In my preseason exploration of S2C, I wrote the following:
So often in this column, I’m trying to read between the lines, filling in the massive gaps that exist within, around, and amidst the 42 minutes of footage we get, and too often, I find myself making negative assumptions. This says a lot about me and my jaded skepticism, but I think it’s also largely (although not entirely) supported by the caliber of so many modern castaways. But I can kick all of that to the curb this fall and become – believe it or not! – a Survivor optimist: the gaps can and will be filled with assumptions of skill and strategy and the game being played at a level reserved for the strongest of casts.
A lot happened during last Wednesday’s double episode that requires of a ton of reading between the lines, and, as promised, I’m going to do so while peering through a positive lens. I’ll do all I can to give the best possible spin to the players, their choices, and what they’re doing as the endgame approaches. Except Abi, of course; she remains awful (although I’ll try, I really will).
Time to give these players the benefit of the doubt.
In danger since the merge (but not really before it), Ciera played what I would argue was the only game that was available to her (thanks to how the other players penned her in and how she responded to that maneuvering): Turn other people into targets and hope that the post-merge power players would use the Coven’s three votes to serve their own ends… at least until Ciera could reestablish herself in a position where she could call the shots. And it was working until Jeremy blindsided everyone by playing an idol…
Where Ciera went wrong (and why she was targeted over Kelley) was conveying her palpable desire for any move to be HER move; Tasha and Spencer were right when they talked about Ciera trying to build her endgame resume. Ciera needed to defer, at least temporarily, to the plans of others, to offer her vote to those who needed it to pull off a Big Move™. Given the Survivor persona that Ciera had shaped for herself – an aggressive, self-interested strategist – I don’t know that the other players would have trusted that approach from her, but she at least needed to try.
And yet, had Jeremy kept his idol in his pocket, Ciera would likely still be in the game, and, with only eight people left, be in a position to leverage the Coven’s three votes into an endgame alliance. Let’s look at that for a moment: At the merge, Ciera was in a no-win position… and yet at Final 9, she got extremely close to putting herself into a spot where she could win. That, my friends, is a good game.
Bonus Thought: Ciera accomplished what she set out to do – shape her own destiny within the game – and she can tell herself, honestly, that only Jeremy’s shocking move could have derailed her. Cold comfort, perhaps, but how you leave the game has a massive impact on how you feel about it years later, and she can feel good about herself and her approach to her second chance. The same can’t be said for a lot of people who get to play.
There’s so much to say… gonna have to bullet-point it all:
Bonus thought: Stephen shouldn’t have won the reward challenge. Giving him the benefit of the doubt is hard on this one; he had his reasons, but I just don’t think they were strong enough to justify his choices (which is a results-oriented way of looking at it, which is patently unfair, but I would argue that he could and should have foreseen the results). Yes, they’ve been suffering, but the shelter just got fixed. Yes, he wanted to repair his relationship with Tasha, but he could do that back at camp. Bottom line: You NEVER want to be the one picking other players; and with a bunch of returnees, most of whom know how to turn players into targets, you don’t even want to get picked to go. The end result of Stephen’s win was a six to three split, with only Kimmi – and ostensibly, Spencer, too, I suppose – back at camp to keep an eye on things. Hardly ideal. There really was no good way to pick which players to take and which ones to leave behind… which is why he shouldn’t have wanted to pick at all.
BT2: LOVED the night challenge. More, please.
BT3: I wonder if Probst warns players not to throw a challenge? Or do savvy vets just know not to incur his wrath? One has to be concerned with bad edits and not being invited to play a third time…
BT4: The sound editors continue to have fun at the players’ expense… when Stephen said (in the first hour), “I’m in a really good position,” and it was accompanied by an augmented thunderclap and a BOOM on the soundtrack, it was pretty clear Stephen wasn’t escaping the evening with his torch still lit.
BT5: And thank you, Stephen, for reminding the other players, and us, how one leaves the game with class and dignity. Well done.
Let’s get right to it: Should he have played his idol to save Stephen (who ended up leaving a few days later anyway)?
Giving Jeremy the benefit of the doubt, I would say that he was considering two primary paths (both of which were predicated on Spencer being loyal; given that Stephen had not yet made his reward challenge misstep, there was no reason to believe Spencer was motivated to flip):
Path #1: He uses the idol
Ciera leaves in 10th place… which leaves Jeremy at F9 with one idol, a five-person majority alliance, and Stephen’s advantage.
Path #2: He doesn’t use the idol
Stephen leaves in 10th place… which leaves Jeremy with two idols and a four-person alliance with nine players left.
