Getting yourself into a mess is a fact of life. Everybody does it. When playing Survivor, all players, even the best, do it. Some of them make really small messes that are easily rectified, but others find themselves in a hole due to making careless mistakes.
This week’s Historical Perspectives will look at how to recover from a mistake… and how to clean it up when everyone is making them right and left.
SURVIVOR 101: ERRORS HAPPEN
Even the best Survivor players make mistakes. At the final five of All-Stars, Boston Rob took his future wife on the last reward of the season, not knowing he was giving her a new car. He had a mess to clean when he got back to camp and did so by instigating a fight between Rupert and Big Tom to ensure the two of them would not align going forward. The plan worked and Big Tom was voted out unanimously. Kim Spradlin made a gaffe at the final eight of One World by winning a reward challenge she could have thrown (Majority Rules plus the coconut chop) meaning she had to pick two of her fellow femme fatales to join her while leaving the other three back at camp with Troyzan. It took serious damage control to herd her sheep, but Christina and Kat bought it, even if Alicia was not helping the cause with her trademark nasty sneer.
Boston Rob and Kim are considered two of the greatest players ever because of how they were able to remain well-liked despite clear strategic dominance, although in Rob’s case it took more attempts – and a cast with no significant opposition – to get that part down. Even so, they are not immune to making a mistake. While players of that caliber are able to recover from errors, not everyone is. Some players are unable to recover from a mistake made due to lack of accurate information and often get voted out because of them. Those that have no excuse for their errors get awarded Survivor Darwin Awards because not only did they get voted out solely because of that mistake, they teach a lesson for all future players to come. This is stuff like giving away immunity for no reason, blindsiding yourself, donating an idol to someone on the “Villains” tribe, telling your alliance you told the other tribe all the secrets, and making everybody distrust you by being a bonehead with your vote or information.
Not all mistakes are drastic. In Cagayan, Tony set a trap for LJ to get him to admit he’d vote Woo out if need be, then went and told Woo that LJ wanted him gone. Had LJ not fallen for Tony’s trap, he could have turned the alliance against their ridiculously paranoid cop by saying that Tony was overreacting and displaying less stability and therefore less trust. Instead, Tony blindsided LJ in the same episode. All it takes is one player saying the wrong thing and they’re history.
This episode was a complete disaster, with so many people making numerous mistakes that will not help them advancing farther in the game. Many of them could have rectified their games by not playing so sloppily. It reached almost epidemic levels of stupidity to the point that any remaining player except for Ashley could have made a mistake that ended their game. It is best to go over these one at a time…
CHRISSY: A BITTER PILL YOU SHOULDN’T SWALLOW
Chrissy’s big mistake was her vendetta against Ben and her inability to get over it. Upon returning from Tribal and realizing Ben was playing her for a fool, she got confrontational and told him off the same way she had the others after losing her puppy JP to an “epic” blindside. This is horrendous social play. She ruled out working with one of the final seven, which hampers her chances to make the end or, if she does, win jury votes. She should know this. She voted out an angry Ali, who had nuked her bridge with Ryan.
“Making people pay” is a foolhardy errand that distracts a player from the game they should be playing. It serves no purpose but to expedite your own ouster, unless you’re J’Tia and someone is being an even bigger moron. Had J’Tia not dumped the rice, Spencer Bledsoe would have been as forgotten as Spencer Duhm because Tasha and Chaos Kass would’ve seen J’Tia as more stable and trustworthy than the young lad. Instead, they saw her as petty and distracting and chose to move forward with someone who would be indebted to them.
Pettiness gets you nowhere in Survivor. Nina Poersch was a waste of a spot in Worlds Apart because instead of trying to make friends, she focused on making enemies. She needlessly argued with Jenn and Hali about not being invited to go skinnydipping. Jenn and Hali figured Nina, being twice their age, would say no. Since that assumption was correct, Nina had no reason to argue with them. Instead, she chose to be petty, even in exit press after they voted her out (after one failed attempt because a jerk switched his vote in a split). Another example is in Cook Islands, when Parvati, Candice, and Adumb made it a mission to outlast Penner as opposed to winning the game, but their chances against Yul and Ozzy weren’t good.
Chrissy’s choice to be petty instead of scheming for the future has ensured she won’t win the game. She continues to dig holes for herself, and the jury doesn’t hold her in very high regard, no matter what Devon says. Much like J’Tia and Nina, Chrissy made enemies when she should have made friends. There’s not much she can say to change the minds of jurors that already don’t like nor respect her.
The way you exact revenge is Twinnie-style, akin to how Natalie Anderson hid her vendetta against Jon Misch for taking out her closest ally Jeremy Collins in San Juan Del Sur. She knew if she rashly screamed for vengeance that she’d be voted out whenever Reed the rat wanted. She had to get rid of useful people to him first and used her enemy’s idol to do so. Once Wesley and Reed were gone, she knew it was time. It took an extra round due to Jon winning immunity, but she exacted her revenge and won the game in brilliant fashion (more on that later). Similarly, Chrissy should have secretly sharpened her knife to keep that option open since it’s necessary for her to move further the same way Jon was for Natalie.
