Survivor Hindsight Bias #6: Filling Out The Roster

So last week on Survivor, this happened.

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After a good while of online searching I found this image on reddit, where it had been appropriately marked as NSFW, because, goddamn did Aubry screw Peter’s world up. I still love everything about this moment despite it being probably a mid-tier moment in the annals of Survivor. It’s one of those format-breaking things that makes me happy, combined with a moment from someone unlikely that all season has been a random favorite of mine in Aubry. Maybe in a few weeks’ time enough crazy will have happened on Kaoh Rong that this will look like a footnote, kind of like how Kelly Remington surviving blunt head trauma is now one of the less memorable things about Worlds Apart. To me, though, this vote blatant enough to send a basket of middle fingers to its recipient delivered with this stone cold look from who preseason looked like a manic sugar plum elf dream girl makes my life and it’s the type of little thing that I’ll keep a torch lit for anytime I can. It was awesome TV, and six days later I still had a big grin on my face as it happened.

Going into the merge, for the first time in awhile, I get the feeling that anything can happen. In large part, this is due to the fact that last episode evened up a lot of airtime, putting many sidelined players back in the spotlight. With the merge confirmed for next episode, I don’t think there’s anyone I couldn’t say at least a little on, though since my last full cast update was two weeks ago after the medevac episode I won’t use that cop-out again. Usually in modern Survivor seasons there’s always two or three people who practically don’t have their own entities. Artis and Carter, Katie and Caleb, the Solana tribe. People that, even if they do get airtime, don’t really have any paths set for them. With these eleven, there’s no slack, and everyone has some setup for their future. This last episode was fantastic because it provided that for us by filling in the blanks, so now that we have newer discussions on the plate, let’s get to them and see if we can’t make sense of these people.

Jock Jams

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At the cost of promoting undersold characters this episode was throwing more established ones to the wayside for awhile. While some, like Debbie and Tai, were reduced from episode staples to side stories, Jason was the only one absolutely erased from the story altogether aside from Debbie floating him as an alternate boot that never came to light. Obviously, me being me, I appreciated this.

Jason’s entire content this episode was to be called lazy and be listed as a possible boot, without even a second of defense or reference to his idol. I think this episode might have cooked Jason’s goose, and definitely doesn’t hurt the “a woman will win this game” narrative Debbie brought up. It also doesn’t help that his next episode content is talking about “shoving geeks in lockers”, because, you know, when you’re a male strategist you know you can say anything.

More surprisingly, however, is that after a pretty dynamite last episode and four episodes beforehand of her subtly being built as the far superior option, Cydney’s only role in the episode is to react to Debbie making a suicide joke about Michele. Does this not bode well for her chances? It may be so, though I doubt with immediacy. Scot and Jason are still miles ahead of her as targets, but Cydney is far from the biggest fish in the pond anymore. Ultimately, I think she’s still swimming, but I would wager she might end up on the south side of numbers.

Think of something said in Episode 2 by Jennifer and Alecia. It’s something that hasn’t left my head since it happened. Alecia elaborates on how if Scot and Jason were kept by the two others the entire time, it’ll get to a point where the tougher men will get picked off at the merge- and indeed, Scot seems well covered as a huge physical threat- and it’d be the easiest thing in the world to simply pick off the women accompanying them as safe votes. Conventional wisdom says that come merge, it’s always the tribe with the least people in a three tribe merge that gets special priority, and in this case that’s To Tang’s three. However, at the same time, conventional wisdom in every season says that tall poppies get cut first, and who’s taller than Scot Pollard, who’s a beast in challenges and strategically has been untouchable in the New Gondol tribe?

It’s hard to talk about the future without taking in the weight of the preview, and since I dedicate a segment to that anyways, I’ll save a lot of my forecasting for there. Still, I’m having a creeping feeling between Scot’s pronounced efforts at challenges, Jason’s villainous comments and asshole behavior, and the conversation in Episode 2, we might see the two conventional wisdoms face off to create a new ballgame, one which Scot Pollard will again be benched at before the game gets too intense.

Damn, Debbie!

