No, Terry's Not Tom the Firefighter
Nice Guys Finish Third.
by VikingBear, Saturday February 25, 2006

Terry took a vacation to Exile Island. He picked up the Immunity Idol easy as pie. He came back looking great and well rested. His tribe barely functioned without him. So, at first glance, it's quite tempting to compare Terry to Tom the firefighter and eventual winner of Survivor Palau.

However, that's just not so. In the first four episodes, every standout has proven to be fallible, and far less effective than I might have expected. It's not like they started out with a ten-mile trek through the Guatemalan jungle, either. Both tribes are making silly blunders that anyone would know not to do from past seasons.

What's this starvation bit? In the first episode, the younger men played baseball with a coconut, and the younger women enjoyed papaya. Do their current locales truly have nothing to offer?

Tom's strategy on Palau, simply stated, was to win all immunity challenges. They won every tribal challenge, and then he won nearly every individual challenge. It's doubtful that will ever happen again, or be allowed to ever happen again. This season has been a very even back-and-forth, although the current state is far from even. Seven tribe members to five tribe members borders on being a huge advantage. Half the women's being gone is becoming an interesting factor; I have no idea how that will play out. (Let's watch and see if La Mina's Austin keeps exchanging looks with Casaya's Courtney as they arrive for the challenges.)


The various commentators seem to agree that this week's episode was a bit slow. Of course it was! Last week was the sand wrestling with women pulling each other's clothing off! The next episode will seem slow no matter what's in it! Yes, this week was slower visually, but (I think) quite interesting strategically.

Survivor, in my view, has a beginning game, a middle game, and an end game. This week was the transition from beginning game to middle game - and a solid transition it was. Bear with me, please, as we take a look at it in those terms.

In the beginning game, you're trying to position yourself for the middle game, not the end game. That's the only way to survive long enough to get to the end game! In the middle game, the active players are positioning themselves for the end game, and the passive players are hoping to be carried along. You can still safely send people home without worrying about the jury vote.

In the end game, every move counts. Every jury member will respect the fact that you all did what you had to do to get to the jury, but every jury member also has the option of resenting the fact that they're in the jury and you're in the final two.

At the close of episode four, Casaya still has seven members, and La Mina is down to five. That's a big advantage in challenges, and it's potentially a catastrophic advantage at the merge. Fortunately, in Survivor, things are never that simple!

Chances are that we'll have a mixing of tribes before the merge. Because everyone is so dysfunctional (I'll talk more about that later), there's quite likely to be some realignments of alliances. So, the seven-to-five advantage isn't the whole story.

On the other hand, consider this...

What if there's no "twist"? That is, what if they continue straight to the merge with no shuffling, and the tribes vote straight along tribal lines? (That's the pagonging invented in Season One, wherein the Pagong tribe members were simply voted off one by one.)

If La Mina loses one more Immunity Challenge, they're gone - all of them.

They're then down to a seven to four disadvantage, and will soon be seven to three at the (presumed) merge. How long will those three last? Three episodes! The only question would be the order of being voted off! We would have actually come quite close to the situation on Palau, in that the jury would be almost entirely the same tribe as the final two.

So, unless a "twist" intervenes, if La Mina loses the next Immunity Challenge, it's Game Over - for the entire tribe. Facing this unfortunate fact, I have to agree with sending Ruth Marie home rather than Sally. Statistically, Sally's more likely to help them win that crucial next Immunity Challenge. Furthermore, Sally's campaigning to save herself ("I still have a lot of game left in me") as compared to Ruth Marie's doing nothing except to accept an offer to place 5th, shows it was the right choice. If they don't have game in them for the next Immunity Challenge, loyalty and trust will never matter.

It sure felt wrong to send Ruth Marie home, but I think it was right.

By the by, we are seeing Terry sharing one outstanding characteristic with Tom of Palau. Terry is able to very quickly see the tactical situation, and make a decision. That should make him a good leader during challenges, but so far I've seen no evidence that anyone is making "battlefield" decisions during the challenges themselves. This decisiveness is, of course, characteristic of fighter pilots. It's part of their lifetime training. (Or so I'm told by a longtime friend who's also an Academy grad, former fighter pilot, and current commercial airline pilot.)


What about Terry digging up the Immunity Idol on Exile Island? That, of course, is the single most important factor in the entire season. The rest of the season revolves around the fact that not just has the idol been found, but that Terry has it. As nearly as I can figure, Terry is in the final three. Period.

