Thailand Strategy #7:  The Phantom Merge
Written by Mario Lanza on 11.01.02

"Don't assume anything. That way, you won't make an ass out of u or me."
-Coach Manning, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training

First off, my column will be shortened this week because I am about to head out of town for vacation. But the main topics this week are the strategic mistake of Shii Ann, and the trickery of Jeff Probst and the Survivor brain trust. Shii Ann made a HUGE tactical mistake in playing her cards too early. Well, it was a mistake in that she got caught, anyway. Was it really a mistake? I don't think it was. If the game had progressed in the way that she, and everyone else, expected it was going to progress, it certainly would have mixed things up a bit. She would have been in trouble with Chuay Gahn eventually, of course, but for a couple of votes she would have been safe. And it would have been fun to watch.

Did Shii Ann get busted? Hell yeah. Did Sook Jai know exactly what she was up to? Yup. Did it get her kicked out of the game? Not really. Shii Ann was dead meat at the next Sook Jai tribal council anyway, so it really didn't make a difference. At least she tried something. And at least she seemed to have a smile on her face for a change. So I say more power to her for going down the way that she did.  If you are going down, you might as well go down in flames.  In other words, no I don't think she should take any flak for being "stupid" or for being "an idiot." She was gone anyway, what difference did it make? I admire anyone who is willing to take a proactive approach to affect the game. Yes, even if it doesn't work out for them.

So the She-Devil is gone. The non-merge clearly caught her, and everybody else in the game, off guard. It was a particularly nasty trick to play on the two tribes, but it was also a particularly welcome one. Because the game had been much too nice and much too predictable up to this point. It needed a good kick in the pants. It also needed some emotion behind it, and the Shii Ann-Penny feud made for some great TV.  I had correctly pegged Penny as a hidden power player for a couple of weeks now, and it turns out I was right. But she is going to plummet now in the Power Rankings because she is such an obvious visible schemer. I didn't realize that people were on to her as much as they were.  Oh well.  Might as well say good bye to Penny now.

Was the non-merge fair? Well, I guess it depends on if you think twists in general are fair. Some people HATE twists, and still long for the days of a more "pure" Survivor without any twists. So they are going to hate any changes to the game in any format whatsoever. But if you can accept twists, does that mean you can also accept this week's shocker?  Probably.  After all, it wasn't that far into the realm of trickery. And as some posts I have read on message boards have stated, it's not like the producers gave the players new buffs or told them to pick a new tribe name. The players jumped the gun a little bit and got ahead of themselves, that's all that happened.  And I don't think we are done with twists yet either.  I still think we have yet to see the big one.

For the first time since episode one, I was off with my weekly boot prediction.  I did say that if the game progressed without a merge, then Shii Ann or Jan was going to go home. But that was a no-brainer. I finished my prediction by saying that Ken was the most likely bootee this week. I assumed that things were going to happen too, like, you know, a merge, and you know what happens when you assume. Oh well.  In any case, Ken was the most likely boot for most of the episode. I didn't seen Penny as the big villainess yet because she hadn't been shown that way before tonight. I knew she was a player, but up until now we hadn't seen the dark part of her soul.  Up until now she had been hiding it from us.

The "living together" aspect of the game is going to be a lot of fun now.  I'm not sure exactly what dimensions it is going to take, but I imagine that some good old fashioned backstabbing will take place at some point now. SOMEBODY is going to cross sides, and I think that Helen and Brian are the most likely candidates. Of course, they won't have to for a while, but it will make it that much easier with people you have been chatting with around the campfire every night. It should be a lot of fun to see, it is a factor that will totally be unique to this particular season.

As for predictions next week, I'm assuming that the tribes WON'T merge, and they will stay together at the same camp. The likely bootees now are Penny or Ken for Sook Jai, and crazy Jan for Chuay Gahn. Since this is still a team game, Jan remains in danger, both from her teammates, and from the easy access to alcohol on the island. As for the likely Sook Jai boot, I suppose I would have to flip a coin between Ken and Penny. Penny has Erin on her side, Ken likely has Jake. So you pick. Flip a purple rock if it helps. If there is no merge next week, my pick is Jan first, then Penny. If there IS a merge, then I pick Ken to go. Sounds easy enough.


Chuay-Gahn goes up, Penny goes down. Magilla is on dangerous ground. And no Robb-o-Meter this week, but Robb will return in the future. I promise.

1. Brian Heidik
Welcome to His kingdom. Love Him. Fear Him. I love the fact that he still thinks strategy, even when he is drunk.

2. Helen Glover

She looked scary in that face paint. She is still a tough chick, and is probably the only one who will be able to see through Brian's B.S.

3. Ted Rogers Jr.

Ted shoots back up in the Power Rankings. He showed empathy for Shii Ann, he got in good with Brian, and he appears to be friends with everyone again. Have people forgotten about him? And with that white face paint, he looked like that creepy 7-Up voodoo pitchman from the 80's (Geoffrey Holder).  You know, the guy who was also in Live and Let Die.

4. Clay Jordan

The little guy is still around, and he is laying low again. Hellfire, he could still win!

5. Jake Billingsley

The lack of a merge didn't really hurt him, he is still in a fine position either way. Everyone loves Jake.

6. Erin Collins

Erin showed a little more intellect this week, a little more cunning, and a lot less skin. Yay to the first two, boo to the last one!

7. Ken Stafford

He is starting to attract some negative attention, and you know he will be targeted at a merge. He needs to keep Sook Jai together to save his butt.

8. Penny Ramsey

This was a bad time to attract all that attention.  I correctly judged her to be a player, but I missed the fact that people hate her guts. That's a bad trait to have. Penny may very well go next, because I don't think anyone but Erin trusts her anymore.  That's bad news.

9. Jan Gentry

Jan who?

Biggest Power Gain this week: Ted. A strong performance all around.
Biggest Power Loss this week: Penny. She pulled a Stephanie, shooting to the bottom of the rankings in one episode, with a bullet.

Mario Lanza promises to write a longer column when he gets back from vacation next week. He was one of the writers of All-Star Survivor: Hawaii this offseason, as well as a featured comedy writer at Saturday Night You.