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On the subject of more important long-term characters, even with less airtime than usual Debbie is seen in as influential a light as ever. I think the decisions this season, both in her tribe and come the swap, are very Debbie-centric. There’s good reason for that- Debbie interacts with everyone and Debbie gets things done. She’s probably got the biggest hustle game on her tribe and while Nick isn’t convinced by her despite her barely hidden lust for him, she’s made Michele more comfortable and she’s also gotten Cydney interested in what Debbie’s worth. This also makes sense, because Debbie has used girl power as a means of swaying the women over.

How seriously can that be taken? In many ways, Debbie will always have the shadow of her first two episodes over her where she got way more of a traditional loon edit, with her clear self-satisfaction and blind overachievement status making her a joke to other castaways despite having some humanizing moments thrown in, especially around Aubry. Can the woman who matter-of-factly stated that women with sizable breasts shouldn’t jog be the rallying cry of feminism for her new gaggle of girlfriends?

In contrast, the fact of the matter is that Debbie’s quirks have been built into her character that I believe we are absolutely supposed to be taking seriously, whether as a fire too bright to last or the backdrop to the rest of the game. In Episode 3, the two people who seemed to truly write Deb off as a loon- Peter and Neal- were both minimized to either look embarrassed by her play or indebted to it. Since then, the Debbie train has only gotten more and more on track, with her heroic portrayal in the heatstroke recovery, and her hustling the women onto her side with more success than Nick or Jason. I think at this rate if she wants the women to win, we should think that’ll amount to something. It’s not like really any of the men are getting great edits in the first place- the closest I see is the traditional belief that having a dick and a strategy means automatic win, quite frankly.

It is distressing that the clear flaws of a person like Jason or Scot, who were shown being the kind of negative no one producing this season wants one to feel about the winner, seem to be not the slightest bit of a roadblock for their fans to repeatedly excuse them and prop them up as winners, whereas Debbie’s crimes were being annoying to Peter and self-absorbed in wacky ways. I think that Jason and Scot have zero chance to win, but more importantly if one is a proponent of them, there’s virtually zero reason that they should write Debbie off because she thinks she’s attractive despite being- gasp- OLDER, or because she mentions her jobs a lot. People call this a post-Vlachos era for a reason, and that’s because you can be a wacky character and still win. I think if you’re gonna be wacky, if you turn out like Debbie you will be fine.

Six episodes in and many expected her to be a Coach or Phillip but quite frankly I think the comparisons are surface level because she’s weird and she talks about jobs and she’s got a high opinion of herself. For one, Coach and Phillip could never back that up. Phillip was never any higher than absolute goat in either of his seasons. Even Coach, who gets too much credit in SoPa, basically admits proudly to being under Sophie’s thumb by the time of the finale. Debbie has pulled off some very solid strategic moves, and she’s great at swaying people as her own entity in spite of, or because of, her natural, flawed charisma.

For another, and this is a big one, Debbie is a very positive person. She’s definitely a little high on herself, but Phillip seems to create this character that he thinks is on a moral ground above everyone else because he’s a former federal agent?, and Coach is even crazier, believing himself to basically being the new messiah everyone should bear witness to. Debbie builds herself up to comical levels, but she also builds up others with her. Behind a pretty raw and uncut exterior is a pretty serious encourager. She helps Aubry overcome her anxiety. Even after Peter exposes himself as a jackass to her, she still doesn’t leave him completely in the cold- and it’s telling that Peter expresses a lot of positive sentiments about her in post-game interviews. She’s very complimentary to Cydney and Nick, and helps reassure Michele after a challenge. Maybe some of this is for strategy, and a lot of what she admires in others is what she admires in herself (in the one astute thing Nick will ever say on Survivor) but she doesn’t take her own self-satisfaction as proof that she’s above the world, and unless you’re really not impressing her, she doesn’t have a problem in helping build others up as well. I like that.

What I’m saying is, Debbie has a lot of quirks and a lot of imperfections, but I actually really like a lot about her. I think she’s a cool person and I think I’d much rather have her around than a Coach or Phillip type because she brings out the best in other characters not just as characters, but as people. When she compliments Cydney as being not only well built but clearly disciplined, we get to learn that Cydney deserves more credit than we might have given her.