BEN: DAMAGE CONTROL IS HOW YOU WIN OR LOSE JURY VOTES
Ben has gotten cockier as the game has continued, especially with pumping his fist whenever he gets his way with something big, like Lauren beating Cole in immunity or Joe getting voted out. Chrissy picked up on this tell and went on a tirade against him, and he escalated the situation instead of walking away after saying “That’s Survivor, Chris.” He had every chance to make her look worse than him if she was going to be shouting profanities at him and he was just taking it. This is why Hannah looked bad and Adam and Zeke looked fine after the Mari vote in Millennials vs. Gen X. At the same time, Parvati did not manage James well after blindsiding Ozzy in Micronesia and made sure he never trusted her again – or voted for her to win. Like James, Chrissy will not even consider voting to give Ben the cheque for a million dollars.
As many mistakes as Ben made by being condescending and sharing every bit of information, he made up for it – for now – by playing an idol he kept under wraps, making Survivor history by being the first to play an idol against a unanimous vote. However, he’s only enlarged his target further given how nobody can trust how he uses information, so he’s in a bind. He has to win the next two immunity challenges since everybody knows he’s winning if he makes the end, which would explain his protagonist edit.
Overall, Ben looked the best this episode because of his idol play, but because he looked the best, he’s the biggest threat right now. He’s going to struggle to recover from this without any sort of immunity. He needs to shift gears like Danni Boatwright from Guatemala and sneakily turn everyone else against each other. To do that, however, he needs to be immune at the final six, since everyone wants him out.
DEVON: THIS IS NOT BIG BROTHER
On Big Brother US, houseguests make deals all the time where they’ll throw the Head of Household competition in exchange for their safety at nominations (and likely that of an ally). On Survivor, except in occasional surprises where a man and a woman both win immunity, only one person gains safety each round and every single other person is able to be voted for at Tribal. To throw an immunity challenge is an asinine idea unless you’re observing a pattern of challenge winners getting voted in succession.
Devon had nothing to gain from making himself vulnerable. It would not have been shocking if he got the Clarence Black (Africa) treatment of getting voted out after that, but without the rock/paper/scissors. Clarence attracted attention to himself by being a glutton like Cole in an environment without many food resources (Kenya). Members of his alliance, especially Ethan, were itching to vote him out. The moral of that story is never under any circumstance willingly drop at the immunity challenge. The only exceptions are a final three scenario where you know you’re taking each other and when Probst bribes you with food and you haven’t won a food reward. Devon survived this vote, so he’s rectified this situation. While his excuse worked to build trust, Ashley was already his closest ally, so he didn’t gain anything except the respite of a shoulder massage.
DR. MIKE: FLASHINESS DOESN’T WORK IF YOU’RE STUPID
Dr. Mike is a flashy player who understands that the jury likes to see you own your moves in front of everyone, namely by doing things like Natalie Anderson’s game-winning idol play on Jaclyn at the final five of SJDS. The jury attributed the ensuing chaos to Natalie, chaos which allowed her to sneak into the final three. Dr. Mike thought torching Lauren’s loaner idol would similarly improve his résumé when put alongside his Statue of Liberty play. This is not the case because it’s not clear why he felt this to be necessary and it didn’t help his place in the game. It destroyed any chance he had of working with Lauren, yet for some reason, he still voted with her at Tribal! He burned her idol, but stuck with her? It makes no sense. Any juror worth a damn would need to ask him about that.
Russell Hantz was also a flashy player and one that got zero respect from most of his tribemates because none of them understood why it was necessary for him to be an ass. They grilled him at the Final Tribal Council because they wanted an explanation for why he needed to be so mean and instead got bullied even more by a self-proclaimed deity saying he was better than them. Conversely, when Tony Vlachos played in Cagayan, he was flashy and in-your-face, but his rash decisions were often smart and usually involved flaunting idols or lying that the Tyler Perry Idol’s special power was that it was good at the final four. The only questionable decision he made was flaunting his first idol at the legendary merge Tribal, which got Spencer to call an audible from the original Tony vote, leading to a misplay. It wasn’t necessary because Chaos Kass flipped, but nobody from Solana anticipated that.
Mike’s play is even more unnecessary as it burns his trust with the Rogue Knights – not just Lauren. They already questioned him with the Statue of Liberty play, but now they know he’s an erratic player who thinks he’s a genius – more akin to “basically a badass” Drew Christy than to a legend like Tony. Our sex doctor has made it deep but explaining himself to a jury will be very challenging. His moves seem erratic, impulsive, and inadequate for building trust, putting him in the back seat and letting Chrissy drive.
