Swaney Strategy Blog – Cambodia Episode 1

Welcome to the very first edition of the Swaney Strategy Blog! I’m super excited to be blogging for Inside Survivor, and I’m ready to impress with my take on the strategic aspects of the game. In this blog, I will talk about the moves made in the previous episode and offer an obsessive superfan’s take on what moves need to be made for certain players to stay safe and be successful. The general idea is to look more at influencing the future, rather than how to change the past.

I’m also doing something else really fun with this feature, in that I’m assigning one player the “Swan Award” each week. Originally, we didn’t know if Stephen Fishbach would be blogging during a season he was playing on, so the Survivor-verse would potentially be short a punny, name-based award. I took it upon myself to fill that potential void. The winner of the Swan will be someone whom, over the course of the previous episode, stood out as making great strategic decisions.

So, without further ado… the very first Swaney Strategy Blog! 

Thirty-one seasons in, the pace of Survivor has increased dramatically. Especially so in returning player seasons. As the players decide how they want to emulate or hide their gameplay, decisions and alliances are quickly formed. In the first iteration of Blood vs. Water, Colton tried to strategize and play deceptively, only to butt heads with the laissez-faire approach taken on by his tribe. On the other hand, the first iteration of Fans vs. Favorites was played at a much faster strategic pace. In the first three days, eventual sole survivor Parvati Shallow was targeted because of her potential to slide to the end of the game. Very quickly there were two firm alliances of four, and both were gunning for the other.

Using the idea of strategic pacing to evaluate the first episode of Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance, we can gauge who is likely to be controlling things and who is likely to be in trouble.


On Ta Keo, there is a clear division between old school and new school. This division of era is also reflected in the pacing. The new school alliance wants to vote out bigger strategic threats early while the old school alliance favored getting rid of someone that created more drama at camp. With Jeff Varner and Peih-Gee voting out Vytas, they have effectively set the strategic pace at Ta Keo. This pace can be slowed, but there will always be this precedent.

The inability to strategize after the immunity challenge made it difficult to shore up alliances and have those moments for deal-making handshakes. More importantly, the lack of time indicates how each player wants to play. They couldn’t check in with their alliance, but rather made the decision that best fit their individual game.

Here is the way I believe each member of Ta Keo should proceed strategically…

JeffPicVarner was one of the two votes that broke the tie in favor of Vytas leaving. What makes this interesting is that Varner effectively chose a side by abandoning the members of the “Shane Powers Conference Call alliance”. To remain in favor with both sides, Varner needs to have a Day 4 conversation with Terry and Wiglesworth where they talk about how they want to proceed. Once those relationships are solidified, Varner needs to hang around the younger crowd and get close to Shirin. As he said, she is setting the pace of the game, and he just needs to sit back and let her do her thing while making sure that she knows that he is there and willing to ride along.


Without a conversation on the beach that re-groups the Conference Call alliance, Terry, and Kelly both need to figure out where the numbers fall. That means they first need to go to Varner and figure out 1) why Vytas was voted off and 2) how to treat the fringe players. Players like Peih-Gee and Abi don’t seem to fall into either of the strategic groups quite yet. Terry and Wiglesworth need to bond with Peih-Gee and isolate Abi in order to shore up another number. If you remember Micronesia, Cirie did not fall into an alliance at the start, but she quickly became the lynchpin to the tribal stage of the game. Get on Peih-Gee’s good side before the other side gets a chance to bond with her.


Wentworth has the idol and an apparent bond with the other new school players. While handshakes are great, nothing says that you’re serious like a vote of confidence. Wentworth’s best move is to get close with Shirin and Peih-Gee, and by Day 5 show them the idol. They need to know that she is serious about working together and not just blowing smoke. Once both of them know about the idol, she should heavily encourage who she wants to work with (Spencer and Shirin) and work on that group securing the votes of Woo and Abi.  The idol is her way to building confidence and trust.


Spencer and Shirin are both super fans that need to define their second chance apart from their first time around. They should work on building numbers, but trust is also important. Now that the pace has been set, they need to collectively pump the brakes and secure their alliance before they go back and press on the gas pedal.


Woo needs to keep his head down and keep working. Nobody is going to suspect that he will be thinking about strategy – which is exactly where he needs to be. Woo should remain in proximity with people and bond on a genuine, personal level. This groundwork will materialize into alliances with the right people – namely Spencer and Shirin.


