by Mike Ladue
Even casual fans have probably heard the phrase, "Survivor is a numbers game." But is it true?
Ultimately, yes. To win Survivor you need more votes than each of the other people sitting next to you at Final Tribal Council. But until that point, Survivor is most certainly not a numbers game. You can point to the introduction of the Hidden Immunity Idol in Guatemala as a major shift in the dynamic, where a person on the wrong end of a unanimous vote can live to fight another day. But really, Survivor has never been a numbers game due to the inherent presence of the plain-old Immunity challenge. Theoretically, a contestant could be immune from the vote in every single Tribal Council, both tribal and post-merge, and never have to worry about the numbers until FTC. (And let's be honest, if someone won every. single. challenge., how could you not reward him/her with your million-dollar vote?)
SURVIVOR PRO TIP #9: Survivor isn't a numbers game, it's a people's game. Had LJ been from any of the other 49 U.S. states, he'd probably have gone home -- or at least used his HII. But being from Masachussetts, he forged a connection with Trish, who did some talking to Tony, who all teamed up with Jefra to oust Cliff. I've never witnessed such a turn of events in the show's history; one's hometown saving someone from elimination. LJ gets the MVP of tonight's episode, simply by being born at the right place. (And also for playing it so damn cool when pressed on the HII. Unless the editors just showed random stone-faced shots at opportune moments, LJ should switch careers with Garrett and become a pro poker player.)
Cliff did everything right. He established strong bonds early on with the right people. Sure, the crazy lady on the tribe disliked him, but she disliked Lindsay WAY more. And Cliff was an asset in challenges! Did you see him holding that pole? The entire Aparri tribe could have latched onto him, like the orcs hacking on ents at the end of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and he still wouldn't have budged.
But Cliff was Cliff. He is a person, and some people don't like other people -- especially celebrity people who make a lot of money. I knew it'd be Cliff's downfall, though I expected -- for other contestant's sakes -- for it to come way later in the game, even at FTC, when numbers actually matter.
In Cliff's mind it was 4 vs. 3, the fourth being Tony. But Tony had been sowing seeds to dethrone Cliff since he spilled the beans to Sarah about the fake conversation. And Cliff's intimidation tactic definitely didn't work on Tony, who's got a lot to prove to the boys in blue back home. And Cliff wasn't about to get on his knees and beg (though I wish he had, though, because he'd probably still tower over poor Tony). It's reminiscent of Brenda's unwillingness to scramble to save herself in Nicaragua. Had these two swallowed their pride, they might have lasted a bit longer.
Tony made the right move tonight. It's obvious he was out of the Cliffhangers (™) alliance and would have been cut loose after at most two more losses, or sooner should Cliff and co. start seeing his physical strength as a post-merge threat. And, assuming Tony did make the merge, he'd probably join up with Sarah, who'd still be hell bent on voting out Cliff. This was the tidiest move for Tony, as it ties up loose ends.
Alternatively, had he blindsided LJ, he'd firmly establish a Brawn alliance, or at least project that image to the other tribe. Sarah, his Cops-R-Us ally, would probably be targeted. This move keeps her safe and moves the target to the Beauties on Aparri, who stand to gain more come the merge with LJ and Jefra in play.
To be fair, the Beauties are doing a good job targeting themselves. Alexis and Morgan's cat fight shows, again, numbers in Survivor are superficial. 3 Beauties =/= 3 Allies. The only reason the 3 Brains = 3 Allies is because they've played more game. As Cliff noted, the [NBA] series doesn't start until you lose your first game. Compared to Sarah and the Beauties, Kass/Tasha/Spencer are seasoned veterans. My first instinct was that Sarah would be the swing vote in a Brains v Beauty beatdown. Now, it looks like it'll be Morgan vs Alexis, with Sarah the one sitting pretty out of harm's way.
The Brains are getting a fantastic edit. I can see these three going all the way now, like the Jalapao 3 or Foa Foa 4 (OK, I guess Erinn outlasted Taj in Tocantins and Brett outlasted Jaison in Samoa, but they're still examples of underdogs nearly sweeping the competition). But none of them are giving off Winner vibes yet, which is great. The editors are keeping lots of characters in play, and it's making for a great season of TV.
Up For Grabs
-MVP: LJ, you stone cold fox, you.
-Winner Pick: I'll start doing rankings?
1. Spencer (Could it be that obvious? He's getting a glowing edit)
2. Tasha (Team Brains, but not enough to single her out as favorable)
3. Kass (Team Brains, but way too much negativity)
4. Sarah (Team CopsRUs, but starting to feel more Stephenie than Danni)
5. Morgan (If a Beauty does it, it'll be her)
6. Tony (We didn't even see his reaction to being separated from Sarah? Bad news)
7. LJ (Solid, not spectacular)
8. Woo (Too quiet)
9. Jeremiah (Too much foreshadowing of his downfall)
10. Jefra (Too little character)
11. Alexis (Too much negative perception)
12. Trish (That branch hit her in the head in Ep 1, and by God I'm sticking to that)
13. Lindsay (Probst on the beach next week = not a good sign)
-Sarah outing Morgan's secret about the rice vs. HII choice goes to show how hard it is to successfully maintain a lie out there.
-Hopefully the reunion will feature a twerk-off between Trish and Alexis.
-Jeff Probst doesn't know the sex of the Immunity Idol, so he checks the crotch. Oh Jeff.
-Are gongs traditional instruments in Filipino culture? Seemed out of place to me.
-Trish said she's no Mrs. Robinson. Right, Trish, that was Kail on Big Brother 8, and we all know how well she did (not very).
-Did Tony make the right choice? Is Lindsay gonna quit? Can the Brains go all the way? Cast your thoughts below or send a treemail tweet to: @miketvladue.