As always happens when I write one of my tin foil buff columns, I took a fair bit of criticism over the past week. One of the accusations – that I’m unduly negative – struck a nerve: You may not know this about me, but among other things, I’m a yoga teacher, and in my daily life, I strive to keep my perspective positive. My writer’s voice can be decidedly different, however – particularly when I’m ranting about Survivor – but that, too, is a choice: I can critique without criticizing and offer insight without insulting.
This is, as they say, the season for generosity and gratitude. So, with that in mind, I’m going to follow the sage advice of Monty Python and look on the bright side of life. Here it is, then, an entirely positive Baker’s Dozen.
1) Wes was better than we saw
Rarely if ever is getting to the Final 9 a total fluke: at that point, a player has managed to avoid the executioner’s axe for almost four full weeks, which means that he or she’s been an asset of some form along the way. Even if his or her role was limited to being an amenable alliance member or versatile challenge contributor – or both, in the case of young Wesley Nale – a player has put himself in a position for a deep run because he’s an asset (rather than being kept around because he’s an unlikeable liability, and thus a goat). Wes was playing the game as it was presented to him and how he understood it – no more, no less – and had things broken a little more favorably for him, we get a totally different version of Wes on the show, and we’re wondering if he might possibly steal enough jury votes to win.
Rather than dwell on Wes’s minimal edit, though, let’s look at his strengths: Wes was REALLY good at challenges (I invite you to go back and watch Wes’s performances over the course of the season – he’s a surprisingly good athlete) and, had Jeremy been voted out at the merge, Wes would have been safely cocooned in a majority alliance and coasted to the Final 5. He was never a threat to anyone – which meant in the endgame he would have been a threat to everyone.
In the end, Wes performed better than many of us thought he would – did any tandem outstrip their pre-season projections more than the Nales? – and he’s going to help decide who wins this thing a few weeks from now. Not bad, Wesley Nale. Not bad at all.
2) Jon is going to win
Here’s something I wrote on Wednesday night in a Facebook discussion with some sharp Survivor fans:
Jaclyn is the one with the condition – who tells us about it? Jon.
We've heard twice that Jon's dad has a brain tumor.
Probst tells Jon to play his idol (pretty much).
Yeah, Jon's F3, probably the winner.
I say ‘probably’ because many of the jury votes are going to be heavily influenced over the last 12 days of the game – and Jon is going to be targeted in the weeks ahead – but if he gets to the Final Tribal Council, who has a better story (and edit)?
3) Natalie was faced with an interesting choice (oh, and she’s playing really well)
First, let me say this: I think Natalie went to Tribal Council planning on telling Jon to use his idol no matter what transpired; the chaos made it easier for Jon to pull the trigger, but Natalie needed Jon to be vulnerable at the next Tribal, so I’m guessing she planned to fan the flames of paranoia so that Jon burned his idol even if the conversation with Probst was calm and quiet.
Anyway, once Keith told Reed to “stick to the plan,” Natalie had to know that Reed and Alec had flipped. What other plan could Keith possibly be referring to? As soon as she realized that Jon was the obvious target for Alec/Reed/Keith/Wes, she had a choice:
Option 1: Let Jon be voted out
The pros: Jon leaves the game with an idol in his pocket, and Natalie doesn’t get any blood on her hands. Natalie would eliminate a threat, while still being able to build a majority alliance: she, Missy, Baylor and Jaclyn could pull in Alec (he has a thing for Baylor – and Jaclyn, too, now that I think about it) and recover from Reed’s power move.
The cons: Natalie avoids making an enemy, but also doesn’t build her own endgame résumé.
Option 2: Encourage Jon to play the idol
The pros: Jon will be grateful (even if he ends up being blindsided at the next Tribal). Also, a major threat remains in the game, and no one will think about targeting Natalie until he’s gone (probably).
The cons: Jon remains in the game, and as we know, anything can happen over the course of three days (including Jon finding another idol at Exile).
Either way, Natalie is going to be able to point at this decision as yet another moment when she heavily influenced the game (along with willingly going to Exile with Baylor).
