1) Every season, when we’re heading towards the finale…
… I find myself afflicted by a curious negativity: On the cusp of discovering who will be at the Final Tribal Council, I don’t want anyone to win.
Now, this isn’t because I don’t believe anyone is worthy of the title of Sole Survivor. Quite the contrary: Spencer, Tony, and – believe it or not – Kass would all be deserving winners (in that order). And yet, I want to hover here, forever suspended on the Survivor event horizon, eternally avoiding the black hole of season’s end, with all four players ensnared in a Schrödinger’s paradox, each having won, and lost, the game.
But like all good things, this season of Survivor – which is more great than good –must come to an end.
When I’m in a melancholy mood such as this one, my mind turns not only to philosophy but also psychology, specifically, the mindset of those playing the endgame. In particular, I am fascinated by perception: how the players view themselves, how they view one another, and how we – peering through the flawed lens of an edited entertainment program – view these claimants to the throne.
So let’s take a look at our Final 4 – along with Tony’s latest victim, Trish – and see what we can learn via the power of perception.
2) Before we look at the players, however, a quick refresher on two psychological principles in play during this particular endgame.
Cognitive dissonance: This is the psychologically stressful state when a person’s thoughts and/or actions contradict one another; for example, players realize that getting into heated arguments with other castaways is incredibly unwise, and yet they continue to do so.
Fundamental attribution error: People tend to blame the actions of others on their underlying characteristics while chalking up their own choices on situational circumstances. An example: Kass blames Trish’s outburst on the Bostonian’s “capacity for hatred,” while insisting that her own antagonism and acrimonious name-calling (“Skeletor”) is merely gameplay.
What fascinates me about these two ideas is that we often see a mash-up of both of them as the game draws to a close: What castaways say in confessionals and do at camp often seem at odds, and when they dissect events in the aftermath, they’re often completely blind to how hypocritical they are, how wrong their reads of players and situations can be, and how far removed their perceptions are from the reality at hand.
Anyway, time to shift this from the theoretical to the practical and take a look at our players and their powers of perception.
How she perceived herself: Clearly, Trish believed she was Tony’s equal, despite ample evidence to the contrary (being out of the loop on two blindsides should have told her all she needed to know). No doubt she thought she could beat Tony at the Final Tribal Council, given the jury’s readily apparent annoyance with Tony’s Bag of Tricks. Trish clearly took offense to the very notion that she was Tony’s goat; to her, she was the palatable alternative to the New Jersey cop, if the jury couldn’t or wouldn’t give him the money.
Side note to all future Survivor players: If you either plan on being second in command or find yourself thrust into that role, heed Survivor Commandment #62: Make it IMPOSSIBLE for the alpha to eliminate you. What Trish needed to tell Tony was some variation of this: “At some point you might be tempted to put me on the jury so that I vote for you. Or you might begin to worry that I could steal some votes because I have less blood on my hands and then you’ll start to entertain notions of blindsiding me. Here’s what will happen if you decide that I’m expendable: I WILL NOT vote for you. I don’t care if you’re sitting next to Kass; yes, I hate her, but she’ll get my vote if you put me on the jury. Not only that, but I will do everything in my power to poison the jury pool against you. I will lie to them. I will tell them things that will make them hate you. I will find a way to make you regret voting me out for the rest of your natural life.” If there’s one thing that we can learn from Trish’s abrupt departure, it is this: As the Final Tribal Council approaches, you CANNOT play the role of good soldier.
How the others players perceived Trish: She was seen as Tony’s goat, nothing more. One thing’s for sure, she was being given absolutely no credit for the post-merge social game that the editors shared with us. And let’s not forget about her “capacity for hatred”; Kass may have been overstating things a bit, but let’s not forget that for these players, the Lindsey fight was only three weeks ago (while for us it has been seven). Had Trish been more aware what the other players thought and felt about her, she might have been more willing to establish her own endgame with Kass rather than going to war with her; alas, it was not to be, for the same reason that so many players find themselves eliminated late: she believed that her alpha had the same allegiance to her as she had to him.
