Amazon Strategy #5:  I'm a Rocket Man
Written by Mario Lanza on 03.14.03

"Shawna may not be interested in the whole chick thing anymore. Shawna may be interested in the Alex thing."
-Deena Bennett

Wow! Lots of fun stuff to talk about this week.

As expected, the big twist showed up, and it completely split the game apart. We now have two very different tribes than we had before, and it is going to change the entire dynamic of the game from this point forward.  Honestly, this season is officially turning out to be the least predictable Survivor season of all time. I mean, Marquesas was goofy and it had a bunch of power shifts, but you have to remember that there was at LEAST a dominant alliance by this point in Marquesas. But in the Amazon, there isn't anything like that. All we have are some sub-alliances, some sub-sub-alliances, some long term plotting, and a whole bunch of schemers. It is going to be nearly impossible to say what is going happen over the next couple of episodes and, honestly, the power rankings are going to be just about meaningless this week. They will be meaningless because ANYTHING can happen right about now. I could make a case for just about every single player to win the game from here on out (although some are clearly more likely than others.)  But this season is just turning into an absolute crapshoot. The male-female divide at the start of the game really gave the merge and twist some extra significance and power.  People are likely to swap and change and waffle on loyalties all over the place now, especially when you have players like Rob, Heidi and Matthew hanging around in the mix.

In other words, this is turning out to be a great season!

Of course, I say that every season is a great season.  So I suppose my endorsement has a little less weight than it probably should.  I always say that the current season is my favorite Survivor season, that is kind of my trademark. Part of the reason I do this is to maintain everyone's interest in the show, since I consider myself kind of a cheerleader for the franchise in general.  But I can admit now that it was difficult at times to always build up Thailand last year as "a great season!"  Thailand wasn't the best season.  You know it.  I know it.  And the American people know it.  But with the Amazon, I really do mean it.  This is a very very solid season, and at the moment it has the potential to become one of the best.  I mean, if it can outdo Marquesas in terms of unpredictability (which it has a chance to), you know it is doing something magical.

There were several key decisions that were made in this week's episode. It is generally my role here to comment on if they were good decisions or bad ones, but in the case of last night's episode, that is awfully tough to do. You can see the thinking behind all of them.  And only time will tell if Heidi's plan will turn out well for her, or if Dave's plan to keep Heidi around will turn out well for him. They were both calculated gambles, designed to maximize one's own success. They were both judgement calls. Simply put, there were extrinsic fluid variables at play here, this isn't rocket science.

First off is Heidi. A lot of people consider her decision to vote for "Gene" to be the biggest one in the episode (although I disagree.)  But it was obviously a big one. Was she correct to vote for Jeanne?  Now my initial instinct was to say that it was a bad idea.  But I suspect that was more because I liked Jeanne and I didn't like Heidi. Sometimes my judgement gets clouded when I like certain players. But I have thought about it for a while, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that Heidi didn't really have a choice. If the same choice with the same variables was offered to you, YOU would probably take it too. A tie stinks, there is no reason to ever face a tie if you don't need one. The goal in Survivor (in my mind) has always been to just get past this vote and to get to the next vote. By voting for Jeanne, Heidi basically ensured herself to get to the next Tribal Council.  So if you look at the game this way (and I do) then Heidi succeeded. She will get to the next vote, and Jeanne won't.  If you look at it that way, Heidi did well for herself.

The flaw that I see in Heidi's plan, which is one that I don't think she sees yet, is that the guys on Tambaqui really like Christy. They have taken to her much better than Jaburu ever did.  As it stands now, the plan right now is to vote out Christy next, but at the same time I'm not entirely sure that Butch and company will actually be able to do that. I think they genuinely like her. And I think that she genuinely likes them. I think that writing Christy's name down on a piece of paper will be a lot tougher than they expect. And I know it isn't the most politically correct thing to say, but if Christy were a really hardcore player, what she should be doing right now is milking her disability as hard as she possibly can. Use it! Gain sympathy around the middle school principal! Mention several times how hard Jaburu made it on you. Appeal to their emotions and their sense of fair play.  I don't think Christy actually -will- do this, but it sure would be the mark of a great player if she could turn the way she was shunned into a strength.