We still have a lot of unanswered questions about Exile Island. What happens to the next exile? Will he or she figure out the idol is already found? Can't somebody just go through Terry's stuff while he's sleeping, and find out if he has it? Can it be stolen and used by the new "owner"? Has Terry hidden it somewhere for safekeeping, such that somebody else can find and use it? We just don't know!

For the moment, though, let's take the Immunity Idol at face value, and think through what that means. Let's assume that Terry retains it, and has it available to be used when needed.

La Mina currently has five people. Let's suppose that Nick, Austin, and Sally decide to vote off Terry, forcing him to use the idol, or if he doesn't have it, to leave before the merge. Dan and Terry know this is happening, and target one of the three - for example, Austin. What's the result?

Terry produces the idol, and Austin departs. Terry's lost the idol, yes, and is now as vulnerable as anyone else... but do you think Austin really cares about that as he sits in Loser Lodge? I don't think anyone would care to risk that vote... that is, forming a voting alliance against Terry, knowing that someone in that alliance is going home. We've moved from the beginning game to the middle game, and that means that NOBODY still there is willing to "take one for the team" and walk away so someone else can win.

Especially when the alternative is to simply vote off Terry's partner. For this reason, I think Dan is very vulnerable at the moment. Send him home on the same theory as Ruth Marie... everyone else is more likely to be able to help win the next Immunity Challenge. That also puts Terry on the outside looking in, rather than the other way around. It doesn't really affect Terry, because he's in the final three regardless (if I understand the Immunity Idol correctly), and strengthens the other three's position immeasurably.

Wouldn't it also be fun to manage to keep the Idol's possession a secret from Casaya, and come the merge, let Casaya vote out Terry as being their greatest threat? Wouldn't that be the game changing twist of the season? What's left of La Mina removes the Casaya member of their choice, and Terry loses his guarantee of making the final three. The game suddenly became interesting!

Meanwhile, though, Terry had two days away from the tribe, to quietly think things through, knowing he had the immunity idol. Remember how, in past seasons, people have gained so much from the overnight reward away from the tribe? Terry, no doubt, has thought these various scenarios through, and considered what to do.

For example, he may have anticipated Dan's vulnerability. If Austin decides to take the decision to remove Dan out of Terry's hands, "out of respect for Dan and Terry," the three younger ones could simply remove him, and justify it to Terry after Tribal Council as doing it for Terry and keeping Terry's hands clean. Terry and Dan might take steps to save Dan... though I don't have any idea what those steps might be. The best answer, of course, is to win the next Immunity Challenge!


I said last week that the Nut Cases seem to have gravitated to Casaya, and the fools to La Mina. That does seem to be playing true! I also said that the Nut Case Alliance seemed to be the strongest alliance out there, and that the four Nut Cases seemed to be drawing strength from the chaos and drama. That too seems to still be playing out.

Cirie's stock sure is rising! As of now, I think she's on a good track to win the whole thing. She has helped win challenges. She helps around camp in a useful fashion, and without being asked, and she doesn't need direction as to how to help around camp. She has a great cheerful attitude. I do think she's broken past Shane's bias against the "useless" older women. Meanwhile, Bobby has set himself up as the easiest one to let go.

When it comes down to the final three, the final challenge has always been an endurance challenge. Cirie has some extra weight (i.e., stored energy, literally) to see her through. They're all on a starvation diet, and she's getting plenty of exercise daily. While the other finalists have gone through their body fat and are metabolizing muscle tissue, Cirie will still be building muscle, and endurance, still be bouncy and full of energy. If that final challenge focuses on upper body strength, she's screwed. If it's like Lil's challenge on Pearl Islands, she could win. With the other of the final two being up to her, she could win the whole thing!

As things stand this week, if Cirie wins the final challenge, and Terry is one of those three, Cirie won't pick Terry for the final two. Terry's too likeable. Cirie needs to pick the bad guy so she looks good by comparison. Nice guys finish third.

In short, I continue to have great confidence in Cirie's ability to avoid the tribal vote. Remember Jeff's final comment this week? Attitude is everything - and Cirie has the right kind of attitude.

I now think Cirie was wise to not attempt to align with anyone (so far as we know). With the Nutcase Alliance calling the shots, Cirie could get caught aligned with the wrong person. She has no burden of trying to "save" the other person in her alliance. Let them come to her, when she represents the swing vote.

