The Baker's Dozen - Survivor: Cagayan

Pulling no punches


Not in the mood to mess around this week. No long rants. No pensive musings. Just my opinions. Swift and succinct.


1) Survivor needs to stop casting players life Jefra.


The Survivor producers like to cast cute, young, blond women. Problem is, they almost never do well. Even if they talk a good game – as Jefra did this week during post-elimination interviews – they become deferential and passive once the season starts.


A quick run-down of this casting category since Heroes vs. Villains:

S27: Katie
S26: Allie, Hope, Laura
S25: Angie
S24: Kat, Chelsea
S23: Whitney
S22: Krista, Andrea, Ashley

S21: Purple Kelly


Only one of these players, Chelsea, made it to the Final Tribal Council, but that’s because she was dragged there by Kim Spradlin.


You could argue that Andrea was a strong player, but only her second time around (and more than a few people questioned her inclusion in Caramoan, since she didn’t do much during Redemption Island). Perhaps that would be Jefra’s Survivor career arc – surprising returnee who plays well once she has some experience – but why waste a casting spot breaking in a newbie?


Enough with the passive players. Stop putting them on the show. Please and thank you.


Trish looks at her goat

2) Tony’s move to blindside Jefra was brilliant.


Some reasons why:


** Tony took out an endgame goat whom Trish and Kass might have taken to the Final Tribal Council instead of him.


** He keeps two huge threats in the game, players whom the others are aware they HAVE to vote out. Everyone knows that if Spencer and/or Tasha make it to the Final 3, one of them is going to win. Even if Kass and Trish are upset that Tony didn’t clue them into the Jefra blindside, they have no choice but to continue to work with him if they’re to have any hope of winning the game.


** With these two Brains left in the game, Tony might not have to play either of his idols to make it to the Final 4. For some jurors, Tony possessing an overpowered idol might be a reason to not vote for him; never having to use it, however, might be seen as a sign of a game well played. (I realize that promos, teasers, and interviews make it clear that Tony WILL reveal this week that he has T.P. Idol – and I think we’re all assuming he’ll play it at some point – but I’m just looking at what Tony might have been thinking when he decided to blindside Jefra.)


** If Trish, Kass, and Woo focus on Spencer and Tasha, Tony is free to make a move with his idols at F5, should the remaining Brain win immunity. A possible scenario: Spencer is voted out at F6 and Tasha wins immunity at F5. Suddenly, Tony’s alliance has to turn on itself. With two idols that presumably expire at F5, Tony can protect himself and one other player.


** One positive of that two-idol play at F5: He earns the goodwill of the player he protects. Admittedly, he’ll also possibly earn enmity from the other members of his alliance, but all he needs is one player to side with him at F4 to earn himself a tie; Tony has to suspect that he’ll be the collective target at F4, so he needs to establish potential allies now for that point in the game.


** Another positive: The player Tony protects will be seen as “weaker” than Tony if they’re sitting next to each other at the Final Tribal Council. Tony will be able to say that he’s the only reason the other player got to the end, and he may well be right about that. This was a technique Tyson used to perfection towards the end of Blood vs. Water; Tyson protected Gervase when the idol was about to expire, and the only person it really benefitted was him.


** And one last positive about an F5 double idol play: It would be yet another big move to add to Tony’s endgame resume. Yes, the jury is rolling its collective eyes at Tony right now, but if he’s up against players like Trish and/or Woo at the end, what can they say to counter his argument that he’s the reason they’re still there? And what can they point to that they accomplished over the course of the game that in any way measures up to what Tony’s pulled off?



Anyway, a few other factors in the Jefra blindside:


** This continues Tony’s dominance in the “who goes home” category. He’s hand-picked four out of the five post-merge boots (Sarah was Kass’s call). And he’ll likely add at least one more to that tally next Wednesday. Tony’s the sort of player – and person – who needs to be in control, and the fact that he’s choosing the target every week is a sure sign that he’s put himself in that position. And that’s a great spot to be in when you’re sitting in front of the jury (getting there is the hard part).


** Should Tony find himself sitting next to Tasha and/or Spencer at the FTC, he’ll be able to argue that he kept them in the game not once but twice. I don’t think he’d win against either of the two Brains, but I think Tony believes he would and should, given that he was the only thing standing between them and Ponderosa on multiple occasions.


** Speaking of Ponderosa, by helping Spencer and Tasha, and then later sending one or both of them to the jury, the Brains might be strong advocates for Tony’s overall gameplay. Spencer in particular could be a strong jury foreman. (More on this in a bit.)


** Tony is distancing himself from Trish and Kass in the event that they’re with him at the Final Tribal Council. What Tony doesn’t want: Trish saying, “I was in on everything Tony did, we worked as a team, but you like me more than you like him.” By twice making moves that didn’t include Trish and Kass, he rips that potentially-effective argument away from them.


