Amazon Strategy #3:  Jesus Loves Jaburu
Written by Mario Lanza on 02.28.03

"I didn't know that Jesus had a vested interest in Survivor."
-Rob Cesternino

The Battle of the Sexes is in full swing now, and a strange thing is happening. The women are on the verge of destroying the men. All it took was a little teamwork, a little leadership, and a little focus, and suddenly Jaburu looks like a team. Ok, forget the fact that their food is moldy.  And forget the fact that they sleep without shoes. They look like they could simply run away with this thing. And it's a good thing, too, since the editors and Jeff Probst clearly want the women to win. Even my wife (who loved the men's comeuppance in episode one) is starting to get a little tired of the blatant skewing of the editing. Yes, Probst and the producers want the women to win, we get it.

I can understand why though, from a programming point of view.  It's just better TV. Viewers love the underdog. It is the oldest rule in TV (just beating out "Tony Danza must always play a character named Tony.")

It is around this point in each season where the idea of a twist starts to come up. Will there be a twist? Do they need one? Will it add anything to the show? Whereas twists were once considered radical and experimental, by this point in Survivor history they are now seen as pretty much commonplace. Now it is more like when will the twist be, and what will occur? What do the producers have in store for the players?

My initial thought before the season was that YES, they were going to need a twist. I believe most everyone expected there to be one. I just didn't think the females would be able to compete with the males.  I thought that to be fair, there was going to need to be some sort of a twist along the way to even things out. But now, of course, the opposite actually appears to be happening. The females are more than holding their own against the males, and at this point a twist would actually hurt them more than it would help them.  But I still feel like this season will need a twist.  Only I think they will need one for different reasons.

To begin, the challenges this season have been kind of boring. Sure, they are fun to watch, but the challenges so far this season have been lacking a lot of the intensity that you would expect to see on the show. The challenges have been so evened out and non physical, to make it fair between the two genders, that a lot of the drama and excitement have been missing. Where are the brutal obstacle courses?  Where are the heroic feats of strength?  Where is the pain?  Where is the toil?

It is nice that the challenges are fair, but they really aren't the type of competitions that we are used to seeing on Survivor.  It reminds me a lot of last season, where most of the challenges were mental and unique, but were still kind of lackluster. The producers tried so hard to make them different in Thailand that they lost the edge that made Survivor challenges so much fun to watch.  I would like to see more challenges like the boulder roll in Africa, or the basket catch last season, something that is demanding physically and really puts the players to the test. And that will only happen if you mix the teams up a little.

That is just a minor quibble, but there is a bigger point to be made here. The bigger point in my mind is that YES they need a twist, if only so they will make the endgame interesting. Look at it this way, the teams are incredibly polarized right now. The females stick together and the men stick together. And if they stick together like that all the way to the merge, there is no WAY any of the females will ever cross over to the other side afterwards. The males of course will be more open to the idea of a cross-gender alliance after the merge (based on the simply theory that "guys like boobs"), but it is clear that the females will stick together all the way to the end unless there is some forced inter-mixing of teams. The ladies of Jaburu have no ties to anyone on the other side right now and that should really be changed, or else the endgame will be boring. It will be the ultimate Pagonging. It will also be terrible TV.

I know that many Survivor "purists" hate the idea of even having twists in the game at all, but I think that even most of those Survivor purists will be able to see the last point I am making.  If there is no twist along the way there will be no suspense.  There will be no crazy team-switching.  There will be no real excitement or uncertainty if there is no chance that anyone will ever switch sides. And I know this because this was a problem I discovered when we were writing our All-Star Alaska story.  If you start mixing up the genders, you get a way better story because then you can get some hardcore loyalty issues and a lot of sticky little strategic quandaries. So yeah, Amazon is the PERFECT season to mix up the tribes a little.

Okay, onto the strategy for this week. The teams are starting to shape up nicely, with the dominant male players starting to show themselves, and the power players on the female tribe starting to show their cards as well.  I think it is easy to see who the power core is going to be in each tribe, although they are certainly not set in stone yet.  Especially on the male tribe.  And speaking of them, let's look at the Tambaquis first.

