Survivor: Mamanuca Islands Hindsight Bias #2: The Other Guys

Survivor Jackpot

 

So the premiere was about a week late, but it was still good!

Yeah, while last week may as well have been Sandra Stunting On Tony ft. others what with the airtime division, this week it was divided up a good bit more equally. There was less takeover by two or three and more egalitarianism in the episode- while J.T. got a lion’s share of airtime there was really only one J.T. scene, and he largely narrated the rest of the Nuku goings on. Other big stars of the episode didn’t take over the entire thing, and we got a sense of what everyone was up to and reminded of why they were considered stars (or in some cases, “stars”) with some room for future development.

This season’s expansion twist, which is becoming more and more a regular thing, saw a tribe reshuffling that divided them up into seemingly drastically uneven groups- New Nuku was filled with a bunch of star characters and master narrators (Sandra, J.T., Varner, Malcolm, Aubry, Michaela), New Mana got filled with a lot of the questionable game changers and castmates (Hali, Sierra, Caleb, Tai, Debbie, Brad) and Tavua, the third tribe, got whoever was left (Cirie, Troyzan, and the rest of Nuku). While most would be glad to see New Mana die out all in a row, I actually have faith in them to deliver a good season. However, it’s a good thing that we stand the chance of having some genuine legends make it farther than we would expect.

Really, this episode was a celebration of the lesser known names, and proof that anyone can do well this season. Brad jedi mind tricked Tai into deciding he wanted to lead the vote off against his best friend, Sierra kept a wraps on her potential connection to Hali, Hali herself fought her ass off to stay in Tribal with answers that made fellow attorney Brad impressed with her, and Troy took a 5-1 deficit on Tavua and used it to find an idol and grab it at the challenge in the most Troy way possible. I think that while some were and still are concerned that the smaller characters couldn’t deliver in a season with Cirie, Malcolm, and Sandra, we had four do pretty well this episode and a fifth went home so I can’t say I’d complain. They were largely standout.

The purpose of RTVWarriors, as I was told, was to shine a light on the less popular characters. Before, I thought that meant the Joes and Julias, but going into this season the unfavorites were decided for me. However, this also meant the general unfavorites weren’t necessarily the least of Mamanuca, and this episode shone the light on them for me. So while everyone else can talk about that goat scene and how awesome NewKu is (and it’s not like they’re wrong) I can’t really add much to it. All I can do is do my best to read what was said about those less popular, because the light on them is well deserved.

Mild Culpeppers

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I was actually pretty high on Brad as a character before Game Changers. I don’t think he was a misunderstood victim unfairly attacked by everyone, but underneath the awkward social behavior and magical ability to make his target thirty times bigger, I have always maintained that the guy, while weird as hell, was a sweet guy with strange charms. As misunderstood as he was already, it’s no surprise that most underestimated him in the pre-game interviews he did, mistaking him to be a generic angry rambunctious meathead. I’ve never found that to be true as Brad defies being generic at the very least, but I will admit that I myself have underestimated him as well. Pre-game I said that I don’t think he’ll play very well, and this episode he actually played pretty well.

From the moment he walked in with the bulbs to decorate the shelter with, he cemented himself as the head of New Mana. While he himself says later that he wants to be in the background, not the forefront, he rocketed into the position as MVP with that move. However, the role of leader does not bear for him the pitfalls that the Blood vs Water role did so far- Brad has earned respect and a smoother ride.

On top of that, Brad pulled off a pretty killer move here. He was nervous, given Tai’s clear love and defense of Caleb, that if he kept him there was a chance that Caleb had some draw with the Kaoh Rong people, which would kill him and Sierra next round. So the goal to him is simple, vote out Caleb, right? However, that could get very messy, and as we saw this episode, it is very possible for the one target to find an idol and fuck things up. So, instead, Brad went to Tai to vote out Tai’s best friend and actually convinced him it would be in Tai’s best interests to vote out a guaranteed number in his pocket. That is freaking slick, man.

Brad has always had a need, I think, to prove himself to others. In Blood vs Water, it was clear that being thought of as the bad guy was genuinely draining on him, and in his Mamanuca pre-game interview he lamented that many would see him as a rich angry meathead when he didn’t see himself that way. In Mamanuca itself, he has shown an aversion to conflict possibly out of that fear, but if so that weakness is bringing out ingenuity we didn’t expect.

More to the point, I actually like this side of Brad. The mellower, calmer side of him. It’s funny that he asked “What Would Monica Do?” since Monica was one of the premiere motherly contestants and Brad is acting like a total dad. Between decorating with no shame (if you called Brad being in charge of the decor that NewKu was raving about you’re a liar), supporting Hali in her defense at Tribal, and taking the pacifist angle with Survivor’s most famous pacifist, the Brad we’ve gotten so far seems like quite the fun character, and is really all I could have hoped he would be.

