The Baker's Dozen - Survivor: Cagayan

The beauty of a bivouac


New (3/10/14): Listen to Andy talk even more about his views of Survivor: Cagayan in "The Baker's Fifteen" on the Survivor Talk with D&D Listener Feedback Show podcast, Episode 145.


1) We all have personal moments of enlightenment where we learn something that seems so utterly obvious but until that moment never occurred to us.


Ages ago, when I was studying ancient Rome, I had one of these moments when I read about how a general – I want to say Scipio, but it may have been Caesar – would have his army march only a mile on the first day and then make camp. Seems silly on the surface – why not make a strong push when the troops are fresh? – but there was a design to the decision: when the soldiers bivouacked so close to home, they would discover what they had forgotten to bring and be in a position to procure what they needed with a minimum of disruption. That’s the beauty of a bivouac: One can take a step back, get the lay of the land, and course correct before a benign oversight becomes a malignant mistake.


And isn’t that what we as viewers are able to do right now? See where we are in the season (which, despite only two nights and three hours, is nearly a quarter over) and adjust our expectations accordingly? More importantly, isn’t this what the castaways as players – the ones who know what they’re doing, anyway – should be doing at this point in the game? They’re nearing the end of the first phase of the game – a swap is on the horizon, and the merge awaits only a few Tribal Councils after that – and they’ve had an opportunity to create and settle into their temporary micro-society. If these players are at all Survivor savvy, each and every one of them should at this point have some sense of their avenue to the endgame; if they don’t like what they see, they need to embrace the beauty of the bivouac – regroup, rethink, and reevaluate – and create a new dynamic before they’re so far into the game that they cannot escape the tragic fate that awaits the passive and the unprepared.


So join me in my makeshift spy shack, won’t you? Within these bamboo walls, we shall see what we see and hear what we hear, and adjust our impressions of this season and these players based on who is looking ahead and who is destined to be left behind. Better to make an honest assessment now than encounter avoidable errors later, wouldn’t you say?



2) Brice was right about everything – but he still didn’t stand a chance.


I’ll be the first to admit that my pre-season read on Brice was way off: I thought he had been cast as cannon fodder and wasn’t cut out for the game. Boy was I wrong: Yes, he had his torch snuffed where cannon fodder is usually dispatched, but he was more a victim of circumstance than a casualty of idiocy. Indeed, Brice quickly figured out that LJ, Jeremiah, Jefra, and Alexis had gravitated to one another, and that his only opportunity to survive until a swap was to work with Morgan. Using her to flip Jeremiah was going to be a difficult path, but it was really the only one available to him; in the end, there wasn’t anything that Brice or Morgan could offer Jeremiah that he wasn’t already getting from the Country Club (other than flirtation, of course, but the power of pulchritude is heavily dampened by monsoons, wrinkly skin, and a minimum of hygiene).


Brice was right about a great many things: that Jeremiah was flippable, that Alexis wasn’t pulling her weight, that LJ was and is a threat – but because he was on the outside looking in from day one, the only way he was going to avoid early elimination was for the Beauty tribe to finish first or second in all of the immunity challenges. And sadly for him, this did not happen.


On the ropes

3) Before I move on, two things just hit me as I wrote the paragraph above:


** How’s this for an eerie comparison: The Country Club and the Cool Kids of Caramoan:


LJ = Reynold (idol-finding heart-throb)
Jeremiah = Eddie (not so savvy sidekick)
Alexis = Allie (doomed player who knows what she’s doing)
Jefra = Hope (non-strategic pageant girl)


These two alliances will have entirely different long-term fates – and that has everything to do with starting out with three small tribes.


** Do you think that LJ and Jeremiah might have thrown the immunity challenge to get rid of Brice/Morgan? I doubt it, but they DID lose a massive lead, and the puzzle didn’t seem that hard…


I trust him

4) I’m starting to worry about my winner pick.


Jeff – owner, curator and oligarch of True Dork Times – is right: It is hard to imagine Sarah having a worse episode after such a triumphant beginning to the season. To whit:


** She is being made to look foolish: It’s one thing to have faith in a blue-blood alliance. It’s another thing altogether to have her confessionals juxtaposed with Tony pointing out how stupid someone has to be to trust him. Unless these are the early missteps of a player who eventually exchanges innocence for experience – certainly not out of the realm of possibility – then her naiveté is going to get her eliminated before the endgame.


** Her first course of action – as a castaway and a cop – should be to check out Tony’s “Lindsey and Cliff want you out” story. Instead, so far as we know, she simply takes Tony at his word. Unwise in the extreme.


