In the middle of last week’s double episode*, Sandra said that she would use truth, lies, and rumors to advance her game.
*Y’all can call it a single episode all you want. I’m a simpleton when it comes to math, so the formula I use to resolve episode equations is as simple as I am: 2 hours + 2 Tribals = 2 episodes.
Following Sandra’s lead (which apparently the Dakal tribe members have decided is a good idea; what is this Queenly voodoo?!), I will take a look at some of this past week’s truths, lies, and rumors to get a sense where this season might be headed.
Side note: With Ryan absolutely crushing it on the recap front, I’m going to spend my time analyzing the pieces of the story that interest me. Hope that works for you. Frankly, he’s better at the 3,000 word deep dives that I ever was.
1) Truth: “The winner of this season will use the currency correctly.”
In what will likely be a shockingly prescient confessional when we look back on the season, Nick offered his insight into the Fire Token Economy. If you accept the premise that seeds for most of the central season-long storylines have to be planted in the first two hours — and why wouldn’t you? — then the inclusion of this observation all but screams that this season’s Sole Survivor will be able to point to at least one example of currency-based chicanery during Final Tribal Council. (It also means that anyone who wastes their tokens ain’t winning.)
2) Lie: The Edge of Extinction returnee can win the game
I’m cheating here, because I’m basing this observation on Dalton Ross’s “What You DIDN’T see in the Survivor: Winners at War season premiere” article.
Here’s the key excerpt (definitely read the whole article -- Ross is great, and there’s a lot to glean from what he shares):
Edge of Extinction became a major topic of discussion at Tribal. It started when Yul called out Chris Underwood’s win as very controversial and polarizing. Sandra then weighed in on EOE, going on about how someone should be out when they were out, and now because of the twist, she had to be nice to people instead of mean. Jeff then polled the tribe, asking who among them liked Edge as another chance to get back in the game. Sarah, Amber, and Nick raised their hands. The other 7 did not. Jeff then asked Sarah and Amber what they liked about it.
Here’s my takeaway: If that many players are anti-EoE at the outset, then the jury will almost certainly decide that they won’t vote for an Edge returnee to win the game. That groupthink will then have a powerful impact on Edge strategy: they’ll focus on assisting allies who are still in the game, not only by finding advantages to sell, but also by making sure that the Edge returnee is an asset to someone they want to help.
3) Rumor: Kim is doomed
Oh, man, it KILLED me to see Kim struggle. The tears in her eyes ... her ineffectual plea to Sandra ... that shot of her falling to her knees ... NO NO NO NO NO. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go!
Ah, but there is a reason to have faith: Kim admitted that she never had to feel this way the first time around, and we saw her fight the good fight at Tribal. If she didn’t turn it around — at least for a little while — then there’s no need to show us these things. So, if I had to guess, we’re being told that she learns, grows, adapts, and evolves at warp speed and discovers that she can indeed play from the bottom.
Also, lest we forget, she’s Kim Motherf***ing Spradlin. She ain’t dead yet. And when she goes — IF she goes — she’s going out with a bang, not a whimper.
4) Lie: Boston Rob crushed that second immunity challenge
Okay, yes, Rob put his dad bod to surprisingly good use while catapulting many smaller human beings up and over the water wheel or whatever you call that thing. I was impressed (but not as impressed as Jeff Probst who doubled the size of the Pacific Ocean with his drool). What was overlooked, however, was the short-sighted strategy Rob and his Sele tribemates employed.
As anyone who has ever done a “group climbs an obstacle” challenge knows, you can’t leave your biggest players as the last ones to go up and over. Who is going to lift them? No way to sugar coat it (although the edit certainly tried): leaving four hundred pounds of exhausted man meat on the other side of a rotating drum is simply bad strategy.
5) Truth: Family matters
How many players have we seen talking about their kids? Sarah ... Tyson ... Kim ... Rob ... Parvati ... Jeremy ... and that’s just the ones I can think of right now. Tyson even got the extended confessional about his two daughters. There are a lot of different reasons to include this footage — establishing connections between players, inviting emotional investment in various player narratives, conveying how much these winners have changed since they were last on our TV screens — but I couldn’t shake the belief that family is at the heart of how this season unfolds.
One thing’s for certain: the family visit is going to heavily inform mid-merge decision-making. We often hear that players lobby hard to stick around for the family visit; the pressure will be exponentially more intense when we’re talking about people who left small children back at home. Just imagine being sent to Extinction Island on the precipice of a deeply meaningful personal moment, one which would involve getting news about kids. The damage — to friendships, never mind alliances — would be almost irreparable.
