or lying to them if you are able to say ‘you know what, if I didn’t do that, I believe I would not have won’. The best example of this was Earl’s answer to Yau Man in Fiji, where he owned that directly as the reason for voting Yau Man out. They were best of friends, and Yau Man understood and voted Earl to win.
One thing that I think commonly gets missed is bullet point number two – if you’re a gamer, you better play like a gamer and let people know that’s who you are. If you’re not a gamer, you better not play like a gamer and let people know that’s not who you are. It’s a tricky balance, because if you are a gamer and let people know it too overtly, it could see you go out early as a threat, while if you present as someone who isn’t a gamer you risk people feeling far more hurt by your betrayal, or getting no votes at the end. But you absolutely can’t present as someone who would never betray anyone or lie to anyone – because in the game of Survivor, it’s inevitable that you will have to.
There are pros and cons to any approach, any persona you can have on Survivor, but I see ‘Survivor integrity’ as an absolute throughline. Even with a winner like Tony, you can fit his play into the framework of those bullet points – he was real with everyone, he made genuine relationships but also everyone knew he was a gamer, and he made sure to have genuine reasons why his lies and betrayals made sense for his game (even where, like with LJ, he effectively manufactured them).
Compare that to Hannah in Millennials vs Gen X, a player who I think arguably played a better game than Adam did in many respects, but who didn’t have the respect of the jury. Hannah led people to believe she was genuinely considering voting with them many times towards the end of the game, when in fact she wasn’t, and she made moves like getting rid of Sunday ahead of getting rid of David. While each of these moves might seem objectively justifiable, where she failed was in showing people the real her (they didn’t see her as being that schemy), and as a result she was unable to convince people that her lies and betrayals were best for her game (she couldn’t explain why she didn’t get rid of David and did get rid of Sunday). Adam, on the other hand, consistently told people that he couldn’t beat them and wouldn’t work with them, and voted just how he was telling people he would vote. Adam, ultimately, appeared to have far more integrity than Hannah did, and it enabled him a 10-0 win over Hannah despite the fact that his game had a number of holes.
Yul vs Ozzy is another great example of Survivor integrity in play. It’s generally accepted wisdom that Yul won the game by voting Penner off ahead of Adam; and he admitted to Candice that he was pandering to the jury. Yul was a genuinely good guy, and everyone liked him, but they also wanted him to admit to being a little bit of a gamer. Yul was still a fundamentally honest guy in the game, a guy who had played with a relatively high level of integrity and honesty throughout, but in those few instances where he had to lie and betray, he was able to own them and explain why. Ozzy, despite his dominant physical performance and the fact that he needed to do far less in the way of active betrayal or lying, hadn’t formed the same connections with people – and without those real connections, it’s much harder to show genuine integrity.
Players talk a lot about ‘owning your game’ at final tribal council. What that really means is, you have to have integrity; you can’t lie about the game you played, you can’t sit at final tribal and try to pull the wool over people’s eyes. At the end of the day, the game will come down to everything being exposed, and the person who is the most honest in that environment is probably going to win. People don’t want to back a horse without integrity.
The most tricky thing about balancing this is that you have to know your jury. Every person on the jury is going to draw the line of what integrity looks like at a slightly different place. However, nearly every juror (surely enough to be the majority on any given season), are definitely looking for a certain level of it, and it’s up to the player to know their jury well enough to understand where they have to draw that line.
Integrity as a tool (what about talk of integrity during a game?)
Of course, that doesn’t mean that Coach was right to spend the whole game talking about integrity. There’s a big difference between spending the game talking about integrity, and actually playing it with ‘Survivor integrity’. But I don’t think that means there is never a time when you should talk about it.
There are two key ways in which the concept of integrity can be used as a player to further your own game. The first is one seen by JT in Tocantins and Tony when he convinced Woo to take him to the final two in Cagayan. This is when you recognise other players are particularly concerned about integrity and their own self-image and so you can use that to convince them to do things that will reflect well on their integrity. In JT’s case, that was convincing people that he was honourable and played with integrity, and so it enabled him to overcome being in the minority to make it to the end (and ultimately argue that he’d played the game in that spirit as well). In Tony’s case, it enabled him to convince Woo to take him instead of Kass.
The other way is to use your own ‘integrity’ actively to influence the way others play the game around you. I see this as being what Avi has been doing a little in this season. If people look at you and see you as someone with integrity, and you are a strong personality who others want to follow, you may convince them to play that way as well. This was what happened with Coach in Tocantins. A little more on how I think it’s affected Avi and others this seasons to come.
