The Survivor we're all watching in 2023 doesn't resemble the Survivor we all fell in love with way back when Borneo aired in 2000. Then again, Survivor: Nicaragua, which was filmed in 2010, didn't resemble the original Survivor much either, with all the Idols, the Medallion of Power, and quitters sitting on the Jury.
The criticisms of the current Survivor are very valid. There's not much point in choosing extremely knowledgeable players with compelling and entertaining personalities if you're gonna force them into situations where they can't exercise their own choices. But does this mean the current Survivor has absolutely nothing in common with original Survivor? I don't think so.
There are enough strategic philosophies that are present in every season of Survivor for me to say its fundamentally the same game. In other words, there are elements I can use to evaluate Borneo players that are exactly the same I can use for this season's cast.
So for this week's intro, I thought I'd provide a few traits common to all versions of Survivor to look for as we finally get to an "official" merge. In some ways, its still the same Survivor.
1) Earning trust quickly
As we've seen this season at Tika's first Tribal Council, Helen got voted out, and Sarah stayed. I think part of the reason is because Sarah made a stronger attempt to connect with Carolyn and Yam Yam than Helen did. When Carolyn tried to talk strategy, Helen was evasive. That was enough to make Carolyn decide not to trust Helen. This isn't much different from Kel's early exit from Season 2, The Australian Outback. Kel was a loner who didn't put much effort into connecting with his tribemates. So since nobody knew him as well as others on the tribe, it was fairly easy for Jerri to convince a majority he wasn't trustworthy by claiming he snuck in some beef jerky.
Being able to earn trust quickly, and establish yourself as a reliable source of information is crucial to playing a strong game of Survivor. It's one of Queen Sandra's best weapons. A player's ability here is tested regularly in every season, including: 1) When you meet your initial tribemates and try to form alliances; 2) at any members swap, when earning trust could save your game life; 3) at the merge; 4) on Reward excursions that separate merged tribes; and 5) when facing Jury questioning.
2) Adjusting to unpredictable events
Let's face it. Whether it's Producer interference, a medevac, a surprise Idol play, or even your own mistake, if you're playing Survivor, you're gonna be surprised by something. How you react to that event - in the short term or long term - can decide your fate.
In Pearl Islands, Sandra was furious after Rupert was blindsided. Fairplay and Burton taunted Sandra and Christa on the way back to camp, bragging that they'd soon feast on all the fish Rupert caught that day. Sandra wanted to hide the fish from the men, but in the dark mistakenly kicked the bucket over near camp. To her surprise, the guys blamed Christa for losing the fish. Sandra's adjustment was to keep her mouth shut, and let her partner Christa dangle under the suspicion. They both survived the next vote, but Christa couldn't adjust to the scrutiny and got voted out next.
This season saw Carson, Joshua and Jaime all swapped to new tribes. While they were armed with Idols for temporary protection, they still all had to make adjustments for their long term game. Carson appears to have adjusted the best - also by keeping his mouth shut while absorbing the info given to him by others. Joshua clearly did not adjust well by setting himself up for failure with conflicting cover stories. Carson and Jaime adjusted much better than Joshua did.
3) Develop a good BS meter
If you can earn trust quickly, you'll probably be able to lie to people when you need to. Conversely, you'll also have to learn quickly how to tell when others are lying to you. Earlier this season, Carson talked about how he honed his ability to read a person's body language. Even though he was wrong about Helen's body language, his concept is sound. Many people can't look someone in the eye when lying, so instead they'll look at the ground. Some people nervously fidget when they're lying. Others will over-correct and give a long hard stare and go completely silent after they lie. Learning your competition's "tell" is always important.
In Fiji, Dreamz trusted Earl, and made a point of discussing the vote before every Tribal Council ... until Dreamz tried to blindside Yau-Man. Earl knew something was wrong when Dreamz didn't come to him, so he warned Yau-Man he might have to play his Idol. Yau-Man did exactly that, and saved himself.
This season, Joshua tried to bluff Yam-Yam and Carolyn into believing he had a second Idol. Yam Yam wasn't sure at first, but Carolyn immediately asked to see some evidence. When Joshua showed her the note from his real Idol (which he'd just played the night before), she immediately knew she'd seen it before, and he was bluffing. Yam Yam later saw Joshua was bluffing when Carolyn asked to see the Idol, and Joshua pulled out the beads from Tika Treemail. So, I don't give Yam Yam as much credit as Carolyn for sniffing out the deception. Carolyn called Joshua's bluff first.
4) Be observant
Most Survivor players will have a partner or an alliance. Those partnerships and alliances will change as players are voted out. Your ability to detect these shifts can help you sniff out a plot against you, or at least alert you of the need to make an adjustment to your game plan.
