Survivor: Cambodia – Episode 2: “Survivor MacGyver”

In which two of Survivor‘s greatest strategists get out-manoeuvred by Terry Deitz. *sad trombone*

Last week I said that this time around on Survivor I wanted to focus a bit more on looking at the strategy side of things, and it looks like this might actually be quite a fun season to do that on because we’re only two episodes in and already two of the contestants with the best reputations for strategy outside the game have had their games utterly implode. Three if you count Fishbach, but his game hasn’t necessarily imploded yet, he’s just getting the bassoon of idiocy soundtrack every time he appears on screen.

But let’s deal with the amuse-bouche of Fishbach before we get to the main course of Shirin and Spencer. It was perfectly obvious in this episode that Bayon would be winning the immunity challenge because so little time was spent with them in the first half of the episode, but what appeared to be the key scene was when Savage decided to tell everyone a tedious and earnest deeply moving (it says here) story about how he met his beautiful wife (and you’d better believe he made a point of saying she was beautiful, Savage wouldn’t want you thinking he’s got a homely missus) and how much he misses her. Because he’s on a tribe full of saps, they all got a bit teary-eyed and Jeremy went off to have a think about Val and sob about how strange it was playing without her (unlike on San Juan Del Sur, where they were on different tribes and Val was the second boot) and Fishbach joked about how he was probably using that time to hunt for an idol. True, it maybe wasn’t the best time to make that joke but it was hardly the egregious slight that Savage took it for, stomping off to tell Jeremy what Fishbach had just said and complain that Fishbach wasn’t sufficiently moved by his awesome story. Did he not hear how beautiful Savage’s wife is?! Naturally, he and Jeremy decided to form an anti-Stephen alliance as a result of this, and Savage bored on for several minutes about only wanting to play with people with integrity and not EVIL GAME-PLAYERS.

Savage? Yeah, hi, over here. It’s not 2003 any more. This is how we play Survivor now. This is an All-Star season you nitwit, Fishbach is playing the game that you’re all supposed to be playing. This imaginary competition in your head where you win the $1m for being the most honorable stand-up dude of all is not only non-existent, it is BORING BEYOND ALL MEASURE. If this is all you have to offer, kindly leave this show immediately.

God, Savage is the worst. And the annoying thing is, he was awful in exactly the same way on Pearl Islands and yet somehow people were clamouring for him to be invited back for years. WELL DONE, EVERYONE. *golf clap*

Anyway, now that we’ve established that Savage is a colossal bore – not that it was ever in doubt – let’s look at where things went wrong for Shirin and Spencer in this episode. You could potentially argue that it began when Jeff gave a confessional saying that he wanted rid of Shirin and Spencer – in any order, he wasn’t really fussed – because they were the two biggest gameplayers out of the entire cast and the longer you let them hang around the bigger the threat they’ll be, but let’s be honest, the real catalyst here was Abi-Maria once again. Shirin had tried her best at folding Abi-Maria into her alliance, but hadn’t quite realised just how much supervision Abi needed and was starting to find it all quite exhausting. Meanwhile, the rift between Abi and Peih-Gee – and by that of course I mean Abi’s inexhaustible ability to take umbrage with Peih-Gee over literally nothing at all – continued to widen and it became clear that Abi was quite the annoyance to everyone at camp. This is where things started to go wrong for Shirin because she clearly took her eye off the ball long enough to have a conversation with Peih-Gee about how annoying Abi was. Which Abi overheard.

Now, really, after what happened in Worlds Apart, you’d think Shirin would be more careful about checking who’s around when she’s talking smack about people (she wasn’t even particularly talking smack, most of it was coming from Peih-Gee, but Shirin wasn’t exactly disagreeing with her and was therefore guilty by association). This evolved into most of Ta Keo having a good giggle about how annoying Abi-Maria is, which Abi-Maria again overheard and went off for a cry. Getting involved in any of this is a bad strategic move for Shirin, both in-game and out. In-game it meant that Abi-Maria was ostracised, and when Abi-Maria is ostracised, she gets volatile and reckless. But crucially, in the meta-game, it probably didn’t play well to the people who supported Shirin in her previous season to see her taking an active role in the exclusion of a castmate. I’m not going to say anything as reductive as “the bullied has become the bully” because clearly it’s all far more complicated than that, but Shirin’s established brand on this show is that of the plucky underdog, so this didn’t favour her in any way.

What happened as a result of this was that Terry – who was already aligned with Jeff but worried he was on the wrong side of the numbers – decided that it wouldn’t do to have Abi-Maria sitting out there crying by herself, so he went to see if she was all right. And because Abi-Maria doesn’t have the most complex personality in the world, this was enough to earn her loyalty and her vote, and since most of the others were still in the “anyone but me” stage, it didn’t take long for Terry and Jeff to go around the camp and hoover everyone into their alliance to vote against Shirin and Spencer.

And here’s the other spot where both of these ostensibly amazing strategists went wrong: neither one had a back-up plan. When they realised they were both utterly fucked, they attempted to scramble, but this extended to going to Woo and telling him that he was on the bottom of the alliance and would be first on the chopping block once Shirin and Spencer were gone. Woo, surprisingly astutely, pointed out that a) it wasn’t really like Shirin and Spencer were able to offer him anything better, and b) this was the first time either one of them had bothered to talk to him in any meaningful way. In short, he told them to stick it, leaving Shirin and Spencer with no choice but to vote for each other and hope the vote didn’t go against them. This really was a rookie mistake from two alleged experts: obviously you don’t have to draw everyone on your tribe in your alliance, but you should at least aim to build enough of a bond with everyone that if you need them to vote with you at short notice, you don’t have to build a relationship from scratch in the couple of hours you have between the challenge and tribal council.

In the end, the dominant alliance split their vote between Spencer and Shirin, with Shirin receiving five votes to Spencer’s four. Spencer was largely a spare part in this episode but showed himself to have little game and resorted to his old tricks of pleading to everyone at tribal council that if they just keep him around a little bit longer he’ll be honest and work with them all, truly, really, but I was still slightly surprised that they didn’t take this opportunity to get rid of him. Just based on previous form, I would have thought that Spencer’s far more likely to get people to work alongside him later in the game than Shirin is, so it would make sense to get him out now while he’s weak and defenceless – but I suspect that part of Terry and Jeff’s plan here was to make Abi-Maria feel welcome by giving her the final call in which of Spencer or Shirin was ultimately going. It’s that classic move of giving someone the illusion of power when really you don’t care what they decide, because either result is still a positive for them, but this way Abi gets to feel her opinion is valued. The trouble is, of course, you can’t really trust Abi to make a logical decision with the longterm health of her (or indeed anyone else’s) game in mind, so we’ll have to wait until later in the season to see if this turns out to be the right decision or if they should’ve shanked Spencer when they had the chance.

NEXT WEEK: Conveniently-timed tribal swap that is not at all a convenient way for the producers to keep Spencer in the game!

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