Here’s hoping that Natalie earns one of the three seats at Final Tribal Council: for my money, she’s the best player still in the game.
(On an unrelated related note: Nadiya was at my gym the day before Thanksgiving – she has roots in my hometown – and, over Twitter, I asked if she’d like to grab coffee, talk Survivor, and give me hell for this blog. Nadiya or Natalie, if you’re reading this, let me treat you to lunch at Hartford Baking Company. I’m not looking for spoilers, just eager to talk about your experiences with Survivor – all of it off the record.)
4) Reed is playing really well, too
His plan should have worked.
Yes, he may have gone a step too far at Tribal Council by talking about Keith and Wes having an idol – in the process, making Keith think that Reed was going back on the plan – but that was the right move (it appeared to put the majority alliance at ease, temporarily).
That’s twice now that Reed was thisclose to being in control of the game (the other: when Jon and Jaclyn had joined Josh, Reed, Alec, Wes, and Keith to take out Jeremy).
Reed understands how to play the game when his back is against the wall.
A shame that he’s probably going to pay the price for his move; it would be fun to see Reed and Natalie finish the chess game that their partners Josh and Jeremy began.
5) Keith gives really good confessional
There are two different Keiths playing this season: Camp Keith and Confessional Keith.
When Reed outlines his plan to blindside Jon, Camp Keith responds, “Yep. Ehhhhhhh.”
When Confessional Keith talks, though, he’s surprisingly insightful about Survivor strategy.
Camp Keith exposed Reed’s plan at Tribal.
This upcoming Wednesday, Confessional Keith will likely lament idoling out his own son, but realize that Wes being gone makes him much less of a threat.
Camp Keith gets no votes at Final Tribal Council.
Confessional Keith, though, has a chance to win the game.
6) Missy got school-yard-picked to be in the reward challenge!
And don’t you dare say that she must have been randomly selected as one of the two team captains!
We’re staying positive here, people.
7) Baylor and Jaclyn got cookies!
I bet Angie Layton was jealous.
(If you can’t say anything nice…)
8) Here’s a quick response to the constructive criticism within your comments on last week’s column:
First, a snippet from something else I wrote on Facebook:
My sense is that most people think that there's different levels of influence the producers can exert – I just think they do more of it than other folks do.
There are also – obviously – different levels of comfort with the manipulation, ranging from "let them do what they want, it's their show" to "it isn't fair, keep out of it." Pretty clear which end if the spectrum I'm on.
I personally think production has crossed a line this season. I understand and respect your opinion if you feel otherwise. Where we fall in this argument isn’t going to change the fact that we care enough about the show to not only keep watching, but seek out blogs on the internet to discuss and dissect it.
Here’s the thing when it comes to me and the Baker’s Dozen: the tin foil hat columns come with the territory. Jeff Pitman is kind enough to provide me a platform to speak my truth about Survivor. Every now and again I get fed up with what I’m seeing, and share my thoughts on how the show is shaped.
The only people who know for sure what, if any, manipulation has occurred over the years are Burnett, Probst, the other producers, and the players themselves. Perhaps one day, we’ll hear all the stories. Until then, I reserve the right to come to my own conclusions – and write about them – just as you have the choice of whether or not to read them. Deal?
9) I’ve heard from some of you that Rob C. spoke about my departure from RHAP in a Patroncast.
Thought you might like to know how I responded to Rob (an excerpt):
If you don’t know any of the story, I left RHAP in the wake of Brandon’s meltdown in Caramoan (which was the fodder for one of the best columns I think I’ve ever written, “Burnett’s Bedlam”), stopped watching the show for a while (although I caught up), and eventually ended up here at True Dork Times starting with the first Blood vs. Water (after first reaching out to Rob).
There’s not much more to it than that… Rob is great at what he does, and I’m grateful that he gave me a home for Survivor: Philippines. The blogging team over at RHAP is brilliant – I’m proud to say I helped put ’em together – and I’ll admit that there are times when I’m jealous of the opportunities that exist at a mainstream outlet like RHAP. That said, the freedom I have here – and the community of dedicated readers and commenters we’ve got – remind me that this is where I belong.
