What a week of Survivor. While the people who went home weren’t particularly impactful choices, the dynamics that led to their ousters were definitely impactful, and have left deep rifts and clear new alliances that are bound to send the endgame into a spiral.
I remember the first time I ever intentionally spoiled myself on Survivor. I seem to remember it was a visit to True Dork Times that did it. Rupert had just been voted out, and in those days Survivor aired in New Zealand well after it did in the United States (leading to the unfortunate situation where the news reported Richard and Tina’s wins long before they aired here). I was steaming mad, having been a big Rupert fan and assuming Christa and Sandra would follow him out the door and leave me with no-one to root for. So I was so surprised to see the way the final seven was going to play out – it made no sense at all. That was because it was the first instance of the end game being truly dynamic with so many players willing to make moves. Needless to say, it put me off spoilers.
That’s exactly what I see when I look at these seven – a dynamic group who will be willing to do whatever they need to to get to the end. In this group, a final two would have been amazing – what a shame that we won’t get it (except in the case of a tie, in which case we may get a de facto Final 2 briefly). I rashly stated earlier this week that this may be my favourite final seven ever, and at this point I think that somewhat holds up, although I might not feel that way in a few years time. Looking back, I found others that came close – but Borneo had Sean Kenniff, Cagayan had Jefra, Cambodia had Abi-Maria... Ashley may turn out to be that person when I look back on this season, but for now I have her as someone that could well have won, if she had managed to go to the end with the right people (that door probably closed with this week’s boots).
All of that is to say – it seems like the end game could be very unpredictable, which is great given how often these days it ends at final six. I still see there as being five (or at least four) genuinely viable winners as well. So on that note, here’s whats on the ticket this week:
Ben’s not King Arthur, he is... (a literary allusion)
All season long, Devon has been reminding me of Matthew McConaughey. But when he put on Ben’s hat, it reminded me of a character McConaughey has played recently, and so of one of the great literary rivalries of all time.
I’m thinking of Roland Deschain and the Man in Black, of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I don’t want to go too deeply into it, but for those who haven’t read the series, essentially Roland was on a mission to save the world – one that would cost him everything, but ultimately (probably) be successful. The man in black was his chief antagonist, a man of true evil, who followed Roland and put obstacles in his path at every turn, on a quest to become a god.
The moment in which Devon put on Ben’s hat suggested to me a showdown – one in which Ben is on the side of good and Devon is the obstacle in his path.
Ultimately I believe it is foreshadowing Ben overcoming Devon in the end. Whether he takes his shot this week, or whether it is at FTC, it feels to me like one of the major stories left to go in this season is Devon’s defeat at Ben’s hands.
A power three? (Should Lauren, Devon and Ashley run the game?)
We saw some decent moves from the trio this week. Great moves? Maybe not. But they’ve left themselves in a position where they ought to run the game from here. Let’s grade the moves.
First, we saw Lauren win reward and pull together a four that she wanted to work with. She’s done well enough at hiding that she is strategic that Ryan was able to rationalise her picks (but she’d have to sell the strategic choice later). Nothing wrong with this. A+ This was, for me, the high point of the moves made by this alliance.
Next Devon came up with a plan for Ben to play double agent. This was fun TV but it didn’t achieve anything much positive at all. Ryan and Chrissy were still in the minority even with Ben apparently on their side, so they still scrambled. The fact that their target ended up being Ashley was entirely irrelevant. From Devon’s perspective, all that was achieved was a risk that Ben was able to openly play both sides and might have told Ryan to play his idol for Joe (or, unknown to Devon, played his own idol for Joe). I’d give this a C; much more fun that practical. From Ben’s perspective, it led the other three in his alliance to realise how good an actor he was and so how easily he could lie to them. Perhaps as bad as a D from Ben, then, as there is no worse move than simultaneously showing a group of people how well you can lie while voting out the other group.
Then the power three brought in Joe and Mike but didn’t tell them that Ben was actually with them. In the short term, perhaps they were worried that Joe and Mike would be less likely to go with a six than they would with a five, but in reality Mike’s failed relationship with Ryan and Joe’s conflict with Chrissy suggests that was never really on the cards. Instead, Mike was betrayed by the Joe vote, and now he has motivation to work against the three – a B, because getting Joe and Mike on board at that point was great, but the execution was lacking.
Then there was the choice of targets – baffling. Ryan should have gone first (or Chrissy), and Ben should have followed him out the door. JP wasn’t a threat to win, and decoupled from Chrissy likely would have fallen back to Ashley and whoever Ashley wanted to work with. He would have been an ideal F3 partner. Joe probably had a limited amount of win equity, and he was chaotic which made him a danger to some extent, but by no means as big a danger as Ben – even without knowing Ben had an idol in his pocket, they had a clean shot at the biggest threat on the board and didn’t take it. Grade – F.
