Swap episodes are the biggest mixed bag in Survivor. Sometimes they bring great drama, other times they just bring obvious winners and losers. This time out, I think the former was true. Every tribe has interesting dynamics, and even those tribes where there might appear to be an obvious loser on the surface are more complicated than they first seem.
As a result, it feels like we have some underdogs who are about to punch above their weight, and some overdogs who are prime for a fall. It reminds me a fair amount of the Millennials vs Gen X swap, in which every boot involved a reshuffle of allegiances to some extent. Today, I’m going to look at the position in the game for a few of the players who might feel safe (or unsafe), and make some bold predictions about how the game is going to go for them.
So, let’s look at the ticket for this week:
The perils of the anti-Matsing (why the Healers are doomed)
In Worlds Apart, we had one of the most balanced pre-swap runs it is possible to have in a three tribe season. After four episodes, each tribe had been to tribal council once. The result post-swap was that it was not immediately evident that any tribe had control – instead, alliances formed that were more strongly based on future interests and less based on previous tribal allegiances.
This season, the situation is not balanced. We are down to 4 original Hustlers and 4 original Heroes, while 6 Healers remain. This numbers ‘advantage’ reduces strategic possibilities. Even a much more savvy and social Joe wouldn’t have easily been able to convince Devon to join him and Desi in voting out Alan this week – the idea that Devon would only be number seven was very clear, and will only be even more clear as a result of another Hero going down this week.
The right course of action? A smart ex-Healer might recognise that their best move right now is to take out another Healer. If the Healers hit the merge as the clear biggest unit, they could find themselves quickly targeted. A closer merge situation – as in Kaoh Rong – enables good players to find ways in and avoid being targeted just as a result of their initial tribe affiliation. It wouldn’t just be best for the Healers to cull a couple of their own, but best for us too.
But it’s not clear whether this has occurred to any of them yet, and in any event it could be too late. We’ve seen Devon bond with Ashley, Chrissy bond with Ryan, and Ben bond with Lauren – there is currently every chance that a Hero/Hustler alliance will dominate the late game, and it’s possible there is nothing the Healers can do about it. It’s unfortunate how quickly dominant challenge performances can turn around against you, but in this game you generally want to be as average as possible – and that goes for your tribe as well.
Bold prediction: There will be no more than two Healers in the final eight.
An idol brain (leaving no time to be idle)
It’s no secret any more than Joe Mena has all the energy of Tony Vlachos, but without the charm and ability to mend social fences. Joe’s biggest problem is that he just can’t sit still for a minute. Some of his ideas might be good in theory, but they are almost always executed in ways that alienate.
If Joe had taken a small amount of time to get to know Devon, he would have quickly realised that Devon is a laid back guy, and that the way to bond with him is to be equally relaxed. Joe’s high energy approach wouldn’t have easily worked with Devon even if it hadn’t been based in a lie. The fact that it came with a lie as well was just the cherry on top of how bad it was.
But that wasn’t the worst move Joe made in the episode. Far worse was burning his idol needlessly. After Devon’s vote was cancelled, Joe had two sensible choices – he should have either played it on Desi, or not played it at all.
It’s been widely discussed that playing the idol either for himself or for Desi guaranteed the safety of both of them. Even if the Heroes’ target this week had been Desi, the worst that could have happened was a 2-2 tie that saw Desi immune after a revote. In doing that, Joe would also have built trust with Desi.
But if Joe really is as good at reading faces as he claims, and he believed the two votes were coming for him, he shouldn’t have played the idol at all. He would have had a marginal risk that Desi would have flipped on him on the revote (which doesn’t seem likely, since Desi would then immediately be down 3-1 on the tribe), but realistically he would have remained safe and kept his idol for another day. Perhaps that’s more risk than was necessary, but for a guy making big plays, it’s that kind of play that you have to make if you want to survive another day.
There is one thing that Joe did achieve with his display of bravado after getting his idol play right – he may have gotten Desi to trust his instinct a little. But realistically, I think that Joe has left himself vulnerable – he could have split the next 2-2 deadlock with an idol, but now he’ll find himself in a jam.
Bold prediction: Desi will turn on Joe next week, and if Levu lose Joe will be voted out 3-1. He’ll really regret using his idol this week.
The dork alliance (no things like that...)
As predicted, Ryan and Chrissy immediately had a moment together the first time they found themselves on the same beach. Ryan and Chrissy’s bond over the use of the superidol is likely to transcend many of the other bonds in the game, at least for the near future. It strongly benefits both of them to prioritise this cross-tribal alliance as it enables options and the foundations of a deep run when the merge finally hits.
