Amazon Strategy #6:  Shoot the Hostage
Written by Mario Lanza on 03.20.03

Harry: Alright, pop quiz. The airport. Gunman with one hostage, he's using her for cover, he's almost to the plane. You're a hundred feet away.
Jack: Shoot the hostage.
Harry: What?
Jack: Take her out of the equation. Go for the good wound and he can't get to the plane with her. Clear shot.
-Jeff Daniels and Keanu Reeves, SPEED

I always liked that quote, so I figured I would start my column with it. Besides, it fit the storyline this week perfectly. Shawna was a hostage of her own alliance at, and she later became an obvious final two partner for her dreamboat Alex.  So by Rob and Deena and Jenna getting rid of her, they effectively neutralized Alex's mini-alliance. Shoot the hostage, indeed.

With the merge only a week away, we are now finally starting to see how the game is going to unfold. The true power players are starting to emerge. We are now seeing the people who truly do have the ability to adapt and to think ahead (Rob and Deena, to name two) and we are now seeing the people where the game is just kind of passing them by (Alex and Dave.)  It is going to be a treat to watch how the rest of this season plays out. There are numerous schemers in the bunch, there are mini-alliances, there are grudges, there are people making adjustments and adaptations on the fly, there is just about everything you could possibly hope for in a Survivor season. Heck, there is even the promise of nudity next week. What more could you want?

This week, I have a special treat for you. You may remember last season when Robb Zbacnik dropped by to offer his comments on one of the episodes. Well this season, we have a guest columnist as well.  Heidi Strobel is here to offer her insights! Thank you Heidi for stopping by.  I like to ramble on and on about strategy, so feel free just to jump in any time you feel like it.

Heidi: Thanks, Mario. It's nice that one of the pretty girls could join you. You have been truly blessed.

Well, first off, we have a new MVP of this season, and it is Butch Lockley. Butch really revealed himself to be a star character this week, between his dominance in the log rolling challenge, his attempts to unify Tambaqui, and most of all, his comments to Christy. There really may never have been a nicer moment in Survivor history than Butch pulling Christy aside and telling her that she doesn't have a disability. And he meant it too, he wasn't just trying to make points with her. It was the type of nice special heartwarming moment that only shows up maybe once or twice a season.  And it truly was one of the more awesome scenes in the show's history.

Heidi: You know, I told her that too. It just wasn't shown on camera.

Really? I didn't know that.

Heidi: Well, it was more indirect. I mean, it's not as if I actually speak to Christy. As if. I told it to Jenna, and she told it to Deena, and Deena passed it along to Christy. But it started with me. It must have warmed her deaf little deaf heart.

Uh, thanks Heidi. But I do want to point out that Butch wasn't the ONLY person who was helping build Christy up. Roger was doing just as good a job of it as Butch was, although unfortunately I am guessing few people will actually give him credit for it. But Roger did a heckuva job getting Christy to feel like she was a part of the group, and I thought it was a nice moment. In fact, the only one who -didn't- seem like he was part of the lovefest was Dave, who now looks like the game is sort of passing him by. Dave might be more of an outsider on Tambaqui than he realizes. Be careful, rocket man!

Heidi: I was part of the love-fest too, in that America loves me. America always loves the sweetheart.

Tambaqui had a great episode all around, between winning both challenges and then through bonding as a team. Heidi would probably have been the next to go had they gone to Tribal Council, but she is now spared that fate because of the merge. But I would pay very close attention to the pairing of Butch-Roger-Christy at the moment. In a season lacking in strong, visible alliances, those three could likely become the tightest ones in the Amazon.

Heidi: Were you talking about the tightest buns in the Amazon? Cause that would be me. But it makes sense, since I'm the only skinny female under 25 who doesn't have an eating disorder. I actually keep in shape.

Heidi, that was catty, stop it. I don't want to get sued. Now, moving over to Jaburu, they are a much more interesting bunch than Tambaqui at the moment. I mean, obviously they are the tribe who bathes together in the nude, so clearly I can't say anything bad about them.  This week's episode felt like I was watching a softcore late night movie on the USA Network. The only thing missing was Gilbert Gottfriend at the start introducing it.  But yeah, the players on Jaburu are really starting to show some pluck. We all knew that Rob was a player, so that was no surprise. Aligning with the weak and desperate Deena was a great plan.  In fact, I have always said that if I ever played Survivor, that would be one of my strategies. You go around and you find those who need help and you offer them some protection.  It is an instant alliance!  And Deena felt the same way about Rob, so their pairing made perfect sense. I think the two of them are going to be a great team.  And best of all, they are both showing the kind of adaptability that is needed to win this game. Adaptability is always the key.

Heidi: And big boobs.

