The Golden Ticket - Ben Martell's recaps

Effective grooming


Hi all!


I hope you’re all wearing black, because I’m definitely in mourning.  I could spend the entire blog talking about the greatness that is Sandra (the Queen really did stay Queen), but I think one simple sentence says it all.  I did not believe it was possible for Sandra to improve her legacy going out this season, and somehow she did.


Sandra did everything she possibly could in that episode to change the vote.  Who knows how close she really was to pulling it off.  It was a special performance from a special player, and she cemented her place in my mind as the greatest Survivor player there is.


It’s inevitable that Sandra pops up from time to time in this week’s blog, but I’m going to try and focus primarily on other things.  I’m interested in two things in particular – was voting Sandra out the right move?  And where does that leave everyone going forward?


Here’s whats on the ticket for this week:

  • Regicide
  • Is Tai now underrated?
  • Effective grooming
  • Culpepper Math
  • A brief intermission
  • Player updates
  • Odds and ends


Regicide (a quick look at prediction vs reality)

Here’s a couple of things I said about Sandra before the season began:


“While Sandra is often painted as the master of the ‘anyone but me’ strategy, I think this undersells her real strategy, which is ‘I’ll do what it takes to make sure it isn’t me, but if I can decide who goes home that’s even better.”


I feel as though Sandra never demonstrated that better than this season, especially in the JT week where she managed to do both in one swoop.


“Sandra is set up in the Mana tribe rather well.  As noted above, I see her putting together an alliance based around natural bonds and allies, and she could be well set early. It could be a different story post-swap (and inevitably, there will be at least one).  Sandra’s safety is going to be dictated in large part by her tribe draw.  If she ends up in an Angkor-like weak tribe, or with the numbers stacked against her, and with several votes to get through in that tribe, she could be in trouble.”


Perhaps it’s because I’m a big fan of Sandra and have spent lots of time thinking about her strengths and weaknesses, but I think this is by far the best guess I’ve had this season!  Long may it continue... (it won’t).


Sandra performed more or less exactly to my expectations.  If she’d ended up on Nuku this swap, she could have gone deep in the game, possibly even to the finale.  I’m sad that we were deprived of it!


Is Tai now underrated (and is he being prejudged)?

Is Tai now underrated?


Boy has Tai had a roller coaster ride in his Survivor journey. So far across one-and-a-half seasons, it’s rare that Tai has ever taken a back seat for long.  In this season, first we saw him inadvertently creating mistrust with Cirie and Ozzy, next we saw him bonding with Brad and consoling Debbie with a deft touch.  We’ve seen him play an idol successfully and find two more.  But now, he’s back in a position where he’s flustered and he has his tribe not trusting him.


Common wisdom coming out of this week seems to be that Tai is not a good Survivor player.  In some ways, that’s hard to argue with.  As recently as last week, I felt Tai had possible winner edit upside, but this week has probably pointed to the fact he once again lacks enough respect from his fellow players to be awarded the money even if he gets to the end.


Tai has one big glaring weakness that has tanked his Survivor game once and is tanking it again.  He is just too emotional.  It manifests itself in turning against ‘bad people’.  It manifests itself in having trouble lying.  It manifests itself in getting paranoid.


But I also think that existing perceptions of Tai are leading people to think he’s a worse player than he is – and that goes for both people at home, and the contestants playing against him.


While Tai’s tribemates were blaming him for being untrustworthy, it’s hard to imagine what they expected of him.  Tai himself said that ‘Sandra was the only name he heard’, yet the tribe expected him not to be honest with Jeff Varner about the fact Sandra was going home.  That doesn’t make a lot of sense.  While Jeff and Sandra were told that Tai was the name, it seems that Tai wasn’t given a name to use when talking to the other side.  For someone with as much difficulty lying as Tai has, you really need to have him briefed and prepared about what the lie is.  The other approach that they could have taken is to tell Varner and Sandra ‘we’re telling Tai it’s Sandra, but it’s not’ (although they might have intentionally avoided this so as not to tip them off).  Instead, it seems like they gave Tai no other name and still expected him not to be honest with Jeff.  Having just seen Kaoh Rong, they should have known Tai better than that.


