Survivor Survival Guide: “Turf Wars”

“NaOnka just seems like a high school girl. She’s irrational, she’s crazy, she just seems like she’s on her period all the time. Rain is not that big of a deal here.”


As far as Survivor contrivances go, not much tops shaking up the tribes, or as JudFabio put it, “the old switcheroo.” In fact, I once called it “the single most manipulative thing that can happen during a season.” Everyone, especially JudFabio as I’ve officially decided to call him, looked pretty shocked, leading Josh to tweet, “There is little better on Survivor than the reaction shots to tribal merge/switch announcements.”

As far as tribe switches go, though, this one was fairly mild. The “Previously on…” created more of a Marty versus Jimmy T. conflict in the old Espada tribe* than there was (or at least, than we were led to believe as recently as last episode). Truth be told, alliances hadn’t really emerged yet. I suppose you could say Marty and Jill were tight — and they still are. Brenda was cool with both Chase and NaOnka, but they hadn’t gotten the chance to really work together, since they had only been to Tribal once. Does the swap shake up the game? Absolutely. Does it ruin people’s strategic plans? Not ruin as much as challenge. I was with Marty when he said, “It would take something extraordinary, off-the-charts, completely whacked-out to destroy my plans now.” He was right; it was very difficult to imagine a scenario in which his fellow (at-the-time) Espadians would have voted him out (and even then, he has a hidden immunity idol). Now, with Marty moving to La Flor, his plan is altered but not ruined. It’s more expedited than anything else.

*Get the double meaning?

The old switcheroo occurred before the first independent Reward Challenge of the season, with Brenda and Holly pulling out the rocks that indicate them as captains. Brenda chose to take Marty, Jill, and Jane (bless her soul) from the older tribe, while Holly selected Benry, Chase, Alina, and NaOnka from the younger one. Probst also announced the termination of the Medallion of Power, which more than ever looks like a one-trick pony used to give the older tribe a chance in a single challenge.

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That lined up the tribes as follows:

La Flor: Brenda, JudFabio, Sash, Kelly B., Purple Kelly,* Marty, Jill, and Jane

Espada: Holly, Dan, Tyrone, Yve, Alina, NaOnka, Chase, and Benry

*I can’t remember a castaway getting even this far while being shown as little as Purple Kelly. I don’t think she’s been featured in a single confessional. So I listened to an online video of her, just to hear her talk, and, well, she basically described basic principle of the game. I do not think she is hiding much.

What the swap does, more than anything, is bring the game’s two heretofore alpha dogs into the same tribe with Brenda and Marty. They appeared to be their respective tribes’ controlling players, and now their eventual showdown is likely moved up before the merge. It didn’t take long for tension to manifest itself at the new La Flor. Marty announced to the rest of the tribe that he had a hidden immunity idol while simultaneously chastising them for not punishing NaOnka when she pushed KB to find her idol herself.

You can look at Marty’s decision to reveal that he has the idol in two very different ways. The first is his perspective, which is that the rest of the tribe is liable to find out about it from Jane (bless her soul), and that it’s better to be upfront with them and try to win their trust (since he knows as well as anyone that it’s three against five in the new setup). From Brenda’s perspective, though, Marty places a huge target on his back by “coming into our house and…already setting up like he’s the king.” I, for one, always think it’s best to keep the idol secret; it is the hidden immunity idol for a reason, and simply letting others know you have it tempts them to flush it out — even if they don’t want to get rid of you yet. At the same time, Marty had already let too many people know about it when he revealed the idol to the old Espadians, and it seems reasonable to suspect that Jane would have let the rest of La Flor know he had it at some point. Jane, in fact, showed a slightly more aggressive personality at La Flor when she told some of the younger castaways not to trust Marty and Jill, who “have been as tight as ticks.” My original thought was that Marty might have to play the idol in case the La Florians try to flush it out at Tribal. But if they do that, that opens up a window for Marty, Jill, and possibly Jane to vote one of them off despite being the outnumbered alliance. It should be intriguing at La Flor moving forward.

At the new Espada, Holly immediately tried to bond with “the kids.” She told some of “the kids” how they reminded her of her “kids,” she explained that she feels like she can relate better to “the kids” and that she might be better off ditching the adults and shacking up with “the kids” now. Basically, she used “the kids” more than Arcade Fire in The Suburbs. Furthermore, Alina and NaOnka seemed to put their past behind them and were willing to be part of a former La Flor alliance with Holly — illustrating classic post-merge philosophies.

The Reward Challenge was easily my favorite challenge of the season so far. There were basically giant plinko boards, where one team would throw a few balls onto the course, and players on the other team had to catch it. If a team dropped the ball, the other would get a point. In other words, it was a challenge I definitely would have wanted to play.

