Survivor V: The Gamer's Perspective

By Thorin Tatge

Week 5

This episode was disappointing in several respects.  The promos, in their typically shameless way, had given us three main features to look forward to: Jeff making a grim-looking offer to the tribes, Chauy Gahn suffering a big loss, and Robb getting physically hurt.  (We certainly are a sadistic fan base, aren't we?)  In later promos, it was revealed that Jeff's offer was the chance to switch tribes--an idea
which has major woulda-coulda-shoulda potential if anything does.  And yet... nothing happened.  No takers!  No new interpersonal dynamics, no chances to see how easy or difficult it is for a lone newcomer after 13 days to assimilate.  What a let-down--but at least we can speculate on what might have happened... and you can bet I'll do just that in the next paragraph!  Moving on to the other expected attractions, many viewers (my mother included) were able to predict what the big loss would be.  My first thought was that a contestant would be injured, but Mom was right--if that had happened, our good friends the crazy commercial writers would have been quick to let us know.  The
boat was the only sufficiently valuable object to warrant such despondancy, and lo, indeed it was lost.  Okay, well.  So what?  So Helen and Brian had to swim to get their water instead of rowing.  This isn't such a big deal as it could have been, since it seems there are places along the way where they can stand and rest, they have canteens which won't spill when they drag them through the ocean, and the canteens even provide a little flotation when they're empty.  Aside from that, the only effect of losing the boat is that the tribe is now unable to do any fishing.  This is not much of a change, however, so all in all this development is not quite so game shaking as we may have thought.  And Robb's injury was an even bigger non-event.  All it gave us was a glimpse of how the rest of Sook Jai looks at Robb: as a kindergartener.  Good to know, certainly, but not a huge surprise.  But the most disappointing thing about this episode was how predictable the ending was.  Stephanie might as well have been voted out for being too dull.  Her ouster was obvious despite the barrage of anti-Shii Ann material inserted near the end, and it wasn't even very interesting.  To think that Jed and Stephanie were the two racehorses (er, Survivors) garnering the best online odds before the show began!  Gone and gone.  What's that Brian likes to say about books and covers?

Still, Episode 5 was far from being a dud.  Let's talk about Jeff's offer.  Burnett's team made a good decision with this twist.  Fan opinion had been divided about the surprising Switch made in Africa and the Winds Twist in the Marquesas.  Some fans worte online that the only redeeming feature of such devices is their surprise factor, and now that that is gone, so should be the switch.  My personal opinion is that a switch of this sort would be a fine regular component of the game.  Its primary benefit would be to keep the tribes from simply becoming de facto alliances after the marge, which I suspect is the main reason it was implemented in the first place.  (It was interesting to see Pagoong get eaten whole in Season I, and somewhat less interesting to see Ogakor destroy Kucha while simultaneously paring itself down in Season II.  But the post-merge show gets boring when one alliance has the clear majority, and it seems that putting people together for 19 days is enough to make them bond strategically [if not emotionally] without much thought of jumping ship.  Interesting social observation; publish the papers and for heaven's sake change the game before it gets too predictable.  So they put in the Switch on Day 13 of Season III to see if the post-merge alliances would get more complicated.  They did, but only a little bit, and by the second episode past the merge it was more or less back to tribal lines.  "Thirteen days together is still too long," said Burnett; "let's try ten."  So in Season IV they scrambled things up a little earlier, and this time it worked.  New Maraamu and Old Maraamu banded together to overthrow the Rotu Old Guard, and history was made.  [Unfortunately, by the time the merge happened one of the four groups, the Maraamu Old Guard, had been wiped out completely, so some of the potential complexity was lost.  Better luck next time.]  So, Mark Burnett succeeded in his sociology experiment and figured out how long people need to be sequestered together in order to cohere in a game despite personality conflicts: somewhere between ten and thirteen days, with a margin of error around a million percent.  Hey, the important thing isn't the science--it's the story.)  And the switch makes things interesting.  So, why do some columnists hate it?  Because it "destroys the integrity of the game."  Excuse me?  What integrity?  No, seriously, it does nothing of the sort.  Mr. Probst likes to talk about how unpredictable Survivor is, and when the most unpredictable element of the game structure is whether the merge is going to be on Day 19 or Day 20, the game could use a bit of shaking up.  Contestants need to be able to adapt, as Vecepia did, and so do columnists, even if an early tribal switch screws up their precious predictions.  On the other hand, the device was touted both times it happened as a surprise, and would lose much of its force if it were regularized.  So what to do in Season V--drop the switch and look boring, or keep it and look predictable?  What they actually did was a neat compromise.  By allowing players to switch tribes if they pleased, they managed a different angle on the tribe-switching gimmick while reducing the likely amount of admixture.  In actual fact, they reduced it too much--all the way to zero--but it was still a good try.  Plus, it allowed Jeff his funny moment of clapping his hands and saying "Great!  We've got two good tribes."  (Has anyone noticed that Jeff is getting funnier and funnier?)

