1) In the comment section of last week’s column…
… we began a cool conversation about what types of gameplay – specifically, antagonistic moves such as lying and backstabbing – various castaway categories can commit while retaining some hope of winning the million. What I arrived at was this staggeringly obvious generalization: different players can do different things. A couple of examples might add some value to this sweeping statement…
Coach (South Pacific): Throughout the season, Coach played up his whole “honor and integrity” persona, but was ruthless at various points in the game; had he been consistent (yet contradictory) and done the honest and honorable thing by admitting that he had been dishonest and dishonorable, he might have won the game.
Dawn (Caramoan): Because of who she is, how she chose to represent herself, and who the game allowed her to be, Dawn found herself in a position where she had to make moves which were not consistent with her persona, and that cost her a million dollars. She needed to either be the loyal follower and let Cochran take all the blame, or – if she knew that she was going to get her hands bloody post-merge – she needed to be more open with the other players about how ruthless she can be, would be, and was. (I think the latter path is all but impossible for Dawn, given how far removed that persona is from the real-life Dawn; the former route wouldn’t work either, because Cochran isn’t antagonistic enough to be given the bitter jury treatment. In other words, it was a no-win situation for Dawn, which makes Cochran’s alliance with her all the more brilliant in retrospect.)
So here’s what I think we know about in-game personas:
** They are linked to who the players really are: Tasha was never going to be mean, Tony was never going to be calm, and Kass was never going to be cuddly.
** Players CAN adapt their personas to fit the circumstances: If his pre-game interviews had any truth to them, Spencer came into the game planning on controlling things from first to last, and perhaps being mean and manipulative about it. Instead, he’s been forced to play from behind, avoid rustling any feathers, and show some humility along the way.
** The most important truth of all: Whatever persona a person picks/plays, there are possibilities and pitfalls, and how they embody their roles determines whether they’re contenders or pretenders.
And it is this last point that I’ll focus on in the bullet points ahead.
2) Tasha as an immunity challenge beast
As anyone who reads the Dozen knows, I absolutely adore Tasha as a Survivor player. She’s a true triple threat – strong, social, smart – and yet she managed to pull off that trifecta without being threatening. At least until she started winning – and almost winning – all of the post-merge immunity challenges.
Had Tasha been in a majority alliance, she might have coasted to the Final Tribal Council (and probably won once she got there); she wouldn’t have needed the necklace, so wouldn’t have been forced to emerge as a threat. Being in the minority, though, her elimination was inevitable once Spencer won the immunity challenge this week. Win once, you get a pat on the back; win thrice, and the hand is holding a dagger.
Tasha didn’t have much of a choice, of course – she HAD to win those challenges to stay in the game – but her persona and her story (beloved underdog who gutted out challenge victories) forced her into an unenviable position: go on an unprecedented immunity run, or pound pavement to Ponderosa.
Such is the fate of the challenge beast: win or go home.
3) Spencer as The Professor
The ineptitude of the Brains helped Spencer pick which persona he would adopt (some players have more persona malleability than others; young and smart castaways have the most room to roam): he’s the lovable Luzon, a chess-playing Charlie Brown, Cochran’s kid brother.
This persona allows Spencer to pontificate at Tribal Council, to call it like it is in a way that only those at the bottom are truly allowed to articulate. He even managed to talk his way into the majority – ever so briefly – twice over the past few weeks. Too bad that he and Tasha never held onto the numbers; it would have been fun to see those two duke it out in front of the jury.
The main problem with playing the professor? No one wants to see Spencer unleash a rhetorical assault at the Final Tribal Council. There’s no way he avoids elimination over the next three Tribal Councils (yes, three; more on this later); if by some minor miracle he does get the chance to make his case, however, just hand him the million now and invite him back for Survivor: Legends.
4) Tony as Russell Hantz redux
I’ve talked about Tony enough over the last few weeks, so I’ll leave it at this:
Playing Survivor with a scorched earth strategy can get you to the end, but it’s REALLY hard to win that way.
Tony can get away with a lot that other players can’t – he can be caught in obvious lies, he can be confrontational in camp, he can blindside alliance members and then bring betrayed players back into the fold – but that liberty brings with it a major liability: a bitter jury would doom him.
