The Baker's Dozen - Survivor: Cagayan

Quitters can kiss my ***


1) There’s an epidemic of quitting on Survivor – and it’s only going to get worse.


The title of this column notwithstanding, there’s no need for me to rake Lindsey over the coals here; she’s probably had just about enough of that over the past few days, don’t you think? Sure, it’s warranted – as someone who wishes to play the game, I find that quitters make me irrationally angry – but really, this is simply the predictable outcome of casting volatile personalities. Yes, players like Lindsey can create drama, but when things don’t go their way, they’re the ones most likely to fall apart. It’s the yin and the yang of who confrontational antagonists are at their core, woven into the coarse fabric of their psyche; when they’re ahead, they’re insufferable; when they’re behind, they’re explosive, rash, and infantile. They also rationalize their petulant, defeatist decisions any number of ways (although using one’s child as an excuse is both singularly effective and intensely offensive), but in the end, they just didn’t want to play any more. That’s their right, of course; it is also our right to not respect their decision to walk away.


Lindsey-ProbstHere’s what I find interesting about all of this: Had Lindsey played even five years ago, there’s no way she quits under these circumstances. The landscape has changed in recent years, and sadly, how certain players have responded to adversity has shaped what players do now. Indeed, once a thing has been done – Roger Bannister running a sub-four minute mile is one of the more famous examples – the act of accomplishing the supposedly impossible shatters a formerly-impenetrable psychological barrier, and suddenly, what was deemed impossible is not so impossible after all.


While there have been a number of players who have quit Survivor over the years, the number of quits is indisputably on the rise: Over the past seven seasons we have had at least five quits, quite possibly as many as nine:

  • Nicaragua: Purple Kelly and NaOnka (a low point for the show)
  • Redemption Island: None (perhaps that season’s most redeeming value)
  • One World: Colton (admittedly, this is a subject of debate; no matter how you look at it, though, Colton was “soft” in that moment)
  • Philippines: Dana (was given the option to stay, but couldn’t gut it out any more)
  • BrandonCaramoan: Shamar (created his own medical issue by grinding sand into his cornea)
    - Brandon (he forced his way out of the game, to put it mildly)
  • Blood vs Water: Colton (at this point, quitting has become something players see as a legitimate option)
  • Cagayan: J’Tia (just about everything she did from the rice-throwing moment on was a concerted effort to get herself voted out; many of you will disagree with this claim, but I’ve worked with a number of students and athletes who have found novel ways to give up… and J’Tia is a quitter)
    - Lindsey: At this point, Survivor is a world in which quitting is no longer only for medical emergencies or mental breakdowns; thanks to the actions of others, what’s possible within the game – what is deemed acceptable in the minds of those who play it – has changed irrevocably.


This goes from positive evolutions like innovate strategy and the fabricating of fake immunity idols – all the way down to the negative end of the spectrum, where all of the flavors of quitting reside: the needless medevac, the “vote me out” towel throw, the “I’m a danger to myself and others” quit, to Lindsey’s passive, denial-laced, excuse-ridden departure.


(On a related note: If Lindsey had been able to think beyond the betrayal – and the bullying, because I refuse to give a free pass to Trish here – Lindsey would have realized two things: one, that she could have enlisted the help of her tribemates to get Trish to back off, a workable, peaceful solution that would have been a great model of diplomacy for her daughter; and two, if she understood the game even a little, she would have seen that the merge was only a vote or two away, and at that point, there were avenues and options available to her, ones that would have gotten her to the endgame and quite possibly allowed her to witness Trish getting torch-snuffed. A shame she wasn’t able to see beyond the myopia of misery.)


Until casting decides that it needs players more than personalities – a day which will never come – we will continue to see players quit when the game turns on them and they can no longer see any value in enduring the agonies of the experience (with the money being minimal, and the celebrity all but non-existent these days, there are no real incentives beyond the adventure… and recruited “characters” don’t really care deeply about the game, do they?).


It’s a problem – but it’s clearly one the producers are okay having. Indeed, they build in quits and medevacs into the structure of the season, something Probst explains to Dalton Ross in his post-episode 3-question interview this week. If you ask me, though, the game, the players, and the viewers all deserve better.

But we aren’t going to get it.



As you might imagine, watching players quit tends to take the wind out of my sails; I want nothing more than to play the game, and season after season, I find myself witnessing players walk away from the opportunity of a lifetime.

Last year when I felt this way, I stopped writing the Dozen. Don’t worry, I’m not going to be so extreme this time around. Instead, I’m simply going to keep the remainder of this column brief… I’m just not feeling inspired to write.




2) Trish is receiving the edit she has earned


Every shot of Trish we’re getting is negative: physically (emphasizing her laugh and accentuating her teeth), socially (asking if she was allowed to hit her opponent during the reward challenge), and interpersonally (confronting Lindsey in camp and not being able to let it go; for those of you who think that all Trish was trying to do was explain what she did, you’re forgetting the 40 miles of bad road between these two: they don’t like each other, and Trish was going to rub it in, and knew full well that Lindsey wouldn’t take it well). Even Trish’s one moment of levity – “admitting” that she’s a man – didn’t make her look good.


