Thailand Strategy #5:  Dude, Where's My Boat?
Written by Mario Lanza on 10.19.02

"We're gonna need a bigger boat."

For the first time since Australia, we may have a Survivor season without a twist. That offers a unique perspective to the game now, because I think people had started to play the game in anticipation of having a twist. I think people had been guarded, they had been less open, and they had been less likely to develop close ties early in the game. They all expected that their alliances and friendships would eventually be torn apart. So now that they are stuck with their original tribes for a while, they may not actually know what to do. It adds a unique variable to this season, as once again the players have been caught off guard.

The first amazing thing about this episode is that we could, theoretically, wind up with a merge at 5 to 5. Can you believe it? I never would have thought it possible after seeing the initial tribes. I figured that either the elders would work as a team and would dismantle the cocky kids, or that the yutes (tm Vincent LaGuardia Gambini) would steamroll the old people with their superior athletic ability. But neither one has happened, and we may actually wind up with an even merge. Who would have predicted that?

Speaking of predictions, I am now four for four in my last few predictions as to who would be booted. Jump on the Mario bandwagon now, space is limited! Just kidding, but this season has been a nice return to predictability. Like I have said before, people are voting exactly as they should. If you ignore the editing, the previews, and the potential spoilers (which I avoid as a rule anyway), the game is pretty easy to follow so far. John's boot has been the only real surprise. And I have to say, after last season, it is nice to finally bring some sense back to the game. And don't bet for a second that it won't be Robb or Jan next week. The editors will try their best to convince you otherwise, but those two are clearly the most logical picks. My bet is on Robb, since he is completely outmanned now. His three person alliance is gone, and there is no room left in the Sook Jai five. I'm sorry to say it but hasta la vista, bro.

I said last week that the key to Sook Jai is to watch how Ken votes. Because Ken is the alpha male. He is as alpha as an alpha can be. It should have been clear that Stephanie was going this week, simply by the fact that Ken voted for her. What Ken does, Penny does. What Ken does, Erin does. And what Ken does, Jake does (although it may be the other way around, but either way, they are on the same side). Shii Ann is in this group as well, but I think she is a fringe member. I think your big three are Ken, Jake and Penny. It has ALWAYS been five against three in Sook Jai, ever since day one. They are trying to fool us with the editing, and the red herring confessionals, but it is a very clear dismantling of the lesser alliance. First Jed, then Stephanie, and next Robb. Five beats three every time.

A few more notes about this week... 

It really wasn't a wise move for anyone to switch tribes. But Stephanie was the one who should have taken the gamble. She was dead meat and she knew it. I guess she played the odds, but this time she lost.  And it's too bad about Stephanie. She seemed like such a strong player from her bio. But she just lacked the fire you would think she would have. She rarely showed any emotion in the game, and she just never really became the hardcore player she looked like she was going to be on paper. The illness probably didn't help, but she turned out to be very disappointing in the end. I expected so much from her. Go back and read my pre-season predictions, I had her pegged as a possible winner. But those impressions made on the first day, man, they are a killer. Very few people ever rise above the impression they initially give off.  Kathy O'Brien and Richard Hatch are the only two I can really think of, and it took a LOT of work for them to do it. Stephanie just didn't have the fire that the two of them had.

The food auction was fun. I would have paid $1000 for the spaghetti and meatballs if I was in the game. You can't really put a price on that kind of carbo-loading. The nachos were a nice touch too, but I can't imagine the chili and peppers will be that nice on an empty stomach. Without being too crude, you might want to reserve your spot at the Chuay Gahn bathroom tonight, space will be limited. One thing I did notice about the auction is that Ted and Ken seemed to be the leaders. The teams deferred the bid decisions to the two of them. Maybe Ted is still the leader of Chuay Gahn after all?  Another fun thing in the auction was watching the women all go crazy for the hot fudge sundae. It happens every season, the players are offered chocolate and the women all go berserk. Then again, my wife did too, and she was watching at home with me. Something about females and chocolate. Although it was fun to see Robb also flip out. The men sat back while Robb and the females orgasmed over the thought of chocolate.

Here is one thing you might not have noticed. There was no blatant product placement in the food auction. My, how things have changed since the first season. Jeff didn't call it a "McDonald's Quarter Pounder", or "Minute Maid Limeade", or even a "Dairy Queen hot fudge sundae." Yay, no more blatant product placement! Congratulations to the willpower of the Survivor producers. Or to the fact that sponsors aren't really lining up at the door anymore. Remember Dr. Scholl's? Yuck. Dr. Scholl can bite me.