We also caught a glimpse at last week’s Tribal Council of another vulnerability, one that’s a lot like the one that destroyed Coach’s chances in South Pacific: Tony dared to claim that loyalty and trust are everything. If there’s one thing that Survivor juries can’t stand, it’s a hypocrite; if Tony tries to argue that his game included facets of loyalty and trust, he won’t, and shouldn’t, win.
What he needs, of course, is an unlikable player sitting next to him at the Final Tribal Council. Kass would be perfect. Trish might suffice. But he would be trounced by Spencer, and might well be vulnerable with Woo.
Because Kass is right: No one gives a jerk the million.
5) Woo as the loyal sidekick
After watching Woo’s martial arts display during the school visit, I couldn’t help but marvel at the accidental metaphor: has there ever been a more apt representation of a player than a spinning sidekick?
Anyway, the loyal sidekick role can get a player really, really deep in this game; just need to pick the right hero (or better yet, villain) and hold onto his cape. Along the way, the sidekick gets to have as much fun as the game allows; it is with good reason that Woo was smiling throughout the immunity challenge last week: what does he have to worry about?
The best case scenario for Woo: That he turns out to be Fabio White: the loveable goofball who benefits from a bitter jury. That’s really the only way the sidekick wins: if the power player is loathed not loved.
Which is why Tony needs to get him gone.
6) Kass as the free agent floater
Floaters, for the most part, don’t win. Free agents who make big moves, however, have a shot. Here’s the rub: they have to be likable free agents. Socially savvy. Forgivable.
Kass is none of these things.
I had considered combing through the last several episodes and transcribing all of the astute confessionals Kass has given, but decided instead to simply encourage you to go back and watch them again, only this time, ignore her sneering dismissiveness and oozing intellectual superiority. The words themselves reveal Kass to be incredibly astute, easily Spencer’s strategic equal (and the two of them are significantly stronger than the rest of the post-merge players).
In many ways, I see Kass as a less socially adept Sandra: if she can go up against Tony as Sandra did Russell, she’s got a shot – if, and only if, the jury is as bitter as the one in Heroes vs. Villains. Actually, I take that back; Tony hasn’t been as mean-spirited as Russell, which means Kass needs a jury that’s even MORE bitter. And that’s unlikely, given the current population at Ponderosa; they’re angry, but not THAT angry.
7) Trish as the Jack of All Trades
She’s one part “older female player”: works hard around camp, plays the mom role, easy to talk with, rarely seen as a challenge threat even if and when they’re winning. The upside: they tend to stick around (the last three Final Tribal Councils have included at least one from this category: Monica, Dawn, Denise/Lisa). The downside: they can’t play an aggressive game without getting a ton of backlash (Dawn), and often their social game is taken for granted (Trish).
She’s one part sidekick: Trish isn’t as blindly loyal as Woo, but, paradoxically enough, that’s why she was out of loop for the LJ and Jefra blindsides (Tony knows that she can and will think for herself).
And she’s one part diplomat: Trish has held her alliance together, which is something that’s difficult to prove to a jury, but might earn her some points from the players who were influenced by her (Jefra/Kass). One problem with this role for Trish: the label doesn’t quite fit because her temper doesn’t suit the role. The Lindsey arguments could be forgiven and/or forgotten, but the yelling match with Kass in this week’s teaser will be harder to dismiss.
As we all know, the Jack of all trades is a master of none, so Trish is going to have a lot of trouble selling herself to the jury; she has no hook, no type, no pitch that the jury can get their heads around. She’s the mom, but there were a lot of times she didn’t act like one; she’s a loyal sidekick, but Tony wasn’t loyal to her; and she’s a diplomat, but she screams at people.
Her best, and perhaps only, chance to win? Sitting next to Kass.
8) Question: What’s the most unlikable Final 5 in Survivor history?
And where does this current F5 rank?
Because it hit me as I was planning this column: With Tasha – and that smile – out of the game, this Final 5 doesn’t really bring the warm and fuzzy.
** Tony drives everyone in the game nuts with his hyper-aggressive paranoia, and the jury doesn’t appear to like him much, either.
** Kass has alienated pretty much everyone. As annoying as viewers find her in 42 minutes a week, I get the sense that living with her is exponentially worse.