There are four dominant male players in my mind, and those are Matthew, Alex, Dave, and Rob. Matthew and Rob are clearly the two biggest schemers in the bunch, and they are both doing well. Matthew, in particular, had a nice episode this week, as he started to show his true colors. The fact that he could speak Chinese with Daniel was a nice strength. A lot of people are going to say that Matthew took a hit this week, when Daniel admitted they were friends and how close they were, but I don't think it hurt Matthew at all. Note that he STILL voted against Daniel. You can be friends with someone without being allies, and that is a very important lesson to remember. Matthew is simply a strong player who has ties to everyone, and who knows perfectly well that it is best to go along with the group this early in the game. He has done his homework. He is definitely one to watch.

Rob is still the king schemer, of course, although people may be starting to notice him. Alex, for one, knows perfectly well what Rob is up to, but that could only be because Rob needs allies. Alex might be the only person to whom Rob has revealed his true self. Will it help our budding young schemer in the end, or will it hurt him? Only time will tell. But Rob is bound to be entertaining during his time on the show.

Alex seems to be the player that the Tambaquis all revolve around. He seems to be friends with everyone (which I am guessing was his plan.) I think he is destined for big things in this game. Note that all the females even seemed to like him (much like they liked Butch and Rob.) Alex scored some big brownie points with the girls at the reward challenge, and I expect him to be around for quite some time. Since he is Jeff Probst's mini-me, it seems like a logical deduction. After all if you destroy Jeff Probst's familiar, you sap him of his powers.

The fourth key male player is Dave. He had a nice moment this week, with his sudden "awakening." It was the first time all season that he realized the game was on, and he now knows that he needs to start acting accordingly. This "sudden awakening for a player" is generally a pivotal moment in a season. Note that Tina Wesson, Rudy Boesch and Neleh Dennis all had similar moments during their respective seasons as well. At a certain point, they suddenly "woke up" and started playing the game, and all three of them wound up finishing in the top three. For this reason alone, I would say to keep an eye on Dave. A LOT was made of his big awakening this week, and I don't think that was an accident.

The rest of the male tribe, I feel, is going to be pretty much disposable. I think Roger is going to be toast eventually, whether at the hands of Rob, Alex, or the females. Butch has a little more chance for success, since he came off well with the females.  And the guys also seem to like him. In fact, one of the "big four" males might go before Butch does, but at the same time I don't see Butch winning this game. He is a nice guy, and he is a good player, but I don't think he is our winner.

And now, on to the females. The Jaburu tribe seemed to be settling in one direction- the direction of chaos and youth.  But if you take a step back and look, I think their true power core is staring us smack in the face. Everyone assumed that Jenna, Shawna and Heidi would be our dominant trio, but I didn't even see until this week that they have painted themselves into a corner. Barring a twist, I think the three of them are actually in deep trouble (And yes, Murtz, you told me this last week and I didn't see it yet.)

Christy has been shunned by the three "cuter girls," as Heidi so elegantly put it. So Christy has no choice but to bond with the elders. Jeanne and Deena are her two new buddies, and I think the three of them will be tight out of necessity, if nothing else. So that leaves one important swing vote, in JoAnna. I thought that JoAnna really had no allies in the game, but that was proved wrong this week. It turns out that Jeanne and JoAnna are actually tight with one another. Jeanne even admitted this in a confessional!

Jeanne:  JoAnna and I decided that Deena should be leader.

I had also assumed that JoAnna hated Christy because of their argument last week.  But if you watch closely this week, you will see that the two of them were actually out fishing together, along with Jeanne.  And all three of them they were perfectly happy.  So I have no doubt that THESE four are the ones who will rule the roost on Jaburu:  Jeanne, Deena, JoAnna and (surprise, surprise) Christy. It looks like Heidi and Jenna's shunning of Christy is probably going to come back to bite them in the butt. Once I saw this new dynamic, I immediately marked down Shawna as their first victim.  And that was before I even saw the preview of Shawna "giving up" in next week's episode. Shawna is just an easy target now, especially since we have had lots of shots of her lying down and not helping out.  Oh, and letting bees get into the food certainly didn't help either.

Shawna is the obvious choice to go home next week, but if I were to pick a dark horse candidate for next week's bootee it would be Jenna. Jenna seems like a nice person, and she seems to get along with people, but if I were one of the older females on Jaburu, I would see her as the most worthless of the younger tribesmates, at least from a team standpoint. She can't do much work, she isn't particularly athletic, and she really doesn't bring a whole lot to the table. Oh and plus she has a good body. As Heidi again so elegantly pointed out, having a nice body is a bad thing among the older women of the tribe.

