In which Abi-Maria Gomez has inexplicably become the power-player of the season and I wonder why I picked this season in particular to start really looking at gameplay in strategy.
Having lost his main/only ally in Shirin last week, things were looking pretty shittacular for Spencer at the start of this episode, so he must have been very grateful for the absurdly well-timed *sips tea pointedly* tribal swap which didn’t just mix everybody up but also – for the first time in Survivor history – divided two starter tribes into three. After a random Buff draw, Kelly W Iglesworth and Spencer moved over to Bayon to join founder members Kimmi, Jeremy, Monica and Stephen (who also benefited hugely from the swap, incidentally, since Savage is out of his way and Jeremy’s the only thing on this new tribe who even comes close to the kind of alpha male he was previously struggling to fit in alongside), while Ciera, Joe, Kass and Keith moved over to Ta Keo to join Kelley Wentworth and Terry. That left Abi-Maria, Jeff, Peih-Gee, Savage, Tasha and Woo as the all-new Angkor tribe. Sometimes a random draw on Survivor is so, so perfect that you find yourself convinced that the producers themselves could not have chosen better, and this is one of those times – what a delightful collection of fractured egos, featherlight alliances and toxic egos Angkor is. If I’d found myself on that tribe, I’d have marched straight to Tribal Council and voted myself out there and then rather than spend a single second longer with any of them (I mean Peih-Gee seems all right but I like to think I could have read the writing on the wall there).
With that in mind (and the fact that they’re clearly going to lose the immunity challenge anyway because dear god look at these people), let’s consider how the six members of Angkor decided to deal with the hand that fate dealt them (which included having to build a shelter from scratch again, and also having no food of any sort which seemed a little unsporting). Tasha and Savage were arguably in the toughest spot, since the split of former Bayon/Ta Keo members was 4:2, so they felt that they were the obvious targets should the tribe not win immunity. And had the former Ta Keo four been a tight one, that’s probably how it would have played out, but of course it contained the human timebomb that is Abi-Maria, who not only liked to run around and interrupt conversations that she wasn’t a part of (because obviously all of these conversations must have been about an imminent plot to vote her out), but who also had pre-existing beef with Peih-Gee.
Further wriggle room (wrigle room?) presented itself at the end of the immunity challenge (in which Jeremy managed to surreptitiously snuffle up the hidden immunity idol for Bayon, but it wasn’t portrayed quite as dramatically as when Kelley did it because, well, we’ve already seen this happen once) when Angkor finished last and the alleged super-player Jeff Varner decided that this would be an opportune moment to semaphore a message to Kelly Wiglesworth. Since Jeff had unfortunately left his INVISIBILITY CLOAK back at camp, Tasha noticed this happening and – in one of my favourite things that has ever happened on Survivor ever – hurled her body in front of him and did some sort of improvised paso doble to block the message while declaring to the rest of her tribe that “we got a rat”. This is where I felt Jeff showed his hand as an amateur player: caught bang to rights, all he could do was go into faux-indignation and ramp the “clueless Southern belle” act back up again. Oh and to claim that it was actually Tasha and Savage who had six squillion final three deals with everyone on their former tribe. Hey, if the Survivor thing doesn’t work out (spoiler: it doesn’t), Jeff’s got a bright future in politics.
So this is how Tasha and Savage ended up in the power position: because both Abi-Maria and Jeff had proven themselves to be untrustworthy alliance mates. So Tasha and Savage put the feelers out to both Woo and Peih-Gee, and Peih-Gee made the disastrous decision to assume that bygones were bygones and float this suggestion to Abi-Maria. Abi-Maria, in turn, decided that she was already on the bottom of the ex-Ta Keo alliance (and honestly who even knows what state that was in by this point, but she may well have had a point) so she should definitely flip over to Savage and Tasha, and then Peih-Gee decided that Abi’s volatility was a danger to everyone (but probably mostly to Peih-Gee herself, who had been on the wrong end of it several times already) and decided to try and rally the numbers to just get Abi the fuck out of there already.
With Jeff swearing his loyalty to Abi, and Peih-Gee and Woo desperately attempting to regain control, Tasha and Savage ended up with the casting votes and…I guess now at the top of the alliance? Assuming this is actually an alliance and not just a spot of mutually advantageous vote-sharing. Anyway, they sided with Abi-Maria and Jeff to vote Peih-Gee out, making this the second vote in a row that had been carried out to keep Abi-Maria happy. As I said last week, I’m not entirely sure that giving Abi-Maria that much power is a good strategy – I appreciate letting her control the vote is probably the only way you’ll get her onside, but if you have to make that much of an allowance to gain her loyalty, it’s probably not worth having in the first place. Certainly things look rough for Woo, who has now been on the wrong side of the vote twice in trying to get rid of Abi-Maria, a fact that was not lost on her. Still, I’m sure she’ll get over that quickly, right? She’ll give him THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT, surely?
(I hope when Peih-Gee left she took Abi-Maria’s bracelet with her. That would have been amazing.)