As Cara would say, we have reached the pointy end of the game: there is no longer time to target someone next round or to hide behind meatshields. If you don’t carefully consider your moves, your choice of who (or who not) to vote out might be winning or losing the game for you. The scramble between the original Brains tribe members after Flick won immunity exemplified this. The choice George and Cara made wasn’t just about who was going home in this episode but about improving their chances of making it to the final two.
Before we get to the nitty-gritty, I think it’s wise to comment on the looming role of the jury. Survivor is a unique game in how it flips the perspective right at the end and hands the eliminated contestants the responsibility of picking a winner. First and foremost, it adds the dynamic to the game where any castaways need to be voted off in such a way that they don’t hold it against you. It’s not good voting someone off in such a way that they will never consider awarding you the title of Sole Survivor.
Furthermore, having a jury means THEY define what a winning game is, not the finalists. It’s a bit like the opposite of going to a movie. Instead of picking out something you want to see—something that you think will be interesting and worth watching—you need to guess what the audience wants to see and then tell that story to them. Sometimes the jury and finalists are on a similar page—they want a story of an underdog overcoming the odds. Other times there are differences—the jury wants a story about friendship and personal growth while the finalists have prepared action-packed tales filled with twists and turns.
Success at this final stage means being able to anticipate what the jury wants in a winner and then getting yourself to the end with someone who can’t tell that story better than you. The jury has every right to select who they think best represents their season of Survivor, and no amount of Tribal Ccouncil speeches (or Twitter outrage) can change that.
Take someone like George for example. He might be a narrator who can talk himself out of a cardboard box, but his strategic ability has outweighed his social skills at camp. The gentlest of all castaways, Wai, pointed out to him that sometimes he is a little mean. Cara has had to actively coach George on interacting with castaways. George’s strategic resume is a mile long, but that will be little use to him if the jury wants a better social game in its winner.
Someone like Cara is the opposite. She’s formed strong bonds with other castaways, but strategically, she’s been in the shadow of George. Her strongest strategic move was aligning with him to begin with! Even though Cara proved her willingness to break from George to get ahead in the game, it came just a little too late, and she now finds herself on the jury.
Cara and George have been a formidable duo. Separated for only a short time in the pre-merge, they have moved together through the game. While the spotlight has been on George as the leader dragging Cara along, I think that Cara’s social standing has been indispensable to his game. George would never have been pulled into an alliance with the original Brains if Cara hadn’t paved the way for them both. George’s secret agent antics were bolstered by having Cara at this side—as a duo, their two votes held more sway than his one on its own.
Where George alienated himself from the tribe, Cara was able to detect his most important quality: loyalty. The two have had an emotional connection and been each other’s strongest support throughout the season. I wasn’t sure that even in the name of strategy that they would turn on one another. I was almost certain that Cara wouldn’t (just look at the time she played her idol to save George instead of herself). My hopes for Hayley’s survival were hung on knowing that George is always on the lookout for George. Come hell or highwater, George will always put his interests ahead of anyone else.
Elsewhere, Flick’s come from behind Immunity win almost certainly saved her at this vote. Apart from being a challenge threat, she’s had one of the strongest social games and is earning points as the underdog who could bring home the title. Flick is a beacon of strength and warmth and I think anyone who goes up against her at the end would find themselves in a losing battle.
Before she had the immunity necklace, Flick was pushing for George and Cara to be split up—something Hayley seemed on board with. Once she had her safety for the night guaranteed, she revised her choice and decided taking out fellow challenge threat Hayley was in her best interests. For Flick to have the best chance at winning, she absolutely had the right idea—take out Hayley and improve her likelihood to win the final immunity challenge.
However, for all her amazing qualities, sometimes Flick seems to get left behind in the strategy stakes—a symptom of being the only member of the tribe minority. It doesn’t help that Cara exposed Flick’s plan to Hayley, so that Flick’s strategic move ended up being for naught as the George/Cara duo flipped on each other to preserve Hayley and pave their way to the final two.
Here is why keeping Hayley as a threat to winning the final immunity competition was important for George. If he’s at the final three with Cara and Flick and Flick wins the challenge, then she is much more likely to take Cara with her to the final two than him. In this scenario, George needs to win immunity himself or have Cara win and take him—an unlikely outcome given the challenge strength Flick has shown. If George is at the final three with Hayley and Flick, then both are more likely to take him to the end over the other. I think George’s vote here means he is almost certainly going to be at the final Tribal. Another sound strategic move, even if he’s not my favourite character this season.
Going into Tribal, I thought Cara was in the best position to make the end. If she got to the final three, then she was almost guaranteed to get to final two000having an understated presence and being perceived as in George’s shadow make her less of a final Tribal council threat. But Cara telling Hayley that Flick was planning to vote her out was a very minor decision that began unravelling her game. Once she knew she didn’t have Flick on side, Hayley was able to appeal successfully to George (and Cara) to flip their votes.
Hayley explained she was appealing to George’s play style and fondness for planning ahead. And she hit exactly the right note to get him to flip. Hayley needed to bet on who she thought was more likely to flip, and when combining George’s self-interest with Cara’s more personal relationship game, Geroge seemed the safer bet.
However, Hayley somehow managed to convince them both, and, in a bittersweet moment, the unbreakable duo both flipped on the other, meaning Hayley could’ve had her choice of voting out either. A final powerful play from Hayley that sealed Cara’s fate.
Any of the final three could be a worthy winner. George has been the “star” of the season: a self-proclaimed royal with confessionals for days. Hayley has fought for her place at every turn—she’s played every trick up her sleeve and isn’t ready to stop fighting. Flick is a warm and social presence with an incredible story. I think the jury could be a total surprise. While I believe Flick would easily sweep the votes if she makes it to the end, a showdown between George and Hayley would be the more dramatic Tribal.
The season has been long and filled with many more twists than I care for, but after a long Survivor drought through the pandemic, I’ll take whatever I can get. Here’s to another season almost finished, and keep your fingers crossed there isn’t time for any last minutes twists to be thrown into the final episode.