The Baker's Dozen - Survivor: Cagayan

Capital offenses


New (3/4/14): Listen to Andy talk even more about his pre-season views of Survivor: Cagayan in "The Baker's Fifteen" on the Survivor Talk with D&D podcast, Episode 143.


I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I have a lot of strong feelings about the first two hours of Survivor: Cagayan. Indeed, what transpired on Wednesday makes me want to hop up on my soapbox and bellow my truth.




(Advanced warning: This edition of The Dozen is going to be rapid fire… my weekend took an unexpected turn, so I didn’t have as much writing time as I usually dedicate to this column.)





1) The premiere sucked!


Okay, so that’s not really true. There was a lot of drama. There was not one, but TWO, blindsides. And J’Tia reminded us that Brandon isn’t the only castaway who, when backed into a corner, blames the rice. That’s entertainment, right?


Depends on what you find entertaining.


Remember when I said in my first pre-season column that the strategic tribulations of an all newbie cast would likely have me face-palming? MY FACE IS RED AND SWOLLEN, PEOPLE. The outline of my fingers is forever etched into my forehead, thanks to David, Garrett, and J’Tia. One thing’s for certain:




So, okay, fine, it was riveting television. Memorable. Compelling, even.


But great Survivor? Not even close. I need some solid strategy if I’m going to be impressed – and strategy, quite obviously, was in short supply on Wednesday – just like Brain’s intelligence, acumen, and rice.


Got this thing locked

2) How could you read everything, Garrett, but learn nothing?


I’ll admit it: I was disproportionately pleased that within his 2000 hours of preparation, Garrett had read a backlog of The Baker’s Dozen to get a sense of Survivor strategy. Obviously, I think I know a thing or two, and I was hopeful that Garrett would employ some of what I wrote within the context of the game. He’s a sharp guy, poker player, and above all, the valedictorian of his high school class, so clearly he should do well, right?




He did EVERYTHING wrong. From sculpting a physique that would have his body breaking down within the first few days, to not having his head around how hard it is out there, to fixating on specific players instead of remaining adaptable, to his desire to stop strategizing (a poker weakness: he’s used to making quick decisions and then moving on to the next hand), to his utter and complete lack of empathy (he needed to give Tasha what she wanted: a strategy session), he was the MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER IN THE HISTORY OF THE GAME.


(If you want to know more about what I think of Garrett – and the art of preparing for Survivor – be sure to check out The Baker’s Fifteen, a weekly segment on Survivor Talk with D & D.)



3) If Garrett did not exist, David would be the worst player of the season not named J’Tia


I now understand why David doesn’t have a Twitter account: underneath that expensive jacket is a thin skin.




Mostly because he’s proud of the fact that he bilked the public out of hundreds of millions of dollars during the recession – but also because he’s HORRIBLE AT SURVIVOR.


(On a related note, I told an ESPN The Magazine buddy of mine that Samson listed the financing of Marlins Park as his proudest achievement, and he was appalled.)


Chop chop

4) J’Tia, I know Brandon Hantz. Brandon Hantz is an enemy of mine. You are no Brandon Hantz.


Nothing quite like an extremely dated political joke to add some antiquated topicality to The Dozen. Apologies. Won’t happen again.


Anyway, it’s clear that J’Tia was cast for conflict; while there was no way to know that she’d be THIS crazy, all of the pre-season camp shots made it obvious that J’Tia was going to be an antagonist this season.


Here’s the thing: She might be around for awhile.


If the Brains tribe manages to dodge Tribal Council even once in the next two weeks – and the girls gang up on Spencer if they do have to vote someone out – then three members of Luzon will make it to the swap: Tasha, J’Tia, and Kass.


At that point, how’s this for a plausible scenario: J’Tia – either by herself or with one of the other Luzon castaways – becomes a swing vote in a Brawn vs. Beauty power struggle. She steps back, lets the bullets fly, and watches Aparri and Solana decimate each other. And suddenly we’re at the merge, and she’s still there.


At that point, won’t the other players look at J’Tia and think, “Hey, she’s PERFECT to take to the Final Three.”


If you’re like me and can’t stand players who indulge in histrionic self-immolation, brace yourself, because there’s a plausible, even probable, path for J’Tia to make the merge – and she might very well be around for the endgame.


Also dead on land

5) When your tribe is doomed, it is smart to plan for the swap


There’s been a fair bit of Twitter banter about Kass’s decision to vote out Garrett (some of it by the player themselves; there are moments when they veer uncomfortably close to spoilers, which is really frustrating – STOP IT, ALL OF YOU). From what I can tell, opinion is pretty split between, “Dumbest Day 6 Decision Ever” and “Kiss her kAss, she made the right move.” As for me, while I understand the former stance, I’m in the latter camp.




