1) Congratulations, you’ve made it through the first round of casting!
Having seen your video, talked to you via Skype, and done a background check to make sure you’re interesting but not certifiable (members of the Hantz family excepted), we’ve decided that you’ve got what it takes to be a Survivor castaway. But now comes the most important step of the entire process, discovering the answer to this all-important question: Do you know how to play the game?
Now, we understand that over the past several years – since Heroes vs. Villains, really – we’ve focused on casting outlandish characters instead of strategic masterminds, but, due to the popularity of Blood vs. Water, we’ve realized that the game is better when smart people are playing it. At first, we thought, hey, maybe we just need more seasons with the abbreviation “vs.” in it, and then we thought, no, we just need to keep bringing the same players back until they figure it out (if Coach could do it, anyone can). Eventually, though, even Probst decided that we should cast people who understand basic Survivor strategy – and his word is our command (up to and including, “Find a way to let Boston Rob win!”).
And so what follows is a series of questions which will test your understanding of the game and the people who play it. Sharpen your #2 pencils, dig deep, and answer wisely – your spot on Survivor depends on it. Good luck!
2) Q: You’re one of eight people left – four newbies, three vets, and your mom – and one of the returning players is controlling the game. Do you:
(a) Align with the newbies and take over the game
(b) Quit, because that Colton guy was onto something
(c) Convince your mom to let you be a third-place goat, then vote her out
(d) Piss in the beans
(e) All of the above
Ciera’s answer: C
Correct answer: A
An honest and sincere question: Are we so starved for Survivor strategy that we’ll heap praise on someone who makes an ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE MOVE just because she made a move at all?
Instead of forming a Final 5 alliance with the newbies and her mom (who, incidentally, is the only person she can trust 100% in the game), Ciera is apparently content to be a goat for Tyson and Gervase – despite the mounting evidence that there are at least two, and possibly three, other players who would better serve that purpose (Monica, Katie, and Caleb).
Now, I’ve heard that Ciera tried, but failed, to convince Hayden and Caleb to go along with a plan like this (supposedly the taciturn tandem didn’t want to work with Laura M), but that just means Ciera wasn’t convincing enough; it’s the best, and only, plan that allows the newbies to build a compelling jury argument. And everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – is about the jury from this point on.
To put it bluntly:
Ciera’s odds to win the game as a F3 goat: 0%
Ciera’s odds to win the game if she assembles and then leads the alliance that takes out the returning players, THEN takes out her mom, and drags Katie and Caleb to the F3: 100%.
Yes, the latter scenario is far less likely to transpire, but there are various permutations which would at least give her a shot (take out Tyson, but end up in the F3 with Gervase and Hayden, for example). The plan she pitched to her mom might get her 39 days in the game, but it leaves her with no way to win. If you want the title of Sole Survivor, at some point, you have to shove your chips into the middle and go all in.
Sadly, Ciera isn’t a gambler. And she isn’t a solid strategist, despite what people were saying after the episode. Nope, she’s just a naïve newbie who’s in way over her head.
3) Q: You’ve battled your way back from Redemption Island, you’re in the Final 8, and your daughter tells you that she wants to vote you out. Do you:
(a) Say “F**k no!” and explain to her why her plan is stupid
(b) Tell her she’s grounded
(c) Let her, because she’s your baby and she’s all growed up
(d) Send her to Redemption Island without dinner
(e) Say, “You just want to be on Heroes vs. Villains 2, don’t you?”
Laura M’s answer: C
Correct answer: A
Can someone explain to me why everyone is afraid of Laura M? At this point in the game, she’s a predictable vote (she and Ciera will move in lockstep), she’s already “lost” the game once so is vulnerable at the Final Tribal Council should she get there, and plenty of the challenges ahead will favor players like Hayden and Monica (in case they’re worried about her going on an epic individual immunity run). Hayden and Caleb should have LEAPT at the chance to work with Katie, Ciera, and Mama Morrett.
