US Survivor S40 (WaW) + S28 (Cagayan)

Fuck me, this is like the third time I’ve tried writing this blog but between the fucked new layout in WordPress and the fact that apparently neither the autosave nor manual save feature seems to want to actually work, all my work keeps getting lost. And with each attempt my desire to actually detail my thoughts on Survivor 40: Winners at War (“WaW”) and Survivor 28: Cagayan (“Cagayan”) gets less and less. Especially as time passes and the in-the-moment emotions have long since passed.

Look, in brief WaW was good/fine and Cagayan was good/fun. The former is a great season for existing fans, the latter a fantastic one for someone to try out to see what all the fuss is about.

And I should not ethat I am so over this that I haven’t even done a cursory spell check. I just need this done and off my to do list.

Survivor WaW was arguably the best season of the 30s (where we say the 30s run from 31-40 since there was no Season 0), mainly for the character moments and story arc and emotional beats that came from it being the wrap up for the 20 year chapter of US Survivor history. I want to say that only David vs Goliath is the only season in the 30s that would challenge it in terms of best gameplay, but frankly I remember so little of the gameplay from either of the seasons (or any other season in the 30s) that I dunno if that’s true. Which i think really highlights why I personally prefer the earlier seasons of Survivor than the modern ones, and why Survivor started off as a huge juggernaut of TV and is now a niche. While the gameplay stuff is fun in the moment and is what modern seasons have honed to a fine art, it is the people and the emotion that stands the test of time and that is what the early seasons were bursting with.

But we’re not here to talk about why things were good. We’re here to cynically snipe at the things that were fucked. And while I have various notes from the week to week watch I’m not really sure how I’m going to structure this blog, so lets just see what happens.

Although there is no better place to start on that than with Edge of Extinction (“Edge”). When Edge was first announced for S38 I thought it could work well. And now they’ve had two cracks at it and both times it’s been shit. So I’m seriously reconsidering whether the concept has any possible iteration that works.  The whole way through WaW the Edge hung over it like an ugly specter, threatening to derail the season by having some random person not involved in the game swoop in and render all the episodes between their boot and the finale irrelevant to the overall storyline. As happened in S38.

And we hit the finale with possibly the worst situation in the world. Natalie Anderson, the literal first boot, went into the Edge return challenge with three advantages (plus an idol, plus an idol for someone else, plus food and plus spare Fire Tokens). Which meant we were in a lose-lose situation. Either Natalie Anderson would win the return challenge with her incredibly advantage barrage and thus it’d be a pretty hollow win that was super unfair to everyone else. Or she would not win despite the advantage barrage and render the whole conceit of what they were doing to pass the time on Edge pointless.

Really unpacking what happened with Edge and why it was bad requires pivoting to talk about probably the biggest disappointment of WaW which was the implementation of the new twist of Fire Tokens.

Fire Tokens were a currency, which players could use both in the game and on the Edge to buy things. This is a really cool idea that has the potential to really change a lot of aspects of the game. We could completely abolish (or at least vastly cut down on) the amount of time spent having people do a scavenger hunt in the woods because instead of idols being hidden in the jungle; they can become something you can buy. That can also be used to expand the variance in challenges- rather than it being just one winner and everyone else losers; levels of performance could be rewarded with Fire Token e.g. instead of just everyone standing on a pole until one person is left and wins immunity, it could be everyone who stands for 30 minutes gets one token and the top 3 people get two tokens (and the winner gets immunity). And the token could then be traded around to incentive people working together or against each other e.g. agreeing to drop out earlier in exchange for a token or two. Which we saw a brief glimpse of between Nick and Tony towards the end of the season but not much.

In fact the whole idea of a Reward Challenge could be made redundant by Fire Tokens- Tribes don’t compete for Pizza or mosquito nets or whatever or a spa trip; they compete for a pot of 30 tokens that they then have to spend as a collective group.

Basically taking the great parts of the Survivor Auction (which is now broken beyond repair in the US version, although Survivor Aus’ team auction looks to maybe be a good way to bring it back) and integrating those parts across the larger game.

You could even take an idea that was used on the Edge and roll it into the main game: tokens for mini-tasks. To my understanding Survivor typically operates on a three day cycle- reward day, immunity day, off day (not in that order). At least until the final run where it’s basically immunity challenges every day. On those off days (or even just every day) they could do the mini-tasks of collecting coconuts or firewood (or other camp related activities) where a certain % of people who complete it then get tokens. Which then adds in the dynamic of people having to individually and collectively weigh up the value of extra tokens vs saving their energy for the proper challenge.

And that is only scratching the surface for how good things could be. But there are a few things people can probably see that are needed to make this work: a clear market with items people want/need at prices that are fair/reasonable prices and a lot of tokens to make things fluid. What did we get instead? Pretty much the opposite of that.

Let’s start with the the spread of tokens in the game. Or rather the lack thereof. This very handy chart on Reddit tracks the number of tokens and who had them at any one time over the season. Now it is hard to tell from the chart, but you can see that within the main game itself there was a (presumably intended) effect occurring where as the majority alliance would pick off the minority, the left over people in the minority would gain more tokens and thus be in a better position (in theory) to buy something to change up the game. Although that had a fundamental problem as we’ll see later on.

Instead I’ll draw your attention to the bottom row in that table. That is, the total number of tokens in the game. Everyone started with one token so we started with 20. And we basically stayed at that number for the whole freaking season. 

There were a handful of mechanisms by which extra tokens entered the game. As in, literally two so one per hand for said handful. In the main-game, after the merge the winner of the immunity challenge would win 1-2 extra tokens. There wasn’t an obvious pattern, especially with the a couple challenges having a male and female winner and this the tokens being split between them. Doing some very quick math maybe a dozen or so extra coins entered via this mechanism.

Meanwhile on the Edge there were the two mini-task challenges I alluded to earlier. One pre-merge on Day 10 where the four people on Edge had to carry 20 logs one by one across the island to camp (basically making entertainment out of camp activities which is a great idea to be honest). They got two coins each for completing before sunset. Then post merge a similar thing where the 10 people had to carry 20 coconut and the first 5 got two tokens each. Oh and there was a random third think where there were four tokens just scattered across the island for people to run around and look for. So that’s what, another 18 tokens?

So we have an incredibly limited supply of tokens in circulation and an even more limited way for more tokens to be added in to the mix.

Why does this matter? Well lets look at what people could buy in the game, and we need to break this up into three sort of purchasable items: items you could by in the game, items you could buy on the Edge, at Item could could buy from the Edge in the game. These first two groups are pretty neatly summed up in this table (c/o Survivor Wiki):

Hopefully that is somewhat legible, fuck this new WordPress. If it is, you can immediately see what the problem is with us sticking at or around 20 tokens. Nothing is fucking affordable. You have a tribe of 10 people to start with an in order to get a tarp you need literally half of you to agree to give up this Fire Token that has who know what effect on the game (remembering that while it turned out garbage and pointless, up until the Tokens expired on Day 35 there was a non-zero chance they could become incredibly powerful like, well, every other twist Survivor introduces). Or you and a friend can send a note to someone on the Edge… who can’t reply to it. Or you and two friend can destroy your relationship with a third person by stealing their reward (and even then only you get to go on the reward in their place).

The situation is actually worse than it appears for the people in the main game as tokens for them transfer to Edge through that 3rd set of possible purchases making the number of tokens they have to buy stuff from the left two rows a smaller and smaller % of the effectively fixed number of tokens in the game.

Everything that is known publicly as available in the game is either a) way overpriced, b) not helpful, c) actively damaging to your game if you get it or d) some combination of the above. As such the literal only thing that was bought in game was a post-merge bag of rice by Denise because she had 6 tokens and literally 12 hours to spend them before they expired on Day 35.

Conversely on the Edge you had three worthwhile options: challenge advantages, full powered idols, and the jar of peanut butter. Which is what everyone spent their idols on. Everything else was insufficiently valuable given the dearth of tokens available to warrant being purchased.

As I mentioned earlier, in theory the people in the minority would be getting more tokens concentrated together (although, being the minority they would till have less tokens that the majority due to math) but fat lot of good that does when there’s nothing to buy and nothing you can afford.

Which is where that third type of item comes in: things Edge sells to the main game.

So one of the criticisms of Edge in S38 was that nothing was happening and it was a boring waste of TV airtime. So to counter that this time there was two things Edge people did: mini-tasks to acquire tokens (e.g. carry 20 logs a really far distance to camp one at a time, then suffer medical problems due to dehydration/malnourishment) or solving a weekly ‘riddle’ (I use the term riddle generously) to find either more fire token or some sort of advantage they could sell to a contestant in the main game. And if they picked a person who either didn’t want the advantage or couldn’t afford it (or didn’t respond before sunset) then they got nothing.

