Survivor: Cagayan- Top 10 Analysis

by Julian

Whew, was that an episode or what? I was going to include this as a part of the recap but it just made it huge… so to a separate post it goes. Now that we’ve merged and our jury has begun, let’s take a look at everyone remaining and try and answer the all important question: Who will outwit, outplay, and outlast all the others to become the Sole Survivor? To answer that question, however, it has to be kept in mind that we aren’t watching the game of Survivor when we tune into an episode. We’re watching the editors tell a story about the game that was played, using the footage as their storytelling medium. It’s not just the moves people are (or aren’t) making that need to be analyzed–it’s the way that the edit presents each of them. As should be obvious, each episode is not three days long, but only 42 minutes. There are probably a thousand moves that every player is making that we aren’t seeing, because in the end of the day it’s about conservation of detail (something I’m not always the best at doing myself… ergo super long winded write-ups). The editors are showing us what they need to so that the story–why the winner wins, and conversely, why each of the other 17 players don’t–makes sense to us, while still managing to maintain suspense so that we tune in next week to see what happens.

Anyway, going into the merge, there were maybe only two or three players I had pegged as possible winners, and in the span of an episode, I’m completely unsure where the show is turning. A season this volatile and unpredictable could have almost any sort of outcome. Sure, some people are looking more likely than others right now, but nobody has a giant flashing neon sign saying “WINNER” hanging over them as we’ve seen in some past seasons. Anyone who watched all of five minutes of any randomly selected episode of Survivor: One World could have told you that Kim was going to win. Cagayan is, pardon the pun, worlds apart from One World.

Before we can get to who might win, let’s talk about who probably won’t.

Rob Cesternino, Survivor: Amazon

In Survivor: Amazon, Rob Cesternino pioneered the strategy of alliance hopping with incredible finesse, but he had strong relationships with most of his tribemates and only jumped when he had hard evidence it was the right time to do so. When the rest of his alliance wanted his closest ally, Deena, out of the game, he cut her loose so as not to rock the boat. When Alex told him that Rob was out at the final four because their other two allies, Jenna and Heidi, would never turn on each other, Rob banded the other three remaining players together and voted out Alex instead. And when Jenna and Heidi went to Christy to try and get the power back and Christy, much like Sarah, sat on her power–Rob took initiative and got Jenna and Heidi to help take Christy out. It was only when Jenna won the final immunity challenge that Rob saw his game end. Jenna didn’t want to sit next to someone who had played so strategically well, and when she and Matthew, the other finalist were asked during the Final Tribal who they thought played the best game besides them, both answered Rob without hesitation.

Kass… is not Rob. As much fun as #ChaosKass has brought and will likely continue to bring to this season, this episode all but confirmed to me what I predicted last week: Kass has a mighty strong case building up in her corner to make her a zero-vote loser in the finals. I don’t think she’s going to necessarily stick with the Solana Tribe, as we didn’t see her get any real promises from Trish for the long term. Rather, Kass is someone who is probably going to jump back and forth between alliances, swinging her vote wherever she pleases until there’s nowhere left to swing and she’s sitting at the end having to explain herself. The problem for Kass is that I don’t think she is a good enough social player to pull it off without littering the jury with enemies. Hell–I don’t think she’s a good social player period. While I have no doubts she is an intelligent woman, and there may have been solid, logically sound reasons she had to flip, we weren’t shown any of that as viewers. All we saw was someone who was guided by their emotions first and foremost. Her sense of snark may make for great soundbites, but she can’t turn it off. The second someone gets under her skin, she reacts to it. Her motivations, frankly, seemed to largely be informed by jealousy. She wasn’t fearful of Sarah’s “power” in the game, but was jealous of it. Sarah’s position as the swing vote meant everyone else was kissing her ass full force to make sure they had the numbers, and Kass was mad she didn’t have the same attention being lavished on her, completely missing the point that it was being done solely as a game move. And on top of all of that, I think Kass might just want to play a chaotic game. Much as Tony has admitted to reveling in the chaos, so it seems does Kass… but I can’t say for sure why she wants to play the game that way. Does she think it’s truly her most effective strategy? I’m sure somewhere in her mind she’s convinced herself it is. But more so, I think that Kass thinks it’s a fun way to play that just happened to let her sit in the power position and get rid of someone she personally didn’t like. I don’t think for a second that Kass’s flip means the remainder of Aparri are going to be the next four picked off, but I do think that somewhere along the way as she alliance hops, someone is going to see her making enemies and want her sitting with them at the end.