What about Bruce? I'm strongly rooting for Bruce. Bruce has not been too impressive thus far. He's not a fast runner or great tackler. They're still starving. We know from next week's preview that they've persisted in criminal silliness regarding camp location. Since I'm biased in favor of Bruce, I'm calling all of these pluses in his favor. He's considered useful, and his lack of effectiveness means he's not a threat.

This week had Shane, Bruce and Aras out hunting snails. So, there's the male bonding thing, that seems to have gone well. Bruce is now part of the tribe. Bruce remains low key. Upon return to camp, we move straight to the confrontation and drama, and completely skip over the part that will play out next week (according to the preview).

When the Mighty Men returned from the Snail Hunt, we saw Courtney upside down on some sort of mat on the sand. It went by so quickly that I missed the significance (thanks, Nece, for the screen cap showing the truth). I caught that Courtney was doing her thing in front of the tribe flag - and that in next week's preview, that's the same location as Bruce's "zen garden." So, I was thinking that Courtney had claimed the territory first.

Not so!

When the Mighty Hunters returned laden with snails, there was a large rectangle of beach in front of the tribe flag. It was carefully smoothed out - no footprints - and bordered on each side by a bamboo pole. Some stones had been placed at the upper end of the area. (In the preview of next week you can see the stones had been extended into a couple of rows.) Into the middle of that carefully designed tranquility, Courtney had parked her body. THAT was why Bruce looked astounded and annoyed upon the Hunters' return.

We got to see Bobby's Dump in all its glory, the weight estimate, and a discussion of its effect on storing their towels. We're annoyed with Bobby being crude and insensitive. But Bobby's offense was nothing, NOTHING, compared to Courtney's ongoing desecration. Bobby knows what he did... Courtney still has no clue that she's done anything.

It's not surprising to see insensitive "ugly American" on The Amazing Race. (That's no reflection on The Amazing Race. That's a reflection on us.) In Survivor, when meeting indigenous people, everyone seems to be on their best behavior. But as Courtney's ignorant trampling continues next week, we get to see Ugly American in a bikini!

By the way... have you noticed? Each time Bruce arrives at the challenge location and takes his place with his tribe on their mat, he executes a brief but formal bow to Jeff. To the best of my recollection, no Survivor has ever found a way to show ongoing respect for Jeff on camera. I'm thinking Bruce's respect will continue to play well against Courtney's complete lack thereof.


This week we learned that, without Terry, La Mina is every bit as dysfunctional as Casaya. Dan stepped up and tried to form a plan to improve their situation. Surely anyone who's watched past seasons would know that's an excellent and important thing to do! Dan was totally ignored as a leader. I don't know if that's a reflection on Dan, or on the others. I think it's both; I think the rest of the tribe were complete fools to NOT do as Dan suggested. That simple act of chaotic laziness could well turn out to mean a trip home for every one of them.

Why do I say that? Dan was suggesting a way to make a stronger camp - fire wood, shelter, food, etc. That could translate into riding through a bad storm far better than the other tribe. (And the flooding in next week's preview implies that storm is coming soon.) They already have the tarp as part of the shelter; continuing to build could have made a substantial difference. From what little we were shown, I'd say they tossed away the chance to gain a significant edge. Casaya stepped forward from the beginning game to the middle game, conflict and all, while La Mina sat on their tails to await Terry's return.

Without Terry, the fools are clearly in control.


What can we expect next week? It seems to me we have a number of trends in motion, as we move into the middle game. It could simply be a ho-hum week as these current trends play themselves out. We've laid the groundwork for Bruce and Courtney, but I don't expect that to turn into a confrontation. The challenges could each go either way. Bobby could redeem himself, or he could continue his alienation. The Nut Case Alliance could break up.

On the other hand, I don't really expect two "slow" weeks in a row. I suspect it's time for a "twist" of some sort, which shakes things up. If it's a complete tribal shuffle, I'd guess Shane is the most likely to lose by it. The Nut Case Alliance is looking for an excuse to split, but they remain the strongest alliance in the game at present. They might not split by themselves, but Jeff can do it for them.

Now that we're in the middle game, we need to think of the end game to come. It looks to me like next week, we'll begin to see interpersonal relationships, and resentments, crystallize, which will become major factors in the end game.

Next week, I think, we'll see who's here to win, and who is not.

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