The editors have gone out of their way to make sure that we don’t like Trish.


Mission accomplished.



3) Alexis was a PLAYER


I TOLD you she knew how to play this game! Smart girl. Too smart, though (and in some ways, not smart enough).


To be sure, Alexis did a number of things wrong this episode:


** She was far too happy that LJ and Jefra had survived Solana’s trip to Tribal Council. Didn’t go unnoticed.

** She contradicted herself when speaking with Spencer: She said that Jeremiah was so dumb that he couldn’t lie – but then labeled Jeremiah unpredictable. Either a player has guile – or is guileless – but not both.

** Don’t give players a reason to worry about you: You’re already linked with LJ – if you suddenly come across as strategically savvy, too, that makes you a double threat. Add in that “my eyes bug out when I’m talking about the game” poker tell of hers, and were I Spencer, I’m targeting Alexis, too. Morgan and Jeremiah are far more predictable goats; yes, Alexis would have been a better weapon, post-merge, but like most Survivor swords and scimitars, her blade would have been double-edged.


Interestingly, I got into an extended discussion/debate with some fellow SuperFans this week about the tears Alexis shed after being voted out. Some folks found her sorrow unseemly; I, however, thought it was real and powerful. Here’s what I wrote in the Facebook thread:


[Were I to play the game], the moment I was voted out, I'd cry because the game means way too much to me; they'd be tears of loss and exhaustion and the end of something magic.


Some players cry because they feel betrayed or entitled or angry; those tears are empty.


Alexis cried because she could see a path to the end of a game that she loved. And it was ripped away in the heartbreak of a moment. That's real loss.


If you have any doubt that Alexis knew what she was doing out there – and had a remarkably mature perspective within a day of being voted out – then you simply MUST watch her “Day After” video.


Well played this season, Alexis. When Cagayan is completed, one of the five most enduring moments will be your tears after being voted out. Thank you, from the bottom of my jaded and cynical heart, for caring.



4) I promised I would write extensively about Tony… I’ll get around to it eventually.


Instead, a bullet list (which I will endeavor to differentiate from Jeff Pitman’s more thoughtful and funnier bullet list):


** Loved his “get rid of the head and the body will follow” line with regards to Lindsey’s quit after Cliff was voted out. Sharp, accurate, funny.

** Giving the clue to Jeremiah was an interesting move; it really shouldn’t have worked, though. From picking Jeremiah as the recipient – to needing to retrieve the clue before returning to camp – to Jeremiah’s revelation that the clue was for an idol back at the Solana camp – to Tony’s general demeanor – and I can’t help but think players like Spencer should have been able to figure out that the clue was a reward for the two players who self-selected to go on the raid.

** So horribly unwise to expose his lies to his tribe. I understand WHY he did so: He was attempting to unify his new tribe with this revelation, while at the same time pulling a Rob Cesternino, earning trust by divulging duplicity (Tony did this once before with Sarah)… what Tony is forgetting, though, is that Rob made his reveal much later in the game, and did it with one player, not four. No one is going to trust Tony after the merge, when word of his moves will spread, as all such stories do

** Loved the puzzle cheating during the challenge. And really, it’s not cheating if it isn’t against the rules. And for a long, long time, puzzle peeking hasn’t been.

** If you want to galvanize your team after a come-from-behind immunity challenge victory, do so back at camp; better yet, get it all out in a confessional or whisper it to yourself in the #Spyshack.

** I continue to love how this guy plays, but the seeds of his demise have been planted.



5) It would have been SO EASY for Jeremiah to undo all of Tony’s damage


“I can tell y’all don’t believe me when I say that the clue they gave me was for an idol back at THEIR camp. So here’s what I propose: BABYSIT ME. I won’t leave the main part of our camp unless it’s to go to the bathroom or fetch water or something like that, and when I do, send someone with me. I won’t be looking for the idol – because I CAN’T. That clue was for THEM, not for ME. You don’t trust me, I can see that, but I promise you, I’m telling you the God’s honest truth – and I’ll just sit here, doing a lot of NOT SEARCHING, and you can watch me the entire time.”



6) It’s far more important to not lose than win the “Raid” reward challenge


Raids can do substantive damage any number of ways: if a tribe loses key supplies, it’s a morale killer; members of the opposition, assuming they’re observant, get a glimpse into the social workings of your tribe; and a whole lot of diplomatic damage can be done in a few short hours by tearing at the physical and social fabric of the raided tribe.


When done well, I LOVE raid rewards.


Sadly, this raid was toothless, for several reasons:


** The two “raiders” had been living on the Aparri beach only a few days before; raids are far more effective (and disruptive) when the players don’t really know one another.

** The merge was looming, which means that the players would be far kinder in their selections than they would have been if there was another week or more in play (can you imagine if they had taken the tarp, and a week of heavy rain followed?).

