1) I’ll be honest: As of a week ago, I didn’t think I’d be writing this column.
I was enjoying the life of a “casual”: for the past couple of months, I’ve been able to watch Worlds Apart with my family on Wednesday nights without a notepad in my lap and a weekend deadline to worry me. But then the rumors about Survivor: Second Chances began to swirl…
Speaking of S:2C, I was hopeful that we’d have the official list of potential players at this point so that I could kill two Osten pelicans with one Debb rawk, but no such luck; my ballot will have to wait for another blog post in the weeks ahead.
(If you have no idea what I’m talking about -- which I highly doubt, since you’re reading a Survivor strategy column -- just wait: there will be a big Survivor-related announcement soon. I imagine the window for voting will be pretty small, however: there are going to be Worlds Apart players on the ballot, and their inclusion will give away that they don’t win. Indeed, we might have to wait until the week before the finale.)
Anyway, I promised that I’d write something around the merge, so I best get to it. It’ll be chaotic and messy but hopefully interesting. Not entirely unlike the merge feast, now that I think about it.
2) Despite, Probst’s pre-season proclamations, Worlds Apart ISN’T one of the greatest seasons of all time… yet.
I can think of three reasons that Probst went into hyperbole overdrive heading into this season:
** Compared to many of the people who “played” the game in San Juan del Sur, any group of castaways – up to and including Criminals vs. Kardashians – would seems like unbridled strategic masterminds.
** The post-merge game is filled with the things he loves: Big Moves™, #Blindsides, and Brutal Backstabbings. Also, Alpha Males. Oh, and psychotherapeutic Tribal Councils. Given who is left in the game, I think he’ll get everything he loves and desires and craves.
** There is little doubt that Probst has favored outcomes – and that the game (including tribe composition) is shaped to bring about the outcomes he favors. A number of Survivor bloggers (myself included) have opined that a Probst-approved male wins this season because of Jeff’s well-documented affection for alphas. The deeper we get into the game, the more this end result feels preordained.
Anyway, the pre-merge game was solid, but hardly spectacular: every tribe lost someone predictable (Nina, who was out of her element; Lindsey, who was compelling but confrontational; and Joaquin, who didn’t stand a chance against players who knew what they were doing). The other non-dateable boots were interesting but not shocking (So, a victim of circumstance and an inability to lie well; Vinsanity, who was going to crazy himself out of the game sooner rather than later; and Max, whose ego, narcissism, and cultivated eccentricity were always going to get the better of him).
When it comes to pre-merge games, Cagayan was better… South Pacific… Gabon… Pearl Islands… Marquesas… I’m sure there are others.
This season might not yet be great, but there is reason to hope…
3) While the pre-merge game wasn’t terribly kinetic, what it created and contained in abundance was potential energy – which could lead to an explosive post-merge game.
If you ask me, starting the game with three tribes and having a tribe swap after four Tribal Councils (although I’d be in favor of playing with this timing to keep the castaways on their toes) should be the default setting from now on. It creates factions and fractures right from the start; by the time the game hits the merge, there are far more moving parts than in two-tribe seasons. While there are downsides to the three-tribe format – most notably putting certain types of players in extreme jeopardy out of the gate – they are easily outweighed by the advantages.
If I were to oversimplify things, right now we have four “alliances”:
** Mike-Sierra-Dan (although they’re hardly a stable group)
** Rodney-Will (even less stable)
Only the first two can really be seen as iron-clad alliances; indeed, after Kelly’s blindside last Wednesday, one could argue that there are more free agents than players in fixed alliances at this point. Given all of the interconnections between these people – created by the shape of the game – the number of possible combinations is alarmingly, and intriguingly, high.
The best part about having so many moving parts after the merge? They can come together in vastly different configurations after each Tribal Council. The only question will be what the final three-star constellation will look like.
4) Before I explore how things might play out from here, let me offer up a few quick thoughts on the dearly departed.
So: Isn’t this about the worst case scenario for someone who plays Survivor? To have quite possibly out-Francesca-ed Francesca? And yet, she’s dating Malcolm, so maybe she won the game after all.
Vince: I give the guy credit for sowing the seeds of idol paranoia in his tribe (it’s why Jenn-Hali-Joe split their votes not once but twice)… but he was always going to outhug, outcreep, and outfail the competition.