If for this reason alone – the fact that people who talk about honour and integrity do ultimately change the way in which those around them have to play the game in order to succeed – we shouldn’t be annoyed by people who speak about integrity; instead, it should be seen as a tool that is in every players tool box, one that they should use when it helps them.
The dichotomy of Avi (is he really good, or not very good at all?)
Avi has had a challenging couple of weeks in the game. After losing Sala, Avi immediately came back to camp and let out his frustration at being betrayed. Since then, he’s been shown as having to come to grips with his own naiveté. On Redemption Island, Jak has begun to suggest that Avi hasn’t done a lot in the game besides being a good guy. We have watched him struggle with the fact that he is losing challenges to Tom. And now he has voted out Shay, in a move that we still haven’t really seen the fallout from. It’s possible that we are watching the fall of Avi’s game. Many people have started to say that Avi isn’t playing all that well, and I have to say that they do have a point. Avi doesn’t have the best strategic game, and he definitely has an issue with not being able to decide who he should trust.
However, I think it’s easy to overlook a few things that Avi has been doing really well.
First, Avi’s meltdown after Sala’s boot really worked out for him, in that it made people feel very guilty about leaving him out of the loop. It seems to have influenced Shannon to abandon her hard game play (and maybe Barb too)?
Avi is the person on the beach who is dictating the tone of the season. When he says that play is dishonourable, everyone sits up and listens. They are allowing him to be their moral compass, and that indicates just how much power Avi has. He really did go out and build genuine relationships with every single person on the beach, to the extent that he is the person who should have been voted out at every single vote since the vote for Sala, and yet somehow Sala, Jak, Shannon and Shay have been the choices instead, and without Avi ever really appearing to be a serious option on the table even when his name comes up. In many ways, the rest of the players are planets revolving around the sun of Avi.
The Shay vote in particular makes me wonder if Avi’s meltdown after the Sala vote came much more from the fact he was left out of the loop, rather than the vote itself. This week he clearly tried to save Shay, but he ultimately voted with the majority when it became clear he couldn’t. Going all the way back to the first week of the season, when Tony, Lou, Shay and Sala made an alliance of four, Avi made efforts to save Tom but he also said outright that he’d let Tom go and vote with the four if that’s what was necessary. Avi also was happy to abandon Tom at the merge when it became apparent that Tom didn’t have Avi’s best game interests in mind.
This leads me to believe that Avi’s approach to integrity may well be to his benefit this season – he may, indeed, be playing with ‘Survivor integrity.’ Avi isn’t blind to what is good for his game, and he isn’t playing the ‘integrity at all costs card.’ Instead, he is trying to be very careful about exactly when and where he betrays trust, and trying to absolutely minimise the potential jury damage he is doing when he does lie or betray. My sense is that, out there on the island, Avi isn’t getting a bad rap for trying to make everything about integrity (the way that Sam and Lee did in Australia). Instead, I get the sense he is always talking about his willingness to vote out who he needs to vote out – provided there aren’t other options. This may ultimately play better than more half-hearted attempts at integrity, such as Shay and Nate’s hinky votes earlier in the season.
Avi is clearly the narrator of the season, and there remains a chance this is the story of how Avi loses the season. As with Australian editing, there’s no guarantee that New Zealand editing is pumping up the winner with the edit in a way you’d normally expect in the US. However, I tend to still think Avi is the ultimate winner. If Barb, Tom and Avi are a genuine three, and they do ultimately go to the end, I fully expect Avi to win (with the votes of Nate, Shay, Sala and Shannon, at least). It’s hard for me to see Barb, Nate or Shay beating Avi – the only people who could feasibly beat him at the end are Michael, Jak and Tom, and that’s only if they get three votes from their boys alliance and manage pull one more over. You have to suggest that all Avi has to do to win is get to the end. The first episode this week may be very telling.
Nate the underdog (Could he get the integrity vote?)
As Avi is the sun, the chances of other players may heavily revolve around the story of Avi. Nate, in particular, seems like a player whose fortunes may entirely rest on Avi.
Nate is playing what I’d call the half-integrity game (in an Avi sense), but certainly it fits the mould of ‘Survivor integrity.’ He understood the virtue of voting out Sala but still didn’t vote for him directly. He’s talked about the fact that he doesn’t want to knife Avi but he’ll still do it if the right opportunity arises. Nate is a guy I could see making the end and getting the votes of Avi, Sala and Shannon... all they have to do is bring Shay along with them and Nate wins.
