We’re gonna do something a little different this week: We’ve got a baker’s dozen players left in the game right now, and I can’t very well ignore the number 13, now can I? So what follows, rather than being a random assemblage of rants and ramblings, will be a quick glimpse at the path (or paths) available to each remaining player to make it to the Final Tribal Council.
Don’t worry, though, I’ll still touch on all of the big topics from last week’s episode along the way: The Swap (the Brains made out like bandits), The Flip (did Tony and Trish make their move too early?), The Idol (how and why did LJ hang onto his?!), The Blindside (Cliff, like so many decent, but limited, players brought his demise upon himself), and The Tease (why was Probst talking to Lindsey?).
So join me as we take a look – alphabetically – at each individual’s Avenue to the Endgame.
Last week, I mentioned that we were seeing smoke because Alexis was stoking some strategic fires; I think we got further proof of her willingness to advance her own game when she approached the Brains in search of a four-person majority alliance.
(Related note: The Brains, to their credit, listened to all overtures but committed to none; in the liminal, in-between game, players can afford to weigh their options, while after the merge to delay ends, as Hamlet shows us, in death.)
Anyway, Alexis needs a number of things to happen to make it to the endgame:
** She needs for her new tribe to avoid Tribal Council: the Brains may see her as a potential strategic threat, certainly more so than Jeremiah and Morgan. Indeed, if I’m the Brains, and I’m looking to exploit the fractures within Beauty – rather than risking an unlikely but potential 3-3 Beauty-Brain deadlock after taking out an obvious threat like Sarah – then Alexis is my first target. Survivor precedent suggests that Jeremiah will be targeted post-merge as an extended immunity run threat, while Morgan will be dismissed as a “we can take her out whenever we want” sort of player who doesn’t have a strong pre-existing alliance, which means Alexis should be really, really worried.
** She also needs to distance herself from LJ, even if she fully intends to reunite with him after the merge. Again, were I a Brain, I’m pretty sure Morgan is telling the truth about Jeremiah playing both sides (which means LJ and Jefra won’t ever fully trust him), and I’m absolutely certain that Morgan has no loyalty to Beauty and is eager to join a majority alliance. That leaves Alexis as the one castaway on Aparri who could and would join forces with LJ, and that’s something the other players need to avoid at all costs (particularly when they “see the new Solana” and find out that Cliff, and not LJ, went home; in that moment, LJ becomes someone they need to undermine at earliest opportunity, and that means voting out Alexis). In other words, Alexis needs to totally downplay any connection she has to LJ and convince her new tribemates that she’s willing to join forces with them rather than realign with a power player.
(Another related note: I think we need to myth-bust the idea that physically imposing men can and will be targeted after the merge. In modern Survivor, late game challenges tend to favor women like Kim Spradlin and Monica Culpepper and men like Ozzy; balance and wiry strength win the day. Were I to ever play Survivor, those are the players I’m targeting early to mid-merge…)
** If Alexis manages to make the merge – either because Aparri has avoided Tribal Council or she’s played the social game really well – she will remain a target, given her ability with strategy. Even if alphas are attacked in the early post-merge game, she’ll find her name coming up soon thereafter; she’ll need to be a part of another alliance – LJ and a few Brawn, perhaps – to take control of the game at one of the endgame flip-zones (F9/F7) and orchestrate another coup, this time of LJ, at F5 if she’s going to A) Get to the Final Tribal Council, and B) Have a winning argument once she gets there. (If she’s sitting next to LJ, he gets credit for everything.)
Under the best of circumstances, then, Alexis has a long road ahead of her, and I can’t see her getting to the end. She’s in immediate danger, it’s not going to get any better post-merge, she’ll have to betray people to make it to Day 39 – and, to top it all off, the edit hasn’t been kind. It’s a shame – I like her a lot more than I thought I would at the start of the season – but she ain’t winning this game.
(One last related note: If Alexis – or anyone else capable for that matter – finds the T.P. Idol, all bets are off. Leveraged wisely, that abomination will hand someone a free pass to the Final Four. At that point, win one challenge, and a player’s sitting at the Final Tribal Council with a shot to win the game. And yet, I doubt a modern jury would reward someone who got to Day 39 thanks to the T.P. idol. The game and how players view it have changed, and a winning endgame resume will have to include more than, “I was going home – but then Tyler Perry and Jeff Probst saved me!”)