As the Cambodia cast entered the final 6, Kimmi had been loyal to Jeremy all game long. She was very vocal about her desire to remove the "Witches Coven" of Ciera, Abi-Maria and Kelley Wentworth. When Abi-Maria went out at final 7, Kimmi decided to make a move against Jeremy. She approached Kelley Wentworth to discuss options. But her attempt was very sloppy. She sat with Wentworth for a long time ... within sight of Spencer and Tasha. That pair tipped off Jeremy, who then played his second Idol (both of which he'd kept completely secret by the way). After a chaotic Tribal Council, Kimmi ended up leaving - due to her own shoddy execution, which was easily observed by Spencer and Tasha.
This season, everyone on Soka noticed the Frannie/Matt B. showmance. Even though they both knew being so obvious was bad for their individual games, they just couldn't hide their attraction. They even slept apart from the majority when all the tribes shared the same camp. But somehow, something that was so clear to so many players was completely missed by Jaime. Jaime didn't hear others talking about the pair, or notice how much they'd walk off together. Jaime made the mistake of telling Frannie how she'd like to exclude Matt from her strategic plans. This of course ran the risk of turning Frannie (and any allies Frannie had) against Jaime. Even if Jaime had no idea how close Frannie and Matt B. were, she still should have done more to determine how Frannie felt about Matt B as an ally before sharing her plot against him. Jaime's lack of awareness about the duo could easily have created a reason for Frannie to want Jaime gone.
So that being said, I think by far, the biggest adjustment anyone will have to make this season is Frannie adjusting to losing her #1 ally Matt B. Several eyes will be on her. Will Frannie go on a stealth, long con plan for revenge like Natalie Anderson did in San Juan del Sur to avenge Jeremy's blindside? Or will she see an opportunity to forge a new alliance with players most won't suspect she wants to work with?
Even the eventual reintroduction of the Inheritance Advantage won't change any of these basic principles.
And away we go ....
Yam Yam: "Luckily Lauren's Advantage didn't change the vote." Even more luckily, Heidi couldn't figure out how to use her Advantage correctly.
Smart move by Yam Yam to go and comfort Frannie. Even if they don't become partners, she'll remember this if he's in the finals, and she's on the Jury. Getting Frannie's vote could also mean getting Matt B.'s vote.
Heidi: "How can I not ruffle feathers with Ratu? I need Yam Yam." That's something you should have started doing as soon as you two hit the same beach. This also means Heidi thinks she's got partners on Ratu.
Will the 3 Tika be smart rough to tell both sides "yes" as much as they can? If they do it convincingly, Tika will control this next vote.
Kane: "It is our game to lose." I think that's gonna be a prophetic statement.
There goes Carson channeling his inner Stephen Fishbach.
Lauren: "I'm gonna be the weaker link." I don't know if anybody noticed, but she's been the weaker link most of the season. Remember her belly flop?
I remember last season being impressed with how fast Cassidy and Karla got through that net. Women with long hair have almost no chance in that net if they don't tie it in a bun.
Nothing new in this challenge, but at least the last part wasn't used last season. Gabler won it by holding his weights up the longest, while making a bunch of long distance dedications.
Look at Frannie and Yam Yam bonding in the sand.
Why isn't Probst heaping tons of praise on those helping Carson out of the net? He wouldn't shut up about how last season's players helped Noelle. Then again, he didn't say a word about how everybody helped Jeanine either.
One woman in the final round. If memory serves me correctly, this part usually favors women ... unless you're a guy named Ozzy. But Ozzy didn't have to run an obstacle course first. And as Kane mentioned, he wasn't covered in mud.
Ok, mad props to Danny for his fart moment.
When your feet are on the bottom foot hold, are you allowed to hold on to the top foot hold with your hand or forearm? I think that's what Lauren is doing.
I think women have done well in this one because men usually have larger feet. Its harder for men to stay on the foot hold.
This is an interesting dilemma for Frannie. She knows Danny set Matt B. up for humiliation, but she also needs to take a Ratu out. Her new closeness to Yam Yam could pay off here.
Survivor players like to say "Cut off the head of the snake" a lot. Who would be Ratu's head here? Thanks to all the Producer twists, we have no idea who's got the strongest influence on Ratu's voting. Will Ratu go after Danny knowing he's got an Idol? If they think Tika is with them, they might try to split votes. If they do that, Tika can flip things on them and boot Brandon, Kane or Jaime. Carson will want to protect Kane, so we might see Jaime's Idol tonight.
