Amazon Strategy #11:  Squish Like Grape
Written by Mario Lanza on 05.02.03

"Daniel-san, must talk. Man walk on road. Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk down middle, sooner or later, get squished, just like grape. Same here. You karate do 'yes,' or karate do 'no.' You karate do 'guess so,' [makes squish gesture] just like grape. Understand?"
-Mister Miyagi, The Karate Kid

Ahh Christy, how could you have ignored the teachings of Mister Miyagi? The finest philosopher of our time, as well as a damn fine landscaper and karate teacher, and you ignore his sage wisdom! The man had it all laid out for you right there... if somebody asks you a question, you either answer YES or you answer NO. You never answer "guess so." Although technically, in Survivor, you should really answer YES to every question about an alliance, but I guess that would be beside the point. You waffled, in front of the wrong person at the wrong time, and you got squished like a grape. And you totally asked for it.

The lesson here, as always? Don't ignore the teachings of Miyagi. Miyagi knows. Miyagi always knows.

I want to start here by saying something that will be very unpopular. And that is the fact that no one is to blame for Christy's exit but Christy herself. Christy brought it completely upon her own shoulders. She got cocky, she got intoxicated by her newfound sense of power in the game, and she just flat out blew it. Basically, she had the question laid there right in front of her, do you want to finish in 3rd place or 4th place? And she took so long to decide that Rob just went and he made the decision for her: Okay, you will finish in 6th place.

As I have said before, one of the absolute keys to success in Survivor is to have the able to read people. You have to be able to read your fellow players, you have to understand what other people are thinking, or else you are screwed. And Christy should have been able to see the stress in Rob's eyes. Rob is losing it out there. Rob is a nervous wreck. And when you see the fear and panic in his eyes, I mean this isn't exactly rocket science, but you should not make him sweat things out! That should be the very first thing that people see about Rob right now. Sure, he is a liar, and sure, he is a schemer, but above all else he is a control freak. And he is also extremely, extremely jumpy. You simply should not be frightening him at this point in the game.Not if you know what are you doing out there.

What is going to happen now is that Rob is going to be called a snake.  But that is not fair because he had no intention to screw Christy over. Heidi and Jenna are going to be called "evil stepsisters" or whatever for the way that they turned on Christy, but they didn't have any plans to screw her over either. In fact, Heidi was actually trying to help her. Christy was in a perfect position to be in power in this game, and she threw it all away because she wanted to play coy with Rob. And, again, you just don't do that. So my point here is a bit blunt. If it was anybody but Christy who had done that, they would be torn apart all over the message boards this week for being "the worst Survivor player ever." Hell, if Heidi or Jenna had made the same mistake that Christy did, they would never hear the end of it. But luckily, since Christy is likeable and because she gets favorable editing, she will come off more as a victim. Or a martyr. In other words, Christy is now getting the Hunter treatment.  She will go down in history as one of the great screw-jobs in Survivor. It will be portrayed that she totally got the shaft by a bunch of evil assholes.  But that really wasn't the case at all.  In fact, if you watch Christy's final words, she STILL didn't get it. She never did realize that she had done it all to herself.  It wasn't Rob who got her voted out, and it certainly wasn't Heidi.  Christy is the one who got Christy voted out.  She was responsible for her own fate.

I liked Christy a lot. She was a heck of a good sport and she is a heck of a great role model.  But she was just not a very good player. Sixth place is about as far as she should get.

And this leads me up to my unpopular comment number two. Hey, I am already digging a hole for myself , so why stop now?  I will piss you off even more by saying that Heidi and Jenna are both playing very strong games.  I think they are both pretty good players, and they both have a decent chance to win. Although obviously they are not always the most likeable members of the group. Heidi is ultra, ultra competitive, she just does not give up when she is backed into a corner. And Jenna certainly let Rob know where he stood with her this week.  She also pulled off a tough immunity win when she probably needed it. Add to that their clever immunity switch at the end of the episode, and the two of them are definitely there to play right now.  They make a good team. In fact, the only real weakness I see in Heidi and Jenna's game is the fact that they are way too blatant about their bond with one another. But other than that, they are good players.  They are two of the best young female players the show has ever produced.  They simply do not give up, and they will not give up.