So it’s only fitting that I give her some credit as well as a character. She gets way too much hate, especially this week because she dared insinuate she was a model, and to the Survivor fanbase being a woman confident in yourself is apparently worse than feeding toe skin and trying to convince someone’s father they should be ashamed of the daughter they raised. Sexism breeds sexism, I guess. I think Debbie’s something special as a character and she’s someone I have a surprising amount of respect for in her personal interactions with others.

The Girl’s Got a Freehold On Me

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Subtle.

Last week I had a pretty significant ramble on my doubt for the Michele winner picks that seemed so prevalent, when for the most part even for her unique status of never going to Tribal her content seemed bare-bones and unremarkable. This week, she rocketed back in a big way with her content around Nick. I’d say in general her content is quite mixed this week with her blowing the challenge in a way I’d say is more pronounced than her proponents take it as, but her essentially getting Debbie’s “female winner” blessing, combined with her absolutely unraveling the Mansplaining How-To with Nick Maiorano, bodes far better than any of her prior content. It hits on a growing theme in the season- women doing it for themselves- and gives her a strategy that clearly seems to be working for her. She’ll play dumb, wounded young weakling while Nickhead confidently asserts that he’s going to have to play the game for Michele.

Another thing of controversy lately has been the fact that Michele, especially with this surge in solid content, has been a lauded winner pick by places like edgic and by hardcore viewers in general. I believe quite soundly that a winner’s edit is a thing even if I personally approach it a different way, but in seasons like these- namely, ones where the men aren’t getting the greatest edits and people look towards female contenders- many lash out against edgic, believing their ideas to be full of shit.

In many ways this is a side-effect of Survivor’s unquestioned and unchallenged recent flooding of male winners (five of the last six), and male winners always get some pretty obvious edits whether as something big or as the obvious winner. Female edits are generally subtler and more under the radar, which is a far cry from this era of Survivor where they tell you the storyline of the entire season of Cambodia in the first eight minutes. Still, the outrage that people could respect someone like Michele is tiring, and it speaks to the more disheartening trends of Survivor and its fanbase- a chicken and the egg scenario where they don’t give women nearly as much respect as men for their games, so the fans don’t feel they have to respect women either.

As it stands, I do think Michele’s edit is now saying something, but at the end of the day I still find it too flawed to be my top contender as many others assert. I feel like the content they gave to Anna could easily have gone to Michele in her stead, as I’m sure that Michele was active as a strategist as well. Natalie Anderson, another female winner with a Tribal Council aversion (only attending one before Josh’s boot at the jury) had some pretty consistent content as a background strategist and as a force of nature, and Michele doesn’t have that same kind of material to me. Maybe it’s my fault for expecting more from the editors than to give their female winner virtually squat until six episodes in when they patch it up with some tired feminist tropes and nothing else, but Michele seems more Jaclyn than NatA to me.

I’ll also admit that part of this comes from lack of vested interest in Michele as a character. Honestly, I’m kind of over the only way Survivor can edit a female winner as being a “above-average” female, one who’s feminist and above sexism and says things like Strong Independent Woman ™ that becomes the conqueror of all sexism ever. It was prevalent in SJDS as well, and I did get weary of it there, but at the very least the story of Jaclyn conquering the alliance of sexist buffoons had a basis (Coyopa cutting women left and right), a catalyst (the condescending behavior of Alec types and people outright ignoring her as a part of the Jonclyn pair that even Jon asserts is her equal) and a resolution (Jaclyn convinces Jon to take out the leader of the brodouches and Jon gives her absolute credit for it).

With Michele, I feel like the editors are starting to pander to us, because the fact of the matter is Michele hasn’t been given a character outside of sometimes saying feminist things. I don’t have a sense of her at all. They’ve given far more boring winners far more attempts of character, so if this is what they think they can sell us as the next female winner, quite frankly, I don’t think it’s enough. It’s not a problem with Michele- I’m sure she can deliver- but as always, with the edit. They don’t seem to understand what we want to see as viewers out of female characters, so in some ways it’s understandable that people would get angry at the idea of a Michele win. I just think all the anger at Michele for daring to play and her fans for daring to like her is misguided. Fight the real enemy, is all I’m saying.