Nina: This season’s most curious casting choice. She was doomed before the game began – you can’t miss out on 90% of the conversations in a social game – and she wasn’t going to create what producers see as good television on her way out.
Lindsey: If SEG and CBS keep correlating “alternative” and “abrasive” – and pairing tattoos with telling it like it is – no one from this casting niche is ever going to be a factor in the endgame. I don’t know about you, but I liked her – her confessionals were honest, aware, and articulate. But in this tandem-splitting season, she was an easy, inevitable target.
On a related note: Are we witnessing the impact of Blood vs. Water on Survivor strategy? Pairs have always been dangerous, but they’ve never been attacked quite this relentlessly and zealously. Is the name of the game now to be the less threatening member of a tandem early in the game – and then, once your partner is targeted, join an alliance with the other orphans? Worked for Tyson and Natalie.
Max: Empathy is fundamental to success in Survivor. One of the central traits of narcissism is difficulty with empathy. Max is a self-proclaimed narcissist. As much as I wanted Max to do well, he simply isn’t equipped to do so.
Joaquin: Usually, coming up with a lie like “The Neutral Box” would be the worst decision a Survivor player made during his two weeks in the game. But Joaquin, after the swap gave him new life, chose to align with Rodney. In a season full of cannons, he was the fodder.
Kelly: A shame that she wasn’t more skilled at the fine art of true lies. She needed to know that Jenn and Hali wouldn’t believe she wasn’t tight with anyone on the Blue Collar tribe; her best bet was to admit she and Mike were close (there would be no way to hide it after the merge). Then, if needed, Kelly could admit that the rest of Escameca was a fractured, fractious mess, and follow that up by selling the No Collars on a plan to pull in Mike after the merge. Sigh. Would have loved to see her and Mike do some damage.
5) Writing about those players made me take a quick look back at my pre-season prediction column… and I am both a moron and occasionally lucky.
In the moron category:
** I was way off about Lindsey and Dan (I had the former going deep and the latter going pre-merge)… Kelly, too, did far better than I thought she would.
** The player I’m likely to be the most wrong about: Carolyn. She’s well-positioned as a swing vote, she’s got a strong ally in Tyler, and she has an idol. No way around it: I underestimated her.
** I said that I would take the hidden immunity idol clue at the start of the game (in my defense, it turned out to be a damned if you do/damned if you don’t decision: production made sure that the “large” bag of beans was still small enough to make people doubt you). Really, it only makes sense if you’re matched poorly with your tribe (for example, had Nina been given the option, she should have grabbed the clue). What you REALLY need to do, though, is avoid being put in the position to choose in the first place (Max, in his best confessional of the season, had that one right).
In the lucky guess category:
** I had So, Nina, and Vince pegged as pre-merge boots.
** Joaquin finished one spot higher than I predicted.
** I correctly anticipated how the two clue/food choosers would be selected.
The takeaway here? Prediction is pointless. (But it’s also fun.)
6) And now, a few general thoughts before I get to the remaining players.
** I’m guessing that the twist that Probst mentioned pre-season is going to be a vote-doubler (the player who possesses the idol plays it when he or she votes, and that vote counts twice), and that it’s going to be introduced this week.
** Remember, Probst said that the twist is something they’ve considered doing before… more importantly, he says it WORKS. Which means that an alliance that’s down in numbers uses it to change the game. And you know what that means: the Jenn-Hali-Joe-Shirin alliance is going to get their hands on this thing.
** Conspiracy theory: production didn’t put the vote doubler into the game right at the merge because they wanted to see how the first post-merge Tribal Council would play out. It’s clear they knew that Jenn was going to play her idol (the way the votes were stacked gave it away). They wanted that drama to play out… and then give the No Collars a chance to overcome the current 7-4 numbers disparity.
** On a related note, the vote doubler will have to come with a time limit, won’t it? With every passing Tribal Council, that thing would grow increasingly powerful. Two votes at F6 is MUCH more potent than at F11.
** Anyway, the edit demands that the No Collars turn this around, doesn’t it? If the 7-4 advantage were to play out in a Pagonging, there’s a good chance we’d have a Final 5 that looked something like Rodney, Dan, Sierra, Carolyn, and Will. The edit doesn’t support that endgame AT ALL. Plus, Probst would HATE that Final 5 (and the Pagonging it took to get there), and he LOVES this season.
