One of the grim realities facing Shirin and Spencer in this episode was that, despite their erstwhile ally Kelley Wentworth having an idol (albeit one she had neglected to mention to them), they were screwed. Even if they had known about the idol and tried to use it, they were still screwed. Because with nine people left, a three-person core alliance still can't trump the vote split. At best, they could have forced a 3-3-3 tie, with maybe an Abi picking up Shirin, Spencer, and Kelley's votes. That would have then turned into a 5-1 vote for one of Spencer or Shirin on the revote. Had Kelley played her idol on the first vote, it would have been the exact same result, except with a 3-3- tie that then became 5-1 on round two. For all the worries that a six-person tribe leaves nowhere to hide for someone with the bad luck to end up on the minority, it seems that nine- and ten-person tribes leave just as little room to maneuver for people facing an opposing supermajority.
So what's a doomed alliance to do on a vote like that? Their only hope was to swing one more voter to their side, play the idol, and have their target go out, 4-2-. (It's possible that gaming of the vote split might have avoided using the idol.) Which is why they desperately tried to pull in Woo. Peih-Gee might have been an option, too, but her chances of winning go up considerably in an alliance that has Woo, Terry, and Kelly Wiglesworth than in one that contains two similarly strategy-oriented contestants such as Shirin and Spencer. Same for Varner. And as Shirin has pointed out in her post-game interviews, Wiglesworth and Terry were never budging from their alliance under any circumstances. This, perhaps moreso than mere numbers disparity, may have been the biggest obstacle.
True, maybe they could have played Days 1-5 better: Woo, of all people, reinforced that above all else, Survivor is a social game, and since Shirin hadn't bothered to have a one-on-one conversation with Woo until the moment on Day 6 in which she found herself in trouble, he had very little motivation to abandon his allies and join her. (Curiously, we never saw Spencer talk to Woo, either, even though he pledged to chat with everyone in Episode 1.) Maybe Spencer and Shirin should have listened to their own confessionals and not dragged their games down by trying to carry along Anchor Abi? Maybe targeting one of the more inflexible shelter people like Terry or Wiglesworth right off the bat, instead of the potentially swingable Vytas? Regardless, the end result is: even with an idol, a 3-6 minority position in Survivor is still an unwinnable one. At least for the one person targeted right before the swap.
It's sadly ironic that both Spencer and Shirin were in majorities for their first vote in each of their first games (Cagayan, Worlds Apart), those alliances immediately crumbled, and by Episode 2, they found themselves thrust into minority positions from which they never regained the advantage. And indeed, history repeated itself. One of Shirin's female allies turned on her, and badmouthed her to the rest of the tribe. For Spencer, Abi's in-camp fireworks were synced almost exactly with J'Tia's, right down to his closest ally getting the axe in Episode 2. Both Spencer and Shirin have great strategic minds, and we were (extremely briefly) thrilled to see two intellectual superfans working so closely together. But alas, two was not enough, and Shirin's second chance ended too soon.
The lesson is: Never try
Another season, another opportunity for Survivor to shame its most ardent fans, and make them feel bad for wanting to play. The take-home message of this episode was: Smart people are bad. Stay away from the likes of Stephen, Spencer, and Shirin. They and their strategy talk are anathema; reprehensible scourges upon polite society. How dare they venture into the social-strategic game show they know and love, and think about strategy? The audacity!
But men with big muscles who cry? They are the best people. We must worship them.
Saint Savage? Hmmm...
One such muscle-bound paragon of masculinity is Andrew Savage. He doesn't have much use for the moral-less, value-free strategy of "Fishbock." He's all about sharing his feelings with the ladies, and emoting, and remembering his hot wife who used to be a model, who saved him from the enormous stack of Playboys on his desk, or something. He doesn't have any use for this strategy nonsense.
Or does he? Savage is a lawyer, an extremely bright guy, and we don't for a second believe his sole preparation for the show was perusing the Survivor Wiki to learn about all these new-fangled Survivor players from the past four seasons. Because his tremulous, tearful story about his wife, told to the five ladies of Bayon (plus innocent bystanders/sitters Stephen and Jeremy), seemed like an almost direct copy of Vytas sharing fragments of his troubled youth with his new (all-female) tribemates in the post-swap Galang tribe in Blood vs. Water. With the same, not-a-dry-eye effect. And all of sudden Kass (Kass!) is expounding about what great people, with real emotions, her new tribemates are. Just as Tina all but asked Katie if she and Vytas could hurry up and start making some grandbabies.
Then Jeremy sneaks off to weep privately about missing his wife, Val, who is expecting. Savage swoops in, seizing on a single, offhand Stephen question/comment ("You don't think Jeremy's looking for idols, do you?"), which he repeats to Jeremy, just as Reed used Keith's "Jeremy probably has the idol" story in San Juan del Sur... which would be: like a dagger. This, predictably, incites Jeremy, conveniently driving a wedge between Jeremy and Stephen, and cementing Savage's own alliance with Jeremy. No, Stephen's not like them. Savage and Jeremy alone care about the important things in life, like morals, values, and dignity. And bros being in touch with their emotions.
While it's impressive to see an Old School player like Savage seamlessly adapting to New School gameplay, what's irritating is the editors' insistence (aided and abetted by Savage himself in confessional) that he wasn't playing at all. That everything here was entirely as it appeared, with no strategic intent. The Andrew Savage we were shown is an upstanding, highly moral Good Guy™, who would never stoop to underhanded shenanigans like presenting carefully curated anecdotes and cherry-picked incriminating evidence to enrich himself while bringing suspicion upon another human being. Especially one he only knows from a Wiki. Oh, and one more thing: Did we mention he's a lawyer?
Other Second Chance Episode 2 recaps & commentary
Exit interviews - Shirin Oskooi
Podcasts - Episode 2