These thins varied quite a lot so lets break them down in order. Pre-merge had:

  1. Immunity Idol good for three tribal attendances, sold by Natalie to Sandra for 1 Token on Day 3 (price set by Production)
  2. Safety without power (leave tribal before vote, safe but you can’t vote) good until Final 10. Sold by Natalie to Jeremy for 1 token on Day 5 (Production set the price)
  3. Vote Steal good until [I’m not sure when]. Sold by Natalie to Sarah for 1 token on Day 8 (Production set price)
  4. Idol Nullifier sold by Tyson to Parvati for 1 token on Day 15 (Production set rpice)
    • Worth noting that Parvati was voted off the same episode and literally any other advantage that was offered in the season would have had more value in saving her, making this an absolute joke and waste of everyone’s time and money

Post Merge we got:

  1. 50/50 coin (flip a coin, if successful than you have an immunity idol for that tribal vote) sold by Parvati (and Natalie) to Michelle for four tokens on Day 22 which was good until Final 7 (Parvati set the price)
    • Worth noting for this that Michelle got flamed by the TV viewers for burning her money on this when the prior things were way cheaper. But she of course had no fucking way of knowing that and was comparing a 4 token 50% immunity idol to 4 tokens for a small bag of beans. A no-brainer choice that then possibly protected her from the…
  2. Extortion Disadvantage forced by Natalie (and Danni?) onto Tony for six tokens on Day 25 (price set by Natalie)
    • For this one Tony lost his ability to compete in the immunity challenge and vote at the next tribal. He didn’t get to buy it and use it on someone else. It was used directly on him. And honestly if it had gone to anyone but Tony it would have killed them and the whole episode as Tony had to draw on people in both of the alliance groups to pull together enough tokens. Anyone else would have failed. It’s like Carl and the Immunity Nullifier in DvG again- the 1 in 100 shot paid off and Production probably learnt the wrong thing from that.
  3. Challenge Disadvantage sold by Natalie to Nick for eight tokens on Day 34 (Natalie set the price).

Then the tokens expired on Day 35.

Several obvious trends emerge here. The first is that Natalie is involved in nearly fucking everything, giving her a boat load of coins (she also was top performer in both of the mini-tasks for coins) with which she bought her barrage of advantages for the final challenge. Plus a full powered idol. Plus a full powered idol for Tyson (as she was only allowed to have one idol for herself which was shockingly prescient by Production as if someone returned with two idols they were straight into the Final 4 fire challenge safety net). Plus a huge jar of peanut butter. And she still had two tokens leftover that we didn’t see get accounted for.

As a brief interlude, I think it is underappreciated (by Production if not many fans) how much an advantage being literally first out is for Edge with this Fire Token situation. It was pointed out over the season that a fundamental problem with Edge+Tokens is that you want to be voted out earlier as that gives you more opportunities to get tokens and thus advantages for the return challenge. My boi Yul was fucked as the boot immediately before Merge as not only did he have no tokens but he had no chances to even earn tokens. Tyson won with an advantage plus peanut butter power (while Yul got remarkably close, according to the edit at least) which plausibly suggests all things being equal he could have won it. Ditto for Denise being voted off immediately before the second return challenge that Natalie steamrolled advantages on (and the other people in the mix for the edit also had advantages).

But more importantly by being literally first out Natalie had ~48 hours where she was along on the island. With nothing to do but explore and get familiar with every inch of the small island with no-one keeping an eye on her. Which meant she had a huge edge (haha) in deciphering the various riddles to find the items to sell back to the main game coz she knew the landmarks (the only riddle she didn’t decipher was one that was referring to S38 events as ‘history’ rather than geographic features). Meanwhile every subsequent person had something else to do on the Edge- talk/hang out with other Edge people… and then watch each other to keep an eye for suss activities.

Now back to the trends, the second trend is how insane the pricing was, both internally and compared to the public menu prices. Pre-merge production set the prices and for 1/3 the price of coffee and pastries you were getting some form of immunity or vote affecting power. Way cheaper and way more powerful. So of course everyone bought the things because the economics of the choice were obvious (plus the price was one token, which people had. As opposed to several tokens which no-one had).

Then post-merge the contestants got to set the prices and, given the Edge people presumably talked to each other, it seemed a fairly trivial task of figuring out who had the most tokens (i.e. Michelle through ally vote out gifts, Tony & Nick through immunity wins) and then extorting them for as much as conceivably possible.

Arguably more than conceivably possible for Tony and Nick- the only think more shocking than the prices set was that they met them. But upon reflection depending on how much people spoke about how these items were coming into the game, it is plausible that by the time Tony and Nick’s things came it was determinable that they were respectively the second last and last things coming from the Edge and people knew that aside from maybe beans/rice there would be nothing else worth saving their coins for (Ben literally turned his coin into a necklace because no-one gave him extra coins, he never won extra coins, no-one tried to sell him anything… complete waste of time for him).

The third trend is that these advantages were largely) useless, stupid or unnecessary.

The first idol sold to Sandra was perhaps the high point, as it ended up being onsold by Sandra to Denise. Denise then used it plus an idol she found to protect herself and Jeremy (her minoirty ally in a 3-2 split swap tribe) to send Sandra herself home. As an aside I loved how Sandra got to Edge, shat all over it as a concept and then immeidately left (which is recorded as a ‘Quit coz Production is stupid). Which I expect may explain why she was edited out of S39 Island of the Idols i(or made to look like an idiot) in favour of making Boston Rob look cool/smart who very much embraced Edge. Can’t have the casuals thinking Sandra is a legend of the game and then have her call out the big cool twist Jeff loves and utter rubbish.

Jeremy’s vote steal and Sarah’s vote steal both came to a head in the same tribal. And while on the surface they worked great, as the series progressed it become more and more unclear if they were as pivotal as needed. So for the Final 10 vote (episode 10)  it was sold as a 5v5 perfect split down the middle; with an idol on each side (one with Sophie and one with Kim). But Jeremy was one of the targets and Safety without Power had to be played before votes were cast… which he did. So the whole episode had been painting him as the big target and he seemed to get out of it with a good play. But suddenly it was 5-4 votes… so it looked like the question was if Kim (in the four) could accurately predict the new target and win with her idol. But then Sarah broke out the steal a vote and suddenly it became 6-3. So the six could split 3-3 and regardless of who Kim player her idol on the revote would have someone in the four going home.

So fuck yeah great use of Edge Advantages by Jeremy and Sarah! But things immediately seemed strange when Kim (generally agreed to be Top 3 if not Top 1 player of all time) played her idol… on Denise. Which was a huge misplay for a 6-3 split. Either she should play for herself to make sure she is safe or keep it and gamble that the threat of her idol (which Sophie knew about) would mean the 3-3(-3) split votes would go on her allied not herself. What an incredible strange and stupid move from what had otherwise been incredibly gameplay from Kim (literally the only thing she did wrong was be so good in her first season that at the start of WaW everyone was too scared to work with her… and she STILL worked past that!).

Then the votes happened and it was a… 7-2 vote on Tyson?! Which made things even more confusing. Why did the majority not split given they knew Kim had an idol and could split their majority to have two pluralities… and who out of the minority flipped to vote with the majority against Tyson (turned out it was Michelle but didn’t find that out for ages). The only real solution to this problem is that the apparent rock solid 5v5 that came into the tribal was entirely a product of the TV edit and it was a much more fluid situation (so no-one had the confidence in the numbers to really suggest the potential split vote). This was back up by subsequent episodes where the relationships and voting pattern after this point showed literally zero sign of either of these two groups coalescing/remaining together.

Which is a very long winded way of saying that while Jeremy and Sarah’s Edge Advantages appear to have been crucial, they definitely weren’t as crucial as the TV episode would suggest and maybe weren’t that important at all. Especially Sarah’s vote steal. Jeremy was a high profile target so it is feasible it could have been a big vote against him if he hadn’t played his advantage. But we’ll never really know. But I should note the excellent use of Sarah’s stealing specifically Denise’s vote: Denise wasn’t her target so she stole her vote so that in the event of any shenanigans or ties that second vote wouldn’t be lost in revote (which was very briefly covered in S38 when towards the end Julie gave Gavin her extra vote advantage as Julie knew she was a target but Gavin had immunity and thus couldn’t have the extra vote negated in potential tie scenarios)

As mentioned in my dot points, the 4th item was Parvati’s idol nullifier and it was pointless. She was in a 2-3 minority with Michelle in a swap tribe (against Wendell, Nick and Yul who were very tight within a larger alliance). A vote steal would have swung it in her favour. An idol would have given her a 50/50 chance. 50/50 coin could have been lucky with a 25% chance of success. Safety without power would have saved her and doomed Michelle. Challenge disadvantage could have had her tribe maybe avoid tribal council entirely. The Idol Nullifier had a 0% chance of doing anything, except maybe a thing she could on sell to try buy a vote? Only the Extortion Disadvantageous would have been as useless in her situation. Which I guess shows that Production don’t actively try and bias this stuff towards their/casual fans favorites as superfans might think.

We then go post-Merge and my excitement over the introduction of token via challenges is quickly extinguished when it is only one person getting very small number of tokens; while the public menu items have become more expensive and somehow worse than pre-merge.