Would you bet on either Brawn or Beauty losing BOTH of the next two challenges? Yeah, me neither. And that’s the ONLY way the Brains enter the swap with another tribe in the same dire straits as they are. The most likely post-swap scenario right now is 3-3-1 and 3-2-2 (Brawn-Beauty-Brains); that likelihood mandates a different decision tree, one that heavily predisposes Kass to take out Garrett over J’Tia (and Spencer should be next).


Kass needed to put herself in a position to be one of the two or three Brains to make it to the swap; now, by taking out Garrett, Kass is either 1A or 1B in her alliance (she can convince Tasha to cut J’Tia loose if they lose a fourth challenge before the swap). Aligned with Garrett and Spencer, on the other hand, she’s 3rd (and probably 4th if she faltered in a challenge; the guys would swap her out for Tasha). Given these tribal dynamics, she absolutely HAD to write down Garrett’s name – it was, without a doubt, the lesser of two evils. In the end, she had to think about her own game, and her own game – as opposed to the fate of her original tribe – demanded it.


One other factor that may have affected Kass’s thinking: If there are three or four Brains left when the tribes are swapped, she will want to either be a solitary float vote, or better yet, end up on a tribe with a second Brain – moreover, she’ll want that other Brain to be someone she can work with. Tasha would be her first choice, and J’Tia second – there is no way she’d trust Spencer or Garrett. Assuming they’d continue to struggle in challenges, Survivor calculus offers only one answer: Garrett had to go.


That said, KASS, STOP TELLING EVERYONE THE TRUTH. Remember Survivor Commandment #3: Never give them time to scramble. Sooner or later – probably sooner – the truth will set you free. And by free, I mean liberated from the game and a resident of Losers Lodge.



6) There is no 'should' in Survivor


While Garrett has taken a ton of well-earned grief for his asinine “I don’t want to strategize any more, so we’re all going to just sit here until Tribal Council” approach to the game, I REFUSE TO GIVE TASHA A PASS.


As a wannabe castaway, I respect Tasha’s desire to play the game – I would feel the same way if I was on strategy lock-down – but SAVE YOUR RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION FOR CONFESSIONALS.


As social disruptions so often do, this failure to communicate – between all of the Brains, but specifically between Tasha and Garrett – is due to a lack of empathy: Garrett was unable to give Tasha what she wanted (a one-on-one conversation which would allow her to be heard and acknowledged), and Tasha was unable to give Garrett what he needed (a sense of control and confirmation that J’Tia was going home).


Here’s the thing: THERE IS NO ONE WAY TO PLAY THIS GAME. It is ever changing. Adapt or die.


To Tasha, Survivor SHOULD involve sub-alliance strategizing. To Garrett, Survivor SHOULD involve decision irrevocability after a verdict has been reached. THEY’RE BOTH WRONG. (Even if they’re both well within their rights to want these things.)


The game is what it becomes. And it becomes what the individual players want it to be. And when there is a difference of opinion, one or more of the players needs to bridge the gap.


Neither Garrett nor Tasha was able to do that.


Garrett paid the price. Time will tell if Tasha does the same.


(I hope she doesn’t – I think she possesses empathy in abundance. She just didn’t want to exercise it with Garrett. Unsurprising, given how whiny and petulant he was – he must have been quite the Campfire Eeyore.)


The rice decision

7) If you have a chance to help your tribe and help yourself at the same time, that's what you do


When I first thought about the decision the Weakest Player had to make, I thought, “Screw extra rice – take the idol clue!” I still think there are certain contexts that would make such a decision defensible, but I’ve come around to the belief that taking the rice is the wiser course of action. Here’s my line of thinking:


** You get to camp and see that there’s an idol clue. There also isn’t much else there: a bag of rice and some supplies.

** You have to think, okay, there’s no obvious place to hide an idol here in camp (as opposed to the cover of the rice containers in Survivor: Philippines), which means this clue is probably a map.

** Idols, for the most part, are hidden in distinctive locations a short hike from the beach.

** Why not take the rice – to earn goodwill with your tribe – and then start scouting out likely locations of the idol? The rocks near the Beauty beach – the Brawns swimming hole – the Brains waterfall: these are obvious hiding places.

** You KNOW that the producers want the idols to be found (and played). Which means that more clues will be coming. If you haven’t found the idol by the time your tribe wins its first reward, do what Tony did (#TeamTV!) and search the supplies – a clue will be in there.

