With grumbling from the recent boots spilling over into NZ media (see, for example, Jack van Beynen's "Is Dave and Matt's friendship ruining the game?"), it's time to consider what possible impacts Matt and Dave's still-secret pre-game friendship could have on the rest of the game.
Seven contestants remain, meaning there are only four boots left. Dave still has an idol. Another idol appears this coming week, and the pair has (in theory) a 2-in-7 chance of finding that one. Matt is also the odds-on favorite to win individual challenges (he leads in Mean % finish), so there's a good chance this duo will comprise one third of the final six. If they can just lock in one additional ally to vote with them, and somehow continue waiting to deploy Dave's idol until the F6 vote, they'll be in control for the rest of the game. They are really close to doing that.
They have a lot of options for that third vote, too. Eve has been voting with Dave since the merge, and is the obvious best candidate, since she doesn't seem to have any other potential allies. Lisa has been voting with Matt, and so has Tara for the past couple of votes. Matt and Lisa have also been stealthily working with Adam. The only person left who really hasn't been on board is Tess, who'll probably stay with her only remaining ally, Adam. If Matt and Dave take the simplest path: Tess/Adam, Adam/Tess, and bring Eve with them to the end, they might never even need Dave's idol. But if they did this, would it be fair?
Maybe. The thing is, the fact that they're playing together now, this late in the game, with an idol, AND have had this connection, gives them a number of advantages over other, more organic pairs. Dave probably still has his idol in large part because Matt has been able to assure Dave he doesn't need to play it. While the pair are undoubtedly in a great place now, they haven't always had so much power, and it could all still blow up in their faces, in a number of ways. We just have been told so much about this connection throughout the season, that it seems more important than it's actually been (until now, at least). Here are a few caveats to consider:
- Getting here hasn't been easy: Matt and Dave have had to work pretty hard to establish the trust they currently have. Matt intentionally didn't pick Dave initially, and either one of them could have been voted out in the first four pre-swap boots. (A low probability, but still... possible.) The pair were reunited at the swap, but were on opposite sides of the first post-swap Chani vote (the Josh boot), which Matt seemed upset about. Two Tribals later, they landed on opposite sides of the merge vote (the Arun boot), which didn't make Dave particularly happy. They have since established that they can trust each other, and have worked in tandem for the past two votes. That trust is incredibly helpful. But the path to cement that trust has been so convoluted, it wasn't a sure thing they'd get there. Furthermore, given that it took them nine episodes before they really started voting together, is their alliance any different than, say, Adam and Tess's bond with each other? They also seem to trust each other implicitly, and have been voting together from the start.
- It could be a huge disadvantage: Now that they have worked together, Dave and Matt are in a bit of a delicate situation. Their perceived advantage will immediately become a substantial disadvantage if anyone finds out about it while the game is being played. Even if one of them gets booted and goes to the jury, if that juror lets anything about their friendship slip at Jury Villa, that will likely torpedo the remaining contestant's chances of winning, given how testy jurors like Brad and Renee already seem in their Jury Villa videos. So while, in theory (as in a Blood vs. Water season), it would be ideal for say Matt to go to the finals while Dave heads to the jury to make the case for Matt, it's dangerous. Not only that, but pulling it off would also be complicated. Even though he's talked about maybe voting Dave out, Matt can't blindside Dave, because he'd probably feel betrayed, and might feel tempted to spill the beans. There's a not insignificant potential for this partnership to end up hurting one or both of them in the game, far more than it has helped them.
So yes, they're in a position of power now, but they've done some work to get there, and have more work ahead of them. Matt has cultivated most of the social connections they've needed to seize power over the past two episodes. Dave's contribution has mostly been as a (secretly idol-wielding) vote shield. But that's a really useful combination to have. It's disappointing that this happened, but it's not like Matt and Dave asked for it to happen.
The blame rests almost entirely on Survivor NZ's casting department. Simply pulling a broader selection of contestants would have helped. Nearly half the cast is between the ages of 24 and 28, and from the greater Auckland area. It shouldn't be shocking that two of them might have met before, and it seems that even the most rudimentary background check would have revealed that Matt and Dave went to school together. (Although clearly, US Survivor's casting was just as negligent in casting Patrick and Ali in Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers.) Would it have killed SurvivorNZ to have one fewer 24-year-old dude, and cast even one man older than 32? Apparently that's too much to ask.
Survivor NZ's production crew also knew about the situation before the game started, since both Matt and Dave mentioned it in their pre-game interviews. Despite that, the show didn't swap either of them out for an alternate. (Most likely because they didn't have one.) It sucks for all the other contestants that this happened. But if the show seemingly made no attempt to rectify the problem, you can't fault Matt and Dave for trying to maximize their advantage.
