Thursday, March 17, 2016

Survivor Kaoh Rong, Episode 5: How Not to Play a Bad Hand

Much was made pre-season of the fact that Anna Khait is a poker player.  This was supposed to give her an advantage over the other players, much as it was supposed to for Jean-Robert Bellande (voted out 8th in Survivor: China) and Garrett Adelstein (vote out 2nd in Survivor: Cagayan).   Anna ended up splitting the difference, voted out 5th her season and further establishing no correlation between poker prowess and Survivor smarts.  But while Jean-Robert and Garrett were most to blame for their boots, Anna was a victim of a poker player's worst enemy - the random deal of a bad hand.  But any poker player will tell you that it's easy to win if you're dealt aces, what sets the greats apart is what they can do when they get, say, 10-2.

Before the swap that ended Anna's run in the game, the Brains tribe is highlighted after having voted out Liz Markham the night before.  Dr. Peter Baggenstos continues to vie for the combined title of most un-self-aware, most narcissistic, and most tonally clueless contestant ever.  He recognizes he's at the bottom of the totem pole, but rather than show any contrition, any humility, he boasts to the camera how he'll play the game and pander to his tribemates.  He just doesn't get it.  Pandering to them is what put him in the position he finds himself.  But he reluctantly lowers himself and offers medical advice to Joe Del Campo whose finger is swelling up like a cantaloupe.  Peter will leverage his life-saving - or in this case, digit-saving - capabilities to make him an asset to the tribe that hates him.

It was not lost on the viewers that the tribe labeled the Brains had still not located their hidden immunity idol after the other two intellectually-challenged tribes had.   So this episode, Neal Gottlieb fixes that by going on a successful idol hunt (motivated by his desire that Peter not find it).  We now have all three idols located, one with Kyle Jason, one with Tai Trang and now one with Neal.  So it's a perfect time for Jeff Probst to utter those famous words - drop your buffs.

This doesn't seem like an even split
Jeff explains that they had planned on going from three tribes down to two at 14 players, but with Caleb Reynolds' unexpected departure last episdoe, they were in an unusual situation where they were splitting at 13.  Now, they could have gone the Solomon way and cut up one of the contestants.  As Tai noted, Scot Pollard is like three Tais, so he could easily have been rationed between the two.  But since the show is shopping this short of actually killing any of its contestants, they instead decide to split up into two groups of six, with one person left out of the two tribes.  That person spends a couple days on the old Brawn tribe beach alone to wallow in misery and loneliness and thirst while everyone else scrambles and strategizes and hydrates.  After one of the two tribes loses the next challenge and votes someone out, that extra person will join the losing tribe and we'll then have an even 6-6 split.

After a random draw this is how the three teams (and let us all bid a fond farewell to the brains, beauty, brawn alliteration) split up:

Chan Lo (blue buffs):

Gondol (yellow buffs)

Lonely girl (red buff for now)

Chan Lo has a 2-2-2 split with no one tribe having an advantage. Gondol has a 3-2-1 with the Brains in the majority.  But within that group is Peter, the outcast, the pariah, the royal pain in the Brains' collective butts who they cannot stand and who resents his teammates and his status among them.  But it is Scot who seems the most in peril.  He is the lone member of the Brawns tribe and at 6'11" a gargantuan physical threat.  As Jeff surveys the new tribes and makes some obvious observations, you can see the survivors all taking in what he is saying and wondering how this all plays out for them.  Chan Lo is all lovey-dovey with a lot of hugging and laughing, but over on Gondol there is more contemplation of what this all means.  And then Jeff talks to Julia Sokolowski about being the lone wolf and she makes a huge blunder.

There is nothing in the Survivor rule book that says you have to speak the truth and you don't have to say anything to put yourself or your allies at a disadvantage.  But Julia does just that, saying that she is concerned about her position in the game - especially if a Beauty is voted out.  Right there she highlighted that whatever you might have wanted to do in the next vote, your only correct, logical, right, safe, and proper decision is to vote out a Beauty.  Only moments after being told the old tribe designations were over and this was a new game, Julia reminded everyone where her loyalties lie and that she would consider the loss of a Beauty member a loss of an ally.  Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb.  Dumb.