** If you play your cards right, you can help out your tribe AND get your hands on the idol. You also avoid the post-swap difficulty of having a selfish decision exposed by a player from another tribe who took the rice – and you’ve got that leverage over anyone who opted for the idol clue. Plus, if you DID find the idol after choosing the rice, the other castaways will be far less likely to suspect you have it. By my count, that’s a WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN.


Butch would be proud

8) Pay attention to the little things


There are times I don’t think I give the Survivor producers and editors enough credit: they often drop in tiny little details, moments that may be included solely for what they immediately give us (entertainment, humor, human interest), but sometimes are there to hint at things to come. What follows is a brief laundry list of minutiae which may or may not mean something:


** Sarah’s comment, “Hey, Jeff, I think I might be on the wrong tribe,” was amusing – especially given that disarming half-smile of hers – and it certainly wasn’t anything resembling Gervase-level triumphant antagonism, but you have to wonder if her ego is going to catch up to her at some point. All it takes is one person to notice it, have it rub them the wrong way, and then go nuclear (engineer)…


** Trish calling out Lindsey for not helping with wood collection: confrontation is NEVER the answer. Not terribly important in and of itself, but if this is indicative of how Trish treats people, then she’s got a long road ahead of her, a road that almost invariably ends in defeat.


** Lindsey’s reaction to Trish, both short term (yelling) and long term (mocking Trish’s teeth with other members of the Brawn tribe), was far more damaging. Here’s a fundamental Survivor truth for you: THE GAME IS WON BY THOSE WHO BEHAVE THE BEST WHEN THEY’RE AT THEIR WORST. Within the first six days, Lindsey was channeling her physical, emotional, and psychological discomfort into a negative, combative attitude; what will she be like two weeks into the game and/or when her tribe needs to vote someone out? I’d love to be surprised – I find Lindsey fascinating, truth be told – but at this point, I’m convinced that Lindsey can’t win, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see her leave pre-merge.


** We got a quick snippet of Jefra making a religious reference, and I couldn’t help but wonder: we’ve got more than a few people of faith on this season, so are God and Jesus going to be the 19th and 20th Castaways? Is THAT why Probst is so unexcited about Survivor: Cagayan? Does religion shape this season and ultimately inform the endgame?


Jeremiah-Morgan** Most people view the world – and the people in it – through a lens which privileges their own strengths, so I shouldn’t be surprised that Morgan thinks LJ picked her as the Weakest Beauty because he felt tempted (and thus threatened) by her. But I can be annoyed by it, can’t I? Not everyone is entranced by Rubenesque morphology, Morgan, and honestly, Jefra and Alexis look stronger and tougher.


** One person who IS entranced with Morgan: Jeremiah. Clearly, he has talked openly about actively seeking a showmance; he mentioned it in his pre-game interview video, and now Morgan is mentioning that she’s going to use Jeremiah’s infatuation to further her own ends. I don’t think it’s going to work – the general de-beautifying of a monsoon will nip that attraction in the bud – but it’s worth noting that Jeremiah will be easily swayed by sexuality. Something tells me that the lovely ladies who are around for the endgame – assuming there are any – may well take advantage of Jeremiah (and not in the way he’d prefer).


** And finally, coming back around full circle to Sarah, did you notice that she was doing her best to ameliorate the conflict between Trish and Lindsey? She’s already in the role of peace-keeper (as well as leader and chief puzzle crusher), and that type of player tends to stick around for a while. She’s got empathy in abundance; here’s hoping that she can sustain it through the trials and tribulations ahead.


Yay, Sarah

9) I am a savant... no, I am an idiot


First, some quick thoughts on the players I analyzed accurately in my two pre-season columns.


- Sarah: My pick to win had a GREAT episode. She’s either an endgame factor, or we’re getting the foundation for a tale of epic hubris. I’m betting on the former.


- LJ: Ended up being the reluctant leader, as predicted (by a lot of people, not just me), handled the Weakest Player situation well, got some solid confessionals, and proved that his “I’m good at puzzles” claim wasn’t just Beauty bravado.


- Tasha: She came to play – and if she had been put onto a stronger starting tribe, she’d have a great chance to be a key member of a power alliance. I hope it happens for her after a swap, but I’m guessing that most if not all of the Brains end up being pawns in a Brawn-Beauty chess match (and that will drive Spencer NUTS).




And now, some thoughts on the players I was TOTALLY wrong about:




- Tony: Clearly, Tony knows this game better than I thought he did – searching for the hidden immunity idol clue, and then finding the idol, was really well done. He’s also significantly less attitudinal than I thought he was going to be; dare I say it, he’s coming across as a lovable goofball. I mean, seriously, WHO DOESN’T LOVE THE SPY SHACK?! (Speaking of which, if you have not yet heard the “Spy Shack” song by the guys at Survivor Talk with D&D, do yourself a favor and click on THIS LINK.)


