Survivor: Samoa, week nine

Survivor is so much more fun when the guy you’re rooting for spends all his time balancing precariously on the edge of a knife, isn’t it?

First, let’s talk Natalie. When the game started Natalie was the very picture of the dumb-ass blond girl that plagues every season. These characters usually do little or nothing interesting outside of putting fuzzballs on the screen during challenges, and are either voted off unceremoniously or dragged along as the fourth or fifth in some stronger player’s alliance. Once in a while, though, you’ll get one who is actually a decent player and coasts under the radar long enough to position themselves well for the endgame.

That’s how I see Natalie right now. She has to have done something right to still be alive on a mostly-demolished tribe. She’s also the only pretty face left of the original Foa Foa, and the value of a pretty face cannot be overstated for certain tasks. Her main strike against right now is that the ex-Galus see her as a threat, most likely for these exact reasons.

The scene early in the episode where she cheerfully kills and eats a rat was adorable. I love seeing characters act in ways I’d never expect, and Natalie is one of the last people in this game I’d expect to see a rat and think, “Look! Meat!”

So reward involved the first clue to the next hidden immunity idol. Russell ended up losing reward and spending his time scouring the camp looking for it… and found it. Again. Zero clues, two idols, while the “winners” (all former Galus) were enjoying brownies and rock slides, talking about their fantastic position in the game. I was so giddy I had to pause the show and do a silly dance in my living room to celebrate.

I’m glad to see Galu has finally come around to the “we have to knock Foa Foa off” strategy. Any other course of action on their part is just ridiculous, except for perhaps Shambo, who is on the bottom of the alliance. So fervid is their understanding of this strategy now, though, that they didn’t plan for the contingency of someone finding a hidden idol. Turns out that was a mistake; Russell deflected all their votes, sending Kelly home with just three. I couldn’t swear there had been anyone named Kelly on the show at all this season, so I guess I won’t miss her.

So where did Galu screw up? They screwed up when they forfeited their ability to flush an idol. The way to do this is to split your votes between Person A and Person B so that if A plays an idol there are still enough votes for B to send them off. Right after the merge they didn’t have this ability; the numbers were 8-4, so splitting their eight would at best force a tie. But if hey had voted Jaison off instead of Erik, their numbers would have been 8-3, at which point no amount of hidden immunity idols would upset their plans.

In practice we almost never see vote-splitting in Survivor. The game is too opaque. It’s hard enough just to get a certain number of people to vote a certain way, nevermind splitting your votes and trusting everyone to follow suit. If one person is too thick to understand the logistics of the plan, or too paranoid to trust it, it can fall apart. It’s a viable strategy, though, and now that the numbers are 6-4 Galu has lost their ability to do it.

At the end of tribal council Jeff informed everyone that the idol was going back into the game. I’m betting next week we see ten people scrambling around hunting for it. Laura mumbled something to herself about Russell stirring up a great deal of trouble in the game. He did indeed. From this point on people are going to assume the idol will come out at every council, and won’t be able to rest easily unless they see it for themselves, in person. A layer of paranoia has been added that hasn’t been navigated before. The hidden idol has been taken to the next level.

Who’s gonna win? Finding idols is all well and good, but Russell still has an uphill battle. We’re at the point in the game now where, if Shambo were to come over to Foa Foa, they could force a tie. If they could do that while in control of the hidden idol, it would change the game drastically. Galu has smart players who will try to prevent that, though, and numbers besides. Russ has been fun to watch but unless he wins a couple immunities to buy himself some breathing space I don’t think he can pull it out. I’m going to stick with Rocket John for now.


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