Michelle is gets the 5th Edge Advantage- a 50/50 coin. Putting aside the dot point mentioned flaying she got for spending four time the cost of an idol on less than an idol, I think this is a poisoned chalice of an advantage. Because you are leaving your fate up to chance and have minimal agency in deciding if you stay or get voted out. With an idol, you play it correctly and you have saved yourself- which is a powerful argument if you then get to Final Tribal. But with this 50/50 coin if you use it correctly, are saved and then get to Final Tribal ultimately the reason you are there is literally pure luck and skill was minimal (yes there is skill in knowing to play it but knowing you are on the bottom of a vote isn’t that hard to figure out). For comparison see: Dean in S39 and his bs coin flip that cost Janet the game and resulted in Tommy handily beating Dean in the Final Tribal as no-one respected Dean’s gameplay. Michelle does a bit of a move using the coin to curry social favour… with Jeremy who was also on the bottom. And then that turned out to not matter because Jeremy and Tony worked together on that vote to flip the target from Jeremy to Kim and vote out Kim at Final 8 (with Michelle voting for Jeremy). Then Jeremy gave it back to Michelle who flipped it at Final 7 and ‘succeeded’ in being safe… only to then not get the majority of votes anyway as Jeremy was sent packing when Tony flipped again. So another bust.

Tony then suffers the Extortion Disadvantage. He’s won a couple challenges by this stage so people know he has extra tokens, plus Edge people can see he and Sarah are clearly in control so Tony is the obvious target here. This is also manifests in the Final 8 Tribal (I believe Tony-Jeremy’s move was Tony strongly implying he had an idol and would play it for Jeremy if he thought Jeremy was at risk. He didn’t. Jeremy was safe. Memory is a bit hazy on the specifics). Tony had 3 token and approached Michelle+Jeremy in the minority group and Ben+Nick in the majority group to get three more. It was a good move by him to try get the minority to cough up first and a great lie by Michelle claiming she had already used her tokens to get an Edge Advantage (explaining why she had no tokens to give but without raising her in game threat level). Then pivoting to get one from Nick and Ben when Jeremy could only pay up one. Tony then paid back two of these three people with the two he won in that Immunity Challenge, but it isn’t clear whom.

As an aside, the lack of clarity about who got what tokens across the season was terrible. While Natalie was involved in almost every Edge thing she was rarely solo- especially on the post-merge big ticket items. It was never clear how those multiples of tokens were being split up on Edge, if at all. And how tokens were moving amongst the in-game people was never clear, including if they were moving aside from a couple events involving Tony where coins were bartered that didn’t result in them all being spent on Edge advantages so we didn’t know where they ended up.

And that then left us with the Nick Challenge Disadvantage that was played on Ben. Now the TV edit would have you believe that this disadvantage is the reason that Ben lost the challenge and Michelle won. However there is a direct and indirect problem with that. The direct problem is that in the handful of wide shots we see of this challenge, Michelle is fucking smoking the challenge. Ben (and everyone else) weren’t even close to winning. The second problem with this challenge is that Nick got voted out, with Ben not being a target (Michelle was maybe a target from memory) so it was hardly a beneficial thing to Nick’s game. And lastly, to quote from the Survivor Wiki: “On Day 34, Natalie found a Challenge Disadvantage, which she attempted to sell to Nick for eight Fire Tokens. Nick only had four, so Michele gave Nick two of her Tokens, allowing him to purchase the advantage.” Fans of math may note a problem with this. Nick had four tokens. He got given two by Michelle. Which led him buy this disadvantage for eight… hmm… again, the token transactions simply do not make sense and we are not seeing things.

It was notable that with the on screen chevrons that displayed the player’s name, winning season and held advantages (including things like ‘half an idol’ if they had half of a split idol), the coin total appeared for the first episode or two and then mysteriously vanished for the rest of the season; only reappearing for the individual served up an Edge advantage so we could know how much they had on them at that immediate time relative to what they needed to buy the advantage. I presume the lack of clarity amongst fire token movement was because if we saw who was (and wasn’t) sharing fire tokens back and forth would have made the real state of the game/relationships clear in a way that didn’t match the TV narrative being constructed (again looking suspiciously at that 5v5 at Final 10). Alternatively they were trying to hide the fact that absolutely nothing was happening with the tokens for the vast majority of players in regards to fire tokens. Either way, something was being hidden which indicates the twist was not done well.

Dovetailing back to Production maybe not having as much of a thumb on the scales to bias things towards favourites or for cool stories; fuck me Yul getting booted right before the Merge was bull shit. Through what could only be considered a fucking miracle of luck, after doing the insane bullshit thing of swapping from two tribes of 7-8 at Final 15 to three tribes of 5; the next three votes had a person from each tribe go meaning it was 4 a piece at Final 12. The perfect opportunity to Merge and throw in a 13th person as the Edge returnee.

But no Production wanted 1 more boot so that the Merge tribe would have even split of loyalty but with the Edge person could have an even split vote. Fucking stupid. And Yul suffered because of it. And Wendell+Nick being morons- this vote split them from their prior alliance who then turned on them coz of the clear disloyalty (Wendell voted out immediately next, Nick always being a backseat goat until being voted out in the Finale in a nothing position as deadweight/deadwood). Which is a fun what-if scenario as this meant Kim’s side was in the minority at the previously mentioned Final 10, letting Tony’s side win and thus paving the way for Tony to win. Which is quite amusing given in ep 2 or 3 there was a direct comparison between how Yul and Tony thought things through. And given that comparison, when Yul was voted out I got a real strong vibe that Tony was going to win. Hence the Cagayan watch so I could wrap my head around Tonys multi-season story arc.

Also as another great ‘what if’; the very first immunity challenge in episode 1 was a (increasingly rare) water/ocean based challenge. Where the tribes had to get a ball and put it in their hoop (or something like that- key thing being there was a designated area and they had scoring spots as opposite ends). The lack of Production experience with ocean challenges was very clear because you could visibly see the ocean tide/current was pushing everyone towards one tribes goal area and away from the others. And the tribe with the support of Mother nature just barely won. Which led to the blue tribe voting off their strongest physical player Natalie (a possibly dumb, smart move).

And the Blue tribe then were down number the whole game- they went into Swap 8-7 and ended up the minority on 2 swap tribes (red and blue) and with an broken majority in the third (green) of BRob, Adam and Ben who could not work together against an extremely tight pair of Sophie-Sarah who ended up with the green tribe idol AND Sarah’s vote steal so red effectively had majority/power in all three swap tribes. Leading to original Blue going into  the Merge down 4-7 (4-8 given Tyson was the returnee)… and would have been 3-9 if Sandra hadn’t been too cute with her idol. With red member Tony winning, after beating fellow red member Sarah in Final 4 fire who was the other threat to win the game… after they worked together to take out fellow red player Kim who was corralling the only opposition to them… after Tony secretly flipped to take out fellow red player Sophie who was in a strong relationship with Sarah and thus a threat to the Tony-Sarah domination.

Blue were fucked and Red had complete control from the word go all the way to the end.

Now imagine if that first challenge had been physically rotated 90 degrees. Suddenly Blue tribe almost certainly wins that given they nearly won it with a huge physical disadvantage Blue don’t vote off their strongest physical player in Natalie on Day 2 and are a much stronger tribe. Sandra probably still guns for Amber given Rob ‘betrayed’ her by not talking about him being on S40 during the filming of S39 (and Amber being an obvious tight pair with BRob and not a great challenge performer red tribe probably still goes for it). Which means that battle lines against BRob specifically and old-school players more generally are much clearer immediately (aside from Natalie, every single pre-merge boot was an ‘old school’ player). The dynamic of the season is massively different.

Speaking of old-school players, I despise the hot-take many people seemed to take that the ‘new school’ beating the ‘old school’ showed that the new school and it’s players are better than the old school. Firstly, in the traditional ‘old vs new’ school divide, the old schoolers started in a minority of 8 to 12. They also went in with much higher targets due to the fact they were old schoolers and thus much more well known and remembered amongst the community and the viewers with way better stories/arcs. With the exception of maybe Danni, if literally any of the old schoolers got the final 3 against 2 non-old schoolers they would be guaranteed the win regardless of what kind of game they played due to the legacy bias they had overcome to get there. Given those two factors, eliminating those 8 players was the most basic and necessary game move since voting out previous winners in any season where a previous winner was playing.

But even beyond that, the game of modern Survivor is fundamentally different to the game of original Survivor. Honestly it’s like having a basketball team and a soccer team play a soccer match and gloating when the soccer team easily win.

In the original Survivor game, you won through social skills and play, with a broad mix of physical and mental skills needed for key challenge wins, with everyone liking you and wanting to reward/award you the title and money. In the modern game it is all about flashy, resume building ‘big moves’ where you aim to be the last one standing with the most number of big moves. In original Survivor, the players who win now would be eliminated pre-merge because there wasn’t a never ending cascade of idols and advantages protecting flawed players and an increasingly narrow variety of endurance and/or carnival game challenges letting a highly specialized type of physical performance give you the edge in 95%+ of challenges. To win original Survivor you needed to be a very broad, well rounded person with a huge mix of skills. In modern survivor you need to be excellent at scavenger hunts and able to stand in an award position for hours on end. Fundamentally different games.

