Seven episodes down, seven to go. At the half way point, I still feel very optimistic about where this season is heading, even if it seems relatively clear cut at this moment.
It seems that this season, the discourse between fans has seen huge divides over both who is likeable and who is playing well. I’ve been thinking about the extent to which this could be about the gap between edit and reality.
So, what’s on the ticket for this week?
Doing the math on Chrissy (a threat to win, or just a threat?)
Chrissy’s edit alone has layers to it. On the surface, it might be easy to point to things like her talking to Ben at the merge feast and Ben suggesting she wait, or Lauren calling out her ability to do quick math, and it could be perceived that she is playing much too hard, much too fast, and making it obvious she is a big threat. The edit shows her as a big target, and common wisdom might suggest that doesn’t bode well.
On the other hand, Chrissy said in this episode that “I think where I am right now is setting me up for a future run” and she was also shown to be the person who came up with the plan to boot Jessica, even though she didn’t raise Jessica’s name. This is consistent with similar content we’ve had from Chrissy in other weeks.
Looking back over the season, there has also been significant effort put into showing Chrissy’s positive relationships—specifically with Ben, Ashley, Ryan and JP— and her negative relationships with Roark and Joe as well. Given Joe wasted his idol this week, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him go out this week – and if it does, it’s good edit news for Chrissy who would likely be once again shown to be getting her own way.
There’s also the small matter of Chekhov’s fake immunity idol. To me, there was no tension in this week’s vote (as there wasn’t with Roark’s) as soon as Chrissy was the alternate target – it seems clear that her story hasn’t played out, and although I applaud the editing for misleading on occasion I’d be surprised if they mislead us quite that much.
So, superficially, Chrissy’s edit might seem like she’s in trouble as she’s coming across as too smart and a big threat. Look deeper, though, and it still seems like it’s priming her for a deep run where she retains control.
In reality, I think that the concerning part of Chrissy’s edit is mostly editing.
When very intelligent people go out on Survivor, it is very difficult to hide that intellect. Your vocabulary, your interests, your eyes, your demeanour, all give a window into a person’s intellect. Chrissy’s intelligence has been in her eyes all season. Ryan identified her as someone he wanted to work with early, and it was probably because he felt like Chrissy would share in his ability to think strategically while being an unlikely pairing (the same reason that he picked Devon). So if anyone thinks that Chrissy was dumb to do a little math – think again. The math was only raised by Lauren in a huddle of Healers that probably occurred after Lauren had already flipped. It was a throwaway line that provided an easy narrative for why the Healers targeted Chrissy, but it was very unlikely to have held much weight at all.
In fact, Chrissy was probably mostly a target because of the relationships the Healers needed to rely on to succeed. Cole’s group wanted to bring in Lauren and Ben, while Joe wanted to bring in Devon (who probably said yes to Joe and told them he could bring in Ryan and Ashley). Joe also already didn’t believe they could actually trust Ben, but he would have been daft to target Ben given others did trust him.
That only leaves two – Chrissy and JP – and it doesn’t surprise me at all that out of those two they’d choose Chrissy, who even after a passing acquaintance would obviously be the bigger threat of the two.
With the Healers having lost the early advantage, it doesn’t seem that who they think is a threat will matter that much – and it might shift now in any event as their tactics will change. What will really matter is how Chrissy’s own alliance of seven perceives her – and at this point we don’t really have a true sense of the level of threat they each perceive in each other long term.
In addition, Ben suggesting she was quiet at the merge feast was likely included only because they needed to raise tension at the idea Ben would flip, and was probably much more innocuous. I doubt it was anything that concerned Ben at all.
In reality, Chrissy is a threat – but it’s unclear exactly how much of a threat she is perceived to be compared to others, and I think that the edit is overplaying that card at the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her fall back under the radar a little in a couple of weeks time, as people like Ryan, Devon or Ben might be seen as more urgent issues. I’d say that Chrissy is in a much better spot than at least the superficial side of the edit shows.
Ben swings? (or he stays entirely stable)
Ben was portrayed this week as the swing vote, who could go either way. And he did have confessionals to back this view up. This leaves him apparently in a position where he could have upset four of the players left in the game (five if Lauren is upset at being cajoled into going the way they went). However, Ben got a lot of positive content about his role as the swing vote.
Ben was shown talking with Lauren about which way they should go, and it was he who was portrayed as advocating going the way they ultimately did go – also a big positive.
Overall, everyone seems to be of the view that Ben is in a good spot.
Ben was never the swing vote here, as Joe correctly identified. I see no way that Ben was ever going to vote out Chrissy at this stage, and the various scenes of Ben playing with the idea of working with the Healers was almost certainly predicated on the target being someone who he had a much less significant connection to.
I think it was probably the right choice for Ben, but he seems significantly less connected than Chrissy is in that group of seven, unless Lauren is far more connected in to Ryan and Devon that we realise. His choice does leave Chrissy essentially in control of that group as she has the critical relationship that really.
It seems to me that Ben’s edit is more positive about his chance than I think his spot is in reality. Ben is the kind of person who has the personality to change the game, but I get the sense he’s really going to have to rely on the capital he’s built up with Chrissy to avoid being targeted as a threat in the mid-merge.
Other disparities (err… deuces?)
