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Overconfidence Is a Killer on Survivor 44's Latest Episode

The "Tika 3" attempt to play both sides against the middle in a strategically satisfying episode.
  • Survivor Season 44 (Robert Voets/CBS)
    Survivor Season 44 (Robert Voets/CBS)

    [Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers for Survivor Season 44, Episode 8, "Don't Get Cocky, Kid."]

    Survivor fans, alumni, and recappers alike have spent a lot of time this season criticizing the show's producers for everything from the abundance of twists and advantages to the predictability of challenges. This week, let's take a break from complaining and shine the spotlight on another aspect of Survivor's production that's just as fascinating: the way editing is used to foreshadow events. With the Ratu and Soka alliances going head-to-head, this week's episode is packed to the gills with hints and ironies that point towards the outcome of not only this episode, but maybe the season as a whole.

    Across the genre of reality TV, producers and editors make liberal use of dramatic foreshadowing. Survivor in particular really likes to indulge in clips of contestants setting up future showdowns… or setting themselves up for a fall. This week, we get both, and maybe a nod or two to the ultimate outcome of the season as well.

    "Don't Get Cocky, Kid" kicks off with a couple Survivors feeling the strain of the vote to eliminate Matt. Frannie is in tears and feels like she's all alone on the island now, while Yam Yam is relieved but feeling the sting of Heidi playing her advantage to force Lauren to vote for him. Yam Yam fires up the foreshadowing machine first, noting that, as the former Tika members, he, Carolyn, and Carson are stuck in the middle between the more formidable factions of the former Rotu (Brandon, Lauren, Kane, and Jaime) and the former Soka (Danny, Heidi, and Frannie) tribes.

    Carolyn, meanwhile, says she's out here looking like the "turkey of the tribe" (a phrase that somehow didn't get used as the title of the episode). We've seen this kind of foreshadowing before, where a tribe gets decimated in the early going and is at a numbers disadvantage in the merged tribe. Time and time again, though — in Philippines with Malcolm and Denise; in Cagayan with the Brains tribe of Spencer, Tasha, and Kass — these undersized alliances have been able to weather the storm and make it either all the way to the end or pretty close. The best example of this was in Survivor: Tocantins, when J.T., Stephen, and Taj found themselves down 6-3 at the merge yet ultimately finished as three of the final four players in the game.

    So don't weep for the "Tika 3" just yet. They're actually situated pretty well, with both of the other factions on the island needing their votes to get ahead. This is the perfect formula for a disadvantaged alliance to play both sides against the middle and make a run to the endgame. In other words, these turkeys might be setting up to feast as Rotu and Soka tear each other apart.

    Meanwhile, the Survivor editors are handed a foreshadowing gift from Kane, who sizes up the current situation, in which the Ratu alliance — which, at various points in this episode, counts Carson and Yam Yam as part of its numbers — holds a numbers advantage over Soka. "If it is not a Ratu member who wins this game," Kane tells the camera, "we messed that up." You might as well have guaranteed right then and there that a Ratu member would be headed to Ponderosa this week.

    When the players have to choose to team up in pairs of two for the immunity challenge, we get some foreshadowing as to how that challenge will turn out, with Lauren declaring that she'll be a weak link on whatever team she ends up on. When she pairs with Danny, it's set up as a clash between players who were scheming to eliminate each other last week. Of course, the immunity challenge comes down to Danny and Lauren, with Lauren pulling out the unexpected win.

    This kind of foreshadowing can make for an incredibly satisfying episode, even if longtime viewers have learned to read the tea leaves by now. Kane's confident boast about Ratu sets that alliance up as the Goliath this week, which makes it thrilling to watch the other Davids scurry around, trying to set up a plan to topple them. And from what we see this week, there's a good bit of overconfidence among the Ratus. They take for granted that Carson will remain aligned with them after he tribe-swapped over there earlier in the season. Brandon also makes a huge logical leap when he interviews that "Carolyn is gonna go wherever Yam Yam goes. And Yam Yam, I would hope, feels some sort of allegiance to us since we've kept him in this game."

    First of all: Have you met Carolyn? I know Brandon barely paid her any attention at their little lunch summit, but this is a hilarious misread of the Carolyn/Yam Yam dynamic. Second, few things have proved to be the downfall of overconfident Survivor players more reliably than assuming that the people you chose not to vote off yet will show loyalty to you.

    And, indeed, Yam Yam and the other Tika players explore their options. A team-up with the Soka players makes a ton of sense. The six of them can knock off one of the Ratu numbers, leading to a 3-3-3 split (for as long as original-tribe allegiances last). If the Tika 3 decide to ride with Soka all the way to final six, that's better than riding with Ratu to final seven down in numbers. It's also a move that puts players like Yam Yam and Carson in more of a decision-making position, rather than just following the leaders on Ratu. We see this when Heidi approaches Yam Yam and Carson at the water well. She needs their help more than they need hers, so she's willing to volunteer information that she really shouldn't — that Danny has an immunity idol and is planning to play it for Frannie — in order to secure their support.

    This is the most power Carson and especially Yam Yam have wielded in the game so far. And for a moment, at least, Yam Yam entertains the notion of taking Heidi's intel to the Ratu members in order to get Danny out of the game. Ultimately, though, he doesn't, and at Tribal Council, Danny plays his idol for Frannie, taking the Ratu alliance by surprise and blindsiding Brandon with a 4-0 vote. Kane's quote at the beginning of the episode might as well have come accompanied with a Jason Voorhees-style "ch-ch-ch-ch" sound effect, because Ratu's fate was sealed for at least this week.

    As for the rest of this week's happenings…

    Player of the Week: Danny ends up in the best position coming out of that tribal council, all thanks to his immunity idol. Playing an idol is a big, flashy move at Tribal, and playing an idol to save another player — leaving yourself vulnerable to the vote — comes off as incredibly gutsy. It also gives Danny the public credit for the Brandon blindside, even if other players (Yam Yam, Heidi, Carson) may have been just as instrumental in setting it up.

    Honorable Mention(s): Yam Yam may not have ratted out Danny's idol move to the Ratu players, but he's still playing his own game. He and Carson both played votes for Frannie that they knew would fail. "My game plan tonight is to get through this vote with all my alliance, and for us to have options tomorrow," said Yam Yam, and that's exactly what he and Carson did. By casting votes for Frannie, he and Carson can claim a plausible deniability with Lauren, Jaime, and Kane and keep open the possibility of working with those three in the future. That's how you play both sides against the middle.

    Sketchy Strategy: In the end, Brandon didn't do enough to secure Yam Yam's or Carson's loyalty, and he certainly didn't do anything to court Carolyn's vote. That ended up being his downfall.

    Alliance Report: It's rare in modern Survivor for original tribal lines to persist this late in the game. And yet we seem to have three "teams" of three, all along original tribal lines: Ratu (Lauren/Kane/Jaime) versus Soka (Danny/Heidi/Frannie) versus Tika (Yam Yam/Carolyn/Carson). It'll be interesting if we see those lines finally start to blur.

    Advantage Report:

    • Carolyn has the only remaining immunity idol at the moment.
    • Jamie has a fake immunity idol that nobody in the game knows is fake.
    • Lauren has an extra vote to use whenever she wants.

    Coming Next Week: It looks like an idol has been re-hidden, and the hunt is on.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Survivor, CBS, Jeff Probst