The Baker's Dozen - Survivor: Cagayan

A dangerous thing


1) In his “An Essay on Criticism,” Alexander Pope wrote, “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” a saying which has, over the years, been tweaked, with “learning” replaced by “knowledge.”


The underlying point remains the same: People make massive leaps of logic – which are really little more than wish-casting – based on the smallest nuggets of information. We weave narratives with almost nothing to go on because that’s what the human animal does: we anticipate and speculate based on what we know – or think we know – then edit and revise as more data comes in. We build stories upon half-truths and lies, and slowly – ever so slowly – reject what’s wrong and replace it with what we think is right.


Which is a long-winded – and overly philosophical – way to say this: Most of my “Premature Articulation” column was the rhetorical equivalent of shooting arrows at midnight: If anything was accurate, it was blind luck. Since that post appeared here on TDT, though, I’ve watched Probst’s cast assessment and the TVGN Survivor: Cagayan Preview – which means I have a little bit of knowledge. And that, as Pope so astutely pointed out, is a dangerous thing.


Time for me to take what I’ve seen – which includes press photos from the first few days, which speak volumes about tribe dynamics – toss it into the mental wood-chipper and see what it spits out. Will anything I say in this Dozen come to pass? Let’s put it this way: I’m now throwing tomahawks at twilight; if I hit the mark, it’s because I could see movement in the shadows and hurled the halberd with a hint of hope.


I’ll begin with this season’s twists, as revealed in TVGN’s preview…




2) Tyler Perry needs to be kicked squarely in his House of Payne.


Time for a quick Survivor SAT question:


Q: You’re Jeff Probst. You get a text from Tyler Perry that says, “Hey, JP, have an idol that can be used after the votes are read!” What’s your reaction?


Holy idolA) Look up Tyler Perry’s credits on IMDB, realize that his claim to fame is the "Madea" franchise, and then delete the text.

B) Text back, “Have you watched Survivor before? Two words: Yul Kwon.” (as seen at right)

C) Laugh, because this Tyler Perry fellow is a comedian, and this must be a joke.

D) Think, “Hold on, this will allow Russell or Malcolm to get all the way to the end in Season 30, Survivor: Legends!”

E) Decide to take Tyler Perry’s advice, but put the blame on him, so that when the post-merge game becomes predictable thanks to an overpowered Idol, the Man on the Street will blame him and not you.


I understand why Probst is tempted to bring back the SuperIdol (I refuse to call it the Tyler Perry Idol; the IdYul, maybe?): he’s trying to re-calibrate the game to give post-merge targets an extended opportunity to avoid elimination. But before he decided to bring it back, he needed to watch Cook Islands again, to remind himself why an idol like this one is horribly unwise. If played correctly – which is to say, for the castaway who finds it not to play it at all, but instead use it as leverage – someone is going to coast to the Final 4. As an added bonus: all other strategy will stagnate, because coordinating enough votes to flush the IdYul after the merge will be next to impossible, and everyone will want to avoid being the boomerang target.


The tl;dr version: The T.P. Idol is stupid.


Cliff-Tony discussion

3) Survivor Commandment #76: When Jeff Probst tells you to pick a tribe “Leader,” immediately offer your unstinting support to someone, anyone, other than you.


Until Survivor suitably incentivizes taking a leadership role at the start of the game – rather than earning that position over time – it is situational suicide to volunteer yourself, for when you step to the front, you expose your back. What would be a solid incentive, you ask? Immunity at your tribe’s first tribal council, for starters.


I wonder, though, with so many knowledgeable players involved this season – particularly on the Brains tribe – will the castaways try to game the system, both with the Leader pick as well as selecting the weakest player? That’s what I would try to do: quickly explain that idol clues and resources will be linked to the players who are picked, and then angling to make sure that people I hope to align with get access to these possibilities. Anyone who wasn’t willing to employ strategy during these Day One decisions – well, let’s just say they would have revealed themselves to be useful pawns or disposable players (or both).


Anyway, here’s my best guess as to who will end up as the Leaders of their tribes:


Brain: David… the other Brains won’t want the job, and David won’t be able to help himself. The suit jacket he’s wearing demands it.