Remember a couple of weeks ago, when Jeremiah said that he wanted to be the leader of his tribe? Do you also recall how dismissive I was of his ability to know what to do with this power should he possess it? We need look no further than how Jeremiah responded to the swap to understand that we had reason to doubt him…
A leader would have gone to Alexis and Morgan and pointed out the obvious: We need to stick together if we’re going to control the post-merge game. Find a crack in the Brains and turn them on each other – failing that, convince the Brains that they need to take out Sarah to prevent Brawn having the post-merge numbers – or, if all else fails, make a temporary deal with Sarah to take out a Brain or two before the merge (build them up as endgame dangers, both in the moves they’ll make and the story they’ll have to tell at the end).
So what does Jeremiah do instead? Abdicate all power to the Brains, throw the members of the Beauty tribe under the bus, and in the process turn himself into a twin post-merge threat: he’ll join whatever alliance will take him (thus he’s untrustworthy and unpredictable), and he can win challenges (for himself, of course, but also for the members of whatever alliance he’s calling home at the time: he has the potential to keep the necklace out of the hands of challenge threats like Woo and LJ); the other players have every reason to fear someone who is desperate and physically capable, which means Jeremiah has to go.
So how does Jeremiah avoid this fate? Like Alexis, he needs to steer clear of Tribal Council, make it to the merge, team up with LJ’s new Two-Idol alliance, take out the Brains, and make sure he’s in the majority when the alliance has to turn on itself.
Odds of this happening? Just about zero. The moment Jeremiah flirted with the possibility of teaming up with Morgan and Brice, he lost the game.
Can you think of a single Final 3 configuration at this point that Jefra can win against? Trish and Lindsey, maybe. Or swap out Lindsey after she quits (or whatever it is she’s doing in the teaser for this week) and replace her with Morgan. Even so, what sort of argument will Jefra make? Remember, she’s the one who wandered around the Beauty camp, utterly baffled by the strategy the other players were throwing around. She’s a number, a goat, a coattail rider – no more, no less.
And you know what? If all she wants to do is get to the end, she should just keep on keepin’ on. The odds of her making it to the final six or seven at this point are incredibly high; why would anyone think about eliminating her after the merge until a Pagonging demanded it?
Now, if she wanted to WIN, that’s another thing altogether; she’d have to be a part of a flip at F7, get credit for the move, and then present a convincing case at the Final Tribal Council.
Obviously, the Brains were the biggest buff-bucket beneficiaries, ending up together on a tribe with an isolated alpha (Sarah) and the Beauty combination most likely to fracture (with one player inside the main alliance – Alexis; one player on the outs – Morgan; and one player who waffled between the two groups – Jeremiah). Really couldn’t have worked out better. Assuming the Brains triumvirate makes it to the merge – and why would anyone target them right now? – they’re almost guaranteed a spot in the Final 9.
And yet, not everything is perfect in paradise: what the Brains need to consider when they hit the middle of the post-merge game is, “Would I win if the Brains were the Final 3?” If the answer is yes, then work together, turn the other players into a succession of targets, and make your case to the jury on Day 39. If the answer is no, though, you have to turn on your trio.
I think Spencer believes – rightly – that he could win over the jury. Tasha, too, will have faith in her endgame resume. Kass, however, will need to realize that unless she makes some moves, she’s finishing in third place.
Kass is smart, bold, and ruthless – despite being far too honest so far – which leads me to believe that she’ll do what needs to be done: Turn on her fellow brains at F7, joining forces with some bland Beauty (Jefra? Morgan?) and leftover Brawn (Trish?), to create the sort of endgame that drives Probst nuts.
Kass can definitely win the game – but to pull it off, she’ll need to do two things along the way:
** Send her closest allies to the jury…
**… and convince them that she, and not a coattail rider, should get the million.
As depressing as a Final 3 of Kass, Jefra, and Trish would be, sometimes that’s what happens on Survivor once the strategists are done cannibalizing one another. Indeed, Kass’s one job is to get to the end and sit next to people she can beat, and there should be castaways of that caliber all around her in the middle of the merge. Let Probst and the producers worry about coaxing drama out of the endgame; Kass needs to flip everything at F7, or she’ll be handing the game to one of her fellow Brains.
If I keep predicting that Lindsey is going home, I have to be right eventually, no? I mean, with this edit – antagonistic but not villainous – and the brewing battle with Trish, would any of you be willing to bet on Lindsey making the merge? When you add in the fact that Lindsey does or says SOMETHING drastic enough to bring Probst to camp (per the preview), and there’s absolutely no way that Lindsey is around for the long haul.
