1) Dear Reader...
The first draft of this post was little more than an incoherent rant against of the rage-inducing gameplay we’ve been witnessing since the merge.
Here’s the thing: After seeing just how hard it is to play Survivor (in the DWSC, both as a player and a field producer), I told myself that I would be more empathetic and compassionate in my approach to strategic analysis.
Plus, my son reads what I write here, and there’s only so much profanity he should witness me unleash into the world (he enjoys reminding me what I said about Dan Foley in the woods of Maine; I should share that story with you one of these days).
So instead of criticizing, which is easy, I’m going to offer critique instead: what follows, then, is some unsolicited advice to the players and producers, with the hope that future seasons might avoid the awful.
2) Dear Laurel…
Play again. Play soon. Play better.
If the finale plays out how most of us expect it to, you will soon embody the “Finalist Enabler/Zero Vote Getter” Survivor stereotype. In future seasons, when a player should flip but won’t, fans both casual and super will invoke your name. “Don’t pull a Laurel!” we’ll shout at our screens, only to see others fall prey to strategic inertia that consumed you. Which is certainly not the fate you envisioned when you signed on the dotted line.
Watching this season unfold, you must feel like you’re at a performance of Hamlet. “Stop delaying!” you yell at yourself (but, like a Shakespearean tragedy, we all know what’s going to happen). The twist here is that in this version of the tale, instead of everyone dying, they have ended up on the jury. And I can’t imagine they’ll be kind on Wednesday.
The silver lining: There’s a good chance you’ll be invited to play again. You’re strong, you’re smart, you’re social. You may very well be this season’s Sarah Lacina, a player many of us thought would learn from her mistakes and crush the game the second time around. I hope that’s you.
But gosh, it’s hard to watch you say that you know what you need to do, but then refuse to do it. Sure, it speaks to the social games of Wendell and Dom. But it also must make you wonder if you’ve got the killer instinct that you’ll need if you get another bite at the apple.
For your sake, I hope you get a chance to find out.
3) Dear Donathan…
Study the social game.
Turning potential finalists against one another is, in the abstract, a reasonable approach. But you need to know your audience. It was never going to work with Dom and Wendell; at this point, each one thinks he can beat the other.
When you play again—because of course you will, Survivor loves her characters—you’re going to need to learn the subtleties of the social game. Right now, it’s clear that the other players don’t think much of how you’re playing. Dom and Wendell are gaslighting you; that approach to psychological manipulation is built upon a foundation of disrespect. And if Jenna’s casual “idiot” comment is any indication, you lost the jury a long time ago.
Here’s the thing: You seem like a nice guy. And you clearly love the game. So when you get back out there, let your experience be your guide: make connections, make moves, and make a difference.
You might go out earlier, but who cares? You’ll play better. And you’d arrive at the endgame with an opportunity to win.
4) Dear Kellyn…
Blow $#%& up.
Seriously, if Wendell went out of his way to tell you that you were going home, why not gather everyone in camp—or if you’re eager for drama, wait until Tribal Council—and tell it like it is? (Like Donathan, only better.)
Point out that Dom and Wendell are going to win if they get to the end. Have everyone say who they would vote for out of the two of them. Get Laurel and Sebastian to admit they both have Final 3 deals with the power couple.
Out the fact that they have idols (if in fact you knew). Say that you don’t care if they play them and vote you out. You’re going home anyway; they told you so! Tell everyone else that you’ll help them get the idols out of the game, and that the rest is up to them.
I’m sure you fought. I’m sure you battled. I’m sure you did not go quietly into that good night.
But sometimes you have to blow $#%& up.
(My expectations for you heading into this season were extremely high… and when you play again, they’ll be even higher. Please don’t let me down. And when you make your return trip to Fiji, you can tell your gut from me: shut the #$&* up.)
5) Dear Angela…
Let it be.
If what Kellyn said in her exit interviews is accurate—that you jumped ship to join forces with Wendell, Dom, Laurel, and Sebastian—I have to wonder if you were trying to win.
Did you imagine that you would team up with Laurel and Sebastian to take out Wendell and Dom? Did you think that Wendell and Dom would pick you over the other two to take to the end? Did you see any path to victory at this point?
What I’m worried about is this: That you were playing for $10K a day. Every morning when you woke up on the beach, you were ten thousand dollars richer (give or take). This wasn’t about winning any more, it was about ROI, about getting as much as you could from the experience.
I hope I’m wrong. Because that’s going to lead to regrets. I’ve talked with a lot of Survivor players at this point, and the one thing that unifies them all (other than the palpable desire to play again) are the nightmares, waking and dreaming, about what they could and should have done differently.
The ghosts of Ghost Island are going to haunt a lot of players. I hope you’re not one of them. I truly hope you played your heart out in Fiji.
But if you didn’t, that’s okay, too. You can’t let the second guessing and the doubts get the best of you. You just have to let it be what it was, because time goes in one direction, even if memory doesn’t.
So let it be.
6) Dear Sebastian...
Know what you’re getting into.
Had you studied the game, gotten to the point where you really grokked it, you would have known that you needed to start playing Survivor—or even talk about playing Survivor—before Day 33.