Playing Ball

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Huh, they are pretty similar. The sunken eyes, the jutting nose, the complete lack of a pulse and anything authentic…

This episode we were introduced to Nick Maiorano. Not the Nick Maiorano that he tries and fails to sell us. Actual Nick Maiorano. We started off on a relatively positive note, where he assesses Debbie rather well as someone who respects when she can see her good qualities affirmed in others. That’s more of the clever Nick we saw in his weird RHAP blogs, who admired skills like listening and trying to learn others over being manipulative and big-movesy like we see him trying to push the rest of the time.

We also learned, however, that Nick is a giant condescending douche. Before, the Nick mockery has essentially been a metajoke from the editors poking at his overly blatant attempts to be a big controversial character by a) absolutely no-showing him or b) having all his content be about being uncomfortably fake. This, however, establishes flaws in him that I don’t think even he could have appreciated in his character.

I would urge you to, if you can, watch his interaction with Michele again- hopefully the last time I urge you to pay attention to this guy. She mentions that Debbie approached her- giving the Beauties another avenue- and he immediately shuts her down, tells her how she’s going to play, and gives a confessional about how he has to play for her and teach her how to Survivor. This, sadly, came off as the most natural that Nick Maiorano has all season. He’s a guy who thinks he’s the smartest gamer in the room and he absolutely puts off that condescending air to those around him. Again, I wonder how on Earth this waste of my patience got cast, and I hope he’s gone soon, because it turns out asking Nick to act natural was a horrible idea.

Bad Cop and Bad Mother

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After suffering the longest streak of being under the radar, Joe burst out in a big way this episode. Before, he was shown as a relatively respectable elder statesman who still was headstrong enough to get into conflict over methods of work. This episode proves he has a hard head, both in that he can take a cascading of heavy wooden objects on his head better than Kelly Remington (again, fantastic job at the safety precautions there, production) and that he has a long stubborn streak in many ways that makes his character.

This episode we were treated to the lovely scene of Joe cornering Peter and interrogating him on whether or not Peter was going to flip. It was awesome, and hilarious as well. Joe doesn’t mess around. I feel like he’s given less extreme interrogations to actual terrorists than he does to this one limpdick strategist. He jumps Peter, doesn’t let up, and Peter is left to stand there stammering his teeth out as he throws all prior plans out the window.

Interestingly, however, Joe still functions as a satellite character. Before, it was to Debbie, the fellow “old-timer” on his tribe who led him like a soldier. Now, however, he’s started taking orders from Aubry in many instances. People would focus on his frustration with Aubry later on in the episode when she changes the plan back to Peter, but I’m personally impressed with the fact that he strategizes with her without question until then and takes advice and orders from her. Aubry is well under half his age and comes from a polar opposite background. She’s a young woman who’s a computer geek, he’s a FBI legend, and he took orders from her that went against his own emotional preferences when it came to Peter until Aubry started exposing some things that came off as hypocritical. A lot of people point to his mention of her neuroses as something insulting, and yeah it was a decent bit harsh, though not Peter interrogation level of harsh. Still, I feel like based on their time together Aubry’s neuroses have been discussed as a factor, especially in Episode 1 where she overcame them to beast a challenge. Joe’s the kind of deadpan where everything he says has the same amount of emotion, so I can imagine more honest, less insulting intents getting masked in the same tone he calls Peter a pain in the butt with.

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Eri ❤

As it stands, Joe’s service to Aubry highlights something that I’d always suspected but now can confirm- Aubry is likely gonna have a big role this season. While Scot always has had a good amount of plans and control behind the curtain, Aubry is the flat out orchestrator of New Gondol. People went to her to know how it was going to go, and it’s only last minute that things were switched around on her. I’ve already mentioned that Aubry’s fulfilling the role that generally goes to the Hollys and Kathy V’s of the world, in that she started off unprepared but then became a stone cold killer in an unlikely package. This episode is proof of that, with her crossed out vote, her power playing, her unflinching Ms-steal-yo-girl glare at the camera and cocky nod as she cast her vote and as it was read. As far as Aubry’s journey goes, this is Holly holding up Brenda’s name saying “You should’ve. Scrambled.” multiplied by Kathy interrogating Zoe at the merge. Even Sophie couldn’t reach this level of nerd gangsta.