After they blew up at Tai for revealing their plan, it’s no surprise that Tai was paranoid, either.  The situation playing out in Tribal Council seemed quite avoidable, if only Tai’s own alliance had done a better job of reassuring him back at camp.


It feels like Tai has been prejudged by the other players, based on their impressions of him from Kaoh Rong, and possibly the first six days of this game.  They’re already treating Tai as a guy they can’t tell the full story to, worried about how he might screw up their game.  The problem with that is, that they’re discounting one of Tai’s biggest strengths.


Tai has a number of strengths, but the first is that he is a very perceptive player.  He may be easily persuaded to change alliances, but he’s not persuaded simply by meaningless argument – he’s persuaded when players are laying out situations to him that he already perceives to be true.  When Aubry came to him in Kaoh Rong and explained where he stood with Scot and Jason, they had already given Tai the same impression.  Here, Tai’s original Nuku tribe turned on him at tribal, but only after he saw it coming. 


Tai has also been perceptive in how and when to play his idols and advantages, to the extent that I would go so far as to say he hasn’t misplayed one yet (either in playing or not playing it).  Some might argue he should have saved Anna Khait in Kaoh Rong, but I don’t think he was nearly so much in Anna and Julia’s plans as he was in Scot’s at that moment.  He then went on to use his extra vote on Michele, but of all of those people with extra votes, I think Tai used his in the most sensible way – in fact, Aubry and Joe should have joined him on that vote.  It may have not been ‘correct’ in that it didn’t work, but I do believe it was the strategically correct move to make in that moment.


In my opinion, Tai’s social awkwardness (as likeable as it is) masks how effective his mind actually is at the game.  His perceptiveness and his genuine strategic acumen are assets to any alliance, if only you can figure out how to make sure Tai feels like he is a secure part of your plans going forward.  In addition to that, Tai’s inability to express himself in English clearly, and the fact that some people already perceive him as a weak player, makes him a good person to take to the end.


I think Brad managed to understand Tai and talk to him in the right way.  I think Tai is always going to stick with people who make him feel secure and he will go with his gut on who he doesn’t trust, no matter what they promise him.  If a war is brewing post-merge between Brad and Ozzy (or between Brad and Zeke), Tai is definitely now going to end up on Brad’s side, and take two idols with him.  And all because of a little mismanagement.


Effective grooming (Why was Sandra’s pitch so enticing?)

Effective grooming


Sarah described Sandra’s pitch to keep her as ‘grooming’, and both she and Ozzy talked about falling for it.  Well, I think there’s a reason the pitch sounded so good...  I think it’s because it was the move that was in their best interests.  When someone tells you the right move for you to make, it’s going to sound good.


It was noticeable to me that the people Sandra was making a pitch to were Sarah, Ozzy and Andrea.  That means absent were Tai, Jeff and Zeke.  Now, we heard Sandra pitching the Kaoh Rong three, but I’m willing to bet that she was also pitching the possibility of Tai, Jeff and Zeke allying (I didn’t get a chance to see any secret scenes this week – can anyone shed any light?)  If Debbie was to come back and join Tai, she would have been pointing out that there’s every possibility that Sarah, Ozzy and Andrea end up in the minority on their tribe if they go back to tribal council next week.  And you know what?  Whether it turns out that way or not (probably not, after Tai’s meltdown), I think she has a very good point about the alliance on both fronts.


Sandra has also proven to be very loyal in the past, and when she promises to share information with you?  Well, that could end up being invaluable.  Sandra might well be your ticket to the end.  It’s true that there’s a risk you could let her get to the end, but final 15 is not the time to be worrying about final three.


Instead, the narrative that won the day is Zeke’s narrative that Sandra would make it all the way to final three if she made the merge at all.  I don’t find that narrative particularly compelling or likely.  Sandra would have come into the merge with the biggest target on her back and there’s no doubt that people would have been targeting her eventually.  While it might be how she succeeded in Heroes vs Villains, the cat is out of the bag now, and it doesn’t seem like something that should actually be feared.