Another fun thing this week was watching the Chuay Gahn canoe float away. The cameraman saw the loose knot and he focused on it, so you know he knew what was going to happen. In fact, you can just picture the cameraman sitting by the canoe all night, muttering to himself, C'mon, float away. Float away, damn you! You know Mark Burnett would have fired him if he didn't get the money shot of the canoe actually floating off. So thanks to the cameraman who waited all night just to get that on film. You definitely earned your pay this week.

Jan's screeching about the auction money went on waaay too long, and Clay's comment "No shit, Sherlock" was exactly what I am guessing most of us were thinking at the time. That was great. Clay grows on me more and more each week, I think he is easily the funniest person in this cast. I may lobby to include him in All Star Survivor 2 this offseason.

The immunity challenge was kind of lackluster. For one, Sook Jai didn't really appear to be trying. I think they just wanted to get rid of Stephanie tonight. Secondly, the challenge needed some action. They should have had to throw the fish and someone else would have to catch it, like at Seattle's Pike Place Market. That would have been fun. Watch Jake and Ted try to catch fish being thrown at them from all angles. For the most part, I don't think the challenges this season have really been up to par. Usually they are some of the most exciting parts of the season, but so far this year they have been largely forgettable.  I do give the producers credit for actually coming up with new ideas for a change, but I think we could use more action, less puzzles, in the future. Maybe the individual challenges will start to kick it up a notch.

Watching Jeff and Robb spar at Tribal Council is always good for a laugh. Say what you want about Robb, but I think that people will miss him when he is gone. If nothing else he is certainly unique among Survivor players. Amen, bro. And the shot of him swimming like a maniac, and flopping around after being stung by a stingray was hilarious. I mean, I hope the guy was okay and you hate to laugh at someone else's injury, but still... I have watched and rewatched the shot of him yelping, screaming, and then flopping, and it always cracks me up. The scream. The fall. The recovery. The yelp. The sideways flop. The teammates ignoring him. Priceless.

So we are right on the brink of the all-important merge. Who can win this game? Who will do well in the individual portion? Who is safe for a while? Let's start with who will be in danger right away.

The obvious picks for being in danger after the merge are the young, the leaders, and the athletic. And the obvious nominees are Ken, Brian and Ted.  Robb would be a prime candidate too, if he were still around. And, of course, the absolute key to the game, the most important moment in every season, will be when one tribe wins the majority over the other one after the merge. When you get down to nine, it will inevitably be five against four. So if Chuay Gahn wins majority, you can bet Ken will be the first one gone. If Sook Jai wins majority, I suspect they will take out Ted first.

Who will be safe for a while after the merge? That's easy, these are the players who pose no threat. Jan aint going anywhere, IF she gets to the merge. Erin is safe. Probably Penny is safe. I can imagine Clay will last a couple of votes.

Who will do well in the individual portion of the game? That is traditionally the spot for the true players to shine. The ones who can rise to the occasion in do-or-die immunity challenges. The athletes. The cutthroat strategists who play to win. The nice guys, who can get by on charm. And lastly, the best players. There really hasn't been a fluke winner of Survivor, every one of them got to the end because of choices they made, and the strategies they used. They may not have always been the best player of the season, but no one has ever coasted 100% to victory. So you can bet that players like Brian, Helen, and possibly Shii Ann will do well after the merge. I also think that Jake is an incredible dark horse to go far. Penny could also come out of nowhere. Heck, even Clay if he lays low enough.

Who can win this game? With five episodes down, everyone has picked out their favorite candidate, and of course the players themselves are pretty well known to us by now. We have a pretty good idea what most of them will do from this point on, although I do hope the game gets a little nastier. The fur hasn't really started to fly yet, and it will. It must. That's the beauty of this game, Survivor is designed to bring out your selfish side. There can be only one.

I think a few people have strong chances to win from here on out.  Brian is in great shape. I went on and on in a column last season about how well Vecepia played Survivor. Her strategy was to get to know everyone, and to ALWAYS be in good with whoever the power majority was.  This is a near flawless strategy, and Brian even admitted this week that he was trying to do the exact same thing.  Yes, it is a boring strategy, but it has been tested and proven. You can't go wrong, and he isn't. I also think Helen can win. She's got the guts, the right mentality, the common sense. And she even sings, what more do you want? I think Jake is another player who can win this game. In fact, I am beginning to think that he has a great shot.  He won't draw any votes for quite some time, since he is so likeable, so friendly, and he has such a pleasant personality. Combine that with his average athletic ability, and his age, and I think he is in prime position to win if Sook Jai can keep their majority. I also think Penny can win, because I still feel she is hiding something from us. Shii Ann and Erin are dark horses to win, but I think they could slip by some people if the cards fall right. I really don't think Ken can win, unless something drastic happens. He is just waaaaay too visible. And I think that Clay and Ted are longshots to win at best.