I think Nate is playing a fairly savvy game. His ability to test Barb’s willingness to vote out Avi and portray it to Avi as him ‘testing Barb’s loyalty’ is a little trite, but it seems to have worked.
I think Nate recognised this week that his best chance in the end is being up against Shay and Barb, but he would have needed Barb on side with voting Avi out, and he didn’t have it. It will be interesting to see how Nate manages to recover from his current position – it may well be checkmate and it’s possible that he is the person who has suffered the most from the Sala and Shannon votes – he’s ended up in a position where he recognises he isn’t in control of the direction of the game and he’s simply trying to keep his game in good shape.
However things end for Nate, I think he’s played rather well – possibly the most level game of anyone out there. It’s hard to point to anything Nate has done particularly wrong. He would, for me, be a perfectly satisfying winner of the game.
The mystery of Barb (has she given up, or is she playing harder than ever?)
Nothing is more confusing this week than what is going on with Barb.
How can someone vote out Sala because he’s going to win through his honour, and then, within four days, be talking about wanting the most honourable people left to win? It just doesn’t make any sense. I see two possibilities here.
The first is that Barb is playing a very savvy game, and is biding her time until Tom loses an immunity challenge (which he keeps not doing). By saying she doesn’t want to make it to the end of the game, Barb is effectively giving a free pass to others to vote her out, but they didn’t then actually turn around and vote her out. In the mean time, she seems to be playing just as cutthroat a game as ever, immediately going and selling out Nate to Avi when he proposed voting him out. It’s possible that Barb felt a little bit of heat blowing her way after the Sala vote, realised she was a threat, and saw this as her way of reducing the target on her back.
But if that was true, I’m not sure why she wouldn’t take the shot at Avi when Nate presented it. Could it be because there was no way to get Shay or Tom on board? Maybe... But the more straightforward answer as to why she would run to Avi is because she genuinely wants to help Avi and Tom get to the end. It’s a very confusing situation.
It’s also hard to know if Barb can win should she get to the end. She doesn’t really seem to be given any credit by the other players, even when they acknowledge the moves she has made. On an American season, Barb could easily Sandra her way to the win from here, but will it play out that way in New Zealand? I don’t think so.
Whatever Barb’s endgame is, she’s been a great presence on the season, and I’m amazed she has survived until finale week – I thought she’d get voted out after Sala for sure, but somehow she’s survived.
Tom the challenge beast (is he actually playing well?)
Earlier in the season I proclaimed Tom the worst player. Then he started to prove me wrong by pulling out some strong social moves and managing to re-establish his relationship with Avi. I think it’s noteworthy that Tom has not for a second considered turning on Avi at this point – he knows he can use Avi’s trust and straightforwardness as a tool to help him in the game, and that shows a savviness that was missing for most of Tom’s early game.
However, I’m not really convinced that Tom is playing that well. We haven’t seen conversations about anyone trying to vote him out at any point during the last couple of weeks, but they would have been conversations going straight into dead ends because of Tom’s challenge dominance. Is it possible that Tom would have gone at every one of those four tribal councils if he lost immunity? I think signs point to yes, despite all the conversations we have that show Tom included in plans.
No-one is blind to the fact that Tom could combine with Michael, or Michael and Jak, if they come back from Redemption Island. In addition, even if they don’t come back, I’m absolutely sure they see Tom as a huge risk to win the game.
For me, the biggest sign that Tom has been in trouble every time is Avi’s reactions to losing. If Avi’s alliance with Tom is real and he really wants Tom to survive, he had to know that Tom needed immunity to make it through at least a couple of those challenges. Instead, Avi seems to be taking them as though he isn’t doing what the rest of the tribe needs him to do, and give them the chance to boot Tom. It feels as though Avi sees his chances of winning the game slip away with every Tom immunity win.
Avi’s choices at the reward challenge (leaving Nate and Shay to bond) pointed directly at Avi’s intended final three in my mind. He didn’t want to be there with either Barb or Tom, but rather with Shay and Nate.
For all that Tom definitely is playing better in recent weeks, I still won’t be surprised if we see him go home the first time he loses a challenge. The chances are even higher if Michael returns alone (or with Shay) from Redemption Island and then wins immunity. It’s hard to see the weaknesses in Tom’s social game when he’s never actually an option to go home.
One of the most curious stories of finale week will be what happens when Tom loses immunity (or, what happens if he never does...)
