Handicapping the Final 5 (or 8) on Survivor

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Survivor Season 27:  Blood vs Water is sadly winding down. This has been a fantastic season that has featured many of the strategy decisions that we know and love along with some new family-inspired wrinkles. To be on the air for 27 seasons, minor changes to your format are necessary and I consider this Blood vs. Water iteration to be a huge success.

Coming off an historic, rock-drawing tribal council, now is as good a time as any to evaluate the gameplay of the remaining contestants and handicap their chances of taking home the million. There’s lots to be decided in the final two episodes but my current favorite to win it all is…

Tyson (2 to 1)

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Although sometimes arrogant and often lacking tact, Tyson has played a nearly perfect game to this point. He dodged a huge bullet last week by not drawing the white rock but aside from that unpredictable scenario, he has never really been vulnerable at any point in the game.

For whatever reason, Ciera (prior to last episode) and Gervase have stood by Tyson and alerted him to possible blindsides. Hayden has made it clear to the rest of the tribe that if Tyson makes it to the final three, he will win easily, which is true. He still has a hidden immunity idol (one of 2 he has found this season) and although Ciera abandoned ship last week, he still has the numbers assuming Gervase and Monica stay loyal.

Ciera had the opportunity to take Tyson out of the game (more on this later) but she tried to do it a week too late. Tyson has consistently made good decisions and he’s got a pretty good resume to present to the jury. He has been in charge from the start – beginning with his coconut bandit alliance with Gervase all the way up to the present – and people have known it too. Yet he has still survived and controlled the game. A major screw-up notwithstanding, Tyson is in prime position to win the game.

Hayden (5 to 2)

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Winning Big Brother is enough proof that Hayden is adept at reality television competitions. But if you needed further confirmation, check out his successful, guns-blazing, stop at nothing approach to convince Ciera she was at the bottom of her alliance from last week. He needed to swing Ciera in order to save himself and he was not going to be defeated. Of course, he received help from Gervase repeatedly listing Ciera fourth when counting out his alliance, but Hayden planted the seed.

Had Ciera aligned with Hayden, Caleb and Katie like she should have, he would be the odds on favorite to win it all. Since it took Ciera too long to realize her best move, he is still working in the minority and in need of an immunity challenge victory. Still the physically strongest competitor left, I feel that he is due for an immunity challenge win. But who knows given how well Monica has performed since the individual challenges began.

Stirring the pot last week was his only course of action and he did it to perfection. Plans have blown up in his face a couple of different times and he has adapted. Playing the hand you are dealt is a big part of Survivor and Hayden will not go down with a fight. If he makes it to the final three, I think he is a sure thing to win it all but his challenge lies in the next two votes. His solid gameplay has put a target on his back and if Tyson is playing to win, he will vote him out immediately. The previews indicate Hayden will continue to play hard and could sway Monica to vote with him and Ciera. Time will tell but I like Hayden’s mindset entering the final two episodes.

Monica (7 to 1)

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She has been great in recent challenges but that’s about the only good thing I can say about her game to this point. She was in a majority alliance but became so paranoid that everyone was afraid to talk strategy with her. No one will tell her anything and she has essentially been Tyson’s pawn. Even if she makes it to the end, how can she convince anyone on the jury that she is more deserving than any of the remaining players?

She’s got a tough road ahead of her but I still give her a 7 to 1 chance to win it all because she has an opportunity to make a big move this week. She will be presented with an opportunity to switch alliances in the upcoming episode and if she does it, she drastically improves her chances of winning. At least she will have something to point to when asked “What moves did you make to get to this point in the game?” Right now the answer to that question is “I rode Tyson’s coattails.” That’s not a million dollar answer.

It’s possible she can win another challenge and even if she doesn’t, she has a chance to make a big play. The swing vote is a very powerful position this late in the game and that’s the role that Monica finds herself in. I actually think Monica will make it to the final three regardless of which alliance she chooses. Her decision in the next episode will decide whether she has a chance at receiving votes in the final three or whether she is just scenery.

