Swaney Strategy Blog – Cambodia Episode 2

Welcome back for the second installment of the Swaney Strategy Blog hosted on Inside Survivor. Last week I talked about the idea of strategic pacing and how it dictated the speed by which the castaways formed alliances. For instance, Ta Keo instituted a very fast strategic pace, while Bayon seemingly (we didn’t get to see much of Bayon’s first three days) had a far slower pace. A faster pace is perfect for the manipulators and schemers, while the slower pace is built for those whom rely on their physical strength and work ethic to dictate their pecking order. This week I want to talk about the pre-jury stage of the game and how to approach it. 

For a larger majority of the 31 iterations of Survivor, I have found myself wondering why people play the pre-jury (often pre-merge) stage of the game with fear. Sure, there is fear of being the first one voted out, but that’s not the fear I am thinking about. Think back to Season 25, where early best friends Abi and RC quickly align and then notably fall out within a couple of weeks. Both left that alliance thinking, “If I knew X was actually like that, I wouldn’t have aligned with them”. While Abi and RC clearly (and vocally) severed their ties to each other, many castaways hold true to alliances only because they were made early on in the game. Everyone wants to sit at the Final Tribal Council and say that they were loyal to their Day 1/2/3 alliance as a major facet of their speech, but how good is an alliance built at the beginning of the game?

I think back to someone like Tracy Hughes-Wolf from Survivor: Micronesia, who quickly became strategically linked to Chet and Kathy. While there was an obvious age gap between that group, what truly kept Tracy from ditching Kathy and Chet and joining the larger group? In essence, why did Tracy not jump ship early on and ditch Chet and Kathy? Often, personal ties and chemistries keep those alliances together, but more often it is the pervasive stereotype that “flippers never win”.

Overall, I think that people play the pre-jury stage of the game forgetting that the people they vote out have absolutely ZERO say in the jury stage. Sure, their legacy might live on through someone else, but they do not get a vote or a question at Final Tribal Council. Everyone is so afraid of how they will be perceived when they flip sides that they are often scared into lying low. So, if it best serves YOUR game then flip, flip, and flip again until you find yourself on solid ground. Until you hit the jury stage of the game, you are just playing in the warm-up rounds of Big Boy/Girl Survivor.


I bring this up in light of the events that occurred on Ta Keo beach from Night 3 to Night 6. Shirin and Spencer were leading the charge of a New-School alliance and had just successfully voted out Vytas. In the aftermath of this tribal council, Shirin was quick to act as if she was in charge and was quick to draw a line in the sand. But after Terry Dietz consoled a hurt Abi, the numbers seemed not to be in favor of the new school as strongly as originally thought. Enter Jeff Varner.

Noticing that the tides had turned, Jeff Varner flipped back over to the old school group and mobilized an effort to remove either Spencer or Shirin. In the wake of this, and behind the scenes of the actual episode aired by CBS, Shirin tried to save her own skin by trying to mobilize a vote against Varner. Varner had flipped at the absolute perfect time, but how will this negatively affect his game?

Aside from a very early tribe swap, I’d argue that this move only strengthens his game. The only person that could view Varner in an overly negative light is Spencer, who, if a tribe swap weren’t occurring, would be at the very bottom of the strategic totem pole over at Ta Keo beach. Varner has effectively gained the trust and loyalty of many at the expense of risking his relationship with one person. The added layer behind this is that a diehard superfan of the show should respect this move far more than a scorned “mactor” type. Given the right scenario and good conversational skills, Varner and Spencer could easily join back together at a later time.

The pre-jury stage of the game is the opportunity for stronger players to set the table for their own personal goals after the merge. Varner has accomplished this in brilliant fashion. So, to anyone who is reading this blog and eventually lands on a tropical beach as a castaway of a future Survivor season, don’t be afraid to make big, yet calculated, moves before the jury starts forming. You can establish yourself as strategically credible and enter the merge in a good position. 

What Should They Do?

