Under the jump.

Voters, have votes to me by tomorrow night at 9pm Central.

From Pepper

1. It seems clear that there are outside-the-game relationships you aren’t willing to betray, and others you are. What distinguishes the two?

Hmmmm . . . I guess I try to think of my outside-the-game relationships separately from interactions specifically related to the game itself. I enjoy doing stuff at the CdL in large part because of the people here–they’re smart, funny, and good writers to boot. Y’all are fun to hang out with online–and in real life. But in a game of Survivor, I can’t just base decisions on who I know or who I’ve spent time with outside of the game.

Until the merge, my focus was on my team as a whole. My team happened to include a guy who introduced me to the CdL, a guy I’ve met up with at a concert before, and two guys I’d not interacted with at all before this game. (Oh, and Laurel, but she never really showed up.) I think Ken can vouch for the fact that I put plenty of energy into cultivating relationships with the guys I didn’t already know.

After the merge, things weren’t looking that great for me. It appeared that Pope was going to vote with the remaining members of Willy, which meant that my T3AM-mates and I were at a disadvantage. For the first post-merge vote, Erik (who had introduced me to the CdL) was the target. I would have prefered to keep him in the game since we’d worked together pretty well in a previous game, but I also knew that I couldn’t exactly control which way the vote was going to go, and any attempt to do so might paint a target on my own back in the next vote. Although I knew Erik was going out, I voted for Zack at that point not because of some outside-the-game loyalty that wouldn’t allow me to vote for him but rather because I thought I could get more mileage out of the perception that I wasn’t working closely with the two other big writing threats in the game–Novak and Annette.

Dan and I had talked some before the merge, but at around this point, we began talking more. It quickly became apparent that Novak and Annette were working closely together. Each time we needed to vote, I got the impression that Novak and Annette would discuss what they wanted to do, then Dan would be looped in, and only after that would I hear something about the plan. So based on those interactions, it looked to me like a long-term plan of going with an alliance of former winners was setting me up, at best, for a fourth-place finish. Yes, I consider Novak to be a real-life friend (and he also helped me win the Royal Rumble that one time), but the dynamics of the game suggested to me that I needed to work with different allies if I was going to make it to the end by a means other than running the table with immunities.

Because Dan was passing along information to me that I wouldn’t have otherwise had access to, he became my most important ally. It was also obvious to me that he didn’t have a good path to the final three other than with me and Zack, which meant he wasn’t likely to flip on me down the line. And because he’s not as strong of a writer, he wasn’t a big target at any point, which meant that I could keep him around without having to stick my neck out or steer votes away from him. Yes, I have gone out for a drink with him a few times. But that’s not what made him a good ally.

I didn’t start off this game thinking Zack (who I’ve seen a concert with–that guy has great taste in music!) was going to be a particularly close ally. We had very little interaction prior to the merge, despite being on the same team. But just after I cast my vote for Zack (in the elimination when Erik was voted out), I emailed him to tell him why I’d voted for him and suggested that we should work together. That’s perhaps a slightly unorthodox way to build an alliance, but in this case, it worked. And similarly to Dan, it didn’t look like Zack had another path to the final three, so that made him a good ally as well.

2. This feels a little like deja vu. How is this game any different from the last game you and DK final two-ed together?

Ha! In some ways, I’d say this game is the opposite of that earlier game (Survivor XIV). In that game, I was an inexperienced player who could fly under the radar and managed to make it to the final two despite not getting a single immunity after the merge. This time around, I came in as someone who had already won a writing game and was going to need to win some key immunities if I wanted to make it to the end of the game. Dan was the one who could do more flying under the radar.

In addition, in that other game, we were playing with anonymous identities (though I think at least a few players knew who Dan was). I honestly expected that players familiar with XIV would be wary of me working with Dan since we’d had such a strong alliance before, though it had been four years earlier.

While the roles weren’t entirely reversed–despite not having played in four years, Dan is no novice–it was a different dynamic this time around. Dan could help me by passing along certain information, but my stories had to stand on their own. (In XIV, I’d been actively working to ensure he’d get immunity in a few challenges.) In addition, I felt he and I played as strategic equals. I shared thoughts and ideas with him, and he did the same with me. I didn’t feel like one of us had the upper hand or was telling the other one what to do. Instead, we worked as true collaborators.

