About a week and a half ago, it hit me: I wanted to talk about Survivor again, preferably in a place where intelligent fans congregate. So, I reached out to Benevolent Overlord Jeff Pitman to see if he had a spare blog-room that I could crash in here at True Dork Times. Thankfully, he said yes, and here we are.
Where to begin? What to say first about this most amazing of seasons, the most difficult season in the history of forever, with the greatest rallies by tribes and resilience from players, filled with the most compelling twists and advantageous advantages ever conceived since man first looked up at the stars ….
Okay, I just can’t do it. This season is an overstuffed monstrosity. But we can learn a lot about the game by watching a warped funhouse mirror version of it. At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m not bellowing at Probst as if he can hear me through the TV.
Believe it or not, I’m actually going to try to make a boot order for the remaining players. Given that Probst said in his recent EW interview that there’s at least one more big twist on the horizon, prediction is pretty much pointless. But I’m going to indulge in some speculation anyway. Can’t turn out any worse than, say, giving someone the power to steal another player’s idol in a season where the castaways had to articulate asinine phrases to activate the idols ....
13) Quick takes on the early boots
Before I jump into the remaining players, some brief thoughts on the dearly departed:
** Abraham: Age and attitude can be a deadly combination.
** Sara: Probably around a lot longer with bigger tribes; she was my 7-year-old daughter’s early favorite, so it was a sad day in the Baker household when she went home.
** Voce: Had potential, but if you can’t be safely inside a three person alliance after five days in the game, you can’t expect to stick around.
** Brad: Every time he was on the screen, I’d think, “He’d be really hard to work with for 26 days.” Too much, too much.
** JD: Strike one, his game was a mess. Strike two, his trust radar was broken. Strike three, he idolizes Woo. (WOO?!)
** Genie: This feels like a missed opportunity for Shan. While I understand sticking with a fellow strategist, Shan may wish she had more loyal pieces after the merge.
The edit has not been kind: the producers want us to see her as arrogant and entitled. Her fishing exploits softened that somewhat this week, but this was an episode for players to be shown planting seeds for the post-merge game, and we didn’t get that from her. What that means: she’s along for the ride. The only question is how far she goes.
If Erika does what everyone expects Erika to do, then Sydney is in a lot of trouble, in large part because she won’t think she is. As the dominant merge alliance coalesces (more on who I think that might be in a bit) and discusses the vote, the target is likely to be female (to appease the outnumbered men), which leaves only Sydney and Evvie as potential boots. If Shan, Liana, Deshawn, and Danny are at the heart of the deliberations — and we’ve been told they will be, at least for now — then a couple of factors will come into play: Liana will want to keep Evvie, and both Shan and Liana will want a Luvu to go. The latter argument is one that Deshawn and Danny would be wise to accept, and we have every reason to believe that they will: to reduce their own threat level, they have to eliminate one of their own. Could they take over as the Luvu Six if Evvie goes home? Sure. But D&D don’t want to work with Erika, but she’s safe, which leaves Sydney as the only target that both makes Danny happy (a woman is leaving) and brings the four closer together (by assuring Shan and Liana that D&D are committed to them, not the old Luvu tribe).
Fits the edit, serves the strategy: Time for Sydney to go home.
This spot is probably a bit earlier than she’ll actually leave the game, given her comment about planning to play like a lion, but it fits her edit: in what little we’ve seen of Erika thus far, she’s been perceived by the other players as untrustworthy and self-interested. The “choice” she’s been given by production certainly won’t change any of that. Feels like there are two potential fates for her: as the backup boot on a split vote, or a F3 zero-vote getter. I’m betting on the former.
A few random thoughts on the Time Turner Twist:
** Production is heavily incentivized to have every advantage used and every twist implemented: why else have it in the season? And by putting this twist at the merge and isolating a player for two full days when everything is in flux all but guaranteed that the hammer would be used. (On the hourglass, not Probst, but it had to have gone through Erika’s mind…)
** This is clearly a spaghetti-throwing season: production threw everything they could think of against the wall to see what would stick. Of course, they forget that when you do this, what ends up on our TV screens is that spaghetti-splattered wall. What a mess.
** What would make this twist a tiny bit awesome: on Wednesday night, Erika says, “Production put me in a horrible position. There’s no way to do this right. Frankly, it was irresponsible and cruel of them. I missed two days at the most important stretch of the game! I have no idea where I stand, so of course I smashed it. I need to be safe. I’m sorry, truly. But don’t blame me, blame Jeff. He told you that you had made the merge. He lied.”