And yes, of course, I agree with you. I don't want either of them to win either.

This week's episode was just nuts. It was all over the place with the foreshadowing, the drama, the emotion, and the scheming. And I would say it was one of the single best episodes in Survivor history, whether you liked the ending or whether you didn't. And remember, this episode started off slow. It nicely sucked in the viewer at the beginning with its slow, languid, leisurely pace. Things didn't really start to kick up until the end, and when they did, boy, did they ever. And I am still in disbelief that neither Heidi nor Jenna were booted at the end of the episode. They were such obvious picks to go home, it was such an easy call to pick one of them, that I can't imagine that anyone predicted Christy to go home this week. Heck, even Rob seemed stunned that it was going to be Christy.  In his confessional just before Tribal Council, he seemed shocked.  It is a testament to the greatness of this week's episode that hardly anyone will remember the fact that this one had all the visits from the family members. The family visit is always a big, major, dramatic event, it is an event that you will remember about just about any Survivor season, yet you hardly even remember it happened because it took place in the Christy episode. Now that is a good episode.

Next week's episode is going to be... in the immortal words of Lex van den Berghe... an absolute ball-buster. We have five players left in the game, and I cannot say that any of them are guaranteed a spot in the final four. When is the last time you could say that? No one is safe. I would say that Butch or Matthew are probably the least likely to go home next week, but they definitely could be surprised if something goes wrong.  In fact, at this point I am reminded of the Marquesas season, where the final five consisted of two teams of two, and then one swing vote (Kathy) in the middle. Well we pretty much have that same thing now in the Amazon, although with a slight twist. This time around, we don't know who the swing vote is going to be. Is it Butch? Is it Matthew? Is it Rob? Will the females stay together? It should be a blast.

Ok, one last word on my boy Rob before I get to my weekly notes. It is clear that he is the best player this season.  In fact he is maybe the single best player ever. Of course I am still not really convinced he is going to win, but I don't really care about that because he is playing a strategy that is near and dear to my heart. He is just out there to cause chaos. He wants the other players to always be off balance, and to always feel like they don't know what is going on. And he is indirectly making himself into a decent candidate to win a jury vote simply by making everyone else look bad. That is a strategy I have always wanted to try on this show. See if you can soil everyone else's reputation so badly, that in the end none of them can beat you in the final two. In other words, don't build yourself up as player, do your best to tear everyone else down as a player.  If that isn't proactive Survivor strategy, I don't know what is.

Rob isn't quite all the way there yet, but he is definitely bringing everyone else down at this point.  He has turned this into a street fight.  Because beyond the scheming, beyond the cunning and the trickery and the evil, Rob is just plain slippery. He is hard to catch.  He is hard to pin anything on. You saw how he escaped Jenna's accusations and her anger this week. That was a very sticky situation for Rob, and he wiggled out of it petty easily. And I have said before that Rob plays Survivor very similar to how I would. He seeks out the "bottom feeders" in the game, or those who are vulnerable.  He finds these poor saps like Christy, and then he offers them assistance. Which is something I have ALWAYS said would be a good Survivor strategy. You do that enough, and you always wind up with a lot of job security.

The only thing Rob does that I probably would not do is switch alliances so freely. That would be a little too risky for me.  I am not a gambler like Rob, I couldn't take the kamikaze risks that he seems to enjoy taking every week.  

Rob seems to be starting to lose it a little in the game.  He has been more than a tad stressed out the last couple of weeks. And if you pay attention, a lot of his weaknesses and his mental cracks are beginning to show up.  But for all his scheming, for all his enemies, for all his lying and his kamikaze risks and his manipulation, please just remember one thing:

Rob is good. And he stays away from the vote.  The other players have not been voting for him.

--Weekly notes:--

* Another good quote to start my column would have been from Ghostbusters. "When someone asks you if you're a god, you say YES, damnit!" But I really, really like the Karate Kid. If I get any chance to use a Mister Miyagi quote, damnit, I am going to take it.

