By: Mike Ladue
Making it to the endgame of Survivor is extremely difficult without trust. To quote the idiot college kid from Good Will Hunting (one of my favorite films), "trust is life", which applies exponentially more on the island than in the real world. More so than fire, at least in the pre-merge rounds, trust is what keeps you alive.
We saw it with both David and Garrett last week. Both made moves that alienated them from the rest of their tribes, painting them as untrustworthy and sealing their fates. Sure, J'Tia destroyed all the rice, but everybody kinda expected that of her (see: Kass, Tasha and Garrett's chat in the water). Nobody knew where Garrett's head would be, thus they sent it rolling.
Trust was central to this week's episode, whether the main players in question (Jeremiah for the Beauty tribe and Sarah for the Brawns) realized it or not. In Jeremiah's case, he did. Literally everybody in the tribe believed Jeremiah was acting in his or her best interest.
That's an interesting position to be in. I'm surprised swing votes aren't targeted more often (the best, and only, example I can currently think of is Dolly in Vanuatu, which was so early in the game it hardly mattered). Of course had Jefra, Alexis or LJ spilled the beans they'd be voting for Jeremiah, they'd make the choice for him and he'd side with the outsiders, and vice-versa. The risk is too high.
So did Jeremiah make the right move? Let's look at his options. By voting out Brice, he solidifies himself in a four-person alliance with LJ/Alexis/Jefra, with Morgan once again the odd girl out. Should the Beauty tribe lose again, Morgan's an easy target -- low physical asset, low social prowess, low camp contribution. But smart players should always be thinking two moves ahead, and it's here that Jeremiah may have stumbled.
Jefra found out Jeremiah had been playing both sides, a fact that could seriously come back to bite him. Once Morgan's gone, the Beauties will be that much closer to a merge, where physical strength shifts from favorable to threatening. Jeremiah, then, becomes the outsider, the one who "played both sides" in a guilty by association scenario, the one everyone likes, and thus must be ousted.
SURVIVOR PRO TIP #4: Find the most likable person and vote him/her off. This is probably the most controversial Survivor advice there is. But if everybody likes someone, regardless of any other factor, they're the biggest threat to your game. If they make it to the end, they win. 9 times out of 10 juries disregard strategy and vote emotionally. Fabio was a goofy, fun-loving guy whose late Immunity run earned him a win. So was JT. And Bob. Jeremiah could fit that criteria, if given the chance to make it that far. (This is controversial because going against an obvious favorite might draw ire from production. If you're going to oust the season's biggest hero, be prepared to assume the rule of the season's biggest villain).
Anyways, had Jeremiah stuck with Morgan and Brice and eliminated Alexis, he'd be in a majority alliance stacked against LJ and Jefra. As an audience, we know LJ found the Hidden Immunity Idol, and could use it as swift payback against Jeremiah for betraying the foursome. Had he not found the idol, moving forward with 2 stragglers is twice as dangerous as with one. Another loss would probably seal Jefra's fate. Whoever survived would itch to join Brains / Brawn and better their situation (a la Shambo). It's worth noting that misfit alliances tend to crumble (a la Timbira, Fang and nearly Casaya). Sticking with who he fits with may be the simplest, most natural choice.
Unfortunatlely, Jeremiah is pretty much damned either way. In this day and age, being a young, fit, likable male is the worst position for a Survivor contestant. After 20+ seasons of dominance, the tide has turned. This is the first time the first three contestants voted off were all male. Being the swing means you're in the middle, and unless you're Sandra Diaz-Twine, it's extremely difficult to hold that position to the endgame.
Brice, our narrator from last week, established an outcast bond with Morgan and a southern bond with Jeremiah. Put another way, he made 40% of all the right moves. Alexis may not have reached out and takes strategy with him, but he obviously hadn't tried connecting with her, either. Social butterfly he was not, as the Survivor greats are those who get on everybody's good side. Look at Kim Spradlin, Tom Westman, Aras Baskauskas, Yul Kwon, or J.T. Thomas. Instead, his Tribal confrontation with her was awkward, as if he knew he'd lost the war. I'll miss his candor at Tribal and sassiness in confessionals. But he failed to earn the trust of his tribe's majority, so there's no excuse to make for his early boot.
Trust comes into play at the Brawn tribe as well. Tony confided his cop identity in Sarah, who claimed to have "Cop-dar", from the makers of Gaydar. She took this small victory and ran with it, not realizing he packaged several small lies with his larger truth. His story about Cliff and Lindsay plotting against her? Total bull. Props to Tony for stirring the pot within an otherwise fully-functioning tribe, at least challenge-wise.
But for some reason, the show seems less inclined to give Tony his credit. Sure, he's gotten personalized hashtags like "#CopsRUs" (aka the worst alliance name ever. Seriously. If I ever make it on the show, I'm teaming up with other tall gangly men to form the Daddy Long Leg Brigade, Parvati/Amanda/Cirie/Natalie be damned). The editing, specifically the music cues, paint a different picture.
Maybe it's just me, but Sarah comes off as way more likable than Tony. Tony gets Russell-like confessionals, without the Russell-like music cues, promos, or production favor. He's more reminiscent of Gabon's Ace than Samoa's Russell. He's downright dunce-like. Then again, Sarah comes off as Palau's Stephenie: strong, likable (lovable?) woman who gets dealt a bad hand.
I see the Tony/Sarah story going one of three ways:
1. Sarah catches Tony in his lies and blindsides him (possibly as early as next week, as Sarah targets a "him" to Woo. Is she naive enough to go after Cliff directly to his ally?)
2. Tony blindsides Sarah, burning that bridge come jury time (a la Chris and Julie in Vanuatu)
or, least likely,
3. Sarah and Tony reach the finals together.
Last week I narrowed the winner pick down between Sarah and Kass. Of the two, Sarah is the one I'd feel comfortable still backing, and this pick to win a Final Tribal over Tony. Kass seemed out of touch with Tasha, the new HBIC of the Brains tribe. I guess it all comes down to who Tasha feels she can trust more deeply.
-MVP: LJ, for finding the HII and keeping his alliance intact through Tribal.
-Winner Pick: Sarah, with Tasha surpassing Kass for second place. Spencer still seems like a future All-Star, not a current season winner.
-Fallen Comrades: Brice just didn't click. Socially, he seemed too aggressive to gel with the laid-back pretty boys and girls. It's a fine line between missing out and over-strategization, and Brice erred too far towards the latter. I'm sure he'll be hilarious on Twitter!
-The vertical maze was DOPE, and designed by a dream-teamer, apparently.
-Props to the Brains for practicing the challenge. Did it help? Not really, as they made up time on the puzzle. But they're definitely using their knowledge of the game's ins and outs to their advantage.
-Splitting votes is always so risky, and we've seen it go wrong so many other times, I partly was disappointed for it to work so well against Brice tonight. Alexis displayed a firm grasp of the game's rules, though. You go girl!
-I made a few mentions to music cues this week, so it's worth mentioning the departure of Russ Landau, Survivor's resident composer since the very first season. From what I've gathered, production felt they'd amassed enough music over the past 27 cycles to fill the silences. Obviously that didn't work as planned, since we were treated to unoriginal music during the Brains tribe's water-tossing segment. Landau's loss is immeasurable to the Survivor brand and one I'm already mourning greatly.
-Did Jeremiah make the right move? Are you down with Cops-R-Us? Share your opinions in the comments, or with me personally on Twitter: @miketvladue.