** Trish got into it with Lindsey, and will once again reinforce the worse of Boston stereotypes by going all Southie on Kass this week.
** Woo has been edited as the endearing goofball, but it says a lot that both Kass and Spencer were surprised to see how affable he can be on the school visit; clearly, to the players in the game, Woo is seen as Tony’s quiet companion and the “weasel” who stole Spencer’s immunity idol clue.
** Spencer is the most likable one of the bunch, but he hasn’t entirely kept a lid on all of his emotions (most notably ripping into Kass and her estrogen-fueled strategy). Plus, he thinks little kids are monsters (somehow, my 7 year-old son is still decidedly Team Spencer, despite this comment).
The Cagayan Final 5 aren’t quite as bad as Thailand – the first season to come to mind when I thought through this question (how could it not, given the presence of both Clay and Ted?) – but they’re not the most huggable bunch of castaways, either.
9) We are definitely headed for a Final 2.
There is no other reason for the editors to put in the Kass comment at Tribal Council (“We’re getting very close to a Final 3 or a Final 2”) except as a tip-off to viewers that there will a Final 2 this season. There were already a mountain of hints in post-elimination interviews, but this clinched it. What’s also clear, though, is that they’re going to reveal it at Final 3, just as they did in Micronesia (when Cirie had victory ripped from her grasp and handed to Parvati).
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of keeping players in the dark about the structure of the endgame; F5 strategy is significantly different for an F2 than an F3, and I’d prefer to see savvy players use the fear of a Final 2 against players like Tony, Trish, and Woo. (One of my all-time favorite strategic moves is Fairplay turning Lil against Darrah by exposing Final 2 deals at the end of Pearl Islands.)
If the players are openly talking about F2 as a possibility, though, then perhaps the social and strategic dynamic will remain liquid over the next two Tribal Councils. My ideal scenario: Spencer wins immunity at F5, then gets Tony, Trish, and Kass to turn on one another at F4 when he reveals that all of them have multiple Final 2 deals…
One can hope.
10) Probst Probe: Once again, Jeff crosses a line at Tribal Council.
Pointing out the possibility that Tony has not one but two idols? Openly talking about flushing one of them? Asking if there’s a plan in place to do just that?
What, is Probst going to start dictating strategy now?
11) Fortunes Rising: Kass
Is there a single player left in the game who DOESN’T want to sit next to her at the Final Tribal Council?
Enjoy the $100K, Kass.
12) Fortunes Falling: Woo
Is there a single player left who DOES want to sit next to him at the Final Tribal Council (other than Spencer, who really doesn’t care who he’s up against)?
Enjoy Ponderosa, Woo.
13) Prediction Time: Bitter or Benign?
Who would the members of the Final 5 beat in a Final 2 scenario if the jury is bitter?
** Spencer beats everyone
** Woo probably beats everyone but Spencer
** Trish might have a chance against Woo, probably beats Tony
** Tony beats Kass, might beat Trish
** Kass beats no one
And what if the jury is benign?
** Spencer beats everyone
** Tony beats everyone but Spencer
** Trish beats Woo and Kass, trounced by Spencer/Tony
** Woo Fabios the title against Kass and only Kass
** Kass beats no one
Either way you look at this, Tony – who will once again control the action because of his two idols – needs to get rid of Spencer.
So, like Tasha, Spencer has to win the necklace or he’s going home.
If Spencer wins the immunity challenge, though, the player Tony needs to get rid of? Woo.
If the jury is bitter (and I think all of us – viewers and players alike – suspect that it is), Woo would beat him. So he’s gotta go in one of the next two Tribals (even if they suspect a Final 2, they need to plan for a Final 3). If Spencer is the target at F4, that means Woo has to go at F5.
Even if the jury is benign (HA!), Tony will want to have a shot at the immunity necklace at F4, and his odds are MUCH better with Woo out of the game.
I think Tony knows this… so if Spencer wins immunity, Woo is headed home.
That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – if you’d like to keep the conversation going, leave a comment below!
Andy Baker is a Survivor blogger who wants nothing more than to get a back rub from Jeff Probst the next time he's thinking about quitting his column. Follow Andy on twitter: @SurvivorGenius