The vote just before the merge is a critical time in Survivor gameplay; you need to decide who you’re going to move forward with and who’s the biggest risk to your game – provided your hunch is right that the merge is actually looming. If it’s wrong, you might not get there either – or you might lose another ally that could be beneficial to you. If it’s correct, the merge vote will decide whether or not you made the right call – and if it was horribly wrong, you’ll find yourself at Ponderosa very quickly.
This week’s Historical Perspectives will examine whether or not Domenick and Chelsea made the right choice in voting out Naviti member Bradley over Libby from Malolo.
SURVIVOR 101: THE MERGE IS COMING!
Traditionally, the merge in Survivor is when ten people remain in the game; the first deviation from this occurred in Thailand when production faked a merge by invoking the One World twist, punking the entire final ten. The first time the tribes did not come together at ten was in All-Stars, when a surprise second swap – if you’d call it that – rustled feathers with a merge awaiting with nine people left. It wasn’t until Samoa that the merge occurred with over ten people left, and Heroes vs. Villains was the only subsequent season to have a merge at ten.
The merge tends to occur around Day 19 or 20, the halfway point. This usually means around 12 or 13 people in a 20-person season (as has been the case in every such season after Heroes vs. Villains, except Blood vs. Water due to its Day 1 twist), 10 in a 16-person season, and 11 or 12 in an 18-person season. Using precedence is critical to determine when to be paranoid about – and to begin preparing for – the merge. The vote immediately prior is critical since it determines who will move forward – and if you have a mouth you need to hush for good, that’s the ideal time. The merge vote is when the final loyalties of the game are established and at times it’s necessary to prevent loose lips from getting there in the first place. For example, Ryan Ulrich absolutely had to ditch Ali Elliott last season after he’d burned her with a fire strong enough to temper the knives coming for him.
But what if that’s the best time to cut an ally? The only reason to ever take out an ally at that point is if you believe they have greener grasses outside your alliance. Like how Deena Bennett had to cut Shawna in Amazon once she cuddled too close with Alex Bell – a move that, since Rob Cesternino and Matteo von Ertfelda were on board, Jenna Morasca had to go along with since Shawna wasn’t worth risking a rock draw. In Heroes vs. Villains, Parvati and Russell knew they had Danielle and Jerri, so it came down to voting out Courtney or Queen Sandra. They chose to cut Courtney since they knew she would flip to Amanda and J.T., whereas there was doubt that Sandra would flip to Rupert. While neither was a true ally to that faction, they knew the last pre-merge vote has to be used to get rid of somebody likely to flip. Of course, that didn’t happen in Redemption Island, when the Zapatera idiots kept schemer David Murphy over the loyal Sarita White, only to be schooled by the Robfather blindsiding a nimrod then named Matt Elrod.
If a swap occurred, the vote before the merge is a perfect time to throw an immunity challenge if you have a majority and the ability to get rid of someone duplicitous that fell into your lap. In China, both tribes used the awful swap format of stealing two members from each other to remove a figurehead from the other tribe that would never be with them going forward. This strategy didn’t appear in the edit again until the number of seasons had doubled, when Rodney Lavoie in Worlds Apart suggested Escameca throw the challenge to 1) save blue blood Kelly Remington and 2) get rid of someone who would go running back to Nagarote in a merge. Mike Holloway then messed everything up.
Domenick has admitted that he had no intention to win that challenge. He figured it didn’t matter – he’d wanted Libby out ever since Morgan got blindsided (grr), and he had two loyal Naviti soldiers, so it was easy enough. And yet… he didn’t do that, possibly because it was almost too easy and, in Survivor, you “have to make Big Movez™ to win the game.” Dom and Chelsea should have known that was bollocks, unless Chelsea was insistent that Bradley had to go like Bradley thinks was probably the case. There’s also the belief that Domenick was paranoid that it was Bradley’s mission to get “the parents out” and Donathan lied to him that Bradley had admitted it. Absolutely brilliant.