Related note: With regards to the Lindsey/Probst conversation, my money is on, “Now that Trish is in power, she’s bullying me and won’t stop. You have to do something about this, or I’m going to smash those hideous teeth with my fist. I didn’t start this, but I’ll finish it, and I’ll make damn sure that she leaves in a medevac on the same chopper you put me on when you pull me from the game.”
And yet… what if Probst tells Trish to cut it out? And what if Trish listens? And what if Solana wins the next challenge? And what if they merge at 12? And what if the merged tribe decides to go after immunity challenge threats like Woo and Jeremiah and LJ and Tony after the merge? And what if Lindsey embraces her role as the proverbial “Player You Most Want to Sit Next to at Final Tribal Council” (even though there isn’t a proverb about that)?
Sure, that’s a long list of What Ifs, but are any of them in isolation all that unrealistic?
Should that all come to pass – again, not implausible! – we’re at 8 players, and Lindsey is still there, and more than a few players will be tempted to turn her into a less abrasive Abi-Maria endgame goat.
Lindsey can’t win at this point, but if she can just hold it together for three more days, she could outlast Trish – and wouldn’t that be a victory in and of itself (for Lindsey, anyway)?
I don’t care what Tony said to LJ, what promises were made, what kin were sworn upon: LJ keeping his idol tucked away was still an incredibly ballsy move.
Related note: Yes, LJ and Tony must have had a conversation just before Tribal Council that we didn’t see, one that put LJ’s mind at ease; they couldn’t show it to us, however, because to do so would remove all suspense during the vote.
Anyway, if you want to hear me elaborate on this move, be sure to check out The Baker’s Fifteen on Survivor Talk with D&D – I go into why I believe LJ is thinking long term here; the elevator pitch version: LJ could have played the idol and bought himself three more days, but opted to roll the dice with Tony because that’s the only way he could have some post-merge maneuverability.
The harsh reality that LJ is facing is that he will be a target for the rest of the game; a well-played idol after the merge could swing the game in his favor for a few votes, however, and buy him just enough time to scramble. The truth is, though, that even the members of his own alliance will be looking to take him out once the Final Tribal Council is on the horizon.
At that point, LJ will have to get creative – or find the T.P. idol – and gut his way to the end.
I’d like to see it happen.
But I don’t think it will.
Let me clear one thing up: I’m not as high on her game as I appeared to be in last week’s column. Despite knowing how the game works, she’s a horrible social player; she’s petty and petulant, and almost entirely without empathy. That said, she’s in the enviable Hitchhikers Guide entry on ‘Earth’ position: ‘Mostly Harmless.’
Wherever the game goes from here, Morgan will be a number, a floater, a piece of someone else’s puzzle.
If she’d simply like to get Sheep Deep, the path is pretty clear-cut: align with whomever has, or needs, the numbers. Don’t make any threatening moves, don’t engage in secondary or tertiary strategy conversations with the other players, and let the game flow around her. Be willing to help others to flip the game at F7 or F5 and get to the promised land with a semi-serious argument to make (“I made the moves that were available to me”) and be okay with not getting a single vote – because who are we kidding: Morgan – despite being better equipped than most players who inhabit her casting demographic – has already earned “Can’t Win” status.
A lot of people gave me well-deserved grief for handing Sarah an A- last week – despite listing all of the reasons she didn’t deserve it (bad idea to blindside Cliff; not seeing through Tony’s bluster).
Were I to do it again, I’d give Sarah a B – but raise her grade based on this week’s performance: Despite being the biggest obvious threat on the new Aparri tribe – and finding herself isolated from the rest of the Brawn tribe – she held steady while Beauty faded all around her. It’s almost inevitable at this point that she’s making the merge (Alexis and Jeremiah are in the line ahead of her, I’d guess), and once there, her social game – which is exceptional – will soon have her working within a majority alliance. The only reason I could see the new Aparri targeting Sarah before the merge is the now-nonexistent worry about Brawn being six-strong at the merge; Solana did her a favor in taking out her ostensible nemesis Cliff; now Brawn is at five, and it’s clear that the old Aparri has just as many exploitable fractures as Beauty (which should put the Brains brains at ease).
So how does Sarah get to the endgame? Join Tony, Trish, LJ, and Jefra – pick up two or three players (floaters or the Brains? That will be a game-deciding decision) – and ride that to the Final 7. Shape a Final 4 alliance within the 7, and make a Final 3 pact within that 4, and there ya have it: Sarah Lacina, Sole Survivor.
