This season of survivor has been slow to get going, but I have been pleasantly surprised at the twists and turns it has taken in the past couple weeks. Someone online described it as a “Slow Burn” and hopefully that trend continues through the finale on the 20th of December. In the past it seemed like a major swap, switch, or strategic move always happens a few tribals before the end which results in a predictable Finale where core alliance members “stick to the plan” and vote out the minority in order without incident. Not my ideal finale-watching scenario.
Last episode, the explosive sequence of reactions that lead to the Ben, Lauren, Devon, and Ashley Alliance light on fire and implode was incredible to watch happen. After sitting through the previous episodes, where character relationships are built up and reworked over time, it was gratifying to see the safe route to final four fall apart in a 20 minute timespan.
Kudos to Ben, realizing ahead of time the importance of not telling anyone about his hidden idol (why don’t more players do this? You have to tell someone you just met less than a few weeks ago about your special hidden idol all the time??), and then working hard to make known all the secrets of his former alliance before tribal. Even with the entire tribe voting against him, the massive leak of secrets should help transform the strategic landscape for the next couple votes as well, which will make for great entertainment. Ben impressed me with those plays following the read of the situation, and I have no sympathy for the Water Well 3 who got too cocky with their megalomania. I also appreciate the inherent human drama Ben stirred up by his big play.
This is something I personally enjoy in a season of Survivor when I am competing as well; I hate strategists who think they have a set plan – I thrive when their is conflict and chaos, since new options become available. I think this has more to do with my attraction to being a swing vote then chaining myself to one or two strategies or alliances. We have seen from Survivor History, statistically stable alliances have a greater chance of being targeted, breaking apart amidst paranoia, or staying stable so long they eventually spawn inner alliances of “core members”. I hate all of that; give me chaos and uncertainty!
Dr. Mike stands out to me as a fellow devotee of chaos; his past tribals he has taken on more of Joe’s demeanor and served as Devil’s Advocate and Swing Vote with open ear. This is a great position to be in when there is turmoil since he can adapt to any developing situation by keeping options open. He might have trouble pleading his case if he does happen to squeak by and get to final tribal, but it’s a really adaptable position strategically for what he has to work with. I’m not sure if Dr. Mike chose this position to be in, or it was just a byproduct of siding with Joe when he was voted out – he’s either doing this because it works for him now, it’s his only option, or a little bit of both.
Lauren kind of surprised me with her naïveté regarding use of her advantages. Last time I checked, this is a game for a Million Dollars, so leaving an advantage back at camp, or handing over part of an immunity idol to someone you may or may not trust, is really bizarre. I thought, leading up to this episode, that Lauren was playing a near flawless game and left her emotional decisions on the sidelines to make strategic decisions. This episode undid that perception, so now I don’t know what to think. Later I may take a look at the Ponderosa video or read Lauren’s exit interviews to get a better idea of what happened; sometimes editing simplifies an episode to make sense or build a narrative. That may be what happened here.
Devon and Ashley’s alliance kind of sprang up in the last couple episodes, and I’m surprised by how tight it seems to be. Devon is my pick to win after seeing the last couple episodes; something I didn’t think during the pre-merge episodes. He seems confident, liked, and still reserved in his strategy. Ben on the other hand is bold, brash, and making big moves in the open. I can’t imagine Ben will make it to the end, (Although I hope he does!) as his target keeps getting bigger and bigger. Devon on the other hand is proving to be a calm strategist. Ashley also seems to be in a similar place strategically as Devon, but I just don’t see her winning at the end or pitching a winning claim to the jury.
Chrissy and Ryan are just done. I had such high hopes for Ryan early on, and he was being sold to us as “Cochran 2.0”, but he just fizzled out. I will be surprised if he makes it past final 5. Chrissy I am annoyed with, but I like her character in the show. She has this smug righteousness when her alliance or people are in the majority, but once everything toppled for her she had the audacity to be angry and upset that she was duped. It’s like a caricature of a entitled financial analyst, and every time she begins “mom lecturing” lately I just start laughing at the absurdity of it all.
I understand these observations are not casting the best light of some of the castaways, but you also need to recognize that in a lot of ways we are watching theater. Survivor is real, people are saying these things, and it is in no way scripted by CBS. That said, editing can shape conversations, weave narratives, and ultimately create it’s own realities. Chrissy, Ben, Mike, Ryan, etc… I am sure are incredible nice people once removed from Survivor. If I were to meet any of these castaways at a charity event (The Hearts of Reality event in Florida comes to mind; a great event to meet reality tv contestants from all kinds of shows if interested in breaking the 4th wall! ) I would find they are much different in person.
All in all, I think SEG Casting has done another tremendous job at finding a good group of personalities to crash into each other, and hopefully this is just the start of the fireworks. The greatest gift CBS could give me this Christmas would be to have an over the top argumentative discussion at the Final Tribal Council! I don’t enjoy, or learn anything about the human condition, from watching a handful of “gamebots’ mull over strategies, votes, and advantages. It needs to get emotionally charged, which I think will happen if Ben finds himself sitting in the finals, if Chrissy is on the Jury, or if a few more friendships are broken.