There are obviously a number of other factors here:
• Playing the idol is an endgame résumé move, which is double-edged: it could help him win, but it was also really early to paint a bull’s-eye on your chest, especially with smart, laser-focused returnees around.
• That said, Jeremy likely assumes he’s going to be a target no matter what, so why worry about high-profile moves confirming what everyone is already thinking?
• On the one hand, the other players might wonder if he has a second idol (why would an alpha like Jeremy, who will be targeted sooner or later, use an idol to save anyone other than himself?)…
•… on the other hand, having other players worried isn’t a terrible idea; they wouldn’t try to flush the idol by splitting votes as long as Stephen’s advantage is in the game to potentially foul things up. By the time they get around to seeing if Jeremy has another idol, it might be too late.
• By saving Stephen, Jeremy conveyed to his bloc that he’s willing to make himself more vulnerable to keep them intact. This is the true power of the idol play: Players like Kimmi and Tasha will have a much harder time turning on him now. That could earn him a spot in the F3 when the others know they shouldn’t allow him to get there.
• He’s announced, for all to hear, that the advantage is REALLY worth saving. That, too, suggests keeping Stephen is a wise move: Until the advantage is played, Stephen is a target before Jeremy (and from the start his game, Jeremy has been about keeping meat shields around).
Going back to the two paths, it seems to me that playing the idol led Jeremy to believe this hypothetical order of events could happen:
And at F7, he, Tasha, Kimmi, and Spencer take over the game… and should he get the sense that someone might flip at that point, he still has an idol (and a chance at the immunity necklace). There was also the possibility that he would find the replanted idol… and the possibility that Stephen wouldn’t have to use the advantage to take out Joe, so they could keep that bullet in the chamber… and remember, passively sitting on two idols might not impress a jury of returnees.
In the end, there are just too many positives; Jeremy made the right move.
Let’s play out the rest of the game from Spencer’s perspective:
Joe remains a collective target (for a lot of different reasons), so Spencer probably assumes that Wonder Boy goes out at F8 if he loses the immunity challenge. At that point, Spencer would be able to argue that Jeremy needs to go (because he’s been calling the shots and putting together an endgame resume) and that Kimmi would need to follow him (because of her friends on the jury and her family’s need for the money). At F5, he could argue that he’s not a threat: the members of the jury hate him for flipping. He’d also point to Wentworth’s power moves and suggest that she needs to go home. That leaves Spencer and Tasha and two goats… win the F4 challenge, and he’s likely a millionaire.
It’s a plausible scenario… and yet probably doomed because of the two idols still in play. (There’s no way for Spencer to know that, of course.)
Bottom line: Spencer made a great move, and I can’t imagine there are many people out there arguing otherwise.
BT: Clearly, Spencer has some social capital and/or people are listening to him. Lost in the drama of Jeremy’s idol play is the fact that Spencer won the “Ciera or Stephen?” argument. If not for Jeremy’s move, Stephen goes home in 10th place.
BT2: Three thoughts about Spencer and the nighttime reward challenge: First, Spencer is the poster boy for why you don’t win that challenge; he needed as much coddling as Tasha did, but Stephen couldn’t take the two of them and leave Jeremy behind… second, I really hope everyone thought/talked through who they would pick in the event they won a reward challenge (really didn’t feel like they had)… third, Spencer came in a close second, so he doesn’t get a free pass on the whole “what the hell were you thinking” inquisition (unless he got that one question wrong because he didn’t want to win).
Despite Spencer abandoning her voting bloc, I’m guessing that Tasha isn’t all that worried: There are so many threats left in the game that she probably believes she just has to bide her time and then make a move with a couple of goats. For example:
Joe goes out as soon as he doesn’t have the necklace… Kelley and Jeremy need to go because of their endgame resumes… and then at F5, she grabs Abi and Keith, cuts Kimmi and Spencer and takes home the title.
Even when the idols inevitably thwart her plans, Tasha is still in a great spot to get to the end: with eight players left in the game, there are five bigger threats and only two players you’d be more eager to take to the end.
BT: I wonder if Jeremy told Tasha that he kept Stephen so that they could use his advantage, and that as long as Stephen was in the game, they wouldn’t focus on Jeremy and Tasha. (That’s what I would have been tempted to do…)
BT2: Tasha was clearly trying to redefine the game at Tribal, to put the whole voting bloc dynamic to bed and shift focus to trust and traditional alliances. She’s telling the other players – and the jury members – that from this point on, bloc flipping will be seen as betrayal (this is, of course, self-serving rhetoric; she wants to create complacency, which in turn gives her room to maneuver). It’s also interesting that production chose to highlight this moment from a turbulent Tribal; either this is going to be what happened, or these are words that are going to come back to haunt her.