And then there’s Final Tribal ... who would you prefer to give $2 million to, a single kid in his or her 20’s or someone with a family to support?
If you ask me, one of two things is going to happen: either the winner is going to be someone with a family (and that’s one of the reasons he or she wins), or — in a more brutal twist — some endgamers are going to be voted out BECAUSE they have kids. (Just writing that makes my heart ache.)
6) Rumor: Sophie is going to use Yul as a Nerd Shield
This feels closer to truth than fiction to me ... I mean, why bother showing Sophie talking about Yul as her Nerd Shield unless it’s going to come to fruition? And it makes sense, doesn’t it? They work together on Dakal until a swap … they either stay together (the ideal scenario for them both) or reunite at the merge … and then as the numbers begin to dwindle, Sophie is forced to cut Yul loose.
7) Lie: Ben is our narrator this season
I don’t know about you, but I was stunned at how much Ben footage we got in the premiere, specifically how many confessionals he got. My initial confusion — could Ben stick around as our long-term storyteller? — eventually faded when I realized that he was there to be the audience proxy. When he gapes slack-jawed at all of the legends around him and then gives a confessional in which he utters, “Gee whiz!”, he’s the voice of the viewer. We get to geek out while watching a winner geek out, too. It’s fun. And it’s okay for the show to be fun again. (Admit it: after last season, you wondered if Survivor could be fun again. Wonder no more!)
With the premiere out of the way, however, we don’t need any more Ben confessionals ... so, despite being conspicuously conspicuous in the premiere, Ben is eminently expendable.
8) Rumor: A swap is looming
Until someone shows me a Survivor pre-production game design document that delineates every twist, challenge, and swap — locking in the timing and the process involved — I will assume that the producers adapt on the fly. If they like how the dynamics are developing, they’re going to let things ride; if preferred outcomes are imperiled, though, they’re going to pull the ripcord. They’ve got a number of ways to intercede, of course, but here in the pre-merge, the most impactful one is a swap.
Here’s the thing: Production LOVES what’s happening over on Sele. Boston Rob and Parvati in power? Adam and Denise willingly working with the old schoolers? Jeremy, Ben, and Michele as the most obvious potential boots? Yes, yes, and two out of three ain’t bad (I’m sure Probst would prefer that Jeremy stick around, but you gotta break some eggs, right?).
Even if production had a swap penciled in at 18 — or maybe even 16 — they’re not going to undermine an alliance that Rob and Parvati have assembled. Think they want their legends to get swap screwed? We all know the answer to that. And if production has the ability to prevent that — and obviously, they do — then that’s what’s going to happen.
9) Truth: This season will have a new school winner
During the same confessional where Nick talked about the Fire Token economy, he also explained that new school players have a distinct advantage in a twist-heavy game. When Nick finished talking, I immediately paused the TiVo (a habit that annoys every member of my family, but I’m willing to incur their wrath for you, dear reader) and scribbled down two thoughts: 1) He’s right, and 2) Foreshadowing!
If we run with this idea that a new school player could very well be our winner, who qualifies? First, let’s define “new school”. Rather than trigger an immediate debate by relying on subjective measures like “when production started screwing with the foundational underpinnings of the game” and “quality of the ensuing strategic adjustments”, I’ll just rely on math. As tempting as marking the divide at Heroes vs. Villains may be, simply splitting the seasons in half seems insufficient, so I’ll just hack it into thirds:
Borneo to Cook Islands = Old School
Fiji to Caramoan = Middle School
Blood vs. Water to Island of the Idols = New School
Using those admittedly arbitrary cut offs, we can trim out potential winners list to ... ten players. Half the cast. NOT HELPFUL.
Rather than walk through them all right now, I’m just going to keep an eye on that list of ten, rule them out as they stumble (so far: Natalie, Ben, and Michele) and take note when the edit embraces them. To whit, this juicy little line:
“I’ll forfeit the battle to hopefully win the war.” -- Tyson
He got the tearful confessional about family ... then Tony told us that Tyson is dangerous because he’s funny… and over the second hour we saw him scramble, successfully, to avoid Amber’s fate.
And he offers up THAT quote. Which he cleverly crafted with the word “war” in it; way to include the season theme in your soundbites, Tyson! If you landed Tyson in your Survivor draft, you should feel pretty good right about now.