Abi needs to shut her mouth and win over people with her work ethic.  This is unlikely to do much on a strategic level, but laying low and doing nothing is going to be detrimental. Once things simmer down, she should have a calm conversation with Peih-Gee. Put the past behind them for the sake of the game. Together they represent the swing votes, but separately, they represent possible targets of the next vote.


Peih-Gee really impressed me with how she approached Cambodia differently from her time in China. In China, she was quick to make sure her voice was heard. In Cambodia, Peih Gee knew that she had to overcome her abrasiveness in order to gain a foothold. Now she is in the same situation as Cirie was in Micronesia. Peih-Gee needs to subtly play both sides and work out what their intentions are before choosing whichever is more passionate about getting out bigger threats.



Bayon is a bit harder to profile because they didn’t get near as much screentime. We haven’t seen their loyalties tested at a tribal council yet. But the first three days can be telling all the same. The division is apparently clear, with the alpha males bonding and most everyone else falling into obscurity.

Here is how I believe the Bayon tribe should move forward…

JerSavJeremy and Savage are the vocal leaders of the Bayon tribe but without majority numbers. They need to have group talks with the fringe players and firmly establish their alliance. Savage should bring Joe in (who will bring Kass in), and Jeremy should bring Keith in. Tasha will fall into place, and Ciera/Monica are just looking not to be out early. Their best bet is to keep the pace slow and target Fishbach; who clearly was looking for an idol.

JoePicJoe needs to play up to “the meat-shield” role that the alpha males want him to be. A tribe swap always comes sooner than you think and then Joe will be viewed as a valuable number. He should bond with a fringe player. Flipping on your own doesn’t mean much, but flipping with another person by your side is huge. In this case, Joe should make Kass his best friend – at the very least, she will be a target over him.

KassPicThe writing is on the wall for Kass – she is hard to trust and is likely a target for it. Her best option is to play slowly. Working too fast will just make people skeptical. She needs to stay in group situations so that the topic can be about someone else. She should find a partner (Joe) and get close to them on a personal level. Then just wait for the right move to make.

CiMonI think that the game of Ciera and Monica depended on having Vytas being able to bridge the gap from Ta Keo to Bayon. With Vytas gone and the alpha males together, Monica and Ciera are in trouble. They need to try and subtly pull someone else in. In this case, Kimmi and Fishbach are perfect. Kimmi is a potential number that is looking to fit in. With Fishbach, they’ll get a number and someone that will probably be voted out before them.  Attempting to bring Kass in would probably be too risky, so their best bet may be to push for Kass to go.

KimmiPicKimmi just needs to keep quiet and keep working for now. Let the anxious overplay and dig their own grave. She should take the route of Natalie Bolton in Micronesia; shut up and say nothing for the first 10 days to 2 weeks. Like Kass, she should stay in group situations. If she takes the time to bond with say Savage over being an older school player, then he is more likely to include her in his alliance’s plans.

KeithPicSame as Kimmi. Keith needs to work hard and then use Jeremy as his springboard to the numbers. He should stay on Jeremy’s good side but work on bonding with Savage more. Everyone will expect Keith to be close with Jeremy, so they’ll be worried about that.

TashaPicIf Tasha wants to be a vocal personality, then she needs to stay closer to the guys. If she proves to them that she is the strongest female competitor in the game, then they will keep her for challenge strength. She can also strengthen her position by bringing up the fact that Ciera/Monica are strong socially, but not physically.

StephenPicStephen is already in a bit of a hole with the other guys bonding over being macho. Plus, he’s been labeled as sneaky. Right now he needs to work his butt off at camp and in challenges and be the person to volunteer to solve a puzzle. He should bide his time, bond with Monica and Ciera, look for the idol, and sell Kass down the river. An extra three days is a lifetime in Survivor, so he needs to let someone else make a mistake. He needs to hold out for a swap and then Stephen could become the most important free agent in the game.



JEFF VARNER – Jeff Varner pregamed hard, and it paid off – he walked onto the beach with a working relationship with just about everyone on Ta Keo. Without drawing attention to himself, Varner subtly controlled a lot of how people were perceived on the Ta Keo beach. In absence of post-immunity challenge strategy talks, Varner’s vote for Vytas was the final nail in his coffin. He should still have the loyalty of the Conference Call alliance while having some credibility with the others who voted for Vytas.