I feel like the merge is beginning to shape up, and it’s a battle of two halves of original Nuku with people fighting for the Mana tribe stragglers.  As noted above, it strikes me that the merge is either going to be a battle between the forces of Brad and Ozzy, or the forces of Brad and Zeke.  Either way, the forces of Ozzy/Zeke appear potentially much reduced by picking Tai over Sandra.  Sandra would have brought in Varner and Michaela, and along with Ozzy, Andrea, Zeke and Sarah that would be 7.  Sandra may have been able to pull in Troyzan as well.


Instead what they have is an alienated Tai who is clearly closer to Brad anyway, Troy likely now being closest to Brad (and possibly being able to bring in Jeff and Michaela from his original alliance), and suddenly the balance becomes a lot more tenuous – hanging by threads like Aubry, Cirie and... god help everyone... even possibly Debbie.


For this reason, it’s hard for me not to look at the move to vote out Sandra as one that was motivated by her reputation but not motivated by great strategy.  In the end, Zeke might be the one for whom the move was best – as he was cultivating an alliance with Jeff and removing Sandra helps that end.  It’s entirely possible that if they go to tribal again this week, Zeke, Jeff, Tai and Debbie join forces and vote out one of the other three.  If so, they only have themselves to blame – if they kept Sandra, they would have guaranteed that they kept the numbers for the next week (she would gladly have helped them vote out Debbie next).


Culpepper math (how many meaningful scenes does it take to make a winners edit?)

Culpepper math


I don’t have a whole lot to say about this scene, but two things in particular stood out to me about it.


The first is that it’s the only narrative we got out of the Mana tribe.  Brad and Troyzan have consistently been getting narratives when no one else has, and that looks good on both of them.  As Tai fell away this week, I’m beginning to think these two have the best looking edits in the game.


The second thing was that, despite the fact each got two confessionals in the scene (so it should have felt balanced), the scene instead felt like it was coming from Brad’s perspective.  I can only presume this was intentional.  Until now, I felt like Troyzan had the best edit in the game.  But in this scene, I’m beginning to think maybe Brad’s edit is better.


Brad is, however, a lawyer... the very breed of player I believe has a very difficult time getting to the end of the game and winning.  I’m feeling confident Brad is hanging around until the merge at least (because, as I’ve said, “Brad’s army” feels like it’s hitting the merge), but I have more to say on this in a later week.  Let’s just say, Brad might be the leader of his alliance right now, but maybe that’s not the best place to be long term.  And there’s no doubt in my mind that, last season, David had a better edit than Adam at this point. I think this scene might have told us something about how Troy is going to succeed long term, and I think perhaps Brad is a warrior who will fall to give Troy the win.


I didn’t really intend this to be an edit reading column, but for right now, I’ll say that this scene feels very important in setting the narrative of the season.  And so did his scene with Sarah last week.


One important scene plus one important scene?  That’s two important scenes.  Culpepper math is making me feel good about Troyzan.


A brief intermission (no air time taken from the rest of my blog, I promise)



So, Cochran happened.


I’ll take Cochran appearing on Survivor any day of the week.  It just made me wish that he was on the cast proper.  I’d love to be getting his regular humorous takes on Debbie, Tai, Sandra etc.  I feel somehow deprived.


Anyway, at least I got one duo that I never before realised I needed to see.  Good job, Survivor.


Player Updates


Mana tribe




It feels like Hali is going to head into the merge in a similar position to last time, where it’s hard to tell if she’ll be a swing vote or on the bottom.  If she is on the bottom, I hope that she learned something from last time, and from Sandra, and doesn’t try to play too hard to get herself off the bottom.  The most concerning thing I’ve seen from Hali in this game was her approach to Brad when they were going to tribal and she was 4-1 outnumbered on her own tribe. 


If she gets oppositional she might find herself going home soon.  But if she stays as a swing vote – she could still easily go all the way.



Cirie is on this season.  It’s remarkable that she’s avoided tribal council this long (that’s got to affect her career challenge record, Pitman!)  I still have no real idea whether Cirie’s going to be back on the bottom come merge or not.  But I still think it’s a good sign she isn’t getting much airtime yet.  I expect it to increase with Sandra gone.  If Nuku loses, game wisdom would be to remove Cirie, but given her edit I don’t think it’s what we’d actually see.



