1) The last couple of weeks, I’ve departed from my usual format…
… so it’s time to get back to basics, methinks. So here’s what I was thinking about after Wednesday’s episode....
Fair warning: My Zork-setting right now is “maximum verbosity,” which means I’m not at all interested in editing or flow or the tightness of prose. I’m just putting words on the page, not stopping to look back, pouring out what’s in my head without a second thought (some of you would argue that I’m writing without a first thought – hello, Spencer! – and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong). What follows, then, is a stream-of-consciousness exploration, rant, treatise, screed, tirade.
Just call me The Rambler.
2) Lean in, LJ, and listen as I whisper (for I am a player whisperer)…
When you start feeling comfortable, it’s because people are MAKING you feel comfortable, and in the game of Survivor, when people are working hard to make you feel comfortable, that’s when you need to feel UNCOMFORTABLE because the ones making you feel comfortable are plotting to send you to Ponderosa, which, while a comfortable place with beds and beer is an emotionally and psychologically uncomfortable place.
Also: NEVER trust anyone completely in this game. Particularly someone who hasn’t stopped playing the game for a single second since it started. Yes, having someone like that driving the action takes the stress off and allows you to kick back a bit… but that sort of passive complacency breeds blindsides.
A couple of other thoughts for you:
** When someone approaches you about flipping – as Tasha did this week, and as Morgan apparently did during the idol hunt last week – you should be worried about how people perceive you. If the other side sees you as the fault line, the place where the tectonic plates of your alliance come together, then it’s absolutely certain that Tony sees you that way, too (and he’s not gonna let the pressure build until there’s an earthquake; Tony is the only force of nature that Tony will allow to exist within the game). Bottom line: If players are asking you to flip, Tony doesn’t trust you, and among the rules that are governing how Tony is playing this game is this: “No trust? I BUST.”
** Also, if everyone is talking about how you need to stand up to Tony – and Tony keeps getting a seat in the middle at Tribal Council – then you need to realize that this is Tony’s game to lose. Which means you shouldn’t be suggesting in confessionals that you’re planning on heading into the endgame with Tony still in play. Tell us you’re planning on blindsiding him at F7, not that he’s your trusted ally who you know has your back.
** On a related note, you gotta question every story people tell you, particularly when the source of the story is someone who speaks like a meth-head in search of a fix. The idea that Woo has an idol is laughable; everyone in your alliance would know it (Woo has no guile). Once you figure out that Tony is making up this Woo/idol business, the next step is to realize that Tony is trying to foment discord within the alliance – when there are three clear targets (two of whom, Tasha and Spencer, are real threats) still in the game. Why would Tony do that? Answer: because he’s planning on flipping. Add in the fact that you were at F9, one of the prime flip zones, and all of your alarms should have been going off. The fact they weren’t was proof positive that you had gotten too comfortable… and that never ends well.
Why do I bother whispering this to you now that you’re out of the game? Because you’ll be back. Of that, I have no doubt. You fit the profile of a returning player too well NOT to come back: You understand the game, you’re handsome and charming, and you’ll probably do better the next time around. See you then, LJ.
3) Kudos to the editors and producers for creating uncertainty…
… because it should have been obvious that LJ was going home.
** He was giving a lot of confessionals.
** He said he felt comfortable for the first time since the game started.
** The first two thirds of the episode fell into the predictable “It will be one of these two” format, and it was pretty clear that Tony wasn’t going anywhere.
And yet, because this season has been full of unpredictable blindsides – due in part to the exceptional editing keeping us guessing – I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is Jeremiah going home?” (And if he had, would this have been the quietest boot episode in history?)
Anyway, the Survivor team’s season-long ability to zig where we expect them to zag – up to and including making us wonder if LJ, the incredibly obvious boot given what we had been shown, was going home – has made Cagayan a season for the ages, and for that, I thank them.
4) I’m long overdue to write about Tony, so here it goes:
** If Sandra Diaz-Twine and Russell Hantz had a kid, that kid would be Tony.
** To explain: Tony is clearly playing an “anybody but me” strategy – but a hyper-aggressive version of it, which involves turning other people into targets via lies, manipulation, and hyperactive relentlessness.
** Another Russell trait that Tony shares: Freaking out over getting votes (even when those votes are from a minority alliance that had to vote for SOMEONE). This sort of reaction is all about intimidation: “Don’t do it again,” is what Tony is saying. This might be calculated, but more likely, it’s just how he reacts under stress (of course the reason he responds this way is because it’s proven effective in the past; often, people WON’T do it again because they don’t want to be in the crosshairs).