So, in the end, did Heidi make the right choice?  Who knows.  I can't really fault her for avoiding a tie, since the guys were clearly not going to break ranks. If Heidi was just looking to get to the merge, then yes, she made a good move. But at the same time, I can't guarantee it won't bite her in the ass next week. You have to respect Heidi's ability to adapt and to switch alliances, because the good players all have the ability to do that. But I don't think she has recognized Christy as a formidable enemy yet. We will see what happens now.

No, the key decision in my mind this week wasn't Heidi's, it was Dave's. In short, why the heck did he spare Heidi, and not spare Jeanne or Christy? I mean, Dave KNOWS that Heidi and Jenna are best friends.  He KNOWS that the two of them are a bloc that needs to be broken up.  He knows this because Jenna flat out told him this!  Yet he chose to spare Heidi when they had a clear and easy shot to get rid of her.

So the question arises.  If Dave had approached Jeanne (or more likely, if Butch had approached Jeanne. She would respect Butch more), would Jeanne have voted along with the guys to get rid of Heidi?  Because once Tambaqui lost the immunity challenge, I was positive that Heidi would be gone.  I was sure it would be 5-1 or 4-2.  I expected that Jeanne would take out Heidi and would go along with the guys. Yet no mention was ever made in the episode of pulling in Jeanne.  When Dave was talking with Heidi about the vote, I thought what he was doing was trying to sucker her in.  I thought that by telling her "vote for Jeanne," I thought he was trying to do his best to split the female alliance apart, and cause a scenario of 3 votes for Heidi, 2 votes for Butch and 1 vote for Jeanne. And if he had, that would have been a great move!  But, of course, I was wrong.  Dave wasn't trying to be devious.  Dave was being genuine.  He really DOES want Heidi in as their fifth. But why?

This whole subplot was something I didn't really understand.  And I had to think about it for a while. Why would Dave pull Heidi into his alliance? He knew that Jeanne and Heidi didn't get along, Jenna already told him. So why not pick Jeanne? And the reason I eventually came to was simple: Heidi is the one who is more devious. Dave knows that because Jenna probably told him that.

Dave knew that it wouldn't be very easy to sway Jeanne to vote against the girls, since she is so interested in playing with honesty and integrity (see her final words.) Dave probably knew that Heidi is a snake, and that she would be far more likely to take the bait. Because in doing so, obviously the females would be weakened.  True, Heidi's short-sighted plan is good for her, but it's not good for the females in general. So if you look at it from Dave's point of view, it makes sense.  Yeah you keep a snake around.  You keep Heidi around, even though she is a player who is incredibly dangerous.  But you do it because it might be the best move in the long run.  You do it because it ensures that one less female is going to around once you get to the merge (which might not have happened if they had approached Jeanne with the idea.) So yeah, like Heidi's decision, I can say that Dave's decision was probably a good one.  But we will never know for sure until after the season ends.

Alternately, some people have suggested that Dave had a crush on Heidi and that he was just thinking with his genitals. That is a very valid interpretation as well. But Dave's a smart guy.  Isn't he?  He has to be wise enough to see through Heidi's charms. Right?  I mean, he's a rocket scientist. Aren't engineers and scientists and math nerds supposed to be experts at dealing with women? Hmmm... And now that I think about it, Dave is the same guy who told Jenna she has "a sexy, sexy ass."

Damn.  Dave might have actually been played here.

Oh well.  Forget I said anything about strategy in the first place.

