In a massive move that completely changed the balance of power in the game, Maryanne played her extra vote and engineered a 3-2-2 plurality vote split in Episode 12 of Survivor 42, which sent Omar, who had just emerged from his chrysalis as the dangerous player in the game, directly to the jury.
It was a huge reversal of fortunes for Omar, who had only just publicly revealed his puppet-mastery to the jury on the previous vote, checkmating Drea by borrowing Mike's idol to dodge her Knowledge is Power advantage, then blindsiding her after the fact. Mike kicked off the episode wanting Omar out. Omar then elevated his own threat level further by winning an individual reward challenge (that ended in a puzzle, finally). After Lindsay won immunity, Mike abandoned his plan to target Omar, but that left the opening Maryanne needed to do it herself. It's not 100% clear that Mike and Jonathan were really in on the plan, or just stubbornly voting for Romeo, but the result was the same, either way: Maryanne used her two votes (and Romeo's one) to have just enough votes on Omar to remove him from the game.
This was a series of moves that raises questions about the evolution of strategy in the "new era" of Survivor. Omar appeared to be playing the optimal way, keeping his options open by having close connections to all the other players, gradually picking off other high-powered players while avoiding the spotlight himself. He had plans in place to continue that here. But at some point, every player who wants to win needs to demonstrate some competency in the game publicly, to the jury. Omar picked the third-to-last vote of the season for his dramatic uncloaking. That turned out to be one round too early for Omar.
Maryanne now appears to have seized the driver's seat strategically. But was her move also too early? Is there any good time to be visibly in charge in Survivor any more? Does someone need immunity necklaces or idol/advantage protection to avoid being culled as a threat to win? We will be able to answer these questions more definitively after the finale, but now is at least a good time to ponder which of the five remaining players might be a million dollars richer next Wednesday.
Who is the butterfly now?
Now that the rush from Maryanne's big move has faded a bit, re-watching the episode reminds us that Mike did a lot of the groundwork for taking out Omar initially — rallying Maryanne early, telling Jonathan and Maryanne about Lindsay's idol — but it was Maryanne who swooped in unseen (like an owl!) and took out an unsuspecting Omar. His logic was solid in retreating to target Romeo after Lindsay won immunity, but it was a defensive position, not a bold move.
Taking the episode as a whole, it could be an argument for either Mike or Maryanne as the season's winner. Maryanne had the title quote with "Caterpillar to a Butterfly," which at the time was about Omar in the eyes of the jury, but clearly was included by the editors to ironically refer to her own strategic profile rising during this episode. So let's go through the final five, and see who has the best chances of being that butterfly now, in roughly descending order.
Lindsay's edit was sparse in the pre-merge, but over the past few episodes, she appeared to become a serious contender to take it all, balancing a formidable physical game (three wins, and neck-and-neck with Jonathan in Mean % finish in individual challenges), a solid social game, and surprising amount of strategy, as she worked closely with Omar in taking out Hai and Drea. But her chances appeared to crater this episode, starting from the apex of her elated confessional about how well the Ep11 Tribal went at the beginning of the episode, to the nadir admitting to Omar she had no idea he was going to be blindsided at the end. Crazy highs and crazy lows, indeed.
Going forward, the combination of Lindsay's F6 IC win and vote for Jonathan will almost certainly mean she will remain Jonathan's #1 target, and since Maryanne is working with Mike and Jonathan now, they have a majority right there (two of whom have idols) to vote Lindsay out at final five, as long as she doesn't win immunity again. If she makes it through that vote, she's absolutely going to be forced to make fire at final four (unless she wins immunity then, too).
That could be unlucky for everyone else, because if Lindsay reaches the final three, she'll have a solid track record to sell to the jury, particularly in challenge performance, and keeping herself in the game when everyone was against her. What will be missing is moves that were indisputably her own, especially since she when she had the chance to save Omar, she didn't. Using her idol on Omar would have been a move that thwarted Maryanne's flashy plurality play, but she didn't make it. Lindsay loses to Maryanne or Mike in the final three, but could beat Romeo, and maybe Jonathan. But most likely, she won't get that far.
In contrast, barring some catastrophe, Romeo is all but assured a spot in the final three now. What Romeo has going for him the most is two things: (1) A solid pre-merge strategic game, and (2) making it to the end, despite being left out of everyone's alliances.
The problem is his perception by everyone else, especially the late jurors, as the guy sitting on the log, slowly eating the rice remnants from the pot. There is a small chance he could miss the finals, though: If Lindsay wins final five immunity, it's possible Mike and Maryanne could stick together, play their idols for themselves, and protect Jonathan by voting Romeo out instead, in a simple 3-2 vote. Mike and Jonathan were pushing to do that this time, as the safest way to avoid Lindsay's amulet idol.
