Ladies and gentlemen, we have now reached my favorite part of the game. I always love the merge, because when it truly becomes every man for himself, the game kicks itself into high gear.
Granted, in recent seasons, many players have taken the individual game on during the tribal half, and that is just a natural extension of generations of more savvy players (which is a crucial reason twists are needed, which I talked about last week). Nonetheless, now that it is officially an individual game, you can rest assured that the stakes are raised, and the players are aware of this.
One thing I enjoyed was Jeff doing it at the end of Tribal Council. I must confess that every week in Palau, as the Ulong tribe continued to dwindle, I found myself wondering if he was just going to put them out of their misery and say “All right, you’re going to go straight to Koror’s camp and join their tribe.” Of course, that never happened, so it was fun to see it happen for real this time. There is no suspense going into this week as to whether or not they will merge, and of course, that makes speculation a little easier. But, once again, it served to catch the tribes off guard, as well as the audience, and I believe that is always a good thing. The end-of-Tribal-Council merge was a surprise, but at least for me, it was a very welcome one.
So what happens now? Well, as I said, it is an individual game, and so the players are definitely going to have to start looking after their own best interests, if they haven’t already. I’d like to take this opportunity to outline some people I view at this point to be key players, good or bad, and make some predictions as to what they may do and/or what they can do now that they are one tribe.
GARYÃ¢â‚¬”Gary comes to find first for the simple reason that he was so instrumental in Amy’s ouster last week. I found it to be very curious that he did not stick with his ally Amy, and instead stuck with Danni. He obviously has an alliance with her, but I was confused as to why he stuck with that over one of his first allies. And then it came to me. Danni is the one who initially revealed Gary’s secret, and so it would make perfect sense for Gary to be following the age-old principle of “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Gary knows that Danni is on to him, and Danni knows she is on to him. The perfect solution? Make a solid alliance with her. I think Gary definitely knows what he is doing in this game, and it will be interesting to see how far this alliance with Danni stretches, and what efforts, if any, he will make to reconcile with his old allies who were sent over to Nakum, especially Stephenie.
DANNIÃ¢â‚¬”For her part, I think that Danni holds all the political cards at this point. She is very smart to align herself with Gary, rather than consistently push on the others to know his secret. She figured it out, and she did the perfect thing; she planted the seed, but no more than that. Now everyone knows, but if they know, they don’t care. Meanwhile, she has an alliance with the same guy that she tried to discredit. Beyond even that, she has been in a swing vote position for numerous Tribal Councils since the switch. Plus, I thought the birthday party was a clever, fun thing to do. Whether or not there was a strategic motive behind it remains to be seen, but I think she got a good rap with the other tribe nonetheless, which can never hurt. So, the first thing to watch with the merge is the alliance between Danni and Gary. I think that if they continue playing it right, they have a good shot at the Final Four, and possibly even further.
STEPHENIEÃ¢â‚¬”The beloved heroine of Palau has not gotten a very good following this season, and has faced harsh criticism from many. However, regardless of how you may feel about her this season, you can’t deny that she has had power in both tribes so far. It will be interesting to see how that carries over into the individual game. Remember that the whole reason for bringing Stephenie and Bobby Jon back was to present the new castaways with the issue of choice: use these new players as a tool to get you further and use them as easy elimination targets. And so far, they have been lucky in regards to the fact that the castaways have been using them for their physical strength and experience. The question to ponder now is whether or not that will change. You could find evidence to argue either way, but I want to throw out there that it may very well change, and the evidence for that can be found in last week’s pre-TC plot, where Bobby Jon’s name was put on the chopping block because they felt he didn’t deserve it, and since they felt they might merge soon, they might as well get rid of him. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues now that we have reached an individual game, and I am curious to discover whether or not the two of them, now that it’s a battle of individuals, will be given “Thanks for playing, your services are no longer required” passes. In Stephenie’s case, I think that she has enough of an alliance with Judd and Jamie that she will be able to stick around for at least a little while; definitely longer than Bobby Jon, who I see leaving soon.
JAMIEÃ¢â‚¬”Jamie is someone who I do not see going very far because, as he demonstrated last week with his bad reaction to the birthday party, he is moody and has a bit of a temper. He likes to attribute it to his southern upbringing, and I will grant that it is definitely part of it, but definitely not all. Most of it is likely due to the fact he simply has a volatile personality. He is not anywhere even close to Judd-level, but he is what I am going to know him as, Judd Jr. I think Jamie had the worst showing this week, and as I have been saying since the beginning, he is ultimately just too naÃƒÂ¯ve for this game. Some of the things he has said, like letting Judd dig his own hole, have shown a spark of intelligence, but his overall demeanor is going to hurt him in the end.
RAFEÃ¢â‚¬”As I have been saying all along, Rafe is someone to always keep a close eye on. He knows the game, and now that it is individual, and the game is on, he has the great potential to go far.
Those five, for better or for worse, are the ones I would be watching most closely as we begin this new, exciting phase of the Guatemala season. I am looking forward to this immensely, and can’t wait to see what new plot lines and alliances develop. And, of course, I will be watching to see who has the best shot at ultimately winning the million dollar prize and the title of Sole Survivor.
“See” you next week!