Marquesas Strategy #5: The Nurse Shark
Written by Mario Lanza on 03.29.02

I had very STRONG mixed feelings when watching this week's episode. It was both one of the best episodes of Survivor I have ever seen, as well as being one of the most infuriating. But I'll start with the actual strategic part of the column, and finish with my personal thoughts at the end.

First off, the game is now in full swing. You thought the game got nasty when Hunter was voted off, but you aint seen nothing yet. The Love Tribe has been a false front for quite some time now, and they were only fooling themselves into thinking that you could succeed in this game through only love and respect. There are some who I think could definitely play that sort of game, like Neleh, Paschal or Gabe, but there were far too many Type-A overachievers to get away with it for long. Sooner or later the gloves come off and people go for the throat. I fully expected it from Tammy and John in time, so that really wasn't a shock. A lot of people will criticize John as being evil or harsh, but he's really just playing the game. There's always one person who will play harder than the rest, and John just happens to have that title this season. Just because those around you play less intensely shouldn't make you more evil, but of course that's how it comes off on TV. So I'm sorry John, but you're going to have a hard go of it on the Survivor sites for the next few weeks. But then again that's the inherent nature of popularity contests. The aggressive ones suffer. Ask Lex.

We have a very, very interesting merge coming up. Until this episode, I never thought it would be possible that a Maraamu could win this thing, but after last night's episode, there's a bunch of ways this game could go. Sure, the smart money will say that Rotu re-aligns after the merge, picks off Maraamu one by one, and your final four are going to be Robert, Tammy, John and Zoe. But this is the first season I can think of where there's some doubt. For starters, Maraamu has legitimately bonded. They are a tight bunch. Most people are excited that Gina is back in the game, but I am just as happy for Kathy. She seems to have found her niche. All four of them seem to be genuinely good people, and were thrust into a situation which seemed impossible. Any psychologist will tell you that the best way to get people to bond is by forcing them to face adversity together. Maraamu stood up to big, bad Rotu and won not once, but twice, and they are going to be a tough bunch to pull apart. In fact, if they do go to Tribal Council next week, it will be highly traumatic. I think it could be the most emotional Tribal Council ever, if that were to happen. Now combine that with next week's preview, where Paschal is "disappointed" in his ex-teammates for dumping Gabe, and you have a really interesting scenario. I don't think they will be interested in joining Rotu after the merge. In fact, you could say that the "Love Tribe" has moved over to Maraamu now. Paschal and Neleh may have been the heart behind that whole movement, and they brought it over to Maraamu. The unfortunate fact is that they left Gabe behind, who by all rights should have been with them. Like Colleen Haskell and the final days of Rattana, Gabe was left behind like a sitting duck.

So now look at what could happen after the merge. We could have a very tight Rotu Alliance. As it stands right now, they are solid, and out for blood. Or so it appears. I don't know if Zoe or Tammy will stand for John's style very long, but we'll assume that they are with him for now. But we could also have a very tight alliance of four over at Maraamu. They aren't the same type of alliance, but vowing not to vote for each other is essentially the same thing as vowing to team up and vote the same person out. It all depends on if Paschal's disappointment is spread to the rest of Maraamu and... if it is... we have a potential 4 vs 4 showdown. And who does that leave sitting around on the outside? You guessed it, the knucklehead twins and Vecepia. And you just know that Rob would like nothing better than to be the all-important swing vote between two factions. Can you just picture him, sitting there and rubbing his hands with glee? He would literally get to be the Godfather. Would John and Rotu trust him on their side? Would Gina force down her pride and try to get Rob on her side? Would both alliances gang up and take out the "lost three?" There are a lot of possibilities right now, and this game is anything but a sure thing. The power rankings are going to be a mess this week, as the game is all over the place. The contestants aren't following any set of rules, and their behavior is becoming much more difficult to predict.

The next episode is (likely) the last one before the merge. And it is indeed very pivotal. If Maraamu has to vote one of their own members out, not only will it be heartbreaking for them, but they will then be at a big disadvantage. I imagine Kathy will be the one going home, but you never know. And if I were Rotu, I would do everything in my power to get Rob out of the picture. The guy is silent, sneaky, powerless, and very dangerous. They will probably target Sean, but I think it's the wrong choice. Rob is taking a lot of flak for not allying with Gabe this week, but I believe he tried. Gabe probably wanted no part of it, so Rob wisely went with the Rotu majority, not wanting to ruffle any feathers. If he tried to get John out and failed, 4-3, then John would have been pissed, and you could say goodbye to any counter-alliance. So Rob just laid low, he voted out Gabe, and he played nice. You may remember that Tina Wesson did a very similar thing in S2, voting out Mad Dog just to go along with Jerri's alliance in episode four. Rob still has one chance to make a move next week, and I suspect he will make a play for Zoe or Tammy. Robert appears to be solid with John, and you just know that Tammy and Zoe don't want anyone telling them how to play this game. So if Rob can somehow generate some resentment for John, he has a chance. I never thought it would happen, but he is one lucky break away from popping right back into the game. It's still unlikely to happen, but I do think that John will annoy people in time. He's too in-your-face about things, and it's way too early in the game.

