This week, we have a new contributor in the mix. Everyone, say hello to Ianic! He’ll be taking over our Theme pieces for the rest of the season.
From the very beginning, comfort has been a huge factor in the Survivor world. In one way, comfort is physical. The players miss their beds, chairs and other everyday things that make life a lot easier. That side of comfort was one of the bases on which the entire concept of Survivor was created; how will these people fare when taken into the wilderness without their everyday necessities?
The other component of comfort is in the sense of the game. How comfortable are you in your spot within the tribe or the alliance? Looking back throughout the history of the game, this is something that we see from nearly the very beginning. In Africa, Silas Gaithers took complete control of his tribe and asserted his dominance on them, thinking he had the game locked up. Then the first ever tribe swap happened and he found himself at the bottom of the totem pole. In Marquesas, a season in which many people would assert was the birth of real Survivor strategy, the Rotu 4 got too confident in their standing within the game and revealed their entire boot order in the Coconut Chop challenge, ultimately leading to their downfall.
Last night in Survivor: Game Changers, we saw one of the biggest contrasts in individual comfort the show has ever portrayed between two sides. It created one of the more dynamic episodes of the season and set the tone that the rest of the season may play out a lot differently than what many were predicting a week ago.
On one side of the coin, we have the alliance that was mostly referred to as “the 6”. It consists of Sierra Dawn-Thomas, Brad Culpepper, Tai Trang, Debbie Wanner, Troyzan Robertson and Sarah Lacina. They just blindsided Ozzy out of the game and the other side’s alliance is in shambles after some in-fighting between members. They are on top of the world and Debbie is quick to point that out to the viewers in her opening confessional where she claims that her alliance can now pick off the other side one by one.
Meanwhile, Sierra echoes Debbie’s sentiments in another confessional a bit later on where she says:
“Life can’t get any better. The 6 is super tight. I don’t see why anybody should break and I don’t think we will. I feel like I’m in the driver’s seat and it feels great.”
Now these are already terrible signs for that side. As we all know, Survivor is an edited product and the fact that the producers are showing us this means something. This tips off the viewers that the 6 are extremely comfortable in their position in their game and don’t see any way they could be toppled. This kind of extreme confidence can put blinders on a person.
On the other side of the coin, we have the minority. During the reward challenge, Cirie struggles to get through but with help from her team, eventually completes her heat. It’s a nice moment but what is relevant in terms of gameplay is the confessional Cirie gives us afterwards back at camp. She has a very nice confessional about showing her kids that no matter what you have to keep fighting, but the important note is how she ends it. Cirie says that if she can’t beat them by winning competitions, she will do it in any way she can. This is a veteran of the game who knows she is nowhere near being safe and the discomfort she is feeling with her position is motivating her to find a way out of it.
During the immunity challenge, the 6 shows more of their confidence. As Andrea and Troyzan become the two obvious threats to win immunity, Debbie and Brad begin openly cheering for Troyzan. When Andrea’s chances of winning go down the drain when she drops her tiles, it takes all of Debbie’s self-restraint (however little of it she has) not to openly cheer. As Troyzan wins immunity, we get a confessional from Sierra telling us that her side gets to choose who goes home. Troyzan echoes the sentiment by saying it’s a “tight alliance of six and we just have to figure out who is going home.”
At this point, it would have already been enough from the producers to let us know how this would go down. The majority was going to get blindsided, it was obvious but the material just kept on coming. The 6 were about to get buried. Back at camp after immunity, the alliance confers together to decide on a target. They choose Andrea due to her general competence at every level of the game. This is despite Debbie wanting to vote out Michaela for being “highly annoying and having a bad attitude,” which, I mean… look in the mirror Debbie.
Fearing that the minority might have an idol, the 6 decides that it is best to tell them they are voting for Michaela. They think that is the best course of action because they think everyone dislikes Michaela as much as they do and that the minority will just be happy it isn’t them and vote accordingly. Once again, this is a group that is so comfortable in the game that they feel as untouchable as Elliot Ness.