So when you bring 8 of the broadly good players and 12 brilliantly specialized into the modern game which reward.requires specific specialization; is it any shock that the latter group “win”.

I would love to see a game where it was Old vs New School where there were equal players form each… and it was a back to basics game with no idols or advantages. Old school players would absolutely crush it (except for maybe Adam Klein).

Although more broadly, from WaW I think it’s pretty clear that Old vs New School isn’t applicable anymore. It’s Old, Middle and New. Old is pre-Russel Hantz/HvV, Middle is post HvH to Second Chances. Then Second Chances to now is New School. And it was those Middle School original Red tribe players I mentioned earlier who were the ones who dominated. The Winners from the 30s (who were most numerous of all four ’10 season periods’) were all terrible- either massively overplaying (Adam), making game wrecking moves (Adam, Wendell, Nick), or being dead weight dragged along by the better players (Michelle, Nick, Ben). Although arguably in Adam specifically’ defense, his problem was less to do with him overplaying and wrecking his game and more to do with BRob being a massively overrated player who has one strategy and can’t adapt and is actually pretty shit at the game…

Why was Middle School so successful? Unclear but I would speculate that they knew how to build alliance and maintain relationships like the old school players but also knew how to use/take advantage of/find/account for the endless barrage of advantage Production lobbed into the game. While the other two groups were arguably better at one of those skills but terrible at the other. With the nature of the game being a new school game favouring New/Middle over Old… but the gameplay itself giving Middle an edge over New.

I note at this point that I’ve written a coll 6000 words about WaW at this point despite not having any particular desire to write much and I’ve only talked about how the two major twists were a big fat failure- one made the game fundamentally worse by corrupting the point of Survivor (as it was both eloquently and crassly put by Sandra) and the other was effectively and irrelevant fizzle. And I’ve not opened the notes on my iPhone.

I’m beginning to accept that Edge may just be a fundamentally broken concept. However I have a glimmer of hope that a reset at Merge where all the pre-Merge boots who don’t win the Merge entry challenge get carted off to Ponderosa could be a viable/successful iteration.

Token integration with Edge could then work if they capped the number of advantages/idols someone could get (capped at one advantage and one idol, with no buying extras for other people), maybe imposed a limit as to how many things one person could buy in secret (maybe one secret purchase and everything else must be bought publicly) and mixing up how they can win tokens/the advantages to sell (maybe bring back some of the older challenges we don’t see anymore… or just have some options that aren’t physical and/or geography based).

But I do think that Tokens will/would work much better if they focus them in the main game rather than trying to use them to make Edge seem like less of a pointless distraction. Plus jacking up coin circulation and pulling down the prices.

The other fucked thing about Edge is that the clip that overlays the credits is the person going to Edge rather than the final vote. Which means that we lose valuable information about who voted for who, which is the only rock solid info there is about alliance and relationships and such. The Final 10 vote of that 5v5 is a good example where the breakdown of that 7-2 split was extremely confusing and didn’t get identified for ages. Also as an aside, whenever there was a tie vote they would always manage to show the unexciting of the two votes (typically the second one where the lose coalition of people who happened to vote together against that weeks majority alliance all flipped and piled on with the majority). But the make up the majority-alliance and the membership of the individual coalition seemed to change every week based on the conversations we saw during the episode… and no clarity on who actually vote for who (or more importantly who they voted with) really left a lot of confusion as to the state of dynamics. Which had worrying shades of S38 where the in game relationships between players weren’t really made clear… because they become irrelevant when Chris Underwood won that Edge Final 5 return challenge and clutch played his way to victory.

I think I already mentioned this, but knowing that Tony does win (or rather, someone who isn’t voted out wins rather than an Edge returnee) means that on rewatching I think it would be a way more enjoyable experience.

Speaking about the vote counting, in some discourse about the show, both WaW and in general, people complain about either a) it is super obvious who is getting voted out immediately and it’s boring or b) the final vote out make no sense and was super confusing. In WaW this was particularly true for me with Ethan and Yul. In the Ethan vote out the conversation was entirely on Parvati or Adam as the options, with Ethan’s name literally brought up as an option for three second between two people 1/3 into the episode. While in the Yul episode he got some great content about competing for Penner (a person from his original season) wife who has ALS and the convo was entirely about either Wendell-Nick-Yul staying strong and voting out Michelle, or Michelle managing to flip Nick and Yul because Wendell was clearly unreliable and trying to go behind their back with Michelle. I actually can’t think off the top of my head any examples where it was 100% obvious who was going home before hand. I know that is happened in a recent series of Australian Survivor, because it was obvious but still a really good episode because it was constructed in a way of you seeing an incredible plan get pulled off. 95% sure it was a Merge episode but can’t recall and cbf looking it up. But I remember it as a thing because people specifically commented how rare it was for an episode to have the result known so clearly before the votes were read out. So it is clearly a rarity.

However to be frank I think both sides of this argument are wrong because they all treat it as a dichotomy- either we know who is going home before the first ad break or we have no clue why X received the most votes until the opening segment next week when it gets explained. These are both bad- one of them is, generally/supposedly, very boring and if so people won’t tune in next epside if it happens. The other one makes them feel confused and like an idiot which then also means they don’t feel like turning in the next episode.

The obvious solution is in the middle, which Survivor used to do quite well. You build a plausible narrative as to why any one of 2 or 3 people will be voted out. Until the votes are read, I don’t know who is going home because I have at least two, ideally three people it could be. And I’m engaged through the episode trying to figure it out. Then when someone is voted out I am either super gratified because I did pick the right person, or shocked because the other person went home. But either way the result makes sense and it was enjoyable and I want to tune in next week to do it again.

Anyway, onto some other random observations.

The Family Visit episode was fantastic. I normally hate the family visit because it feels so artificial and forced but this season worked really well. Even though it took up literally half the episode and was presumably the reason the bullshit 5v5 narrative was constructed for this episode (no time to tell the actual story. But this just… worked. It’s hard to say why but if I was to guess (and I will) it was because of a few key difference that only worked for WaW. Firstly we already know and love all the players/characters- when they are getting emotional and happy, we actually care about it. Secondly the metaphorical love was spread around- it wasn’t a case of one or two people getting 10 words and one or two people getting 3 minutes. Everyone got a solid chunk of time to have their momment and explain why it was special. And I mean everyone- both the main players and the people on the Edge. And, perhaps most crucially, we got to hear from the Loved Ones themselves and see how the game had impacted on them. And how they had changed since the last time- like Jeremy having extra kids. Or Tony’s wife being able to come (during Cagayan she was pregnant… even during the Finale/Reunion!). And Adam’s dad being able to come this time when last time he was at the hospital with Adam’s very sick mother. I think the key factors was that basically every single one of these (except for, I think, Michelle and Nick) was a parent-child relationship. I strongly maintain that friends, partners, husbands/wives, siblings etc just don’t hit the right emotional beat that a parent-child does. Either the parent-player falling to pieces seeing their kids after so long away or the child-player falling to bits as they fall into the instinctive parental shield.

Also they did the family visit way early- at Final 10 rather than ~Final 7. Presumably because they had to bring along everyone’s entire families- partners, kids etc Scuttblebutt is that this was a requirement for Tyson’s appearance- he wanted to be able to see all his kids (Or rather have them all see him). And once he go that, everyone was getting that. At which point they were guaranteed to be flying like, 70-100 people no matter what so it didn’t matter when they did it (typically they only fly family members for people who are still in the game for obvious reasons). So I guess doing it when it’s 50/50 split between game and Edge is as good a point as whenever.

But they made it, whether as part of the Tyson deal or not, not a challenge reward but rather an ‘armistice’ for the War, so everyone got their family members (and a feast) back at camp. So we got 30 minutes of just fantastic, actual people moments. So fucking good. At then there was a great credits overlay scene where after the tribal council the Edge/jury people rushed Jeff with a group hugs as thanks for letting them also see their Loved Ones.

Although it should be noted how much the family dynamics could (and probably did) affect the game. These people all know each other. At least as acquaintances, if not great friends who hang out all the time (see: The Poker Alliance). The prize for this season was 2 million dollars, double the normal. That sort of money doesn’t just change your life, it changes your entire families (especially when you’ve already had 1 million). And when ~16 of the 20 players are parents, you can bet that they want the money to help set up their kids (college funds, braces etc). And if not their kids, than the kids of one of their friends. Which puts the people without kids (Nick, Michelle, Adam, maybe Sophie… and no-one else) at a huge disadvantage for getting the money. This isn’t like a normal season where decisions are made (allegedly) only on gameplay in the game. Outside considerations and legacy and such would play a way larger factor than normal in the Final Tribal vote (and thus all the gameplay machinations leading up to that Final Tribal).

Speaking of Nick and Michelle, I have a note that says “Nick vs Michelle” reaction at the blindside, what a difference. Shows that Nick is not that good a player”. No clue what specifically that was in reference to, but some scuttlebutt during the season seemed to center on how WaW demonstrated the very flawed and emotionally reactive way Nick played and maybe Mike really did throw the DvG Final Tribal due to guilt about him, a rich man, potentially depriving the Kentucky lawyer who bootstrapped himself out of poverty of a much, much more needed financial windfall. Nicks very poor social play was evident this season (and presumably covered up in the DvG edit coz he won).