Brawn: Tony… there’s a shot in Probst’s cast assessment which shows Tony giving Uncle Cliffy instructions during a challenge – Cliff clearly didn’t like it much – and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it until I heard about the Leader twist. Seems to me that Tony would want the position, and quickly let the power go to his head.

Beauty: LJ… he won’t want the job, but the girls are all too young, Jeremiah is more of a follower, and Brice is, well, Brice.


Picking the weakest

4) I’ll be sorely disappointed if the members of this cast don’t try to undermine what production is trying to do with the “Pick the Weakest Player on Your Tribe” twist.


As Probst admits in the TVGN preview, they’re trying to create dissent and discord within the small tribes right from the outset. But if the newly minted Leaders know their Survivor history – and we have reason to believe they do – they should be trying to subvert Survivor’s obvious intentions and turn this obligation into an opportunity. In the past, players identified as “The Weakest” have been given a free ride to camp – and in modern Survivor, that’ll likely entail a Hidden Immunity Idol clue. So if you’re a Leader, pick someone who will thank, rather than resent, the choice you made – and hopefully share the clue – or the idol – they find. And if Survivor is so cruel as to simply eliminate the players picked as the weakest (unlikely, given that there are 18 players on the beach when these decisions are made), no worries: by picking a stronger player, you’ve eliminated the competition. Win-win.


As for who gets the dubious honor for being picked as The Weakest:


Brains: Kass… with David as the leader, she’s the obvious choice… and she’s sharp enough to know that there may be a reward to go with the wake-up call.

Brawn: Sarah… there’s a shot in the TVGN preview that shows Sarah raising her hand, tentatively, during this whole Leader/Weakest Player business. I’m guessing that she’s taking one for the team here, which should earn her some points (particularly with Trish and maybe Lindsey) – and will immediately put her at odds with Tony.

Beauty: Morgan… LJ won’t want to pick Brice (to do so would appear insensitive, even though Brice is likely the weakest overall player on the tribe), and Alexis is the fitter of the two 21 year-olds. That leaves Morgan – who won’t be happy about being singled out this way.



5) An inevitable end result of watching pre-game footage: My opinions about various players have been tweaked. First up: Brawn.


** Tandem to watch: Sarah and Lindsey. From the footage and photos we’ve been given, it’s clear these two are bonding. If they team up with Trish and Woo, watch out. They could be the biggest power pair – pre-merge, at least.


** Speaking of Sarah, I didn’t think I could love her chances any more – but then I found out that she’s an MMA fighter. She’s not gonna lack toughness, that’s for sure. When she exits the game – or, more accurately stated, IF she exits the game – she’ll go down swinging.


** Cliff doesn’t have a plan for how he’ll handle being recognized and/or questioned about his NBA career – which means he doesn’t have a plan for anything. I wasn’t high on his chances before hearing this; I’m even less invested now. Nice guy, sweet shot, early boot.


** Based on his interview video alone, Tony was People’s Exhibit A for “Players who say they’ll be different in the game than they are outside of it” – and as we all know, that approach simply doesn’t work. With each passing day, Survivor makes you MORE of who you truly are, not less. And now, after finding out that Tony had a four month-old baby girl at home as the game was getting underway, I’m even more certain that Tony’s pugilistic personality will emerge… and that will doom him. Anger is a sign you need to adapt, not attack – when things aren’t going your way, analyzing is always better than bellowing – but I don’t think Tony is wired that way.


** I like Trish more than I did before: she feels like a softer, more relatable Sherri (Survivor: Caramoan). If she gets into the right alliance, she could get to the endgame.



6) Next up: Brains


** I had been trying to figure out why poker players might not have the best overall approach to Survivor when Garrett gave me the answer: poker players play alone. Garrett, according to his segment in the TVGN preview, plans on flying solo, strategically speaking; he wants to analyze all of the possibilities and probabilities by himself, rather than talking things through with a partner. But that’s irreparably unwise in Survivor: conversing with a co-conspirator builds trust, and, more importantly, the other half of your tandem will hear conversations you won’t and make connections you can’t. As always, Survivor replicates life: we may start alone and end alone, but in between, we need the help of everyone around us.