Needless to say, her decision could have some blowback with Joe, and she’s definitely shown what she’s made of to Scot, Tai, and Julia. I’m not saying things will end in a win for her. Hell, I’m pretty certain her final confessional this episode where she claims she’s screwed either way dug her grave for her. However, one thing can be said, and it’s that Aubry is officially a character that matters this season. She dictated the swap and she’s got challenge prowess, it’s not out of the conceit of things that she could take hold of things come merge if Debbie doesn’t. She might have come a long way to get here, but I reckon she’s still got a long way to go. That, or she’ll be a hell of a merge boot.

Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner

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Speaking of characters I think deserve to be taken seriously, I am seriously digging Julia right now. It’s fascinating to watch her in contrast to someone like Anna who wheels and deals her way off of a cliff in a brakeless lemon. She comes into the tribe, and just through natural charisma and some lying about her age that goes unnoticed, she manages to take advantage of both sides of the equation- both scoring Peter as a potential vote with her early on with her playing dumb and letting others come to her, then turning it around on him once he backed out. In some ways, arriving late worked against her- she had to prove herself in an environment where everyone else had three days to establish things- but it also worked for her in that at that point the Brains’ patience for each other had enough time to wear thin, and Tai/Scot were itching to be more than servants to their momentum. Her best move was to be a useful vote above anything else, and she took it.

As it stands, I still have interest in Julia from here on out because of her age. For her age, she plays surprisingly well, keeping her lies small and managing to get into alliances on a consistent basis. I honestly have more stock in her than fellow Beauty ally Michele, and I wish it was her that would get the winnery focus. She has a story with potential for growth, and I think she’s more naturally rootable. Ultimately, though, that’d come down to me rooting for her to win. To some extent, I do, but if she were I feel like she’d be noted as the Michele of the season. Nonetheless, I’m continuously impressed. Rock on, Jules.

The First Act

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Last season in Cambodia, twelve or so contestants started out with introduction confessionals that detailed the type of game they’re playing and in way too much, way too obvious detail, what their stories would be. My friends already know that I hate that this happened. It’s foreshadowing if the shadow being foreshadowed was, like, the entire night sky. Very blatant, very hamfisted, to the point where it almost seems like spoilers. Joe talks about the family visit, well we know he’s making it there. Kass talking about Chaos Kass returning at merge? Hi, merge boot. Kelley talking about wanting to play harder? Something tells me she’s gonna pull off some #bigmovez! Yeah, the Cambodia prelude is like the moment Survivor editors lost any faith in our ability to follow a larger narrative and the rest of the season was just as hamfisted.

For Kaoh Rong, nine other people got similar prelude confessionals as the season began, detailing their status as people who earned the Brains/Beauty/Brawn titles and what they might bring to a season. Mercifully, it’s been far less obvious and in-your face as the Cambodia ones, with some of the ones given being at the hands of pre-merge exits, and others being from nonspecific sources or people we shouldn’t have stock in winning. Of those remaining, I’d like to comb through those confessionals and see if there’s anything left to glean from them.

Thanks in advance to m4milo and his amazing confessional transcripts.

Peter (1/3): Being an ER doctor, it’s gonna be difficult for me to not show how smart I am, to express humility, but I can’t deal with ignorant people ‘cause they think they know what they’re talking about.

In retrospect, we really should have seen his turn for the douche coming. Turns out he was the ignoramus he couldn’t deal with.

Debbie (1/4): This game is largely a brain game, and in these challenges I am going to kick ass. Because, puzzles lay down for me like lovers.