Just because I don’t think that Aparri is going to be systematically eliminated after this doesn’t mean I like the chances for most of them as winners, however. Jeremiah has had no shot for a while. He’s not really a consistent character in this season. He pops up when the plot demands it, drawls his way through a few confessionals and then goes back to doing what male models are usually hired to do: standing there and looking pretty. Morgan, while a lot of fun as a character, is also someone I can say with full confidence isn’t winning this game. As I’ve said before, she just doesn’t seem to really care enough to try and win, and her edit has her more in the role of a fun background character than a serious contender.

And lastly, sadly for our dear superfan, I don’t think Spencer is winning this either. It took me a while to figure out who I was being reminded of, and it really hit me a few episodes ago that he’s Cagayan’s take on Survivor: Philippines‘ Malcolm.

Malcolm Freberg, Survivor: Philippines

I don’t think Spencer is as charismatic as Malcolm. He’s like Malcolm’s nerdier cousin, if anything. Malcolm certainly had a little bit of arrogance, but it incorporated into his overall character in a way that came off as the cocky charm of a hot, smart, funny, gregarious guy who knew he had a lot going for him and who could temper it with modesty when called upon to do so. I’m not saying that Spencer is unlikeable, per se, but I think he is more likeable to the audience than he might be to the people he’s playing with. Regardless, it’s not so much their personalities that remind me of each other, but the way they function in the stories of their specific seasons. Much as Malcolm’s Matsing Tribe was decimated by two stronger teams in a three-tribe game, so was Spencer’s Luzon, leaving him as a rootable underdog after the smoke had cleared. After that, Malcolm was a consistently present voice in the season. There wasn’t a single episode where the editors didn’t let us check in with him to get his read on the game. And in the end, Malcolm was just looking too good. He was a big distraction to keep our attention diverted just enough from the actual winner, Denise, and he lost it all just shy of the finals. Spencer seems to be shaping up almost identically. I feel fairly confident that Spencer is going to last to the final episode, but will be one of the last few to join the jury. Much as with Malcolm, he’s meant to hold our attention and distract us. And I also feel fairly confident that part of that distraction will involve him being the one to find the New and Improved Super Idol ™.

Tasha is the only one out of the Aparri Tribe who I think still could possibly be our winner. She’s a level headed player and a solid leader, and I don’t think she’ll have trouble making a case. The question for Tasha is how she’ll get to the finals. With Kass breaking up the Brains Trio, Tasha is going to have to make other plans, and I’m not really sure what those plans could be, but I still think there is enough in her edit to support her as a viable candidate. Specifically–and I know this might sound like nitpicking, but the editors love tiny little pieces of foreshadowing–we had a brief bit of focus on Tasha during Trish’s pilates class, where she tells Trish she’s flexible. Something tells me she might mean more than just physically. Even though she doesn’t have any pre-established connections with Solana, I can see her finding a way to make them, and her survival hinges on it.

Bearded Mountain Man #1 Leon Joseph really doesn’t even need to be commented on, as he’s the closest thing this season has to an “obvious” winner. He alone has been highlighted as the castaway who has it all, so to speak–Beauty, Brains, and Brawn–and the edit making that his central theme would certainly line up with a winner’s storyline. Much like with Tasha, his case in the finals is an easy one to make. Unlike Tasha, I think he has more inroads right now that could make a clear path to the finals for him, though it’s going to take some luck and probably an immunity win or two.

If not L.J., the edits for Solana overall are looking better than they are for Aparri. Tony was someone who I had written off completely. His moves in the game were always so big and so overblown that it seemed like a forgone conclusion he would overplay his hand and get caught and punished, and Sarah seemed to be the most likely one to deliver the vengeance. But in spite of blowing his idol, this episode completely revived Tony’s chances of winning (from the perspective of the edit, at the very least). Come the merge, there was a role reversal–the Good and Bad Cops switched positions. Tony plays hard, and I still think there is a chance that he’ll play too hard and end up overshooting and knocking himself out. But Tony doesn’t play mean, and that’s key. He is having a blast out there, and watching him have fun in the game is fun for the viewers. Tony winning will be largely dependent on how he makes it to the end, because if he can do it without making too big of a mess, he might be able to pull it out.