So yes, it does look like Shawna might go home next week, but don't be surprised if it is Jenna instead.  If we are going to have a surprise boot, her ouster would make perfect sense.

--Here are a few more random notes I have about this week's episode:--

* When we wrote All-Star Alaska, we had our female tribe go into every challenge with their group cheer, "1...2...3... Go Tuktu!" And, as usual, a few people wrote us to say that a female team wouldn't do that in real life.  They said it was too corny and that it was not at all realistic. Well once again I would like to point out that the female tribe in the Amazon DOES do that, with their "Jaburu... Jaburu... Jaburu rocks!" It always makes me smile when we see them do their little cheer.  

* You will notice that the guys haven't changed one bit since they started losing challenges. And (as I also predicted) if anything they are actually getting WORSE in how badly they are dismissing the girls. But I think their joking around serves a little different purpose now.  Early on, it was more like "They're just girls, they can't possibly beat us." But now, since it appears the men actually might be the weaker tribe, the guys seem to be more like "Well, if we lose, we can just say it was because we weren't trying." Trust me, I have been around athletes all my life. If a guy is going to lose to a girl, he will immediately make it look like he wasn't trying. That is just guy psychology 101, and the Tambaquis seem to have it down to a science. Watch their pre-challenge rituals, where they don't even try to prepare. It it obvious they are up against formidable opponents, and if anything that will just make them MORE likely to goof around and not prepare. It is a fascinating glimpse into the male psyche, although I suppose a better phrase for it would be "saving face." It's much easier to lose if you can say you didn't give your best effort.

* The granola bar subplot was a fun bit of drama, but I bet it is already long forgotten. I bet we will never hear about this subject again until the reunion show. Just like the beef jerky in Australia, it turned out to be irrelevant in the long run. I hope I am wrong though.  I want to hear about it some more.  I am still quite curious HOW it got there, and WHO was to blame. At this point I don't think it was Janet.

* The boat trip to Tribal Council is really cool. I love the fact that they unload at the dock and have to walk up the stairs. Kudos to whoever thought of that.

* How unnerving would it be to step on a tarantula? I mean, those things are big, fat, hairy and they are likely full of spider guts. It's not like you are stepping on an ant.  I wonder if anyone will ask Deena that in her post-Survivor interview.  I think it would feel like stepping on a plum.

* Piranhas next week! Piranhas! Must see TV! Howard Stern has his old theory that "lesbians equal ratings," but I have always known the true nature of TV. The true draw on TV isn't lesbians, it is piranhas.  Piranhas equal ratings. You throw a tankful of piranhas onto any TV show, you have an instant hit.  Look at it this way, if they had piranhas on Suddenly Susan it would still be on the air. So next week should be a great episode.

* My very favorite quote of the week was when Matthew said he couldn't serve the food correctly because they didn't have the proper "service vessels." Look, I know a lot of people pegged Matthew as being pompous and pretentious, but this quote took the cake. I know it's a chef term, but no one says "service vessels" in the real world. It's a "bowl" to everyone else. That quote still makes me laugh. "Service vessels" my butt.

* As for this week's bootee... let's just say that he didn't have a particularly good game and leave it at that.


Who is most likely to win the game at this point? Well, I can name three players (Jeanne, Matthew, Rob) who I think have a good chance. I can name two who I think have no chance (Roger and Shawna.) And then a whole lot of them are left crammed in the middle.  Their fate could go in either direction depending on the next couple of episodes. This is the most wide-open game we have had in a long time. If Jeanne doesn't win, at this point I really have no idea who it will be.

1. Jeanne Hebert
Jeanne is incredibly sneaky and clever, and I think she is clearly a major, major threat to win this game. Jeanne has shown her sneakiness before, but nominating Deena as leader solely because she is abrasive is a great plan both in the short term as well as the long term. I said before that Jeanne had a "bit of Vecepia" in her, and I still stand by that comment. She is playing a very mischievous and sneaky and subtle game right now.