** Throwing out all of these points, from the reasonable to the absurd, and it all comes down to this: If Tony is calling all of the shots, then no one else has a chance to put together an endgame resume.


(Obviously, I don’t know that Tony was thinking ANY of these things, but I have to believe that he was factoring in at least SOME of them.)


Unhappy Trish

3) Tony’s move to blindside Jefra was foolish.


Contradictory things can be true! Here’s why the move was foolish:


** He’s fraying his alliance. Yes, Woo is, and likely shall remain, Tony’s loyal minion, but Trish and Kass have been betrayed twice. At one point, it was all but unthinkable that they’d team up with Spencer and Tasha – because the underdogs would likely beat them in a jury vote – but now it might well be inevitable.


** More on that: If Tony had made Trish feel as included as Woo, she would have stuck with Tony over Kass at F4 (and Tony/Trish/Woo would have been your F3). As it stands now, though, Tony will have to win the immunity challenge at F4, or he’ll become this season’s Ozzy/Malcolm, the player who fell just short because he couldn’t win a late-game IC.


** It’s as if Tony has never heard of jury management: He’s alienating everyone inside and outside of his alliance; eliminated players have nothing but negative things to say about him; and the jury is tiring of his theatrics. He’s not content to just create wounds; he throws salt in them at every opportunity. The animosity at Ponderosa will grow exponentially with every elimination if he keeps this up (and it might already be too late).


** Yes, a player needs to make moves to win the game, and it’s difficult to do so without making some enemies. And yes, Tony is playing for the opportunity to be invited back for a returnee-based season as much or more than he’s playing to win this time around. But the bottom line is this: Where legitimate contenders are concerned, Tony’s paranoia-driven social game might be the worst we’ve seen since Russell Hantz.


The lecture

4) Spencer had one hell of a winner’s quote during Tribal Council.


"Windows of opportunity come up and close in this game, and some could be closing right now. If you pick me off and then pick off Tasha and get 4th or 5th place, you made a mistake tonight by not making a move. The most common reason people lose this game is not making the move that they should’ve when they could’ve because they got too comfortable."


Of course, what Spencer doesn’t include here is that the players who would finish 4th or 5th in the dominant alliance – Jefra and Kass – would finish 3rd or 4th working with Spencer and Tasha, so what he was REALLY saying was, “Be our goats, not theirs.” Can’t blame him for that sin of omission, though. In the end, it was just a great quote that, paired with Tony’s comments about his five sticking together, was used to keep Trish, Kass, and Jefra in the dark about the imminent blindside.


So am I saying that Spencer is going to win Survivor: Cagayan? Nope. Last time I identified a winner’s quote, it was with Gervase in Blood vs. Water, and we all know how that turned out.


As if

5) Kass is better at poker than Garrett.

Her people-reading skills are top notch. She observes changes in temperament and body-language. She knows when people are too quiet. And she’s sniffed out just about every idol in the game.


A shame that her interpersonal skills are so bad.


6) The jury is in dire need of a good foreperson.


Who, may I ask, is shaping the conversations at Ponderosa? As we all know, what is said there has a massive impact on who wins the game, so even though we’re a few weeks away from the Final Tribal Council (9 in-game days), it’s a question worth asking. Strong personalities – such as Penner in Survivor: Philippines – can decide if a jury is balanced or bitter… so what’s happening in Cagayan?


A quick walk through the Ponderosa residents might help… who can and will lead the jury?


Sarah: She could be a solid foreperson, but the fact that she was voted out almost three weeks before the FTC lessens her ability to speak knowledgeably about the undercurrents of the game.


Jeremiah: HAHAHAHAHAHA! Don’t think so.

LJ: I can see him keeping the conversations civil and analytical, and he’s got the gravitas to help shape group consensus. But I think he’s probably NOT taking that role, preferring to kick back and relax. Seems to fit his personality more.

Jefra: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! This is going to be an easy jury to manipulate…


Which leads me to my point: If Spencer is the next player headed to Ponderosa, he’s going to have an incalculable influence on jury deliberations.



7) The Survivor Auction is broken.


I’ve screamed at my TV for years – and written endlessly in the Dozen – begging the castaways to game the auction. And finally, they’re doing it! I love this development, I truly do.


But it means that the auction must evolve.

When serious strategists like Spencer and Tony are willing to forego food, there have to be other temptations.


Off the top of my head, how about:


** Players can buy letters from home – and anyone who doesn’t win the auction has to watch their letters be burned.

** Or, combine the auction with the loved ones visit: players bid on seeing loved ones/having them come back to camp. Those who lose can see their loved ones from afar as they’re taken away by boat.

** Have a multi-stage immunity challenge, and auction off an advantage for each stage (so players can buy one or more).

** Allow players to buy an extra vote at Tribal Council or purchase the ability to block one player’s vote.

** Have one of the auction items be a major reward (like the cave exploration a couple of episodes back).


My overarching point: They’re gonna have to reinvent the auction, or it’s going to become a predictable food orgy for some players and a rock draw for others.