On that tribe, I don’t think anyone is coming for Michaela first.  Come merge, it’s hard to say.  If she really is being as disruptive as Abi, she could be a merge boot.  In her favour, no-one seems to see her as a challenge threat.  Michaela reminds me of Rupert in the sense that her tribal challenge performances in season 2 haven’t matched up with season 1.  It’s possible she needed more time off to physically recover.  The bright side is she may be seen as less of a challenge threat in individual play.  Michaela could get to the end from here, but would it be as a goat?



I’m still not really sure where Aubry is at game wise, but I had an epiphany this week (something I should have seen sooner).  I’ve noted that Aubry seems to be playing a much more cynical and defeated game this season, and I’d been mulling over the fact that the return may have been too soon for her.  But I realised that she started filming this just two weeks after seeing she had lost to Michele, and even though she may well have felt like she already knew the outcome of Kaoh Rong before the votes were actually read, the sting of playing such a good game and losing to Michele must still be processing as she starts playing again.  It must be very hard for her to process what she did wrong and put it in to practice this quickly (even more so than players like Zeke and Michaela who got voted out and so can establish clearer reasons for their loss).


I think we’re seeing an Aubry who has lost her compass of how to play Survivor as a result.  I hope that the merge gives her a second wind.  But, if Nuku went to tribal right now, I feel like she’s an easy vote – she has no one left who is loyal to her.



There really hasn’t been much to Sierra this season.  She won’t be winning unless we get some strategic content soon.



As noted above, Brad is in a great spot, and I think things are pointing towards his army coming out on top come merge time.  Here’s who I think he’s going to have (assuming they don’t go home next week) – Tai, Debbie (why?  Who knows), Sierra, Hali, Troyzan, Michaela, Jeff... and Sarah (more on that soon).  That’s 9, and 8 even if one of those goes home. That’s enough.



Found an Idol.  Bonded with Mana.  Bonded with Sarah.  Bonded with Brad.  Troy’s around for a while.


Nuku tribe

Nuku (minus Debbie)



So, I just said that Sarah, Ozzy and Andrea made the wrong move, right?  What gives, then, with me putting her on Brad’s side of the ledger?


Well, we’re still waiting on Sarah’s ‘criminal’ move, right?  What say she turns out to be the swing vote at a 13 person merge, and she goes with Brad instead of her current Nuku tribemates.  That’s the actions of a criminal, right?  More likely, though, is that Sarah realises Brad has seven and switches to be part of the eight.



Ozzy moved on Sandra too early.  Of course he had to get her out.  He didn’t have to get her out yet.  JT’s decision to tell Brad they were voting Sierra had a profound impact on the course of the season, but I could see Ozzy’s decision to vote Sandra out creating just as profound an impact.



Ditto for what I just said about Ozzy, except Andrea’s even worse off.  She’s without edit, except for the fact that Troyzan doesn’t trust her.  Could she be the merge boot?  Or even this weeks boot?



While I do feel like Zeke ultimately may have made the best move he could make with the information he had available in removing Sandra, if my suggested Brad alliance comes together, Zeke is not in it and he could be in trouble.  It’s notable to me that Sandra knew very quickly that Zeke knows the game of Survivor (it’s what she said to him).  That means he’s already perceived as someone who is good at strategy – not a surprise, but also not good for Zeke.  I also think that Zeke was presented as responsible for the Sandra boot, and it felt like he prejudged the situation before taking circumstances into account.  Overall, I can’t feel anything more than lukewarm about the move on Zeke.  I’d have to understand more about why he decided to take Sandra out to judge the move fully, but if he is planning on moving forward with the Ozzy/Andrea alliance and not the Tai/Jeff alliance, then it could well backfire on him as well.



