Swaney Strategy Blog – Kaôh Rōng Episode 3

Early in Survivor’s history, there was a small stone idol hidden in a Guatemalan jungle. Despite hints that it was “definitely on the ground”, fake-landscaper Gary Hogeboom found and used the idol to save himself at the next tribal council. This first instance of a hidden immunity idol being used would soon evolve into the primary means by which many create their Survivor strategy. While playing an idol is a surefire way to ensure your safety, simply having it in your possession is a luxury that many often overlook.

For the next two seasons after Guatemala, castaways worked with a different iteration of the hidden immunity idol, now commonly referred to as the “Tyler Perry Idol”. With the ability to negate votes after they have been revealed, the idol implicitly worked as a shield – nobody was willing to sacrifice another person in order to successfully flush the idol. Working on the same rules, Tony Vlachos and Terry Dietz successfully held their idols past the point of playing, albeit with immunity challenge wins and a strong alliance, respectively, to back them up. Yul Kwon, on the other hand, did not have the luxury of a majority alliance or a challenge run but used some serious strategic manipulation involving the idol to propel the Aitu Four past an opposing alliance twice as large.

Before the merge two members, Jonathan and Candice, mutinied over to Raro, leaving two visible threats – Ozzy and Yul – and two loyal underlings – Becky and Sundra. With nowhere else to hide, Aitu came out swinging, won the next two immunity challenges and landed themselves a 5-4 split at the merge. With Ozzy the likely favorite for any physical immunity challenge, Yul became the number one target. Luckily for Yul, he held the Tyler Perry Idol and hatched a brilliant plan to remain safe without playing the idol. In short, Yul threatened Jonathan’s elimination unless he flipped back with the Aitu Four, a move only possible because Yul would remain safe by the idol. As planned, Jonathan flipped and successfully made the Aitu Four the loyal majority instead of the decimated minority.

Tai Trang in Episode 3 of Survivor: Kaôh Rōng.

In a bit of irony that only seems funnier when talking Cook Islands, Tai Trang would do well to model his idol gameplay after Yul. Gondol is the only tribe that has yet to see tribal council, meaning that the highest form of trust is based on alliance loyalty and not on voting history. Tai’s focus on the hidden immunity idol, while fruitful, has created massive paranoia and has distanced himself from the female alliance, which originally sought Tai as the desired fourth member. Shy of going to tribal council and narrowly avoiding the vote, Tai needs to make a big move and prove his loyalty to the girls. Yes, I am suggesting that Tai show the girls his idol, along with a big speech to the tune of “Yes, I know I might have seemed dishonest because I was looking for the idol, but I have it and now let’s use it together to take the game by storm”.

While entirely risky for Tai, a big move like this could easily repair the damage he has done and cement his place in a majority alliance. A move like this not only helps Tai but also the girls, who have actively voiced an air of distrust and paranoia directed at Nearly-Purple Nick (yes, I’m still trying to make that nickname happen). Mind you, all bets are off during a medevac (which appears likely to happen based on previews for this upcoming episode), but being at the final tribal council on Day 39 is only possible when you start making moves like this early on.


Oh, how the mighty have fallen… Liz got steamrolled by the Debbie Train and landed herself a spot on the pre-jury vacation.

Liz was the recipient of the Jeb Bush Award during last week’s State of the Survivor Union. In a bit of political irony, Liz’s chances of winning Survivor: Kaôh Rōng are the same as Jeb winning the republican nomination – zero point zero percent.

Are the overly satirical awards handed out last week going to become prophetic (and not in the James Miller type of predicting)? Most likely not, but you never know. If we decide to read into this past week’s political developments to foreshadow Survivor, a couple of castaways should be very worried.

Peter Baggenstos – The Barack Obama Award

The current Commander-In-Chief is not quite a lame duck, but his time is undeniably limited. Certain people are out for Obama, namely the members of the Republican Party. In a similar fashion, the two duos of Joe + Debbie and Neal + Aubry should view Dr. Peter as the next one to go from the Brains Tribe. While strategy may take a backseat during a medevac episode (which has been highly foreshadowed for this next episode), a tribal council vote following a medevac is not an unprecedented feat in Survivor history (see Chet, Tracy, and Alexis). If Chanloh loses again, Peter is the obvious candidate.