** It’s an interesting psychological phenomenon among the pathologically competitive: turning everyone into enemies. Jordan did it in basketball. It’s what links Boston Rob and Russell (they don’t have much else in common). And now, it’s Tony’s terrain. Since the start of the game, he’s turned Cliff, Lindsey, Sarah, and now LJ into players who HAD to be eliminated. Eventually, he will run out of believable targets – how is he going to turn Jefra, Jeremiah, or Kass into antagonists? – which is just one reason why a flip at F9 was too soon (more on this in a moment).
** Remember when Boston Rob tossed a hidden immunity idol clue into a volcano (or steam vents or whatever they were) while smiling and saying that no one person should have this much power in the game? It took Rob FOUR tries to realize that one can easily go on an ego trip when you have a hammerlock on the game. Tony is falling into this trap right now: One should never say to the minority alliance, “You should have come to me.” Comments like that hurt in two ways: one, it can get everyone to rally against you, because you’re getting too powerful; and two, these are members of the jury, and no one likes to feel like they have to worship at your altar.
** Tony was wise to flip with another person (as compared to the solo flight that Kass went on); misery and mayhem love company. Woo is such a pliable pawn… but the game doesn’t have many players like that left. Tony is going to find it really hard to make any more moves like this one, which is why the blindside of LJ was premature (again, more on this in a moment; I’ve got a list of notes I’m writing off of, and I’m going from the first to the last, because I’m rambling and there’s no one here to stop me).
** Tony is a lot like Vic Mackey from The Shield, and not just because they’re both bald cops. They’re both sharks. They need to keep moving, keep feeding, keep attacking, or they’ll sink and starve and succumb to the pressures of the deep.
5) As much as Tony enjoyed working over Spencer and Jeremiah on the spa reward…
… he should have been far more concerned about what the six players back at camp were talking about (even if they don’t conspire against you, they’re definitely comparing notes, and that’s the sort of conversation that can lead to revelation and could cause him trouble down the road a piece). There was no way to know for sure that only three players were going on the reward – I, for one, was half-expecting Probst to say, “Now pick another team to go with you, because America doesn’t want to watch three men taking showers and getting massages” – but as a general rule, you want to stay with the larger number of castaways, so that you can monitor the majority. Add in the jealousy that comes with being pampered while the other players continue to suffer and all things considered, it’s a lot better to lose here than to win.
** Speaking of the reward, the way Tony spoke with Spencer and Jeremiah reinforces what I was saying about ego and hubris: even when you have all of the power, you can’t act like you do. Spencer and Jeremiah will rightfully resent Tony once they return to camp; no one wants to be told he’s a pawn or made to feel like one. Jury management is clearly not Tony’s strong suit.
** You never, ever, ever want to be someone that other players feel they need “to handle.” Eventually, handling becomes exhausting, and either they stop handling you and vote you out or they resent how much they had to do for you when they’re asking you jury questions that they have a hard time rewarding you with the million dollars because they feel, collectively, that they had to carry you to the end by talking you down and managing your paranoia. I understand that Tony’s paranoia is a product of the same ceaseless strategic gear-turning that makes him such a compelling player, but to be truly great at this game, you have to have the self-awareness to realize that the other players are growing tired of telling you that there aren’t any monsters under your bed or in the closet or lurking in the jungle and just cut it out.
6) At the start of the season, I called dibs on a nickname for Tony: “Kojackass.”
I realize at this point in the season that I am not going to have a use for the name; Tony is far too good at the game to deserve that sort of dismissive moniker. Instead, I will repurpose the nickname and say that the flip to take out LJ was a Kojackass move: It was too soon, an F7 move at F9, and it will doom him. (Know what I just realized that makes this nickname even more apropos and awesome? It has “Kass” in it.)
** If Tony had stuck with his six and taken out Jeremiah and then Tasha, he hits F7 with his final three – Tony, Trish, and Woo – and can easily convince everyone at that point that LJ is the biggest threat left in the game. Once he’s out, the worst case scenario that exists for your Final 3 is that Kass, Jefra, and Spencer are willing to draw rocks at F6. There’s no way that happens; Kass would allow either Spencer or Jefra to go home, and then plan on flipping the game in her favor at F5.
** I’m aware that the previous paragraph is utter and complete fan fiction, but my point is this: Tony has fragmented the eight people remaining in the game, and he has no way to control the various factions now in play. All we can safely assume right now is this:
There are ENDLESS configurations for these puzzle pieces, which is good news for the scramblers and the assemblers – consensus builders like Tasha, for example – but bad news for control freaks like Tony.