Shannon collapses (the weight of integrity buries a game)
In the wake of Avi’s meltdown, Mike’s diatribe and then Sala’s gracious exit speech, Shannon’s game quietly fell to pieces.
One of the best things that Survivor NZ has done that we don’t often see, is examine the genuine emotional toll that on-show friendships and family absence has on the players. It’s easy to see family visit as just something that happens, and also forget that betrayal comes at an emotional price, but Shannon was a case study in how those things can easily derail a strong game.
In another example of just how you can use the concept of integrity as a tool in Survivor, Shannon literally stopped playing the game, rolled over, and exited as a result of the pressure of her game getting to her. And Shannon hadn’t really even done anything wrong – just voted out people who saw her as a number that they could beat at the end.
It was great to have Shannon on the season; she was a true fan, and she came across as one. She was a character that was almost perpetually an underdog and she would also have made for a satisfying winner, but in the end what took her out is that she became an easy consensus vote (and the fact that Tom kept winning immunity... otherwise there’s every chance Shannon would have made it past 6 and 5).
Thinking about Redemption Island
Never in a million years did I think I’d find myself rooting for Jak at Redemption Island. I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed the show shamelessly manipulating me to feel that way, though. Through showing several clips of Jak talking about how he was letting Michael believe he knew he couldn’t win, and combining that with footage back at camp of people talking about the need for Shannon to beat Michael, the show almost seemed to be shoving down our throats a Jak return to the game. So much that it was almost disappointing to see that the duel ended with two winners and Michael still remained.
Some people (including Jeff Pitman) have theorised two people returning would make sense of the season schedule. Whether it’s one or two, I can’t help but get the sense that Jak is one of those returning. If it’s two, and it’s Jak and Michael who both return, that would make for a very messy endgame, in which the numbers could easily break down as three pairs (Avi/Tom, Nate/Barb, Michael/Jak) or two trios (Avi/Nate/Barb vs Tom/Michael/Jak). It’s hard to know which way that would play out.
My preference is for one returnee, though, if only because there needs to be a tangible game advantage to having played the game well and getting your side a majority. For Michael and Jak to return from Redemption Island while Tom was immune every week, and end up with a 3/3 split despite being 6/4 down at the merge and through no failure of the majority to vote you out, that would seem like a very rough (and even inequitable) end to the season.
The general assumption has been that Michael would win if he gets to the end, but Michael is, even more than Avi, the voice of ‘Survivor integrity,’ and I could see him being done in by his own arrogance if he makes it to the end. It’s easy to brag about the fact you never betrayed anyone when it was never in your best interests to, and when you sat on Redemption Island for most of the game. Michael self-labelled himself as a hero in the premiere, and the edit of the season has long felt like it mocked that label. It feels as though a Michael win would be the least satisfying possible outcome left on the board.
Then there’s Shay. Shay has one of the oddest edits on the show. It’s really hard to pinpoint what her story actually is. But she’s returned from Redemption Island once, and it would be interesting to see her do it again. I wonder if she’ll hold her ouster against Avi, but she’d certainly be holding it against Tom, and it might be a lot of fun to see her resume her Tom-hunt and, perhaps, prove ultimately successful in voting him out after he’s voted her out twice. Shay’s return would be fairly satisfying.
Loincloths and other notes
Actually, there are no other notes. Just a chance for Pitman to screenshot one of the most epic exits in Survivor history. I have to say, even if Jak was the wrong choice to vote out (which he wasn’t)... I wouldn’t have been able to pass up the chance to vote him out when he turned up to tribal in that loincloth. And is there the possibility that he’ll do the same from the jury at Final Tribal Council? Jak’s humour would definitely wear on me in person, but as a character on the season (at least, a character that clearly won’t win), Jak helped elevate this cast overall.
All in all, this cast was in my opinion a seriously good cast. It’s hard to point to a dud in the final 9. More of that, please! There may be something to only casting 16 players as well... I know we are probably past those days, but even though I believe this season was too drawn out and could have been achieved in one and a half hours a week without losing anything, I’m glad we got to know the players as well as we did.
So on to finale week we go. There’s four episodes this week (Sunday through to Wednesday). It’s an odd decision, and I wish they’d just spread it over two weeks.
I’ll see how it goes, but my goal at this stage is to try to do a short blog after the first two episodes, so as not to have to digest four episodes in one go. Until then, thanks for reading! Please comment and tweet at me!
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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Episodes 13-14 exit interviews: Sala Tiatia
Episodes 15-16 exit interviews: Shannon Quinn
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