The Baker's Dozen - Survivor: Cagayan

The merge menu - A la carte


Sometimes, there’s just so much going on in an episode of Survivor that my typical long-winded rants just don’t seem like the right way to share my thoughts.


So this week, I’m gonna break away from the artificial construct of “13 bullet points” and offer up my opinions À La Carte: assemble your repast however you like, digest some ideas, reject others, whatever suits your mood.


Hope you enjoy this week’s menu…


Before we begin:

If you’d like to hear me kick around the merge episode with the guys over at Survivor Talk with D&D, along with Steve Helling of PEOPLE Magazine, Colton Cumbie (Survivor: One World and Survivor: Blood vs. Water) and Caleb Bankston (Survivor: Blood vs. Water), be sure to watch or listen to the podcast I did with them this past Thursday. Two hours of solid Survivor strategy and insight from them – and pointless rambling from me.


And now, I’m going to attempt the impossible:

I want to convince you that what Kass chose to do – even though it was fueled by cardinal sins like wrath, envy, and pride – was not only defensible, but also reasonable, and quite possibly laudable:


The dominant NuAparri alliance


** Kass deduced (correctly, if there’s truth in Sarah’s post-game interviews; always have to take those conversations with a grain of salt, given that they’re self-serving and riddled with lies) that Kass was at the bottom of her six-person alliance. Spencer, Sarah, and Jeremiah had formed a sub-alliance (one they didn't bother to hide, apparently), and they wanted Kass gone first when they had to start targeting their own (apparently, Kass is hard to live with).


** Add to that the fact that Sarah tipped her hand when she refused to vote for Trish – she admitted in print and on podcasts that she was planning on flipping later, bringing in Trish to her alliance – and Kass, knowing that she was not part of Sarah’s short or long-range plans (and that Trish probably WAS), needed to take control of her own destiny sooner rather than later.


** Add to THAT the fact that even if the Aparri 6 held tight, Kass wouldn’t stand a chance against half of them (Sarah, Tasha, and Spencer all beat her at a FTC), particularly since this path is passive and involves no endgame resume moves. So to have even a 1% chance of winning, Kass had to flip at some point before the others flipped on her. I'd argue she did it too early, of course, but what if the opportunity wasn't available at F9? (As for the next flip zone – F7 – that’s probably a bit too late to start making moves if strategic acumen is your endgame argument.)


** And if Kass can't win with EITHER alliance, she needs to pick the one that gets her the closest to the end. She knew – or at least heavily suspected – that she wasn't getting to the Final Tribal Council with Aparri, so why not gamble that a shift to Solana might offer more opportunities? Now that Kass has five enemies who will be on the jury, who in Solana with even a single strategic brain cell wouldn't bring her to the Final Three? (She might even get there by default; in her new alliance, Tony and LJ have to be targeted first when Solana has to turn on its own, right? And Woo is a perpetual target, given his status of “Most Likely to go on an Extended Immunity Run.”)


** Speaking of Tony and LJ – and throwing Woo into the mix – what Kass has done is the inverse of what Sarah decided to do. By siding with physically weaker players, Sarah was attempting to give herself an edge during endgame immunity challenges; by flipping over to Solana, Kass was surrounding herself with bigger targets, guys who will have to focus on one another before they even think about eliminating her. Post-merge, the strong want to be surrounded by the weak, and the weak want to be surrounded by the strong.


Happy Kass


** And then one final factor: It was quite telling that Kass said that her vote at Tribal Council wasn't about numbers but instead about “comfort.” She suspects that she can't win the game at this point, so she's basing her decision at least in part on who she'd rather live with for the next three weeks. She can't stand Sarah, clashes with Morgan, and feels betrayed by Tasha. So why not join the other side and take out the players who annoy her? (Survivor Commandment #83: Never underestimate the decision-swaying power of camp conflict. Players who are easy to live with stick around; those who are abrasive eventually wear out their welcome.)


** Just to clarify: I don't think I would have made the same move Kass made, but she had her reasons for flipping; we can quibble with her timing, but not her admittedly emotion-fueled logic. Had she remained with Aparri, she goes home before the Final 3, while with Solana, she will probably have a seat at the Final Tribal Council (with almost no chance of winning, but a seat nonetheless).


On a related note: I’m not ready to rule out the possibility of a Final 2 with this pack of newbies...


...could be production’s way of partially mitigating the power of the T.P. Idol (with two Tribals after the idol expires instead of one).


