A few days ago, while discussing the Chicago Cubs and playoff baseball with Jeff Pitman, I asked the benevolent overlord of True Dork Times how our blogs were doing, numbers-wise.
I’m biased, of course, but I happen to think that all of us at TDT are doing some interesting work. Jeff’s vidcap galleries are brilliant and funny (and his observations about the show are always spot on), Pat Ferrucci’s communications/social psych-based analysis deepens our understanding of the game, and my columns, you have to admit, when you cut through the bombast and snark, at least occasionally get you to see things in a different way.
And yet no one is reading what we write.
There is always a choice in how we react to what happens around and to us (if David Foster Wallace has taught me anything, it is this), and so I’m choosing to see the decline in readership not as a condemnation, but a liberation.
So here’s what I’m doing: I’m switching gears. I am no longer writing for you, dear reader. I’m writing for me.
Without further ado, then, here’s what I’ve been thinking about since last Wednesday’s episode of Survivor.
1) Sudden visibility spikes are totally unnecessary.
Survivor history is riddled with players who were utterly invisible… until one week, quite often in the midst of that purgatory of predictability that exists after tribe dynamics have been established but a swap hasn’t happened yet, suddenly there they are, all over the edit, and we know they’re going home. Lucy had ZERO confessionals over the first three episodes, and then suddenly was getting hash-tagged as a Tiger Mom. Even the most casuals of casuals had to know she was getting the boot.
Why is this still a thing?
It’s really not that hard to establish all of the characters, is it? Give everyone screen time from the start of the season and the boots become far less predictable. The producers know this, of course, which means they’re either fond of the visibility spike trope or their narrative priorities have shifted so much (from sharing the experience to exploiting the drama) that they simply don’t care about crafting a compelling story.
2) Horrible Newbie Strategy, People’s Exhibit A.
There are two potentially dangerous players – Adam and Zeke – on the bottom of the Millennial tribe.
The Millennial idol has not yet been found.
If Hannah’s awkward intervention is any indication, everyone knows that Adam is still looking for it.
And yet the ENTIRE Millennial tribe except for Adam goes goat hunting?
3) Production absolutely, positively, undeniably helped Adam find the idol.
Let me see if I have this straight:
Adam tells us that everyone on the Millennial tribe has done some idol hunting since the start of the game.
That’s 10 players searching a relatively small area for over a week. Everyone, even those who know the game only from watching the two DVDs in the production cram-bag, know to look in, under, and around every odd looking tree. And yet they all came up empty handed.
When the rest of the tribe is off goat-hunting, though, Adam finds a note just sitting in the husk of a peculiar-looking tree? Think that note was sitting there from the start of the game, enduring unharmed by the typhoon that forced them to evacuate? And if you agree that the note had to be added at some point after the storm, when production tired of waiting for someone to find the idol, why wasn’t it found until now?
Let’s add a layer to this: Production casts people on the show because they feel they’ll be good television. Everyone out there has a story that Survivor wants to tell. When it comes to Adam, they wanted to exploit his emotions around playing the game while his mom was suffering from Stage 4 lung cancer.
Thanks to the many layers of the casting process, production knew Adam’s story: He’s a SuperFan, one who shared his obsession with Survivor with his beloved mom. It’s been Adam’s dream to play the game since he was a kid, and, as these things go with moms and sons, it was her dream, too. Time was running out, though: His mom was very, very ill.
Production did not cast him in spite of this, but because of it.
Undoubtedly, the production team had preseason discussions about how to best tell Adam’s emotional story. Certainly, they knew he dreamed of finding an idol, dreamed of sitting next to his mom on the couch as she watched him find it, put it on, and look into the camera and say her name. And most assuredly, they knew that such a moment would be both powerful and memorable – a defining scene for the season (one they would plan to show again at the reunion).
Adam was at risk of being voted out before his emotional story – one production was counting on telling – could be captured and conveyed. They gave him a gentle, non-invasive assist, but he didn’t find the idol when he was sent for tree mail. And so, when everyone but Adam was away from the beach, a map miraculously appears.
One way or another, production always gets its memorable moments.
4) Michelle is a puzzle beast.
Have you noticed how much of a puzzle beast Michelle is? Why is no one talking about this? The Millennials are even sitting her during reward challenges to save her for when immunity is on the line. This is going to get her targeted after the merge, but for now, I’m enjoying the Puzzle Beast Bible Translator.
5) I’m really happy that The Jeff Probst Show sucked.
When that wave nearly knocked Probst over, he could have been pissed… instead, he smiled, he laughed, and we all got dimpled. The dude clearly loves his job; he’s having fun out there. Long may he reign.
6) Where the hell were they heading?
I love Survivor tradition as much as the next SuperFan, and I appreciate the unrelenting adherence to the familiar rhythms of the show…
… but seriously, after the reward challenge, when Probst says, “Head back to camp,” where the hell were they supposed to go?