Who's not dumb is Peter.  He may have absolutely no emotional or interpersonal intelligence, but the guy can do basic math and a 3-2-1 will become a 3-3 if they vote out Scot and Julia comes in.  Worse for the Brains, who currently have the majority, if they target him, when Julia comes in it would be 2-3-1 with the Beauties in the majority.  No matter how much Aubry Bracco may hate him, she has no choice but to agree that voting as a solid block right now is the only logical choice and voting out a Beauty if the only logical move.  Scot, realizing that as the lone Brawn in this new tribe he could easily by the target, is happy to join Peter and Aubry in targeting either Tai or Anna.  Smart move on his part.  There is no reason for him to wheel and deal and try to stir things up.  If it's not him, that's all that should matter right now.

I like your coconuts

Also not dumb is Debbie Wanner.  Loony as all hell, sure.  Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, most definitely.  But she looked at her new tribe and immediately zoned in on Cydney Gillon, recognizing not just her amazing physique but the fact that she's also a very smart cookie.  Cydney, who has only had a small dose of the crazy cat lady, immediately gravitates to Debbie.  This is a dynamic duo and I would love to see them stick together. Debbie tells Cydney that she and Neal are tight and Cydney agrees to get Kyle on board with them.  Debbie also tells Cydney that ultimately she'd like to see a woman win this season and Cydney is a-okay with that plan,

Speaking of a woman winning, Michelle Fitzgerald is devastated that her tight all-girls' alliance has been split up and she hopes she can get the band back together.  But with Julia on a brief exile at the old To Tang camp and Anna in the minority on the other tribe, she's not feeling too good about their prospects.   Debbie, though, is feeling pretty pretty pretty good about her position as the mastermind and the tribe shake up has not at all dimmed her enthusiasm that she is controlling the game.

While Debbie plots and schemes, Tai falls back on charm and talent to further himself in the game.  With a Beauty being the natural next target, Tai has to find a way to be more valuable (or less of a threat) to his new tribe than Anna and he does it by being the warm, lovable provider for the team.  Scot immediately takes a liking to Tai and a new bromance is formed.  Tai and Anna both know what they have to do - it's the old joke about two people being chased by a bear.  You don't have to outrun the bear, you just have to be faster than your friend.  So she directly targets Tai by telling everyone within earshot that he probably likely definitely has the hidden immunity idol and he indirectly targets Anna by being adorable and getting food for the tribe and talking zero strategy.  Let's guess which approach will work better.

Over at Chan Lo, Nick Maiorano is vying with Peter for most delusionally self-aggrandizing and giving the ER doctor a run for his money.  “When it comes to being manipulative, I think I’m the most intelligent person out here,” he boasts.   Nick thinks he's brilliant and charming and conniving and fails to realize that it is Cydney and Kyle who holds all the cards on their tribe.  He also is ignoring the huge threat that Julia poses to his chances as it would take a miracle for his team to keep both Beauties and let them have the majority once she joins up.  But this won't play out as they won't be heading to tribal council tonight.

It's another multi-stage immunity challenge, with a water, land and puzzle component and the only noteworthy thing is that no one died.  Chan Lo won with Neal and Debbie smoking the puzzle at the end, taking down Peter and Anna.  Then the theoretical turned into the realistic as Gondol now had to finally choose between Scot's man crush Tai and the perpetually plotting Anna.  Scot wanted to keep the little guy.  He liked his work ethic, his positivity and how much fun it is to toss him up into the trees.  But the pro-Tai tide came first from an off-handed remark by Peter.