* The key to this season is clearly to listen for the angry voting comments. Note that whenever the vote comes down to between two people, the one who gets the angrier comments is the one who leaves.  Deena, Alex, and Christy are three perfect examples. No one had anything nice to say about Alex or Christy in their comments, whereas Christy was saying things like "Jenna, now you can go home and get some food." So keep an eye out for that.  If the producers only show nice comments being said at the voting urn, that bootee in question is safe.

* Here is another key to this season: Watch who Rob votes for. He has voted for the eventual bootee every single time. The key to a great Survivor player is to always know ahead of time who is going to be the one going home.  And Rob is never caught off guard.  Tina Wesson and Vecepia Towery were the exact same thing, they always knew who was going home at Tribal Council. And, to a lesser extent, note that Matthew has done the exact same thing. After the first episode, where he voted for Roger, Matt has been paired up with Rob every single step of the way. Is Matt smart too, or does he just follow Rob's lead? I guess we will see!

* One more note about Matt. Some people have wondered if he tanked the immunity challenge on purpose. Did you notice that he "accidentally" knocked out a couple of Jenna's plates...? Would sharpshooter Matt be such a bad shot that he would actually hit somebody else's target?  Did he try to help Jenna win immunity? Hmmm... keep this in the back of your head for now.

* I didn't expect that Christy would have a boyfriend, if only because her letter from home last episode didn't come from a boyfriend. It came from her "friend." Who knows, maybe her bf just isn't a letter writer. Special thanks to my wife for catching this and pointing it out. Since I am a guy, and because guys apparently don't write letters to anyone, I guess this makes sense.

* Did you notice that Matt's mom didn't get a confessional? In all the past visits from home, the loved one has always gotten some significant airtime. Colby's mom, Kathy's son (pro wrestler Jerry Lawler) and Helen's husband all got their own confessionals, and Colby's mom even got to take pictures of her naked son's penis. If you didn't see that scene, don't ask. But Matt's mom came in, she ate dinner, and then she left. I wonder if it was her decision not to speak to the cameras.

* Matt jumping up and down for the fried chicken was pretty funny to watch. For a self described emotionless guy, it was nice to see him actually let loose and start giggling for a change. Although for all we know, he might have just been excited about the fine quality of the service vessels. That would be Matt for you.

* The visits from the loved ones were notable for two particular moments. First off, it almost brought a tear to my eye to see Rob crying. Call me a wuss, I don't care. He dropped his Survivor act for a split second, and you could actually see some real human emotion in the kid's soul. And the second moment was just a funny little observation I noticed. Ok, this one is a little risque, so I will try to describe it tastefully. Let's just say that Heidi has a lot up top, and that she is not the only member of her family with that particular trait. And when she hugged her mom, I'm not sure that most of their bodies even touched. There was just too much in the way. Okay, let's just leave it at that.

* Right after the loved ones arrived at the picnic table, Jeff gave everyone ten minutes to eat together and talk. And at the table, Rob stood up to give a toast. And I'm sure the other players were thinking the exact same thing that I was at that moment. "Rob, we only have ten minutes here, please keep this short for a change!"

* Jenna went on a big tirade in this episode about how the game was about personal relationships, and how it was not about backstabbing. Honestly, I don't understand how anyone, after five seasons, can fall for that old "we're just here to make friends" B.S.. I bet Richard Hatch was sitting at home somewhere, watching and smiling at Jenna's naivete. Either that or he spit Pepsi out his nose from laughing too hard. Jenna and Heidi might be friends now, but they will turn on each other at some point in the future, I can abso-freaking-lutely guarantee it.

* Jenna giving up the immunity idol didn't make the slightest bit of difference in the end.  I know she did it as insurance, in case Rob was trying to screw them over, but it didn't matter. It was still a ballsy move though.  Kudos to Jenna for being the first person in Survivor history to ever give up immunity.