** In his EW interview, Probst had this to say about the game design this season (and presumably Season 42): “You cannot waste time being frustrated because you don't like a twist. It's wasted and misplaced energy.” On the one hand, that’s true: You have to play the game that’s in front of you. One other other hand, though, it is completely fair for the players to be frustrated. Erika’s game, already damaged but perhaps not irreparably harmed, is going to be dead in the water after Wednesday. Xander or Naseer is going to lose his idol to Liana’s advantage. And the Shot in the Dark dice are going to have an impact on the outcome of the game before all is said and done. And if we’re this annoyed watching at home, can you imagine playing this version of the game?
I wonder, does anyone benefit more from Erika’s inevitable hourglass smash than Xander? If he lost the immunity challenge, he would have been a possible target, right? Sure, everyone might have remained fixated on Erika, but Xander might feel vulnerable enough to play his idol… and if you’re Liana, don’t you snag it before he has a chance to play it (you don’t want it to reenter the game, where it might be found by someone you’d rather not have it)?
The moment Erika flips the script, Xander goes from having a lot to worry about… to being safe with an idol in his pocket. Not bad.
So, if he’s in a better spot now, why do I have him going out in 10th? Especially when he got a Naseer promise to keep him safe (and doesn’t Naseer seem like someone who keeps his promises?)? Two reasons: 1) I think he’s going to be on the fringes of the majority alliance, 2) Given how much airtime it’s gotten this season, gender will probably play a role in the post-merge boot order… and if two women leave the game at F12 and F11, evening things at 5-5, a male player may go next, and Xander is the least connected of the remaining men.
Just a few of the warning signs around Tiffany:
At some point, we’re going to hear the other players — ones that Tiffany is ostensibly aligned with — talking about how erratic Tiffany is, how she needs to get her way (just as the original Yase members have done since the game began). You can get away with that in the early going, as long as you’re loyal. But with the endgame coming into focus? She needs to go.
The strategist in me loves what Ricard and Shan have brought to the game. Misdirection and manipulation? Yes, please; more, please.
The edit reader in me, however, thinks they must have paid an editor overtime to find every side-eye shot, every moment when Ricard looks like a pulp fiction villain.
We’ve quite clearly been set up for Ricard and Shan turning on each other… and the edit appears to be telling us that he’ll be the antagonist. Does he see the Shan-Liana-Deshawn-Danny alliance coming together and try to do something about it, I wonder?
I’ll miss the Ricard-Shan duo: they’re a reminder how powerful it is to have a Survivor strategy sounding board while you’re out there. Problem is, they’re both too good; Shan is going to be searching for a safer, less accomplished accomplice … and I think she’s found him in Deshawn.
Seeing Naseer talk to Xander about protecting each other made me realize just how fractured this merge is:
And then there are the wild cards:
As much as I love Naseer — and I adore the guy — we can’t forget how he was depicted in the early episodes: Danny and Deshawn will not trust him enough to take him any further than this. If Naseer still has his idol, and Liana hasn’t used her advantage, when we hit F7, they’re going to have to betray him.
Side note: As much as I’m enjoying the personal videos — and Naseer’s story about his daughter hiding immunity idols brought joy to this father’s heart — I worry that the need to trigger a reason to show the videos will force production’s hand. As Benevolent Overlord Pitman pointed out in his column, Naseer’s “Beware Advantage” note was NOT well-hidden (compare his find to the other two). The cynic in me said that production came into the season wanting to tell the “my daughter hides idols for me” story (which undoubtedly came up during casting), and was waiting for an opportunity to make that moment happen. Not terribly fair to the other people out there trying to win a million dollars.
Last week, we saw one of the significant dangers of heading into the merge without having been to Tribal: players will get way too comfortable and say things in an open forum that are best kept within the tight circle of an alliance.
This time, it was Danny … at the merge feast … with the blunt admission that women need to go.
What are Sydney and Evvie supposed to think? Well, Sydney probably assumed that Danny wasn’t talking about her, since she’s a Luvu and deeply admires her own awesomeness, but Evvie will undoubtedly make an attempt to weaponize Danny’s words.
