While I consider myself a massive Survivor fan, it’s not usually how I open a conversation with someone I am meeting for the first time. When my liking the show does eventually come up (it always does), I have always been met with the same statement: “Haha, wait that show is still on? I used to watch it, but I don’t anymore.” You could potentially argue that Survivor’s premise is somewhat repetitive – castaways compete for a million dollars while surviving in the wilderness – but, after 32 seasons, it is clear that each season carves its own niche.
The events at the end of this most recent episode, what I’ll refer to as the #wow incident, is not only the thing that helps differentiate a season from the others, but it is also the thing that keeps drawing me back to a show that I have been hopelessly devoted to for over 15. Further, events like these are the way that you could easily lure someone back to/towards watching Survivor on a more permanent basis. When all is said and done, Survivor is fantastic because of how it tows the line, as Aubry put it in the most recent episode, between thinking and playing with your head or your heart.
While some people are rock hard for it, I did not receive a “Gaboner” from the events that occurred in the 17th season of Survivor, Survivor: Gabon. Backtracking a bit, I do think that Gabon had a very dynamic and diverse cast coupled with a visually spectacular locale, but when I view the season in its entirety, it falls flat in a few important facets. Without the second pre-merge tribe swap, I think it would have been worlds better, but I digress… In the middle of the Gabonian chaos lied a pin-up model nicknamed “Sugar”.
After spending five consecutive trips to exile island, Sugar was at the end of her emotional tether. She seemed to have tears on command like flipping a light switch, which can be somewhat excusable given that she was also dealing with the recent loss of her father. Her gameplay was erratic, to say the least, but she ultimately landed herself a spot in the final tribal council. Even if you consider Sugar an FTC goat that cannot possibly garner a single vote, her presence at a final tribal council makes her just as likely to win and gives her the opportunity to plead her case for the million.
At the final six, the writing was on the wall for Matty to be voted out, leaving Kenny and Crystal a somewhat clear path to the finals. After being compliant with Kenny and Crystal for a long time, Sugar hit the realization that “the good guys should win the game”, and decided to give Matty her idol, thus ensuring the elimination of disgraced Olympic medalist Crystal Cox.
Very much like Sugar, Tai has played a very complicated game. Initially well received by the members of Gondol, Tai quickly introduced paranoia when he was hyper-focused on finding the hidden immunity idol. Through winning challenges and an unfortunate evacuation, Tai was able to slide into the swap without ever facing a tribal council. Like Sugar, Tai voted out his seemingly closest ally (Ace for Sugar and Anna for Tai), to help preserve a chance to make the merge. Similarly, both Sugar and Tai, after the events of tribe swaps, were grouped with the people in power, despite not entirely agreeing with their stances and methodologies. Finally, while it occurred earlier in the season, Tai followed Sugar in turning on an alliance that included certain idol controversies.
In the battle between playing with your head or your heart, Tai’s wavering back to the “heart” side is likely the move that will cost him a million dollars. By doing so, he lost two to three strong allies, an idol, anonymity, and a safe position behind others. If Tai had been able to manage his emotions and choose to follow the brain-based logical strategic thinking, he would have an easy path to the final four.
Will Tai, a massive fan favorite who can point to some bigger moves as his own, likely lose the game? Yes. Will that anger some fans, especially casuals? Most definitely. Here’s the rub, though – if Tai loses the game, it’s his own fault. By getting to the final tribal, each person has a unique story that they can use to point towards the strengths of their game. Tai, who has wavered between using his head and his heart exclusively, could easily point towards his game in a very strategic and affirming light, but I don’t think he will. He has officially re-entered the mindset of playing with his heart, which doesn’t play well to a jury that is seeking quantifiable reasons for their ousting. I don’t imagine Tai facing a statement that comes close to Corinne’s attack on Sugar, but I do envision Tai becoming docile in the same manner.
Tai’s inevitable loss will be angering for many, many fans of the show, but it will do the game justice. As the book on Survivor: Kaôh Rōng closes and casuals retreat to whatever they do, the diehard fans (cough unlike Tai’s FTC performance if he get’s that far) will be able to point to this season as a great one that far exceeded expectations.
Cydney – With the former Brawn tribe men putting their focus on her, Cydney seems to have found a home in an alliance with Aubry and friends. Her physicality could present an issue when the alliance inevitably turns on itself, but her early and strong stance might signal otherwise.
Aubry – Aubry’s vulnerability and ability to connect with people has moved her into the forefront of the majority. While she is in a great position, it should be clear to most people that Aubry is a talented physical, social, and strategic player.
Julia – Julia has been playing both sides up until this point, which is a great game move. What isn’t a great move, however, is how obvious it has been. It might be in Julia’s best interest to think a step ahead and plan out what happens if/when Jason is gone and the alliance has to implode.
Michele – A subtle game has put Michele in a good position, yet it is hard to pinpoint exactly where her head is at. If you ask me, it is in Michele’s best interest to push for a Jason vote, while subtly planning out the next move.
Jason – With his closest ally and immunity idol out of the game, Jason appears to be alone. Now public enemy number one, Jason’s game lies on the ability of the remaining players to view someone as a pawn and not an enemy. With the majority of the jury firmly against Jason’s style of play, keeping Jason could provide perfect cover for getting a bigger threat out.
Tai – Tai’s big move is overshadowed by the fact that he is screwed. He has lost the trust of Jason’s side without gaining an alliance in return. Tai has played a good game, and people should recognize that, but this will eventually spell his demise.
Joe – With Joe on the right side of the numbers, I find it incredibly tough to imagine a world where he doesn’t skate by until the final stages of the game. For now, Joe just has to ride the majority’s coattails, and he should be safe.