If you’ve ever wondered what a Survivor strategy blogger thinks about as an episode is unfolding, not only do you wonder about some curious things, you’re also in luck! This week, I’m going to transcribe my hastily scribbled notes from Wednesday night, expand where needed, and let you make up your mind just how insane I am. Without further ado, then, here’s what I was thinking… in real time.
** Previously On… Survivor **
8:00pm: Who they show here is important, and they give us shots of Joe, Savage, Spencer, Kelly and Stephen…
… but only Spencer, Kelly, and Stephen get to talk, and that’s even more important. Doesn’t bode well for Joe or Savage.
• Hold on a second, did they just include Wentworth, Abi, and Ciera as being on the bottom? But Wentworth flipped her vote back to the majority. Is she still viewed as an outsider, or is this the start of an underdog winner arc… or both?
** The Episode Begins **
8:01pm: So, Savage is proud of making the merge? I’m sure all players feel that way on some level, but it’s odd that he’s saying this an episode after the merge actually happened. HOLD ON, he just said that he now wants to shift to old school strategy. Doesn’t bode well for his long term chances in a season that’s all about learning and adapting, now does it?
8:03pm: Yep, Ciera, you need to convince Stephen that now is the right time to make a move. There’s a more important step, though: You need to convince him that the idea and the move are HIS. Otherwise, Stephen will ignore you, watch you get voted out, and then make a move that belongs only to him.
• Thank you, Fishbach: “Bunch of Bros” is the name of my next Survivor fantasy team. (The extreme absurdity that I have a fantasy Survivor team and that I care about how it performs is not lost on me.)
** Reward Challenge **
8:07pm: A reward with coffee? Personally, I’m addicted to caffeine, and I’d need to go through detox before playing the game (look, I know I’m never going to play, but I still get to think about these things! This is MY stream of consciousness, people. I think, therefore I dream of crushing other people in a competitive cooperative game.) But I’d NEVER drink coffee on a reward. That stuff DESTROYS you. I’ve taken a caffeine vacation before, not had any for a few weeks, and then had a cup. Java, at that point, is a LAXATIVE BULLET TRAIN. A reward like this does more harm than good.
• Did Probst actually just use the simile, “Hopping around like little bunnies”?! And they couldn’t come up with anything better in post? Just hand the 2016 Emmy for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program to Jane Lynch. (Does anyone know why Probst hasn’t even been nominated since 2011? Did CBS stop submitting him?)
8:08pm: WAIT, WHAAAAAAAT?! Wiglesworth talked! Sure, it was both forced and boring, but it’s nice to make everyone feel included.
• JOEMYGAWD he just slapped a bunch of butts.
8:09pm: So it’s okay to push the opposing boat away with your paddle? Can you go all Rupert and try to sink them? Such an interesting moment: Go overboard (HA, A NAUTICAL JOKE) with the competitive aggression here and the players in the other boat might hold it against you. Hold back and your own team might get pissed. MAN I LOVE THAT EVERYTHING IS THE GAME IF YOU LET IT BE.
• UMMMMMM, WHO NOMINATED ABI TO GO INTO THE WATER?! Did they remember her knot untying immunity challenge victory in Philippines and somehow make the flawed logic leap that she would be able to help them here? Or did she insist, and no one wanted to contradict her, lest they be dead to her? SUCH A BAD DECISION. Can’t she just sit on the boat serving as ballast, like just about everyone else?
8:11pm: I love the little moments that affirm my winner pick: we suddenly heard Kelley’s voice shouting encouragement. In the chaos of voices at a challenge, these individual sound spikes are selected and augmented with deliberation and intent. We need to hear her now so that we listen to her later.
• Making Savage’s daughters cry, Joe just told Kimmi that he loves her. He’s totally working his Sexy MoJoe on the older ladies this season.
8:14pm: Ugh, please stop force-feeding us the Second Chances theme! Instead of bringing up Kelly’s redemptive challenge performance, why not focus on how awful her attitude is? (Related note: There’s no way she’s winning when she displays that level of sneering dismissiveness.)
• While I was mulling over the possibility that Kelly knows she’s playing out the string at this point (and trying to get as far as she can because money), Mama Baker just pointed out that Probst talked about reward challenge strategy conversations. He might as well say, “WHILE YOU EAT MY CROISSANTS, YOU BETTER FIND OUT A WAY TO AVOID A PAGONINGING OR I WILL CRUSH YOUR EDITS.”
• I wonder what Keith thought when he watched this episode and saw Fishbach refer to the reward winners as “Joe and the girls.”
** Reward **
8:18pm: So who is it that’s giving us the reward overview narration? Kelley! They’re finding reasons to keep her in the conversation; why do that unless she’s an endgamer?
