This, the merge episode of Survivor: Panama, was one I had already watched and written about way back in ... early June. (Yikes!) Things in the broader Survivor world have been, well ... busy since then. Which is a good thing! There has been a flood of news about the casts of Survivor 41, Survivor 42, not to mention the almost-airing SurvivorAU: Brains v Brawn. (60 new contestants between them!)
This has made keeping up with the recapping of a long-ago season difficult. That became even more challenging when SurvivorSA: Immunity Island started airing. So with AU: Brains v Brawn about to start its usual 3-4 episodes-per-week onslaught in just three days, and with both SA and AU ending right as Survivor 41 premieres, well ... there is no hope.
But this is not the end, rather a pause button. Survivor 41 will end in December. Rumor has it there will be another AU season likely airing in early 2022, as will, of course, Survivor 42. (That should start airing in February.) But there *ought* to be time to finish this off in between. Maybe? Hopefully? Either way, this is a good place to pause, since not much changes strategically until basically the last episode before the finale, and this is where it becomes clear that will happen.
So anyway, let's get to it: The collapse of La Mina at the Panama merge. Something that in theory shouldn't have happened, what with Terry armed with a super-idol, and a meager 6-4 Casaya advantage numerically, with at least one of those numbers clearly an outsider.
>But Casaya held strong. Nobody wavered, nobody flipped. Why? How? Well, to put it succinctly: La Mina presented one of the worst deals ever at the merge. Compare and contrast to Foa Foa at the Samoa merge: Even more outnumbered, not even particularly well-liked. And yet they outlasted the entire Galu tribe.
Why? Because they understood nobody wants to jump from a murky position of possible power within the majority to a humiliating spot at the absolute bottom of the opposing alliance. They divided and conquered by offering better deals, of final three or four spots. La Mina? Well, you'll see.
The world's worst dictionary salespeople
La Mina's goal at the merge is obvious to everyone involved: The want to flip at least one, possibly two Casayas over to their side. What's hilarious is just how ham-fisted their execution of this actually is.
Terry's plan is the hard sell: He offers Bruce a spot in the final five. Note that La Mina has four people. No special treatment for his Day 1 tribemate, no sir. That would be unethical, or something. Straight to the bottom of the La Mina pecking order! Sound good, Bruce? Bruce? Uh ... would it help if Nick accidentally hits you in the mouth with the machete?
In a smart bit of strategy, Aras and Shane talk about how they're trying to pump Bruce up and convince him he's the leader of Casaya. This seems pretty hokey, and Bruce doesn't buy it any more than he does Terry's sales pitch, but at least with his (still unshown) connections to Danielle, Bruce has alternatives if he sticks with Casaya. With La Mina, in contrast, he's guaranteed to be out at Final 5. Straight-shooting Terry swears it. His word is his bond.
At the same time, Austin and Nick try to feel out which way their original tribemate, Aras, is leaning. Austin asks Aras who he's close to, and he tells them (accurately) that gets along with everyone pretty well. Austin sighs to himself, and follows up with "Of course, that's your personality, Aras." Then Austin gives a confessional about how tough a nut to crack Casaya is turning out to be. Whew! We've tried nothing, and we're all out of ideas! (Maybe we were a bit premature in praising Austin's persuasive skills last time.)
But the pièce de résistance of La Mina's pissing into the wind is Terry's limited-time offer to Shane and Cirie. He offers them — get this — fifth and sixth place in the La Mina alliance! His exact pitch: "It's a load off her (Cirie's) mind for the next two weeks." (Exactly two weeks. This is Day 16. The final six vote is on Day 30.)
So, to translate: "Those mean Casaya tribemates of yours are obviously going to vote you out in sixth place, because you're not great in challenges (Cirie) or you're a damn weirdo (Shane). Please vote with us, so we can be the top four instead of them. We're the good guys! In exchange, we will offer you ... nothing. Deal?"
Hard to believe neither Shane nor Cirie was interested in this generous offer. Did it at least come with free shipping?
Shane and Cirie each tell Terry (separately) that they'll get back to him, but later Shane just tells him they're fine where are, thanks. "Maybe somebody will flop, but it's not gonna be me, and it's not gonna be her." You can see the hope drain from Terry's face in real time. The other La Minas, all present, just remain sitting in glum silence.
Poor La Mina. If only they'd actually offered someone an opportunity to improve their fortunes.
There are so many things La Mina could have done differently, first and foremost the obvious: to divide and conquer here. They should have sent Sally to reunite with Danielle and Courtney, and have her offer them final three. They could have had Nick and Austin offer Aras final three. They could have had Terry promise final two/three to Bruce and/or Shane. But no, the dumb La Minas decided to present a united front, when they're down, 6-4. Close margins do not make for eager flippers, unless someone is really, clearly, definitely at the bottom of the larger alliance.
