April 15th, 2010
If you caught last week’s episode of Survivor, you could have written the basic plot of this week’s episode: the preview for “Survivor History” very clearly laid out the narrative stakes, right down to the seemingly ludicrous plan that was laid out by J.T. following the reward challenge. It played us a series of clips of past decisions, focusing on the history of stupidity in the game of Survivor. Of course, it was a selective history: while they focus on Ian sacrificing himself for Katie in Palau, James getting voted out with two immunity Idols, Jason believing his obviously fake Idol to be real in Micronesia, and Erik giving his immunity to Natalie in the same season, they don’t include decisions like Colby taking Tina to the end of Australian Outback.
This is because while they want us to believe that Survivor has had some stupid moves in its past, which is a factual statement, they don’t want us to realize that Survivors do stupid things every week, and sometimes the effects are subtle, and sometimes the stupidity is not entirely clear. While they want to lump in this week’s “stupid” move in with those other mind-numbingly idiotic plays, I would very argue that what they term “Survivor History” is the result of ignorance more than stupidity, and that difference makes it a strategic misstep more than a scenario of self-destruction or anything similar.
And, frankly, I’d argue that there’s a larger and less logical mistake later in the episode, demonstrating that while the basic thesis statement of “Survivor players can be stupid” may be spot on, their use of examples could use some work.
When Russell and Parvati made the decision to keep Sandra over Courtney, I would argue (and Noel would back me up) that they were making a bigger mistake than J.T., or at the very least they were making a decision which has no logic as opposed to a decision with misinformed logic. If they were to really think about that decision, they would realize that it was Sandra who had been Rob’s right-hand, and thus the person least likely to show any sort of loyalty to Russell’s alliance. While Courtney was also part of that alliance, and she is certainly willing to make a move, she is not the kind of player who is going to organize a move, and if you know (as the Villains do) that the Heroes are going to go right to Russell and not Courtney after the merge you know that she would probably wait at least a while to make her move. Sandra, by comparison, is the exact type of player who will make a move, and she has absolutely no loyalty (and no love) for Russell and his crew. She’s still hedging her bets, voting out Courtney with everyone else to seem like she’s on the same page, but she is by far the more dangerous player.
As an audience, we’re meant to see J.T.’s decision as horribly stupid, and it is…so long as we know that Russell is actually in control, and that Russell is a dangerous player in this game. They don’t know the ridiculous moves that Russell has pulled off (it’s not like there’s been any sort of “visits” this season that would have revealed that information), and they are under the wrong, but not illogical, impression that there is an all-female alliance. Just to be clear, I think that everything that the Heroes do with this plan ends up being beyond hilarious in an embarrassing way, and I was loving Parvati reading J.T.’s ridiculous letter in the most sarcastic fashion she could muster. But the plan, had their assumption been correct, would have worked well – that Russell was playing them, and that they thought wrong, is an example of a poorly calculated risk more than a blatantly stupid move.
While Ian and Erik literally eliminated themselves from the game by choice, and Jason should have been smart enough to realize that that Idol wasn’t real, I don’t think the Heroes’ reading of the Villains’ tribe was that illogical for those playing the game. Plus, while we could argue that Russell is too dangerous a player for them to ever consider risking the Idol being in his hands, the Heroes have no clue what kind of player Russell is, choosing to read him as the last man standing. They have no more information to work with as a result of this season filming before his season had begun to air, and I don’t think we can call them stupid considering that forced ignorance. Sure, perhaps they shouldn’t have taken this risk, but Amanda and Candice actually prefer this scenario (if I had to guess): she is going to have to get rid of J.T. at some point along the line, and him no longer having the Idol may make it easier for an actual all-girls alliance (Parvati, Danielle, Amanda, and Candice) to gain control of this game at some point along the line.
Foresight is a difficult thing to use in Survivor, because it’s dangerous: if you think too far ahead you miss something happening right in front of you. I don’t think it’s a situation where stupidity can be defined by a lack of foresight, as living council-to-council can be how people like Sandra survive until the merge. Plus, an extreme focus on foresight can get you in trouble, like J.T. over-reaching to the merge when he should have just stayed focused on his own tribe and not tried to mettle with things he doesn’t fully understanding. And yet, at the same time, foresight is how Parvati is already creating the scenario wherein Russell will be the odd man out of their alliance with Danielle, so it can be a huge benefit to how players work their magic on the game of Survivor.
Everyone makes stupid mistakes in the game of Survivor, but there are some that are particularly illogical: for me, it’s when people forget that this is a game, or forget that a million dollars is at stake, or can’t tell a piece of carved wood from an Immunity Idol, or believe that there is such a thing as definitive trust in the game of Survivor. However, in most cases, mistakes made on Survivor aren’t stupid so much as their are misguided, created by misinformation more than some sort of mental deficiency. I know that Probst is going to sit there at the reunion show and ask J.T. about his plan, and about how stupid it was, and I really hope that J.T. tells Jeff to shove it, and explains that they took a risk based on how they were (somewhat logically) reading the other tribe, and it backfired on them. This doesn’t make him the stupidest player to ever play this game – it just makes him part of a much longer and more complex history of “stupidity” on Survivor that goes far beyond the examples the show used to set up the moment in question.
- Russell shows small hints of foresight in his gameplay, like his choice to vote for Courtney last week so he can say he never put Coach’s name down when it comes down to the Jury, but the social game and the merge will be his downfall. While he’s giddy now about what the Heroes are doing, the chances of him winning the game when they find out that he played them hook, line and sinker will only make him seem like more of a “villain” than Parvati, and he’ll lose yet another game despite having been a master strategist. Combine with his choice to keep Sandra around, and his foresight is still a missing part of his game.
- Heading into the merge, there’s some interesting dynamics: the two 100-day Survivors (Amanda and Parvati) went to the end in Micronesia, Rupert and Sandra played in Pearl Islands, and Colby and Jerri played together in the Outback. I think Russell needs to be careful about that last option considering his exclusion of Jerri from the discussion of his “three-person” trust alliance, as Colby will be Jerri’s only friend out there, and there’s every chance she could consider teaming with him just to keep from being too miserable.
- I was intrigued by Sandra’s pimpage of Outback Steakhouse as the eatery of choice for her Army husband – while that would normally be seen as a bit sappy, and as a bit forced in that it reinforces the product placement in the episode, Sandra’s no-nonsense attitude makes it seem less blatantly sentimental and more “unscripted” in the way that reality producers would love to see.