Either way, it's hard to imagine any scenario in which Romeo earns more jury votes than Lindsay, Maryanne, or Mike, and at least one of them would be in any final three he would find himself in. So alas, while he could well be a finalist, there's not really any obvious path to victory for the biggest underdog in the final five.
Despite the negative turn his edit has taken since the split-Tribal episode where Rocksroy and Tori joined the jury, Jonathan still has a high profile as a physical player, and has some decently strong connections with a few jurors. While he's probably not a frontrunner to win any more, he's been extremely prominent in the edit since the very first trailer at last season's finale, was the first player to have a confessional in the premiere, and has been a central character all season. It's not impossible that he could still pull out a win here.
It's an extremely narrow path, though. Jonathan's best chance is to take out Lindsay at final five, a move he's been itching to make for a while now, then somehow get Mike out at final four, while staying on Mike's good side. If Maryanne wins the F4 IC, then Jonathan and Mike face off in fire-making (and Jonathan wins), that's probably Jonathan's best final three scenario: He's against Maryanne and Romeo, and he has Mike stumping for him on the jury.
In this scenario, Jonathan probably gets Rocksroy's and Mike's votes. If he keeps his comments respectful, plays up his provider role and his physical game as humbly as possible, and refuses to criticize either of his opponents, he might have a shot at Tori, Drea, and Lindsay's votes. With eight jurors, he needs five to win, and that could be enough. The problem is, Maryanne's much better at speaking to the jury, and has a much better growth narrative, so it's a stretch that Jonathan would prevail here. But it's still possible, if everything goes exactly right.
Even more so than Jonathan, Mike has been a key central narrator throughout the season. There has hardly been any event in the game that we didn't hear Mike's reaction to. He's a confident, affable guy that everyone seems to like and respect (a lot like fellow firefighters and winners Tom Westman and Jeremy Collins). When Drea left the game, she told Mike he was probably going to win. It would certainly not be unexpected.
The main question mark about Mike is: Is being a likable firefighter enough? If not, how does the jury perceive his actual gameplay? He's in fantastic shape for a 57-year-old, but he hasn't won any individual challenges, so he doesn't really have a physical game to point to. He was a leader who intentionally backed away from being perceived as one, so he doesn't have that. He's had a lot of close allies, but he's been a deeply emotional player: Quick to perceive transgressions against him, extremely slow (if ever) to forgive. Chanelle found that out. Hai found that out. Omar found that out (before he really even crossed him!). He's taken credit in confessional for a lot of big moves, but it's unclear if anyone on the jury sees those moves as his (the Hai vote, for example), although this episode in particular spotlighted a lot of the strategic work he's put in to influence and shape votes. Nudging people into making the decisions he wants, rather than outright telling them how to vote.
A sore topic for jurors might be the conflict between Mike's presentation of himself as a loyal straight-shooting, stand-up guy, vs. his behavior over the past few episodes of giving his word to people, only to turn around and stab them in the back. First was Chanelle, then Rocksroy, then Hai, then Drea, and now Omar. At the start of this episode, he told Omar, "...[the idol] is mine now, but it's *ours*, okay?" ... shortly before he got to work trying to turn Jonathan and Maryanne against Omar. If he owns up to this as pure gameplay, maybe that works in his favor with this jury. Or maybe they're as reluctant to forgive these betrayals as Mike was to forgive Chanelle. That's the thing: If it comes down to a Mike-vs-Maryanne ("the bookends") plus someone else final three, it could go either way, depending on how each of them states their case.
Mike's worst-case finals scenario is the one he appears to be trying to set up — one where he and Jonathan are both finalists — because then it's possible Mike and Jonathan could both be perceived as big, physical guys ... but Jonathan has the superior record of success as a physical player. As a strategic player, several jurors see themselves as the architects of moves he might reasonably take credit for (the Hai boot, for example), even though Mike has actually done a lot of good strategic groundwork. That could limit his success against someone like Maryanne, who just pulled off a very visible move that is fresh in the jury's minds. Maryanne knows Mike wanted to go the safe route on this vote, and take out Romeo instead of Omar. If she points that out, that could well seal Mike's fate as a second-place finisher.
Still, a jury vote in which these two (Mike and Maryanne) are both finalists could be extremely close, so a lot depends on how they present their cases to the jury, and how much the jury values traditional, outside-the-game considerations, like Mike being an older, dependable guy, a real-life hero as a firefighter, vs. Maryanne, the young, excitable student. They're both really likable, though, so if it boils down to pure gameplay, Maryanne may have the stronger case.