10) Probst Probe: Alpha Ardor
Did you notice what Probst did when Keith exposed Reed’s double-dealing?
He turned to Jon and said, suggestively “Jon – ‘stick to the plan’?”
That was Probst’s way of saying, “Jon, remember that conversation we were having a few minutes ago about how no idols have been played yet? Yeah? Okay, so who do you think Keith, Reed, Wes, and Alec are going to target in this plan of theirs? And is there anything you can do to thwart that plan?”
Jeff, as is his wont and as is his right, was trying to create a memorable moment at Tribal, attempting to foment distrust and discord amongst the Final 9, and quite possibly protecting the sort of player he prefers.
An all around success, I’d say.
Good on ya, Jeff!
11) Fortunes rising: Jon
Would they really include confessionals about Jon’s father having a brain tumor – AND have him talk about Jaclyn’s condition which prevents her from having children – only to have Jon taken out just before the Final Tribal Council?
He’s getting to the end, and – unless the final vote is adversely affected by Jon and Jaclyn’s constant non-committal flipping – he’s getting the votes he needs to win.
12) Fortunes falling: Reed
The other players already didn’t trust Reed – and now they know he nearly pulled off a strategically complex plan and blindsided Jon.
They’re ALL going to want to get him gone this week (even Keith and Alec).
Clearly, Reed is going to try to turn anyone and everyone into a target – that’s why in this week’s teaser he’s openly calling Baylor a brat – but barring an epic individual immunity run, Reed will soon join Josh, Jeremy, and Wes on the jury.
13) Prediction time: Reed and Jaclyn Join the Party at Ponderosa
As you probably already know, we’re getting a double episode next week. I would guess that CBS and SEG had some flexibility as to which week they’d double up, which means that at least one of the episodes will likely be a predictable boot. To me, that screams that Reed goes at F8… and then things get interesting.
It’s my favorite time of every Survivor season: After Reed goes out in 8th place, we’ll arrive at F7, the best – and final – flip zone of the game (when it ends in a Final 3).
Will Missy, Baylor, Jon, and Jaclyn stick together as a majority alliance? If so, they’d go after… Keith? Missy and Baylor want to keep Natalie around – if the shared idol search was any indication, they’re working together again – and Baylor has Alec in her back pocket.
But that begs the question: Would they (and by they, I mean Natalie) waste a key vote like F7 on a player like Keith? Doubtful. I’m guessing, then, that Jon and Jaclyn are going to come under fire as the “biggest combined threat in the game” (no one wants to sit next to them at the Final Tribal Council because of their “we plan to spend the money on a surrogate AND use what’s left to help Jon’s dad battle his brain tumor” story).
(That would explain the teaser for next week, in which Jon and Jaclyn have a heated exchange – seems to me that they know they’re in trouble.)
So how about this: Jon ends up on Exile – and finds ANOTHER idol. It’s not out of the realm of possibility:
They’ve replanted idols this late before (Tyson found one in the first Blood vs. Water around Day 30). Of course, the other players shouldn’t send Jon to Exile if they really want him gone, but perhaps they feel like there won’t be an idol out there, they need some time to strategize against him in his absence, and they need him weak at the next immunity challenge. Anyway, once Jaclyn figures out that she might be on the chopping block, she asks Jon to give her the hidden immunity idol – and he hesitates. What else could possibly get her this mad? Disagreeing on a boot target? Feels bigger than that.
Another factor here: The closer they get to the Final Tribal Council, the more heartless it will seem for the other castaways to vote out the sweet, kind-hearted woman who just wants to have a child with the man she loves. Gotta do it now, or you might find yourself unable to do it later.
So that’s the story I’m running with: Reed and then Jaclyn.
Am I sure?
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 is a long-time, but definitely not long-winded, Survivor blogger.
Follow Andy on twitter: @SurvivorGenius