Okay, so THIS is what you get when you keep someone like Abi around. It’s amazing that the other players know she’s a volatile, self-interested player who is nearly impossible to control, and yet they keep taking turns trying to do exactly that. It’s really hard to give these savvy vets the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their collective decision to drag Abi along (although it makes a lot more sense from this point on; there are bigger threats around and she’s the goat-iest of goats). And yet, excellent players like Denise and Malcolm did it in Philippines, and a lot of sharp strategists are doing it again now, so there’s gotta be something to it.
I suppose it has everything to do with how swayable she is: Once a group of players finds themselves in the minority – after a tribe’s first visit to Tribal Council – they identify Abi as the most likely to flip on her alliance. Sow the seeds of distrust and hope that someone makes a misstep, making Abi inclined to hiss, “You are dead to me.” It helps that Abi’s social game is so bad that she isn’t a threat to take the title; most players who are willing to make game-changing moves put themselves in a position to win over the jury, but Abi is that rarest of Survivor players: A goat that flips.
Despite her current status as the player whose game should make her a shoo-in for Final Tribal, I think we’re already seeing signs that her fate will be a carbon copy of her Philippines demise: When, in the presence of others, Joe sneeringly dismisses Abi’s illogical request to let her win the immunity challenge, he reveals that he, and likely the tribe, no longer has any patience for Abi’s attitude. They’ve turned on her. And that will factor, probably heavily, into her departure from the game.
And yet, it isn’t hard to imagine Abi playing a pivotal role when we get to the Final 7: If, as I suspect, Joe goes this week (more on that ahead), you’ve got Jeremy, Tasha, and Kimmi on one side… Kelley, Spencer, and Keith on the other. Kelley is going to think she has Abi, and it really makes no sense for Abi to switch sides yet again, but no one can ever be sure where Abi’s head is at; she might even offer up another, “I’m going to have to make up my mind at Tribal.” She may even think that by shifting from one alliance to another that she’s dictating the game and is putting herself in a position to win…
So here’s a fun What If: What if we’re at Tribal and Abi talks openly about having to choose between Jeremy’s alliance and Kelley’s? And what if both Jeremy and Kelley both realize that they’re getting the opposing alliance’s three votes, and that Abi, still wavering, will break the tie? What if they both then decide to play their idols? Suddenly, you’ve got a situation where all votes are negated (which could be the “it’s never happened before” thing that Savage was referring to), and you’ve got three people who are immune (Jeremy, Kelley, and the player wearing the immunity necklace if it isn’t one of those two). That would leave four of Abi, Spencer, Keith, Kimmi, and Tasha vulnerable… who would you vote out under those circumstances? Perhaps that’s when the Survivor gods decide that Abi’s indecision should be rewarded with a revote boot. That, my friends, would be – to steal a word from Varner – delicious.
BT: In the cause and effect department, I would guess that Abi’s paranoia – and how she behaves when she feels that she’s being targeted – led to her getting the split votes this week, rather than her finding out she was getting votes and THEN getting paranoid.
BT2: If Abi plays again – which she probably will – might I recommend to all future returnees to make her a first boot? If you don’t, at least some of you will regret it.
BT3: Poopy pants? What is she, 12? And the fact that she felt the need to repeat the joke – when the person who heard it tried to pretend it hadn’t been said – is all you need to know about Abi’s social game.
It’s Tuesday morning as I’m writing this… so I’m going to have to power through the rest of these.
All you need to know about the strength of her social game: She SHOULD have been getting the other half of the split votes that didn’t go to Joe, but instead, Abi did.
Keith is loyal to her. Spencer needs her. And she’s got the San Juan del Sur connection with Jeremy.
She played an idol to save herself and she has another in her pocket that no one knows about.
She’s gone from being a primary target of the majority alliance to the architect of a blindside that has put her into a 5-3 majority of her own.
To be sure, she’s had some good fortune: She benefitted from Ciera being the vocally and strategically aggressive member of the Coven. She found an idol clue that could have gone to anybody. And the other players have decided to keep threats around, players who could easily vault over Kelley on the “they gotta go” list.
But she’s made the most of her opportunities thus far… which is why she is one of the two front-runners right now (Jeremy being the other; Spencer is a close third).
