There are fundamental facets of human nature which allow relationships to thrive: trust, love, faith. The best Survivor players are able to inspire, and share, all of them. They are the invisible forces that shape alliances, the magnetic fields that attract and repel. Without them, we fall apart. With them, anything is possible. And when they are tested — and we discover that they are real and not convenient fictions — the relief and joy is both palpable and profound.
The hunger for faith becomes deep and unrelenting as the Survivor endgame approaches. Yes, relationships have been tested before the merge. But with the conclusion of the game in sight, players wonder and worry. Are their connections real? I trust my partner, my alliance. We have shared all of our stories. Stuck together when things were hard. What we have is akin to love. And yet, do I have faith that they want to help me? Do they want to see me succeed? If they cannot win, would they want me to? Will they make decisions that are not in their immediate self-interest, accepting my faults (one of which may be that I can beat them at Final Tribal Council) just as I accept theirs?
Faith. It’s hard to sustain in life. And in a game of Survivor, the paranoia is real. In an All Winners season, the amount of doubt must trigger the thunder of anxiety throughout every waking hour. Late at night, when dawn seems a million miles away, it is faith, and only faith, that will sustain you.
So who left in the game has faith? In whom — or what — do they have faith? And will that faith be rewarded?
1) Sophie and Sarah and Kim
There was a small — and yet massive — moment in the middle of the immunity challenge: Sophie tells Sarah “good job,” and Sarah in turn says the same to Kim (and the edit emphasized that Nick noticed the exchange). My conclusion: these three have faith in each other (but that Nick might disrupt that unity at some point). The edit until now has hidden just how close they are. But that relationship is going to get some focus soon, perhaps this week. Will they make a shared move with their two idols and vote steal?
Speaking of that, don’t we HAVE to be heading into an idol and advantage-heavy Tribal? Jeremy’s Peace Out Power expires this week. And given the moving parts within the 10 remaining players, wouldn’t Jeremy leaving Tribal trigger idol plays?
Here’s what I think: If we DON’T get a crazy Tribal, then there is an iron-clad alliance that they’re not showing us. And Sophie, Sarah, and Kim would be at the heart of it.
... has way too much faith in herself. Her motivation behind giving the Chinese food reward to Nick is utterly immaterial. What matters is what other players think about it. If they see the move as self-serving — or simply decide to weaponize it that way (and winners always will) — then that’s the perception that becomes truth. Sarah, of course, knows that this is what’s going to happen. But she decided that she could spin her sacrifice. One could even hypothesize that she thought she could convince production that this was a useful storyline (I guess that’s what I just did). But that faith — that she could make moves and control the outcome — feels misplaced. This was a move doomed to backfire.
(BTW, if you doubt that production pushes narratives, listen to Andrea on RHAP this past week.)
3) Sarah and Tony
The ripple effect of Sarah’s move is that it undermines her relationship with everyone she didn’t tell (Tony, certainly). One of the facets of faith is that you trust you won’t get blindsided by lies of omission. The moment Sarah gave away her reward, Tony’s faith in her was shattered. Oh, sure, he’ll keep working with her — and she may end up getting Cagayan revenge (given that the title of this week’s episode is “The Full Circle,” Sarah may turn on Tony tomorrow night) — but the damage has been done. Everyone has been reminded who Sarah really is: a ruthless player who is out for herself. Her charisma won’t matter at some point down the road, because sooner rather than later, the other players will look within themselves and realize their faith in Sarah is far less than they have for other players in part because of the decision to let Nick eat.
Another telling truth revealed in the immunity challenge: Kim has a lot of faith in herself (and hers is warranted). Her ability to talk herself through difficulty — whether it’s being in trouble early in the game or struggling to balance on a floating pyramid — is remarkable. When a lot of players around her seem to have forgotten their Survivor strengths and weaknesses, Kim is finding her footing by staying focused and remembering how the great ones endure to Day 39.
5) Jeremy and Michele and Denise and Wendell and...
There’s a reason why one of the traditional marriage vows is to be faithful as long as you both shall live. We want to know that our partner is there for us, first and foremost. If anyone else appears to be getting close to the one we love, our faith is shaken.
At the start of the game, Jeremy worked with Michele. After the swap, Denise. And now that we’re at the merge, Jeremy wanted to work with Wendell, and then, when that fell apart, we see him kicking back on the bench as an endless stream of players run their ideas past him.
He can’t be faithful to all of them, which means that in the hearts of the other players, he isn’t faithful to any of them.
As opposed to Jeremy’s strategic polyamory, Denise is a serial monogamist ... and she is forthright about her willingness to bail on a bad marriage. That certainly helps her in this phase of the game, but as they get closer to the end, she will need to be aligned with players who are willing to work with her all the way to the end, despite her resume-defining move against Sandra. But no one will have that level of faith in her, because only someone who has been committed to her long-term would be willing to make that leap.
7) Ben and Adam
When Ben asked Adam about bringing up Sarah’s name, Adam forgot one of the central truths about faith: when they’re confronting you, they almost always know the truth (because otherwise they risk hurting the person that they’re counting on). He needed to tell Ben that yes, he mentioned the Sarah-Ben connection. Ben needed that level of truth in this moment. Wrap it up in lies if you must — say Tyson or Nick said Sarah first — but let Ben see that you weren’t trying to hurt him, only protect yourself. Faith can feel truth, and when Ben didn’t get that, his faith in Adam ended.