** Speaking of Probst, remember, he has said the following about Worlds Apart: the post-merge game was “dynamic”… the winner played a strong strategic game… and that this is a great overall season. With all of that in mind, we can’t lose Jenn, Joe, and Hali in the next three votes, can we? Heck, Jenn is our Penner-esque narrator and Hali is being given more screen time than her gameplay warrants… why bother if they’re both early merge boots?
** On a totally different topic… remember, with Kelly voted out on Day 19, we’re less than halfway through the game. Players like Dan and Rodney could go out in the next few episodes simply because three more weeks with them is utterly unthinkable to the other players. Never underestimate the power of Camp Kindness.
** All of the metaphors being thrown around at the last Tribal Council – icepick, chainsaw, bomb – missed the mark. That vote threw the Merica tribe into a wood-chipper. Rodney is going to jump ship… he might take Will with him… Sierra might want to join up with Joe… Tyler and Carolyn might decide their swing votes should follow the prevailing winds over to the No Collars… and with everything falling apart, Mike might seek out safer harbors, too.
** I have to think that Jenn-Hali-Joe-Shirin targeted Kelly not simply because they were annoyed with her for flipping back to the Blue Collars. There were idol considerations, no doubt (apparently, Mike spent a lot of time looking). More importantly, though, I think targeting Kelly was a strategic decision: by getting rid of Kelly, Mike becomes a free agent, and Carolyn’s ties to Blue Collar are severed. No Collar needs more pieces to be moving if they’re going to alter their fates; blindsiding Kelly accomplished that. One lingering question: who hatched that plan? Which is another way of asking: Who is the No Collar mastermind? We’re being led to believe it’s Jenn, and that may well be the case, but Hali and Joe both appear to be pretty game-savvy, too.
** A thought about the swing votes: For Tyler and Carolyn to consider joining Jenn-Hali-Joe-Shirin, they have to believe that at F7, Shirin would join them and flip on the No Collars. And even if she promises to do precisely that, they can’t really trust her (they turned on her with the Max blindside). Plus, that would require a seventh player to join them… Mike, maybe? (They wouldn’t trust Will or Rodney… Dan would be a possibility, but doesn’t feel like a fit… and they’d fear Sierra would be too close to players her own age.)
** This week’s episode should tell us just how fluid the post-merge strategy is going to be. By the time it’s over, we should know whether Jenn and Hali are this season’s Jeremy and Josh (booted soon after the merge) or if they have, in fact, been given endgame edits. I both believe – and hope for – the latter.
7) After two thousand words of preamble, it’s time to get to it: How IS this-post merge game going to shake out?
I’ll start with the two players who will not win:
Rodney: The alliance he attempted to put together – Will, Carolyn, Kelly, and Rodney – tells you all you need to know about Rodney. He understands that this is a numbers game (and I have to give the guy credit: he never stops hustling), but he has no social awareness. How could he not know that Kelly would never turn on Mike (he spent the first two weeks with them!)? He also needed to know that Carolyn had connections with Tyler (she had to have bonds with SOME of the White Collars; how else does she avoid being the first boot?). I have a sinking feeling he might get invited back – perhaps as soon as next season – but he shouldn’t.
Dan: His edit has been awful, he rubs the other players the wrong way, and I don’t think anyone takes him seriously.
8) And now for players who have a glimmer of hope, but it would take major moves and probably a miracle:
Sierra: I’ll stick with what I said in my pre-season column: she’s the player most likely to go “sheep deep.” Can you see her making a convincing argument at Final Tribal Council? I can’t either.
Shirin: In so many Survivor seasons, we get an “emotional journey” player, a castaway who has something to work through during the game. Sugar is the classic example; last season, we had Jon Misch. Remember that confessional Shirin had a couple of episodes ago about her struggles with fitting in during her youth? By the time she exits the game, Shirin will have found a place of peace with regards to acceptance, and “gotten something from Survivor that is worth far more than a million dollars.” I don’t want to diminish the importance of this sort of realization – Survivor can have a profound impact on those who play it – but I don’t think Shirin’s emotional journey ends with her winning the game.