** According to the “Next Week on Survivor” clip, she’s talking about throwing a challenge to take out Cliff, a violation of Survivor Commandment #4: NEVER THROW A CHALLENGE.


** Her ego is starting to get the better of her (just as I worried it might): She’s trying to turn the tribe against Cliff because it serves her own game, not because it is in the best interest of everyone involved. To steal shamelessly from Star Trek – which in turn stole shamelessly from utilitarianism – the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few: In many if not most Survivor situations, a player needs to convince everyone else in the tribe that the decisions being made benefit the group, not just the one shaping the elimination agenda. To do otherwise uses up whatever political and personal capital one has accrued, and that is a reservoir that must be tapped rarely and wisely. Keep in mind Uncle Cliffy is, if the footage we’ve seen is any indication, beloved; to ask a tribe to blindside him, and to throw a challenge to make that happen, is a complete expenditure of every ounce of goodwill Sarah has earned up to this point in the game. Terrible, terrible, terrible.


Can Sarah still win? Maybe. But we’ll need to see her suss out that Tony is more Mackey than Kojak and make moves to eliminate him. Given the edit thus far, I’m not sure that this is her narrative trajectory – but one can hope.


Believable is in the eye of the beholder

5) On the flip side, Tony came to play (and is benefitting from the fact that the rest of his tribe thinks Survivor is about challenges and bad weather).


Yes, Tony’s being portrayed as a character instead of a conqueror (if he was one of the final three, wouldn’t he be getting the Russell Hantz edit?), but I always admire players who hit the beach having done their homework and are ready to play. Among his other early triumphs, he stepped into the game being aware of and understanding two important Survivor Commandments:


** Survivor Commandment #12: Believable lies are woven from a fabric of truth.

You have to love Tony’s impersonations of Cliff and Lindsey during their fateful (and entirely fictional) conversation about Sarah; by having Lindsey say, “I liiiiiiiiike her!” and Cliff respond, “Shorty, it’s a game,” Tony is painting a plausible picture for Sarah, which is a big part of the reason why she can’t sense the self-serving fiction at the heart of it all. Tony’s lies may come back to haunt him later in the game, but right now, his ability to spin stories is serving him well.


** Survivor Commandment #26: Always assume there are hidden immunity idol clues included with the reward challenge bounty.


I have an idolSurvivor Truism #1: Producers love hidden immunity idols.
Survivor Truism #2: Producers don’t want hidden immunity idols to remain hidden.
Survivor Truism #3: Producers like it when players figure out that other players have gotten clues to, and may have found, the idol.
Survivor Truism #4: Producers would love to see multiple players scramble for a poorly hidden clue because it’s fun to show adults behaving like children at a piñata party.
Survivor Truism #5: Producers love when hidden immunity idols are played at Tribal Council.


Conclusion: The Survivor Producers are going to keep providing clue after clue after clue, and if you want to find the idol, or you’ve already found it and don’t want anyone to figure that out, then all you have to do is know where to look for the clues.


Tony understands this – but seemingly no one else on the Brawn tribe does. His gain, their loss. And so, as it turns out, this Bad Cop – who I thought would be the first out in his tribe – is pretty good at the game after all.


(Why then is he getting this edit? Is he going to be under fire after a swap? Targeted immediately post-merge? I suppose we’ll find out…)



6) Some rapid-fire bivouac notes on some of the other castaways:


** Alexis masterminded the splitting of the votes, but has otherwise been conspicuously absent in strategy-based discussions and confessionals. If she understands the game well enough to grasp basic Survivor strategy, why is she being left out of the story? Doesn’t bode well for her long term prospects in the game; she may stick around for a while, but winners don’t have their pre-merge machinations ignored like this.


** Gotta love Woo’s enthusiasm in the middle of a monsoon. That said, if he thinks that rough conditions are “what Survivor is all about!” then he’s going to be a pawn, not a power player, in the episodes to come. He would do well to start laying the groundwork for post-swap strategy now (who will he align with to avoid being an easy target immediately post-merge?), but moments like hopping up and down in the rain, as fun as they are, don’t make me optimistic about his chances.


** The editors are going out of their way to give Lindsey the “ugly edit” – she’s being portrayed as mean and abrasive (hoping that your titular leader falls on her ass? really?), as overly emotional (her reaction to their immunity challenge win), and as a potential quitter. She is not long for the game.


** Jefra, too, is not being cast in a good light: she’s not helping out around camp, she’s singled out as the “whine about the weather” confessional contributor, and she talks about how the other players are discussing strategy she’s never heard of (I can only assume she’s referring to the vote-splitting). Contrary to what I said pre-season, Jefra is no Natalie White. Even her most astute moment in the episode – suggesting that a hypothetical Brice/Morgan/Jeremiah/Jefra alliance take out LJ rather than Alexis –is utterly ignored. She’s clearly out of her depth here and doesn’t have a strong sense of how Survivor works.