** David has a smart cover story: he’s going to say he’s in the Miami Marlins marketing department. It’s a believable lie, and one that will sound like truth, given all of the insider knowledge he’ll have about baseball. That said, if I’m on his tribe, the moment that David leaves his suit jacket unattended, I’m checking the label: If it’s Brooks Brothers, I’m selling him out to the rest of the tribe, and he’s going home. No way I’m letting a diminutive Dan Lembo outlast me.


** Being labeled a Brain is going to throw a wrench into Kass’s plans: if she was planning on claiming to be a reindeer handler, that plan is out the window. If I’m her, I admit I’m an attorney, but soften the image by saying I work for a non-profit or do environmental law. As always, shape your lies around truth…


** Everything about J’Tia seems attitudinal: her body language, how she speaks, the endless eye rolling. I’m more convinced than ever that she’s the post-merge antagonist, assuming she gets there. If I can’t stand her through my television screen, I can only imagine what it was like to share a camp with her.


** If there’s one insidious end result of Survivor shaping seasons around returning players, it’s castaways who approach the game with an eye towards coming back. It’s clear that Spencer is more interested in being on Heroes vs. Villains 2 than Survivor: Cagayan, and that’s a shame. If he’d tone it down a little he might have a shot. As is, he’s going home early (and won’t be getting that invite to HvV 2).



7) And finally, Beauty


** LJ, despite being relentlessly taciturn and charismatically bland, appears to be sharp: given what he knows about the game, he wants to be “in the middle” because he knows that it’s a good place to be. I’m increasingly convinced that he’ll be around for a while. He won’t be scintillating television, but he’ll be strategically solid.


** From the press photos, Morgan appears to be on the outs with her tribe… when you couple that with Probst’s assessment that she’s out of her element, I can’t see her sticking around very long.


** Brice is a man without a tribe: he’s vastly different from all of the other Beauties, and it’s clear from the challenge footage that he isn’t a physical asset. I can’t see him making the merge.


Body language

8) While watching all this pre-season footage, an alarming number of things annoyed me. In no particular order:

** Morgan’s facial expressions: Don’t get me wrong, she’s a lovely young woman. But her face contorts whenever she speaks. I can’t not see this.


** Jeremiah’s teeth: Invisalign, brother.


** David’s voice: I’m not entirely certain how baseball executives take him seriously.


** Garrett’s voice: There’s nothing I’m dreading more this season than an extended conversation between David and Garrett.


** Brice’s voice: Clearly, I need to watch this whole season on mute.


** Alexis’s shorts: I realize that I’ll be in the male minority here, but after the initial wow factor, all I can think is, “That looks painful.”


** J’Tia’s body language: She might be in Mensa, but her social intelligence appears to be really, really low.


** Spencer: Everything about the guy. (Of course, he WANTS to annoy us. Mission accomplished.)


Editor’s Note: I just read an early version of this column to my wife and 7 year-old son, and they think I’m being horribly mean. They’re right, of course. People shouldn’t be judged this way – indeed, they shouldn’t be judged at all – and I should probably keep these reactions to myself. And yet I feel compelled to share what I think, feel, and perceive, even if to do so casts me in an unflattering light: I cannot pretend to be anyone other than who I am, and part of that picture is how I react, viscerally, to the faces and voices being projected on my TV screen. All apologies to anyone I’ve insulted – including the players themselves.



9) I should know better than to read episode titles and look at CBS press photos – they say too much.


The title of next week’s premiere – “Hot Girl with a Grudge” – suggests several things: Morgan (or Alexis) is picked as the Weakest Beauty… she’s angry about this and goes on the offensive over it… and, given that they’re going to shape the episode around this conflict, someone on the Beauty tribe is going home.


All of this is backed up by the press photos, where there are a number of close-ups of Morgan and Alexis (you have to wonder if LJ was trying to decide which of the two to pick as Weakest, and Alexis threw Morgan under the bus). This could be just because they’re the young, attractive women on the beauty tribe, but again, given the title of the episode, we’re led to believe it goes beyond that, aren’t we?


The long and the short of it: A Beauty is going home during the premiere, and my money’s on Morgan.

(I still think there will be two Tribal Councils, however, with a Brain going home in the first hour.)


At nights, I stay here alone, snuffing my own torch

10) Probst Probe: We got the best and the worst of Probst during his cast assessment and the TVGN preview.