In another masterstroke of arrogance, the 6 decides not to confer with Sarah, who was one of the key votes last tribal for their side, before deciding on a target. Sarah was already on the fence about staying with the 6 and now they make her feel like she is at the bottom of the totem pole. Knowing that if she flips, Sarah will need Zeke and Andrea to get back on the same page, she asks them to bury the hatchet. Both Andrea and Zeke are savvy players who know how to contour the game. They are both currently without a shot at winning if a flip doesn’t happen so they set aside the hubris and bad feelings and agree to work together.
Now no matter how badly the 6 played everything because of their comfort, it probably could have all still been avoided. To her credit, Sierra makes a great final three pitch to Sarah of Debbie, Sierra and Sarah, something that greatly interests Sarah. Debbie is at this point one of the biggest goats left in the game along with Michaela. If she can go to the end with Debbie and one other person, it’s essentially a final two. So this makes Sarah question if she truly wants to risk her life by flipping so early at final 10. Crisis averted, right?
Wrong. Because Debbie has to be Debbie and assert her dominance. You see, back in Koah Rong Debbie and Aubry played the game together and Aubry cut Debbie when she became of no use to her. Debbie harbors resentment over being so outclassed and wants her revenge. Now that she is comfortably in the majority, she can strike. She approaches Aubry and tells her that she is safe tonight and that it will be Michaela going home. She wants to work with Aubry but Aubry has to do everything Debbie tells her and she will be alright. She also tells Aubry that Sarah told her she doesn’t trust Aubry. Essentially she is trying to make Aubry into her follower.
Because Aubry is a brilliant game player and honestly, even an average game player would see through Debbie, she buys none of it. As soon as Debbie leaves, Aubry quickly gathers her side to inform them of the conversation she just had. She also tells the viewers in a confessional “she starts to get cocky and makes mistakes.” Being told that her name was thrown under the bus, Sarah is now way more reluctant to go with that final three proposed to her by Sierra. Sure, having Debbie in the final three would be good for her end game but how comfortable of a ride would it be for Sarah if Debbie is already throwing her name out at final 10?
At tribal, the 6 continues to bury themselves in their arrogance. Debbie essentially outright confirms to Jeff that this is the case of a strong 6 that will be voting out the minority. We are also told, “anything other than a strong 6. We have a 6 that has a really accurate perception of themselves and we just click.”
That quote is extremely telling. Here is an alliance that is about to have one of its members flip over to the other side and they don’t even have a suspicion of suspecting it. They are so comfortable that they have established the final six at final 10 that they have blinders on and can’t see any other possibility. Troyzan even confirms as such to Jeff at tribal council. This isn’t Survivor Borneo, alliances are never rock solid.
The nail in the coffin that is the 6 as we know it is Debbie’s voting confessional for Andrea as she says, “there are people who give orders and there are people who take orders. It’s called a democracy.” Making us once again question if Debbie truly understands the different ways one can govern a nation.
Once the votes are read, the 6 go from an 11 on the comfort scale down to a 0. It’s an earth shattering moment back to reality and you can see it in Sierra and Brad’s faces. Not once did they stop and consider that they might face some opposition. Both have been playing much stronger games this season but this episode showed viewers how not to play within a majority. Consider the other side and Cirie who was similarly running things back in Micronesia. Not once did she rest on her laurels feeling like the game was wrapped up. She worked hard to maintain her bonds with people and her alliances. Brad and Sierra didn’t do enough of that. They felt comfortable, showed their cards in the form of who their end game people were and like the Raro 4, they are now in trouble because of it.
As for Debbie? You could say that this might be a valuable learning experience for her but we all know she won’t retain any of this. Twice now she has been bested by Aubry in two different seasons because Aubry constantly worries about her position in the game and Debbie thinks she is a mastermind as soon as one move goes her way. Good riddance to her departure.