Voting Libby out was simple, like with Ali last season – an easy vote to get rid of someone who made her displeasure transparent. It also draws comparison to Alexis Maxwell in Cagayan, who, with confirmation from Morgan McLeod and Jeremiah Wood, made it clear she had greener grasses with LJ and Jefra. Once the swapped tribes became the factions, voting her out was the correct decision since Alexis would have flipped and nobody had reason to believe that Chaos Kass was even less trustworthy. Libby is the same way with Laurel and especially Michael, so why would she ever stick with Naviti? She has to know that there are at least six people above her. She may have a purple edit, but her blood is orange.
Liz Kim in Samoa was voted out since Russell did not trust her after she interrogated him about his idol. This move worked wonders for him since he could have won it all if he had not been such an arrogant ass – and he was probably right that Liz would’ve flipped (because he was an ass). Another example is Bobby “Bob Dawg” Mason in Exile Island, who his Casaya tribemates, particularly Danielle DiLorenzo, were afraid of being disloyal in the merge. Bob Dawg was closer to Austin and Nick than Aras, making him more likely to flip and, once he got himself plastered on the tribe’s reward wine, the Casaya women didn’t care that he’d won them that very reward and voted him out in a 3-2-1-1 mess two rounds before the merge hit. When they already don’t trust you, don’t give them a reason to despise you, too, DAWG.
There’s also the possibility Bradley had shown signs of disloyalty toward Chelsea that the edit didn’t show, but the rock-solid Naviti Five on Malolo 2.0 makes that unlikely. A fitting example of the outcome of voting out such a person, given the resurfacing of two relics from that season, is in Micronesia. Survivor legends Amanda Kimmel and Cirie Fields were weighing the two options: The devil they knew in Ami Cusack versus the devil they didn’t in Erik Reichenbach. They ultimately recognized that Ami had never really been their ally and voted her out, the right move given how they were later able to guilt trip Erik hardcore into benefiting Wendell this season (how do you hide that thing?). Bradley was never really Chelsea’s ally, but he was Domenick’s – so why didn’t Domenick think to burn Chelsea? Libby and Donathan would have loved to be the swing votes. But Libby is far more of an Ami to both Domenick and Chelsea than Bradley ever would be – she’s got allies to run to.
Let’s start with the most obvious comparison. On a beach in the Pearl Islands, a man named Lex van den Berghe decided to singlehandedly implode his game by voting out his friends – the season was All-Stars, and since only 112 people had played Survivor at that time, everyone on that season knew each other well. For some inexcusable reason, Lex voted out Colby Donaldson and Ethan Zohn – two of his best buds from the show and ideal meat shields any player would kill for – for reasons unknown. “Strategy,” he explained it. He knew Jenna Lewis was on a mission to destroy all the winners and had wanted Ethan out, yet he did the deed for her when he didn’t need to. Colby and Ethan were also more intimidating challenge threats than Lex, which was strangely part of the reason Lex wanted them gone.
Then the swap happened. Though it was justifiable that Lex believed another friend of his, he made himself out to be the “dumbest Survivor ever” at the time by voting out Jerri Manthey – and telling her, no less – over his buddy’s future wife, solely because he wanted Boston Rob’s protection. When the merge hit a round later, Boston Rob did the exact same thing Lex had done to Ethan and Jerri and told Lex that it wasn’t going to happen, retconning his own words into an “if” statement. Because he had eliminated two people who would be targets before him and someone who was more aligned with him than Amber ever would be, Lex found himself the first member of the jury.
This is no different for Domenick and Chelsea. By taking out Bradley, someone known to have annoyed multiple people in the game, they’re taking away a person who could divert the attention from themselves to keep in someone confirmed to be loyal to a guy on the other tribe (in Libby’s case, it’s Michael). Domenick ought to have known that Malolo hated Bradley for his incessant whining and blowing smoke on the water, plus that he’s in a pair with Kellyn makes him a greater threat. And Chelsea could have just continued her under-the-radar game and let Bradley take the heat; instead, she’s attracting attention to herself too early by being the one to put a knife in Bradley’s back, however long she had actually been brandishing it.