** Jeremiah is utterly and completely guileless. If he plans on sticking with the Country Club – and they’re truly worried that Morgan might have an idol – why not tell Brice that Morgan is the target so that she’ll play her idol (were she to have one)? STRATEGY FAIL. (And why didn’t LJ coach up Jeremiah better than this?)



7) Everyone on the Brains tribe is utterly and completely botching the social game.


Yes, the immunity challenge practice scene was amusing and entertaining, but what led up to it reveals just how dysfunctional the Brains really are:


  • Tasha was wise to ask that the tribe practice… but instead of being attitudinal when Spencer and Kass resisted the idea, why not allow them to be petulant in the moment, but eventually come around to your way of thinking? It’s always wise to let people think the decision to do what you want them to do is THEIR idea, not yours. Heck, why not just grab J’Tia, start practicing with the bucket, and wait for the other two to join you?


  • Spencer shouldn’t be digging in his heels about practicing for a challenge: it’s his best and perhaps only hope of avoiding elimination. While Spencer is doing a good job confining his cruelty to confessionals, he needs to heed at least one of the more salient observations he made there: he has to manage his emotions. That begins with fully supporting Tasha’s idea of challenge practice.


  • Kass, too, needs to be more supportive; at some point later in the game, Tasha may need to decide between Kass and J’Tia, and small moments like frustrating Tasha – who, let’s remember, is simply trying to help her team win a challenge – could be the difference between making the merge and heading home.


  • J’Tia – within the setting of Survivor, at least – has zero social awareness. Should she make it to the merge, when we’re tempted to think that J’Tia’s insanity is in fact strategy (becoming the player everyone wants to bring to the end), we have to remember moments like her mentioning the rice. NOTHING she is doing right now is based on game logic; this is just who she is when she’s tired, hungry, angry, bitter, and alone. She will not grow, she will not redeem herself, she will not figure out Survivor strategy. Should she find her way to the Final 3, it will not be because she adapted, but because the game changed around her. She’s not the first to follow this path, nor will she be the last, but let’s just put a pin in this latest moment of tone-deafness so that we remember just how unaware she really is.


It’s funny, though – despite the travesty this tribe has become – how cathartic their second place finish in the immunity challenge was, given all that had transpired leading up to that moment of non-defeat. Hugs. Yells. Tears. I’m a sucker for all of it, and in that moment, I was genuinely happy for all of them.


Brawn beach

8) Gotta give a quick shout out to the sound design people, who did brilliant work this episode.


We often hear the Survivor cinematographers being praised – as well they should, given how beautiful the show looks in HD – but if you ask me, the sound design is just as much a signature of the show as the look. Close your eyes some time and just listen to what’s going on; from camp life to confessionals, from Probstian bellowing to the hushed whispers between co-conspirators, from playful background music to dramatic overtures, the sound helps shape the story in deeply satisfying ways.


So why do I bring this up now? Because there were two moments that stood out to me this week…


** The storm: In the Brawn camp, the sound designers let the wind and the rain tell the tale; no music, just the fury of Mother Nature hammering away at the castaways. Over in the Beauty camp, however, we got maudlin music which at first sounded like a melancholy oboe, but eventually revealed itself to be the plaintive call of a string instrument, perhaps a violin. A stark contrast, and an effective one.


** The use of Strauss’s The Blue Danube during the Brains challenge practice scene: I would love to know the thinking behind this choice – it could have been simply as mild mockery of this waltz of woe, this dance of dunces, but I, for one, couldn’t help but recall the song’s use in the nerd-geek-Brain favorite 2001: A Space Odyssey. Is every member of the Brains tribe doomed to float in space, I wonder? Or perhaps one of them going to find the monolithic SuperIdol and tell the jury at the Final Tribal Council, “My God – it’s full of stars!” While I doubt that this was what the sound designers intended, I’m just gonna let myself believe this one, because the more likely former interpretation is much meaner.


9) If you want to win Survivor, you have to know the difference between good power and bad power.


We’ve got an example of bad power – and flawed leadership – in all three tribes right now:


**  Tasha: She’s taken control of her tribe almost by default, but her leadership style involves meaningless confrontation and frustration vocalization. The other players will resent it, and that could cost her somewhere down the line. With this band of misfits, less is more: Tasha would be better off to lead by example and exercise the power of positivity.