Lauren has been getting a lot of great content that would make you feel good about her chances. She was positioned as the swing vote this week and got to have a lot of rationally explained content about her choices. In reality, though, I’m concerned that she’s putting sentiment and relationship ahead of strategy. It was clearly the wrong move for her and Ben to go with the Healers, something it seems like she had difficulty identifying. But because she felt closer to them (than Ryan and Devon, I assume), she was willing to vote in a way that I think was fundamentally against her interests and even wanted to. While she might be good at explaining her decisions carefully, I still think she’ll end up undone by making the wrong decisions if she allows her emotional links to be decisive down the line.
Ashley has been getting complex content all season as I mentioned last week, but it’s very difficult to have her in any realistic conversation of winner picks as it just doesn’t seem as though she is making any kind of strategic decisions that are helping her position in the game. She could come alive later, but at this point it feels like she may even be dead last in the pecking order of the Heroes and Hustlers alliance, and that’s not a good place to be.
Devon got a good edit this week, talking a lot and causing some people to throw him back into their list of potential winners. But was any of the content really meaningful? He had a long term strategy conversation with Ryan in which Ryan suggested they go deep with people closer to Devon than Ryan – I found this conversation troubling for Devon as it suggested to me that Ryan is being less than fully honest with him, and he could find himself in a similar position to Ali in Ryan’s pecking order. I’m worried that Devon isn’t long for the game at all.
Was Jessica the right target? (Keeping the minority glued together)
It might have happened intentionally or by accident, but I think the removal of Jessica changes the dynamics of the Healers tribe significantly – and that might not be the best thing for the Hustler/Hero alliance.
If your goal is to do a little Pagonging and remove a few Healers before anyone gets antsy about making a move on their own, the best way to achieve this is to leave people in the game who continue to make the Healers a cohesive unit. I think Jessica was that person.
Jessica seemed to have a close relationship with each of Desi, Joe, Cole and Mike (the relationship with Joe has only been talked about in exit interviews, but the others were shown on the show). Mike and Joe’s relationship, though, is still visibly shaky, and I’d be hard pressed to think Desi would be unfailingly loyal to Joe. It’s hard to know if Cole has any real connection to either Desi or Mike, and Mike seemed to be considering a flip on Mike in the post-swap era.
I expect we’ll see another Healer go this week, but I don’t think the Healers will be voting unanimously this time. And this could be the start of Healers finding the cracks in the bigger alliance and finding their way to the end game. Mike seems best placed, but Desi has a real shot of getting in there too.
The one thing that might change it? If the Healers really do find another idol this week – especially if it’s Joe or if it’s found publicly as appears to be the case for now. That could induce them to stick together and try to idol someone out. Short of that, though, I think Jessica’s removal will be the catalyst for an early Healer fracture, and it’s going to make for some interesting play going forward. Great for us – but I think it would have been better for the majority alliance if they’d removed Cole (or Mike) instead, as the Healers would probably be more inclined to continue to collectively march to their doom.
Looking back at week two (doubling down)
I made a few hot takes after week two that I want to revisit.
First – I said that Ben and Chrissy would be going to final tribal council together. I’m doubling down. Everything about the way this show is playing out has continued to convince me that this is the story we are seeing.
There is definitely a large element of wish fulfilment going on as I’m sure I’m seeing what I want to see and ignoring what I don’t want to see. But I haven’t felt this sure about anything Survivor since the time that Mike Holloway seemed destined to beat the bunch of villains he was up against. And if I’m only going to be right about one thing this season (which, at this point, there’s no guarantees of), this is the thing I want to be right about.
Second – I said that Joe is a worse player than he seems. To be fair to Joe, he isn’t nearly as bad as I thought he was at that time. But I still think there are plenty of people who see Joe as some kind of Tony-level genius. His play this week showed up both his strengths and his weaknesses. He does have good game sense, as demonstrated by his understanding that they didn’t have Ben.
But Joe is overconfident and easily fooled, as shown by his belief at Tribal Council that only three names had come up all day – none of them Jessica’s. Much like his blindness to nearly tanking Desi’s game in the post-swap, Joe has a blindness when it comes to himself and his own perceptions and conduct, and it’s getting him in trouble.
This week, it caused him to waste an idol. I said he wasted the last time, but that was controversial. This time, I think it’s uncontroversial. Joe completely failed to read the room when he pulled out his idol, and what he should have noticed was the complete lack of concern, the absence of efforts to replan, all of which should have tipped him off that he wasn’t the target and didn’t need to play his idol. He could learn something from Jay Starrett, who understood in his gut the value of simply being known to have an idol as a disincentive to actually taking votes, and so sat on his idol on many occasions that you really would have expected him to play it.
Joe predicted that he’d find another idol at the merge – and I’m pretty sure his life in the game is going to swing on it. Either he finds the idol this week and that’s the next part of his story (and it could extend significantly), or we see someone else find it instead, and it heralds his end as his opponents can see they have a clean shot. I’m expecting the latter, and won’t be at all surprised to see Joe go out this week.
Third – I said the Heroes and Hustlers tribes were full of good players (and the Healers tribe, perhaps not so much, although we didn’t know them well at that point). I think this has also been borne out by the way the season has panned out. Chrissy, Ben, Ashley, Ryan, Devon and Lauren are all legitimately playing well, and it’s hard to argue against JP's calm demeanour in the face of his name coming up. On the other side, Roark and Jessica both went at their first tribals, and Cole and Joe are the two players with the biggest self-induced target. Only Mike and Desi might be playing well for the Healers – and the jury is still out on Desi.
Alright, that does it for this week’s very late entry. As always, please comment and tweet at me. I’ll respond as always.
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