Showing, for the first time, some savviness and, dare I say, good gameplay, he listened as Joe and Aubry presented their decision to vote out Tai and then tactically weighed in with a different opinion.  But he didn't Peter his way about it - showing them how stupid they were, taking control and masterminding everything with pompous glee. No, he subtly mentioned that he'd be okay with voting out the person who provides food for the tribe and never talks strategy and keeping the smart schemer.  He then oh-so-gently suggested that they might go the other way and vote out Anna, but it's okay with him either way.  And you know what, that approach actually worked.  Had he tried to bully them, Joe and Aubry would have immediately closed down.  They might even have rethought their plan to keep him.  But he used tact (something I didn't think he had in his arsenal) and the power of suggestion to get them on his side.

While Peter was working to get Tai to stay, Tai was targeting Peter.  Recognizing that either he or Anna were on the chopping block, he thought of a way to get rid of Peter.  He could play his idol and voila, one less Brain.  So he tells Anna and Scot that he has the idol and that he's going to play it at tribal.  Anna was down with the plan, of course, and Scot liked it as well. Because even after one day with Peter it was impossible for his new tribemates not to fall in loathe with him as quickly as his old tribemates had.  He wears his arrogance with all the subtly that Donald Trump styles his hair.  So, bye bye Peter.

Say hello to my little friend.
Not so fast.  Just as Anna was gleefully telling us that she loves blindsides and hidden immunity idols especially when they're played to get rid of someone other than herself, there was a change in plans.  Aubry told Scot that the new target was Anna, not Tai.  This got Scot thinking.  Let's pause for a moment.  Scot has voted in three of the four tribal councils this season and his votes have not always made the most sense.  In fact, he's often been at odds with his own alliance.  So seeing him thinking so strategically was a bit of a shock.  But when it came to his attention that Tai would not be the traget, he got to thinking.  If Tai stays, with an idol, then he, Scot, knows where two of the idols are in the game.  One with his new broski Tai, the other with his former BFF Kyle.  He would be sitting pretty.  So he did not want Tai to play his idol, even if it would get rid of the smarmy conceited doctor.

What I like about Tai's game is that he doesn't immediately decide which way to go.  He weighs his options - the risk of not playing the idol and getting voted out holding it, the benefit of using it o Anna to blindside Peter, the chance to escape tribal council safely with his idol intact - and decides to take it to tribal council and get a feel for what is going on while he's there.  He handles tribal council beautifully, telling his tribe how he wants to be straight forward to them while lying to their faces about not having the hidden immunity idol.  He also tosses in how he would love to continue to provide them food if they decide to keep him around.  It's a pretty brilliant pitch and would make me very nervous about going to final tribal council with this guy.

Conversely, whatever kudos I gave to Peter for handling Aubry and Joe earlier in the day I want to take away for his abysmal performance at tribal council.  Having learned nothing from his last trip there, he continues to go on about how unconcerned he is about the vote and what a position of power he is in and how he could not be in a better spot, blah blah blah. He is tempting the Survivor gods once again and he escapes again by the skin of his gleaming teeth only because Scot had other plans.  Peter had no clue he was one idol away from having his torch snuffed.

But you just lit it, Jeff!

Alas, it is the poker beauty whose torch is snuffed just moments after it was lit for the first time.  Could she have strategized better, should she have told the Brains that Tai had the idol, was she too trusting of Tai?  Tai comes off so genuine, so friendly, that it's hard to see him as a calculating game player, but as a poker player it was Anna's job to see through the ruse and read her opponent better.   Not only did she not see him for the dangerous competitor he turned out to be, but part of her was so fond of him that on her way out of the game she decided NOT to blow up his game by telling the rest of the tribe that he has the immunity idol.  When you can get someone you just turned on and helped get voted out to not undermine your game, you're doing something right.  Tai is on a roll.

Want more of Anna? Check out:

Interview with Josh Wigler/Parade
Interview with RHAP
The Day After on CBS
Interview with Dalton Ross/Entertainment Weekly
Interview with RealityTVWorld

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