Mike Holloway in Worlds Apart messed Rodney’s plans up to target Joaquin, since, like Domenick, Mike wanted to split up pairs. This was comparable since Rodney and Joaquin would have been with Mike for at minimum the first two votes of the merge, much like Bradley and Kellyn would have been for Domenick. While the threat was there down the line, it’s not an immediate threat. To Mike, Joe Anglim was the only stronger overall challenge beast and someone who would never be loyal. Joaquin could always have been discarded at the Final 10 using the remaining No Collars to do so. Libby, while she’ll appreciate being saved, has no loyalty to Domenick because he never trusted her. Her top priorities are her friends from Malolo, much like Joe’s were Jenn and Hali. Voting Joaquin out caused Rodney to go on a vendetta against Mike – one that would have succeeded had Mike not won immunity like a machine. Domenick doesn’t have the badass certification that Mike does. He’s not going on a challenge streak. He’s in deep trouble with Kellyn against him, much like Mike was with Rodney against him.
Another recent example was in Millennials vs. Gen X, when Jay Starrett thought Michaela Bradshaw diagraming her game plan with shells somehow made her untrustworthy. She told him that he was in her final four plans, but for some reason, he didn’t like her calling the shots. In reality, that’s a very good thing for Jay – it would take the heat off of him like Bradley would for Domenick and Chelsea. Jay’s friends started dropping like flies early in the merge, and though Jay DID have an idol, the others first chose the innocuous Michelle Schubert to avoid him playing it correctly, but he didn’t even use it on himself. Had Jay taken out Uncle Bret or Aunt Sunday on the prior vote, he might have had TWO more friends at the merge – Michaela and Hannah, who was shell-shocked by that blindside and, aside from him pulling the Alex Angarita move and voting out his unintelligent and oblivious buddy Taylor to save his own ass (and his idol), never voted with Jay again.
Jay knifing Michaela ruined his chances, and though he got far in the game, it was because over half of that cast was a threat in some way or was an obnoxious glutton. People were tired of Taylor because he stole their food and they knew it… and they voted him out despite thinking he’d only stolen HALF of what he actually did! Not only would Bradley be the annoying distraction that Taylor was, but he also would be the same type of figurehead Michaela could have been for Jay. Jay was always a target in the merge of his season, yet eluded capture many a time even without playing the idol everyone knew about. Like Jay could’ve kept Hannah loyal, keeping Bradley would do the same thing with Kellyn for Domenick. Now, she has every reason to question him… or vote Chelsea out next to flush Dom’s idol that everyone knows about.
Domenick and Chelsea analyzed this from all sides, but in the end, it was likely Chelsea’s decision since she had never liked Bradley, a feeling exacerbated by his being more deprived making him increasingly more insufferable. Once Domenick felt that Bradley was gearing up for a coup later, he thought it was the best move for him, too. That’s probably not the case: It’s certain that Kellyn is going to be infuriated at seeing Bradley voted out like Hannah was after seeing Michaela punch a tree. It’s going to attract attention from everyone that Chelsea and Domenick were willing to vote Bradley out – attention that Bradley himself would have drawn had he been there. Bradley wasn’t a threat, but rather a known ally who would serve as a shield because nobody’s going to play an idol on someone that whiny.
While Bradley’s downfall made for a crazy blindside that was somewhat satisfying television, Domenick is not there to make good bleeping TV; he’s there to win a million bucks. Chelsea was more likely drinking the “Big Movez™” Kool-Aid and got overeager to get rid of someone who grated on her, thinking he might turn on her first in a merge. For both of them, the best option was to ditch Libby and to target Bradley in a few rounds. Not only had Libby’s duplicitous nature already come out when Domenick lost his closest ally in a vicious blindside, but Domenick deduced that she had a Parvati toolset – the ability to add a hint of charm to convince people to do things they shouldn’t – and had struggled to get any solid obligations out of her. It is this lack of a direct reply that makes Libby dangerous to him. Chelsea ought to be concerned, too, seeing as Libby was more than willing to quickly backstab somebody she connected with once before. What did Bradley do to make him less trustworthy than that?