The final seven of Heroes v Healers v Hustlers is one of the most intriguing and well-developed groups of characters in Survivor’s run and this week it was torn apart in the most bizarre episode of the season. It was a (literal) grab bag of good and bad. We got a family visit, but it came with the worst “challenge” in the show’s history: a frustrating random lottery. We saw major shifts in allegiance, but at the cost of poor gameplay by more than half the cast. Where was Oprah to enthusiastically shout, “You get a bad move! YOU get a bad move! EVERYBODY gets a bad move!!”?
Nevertheless, bad decisions can often make for good TV, and great Survivor, and will serve as a warning for all future players. The danger of personal vendettas and the risk of public information in a private game were on full display in tonight’s episode, culminating in a chaotic Tribal Council for the ages. In seasons to come, perhaps we will look back to this instalment as the night we learned the importance of The Gandalf Rule…
WHAT TO DO WITH THE ADVANTAGE THAT IS GIVEN TO YOU
All season long, players have been revealing information about Idols and Advantages, and in almost every case it’s come back to bite them. Whether it was Cole’s inability to keep a secret or Ryan freely sharing that he held an Idol, there has been a pattern of public secrets culminating in consequences. Tonight, another fable was added to the book of cautionary tales when public knowledge of Lauren’s two advantages turned her into a threat, and then her subsequent mismanagement of her powers wet the powder of her ammunition.
Lauren had been playing a strong game this season. She had been slowly gathering steam, gaining allies and advantages and was the key instigator in forming the new alliance that carried out a pre-emptive strike on the Seven. She had her wits about her in a matter-of-fact way, she was physically strong in the challenges, and nobody seemed to be looking twice at her as a threat – until tonight.
With her alliance holding a 4-3 majority, but excised from the family reward, Ben, Devon and Lauren hunkered down to find the Idol rehidden after being flushed out of Ryan’s possession. Lauren uncovered the clue, and in the heat of the moment, she made the mistake of sharing her find with her tribemates. She dug up one half of an Idol and was instructed that the other half would be waiting at the next Immunity Challenge. She was easily able to snatch up her prize after dropping out of the challenge, and she now found herself armed with two game advantages – but unfortunately, both were known quantities in the tribe.
Lauren’s extra vote had been steadily gaining notoriety – she initially told Ben due to their allegiance and needing to coordinate a split vote, and she then brought Ashley and Devon into the loop to solidify an alliance of four. While these initial reveals built trust, it began to spiral out of control when the Four revealed the truth to Mike and Joe last week when they fully intended to blindside them. Then it all came full circle when Ben, suspicious that his allies were plotting against him, revealed the secrets of Lauren’s extra vote – and her new Idol – to Mike, Ryan and Chrissy in order to orchestrate a counter-attack, using information about her advantages to frame her as being too powerful.
There was a time when sharing information about Idols could help to strengthen alliances, but now that advantages are so commonplace, a shift in approach is necessitated. A player with any kind of advantage is no longer a potential ally: they are a dangerous threat, and if they let you in on their secret, it empowers you to use that information to your own ends. It has been a recurring theme this season – Cole using his intel about Joe & Jessica’s advantages to attempt to build his own alliances, Ben sowing discord between Ryan and Devon, and now Ben’s campaign against Lauren. Even allies – such as Ben and Lauren only a few halcyon weeks ago – can become enemies, and when a turncoat knows your secrets, it’s even easier to throw you under the bus.
As wildcard Dr. Mike fuelled the conflict between Ben and Lauren by telling the Rogue Knights about Ben’s smear campaign, Lauren was understandably frustrated by the turn of events. She couldn’t turn back time and make her advantages a secret again, but she could put them into play to shield herself against the oncoming attack. However, she colossally misplayed both of her advantages in one night, giving half of her Idol to a fickle ally and leaving her banked vote out of play.
GO BACK TO THE SHADOW!