Here’s the thing: Laura M is smart. I mean, really smart. Yes, she sometimes overplays her hand, but she understands the game and she’s willing to make moves. I’d want her in my alliance – and I don’t say that about a lot of players.
But allowing Ciera to send her back to Redemption Island was catastrophically stupid. All it did was guarantee that NEITHER Morrett would win the game.
4) Q: After failing twice in previous seasons, you’re controlling the game, you’ve got a cool new hashtag nickname (#BigBadWolf), and the tribe is going to vote out whomever you choose to target. Do you eliminate:
(a) Katie, because she’s the last member of the opposing alliance
(b) Caleb, because he doesn’t say anything anyway
(c) Laura, because she’s a jury threat
(d) Hayden, because he’s the only one here who’s won anything
(e) Colton, because f**k that guy
Tyson’s answer: C
Correct answer: A… but C is also acceptable
Hard to argue with the Wolf – but I would have waited one more Tribal Council before voting out one of my own. Katie’s elimination would have been a symbolic victory for Tyson’s Little Piggies and would have served as the end of one game (alliance vs. alliance) and the beginning of another (the alliance turns on itself). Instead, Laura M’s departure became the opening salvo of a civil war, with one major complication: Now everyone knows they can’t trust Tyson. This new reality – which could have been avoided – will invite otherwise complacent players to consider taking out Tyson before he can do the same to them.
(Of course, Tyson has an immunity idol to protect him – and how amazing would it be if Tyson WANTED to get everyone gunning for him, so that he could play the idol and control who goes home?)
5) Q: You’ve won a reality show before, you’re an individual immunity threat, and a three-time player says he’s got your back. Do you:
(a) Trust him
(b) Doubt him
(c) Blindside him
(d) Ask him to blindside you
(e) Tell him funny stories about the Brigade
Hayden’s answer: A
Correct answer: C… (B should lead you to C)
Time for me to don my Captain Obvious cape: Hayden Moss, winner of Big Brother 12, is incontrovertible proof that the returnee advantage on Survivor is staggering. Hayden understands these games and the people who play them, but even he has relinquished all control to Tyson. At this point, I have to believe that by day 25, the stress level in the game is so high – particularly for newbies – that there is an irresistible urge to follow rather than to lead, an undeniable comfort in letting go, even when you KNOW it is unwise.
On an all-newbie season, Hayden would reach this point in the game and then take it over.
Surrounded by returnees, however, he’s just another goat.
6) Q: You haven’t done much since a bold pre-merge Tribal Council move, and now the endgame is approaching. The other castaways are busy orchestrating blindsides, voting out mothers, and making Final 3 deals. What do you do?
(a) Keep quiet
(b) Fondly recall your Tribal Council move against Brad Culpepper
(c) Fish a little, maybe take a nap
(d) Wonder if Colton will quit you like he quit Survivor
(e) All of the above
Caleb’s answer: E
Correct Answer: None of the above
I understand that Caleb is a victim of the edit, but c’mon, man, play the game!
Every one of the newbies should have aligned against the returning players when they had a 5-3 advantage. 4-3 is cutting it too close, particularly when there’s an idol out there somewhere (don’t they HAVE to assume someone has it at this point? The clue is explicit, and a number of players have tried, and failed, to find it). Strike while the iron is hot, people – in all likelihood, you’re going to get only one shot to flip the game on its head after the merge, and once the moment has passed, it’s gone forever.
In Survivor, as in life, if there’s one thing that unites almost every member of the castaway family, it is this: Regret. They regret their decisions, their choice in allies, their strategy (or lack thereof). They would give anything to go back in time and do it all over again. Indeed, this is what fuels so many returning players, this desire to right the wrongs of the past.
I have a feeling that Caleb – and his fellow newbies – have a lot of regrets about Blood vs. Water and their endgame decisions.
Such a shame – because this might have become one of the best seasons of them all if Caleb, Hayden, Katie, Ciera, and Laura M had been able to topple the vets. Sadly, if the last two seasons have taught us anything, it is this: newbies just aren’t capable of making the right moves when they’re facing off against returning players. All the more reason to stop with the “vs.” seasons, methinks.