Conversely, I really want to shout out how good Adam’s game was despite his seemingly poor placement. But the game was set up against him from the beginning- he seemed like odd man out on original Sele and an obvious target for someone like BRob to try get out. Then he was the only person thinking more than two moves ahead and tried to keep BRob on side when Parvati’s name was thrown around during the (completely random) Ethan boot episode. Adam was doing some incredibly basic math and relaising that a tribe swap was almost certainly around the corner. And as such they really needed to go into the swap with everyone happy else they would get fucked over (see: what actually happened). But BRob is such a shitty, one note, overrated player that he exploded and instead of accepting Adam’s overtures to patch up potential cracks he blew the cracks wide open. This then put Adam in a fucked position in the swapped nuYara (green) tribe with Ben and BRob (who had their own beef between them). And frankly it was only due to BRobs insane, dinosaur like inability to adapt and attempt to bully the nuYara people so they banded together and voted him off. But the damage was done- original Blue thought he was untrustworthy while original Red could see he was actually playing the game and being very aggressive. 

Culminating in his boot second after the Merge. In which the Edit seems to have bipolar disorder switching between trying to make Adam seem like a moron or a genius. Adam clearly had higher expectations about Productions’ cleverness and, seeing that the idols this season were a Fleur-de-Lis  thought that the Fleur-de-Lis item that was both prominent and sneakily displayed at Tribal Council could be an idol. A Tribal Idol would be a crazy new tribe fitting this season and it had been used very successfully in some International Survivor seasons. 

But no, it was just a decoration and Adam’s big moment was sold as a dunce failure. Although the conspiracist in me suspects that i a different player had tried to use it as an idol, then maybe Jeff (knowing the vote results) would have decided on the spot it was now an idol to save that person.

I might as well finish of spraying BRob here. He is not a Legend of the game. He clearly doesn’t understand the game. He has had a record five appearances- three of those (including his first and thus most natural) he didn’t even make the jury (and was signficnalty pre-Merge on two of those). He then made the Finale twice but the first time he did (as his second appearance so his first attempt to correct) he we was a bottom tier player as the only pre-Jury returnee surrounded by way bigger threats (the OG winners, the legends from the earlier seasons, esp Borneo, Outback and Africa) he lost to one of the other bottom tier players because (perhaps having not experienced a Final Tribal before) he completely misunderstood how the jury works and thinks. Then on his second Finale (his fourth appearance) it was, by all accounts, a season that had been clearly set up to protect Rob from the twist of Redemption Island to the casting to the captain-returnee format. The only think BRob has shown a talent for is a) getting an in game ‘lead’ and defending it (with  50/50 conversion to winning with that lead) and b) befriending the host/producer of the TV show who artificially inflated his status internally. (And I guess marrying another person before they won they game…). Completely unable to do anything else- if he had any ability to not play from a lead he would have seen Adam’s olive branch for what it was and then tried to work with Adam to either save Parvati or keep himself in the game. And he wouldn’t have tried to bully nuYara with his Redemption Island ‘buddy system’. (And he wouldn’t have killed the game of every person he spoke to in Island of Idols by giving them terrible advice).

Meanwhile, Survivor King Tony was a fantastic player. One random thing I noted was a conversation between Tony and Jeremy where Jeremy suggested splitting the Sophie vote to have Sarah as a back up. Which Tony cleverly deflected (to protect his pair Sarah) by tlaking about how Ben wouldn’t go for it. Smoothly protecting his ally while deflecting any backlash onto someone else. Such clever play (and the fact he apparently never slept leading to some key idol finds… and several immunity wins) certainly led to Tony not receiving a single vote. Until the Final Tribal where he received enough votes to handily win.

On Tony’s immunity run, I think that is probably more endemic of the previously mentioned narrowing of the variety of challenges. Looking at Cagayan Tony was always very good at physical things but it was the mental/puzzle ones where he, quite comically, sucked balls. If anything the surprise is how the narrowing of challenge variety happened in such a quick/narrow period of time of only during the 30s and wasn’t gradual over the entire 40 seasons of the show.

(Oh and should note for the record that episode where Tony got the insane number of confessionals. Was the Sophie boot episode where Tony found an idol, got the Extotion disadvnatage, won immunity and orchestrated the Sophie blindside. He just happened ot be inovlved in everything and as such go 18 confessionals. Which is the most for any single episode. With the previous 4 way tie of 17 being held by Winners/Runner ups in the Finale eps i.e. eps with less players to get confessionals, more airtime to fill and a deep run into the finale… plus no mandatory Edge segment sucking up airtime. incredibly stuff by Tony. But it cemented him as the winner or the person who ‘slayed’ him as the winner)

Conversely compared to Tony never receiving a vote, the runner up Natalie was eliminated at every tribal where she wasn’t immune. In other words, that first Tribal. After spending 90% of the season on Edge, she came back with an immunity idol (luckily only one idol), then found a second idol that was hidden suspiciously late in the game (an idol being rehidden at Final 5 is insane) and then had the Final 4 immunity necklace.

I also want to note how much more I respect Ben after WaW. As he rightfully pointed out in some character scenes in WaW, it really isn’t his fault Production decided to do the Final 4 Fire Twist in his season. But more importantly I really admired and respected his decision to, for lack of a better term, commit seppukku at Final 5 (v2) when he realised he hadn’t played a good enough game to win (given his poor pre-game legacy). So he decided to sacrifice his play to help his new friend Sarah. Because after playing a very isolated and lonely game in HvHvH, he valued the close relationships and friendships he had formed with the WaW cast over slim chance of him managing a win (or more likely, getting raked over the coals or ignored by the Jury before receiving no votes). Which is a very human thing and shows, I feel, that there are things more important than winning or money. Which much of the modern Survivor commentary seems to forget.

Oh on a random note- found the penultimate episode of WaW super weird that it had this huge building up the Return Challenge and the expiring o Fire Tokens… the then run into a 15 minutes recap o the season to end the episode. To then have a cold open of the Return Challenge for the Finale with no context. I presume that with the COVID-19 pandemic stuffing the live Finale/Reunion options, they decided to bump the normal Finale intro recap to the penultimate episode and swap the returnee challenge out of the end of the penultimate episode to pump up the Finale with maximum island/’active’ content rather the prerecoredd content (given they were probably toying with prerecording reactions and reunions and stuff as the COVID situation developed).

Following that, I really enjoyed the post Return Challenge segemnt where Jeff went through all the non-returning champions of the game and we got a clear goodbye closure segment on each o their stories. Really emotional, had a few tears in my eyes. And a clear delineation of pre-40 and post-40: these players are (almost certainly) not coming back. Say goodbye America!

And for my last comment on WaW, i want to draw attention to how much First Past the Post voting sucks. Is maybe a random topic, but I think it is absolute garbage that Natalie is crowned the runner up o WaW while Michelle is a zero vote third place finalist. She was on the bottom the whole time since like… the tribe swap (if not earlier) but played the game and took chances and used advantages and won clutch immunity challenges to force her way to the Final Tribal (she was ‘carried’ by Natalie in the Final 4, but only because Natalie misread the Final 4 dynamic and didn’t want to add a Fire Victory to Michelle’s “I fought my way here” story).

But the reality of the Survivor vote is that you get one vote for who you think will win. With a plurality able to win. And as with all votes, you have no consider not only voting for who you want to win but against who you don’t want to win. But in first-past-the-vote contests those two goals are not mutually compatible when there are more than two candidates. You have to consider not only who you want to win/lose, but who you think other people want to win/lose. Which means that you may not vote for the person you think should win but for your second or third choice because you think more people will vote for them to make sure the person you don’t think should win does not win (see: US elections). Which leads to some terrible results (again, see: US elections).

This clearly manifested here- most people clearly thought Tony should win. But people were also very worried about Natalie winning because of… a general dislike of Edge as a concept… worry about the negative reception of S38 affecting being matched for this season and by extension them… who knows. So several people who considered voting for Michelle to give her the second place finish and make Natalie as the Edge returnee be 3rd were worried than enough people might vote for Natalie that splitting the Tony vote would let Natalie edge (haha) a win. So they doubled down on Tony to ensure it wasn’t Natalie. (I forget who exactly said they were thinking of doing this but I know Wendell and Nick were part of it, possible Ben and/or Adam too).

I feel a solution to this is to make the Final Tribal a preferential ranking vote. Or maybe give every juror 3 votes to cat as they wish e.g. 3-0-0 if a clear best person, 2-1-0 if a bit more mixed, 1-1-1 if perfectly balanced. Could potentially lead to more tie variations but a perfectly even three-way tie seems so unlikely that a two-way tie could be fixed by eliminating the 3rd place person (and then having them join the Jury who then all revote with the two options in a first-past-the-post traditional vote. And if there is a perfect three-way tie; fuck me that is incredible and should stand. Just combine the 1st+2nd+3rd place prize money and divide it into 3 equal parts. They absolutely deserve it if it is that fucking close (or I guess they could all have been equally bad too…)

But yea. That was Survivor Winners at War. A good season with the hindsight the Edge person didn’t win, but somewhat disappointing given the glimpses of greatness we could have had

Survivor Cagayan S28

FUCK WORDPRESS. I GOT HALFWAY THROUGH THIS BUT THE FUCKING THING DIDN’T SAVE. As far as I can tell despite the fact I am actively writing and it is (allegedly) autosaving the work, apparently the login times out and it just shits itself. God fucking dammit.