We saw very little of the reasoning that went into Lauren’s decision to give Mike half of her Idol, and although her rationale that it would build trust between them has a surface-level truth, it’s still a blunder. Sharing information had already cost her much of her power in the game, but sharing the actual advantage put her completely at a loss. It put her fate in Mike’s hands, and he was someone who she had repeatedly betrayed and who had no obligation to work with her moving forward or even give the Idol back. Nevertheless, she couldn’t have predicted Mike’s decision to throw it into the fire at Tribal Council!
Mike is playing an incredibly erratic game. Outnumbered and outgunned, his go-for-broke attitude is admirable, but when a door opens for him, he seems to close it in the most creative of ways. Throwing an Idol into the fire might be an exhilarating and memorable TV moment, but it’s questionable gameplay. His actions not only burned his relationship with Lauren by flamboyantly betraying her trust but it also burned any leverage he could have had with her. By holding half of Lauren’s Idol, he had a prime opportunity for ransom if he wanted to use it to get his own way. He could have also used the Idol as a foundation for actual trust or allegiance – something the last Healer does not have at his disposal. Instead, he threw it all away while also voting to keep her in the game! Although much of the fallout Mike could have suffered at the hands of his decision was mitigated by Ben’s Idol play and Lauren’s blindside, he narrowly dodged a bullet with this bad move.
Lauren, meanwhile, took the hit. Her usually calm demeanour seemed to be rattled as the tides turned. Her defensive manoeuvres when her advantages were outed at Tribal were a strange tactic, first claiming that the extra vote was back at camp, then offering to give it to Chrissy. She plunged into a heated debate with Ben that put them both openly on the chopping block. Members of Solewa barracked to take her out, with Ryan urging Mike to keep the vote on Lauren. In one afternoon, just like that, her game – like her Idol – was going up in smoke.
To her credit, the ‘live Tribal’ managed to pan out her way numerically as she was only sent home by Ben’s secret Idol which, in a Survivor first, negated a unanimous vote. If she had stayed, she would have still had a tie-breaking extra vote at the Final 6. Her gaffes before the Jury could have damaged her chances of a win, but there were still six days left, and that’s a lot of time to make an impact in the Survivor endgame.
But she didn’t get the chance to see it through. The fall of Lauren is a devastating blow, but sometimes there is nothing more poetic than a breakout character taken down by a critical error (or two, or three…). After all, everyman fan favourite James Clement went home with two Idols in his pocket in China! Lauren was a unique, down-to-earth and hilarious personality on a season full of standout characters. She played the game hard while being unapologetically herself and she is proof that Survivor should take chances on ordinary people when they cast their show. Sometimes there is more than meets the eye, and I truly hope this is not the last we see of Lauren Rimmer.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN THIS FIGHT
But let’s take a step back from the game advantages for a minute and get personal. Regardless of the shells, ropes, and papers hidden in the jungle, Survivor is about social dynamics. Managing relationships is the key to the game, and it is a challenging feat, particularly in the wake of deception and betrayal.
The personal vendetta between Chrissy and Ben was an understandable turn after Ben’s long con was uncovered, and naturally, Chrissy and Ryan felt used and abused by their false ally. While a harsh punishment, Chrissy’s decision to keep the family reward from Ben was a reasonable extension of the bridge they’d both burned together in a heated argument the night before. Ben, too, turned to petty vengeance, constructing a fake Idol in the hopes of fooling and embarrassing Chrissy. Yet despite their anger with each other, the fates forced them back together. In a game as ever-changing as Survivor, it is essential to be flexible. While initially combative, it appeared that Chrissy and Ben were able to put the hatchets down even if they did not bury them, and perhaps unite to blindside Lauren.