** Sarah: As described above, Sarah is so eager to utilize what power she has that she wants to commit a cardinal sin – throwing a challenge – to eliminate a harmless, loyal challenge contributor whom everyone likes. In fact, Uncle Cliffy is the perfect alliance mate: he can’t win (there are 62 million reasons not to give him the million), but he sure would like to see the endgame, so he’ll help you get there as long as you’re willing to take him. Sarah would be far better served to keep her tribe strong so that they’ll have a dominating numbers position after the swap (and hopefully the merge); instead, she’s allowing the twin forces of ego and paranoia to shape her strategy in deeply damaging ways.


Jeremiah** Jeremiah: He thinks he’s in a power position because he found himself as a potential swing vote; the important thing to note here is that he FOUND himself there, rather than putting himself in that position. He was also immediately drunk with power; sure, he was probably answering leading questions from the producers when he talked about the possibility of betraying his alliance, but the look on his face said it all: He wants to take over the tribe – but has no real sense what it is to lead. There’s also the fact that Brice and Morgan identified Jeremiah as a potential flipper, and that’s BAD; if they can sense Jeremiah’s lack of commitment, so can LJ. The simple fact of the matter is that Jeremiah has no idea how good a spot he’s in, being the sidekick; moreover, if he did turn on LJ, I doubt that he would have any idea what to do with the power once he had it. Can you see him navigating the swap and the merge as the head of an alliance? One other thing to consider: He should WANT to get to the swap with an alliance of four, not three and LJ; the four could be split up 2-2 and still be in a position of strength, and those who made it to the merge would want to come back together, which isn’t the case with a betrayed LJ in the mix.


And then there’s good power:


LJ: Let’s list all of the impressive moments he had in this episode, shall we?

LJ** In a confessional, he talks about the stereotype of beauty playing out on his tribe, with the girls not pulling their weight; he manages to say this without coming across as misogynistic or mean-spirited, though, which is impressive.

** He knows that he needs to keep his mouth shut and not complain – unlike Tasha and Sarah – if he wants to keep the bull’s-eye off his back.

** Having correctly divined why Morgan was out on the rocks, he waited until his tribe was hermiting from the storm to search for the idol, found it, and wisely kept news of his discovery to himself.

** He deftly inquires if anyone on the Beauty tribe WANTS to go home so that they can avoid the tribal strife that emerges from plotting, scheming, and scrambling. (One has to wonder if he thought Jefra – or someone else – wanted to quit; I doubt he asks this question unless he had someone in mind.)

** When deciding whom to target at Beauty’s first Tribal Council, he identifies Brice as a post-merge threat, and makes sure Brice goes home.

** He allows Alexis to feel like she’s controlling the elimination by agreeing to the vote-splitting plan.

** He’s being protected by the edit: He and Jeremiah totally spit the bit on the puzzle part of the immunity challenge, but no one appeared to hold it against LJ (even though there were probably confessionals which mentioned the failure of the Beauty leader).

** There were an excessive number of “stubble and steely gaze” shots throughout the episode; LJ may not be saying a ton, but we always know he’s there.



10) Probst Probe:

Is it just me, or did Probst not rip LJ and Jeremiah as hard as he could have when they were struggling with the ball maze? Just imagine if it had been Spencer and Kass losing the massive lead; Probst would have been merciless, right? So why not mock and ridicule the Beauty tribe the same way he did the Brains in the previous two challenges? Not as fun to snipe the pretty people, I suppose.


11) Fortunes Rising:

LJ… see the end of #9.


12) Fortunes Falling:

Sarah… see #4 and #9.



13) Prediction Time:


The title of Episode One – “Hot Girl With a Grudge” – focused on a Beauty… and a Beauty went home in Episode 2.

The title of Episode Two – “Cops-R-Us” – focused on two members of the Brawn tribe… so is someone from Brawn going home this week?


If so, the player I can see leaving is Lindsey.


I don’t get a sense from the edit that Cliff or Tony will be voted out this week; the former was too quiet (there’s no way a professional athlete will get an invisible exit) and the latter has an idol in his possession and will play it if he feels threatened. Trish and Woo appear safe as well; their stories are being saved for later. And Sarah, for all of her recent misadventures, feels like she’ll be around a while.


Lindsey, on the other hand, has been getting nothing but bad press within the episodes; she is a source of frustration and irritation, and would be an easy boot heading into a swap.


If Brains loses, Spencer would be the obvious target, but his narrative is still unfolding…

… if Beauty loses, Morgan is homeward bound, which might happen…

… but it feels like it’s Brawn’s turn to spend some time with Probst.


And if so, yet another “alternative” casting choice goes home early, giving us four interesting characters with snuffed torches in the first three weeks.


Makes you wonder if Jefra’s last name will describe the post-merge game, doesn’t it?

(Her last name is Bland.)




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