How we perceived her: As I’ve written about over the course of the season, Trish was given an “ugly” pre-merge edit, then things got better for her in the mid-game, but once she was consistently portrayed as on the outside looking in, we had to suspect she would be going home before the FTC. She was loyal to a fault, and in the game of Survivor, the fracturing at that fault line ends with a seat on the jury; it’s a shame that Trish didn’t make it to the Final Tribal Council, though, because it would have been interesting to see her try to make her case.
And now, onto the players who are still in the game…
How she perceives herself: Hooooo, boy. She honestly thinks she can beat Tony, feels that she would crush Woo, and as much as she’d prefer to avoid sitting next to Spencer, I bet she thinks she can make a reasonable argument to the jury that she’s a more worthy winner thanks to the moves she’s made (“Name one thing you did, Spencer, other than win some immunities”). In her mind, she created chaos when she had to, established alliances when she wanted to, and flipped when she needed to. That, to Kass, is an endgame resume worth a million bucks, because Survivor is a game, and anyone who has a bruised ego or hurt feelings over what happened should “get over it.”
How the other players perceive her: Needless to say, Kass’s cognitive dissonance is in overdrive, and all of the other castaways – both those in the game and those sitting on the jury – wouldn’t agree with her self-assessment. In fact, were Kass to share her high opinion of herself with her fellow players, they’d be doubled over with incredulous laughter. Trish had it right (even if the tone of her delivery left something to be desired): Kass is seen as the victim-agitator. Tony’s evaluation of Kass is even more blunt and brutal: to him, Kass is “unworthy” and for her to get to the end would be an insult to the game of Survivor. And the jury, well, let’s just say they hate Kass and move on.
How we perceive her: I, for one, love certain facets of her game, in particular, her unwillingness to be intimidated by Tony and her willingness to expose the duplicitous dealings of those who make multiple Final 3 deals. She’s also become a narrator over the second half of the season (gleefully articulating how well her seeds of discord are growing in the fertile garden of Brawn bullshit). That said, we’re seeing the hypocritical, mean, and un-empathetic sides of Kass right here at the end: she accuses Trish of boorish behavior in a way that is itself boorish (this isn’t the first incident of confrontational hypocrisy from Trish, of course; remember when she accused Sarah of bullying when she herself was attempting to force her new alliance to do what she wanted?); she engages in a heated war of words in front of the jury (who were amused but not impressed); and she is utterly unable to put herself in the shoes of the players who surround her. In the end, I think it comes down to this: Kass doesn’t really care what other people think of her, but she really, really should if she wants to win a game like Survivor.
How he perceives himself: I think Woo, for all of his strategic oblivion, has a pretty good read on who he is within the context of the game. His family breakdown of the Final 5 – wherein he was the “foreign exchange student” – was, like most of what makes us laugh, filled with uncomfortable truth: while everyone else squabbles, he’s above, or at least outside of, the fray. And that, Woo knows, is his path to the million: be the nice guy alternative to whoever he is seated next to at the Final Tribal Council. I think he’s wrong to believe that he can beat Tony (although I can see how he’s able to rationalize that to himself); I’m pretty sure he knows that he can’t beat Spencer (although denial isn’t only a river in Egypt, it also runs deep); and I would guess that he’s aware his best match-up is against Kass, but probably has no idea how to assemble the chain of events that would get him to that point.
How the others perceive him: Depending on which metaphor you wish to use, Woo is Tony’s sidekick, minion, or lapdog. Even though Woo’s edit has gotten progressively better over the last three episodes, I don’t think the jury will have any respect for Woo’s game; the only way he wins is if the jury members can’t bring themselves to hand a million dollars to the person sitting next to him. And that only happens with Kass.