Also, I suspect he won’t end his jury plea but telling you I should win . . .

3. Given your choice of any of the other players, would Dan always be your pick to go against in the finals?

Yes and no. Yes, because I had lots of fun working with him in this game, and I always lean toward wanting to bring my closest ally to the end with me. No because if the game’s dynamics hadn’t played out the way they did, I would have been looking for another path to the end with other players (whether it was with Annette and Ken, as mentioned below, or with another group).

After the merge, it seemed improbable that Dan and I would get to the end together. Either I’d be voted out for being a writing threat, or he’d be voted out for working too closely with me. The fact that we were able to do so feels like a testament to both of our survival skills. And it’s fun to pull off something that seems improbable.

Yet even as I was working very closely with Dan, I was also thinking about about the possibility of facing the jury with him, and I believed all along that if I could make it to the end of the game, I could beat him. Of the two of us, I was the one who was perceived as more of a threat, and I was the one who had to make it through multiple attempts to vote me out.

4. When we had an agreement that you would take me to the final four over Zack, why not honor that agreement?

Because you’d already tried to vote me out! You and I didn’t have a ton of interaction in this game, and you hadn’t given me a lot of reason to trust you. You came to me when you were in fairly dire circumstances–a second tie vote would mean you, Dan, or Zack would be out of the game. Perhaps I didn’t read you correctly, but your proposal at that point felt like one of desperation rather than a genuine move to become allies.

When we were down to four players, I didn’t want to risk having another tie (with you and Annette on one side and Dan and me on the other). And between you and Zack, I felt more confident that Zack would vote with me and Dan–since that’s what he had been doing already for the last few eliminations. I’ll admit it wasn’t pretty, but it felt like my best path to the end of the game at that point was to stick with the player who had been my ally for a longer period of time.

That said, I was really hoping I could win immunity when we were at five, and in that case I wouldn’t have voted you out, but alas, only one of the three judges was into my metaphorical bear.

5. Hey, Pepper, to me it seems clear you dominated all aspects of this game. If you don’t really put your foot in your keyboard, I can’t really imagine you not getting my vote, but it has happened before! I guess all I really need to know from you are what were your long term plans for me had I not asked to be voted out? Good Luck!

Thanks, Ken. I was optimistic about our alliance with Annette! Given that I knew Annette and Novak were working more closely with each other than they were with me, I thought our alliance offered a useful counterbalance. I had visions of secretly coordinating with you and Annette and the three of us going to the end together. My biggest concern with that plan was how strong of a writer Annette is and knowing that she’d very likely take you to the final two over me if she got immunity when we were down to three. But in different circumstances, that very well could have been my best route to the end.

6. Red or green Chile pepper?

Some like it hot,
Some like it hotter.
Give it to me straight–
I don’t need no water.

Red, yellow, green,
All the peppers rule.
You start to sweat;
I keep my cool.

You still in this game?
Kick it up a notch.
Play it like ya want it–
Your back ya gotta watch.

I’m tryin’ to Survive.
I can take the heat.
Give me your best shot,
And still I can’t be beat.

I’m runnin’ outta rhymes.
Our game is at an end.
We started out as foes–
Let’s end it now as friends.

Final Plea
Thank you all for taking part in this game and making it so fun (and by fun, I mean stressful). A writing game has two components–the writing and the strategy. As strong a player as Dan is, I think my overall game was stronger.

Looking at the writing, I was the highest-scoring writer at the time of the merge (though Novak and Annette were right on my heels!). After the merge, my stories scored well, and more important, I was able to write my best when the pressure was on and I most needed to secure immunity. Specifically, in the first vote after the merge, I was fearful about Novak and Annette getting the two immunities (which would have made me a big target), and I was improbably able to get immunity–as were both of them. In the challenge after that, the sonnet, I was again concerned and again managed to get immunity, though Ken’s request to be voted out changed the dynamics of the game at that point. After that, Annette had a great run of three straight immunities. If she’d made it all the way to the end, she would have had a good chance of winning the game. But I was able to pull off immunity when we were down to four, and after that, I won the final immunity, which allowed me to control my own fate and choose who to bring to the final two with me.

As a writer, I’m most comfortable with contemporary realism told from a first-person point of view. But I didn’t just stay in my comfort zone–I took some big risks, particularly in my last three stories, and those risks mostly paid off. For the animal prompt, as Annette knows, I woke up the next morning convinced that my story was going to be disqualified for not fitting the prompt. But the aforementioned metaphorical bear was one of Kelly’s favorite stories, though the other two judges weren’t so sure about it. For the religion prompt, I told two stories simultaneously–one taking place in the past and one in the present–and alternated between time periods every paragraph or two. And for the palindrome prompt, I came up with a story told almost entirely in dialogue about a road trip in which the route was the same both ways, but absolutely nothing else was the same.

From a strategic point of view, yes, I got immunities when it counted, but I also played a game in which I was vulnerable to being voted out, and each time, the majority of players decided they’d rather vote someone else out. And this was despite my being a big writing threat. Part of my strategy involves being quiet about my strategy. I’m not a player who needs to control the game or dictate what other players do. So I went into the merge ready to listen and ready to be flexible. At all points, my goal was to keep myself in the game, and beyond that, to feel out where the alliances were and who I could trust. I communicated with other players, I saw where the votes fell, and I looked for the paths that could get me to the end of the game.

Could I have gotten here without Dan’s help? Perhaps not, particularly right after the merge when he had access to some key conversations I wasn’t a part of. But by the same token, working with me probably gave him his best shot at getting to the end of the game. I wasn’t always happy about how I had to vote (and what lies I had to tell) along the way, but it was a tough game against some truly excellent players.

Looking at my game as a whole, I hope you’ll agree that my game is worthy of your votes. Thanks again to all of you! (And to the judges! And also to Bernice for the lovely confirmations that she’d received each story!)


From DK

1. Were you ever convinced by anyone in this game to do anything you didn’t want to do? Who/what/when/why, etc. “No.” would be a perfectly acceptable answer here, if it’s true.

I didn’t want to vote Erik out at the merge vote, but Matt and Annette were pretty set on Erik being the target. I was never convinced by Annette or Matt that it would be better for my game to do that, but I went along with that vote because I knew that would be the majority, and I planned to keep voting with Annette and Matt until the point I was voting one of them out. That Erik vote definitely convinced me I had to make a move against them sooner than later, though; I didn’t see a viable path to the end where I’d have a shot to win against them if I was following what they told me to do the whole way. I’d either go to the final two and lose to Matt or Annette, or be expendable around 4th or 5th, or Matt would try to get me out before that. So after that vote I worked hard on building up my alliances with Pepper and Zack so I could make a move against Matt before he made one against me.

If Ken hadn’t asked to be voted out, I probably wouldn’t have wanted him out at the time he left, either. More likely I would’ve either wanted to split up the pair of Bret and Pope, as I did the next vote, or make a move against Matt right away. The Ken vote was the last time the person who left the game was not definitely the person I wanted out at that vote after the challenge.

2. Great game, Dan. No real question for you. I’ll return to an old favorite. Juries need pandering. Give it your best.

This was a super fun, and super stressful, group of players, and especially jurors to play with, so thank you all for making it that way and for the competition being so fierce. I’ll try not to go overboard but I’d like to say a few words to each of you.

Zack, you are one of my favorite Spookymilk Survivor players of all time and I always have admired the way you play. I’m so glad we were able to get connected and work together so well all the way to the final three. The night we decided to lock in, roll the dice and chance the rock draw is one I’ll never forget, and I can’t imagine facing that draw alongside anyone but you. Thank you for teaming up with me and all you did to make this one so fun.

Annette, I said some of it before in my vote, but you’re such a tremendous writer that I definitely believe if you had made it here winning immunities, you’d have won, and you’d deserve it. Plus you’ve won the only game of Survivor I’ve ever run, so I’ve seen how well-rounded a player you are from the front row. You’re one of the toughest competitors I’ve faced here, without question.

Pope, I have more to say in your question, but I know you made it farther here than you ever had before, and I hope you can take pride in that, as well as surviving as the lone member of your tribe to make the merge for so long. You’re a really good and slippery liar, and I mean that as praise, for sure. I didn’t act on belief in your lie – I was going to vote the way I did whether you lied or not – but I can’t think of anyone else’s lie I wish had been true more than yours, since it would’ve saved us the stress of the potential rock draw!

Jared, I don’t think we talked as much as some of the others, but man, I loved a lot of your stories. You have a knack for swinging for absurdity that I can’t pull off, at least not any more. When you nail something, you nail it good and hard. You also had some great zingers in a few of our group email threads – I don’t like quoting emails in public, so I won’t draw them up here, but I know Matt and Annette at least probably remember what I’m talking about. It was great having you as part of this game.

Matt, obviously you’re a beast of a writer. But more than anything, I honestly love just going over (and over, and over) strategy with you. You’re the only person who can seem to exceed all the stuff I have rattling around in my head and it was fun playing with you on that level this time. I hope you know, based on our history in this game, I felt I had to make a move against you before the possibility of you making a move against me; and even if you never would have, I couldn’t go to the end with you doing what you wanted the whole way and have a shot to win. So it’s all respect here, man.

Bret, I know we have kind of a weird history in this game together. I think we’ve played and voted each other out more than I have with anyone else in this jury. I always enjoy playing with you and your play style, but there always seems to be something that keeps me from wanting to work with you (or you with me) deep to the end. Here it’s because you’re really one of my personal favorite writers at the site, and in this game. I’m pretty sure I’m always a sucker for the classic Bret repressed country man story. Plus in this game, as I said a bit above, I was constantly concerned about you and Pope as an unbreakable pair. So for you, too, it was all respect; you were a dual threat that I had to take out.

Ken, I’ll have more to say in response to your question. As you’re well aware, we didn’t talk much this game. My impression is you’re a smart guy who knows the game well, and I always enjoy having the chance to play against that kind of player. You also wrote a number of stories that I enjoyed, and I wish you had been able to stick around longer and keep writing. Best wishes with everything, man.

3. if you had won final immunity, would you have picked Zack or pepper?

I don’t love these backward-looking hypotheticals, since they don’t really cover the game as it ended up happening. I thought I had a very good shot of being in the final two no matter who won immunity; I was completely confident Pepper would take me to the final two, and I thought I had at least a better than even chance that Zack would take me if he won. So I never fully thought out, at the time, who I would take. Obviously, both Pepper and Zack are strong, smart players; they’ve both won this game before. I think the game I played here is capable of beating either one of them, but it’d be a battle either way. I think I probably would’ve considered eliminating the writing strength factor; clearly Pepper is a stronger writer than me, and any votes that go solely or primarily on writing would be hard for me to win. Taking Zack might give me the chance to take that factor out, since he and I are probably better matched as writers. But based on everything else that goes into a true Survivor game, that wouldn’t be an easy win by any means; I think Zack certainly could’ve beaten me in a final two as well. After getting to the final two and remembering that the same two people had never reached the end in Spookymilk Survivor before, that chance to make history might’ve tipped the scales, so I’d say I’d probably lean towards taking Pepper, just because having that achievement is pretty cool. It’s fun to do something no one else has done before.

4. When we had an agreement that you would take me to the final four over Zack, why not honor that agreement?

I was looking ahead to the next vote at the final four. I wanted to reduce the risk that there would be a 2-2 tie, in which I would be one of the people in the tie and in a writeoff, as much as I could. Since you, Pope, had lied to me about the first vote at the final six, and Zack had not ever lied to me with demonstrable consequences, I had more trust at that point that he would still vote with me at the final four (as he did). My thinking was if Pepper wins that final four immunity (as she did), there was a chance you, Pope, would vote with Annette against me instead of voting Annette out with me, creating a writeoff between Annette and I that I would probably lose. That would put you in a position in the final three where both Pepper and Annette are likely to take you to the final two over the other, so it wouldn’t have been irrational for you to make that choice. Again, I had more trust in Zack voting with me there than I had in you, since he hadn’t lied to me and he hadn’t voted with Annette on the final six vote before. All that being said, I know it sucks getting lied to directly and voted out. I said what I had to at the final six tie to get you to switch so we could avoid the rock draw, and what I said ended up being a total lie. When that’s happened to me, even in these online Survivor games, it’s hurt a lot, so I am sorry for making you experience that.

5. (by Ken) We had no real communication this game. Pepper reached out to me with clearly no real need to, and kept me in the loop. What I’m wondering is how you expect to get my vote while ignoring the social and strategic parts of the game when it comes to me? I’ll warn you, I’ve asked people this question before, and there is a response that will 100% lose my vote everytime. Good luck!

Ken, I am sorry we never really talked in this game. We were really only on a tribe together for the first merge vote, and at that point I thought there would be more time for us to see if there was a mutually beneficial path we could take. I didn’t reach out to you right away at that merge vote for a couple specific reasons. Annette indicated early on to Matt and I that she knew you, and she was pretty certain you would vote with her. So my reluctance to talk to you right away was based on not wanting it getting back to Annette that I was trying to form a relationship with you; I thought it was important at the time to keep presenting to Annette and Matt that I might have few connections besides them. Plus, since I knew she and Matt adamantly wanted Erik out, I didn’t want to talk to you about my interest in keeping Erik and risk Annette hearing from you that I was asking you to vote a different way. Like I said, I thought there’d be more opportunity to connect in the game after the first merge vote, but after that you, unfortunately, left the game voluntarily.

I don’t expect your, or anyone else’s, vote. I am asking for the vote of each individual juror to win based on what you all each know of the game I played along with the statements I’m making here. I think I played the more active and decisive all-around game, and I think that is worthy of being awarded the win. To you in particular, Ken, I would just ask you to keep in mind that, with you having asked to leave the game and being the first juror, there was plenty of my game that happened after you left that you didn’t get to see first-hand. I hope everything’s going okay for you, and I hope you’ll play some more games here sometime.

6. Red or green Chile pepper?

I think I might be getting close to the point of being too old for them, on any regular basis at least, but taste-wise I almost always prefer to take the heat, so I generally go with the red chiles over the green.

Final Statement:
I came into this game thinking I’d be looked at as a pretty big threat as a strategic player, having won a non-writing game the last time I played. I also was concerned I wouldn’t have the writing strength to carry me to the merge or win myself an immunity when necessary after the merge. Although I was a fair contributor to the strongest pre-merge tribe, having only voted out one member, definitely the latter part of that concern came true: I had to get myself to the end with a shot to win without the benefit of immunities.

I teamed up with Matt and Annette on our original tribe with the intent of protecting each other as big threats. I considered sticking with them after the merge, but the way the Erik vote went down, I felt they were closer to each other than they were to me, I was worried Matt would make a move against me if I didn’t make one first, and even if I got to the end with them I thought they’d easily beat me if I didn’t take my own game into my own hands. So after Erik was gone I looked at who was left and thought about who I could build connections with that would be tighter to me than anyone else. I decided Pope and Bret were probably closer to each other, and Ken and Pope were also potentially closer to Annette, so I worked instead on building up alliances with Pepper and Zack. Once I fully teamed up with those two, I had a ton of fun playing with them. I think I had a more than equal hand in directing the strategy of that group going forward, as well. That group formed the core of the group that first split up Bret and Pope, and then, when I decided the time was right, we moved against Matt and Annette.

At six I identified Jared as the best target simply because if Pope was lying and we had a tie vote, I thought Pope could be persuaded to switch his vote to avoid the rock draw, and I was right. That result gave my alliance control of the rest of the game, leading to us being the final three, and then Pepper taking me to the final two. I succeeded in getting here without ever winning an immunity challenge, and only receiving one vote cast against me. I did that by playing along with big threats like Matt and Annette when I needed to, taking the initiative to build new groups with people like Pepper and Zack when I needed to, and making the right calls at the right times about when to vote out former allies. The entirety of my game is why I think I deserve to be named the Sole Survivor. I humbly ask each of you on the jury to consider these arguments, and my game, and vote for me to win. Thank you all again for such a fun and competitive season!