Every vote in Survivor is potentially a game-losing move. In the worst-case scenario, you could get voted out yourself, or you could lose a key ally. Most votes, however, have outcomes far less clear-cut. Yet as the game winds down to smaller and smaller numbers, each vote becomes increasingly important, and the game can be lost simply by not eliminating the optimal person.
So as we enter the finale, the key question from this episode's Tribal Council was: Did Gavin and Victoria make the right move in targeting Aurora?
In a word: Nope. It may still work out for them, but it was by almost every measure an unforced error, especially for Victoria.
The decision to target Aurora vs. Julie was presented to the audience as a test of loyalty: Lauren was willing to make the vote (against Aurora) with or without Victoria's participation. Gavin stated that he wanted to bring Victoria on board, but both he and Vic recognized Lauren's insistence was a clue that Lauren planned to go to the finals with Julie, not with them. (Although in describing this himself in confessional, Gavin said he brought Victoria in because he didn't want to have to "burn that bridge yet," indicating Lauren is part of Gavin's final three plans, while Victoria is not.)
Would Gavin stick with Victoria and target Julie, or would one or both cave, and reluctantly vote Aurora? At worst, they could have stuck with Aurora and forced a 3-3 tie. Surely when the tie was apparent, they could persuade Lauren to avoid rocks, and rejoin them in voting out Julie, right?
Gavin's only stated reason for favoring Aurora as the target was "Aurora could win the final 4 immunity challenge, or the firemaking challenge." (Julie made the same argument, although hers made much more sense, since it was done out of self-preservation.)
Nobody ever stated the obvious: If these people want to take out Rick, they'll need someone around who can beat Rick at winning immunity. Rick's already won it three times! Maybe they felt Gavin was enough of a challenge threat to serve as that hedge? But even so, wouldn't it be better to keep around two threats? Optimally, wouldn't you want to be sure Rick heads to the jury, then take your chances on getting rid of Aurora before the finals?
The numbers back this up. Aurora was the best performer in individual challenges by a decent margin, with a 70.9% mean percent finish. Rick is next at a still pretty good 63.2% MPF. Next up is Gavin, at 58.3%, roughly as far behind Rick as Rick was behind Aurora. (55% is roughly a replacement-level challenge performance.) And to be honest, Lauren, Julie, and Victoria aren't that far behind Gavin (54.9%, 51.1%, 48.5%, respectively). Aurora was their best shot at keeping the immunity necklace out of Rick's hands. (Off of his neck? That doesn't sound right.)
So by booting Aurora, they've increased the chances that Rick can win immunity, thereby making it easier for Rick to run the table. There are just two ICs left that he has to win — the upcoming (second) F6 IC and the F5 IC — and he now has an idol he can use for whichever one he doesn't win. There's also the F4 IC, but if he doesn't win that one, big deal, he just has to make fire. From Gavin and Victoria's perspective, there are so many reasons Julie would have made more sense to target — it completes the ouster of Ron's core alliance, she's not as much of a challenge threat (her last win was at the merge), it forces Rick to keep voting for the wrong person, it would show up Rick's idol feint, and so on.
But no, they voted out Aurora instead.
Instead of making a risky move and calling Rick's bluff, Gavin and Victoria opted for safety, and in doing so dramatically strengthened Rick's hand. He gets to keep his idol. The jury interprets his idol theatrics as having changed the vote. He also now has a semi-dependable ally in Julie, can maybe pull in Lauren through her, and probably also has a decent shot at recruiting whichever person returns from the Edge. By voting out Aurora, Gavin and Victoria took themselves from a 4-2 majority to at best a 3-3 tie, and more likely a 4-2 minority position. Gavin also removed a potential shield for himself, since he's now won three challenges: if Rick wins the next IC, guess who'll be seen as the biggest challenge threat left?