How we perceive him: He’s the guy who smiles during challenges… the one who hops up and down with excitement in the middle of a pounding rainstorm… the dude who has sex with overpriced ribs. In other words, a player we’re not meant to take seriously. Or maybe, just maybe, a guy who wins because he is the optimistic yin to Kass’s antagonistic yang.
How he perceives himself: As much as Spencer would prefer that Kass and Woo see Tony as a bigger threat, he knows that Kass is too sharp to believe it and Woo is too loyal to do anything about it. It’s win – and then win again (not that Spencer knows that yet) – or he goes home.
How the others perceive him: As the winner of Survivor: Cagayan unless they take him out before the Final Tribal Council. And they’re right. His story is too good to resist.
How we perceive him: I think almost all of us would like to see Spencer win the F4 immunity challenge and use his position of safety to get Kass and Woo to call Tony’s “my special idol is good until F3” bluff, but that isn’t going to happen. We know that Woo SHOULD listen, given that Tony will keep Kass and cut him; heck, even Kass should consider it, given that Tony’s vote would almost certainly be for Woo, and you might as well take out Tony while you have the chance. The problem is, Woo thinks Tony won’t bring Kass to the end because she’s unworthy, and Kass believes that she can beat Tony in a Final 2. Anyway, back to Spencer: Once again, he’ll have all the right ideas, but be able to execute none of them, because of the T.P. Idol, Woo’s illusions and Kass’s delusions. That’s been Spencer’s position all along, really; the right guy in the right game forever and always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
How he perceives himself: For as much as Tony wears his emotions on his sleeve, it’s difficult to pin down precisely how he sees himself. So it is with most accomplished liars: Tony believes more than half of what he invents about himself. When he tells Woo that if he, Tony, and Kass were in the Final 3, Kass would get no votes and it would be a toss up between the two guys, I think he both wonders if that might be true AND knows full well that he’s simply telling Woo what he needs to hear. When he insists at Tribal Council that his game is about loyalty, integrity and honor, he both believes this AND is aware that he been both disloyal to members of his alliance and played what many would call a dishonorable game. When he goes off on Kass for exposing his Final 3 deal with her, he both plans on taking her out of the game for undercutting his position with Woo AND knows in his heart of hearts he’s going to take her to the end if he can.
In other words, Tony is the living embodiment of cognitive dissonance.
How the others perceive him: No doubt Tony feels he can rationalize each and every one of his moves, but in the end, it’s not what HE believes that matters, but what the jury accepts. It’s pretty clear that Tony’s victims don’t like him, but he doesn’t care about that; the question is, do they respect him? My sense is that they do, begrudgingly, and largely because there’s no one else to respect other than Spencer (this is, of course, by design). Indeed, self-respect alone will demand that they accept that Tony played a solid strategic game; each member of the jury would want to believe that they could be eliminated only by the eventual winner. That said, should Tony take down the title on Wednesday, I don’t think the hugs he’ll receive – other than the one from Trish – will be all that warm.
How we perceive him: From the beginning, we’ve been given a bombastic, inconsistent edit for Tony. It looked like he was overplaying… and then he was making moves that felt premature… then he was finding idols and flipping between alliances… and all along, we were given extensive footage of his frenzied paranoia and hyperbolic promises (to which he added his dead father when trying to bring Woo back into the fold). Hardly your prototypical winner’s edit. But we’ve been meant all along to marvel at his relentless innovation, to be impressed by his preternatural idol-locating abilities, to wonder how he could possibly juke and spin his way to the end. And here he is, one bluff and an immunity win from a million dollars. I may have shredded my #TeamTV membership card, but I’ll admit it: He’d be a helluva winner. The guy can play the game.
8) Just a quick reminder about Survivor Commandment #59, first articulated by Rob Cesternino: Never win a post-merge reward challenge.
This is especially true with the individual (as opposed to team) endgame rewards, which require the winner to pick other people to share the experience. Nothing good can come of it. Now, perhaps Tony wanted to fill that mud bucket so that he has a challenge win to point to when the jury is grilling him, and he knew there wouldn’t be any blowback from his decision to pick Trish (because of his abundance of idols), but in Survivor as in physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and all Tony managed to do was shred his intestines with grease and piss people off, most of whom will be on the jury.