And now we are at a point where this group ought to be able to control the game. If Lauren used her extra vote this week they’d be no worse off than a 4-4 tie, and should be able to use it to keep Ben or Mike on their side. If they had been able to keep Ben or Mike on their side, they’d be able to save the vote for Fnal 6 and take full control as a three. Instead, Mike could well revert to Chrissy and Ryan this week and Ben could see their betrayal coming (as it looks like he does). In addition, they’ve inadvertently left Ben’s idol in the game, and with yet another idol in play this week (really production?? Why do we need two idols at final seven???), the power three are in trouble.
All of which is lucky for us, the viewer, because a power three dominating the game from here would be boring – but I believe what we are going to get will be far more exciting.
Ranking the final seven (Ben is.... wrong again!)
So here we go again – trying to make sense of a chaotic season and an edit that has been willing to actively mislead. (Which I love – I’m back to praising the edit again!) Here is my attempt to make sense of where things stand at this point.
Three of these people have to make the end – that means there is only four people left to be eliminated, and more than four threats on the board. It would be easy for the players out there to make mistakes at this point and take out people that don’t further their own chances of winning, just because everyone looks like a threat. This only makes for a more exciting finish.
In San Juan Del Sur, I looked at the cast list and Jeremy Collins stood out as the obviously best player on the cast. He was everything a Survivor winner should be, and so I made him my winner pick. Naturally, the rest of the cast saw it too and took him out early.
This season, I toyed with making Ben my winner pick for a very long time in the draft. I really wanted Ben to be on Team Ben. But the Jeremy Collins factor rang in the back of my mind. Ben seemed like obviously the best guy on this cast – and so, the guy that everyone would know they had to make sure got nowhere near the end. That Ben is likely to be the swing vote at Final 7 with an idol still in his pocket is insane – but it also puts him in an extremely powerful position.
Back in week two I predicted Ben and Chrissy would go to the end together, and I doubled down on that a couple of weeks back. Then, I got diverted by an edit trick – which I thought was foreshadowing that Joe would join with some of the seven to take Ben out. Instead, he took out JP and then he was gone. With that little diversion out of the way, I’m back to believing in Ben and Chrissy going to the end together – but now I struggle to see how Ben could lose in that scenario.
I could also see the season ending with Ben/Devon at final tribal council – another situation in which I think the story is one of Ben prevailing.
Ben has to be the odds on favourite to win at this point. He has the story, he has the edit, he has the power. It’s going to take an epic blindside to stop him.
I have trouble deciding the order of the second and third players, but in the end I’ve settled on Lauren. If either Devon or Ashley win immunity this week, it feels like the other will be targeted, leaving Lauren alone and still somehow under the radar. Lauren will have a great story to tell at the end especially if she uses her vote correctly.
Lauren has a great story, and somehow everyone likes her. Fans like her, casual viewers like her – and my sense is that everyone inside the game likes her as well. There is a question about whether people will perceive her to have played the game well, but on balance I think they will. All of that is good for Lauren’s chances. If I had to put money on one person to make the finale from here, it’s Lauren – and from there she only needs to get through a couple of eliminations and not face up against Ben, and she probably wins.
Chrissy was out of the loop badly on both of this week’s votes, and was at times shown as cocky in her own assessment of where he game was at, and eliminating more people from those who. That was really bad for Chrissy’s chances of winning the game, and so for the first time I’m not feeling entirely confident in the horse I’ve been backing since the beginning of the season.
However, there were still some good signs that Chrissy is going to make the end. Chrissy had a lot of emotional content in this episode, and in particular she had the moment where she broke down before winning immunity. Here is part of her confessional:
“This has been my dream for 16 years, and what I do as an actuary is come up with all of the possible outcomes, so I will always keep thinking of different combinations and different ways that I can get myself back on top. I hope I can have the last laugh.”
This confessional is about Chrissy rising off the bottom. We saw that briefly with her immunity win probably extending her stay, but I think it’s also a sign that it lasts longer. Also look at this coming week’s episode title, “Not Going to Roll Over and Die”, which also sounds on the face of it like a quote from Chrissy that is about her continued survival. As I noted above, this week includes yet another immunity idol being added in to the mix – and my guess is that Chrissy is going to be the one who finds it.
Logic suggests that Chrissy would have difficulty beating Ben, but it’s harder to map where she sits against others. If she was up against, say, a Lauren and Devon who had blindsided Ben, could she have the votes of Ben, Ryan and JP? Could she eke out one more – say, Cole? Four would be enough provided both Lauren and Devon got one. It’s not difficult to see a scenario where Chrissy could fight her way back from the bottom and this could be a significant part of her story. For me, all of the content needed in a winners edit is still there. But she’s walking much more of a tightrope at this stage.
I never quite got all of the Devon hype, and while I still think he has a chance to win, I don’t really see his chances as being that high. At this point, Devon is my first pick for who goes home this week, and my guess is that he’ll be a target all the way from here until the end. He might need to go on an immunity run to bring it home.