* My final note is on the downfall of Christy. The first time you watch this episode, it just comes out of nowhere. BAM, she's done. But if you go back and you rewatch, you can see her whole downfall slowly unfolding. There is foreshadowing, there is ominous music, and there are lots and lots of comments that she makes that are supposed to tip you off.  To make a long story short, Christy simply got cocky. And it was so well foreshadowed, it was so painful to watch, that watching this episode a second time is like watching a horror movie. "No, Christy, don't go in the closet! Don't turn on the light!" And on even more viewings, I am sure it will become even harder and harder to watch. All Christy had to do was say two words to Rob. TWO WORDS! All she had to say was "I'm in." And I still can't believe she wasn't able to read his growing exasperation.  Rob was simply not trying to hide it, he was looking away, he was sighing, he was repeatedly asking her for reassurance. But she just didn't say the two little words she needed to say, and it cost her. It was just sad to watch. She came so close.  So very, very close.  And then she practically went and voted herself out.


With two episodes to go, the game is blown open as wide as it has ever been. NO ONE will be safe at the next vote. At this point, really anyone can win. And when that happens, when there is no clear winner in sight, what happens is that the smart players start to rise back to the top. And the smartest player, of course, is Rob. I don't care how many enemies he has, or what a little weasel he is, or how many angry jurors there might be at the end of the game. He is back near the top until they can actually get rid of him. They can try to get rid of him all they want, but remember, it hasn't happened yet.  It hasn't even come close yet. Matthew is #1 in the power rankings this week, if only because of his overwhelming advantage in the challenges, but Rob is slowly creeping right back up there. By dragging other people down around him, he raises his own stock as well. Clever guy!

1. Matthew von Ertfelda
MVE is right back up at the top. He is far less creepy now than he used to be, although Rob still calls him a "spaz."  But the big man is also starting to show some incredible humanity. All in all, Matt is a good guy. No one can come close to him in the physical challenges, and I think he is the most safe of all five players going into next week's vote. The only thing I worry about for Matt is his growing confidence, he is starting to get a little bit cocky at times. Pay attention to his speech to Jenna and Heidi right after the Alex vote. "I can't say I'll forget you voted for me, but I will not hold it against you." Watch that tone, Matt. It doesn't always end well for people.

2. Rob Cesternino
Rob will still have a hell of a time winning a jury vote, but do you know what? He will give it his all, and you know he will play unfair to get there. But Rob has definitely earned a spot in the final two, out of nothing but sheer tenacity alone. I am still rooting for him, and he still does have a chance. Not a great chance, of course, but never forget that there is still a lot of game to be played.

3. Heidi Strobel
I am ranking Heidi #3 simply because of her competitiveness. She is a good athlete, and she is much smarter than she appears, and she does NOT want to lose. She is a little emotional for her own good, and her bond with Jenna might wind up doing her more harm in the long run than good, but she has officially earned my respect as a strong Survivor player. Heidi knows what she is doing out there.

4. Jenna Morasca
Jenna has more going on in her mind than she likes to let on. That much is clear. She just has that look about her when you see her, that look that says 'I know something that you don't know." And she could very easily win this game, she just needs a few lucky breaks. As with Heidi, Jenna has officially earned my respect as a strong player by this point.

5. Butch Lockley
Butch, what happened, man? You were #1 last week! Well, simply put, the entire rest of the game shifted around you. Laying low and staying under the radar went from being a great strategy, to one that might be exposed now. At this point you could be an incredible swing vote, or you could be a useless fifth wheel. In any case, Butch is a smart guy who (like Jenna) is far more clever than he likes to let on. The only real downside I see in his future is that for the SECOND time this season, he was not clued in as to who was going to be voted off.  And being kept in the dark is never a good sign in Survivor  I think Butch is relatively safe for next week, but in the end I don't think he will win. And obviously, being drunk on national TV is not the greatest image in the world for a school principal.

Next week's predicted boot:  I have no idea! Don't ask me. Let's just pick a random name and say Jenna. Hey, it's a 20% chance, why not?

Mario Lanza is the author of the upcoming story All-Star Survivor: Greece, coming in late May. And let it be known that he always respects the wisdom of Mister Miyagi and the Karate Kid movies. For as we learn through Miyagi-do Karate: "Win, lose, no matter. You make good fight, earn respect."