That said, I think Tony is going to make a misstep this week by exposing his “I’m not a cop” lie to Sarah (a lie he shouldn’t have told in the first place), and I bet he’s going to compound his error by admitting he has the idol… it definitely feels like he’s being set up for a fall. Whatever the future holds, though, at the moment, I am squarely #TeamTV – the guy is an earnest, entertaining cartoon castaway.




- Kass: Love the attitude. Support the blindside. Fear her future.


- Lindsey: Had her in 4th place in my second boot list prediction. I’d now put her around 15th. Total free-fall.




- Spencer: Just when I had settled on “douche-canoe” as my go-to Spencerian epithet, he up and delivers a truly solid premiere performance. As I suspected, he ended up saving the pompous pontification for confessionals, but I wasn’t prepared for how deftly he would handle Luzon’s cray-cray camp-life and how nimbly he navigated two turbulent Tribal Councils. I don’t think he’s long for this game, but against the longest of odds, this kid has impressed me.


- Brice: I wasn’t expecting much out of Brice this season, but he revealed that he’s a socially aware schemer, correctly identifying that he was the odd man out and that Morgan would make for a logical (and loyal) ally. I don’t think he’s going to be able to pull off his power move by bringing in Jeremiah – more on that in the Prediction section – but just setting that plan in motion made it clear that there’s more to Brice than a pair of purple pants.


Looking at those two lists, here’s what I’ve learned: I AM MORE IDIOT THAN SAVANT




It is late on Monday night, I’m over 3000 words, and I need to get this column posted… so it’s time for the SPEED ROUND:




And you are... ?

10) Probst Probe:  


** It’s so cute that Probst pretends to not know the names of the castaways when he’s first “meeting” them on the mats. Just once, I’d like to see a player say, “You know. You know exactly who I am. SAY MY NAME.” You’re an active participant in casting, Probst, and the players and viewers know it, so cease with the silliness.


** Probst at his best: I LOVED his facial expressions during Tribal Council – priceless.


** Probst at his worst: Do you think he wrote and rehearsed all the vicious insults he hurled at the Brains tribe during the first two immunity challenges? Or can he be that spontaneously, relentlessly cruel? I’m not sure I want to know the answer to this.



11) Fortunes rising: LJ


Loved the self-aware humility of his “inner beauty” line (might have been manufactured, but it felt authentic)… his analysis of hot vs. cute was both amusing and accurate… and he is definitely game-savvy (understanding that there’s a good chance that Morgan was given an idol clue). His stock, which I was high on already, is going Google.



12) Fortunes falling: Everyone on the Brains tribe.


Not only are they going to be down in numbers when they head into a swap, but they’re also – thanks to the Brains label – not going to be trusted. Indeed, members of the Brawn and Beauty tribes will assume that the Brains were cast to be plotters, schemers, and backstabbers, and the eliminations of David and Garrett will only further cement that assumption. They’re doomed, I tell you – doomed.


13) Prediction time:


Last week, we had an episode with a title that suggested conflict at the Beauty camp – but it didn’t really play out that way. And this week, the title – “Cops-R-Us” – points to the Brawn camp; I’m guessing that this, too, will be a misdirect. In fact, I’m wondering if we’re just getting set-up for storylines one week, and having the drama unfold the next… which means a Beauty going this Wednesday, and a Brawn the Wednesday after.


Another factor in this: there’s clearly someone (maybe more than one?) in the Beauty tribe who is floundering in challenges. Solana was a distant third coming out of the water in the second immunity challenge; only a total (nuclear) meltdown from J’Tia prevented the Beauty tribe from sending someone home last week. If the footage of this week’s immunity challenge (from the CBS commercials) are any indication, the weak links are Morgan and Brice…


So here’s what I think is going to happen:


** After losing the IC, Brice and Morgan try to lock down Jeremiah and a fourth player (Alexis, probably, although I won’t rule out LJ) to take out Jefra.

** LJ will consider targeting Morgan, but fears she has the idol and doesn’t think he can effectively split the votes, so he shifts the bull’s-eye onto Brice.

** At Tribal Council, we find out that the Country Club we’ve expected from the beginning – LJ, Alexis, Jeremiah, and Jefra – has indeed formed, and Brice is voted out.


(The one wild card in all of this is the weather conditions; emotions run hot when we’re cold, and suffering can lead to some crazy strategy…)




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

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