Well, whatever happens, Dave was definitely the MVP of this episode. He was all over the place. And his team selection could not have been better. Taking Heidi from under Jenna's nose was great, he took his first pick and he gave Jenna a dagger directly to the heart. Then he got rid of schemers Rob and Matthew, and he also got rid of likeable uber-athlete Alex.  What that means is that Dave Johnson is now the single best athlete (not to mention the single best looking guy) on his tribe, and he is not going to have very much competition.  Nicely done, rocket man.

The only real flaw I saw in Dave's plan this week was the way he explained the team selection to Rob.  Dave told Rob "I picked Butch and Roger," when what he really should have said was "Jenna selected Rob, Matthew and Alex." The way Dave phrased it, it sounded like he was ditching people he didn't need, which is exactly the way that Rob interpreted it. Now, Dave very well could have clarified this further, he could have made it sound better, and maybe we just never saw it on TV. But just from what we saw in the episode, it looks like he explained it poorly to Rob and he might actually take some political flak for it. But hey, Dave had a good week with everything else he did.  No need to nitpick.

There is one more thing I wanted to touch on this week, in terms of social dynamics.  From the very first episode, it was clear that the guys' heads weren't really in the game. Not with so many hot young females around.  The guys were busy thinking of scoring, and of breasts, and of Jenna's "sexy, sexy ass." In other words, once the teams merged, it was implied that the guys were going to be done.  The girls were just going to tear them apart.

But there was something that I had not been paying attention to along the way. And that was that the women missed the men just as much. I should have been paying more attention to the fact that the girls didn't get along with one another, and that they didn't talk to each other all that much. It turns out I had forgotten the oldest rule in the book of sociology: Females don't like one another. I can't believe I overlooked that!

Look what happened when Jenna met Dave.  It was Jenna who acted like a little high school kid around Dave, not the other way around. She saw a cute guy sitting there and she spilled her guts in about two minutes. I couldn't believe how much she was telling him. In fact, by the end, I was surprised she didn't just throw in her ATM code. But it was clear that the females were DYING for men to talk to.  It was clear that they just didn't speak to each other all that much. Females are just much more social than males in real life, and I think it was killing them that they had no one to gossip to. So a guy shows up, and all of a sudden Jenna abandons all strategic sense whatsoever, simply because she has a sounding board who will listen to her. And the same thing with Shawna. The guys show up, and the younger girls all of a sudden behave much -much- differently than they ever did before.

And it is bothering me that I didn't see that coming. I assumed the guys would be the ones doomed with a merge. It might be the other way around instead.

Okay, on to next week. What will happen now? Well, for starters, it is nearly impossible to pick who is in the best position to win right now. Like I said earlier, I could make a case where most anyone could win the game at this point. But at the very least I think we can narrow down who is probably going to be safe next week. Dave, for one, he isn't going anywhere.  Butch also seems to be safe.  Roger is in the clear too (how did that happen?!)  On Jaburu, the only one who I think is absolutely safe is Jenna. Everyone else could be vulnerable next week. Rob and Matthew for being too scheming, Deena for being too bossy, Shawna for being too flaky, and Alex if he gets -too- close to Shawna and he pisses people off.

So my picks to go next week? Well, Christy seems like the obvious choice on Tambaqui, but I am saying not to overlook Heidi. Christy is going to be a tough one to vote out, you watch and see! And on Jaburu, who the heck knows? Deena seems like a likely bet, and so does Shawna. But I suppose I will say Shawna.  She is just a little too flaky for her own good. I don't see why anyone would want her for an ally.  Well unless you have a penis and you are Alex.

Feedback Section:

I have the most bizarre and amusing readers on the internet.  I always get fun emails like the ones below. Email me your best observations about the show and if they make me laugh, I will put it in the column next week:

From Justin Vander Wende: "The producers knew the girls weren't going to win the fishing challenge anyway. If they thought the girls were going to win, they would have had Diet Coke in the fridge too. Like the skinny cute girls would ever drink regular Coke."

From Nick Potter: "This week, Alex took the best machete shot to the face since Crispin Glover in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. The only difference is that Alex's corpse wasn't later nailed into a doorframe."