The one worry: Abi has left a lot of bodies in her wake… anyone and everyone who tried to manipulate Abi’s vote has paid the price. Will Kelley suffer the same fate? Or will she distinguish herself (as Boston Rob did) as the one player who can control crazy?
The fact that he wasn’t voted out the first time he was vulnerable suggests a lot of things:
I have a feeling that Joe’s reprieve is a temporary one, however, but not for the reasons you might suspect. As mentioned above, I don’t think anyone is worried that Joe would win if he got to the Final 3 simply because he wore the immunity necklace the entire time. The reason a majority of the other players will want Joe out of the game, I would argue, is so that they can get the necklace for themselves:
Other Survivor math: The odds of ANY of these players winning individual immunity are dramatically reduced if Joe is still in the game… and when you add in the fact that Joe winning immunity at F4 could cost someone in a tight-knit F3 a spot in the finals… and then add in that for Jeremy and Kelley, an immunity win now means they can save their idols for later… and then add in that Kelley would maintain a 4-3 edge in numbers Jeremy would be happy to see Joe leave over someone in his own alliance… and then add in that there’s a premium on feeling safe at a time when the anxiety and pressure are at their highest, so wearing that necklace is an emotional break from the game… and then add in the bragging rights of winning a challenge… and then add in that the person who has immunity often wields disproportionate power over who goes home…
Yeah, Joe’s going home soon.
BT: Narratively speaking, the edit let us know, way back in the first 10 minutes of the premiere, that Joe’s story was all about his father getting to experience the game via the family visit, and that’s going to happen this Wednesday. Which means that his story is done. Cue the ominous music…
When you make a selfish choice then tell everyone that you’re doing so because you’re a competitor, but no one bothers to turn you into a target for being willing to have them all suffer, that’s when it should be abundantly clear that no one sees you as a threat, which in turn means that you don’t stand a chance of winning. Yes, Keith gave us a rare confessional in which he talked about winning a million dollars. But he won’t.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, though, I’m sure Keith sees smooth sailing ahead: Traditional Survivor gameplay suggests that Jeremy, Tasha, and Kimmi are the next three boots, and within his own alliance of five, he’s assuming that Joe, Spencer, and Kelley will be gunning for each other, and that everyone wants to take Abi and him to the Final 3. If he can get to the end with Abi and one of Spencer or Kelley, and gets a bitter jury, he could win this thing.
It ain’t gonna play out that way, but I’m sure that at this point, Keith was feeling pretty good. And remember, this is a guy who thought that his game needed only minor tweaking to take down the title. If he wins a challenge or two, he believes he can aw shucks his way to the million.
It’ll be a great moment: The mother of two, who has changed so much since her first time playing, makes it to the loved ones visit…
Only one problem with that: The reminder of family is going to hammer home the point that Kimmi can’t be allowed to get to the F3.
We can question if the outcome of a Survivor season should be based on need, but the reality is this: This is a social game, a human game, and they can vote based on whatever criteria they want to. There’s no escaping it: the money would change Kimmi’s life in profoundly meaningful ways. If she’s up against people like Abi, Joe, or Tasha, all of whom are single and whose desire for the money is more about want than need, she could easily pull in enough votes to win.
Given all of that, I’m predicting that Kimmi is going to take Spencer’s defection pretty hard: I would guess that she was already crafting a rough draft of her opening statement to the jury, and Spencer just ripped that away from her. And who could blame her for looking ahead? Within her imagined Final 5, she had a tight four (with Spencer on the outside) and an even tighter Final 3 (she, Stephen, and Jeremy have been together the entire game). Why would anyone vote her out when she’s the least threatening member of that alliance? If everything broke right, and the jury wanted to reward her Old School loyalty and help her family, at the very least, she’d leave Cambodia with $100k coming her way.
You know who I think about when I consider all of that? Tasha. Here’s why: We haven’t yet seen Tasha do anything for which she needs forgiveness (something she’s told us repeatedly she will need for how she plays the game). If Tasha engineers a blindside of Kimmi – and does so because Kimmi is a single mom who has a son with kidney disease, and is thus too sympathetic to let get to Final Tribal Council – well, THAT would certainly qualify as something that requires forgiveness. Which I doubt she’d get from this jury.
BT: The family visit is going to have a lot of really emotional pieces (I’m making educated guesses about who the partners will be):
Throughout the entire emotional reunion sequence, I’m gonna be all Spencer/Stephen and sob hard and sob ugly. It’s gonna get messy. And I’m gonna love it.