8:19pm: Wait, hold on a second. Kimmi’s never been on a food reward? Oh, right, she went out early in Australia, and back then the idea of a reward was chips and soda and a canister of rice after your camp was washed away and you were eating grasshoppers so that you didn’t die.
• While others talk strategy, there’s Keith in the background chugging iced coffee. EVERYTHING this guy does is funny, from how he drinks iced coffee (with his ENTIRE BODY) to how he practices his golf swing when other players are arguing and strategizing. It’s like he’s living in a parallel world, one absent the stress of playing the game. Sure, he doesn’t have a chance in hell of winning, but for someone enduring starvation and sleep depravation, he sure doesn’t look like he’s suffering. And there’s something to be said for that in a social game.
8:20pm: Ooooooo, Ciera outs the power players (who are all conveniently not on the reward… no mention of Joe, of course, even though everyone knows he’s at the heart of the web… it’s fascinating that everyone knows what Ciera is trying to do, and yet you still have to engage in the conversation because who knows what truths might be told). THANK YOU CIERA FOR POINTING OUT THE JEREMY AND STEPHEN CONNECTION. I’ve been saying this for weeks: They’re Othello and Iago. And I bet Stephen has even made that Shakespeare reference with Jeremy.
8:21pm: Not that we needed any more proof, but Keith referring to the tuk tuk as a ‘toto’ is proof that he can’t and won’t win the game. He’s comic relief; no more, no less. And as enjoyable as Keith can be, all he does is make me miss Varner.
8:22pm: Looks like we’re in “remind us they can’t win” mode right now, eh, editors? Abi telling Stephen, who is lamenting the challenge loss, to “get over it” is socially and psychologically brutal gameplay. Her tone, her words, her body language, all of it, awful.
8:23pm: I’m not sure how I feel about Stephen openly talking about how Tocantins is influencing his game right now. On the one hand, they’re probably ALL discussing their first shots at Survivor. But when you say, “My game fell apart last time when players went on a reward and bonded,” what other players might hear is, “I’m planning on winning this game” which in turns means, “I’m gonna find a way to beat all of you.” Of course, every second chancer is thinking this, but are they announcing it to each other, even if obliquely? Isn’t the wiser course to bond with the players who didn’t go on the reward and use the shared misery and jealousy to turn them into a tight alliance that crushes the reward people?
8:24pm: Man do I enjoy smart returning players; my man-crush on Stephen continues to grow. He’s right: You simply can’t let others shape the game when the jury is going to be packed with people who are going to expect a lot from the winner of a returnee season. Yeah, it’s scary and risky, but you just have to get into the front seat and drive.
• When you pitch a plan to a player like Tasha and she responds, “It’s a possibility,” she isn’t interested. (What IS Tasha’s plan, anyway? Why haven’t we heard yet? I’m guessing she expects the big guns to take each other out, and then she plans to take over around F7 with three women she thinks she can beat. So the bros would be wise to at least consider taking out Kelly, Kimmi, and Abi while they have the chance. Goat hunt!)
8:25pm: Ah, yes, the return of alarmingly arrogant Andrew. This time, Stephen is “disgusting” because he wants to get out Joe. Last I heard, the name of the game was to get rid of people… would Savage find himself disgusting if he voted out members of his own alliance (as he would have to, eventually)? Thankfully, his unrelenting hypocrisy is, at this point, sort of amusing. Never change, Savage. (Actually, please do.)
** Immunity Challenge **
8:32pm: Savage flips off the ball after it betrays him and hits the ground. I’m sure Savage believes the ball is disgusting. It has no honor, and he will vote it out tonight at Tribal Council.
8:37pm: Joe wins again. Guess he’s all in on the “beast my way to the endgame” path. No way he pulls it off – more than half of the remaining players are capable of winning an immunity challenge – but it’ll be fun to see him try.
8:41pm: I’m a little slow sometimes, but it just hit me: Stephen broke two Survivor commandments this episode.
** Do not scheme before the immunity challenge. Stephen got all of the negative and none of the positive: His own alliance no longer trusts him, and yet Joe is safe after winning the necklace. To be fair, orchestrating a blindside would take time, but you gotta wait to make sure the target is vulnerable so that you don’t expend the social capital unless you have to.
** Don’t obsess about one player. It’s interesting that Stephen KNOWS this is a mistake, and yet he can’t help himself. When he looks at Joe, he sees J.T., and suddenly he’s conflating past and present and assuming he’ll lose 10-0 at Final Tribal Council. The unfortunate truth is this: Things don’t end well for players who fixate on a particular person… which doesn’t bode well for the Fish.