By taking out LJ, Tony made a massive mess; had he been able to simply stay the course, he would have arrived at F5 without much worry. (He’d have trouble at that point in the game regardless of what he did at F9 and F7; he’s got a strong argument to make to the jury, which means the others would be best served by a late-game betrayal.)
** What’s fascinating is that Tony KNOWS that he’ll be in trouble after stirring things up; he simply CAN’T help himself. It’s an interesting combination, being self-aware but lacking self-control. It makes him a compelling character – and a strong player – but like all protagonists (and antagonists for that matter), Tony has an Achilles heel: he has yet to display the understanding that sometimes the best move is no move at all.
** Clearly, Tony is trying to create as many endgame connections/deals/promises as possible… no doubt he feels he can repair any damage to his Trish/Woo/Tony F3… and now he feels that Spencer and Jeremiah are indebted to him (and by proxy, Tasha)… he’s probably convinced himself that Kass owes him, too… the only one he can’t count on, at least in his own mind, is Jefra. In theory, becoming part of everyone’s Final 3 plans is ideal Survivor strategy… the problem is that the sharper players (and by that I mean Spencer – probably Trish, Tasha, and Kass, too) can see through what Tony is doing.
** OH! Before I forget: Tony must be REALLY good at reassuring people. He is forever giving people reasons to distrust him, but somehow, he talks them out of it. Would be really interesting to talk with him in person and see just what it is about him that makes this possible.
** By the by, please don’t get me wrong – I both enjoy and respect the game Tony is playing this season. While I’ve just spent a bunch of time questioning many of his moves, overall he’s impressed me since the start of the season (especially in light of my pre-season prediction that he’d be the first Brawn gone). I’m not only the guy who created the #TeamTV hashtag, I’m also a card-carrying member. (Sadly, though, I think he’s likely to suffer the same fate as Russell; now that everyone knows his game, no one is going to trust him. Fingers crossed he can switch it up better than Russell should he play again.)
7) Trish’s edit is getting MUCH, MUCH better.
The question at the heart of it all: Is hers a redemption story, one that ends with an improbable victory, or are we meant to pair the positives of the past two episodes with the ugly pre-merge edit and understand on Finale Night how she got to the end, but didn’t win?
At this point, I’m entirely uncertain. If I had to wager, I’d say she makes it to the Final 3, but loses to a more complete player (this is based in part on how eliminated players have said how surprised and impressed they are by how hard Trish is playing; that indicates that they didn’t see it when they were out there with her). But crazier things have happened…
Anyway, back to Trish and her game… here’s what I liked:
** Her ability to articulate that Survivor is a game of patience. Of course, her style of Under the Radar gameplay is built on a foundation of wait and see, wait and watch, wait and wonder, wait wait wait. It’s particularly interesting in light of the aggressive damn the torpedoes approach of her alliance-mates, Tony and Kass; we keep assuming that the former is doomed and the latter is a dead woman walking, and that the meek (or the geek) shall inherit the earth. And yet, LJ, too, was a preacher of patience, and that got him gunned down this week. So is it only women – in particular, “older” women – who can follow this path all the way to the endgame?
** She immediately understood that Tony was wrong about Woo and was highly dubious of the whole “LJ is turning on us” business.
** She’s also seen as someone who can “put out Tony’s fire,” which indicates a strong social game and the respect of her peers.
** She was mentioned in not one but TWO Final Threes: Trish/Jefra/LJ and Trish/Tony/Woo. With only eight players left in the game, the odds are extremely high that Trish makes it to the Final Tribal Council (or gets really, really close; I don’t see many scenarios which send her packing before F5; that said, the TP Idol is still out there, and all bets are off until we know who finds it).
What I don’t like:
** She couldn’t see the Woo/idol/LJ turning on the alliance for the pack of lies that it was; she should have been able to see through Tony’s non-answer of her question about why LJ came to her with Tony’s concerns before Tony did (Tony hesitated when Trish asked – he didn’t have a cover story ready – and then muttered, “I’m telling you, he’s sneaky!”)…
** For all of the talk of being able to put out Tony’s fire, she was unable to at a key moment in the game. If she can’t do it now, why should anyone believe she’ll be able to do it in the days ahead, when the stress of the game increases exponentially?
** She was so bad at the memory challenge that I immediately wondered if she threw it… and I bet a few of the other players considered that possibility, too. It would fit in with her overall passive gameplay (including initially not joining the #MadTreasureHunt last week).
