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"Survivor" Series: When Three Become One


Welcome to "Survivor" Series, our weekly column focusing on the adventures of one John Hennigan, a.k.a. Johnny Mundo, Johnny Impact, John Morrison, Johnny Nitro, on the islands of Fiji as a castaway on Survivor: David vs. Goliath. As promised, this column will zero in on how The Mayor of Slamtown maneuvered his way through the game, for better or worse.

Come on in, guys! *looks at feet*

Did John Hennigan get voted out last week?

Nope. It was a pretty low-key episode for The Mayor of Slamtown, which was partly because his Tiva Tribe won the Immunity Challenge. In effect, he and the rest of his tribe booked themselves a one-way ticket to the Merge phase of the game, where it shifts to the individual portion.

How does his standing in the game look heading into the Merge?

Not bad at all.

Heading into the 13-person Merged Tribe, Johnny Mundo's original Goliath numbers are up 7-6 against the Davids. On top of that, nobody from his post-swap Tiva Tribe went home, allowing him to cement his relationship with his Brochachos alliance alongside "Hot Cop" Dan Rengering and robotics scientist Christian Hubicki.

So in a nutshell, if The Mayor decides to stay Goliath strong, he's at least in the majority heading into that first merge Tribal Council. But if the original tribal lines are blurred, then he might find his way into a cross-tribal alliance thanks to his close relationship with Christian, who was originally a David.

The only real hiccup is if he'll have to turn on "Hot Cop" Dan and send him to Slamtown.

Wait, aren't they allies? Why will he have to turn on Dan so soon?

Dan's got two Hidden Immunity Idols and the Goliaths know that he's in possession of at least one, thanks to Jeremy, who they voted off in Episode 3.

The way that Dan has been portrayed so far makes him look like the type who can be easily manipulated or deceived. Among the Brochachos, he's also the guy who alienated his tribemate Gabby Pascuzzi, who confided in Dr. Alison Raybould about flipping the vote on Dan if they were ever to lose an Immunity Challenge.


So it looks like Dan doesn't have the strategic part of the game on lock and that's bad news for him. If ever a large coalition forms against Dan heading into the first Tribal Council after the Merge, Johnny Nitro might have to make a choice. Will he stick by Dan and try to form his own voting bloc to counter the opposition? Or will he flip to the majority just so he can move on safely to the next round, then worry about finding new allies later?

Why is the first Tribal Council after the Merge such a big deal anyway?

It's important because this is where the line in the sand will be drawn for the rest of the game—at least generally. Once the Merged Tribe votes someone out for the first time, you'll see the true power dynamics of the tribe as alliances (and sub-alliances) are formed and cemented.

Newcomers to Survivor will notice that more often than not, players who are in the minority alliance after the first Tribal Council will have a harder time making their way to the end. They'll make for fun babyface underdogs on TV, sure. But they end up having an uphill battle, which makes for a great narrative, but an extremely difficult game.




This is also a great opportunity to play the Hidden Immunity Idol, which can be played after the votes are cast, but before the votes are read. Successfully playing this on a castaway means that the person with the second-highest number of votes will be eliminated. 

A common counter-strategy for the Hidden Immunity Idol is the Split Vote, which requires an alliance—or two combined alliances—to split their votes equally (or almost equally) among two targets in order to flush out the Idol. That way, even if one target plays an Idol, the other one gets voted off anyway. The strategy only works if (1) the majority alliance controls two-thirds of the votes, and (2) there is only one Idol to be shared among two targets. 

For example, in the second Tribal Council of Survivor: Second Chance (Cambodia), the Bayon Tribe went to Tribal Council with nine members. Of those nine, the tribe had singled out Spencer Bledsoe and Shirin Oskooi as their targets. Those seven players divided their votes between Shirin and Spencer, 4-3 respectively, leaving the two targets with no option but to vote for one another to save themselves. Shirin was then voted out 5-4 as a result.

Here's a fun fact. In 36 seasons prior to David Vs. Goliath, only three players voted against the majority alliance during the first Tribal Council post-merge and went on to win the game. This excludes the winners who did not vote for the eliminated player as part of a Split Vote strategy to flush out a potential Hidden Immunity Idol play. 

Those three winners are Chris Daugherty (Vanuatu), Danni Boatwright (Guatemala), and Bob Crowley (Gabon). Bob won Survivor in 2008; an entire decade ago. It hasn't been done since. Millennials Vs. Gen X winner Adam Klein even got meta in his confessional during his season's merge episode by referencing the rarity of this occurrence, which resulted in the move he eventually made to vote off former Millennial tribemate Michelle Schubert at the Merge.

So, this is a big deal.

Okay, but what does a typical Merge Boot look like?


Hopefully, not this.

The Merge Boot, or the first player voted off right after the Merge, usually falls under two categories: the Threat or the Safe Vote.

The Threat is someone who the tribe may feel is capable of going on a run of Immunity Challenge wins. The potential of this person to run the table and remain immune at some point towards the endgame generally scares players, causing them to band together—sometimes, regardless of alliance—to take this player out. 

The usual targets are the athletes or the physically strong players, or even those who are thought to have an Idol. Players like John Morrison and "Hot Cop" Dan fall under this general category, which is why it won't be surprising if either of them become the Merge Boot; although I'm hoping it's Dan over John in case the Merge Boot this season is a physical threat. Examples of this type of player include Chris Noble from last season (Ghost Island), Nick Maiorano (Kaoh Rong), and Aras Baskauskas (Blood Vs. Water).

The Threat can also be a strategic player or the leader of his/her alliance. Taking this person out is a strategically sound move because they could be the glue that holds a tenuous group together. By eliminating them, you also splinter their alliance, allowing yours to pick them off one by one as you go along. From this season, players like Nick Wilson, Angelina Keeley, and Mike White might fit this bill; although it doesn't seem likely that any of them will be targeted. Past examples of this type of player include Broadway actor Josh Canfield (San Juan Del Sur), JT Thomas (Heroes Vs. Villains), and Andrew Savage (Pearl Islands).

On the other hand, the Safe Vote is someone the majority of the tribe can decide to vote off because (1) they have no allies, (2) they are generally disliked or feared, or (3) the other alliance is unlikely to play a Hidden Immunity Idol on them. Voting this person out might involve the use of the Split Vote strategy. 

However, in case the alliance breakdown between the tribe isn't enough to split the votes successfully, then it entails keeping your cards close to the chest so that the other alliance doesn't sniff out who you're voting for. It also requires players to be extra observant or perceptive in order to rule out who the opposing alliance thinks is not a target at Tribal Council. Past examples of this type of boot include Jessica Johnston (Heroes Vs. Healers Vs. Hustlers), Kass McQuillen (Cambodia), and Edgardo Rivera (Fiji). 

*****

Heading into this week's Merge episode, I will maintain my stance that The Shaman Of Sexy is in a good spot. While he will definitely be a threat because of his physical prowess, I don't think he'll be targeted just yet. Based on the previews, this week's episode looks to be chaotic as the players jockey for position in the individual phase of the game.

I didn't think John Hennigan would make it this far; and I'm pleasantly surprised he has. Now that we're here, I'll call my shot and say he makes it until the Final 7.

What do you think of the Johnny Mundo's chances heading into the Merge? Do you think he has a shot at Final Tribal Council? Drop us a confessional down in the comments section! Survivors ready... Go!



Photos were taken by Robert Voets for CBS Entertainment

*****



Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of The Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, NXTLucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. You can ask him questions about wrestling, Survivor (yes, the reality show), or whatever you like on his CuriousCat account.

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