11) Fortunes rising: Jeremy
Seemingly every season, I reach a point where my heart and head split about who will win… and that’s where I find myself now.
My heart says Kelley: I’ve been rooting for her from the start, and I’ve been impressed by her perspective on the game throughout the season… it’s clear that she both loves and respects the Survivor experience, and that’s the sort of player who resonates with me… and she brings so much joy to everything, doesn’t she?
My head, though, says that Jeremy will be crowned on December 16th. Even with an idol, it isn’t going to be easy, and I’m really curious to see how he navigates the dangerous waters ahead. But to me, when I look at the castaways who remain as people rather than players or characters, I sense that Jeremy is entering that rarefied air when players know they should take you out but simply can’t bring themselves to do it. Natalie Anderson… Kim Spradlin… Boston Rob… Earl...
… and now, maybe, Jeremy.
12) Fortunes falling: The Finale
***** Mild TV Schedule Spoiler *****
It looks like the finale is going to start with six players, which suggests a few possibilities:
• The episode on December 9th is a quasi-double-boot episode that ends with a cliffhanger (just before the second boot) that’s resolved within the first few minutes of the finale (meaning it really is a five-person finale).
• There are some unspectacular final boots that aren’t all that dramatic: Abi melting down would grow old… Keith would spit, smile, and shake hands with everyone on his way out… and Kimmi’s exit would be edited to soften the blow (I highly doubt they’d want to showcase players voting out someone who needs the money for her sick son).
• The composition of the Final 3 is such that the winner isn’t in doubt. Jeremy, Abi, and Keith, for example, would be a runaway victory for Abi. Hahahahaha! Just checking to see if you’re still paying attention after 5000 words. You and I both know that all Jeremy would have to do is point at the other two and say, “Really?”
So, which is it? Heck if I know. Unlike some folks, I’m avoiding the spoilers.
13) Prediction time:
If, as I suspect, CBS is using “someone got hit so hard in the head with a falling statue that his body is seizing” as a misdirect, they should be ashamed of themselves.
And we have reason to believe that this is precisely what’s going on: In his interview with Dalton Ross, Probst says, “… we do have a medical situation and it comes as a result of effort. Pushing a body so hard that it just stops.” Doesn’t sound like a skull-crushing immunity challenge mishap, even though that’s the story the promo is pushing. I don’t know about you, but if CBS is trying to entice viewers to watch in the hopes of seeing someone get badly hurt, I find that repugnant.
Anyway, whenever the PR department feels the need to be this misleading, it’s because the episode itself is largely devoid of drama: Viewers will be waiting for the catastrophe to happen (after being caught up in the emotional drama of the loved ones visit) and conveniently not paying attention to the fact that a target has been picked and no amount of scrambling will change that player’s fate. Over the course of 31 seasons, Survivor producers have gotten really good at presenting alternative options, but even they have a hard time creating a decoy boot out of thin air. So they’ll play up the possibility of a medevac; stretch out the “will he or won’t he leave the game?” drama; speed through some confessionals of Spencer, Kelley, Tasha, and Jeremy responding to leading questions like “Why do you think Keith really should be the target tonight?”; truncate Tribal after it becomes clear that Joe has marinated in the moment long enough and is ready to accept his fate; and then set up the drama of the Final 7 in Next Week On… (“In a season defined by big moves and blindsides, the final seven castaways find themselves in a Tribal Council unlike anything they’ve seen before…” ***GASP***)
Logic would dictate that one of the three players Spencer just flipped on – Kimmi, Jeremy, or Tasha – will be going home. The edit doesn’t support that for the latter two, however: Jeremy hasn’t been depicted as the kind of player who goes home with an idol in his pocket and Tasha has to do some unforgivable things before she leaves. Kimmi could be a surprise boot, but that would have to be a blindside, wouldn’t it (when at least Jeremy would be a far more likely target)? And if this were a blindside, CBS would be promoting THAT, not intimating brain injury.
Of the other five players, we can safely rule out Kelley (same reason as Jeremy) and Spencer (he’s been built up too much for an un-promoted departure), and I’m not sure why Keith or Abi would go just yet (and if they did, it would be a surprise, which can be crafted into something dramatic). Only one player left, and he just so happens to be the only predictable target remaining, the guy whose story comes to an end with the family visit.
More than half of these players have a plausible, self-serving reason to vote out Joe, and in the world of Survivor calculus, that means you’re going 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 long-time, but definitely not long-winded, Survivor blogger.
Follow Andy on twitter: @SurvivorGenius