8) Another macro-trend analysis we need to do: post-merge immunity challenges and what sort of player(s) they favor.
With each passing week, we get more evidence that alpha males should no longer be targeted after the merge just because of potential challenge dominance. Up to this point, the Cagayan individual immunity challenges have been:
** Balancing atop a floating pyramid
** Standing with a block on your head
** Colored blocks memory challenge
Only the first of the three could be said to favor pure physicality, but in challenges like that, the wiry strength of men like Woo easily out-endures the power of a Jeremiah/Tony (and women can win this challenge; Andrea Boehlke emerged victorious in the previous incarnation that appeared in Survivor: Caramoan).
It’s not going to get any better this week, either; the press photos reveal that players will be balancing a ball on a board while they stand on an elevated platform (that grows smaller in stages).
Bottom line: If you’re worried about someone going on a post-merge immunity run, then you have to forget about the alpha males and take out the strong women and wiry men.
9) Why didn’t we see Tony and Spencer searching for a clue to the hidden immunity idol while they were on their spa reward?
I don’t believe for a second that they didn’t look. And it would have been fun to see the cat-and-mouse games they’d each be playing to avoid the other noticing. There HAD to be a clue there, right? Probably to the TP Idol, no less. Tony wants it; Spencer needs it. And Jeremiah really could use a clue just so that he can say that he has one. WHY DIDN’T WE GET TO SEE ANY OF THIS? (And if there WASN’T a clue there for the finding, for SHAME, producers!)
And since we’re talking about the TP Idol, there’s no way it remains unfound, is there? I mean, otherwise, why tell us about it at all? They could edit together the season without a single mention of it… so it HAS to be found.
10) Probst Probe: I still can’t quite figure out why Probst wasn’t higher on Cagayan during his early season interviews.
More than a few people have suggested that Probst has been gun-shy since the Brandon Hantz backlash last spring (when he praised the meltdown as “historic”), and while there’s some merit to that argument, it doesn’t ring true to me.
To me, it comes down to one of two things:
That’s significantly less scintillating than Tony, LJ, Spencer, Trish, and Tasha, wouldn’t you say?
And THIS, more than anything, is why the hyper-aggressive post-merge gameplay this season – while EXTREMELY entertaining – was unutterably unwise: It was going to give the floaters and yes-men and goats (oh my) an opportunity to take out the players who shaped most of the season’s strategy.
Here’s hoping that Probst has just been sandbagging us this whole time and that Cagayan has a killer ending.
11) Fortunes Rising: Tasha.
All three jury members like her (even if she was #StoodUp by LJ), Spencer is perceived as the more dangerous Brain, Tony has now turned himself into a massive target, pretty soon the three Brawns will have to be broken up… and there, watching it all with a radiant smile on her face, will be Tasha, who could easily end up in the Final 3 at this point.
12) Fortunes Falling: Woo.
It’s forever one step forward, two steps back with this guy. Last week, he’s the only one who figured out that Spencer must have found a clue and was out idol hunting. This week, he buys Tony’s story about LJ, doesn’t bother to check it out with Trish (or LJ for that matter), and then flips with Tony when a move like that doesn’t really benefit him (Tony will get credit for it).
There’s a chance that Woo will take another step forward this week when he realizes that LJ didn’t vote for him; he should be able to figure out that Tony was lying to him (and to Trish), but I don’t have any faith that he’ll do anything about it, even if he understands that he’s been used. Wherever Tony goes, Woo will follow. And I’m guessing both of them will be headed to Ponderosa before we get to Final 5.
13) Prediction Time: The preview shows Tony at his Russell Diaz-Twine best…
… spying on Jefra talking with Trish about Tony. (He’s bound to be paranoid about her, because as I wrote above, she’s the one person he feels owes him nothing and has a reason to hold a grudge. Once she says his name while he’s spying on her, he’s going to go into paranoia overdrive…)
Here’s what happens next: Tony starts telling the other players that Jefra has to go because she’s too sweet and kind and nice and she’ll win if she gets to the end and she doesn’t have an idol and she’s more dangerous that anyone thinks and hey Spencer, you saw Samoa, didn’t you, the sweet and kind and nice blonde girl won that season and doesn’t Jefra remind you of her?
And that’s why Tony – the closest thing we’ll ever get to a kind-hearted Hantz – will turn everyone on Jefra: because he’s desperately afraid that she’ll be this season’s Natalie White.
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