And Evvie may well get some traction with Liana (since they’ve been together from the beginning), and through her, Shan. This late in the game, Danny is a threat to go on an immunity run; if Shan wants to give herself an opportunity to win a challenge and, more importantly, remove the competition for Deshawn’s loyalty (and testing him in the process; will you turn on your closest ally for me?), then they’ll need to turn on Danny here (or sooner).
I don’t know about you, but it’s been really hard for me to completely decipher Evvie’s edit. She’s been the “keep the women together” glue on Yase … but that alliance is now falling apart. She’s kept Xander in her back pocket, but he’s making inroads with Naseer while she’s being left out of the onscreen scrambling.
No matter what we think, though, clearly Evvie believes she’s in trouble: her comment in “Next Week On” — “This is life or death for me” — means two things: 1) Erika smashed the hourglass; 2) Evvie thinks that she’s getting voted out if she doesn’t win immunity.
A merge boot doesn’t seem to fit her narrative, though, does it? And if she does avoid the chopping block at F12, does she willingly become part of a three (her, Naseer, Heather?) outside the core four to buy herself some time in the game, hoping to find a way to flip everything somewhere down the line?
More and more, Evvie feels like the journey character, someone who makes the merge, makes the finale, makes her mark, but falls just short. But maybe that’s just the fanboy in me; I enjoy Evvie’s energy, her SuperFandom, her beaming smile. Those qualities, though, are the same ones that will make Shan target Evvie before she can disrupt the endgame.
As I was putting this boot order together, I kept doing the unthinkable: I repeatedly pushed Heather up the list. Each time I would decide, “This is where she’ll get her torch snuffed,” I realized there were bigger threats, higher priorities. And then it hit me: that’s precisely how a strategist like Shan would see it.
Shan — and yes, I’m viewing much of the endgame through her eyes — will surround herself with two types of players: 1) those who feel like they’re her partners and have an argument to make at Final Tribal (although being wrong about that); and 2) those who are happy to be along for the ride. Heather is in the latter category. Enduring to the end would feel like a win to her; she may not have come into the game feeling that way, but now, seeing how she’s performed thus far? A moral victory is the only victory.
As I’ve said many times before, and I’m only half-joking when I suggest it: Production should use some Ponderosa time to test the members of the cast, specifically the older ones. Make them go without food for a few days. Run a couple of challenges. See how they respond, physically and mentally. If they lose the magic that made you cast them, put in an alternate. Over the years, we’ve seen a number of older players struggle with the conditions, and that feels like an avoidable mistake, especially in a season designed to be harsh. (BTW, I’m 50, so I root for players like Heather; I just know that as we age, everything’s a little bit harder, recovery is a little bit slower. Probst and production really should have a good idea how everyone will respond to the extremity of the game.)
Side note: As soon as we see Heather’s personal video, that’s gotta be her boot episode, right?
Every time I think about the Knowledge is Power advantage, my blood pressure spikes and I lose the ability to speak coherently. Production is going to force a player to tell the truth? At Tribal? About an idol? And then hand it over? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
There aren’t many rules in Survivor. But one that has existed from the beginning: Players shape the reality of the game. Lies and truth are currency. The KiP advantage shakes the foundation of Survivor as we know it. That’s how misguided I think this is.
Adding insult to injury: Liana doesn’t even need to guess who has an idol for her to steal. Thanks to the ridiculous “say this phrase” activation process, Liana has two easy targets (three, really, but she’s not going after Shan’s idol, although wouldn’t that be amazing?). Just like with the hourglass-smashing decision, Production has made it all but certain that the new advantage will be used, and in the process, have a massive impact on specific players and perhaps the game.
Look, I get it: production needs to take some big swings. Not everything is going to work. I’ve been there; as many of you know, I help game design Survival Challenge, a 5-day Survivor LRG, and I personally have created some twists that failed spectacularly. But what keeps this from happening more often is that we have a great team of Survivor minds who run though the ramifications and permutations of every idol and advantage idea. Does SEG have people like that sitting in on production meetings? Does anyone stand up to Probst? I have to admit, it would be fun to sit in on their deliberations and be the voice of reason…
Whoops. Haven’t said much about Liana here. That’s okay, though; I’m pretty sure I have a lot of weeks ahead to talk about her. Shan’s got her back, and she’s armed with the KiP.
What I will say, though, is this: She’s young. She’s too eager to make moves, to “flip the narrative.” She’s honest and trusting. Which will lead to a betrayal that she won’t see coming … or she’ll have a seat at Final Tribal with no chance to win. Right now, she seems like someone who will gladly go to the end with Shan … and that path ends in defeat.
Survivor is never easy, but I have to say, Deshawn is living a charmed life so far: he teamed up with Danny right out of the gate … his tribe dominated and never went to Tribal ... and now he finds himself in a four-person alliance with Danny, Liana, and Shan.
And that alliance is PERFECT for him. It’s balanced, gender-wise. Danny is the bigger physical threat, so will probably get targeted before him. And if Shan is looking for a new strategic sounding board, Deshawn might be a better choice than Liana.
At this moment, I think Deshawn is Shan’s single greatest threat in the game, in part because she doesn’t yet see him that way. Shan gets the edge here, though, because she’s playing from ahead: she’s got an idol, an extra vote, and a lot of early-game line items on her Survivor résumé. But that may not be enough, since the only player who can speak to her Ua dominance is Ricard, who may resent that he’s sitting on the jury.
My worry with Deshawn, though, is that he — like Liana — may not feel like he has to turn on Shan. That he’ll get enough credit for what they do together. And he’ll be wrong about that.
Before I get to my winner pick, a quick word about the Deshawn-Danny-Shan-Liana alliance:
First, add me to the chorus of “if you’re complaining about race and alliances, your prejudices are showing.” This cast is great; I’ve been calling on Survivor to do better and be better for years; and I’m excited that the show is being so open about the underlying issues (Liana and Shan talking about race during their excursion, for example).
Now, to wade into more controversial waters: as Rick Devens mentioned on a recent RHAP podcast, race was undoubtedly on the minds of the players when they arrived in Fiji, given what was going on back at home (specifically, the George Floyd murder and the Derek Chauvin prosecution). And this was brought front and center by the players themselves, with CBS (finally!) embracing a more inclusive approach to casting.
Here’s what I’m wondering: Did any of the players ever worry about their choices of who to work with and whom to target? Did they wonder how it would be depicted on the show? Did they think about the optics back at home?
I am acutely aware that I’m raising these questions as a middle-aged white male. Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure they’re helpful questions or if the answers would be enlightening. But I thought they were at least worth asking.
Like many great players before her, Shan is making a lot of mistakes. What’s interesting is that the edit is showing us Shan in all of her flawed glory. And in the end, it may be Shan’s ability to earn forgiveness for her flaws that ultimately defines her game.
A quick look at the missteps the edit has shown us:
** When Shan told Genie about Brad’s advantages, JD rightfully pointed out her hypocrisy around his extra vote. Yes, she had a rationalization for why it was okay for her to withhold information (“it was Brad’s to give”), but she didn’t come off well during the exchange.
** The level of passive aggressive sniping between Shan and Ricard was wildly out of control. It’s one thing to pressure Ricard until he returned the extra vote. It’s another thing to continue firing shots after she had the extra vote in hand. It’s also an open question whether or not she should have asked for it back at all; she certainly shouldn’t have done it right before Tribal, especially when they had done that to JD right before he went home.
SIDE NOTE: Shan assuring Ricard, “you get the next idol” — why include that if it isn’t going to come up? Is she going to get Liana to steal Xander or Naseer’s idol, have Liana give it to her, and then Ricard is going to ask for it? Or does Shan find another idol later in the game and refuses to give it to Ricard?
** In her haste to find out what advantage Liana got, Shan broached the topic in front of Tiffany. We saw this moment for one of two reasons, perhaps both: 1) Tiffany is going to share this information with other players, creating a potential “hold my idol/give it back” dynamic for Xander and Naseer … 2) To remind us that Shan, while playing a brilliant game, is not without her flaws.
It could be that we’re headed for a time when Shan’s mistakes come back to bite her — either on the way to the endgame or at Final Tribal — but for now, my working theory is that the producers are infusing some doubt into the edit. Until I see someone on my TV screen actively targeting Shan, that’s my read: Shan’s winning the game, and the only question is who’s sitting next to her.
Baker When he’s not blogging about
Survivor, Andy Baker helps run a Survivor-based LRG and is
podcasting about TV shows. Which is to say he spends
entirely too much time in front of the TV, typing on his
laptop and muttering about bad narrative decisions.
Andy can be found on twitter: @B13pod.