** Survivor undercut the drama by giving Tony and Woo a shopping list; culpability and responsibility fell onto the producers rather than the players.


Note to Survivor producers: Raids are great – you just need to time them better, and force the players to make the hard choices.



7) A few little things that jumped out at me this week

** Morgan CANNOT win. If you doubt me, go and watch her secret scene this week. She is a abject failure in the social game.


** LOVED that Spencer knew the Michael Skupin “toss the idol into the air” move in the reward challenge. History is helpful. Why more of them aren’t students of the game is an endless source of frustration for me.


** LJ isn’t the only one, post-“Listen to what I did!” revelation, who is now seeing Tony in a new light… but he IS the only one being given an extended confessional about it. Is LJ going to be the architect of a Tony blindside? Safe to say that LJ understands that knowing who a player really is – and then using that truth – can be the difference between a deep run and an early departure.


** Interesting comparison: Woo gets through the maze part of the immunity challenge and slides down… Sarah finishes untying the final obstacle and then turns and helps the other members of her tribe. Courtesy, kindness, teamwork: these are at the core of social intelligence, which Sarah possesses in abundance.


8) Members of the Can’t Win Team:


Starters: Trish, Morgan, Jeremiah (actively destroyed their chances)


Benchwarmers: Woo, Jefra (non-strategic loyalists)



9) The Remaining Contenders:


Tony: Has played too hard, too fast, but has an idol in his pocket – and possesses a knack for turning other people into targets. I’m not going to rule him out until I have to. One thing’s for sure: it’s going to take a big move to take him out.


Spencer: He’s going to be identified as a threat sooner rather than later, but unless things go totally haywire over the next few votes (which is a distinct possibility; there are so many post-merge possibilities and permutations), Spencer has time to establish some options for the endgame.


LJ: My man-crush continues. The guy simply knows how to play the game. And he’s got the right demeanor for it, too: nothing seems to rustle this guy’s feathers.


Kass: Her most enduring, and endearing, quality is that she doesn’t take anything seriously, including herself. That doesn’t mean she’ll take the game lightly, however; she just won’t get bogged down in emotion or blinded by betrayal. Heading into the merge, she’s one big move or two from sitting at the Final Tribal Council with a killer narrative, and that’s a pretty great place to be.

Tasha: Didn’t look good that she totally bought into Tony’s plot to undermine Jeremiah; producers rarely allow winners to look so gullible this late in the game (same goes for Spencer; having Alexis admit in a confessional that she fell for Tony’s ruse was all the footage we needed to see, but we were shown that Tasha and Spencer were duped, too). That said, Tasha’s in a good spot, and there are a number of other threats to eliminate before they get around to her.


Sarah: Next week’s episode has been set up with Sarah as a swing-vote. The problem with being the fulcrum right at the merge: she’s going to make a whole pile of jury enemies no matter which way she elects to go. Still, I have faith enough in her Survivor skills to believe that she’ll be around for the endgame; at the outset of the merge, everyone likes her, and – more importantly – everyone respects her, and that’s the sort of player who, should she get to the endgame, would be able to convince the jury that there are no hard feelings.



10) Probst Probe: If you want players to stop quitting, Jeff, you need to do a few things:


** Penalize them: contractually force them to donate the guild minimum they earn for being on the show to one of Survivor’s charities.


** Consistently give quitters a hard time for not living up to their obligation as players: sure, you ripped into Colton, but you gave Brandon a back-rub on his way out (when he had made his tribemates fear for their own safety) and you decided to have a Jeff Probst Show therapy session with Lindsey.


** Don’t invite them to play again – ever. (Colton and Brandon are NOT Legends, Probst.)


People are far less likely to give up when they understand that there will be social and financial sanctions if they do.


But who am I kidding? You’ve BUILT QUITTING INTO THE GAME. It just doesn’t seem to bother you any more, not really.



11) Fortunes Rising: Spencer


He’s become our narrator, he’s in a non-threatening, three-person voting block, and – while his reads aren’t perfect (Tony) – he correctly identified Alexis as the real Beauty threat. There’s trouble brewing up ahead, assuming that Sarah rejoins Tony, but until then, Spencer is in a pretty sweet spot.


12) Fortunes Falling: Morgan


It’s hard to quantify just how damaging Morgan’s secret scene is this week: she should be forging relationships with the other players, but instead she’s holing up in the shelter, hoodie tied tight around her head, attempting to sleep.


She’s utterly checked out of the game at this point because she knows she isn’t a target (of course, part of the reason she isn’t a target is because she’s checked out of the game). While Morgan may wake up after the merge, by then it will be too late: she won’t have the connections she’ll need to make any moves or, should she end up at the Final Tribal Council, to get any votes.


In many ways, she’s not much better than a quitter.


13) Prediction Time:


A few weeks ago, I said there were four storylines ready to end:


Cliff, Lindsey, Alexis, and Jeremiah.

Gone, gone, gone…


… and gone.

See ya, Jeremiah.




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