7) Q: You just won individual immunity and a fast food feast. Probst asks you to pick one other person to eat hamburgers, hot dogs, and French fries with you. You pick:
(a) Hayden, because he reminds you of Brad (sans tats)
(b) Tyson, because you want to solidify your Final 3 deal with food
(c) Everyone, because at least five of them are going to be on the jury
(d) No one – instead tell Probst, “Do you have a vegan option?”
(e) Throw it everywhere, because you’re the author of your own fate
Monica’s answer: C
Correct Answer: C
My first reaction to Monica’s move was a loud groan – giving away the food felt like a transparent attempt to make potential jurors happy. But then I realized something: Under the same set of circumstances, I would have done the same thing; in fact, I would have gone into the challenge planning on giving away the reward. Of course, had I been in Monica’s position, I wouldn’t have tried to win the challenge in the first place, because it’s far better to be picked to share a reward than to be the one doing the picking. But then, I’m not as paranoid as Monica; were I her, I’d have faith that I was a tender and delicious goat and didn’t need the immunity idol, but she still sees herself as an endgame threat who could be blindsided at any time.
Anyway, giving away the food was a smart move – nothing to lose, everything to gain – but I still think that my initial reaction was warranted: Monica’s lack of empathy, the complete absence of palpable connection to her tribemates (who were grateful, but not warmly so), made her gesture seem hollow and calculated. And when you’re seeking reasons to believe that Monica has a chance to win, that’s a very bad sign, indeed.
8) Q: With seven players left in the game, you’ve equaled your finish from your first season (which took place well over a decade ago), you’re in the enviable “sidekick” position, and you’re pretty sure that you’re going to make the Final 3. What do you do?
(a) Kick back and enjoy the ride
(b) Have faith in a bitter jury
(c) Gently, Gervaseively, turn the others against Tyson
(d) Actively sow the seeds of discord
(e) Blindside Tyson At F5
Gervase’s answer: A… maybe B and C?
Correct answer: E
Let’s go along with the edit for a moment and assume that Tyson, Gervase, and Monica will be our Final 3. I get the feeling that Gervase would be fine with this triumvirate, even though he shouldn’t be. I think he believes – hopes? – that the jury will hold Tyson accountable for all of his moves, but is he right to think so?
Time to take a walk down Jury Lane and play a game I like to call, “Bitter or Benign?”
(Two things to keep in mind when you peruse this list: first, this is the BEST CASE SCENARIO for Gervase, and second, I’ve listed them from “Most Likely to be Bitter” to “Most Benign.”)
Laura: Bitter… Tyson turned her baby against her
Ciera: Bitter… she voted out her mom to be Tyson’s third-place goat, dammit
Tina: Bitter… she has a threat to live up to (“You can’t win”)
Vytas: Bitter… Tyson blindsided his bro (I know, I know – I’m reaching
Katie: Benign… had no expectations that Tyson would help her
Caleb: Benign… if he can tolerate Colton, he can put up with anything
Aras: Benign… as a previous winner, he’ll reward good game play
Hayden: Benign … he understands that winners have to betray people
That’s a 4-4 split, but I’m straining credulity almost across the board… it could just as easily be:
Laura: Benign… she respects the game too much
Ciera: Benign… she’ll agree with her mom
Tina: Benign… she, like Aras, is a former winner and will vote accordingly
Vytas: Benign… he’s a forgiving guy who would reward good gameplay
My point? That Gervase should have his doubts about everyone on the jury. And that, in turn, should lead him to start making some moves to build his Final Tribal Council résumé. And there would be no better way to do that than to blindside Tyson.
Will Gervase do that? I doubt it. But it would be brilliant, would it not?