Oh, and finally, have we discovered who the uber-villain is yet? I think the signs are pointing towards Brian. But he is playing it awfully low key so far. Will that change in the future?


No twist means the rankings stay pretty much the same. Bye bye Robb or Jan next week, and then the game gets fun.

1. Brian Heidik
I'm keeping him here specifically for the "always stay in the majority" comment he made this week. He is doing his best Vecepia impression, and he is doing it well. Although what was with the two shots of him spitting this episode? Is he going to chew em all up and spit em out? Is that foreshadowing?

2. Jake Billingsley
Jake is in a great position, and a merge won't neccessarily doom him. I think he has a far better shot to win this game than anyone else on Sook Jai right now.

3. Helen Glover
Helen is the final member of the big three, who are far and away in the three best positions to win right now. She is gonna be tough in the endgame. I loved her comments this week about voting out Ghandia being a necessary evil, and her reaction to the boat floating away was also a classic.

4. Penny Ramsey
The dark horse of Sook Jai. She is definitely in with the right people. We will see if she can use that to her advantage. Plus, this episode, she also stole Stephanie's hairdo and then eliminated her. It's the movie Single White Female all over again! Penny is evil! Fear her!

5. Shii Ann Huang
I'm not really sure who to put at #5, but she seems to be devious enough to do well, if she gets that chance. It will be fun to see Shii Ann's final showdown with Robb next week. And she is right about being in the minority here, she has become a little hardened living in New York City for so long. It is probably a big shock to be back in a non-NY cross-section of society again. And a Texas-based society at that.

6. Ken Stafford
Ken just needs to make it past the first post-merge vote. His danger window is rapidly approaching. But special kudos to Ken for being a good sport during the food auction, and for telling Chuay Gahn to enjoy their nachos. He is a good guy.

7. Ted Rogers, Jr.
Big Ted has hung around the middle of the rankings all season, and here he is again. He totally bought Brian's promise to take him to the end, so I worry about Ted's gullibility.  Used car salesmen aren't all that well known for always telling the truth.

8. Clay Jordan
Once again, Clay really needs to start laying low. Talkative complainers on Survivor get noticed in a hurry. He cracks me up though, I think the guy is hilarious. He said this week that he would take a burger and fries over sex right now, which is convenient because I think most of America would prefer watching him eat a burger and fries over watching him have sex.

9. Erin Collins
Laying low, hanging with the popular crowd. That's how Erin do. Hey, it worked in high school, maybe she can pull it off here. I enjoyed her comments about city girls being snobby, I imagine lots of people from Kansas probably feel that way.

10. Magilla the monkey
He is crafty, he is nimble, and he can probably fling his own crap at you if he feels threatened. Watch out for him!

11. Jan Gentry
Weak and targeted for dismissal is a terrible combination. However, she will jump up in the rankings if she gets past next week's vote. She's gone if Chuay Gahn goes to Tribal Council next, and she knows it. Right, Clay? Clay: No shit, Sherlock.

12. Robb Zbacnik
He is the last remaining member of his alliance. He has been targeted, and his time is soon up. If Sook Jai goes to TC next week, he is done. On a related note, when attacked by the stingray, he looked like the girl at the beginning of Jaws, when she got thrashed around from side to side. It still cracks me up even picturing it in my head. "Yeah, Robb was screaming and spazzing, but he does that all the time, so we didn't pay any attention."  That sentence alone pretty much sums up what it is like to camp with someone as high strung as Robb. He will be missed, he brings a lot to the show.

Biggest Power Gain this week:  Clay or Penny, because they will be forgotten in a merge
Biggest Power Loss this week:  Ken. He needs that majority bloc after the merge or he is the first one gone. Sook Jai losing put him one step closer to an early dismissal.

Mario Lanza is currently filling out his application for Survivor 7. He was one of the writers of All-Star Survivor: Hawaii this offseason, and is also a featured comedy writer at Saturday Night You.

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