Joe: He’s been identified as “the biggest threat in the game,” and winning the immunity challenge only increased the size of the bulls-eye on his back. Getting to the Final Tribal Council will take Terry Deitz-like dominance from Joe. Can’t see it happening.
9) And here is where I admit that two of the existing edits confuse me.
Carolyn: She’s a swing vote with an idol… and yet she isn’t getting a lot of screen time. It’s baffling. Crazy theory that would justify her edit: she’ll play her idol soon, and be targeted immediately afterwards.
Tyler: I would LOVE to play Survivor with this guy. Smart, loyal, patient, honest, forthright. If he were an endgame factor, though, wouldn’t we have seen more of him? We’re constantly being shown Tyler’s reactions at Tribal Council, and he’s forever in the background of camp life coverage, so maybe, just maybe, he emerges from this point on (like Natalie last season). But I just can’t tell.
10) And now for the player who is the biggest wild card left…
Will: We were warned a long time ago – in a Hali confessional, I think – that Will might screw things up for all of the No Collars (after Nina, and not Will, was voted out). Is that what he’s going to do from here on out? Or is he going to flip back and forth, becoming the male Sandra (“anyone but me”)? His edit doesn’t really establish him as an endgame threat; he’s comic relief at Tribal Council, but otherwise, he’s being shown as a passive follower who is interested in an alliance with Rodney (and how did that work out for Joaquin?). I don’t think Will is winning the game, but I’m not ruling out his being influential in deciding who does.
11) And now, our second place finisher…
Hali: We’re getting a lot of random confessionals from her (why give her this much screen time if she’s an early merge boot?)… she’s the least overtly threatening member of the No Collar alliance (so she’ll last longer than the others once they start getting axed)… and, should she get to the Final Tribal Council, she probably won’t get any credit for whatever moves the No Collars made as a group. She’ll get a vote or two from her fallen comrades, securing second place, but won’t be a threat to win (unless someone like Jenn is on the jury and convinces everyone to vote for her). For the record, I like Hali as a player, and would love to see her edit build over the second half of the season, but as it stands now, she’s Jaclyn/ Sabrina/Courtney.
12) And finally, our top contenders…
Jenn: By the time she leaves the game (IF she leaves the game), she will have earned the right to return (which, if she doesn’t win Worlds Apart, is virtually guaranteed in Second Chances). She’s a triple threat of a different sort: smart, self-aware, and strategically savvy. She might also be the best “Young Narrator” the game has ever seen: her Tribal Council commentary is priceless and her confessionals are gold. She’s been clearly identified as a threat – never a good thing with another eight eliminations to go – but if anyone can spearhead a reversal in fortunes, it’s someone with Jenn’s skillset. If she can pull it off AND get to the Final Tribal Council – two MASSIVE “Ifs” – she would win in a landslide.
Mike: He was my pre-season pick to win it all, and I see no reason to change it now. His edit is stellar: a steady stream of strategic confessionals, constant coverage of him in camp, and a positive spin is put on just about everything he does. Could his alliance fall apart this Wednesday? Indeed. Might everyone turn on him once obvious threats like Joe are gone? Yep. Do I have faith that he’ll keep finding a way to rebound from every setback? Absolutely. There’s a reason he keeps appearing on our screens every Wednesday night: He’s pretty good at the game, and, more importantly, the editors want us to see him this way.
13) The Future of the Baker’s Dozen
First, a quick shout out to those of you who applied to the Durham Warriors Survival Challenge; I’m thrilled that some of you decided to give it a shot! The DWSC is as close as most of us will get to playing Survivor, and take it from me, this year’s game is going to be epic (as some of you know, I helped design the shape of the game this year). If you haven’t yet taken the plunge but are considering it, the application deadline is April 15th; it only takes a few minutes to fill it out, so head on over to the web site and find out more:
As for the Baker’s Dozen, I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be writing a column about Survivor: Second Chances once the List of 40 is released. I doubt I’ll be doing this again for Worlds Apart, however; wee baby A.C. is getting bigger, I’m making progress on my book, and there’s something rather refreshing about being a casual. Hope you’ll check out the S2C column… until then, I’ve got nothing for you. Head back to camp.
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 long-time, but definitely not long-winded, Survivor blogger.
Follow Andy on twitter: @SurvivorGenius