The aerial shot didn’t help any, either: both tribes just sort of walked to the edge of the sand spit (a REALLY cool location, by the way) and just stood there.
I mean, we all know that they get picked up by boats or buses or jeeps and taken back to camp… but has the illusion ever been shattered THIS badly before?
7) Body language matters
As soon as Lucy shoved her finger in the general direction of Ken’s face, her game was over. Given her invisible edit, I think we can assume that this was her approach to the social game the entire time she was out there. And let’s not even get into how she embraces the role of Tiger Mom and spouts sexist nonsense about how men and women need to be spoken to… ugh. Just ugh.
On a related note, Survivor does, in fact, have a race problem. One facet that I haven’t heard people talking about falls squarely at the feet of production: They cast minorities as cannon fodder. Rachel and Lucy were going to be early boots because of their personalities. CeCe, too, isn’t long for the game, and I’m sure casting knew that going in. Mari and Michaela are really the only minorities you can point to and say that they thought they might have a chance. Casting needs to do better.
8) Horrible Newbie Strategy, People’s Exhibit B.
Why on God’s green earth did the Gen-Xers agree to let Chris – who officially weighs a metric f*ckton – collect numbers rather than yank all the tiny people around with the rope?
Dumb, dumb, dumb.
9) Horrible Newbie Strategy, People’s Exhibit C.
Why is no one wondering why Adam was willing to sit out of the immunity challenge?
Adam is in danger of being voted out if they lose the challenge. He’s also a SuperFan. If you know your Survivor history, you know that there are a number of players who regret – deeply, years after the fact – sitting out a challenge and then getting their torches snuffed that night. There’s no way that Adam is going to let himself become a member of that club. So why is he so comfortable? This is a challenge built for him: he weighs nothing, and he’s a puzzle guy. So why does he seem so… safe?
Put together the pieces of the puzzle, people: He found an idol.
10) Horrible Newbie Strategy, People’s Exhibit D.
It was bad enough that Jessica blew up the Gen-X tribe when she was deeply embedded in a stable majority alliance.
Chris just made it all worse by seeking revenge rather than accepting Jessica’s story about Paul and patching things up.
By fixating on one player, Chris made his strategy predictable – and that opens the door to countermoves by the minority.
11) Horrible Newbie Strategy, People’s Exhibit E.
Some thoughts on David’s asinine idol play:
** David was grandstanding.
** David is a writer – he was crafting a moment. His speech felt a lot like Natalie A’s move near the end of San Juan del Sur. Only he was doing it pre-merge, which is utterly ridiculous.
** David works in the entertainment industry, and he toiled for 15 years before establishing himself. Being on Survivor helps him stand out during staffing season (when writers get gigs). Pulling off memorable moments in Survivor might very well help his career (maybe Cochran will give him a call).
** David’s plan to take out Lucy was never going to work without playing his idol. They were never flipping Sunday.
** David needlessly alienated Ken, who either didn’t know about the plan or didn’t agree with it.
** David knows that a swap is coming, which means he also knows that playing the idol won’t keep him in the majority for very long.
** David has needlessly established himself as a threat: everyone is going to know that he orchestrated an idol-based blindside, one that he kept from even his closest allies. No one is going to trust him.
12) David is totally getting the Legacy Advantage from Jessica.
There’s really only one reason to show Jessica saying ‘thank you’ to David after Tribal Council was over: to emphasize her gratitude, which in turn establishes why she wills the Legacy Advantage to him when she’s voted out.
Which makes me wonder: Did David find out about the Advantage – perhaps by digging through her bag – and decide to save her with his idol so that she would will it to him?
Now THAT would be awesome. Still stupid – because idols at this stage of the game are more valuable than an unknown advantage on Day 36 – but it would be audacious, that’s for sure. And then to see David work behind the scenes to get her gone… that would be cold-blooded.
13) The swap is going to favor the Millennials.
Did you notice in the teaser that Probst had two baskets when he was offering swap buffs to the players? He offers one basket to Figgy and the other to Taylor, so I think it’s safe to assume that they’re balancing for gender. The thing to watch out for on Wednesday, though, is if Probst fills the baskets two separate times, once for each tribe; if he does, then they’re handing the Millennials a numbers advantage on one tribe (5 vs. 3) and parity on the other (4 vs. 4). Not that it’s really going to matter, I suppose, given how fractured the Gen-Xers are, and how the edit virtually guarantees that David will flip.
I do wonder, though, if the producers will look at the numbers – 9 men and 7 women – and be tempted to opt for a 5v5v5 format. Doing so would provide balance: Three men per tribe… two women per tribe… and one woman who gets exiled and joins whichever tribe loses the first immunity challenge. To be sure, that would make Probst happy: It would allow his challenge beast man crushes to coast to the merge. And it would help explain why Chris, Ken, Jay and Taylor are all being edited as making the merge (something must go wrong for Bret).
Occam’s razor says they’re swapping into two tribes – but I’m preparing myself for three.
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