Lonely Boys

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In some ways, the stories of J.T. and Troy were going to mimic each other from the moment they drew their swap buffs. Whatever mirror they broke under a ladder to avoid looking at nearby black cats came back to haunt them as they ended up swapping 5-1. They also had similar solutions to the gap, but wildly different outcomes. This is about their mirroring quests to find the hidden immunity idol, to varying extents.

I believe J.T. could have gone without the idol. He’s been in a situation like this before- Timbira had twice the numbers Jalapao had and could easily have split them out of the game, so J.T. decided to freaking hypnotize them into self destructing and walked through it to a unanimous win. Even with a target from winning already, he could have charmed his way in and wormed through their cracks.

Instead, we got Mad Scientist J.T., the same type of player we got in Heroes vs Villains. He said his only way of surviving was by getting the idol, which was patently untrue but it’s not my game so, eh. To get the idol, J.T. decided to take everyone rafting to the ocean, and use an excuse to swim back to shore and freaking leave them there. Oh. My. Jesus. Let me be clear, this was 100% the wrong move to make (the rest of the tribe knew within five minutes he was idol hunting and essentially killed any trust they had in him) but it was the rare occurrence where someone chose gameplay over social dynamics and it was a better scene for it. Like, I can’t get over it, the fucker stranded his tribe at sea to get an idol (which he did not). That’s amazingly haywire.

Troy, on the other hand, started his game over on the new Tavua tribe. While J.T. might have sensed he was the odd one out based on numbers alone, Troy had reason to feel dejected. The rest of the tribe went off to high five each other for having a Mana to vote out, and Andrea certainly did poor cover-up in trying to make Troy feel less like the world’s most obvious sixth. Now I don’t think I’m gonna break anyone’s heart by saying that socially, Troy is no J.T. He has historically had a shit time maneuvering into majorities. Still, it was made pretty clear that Troy had to find the Tavua idol.

While Ozzy was both telling the Nukus they should keep an eye on Troy and then not keeping an eye on Troy, everyone’s favorite? underdog found a clue to the idol hidden Cambodia-style at the challenge. At the challenge’s end, he managed to nab it really in a way people could only buy from Troy- overdramatically “falling out” like a third grade school play actor, and being able to transition that into an idol grab right in front of Andrea.

Luckily, J.T. and the infamous goat herding scene showed that he can gain sway in the tribe as a person, and unluckily? I never got the sense that Troy has a plan after “use his idol” other than “pray to Christ Jesus for a twist”. Still, as far as the idol hunting itself goes, Troy took it over J.T. this episode. Time will tell if Troy learned from One World that idols do not change everything alone, and if J.T. learned from Heroes vs Villains that having an idol is certainly not the only way to win the game.

All You Sinners Stand Up, Sing Hali-lujah

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Man, I burnt through my hallelujah pun on episode two, I am gonna have a bitch of a time throughout the rest of the season.

I’m glad Hali is here. Even when people were calling her the Jenna Lewis of the season because in interviews she wasn’t happy to see Tony like really eighty-five percent of the cast, I thanked my lucky stars she got to be our Parvati player. She was probably the one really nice part about Worlds Apart- even season sweethearts like Shirin and Sierra had propensity to at least be mildly rude or aligned with the extremely rude. I was looking forward to seeing her beautiful awkwardness in Mamanuca and had faith it would break up monotonous strategy talk. Even as a background presence, I would appreciate that, just like how Keith came out A+ in my Cambodia rewatch.

Instead, Hali became a focal part of the New Mana tribe, since she and Caleb were the only two reds in more blue than Geoff Ramsey’s Uno Hand. Essentially we could read that the four original Nukus were staying together so it would be Caleb or Hali. Tai from the start fell over Caleb joining their tribe to the suspicion of the rest of Nuku, so it was clear there were dynamics in play that would have made this decision interesting.

More than likely it was decided before Tribal Council that Caleb would get the boot, so anything Hali did was essentially her locking it down. Still, her answers were more turning it around on Caleb than talking about herself, turning Caleb’s frankly hilarious answers around on him. I get the sense that while the first level was her making sure people were on board with voting out Caleb, the subconscious was to show why she would be a good ally- not by talking herself up, but by showing she could lawyer up any asshole that crosses her path. It never crossed the line into intimidating, but it connected her with the rest of the tribe (especially Brad, the attorney) and showed her rationality and ability to discern the best option. More than anything, that little Tribal Speech seems set to get her past the next tribal where she would be a dead woman walking.

Hali’s longevity may seem short, as she joins J.T. and Troyzan in the “me against the world” club. However, I think she can integrate well into the tribe she’s on, whereas J.T. and even Troyzan leave a lot to be desired. If she survives another round on her new tribe, I will be impressed that she managed to do what J.T. and Troyzan needed to look for idols to do.