That will be incredibly difficult to pull off – particularly with two regular idols and the T.P. idol to contend with – but I wouldn’t bet against her. And not only because she’s a cop and an MMA fighter and could kick my tail just by looking at me funny. She’s good at this game – despite making some rookie mistakes – but the strong players who possess potential greatness always do (just ask Boston Rob, Parvati Tyson, Cochran…)
Gotta love his Final 3 comment last episode: I don’t think the producers show us this scene if it isn’t a possibility somewhere down the line.
But as I said above, Kass or Tasha (I’m still betting on Kass) won’t hold to that deal and will seek a better endgame scenario for herself.
No doubt Spencer is a contender – I’d love to see him navigate the endgame – but there are too many players around who understand how dangerous Spencer’s game is and how undeniable his narrative will be if he gets to spin his story for the jury.
How can he avoid that fate? Riding his power position to F9 (F7 might be too late), taking control of the game with a five that he likes (and with whom he has at least one if not two F3 deals), and then sitting at the Final Tribal Council with Morgan and Jefra sitting next to him.
Spencer will see the Kass blindside coming…
… Tasha won’t.
I love Tasha, and I’d love to see her win the game, but once the male immunity challenge threats are out of the way, everyone is going to look at Tasha and say, “She’s gotta go.”
She’s got a great social game, though, so if she can put together a “nice people finish first” alliance – say, Sarah, Jefra, Jeremiah, and herself – she could put herself in a position to win.
I doubt that happens, though.
(Prove me wrong, Tasha!)
I’ll have to write about Tony at length next week; for now, I’ll sum it up like this:
Whether Tony thought this through or not, he’s replaced Cliff – someone who would be tempting to take to the end – with LJ, a player whom everyone will want to vote out before they shift their sights to Tony.
It was a bold move for both the short and long term; perhaps it was a bit too early (other players won’t fully trust him any more), but he is being proactive about alliance building and rebuilding, which is more than you can say for most of the other players.
Here’s what would make Tony’s gameplay even more awesome: Had he pulled a “Princess Bride” Man in Black holocaust cloak moment and said to LJ, “I’d like to work with you – if only you had an idol, THAT would be something.” If Tony and LJ worked together, both knowing that the other had an idol, used them to deflect not one but two votes in the mid-merge, they could take complete control of the game. So much better than keeping Uncle Cliffy…
Can Tony make it to the end? Yes, but it will involve nuanced idol play, and I’m not sure that a newbie – no matter how surprisingly effective thus far – can pull it off. And don’t forget, his edit isn’t promising (then again, the edit has been quite misleading so far)…
Once you get a couple of weeks into the game, you become who you really are… and Trish, I’m sad to report, is mean.
She’ll probably win this war with Lindsey.
But by engaging in a pitched battle like this, Trish is guaranteeing that she cannot win the game.
She CAN get to the end, however.
Indeed, there’s a pretty good chance she makes it there.
But she’s Sherri from Caramoan: an easy target for the jury, and someone who gets zero votes.'
What the heck, Woo? Your tribe was thinking about throwing a challenge to blindside Cliff, and you don’t tell him? You know that Trish is hanging out with LJ, but you dismiss the possibility that she’ll flip? You know that Cliff is ostracizing Trish and Lindsey is being openly hostile to her, and yet you’re unconcerned about the vote?
Take back every marginally nice thing I said about Woo having a rudimentary understanding of Survivor strategy. He’s a nice guy, fit guy, handsome guy, strong guy, laid back guy… but he simply isn’t good at this game.
Bottom line: Woo will be a target every week until the endgame, and there’s no chance he wins out against this competition (Jeremiah, LJ, Sarah, Tasha, Tony and even Trish are solid individual immunity challenge threats).
For Woo to make it to the end, he needs to join forces with whatever alliance forms to oppose Tony/LJ/Jefra/Trish, be carried along by players who feel there are bigger threats than Woo (the endgame should be full of them), and – by accident rather than design – he can win a late challenge or two and sit at the Final Tribal Council using a surfing metaphor to argue his case to the jury. (“I waited for the right wave… it got totally rocky there for a while, but I was patient… and then, there it was: the perfect tube… I popped onto my board, paddled like hell, caught the wave… and here I am.”)
Or he could just find the T.P. idol, leverage it for safety while the competing alliances go after one another, win the F4 challenge, and then attempt to get at least four votes from the jury. Interestingly, were he to find the T.P. idol, Woo would be a Yul/Ozzy hybrid… and yet I think just about any of the strategic players will still beat him. The game has changed, juries have changed, and I just can’t see anyone with that idol getting enough votes to win.
Given that Probst isn’t too thrilled about the Cagayan end game, though, the T.P. idol must not accomplish what the producers hoped it would…
Take that, Tyler Perry!
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