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Historical Perspectives: Splitting The Cake (…Is A Lie)


Andy Pfeiffer travels back into Survivor history to look at the ideal time to split a vote.

There are times when a vote is split to avoid the highly probable idol play dooming one of the majority. This was one of those times, seeing as Michael had looked tirelessly for an idol at Malolo camp. However, a split leaves vulnerabilities – ones Michael tried to exploit using his former Malolo brethren Donathan and Laurel – that can be used to save the idol and blindside someone from the majority despite not actually having the numbers.

Today’s Historical Perspectives will examine whether or not Laurel and Donathan made the best decision in not going through with Michael’s plan and moving forward with the Naviti majority.

SURVIVOR 101: WHY YOU NEED TO SPLIT

When you have a majority that’s at minimum double the size of the minority, it’s best to split the vote in case one of the highly-motivated members of that minority has an idol. This became especially true in and after Cambodia when Kelley Wentworth, whom everybody had written off as improbable to have an idol, pulled one out and swept away nine votes that should have been split, stymying everyone and blindsiding Andrew Savage in fantastic fashion. They got careless and lazy and paid the price, allowing Wentworth to flip the game on its head. As a consequence, split votes occurred on the regular in the subsequent few Tribal Councils, many of which failed due to rather “flippant” behavior.

Had the Bayon majority split their votes 5-4, they needed two people to flip to the Witches’ Coven to doom them, but because they were lazy, they doomed themselves all the more. The reason they should have split is simple: They had a majority which had already voted together once and therefore established loyalty and, since the trepidation toward Big Movez™ was omnipresent, they could have reaffirmed that trust by orchestrating a split. It’s not as hard as they said it was. It takes less effort than an Immunity Challenge. It is because Wentworth played her idol that never again will an established nine-person majority neglect to split the vote in a merge situation.

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However, villainous-minded players can use the split to take advantage of the situation as cover to flip. Reed Kelly in San Juan Del Sur, for example, tried to flip to the guys using what was supposed to be a 3-3-3 split as cover. He failed because, once Keith Nale infamously uttered “Stick to the plan!” at Tribal Council, Natalie Anderson smelled a rat and forced Jon Misch to play his idol, even though he’d just betrayed her! This proved why women’s intuition should always be trusted since after both Jon and Keith played their idols, Keith’s son Wesley was sent packing with only two votes. The Cambodia cast could have been afraid of Keith letting his lips loose again, which is why you tell the less predictable players “We’re splitting the vote. Write ____ down.” Leave it at that. It’s not hard.

Of course, sometimes a moron will have other ideas. Tyson Apostol didn’t seem to care much in Heroes vs. Villains when he changed his vote to Parvati for no reason at all, only to blindside himself when Russell Hantz played an idol on her in one of the ballsiest plays in Survivor history. A similar disaster happened early in Worlds Apart for equally inexplicable reasons. This is why, unless you have no choice in a tribe of six, you should have a baseline of trust before you split the vote. That’s usually done by gaining a majority where you can split through voting together in the initial merge vote.

FAILING TO SPLIT

Natalie Anderson’s plan to split failed because Reed wanted to take over the game; when his plan failed, she promptly did so instead, leading the Fab Five to take him out. Reed had been hoping that he could have done what J.T. Thomas did early in Heroes vs. Villains when he backstabbed Cirie Fields, using Tom Westman’s idol and a 3-2-0 vote to blindside the great Cirie, then flip back and take command of the Heroes. Everybody knows how well that worked out for him.

Cambodia, however, is the best case study. After Wentworth blindsided everybody, including her allies, idol paranoia ran rampant in that season. In the very next vote, Stephen Fishbach flipped the tables and, desperate to suck the Golden Boy’s blood but unable to do anything due to him having immunity, took out Joe’s closest confidant Kelly Wiglesworth. Fishbach used the Witches Coven and allies Jeremy Collins and Spencer Bledsoe to foil the split plan meant to send Wentworth home. Jeremy would flip and foil another split the following vote, using one of his two idols to save Fishbach. The following vote, however, was yet another split failure, when Fishbach stealing Joe’s vote and making him vote for himself blew up in his face when Spencer backstabbed him by returning to the Witches’ Coven. There wasn’t enough room for more than one nerdy superfan, after all.

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The Lavita plan can be compared to either the Wentworth idol play, also at 12 and a precedence for the necessity of the split, and to the Fishbach vote-out in terms of effect. Had Laurel and Donathan flipped on an established alliance with Domenick and Wendell, they would have found themselves alienating the Naviti group the same way Libby and James already had by viciously blindsiding Morgan – the move that cost them both the game. Once Spencer betrayed Jeremy, Jeremy was leery of him and, though they bonded by having been left out of the loved ones’ visit, his go-to person to pin the target on was always Spencer. Domenick would have been similarly leery of Laurel and Donathan after they’d done such a thing twice. Like he knew Libby was inauthentic after what she did to someone she became friends with quickly, he would have known the two of them were liars all the same and promptly voted them out.