Old Man Coach

8) This is a legitimately great Final 6 – and it’s because they’re old.


Okay, so that’s oversimplifying things. But I do think age and experience are factors in solid post-merge strategy. There are many, many reasons for this – I might have to write about demographics and Survivor over the summer – but even a cursory glimpse at other newbie seasons that had a solid Final 6 suggests there’s some truth to the claim that the gifts of age (wisdom and empathy, among other things) help in the game of Survivor:


Africa: Ethan, Kim, Lex, Tom, Teresa, Kim… average age (rounding up): 40

Palau: Tom, Katie, Ian, Jenn, Caryn, Gregg… 33

Vanuatu: Chris, Twila, Scout, Eliza, Julie, Ami… 35

Gabon: Bob, Susie, Sugar, Matty, Ken, Crystal… 35

Tocantins: J.T., Stephen, Erinn, Taj, Coach, Debbie… 33


See a trend here? Not too many 20-somethings sticking around when there are better players in the mix. As for the average age of the final six players in Survivor: Cagayan… 36.


I’m going to have to work with my TDT Master and Overlord, Jeff Pitman, to see if we can crunch the numbers on this issue and get back to you with something definitive.


Winning Tasha

9) Tasha is going to win.


I have no idea how she’s going to get there (the longest immunity run in the history of the game would have to be involved), but her edit at this point feels the strongest to me.


Out 6th: Spencer feels like the next boot; he’s accomplished a lot, and would be a deserving returnee, but I think his inaugural journey is reaching its end.


5th: Given that Tony needs to win the F4 IC, and if Tasha has the immunity necklace here, then Woo’s gotta go if Tony’s to have any shot to win what historically is an extremely physical challenge.

4th: Everyone gangs up on Tony here because they have to.


Final three: Tasha, Trish, and Kass.


The only way Tasha doesn’t win that F3 is if Cagayan has a Final 2, and even then, that would require an improbable immunity challenge win from Trish or Kass.



10) Probst Probe: Enough with the auction inanity, Jeff.


** Why goad Woo into using Woo-style adjectives to describe the experience of eating ribs? Only one answer: to open Woo up to viewer mockery and ridicule. And then setting the entire rib-eating sequence to porn music? Really? Way to keep it classy, Survivor.


** Why did Probst pretend that he didn’t know what Spencer and Tony were up to when they refused to bid on anything? HE HAD THE BAG OF ROCKS READY TO GO. He knew full well – probably from his confessional producers – what Spencer and Tony were going to do, so they created the new rules (which I fully support, by the way), and waited to see if the Brain and the Brawn would stick to their plans.


They would do well to remember that manufactured drama is often worse than no drama at all.



11) Fortunes Rising: Trish.


On the one hand, her edit over the past two weeks has been highly erratic and often negative:


** She was shown as being WAY too trusting of Tony after the LJ blindside.

** She preferred to procure papayas with Woo than talk strategy with Tony.

** She mocked Tony and Spencer for not bidding on food when we knew they were waiting for an immunity/idol advantage, showing her to be less game savvy than the others.

** She was once again out of the loop when Tony took out Jefra.


And yet Trish was given the credit for bringing Jefra back into the fold after the beauty queen’s reward challenge crisis of faith, just as she was depicted as the primary mover in Operation Chaos (flipping Kass).


More and more, I’m seeing Trish’s edit as belonging to someone who gets to the end, but doesn’t win.


12) Fortunes Falling: Woo.


Of the six people left in the game, he’s the player I LEAST want to see win.


He’s a pawn. No shame in it. But no glory, either.


We don’t need another Fabio.



13) Prediction Time: See ya, Spencer.


Tony HAS to take out one of Spencer and Tasha, doesn’t he?


The promos have played up the possibility that Tony will be on the chopping block, they show Tony admitting he has the T.P. Idol, and they highlight that Kass will be Tony’s target.


Obfuscation, I say!


So here’s how I see this week playing out:

Tasha wins immunity. Tony lets everyone think he’s after Kass. And then he does the smart thing and guns down Spencer (after possibly being forced to play the T.P. Idol).


That said, perhaps Tony remains paranoid of an all-female alliance and follows through on his threat to vote out Kass instead…


(All I know for sure is that Tony – and his two idols – will be at the center of the havoc being wreaked.)


We’ve got six people left and, as much as I hate to admit it, I have no idea which way the wind is blowing.


Man, I love this season.




That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – if you’d like to keep the conversation going, leave a comment below!


Andy Baker

Andy Baker is a Survivor blogger who wants nothing more than to get a back rub from Jeff Probst the next time he's thinking about quitting his column. Follow Andy on twitter: @SurvivorGenius