Much like Rangers-Rays, it came down to a Game 5 despite being not that exciting in getting there. And the same can be said for the final matchup, where Marty dropped his second ball to cost La Flor the challenge and give Espada a pair of chickens and a rooster. The most interesting part of the challenge to me was seeing how unathletic everyone looked trying to catch the ball. No one really caught any balls smoothly; they were all using their bodies with basket catches. Not impressive.

Before the Immunity Challenge, a torrential downpour hit Espada, demoralizing the younguns used to having a tarp at La Flor. The storm hit NaOnka especially hard, causing her to consider quitting. Alina tried to console her, but it was clear that she didn’t forgive Na in the same way Na — well, I can’t say Na forgave her, since Alina didn’t do anything to her, but you get the drift. Alina had no qualms cutting ties with Na. Chase, though, told a touching story about his father’s death and a rainbow, which didn’t have much to do with anything (rain, rainbows, I suppose?), but it got Chase crying, too. Survivor brings people together.

The Immunity Challenge seemed diametrically opposed to the Reward Challenge. I would not have wanted to take part in this one, which consisted of tying three people to a wheel, spinning them around and partially submerging them for a moment, during which they have to gulp some water, spit it out into a tube when they come out of the water, only to be dunked back in. After spitting enough water in the tube, it’ll release a ball, that other tribemates have to use to break some plates. Sucks to be tied to the wheel, right?

I enjoyed the strategic aspect of it, with Espada spinning the wheel more slowly, costing them revolutions but giving the women tied to the wheel — all six people tied to the wheel were women — a better chance at spitting all the water into the tube. Espada thus had a slight lead going into the plate-breaking part of the challenge, and they seemed to have the advantage with Tyrone and Benry — the only people who have been used in the throw-stuff-at-stuff aspects of challenges so far — on the same team. But Jane and JudFabio came back, scoring a come-from-behind victory for La Flor.

Before Tribal, Espada decided to kill one of the chickens, with only Tyrone — who had really taken Marty’s assigned leadership role to heart — dissenting. The tribe voted on it, Tyrone lost, and Chase quickly snapped the chicken’s neck. Once they started eating the chicken, Tyrone took a large portion, even while advising the others to “think of your neighbors.” So the choice for the tribe was coming down to Tyrone (the “old order”*) and NaOnka, who still seemed mentally shaky.**

*Get the double meaning?

**The best scene here involved Alina and Yve discussing the options, with Alina telling Yve about NaOnka’s issues. All I could think about, though, was this: An Alina-Yve alliance is one I could DEFINITELY get behind.

Tribal was a little confusing, with Na comparing her rough night to her divorce (which she admitted was likely her fault) and Probst trying to coax Benry into saying he would take Na’s mental stuff into voting consideration. In the end, he and most of his tribe didn’t, sending a flummoxed Tyrone* home.

*Try to catch Tyrone’s final words, during which he says he understands NaOnka better than the others because he’s from “that area” and “that environment” and says he’s proud of making it this far since “a brother is usually the first to go.”

Here’s the Estates General for the new Espada:



FIRST ESTATE: Chase, Benry, Holly, Alina

THE STATE: There is no state!

It really is way too early to pick someone from this tribe as a leader, as much as this episode tried to portray Alina as one. We’ll see how long that sticks. Also, I thought it was interesting that Dan but not Yve changed his vote to Tyrone and not NaOnka. So, clearly, Dan can be had. I hope Yve isn’t the next to go from Espada, but that’s the way it looks right now.


4 responses to this post.

  1. […] that established Marty and Yve on the outsides of their tribes. This was not too surprising; last week I predicted Yve would be the next to go from Espada precisely because Dan had changed his vote while she had […]


  2. […] when the original La Flor and Espada tribes shuffled members, I wrote that the contrivance only moved up the season’s defining battle between Marty and Brenda, which I figured had to take place before the […]


  3. […] go home. There was Holly on Day 5 when she was hiding Dan’s shoes and becoming a terrible person, Na struggling with that one rainstorm, and apparently Purple Kelly feeling the same way (there’s no link there for a reason; I don’t […]


  4. […] Sunday’s finale of Survivor’s 21st season almost has to be that good to vindicate what has been a disappointing first 13 episodes. Coming off a pair of superb seasons—the introduction of Russell in Samoa (which I missed), and the Heroes vs. Villains All-Star season—Survivor: Nicaragua was almost destined to fall short of that standard. The decision to split the tribes based on age exacerbated a fairly vanilla cast. Several of the older players seemed unfamiliar with basics of how the game was played; I’m thinking specifically of Jimmy T. The younger tribe, meanwhile, could rest on its strategic laurels, rarely having to face Tribal Council. That led to the manipulative tribe swap, which radically changed the game—more so than I initially envisioned. […]


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