Ciera (9 to 1)

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Up to this point, I haven’t touched on the fact that we know one person will be returning from redemption island. One of those potential returners is Ciera’s mom, and if Laura M. continues her strong run on Redemption and re-enters the game for a third time, Ciera improves her chances of winning dramatically. Ironically, Ciera voted out her mom earlier in the game because she didn’t want her to interfere with her gameplay, but now she needs her mom more than ever to regain the numbers.

She is completely useless in challenges but she could benefit from either her mom or Katie returning into the game. Also, Monica changing alliances could also provide a chance for Ciera to make it to the end. If her mom doesn’t return to the game and Ciera makes it to the end, then she has an automatic vote for the million and her mom could lobby for her on the jury. There’s a lot going on here but ultimately I have Ciera at 9 to 1 because of her mistake two episodes ago.

Yes, she made a big play at tribal council by flipping on her alliance and forcing a rock-drawing tiebreak (which was great television) but her timing was way off. She needed to make that move when it was presented to her by Hayden and Caleb or she could have waited for the player from Redemption Island to return before turning on her alliance.

Realizing she was at the bottom swayed her decision and she let her emotions get the better of her at tribal. A cooler head would have realized that she can let this vote play out and get rid of Hayden and then possibly use Katie, Monica and/or the returning redemption player to turn on Tyson and Gervase. Instead she put herself in danger by drawing rocks and drawing a line in the sand to align with the minority.

Once all of this comes out in the final tribal, I can’t see anyone on the jury rewarding her for such poorly timed “big” moves. Having said all of that, I have enjoyed Ciera as a player and she has added a lot of drama to the season. Hopefully Jeffy P and crew will bring her back for a future season.

Gervase (12 to 1)

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Gervase is in a solid alliance of three but there’s three major factors working against him right now. First, he is second in command to Tyson and can not beat Tyson in a final tribal council. Gervase even stated this fact himself saying his “hand has been on Tyson’s back the whole time,” tacitly acknowledging that he is behind his “leader.”

Second, he has developed a pretty unlikable persona thanks to his ego, which he has not learned to check at the door. Going all the way back to the beginning of the game when he almost drowned during a challenge and then obnoxiously celebrated his team’s victory to more recently when he yelled at Hayden for saying that Tyson will win a final vote easily. He just doesn’t seem to understand that the people you vote out need to vote for you in order to win.

Finally, the jury was laughing in his face at the last tribal council and that is never a good sign going into a final vote. I can’t think of a single jury member who would vote for Gervase in the end and the right-hand man/woman members of a successful alliance don’t win it all. His only chance is to make a power move and take out Tyson, which is something he has contemplated but ultimately will not do. Props to him for overcoming his fear of grubs though!

Laura M. (15 to 1)

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She has dominated redemption island and might re-enter the game but there’s no way that the remaining players are going to let a redemption island player into the finals. There’s been too much strategy needed to get to where they are and they know that a redemption player will come in with clean hands and a good, challenge-winning resume. Laura has a good shot to return and align with her daughter but I’d be shocked if they let her reach the finals.

Tina (20 to 1)

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Tina has needed Laura’s help on multiple occasions to survive on redemption island. She’s a long shot to defeat Laura M. and re-enter the game and even if she does, the same problem persists about redemption players making it to the finals. I think she is savvy enough to stir things up if she re-enters the game but it’s a big hill to climb to make it to the end and get enough votes to win.

Katie (30 to 1)

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She has struggled in challenges all season and now she needs to win a challenge to return to the game. For that reason alone, she is the long shot. Jeff Probst has also been pretty vocal in tribal councils about her lack of gameplay, sometimes almost urging her to make a big move. Lack of challenge success combined with a lack of strategy does not equal Survivor success.

Can’t wait for the final two episodes!

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