Yes, Heidi. Big boobs don't hurt. Excellent point. Jenna is clearly aware of that. Jenna (like Rob and Deena) is a major, major player right now, and she is all too aware that she has power over most of the guys. And what is fun about Jenna is that she probably couldn't give a crap that the females at home (and the females in the game) probably hate her for it. That's what I like the most about Jenna. She just doesn't give a rip. I think she is going to go very far in this game. She is quiet, she is a thinker, and she feels no guilt about using any strategy whatsoever to get her ahead in the game.  I really like her chances right now.  She is clearly in no danger of being voted out of the game anytime soon.

Heidi: I hope she wins. I really like Jenna. She's one of the cute ones, but we've never had any issues about it. I usually get along pretty well with the next cutest girl in any situation. So luckily there has never been any jealousy issue.

Wow, that was quite a backhanded compliment. Nicely done, Heidi. Well met.

And then of course we come to Matthew. Matthew von Ertfelda is by far the most mysterious player in this game. Because... well to be quite honest about it... WHO THE HELL IS THIS GUY??  It is driving me nuts trying to figure him out. Every other day I alternate between thinking he is a genius or thinking he is a fool.  One day I believe he has everything figured out, and then the next day I believe he has NOTHING figured out. In my power rankings I have been touting him as a contender pretty much all the way back since day one, but up to this point he really has yet to show me any good reason WHY I should be ranking him that high.  I really have only been ranking him high because of potential.  And then of course this week I am just completely ready to write him off as being clueless about how Survivor works.  I watch the episode, and I keep thinking to myself, this guy doesn't have a clue how to play this game, or how to make alliances. He doesn't know what he is doing. I was ready to give up on Matteo altogether, and then I talked to Murtz (our webmaster.)  Murtz told me "Matthew is playing dumb. He knows exactly what he was doing."

Heidi: Except for that haircut. Yuck. And what's with his eye sockets? Creepy.

Thanks again, Heidi.  So I have been second guessing myself when it comes to Matthew. Am I giving up on the guy too soon? Should I stick with Matteo for the long haul? It has really been bothering me lately.  So to get some perspective on the issue, I went and I re-watched the Saturn promo DVD from before the season. It has all the pre season interviews and all the pre season confessionals. And much to my delight, there it was, the answer that I had been looking for. Matthew clearly says in his pre show confessional that (this is a paraphrase off the top of my head) "This game is over. I have it all figured it. You might as well award me the check now. I'll play it slippery, like an eel. Sometimes I'll play dumb, sometimes I'll lie, sometimes I'll cheat. But I will always have a hand on what's going on." He even ADMITS that he can play dumb when he needs to, and that is all I need to stick by him. Matthew, I know you look bad now, but I have faith in you. I know there is a method to your madness. I hope so, anyway. Please make me look good!

Heidi: Speaking of looking good, I looked really good on that DVD. I was very happy with it. My hair was especially golden and perfect, almost ethereal.  I looked like a goddess.

So who is Matthew von Ertfelda? Is he a clueless dolt? Is he an emotionless robot? Does he ever laugh? Is he really as calm and controlled as he likes to let on? Or is he as cunning and sneaky a player as we have ever seen on Survivor?  I don't know!  No one does!  He is a fascinating player to watch and try to figure out. And as much as we have heard that Rob is "playing" him, do you think the possibility might exist that Matthew is actually the one pulling the strings? Hmmm.... wait and see!

Weekly notes:

* I bet Big Tom Buchanan was screaming at his TV when he saw the "side of beef" challenge. "WHERE WAS THAT IN AFRICA?? I COULD HAVE WON THAT THING BY M'SELF!! BURNETT, YOU GOT SOME 'SPLAINING TO DO!!" Personally, I loved it. Great challenge. Totally disgusting but very dramatic at the end. That was the type of challenge that was much better on TV than in print. I could never make something like that exciting in an All-Star story.

Heidi: Deena looked like she was good at it, which makes sense. Since she is one of the fatter ones, she also probably has more experience eating large slabs of meat. And it was lucky they had Jenna sit out. Since, you know, she can't hold down food, if you know what I mean. *wink*

* Both challenges were great this episode, it has been a nice rebound from the start of the season. The log rolling one was a nice face-to-face showdown, I love challenges like that. Man against man, head to head. Just like the balance showdown challenge in Australia.

Heidi: I was surprised they sat out Deena, since gravity seems to, you know, affect her more than most people. She would have been harder to knock over since she's so sturdy. Hey, I'm just being honest here, don't judge me.