9) Last week I complained about the prospect of a “surprise” Final 2 because of the impact it has on strategy.
Now that Spencer has managed to make it to the Final 4, let me throw an emotional wrinkle at you:
Imagine you’re Spencer. You emerge from the F4 immunity challenge victorious and triumphant. Afterwards, back at camp, you reflect on the reality you believe to be true: You’ve just won a million dollars. You’ve won the game you’ve loved your entire life. Oh, sure, you have to think through your Final Tribal Council speech, but you know your story and your game will allow you to crush Kass and Tony. And heck, in some ways, you’ve been rehearsing this speech for years, ever since you were little and you first started to imagine what you would say to the players you put on the jury.
But then it’s all taken away from you.
Instead of being carried to your coronation, you’re told that you once again have to fight for you life, for your game, for your flame.
Only one other person truly knows this pain: Cirie.
She – not Parvati – deserved to win Survivor: Micronesia. After voting out Natalie, Cirie had every reason to believe that she was headed to the Final Tribal Council, given that Cook Islands, Fiji, and China – the seasons leading up to Fans vs. Favorites – all had three finalists. But to Cirie’s everlasting horror, instead of sitting in front of a jury of her peers, she had to battle in one final challenge. She lost. Amanda won. And Parvati took home the title.
That may well be Spencer’s fate on Wednesday night. I, for one, desperately hope not. If it does happen, though, I’d like to think that in the moment Spencer realizes what has just happened, producers, players, and viewers will all understand, in a collective, agonizing flash of awareness, embarrassment, shame, and regret, that eviscerating a dream on national television – in the most unfair way possible – isn’t the least bit entertaining. In fact, it’s just cruel.
10) Speaking of the producers and the endgame, time for the Probst Probe.
I have two questions, the first of which was raised in the comment section of last week’s column:
** What led the players to start talking about the possibility of a Final 2?
Do they do that every season, or at least seasons which have endgames populated with knowledgeable players? And thus we’re only getting this footage (like Kass referencing a Final 2 at Tribal Council) because this season does, in fact, have a Final 2?
Did SuperFans like Spencer and Tony look at the number of days left in the game and figure out that they might be headed to a Final 2 rather than a Final 3?
Did the producers intentionally or unintentionally let on that there would be a Final 2, or that at least the possibility was in play?
Was this adaptive gameplay, and the producers left their options for a Final 2 or Final 3 open until they had to commit to a specific path? (I don’t genuinely believe this one, given that the producers would LOVE to see Spencer and Tony both at the Final Tribal Council; I did wonder about the twist in Micronesia, however.)
Was it a combination of some or all of the above?
All of this leads me to my second question:
** Why the heck didn’t Probst announce at Tribal Council that F5 was the last opportunity castaways could play a hidden immunity idol (special or otherwise)?
He ALWAYS does so.
But not this time.
I can at least partially answer my own question: Probst and the other producers were aware that Tony planned to propagate and perpetuate the lie that the T.P. Idol was good through the Final 4. They liked the idea – it was something they hadn’t anticipated, and they wanted to see how it played out – and so they opted to assist Tony’s admittedly creative and bold bluff.
Here’s the thing: Combine the possibility of a Final 2 with the fact that Probst didn’t say anything at the F5 tribal council about expiring idols, and the other players have every reason to believe Tony’s lie.
If the players were anticipating a Final 3, however, then at least Spencer would be willing to call bullshit. The game NEVER hands a player a free pass to the Final Tribal Council. Castaways are always completely vulnerable for at least one Tribal Council before they face the jury.
So what’s my point? Not only is it possible that Probst and the producers helped Tony secure the T.P. Idol in the first place, but now they’re assisting him in his efforts to extend its powers to give him a free pass to the Final 3. I understand needing to make a decision on the fly when a player does something unexpected, but c’mon, this is ludicrous. Probst chose POORLY.
