It’s nice to be back in the thick of watching Survivor on the regular, on my own computer. The internet truly is the eighth wonder of the world. At least, that’s how I feel for this week.
Perhaps the best thing about this episode is that it’s made me feel fairly positive about this season as a whole. With only three weeks to go, I’m actually beginning to feel as though this is a moderately well played season, that could have a satisfying conclusion. But more on that later!
So, here’s what’s on the ticket this week:
Still a strategic caterpillar (Zeke’s one-sided metamorphosis)
There’s a certain irony about Zeke’s story arc as it has played out over two seasons. On a personal level, Zeke’s story has constantly been about metamorphosis. He was the guy from Brooklyn who started a fire in his first episode. He morphed from a guy who really wasn’t sure whether he could do Survivor into one of the powerhouses of Millennials vs Gen X.
Then in this season, the theme of metamorphosis was called out expressly when Zeke was outed. Zeke expressed, both at the tribal council and then in his final words after being voted out, how much the experience of Survivor has grown him as a person. Cirie and Cochran are the only other two players who come to mind where there has been so much emphasis placed on how they have grown over the course of their Survivor journeys.
On a strategic level, though? Not so much. Here’s what I had to say before the game:
This is exactly the trap Zeke fell into this season. To Zeke’s credit, he had an honestly held belief that the tone in the room had changed and that Andrea and Cirie were holding him at arms length. But, Andrea’s reaction to his betrayal proves he read the room wrong. Zeke’s first instinct in response to that read was to flip the script, and this irreversibly broke his relationship and left no room to repair the relationship and go deep with Andrea. Both of them knew they had to get the other first. It was an exact replay of the Zeke/David final ten situation from the season before.
I’d add another factor to this, which is that Zeke is transparent. Hannah has talked about how she became aware in a frank discussion with Zeke that they were heading in a different direction at final 10. Zeke’s conversation with Brad at the reward this season tipped Andrea off that Zeke was looking to make new relationships right now. And that’s not the first time that Zeke has nearly sunk his game this season – he also let slip to Varner that he had a secret alliance with Ozzy and Andrea, which could have given him the crack to convince Sarah, Tai and Debbie to flip. Zeke needs to figure out how to keep his real plans behind the curtain better.
Having said all that – I wouldn’t rule Zeke out as my winner pick should he ever return. He’s great at self-analysis, and I don’t think his flaws would come as any surprise to him. Give him a few years for his story to settle and not be seen as a reason why he’d win, and I think he’ll probably be underrated.
Idiots? (the gap between optimal groupthink and optimal individual play)
Oddly enough, for me the most entertaining moment of the episode was Debbie getting the last word. When she proclaimed the majority alliance to be ‘idiots’ for voting out Zeke, she was completely right, in one sense. From the outside, without any information, the right move for the majority would have been to keep barrelling on and take out a member of the minority. They’ve put a lot at risk as an alliance by not doing that.
But in context, and with everything that we got to see (and Debbie did not), a different story emerges.
For Andrea, there is no doubt that if she did not make this move in this episode, she was going home at 9. We saw Zeke and Sarah say as much. Andrea was remarkably good at sensing this, and she did not let up on her determination to take Zeke out this week, no matter what. That was the way that she needed the vote to be. The fact that she won immunity allowed her enough power to execute the move without any risk of immediate blowback, and with Zeke gone the chance of blowback next week is diminished.
For Andrea, this was completely the right play on every level, and that she pushed it through her alliance only makes it better. I think that Andrea tends to be an underrated Survivor player, but this week shouldn’t leave anyone in any doubt that she can execute a move when she needs to, and that she can see when she needs to.