But the question of trust remained. Ben had betrayed them in one of the coldest plays in Survivor history, but Chrissy, Ryan and Mike were in a tight spot. With Devon, Ashley and Lauren publicly flaunting the strength of their alliance, trusting Ben could be their only recourse. However, did they really want to go down the ‘fool me once’ route? Throughout this episode, Ryan, Mike and Chrissy all showed an impressive amount of interpersonal flexibility. With Chrissy trying to crack Ashley, Mike instigating a Plan B and all three open to working with anybody who could get them one day further, they were able to position themselves as kingmakers when the Four disintegrated.
We didn’t know much about the minority’s mindset heading into Tribal or whether they planned to vote for Lauren or Ben, but interestingly, after much intense whispering at Tribal, they ultimately landed on the Marine. However, I’m not convinced it was the best call. Ben was dangerous with both his intense gameplay and his ‘story’ making him a Jury threat, but if they’d been successful in voting him out, they would have been facing a 3-3 tie at the next Tribal whilst Lauren still held her extra vote. Like Mike’s burning of Lauren’s Idol, it was fortuitous that Lauren was taken out of the picture as it gives Chrissy, Mike and Ryan a lot more wiggle room heading into the home stretch – all thanks to Ben’s Idol.
YOU SHALL NOT VOTE ME OUT!
And so we come, once more, to Advantages. A lot went very wrong for a lot of players in this episode – but despite some pettiness of his own, one player emerged on top. With so much of the game on public record between Lauren’s advantages and the clear alliance lines in the sand, Ben made the most crucial decision in the game so far: keeping information to himself. When he found his Idol last week, he promised to keep it under wraps, and that saved his bacon this week. If he had shared his Idol with anyone, that information would have been passed around as soon as his alliance began to consider betraying him. There’s a good chance he would not have been so openly targeted by his tribe, which may have afforded them the opportunity to blindside him. Instead, Ben saw the attack coming from a mile (and a couple feet from the well) away, and it allowed him to counter the threat with his own Idol.
Ben has been no stranger to using information as currency, but expertly, he has only dealt in the secrets of others – trying to sway Mike on Yawa with knowledge of Jessica’s advantage, Ryan’s Idol, Lauren’s advantages – while keeping his own secrets close to his chest. It’s not an easy thing to do, but this is a player who spent three days undercover as a secret agent to fool half his tribe. Ironically for one of the more hot-headed contestants of the season, keeping secrets is one of Ben’s greatest Survivor skills – and tonight, it paid off big time.
Let this be a lesson to all future Survivor players: if you find yourself in possession of an Idol, an Advantage, or even a clandestine alliance, remember The Gandalf Rule:
“KEEP IT SECRET. KEEP IT SAFE.”
At this point, it’s anybody’s game.
After surviving a unanimous vote, Ben is clearly in danger. He has already been put in the cross-hairs, and he’ll undoubtedly stay there, particularly after a showy and historic Idol play – and now he has no Idol and no allies to fall back on.
Ashely and Devon have lost their essential third ally and with her, their advantage-based ammunition. After the strength of their allegiance was outed at the Immunity challenge, their big moves in the JP and Joe blindsides could make them the next big targets.
Chrissy and Ryan received a second life in the game as the majority alliance imploded, but they are known strategic threats and strong speakers which could make them dangerous opponents before a Jury. Between their threat level and their history of rubbing their tribemates the wrong way, they could still struggle to gain a foothold.
Dr. Mike, meanwhile, is on an island of his own. A true wildcard, both in terms of being a loose number and an erratic player, he could easily weasel his way into the numbers, but he could also become a comfortable consensus boot, particularly given the army of pro-Mike Healers sitting on the Jury.
This is one of the most competitive and unpredictable Final 6’s in Survivor’s history. Every player left is a legitimate threat and every player left is playing as hard as they possibly can. Not only that, but the show has gone to great lengths to give us the narratives of each of the castaways such that there is no obvious path to the end.
Tonight’s episode was a cautionary tale, but I have a feeling that these last two weeks of HHH are about to become an action-packed blockbuster.
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