If there’s one thing we’re learning this season...’s that when you have a group of knowledgeable newbies, you’ll get a lot of strategic maneuvering; not all of it is smart, and almost all of it is premature, but it is most certainly entertaining.


One of the reasons merge episodes are so fascinating is that the disruption of existing power dynamics half-way through the game creates elegant mayhem. Conflict and confrontation are inescapable, and paranoia reins supreme. The players who can keep their cool amidst the chaos (hello, LJ and Tasha) are the real threats to win it all. Of course, that’s the selfsame reason they’re bound to be targets.


Seems legit

If we have to point to one reason that Kass is still in the game while Sarah is the President of Ponderosa


Occam’s razor suggests that it comes down to this: Kass had the right read on who had idols, while Sarah couldn’t have been more wrong. (Yes, the idols didn’t save anyone, but they did shape strategy going into Tribal Council, and it was those strategy discussions which fomented the animosity between Kass and Sarah.)


** By the by, I’m not giving Kass a pass this week: she was too emotional, petulant, and alarmist. Her superpower is to leap to conclusions (like how Tasha must be against her because Tasha was telling Sarah what a swing vote needed to hear). Kass was every inch the “bully” that Sarah was this week; they both wanted to get their way and were willing to leverage whatever power they had to assert their dominance. Kass may have gotten the better of Sarah in the end, but it was a Pyrrhic victory; nobody really wins battles like these.


Speaking of Tasha, she needed to remember Survivor Commandment #71:


Every ego needs stroking. Yes, you have to make the swing vote feel needed (Sarah), and yes, you have to convince the person at the bottom of your alliance that he or she ISN’T at the bottom of your alliance (Morgan and Jeremiah), but you CANNOT forget about the people you assume are solid (Kass). The smoldering embers of worry quickly become the raging inferno of paranoia if left untended.



Are people allowed to give themselves nicknames?


I vote no.


When Spencer told Kass to say goodbye to her chances to win the game...


...what he was really saying was, “You were supposed to be a goat! How dare you have a mind of your own? You owe me a million dollars!” His righteous indignation was much like the hate spewed by Whitney and Jim at Cochran in South Pacific: Spencer is simply angry that his game was crippled by someone he thought would be content to help him make it to the end.


So many players are failing one of the critical components of Survivor (and a key facet of empathy):


You have to see the other players AS THEY SEE THEMSELVES. Spencer was unable to understand that Kass – like most players – saw herself as the hero of this particular tale (all antagonists are the protagonists of their own stories). Even when you view a castaway as a bit player in the unfolding drama – perhaps ESPECIALLY then – you have to convince her that YOU’RE the supporting actor, and that you’ll be the first one to congratulate her with a hug on Finale night.


You might vote me?

Sarah’s critical error: Not telling Tony what he wanted and needed to hear.


Why not agree to rejoin her Brawn brethren even if she was planning on sticking with Aparri? It would have kept Trish from recruiting Kass and prevented Tony from showing up at Tribal ready to engage in his idol shenanigans. Sarah, who knows her Survivor history, should have remembered Survivor Commandment #8: Always accept Final Three offers. (Penner famously forgot this rule in Survivor: Philippines when Skupin and Lisa made their pitch; I’m sure Sarah watched that season, but I guess she didn’t learn that particular lesson.)


Power Sarah

Despite my focusing on Sarah’s mistakes over the past few weeks, I still think she’s good at (and for) the game:


She was my pick to win the whole thing, I loved watching her feel her way through the game, and I really hope she gets another shot. Hated seeing you go, Sarah; this is a legitimately great season, and you’re a big part of the reason why. (Next time you’re out there – should Survivor be around long enough for you to be invited back – do me a favor and forget about things like loyalty and integrity. If you think honor was in short supply with newbies, just imagine what it will be like with returning players. But I’m guessing you know that already.)


** As wrong as Sarah was about who had idols, she was just as right about Jefra (not a strategic or immunity challenge threat) and LJ and Tony (if they didn’t have idols, they needed to be taken out before Woo). She’s got the head and the heart for the game; now all she needs is the humility.


Trish moves

Was Trish’s move REALLY that great?