No doubt, though, Devon is likable and so he has a decent shot at the end – provided he gets rid of Ben.
Ryan has all of the downsides of Chrissy’s week – being out of the loop twice – but without the upsides. Ryan could still win if he makes it to the end, but I just don’t think his story supports it. He’d be my second pick for who goes home this week, and my top pick for someone who doesn’t make the finale at all.
Ryan’s very archetype was always going to make him appear a threat at this end of the season – no matter how much of a threat he actually is. He probably is a threat to win, but on the whole I think there are a few people who could safely take him to the end. My bet is, though, that everyone will agree that they don’t want to (bar Chrissy), and that they’ll take him out in another situation where Ben or Devon should have been their pick.
Mike already has two votes locked on the jury, and while his relationship with Cole isn’t clear you’d still think he’d get Cole’s vote as well. In theory, that doesn’t leave him in a bad position if he gets to the end. In practice, I’m ruling Mike out at this point, because he just doesn’t feel like ‘the winner’ – but it would certainly be a fun ride to the end if he somehow pulled it off.
For someone running in 7th place, Ashley has sure had plenty of strategic content in the season. Despite this, it’s hard to see where her votes are coming from at this point. She needed people like Joe and JP to hang around and people like Ben and Ryan to leave. There’s an outside chance Ashley leaves this week if Devon wins immunity (although it would continue the strange run of taking out the weakest people on the board).
Minor spoilers ahead (preseason talk and twists)
So, stop reading here if you want to know nothing more about how the end of the game plays out – because here be preseason ‘spoilers’ of sorts. And yes, they’ve influenced my view of how the game will ultimately play out.
Still reading? OK, well here’s some final things I’m taking into account.
First, here’s what Jeff Probst had to say about the end of the season to Dalton Ross in his “Five Reasons to watch the season” video:
“The last third of the season is… [claps]. You cannot predict what is going to happen, you won’t want to miss it, and you’re going to love the thrill of the drama. And one of the best finishes, one of my favourite final tribals, new format, a hearty discussion, and who knows, minds may be changed on the jury.”
As much as last season’s reunion, it’s this quote that I think gives rise to the ‘tie truthers.’ A tie certainly would be one of Jeff’s favourite final tribals, but that isn’t necessarily what Jeff is implying. It could be three people who all get votes and have win equity. The biggest thing for me, though, is that ‘minds may be changed on the jury’. That suggests that the makeup of the final three is one where no-one is a massive obvious frontrunner to win, and where there are people with competing compelling stories and arguments. It also suggests that someone who isn’t quite so well liked within the game might be able to convince the jury that they deserve to win anyway. Sound like anyone?
Yes, I’m still sticking to my Chrissy guns. While I can’t justify having her at the top of my power rankings, I’ve always felt like Jeff is alluding to someone who has the power of persuasion and is able to lay out a great case at Final Tribal to people who might not otherwise had voted for them. For a long time I had felt like this was Chrissy turning over the ‘older women mother figure’ archetype, where the jury would come in bitter towards her and then realise she played a good game through discussion. But having seen the season play out, that’s definitely not it – but it still fits very well with a narrative of people who didn’t really connect with her inside the game and don’t appear to have huge respect for her.
There’s definitely others this idea could apply to – Lauren, Devon and Mike all seem like people who might have to change minds on the jury to win. But for now, I continue to believe in a Chrissy win – and I’ll probably believe all the way through to her ending up being a zero vote finalist! Sorry if I jinxed you, Chrissy.
Then there is another matter - courtesy of Martin Holmes of Inside Survivor – which is a change to how final four will play out. At final four, the winner of immunity will get to give immunity to another player, and both of them will advance to FTC. Then, the remaining two players will undergo a fire making challenge to fill the final spot.
As this twist hasn’t been mentioned on the season at this point, I have to assume that the players themselves don’t know. This means that they are planning on having four more opportunities to eliminate people, when in practice they probably only have three. This makes it that much more likely that someone makes it to the end when players intended to vote them out at 4 – perhaps someone like Lauren or Mike? This has huge potential to wreck games on the spot.
I don’t much like this twist – if the players knew about it, what it would effectively mean is that the game could be over at Final 7 (lock down a final four alliance, and you’re done). It seems like it’s designed to rectify the issues with a lack of gameplay from final six on that have occurred as a result of a final three, but I fear that this will only push the lack of gameplay further out once players know about it. If Survivor really wants to bring back strategy that lasts all the way through to the final vote out, then there’s only one way to do it – bring back the final two.
Alright, that does it for this week. As always, please comment or send tweets at me, telling me how daft I am for still backing Chrissy after she had such a bad time this week. You’re right, I’m nuts. And not in the Dr Mike sense.
Catch you all next week.
By day, Ben Martell is a public commercial lawyer from New Zealand.
By night, he moonlights as a self-described Survivor 'expert'.
By day or night, find him on twitter at: @golden8284