I’m so excited for a new season of Survivor! This cast looks fantastic – a lot of good characters, and no obvious winner pick. Everyone has flaws. I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
I’ve also missed all of you readers. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the season as we go along.
With not so much to work with, this is part the pre-season column I never found time for, and part analysis of this week. So, without further ado, here’s what’s on the ticket this week.
The state of the game (lessons from Game Changers and Survivor New Zealand)
Ever since Cambodia, it feels as though Survivor has been reinforcing to the viewers the importance of the social game. It has probably never been so evident as it is now that a Hantz-like game is seriously flawed – first and foremost you have to make sure people like you if you want to win. It feels like this has become incredibly evident in Jeremy’s whitewash of Tasha and Spencer, Michele Fitzgerald’s win over Aubry, and Adam taking it home over Hannah and Ken. These are the last three winners this bunch of contestants saw before going out to play.
But that’s not quite all there is to it. All of those players played a very hard social game, but they also earned the respect of their respective juries. I think they did that by ‘playing in the light’ – setting expectations of their own game play that other players needed to recognise, and then meeting those expectations.
For Jeremy, that was a loyalty-based game in which he stuck to his alliance as much as possible. He let others flip around him, but he only flipped once it was clear the flip had happened on him. With Michele, it was playing an entirely social game, and winning a couple of challenges at the end, never betraying anyone. With Adam, it was being honest with people when he wasn’t going to work with them, without it coming back to bite him. In each case they captured the zeitgeist of their own jury, but also they were absolutely consistent with the aura they portrayed.
Earlier this year Survivor saw two more winners added to the fold in Sarah Lacina and Avi Duckor-Jones. Both of these players divided fans as to whether or not they played well, but both were in my view well deserving, and I think that both of them had a couple of very important game play elements in common.
Sarah played a very strong social game, where she seemed to bond and be genuinely liked by every person on the jury. Sarah also set out to play like a criminal from day one, with a very clear point of view, and she executed on it. While individuals might have felt betrayed to learn it was Sarah who turned on them, castaway after castaway was coming back to the jury with the same experience – they thought Sarah was one of their closest allies only to be voted out by her. It had such a consistency that most players couldn’t stay mad – they recognised that Sarah was playing the game in a consistent, rational way and they had to respect it.
Avi also made bonds with everyone, although he played a much more loyal game than Sarah did. He did everything in his power to keep his allies, and it ended up working in his favour. Early on in the game, he told the majority alliance in his tribe that he would vote with them, but then somehow convinced them to keep Tom, their original target, safe. Tom went on to be Avi’s most important ally in the late game. Later on in the game, Avi did everything he could to save Shay. In the end, he turned around and voted for Shay when it became apparent he couldn’t save her, but it’s also clear that just like Adam, Avi had given her the heads up and let her know that he couldn’t save her. Avi always maintained enough flexibility to vote out an ally, and didn’t take the cop out route of voting elsewhere when he knew they were going, and that made his game come across as consistent and clear.
So what did cutthroat Sarah and loyal Avi have in common? Consistency, and the ability to cut allies while keeping them onside. I think these two things are two sides of the same coin. When voting out your allies, they need a rational reason for it – and the only way they could get that is if your game is fundamentally rational. The road to appearing rational is to be consistent.
I have a feeling that the road that paved the way for Sarah and Avi as winners is the road that still paves the way for the near future. As such, here’s what I’m expecting this season’s winner to look like – social, with a consistent and visible game plan. Until I see something else, this is what I’m going to be looking for out of this season’s contestants.
Which heroes are heroic? (and things like that)
Alas, poor Katrina, we hardly knew you. If it wasn’t for Josh Wigler’s epic First One Out, Katrina’s first boot would have been one of the most difficult to explain in Survivor history. Why would she get the votes instead of Chrissy? We got no clues in the edit.