Ahh, Brandon is making the call to go after Frannie. Lauren asked him how to vote. I wonder if he's doing that because she won Immunity or because he knows she doesn't have an Idol?
Brandon: "Frannie is a strong physical player." There you go. I guess I was wrong about Frannie being safe since Matt B. is gone. Winning that first Immunity Challenge could prove to be very bad for Frannie.
Danny to Heidi: "I do have the Idol." Now Heidi can tell anyone she wants.
Carolyn might want Brandon gone because he was rude to her at the Reward trip.
Heidi to Carson and Yam Yam: "Danny has the Idol." And just like that, Yam Yam is plotting against Danny. This one is all your fault, Danny.
Ozzy thought he was saving his tribe by playing his Idol for Whitney at the South Pacific merge. That plan failed because people knew he had an Idol, and he pissed off Carson, I mean Cochran, who leaked info to Coach.
Danny just realized why he should have kept his mouth shut about his Idol.
Danny's plan is compromised because of his own mouth. Now he has to decide if he wants to try and save Frannie, or save himself if there's a split vote plan. Ratu could be trying to flush his Idol. If he never tells Heidi about his Idol, he doesn't have to think of that possibility. If nobody knows you have an Idol, nobody will try to flush it. Yes, I know people suspect he's got it because of info Matt B. shared last week, but Danny doesn't know that yet. For all he knows, his Idol was a total secret until he told Heidi.
There goes Danny, and he plays his Idol for ... Frannie! Call me cruel, but I want to see Danny's name on those cards now.
"Wentworth ... I mean Frannie, does not count."
Wow, both Carson and Yam Yam voted for Frannie? Carson must really feel close to Kane. Either that, or he's just going with the majority so he doesn't have to show his cards.
Thanks to a malfunctioning laptop that's in the shop, I temporarily don't have access to my historical notes. But I'm fairly sure nobody who has been saved by an Idol played for them by someone else has ever gone on to win Survivor. And by "saved," I mean that person definitely would have left if not for the Idol play. When Ozzy played his Idol for Whitney, nobody voted for her. So if Ozzy kept his Idol, Whitney would still have stayed. But in Cambodia, when Jeremy played his Idol for Fishbach, he negated 5 votes, and Ciera left with 3 votes. This of course is bad news for Frannie. How does she reduce her threat level?
I guess Frannie's bonding with Yam Yam didn't go as well as I thought
Even though it worked out, I still think Danny telling anyone about his Idol was a horrible move. Heidi sharing that information obviously had bad immediate implications. But beyond that, it only increased Danny's threat level. Yam Yam and Carson will still want him gone. In fact, now that Danny's Idol is gone, he's an even more tempting target, especially after finishing 2nd in the Immunity Challenge. Every player in the game could be following Danny when he goes Idol hunting because they know he can find one, play it effectively, and will try to fool people with a phony Idol. Final 10 is too early to be standing out like Danny is.
I'm really hoping Idols don't start finding Danny like they kept finding Ben in HHH. His sloppy play shouldn't be rewarded. Has Danny been sleeping in the same spot every night?
Heidi's game is all over the place. First, she failed to fill Danny and Frannie with any confidence at the Claire boot, ultimately going with the majority. Then at the merge, she seemed to become very close to Lauren, and went with the majority to boot Soka member Joshua. Then she couldn't figure out the best way to use her Steal A Vote, excuse me, her "Control A Vote," and tried to target Yam Yam, saying she didn't want to ruffle any Ratu feathers. Then now at this vote, she seemed completely loyal to the minority Soka members in voting for Brandon. More and more, her game is reminding me of Chase's game in Nicaragua. Does she have any strategy at all, or is she just playing scared vote to vote?
Danny's game is confusing too. We saw him being so gung ho about forming a bro alliance with Joshua and Brandon on the Reward trip with Carolyn. Then his first two merge votes are for Joshua and Brandon.
Tika's move here is also confusing. Carson and Yam Yam voted for Frannie, but Carolyn voted for Brandon. Are they on the same page? Have the Tika men overestimated their ability to influence her vote? Nobody on Tika controlled this vote, that's for sure.
Overall, it was nice seeing an episode in which the players made all the decisions for themselves, free of Producer intervention. Just the same, I'm still expecting the return of that Inheritance Advantage.
What do you think? Who's playing the best game? How do these people figure on getting jury votes since their voting decisions don't seem to have a long-term goal in mind? Are they all playing conservatively because they're waiting to see what twists they'll have to adjust to an hour before Tribal Council? Is everyone playing a team game because they're too scared to play an individual one like Jesse did last season? Let me know in the comments.
RIP, Keith Nale. You brought much joy to this Survivor Superfan.