2. Matthew von Ertfelda
The Von Ertfelder had a good week, and I still stick by my prediction that he is in no real danger right now. He was in good with Daniel, true, but he wisely bailed out when Daniel was on the chopping block. Matthew is smart, he is strong, he is devious and he is skilled around camp. He is a very strong player, although I think Jeanne is far ahead of him in the rankings right now. He is only #2 because I don't think that Christy, JoAnna or Deena (the most powerful alliance on the stronger team) are likely to win. No one can match Matthew's dark intense stare, though. Nobody.

3. Rob Cesternino
Rob got another fun chance to scheme, although it really didn't make a difference this week. He is wise enough to know to go along with the mob when he has to, and he also knows the power of numbers, so he clearly knows how to play Survivor. It is just a matter now if the guys can rebound and regain control of this game. If they can, Rob will be a HUGE threat to win. He loves to exploit conflict, and he loves to be seen as "the lovable harmless goofball." And the females already seem to like him.  Remember that for later on down the road.

4. JoAnna Ward
I had written JoAnna off last week as dead meat, but now she is right back in with the rest of the power players. And I think it is safe to say she was never really out of it in the first place. She is in with Jeanne and Deena, and if they get Christy in as their fourth they are going to be rock solid.  JoAnna is a good athlete, a strong competitor, and Jesus obviously loves her the best.  And, Survivor or not, that is just a plus in any book.

5. Alex Bell
A strong player on a weak tribe right now. The females seem to like him a lot, so he might benefit from a twist or merge quite a bit.

6. Dave Johnson
I see his morals and his ethics as big obstacles in the way of him winning, but at the same time the whole "Dave is awakening" subplot leads me to rank him this high for now. He is one to definitely keep an eye on. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that.  Sorry, that was too easy.

7. Heidi Strobel
Heidi is a fairly strong player, but I see a world of hurt for her and her softcore alliance very soon. She could really use a switch or a twist in the near future, because if that happens the guys will be putty in her hands (and of course if that happens she will shoot up in the rankings.)

8. Christy Smith
I never thought Christy had a chance, but here she is. She is suddenly in with the big girls. She is also kind of a swing vote (although JoAnna is too.)  The young girls want nothing to do with her, and in a weird way that actually might help her in the long run. If my prediction is right, Christy will have a big smile on her face next week when we say goodbye to Jenna or Shawna.

9. Butch Lockley
Nice guy, strong player, but I don't see him as one of the major players among the Tambaquis. He would benefit from a twist as much as any of the men.

10. Deena Bennett
If nothing else, she is one of the winners of the Amazon simply because she was able to turn around the Jaburu tribe.  No one else could have done it.  They were, as Jeanne put it, "pathetic."  And then Deena stepped up. I don't think she will win a million dollars in the end (even her own alliance is setting her up to lose) but she has already earned her place in Survivor history just because of her leadership.

11. Jenna Morasca
Jenna might suddenly draw a lot of fire from the elder Jaburus, if they are forced to go to Tribal Council next week.  I'm not writing her off completely, as a twist or a merge could suddenly make her value skyrocket, but for now Jenna is ranked near the bottom.

12. Roger Sexton
Roger is probably the next male gone. Just because Rob didn't get him this time, that doesn't mean he is any safer now.  All it did was delay the inevitable. And Roger was perfectly justified in his criticism of Daniel this week.  If you were a leader like Roger, a person like Daniel or Ryan would probably piss you off too. My favorite Roger moment of the week was when big, tall JoAnna held up an item at the reward challenge.  And it was so high that wee little Roger couldn't reach it.  How humiliating.

13. Shawna Mitchell
Shawna brings some athletic skill to the game, but she doesn't bring a whole lot else right now.  The guys having a crush on her won't mean jack squat if the elder females take over the vote. And indeed if she really DOES want to quit next week... then you might as well say "sayonara" Shawna.  Special points to her, though, for being allergic to bee stings. I also share that particular affliction.  So Shawna and I share a special bond for life that can never be broken.

My pick for next week's bootee: Shawna is the obvious choice but I am gonna go out on a limb here with my dark horse pick, Jenna. And if the guys lose, I am pretty sure it will be Roger.

Mario Lanza lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two small children. He was the lead writer of All-Star Hawaii and Alaska and he also owns a full set of proper service vessels for all his culinary needs.