However, I think what it clearly points to is that Chrissy is social. Very social indeed. It’s really notable that we at True Dork Times gave Chrissy the best average draft ranking after the preseason despite her being younger than only one Survivor winner. Why did we do it? It’s because she charmed us. It’s clear she’s already charming those on her tribe as well.
A good definition of a hero in my book is someone who has the guts to make a big call when the situation is dire. A lesser player might well have played the Super Idol for Katrina, seeing her as the best possible ally, but it probably would have left Chrissy in a 3-2 hole on a physically weakened tribe if she had done that. Instead, Chrissy appears to be positioned as a perfect swing vote. Since the preview sees her bonding with Ben, it seems likely she will swing to the Ben/Alan side, and it may well be that JP and Ashley aren’t even smart enough to realise that Chrissy is the swing vote not the next boot. Either way, Chrissy has left herself in great shape thanks to her social play.
Ben is exactly what I expected. Everyone likes him... so I still can’t see how anyone will let him get to the end. He’s certainly not gone before the swap, though – even if the Heroes lost every challenge, Chrissy and Ben will be the last two standing.
These might be the only two heroic figures to emerge in the Heroes tribe, although I still think the story of Alan Ball could turn out to be a good one yet. We’re taught to traditionally see someone coming out of the gate as strongly as Alan did as bad play and bad news for that player, but instead the edit kept reinforcing to us that there was a genuine flirtmance going on in between JP and Ashley, and so even though Alan was wrong about the idol, his instincts weren’t wrong. When Alan said he was ‘confident, not crazy’, the show sold it to me that we’re supposed to be on board with Alan. He isn’t crazy, just a small bit wrong. The show could certainly have made Alan look a lot worse than it did, based on the stories of those crazy eyes. But it’s hard to see how his game could be considered social.
JP and Ashley, though? Boy – there’s every chance that the first two players out of this game are the two that went undrafted at True Dork Times (if Ashley goes next, we get to crow about it forever, right?) I just can’t see any way that Ashley wouldn’t go home if Heroes lost this week – it will take a bit of time for her to turn that around. I find that a shame, because I get the sense she could be infinitely better than JP will be. But I think she’ll be seen as the more expendable. Either way, JP and Ashley are both out of their depth. They won’t be heroic figures any time soon.
Rising to the occasion (the Healers need no help from Dr. Mike)
The Healers don’t really have the appearance of a tribe that should be quite this dominant, but boy did they pull it together in this episode. As good as they might be as a tribe, though... I’m already quite worried about the chance of the winner coming from this tribe.
I’m feeling pretty good right now that I didn’t get Cole in the TDT draft. The one downside I noted in the draft was that he was talking in the preseason about a possible showmance, and it’s already forming with Jessica Johnston – also one of my preseason favourites, but already I’m beginning to worry. A showmance is not the way to win this game. There’s a real risk it takes one or both of them out soon.
In the mean time, Joe is doing everything he can to make sure everyone definitely sees him as the next coming of Tony. He is way overconfident, suggesting that the Healers wouldn’t lose and also already suggesting he was controlling the game. This confidence feels like something that could come back to haunt him, and fast. His way of confronting Mike was never going to build an alliance – only alienate someone with whom he had the chance of building an alliance.
I was impressed with Dr. Mike in the exchange, though. We didn’t see it outright, but from the bits we did see I got the sense that Mike admitted straight up that he had been looking for an idol (it was that line where he said he hadn’t explored the whole island ‘yet’). It seems that Mike saw the wisdom in coming clean, and I think that’s a good sign for his ability to judge when to lie and when not to. But his decision to go looking for an idol so patently isn’t great for his social game either.
That leaves Desi and Roark. Both are probably in good shape to make it through the next small while, but we didn’t see enough of them to get a sense of where their game is at. Right now, they are the Healers who seem best positioned to call the shots in the tribe.