Anyway, this will be a much briefer (at least while I’m angry), much more chronological look at this season. Because I watched it somewhat randomly and without the context for what was going on at the time. I’m vaguely aware that the two seasons prior had mixed receptions which affected the decisions Production made but that’s about it. Compared to WaW, as an all newbie season there’s no meta or larger themes to talk about.

Survivor Cagayan was a very fun season. I think it would be a great ‘first season’ to try get new people into the show, given how it had elements of the modern game that airs while still having some interesting characters/drama that isn’t game related and isn’t in garbage 480p quality like Borneo (which is a legitimate barrier for people trying to watch today)

The series did not start well- had a First Impressions twist which Jeff tried to sell as one person being ‘voted out of the tribe at the word go’. Which was bs drama building for TV coz a) they weren’t voted off, one person picked them and b) they just went to camp ahead of everyone else… the camp of the same tribe that ‘voted them out’. If they’d gone to another tribe I guess they’d have been ‘out of the tribe’ but nah. It’s just trying to artificially make drama by having someone be a ‘target’ straight away. Even though any non-idiot would realise how arbitrary it was and not a real target. Although of course on of the people chosen (Morgan) was, in fact, an idiot on this matter. Interestingly the Brain/Green tribe leader who chose a person to be kicked out, allegedly, deliberately chose their strongest looking person Garrett expecting they’d compete for a challenge. They didn’t so that idea went nowhere and was cut from the TV product but it shows that players are already hitting the ground running by 28. And then immediately getting voted out in a blindside in the first tribal when their incredibly dysfunctional tribe becomes possibly the worst ever performing tribe since Survivor S10- Palau a decade earlier.

But before we get to the insanely stupid blindside, the real sucky thing about the First Impression twist was that is was basically just a way to jam in idol clues (which seem very quaint after watching the Survivor 30s) where the ‘voted out person; could pick between a clue or extra food (the Moral Dilemma twist which also felt very quaint). And one person actually chose food. Crazy. So we ended up with an idol search and find within the opening 15 minutes of the season. Jeff must have creamed his pants when they realised they could edit it together like that.

There were a couple conversations between Sarah and Tony in the premiere that cemented to me that one of them would be winning WaW. Not because the Editors had psychic powers but because they were editing WaW with this pre-existing backstory as part of the Survivor zeitgeist. Specifically there was a chat between Sarah and Tony where she nailed he was a cop despite claiming to be in construction and he claimed he would never lie to her (mimicking convos about lying in WaW. Then there was this big confessional by Tony talking about Lions killing Lions in the game of Survivor (which has evolved to Lions and Hyena in WaW). There was maybe a third thing in the premier but I didn’t write it down, but I was definitely leaning towards Tony over Sarah for WaW.

Was shocked at how much Sarah was killing the challenges (both pjhyscial ones and mental ones like puzzles) in the opening episode (in fact the whole pre-merge). But that was overshadowed by how truly terrible the Brains were. More specifically J’tia who is unquestionably the worst player I’ve ever seen- she sucked at the physical challenges, did not do shit around camp and had no social skills. SHE THREW THE TRIBES RICE ON THE FIRE TO SPITE THEM FOR NO REASON. Even scarier, as mentioned in the show, that her job is as a fucking nuclear engineer or technician or something.

Despite having such a clear liability, the Brain tribe (specifically the girls) band together to blindside David. Who was… well… a fairly blank slate guy. Probably coz he was voted out halfway through the premiere. Then, having kept J’Tia, the Brain tribe continue to be shithouse and lose the second immunity challenge too. And they then blindsided Garrett, the physically strongest member of the tribe (who had an idol in his pocket after having chosen the idol clue but had no concept people would vote for anyone by J’Tia).

Over the second and third ep the Brain tribe barely scrape a win for the third challenge and then in the 4th one they lose and very nearly vote off not-J’Tia again (specifically Spencer) but it is only “Chaos Kass” craziness that has her flip last minute to get rid of J’Tia. In time to go into a Merge as a somewhat lost cause tribe…

An odd thing I noticed at the first tribal was how wet and bedraggled Jeff looked. And then more broadly how different the scenery and weather was in this season. The animals were so different and colour (like the bright coloured lizards and snakes), the trees and stuff looked exotic. There was an incredibly thunderstorm at the beginning of episode 2. Turns out I was just noticing the not-Fiji location of the Philippines and how by being different to Fiji it was thus way more interesting after ~8 straight seasons of Survivor filming in Fiji.

Also weird that at the end of the first tribal Jeff gave them sympathy flint. Was really surprised by that as I thought it was always the case you won flint through challenges or earned it by starting fire without it. This sympathy flint was bs! But then again having fire and thus food/water didn’t seem to help the Brain tribe. They really did not seem to deserve the title of Brain tribe (as they themselves noted… as did possibly everyone else)

Was also a funny line/convo where Morgan (at a camp scene) talked about from being from Silcon Valley. And everyone tried to not look at her huge, probably fake, tits. I can only imagine what jokes were made off camera.

I was astounded to see the famous Tony spy-shack make it’s appearance early in the premiere. And then gobsmacked that it did nothing and disappeared for the next 2/3 of the season. Given how much people constantly harp on about the Spy Shack it was such an irrelevant thing that did not take any time or have any effect.

I also noticed when Tony found an idol clue (as part of a reward?) it was the exact same clue as had been given out in the Moral Dilemma. Which seems to be pretty cheap recycling of clues and idols by Production. Am also pretty sure it was an identical clue for all three camps despite the idols being hidden in quite different spots. Early cost cutting measure?

Unlike the spy-shack, the emergence of the Cops R Us alliance in episode 2 felt natural and clearly had an impact. And when it was then founded on a lie about how Tony would never lie to Sarah (ironically), that really cemented for me Tony as the favourite for WaW given the conversation about lying there between the two of them.

In a rare enjoyable idol moment, despite Morgan having chosen the idol clue she was not only unable to find it but was so blatant at looking that LJ realised what she was doing, looked in the same place and then he found it. Presumably he then told no-one and got to laugh as Morgan kept looking for it.

Then had another blast from the past where we got to see the treemail segment. Disappointingly rather than a cool riddle it was just direct instructions about what the upcoming challenge was. Cryptic riddles are a lost Survivor art I guess. But what this meant was we got to see the Brain tribe continue to be dysfunctional as despite knowing what exactly the challenge was they weren’t able to effectively practice (Tasha wanted to but sucked, Spencer didn’t want to but was forced to, J’Tia point blank refused and Cass wandered off to play interior designer with their shelter…). And despite this practice session, they sucked shit and… came second last! Jeff jokes that he’ll miss the brain tribe at tribal that name.

Want to note here that this challenge had a really fucking cool vertical maze and even some nice little touches like each tribe water container that had to be filled was transparent and had colouring in it so it looked to be filling with water coloured for each respective tribe. As with treemail. interesting challenges are a lost art. And quite frankly I was surprised to see interesting challenge as late as S28. It means that the degradation of challenge variety to a narrow range of endurance+carnival game has been a very recent and rapid thing.

Anyway, instead the Beauty tribe somehow lost. And instead of a blindside we get a three way 2-2-2 tie. Which is perhaps even more insane. Which is then resolved by the tribe banding together to vote out the gay, black man Bryce. Hmmm…

Which was then followed by two of the remaining three other African American players being voted out in quick succession. For different reasons though- Bryce was a social threat (apparently), J’Tia was a disaster and Cliff was an ex-NBA All-Star (i.e. already rich) who was playing quite a dominating game. Survivor definitely doesn’t have a diversity problem.

The fourth immunity challenge is a classic blindfolded scavenger hunt one. With so many obstacles set up at crotch height. Great fun to watch, but kind of shocking it got built like that and not surprising that they don’t do these anymore. And once again J’Tia is useless, being unable to put a flag pole onto a platform and then pull a rope to raise the platform. Blowing a pretty decent lead the Brains tribe had and single handedly losing the challenge. Which they had because the Brawn tribe were actively trying to lose in order to vote out Cliff. Thank god J’Tia was voted off that night. So bad she lost to people trying to lose.

I also noticed when Tony found an idol clue (as part of a reward?) it was the exact same clue as had been given out in the Moral Dilemma. Which seems to be pretty cheap recycling of clues and idols by Production. Am also pretty sure it was an identical clue for all three camps despite the idols being hidden in quite different spots. Early cost cutting measure?