She woke up in the middle of a catfight, knew she couldn’t use the conflict to flip one of the combatants (Sarah, who had made it clear she was aligned with Aparri), so she approached the other one (someone who just so happened to feel she was at the bottom of her alliance, not just in a power squabble with Sarah). The whole thing just fell into Trish’s lap! I give her full credit for recognizing the opportunity presented to her – she’s better at the social game than I thought (although, in my defense, until this week she was getting a really ugly edit) – but she didn’t so much coordinate a coup as she offered safe harbor to a ship she discovered was adrift.


** That said, Trish played it JUST RIGHT. Survivor Commandment #65: Offer – and then deliver – whatever the swing vote wants. Kass is alarmingly unpredictable, but I bet she’ll remain loyal to Solana for at least a vote or two, simply because she got what she wanted.


** Picking fights and/or engaging in them is good for everyone in the game except for the people fighting. Survivor Commandment #14: NEVER FIGHT.


I am so incredibly tempted to make a “Woo shoe torque” joke


But I won’t. (Note to future Survivors: Bring grippy FiveFinger shoes if production will let you. There are so many challenges they can help with.)


Keep it there, dude

If you ask me, Tony and LJ needed to make a massive gamble at Tribal:


Hang onto their idols and pray that Kass flipped. If they take out Sarah and still possess two hidden immunity idols, they can coast to F7. (At that point, they’d need to turn on one another.) As things stand now, though, if neither one gets his hands on the T.P. Idol, their names are going to be mentioned as potential targets before each and every tribal the rest of the way. I might even go so far as to say that they’ll both be gone by F7 (although with only three eliminations between now and then, that’s unlikely; I’ll hedge my bet and say F6).


** When a player says, “I’m not conning you” – as Tony did to Sarah – he’s conning you.


** Since when did Probst start authenticating immunity idols? Makes me want to bring a bag full of jungle flotsam to Tribal Council – rocks, sticks, chunks of mud – and bring them up to Jeff one by one and ask, “Is THIS an idol? How about this? Maybe this one?” This would be especially entertaining if, after Probst told me to sit down and shut up, I pulled out an actual idol, had Jeff authenticate it, but then refused to play it.



When a cast has so many strong, strategic players – as this one does


It becomes all the more apparent who’s just along for the ride… which just fuels my frustration with incompetent castaways. Jefra, Jeremiah, and Morgan are just so overmatched that I get impatient whenever one of them is on my TV screen (“Show me someone important, CBS!”). Here’s a petrifying thought: it’s not out of the realm of possibility that one of this trio might earn the title of Sole Survivor, given Natalie White and Fabio’s victories (there’s really no precedent for someone like Morgan winning, however, and I don’t think she’s going to establish a new paradigm). If one of these three ends up a million dollars richer on May 21st, I might end up becoming positively Probstian in my overall assessment of Survivor: Cagayan. (Who am I kidding: I adore this season, and even with a lame winner, it’ll be in my top ten, probably top five.)


I suppose I should offer a prediction for Wednesday’s episode


...bear with me while I walk through my options:


Jeremiah: His story has been ready to end for a few weeks now… he’s a challenge threat (although, as I argued last week, bulkier males don’t really have an advantage in post-merge challenges; take a look at the press photos of this week’s immunity challenge and you’ll see what I mean)… and the other players seem to like him. With Aparri down 6-4 at the moment (assuming Kass remains loyal to her new alliance), Jeremiah makes sense as a target. Taking him out also keeps him from being recruited by his fellow Beauties (LJ and Jefra might consider it, and Morgan might be willing to go along), who are up 4-3-3 in original tribe numbers at the moment.


Tasha/Spencer: Solana has to at least consider breaking this twosome up, given that they’re stronger players AND a tandem (as opposed to Jeremiah and Morgan, who are reluctant allies). Spencer seems like the more obvious target, someone Solana can agree has to go, but I’d be tempted to take out Tasha; to me, she’s the bigger (triple) threat.


Morgan: The previews are playing up the growing discord between Morgan and Kass, and right now, Kass is in a position where she can pretty much dictate who goes home. On the one hand, Kass will want to eliminate the player she neither likes nor respects (because Morgan has utterly checked out of the game); on the other hand, Kass MUST be aware that she needs endgame goats (and players who fit that bill for Kass are few and far between).


Hmmmmm. I’ve been brutal at the prediction game this season – which is a good and great and wonderful thing, for it means that the show and the players are keeping me guessing – and I have a feeling that I’m going to be egregiously erroneous once again. But here it goes:


Last week, I said goodbye to my second pick to win the game; this week, I’ll say goodbye to my first: Tasha.




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