In addition to that, it gave us some thoughts from the castaways that we might not otherwise have had, a remorseful scene with Stephanie, and a barrelful of speculations.  Jan--why did she not jump ship?  Perhaps because Chauy Gahn is -her- ship.  She picked it, she was the team captain for those few precious minutes, and the captain goes down with the ship, so Jan Gentry stayed put.  Shii Ann--we knew she had issues with the three Sook Jai outcasts, but we didn't know she hated her whole tribe so much.  Still, since she's obviously in the core group there she was right to stay.  Stephanie--she looked at the other tribe and just couldn't do it.  She couldn't stick her hand in the air and say "Me!  I want to switch tribes!  Hi Chauy Gahn, I'm Steph, remember me?  I'll be your new Tanya!"  So she stayed mum and paid the price two days later.  Sometimes it's so hard to speak up.  And it's even harder to be the new kid in the neighborhood.

So, did Stephanie act rightly or wrongly?  What about Jan?  Is it worth the risk of exclusion from a new tribe if things are dire enough on the home front?  Did Jan and Stephanie have nothing to lose?  Or would they have been inevitable outsiders?

Opinion is divided.  Even expert Survivors Teresa and Vecepia have strongly differing opinions in this week's Fire Ring on  Some writers think, like Teresa, that Jan and Stephanie should have seen clearly that they were next to go, that their tribes would quite probably lose one or both of the next two immunities, and that there was little that could happen to change their standing within their tribes.  They think there may not have been much chance of being accepted by the other tribe, but there's always a chance.  Others, like Vecepia, think that switching tribes is disorienting, emotionally draining, and unlikely to work, given how close the other tribe already probably is.  Moreover, it will brand you as a traitor or a troublemaker.

I agree with Teresa on this one.  It's interesting that both of these Survivors actually -did- switch tribes involuntarily around this point in the game.  It's also interesting that both did much better than they probably would have done without the switch.  It's also obvious to me that not all tribes are so cohesive that they wouldn't accept a new member, or gladly replace an old one.  In fact, my gut tells me that Stephanie would have fit in significantly better on Chauy Gahn than on Sook Jai.  Shii Ann would have even more, I think, but then her strategic position on Sook Jai is strong.  Stephanie has no excuse.  Moreover, maybe Jan on Sook Jai wouldn't have been embraced into the fold, but I think she would still be retained over Stephanie or Robb.  When the other tribe is already divided, it's safer to switch.  Of course, she didn't really know that Sook Jai was divided, and neither did Stephanie know that Chauy Gahn had broken along gender lines, but they must have had at least some inkling given all the time the tribes have spent together this season.  I mean, really--Stephanie asked Shii Ann, "Which one is your favorite?"  They would certainly not have been obvious choices for the first one gone. Case in point: On the Marquesas, even though both Sean and Rob were doing a very poor job of fitting into Rotu, it was Gabe who first bit the dust, and despite all expectations, both knuckleheads both made it to the merge.  Surely Stephanie or Jan could have managed the same.


Moving on to the food auction.  This was the third food auction on Survivor, and the first to be held before the merge.  It was certainly welcome to both tribes, which both seem to be suffering from starvation much sooner than they ought to be.  I expect the real reason they held it before the merge instead of after was just for variety, though.  Anyway, people online are writing about how Chauy Gahn actually "won" this non-challenge, saying that they got the bigger haul of food and played the better game.  I disagree.  I say Sook Jai did better, and if they got less for it, it was just bad luck.  Let's take a look.

Chauy Gahn bought three lots: a pitcher of limeade ($20), a tureen of deluxe spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread ($400), and a platter of nachoes that came with margaritas ($320).  Sook Jai also bought three lots: a deluxe hamburger with french fries ($120), a mystery item which turned out to be baked grubs ($80) and a second mystery item which turned out to be a fancy hot fudge sundae ($200).  Which meal would you select?  Quite possibly the first one.  But remember that nutrition is more important than taste here, and limeade and margaritas have little nutritional value.  Grubs, on the other hand, are bursting with it.  Of course, simple caloric count is important too, but Sook Jai certainly didn't lag behind there by much, if at all, thanks to the size of that sundae.  I mean, wow was that thing big.  And while ice cream has lots of fat and sugar, it does have all the valuable nutrition of dairy.  Fat and sugar aren't to be frowned at, either.  So I think Sook Jai's buffet was slighter better for their health than Chauy Gahn's was.