Where’s the hustle? (Checking in with the Loser tribe)
I’m probably reading far too much into this, but when Jeff was talking about the initial quest for fire at the marooning, he said that the tribe that got to the beach third was ‘Also known as the Losers’. I guess “”Heroes vs Healers vs Losers” didn’t really stick. But it’s interesting they left that in there. It may be amusing and nothing else, or it might be pointing to a final three without any Hustlers in it?
In any event, this is the tribe we seem to have seen the least about. Their entire content this episode seemed to be about Ryan. Simone was absent, Devon would have been absent but for Ryan sharing his idol information with him, and Lauren was barely present.
We did get a little time with Patrick and Ali, but what I saw from that (and from the next week on) already has me wondering if Patrick is going to be Ali’s downfall (or vice versa). Lauren still seems like the likely and easy first boot from this tribe, but if they hit two tribals before any switch, I wouldn’t be surprised if tension between Patrick and Ali sees one of them gone soon.
That Ryan Ulrich though – that was quite the first episode from him. His play in the first episode, at least as far as we saw, was the very definition of ‘social and consistent’. He’s put himself in good shape early. Let’s see if it can continue.
Still, if these guys really are Hustlers, I need to see them work those cameras a bit more to get some air time. I don’t really know what’s going on here yet.
How super is the Super Idol really? (spoiler alert: there are things that are more super)
I’m the first to admit it – I’m an unashamed fan of the Legacy Advantage that was out there in seasons 33 and 34. I think the idea of a game mechanic that survives its holder being voted out has huge strategic potential. We just scratched the surface of it in season 34 where Sarah turned on her ally and put on her best acting face just to get the Legacy Advantage, and then used it to survive what would have been her going home. I’m just going to say it – if Cirie Fields was the one who did to Sierra what Sarah did and used it to survive her own vote out at final 6 and went on to win the game, a lot of people would be saying that the Legacy Advantage was one of the greatest things ever. I think it’s primarily unpopular because of the hands it has been in so far.
So to see it replaced this season with a one and done super idol? I was disappointed. The Legacy Advantage is guaranteed to see play, while a Super Idol seems to be almost guaranteed not to see play.
However, here’s how the Super Idol has played out so far – it has bonded two people who never had the chance to use it, it’s also created a potential future bond between Chrissy and Ryan, depending on how it comes out, and it has also left Chrissy with a useless but very well produced necklace sitting in her bag to do what she will with.
In fact, you might even say... that the super idol is more of a legacy advantage.
True, Chrissy can’t will her now patently fake idol when she is voted out of the game, and there’s no guarantee that it will see play. However, it has a lot of the strategic potential that I saw in the legacy advantage – it allows for strategic partnerships to be built, it might be able to be used in the future as a bargaining chip... the simple fact that it is no longer useful for its primary purpose has rendered it far more strategically interesting. I’ll be interested to see if it gets to play out in an interesting way in the future.
However, I’d far prefer to see the Legacy Advantage return. At this point, I think it’s seriously underrated, and superidols are well overrated. And as well as Ryan played this superidol, I can’t help but think that those were the kind of hands that the show was waiting for the Legacy Advantage to find its way into.
This and that
A quick check in on Team Ben in the True Dork Times draft. I have Simone (who got no confessionals...), Desi (ok so far), Alan (you know what? I’m going to say ok so far) and Patrick (looking a little in trouble).
I’m not confident in this team right now by any means. Can Simone win without a premiere confessional? Can Alan win after he was ‘tripping’? Can Patrick win when he’s clearly a doofus? The answer on the third one is almost certainly no, but I knew that already and he was the 16th pick. On the other two, though – the jury is out. I’m willing to believe that there’s a chance Alan is on a good trajectory.
I have to say, though – I feel like I have the only team without an early winner contender in the bunch.
Far and away, though, I’m most jealous of team Dan. He has the episode’s two biggest successes in my book, in Ryan and Chrissy, and Ali is level headed enough that there’s still a chance for her if she can navigate past Patrick.
Oh well, let’s hope my lot track up a bit next week. Please comment and tweet at me! I love hearing your thoughts.
See you all next week.
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