11) Fortunes rising: Kass
I wonder what it’s like to be in the Final 4 knowing the following:
** Everyone wants to bring you to the Final 2.
** They want to do so because they think/feel/know they can beat you.
** The jury is going to be bitter, vicious, and nasty.
You’d think that the last few days would be borderline unbearable. Ah, but who am I kidding? Kass thinks she can, and should, beat all of them, and if they’re willing to take her to the end just because they think she’s unlikable, well, they’re the ones with a reckoning and a rude awakening ahead.
12) Fortunes falling: Spencer
It would truly suck to get Cirie’d.
(Please, please, please don’t let this happen.)
13) Prediction time:
My prediction this week will be based on the following assumptions:
** There is going to be a Final 2. (Doubters like Dalton Ross, heed the signs.)
** Tony’s bluff is probably going to work (explains why Spencer wasn’t thrilled with the T.P. Idol and its unnamed powers).
Given these parameters, here are the potential F2 pairings in order of probability:
If Spencer wins immunity at F4, either Tony or Woo goes home; it all depends on if the other players believe Tony’s immunity idol bluff. If Woo is voted out at F4, there’s no way either Kass or Tony keeps Spencer at F3, and if Spencer wins immunity, he’s taking Kass. Which is a long-winded way of saying that Tony and Spencer will not face one another at the FTC, as fun as that would be.
Same logic applies here: If Tony’s bluff fails and he goes out at F4, we’re left with a Woo/Kass/Spencer Final 3. If Woo wins the F3 challenge, he takes Kass; if Kass wins it, she takes Woo; if Spencer wins it, he takes Kass.
This pairing would require a Spencer ouster at F4, followed by a Tony IC win at F3… and then Tony would have to pick Woo over Kass. Tony’s made some odd decisions over the course of Cagayan, but I don’t see him making this sort of endgame error. Really can’t imagine this happening (but it’s more in the realm of possibility than the two previous pairings).
The only way this happens: Spencer wins immunity at F4 and F3. He could do it, particularly if there are puzzles involved. But usually there’s a steady-hands focus challenge near the end, which would give Kass and Tony a fighting chance. Could Spencer end up an odd hybrid of Colby, Malcolm, Fabio, and Cochran, a post-merge challenge beast from a decimated tribe who surged to an improbable victory? Sure. But the odds are long (although it would fit the scene from early in the season when Spencer pondered the possibility of an all-Brain FTC).
This F2 happens if Spencer wins F4 immunity but fails to secure the necklace at F3. It would also be the inevitable result if Spencer is out at F4 and Tony wins the F3 immunity challenge. Of the two likeliest outcomes, this is the one I vastly prefer (and Tony wins easily). But it isn’t as probable as…
Assuming Spencer or Tony goes at F4, if either Woo or Kass wins the F3 immunity challenge, each one takes the other to the Final Tribal Council, right? And if that happens, are we to assume that Woo is the winner of Survivor: Cagayan? Let’s take a quick look at the jury (stretching things as necessary to keep this thought experiment from being a landslide):
Sarah: Woo (hates Kass, Woo was a Brawn)
Morgan: Woo (hates Kass)
LJ: Kass (she made moves; Woo didn’t)
Jeremiah: Coin flip (Kass betrayed him early; Woo betrayed him late)
Jefra: Kass (Woo backstabbed her)
Tasha: Kass (a former Brain who made moves)
Trish: Woo (HATES Kass)
Spencer: Woo (zero respect for either one; Woo the less odious choice)
Tony: Woo (rewards his minion; thinks Kass is unworthy)
Looks like Woo would win this match-up…
HOLD ON A SECOND
Let’s process that for a moment.
Woo might actually win?
FOR ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY
AND THE CAST OF CAGAYAN
I refuse to accept that as a legitimate possibility.
Spencer or Tony, take down the title.
Please and thank you.
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