Yes, there was a risk that Rick could actually have played his idol for Julie. But his preferred target (Aurora) was obvious, and she just happened to be the same exact person they ended up voting for, anyway. There was minimal risk in voting Julie, and it could have burned Rick's idol. All in all, a potentially catastrophic failure for Gavin and Victoria, albeit a move with a slight upside for Lauren (who has worked with Julie for ... two episodes, while voting out Julie's closest ally once in the meantime — a better move for Lauren would have been taking out Victoria, who was just as vocal about her anti-Rick stance as Aurora, but less of a challenge threat).
Victoria rightly objected to the Aurora plan, but she apparently did not have anyone else willing to stick with her. Oh well.
home - meh
On the one hand, it was nice to see the Edge people again. It's been a while. (Has it only been one episode? It feels longer.) On the other hand, this was perhaps not the greatest use of time. (Side note: There were ten of them there this episode. Their parade of confessionals just kept going and going. Craziness!)
This segment probably takes the place of hearing the jury's feelings about the game before Final Tribal, because there will be no room whatsoever for anything non-challenge- , -Tribal- or -idol-related in the finale. And in that sense, it's disappointing, because these people have suffered like no jury ever before. Then again, it's pretty clear who the jury wants to win (Rick), so maybe it's better that we get to see the personal growth these people have gained from starving for virtually no reason.
Let's hope this segment was also a twist-ending sendoff for Edge of Extinction. We can imagine the letter the producers wrote to themselves at the start of the season: "Dear Edge: Please be the most compelling test of the human spirit ever televised. A gripping battle between the primal instinct to compete and the countervailing urge for comfort. A true demonstration that Survivor contestants are fighting not just the elements, but also themselves."
With the post-script: "Or at least be Redemption Island, but with occasional scavenger hunts. Oh, and let's hope Reem gets to yell at some people."
Well, then: Mission accomplished!
Forecasting the re-entry challenge
It looks like Rick is the prohibitive favorite to win the season, so the more fun question to ponder before the finale is: Who will return to the game in the final Edge re-entry challenge?
For the re-entry winner, one clue may be screentime. The editors will want us to remember the character who's returning, so let's look at who's received the most attention since reaching the Edge, and what they might do if they did come back in:
- Reem: She's obviously the Queen of the Edge. She has now officially played the most days ever in a non-game situation (Exile, Redemption, Edge, Ghost Island), both single-season and career. If she gets back in, who knows what she'll do? She probably won't win, but she could easily be kept around as a goat, and/or a helpful number. Would she still be mad at Rick? Or would she be all in on targeting Lauren, instead? Both Julie and Victoria voiced the opinion at the merge that the Edge returnee should not be voted out right away, so she might have some willing allies there. But first, Reem has to win a challenge. She mostly sat out of the only one she saw. So... unlikely? It's really hard to tell.
- Kelley: She's Lauren's #1 ally, so Lauren's position in the game would be strengthened. Although questions remain as to whether Kelley would draw votes away from Lauren if both made the finals. As a pair, they could choose to join up with Rick and Julie (seems unlikely), or wipe them out. Julie did vote with Kelley to boot David. Maybe they could assemble a last-minute women's alliance, and take out challenge threats Rick and Gavin? Kelley's content on the Edge has been mixed. An emotional arrival scene, but a very active presence as a juror. If Lauren's a finalist, having Kelley as her champion on the jury seems like the best scenario for her. Kelley has been fairly average in challenges historically, and she would have to beat people like Joe and Aurora in order to get back in can. That's unlikely, but not impossible.
- Joe: He should be among the favorites in any challenge, but he's been wasting away at the Edge for 15 days now. He's also been almost as quiet there as he was in the game. Surprisingly underedited throughout the season seems like an unlikely indicator of imminent return. He has no obvious connection to anyone if he does. Unlikely.
- Aubry: Her battle against the returnee stigma at Kama was a huge pre-merge narrative thread. She found an early post-merge advantage that gave her a chance to practice this very challenge. She's freaking determined! What will she do when she gets back in? Seek vengeance against those Kama ingrates who voted her out in the first place: Victoria and Gavin. (Or not. She seems more like a natural ally for them — she sees a lot of herself in them, as we know — so she could go either way.) But as for returning: Likely. She's had all this time to practice!