I informally introduced this section last week, but I’d like for formally define what I’d like this section to be. This segment, which I’ll title “What Should They Do?” until I think of something funnier or more apt, will explore just that, as I analyze previous seasons to evaluate the routes that each player should take to put themselves in the best strategic position possible.

Ta Keo


Woo clearly drew a line in the sand when he told Spencer and Shirin that he was not willing to work with them. He has picked a side and needs to stick to it. The issue here is that Woo will fall back into strategic obscurity if he does so. This is his best move for now, but once the merge happens, he needs to clearly understand everyone’s endgame goals and how he fits into them. From there, he can move from the passenger seat into the driver’s seat and build himself a strategic resume.


Spencer has a lifetime ticket to the emotional and strategic rollercoaster that is the game of Survivor. He survived the second tribal council by the skin of his teeth but is not in a good position on the Ta Keo tribe. Luckily, the game of Survivor is often won or lost by surviving three more days. Surviving three more days has ensured his place in one of three newly formed tribes. Spencer will be in one of the better positions when all is said and done. He can easily remain with Ta Keo members and vote out the minority, but can also air out his grievances and use them to place himself into an alliance with members of the old Bayon tribe. I think that Spencer needs to lay low for a day or two and let the cards fall as they may. Spencer is currently Shawna Mitchell 2.0 and just needs to make sure that he focuses on the new, rather than letting older situations bog him down.


Terry finally tried to incorporate social prowess into his game when an upset Abi basically beckoned Dietz to the beach to console her. He’s incorporated social game into his already well-known physical game. While he doesn’t know it, this move will pay dividends for him as he enters a tribe swap. Terry will do well to be the Deena Bennett of this season. He is going to be perceived as a leader – it’s all about how he handles it. If he works to find his strategic niche, he’ll be in good shape.


Regardless of who lands on his new tribe, Varner needs to be a social chameleon. A tribe of six is incredibly small and the smallest amount of difference can be the reason someone gets voted out. He needs to approach this tribe swap with the same mentality of Denise and Malcolm after Matsing officially disbanded. Both were on the outside looking into a six-person tribe but molded and adapted their personality to match the tribe dynamics. Denise played up the strong woman role that Kalabaw was desperately seeking, while Malcolm became the fun and new face for Tandang. Varner needs to read the group and be the person that will fit in with others. If he needs to be the beach person, then, by all means, go get a tan. If he needs to be a shelter person, then weave, weave, and weave some more until you have successfully woven yourself into a nice alliance too.


Peih Gee is in a bit of an interesting situation entering a tribe swap. On Ta Keo, she was never really solidly in an alliance but always found herself in the majority. She was never the one driving decisions but was always there to provide another vote. This is a huge improvement between her two seasons and it needs to continue in order for Peih Gee to remain safe. Just like Varner, she needs to lie low and adapt to the dynamic of the new tribe to stay safe.


Wiglesworth is safe, and I’m incredibly confident in this fact. So far, Kelly has been this token returnee from Season One and has successfully kept her name off of anyone’s hit list. People are more intrigued to see how Kelly Wiglesworth has evolved after 30 seasons rather than targeting her. As long as she continues to be chipper and work around camp, she’ll be fine.


Wentworth is another person that should easily be safe after all is said and done with this tribe swap. Even though she is still a bit of a wildcard in the eyes of many, nobody really had her as a huge target. Kelley can take advantage of this anonymity and stealthily insert herself into the majority. If things go awry, she’s got an idol and can ensure her safety. This might be the situation to which she uses her idol to build fast friends. I don’t think she should be as open as Marty Piombo was, but she can use her idol a la Carolyn Rivera to build fast friends that develop into an alliance.


Abi, where to begin? I’m honestly surprised that she survived the first two tribal councils, but nevertheless, Abi will place better than Vytas and Shirin.  Abi just needs to become the biggest goat possible in order to ensure her safety. I see her as the second coming of Sherri Biethman. Regardless of how she played before the swap, she just needs to be a silent (emphasis on silent here) number. She can be the goat or she can be the next one voted out. Abi controls her own destiny at this point by how she approaches camp life.