That was obviously not the case here, except for maybe Bruce. Maybe it was too early in Survivor history for side deals to happen. (Even if Chris Daugherty did this and more just three seasons earlier.) But even so, what did La Mina really think the appeal was for the Casayas to give up their personal game autonomy, just to take up an indentured servant position in La Mina, taking orders from Terry?
As Cirie says, Terry's like a dictionary salesman. "I mean, I already have an encyclopedia collection here. And you want to sell me a dictionary?"
(This analogy hasn't aged well in the age of Google searches, but go ask your grandparents or whatever.)
La Mina is really just Pagong all over again, just somehow even less savvy about the game. Despite 11 seasons from which to pull.
The unwieldy mechanics of the first-edition super-idol
According to Bruce's confessional, he's still sort of in the middle between Casaya and La Mina. Terry realizes that if he can just convince Bruce to flip, he can then use his all-powerful idol to turn a 5-5 tie into a 5-4 La Mina victory at the merge vote. As long as he knows where the Casaya votes are going.
The only problem is, the complicated rules of the Panama idol kind of got in the way here. Most frustratingly, the huge boost in power that comes from being able to play it after the vote is offset by a virtual inability to transfer the idol. On the one hand, good news: because Terry can wait to play his idol until after the votes are read, he can easily verify whether Bruce actually flipped or not before having to use it. So there's no risk of his plan falling apart by burning the idol on a vote that was 6-4 instead of 5-5.
The problem is, he can't play his idol for Nick, nor for anyone else here, because in order to transfer his idol to someone else, Terry had to do it *in camp*, before they went to Tribal Council. (This dumb rule may be why the Horsemen clumsily did the same thing two seasons later in Fiji.) So really, the power still remains mostly in Casaya's hands.
On the other hand, this is also a spot where Terry and La Mina played it too safe, and reaped the consequences. The merge vote was critical, with Casaya holding a tenuous 6-4 majority, and Bruce was wavering. Terry was *already immune* via the traditional immunity necklace. If he'd just given his idol to Austin or Nick, *and* they convinced Bruce to join them, they had a 50-50 chance of Austin or Nick being able to play that idol after the votes were read, removing Shane before the jury, and turning a 6-4 minority position into a 5-4 lead.
That's not a sure thing, obviously, but it's a lot better shot than being all but certainly down 6-3. Which is where they find themselves after the vote. Now Terry's idol is only good for keeping votes away from Terry. Which would be important if he doesn't keep winning immunities. (He does. Oh well.)
- Sooooo cocky: Terry is irate before the merge Tribal that Shane openly called a Casaya meeting to decide which La Mina they would be voting out. This, again, is the same guy who just two days earlier had his entire tribe sit in a mute circle while he attempted to hard-sell the idea of flipping to Shane and Cirie.
- What are you even doing: Austin and Nick are convinced that one of them is going to be Casaya's target at the merge. Casaya has probably already guessed that Terry probably has the idol, and so the other two La Mina men are the next most biggest threats. Terry then selfishly wins the IC, leaving them both exposed. (Imagine if he'd put in a huge effort, followed Austin's lead of theatrically collapsing after the last Casaya dropped, and dared Casaya to vote for him? Nope.) Somehow, despite their doing opposite things, they each manage to make the worst possible case that they should not be the final non-juror. Nick pushes himself to the brink as he tries to outcompete Terry in the individual IC (hanging off a pole), reaffirming Shane's concern that he's a dangerous challenge competitor. Austin, slightly wiser, intentionally falls off before he needs to (but still well after Sally and all the Casayas), then proceeds to tell everyone at Tribal Council that he did this on purpose. It's no wonder these people were unable to function without Terry around.
-Hilarious schedule mismanagement: Episode 6 aired on Thursday, March 9, 2006. Episode 7 didn't air until a full *three weeks* later (half a Loki season!) on Thursday, March 30, 2006. (The week after Ep6, a clipshow/ recap episode aired, but there was still a 2-week gap between that and Ep7.) That's because back in those days, "March Madness" referred to Survivor fans being pissed off because CBS were idiots and pre-empted their entire highly rated Thursday lineup for NCAA basketball, while leaving their lower-rated, bottle-episode scripted shows unperturbed on other nights. CBS sort of figured it out a bit by the next year (Fiji), where they moved one episode to Wednesday, and only took a 1-week hiatus. Eventually CBS realized they could just move all the episodes to Wednesday, which doesn't have any NCAA games, because your average CSI: Whatever viewer probably won't even notice if they're watching a rerun, whereas reality-comp fans actually spend time contemplating the likely outcome of the next episode. A bunch of weirdos, right? Oh, the pointless annoyances you kids miss out on with your streaming and your binge-watching.
Jeff Pitman 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, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes