As many of you know, I'm a strategy junkie. I love seeing players plot out a plan ahead of time, then execute it, while being flexible enough to make adjustments on the fly. Think of Rob Cesternino deciding to make strong relationships with everyone, and switching alliances when needed in The Amazon. I also enjoy seeing players who know their strengths and weaknesses well enough to depend on improvising moment to moment to not only keep themselves safe, but in good standing for a win. Think about Cirie who made three deep runs with this style. Then there are those who are just naturally talented for playing Survivor, like Earl.
But the new, twist-heavy, faster-paced, 26-day New Era Survivor has at times inhibited savvy strategists from launching long-term strategies. This has been reflected in the four winners. All four of them (Erika, Maryanne, Gabler and Yam Yam) simply kept their heads low for most of the game. Only Yam Yam showed a consistent skill for knowing how to adjust on the fly.
So who are the standout strategists playing this season?
Kaleb had some strong ideas, like embracing Emily when she fell to the bottom, and trying to do the same with Bruce. But as smooth as he appeared to be, Kaleb ultimately came on too strong, and stood out as a social threat. Killing it physically in the challenges didn't help him either. He managed to convince everyone to vote for him.
I thought Sabiyah showed some early promise. Even though she was taken out in part to a Producer-forced twist, she still ignored pretty clear signs she shouldn't have been so willing to share information with Emily.
Julie seems to be fitting the mold of all four New Era winners. She's happy to stay in the background letting the aggressive players take each other out. But she looked like a deer in headlights when Sifu asked if she voted for him. I think she'll crack under pressure.
I have been impressed with Dee's on-the-spot adjustments. Keeping her mouth shut and letting J. Maya take the heat during Sifu's interrogation reminded me of how Sandra let Christa take the fall for losing Rupert's fish in Pearl Islands. Christa got voted out and Sandra won the game. We just saw J. Maya leave. Can Dee duplicate the Queen's first coronation?
I've also liked Kellie's game. She was pressured a bit during the Amulet vs Sandwich negotiations, but managed to wriggle off the hook. Austin seemed much more upset at J.Maya than at Kellie. She's got a lot of flexibility since all of her original Belo tribemates still want to work with her. Austin is the only one who wanted her gone (so his Amulet can become an Idol), but Kellie just might savvy enough to sniff out his plot and flip it on him.
Everyone else seems to be too open with information about their trinkets and strategy for me to give them strategic props yet. Austin has some power, but everyone knows what he's got. Drew seems determined to share everything he knows - which could also hurt his partners. Emily is improving, but she's just too up front and blunt about confronting people to maintain trust. Katurah spends too much time off by herself, Jake seems ready to pass out once each episode, and Kendra has less of a poker face than Julie.
That leaves us with Bruce and Sifu. Neither one seems to know just how annoying they really are, which makes them ideal competitors for 3rd place, zero-vote finalist status. Just the same, one of them will likely leave soon. But with a split squad episode with two people leaving, we could lose both of them. Now that would make the rest of the game pretty interesting.
With two people leaving tonight, its safe to say everyone's ability to scramble and adjust will be tested. Who can think fast on their feet?
And away we go ....
Bruce and Katurah are all over the "previously on" recap. I think that's bad news for Katurah.
The new tribe name is "Dakuwaku???"
Kaleb is trying to smooth-talk his way through the fallout. He still doesn't know how he's perceived.
Bruce is annoying, but confronting Katurah about wanting to protect Kaleb was very smart. She had no idea how to react. I'm not sure what she should have done (maybe just straight out lie?), but she clearly didn't think fast on her feet.
Katurah: "Bruce was trying to isolate me." No, you did a pretty good job of doing that all by yourself. But Kendra realizes if Bruce will do that to Katurah, he'll do that to anybody. Now I really want to know how Kellie and Jake feel about Bruce and Katurah.
Katurah to Kaleb: "Bruce flipped on you immediately at the merge feast." Kaleb won't want Katurah gone, but his word won't go far with anyone else but Emily.
Kellie: "I'm over Bruce, but he trusts me. I'm happy to keep him in this game." More bad news for Katurah.
Emily: "If I stick my neck out for Kaleb, that shifts the target from him to me. I'm resigned to letting him go." You see Kaleb? This is why I said you shouldn't make long term plans with Emily.
Austin to Emily: "If I let Kellie go, everyone will know I have an Idol." Maybe you shouldn't have told everybody all about your trinkets.
Wow, Bruce and Sifu are literally competing to be the most annoying.
Bruce sure sounds condescending when comparing Kaleb to his son throwing an interception. Props to Kaleb for not getting angry in the moment, but his time is better spent working on other players.
Yeah, Jake did hurt his ankle at the last challenge. He can barely walk now.
Kellie to Bruce: "Don't spill info to everyone." Bruce: "Its not out of malice." Kellie: "Its low-keyness." No Kellie, its a complete lack of subtlety. Now it feels like Bruce is talking himself out of the game.
Kellie: " Its his way, or the highway. I like Bruce as a person, but as a player he's so difficult." Yeah, its time to cut Bruce loose.
The tribe name is "Ducko Quacko?"
I remember this challenge. Ozzy was undefeated on this one, and bragged he could easily beat Tai at it in Game Changers. Ozzy inspired Tai to the win, then Ozzy got blindsided.
Ok, so if the first one booted tonight misses the Jury, why do both groups have to go to Tribal separately? The second group won't know who got voted out, so it's not like when Drea and Maryanne were so affected by seeing two Black players on the Jury. Why not let the second group watch the first Tribal Council?
Bruce and Katurah are on separate teams. We could see both of them leaving tonight.
My money is on Dee and her outrageously large toes. Jake and his sore ankle don't have a chance.
As Kellie pants and adjusts her grip, Probst says "Kellie looks very comfortable." Are we watching the same challenge?
Bruce is clapping while Katurah is slipping off her pole.
Yeah, Dee has got this one. She looks like she could take a nap up there.
Dee wins it all! (but I don't make predictions).
Normally, the winner of the first Individual Immunity Challenge puts a nice fat target on their back, but this doesn't happen as much when there are two winners. In Nicaragua, Fabio and Jane both won. Jane finished 6th, and Fabio won the million. Denise and Carter both won in Philippines. Denise won the million, and Carter finished 6th.
Probst to Kellie: "What is the feeling? I know you're in pain." If you knew she was in pain, why ask her what the feeling is? I hate when Probst asks that question.
Dee: "My big toes helped me out today." Damn right they did!
Dee is safe, and everybody knows Austin has trinkets. Its 3 vs 3, which means Julie is getting votes. This one could be a tie vote between Julie and either Kaleb or Katurah. Kaleb doesn't have his Shot in the Dark, so he seems to be the likely target for the 3 Reba.
The new tribe name is "Cabo Wabo?"
Winning team feast. If I'm there, I'm pretending to go for a taco when I'm actually looking for an Idol clue.
Bruce is an obvious target, but he has an Idol. Drew, you left your Safety Without Power at camp? When will people learn? Take all your shit with you! Didn't you watch Matt get taken out last season when he forgot his bag? Tonight would have been a great night to use it. You're not close with Sifu anyway, so its not like you'd be bailing out on a trusted partner. Emily might be upset, but she already knows you have that Advantage (I think), and she has no other options but to stick with you, especially if Kaleb leaves too.
Bruce wants Kendra gone? This is another reason you don't want Bruce as an ally. Kellie should cut Bruce loose. He requires too much maintenance. He's like Abi-Maria in that regard.
Dee: "I don't think anything is gonna go wrong tonight." Uh-oh, that's not a good sign for Dee's game. I think she's gonna lose Julie now. She's not reading Jake correctly. He thinks she's giving him orders.
This is something new. We're seeing the Tribal Council votes way ahead of Tribal Council. Would you call this a Flash Forward instead of a Flashback? The TV show LOST did that to great effect. Now we know from their clothing that Kaleb is voting for Julie, and Dee is voting for Kaleb.
Kaleb tells Katurah about Bruce's Idol, and she immediately knows she's on the bottom of the Belo alliance. Kaleb just gave Katurah a great reason to flip. If she goes to the Rebas with this info and joins them, she's got a shot at moving up in their alliance. She knows she's not moving up on Belo because none of them told her about Bruce's Idol until they absolutely had to. Bad move, Kaleb.
Now Katurah knows from Kaleb and Jake that the entire tribe lied to her about Bruce's Idol hunt. And of course, she's considering voting for Kaleb. Katurah, this is why you shouldn't have spent so much time off by yourself. Kaleb thinks his delayed show of loyalty will be returned? I think he's in for a surprise. Like Rob C. always says "Favors aren't returned on Survivor."
The new tribe name is "Antoine Fuqua?"
Kellie thinks nobody will bring Bruce to the end? Maybe she's not as good a strategist as I thought she was. He's an ideal finals goat because nobody will vote for someone who is that annoying ... unless he changes his name to Gabler.
Kellie: "Sifu's jury vote is unpredictable." Well, maybe she's still pretty sharp. That's a great reason to keep him off the Jury.
Drew: "We can get Bruce out, but that requires Kendra to keep her nerve." I say there's zero chance of that happening.
Kellie: "Working with Bruce is the worst part of my game." That's why you should cut him loose. The goal should be to make your path to the end easier, not harder. If you boot Bruce later and he's on the jury, you have no shot at his vote if he blames you.
Ok, Bruce vs Sifu. This should be good. Whose argument will be more annoying? Kellie says Bruce is stifling the whole game. Malcolm said the same thing about Phillip in Caramoan, but Phillip didn't have an Idol.
Kendra looks terrified.
Napoleon Dynamite looks like he wants everyone to vote for Pedro.
The best factor in making Bruce feel safe is Sifu's obvious paranoia.
If I were Bruce, and Kendra started talking to me out of the blue, that would seal my decision to play my Idol. Its the only way to guarantee you'll stay in the game.
Bruce holds on to his Idol, and Sifu is gone. Drew got rid of his undependable headache. Drew's game got a little easier, and Kellie's game got a little harder.
So Tribal group #2 has no idea Sifu is gone. Why did it matter who went to Tribal second again?
Julie: "You have to invest in each other for that trust to matter." That's a great line to convince Katurah to flip, but I don't think Julie intended it that way.
Kaleb: "Last Tribal, I got 12 votes." I guess only a couple of people know Austin didn't vote. Maybe somebody CAN keep a secret this season.
Katurah: 'Its coming down to who talked to me, and how do I feel about them?" I think Katurah's is the only vote that matters here.
Two minutes left. I guess there's not a tie vote.
Dee: "We could have worked together, but you burned that bridge." Kaleb, that's why you don't call people out publicly.
Bye, Kaleb. He's totally shocked too. He thought he had Katurah in his pocket, but he lost her when she found out he withheld info about Bruce's Idol. I knew that was a bad idea.
The Survivor Auction returns next week? I'm underwhelmingly surprised.
I'm gonna pat myself on the back and say I called Kaleb's boot even before the game began. In the off season, I wrote a column about the Alpha Male style of play, and pointed out how those who use this style usually finish right around 10th place. And Kaleb comes along and falls into every Alpha Male trap I wrote about. Hooray for me. Its like today is my birthday.
(It really is my birthday, by the way.)
But then again, I was totally wrong about thinking the Bruce vs Katurah battle would end tonight.
Sifu never really connected with anyone. I'm not sure where he thought he was playing Survivor, but it wasn't with the 17 other players in Fiji. He never got on the same page with anyone, and in a social game, that's a recipe for disaster. His ego told him he was a threat, but reality said he was an expendable annoyance.
In different ways, everything Kaleb and Sifu did set up the conditions for their failures, with the exception of Kaleb bonding with Emily.
If Kaleb was intending on depending on Katurah long term, he never should have let her know he lied to her. I guess he didn't watch how Jesse played the game with Cody in Survivor 43. Jesse withheld info from Cody all game long. That's why he was able to blindside Cody at final 6. Most players are gonna think about your motivation for lying to them. Katurah realized Kaleb never valued her as much as she valued him. She couldn't forgive the betrayal.
The outlook for Katurah doesn't look that great, but it might be better to start over at final 10, than stick with someone likely to cut you loose at any moment.
What is it so many Survivor players say? "I gotta get them before they get me."
So who is gonna get it next week? Will Austin pay the price for telling everyone about his trinkets? Will the desire to bring Bruce to the end mean Katurah will be cut loose? Can Dee maintain her cover, or is Austin right about her threat level rising? Is Emily the safest player in the game as the last Lulu? Let me know in the comments.