In a traditional tribe, Roark would be the swing vote here (as with Devon on Levu). Because of Chrissy and Ryan’s bond, however, a swing vote isn’t needed, and Roark immediately finds herself on the outs – in theory. However, Ali, Ryan and Chrissy are all big fans of the game, and in many ways Roark finds herself with kindred spirits. She has just this one potential in – that she is a ‘thing like that’ and the dorks want to keep her around. JP, on the other hand, is not a ‘thing like that’. He is clearly the odd person out on this tribe and it’s hard to see how he has the social skills to make social inroads to enable him to survive. His fate is likely to rest in the hands of Chrissy, who needs to decide whether JP is ultimately helpful or harmful to her game long term.
Bold prediction: Soko won’t go to tribal council, but if they did Roark would find her way in. JP would be left out in the cold by a Chrissy that doesn’t have any real bond with him.
How to recognise advantages (this IS an advantage?)
The vote blocking advantage was played this week as an advantage to Jessica and a disadvantage to Devon. But is it really?
Jessica was really only able to make enemies with this ‘advantage’, especially after everyone knew it was her that had it. Her best move might have been keeping it entirely secret and then playing it on Joe – he’d have certainly played his idol after that, and it would probably never come back to bite her as Joe wouldn’t be likely to accuse a Healer of being responsible. But after the secret was out, that option wasn’t really on the table.
There’s something to be said for the idea that blocking a Hero would have been the best way to protect her ex-Healers, but I’m not sure that was (or should have been) her primary goal. Rather, the best approach for Jessica was to minimise the extent to which she made enemies. Choosing Devon was a very neutral move – either Devon himself would leave, or else she was only taking out the swing vote, and in that sense not ‘taking sides’. It’s probably the most easily defensible choice if she later has to say ‘I had to choose someone, so I chose the person where I thought the impact would be smallest’. She doesn’t know the people involved yet, but I get the sense that Devon is also the most likely to be forgiving (Ashley and Alan, far less so). I think Jessica probably played this disadvantage as well as she could to preserve her own game going forward – much more important to her than preserving Joe or Desi’s games.
While it was a disadvantage to Jessica, I think it was a distinct advantage to Devon, albeit only because Joe had and played an idol. The edit made it clear to us that Devon was going to swing the Heroes way – something it had the luxury of doing because of the twists that were going to play out (otherwise it probably would have left his position ambiguous). This means that we, the audience, are in a position to know that Devon would have voted Joe. However, Joe’s idol would have made his vote moot and left him clearly on Ashley’s side of the fence heading back from tribal.
It’s not clear whether Joe realises this. There’s a real chance that the Healers believe Devon was on their side and was going to vote Alan with them. Devon can go back to camp claiming this to be the case. For this reason, not being forced to reveal his hand with a vote at this stage has worked out in his favour – assuming he can realise what to do with this.
Bold prediction: Devon is able to convince Joe he intended to vote with them at the last Tribal Council, and he will be the key person who facilitates Desi’s move away from Joe as he says he will follow her vote if they go back to Tribal Council.
Fishing for allies (Lauren has game)
Lauren’s choice to take her knowledge of Jessica’s advantage and go talk to Mike about it was very smart. It’s not as though the bond between Cole and Jessica is difficult to see, but Lauren still identified that it was there and realised that Mike was her best in.
She played it very well. It didn’t quite go as well as she would have hoped, because Jessica had been honest with Mike to begin with. However, Mike will already be beginning to think about and question how reliable Cole would be as a long term ally. It seems very likely that Yawa would choose to vote out Lauren ahead of voting out Ben, so Lauren really found her only in, and exploited it. The way in which the episode and the show generally spent time on showing Lauren’s strategic competence leads me to believe it will be successful (or that Yawa won’t go to tribal council).
Underscoring how bad at the game Cole is, he gave up the very piece of information that could lead Lauren to keep herself around at Cole’s expense. So even though Cole is likeable enough in a doofy way, I’m rooting for his ouster this week in the name of dramatic irony. It’s the kind of delicious Drew Christy-like exit that Survivor loves, and I love it too. And plus, it would make a change from the relentless march to the elimination of Team Ben in the TDT draft...
Bold prediction: Mike understands that the Healers are at risk if they remain intact for much longer, and decides to join with Ben and Lauren. If Yawa go to tribal council, Cole gets the boot – and it’s possible that even Jessica is on board.
This and That
* They went to Chrissy for a lot of reaction shots in this episode – I think she got the first reaction to Patrick leaving, to dropping the buffs, and also to her tribe winning immunity. Perhaps it’s just that she has a great reaction face, but it also is just another thing that makes me feel great about her long term chances.
* After Alan left, each beach now only has one of its original inhabitants still there – Ashley, Roark, and Lauren respectively.
* Final Bold prediction: The merge is going to hit at 11, and Lauren, Ryan, Ali, Devon, Chrissy, Ben, Jessica, Roark and Mike are all going to be there. I’m just looking for two more names – if I had to guess, I’d say Ashley and Cole (but I hope it’s Desi instead!).
All right, that does it for this week. Please tweet at me and comment – I always appreciate hearing from you!
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