Seems to me that you threw in with Dom and Wendell because, despite your protestations, you are in fact the best type of remora: If you can’t win, you want one of the two bros to take down the title rather than Laurel or Kellyn. I can understand that; I’ve seen that level of loyalty play out in real time, and in its own way, it’s honorable.
That said, why not shoot for honor AND wealth? Why not team up with Angela and Donathan, use your extra vote, and take out Dom or Wendell? Playing to win is an honorable approach, isn’t it? And it’s the only way you can go home with the million.
And yet, that’s probably asking too much.
So next time—although I doubt there will be one—know what you’re getting into, okay?
7) Domenick and Wendell
First of all, enjoy your combined $1.1 million.
You’ve played a hell of a game. It really was a team effort. Either of you would be a worthy winner. Can we just give you a shared title? Can CBS write two seven-figure checks? They did it with Rupert in All-Stars, and you’re both better than that guy.
The one bit of advice that I have: Be humble.
Here’s why I say that: There was an edge of arrogance to your shared games last week that tends to infect those in power. It’s one thing to get annoyed with Donathan—that’s part of the gaslighting game—but it’s another thing for you two, when alone with each other, to suggest that Donathan questioning his place in the game was so utterly unreasonable.
I suspect that both of you shook your heads at the hubris when you watched it last week.
And if I have you read right—and I think I do—you’ll both own your games at Final Tribal and be great ambassadors for the game at the reunion and beyond.
Can’t wait to find out.
8) Dear Ghost Island…
You were basically a shoddy lean-to showered in tears and scattered with urn shards.
I’m sorry that you were cursed by the limited imagination of those who brought you into being.
I feel bad that you were cursed to possess relics from Game Changers, MvGX, and—in what I assume everyone thought was a clever twist but just highlighted how limited in scope you really were—Ghost Island itself.
You deserved better.
But if this is all you can be—or all production wants you to be—then please, join Redemption Island in perpetual retirement. I hope Mike White tells Probst that you should never return. And I hope that Probst will listen.
But if you MUST return, I hope you go mature on yourself for a number of years and come back better.
9) Dear Charity Reward Visit…
Be what you used to be.
From time to time, Survivor reminds us just how much she’s changed, and not necessarily for the better.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who saw—and more importantly felt—how perfunctory the charity reward visit was this week.
Either do it right—and give us Lex and Ethan having their lives changed by something meaningful and profound—or don’t do it at all.
I say go for it: Do something substantive. Significant. Remind us how a show can be more than a show.
Be what you’ve been.
10) Dear Probst…
Ask yourself this: How would you have spoken to Angela if she had finished the puzzle before Wendell, but failed to call it out?
Would you have been as determined to have her understand why you couldn’t give her the win?
To be clear, I LIKE how you handled the situation with Wendell. You made the right call. Truth be told, I was a little shocked that you stuck by your rules, even though it put a production favorite in danger.
I just wish I trusted you to take the same approach with a player you like less.
(But, if I’m being honest, that probably says more about me than you.)
11) Dear Casting…
Do your job.
When you cast pawns like Angela and Sebastian—and passive players like Laurel—this is the endgame that you get.
When eight to ten million people watch every week no matter where the show is set, what the twists are, or who plays the game, you really can do whatever you want. Which leaves you with a choice: either take the path of least resistance and lean on a formula (which involves casting shortcuts)... or search high and low for great players (note that I did not say “characters” or “tropes” or “mactors”) and unleash them on the best game ever created.
Heck, embrace the rhetoric you espouse for the show itself: Make Big Moves. Take risks. Don’t accept mediocrity. And along the way, ask yourself this: How can you expect from the players what you won’t demand of yourself?
You know what makes for great gameplay. Go find it. Do your job.
12) Dear True Dork Times…
It’s been a blast.
Think I’m done.
** When it’s an easy vote (which are hard to come by in the endgame), and it’s a move that the power players want to happen, AND there will be no one arguing against it, then it’s all but inevitable.
** The preseason favorite to be the first boot ends up outlasting 75% of the cast and making what, $50k in the process? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never made that much in a month. (I’ve certainly had people think I was going to suck at something, though.)
** His showmance is still going strong. His bros started calling him a pirate. And he can afford a lot of candy. Win, win, win.
** Gosh, the jury is going to be brutal.
** A lot of people think that the edit is saying that Dom wins. I can see why they think so (and, as I said before, he’d be a worthy winner). And yet, I wonder if that’s one last editorial misdirect. Here’s my theory: Probst and the Producers (dibs on that garage band name) want us to believe that the “conversational” approach to Final Tribal can shape the outcome of the game. So they want us to think that Dom has the edge going in… but that Wendell alters opinions as the debate unfolds. This will all be patently ridiculous—past players have talked openly about how the vote is the end product of alcohol-soaked Ponderosa deliberations—but production is invested in the “live Tribal” concept, so they’re going to keep trying to sell us on it.
** You’ve got my vote, Mr. Wendell. You and Dom did everything together. But you did it a little bit nicer.
Andy Baker is a long-time, but definitely not long-winded, Survivor blogger.
Follow Andy on twitter: @SurvivorGenius