9) Q: Your days are numbered because you’re the last person left from your alliance, but your mother, after an impressive Redemption Island victory, gave you a clue to the location of the hidden immunity idol. Sadly, despite hours of digging, you were unable to find it. Do you:
(a) Pretend you found it
(b) Go through everyone’s bags to try to find it
(c) Admit that you don’t have it
(d) Show everyone the clue and all of your digging spots
(e) Tell the other players that one of them is lying about not having the idol
Katie’s answer: C
Correct answer: B, D, and E
If I were in Katie’s spot – awaiting execution because my alliance had been annihilated – I would clearly have nothing to lose, and the time for drastic measures would have arrived. Thankfully, Tina gave Katie precisely the ammunition she needed. Unfortunately, though, Katie didn’t realize that the clue – and some well-aimed truth-telling – could be almost as powerful as the idol, itself.
Here’s what I’d do:
** I’d announce publicly that I was unable to find the idol.
** I’d then read the clue to everyone – and show them the picture.
** Once everyone agreed that there’s only one place the idol could be, I’d take everyone to the spot and show them how extensively I had dug. (If they complained about my theatrics and wouldn’t go, I’d encourage them to check it out for themselves; they’d do it sooner or later, because they’d wonder and worry and want to know.)
** I’d then point out the obvious: I didn’t find the idol because one of them already has it.
** I’d invite everyone to dump out their bags to prove to the group that they don’t have it. (I’d neither expect them to do this, nor (in the unlikely event that they did) expect the idol to be in someone’s bag, given that it’s okay to root around in ’em in modern Survivor.
** Next, I’d pull aside the newbies and ask, “How many of you have Final 3 deals with Tyson?”
** I’d also say, “Only a returnee could hide an idol this long and not reveal anything about it… and Tyson’s acting reallllllly comfortable. He either has it or knows who does.”
** If she’d listen to me, I’d also tell Monica, “I know you don’t have it – two Tribal Councils ago, you were worried that you were going home – so the question is, who’s lying to you?”
** I might even ask Tyson – to get his denial on record – and then Gervase, just to get them worried about one another.
The idea here is to instill doubt, to create fractures, to foment distrust amongst and between all of the remaining players. Sure, that would make me a bigger target, but I’m doomed anyway, so why not give it a shot? I’m not saying this plan would work – but it has to be better than doing nothing.
And that, in the end, is what differentiates the goats from the greats: The former accept their fates, while the latter will never go gently into that good night.
An idol would be better… but any doubt will do.
10) Q: You’re the host of a reality game show. Three players, including two former winners, are battling in a do-or-die Redemption Island Challenge. What do you shout while you’re waiting to see who wins?
(a) “Brad Culpepper played in the NFL!”
(b) “I’m tired of blue button-downs – I want to wear a tank top!”
(c) “You don’t want to lose this challenge!”
(d) “Dig deep! Fire represents life! I’ve got nothing for you!”
(e) “If you don’t give the idol clue to someone who will use it, I’ll kill you all!”
Probst’s answer: C
Correct answer: E
C’mon, Probst, that’s all you could come up with? “You don’t want to lose”? I half-expected Vytas to throw a grappling hook into Probst’s skull and say, “No s**t, Jeff.”
11) Fortunes rising: Gervase
The newbies are targeting Tyson. The returnees are targeting the newbies. And no one – I repeat, no one – is targeting Gervase.
Is there any way that Gervase doesn’t make the final three?
(Of course, the only way he wins is if he takes out Tyson.)
12) Fortunes falling: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOBS!
They could have taken over the game. But they didn’t. Predictable, but frustrating, nonetheless.
13) Prediction time:
The newbies attempt to align (but too late, too late).
Tyson figures it out. (Or one of the newbies, in a sad attempt to curry favor, warns him.)
The idol is played, much to the surprise of everyone.
And Ciera is sent to Redemption Island.
(One qualifier: If Laura loses the RI challenge at the beginning of the episode – thereby removing the threat of Ciera and Laura reuniting – then Tyson might take out Hayden, who is the last remaining individual immunity threat not in his alliance.)
That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – if you’d like to keep the conversation going, leave a comment below!
Andy Baker is a Survivor blogger who wants nothing more than to get a back rub from Jeff Probst the next time he's thinking about quitting his column. Follow Andy on twitter: @SurvivorGenius