"If there's a merge coming up, we need strong members. But we also need loyal members."
– Stephen Fishbach, Survivor: Tocantins
What a blowout. Wednesday on Survivor, the Fans continued their epic losing streak. They lost the reward. They lost immunity. The Fans are losing so badly, they lost their biggest member to an errant dust particle.
Who could ever have imagined that putting 10 veterans of a game against 10 newbies would be a blowout? The Fans' only hope now is that the Favorites succumb to infighting.
Too bad for them! The biggest drama at the Favorites camp is who gets to have a Stealth R Us nickname. Phillip, feeling magnanimous, hands out aliases to tribe pariahs Brandon, Erik and Brenda. This doesn't sit too well with Andrea the Eliminator.
"It kind of makes me upset that Phillip gives people not in our alliance a name," Andrea pouts. But you can tell she doesn't really care. There's a lazy, clubby feel to the Favorites camp, like it's a postmodern sitcom (think The Office) and everyone's winking at the camera.
Even the arrival of a native tribesman, traditionally a cause for much rejoicing, is more fodder for the Favorites to nudge each in the ribs and caper about. Malcolm calls him "a Filipino Gollum."
"The way he functions is basically saying enigmatic little things that nobody understands," explains Cochran. Wakka wakka. Nobody's really worried about, say, learning how to cook food to survive in the wilderness.
It's like the two tribes are on totally different TV shows. The Favorites are on Saved by the Bell. The Fans are in a documentary about the Donner Party. Rats have invaded the shelter. There's a hurricane a comin' and ol' Shamar may have to be put down because of his gummy eye.
Crisis PointThe Fans have reached a crisis point. Laura and Sherri, who have been leading the dominant alliance, are challenge liabilities. But athletes Reynold and Eddie have repeatedly told the rest of the tribe that they have "absolutely no loyalty." (Smart move there, guys.)
Matt and Michael need to decide whether they stick with their alliance or ice Laura for a shot at immunity.
There's a lot more going on with this vote than a simple choice between strength and loyalty. This decision gets to the heart of the intricate calculus that contestants must perform as they map their Survivor strategies.
When you're playing Survivor, you never know what twists the producers have planned. Will there be a final two or a final three? Are there immunity idols? How many of the other contestants are Hantzes?
Perhaps the biggest question is – will there be a swap? That's crucial on day 10 – the next day could bring a total tribe reshuffle. Keeping the tribe strong becomes a lot less important when there might not be a tribe. You need loyal allies you can count on at the merge.
On the other hand, what if there's not a swap? If you keep losing, what does that mean for your life in the game? Matt and Michael are on the bottom of a five-person alliance. What happens to them, three tribal councils later, when Reynold and Eddie are gone?
Then there's the merge: Tight-knit alliances have dismantled dominant tribes. But it could make sense for Matt and Michael to join with Eddie and Reynold, who are much bigger targets, and buy themselves time. If Laura makes the merge, nobody's targeting her until the final five.
You can't know what's going to happen in Survivor. But you can make smart decisions at every step. The guys vote Laura, winning this week's Fishy for doing their best with the information they have.
Let's see if it works.