“You can’t boss adults around, really, not too much, without pissing them off”. – Sherea Lloyd, Survivor: China
19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, “Monster slayers must beware lest they become monsters themselves. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back into you.”
Was Nietzsche predicting Tai Trang’s flip from Hero to Heel on Survivor 32: Kaoh Rong: Brains vs. Brawn vs Beauty 2? Undoubtedly he was.
Tai may have spent too long with Jason and Scot before he slayed them, because he’s becoming a bit of a bully himself. Now that he’s vanquished his enemies, he’s turning into them.
The cast of Survivor: Kaoh Rong
Monty Brinton / CBS
After the immunity challenge, Tai insisted that his new alliance vote for Michele. Cydney understandably objected. Michele is one of her top allies. Plus, the whole reason Cydney switched alliances was that she doesn’t like being told what to do.
Honestly, the whole thing seemed like a big misunderstanding. After the Immunity Challenge, Tai just had a few short seconds in the water to propose voting out Michele before Michele joined them. Cydney interpreted his blurted remarks as a bossy diktat.
Cydney Gillon of Survivor: Kaoh Rong; inset: Stephen Fishbach
CBS / Getty (2)
Also, Tai is right that Michele is a much more dangerous endgame competitor than Jason. Jason’s a great guy to take to the finals, and it’s kind of nuts that everybody wants him gone. On the other hand, Michele’s challenge wins plus a blameless voting record might be enough for her to win a million bucks from a bitter jury. With just three or four eliminations left, you need to be careful to spend each of them optimally.
But a simple misunderstanding can have dangerous fallout on Survivor. The miscommunication between Tai and Cydney spiraled out of control and Tribal Council turned caustic. “It’s Tai’s way or the highway” Cydney complained.
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Michele wasn’t not too keen on the idea of being voted out either. She epically threw Tai under the bus, repeating again and again how untrustworthy he is. “Tai has turned on every alliance that he’s ever had,” she said. “Crazy is doing something repeatedly and expecting different results.”
Tai for his part actually proved himself to be the bully that they said he was, shutting Michele down, and claiming she was never even part of the “original” alliance.
(Michele and Tai obviously disagree about what the “original” alliance means. If only they had some friendlier terms, like “voting blocs,” to help them clarify.)
This is why it’s not actually a great move to vote out your best allies, as Michele did with Julia. You lose all your leverage and have to scramble to stay in the game.
Nevertheless, Michele sticks around. Aubry and Joe side with Cydney, and together they vote out Jason.
Cydney wins the Fishy this week for mustering the votes. She alerted Michele to her danger and pressured Aubry to stand tough. By saving Michele, she kept her loyal ally in the game.
However, there are problems on Cydney’s horizon. Tai’s statement that “There’s a big group and a smaller group within the big group” is the fundamental endgame challenge. It’s one thing to join the biggest alliance and pick off your enemies. But how do you make sure you’re in the core subgroup – and most importantly, you’re there with people you can beat at the end?
We saw this episode that Joe, Aubry, and Tai are a tight three. Michele and Cydney could both be in trouble.
Some petty little part of me that I try to keep hidden away from polite society wanted Tai to get blindsided while playing his advantage. Then he’d join me and Worlds Apart’s Dan Foley in our little club of failure. (Both Dan and I played our advantages on the nights we went home).
Tai’s advantage play may not have been as disastrous – but it was as pointless. He doubled up his vote on Michele. Both of those votes went nowhere. Tai was the only person to write her name down, even if he did it twice.
In some ways, I’m glad it worked out the way it did, because it became a teachable moment. Playing the advantage perfectly is incredibly difficult. You have to know exactly where all the votes are going, which itself is a feat. You also have to be exactly behind by one vote (or two votes in my case). Otherwise, the advantage gets wasted. You might go home with the parchment in your pocket, you could get blindsided playing it, or you might waste it like Tai did tonight. Either way, you look like a dope on national TV.
That’s why the advantage is such a great twist and I hope the Survivor producers keep it. It’s very difficult to play correctly, but adds a lot of interesting strategy. It makes the person who holds it a target – but it also gives them leverage to lie and bluff.
Tai was benefited tonight because his opponents thought his advantage was another idol. Because they assumed he had two idols to play, Tai became untouchable. Next episode, he’ll play his real idol for sure, which will take him to the final four.
Everybody talks about how Tai is unbeatable if he makes it all the way to the end. I’m starting to wonder. There’s a lot of animosity growing against him. Certainly Jason and Scot aren’t big fans. Now add Cydney and Michele to the anti-Tai club.
It seems like people don’t see Tai as having outplayed them. They describe him as flipping like a flapjack. As Dan Foley, the originator of the Advantage once said, “Flippers never win.” Of course, that’s too sweeping a point to be always acurate, but it does gesture at a fundamental Survivor truth. People who play the middle and repeatedly switch alliances will have personally betrayed almost everybody. Look at Spencer Bledsoe last season. Right now there are a lot of angry people sitting at Ponderosa spitting venom about Tai’s loose gameplay.
I’ve long been predicting Jason as the big final tribal loser. Obviously that was proven wrong tonight. Could Tai be the one who loses it all in the finals?
Survivor: Kaoh Rong airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.