For Cirie, Aubry and Michaela, this move wasn’t necessary. They could have gone in different directions here. We heard Zeke and Sarah’s plans were to take out Andrea at 9 and then Tai at 8. At that point, the three of them may have found themselves in a decent position (even though its only three of 7) and they would only have had to let Andrea go to do it. But, Andrea was a key ally for them (and Zeke was not), and in this case the groupthink ideal of ‘taking someone out from the other side’ was something they could live with, that kept them an ally, and without losing the numbers. There was no guarantee that Andrea wouldn’t have gone and tried to make the same move with the minority if she had been shut down by her allies. It’s simply good alliance management.
Then, there’s Sarah. Arguably, Sarah’s decision to vote out Zeke has cut her own legs out because she has now lost a close ally. However, as I noted last week, Sarah may well have been one pendulum swing away from finding the votes coming back at her. There’s only so long you can play like Tony before it comes back to bite you. Sarah could have played president on this vote, and she might have won the battle, but my guess is that it would have left her in a much worse position to win the war, as Cirie and Andrea would have been best placed to go to Brad, Tai and Troy and set up a plan to take her and Zeke out at that point.
Instead, Sarah kept her powder dry. She was willing to cut her closest ally to make sure that her name wasn’t coming up right now, and I think it’s likely to work. I think she’s probably kept herself safe for at least the next vote or two, and if she can make it to seven without heat she can only needs two people (say, any two out of Brad, Tai, Troy and Sierra) to turn 4-3 down into 4-3 up with her vote steal. It’s something that she unfortunately told Cirie she had, and so that could mean that her opponents are well armed for it.
Whatever, I think Sarah made the right decision for her not to make waves on this vote. She could easily have flipped the game again, and I’m both pleasantly surprised and pleased that she was able to show a little restraint.
So no, Debbie, they weren’t idiots – although I think Debbie shows an inherent limitation for the jury, in that they might not give the appropriate amount of respect to a necessary move like that when it comes time to final tribal, just because it looks like a bad move out of context.
A passive minority? (Making sense of the minority voting)
I now interrupt regular transmission for what could end up resembling a mathematics thesis. Apologies if I’m losing you already. But I’ve just got to figure out why the minority didn’t throw four votes at someone... anyone... and what they were up to with their votes. Tai voted Sierra, but the other three all voted for Tai (the second Sierra vote coming from Zeke). Not only that, but Tai had two idols (which he could have played on himself and Sierra), and they were told outright that those two were the targets. So... here are some scenarios:
1) They were hoping to create a tie to send it to rocks, believing that Sierra was the target but that they might throw some votes on Tai for an idol. In doing that, they were relying on the majority voting 4-2 for Sierra. This seems like a plausible theory to me. This might seem plausible, because its success relies on Tai not playing an idol on himself (which is truly inexplicable otherwise). But, if you think they might put any less than 5 votes on a single person, why not put 4 on one of them? Especially, why not put four on Zeke, someone you already know is on the outs and who you might get unanimous agreement about in the event the vote ends up 4-4-2. So, if you really believe the vote is 4-2, this play is risky... if you get a tie, you save two of your own, but if anything else happens you’re guaranteed to lose a number.
2) They were hoping the majority was voting 3-3, and so by skewing their own votes they could send Tai home 6-4 and save Sierra. This one doesn’t really check out for me – one assumes they would tell Tai that they would vote for Sierra, but surely Tai would still play his own idol just in case, in such a circumstance?
3) They believed the Cirie alliance would be planning to lock up the outcome, by voting 5-1 or 6-0. Brad and Troy felt safe because they’d been told they weren’t the target, and Zeke and Sarah convinced them that they would vote Tai along with them (but this still leads to a 5-5 tie between Tai and Sierra). Tai was convinced by both the majority and Brad/Troy that Sierra was going home, so he didn’t play his idol.
None of these scenarios really make sense to me, although the first one makes the most sense. You would think there would be evidence in the final vote that the minority alliance tried to make something happen. Instead, the split between Tai and Sierra just came across as bizarre and looked like they had rolled over. I wish we had gotten some insight in the show as to why these votes played out the way they did.