The best: Some of his observations about the players remind me that whatever his faults (like the T.P. idol… gaaaaaaaaah), he really does understand how the game works. A good example: When he points out that Jefra really should align with the other girls, because if she teams up with the male Beauties, they’re likely to use her to get to the endgame and then cut her loose late because she’s too likable. That’s precisely the fate I envision for her – and Probst is absolutely right that Jefra can avoid that fate (but won’t).


The worst: As much as I love hearing Probst say that Spencer has a “0.0% chance of winning this game,” it reveals one of his greatest faults as a producer: he’s willing to cast cannon-fodder, exploiting castaways for entertainment, knowing full well that they can’t win. (Probst also insists that Morgan has no chance.) How hard is it to find 18 people, all of whom are legitimate contenders? And wouldn’t a season full of players capable of getting to the end be incredibly compelling? Here’s hoping that before the show comes to an end, Probst and the other producers decide to roll the dice and see what happens when they load the field and trust the game.



11) Fortunes rising: Lindsey

I originally pegged her to be on the fringes of a Brawn alliance, but now that I’ve seen her interacting with Sarah, I see her making it to the merge. I don’t know that she can win – moments like exposing your backside to your tribemates don’t inspire confidence – but she’s teamed up with the right partner, and together, they’re a force to be reckoned with.


Runner-Up: Alexis. I thought she would lose out to Morgan in the flirt wars. And I was wrong.


12) Fortunes falling: Kass


In my first column, I had her in 10th place… and now I have her as the first boot. She, like many before her, will fall victim to the shape of her season. On bigger tribes, with more room to maneuver and more places to hide, she stands a better chance of avoiding the early-season axe.  Survivor is many, many things – but one of those things is not ‘fair.’


13) Prediction time: Round two for my boot order… Warning: Glorified Fan Fiction ahead.


18. Kass… I’m guessing it’s going to be a disappointing few days for Kass: being picked as the weakest on her tribe, losing the first challenge because of physical shortfalls (it’s clear they’re in third place after the “lift stuff through the barrier” portion of the IC), and then being voted out at the first Tribal Council.


17. Morgan… she lashes out after being picked as the Weakest Beauty and LJ decides he’d rather shape his alliance around Jefra, Jeremiah, and Alexis.


16. Tony… the Brawn tribe is going to swiftly realize that they don’t really need brute strength, and they REALLY don’t need confrontational leadership, and he’s going to get taken out by the Sarah-Lindsay-Trish-Woo alliance.


15. Spencer… anyone who can get Probst frustrated enough that the preternaturally calm and collected host throws his hat at the ChessMaster will undoubtedly annoy his tribe enough to send him packing early, if only to preserve the peace.


*** SWAP ***

14. Brice… when the tribes get reshuffled, he’ll be a floater who isn’t an asset in challenges. Easy elimination.


13. Cliff… he’ll be ready to go at this point.


12. David… the Brains are going to start getting picked off at this point in the game: the Beauty and Brawn players will fear them (they won’t want to be made to look strategically stupid), and, more importantly, won’t trust them.


*** MERGE ***

Sarah11. Garrett… I’d love to see what this guy can do in the endgame – because he’d be willing to make moves – but I don’t think they’ll let him get there.


10. Woo… the Brawn alliance will be down in numbers (I see the remaining Brains working with Beauty), and Woo is an individual immunity threat… so this where he’ll be targeted.


9. Trish… a threat for a lot of reasons: potential challenge beast… she’s likable… and the jury will respond well to her story. Can’t let her get to the Final Tribal Council.


8. Tasha… I want her to get a lot further than this, but after joining forces with the Beauty alliance to help take out the Brawn, LJ and the others will turn on her.


7. J’Tia… she’s going to help LJ orchestrate Tasha’s departure, and her reward will be to be backstabbed herself.


6. Jeremiah… Can’t let him J.T. the jury, so the Beauty alliance will take out one of its own.


5. Jefra… and Jefra will be gone soon thereafter.


4. Lindsey… When it becomes clear that Sarah can’t split up the Alexis/LJ tandem, she’ll cut cuts Lindsey loose (but she’ll feel bad about it).


3. Alexis… depending on what she does to get here, she could win, but I doubt it.


2. LJ… betrays too many people along the way to win.


1. Sarah… Putting to rest the theory that cops can’t do well on Survivor.




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