StephenPicI think a tribe swap breathes new life into Stephen’s game UNLESS he lands on the same tribe as Andrew Savage. Savage seemed to be the one reminding everyone of Stephen’s less than impressive physical strength and his conniving attitude. Whether this is justified or not, Stephen needs to try and end up with as many former Ta Keo members as possible. Additionally, landing with someone like Ciera or Monica, who could present an easy number in his corner, would be a huge help to his cause.


We haven’t really seen much strategic depth to either of these two, but I think they’re in a similar situation. Both are obvious physical players with easy-going personalities. After a tribe swap, they need to play up their fun personalities, while proving that their challenge strength is worth keeping around.





Both Savage and Jeremy are all about assembling the noblest group of Alpha Males together. The issue with a tribe swap, however, is that you normally can’t control who is on your new tribe. They need to latch onto the biggest strategic thinker and become a power duo that others are scared to break up. Remember how powerful Stephen and JT were together? We need the second coming of that power duo.




Ciera does well whenever she has ample time to build relationships and expose the cracks in other people’s games. A tribe swap isn’t conducive to this, as it presents the possibility that her new tribe could be going into tribal three days later. Ciera needs to hope that she lands with a physical tribe, and finds quick friends with someone laid back who can be a sounding board for strategic moves.


Monica and Kimmi are not under the radar, rather, they have fallen completely off of the radar. This is not good for either of them. They need to land on a tribe with fun personalities, where they can be the Kim Johnson- a fun loving and carefree friend. They need to be a friend before an ally. The merge is when they need to start making more pronounced moves while eventually establishing an individual strategic voice.




I’d argue that Kass is hurt the most by an early swap. She was seemingly in a good position on Bayon, but a new tribe and new faces could quickly bring up her old reputation. Kass needs to hope that she lands with players like Savage and Joe, who can separate the Kass of new from the older, Chaotic Kass.



Tasha is a true wild card on a new tribe. She can either play up her strategic prowess or physical presence, but initiating both too prematurely could lead to her becoming a fast target. The odds are that Tasha lands on the same tribe as another ex-Cagayan member. This isn’t inherently a good thing, as they will remember Tasha as the person that will scrape and claw her way to safety. Tasha needs to take the time to develop personal relationships before she initiates the strategic talk.



All three nominees for the Swan Award come from Ta Keo this week. Sure, it’s probably because we saw Ta Keo for a far larger amount of time in the past two episodes, but I also think that going to tribal council forces players to reveal their hands in terms of strategy. If we can see some of the cards they play, we can gauge how they are playing. Bayon has yet to be tested at tribal council, so we really don’t know who are the strategic winners and losers.

TERRY DEITZ – In the first episode, it was clear that Dietz was trying to add additional layers to his game through social maneuvering. He was quick to acknowledge this as his obvious downfall in his first season. After noticing an obviously upset Abi sitting on the beach, Terry decided to go over and console her. While we still aren’t sure if this was a purely strategic move or one that was out of genuine compassion, we do know that this brought Abi’s vote into Dietz’s group. Few this season have actually accomplished the remedying of mistakes from their previous season, but Dietz can check that box off of his Survivor resume.

JEFF VARNER – I’ve already written a fair amount about Jeff Varner and how his flipping was a brilliant move that set himself up as a viable strategic cornerstone in Ta Keo. In summation, Varner is in a very good spot and people are listening to him.

KELLEY WENTWORTH – Wentworth and her idol find themselves in a good position after surviving a situation that could have put Kelley on the outs. Presented with the notion of voting either Spencer or Shirin out, Kelley did the absolute perfect thing and provided zero reasons to keep them. Kelley had previously been in an alliance with Spencer and Shirin, but the tides were turning, and she needed to ensure her own safety. Kelley once again put herself in a good position and ensured her safety for at least three more days.

And the winner of the Swan Award is…

Flippers might not always win the title of Sole Survivor, but in this case, it wins you the Swan award.

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.

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