"You can't get cocky in this game, but I'm in control. It would take something extraordinary, off the charts, completely whacked out to disturb my plans now." –Marty Piombo, Survivor: Nicaragua, immediately before losing control
Peter Baggenstos may look like Obama. But to my eyes, he's the Donald Trump of Survivor. Everything he's doing is the absolute best.
Some say Survivor is an infinitely complex game.
"Liz and I are both smart, and we've thought about everything."
Is your gameplay really that good?
"We're playing like bosses right now."
How important are physical appearances?
"Liz and I are good looking people, and we have great smiles."
Isn't the social game really where it's at?
"As an ER doctor, social interaction is what I'm a professional in."
You can't judge a book by its cover.
"I do judge a book by its cover."
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I've basically learned everything I know about ER doctors from watching medical dramas on TV and this YouTube clip from Malice, but they're a famously overconfident bunch. They have to be to act with decision and purpose in the emergency room. But overconfidence may be the single worst quality you can have on Survivor, other than a weak stomach. If you underestimate your opponents, if you truly believe you're running the show – you're likely already gone.
Peter and Liz form an axis of hubris. Liz says she wants a group of players she can "shepherd into the swap and the merge." What kind of animal do you shepherd? A sheep. She called Debbie a "court jester." Does that mean that she and Peter are queen and king?
Just look at the figurative language that Peter and Liz use. The other players are sheep or goats or clay or children or buffoons – but never rational opponents to be respected and feared.
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"Everyone else, they're like clay that we mold. They're indecisive unless given a decision. They need paternal direction." Peter sounds like President Snow from The Hunger Games. I guess that makes Debbie his Katniss Everdeen.
Debbie may be loopy, but at least she's self-aware. Unlike Peter and Liz, she knows her position in the tribe and she plays it to her advantage. "Nobody really pays attention to me and that is precisely what I want to do," she says. "Fly under the radar. All the while I'm sitting back gathering intel."
Look at Debbie's figurative language. While Peter and Liz cast themselves as the shepherds among the flock, Debbie's metaphors are all military. "We need to be subversive. We need to implement counter-intelligence," she says at one point. Then later, "When you get into a battle with me, be prepared to lose to better, smarter tactics. The bomb doors are open. Prepare to fire!"
The language that you use reveals the way you perceive the game – and therefore, how you'll play the game. Let's take Alecia. She said Survivor is "like a rollercoaster." For her, the game is wild, erratic and totally out of her control.
Robert Voets / CBS / Getty; Inset: Monty Brinton / CBS / Getty
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She's subversive. We saw last week how annoyed Joe was with Liz's book learning. Debbie played on that, telling Joe, "She's a freaking prima donna who bitches or knows everything."
She implements counter-intelligence. She told Neal that Peter and Liz are out to get him.
She displays better, smarter tactics: While Peter lectured Aubry about her communication skills, Debbie treated Aubry like a friend.
If you don't think about your opponents as threats – if you use a language that dismisses them and doesn't reflect their danger – you can be lulled into careless thinking and, like Liz, wind up with your torch snuffed.
Beauty & BrawnThis week wasn't just about the Brains. Tai nabbed the Beauty idol, and Jason outraced Alecia for Brawn's. Jason's narrative frame is that he's a bounty hunter and "I try to treat the game like I treat my job." So of course he's the fastest hunter in the forest.
But from the previews, it looks like all the strategy and idol play will have to wait, as next week a tragedy strikes.
Survivor: Kaoh Rong airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.