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Wanda's Words of Wisdom – Survivor: Guatemala, Episode 4


by Wanda Shirk

Survivor is the sum of three games being played. Pre-merge, intertribal contests comprise one game. To the end, interpersonal competition is another game, an intratribal one, determining the final winner. But this week “the game” was mostly about the third game: Production (Mark Burnett and Co.) vs. Survivors.

Every one of these three games has had a special type of evolution throughout the ten seasons of Survivor. The game of Producers vs. Survivors has produced twists brought on by ways that the Survivors have read and mastered the game, with Producers responding to foil the expectations of increasingly savvy Survivor casts.

By season 4, Survivors had figured out the game was designed in several ways to demonstrate the evolutionary concept of Survival of the Fittest. In the first three seasons, mental and physical strength and good interpersonal skills generally led to success, while weakness in some area led to votes at Tribal Council. Immunity Challenges reinforced Survival of the Fittest because the fittest were exempt from TC. Reward Challenges also contributed to the strong getting stronger — getting fed, pampered, strengthened — and the weak getting weaker.

Survivors got the picture: Eliminate threats early. In season 4, Hunter Ellis was one of the first to be voted out. Increasingly, tribes took out “threats” early, because after the merge, strong people could get individual immunity. When good people were taken out of the game early, audiences groaned, and some viewers gave up the show. Producers responded, particularly with the Palau season, by stepping up the physicality of inter-tribal challenges to teach tribes that voting off strong people early would be to the detriment of the entire tribe. Perhaps the dumbest thing Ulong ever did was to take out 3-time US heptathalon champion Jolanda Jones, an Amazon woman with a Rhodes-scholar nomination in her background, in their first tribal council. Tribes had to learn not to vote out “threats” in the early rounds.

Palau and Vanuatu both illustrated that alliances made in the first two days often lasted throughout the game. Tom, Ian, and Katie made a day two alliance that resulted in a Final Three triumverate. Chris Daugherty won the 1000 K after losing the first challenge for Lopevi but declaring that he had nothing to worry about because he started making alliances as soon as he hit the beach in Vanuatu. Suspense was stripped from more than one season when unbreakable alliances made outcomes clear early on.

So Guatemala, episode four, was about teaching Survivors that alliances made in the first three days can be broken by non-players: by Producers’ decisions. Oddly enough, no early alliances had become apparent in Guatemala, so the twist may not have had the impact that it could have had in Palau or in early Vanuatu. However, it serves as a reminder for casts of all future Survivor seasons.

Producers might have liked to have taught this lesson in Palau, but they could not at the same time teach the lesson that it is dangerous to vote off the “threats” early. When strong players are voted out early, a tribe-swap rewards the players who voted them out by giving them new tribemates, thereby potentially evening out the playing floor again. Ironically, while tribe-swaps teach the lesson “don’t depend on early alliances,” they void the lesson “don’t vote off threats early.” Production can’t have it both ways in the same game. Palau’s total lack of swaps or merges taught the lesson about keeping strong people but reinforced the day-one alliance mentality.

It did not appear that the players in Guatemala needed to learn either lesson. They weren’t voting off threats, and they apparently had no early alliances. But the game in Guatemala was dominantly Producers vs. Survivors and secondarily the interpersonal and intertribal games.

That said: What about the new tribes? The male-female imbalance was probably not something that was anticipated. Interestingly, one tribe chose a male (Yaxha – Brian) and one chose a female (Nakum – Cindy) for the “Tribe Pride” designation. That meant that Brian was joined by mostly males to form a 5-man, 2 woman tribe — the “B” team of Brian, Blake, Brandon, and Bobby Jon (they should have the B = Blue buffs, but they don’t!), with Gary, Amy, and Danni. Conversely, Cindy, Brooke, Margaret, and Judd were joined by the Steph, Lydia, Rafe, and Jamie to form a 5-woman, 3-man team, now abridged by Brooke, pun intended.

Physically, it does appear that the new Yaxha has the greater strength. Brian’s glory days are over, as the new coalition has more ex-Nakum tribesmen than Yaxhas. Leadership is up for grabs again. The old Yaxhas are outnumbered on their own tribe, and Brian could immediately see that the producers had done-in his game.

Likewise, ex-Yaxha’s now dominate the new Nakum. It was interesting to see that Margaret was the spokesman to try to keep Judd loyal to his old Nakum-mates, but he defected in helping to vote out Brooke, casting his lot with Steph and Jamie. The tribe won’t get rid of Judd any time soon — his man-power is definitely needed — but in the long-run, as Margaret said, his switch of loyalties is likely to hurt him. The ex-Yaxhas have deeper loyalties to each other than to the new guy whose strength they will borrow only as long as it’s needed. Conventional wisdom is that Judd made a bad play.

Those who stayed with their old tribes lost, becoming outnumbered by new tribemates. Those who ended up switching tribes have become majority players with new buff colors, and they were the lucky ones this week in the massive reorganizational move.

Viewers, many of them still learning names and personalities and tribe placements in these early episodes, are now swamped with the need to keep learning who’s who and to relearn who’s where. The game played by production this week was not popular with the Guatemala tribesfolk nor with the general tv audience.

Steph and Danni deserve a lot of credit for breaking the first tiles in the Immunity Challenge for their respective tribes. You go, girls! Nice to see the women be successful in a physical challenge that only half the players had a chance to compete in. Too bad we didn’t get to see the quarterback demonstrate his throwing accuracy, but he wouldn’t want to give anything away, would he?

Gary might have been more helpful to his tribe if he had done like Tom in Palau: take the risk of showing his strength, because the tribe needs it. It benefited Tribe Koror, and Tom succeeded with the risk he took. Gary’s game of lies not only hides his strengths but adds a major potential liability. I do rather feel sorry for him. It’s not fun to try to hide who you really are because of the old Survivor fear of being a threat.

It was interesting to see that neither tribe honored its respective veteran, Steph or Bobby Jon, with an afternoon picnic or with the Tribe Pride award. Good to see that the new Guatemala cast has that much mutual loyalty. Gary and Amy of Yaxha and Margaret and Judd of Nakum got the special respect of their tribemates, and that’s worth noting when we consider future pecking order. But we’ll wait to see more of the interaction on the new tribes before making any further analysis.

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