Even if we decide that Chauy Gahn got the better food, however, this doesn't mean they played the auction better.  Look at it this way.  The castaways had no idea when Jeff was going to stop producing items.  He only brought out six lots.  In the previous two auctions, there were more like eight or nine lots.  While it's true that the lots in this season were bigger, that was because they were feeding twelve people instead of seven.  It was quite fair to expect there would be one or two more lots after the plate of nachos.  Look at what the tribes spent.  Chauy Gahn finished the auction with $260 remaining.  Sook Jai, by contrast, had fully $600--they spent so much less for their food that they could have acquired the nachos by sheer force, bidding $600 over Chauy Gahn's maximum of $580.  If they'd suspected the nachos were the last item up, they surely would have done so.  What's more, if there had been two more items after the nachos, Sook Jai had enough money to buy them both at $280 without even listening to a bid from Chauy Gahn.  In games that feature auctions such as this, it's essential to keep your options open, and that means going evenly and not letting your opponents get into a position where they can force the bid.  Chauy Gahn was forced as soon as they let Sook Jai buy the first mystery item for a measly $80.  They should never have let the burger go for $120 either.  Guessing that there are 6-10 items (and assuming that you want to spend all your cash), you estimate that you will get half of them (3-5) and bid accordingly.  For a platter like that which was bound to be better than some, they should have bid at least $240.  No, Chuay Gahn lucked out in the end, plain and simple.

Then there's the fish-sorting challenge.  I liked it, in principle.  It lacks the glitz of most Survivor challenges, but that was kind of the point.  Making the Survivors get down and dirty without getting exciting-mud-volcano-dirty.  A simple task that my mother quipped was won by Chauy Gahn because they had a first-grade teacher working for them.  And the question of how objects can be sorted most efficiently is a very important and interesting one.  It's a huge topic in computer science and people make their livings finding the answer for factories and assembly lines.  What's the solution?  Should one person be assigned to each kind of fish and handle only them?  Or should everyone stick to one part of the bin, but sort all kinds of fish?  Or maybe everyone should sort exactly two kinds of fish, one for each hand?  Or three, if you count the mouth?  I'd like to say which strategy prevailed in this week's immunity challenge, but I just wasn't able to tell.  Everyone was moving so fast and no one voiced any strategies while the camera was rolling.  Maybe that's the biggest strategy of them all--just forego any attempt at organization and keep your mouth packed with silverfish.  Anyway, it wasn't at all clear what Chauy Gahn did better than Sook Jai or who did it best.  It may just be that Sook Jai knew in their hearts they could afford to lose a tribe member, so they didn't work too hard.  Survivor has a way of balancing out like that, so long as your tribe isn't called Maraamu.

On to this week's feature players...


Best Gamer: Helen.  Last week I predicted that Helen's ploy to seal herself in with the Chuay Guys by voting for Ghandia would succeed, and it looks like I was right.  Clay's confusion with why Jan voted for him suggests that they expected Helen (and Jan) to vote for Ghandia all along, which means that Helen is in no way an outcast just because of the gender divide.  She has kept her relationship with everyone good and her place in Chuay Gahn secure.  She has proven herself to be the best singer of the bunch (not saying much, but still) with her excellent pick of "Sleigh Ride" at the nighttime songfest--come on, that counts as a game!  Kind of...  But most of all, she was sensible enough to realize that dehydrated survivors in a challenge = BAD, while two tired survivors + three rested ones, all of whom have water in them, is a much better prospect.  So she forced herself and Brian to swim for water on the day of the immunity, and what do you know, they won!  Helen is a necessity for Chauy Gahn.

2nd Best Gamer: Ken.  He led Sook Jai in the auction and judged his bids well.  Moreover, the five person alliance he seems to be at the head of held firm through Stephanie's removal.  I still consider him most likely to win the game, even though I still don't like the idea much.  To be honest, I think it's just his accent that bugs me.

2nd Worst Gamer: Ted.  He didn't really do that badly this week, but then, no one did.  He was Ken's counterpart in the auction, leading Chuay Gahn with inferior judgement that paid off anyway.  He wanted to wait an extra day to get water, but was overruled anyway.  If securing a boat poorly had anything to do with games, I'd get him for that too, but since it doesn't...

Worst Gamer: Stephanie.  Not seeing the billboards is no excuse, girl: you should have Made the Switch.  Nuff said.

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