8:42pm: When Joe tells Ciera and Kelley that the target is going to be Stephen, he blames it on Savage… well done, Joe. We know you want Stephen gone, too – he’s targeting you, after all – but now Ciera and Kelley have reason to believe your motives for helping them aren’t purely selfish.
8:43pm: I guess I’m in the mood to give kudos: When Ciera and Kelley talk at the water well about the plan to blindside Stephen, Ciera says she’s okay with it so long as the target is, “… anyone but you or me.” So many players in that moment would focus on themselves, but Ciera includes Kelley. The social game is won and lost in small moments like this.
8:44pm: How fascinating that Jeremy is trying to decide between Ciera and Kelley. First, it means that Kelley is seen an endgame threat or a pawn for Joe or both. Second, it means that Ciera, despite her aggressive tactics and pedantic Tribal Council ways, might survive a little longer, largely because she has fewer connections than Kelley. And third, this means that everyone is ignoring Abi, which means they’re seeing her as a goat. Explains why Abi isn’t talking any more; her role as an antagonist is over.
8:45pm: We just got a glimpse of Tasha talking to Joe… she really is working all of the angles, cultivating connections, yet committing to nothing (she always waits for other people to express their ideas first, and then says the safe thing). This will get her deep, but it won’t put her in a position to win.
• Oh, Joe, when you’re only realizing now that Stephen has a lot of connections, then you haven’t been studying the other players enough. When you’re planning on blindsiding someone, you need to be absolutely sure that the group would be on board BEFORE you start putting the pieces into place. Take a break from being awesome at everything physical and spend some time studying the social.
** Tribal Council **
8:46pm: Kass’s first act as a juror is to flip everyone off. OUTSTANDING. Mark my words: The S2C jury is going to be the greatest Survivor jury of all time.
8:47pm: Forget my man-crush on Stephen and excessive fanboyism for Spencer. I’m tossing them both aside for Kelley Wentworth. Anyone who outs the power players at Tribal Council is endlessly alluring, and I am utterly smitten with her strategy. Sure, unleashing truth at Tribal is the privilege of those at the bottom, but most of the players who find themselves on the precipice of elimination refuse to go out with guns blazing. And yet here is Wentworth putting it all out there. Swoon.
8:48pm: “Yes, a bunch of us talk often.” BAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh, Savage, you really don’t know how to play this game, do you?
8:49pm: HOLD ON A SECOND. Savage just pointed out that Kelley is just saying what she’s saying because she’s at the bottom. It’s an astute observation, and something that needed to be said. I feel inclined to compliment Savage. HELP ME I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH THIS UNFAMILIAR FEELING.
8:50pm: How verrrrrrrrrrry interesting, Stephen. You’re insisting that the alliance isn’t hierarchical. Do you genuinely believe this? I’m inclined to think that you’re playing very, very hard in this moment. You want the power players to be complacent, to assume that you don’t feel like you have to make a move against them (when of course you do). You want Kass and other potential jurors to hear that no one is really in control; keep saying it and people might actually start to believe it, for perception is reality. You also, I think, DO believe it, and want to reinforce it, so that the goats seem dangerous, which in turn will get the power players to mistake goats as targets so that you have more room to maneuver and rally the troops to take out the alphas who can beat you.
• Do you think Keith, Kimmi, and Kelly know that Ciera is talking to them when she’s referring to the bottom of the alliance? I’m sure that Spencer knows he’s being lumped in with that group (and frankly prefers being seen that way to constantly being referred to as a dangerous threat that has to go). It’s an interesting dynamic, though: the so-called bottom of the alliance doesn’t see themselves that way because they believe that the power players will go after one another sooner rather than later (certainly, Jeremy, Joe, Savage, Tasha, and Stephen aren’t planning on going to the end together). Even if they know they’re seen as pawns, they don’t see themselves that way, and that’s all that matters in a moment like this. If the game is played in anything resembling a traditional way (no guarantee, that), players like Keith, Kimmi, and Kelly are counting on being used as pawns… and then, when the numbers are safer (F7 and F5), they’re planning on creating their own all-goat alliance. This chaos – of everyone assuming they have a role to play in the endgame – is going to allow some pretty powerful players to slip through this next stretch unscathed. Will be fascinating to watch.
• Despite all of Ciera’s pontificating and preaching, it looks like we’re in for a pretty straight-forward boot tonight. I commend the editors for giving us other hypothetical options. But Ciera’s arc is ending.
• OH MY GOD KELLEY WENTWORTH I WANT TO ELOPE WITH YOUR APPROACH TO “IN THE MINORITY ALLIANCE” TRIBAL COUNCIL STRATEGY AND MARRY IT AND HAVE BABIES WITH IT. I love that you pointed out that a player came to you with a plan to take out one of their own. Sowing the seeds of discord is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
8:52pm: HOLY S*** I LOVE BEING WRONG.