- David: If there's one outcome that could all but guarantee Rick the win, David returning to the game would be it. They're loyal allies to each other, further strengthened by David sending Rick a challenge advantage. (Although it would be pretty amusing if David returns and, as promised, Rick cuts him at the final four.) Important note: As we pointed out at the time, when talking about that advantage, David was clearly holding a note that appeared to grant him access to the same challenge practice site as Aubry. But this was never mentioned in the show. That's not a good sign for David returning. If they're hiding it, maybe it's so the audience doesn't get their hopes up? Who knows. Also, he had what seemed like a season-capping confessional while reading his letter from himself. Still, at the time he was voted out, he was the top performer in individual challenges this season (83.2% MPF), so he or Aubry are probably the two favorites. Possible, perhaps even likely.
- Aurora: As the most recent arrival, she's had the least time to get broken down by the Edge. In fact, she'll barely have spent 12 hours there, if that. As mentioned above, she's a formidable challenge competitor, and anything agility-based should be right in her wheelhouse. It would be a bit of a bummer for the people who have been pining away on the Edge for days and weeks for this one opportunity, only to have Aurora swoop in and vulture the return slot. But that's more production's problem for designing this dumb twist, not Aurora's. So what would Aurora do when she goes back in? Hopefully take out the three who betrayed her: Gavin, Victoria, Lauren. There's not really much narrative support for it, but based on the underlying numbers, an Aurora return seems highly possible.
- Someone else: We've heard almost nothing from Ron since he got there. He's also near the bottom in MPF this season, so he's an unlikely returner. Eric, Chris and Julia have had more content, but is that just an attempt to rectify their relatively overlooked in-game performances? As with David, their "letter from me" segments read like buttoning up their seasons, rather than forecasting a comeback. Wardog would be an explosive addition as a re-entering player, but for that to happen, he would first have to beat 10 other competitors in a challenge, which seems ... unlikely. But you never know, maybe he was sandbagging in challenges the entire season?
In summary: We came up with a rough order of 1. Aubry, 2. Aurora, 3. David, 4. Kelley, 5. Reem, 6. Someone else (including Joe). There's not that much theoretical distance between the three people in the top slots, though. Feel free to speculate and/or disagree in the comments.
- 'New challenge element' meh-ness: Jeff Probst was pretty excited to show off the "brand new challenge element" in the reward challenge, which combined the frequently used "throw basketballs up onto a narrow ledge" with the brand-spanking-new ... "throw basketball up onto a narrow ledge ... but it's sloped, and then you also have to run through an obstacle." But don't worry, it still also ended in "throw basketballs up onto a narrow ledge." You'll forgive us if we don't seem overwhelmed by the creativity here. Way to balance out the skill set required for one element with exactly the same skill set to, uh, level the playing field or something. (Now, maybe if the challenge ended with everyone hucking basketballs at Jeff Probst, and the first one to nail him wins? Then you'd have a good challenge.)
- The missing two-piece idol hunt: One episode after praising production's choice to make Rick work overtime for his late-night, high-up-in-a-tree idol retrieval quest, they (apparently) just stuck one in a stump right next to a path. If that's how it was actually hidden, that's really dumb. But as David Bloomberg pointed out on twitter, Adam Klein's final idol find in Millennials vs. Gen X was (allegedly) trimmed down from a two-piece hunt where he found a clue that directed him to the idol, with the show airing just Adam finding the idol. Could that have happened here? Who knows? If so, it's a terrible editing decision to make it look like production just flung a live idol in Rick's path. That's like dousing the season in gasoline and handing extra cans to the already-rabid online "OmG! TOo MuCh RiCk!1!!" mob. Following that up by subtitling Rick's words when he opens the package ("I'm gonna win this game")? That's tossing them a lit torch. Well done.
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, you can do so on twitter: @truedorktimes
Other Edge of Extinction Episode 13 recaps and analysis