The merge at 11 in Blood vs. Water brought together two potential alliances for Tyson, Gervase Peterson, and Monica Culpepper. They could either go with their Singles Alliance back from Galang and vote out Aras Baskauskas or go with the pairs of Aras/Vytas and Tina/Katie. The pairs decided to split the vote between Laura Morett and her daughter Ciera Eastin, knowing they had numbers and fearing that Laura found the idol (Tyson had). Tyson, Monica, and Gervase had to pick a side and stick to it – they recruited Laura, Ciera, Hayden, and the late Caleb Bankston (RIP) to dethrone Sir Aras, who had gotten quite cocky. This was essentially the same idea that Michael had for Malolo, to counter a split with a new grouping when the majority thought nothing could go wrong. The Coconut Bandits had five people in total without loved ones still in the game plus the two that the Baskauskas Brothers were targeting, which gave them seven total – more than Malolo could hope for, though five was still enough to make it 5-4-3.

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It’s also worth noting that Michael, who had no power, was trying to dictate who the target was without input from his other allies. Beggars can’t be choosers – it was Michael’s sloppy play that forced him to play the idol in such unspectacular fashion. He incited the split upon himself much like Fishbach did in Cambodia the round he was saved by Jeremy, by being secretive about a publicly known advantage and by instigating the prior move. Had he approached Angela better, had Angela and Des not been certain he had the Malolo idol, had he not insisted that Laurel vote out someone freely giving her information, and had he not made it clear he was so close with Libby, Michael might not have needed to play his idol. Instead, he has an imminent bulls-eye on his back and it shan’t be long before an arrow pierces its center. If the split had failed, Naviti would come back together and Pagong the five Malolo with ease.

THE LAST KEYS TO THE SPLIT

You can’t split the vote without numbers, and Naviti needed the votes of Laurel and/or Donathan to pull it off, preferably both in case someone got the wrong idea. It is commonplace in the early merge that such a split necessitates minority votes – something that has been the case since Alex Angarita voted his buddy Mookie off to save his own skin in Fiji. That vote prompted the strategy of having the two targets vote for each other a la Susie Smith and the late Dan Kay, Jr. (RIP) in Gabon in what was never really shown as a split. In Micronesia, Erik Reichenbach didn’t really have a choice but to go with the Black Widows’ plan to vote out Jason Siska, as even if he somehow got Jason to play his idol and send Parvati home in a 3-2-0 vote, there’d still be four girls left and all of them would be out for his blood.

The first true occurrence of using a minority tribe to orchestrate a split was the merge vote in Tocantins, delayed to the Final 9 per Joe Dowdle’s MedEvac. Brendan Synnott was overconfident that his mind waves were plenty to keep Taj Johnson-George and Fishbach on the same page as him, but he was mistaken since neither possessed the same powers as he. The Jalapão Three joined the Tyson-led Timbira group and split the vote 4-3-2 to dare Brendan to play his idol. He did not and was sent packing, realizing that he’d been a fool. Colby Donaldson and Rupert Boneham foiling Russell’s vote split by throwing their votes on Candice aside, this did not recur until the mess of a merge vote in Philippines, where all three tribes teamed up against the two they’d branded a rat and a snake.

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A Cambodia example is the merge vote when Bayon utilized Ta Keo free agents Spencer and Wiglesworth to split the first vote; Wentworth, fearing she was the secondary target, piggybacked off of this and wrote Kass down for self-preservation. Though Spencer did not want to participate in voting out someone who had just spared him the episode prior, he had no choice but to go along with the plan or be ostracized from the numbers. Similarly, in Game Changers, once Fan Favorite Sierra Dawn Thomas was convinced that Hali Ford needed to go if she was thought to have an idol, the Nuku majority split the vote between Hali and Michaela Bradshaw. Cirie had Michaela vote for decoy target Zeke Smith to cover up that the two were working together.

Laurel and Donathan went along with the majority plan, valuing their Naviti allies over Michael and Libby. This is a similar predicament to Spencer and Michaela, as if they succeeded in removing a Naviti (even if not Wendell), Malolo would still be down 6-5, and Naviti would be burned enough to wish to remove one of the two of them. By siding with Naviti, they allow themselves to sneak into the background and be key soldiers in the battles ahead – soldiers that may gain enough power to stage an uprising later. Had they not sided with what would still be the majority afterward, they would not have made endgame under any circumstances. Spencer’s runner-up finish in Cambodia and Michaela being in a prime spot until the vote stealer did her in, show that toeing the line and proving your loyalty early in the merge can be highly “beneficerary” to both the short-term and long-term game.

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THE VERDICT

Laurel and Donathan made the right call. It’s too early to remove one of your best options for a final four alliance and, in doing so, anger six people still left in the game when you only have five. Taking out Wendell would have only developed the “Naviti Strong” mentality further and made it Orange vs. Purple in a situation where the odds would not be good for Orange. Soon, they’ll fade into the void like Chris Noble’s rap. What the hell, CBS?

Simply put, foiling a split is never a good maneuver if it does not grant you a majority in the next vote. Fishbach learned this when his buddy Jeremy played an idol on him. Given how the Ghost Island narrative has been about a battle between Naviti and Malolo, there’s almost no likelihood that Laurel and Donathan betraying Wendell would have divided the Naviti group at all. Instead, Michael’s poor play will put a massive target on his back that he will be unable to escape from without more firepower or immunity. Laurel and Donathan may participate in his downfall. As long as it ain’t me, right?


Andy is a 30-year-old from Wisconsin, having an English major from UW-Whitewater. He has watched Survivor from the very first episode and can't go a day without running Survivor-related thoughts in his head. When he's not entranced by a computer at home or work, he's probably playing a video game or out and about somewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @IAmAndyPfeiffer.