Debbie’s one of the few people who’s a) still in this game and b) still has a chance at winning to get an early confessional. That alone makes me more optimistic that they at least tried a little misdirection in the beginning. Debbie hasn’t necessarily been shown as super vital in challenges, or at least it hasn’t been emphasized. She says she’s great at puzzles (and at being a lover, though that may be less connected to how we should see her game) and at the end of the marooning, that she’s a great swimmer, only for the credit for both of these to go to Aubry at the end of the episode. Still, she’s got puzzle skill that we’ve seen a few times, and there’s a chance that it could be justification to make her the challenge merge boot, so who knows how that’ll play out. At the end of the day, though, challenges aren’t very important to the Debbie storyline. More likely, this was played to demonstrate her controversial self-confidence.

Scot (1/5): I am a former professional basketball player. I was the guy that did all the things nobody else wanted to do. I’d go knock people on the ground, I’d push people out of the way, I did it better than most guys. People I’m gonna get along with are guys that are strong, and if you show weakness, bye-bye! (cackles maniacally)

It should be noted that when Scot gave this confessional, the camera flashed over to Alecia right at the end. It’s not surprising, in retrospect, that Scot got along with the strong guys and shamed Alecia and Darnell for not being strong guys. This also represents Scot being the one from To Tang to really put in leg work, which especially came into fruition come Gondol. Many more tough decisions that no one else wants to make could be in his future.

Kyle (1/5): My bread and butter has always been bounty hunting. You kick in the door, you raid the house, you snatch the guy up, hog-tie him like a pig, throw him in the back of your truck and take off. I don’t care, I just need to get my paycheck, and you’re my paycheck.

Kyle has a job. He makes money off of ruining your day and he’s proud of it, and using people’s failures to make himself rich and feeling great about his profession because of that informs his villainous character a damn fair bit. Ultimately, though, it’s a relatively pointless “I have brawn career so I am brawn” confessional that doesn’t inform his game as much as just gives us soft prep for what a douche he’ll be.

Anna (1/6): I do try and use my looks to my advantage in poker. If I feel like a male is staring at my boobs, I might push them up a little more.

Basically fulfills the same purpose as above, but does give us the impression that Anna thinks strategy at every point of her professional game, which ultimately was her downfall.

Nick (1/3): My life has definitely been easier because I’m better looking than most people. And that sounds terrible, it sounds awful, but it’s the truth. My looks will definitely help me. 39 days and a million bucks in my pocket at the end.

“I’m so controversial and villainous, I can’t wait to offend you”, the contestant. Sadly, though, despite being markedly not better looking than most people, he does manage to use his looks to influence Debbie come Episode 6, so who knows what else he can do. Still, we’re immediately supposed to root against him and see him as an absolute douche. At least you succeeded at that down the line, Nick.

Caleb (1/3): People will probably recognize me from Big Brother, but being an outdoorsman, this game is totally for me. I don’t mind gettin’ dirty at all.

I’ll say. Caleb’s whole thing was being the outdoorsy, macho hunter type that was both a great contrast to Tai and showed that he’d give everything he had for his tribe without shame- even if it led to his own medevac.

Joseph (1/2): It’s very hectic out here. I’m a retired FBI agent, and of course there’ve been times within the FBI when you’ve had those kind of cases where everything’s going a mile a minute. But this to me is going to be the ultimate challenge, so I’m pumped for this. This is the real deal for me.

More than anyone, I think Joseph’s skills that he mentions here not only justifies him as Brain, but also translates to skills we should be impressed at in-game. As it stands, it was Episode 6 where we saw his FBI skills come into play. Peter running around trying to turn things against Joe led to Joe scaring the fear of God into Peter with a well-timed interrogation. It was a very mile-a-minute scenario, but ultimately Joe went against his anti-Peter instincts and the kill was done by Aubry instead, so his first real challenge didn’t turn out well for him.

Tai (1/6): I’m, like, running around like crazy. I’m protecting the chicken because I-I-I love all living creature.

