There weren't that many surprises this week. Dave's imminent departure was anticipated by us as soon as Ashley left, but he sure left a mark on Fei Long before leaving, didn't he? So what else happened in this wacky game we call Survivor? Truth be told... not much. If you had to miss a week, this was a good one to miss. Don't the contestants realize how hard that is on Survivor pundits like ourselves? Anyhow, enough about that, let's go on with the show.
Saving herself for what?: Zhan Hu was, again, where the action was this week. We'll talk about Dave's dethroning later, but the interesting plot this week was Sherea introducing her latest excuse for not doing much around camp: she was saving herself for challenges. How stupid can Sherea be?
From that line, and everything she said about challenges being what she lives for, it's pretty clear that she makes the same mistake a lot of people make: viewing Survivor as a game dominated by physical challenges. It's not. It is first, and foremost, a social game. You cannot win without one, and right now, that's exactly where Sherea is. Pre-merge, one of the deadliest tags to be put on you is "lazy", and she has just that. Just about the only thing worse is being called someone who causes disorder. Unless something seriously drastic happens, Sherea will be joining Dave at Loser Lounge very soon.
Beyond that, the most interesting bit actually came from the preview. As we predicted last week, there does seem to be a showmance of some sort between Erik and Jaime - and that likely extends to an alliance as well. Their long-term prognosis, though, is handicapped a fair bit by being on such a losing tribe. Still, we think they're safe to the merge, and at least one of them will probably make it to the final six. Their ability to play post-merge might always be handicapped by the fact that they will be outnumbered by people from Fei Long, but if they can make it past the early days of the merge, it won't be too much of a problem. (More on this later, too.)
The more things change, the more they stay the same: If there was little action at Zhan Hu, there was even less of it at Fei Long. The whale and the skeleton (i.e., Jean-Robert and Courtney) still aren't getting along, but we've known that for a long time already. The two of them are still likely to be on the hot seat when Fei Long ends up at Tribal Council. However, that might not be for a while, given the amazing incompetence of Zhan Hu.
Indeed, the biggest question for most of Fei Long is no longer how to make it to the merge (usually goal #1), but setting themselves up for the post-merge scenario. Even if Fei Long enters the merge with numbers on their side (Does anyone think Zhan Hu can win both immunities?), you can't count on tribal lines mattering much. There are too many internal differences. With that in mind, who has set themselves up for at least a decent post-merge run?
It's easier answered by who hasn't. Aside from the usual suspects (Jean-Robert and Courtney can't assume they're safe to the merge yet), the biggest name with a problem is James. He is this season's premiere physical threat; the only others that even have a shot of challenging are Frosti and Erik from Zhan Hu and Aaron on Fei Long. That's all well and good pre-merge, but post-merge being such a threat is a Bad Thing. If the immunity challenges stay physical, you can stay, but the minute it's a mental/social challenge and you don't have allies you might as well get the snuffer and put out your torch yourself. That's where James is right now. This week disabused anyone who thought an alliance with Jean-Robert was possible. The trio of Amanda, Aaron, and Todd don't seem to have looked his way. The only one left is Denise, but that doesn't sound likely to us either. Right now, he's completely dependent on his physical game, both in terms of challenges and working around camp. Social game? What social game? That is not a formula for long-term success.
As for Denise, she's pulling off what looks to be a classic under-the-radar strategy. No real allies, but no enemies either. Count her in as someone who'll get into the final six or so because everyone else needs a swing vote, but at some point after that she becomes expendable. Again: you cannot win Survivor without making some sort of deal with someone. Period.
Learning Nothing, Take Two: Last week we complained about how Fei Long stupidly sat out Courtney for the reward challenge, leading directly to their failure to win immunity. Apparently, when it comes to that, Fei Long must collectively have dung for brains, because they did exactly the same thing this week! Fortunately, it didn't cost them the challenge - it was set up so one person failing spectacularly wouldn't screw the entire tribe. You can bet the next time Fei Long loses a challenge, Courtney will have something to do with it.
Shuffle up and deal: We're pretty confident that the bit in the trailer showing Fei Long being all surprised about some bit of news has something to do with a switch. It's the right time for it (two more Tribal Councils before the merge, assuming it takes places with 10 people left), and they needed to shake them up anyway given the kind of success Fei Long has had so far.
Even if we don't know who will end up on what tribe, it's safe to make some general predictions. More than just about everyone else, Courtney needs the immunity challenge win. To us, it seems like the whole idea behind shuffling the tribe is not just to shake things up generally, but to keep the tribes, more or less, in a remove-the-weakest-link mode. Without the shuffle, it would be very tempting to act preemptively before the merge and take out threats. (Unfortunately, that tends to reward under-the-radar types, which makes for rather poor TV viewing.) With the shuffle, though, it's back to removing the weakest link - and assuming Courtney is on the losing tribe, it's hard to see them being as felicitous as Fei Long was.
Conversely, those in trouble for social reasons - Jean-Robert and Sherea come to mind - might have a chance if their tribes lose. They really are the big gainers here. With new tribemates not as upset with them as their old ones were, they might be able to wriggle their way out of trouble until the merge. Jean-Robert seems to have gotten past the "act like a lazy bum" part of his strategy, so that can only help him with his presumed new tribe. As for Sherea, her situation is complicated because she might well be considered weak as well. I doubt her excuse of "I'm saving myself for challenges!" will fly any better with a new tribe. The difference between the two is pretty clear: Jean-Robert seems to be changing tactics, Sherea is still holding steady. One will be helped, the other won't be.
As for the ones who actually have done something useful (our showmance pair of Erik and Jaime, plus the Aaron/Amanda/Todd alliance), they'll do fine. Even if they're split up, they won't be regarded as boot targets (unless they pull off a Courtney-level performance). What they need to do will be along the lines of information gathering: find out how the members of the other tribe got along, who was in charge, etcetera, etcetera. It's a simple case of know enemy better. Looking for one or two possible alliance mates wouldn't hurt, but it's not essential, as we said last week.
We must keep the people happy, too!: Ah, yes, Dave. He shouldn't feel too bad for himself; he joins the long line of failed Survivor leaders who got voted off early. Most of the credit for his boot should go to Ashley. She was able to plant enough seeds of doubt in Dave's leadership that when the situation repeated itself with Sherea, there was no question of who got the blame. It was Dave. In the end, he made a classic Survivor leader's mistake: you can't "lead" a tribe if you a) fail miserably at challenge after challenge, and b) you annoy the very people who just happen to have the power to toss you out of the game.
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