* When the reward challenge promised "A Helping Hand" with their meal, both my wife and I immediately thought it meant they would win Hamburger Helper. We thought the little gloved hand would make a cameo and he would whip up a pan of Cheeseburger Macaroni. And I know we weren't the only people to make that joke. Just fess up, you know that you want to.

* Did you catch in the reward challenge, after Shawna knocked Heidi off for the first time? Alex gave Shawna a hug and he totally copped a feel. He got a nice big handful. Well played, Alex. Looks like you won the individual reward this week.

Heidi: But his real reward would have been if I had won. Alex would have needed two hands in that case.

* The funniest moment in the episode was after the immunity challenge, when the side o' beef was swinging free and it clocked Deena in the side of the head. Call me childish, but I love slapstick humor. She just got nailed by it.

* Lastly, I finally have to comment on Shawna's sudden "miraculous" recovery. She gave a quote this week which pretty much sums up what happened to her. She said, "The guys saved me from the women. I need that presence in my life." And that presence would be... attention! Shawna loves the attention. Have you ever heard some women described as needing attention 24 hours a day?  I think we saw a pretty good example of that with Shawna. She was fun to watch on TV, but it was clear by the end that the other women were just fed up with her. But she is gone now, and we bid a fond farewell to the second greatest frizzy haired soccer player in Survivor history.

What, Heidi, no Shawna comment?

Heidi: Sorry, I was on the phone with Alex.  I told him to dump Shawna, so the two of them are through. Alex and I are now dating, I have to go.


Who is most likely to win now? Well, the contenders are slowly starting to reveal themselves. Jenna, Rob, Deena, and Heidi have all shown they will change and adapt and they all know how to win. Yet despite this, the game is STILL completely wide open. A lot can change between now and the end. Right now, everyone seems pretty straightforward and obvious in the way they are playing the game except for Matthew. Matthew is the true wildcard out there, he is completely unpredictable. No one (including me) has any idea what the guy is up to. Von Ertfelder, reveal thyself!

1. Butch Lockley
Butch came out of nowhere to rise to the top, if only because he is in a very strong alliance. He has two (maybe three) very solid allies, and he is not threatening to anyone in the slightest. He knows how to play the game and he will be around for a while.

2. Jenna Morasca
Jenna is in a great position as well. Did you catch her glare of death at Christy after Christy won the reward challenge?  That was a nice little Jenna moment. She always pays attention and she always seems to be thinking. Say what you want about her, but Jenna will be around for a while.

3. Matthew von Ertfelda
I'm still sticking with him, if only because of his potential and his pre-show persona.

4. Rob Cesternino
Rob should be #1 in my mind, because he is terrifically underrated. But I just get the sense that his scheming is going to catch up with him. He is great to watch though, he really knows his stuff.

5. Christy Smith
Christy has pulled a miraculous turnaround and she is now right back in the game. She and Butch are a pair to keep your eye on.

6. Dave Johnson
Dave seemed a little lost as to the true nature of Tambaqui, and that drops him significantly in the power rankings. He still has a chance to win, but a lot will depend on who goes home next week after the merge.

7. Roger Sexton
Roger seems to be in as good a position as anyone, but I just don't see him winning. I'm glad his editing has softened, however.  He had some nice moments this week with his tribe.

8. Deena Bennett
Deena has the adaptability needed to do well in this game, and she still has a chance to win.  It will be uphill for her though.  And I would say the same thing to anyone who considers Rob Cesternino to be their closest ally.

9. Heidi Strobel
I think Heidi is going to have trouble getting to the end. She is a solid player, and she is trying her best to play nice. But she is also slowly running out of allies.

10. Alex Bell
Alex completely sabotaged his chances to win when he hooked up with Shawna. "Matthew, sorry buddy, but you're getting my vote" could be his famous last words.

Next week, one of my all-time favorite challenges returns. The Perch! Break out the Dur-ee-toes and bring back Tina Wesson!  It's Survivor old school! Now who do I think will go home?  Hmmmm... very tough call. We can assume it will be a merge, and at that point nearly everyone could be in danger. Okay, who will be safe?  I bet that Jenna will be safe. I bet that Rob will be safe. I bet that Christy will be safe. I bet that Butch will be safe. And I bet that PROBABLY Roger will be safe. So that leaves five possibilities: Deena, Matthew, Heidi, Dave, or Alex. The three most vulnerable, simply because of their lack of allies, are probably Deena, Alex, and Dave. And since the females seem to have the least loyalty among the genders, I will go out on a limb and say that Deena says goodbye next week.

[Author's Note: No actual Survivors were used or harmed in the writing of this column. It was entirely fictional. Heidi Strobel was not sitting here typing with me.]

Heidi: You wish, buddy. As if.

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 "All-Star Survivor: Greece." He really, really hopes that Survivor is on TV next week.