At least Trish hadn’t gotten the original clue so the idol was still there for Tony to be found. But Production later then re-used the exact same clue again at a Tribe where the idol had already been found… what the fuck? That’s just going to blow up someone’s game through no fault of their own…

The next tribal was the swap and we got an incredible combination of nuTribes. All three Brains were swapped onto nuBrawn, along with three Beauties who weren’t strong allies. Then a single Brawn (Sarah) was left there. While the remaining two Beatuies were put on a tribe with five Brawns for nuBeauty. Brain tribe was declared cursed and dissolved. (To be clear the tribes had other names but I can’t remember them).

Had another cool challenge that was possibly the only good mix of physical and brain- they had to crazy a heavy log and use it to smash through big thick wooden walls. Which were surprisingly sturdy. The log then had a puzzle carved into it’s surface which they tribe had to solve by sliding it through a table mount thingy. Very cool. And incredibly close result.

nuBeauty lost and the OG Brawn used their numbers advantage to bring the old Beauty on board and vote out Cliff in a blindside. Veyr nicely done and unlike the Brains blindsides it had strategic value and was well timed and well executed.

It actually proved more effective than intended, with Cliff’s strong ally Lindsay then quitting the game a few hours after Tribal. had a really emotional outburst and big fight with Trish and wandered off from camp in the pitch black night. And no-one noticed she didn’t come back until Jeff came and told them she’d quit. He then mis-sold her reasons as not wanting to play without Cliff. But she had explicitly told Jeff that she was so fed up with Trish’s bully and emotional bullshit that she was scared she was going to physically lash out at her. I’m unsure how legit those reasons were, Trish’s negative side was maybe corroborated/matched by Chaos Kass’ experience with Trish who is not exactly a reliable source. What a cunt move by Jeff, doing a real Pearl Islands-Osten character assassination on a ‘quitter’.

(But given Trish’s whole arc ended with Tony betraying her, she needed to be viewed by the audience as a lovely and nice person. So needed to hide any possible negative parts about her.)

Was also a pretty yuck line about someone ‘looking into Morgan’s eyes and getting sucked in’ by I think Jeff later on in the episode.

This episode then had another blast from the past- a Camp Raid! After winning a challenge, Tony and Woo were sent by nuBeauty to take shit from nuBrawn’s camp. Which had all the shit OG Brawn had won. This was pretty fun to see again, but then became excellent in terms of gameplay by Tony when Production gave him that same fucking idol clue again. Realising that it was fucking useless for him, Tony convinced Woo that they should just memorise it and then give it to a person on nuBrawn. It would immediately paint a target on their back and then that person would waste time/energy looking for an idol that wasn’t there (Woo thought it wouldn’t be there because it was a ‘unique’ clue for their own camp, Tony knew it wouldn’t be there coz he’d already found it). At least Tony found a way to take advantage of Production’s budget cuts.

So they gave it Jeremiah (an OG Beauty). which then planted the seeds in nuBeauty leading to a Jeremiah vs Alexis vote, both of whom were OG Beauty members. Was almost comical seeing how much the Beauties and Brains were trying to sell out their former OG tribe members in this dynamic mess of a tribe. Sarah was in a really convenient position to ride their infighting to the Merge.

The next episode was the Merge episode and was pretty straightforward. Great to watch but not much pre-Tribal worth commenting on. Shockingly both LJ and Tony waste their idols playing them for each other when neither of them received any votes.  I guess it did solidify their bromance/alliance which was maybe a good thing. But it was a pretty bad misplay that people seem to forget about when talking about how great Tony is as a player, he got very lucky that wasted idol wasn’t needed later on.

The story of the Merge was Sarah getting way too cocky, seeing herself in the middle of two groups of five with her being the decision maker that would decide how the rest of the season would go. Which is important to note because ‘Tony’s Five’ was quite tight and realised what was going on with that and decided to vote for Sarah, while ‘Spencer’s Five’ was a lot more hodgepodge leading Sarah to go in with them seeing more paths to victory.

Which meant that as we got alternating votes for Jeffra and Sarah (again noting the lack of Tony/LJ votes), the Spencer 5 plus Sarah got heaps of reaction shots of happiness and smugness, while the Tony Five were shown being sad and despairing. Sarah obviously couldn’t and wouldn’t vote for Sarah, so it was going to be six votes for Jefra and they would have a 6-4 advantage going forward.

But then vote number six was for Sarah. Because Chaos Kass flipped from the Spencer 5 (well, Spencer 4) to the Tony 5 (well six). Making Sarah’s ‘swing’ vote irrelavant. Turns out Kass doesn’t like letting other people take charge. Nor does she like having any chance of winning because by flipping here she had immediately burned 5 of the 10 possible jurors (including Sarah who was now a juror) making them not want to vote for her or work for her… while the other 5 knew she could not be trusted and she was thus permanently on the bottom of their pile. So no matter who she went to the Final 3 (well, Final 2) against from either group, she would lose to them. Absolutely terrible move with no fucking foresight.

But the thing I want to touch on is- why the fuck was Sarah considered a “Game Changer” for Season 33 (Game Changers)? She didn’t do anything impressive her whole run except for be a challenge beast. She never made any key decisions, didn’t do anything with idols, never directed a vote or had power. And the moment she got a modicum of control at the Merge, she was so bad at managing it that she turned herself into a target and was blindsided out of the game. Really cements Game Changers as a season like S8 All Stars where a low quality returnee won due to them not being a threat compared to other players.

Episode seven had nothing of note occur. A meh challenge and Morgan was voted out in a straightforward way. The only thing of interest is that it was only episode 7 and it was already one ep into the post-merge. That’s a super early post merge for a ~14 ep show!

Oh wait no- the mad treasure hunt. Spencer got the clue to an idol in a reward challnege and then left it on top of his pants (not in a pocket) while looking near some water. He then left his pants behind after chatting with Woo and walking away. Leading Woo to throw him his pants and find the clue. Then run away with the info to let everyone else know (leading to the aforementioned  ‘mad treasure hunt’). Some discourse happened at the time about whether Woo “stole” the clue and if this was allowed. I think it was fine given Spencer hadn’t put it away and then left it behind. If Woo had gone through his pockets and taken it, that wouldn’t have been ok. Plus Spencer found the idol and managed to hide it so it all worked out for him in the end I guess (on this issue at least)

Episode 8 was equally enjoyable but unnoteworthy. A coll memory colour challenge that perhaps would have fucked anyone who was colourblind and then a well  executed LJ blindside by Tony. Who is proving to be very socially adept in riding both sides of the split tribe through the post-Merge. Basically keeps the majority of the non-Spencer side slim, so they are in control but can’t really move against each other for fear of losing control.

Trish still trusting Tony after the LJ blindside despite what the rest of that side of the tribe thinks is pretty funny (and again is building her up as an angel for Tony’s ultimate betrayal or whatever). As is her weird focus on getting lemons and papayas for the camp rather than talking about the social/Tony issue. But at least the papaya content leads to a Morgan boob joke, which I guess is now tasteful given she isn’t around anymore?

Also note that the previous episode’s “Next Time” clip prominently featured Woo falling from a tree and hyping up he may have been seriously hurt. It was, of course, nothing. After 28 seasons I don’t understand why anyone would think a major injury (leading to a medical evac) would actually be flagged in the ‘next time’ clip. If someone was to go back through the entire 40 seasons, I would be shocked if there were more than a handful of ‘Next Time’ clips that featured important content or key events for the next episode in anything close to an accurate portrayal for how the episode actually pans out. Being included in the ‘Next Time’ clip is far more likely to rule out things happening that give you a hint about what actually does happen.

The episode also has a really cool old-school reward, a scenic tour of some of the cool locations nearby (in this case a sweet cave system). With a big meal of course. And letter from home. And there was an opportunity for gameplay- the winning team for the reward was the entire minority plus Jefra. Who was quite open to the idea of flipping in the on-reward discussion. How legitimate that was will never be known, but she was upset with Tony.

Speaking of, Tony’s Spyshack returned! For one episode. Where he overheard a conversation between Trish and Jefra that maybe confirmed to him that Jefra, as the person he knew was on the bottom, was thinking about ways to get off the bottom. Which included maybe getting rid of Tony as an option. That being said, she didn’t go for it and stayed with Tony’s majority to vote off Jeremiah so that didn’t really go anywhere important that episode.

Also want to note how lucky the reward team results have been. This challenge was won by the minority plus Jefra. The previous one was won by the minority plus Tony. Real potential for stuff to happen with those combinations…. either at the reward or back at camp when left behind.

Anyway, next episode was the Auction. And I’m surprised it was still going given how clearly broken it was. Everyone was holding their money waiting for the inevitable advantage to come up, so people were getting big amounts of food for nothing. Or food was not getting any bids at all. To the point a visibly pissed off Jeff called out the elephant in the room and just brought out the advantage. Prompting Tony and Spencer to both bid the maximum amount for it. Interestingly Tasha who’d also been holding her money didn’t bid, gambling that as with prior auctions there might be two advantages (i.e. one for immunity challenge, one for idol clue) and if the boys blew their money on the first she would get the second uncontested. No luck though- the irritated Jeff closed the auction after this advantage. Became a rock draw for Spencer and Tony and comically Tony looked away during the reveal. So Spencer was immediately disappointed at losing while Tony had no reaction. At least Spencer got to keep the rock.