Okay, enough with the strategy. Now on to my personal views this week. Normally I watch the episode at 8:00, and then watch it again an hour later, taking notes for my column. But it was very hard for me to watch this episode a second time. This season was the first time I ever felt I had a connection to one of the players, and that player was Gabe. You see, I know a few members of Gabe's family. They are nice people, and through them I started to follow Gabe's progress with a little extra interest. So with that in mind, it was tough not to get attached to Gabe, and to wish him well during the season. And I'm sure his family members were just as stunned to see him go as I was this week. So for the first time, I had a little taste of what the families of these contestants must go through, how they must worry, and how concerned you are about the way people you know will come off on TV. I can just imagine that if one of my relatives were on the show, it would be tough to tune in each week. You would probably become a nervous wreck about five minutes before watching each episode. So I will say that last night's episode was one of the best and most dramatic I have ever seen, but I was also a little too involved to really appreciate it. I'm supposed to be a detached observer, but it was a tough episode for me to sit through twice. I've been lucky in the past that my favorite players each season either win or get very far (Richard, Tina and Lex were my favorites, respectfully, in seasons 1-3), so I'm not used to my favorites leaving so early. And while Rob Mariano is technically my favorite of the S4 contestants, Gabe was the one I really wanted to win, deep down. And he was only one week away from being the #1 spot in the power rankings. He almost made it there! But, as I predicted, too strong and too likeable is not a good thing in this game. So at least Gabe left with his dignity, that's really about all you can ask from somebody you know on the show. Besides, I really think he would have had a problem during the endgame. He just wasn't cut out for a game like this. Oh well.

Okay, enough of that. I know you're just here to read the Power Rankings anyway. By the way, the rankings are a mess this week. Lots of potential shuffling, a few big question marks for next week... and I'm really not sure of too much at this point. The game made much more sense two days ago.

1. Tammy Leitner
Still holding in at number one. She is in with the big boys now and if someone takes John down, it will be her. She seems to be involved with an awful lot of key decisions, and is always lurking around in the background. As a reporter, she is trained not to miss much and it is helping her. John very well could be ranked #1, but Tammy is more low key. I think she is even more likely to win now than she was last week. John stuck his neck out and, in doing so, actually increased Tammy's chances of winning. And watching her do push-ups literally frightens me.
2. Zoe Zanidakis
Zoe, in at #2. John's power trip is sticking a big old target on his head, and Zoe creeps past him in the rankings. She appears well liked, tough, and capable. She is as hard a worker as anyone, I mean just look at her profession. If you don't work hard as a fisherman, you starve. So you can basically just flip a coin over who will take John down in the end. Will it be Zoe, or will it be Tammy? I pick Tammy, but Zoe is right behind her.
3. Robert DeCanio
The silent General creeps up here. I don't see him winning in the end, but at this point it's hard to deny him. It would be embarrassing for me if he won, simply because I said that he had no chance to win after episode two. But here he is, at #3. He's more likely to win than John.
4. John Carroll
John vaulted from being "That guy who got peed on" to "the evil manipulator" this week. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as he will certainly be remembered now. I thought he was the outsider in Rotu, but I mistakenly reversed his and Gabe's roles. John is the leader, but he's also in a lot of danger of getting full of himself. Everything has come too easy for him so far, with no opposition. He is very driven, wants to win very badly, and is not subtle in the slightest. I think too many seasons of Survivor have passed for that strategy to work anymore. Still, it was an impressive power grab when it happened. You have to give him credit for that.
5. Rob Mariano
Okay, I could really be stretching here, but I still think Rob has some strings to pull. You never know... If he doesn't go next week, watch out for him! Wouldn't it be ironic if he helped get John out of the game, and got Gina back in. He would then be the good guy of the show! Go Rob!
6. Vecepia Towery
She is awfully low under the radar. I don't really see a devious side in her, but she has to be one of the more adaptable players ever to play Survivor. She blends in with anyone. It's tough to imagine her winning this game, but when the big guns slug it out, she could emerge from the dust somehow.
7. Gina Crews
Gina will have a bit of an uphill battle, but she could pull it off. It will depend on 1. Rotu cannibalizing itself and 2. Having to join forces with Rob or Sean at some point. It just depends on how badly she wants to win at that point. But she's slowly climbing back into the race. By the way, the editors must love her, she gets a great deal of nice shots and favorable editing every week.
8. Sean Rector
He's really in the same position as Rob, but with the disadvantage of not being a suck up. He will go out of his way not to make friends with Rotu, and he looks like a great athlete at the same time. It will probably hurt him in the long run. But if Rob manages a power grab at some point, Sean will be right there with him.
9. Kathy Vavrick-O'Brien
I'm one of the biggest Kathy fans out there, which is impressive considering it is my life's mission to dislike all real estate agents. But it's still unlikely that she could win. She could win, I suppose, but a lot of people will have to be pushed aside first. I like the fact that she seems tough and adaptable. She's more cunning than Paschal or Neleh, which I think will help her at the end, if she gets that far.
10. Paschal English
Paschal is awesome, but I don't see him having the personality to take it to the end. He seems like a great guy, and his lack of respect for Rotu's decision to vote out Gabe could spread to Maraamu and make the merge far more interesting. Any judge who would wear a paper pilgrim hat is okay by me. And bonus points for no feather in his butt like Tom last season.
11. Neleh Dennis
She promises to be around for a while, but I think she will be eaten up by the more intense players in time. Unlike Gabe, at least she will probably see it coming. And I still think she is adorable.

Biggest Power Gain this week: Sean or Rob. John inadvertently may have helped them back in it.
Biggest Power Loss this week: John, if anybody. He was flying very low and is now suddenly the guy to aim for. But at least he's making a run at victory now. Like they say... no guts, no glory!

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