Fan Favorite Tribe Manager Sierra Dawn Thomas

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Right from the start Sierra was easily the most ridiculed member of the cast, and by what I’m seeing could cure cancer and still get laughed at by the fans. I mean, she found the legacy advantage the last episode and everyone acted like that was a bad thing she did. We saw a few scenes of her before all the Cirie drama of her interacting with the rest of the tribe and making alliances. Really, who wouldn’t want an alliance with Sierra? Even the fans who laugh at her would kill to get an ally who was levelheaded, drama-free, and able to stick with an alliance even when personally offended by them. Sierra isn’t my favorite either, but I have always held that she is in the better half of players here, who just needed a better grip on her goats to avoid an unceremonious exit in fifth place.

Sierra has so far opted to stick with what works and hopefully ride that to a win. This episode was a smaller episode for her, but I get it, because now that she isn’t being used as the will-she-won’t-she of every episode, she can spend time keeping the ship afloat. This episode, she was portrayed as in control with Brad, starting off in the inner circle rather than trying to fight her way into it. She made subtle decisions, managing to take the focus off of Hali also being from the Dirty 30, downplaying their relationships despite the fact that I think everyone from the Dirty 30 has matching tattoos. In this episode, Hali stayed, and Sierra was still in power. It was a round like her- quiet, subtle, and actually pretty good.

In the future, when she needs to be adaptable, will she be? Well, I wouldn’t put it past her since she might be thinking she needs to change her own game. The big weakness that Sierra showed was a lack of adaptability- from what I sensed, she had a plan (get to the F4 with Rod/Will/Dan, win FIC, take two and win) and when it ran into walls she had a lot of patience but little flexibility, and was picked off quite fast. I think so far her gameplay is working very well, and she is being treated with the respect she deserves so I don’t have to feel sorry for her while she tries to wrangle Rod and Dan like a true barrel racer, but she has yet to be truly tested this go-around. I’m looking forward to seeing what she pulls out, especially with the legacy advantage.

Sierra reminds me of when I wrote about Michele- she is polarizing because she is on this cast and several don’t like her because of that. She plays a quiet game that I am fascinated by, and is in what appears to be a good position. I am not 100% sold on her and she’s surrounded by more interesting characters, but I think she’s a good player who deserves some attention. I hope that by comparing her to Michele that I am making one point clear- I respect her, and others should too.

The Last Kiss

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It’s a little surprising to some given the gong show to diversity that was Millennials vs Gen X that given the choice between a decently fit woman and a challenge beast male that the man would be voted out unanimously. I think this is literally the first time women have outnumbered men in any Survivor set in Fiji. Still, on a number of levels, it makes sense, and overall there shouldn’t be as much to fear in the idea of voting out challenge threats early on. (I also think that people should expand the parameters of what a challenge beast is, especially as post merge half the challenges are Balance On A Thing With A Thing, but that’s for another time).

The fact of the matter is, while Hali did the right things to stay, Caleb did the right things to go. To some extent, he rested on his laurels since he felt that with Tai on the tribe and his muscle in the challenge, he didn’t need to do much to stay. In his post-game interviews he bragged about how he didn’t talk to most of the Nukus except to tell Sierra he didn’t feel the need to defend himself to her. Add to that the threat felt about a potential Kaoh Rong Three and the fact that Hali turned his own answers on him to bury him further, and Caleb was as toast as you could imagine.

Still, his little story with Tai was actually pretty sweet and well done. They already came in with a well-known bromance, and at one point Tai tried to steal a kiss from him largely in jest. When Caleb was abruptly medevac’d, Tai was the saddest of all, and concluded Caleb’s arc by saying “I still want that kiss”. He brought it up again at swap, and (after some giddy cajoling from episode entertainment MVP Malcolm) Caleb, by now close friends with Tai in real life, let Tai oblige.

Tai spent his time at New Mana defending Caleb and wanting to keep him around, but Brad convinced Tai to vote him out, in part due to his claim that Caleb as a guaranteed number would be a hindrance to Tai down the line, not a positive, since it would amplify the target on his back. Thus, Tai was the nail in Caleb’s coffin. After Caleb was voted out, he gave Tai a little kiss on the top of his head, which was a sweet little bookend for their arc.

I am not Caleb’s biggest fan. Big Brother 16 already tainted me on him, and while Kaoh Rong was okay, his performance in Mamanuca pre and post game left a lot to be desired. Still, as far as the Tai and Caleb arc goes, it’s actually pretty good TV. I enjoyed it, and I hope it ends off here, where Tai finally got that kiss.

Next Time on… Survivor!

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I heard what the twist was for this week, and my thoughts are dominated by it so I can’t really give a clean analysis of what to expect, so I’ll just seethe in silence.

Regardless, this was a fun episode! I hope I’ve been able to instill a sense of respect for those everyone gawked at pre-game. In seasons like these we’ve come to expect the little names to do well at the expense of the Survivor legends, but if that’s the case, I think we’ve been left with a relatively enjoyable crowd. 
-Cameron

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