Tai’s character is immediately established in a surprisingly brief confessional. Tai is the biggest sweetheart ever, and this is proof. Chickens will become a storyline for him in that he sets his personal values aside to help the others kill one of the chickens, but later on uses his cooking ability as a genuine reason to keep him around. He also shows a genuine love for all living creatures, making friends with the unlikely because of his big heart and earning everyone’s love and respect for being such a kind and genuine guy. Tai became the hero of the season from here on out and it hasn’t let up sense.

Overall, these confessionals are way less obvious than Cambodia. The hidden meaning is more vague for each one and the foreshadowing either is more complex, subtler, or just about things that don’t spoil the outcome of the game. More importantly, there’s a mixture of types here as far as skill goes. Three of them have been three of the seven pre-merge boots, I’d say three of them are not respectable players, one of them is someone who just doesn’t have the edit strong enough to back them up, and only two of them come from contenders to win- those being Debbie and Tai. The flaws in last season’s foreshadowing have been patched up and these demonstrate as much as anything that it really is anyone’s game.

Next time on… Survivor!

Ep7Merge

Hoo boy.

The immediate NToS basically said what everyone knew- Merge! Merge merge there’s a merge and we’re merging and mergey things are happening and did we mention it’s a merge! Super vague, confirming nothing. Then the actual commercial preview came out.

Two things jump out very blatantly at me.

The first is that, for one reason or another, Jeff is visiting the merge camp, and something he says “changes the game again”. Usually, when Jeff comes out there, someone’s getting eliminated outside of Tribal Council. It happened three merges back with Julie McGee, who called Probst out to walk after feeling the pressure of an unpleasant social situation. The last time Jeff visited camp unannounced, however, it was to take Terry home to deal with an urgent family emergency. Then there’s always the obvious, that Kaoh Rong has claimed another player and like with Joe Dowdle fourteen merges ago, Jeff’s just coming back to confirm someone’s out out.

The way they choose to explain it is strange, however. It’s not hyped up as anything- a quit, a medevac, or any sort of twist. It’s Jeff showing up to the beach and something changes. Traditional Kaoh Rong wisdom dictates that the body count officially hits as many digits as the weather and someone else is taken, but they’ve already hyped up the medevacs and things like that. One would think they’d do the same here. Yet, all we get is Jeff pulling up. Could we be getting something absolutely new here?

The other part of the commercial is way more mundane and traditional, and should be flat out blase. A faction is picked as the swing votes, just like Carolyn and Tyler were hustled over in Worlds Apart, or Jonclyn were in SJDS, or Sarah in Cagayan. However, the faction people are trying to get on their side is highly surprising to me- it’s not the Brawns, it’s the Beauties. Despite being from a perpetually immune tribe with two immune members and having as many numbers as the Brains, it’s the original Gondols people are competing to swing.

This puzzles me. In many ways, it’s because, yeah, I expected the Brawn to be the swings. That’s just generally how it goes. I also could swear on my life that Brains would lose the struggle to get the Brawns as swing votes. However, putting the Chan Lohs against the generally faultless Gondols is one thing, because it highlights the stubbornness and shaky structure of that tribe and its outthinkers. However, pit them against the “jocks”, the lead of which is already bragging about shoving geeks into lockers, and suddenly their odds look a little better. Not perfect, since Survivor is still more than happy to paint assholes as assholes and let them get away with murder, but there’s now more of a chance for Chan Loh to get an upper hand.

The other thing about this is that the Beauties seem a decent bit divided already. Tai is good with everyone but he’s built a relationship with Scot, in part due to the foreshadowing of his idol working with Kyle’s. Nick seems to also be more on board with Kyle but also has an in with Debbie. Michele, however, clearly can’t stand Nick and seems to be the setup for his downfall, and she does respect and appreciate Debbie. Julia is affiliated with Tai, but also hasn’t really secured anything with him. These are our swings? I’m actually wondering if they’ll flat out split themselves. It’d make more sense than most anything.

Regardless, this shift of power is actually more interesting to me than Chan Loh vs Gondol. It implies way more personality conflict than flat out strategy, and that’s always more fun to me. Plus, with Jeff paying a doomsday visit, there’s another layer of things that could transform this game. Time will tell what exactly is going on. As established, this is one of those seasons where anything could make sense.

-Signing off,

Cameron

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