Kyle Jason – The Dr. Ben Carson Award

Finally seeing the writing on the wall, Ben Carson dropped out of the race for the Republican Nomination. His departure was massively overshadowed by a debate marred with arguments concerning finger size and the size of male genitalia. With an idol in hand (yes, that pun was intentional), the target on Jason’s back grows larger. Working in Jason’s favor are Scot and Cydney, who both seem sold on the alliance of three. Working against Jason is Alecia, who has been ostracized and boxed out during an idol chase. With enough paranoia, Jason moves from a loyal ally to a massive target, especially in a swapped tribe. I think Jason’s allies turning on him is unlikely, but it all depends on how Scot and Cydney want to be playing the game.

The Totang tribe on Survivor: Kaôh Rōng.
The Totang tribe on Survivor: Kaôh Rōng.

Returning from their second tribal in as many episodes, the Brawn tribe is clearly fractionated. In the eyes of everybody but Alecia, the threesome of Scot, Jason, and Cydney are a tight group. In Alecia’s eyes, however, tribal divisions are broken down by gender – two guys against two girls. Alecia has every reason to believe that Cydney is with her, especially after two common votes and a mutualistic idol hunt.

If the Brawn tribe goes to tribal, it seems as if Alecia’s time will come to an end. If, however, Brawn can avoid tribal council, they evolve into a massive ticking time bomb. With a tribe swap likely coming soon, too much information could be the downfall of many a Totang member. Alecia should easily divulge the social standing of her tribe and paint Scot and Jason in a negative light. The guys will likely do the same. The only way that this lands favorably for Totang, and namely Jason, is either a Brawn heavy swap tribe or to land in the same camp as Tai. If the two can come together, especially after Jason is outed as an idol holder, combining the two idols could make those two very close friends.

The Chanloh Tribe on Survivor: Kaôh Rōng.

After narrowly losing to the Brawn tribe, Chanloh’s trio of pairs quickly went to work to ensure that their plan was in place. The pair of Joe and Debbie, perceived to be the one more likely to blindly follow a plan, were highly coveted by Neal + Aubry and Liz + Peter. Unlike the previous two votes, which seemed to hinge on strategy, this vote ultimately came down to personal preference and personality. Here, Debbie felt slighted by the overconfident demeanor of Peter and Liz and decided to rally the vote against Peter’s duo.

By splitting the vote, the four in the majority would successfully flush out an idol, but it also indicated to me that Peter (and Liz to an extent) are not properly thinking through their game decisions. In her postgame media, Liz indicated that the vibe around camp changed right before tribal council and it was assumed that her pairing was now in the minority. Peter echoed a similar sentiment, stating that his cockier statements at tribal were only in place because he thought he was the one going home. In both cases, Liz and Peter chose to remain loyal and did not vote for the other in the hopes of saving their own chances. While I respect loyalty, the move to not vote for Liz ultimately makes me believe that Peter isn’t the truly cerebral game player that we assume him to be.

Peter’s chances in the game hinge upon his ability to create paranoia and ensure one of the two remaining pairs that it is better to move forward in a 2+1 vs. 2 situation rather than a 4 vs. 1 situation. If Peter can successfully maneuver his way into a temporary alliance with a pair (say by trying to get rid of the weakest member in order to preserve vital challenge strength), he has the makings to weasel into a tribe swap and start fresh.

The Gondol Tribe on Survivor: Kaôh Rōng.

Nine days in and we really don’t know much of what’s going on at the Beauty tribe. What we do know is this: the strategy at Gondol revolves around the girls. Julia, Michele, and Anna are a strong three. Caleb seems to be the tightest with the girls, while Nearly-Purple Nick is with them despite the girls owning up to a cautious approach. Tai, originally the girls’ first pick of male ally, has strategically ostracized himself by obviously focusing on the idol. Tai needs to use the idol as a way back into the good graces of the girls before it becomes too late.


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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