Like a leaping Lydia, Episode 4 of Survivor 42 had its moments, but fell a bit short of the heights of Episode 2, probably because instead of a single combined reward/immunity challenge, we had two separate ones, which ate into the time that was otherwise lavished on the contestants two episodes back.
To be fair, this is how it's usually done, and also in this particular case, it was a reasonable choice: A tribe like Vati is carrying an injured player in Daniel, so it's fair to expose that weakness. But on the whole, it felt like this episode, while enjoyable, suffered from too little time spent with the non-Ika tribes.
For normal two-tribe seasons, this is about where the
separate RC and ICs start happening, so it's not a huge
departure. But we note that Survivor: Philippines,
the first three-tribe season with (mostly) new players, let
the first four episodes roll with just one challenge per
episode, culminating in the epic collapse of Matsing. Might it
be time to revisit that format, here in the new era of
always-three-tribes? (For its part, Cagayan went to
two challenges in Ep4, and it's widely beloved. YMMV.)
It's a minor note, but when in doubt, and especially in
all-newbie seasons, Survivor should always try to
err on the side of spending more time with the contestants,
and less on challenges and twists, at least in the early
going. Obviously that runs afoul of this season's pacing of
five advantages in the first episode, but you know ... try,
maybe? At least we had some time with the Ikas this week,
after an Ika-free Episode 3. Baby steps.
The positives and pitfalls of the Shot in the Dark
We're now four uses deep into the Shot in the Dark. None of them worked, although that is not unexpected with 1-in-6 odds. We've already gone through one apparent protocol change (Probst must now reveal the scroll's outcome?). Are we any closer to figuring out if SITD should be invited back for another season? Let's find out.
Working in favor of the Shot: As designed, it does offer someone irretrievably outside the numbers a (very small) chance to stay in the game and fight another day. Survivor history is full of people who just started out on a tribe that didn't suit them, or were swap-screwed — people who had no reasonable chance to turn those numbers around in a short amount of time. Shot in the Dark is a reasonable lifeline for those people, even at the low payoff rate it's shown so far. Slim hopes are better than none.
Part of the reason it's taken so long to get a feel for the Shot is that the first set of possible users were a bunch of control freaks: As Ricard Foyé lamented on twitter this week, in Survivor 41, everyone worked overtime to ensure nobody ever felt uncomfortable enough to play their Shot. That's great for minimizing variables, but not helpful for seeing how this twist works. In contrast, the more freewheeling 42-ers are just like, "Yeah, whatever, go for it if you feel like it, man!" Both styles of play are perfectly valid, to each their own. But at least with 42, we're finally getting some data.
For the first two plays (Zach and Marya), we ended up with unprecedented unanimous boots (5-0 and 4-0). This week, a 3-1, with Swati unable to vote. It's unclear whether Rocksroy's stray vote for Tori was hedging against the Shot, stubbornness on Rocksroy's part, or just him being out of the loop. (The sole reference point is him telling Drea and Swati, "I'm gonna stick to the plan" before Tribal.)
What is clear from these three instances is that there could be consequences if a Shot ever does end up in "Safe," but the key difference between a Shot in the Dark and an immunity idol is that the power in these votes does not rest with the Shot user (as it would with an idol play), but rather with whoever's taking the minority position (like Rocksroy). When everyone loads up on an idol-holder and they play the idol for themselves, the idol player decides who goes home, as with Ben Driebergen vs. Lauren Rimmer in HvHvH. In contrast, had Swati's Shot ended up "Safe," Swati's preferences made no difference: It was Rocksroy who had that power.
Is it possible this is emergent play, and Rocksroy had the blessing of Drea/Romeo to do this, kind of like with a vote split?
Rationally, it doesn't really make sense to split the vote against a Shot in the Dark, at least not as much as it does with an idol. There's a 5-in-6 chance that it's a waste of time. For the Zach and Marya votes, there was probably a back-up plan in place if the Shot had worked, and on the re-vote, the Plan B person would have been voted out. No reason to split, which would reveal who that person was. Better to maintain the peace and keep it secret.
If you have a large enough group, however, and it's far enough into the game that everyone knows who the Plan B person is, why shouldn't the majority use one vote to protect against the Shot? And if you're the Plan B person, why not also change your vote, to force a 1-1 tie? (Or better yet, convince the majority not to split, and be the potential deciding vote yourself, 1-0?)
To be fair, all this maneuvering is, again, probably pointless with 5-in-6 odds of failure. Maybe production could improve those odds a bit? Four-sided dice exist, you know!
Anyway, it feels like there's a lot of gaming left to optimize with SitD. Let's hope it sticks around long enough to produce some more interesting outcomes.