All of that is a long way of saying that, if the minority did anything at all to change their fate in the game, it wasn’t shown. They should have been throwing something at the wall to make it stick, and it doesn’t really feel like they were (unless it really was angling for a 5-5 tie). The fact we never even saw them discuss this to any degree doesn’t really bode well for any of them.
A legacy advantage (why this season isn’t so bad)
In the early weeks of this season, I was very concerned. The show felt like it was half legends, and half players with very little reputation amongst the community at all. It appeared as though the legends would go out one after the other, and the show would be dominated by players to whom we feel no connection. It felt as though the season could be a bust.
But I don’t think that’s what we’ve got. Instead, I think we’ve had a pretty decent season. It’s not Heroes vs Villains (or even Cambodia, which I also thoroughly enjoyed), but it’s also not All-Stars.
The legends in this game have each been treated with real edit respect. With the possible exception of Ciera, who didn’t have time, and Aubry (whose time may yet be coming), the rest of the legends feel like they’ve been given real depth of character and the opportunity to shine as much as possible. Tony, Malcolm, JT, Sandra, Ozzy, Andrea and Cirie have all left their indelible mark on this season.
This has enabled me to find the season quite enjoyable on a week-to-week basis. While the sense of impending doom has been hanging around me all season, and some of the vote outs have been gut punches, I have found every episode entertaining to watch. In addition to that, Sarah and Brad have both been given careful attention to give them stories that say ‘look, we really do belong here and we are also Game Changers’. Other players, such as Sierra and Debbie, have been given plenty of screen time, but I think that screen time has led directly to the assessment that they are not truly strong at the game, and that they aren’t going to win either.
At this point, it feels to me like the edit is saying that someone from the current majority will win – and that if that doesn’t happen, the only person from the minority who can win is Brad. So, from a selection of Aubry, Andrea, Cirie, Sarah, and a worst case scenario of Brad... I feel like I’m actually going to be reasonably satisfied with the outcome of the season too. It won’t be as epic as if Sandra could have won, but I never expected that to be a reality.
This week, the sense of impending doom I’ve been feeling about the season as a whole finally lifted. I realised that if I can get 11 episodes in and still have been enjoying the episode, then the last 3 episodes probably aren’t going to influence my overall opinion of the season. The only thing that could really bring me down at this point is if Sierra wins – and the edit doesn’t support that outcome at all.
There are cons about this season. Production have definitely taken the drama out with their ‘no revote’ twist and their two-tribe tribal. I think the first twist should be canned entirely, and the latter could be redeemed, but only if the two tribes have a false merge for the rest of that day to scramble. The other con is that time has probably been taken away from strategic conversations that give us a clear insight into the outcome, in order to give good edit time to the legends. Some of the votes (Debbie, e.g.), have come with only a small amount of context, and you’re left wondering exactly how and why they came together. I’ll take our time with the legends over and above complete clarity, though.
Despite the cons, I think I’m going to come out of this season feeling more positive than negative. We’ve seen some really good play, I feel like we’re heading towards a deserving winner, and we’ve been able to see both Sandra and Cirie only cement their legacy as great players even further. All in all, then, it’s going to get the thumbs up. Realising this has freed me to just enjoy the ride of the last few weeks without worrying about the legacy that the season might leave. Its legacy is going to be just fine.
As always, please let me know what you think! Tweet me at @golden8284 or comment down below.
Also, if you have any way of watching NZ Survivor... do it. The first episode has aired and it was a cracker, so now I’m feeling ever so slightly optimistic that it’s going to be good. I’ll be back in the next day or two with an analysis of the first couple of episodes, and in the mean time you can check out the newly minted Survivor NZ section – overlord Pitman has made a Surviv-o-meter and everything!
See you then.
By day, Ben Martell is a public commercial lawyer from New Zealand.
By night, he moonlights as a self-described Survivor 'expert'.
By day or night, find him on twitter at: @golden8284