JEREMY COLLINS – Jeremy is just one of those people that everyone wants to like. His genuine personality and hustle paid off in the first three days. Jeremy made a very intelligent move by talking with Keith to make sure they were on the same page, while not giving him the “it’s you and me to the end” speech that would have been utterly fake. Jeremy is in a very good position, having had quick strategy check-ins with just about everyone on the Bayon beach. Everyone will view Jeremy as someone in their corner and not standing behind them with a knife.

KELLEY WENTWORTH – I was really impressed with how Kelley did just enough to remain socially and strategically relevant while avoiding overplaying. Her ability to sneak away and find an idol clue was paramount, leading to her acquisition of the hidden immunity idol. Getting the idol on the first challenge removes the placement of another clue and thus any inside information about there being an idol at challenges. Kelley’s biggest upcoming decision is how she will use the idol to build social ties.

SHIRIN OSKOOI – Shirin walks into Cambodia with a different situation than many of the other second chancers. While some players have waited over a decade for their second chance, Shirin had only a few months. The recency of Shirin’s season presents her as an obsessive superfan, which could be her biggest asset or biggest downfall depending on how you look at it. Shirin made some incredibly smart strategic decisions this week. She was quick to point out the “smarmy” Vytas and establish herself as a perceptive and strong strategist.

And the winner of the first ever Swan Award is…


Shirin overcame her recency bias to establish herself as a powerful strategist, which eventually led to a strong physical and strategic threat being eliminated early.

Disclaimer: Swan icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

Written by

Shawn Swaney

Marine biologist by trade who stumbled into the world of tech start-ups. Nerd who was born into an athlete’s body. Los Angeles resident. Once dreamed of being the first Inside Survivor contributor to actually play Survivor... hopefully settling for second. Follow @ShawnSwaney for hot takes and a tendency to overthink every tweet.

2 responses to “Swaney Strategy Blog – Cambodia Episode 1”

  1. 99% of what happened in the first 72 hours of Cambodia is on the cutting room floor.
    As with every episode, we saw what the production group wanted us to see… to explain the episode being presented. For example, I don’t accept that the 90 seconds of screen time Fishbach got explains his entire first 72 hours on the beach. We can all bet he was schmoozing and smiling in camp with everyone.

    What we saw of Bayon is fluff stuff we see every season about the tribe not in duress for the episode. While there were some foundationundamental elements presented hinting at the power structure of Bayon, huge gaps remain. There are many huge personalities at Bayon that went un-presented; Kass, Monica, Tasha, and Stephen have the potential to stand the game on its ear at any moment, and yet, we really have no idea of what they are doing strategically, and with whom.

    This season is very different from most. While pre-game alliance work was done, how much of it will mean anything 5 days into the game? We’ve already seen one expected pre-game alliance get blown up when Varner jumped ship.
    All the world is gaga about Kelley Wentworth at the moment. But, have we ever seen any inkling of her playing Survivor with authority? The video sure makes her look like something special… but we’ve seen dozens of players mis-play an idol and fade away quickly.

    In the long game, the formula remains the same. Get to the Merge and then play to win. Individual Immunity will be ultra-valuable.
    There are some significant challenge beasts roaming around hoping the end game starts sooner than later. Terry Dietz, Andrew Savage, Kelly Wiglesworth, Spencer, Woo, Joe Anglim, Keith Nail, and Jeremy Collins can each get on a run and wreck the world (that’s 8 people that cannot all go to the final 3!). And the odd thing… most (not all) of those players have less than stellar, if not downright awful social games. I doubt that people like Jeff Varner, Shirin, Stephen, or Ciera are going to let them run rough shod over the rest in the end game.

    I don’t disagree with the possibilities the above post presents, but I think there is far more going on. It’s going to be a game of “out strategize” to not be defeated by muscle and physical dominance. Strong players that develop some sort of a social game will go far. But, all we need is a balance endurance challenge and the women will eliminate an alpha that night.

    I love to play, “what if”.
    But, we have very little information presently to know anything. We see some hints of core alliances, but we know nothing of secondary alliances, and the pecking orders.

    Let’s get to episodes 4,5, and 6 to see who is physically and mentally still in the game, and who they actually decided to play the game with.

  2. This is a really neat blog! Will tune in every week!

    Just a quick error I found, Micronesia is spelled wrong in Wiglesworth and Terry’s should-do paragraph.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.