Fabio Birza, Survivor: Nicaragua

Woo didn’t really have much personal insight this episode, but he didn’t really need it. Woo has never been the super-cerebral strategist in the edit and I don’t think that’s who he is as a person either. It reminds me a lot of another previous contestant–Survivor: Nicaragua’s winner, Jud “Fabio” Birza. Fabio didn’t need to do much to win in terms of strategy, other than lie low and let the threats take each other out. By the time anyone got around to him, there weren’t a lot of people left in the game, and he was able to go on an immunity run that lead him to finals with very little blood on his hands and a whole lot of friends on the jury. In a game that fluctuates as much as Cagayan’s seems to, Woo the surf ninja could very well just stick to what he knows best, and stealthily ride the wave to the finish line.

Natalie White, Survivor: Samoa

Whereas I see shades of Fabio in Woo, I see shades of Survivor: Samoa winner Natalie White in Jefra. I don’t think that the former Miss Teen Kentucky is by far and away the obvious choice, but there are peculiarities in the way the show presents Jefra that I can’t help but pick up on. Ever since the shuffle, we’ve been getting tiny glimpses at how she’s playing this game. Every week she’s had a confessional which allows her to explain her own position in the game–she tells us that she is in a bad spot after the shuffle, she tells us that she’s glad she is in Tony’s alliance, she tells us she’s upset to see Alexis out of the game. In past seasons that have had alliances resembling the one between Jefra and L.J.–we’ll call it the Guardian and Ward alliance–the ward is a silent number. She follows the guardian’s every move, and the guardian explains those moves to the audience. Every confessional that Jefra has had thusfar has delivered us information the editors could have just as easily given us through her guardian, L.J. Much as with Woo, I don’t think Jefra is playing a grand, strategic game that the edit isn’t showing us, because I don’t think that’s who she is as a person. Rather, I think she’s sticking to her strengths and keeping her head down and being sweet. If the bigger players blow each other up and she can make it to the end with the right combination of people, Jefra’s argument might simply be “I’m not them” and it could be enough.

Sandra Diaz-Twine, Survivor: Heroes vs Villains

And lastly, we come to the player who I’m most excited to talk about: TRISH. What has me excited about Trish is that I think she is, as of right now, playing the best game this season. Her power plays have all worked out for her because she executes them with enough nuance that she doesn’t come off as being aggressive. Her play to knock Cliff out on Solana worked, and be it intentional or not, she helped Lindsey along the path of bucking herself out of the game as well. Despite the fact that we’re told how Tony is super observant, it was Trish who spotted the fissure in the Aparri ranks, and Trish who was able to exploit that to get Kass on her side. And then on top of her strategic play, she’s well liked. Morgan loves her and wants to keep her around for the free pilates lessons, and Spencer is able to look past her “annoying laugh” and see a person who he has fun around who is full of great stories. Spencer also calls Trish out in the same scene as being someone who is unaware of how she is perceived, and I’m not totally sure if that’s the case. Trish comes into this game with a natural smokescreen in the form of her thick Boston accent, her braying donkey cackle and her general over the top demeanor. It reminds me a lot of Survivor’s only two-time champion, Sandra Diaz-Twine, winner of Pearl Islands and Heroes vs Villains. One of Sandra’s biggest strengths was that she was blunt, foul mouthed, and true to herself as a person the whole time. People looked past her as a threat–much as mostly everyone has with Trish–because people were quick to accept her at face value. They didn’t see Sandra as a strategist, so it made it easy for her to lie when she needed to. They didn’t see her as a physical threat because, well… she wasn’t. (Trish, as a member of the Brawns, might stand a little better of a shot in challenges.) I don’t know if the edit necessarily supports Trish as the winner 100% yet, but they aren’t shying away from showing us her top-notch gameplay. For Trish, the key to victory is the combination of finalists. She’s not like Tasha or L.J., where the problem will be getting there, and she’s not like Tony, where the problem might be making a case. I think Trish stands a very good shot at making the finals, but if she ends up sitting against the wrong person–such as L.J. or maybe even Tony–she could still find herself losing by default to a more “obvious” player.

So in conclusion… I really want Tasha to win, think Trish should win, and have no clue who actually will win.