From Dennis Goodman: "I am glad that Dave held tightly to the stereotype that rocket scientists are not that smooth. "You have a sexy ass" might have been one of the lamest things ever mentioned. I am sure Jenna wanted him then and there."

From a guy named Erik: "When Deena said that she was the Alpha Female and the top dog and that she was running the game... It reminded me of when Homer Simpson once commented on his superiority and then shook his fist at the heavens. 'And I will get no comeuppance. Do you hear me, no comeuppance!'"

I really have nothing left to top any of these. So I guess that's it for my column this week. On to the power rankings!


Who is most likely to win right now? Heck, do you think I know? As Jerry Seinfeld once said, "Not bloody likely!"  I might as well throw darts at a list of names on a dartboard.  But that being said, there are a few people I have been paying attention to for a while. Dave, Matthew, Rob, and Jenna have all had a nice "winner" vibe about them for some time now. And you can not find a more underrated player than Butch. So I have no empirical proof to back up any of these picks this week, I am going solely on my gut.  There are just the people who I think are the sharpest ones out there.

1. Dave Johnson
Just because he had such a good week. And don't forget that "Dave wakes up" scene last week. Those always foreshadow something good! Dave is like Brian Heidik right now, he has absolutely no competition on a weaker and older and tighter team.  That is a great place to be.

2. Butch Lockley
The classic definition of underrated and under the radar.  Butch is set up for a nice long run in this game.

3. Matthew von Ertfelda
Once again, no reason for him to be this high except for my gut feeling. I have been a big Matthew fan since day one.

4. Rob Cesternino
Rob is developing a bit of a temper. He said before the season that he plays "mean." I suspect we will see that very soon.

5. Jenna Morasca
I appreciate the fact that she is so quiet and mysterious. She is alert and she doesn't draw attention to herself. Contrast that to Heidi, who would put an ad in the paper if she was about to heat up a can of soup.  Of course, spilling her guts to Dave wasn't the best move in the world, but Jenna has done very well for herself. And she is one of the few safe people in next week's episode, so here she is at #5.

6. Heidi Strobel
Heidi is definitely a player, but she is also in a precarious spot right now.  Plus other people are on to where she stands in her alliance (could she answer questions any worse at Tribal Council?) I don't think Heidi will win, but at the very least she has proven she will try her best.

7. Roger Sexton
Roger has a new lease on life. He is much more of a thinker and is much more sensitive than I would have expected before (note his efforts with Christy). But I still don't see him as the winner. Not with people like Rob and Matthew still in the game I don't.

8. Alex Bell
Alex was doing great until we saw the previews for next week. Stay away from Shawna! She is a strategic deathtrap! Run away Alex, stay away from the light!

9. Deena Bennett
Deena could go very soon, or she could adapt to New Jaburu and stick around for a while.  I think she is a heck of a player, but the twist really screwed her over.  She really got the worst deal of anyone. Deena must learn to adapt at this point or she is gone.

10. Christy Smith
Christy is in a pretty bad spot, but she could get lucky next week if the guys really do like her.  Fate isn't really in her hands at the moment though. I was afraid all along that her lack of competitiveness was going to get her in the end, let's see if she can prove me wrong about that.

11. Shawna Mitchell
Shawna was in a terrible position last week, when she was sick and exhausted.  But if anything, she is in an even WORSE position now, with her sudden "miraculous" recovery and her ability to piss off Deena, the leader of her alliance. Shawna has a big black cloud floating over her head right now, and if he was smart Alex would do his best to avoid her. Shawna is slowly running out of allies, and it is happening right at the time in the game when she wants to stick around the most. Sometimes irony isn't fun like that.

Mario Lanza lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two small children. He was the lead writer of the All-Star Hawaii and Alaska stories and is currently planning the third story, tentatively titled "Survivor: Greek Islands." Read the message board for the cast list!