10) Rumor: Tony is playing well
I’m not fully buying this one. The edit is protecting him (another revelation from Dalton Ross’s article is that Tony took some heat at Tribal for his style of gameplay), and he’s saying a lot of the right things (about avoiding unwanted attention) ... but one of the fundamental truths about Survivor is that even the best players can’t hide who they really are. Tony is who he is. And even when he’s behaving himself, he can’t help pointing out that he’s behaving himself.
I’m not selling my Tony stock… but I’m not buying any additional shares, either.
11) Truth: Michele won’t win
Once the Sele strategizing began in earnest, every shot of Michele was negative: she looked lost, confused, and anxious. For a player whose calling card is her social game, she seemed disconnected and adrift. And in the end, she was left out of the vote (even Ben knew where the axe was going to fall).
She could be scooped up by someone like Parvati, who identified Natalie as the bridge between Jeremy and Michele and who has a history of building an alliance of female social gamers, and with Parvati’s help make a deep run in the game. But any hope that she could be the driving force of an endgame alliance took a major hit in the premiere. It’s going to take a lot of narrative rehab to bring her back to anything resembling contender status ... and with this cast, and all the stories that need to be told, I just don’t see it happening.
12) Lie: Probst will extract truth at Tribal
Everyone at the Sele Tribal: “Adam and Denise ran off into the woods together and we don’t trust them and they’re in a lot of trouble.”
In the voting booth: “Natalie and Jeremy are the biggest threats in the history of threats and of course we have to vote one of them off so goodbye Natalie.”
Everyone at the Dakal Tribal: “The poker alliance is the scariest alliance that has ever been an alliance because they’re allies who talked about their alliance once during a poker tournament streaming on YouTube so one of them needs to go and it’s probably Kim or maybe even Tyson because they’re really scary.”
In the voting booth: “We’re splitting the vote in case Amber’s Fire Token is actually an immunity idol because Probst loves Rob, but all that stuff we said about Kim and Tyson, we don’t really mean it, they’re awesome and Amber really needs to go because her husband scares us.”
Yeah, pretty much everything everyone says at Tribal is going to be a lie.
13) Prediction time
The obvious targets on Dakal are Tyson and Kim, but he’s got an early Winner’s Edit and she’s got hints of a Phoenix Arc (rising from the ashes). Add that to the “Next Week On” trailer — which shows Boston Rob eyeing Ben — and I’m assuming that Sele goes to Tribal. So who do they target?
If we accept that Rob, Parvati, Ethan and Danni will hold tight for now, and that Denise and Adam will stick with them until they have firmer footing, then we’re left with three targets: Michele, Jeremy, and Ben.
I don’t see any compelling reason to vote out Michele; if anything, pretty much every one of the old schoolers will be trying to recruit her (for the alliance and for themselves).
Jeremy feels like the logical choice; he’s a serious threat who has proven that he can navigate a field full of returning players. That said, he’s a useful short-term meat shield for players like Parvati and Boston Rob (who need as many shields as they can get) and his strongest ally is now on Edge. The wild card in all of this is what the players know about the Fire Tokens; if they realize that advantages can be sent into the game, they’ll feel the need to take out Jeremy (assuming that Natalie, based on physicality alone, is far more likely to locate advantages than Amber, although the spectre of production interference might balance the scales of worry)... and yet they’ll worry that he already has something.
Side note: Know what would be cool? After everyone knows about the buying and selling of advantages, a player who has close friends on Edge should craft a fake idol. It would be really hard for the other castaways to question its authenticity.
And then there’s Ben ... who, the teaser implies, worries the Robfather. Given the culture of fear that Rob has already inculcated in his tribe, and how ruthless he is about eliminating any and all potential threats, Ben should be VERY worried. And from the looks of it, he is; Ben appears to be scrambling for an idol.
So, Ben or Jeremy? Jeremy or Ben? Which makes more sense?
In the end, the fear of a vindictive Jeremy worries me a lot more than Ben finding an endless stream of idols…
… and the episode is entitled, “It’s Like a Survivor Economy,” so the Fire Token currency is at the forefront of strategic thinking ...
… so if I’m Rob, Jeremy has got to go.
Andy Baker swore he’d never play again, but the allure of an All Winners season brought him back..
Andy is no longer on twitter, but he's a regular guest at the Survivor Talk with D&D podcast.