Tai knew enough not to play his idols.  It’s very hard for me to figure out if that speaks well or ill of his game.  If Zeke is determined to save Jeff, Tai could be his target.  Tai is going to have an ally in Debbie coming in, though.  Tai has been one of the most prevalent players this season, but that doesn’t mean anything for your longevity (silence is, perhaps, a little better).  I could see Tai being in trouble this week, but if he makes it through the week I think he’s in a fantastic spot – in fact, I’d put odds on him making it to final three with two idols in his pocket and Brad as an ally.  Can he win?  After this week, doubtful.  It feels like Tai is one of those guys who will always be penalised for betraying an ally, even though he doesn’t actually preach honour and integrity himself (he gets stuck with the label simply for finding the cut and thrust so hard).


Of course, if I’m reading this whole game wrong and his current tribe take over the game, they’re going to want Tai out soon.  But I think he knows it.



Although it’s hard to know exactly how she’ll fit in this tribe, I think she bonded with Tai again in the middle portion of the game, and I think Tai will keep her safe.  Besides, it would be a shame to be deprived of finding out what Debbie does when she next sees Brad.  Can she take on board Cochran’s advice?  Or will she come out believing that Cochran advised her to crush Brad with her ego until he could bear it no more?  We have to find out!


I don’t think they’d bother showing that she got an advantage if she got voted out one week later without even using it.



On the surface, Jeff is down 6-1.  On the other hand, surely no-one would be cruel enough to vote him out one vote before the jury?  Surely?  If Nuku lose again, the dynamic of who goes home is going to be very interesting.  Sarah and Zeke are the only two who feel completely safe to me (Sarah on the edit, Zeke because he’s the swing vote).


Jeff has had a great edit up until now and has always felt like making the merge, but it took a big hit this week when he was shown as being completely fooled by Zeke into believing Sandra wasn’t going.  But it could just have been part of the necessary plot for giving Sandra her dues on the way out the door.


If Jeff does go this week, it seems he’d just be the victim of circumstance.  But I think there’s a real chance that he’d stay even if Mana went to tribal council.  I have my fingers crossed for him.


Random observations



* Who has the most lush island hair at this point?  Troy or Hali?


* I don’t take the extra vote.  I’m tempted to believe I’d take the ‘team challenge advantage’ because I think that provides temporary social capital, and I think it’s actually a really smart move to choose that one even if it’s the least glamorous.  Social capital may not last for long, but I think it is at a premium coming in to the merge.  But, in the end, I think I’d take the fake idol kit – because like Tony and his bag of tricks, I’d have too much fun thinking of all the ways I might be able to use it.


* Apparently, all the idols were going to be hidden differently this season.  Well, we’ve had five idols found but only three ways of hiding them.  And whatever production is doing is becoming exceedingly confusing.  Is it possible that every camp had several hidden idols at once this season, but that clues were only out for one at a time?  I’m wondering if its technically possible for there to have been as many as 6 or 7 idols floating around in the premerge now.  Thank goodness no, because that’s confusing.  It is a shame we’ve only seen one at a challenge though.  Still the best idol find.


* Is Tai the hardest working Survivor player ever?  He’s certainly up there with Tony and Boston Rob in the top echelons.  It’s no surprise at all that he’s managed to find so many idols.  It’s also very smart to pretend he’s feeding the chickens while he hides it.  J.T. hid his up a mountain.  Tai hid his in the middle of camp.  (Seriously, I’m telling you Tai is smarter than he’s given credit for).


* I have also met Prime Ministers.  It’s a hazard of living where I live.  Presidents and Cochran are still boxes I have left to tick, though.


* No, seriously – Sandra is the greatest player of all time.  Sorry Cirie, but Sandra outplayed you in the pre-merge here, and for me seeing the head-to-head battle in the premiere was enough for me to give Sandra the edge.  (I reserve the right to change my mind if Cirie somehow wins this season).


That’s all for this week folks.  I’ll do my best to get a blog out next week – but there’s no guarantees I’ll even get to watch the episode let alone blog it.  So if not, see you at the merge!  I know it’s late in the week, but please still comment or tweet my way.





Ben Martell - The Golden TicketBy day, Ben Martell is a public commercial lawyer from New Zealand.

By night, he moonlights as a self-described Survivor 'expert'.

By day or night, find him on twitter at: @golden8284