That leaves Maryanne as the new probable favorite to win this season. She's been a sentimental fan favorite all season long, as she burst into the premiere with her effervescent smile and enthusiasm for the game, as we learned about her struggles to fit in, and heard her reveal in confessionals that she has a solid head for how to play the game, even if thus far it hadn't translated into her pulling off big moves and controlling the game.
That all changed this episode, as she showed definitively, in her own words, that she's "a real contender in this game, not just a goat to be herded."
Could that mean the "new era" of Survivor will start out with back-to-back wins by Canadian women of color? It's possible! We've already covered a lot of Maryanne's positives, but the key one is this: She made a big move that arguably took out the person who was the overwhelming favorite to win the game, had she not acted when she did. And she did this even when everyone else (except Romeo) was pushing for someone else.
Still, you say, that's "just one move." Well ... there's a good chance the target could shift to her in the final five vote, because she made that move so publicly (just as Omar became the target this episode). Maryanne's failsafe of course is that she has an idol, which she should definitely play. If she is targeted, then saves herself with an idol? That's another selling point. If she loses F4 immunity, and is forced to make fire to stay in the game? There's another notch in her favor. (The edit did seem to maybe hint at this a bit this episode, as it interspersed footage of Omar successfully starting fire with Maryanne's confessional explaining what ultimately ends up being her plan. Omar (?) and Jonathan each added disembodied shouts of "flame" and "flame on" while Maryanne was talking, too.)
The negatives about Maryanne aren't non-existent, though. People have expressed annoyance at her energy level. She was outside the numbers for most of the early post-merge. She's young (24, so not that young), and every juror except Tori is at least five years older than her. She's also still a student, and a jury of people with established careers might find it hard to give a million dollars to someone just starting out in life, especially if there's a guy like Mike around instead. Then again, Mike is *much* older than everyone on the jury, with the closest in age being Rocksroy, who's 13 years younger than he is. The median juror is about 30 years younger than Mike. So maybe a Mike-Maryanne matchup is pretty much a push, age-wise.
Whatever the case, there are enough people that have played active games left, that the final Tribal should be one worth watching. It's unlikely to be a slam dunk, barring someone falling apart while answering questions. Let's hope it's an ending befitting a season that's been well played.
Hate to say I told you so
Here's a paragraph from a complaint some jerk wrote about the post-merge challenge selection in recent seasons, just two weeks ago:
You know who would really deliver the breaking-through-the-screen enthusiasm Survivor wants if she won immunity? Maryanne. You know who's primarily being kept off the podium by the lack of puzzles? Also Maryanne. (Maybe Omar, too.)
Who was shown as neck-and-neck in the reward challenge, the first to end in a (difficult) puzzle this season? Maryanne and Omar. Omar also was leading in the IC after the staircase "puzzle," even though that was not particularly difficult. He promptly lost that advantage on the much more agility- and hand/eye coordination-based sliding-peg ladder and table maze portions of the challenge.
Maybe if production wants to favor players like Jonathan and Lindsay, they should have more early post-merge challenges that are like this episode's reward challenge, especially to highlight players who are something other than the most athletic person remaining? Just a thought.
- Confidence plans: When Omar solves the puzzle to win the reward challenge, Probst asks him how confident he is that he's right. (He may do this all the time, but we've never seen it in the show before.) Omar responds, "100 percent!" This is a neat little prelude to Probst asking him how confident Omar is in the plan at Tribal, and Omar states that he's "Survivor confident."
- More unnecessary finale twists: Probst announced at the end of Tribal that the final five would be subjected to the same twist as in Survivor 41: They'll all be sent to a brand-new camp, with no shelter. (And it was raining a lot throughout Tribal.) The preview for the finale showed a scramble in the new camp for some kind of advantage — probably a repeat of the challenge advantage Erika found in 41. Both of these twists are unnecessary production meddling. The camp switch will probably be shrugged off as it was in 41 — big deal, we have three days left. But it's still stupid. The challenge advantage? Meh. Can't you just have a challenge that's not biased towards the most athletic people? (That is, one that's more like the RC than the IC this week?) Just one last set of pointless obstacles. Let's hope they're dumped in 43 and 44.
- RIP, Jonathan's record: Jonathan has two individual immunity wins. There are two immunity challenges left. There is therefore no way Jonathan can tie, let alone break, the record for individual immunities. Oh well. He and Lindsay are currently both in the Top 30 for single-season Mean % Finish, though. That's something.
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes