Poor gameplay or epic blindsides? It's a little of both in Survivor 46 so far

It's hard to say if Survivor season 46 is shaped by massive mistakes or incredible moves
“Spicy Jeff” – Confusion and chaos continue to make waves throughout camp after a shocking tribal council. Castaways must test their balance to earn safety and a spot in the final eight. Then, the emergence of multiple hidden immunity idols shakes the plan for the next tribal council, on SURVIVOR Wednesday, April 24 (8:00-9:30 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and streaming on Paramount+ (live and on demand for Paramount+ with SHOWTIME subscribers, or on demand for Paramount+ Essential
“Spicy Jeff” – Confusion and chaos continue to make waves throughout camp after a shocking tribal council. Castaways must test their balance to earn safety and a spot in the final eight. Then, the emergence of multiple hidden immunity idols shakes the plan for the next tribal council, on SURVIVOR Wednesday, April 24 (8:00-9:30 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and streaming on Paramount+ (live and on demand for Paramount+ with SHOWTIME subscribers, or on demand for Paramount+ Essential /

I'm enjoying Survivor 46! It's not the best season of the series, not by far. There have been plenty of entertaining moments, of course, starting with Jelinsky's elimination in the first episode to back-to-back chaotic tribal councils in episode 8 and episode 9. Then, there's the epic blindside of Tiffany Nicole Ervin in episode 10. With only two episodes before the season finale, I'm asking myself one question about this season: is this just bad gameplay, or are these blindsides that good?

Recently, our team at Surviving Tribal took a look at how a lack of self-awareness has marred the game to this point. I agree that there's a general lack of self-awareness with some players on the tribe, but there's also a surplus of awareness that's also causing some problems, too.

Before we dive in, I want to mention that this is not a criticism of any of the players. We're not on the beach with them. We don't know what it's actually like. We're only seeing snapshots of what's happened at very important moments and missing a lot of context in between. We're on the outside looking in, so there is far more going on than we're able to see.

Early in the game, everything was relatively straightforward. Yanu lost, basically, every challenge and they were forced to vote out their weakest players consecutively. Randen Montalvo was removed from the game via medical evacuation. And, just before the tribes came together for the merge, Siga had only voted out one member.

There have been giant missteps in the game so far. There have been excellent blindsides. Can both be true?

Three players have been voted out with idols in their pocket

Run the Red Light
“Run the Red Light” – Castaways compete for the biggest reward of the season, and an outburst resulting from the reward challenge could lead to a strategic shift in this week’s target. Then, an eerie sense of agreeability around camp causes castaways to second guess their vote before tribal council, on SURVIVOR, Wednesday, May 1 (8:00-9:30 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and streaming live and on-demand on Paramount+ (live and on-demand for Paramount+ with SHOWTIME subscribers, or /

This is not the first time in Survivor history that players have been blindsided and voted out with idols in their pockets. It's not going to be the last. But, I will say that in this season in particular. These blindsides felt very transparent.

In the first instance, Jem Hussain-Adams of the Siga tribe found the beware advantage and then placed it in the wrong place so her tribe would look all day, tire themselves out, and start to look over their shoulder more than they had been. It worked! It was a brilliant villain move.

When her tribe lost immunity, Jem used the advantage to find the immunity idol, and she proceeded to fumble the opportunity to use the idol to save herself or use it as a bargaining chip into an alliance. Instead, she let the power get to her head and didn't see that she freaked out several people in her tribe with her behavior heading into tribal council. She was voted out with a hidden immunity idol.

Then, in episode 9, Hunter realized too late that he was actually in jeopardy of going home, something he should have trusted his gut on after losing the immunity challenge to Charlie. Of course, they were going to make a play at him. He had won almost every immunity challenge in the game.

Instead, he made a hail-mary move at the last minute to try to rally a blindside on Ben by sharing with people who were not his allies that he had an idol. It was a colossal mistake. Hunter was voted out after tying with Q on the first vote.

Having watched Survivor for years, I realized that a split vote on the two strongest competitors in the game was on the way for Q and Hunter. It was just the most obvious play, and Hunter, who has homemade replicas of Survivor puzzles in his home, should have seen it coming from miles away.

THEN, and this is insane, after watching Hunter blindsided with an idol in his pocket. Tiffany was lulled into a sense of security because everyone hates Q. She didn't play her idol, and she was voted out of the season with an idol in her pocket.

Fear of grabbing power too early held the game back

We've seen this on Survivor from time to time. After the merge, tribal lines break down, and the game becomes more fluid. Individual games become the most important part of the game, and every vote seems to be separate from the previous vote. People who voted against each other in the last vote have no problem burying the hatchet and working together on the next move. It's a much quicker pace than watching two nearly equally matched alliances go toe-to-toe or one dominant alliance picking off the smaller alliance until it's time for the real game to begin.

It's almost like we're watching the 10k race in a track and field event. Everyone is running the race in a tight pack. No one wants to run out ahead to set the pace for the fear that they'll be picked off. So, everyone stays together, drafting off each other, and waiting for the perfect moment to seize control of the game and actually win the game.

With that, everyone is hyper-aware of how "hard" people are playing the game. In the new era of Survivor, you have to play it cool. Too much too early draws suspicion. You have to show the perfect amount of willingness to work with others and stay in the game. It makes sense, given we've seen 45 seasons of this show, that this is where we are, but I would love to see this cast lay off the brakes for a bit.

Overall, this is the single stupidest part of the game. Everyone is there to win the $1 million, but they can't say it out loud, act like they want it, or try too hard to get it. If you do that, you're a threat, and you'll be voted out.

Clearly, people are playing hard and are in control of the game. Q was happy to step into the power position in the game, but I don't think any of the people in the game took him seriously. He was way to transparent about his own ambition to control every aspect of the game, which resulted in the tribe allowing him to control none of it.

In the final three episodes, I would love to see someone step to the front and win the game. I think that's what it will take to separate the winner from the rest of the group. There are far too many players just walking that tightrope down the middle, but we're almost at the final five.

Everyone is so concerned about making big moves to win at the final tribal council

In episode 9, Kenzie approached Hunter, Maria, Charlie, and Ben about making a big move on Tiffany to take her out before she is able to use her idol. We know that the rest of the group eventually split the votes between Hunter and Q after Hunter, randomly, told everyone he had an idol.

The right move, at that point, was to take out Hunter. He's the biggest threat in the game, and he also had an idol. They duped him into a dumb decision. Prior to that point, the right move was going to be to take out Tiffany, which Maria almost didn't want to do because she didn't want to give Kenzie credit for planning the move to take out Tiffany. And, that's not the first time we've heard players discussing who is getting credit for the move.

Liz continues to freak out about not getting credit for the move she made to take out Tevin and Soda. It had to be frustrating, but now is not the time, Liz! That's not what's best for her game. Her best game is getting to the end and then being able to take credit for voting out Tevin, Soda, and however many other people. It's about convincing her tribe that she was behind those moves then, not now.

The result of everyone playing for big moves that they can solely take credit is a less interesting product.

Then, in episode 10, we saw Liz melting down over Applebee's, but she's also very frustrated, and has said so repeatedly, that she doesn't feel her moves are getting the credit they deserve. Q is overshadowing her game, according to her.

There is some good and possibly great gameplay happening

Hide 'N Seek
“Hide ‘N Seek” – In the aftermath of a blindside elimination, multiple castaways claim credit for their resume, stirring the pot among their fellow tribemates. In a classic SURVIVOR challenge, castaways must hold on for a shot at immunity from tribal council. Then, an innocent game of hide and seek becomes a revealing metaphor about every castaway’s SURVIVOR strategy, on SURVIVOR, Wednesday, April 17 (8:00-9:30 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and streaming on Paramount+ (live and /

Look, I can see the hole in the argument here. Aren't the good game players causing the bad game players to play the game poorly? To a certain extent, I think that's true. Hunter was fooled by some great acting performances during tribal council. He was convinced that Q was going home. Same with Tiffany. She was convinced that she was safe.

The players deserve credit for the moves they made, but I'd argue those moves, in some cases, were the result of dumb mistakes rather than excellent execution. You can look at every vote and see where almost every player went wrong. In almost every instance, that player made a critical mistake directly leading up to the vote. Whether they were influenced by others or not, I don't know it matters.

Hunter told everyone he had an idol instead of keeping the element of surprise in play. After taking out Soda, Tevin didn't realize that put a huge target on his back. He got on the right side of a few votes and got comfortable.

Tim was in a tough spot with Kenzie, Hunter, Tiffany, and Hunter vs. Tim and Ben. But, Tim had a chance to stay in the game if he was willing to vote out Ben. He didn't even have to vote for Ben. He just had to get out of the way. Instead, he tried to convince Q to vote out Hunter and became the target.

Moriah was on the bottom of the Siga tribe and left out of the plan to vote out Jem. Instead of flipping on her tribe the second that all three tribes came together at the merge, she chose to stay loyal to her tribe, and they threw her under the bus. We already know what happened with Jem. Bhanu ratted on Tiffany, Kenzie, and Q on the journey.

Tiffany's case, to me, is the most interesting because she revealed to Entertainment Weekly that she and Charlie had a plan to use her idol to take out Maria. So, to me, she gets a little more credit for having a plan in place to use her idol. Charlie gets credit for some great gameplay by making Tiffany believe she was safe. All it would have taken is one word from him to change the game, and he made the choice to stick to his alliance and take out the biggest threat to his game in Tiffany. Maria obviously get a little credit, too, for the execution. Liz gets credit for being the deciding vote, but it's Charlie who MADE the move, if you know what I mean.

So, there's been some really bad gameplay and some great gameplay. I will also say, though, that it feels like the players this season are punishing people for mistakes. That's a good thing! It's smart gameplay, and I think it's all coming from a select group of players. Clearly, Maria and Charlie have a good thing going. They've been on the right side of every vote they've been a part of so far. While they likely won't take sole credit for many of the big moves so far, they are well positioned as challenge threats, partners, and just savvy players to make it to the end. The thing that they're doing the best, in my opinion, is playing to their strengths and letting the other players judge them.

As Q noted earlier this season, he doesn't think Charlie has any "killer instinct," but he definitely does! Look what happened to Tiffany! She already revealed Charlie had a plan to take out Maria, too. He's ruthless! I also think Maria has a great chance to win the game. The real threats know that Maria is a threat, but she's built a nice buffer between her and the other strong players.

Kenzie is playing a pretty good game. She isn't strong in challenges, but socially, she's done a really nice job keeping people at bay and keeping her name out of others' mouths. After getting left out of the last vote with Q, Tiffany, and Venus, Kenzie might be in real trouble, but if she's able to pull together a little team with Ben and Venus, she might have a way to take out Charlie and Maria before the end.

If I had to say, so far, the early part of the game was shaped by poor gameplay. Yanu was terrible in every challenge. Since the merge, and even with the first few merge votes, the quality of the votes improved. There was some suspense and strategy, but it was still pretty lackluster gameplay. Lately, though, we've seen some major moves and great deception in episode 9 and 10.

We'll see how it all shakes out. There's still plenty of time more major mistakes and some epic moves before the end of the game.

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