Can anyone's game be salvaged from Ika?
It's really a bit of a fluke that we aren't talking about Ika as one of the worst starting tribes ever, worse even than Matsing. Ika barely placed their final puzzle piece ahead of Taku in the blindfolded Ep2 IC, narrowly escaping back-to-back Tribals. Then they were the beneficiaries of some unlucky land-and-fall-off sandbag tosses when they and Vati were tied, 4-4, in the Ep3 RC/IC. And here this week, they made the second immunity slot tight once again, only to finally fall short this time.
So Ika has to be the favorite to be Ep5's final pre-merge Tribal Council visitors. On the plus side, that means three of these people will probably be making the merge. Which of the four remaining Ikas has the most clout entering the individual phase of the game? (Hint: The shot above shows them roughly in decreasing order of safety, from left to right)
- Romeo: In Ika's two Tribals, Romeo's name is the only one that hasn't come up. He's playing a quietly dominant social game so far, calmly finding the numbers and securing them, and this week, even flipping them on Swati, once he learned he couldn't trust her. He's also sat out three challenges already, so he's kind of the anti-Jonathan, and will be nobody's idea of a physical threat post-merge (even though those challenges may suit him). A great spot, especially if Ika hits the merge as the smallest tribe, so he'll appear even less of a threat.
- Drea: Drea's name has only really come up because of her extra vote; otherwise, she's been solid in the numbers with Romeo, and the pair have worked well together. To be fair, though, her own loose lips brought that "extra vote" target onto her, so that may be a problem moving forward. Also, let's not forget that her Advantage Amulet will make her a target for Lindsay and/or Hai post-merge. Depending on how she navigates joining up with the other tribes, she could be okay, or she could be in big trouble. Probably the best-case scenario for Romeo and Drea would be ditching the other Ikas, and joining up with another power group, like a latter-day Ricard and Shan. (Technically that pair didn't ditch anyone, they'd already done that pre-merge. Romeo and Drea don't have that luxury.)
- Rocksroy: It's hard to decide who's in worse shape now, Rocksroy or Tori. Rocksroy's "camp dad" bossiness has irritated his alleged allies, and he may be showing signs of going rogue on votes. He's been something of an asset in challenges, but far from a calm one. His bluntness might find a like-minded peer in fellow over-40 dude Mike, but apart from that, there don't seem to be abundant alliances just waiting to pull in Rocksroy once we hit the post-merge. Still, he's in a similar social position to Angelina at the David vs Goliath merge, and she made it all the way to the final three. Rocksroy might get there too, but he'll be annoyed every step of the way that nobody's listening to him about how the camp should be run.
- Tori: Yes, yes. We know, potatogate is a thing, so Tori has some life left in this game (maybe). But she's also the most-likely boot the next time Ika goes to Tribal (unless, you know, potatoes). So far, her brilliant maneuvering hasn't really fooled anyone, they're all aware she's sketchy and will flip on a dime. But she's transparently sketchy, and self-interested, and so far, that's easier to predict outcomes for than sneakily sketchy, so she's still here. Will she find kindred spirits in the merge tribe? You never know. Maybe?
- Underselling Ika's collapse: The edit was so focused on Jonathan's alleged superhuman prowess that it was easy to miss that Ika wasn't that far behind them, entering the puzzle stage. While Jonathan's powerful swimming did zip Taku's boat to the dock quickly, Ika was already headed there while Taku was still unlocking their puzzle. So Ika must have spectacularly imploded on the puzzle for Vati to pass them.
- Where have you gone, Survivor episode titles? This week's episode was called "Vibe of the Tribe," which was part of Jeff Probst's (scripted) first question at Tribal. This is a new low. Such a bland title, and one that didn't even arise organically from the episode? A line that was so lame, it briefly rendered Drea speechless. Why couldn't it have been "My Number One"? Both Daniel and Swati had lines about that. Or Mike's line, which Ryan Kaiser used this week? Or just about anything else?.
- Where have you gone, Survivor challenges? Bringing things full circle back to challenges, while the last two seasons' challenges have had some technically "new" ones, the only real novelty has been mixing and matching elements from prior challenges. Considering they had two full years to come up with new ideas, that's a little sad. SurvivorAU has had some fun brand-new games over that same time (like this one), and some creative re-interpretations of old US challenges (usually taking individual challenges and making them tribal, or blowing up a challenge element to enormous size, like with the Ep1 RC in AU: Brains v Brawn). What's going on with the US challenge department? Did CBS cut the department's budget, and the only challenges they can use are ones they already have parts saved from?
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