In which we learn that shamelessly mugging for the cameras does not necessarily lead to longevity in this game.
The big strategic problem of the season so far is what I’m going to call “The Abi-Maria Issue”. Like it or not, with the tribes as small as they are at the moment, it’s very hard to court an overall majority without getting her on side – but the trouble is that once you have her on side, you have few guarantees that she’s actually going to stay there. That was Tasha’s problem this week – she recruited Abi-Maria last week to get herself and Savage into a position of power on Angkor, but now she has to keep Abi-Maria happy to stop her from revolting – and that limits Tasha’s options elsewhere on the tribe. For example, she wanted to draw Woo into her alliance and promise him that Jeff is next on the boot list – but seeing Tasha talking to Woo made Abi-Maria see red, because Woo has now voted for her twice and therefore Tasha attempting to broker any sort of deal with him is clearly a betrayal of Abi-Maria. Abi-Maria’s strategic worldview in this game is pretty narrow – I doubt she’s capable of seeing that Woo voting against her is basic “anyone but me” strategy rather than a calculated, concerted effort to get Abi-Maria out, and so Woo is basically on her shitlist now until one or the other gets their torch snuffed. So that leaves Tasha with a big problem if she wants them both in her alliance: how volatile does she want her own alliance to be?
While most of the airtime this week went to Angkor as usual, there were little hints of strategy taking place on the other tribes: for example, over on Bayon we had the gradual cementing of an alliance between Jeremy and Stephen, though not so much that Jeremy’s willing to tell Stephen about his idol. Not yet, anyway. Stephen feels comfortable having Jeremy around for support, and Jeremy clearly feels like this set-up works for him, as he can be the JT to Stephen’s…Stephen. I continue to be fascinated by the show’s editors’ ongoing portrayal of Stephen being inept at strategy, being manipulated by others: is this a gentle warning to future players who present themselves as strategic experts in the outside world about the sort of edit they can expect if they return to the game? We already saw a hint of this with Max last year as well: the self-styled Survivor guru was not given a flattering portrayal.
And over on Ta Keo, Kass wanted to show us just how much she changed, even alluding to having spent her pre-season sequestering visibly reading How To Win Friends And Influence People in front of the other contestants. I had initially assumed this was more A-grade trolling on Kass’s part, but apparently it was a genuine attempt to demonstrate her willingness to be more of a social player this time around – in the initial stages at least – and she developed that in this episode with her handling of Kelley Wentworth. Kass had been sneaking off by herself, acting slightly suspiciously, which Kelley had noticed and raised her general alert level. However, Kelley’s suspicions that Kass was making a fake idol were dashed when Kass revealed what she’d really been up to – making Kelley a necklace for her birthday. As social gaming goes, it’s not the smoothest I’ve ever seen – Kass might have done just as well to make a big sign to put around her own neck saying “HI I’VE CHANGED TRUST ME PLZ”, but it was quite fun to Kelley not knowing at all how to react to this apparent act of generosity from someone she’s constantly on her guard against. Kass’s game really interests me at this point – as much as she tries to reinvent herself, people will always remember how she behaved in Caramoan and I think people will always want to keep her at arm’s length. But, much like Abi-Maria, Kass might end up being a number that they need, so I’m looking forward to seeing how everyone else attempts to manage her, assuming she’s around for long enough.
The other point of strategy on Ta Keo was Spencer realising that he and Kelly Wiglesworth were very much in the minority, numbers-wise, and reaching out his hand to the others on his tribe to assure them that he would be happy to shank her if it meant him being spared. He suggested that Kelly has strong alliances on the other tribes (and I like the implication here that Spencer has no ties anywhere because nobody really likes or trusts him), and while Jeremy and Stephen seemed receptive to this approach, Monica seemed…not so much, since she’s apparently more interested in that old staple, the All Women Alliance. We’ll see how that goes.
But really, it was all about Angkor again this week, and it looked briefly as though their fortunes were reversing when they won the reward challenge and got treated to some BBQ on the beach. Considering they were probably days away from actual starvation at this point, it came at a good time – and of course Alpha Male Savage was the one who earned it for them, because he’s still playing a very old-school game where providing for his tribe and proving his worth as The Dad is his number one priority. It didn’t help them in the immunity challenge, and they lost again – and since Tasha, Savage and Abi-Maria had somehow managed to maintain their alliance, it came down to Jeff vs Woo for the boot. Naturally, Abi-Maria wanted Woo gone because he has already voted for her twice, and she felt that Jeff was more loyal to her. Tasha, however, was keen to get Jeff out because he’s an Iago, more than capable of pouring poison in Abi-Maria’s ear at any moment and turning her against Tasha. Plus, y’know, Woo’s better at challenges and stuff. This is essentially what it came down to at Tribal Council: Jeff saying that he’s not a physical threat and has proven his loyalty (apart from, y’know, that bit last week where he was doing semaphore to Kelly Wiglesworth across the tribe divide), while Woo attempted to prove to Abi-Maria that he would have her back in future and she has his loyalty from now on. I assumed that Abi-Maria would get her way once again and Woo would go, but for once her alliance managed to bend her over to their will and persuade her to vote with them against Varner, who lost 4-1. And if you’re wondering what the self-serving Abi gets out of this, that’s simple: the look of contentment on her face when the vote was revealed as she made it clear to Woo that he owes her. This was a win-win for Abi-Maria – either she gets rid of the guy she thinks is plotting against her, or he ends up in her debt for saving his ass. It’s good to be Abi-Maria in Cambodia, I guess. It’s just not great to have to work with her.