RYAN: IF YOUR SHIP IS SINKING, GET OFF
In a season full of people playing hard (but poorly), it’s smart to take a back seat and watch the others point fingers at each other while monitoring the situation for more information to help you in the near future. This is what Ryan is doing, but it’s only partially the correct strategy since he doesn’t have the relationships he needs to utilize that information effectively. Dr. Mike shot him down because Ryan had done the same too many times – and people aren’t going to go with someone they feel is unnecessary.
Going under the radar at this point is risky in that it lets others get the jury’s attention, but if done right it can allow the other threats to take each other out instead of recognizing someone like Ryan as a true threat. It worked for Queen Sandra in Pearl Islands, it worked for Natalie Anderson early merge, and it worked for her friend Jeremy Collins, who was always pinning the target on somebody else in late-game Cambodia. Ryan just needs to take credit for it. How he does that is up to him. Good luck, Ryan.
ASHLEY: IT’S TIME TO MAKE A MOVE
Ashley was the only Rogue Knight selected for the loved ones’ reward and won her second immunity, all while she looks to be in the best spot. Her only mistake was going quiet when Ben approached her group at the well, but luckily for her, her back was turned to him, so it wasn’t her tells he was reading. Also, two immunity wins can make someone a threat, so the lifeguard needs to keep her cool and be sneaky, but at the same time make one of those “Big Movez” they talk about so much. She’s looking at a runner-up finish at best (provided she’s up against likely zero vote-getter Chrissy) unless she can come alive and take over the endgame like she seems to want to do. If she can show the jury something like Adam Klein trying to vote David out in Millennials vs. Gen X, hero it up on a challenge streak like Worlds Apart’s Mike Holloway, or make a flashy play like Natalie Anderson; maybe she can win the game.
Some may criticize Ashley for stating Ben was in trouble at Tribal Council, but that’s not a big deal since Ashley knew that Ben knew that. Ashley has her finger on the pulse of the game better than Ryan does, which bodes well for her moving forward. She could pull off a Michele Fitzgerald and end up as a baffling winner over a superior opponent, provided she gets noticed like Michele did by winning challenges. However, making the end is a stretch goal, since Chrissy recognizes how good of a position Ashley is in.
LAUREN: FLAT IN HER COUP DE GRACE
Nobody made the same level of gaffes as Lauren did in this episode. Her giving half of her idol to Dr. Mike served no purpose whatsoever. Hello, you have an idol! Who cares about trust when you have three days to recover it? Had Lauren kept her idol, she would’ve played it immediately after Probst said Ben’s was legit. All hell would break loose and, unless Lauren had used her extra vote as a hinky on Ryan, we’d be looking at a 0-0 tie like the insanity of the final six in Cambodia. This is why you don’t share idols. Just look at what happened to Marty in Nicaragua when he “loaned” his idol to Sash – ouch!
Lauren also made the mistake of not recovering the moment Ben approached the rest of the Rogue Knights at the well. Ben was looking directly at her and Devon, and neither recovered quickly enough for Ben to pass it off as nothing. It was awkward. Devon tried to recover quicker than Lauren or Ashley, but Lauren had the most to lose because of an earlier error of digging up the idol with Ben – as Cole showed earlier this season, a terrible idea. Her telling him about the extra vote was fine given the circumstances, but she held onto that vote for too long. If an advantage or idol is common knowledge, it’s best to get rid of it to avoid expediting your target. And not with fire. Play it. And next time, keep it quiet! Public idols backfire unless they’re a Super Idol. Just look at Abi-Maria’s in Philippines, how Reed tried to blindside Jon in SJDS, or how Mike Holloway had to play his in Worlds Apart.
The fisherwoman’s torch was snuffed once she blew up her game. If her idol wasn’t out in the open, Ben might’ve pointed the finger at Ashley or Devon for scheming against him. If she doesn’t give the thing away for no reason, Dr. Mike would not have killed it with fire. Dr. Mike said it’s “like one of the stupidest moves ever in Survivor history” – and seeing as it directly cost Lauren the game, it’s unfortunately worth a Survivor Darwin Award. Shame, seeing as Lauren had played so well until this point.
In an episode where castaways saw their loved ones (despite putting more effort into hugging than into the “challenge”), it’s odd to see so many mistakes being made. Usually, loved ones clear the minds of the players and remind them of why they’re on Survivor and offer a strategic sounding board that will be completely honest and trustworthy. This often prevents mistakes of the caliber of the ones these players were making. It did not this time, and it’s hard to know why.
It’s hard to understand who will have the easiest time cleaning up the mess they made. Devon, Ryan, and Ashley look like the best bets at this point, though Ben has a shot in the unlikely event he does what Fabio and Mike Holloway pulled off. Whoever makes the fewest (or smallest) mistakes will make the final three with the best shot to win. Having a jury that understands your game goes a long way. It’s why Adam destroyed Hannah and why Sophie beat Coach – both played a game that the jury understood, in one case with preconceived notions and the other with a stellar Final Tribal Council performance. Who is best understood at this point is anyone’s guess since that has become hard to decipher due to all the mistakes being made, but whoever it is will be Survivor’s latest champion and millionaire.