Adam can't win... can he?
Since Dylan's departure, Adam's game has taken a massive leap forward in terms of manipulating the outcome (sending Arun home via a false tale of woe at post-swap Chani) and jury management (intentionally seeming out of the loop on the Brad and Renee votes, probably securing their loyalty if he reaches the finals). Not to mention: He's even won individual immunity now!
Despite all these accomplishments, though, one thing seems unavoidable about his overall game: Adam can't win. Can he?
Probably not. The reason? Mainly, his self-assessment of playing an excellent social game is only half true. While he's generally well-liked around camp, and people seem to enjoy his singing/performing antics, sooner or later his cutting remarks about his enemies *have* to blow back on him. This episode's decision to finally edit Tara into the season seems to support that.
Adam and Renee were (not unreasonably) aghast at Tara's mid-reward challenge decision to sweep off the puzzle table before starting on the puzzle. Admittedly, there was no bonus for cleanliness. Adam was shown sneering to Renee about this choice during the challenge itself, then had a lengthy confessional complaining about Tara after that. On its own, a completely rational reaction to a poor challenge performance. Although a key point in Adam's critique is not that he missed out on the family messages, but on his favorite film series, Jurassic Park (World).
Notably, this also wasn't the last we heard about the reward. Once the winning team returned and Tara found out they received video messages from home, the show made clear just how devastated Tara was to not have heard from her family, going so far as to highlight her emotional reaction during the pre-immunity challenge discussion (followed by supportive, comforting words from Lisa). Even though Adam goes on to win this challenge, his underdog story was significantly undercut by this choice. He looks petty, Tara looks good.
Adam is slowly emerging as the true villain of the season (albeit a frequently amusing villain), and it seems unlikely Survivor NZ would push a villain edit on the winner, especially given nice guy Avi's prior win. Although it would be interesting to see how NZ audiences would take to a reversal of the US Survivor pattern, where villainous Richard Hatch won the first season, while the relentlessly nice Tina Wesson won the second season.
Still, Adam's run of Tyson Apostol-esque snarky confessionals and similar sniping in group situations (such as mocking the reward attendees last episode) can't go on forever. Eventually, people are going to compare notes, and point out that Adam mocked someone behind his or her back, and eventually Adam's friendly jokester facade will collapse in on itself. Furthermore, his attempts at jury management should also fall flat upon cross-examination. Matt and Lisa both know Adam was in on the Brad blindside, and Brad seems unlikely to view Adam's passive betrayal in a positive light, if/when they reveal that.
Adam's playing an interesting and entertaining game. But with all signs pointing to a Matt win at the moment, it's hard to imagine Adam's game being a winning one.
As we approach the midpoint of the jury phase, some pretty big differences between the remaining seven players are starting to emerge in a number of categories:
- VAP (votes against): One player has already racked up a ton of votes against himself, while the other six remaining have been voted against very few times. Old mate Dave has now received three votes against him at three straight Tribals, for a total of nine votes against. There's a huge gulf between Dave's total and the next highest vote tally, Lisa's. Lisa leads the few-votes pack with just two, while Adam, Eve, Matt, and Tess each have just one vote against them, and Tara has never been voted against. Most impressive: Dave has held an idol while receiving all nine of those votes. Wow. (Although Matt's inside scoop on where the vote was actually going might have helped a bit.)
- Team vs. individual challenge totals: Through 16 team and/or tribal challenges, Tess has now won 11, Lisa 10, and Tara 10, not including challenges they sat out. Meanwhile, poor Eve has won just six times (and the recently departed Renee just three). So the people with the double-digit win totals must be really good in challenges, right?
Eh, not really. (To be fair, a lot of Lisa's team wins have come in challenges where she completed the final puzzle stage.) Looking just at their MPF (Mean % finish) in individual challenges, the totals are almost the exact opposite. Matt continues to lead the pack with a 79.2% MPF, but Eve has quietly crept up close to his totals, at 74.7% (a win, two second-places and two fourth-places will do that). In contrast, Tara, Tess, and Lisa have managed a significantly sub-par 39.0%, 34.6%, and 32.4% score, respectively. All of which would crack the single-season lowest MPF leaderboard, if we included NZ contestants there. (We don't, but should we?)
It's just another reminder that there's really no good way to measure performance in team settings, at least not by the simple win/loss statistics. If anyone has any suggestions about how to do it, we're all ears.
Jeff Pitman is a New Zealand expat, is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, you can do so on twitter: @truedorktimes
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