8) Danni and Parvati
Danni could have had the 50/50 idol — and thus the Fire Tokens — all to herself. (Although it is unclear if she would have known how much to charge.) Instead, she had too much faith in Parvati, who in turn had too much faith in their group of six (although here, too, matters are unclear: did she share because she was busted with the idol in her hand, because she didn’t want to face the backlash of being discovered, or because they’re truly operating as an alliance?). Bottom line: the Edge players are fighting for one spot and one shot. Anyone who got voted out really should have no faith in anyone, and in Danni’s case, she should have known better than to have faith in someone who was instrumental in her ouster.
Ben appears to have decided he has more faith in Sarah (and Sophie) than Adam, which makes sense, given that Adam failed the test of truth. But still — Sarah? Do you watch the show, Ben? She’s not loyal, man. Never will be. Still, what I was struck by in this episode — specifically, Tribal Council — is Ben’s faith in his position in the game. He clearly feels way too safe right now. How else can he ignore all of the whispering and get into an extended verbal spat with Adam? That’s a sure sign that he knows he’s not going anywhere ... and the other players should take note. Could be a great time to blindside Ben.
10) Nick and Michele
They have a strong type of mutual faith, one borne of hardship: they’re on the outside looking in and they know they need each other. Michele talked Nick down from the ledge (with an assist from Tony) because their games are linked, at least for now. There’s a chance that Nick could become too high maintenance, though; the dude throws more hissy fits per season than pretty much any winner ever. But credit where the edit put it: Nick managed to turn the power players against one another. He and Michele — and their faith in each other — live to fight another day.
Let’s take a look at the 50/50 idol for a moment: the fortune cookie fortunes certainly put Michele in the right mindset to take Parvati’s deal. This was undoubtedly by design. Plus, you have to think about the dynamics of the confessional: the field producer is asking her questions, and they’re most certainly crafted/directed towards Michele buying the idol. They want any and all advantages in the game, particularly the new ones, so that desire is inevitably going to shape the producer’s approach to questioning. And then there’s the camera work: interesting angles, all of which put the entire encounter in a positive light, both literally and figuratively.
Should Michele have purchased the idol? Absolutely. First, there’s the obvious: there’s a chance at safety. Second, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be offered other advantages. And third, the mere possibility that you could be safe might keep the target off of you.
But then there is the more subtle strategic truth, that to buy the idol is to show that you have faith in ...
12) … the Producers…
… who may then have faith in you and your story. Call this a conspiracy theory if you must. But players — particularly winners — know that production is always a factor. Give them what they want and they might return the favor. (Again, listen to Andrea on RHAP; she’s pretty convincing when she talks about how production in Caramoan wanted her alliance to target Malcolm so that he could play his idol and send her home.) If you buy the thing that production wants you to play, they will be on your side and/or will tip their hand about when it should be used.
Here are some givens about the 50/50 idol:
** They want it to be played, just like any and all advantages put into the game.
** They REALLY want THIS idol to be played, because it’s new.
** They want it to be dramatic, so ideally Michele will be a target.
To manufacture the best possible moment, then, production will:
** Wait until Michele’s name is being kicked around.
** Start asking Michele a lot of questions about whether or not she plans to play the idol.
** Michele will pick up on the pressure (the amount of which will be adjusted depending on how resistant she is to the idea) and play the idol.
Sure, it’s not a foolproof plan — players have thwarted production’s attempts in the past (example: John Rocker not bringing his idol to Tribal) — but the odds are high that it will work. And they’ll do all they can to bring about the drama that they want and need. Given how the whole purchase sequence was portrayed, I think it’s safe to say that it gets played and works out for Michele.
On an unrelated related note, do you think the producers offered Jeremy a lot of encouragement — direct and/or indirect — to use his Peace Out Power this week? It, too, is a new advantage. And it expires at F10. Which begs the question: what if he doesn’t want to use it because his alliance needs his vote? Would production be so brazen as to encourage players — subtly or not — to think about Jeremy as a target?
Look, I’m not saying production did these things. But they absolutely think about it. You can understand the temptation. It’s unethical, but that hasn't bothered them in the past. The show isn’t fair. We know this. And I guarantee you that production influenced the sale, purchase, and use of idols and advantages this season.
Clearly, Tyson has a lot of faith in his friends on the jury. The look he gave them in the middle of last week’s Tribal Council chaos makes it clear that he’s playing for them. You have to wonder if the other players are going to pick up on it. There are so many reasons to take out Tyson, but the most pressing one is the faith the old schoolers have in him. They WILL vote for him if he gets to the end. I’m convinced of that now. The other players likely know that, though. So they’re going to consider targeting him sooner rather than later.
And then there’s the family visit this week. Given that whole families will be involved, the water works will be intense. More than anything, though, the players without kids will get an powerful reminder that the jury may want to hand the $2 million to someone who has children, and not just any children; these are kids that they’ve seen, that they’ve met and may even know outside the game. These boys and girls are not an abstract presence from fireside stories, nor are they the future possibilities of those who might have kids someday. Respect for a great game is one thing, but looking into the eyes of someone you trust, love, and have faith in and denying that player and his or her family the transformative power of financial security is an alarmingly difficult thing to do.
Which is a long-winded way of saying this: Sophie, Michele, and Nick are outnumbered by players with kids. This week should make it readily apparent: everyone with children needs to go. Tyson is already a triple threat who has the hearts of the jury as a player and a friend; adding “adoring family man” to that reality makes him the biggest target of all. Other pretenses will have to be used — Sophie can’t tell Sarah and Kim that everyone with kids is a target — but at the heart of it all will be the truth that Sophie, Michele and Nick now need to have faith in one another. Because to allow anyone else to sit at Final Tribal Council is to invite disaster.
Andy Baker swore he’d never play again, but the allure of an All Winners season brought him back..
Andy is no longer on twitter, but he's a regular guest at the Survivor Talk with D&D podcast.