Lady Wentworth, you are a certified bad ass. Not telling anyone about the idol takes endless patience. Also, you clearly knew that you were the target, which means you have strong enough connections in the dominant alliance that someone slipped up and told you that you were going. And you had to have done one hell of an acting job to sell some savvy players on the fact that you were accepting the inevitable. COLD BLOODED.
• Quick thought #1: Why didn’t they split the votes? They did it with Kass and Ciera, so why not Kelley and Ciera? It’s not THAT hard to orchestrate. If they really thought there wouldn’t be idols out there, they don’t know the game as well as I thought they did; yes, everything is negotiable in a returnee season, but there is ZERO chance there aren’t idols in the game. Probst thinks they’re necessary to avoid Pagongings, and they make for great TV, so if there was one thing you could be sure of, it was that idols were in play. There really is no excuse for not planning for one.
• Quick thought #2: Speaking of idols, why not agree as the power players in a dominant alliance that checking game bags was okay? Or, if Jeremy/Joe/Savage weren’t comfortable with that, then assign people to watch Kelley, Ciera, and Abi, and see if any of them bring their bags everywhere they go. Anyone who does (and I’m sure Kelley did) probably has an idol in there. Sure, they could fake it, but at that point, you just gotta trust your read.
• Quick thought #3: Clearly, Joe was the one who told Kelley that she was the target: We saw him talking with her earlier in the episode… he’s trying to win over a jury member and pull in potential sub-alliance members (even if Kelley goes, he wins points with Ciera and Abi)… Stephen has already tried to marshal forces to take him out, and the only way he even floats Joe’s name is if he suspects that others would be willing to listen, which means that his alliance is already turning on him… and he was wearing the necklace. It adds up. Here’s my question: Might Joe’s decision to tell Kelley have been deeply strategic? Here’s what he could have been thinking: If Kelley had an idol, she'd play it (so that variable would be out of the game)… the blowback vote would remove one of the alphas without Joe getting any blood on his hands… Kelley would likely be inclined to work with him because he helped her… his alliance would still have a majority and could proceed to take out Ciera and Abi, bringing the numbers down to nine... and at that point, he might have a solid five to take over the game. Now, I’m not saying Joe thought all of that through… but he might have FELT the possibilities.
8:53pm: Kass has no intention of following jury protocol and keeping quiet during Tribal, does she? THIS PLEASES ME. Let the jury be rowdy.
8:54pm: YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. I just sprained a ligament pumping my fist with unbridled joy. SEE YA, SAVAGE. The only thing that annoys me: He’s going to go to his grave believing that the only things that can take him out of Survivor are an unfair twist and a dramatic idol play that no one saw coming. Truth is, though, that he simply doesn’t possess the skills needed to win the game. His downfall in Pearl Islands was his treatment of Lil; here, he was eliminated (over far better targets like Jeremy, Tasha, and Stephen) because the minority alliance simply couldn’t stand him. We reap what we sow.
8:54pm: YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO MAKE ME LIKE YOU, ABI. Telling Savage, “You made it to the jury” was a vicious twist of the knife, and while I generally can’t stand petty cruelties, this one felt earned. I laughed. And when Savage pulled a Kass and flipped Abi off, I laughed louder. I am aware this makes me a horrible person.
** Next Week on Survivor **
8:58pm: That looks like a recent immunity challenge, Cagayan maybe? I believe I have memories of Woo winning it. (I can also picture Reynold with a crazy recovery or two, but I will swiftly repress that memory because Caramoan was a travesty and calling Reynold a Fan was an insult to us all.) Anyway, I CANNOT WAIT to find out who dives in for the advantage. Joe has to consider it (players with advantages in immunity challenges almost always win, and he doesn’t want to be vulnerable if he can help it, and there’s a good chance he can walk on water)… the players at the bottom have nothing to lose… and well-connected castaways who think they might be brought on a reward will at least consider it (because in a majority alliance this big, you REALLY don’t want to be the one picking). Plus, they have to think it might not be a challenge advantage; it’s unlikely production wants to unseat Joe, we’re coming off of a season with a vote-doubler, and an idol just got played which means the advantage might be a clue to another one. I don’t care what that the reward is; I’m diving in.
8:58pm: For all of the grief I’ve given Savage this season, I feel for him: The look on his face when he said “It rips my heart out” is one of genuine pain. But wait, he’s going to try to infect the jury with his sanctimonious entitlement! Ugh. BUT WAIT, KASS IS THERE AND I TRUST HER AND I KNOW SHE’LL TAME THE SAVAGE.
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