Episode ended with a good blindside of Jefra, set up well by Spencer playing on Tony’s fears of a women’s alliance. With the two of them drawing on different connections to pull together the blindside e.g. Spencer got Tash while Tony got Woo. Plus Tony had quite a clever move when he found the idol with his auction clue, showing it so some of his allies as a ‘team idol’, connecting them to him and making him a more risky person for them to try and target.

Next episode had another cool challenge- this one had two teams building a vertical puzzle. Then once one team finished the puzzle they swapped sides and had to demolish the puzzle (or part thereof) that the other team has managed to complete. A cool mechanic but maybe one that could be abused e.g. not even trying to set up your puzzle but instead setting up your pieces to be particularly difficult to knock over. Spencer had a horrid start for his team but then had a clutch comeback win.

Was fucking stunned when the reward for this challenge was a Survivor Ambassador thing where they went off to take supplies to a local school. I thought such a thing was even more dead that the scenic tour reward. And for the first time all season we got some great character content for Woo as he really was in his element with all the kids. He even did a martial arts demonstration that, unlike Bruce from Panama, was really fucking cool. And we got some key content about him as a person that set the foundation for his big decision in the Finale (that people missed and clearly do not understand).

The Immunity Challenge was brutal in this one- having to run a across beach sand, count shit and then use those numbers to solve a combo lock. While it was raining badly and very windy (and very, very cold). It took fucking ages- they could only have one crack at opening the lock before they would have to run back to the piles of items. Spencer finally own an immunity and was finally safe for a vote (at some stage he blew his idol on a vote where it wasn’t needed. Can’t remember if it had already happened by now).

Given Tasha had won the previous three in a row, despite Productions efforts to sow the seed that maybe Woo would backflip on Trish and Tony, when combined with Woo’s newly developed character of being a person of honour and loyalty it was a very apparent (and smart) vote out of Tasha.

Next episode prominently featured even more rain, which perhaps helps explain why Survivor no longer films in the Philippines. They had one of those mud-carrying reward challenges, the only individual reward in the season I think, which Tony absolutely smashed. Was so far ahead they didn’t even bother weighing the buckets. On the flip side, Tony become an absolute cunt to Cass in an exchange that culminated in the now infamous llama insult. Really weird seeing this sort of thing happen knowing how much people fucking love Tony and are super positive about him. On the flip-flip side, Tony pulls a great strategic move with his lie about what exactly the nature of the superidol was.

This season featured the return of the OG Idol, now known as the super idol, where it could be played after the votes were cast. It kept getting called the TP Idol because it had apparently been invented by Tyler Perry for this season (ignoring S11 Guatemala and S12- Panama and S13 Cook Islands) which made it sound to me like it was a Toilet Paper Idol. Tony found both that idol and a normal idol and decided to tell everyone that the ‘super’ part of the idol included him being able to play it up to Final 4, whereas normal idols expired at Final 5. Which became a thread for the rest of the season as people skeptically had to evaluate whether they believed it (for context, during the Merge ep the camp had received a note telling them that there was a ‘superidol’ hidden near the camp. So they knew one existed but didn’t know what exactly it did).

But it was a great move by Tony as it basically locked him in to the Final 3 and thus, to their knowledge, the Final Tribal.

The immunity challenge this episode was pretty cool, in particular at the start where they had to run this slide maze thing where the different lside piezes were connected to tied up ropes. Which they had to unbraid by sliding the pieces around. Really clever. Then a couple ‘assemble a staircase/ladder from puzzle pieces’ and finally a slide puzzle. This is an infamous challenge as Tony absolutely crushed the first three bits and was doing the final Slide Puzzle before anyone else was halfway through the first ladder.

But Tony can’t figure out slide puzzles. So he was just randomly and aggressively moving around the pieces hoping to chance upon the right combination. Which he didn’t, with Spencer eventually catching up and sneaking the win. Tony later pointed out he could have been there for another hour and still wouldn’t have gotten it.

That tribal was crazy, with Trish and Cass tearing into each other (verbally). Was kind of hard to watch. Then when Trish was blindsided, I too was fucking shocked. Why the hell didn’t they vote out Cass?! But upon reflection it was clear- most people really liked Trish. So she would have a big edge in Final Tribal against the Jury. She also was quite physically weakened through near starvation (looked incredibly skeletal) so wasn’t going to help beat Spencer in immunity challenges (who was the underdog and probable winner if he got to Final Tribal).

Meanwhile everyone hated Cass (especially post-lashing with Trish) so if you were up against her in Final Tribal you’d easily beat her. And could help topple Spencer in immunity challenges.

Also Tony wasted another idol here with no votes. Sort of. He didn’t get any votes but it did expire so maybe it wasn’t a waste to just play it. But then again holding on to an idol until Final Tribal (which Tony does) is impressive. Holding on to two idols until Final Tribal is unbelievable in terms of game control.

The Finale was a pretty good ending to this pretty fun season. Under the gaze of their lvoed ones (plus Tony’s brother) they did an Immunity Challenge where Cass struggled to begin with, being viisbly scared at the ‘stand on top of a tall skinny pole in the ocean and pull up buyckets of water to fill a pipe). She was absoultey miles behind everyone else who were working on the puzzle while she wasn’t even half done on the pipe filling. But she then had an incredible come from behind puzzle performance and absolutey crushed it. Snatching victory from Spencer. A great exmaple of the Puzzle Equaliser (whether that is good or bad is up for debate- it certianly made the first half of the challenge irrevalnt)

Mad props to Spencer for being the person who noted Jeff’s wording at the immunity challenge was not the identical wording he’d used in the prior 27 seasons for the final immunity before the final tribal. Thus realsiing that maybe this was a Final 2 season not a Final 3. Unfortunately it didn’t do him any good (noticing this or being correct) becuase everyone bought the Tony lie and voted out Spencer, with Spencer himself voting for Woo.

Not really clear why there was randomly a Final 2 here when Final 3 seems to be pretty firmly entrenched. Doing some googling it apparently isn’t really clear even today (6 years later) but the dominant reason is that due to Lindsay’s quite post-swap it threw out the cycle. That makes sense mathematiclaly (espeiclaly givne the veyr early Merge at ep 6) but it seems really strange that like, they weren’t able to adjust the numbers/elimination cycle at some other point before literally the Final Tribal.

The Final 3 challenge was fucking incredible- this huge maze of turnstiles, some of which roatted and some which didn’t. The contestants had to navgate through it to a series of stations where they collects four keys to a box puzzle pieces to then solve a really cool spinning gear puzzle. After putting the puzzle togetehr they could crank a handle to run through the gears and release a flag. Really miss these awesome final challenges. I understand that they are probably expensive and everyone films in Fiji to save costs. But surely given everyon films in Fiji they could cost share the building of like 50-100 cool challenge sets/parts and just rotate between them.

Again it was super close- with Tony and Woo getting an early lead but Cass catching up. But this time Woo just got the win. And I mean just. Like half a second over Cass. Ironically by winning the challnege he probably lost the game. But won at life.

I despise the super shallow take that Woo choosing to go with Tony over Cass was a “bad move”. It fundemtnally misunderstands what Survivor is about- people. Woo is a person who has lived his whole life as one of loyalty and honour and friendship. Yes he could have backstabbed his Day 1 ally Tony to take the loose cannon and goat Cass to the end. But that would have gone against everything Woo was as a person (and risked someone who was the opposite of Woo’s beliefs having a chance of winning. Slim but a chance given Woo’s reserved gameplay). Yes Woo most certianly would have won the game by taking Cass, but he would have lost something far greater in doing so. And by being true to himself he won something far mroe important than the game.

Not that the TV edit has the ability to communciate thjat nuance. Nor does the casual fan care for such things.. No instead we got to see Woo get dragged through the mud and made to look like an indeicivise moron who completely fucked it at the last step when given the only bit of decision making he’d been required to do all game.

Frankly I think the bigger problem for Woo was that he clearly isn’t a good public speaker, as evidence in his Final Tribal, and I suspect someone who was more elqouent could have made the case for his style of game much better given like… 3/4 of the jury were jurors due to betrayal, many of them by Tony’s hand. It also didn’t help that Spencer was allowed to opnely adovcate for Tony and against Woo to the jury rather than ask a question of Tony/Woo like jurors are meant to. I feel that’s breaking some sort of rule.

But alas, those things happened and Tony got a decpeitvely overhwleming 8-1 win over Woo. The Reunion had not much of note, other than a weirdl yunattractive looking Parvati in the audience and Tyler Perry at some stage got a shout out. for inventing the super idol. There;s also a bit where they try an dmake Spencer seem like a good bloke with his growth but frankly he is just a typcial overcondifent young, white, straight male who’s far more avaergae then he realises and I do not give two shits about him. Which is great coz I know he comes back at least once more in a future season :/

And I guess that’s all I have to say about Cagayan. A very fun season that does a good job brining in the old school stuff I love about Survivor and not drowing in the modern stuff that sucks, despite it’s attempts to liek the twists and idols that opened the season. Even a random and stupid quit doesn’t bring this season down. A great one to watch for a newbie.



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