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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Outwitting, Outplaying, Outlasting Survivor

Whether you love it or loathe it, many people have likely seen at least one episode of the reality television juggernaut Survivor. The show, which premiered in May 2000 has now visited several different countries, and will be airing the first episode of season twenty-three tomorrow night.

I know what you're thinking, those of you who hate everything to do with reality television are probably baffled that the show has lasted ONE season, let alone 23. I'm honestly a bit surprised that the show has gone on as long as it has myself. But I suppose as long as people watch the show, it will probably continue on as long as host Jeff Probst has a pulse.

I will say that for all the years of repeated challenges, volatile contestants, and luxury and reward challenges that the initial concept of Survivor was a decent one.

Certainly, almost everyone has thought about what they might do if they were ever stranded on a deserted island with nothing but the clothing on their backs. I know I have at times. And yes, there are times and occasions where I wonder if I would be able to survive as long as thirty-nine days on a deserted island (the average length of a full season of Survivor if a contestant makes it to the final round).

Survivor basically takes that 'what if' question and puts it to the test (well, as much as they can take it considering that at the heart of it all, it's still a game show with a million dollar prize at the end). They take no less than sixteen people from all over America in all walks of life and throw them on a deserted, desolate stretch of land. Sometimes, the show takes place on an island nation (like the Marquesas Islands or the Cook Islands), while in other cases, the area is landlocked (such as in the two seasons the show shot in Africa). Regardless, the castaways are left with very little aside from what they are wearing, though in the earliest seasons they were allowed one luxury item.

The people were often divided up into tribes of two (though sometimes they had divided them into four), and each tribe were given a tribal name. On every episode, these two tribes would compete in two separate challenges. The first challenge was usually a reward challenge where the winning tribes would get supplies to help them catch food, build shelter, make fire, or sometimes they were special outings where the tribe members would take part in once-in-a-lifetime outings, like swimming with jellyfish or having a picnic near a volcano.

The second challenge was an immunity challenge. If the tribe won, they were safe from being booted from the game. If not, the whole tribe would go to a ceremony known as 'Tribal Council', where Jeff would poke and prod the castaways into telling him what the dynamic was, and where they were feeling in terms of who they wanted out.

Each of the tribe members would vote on who they wanted out of the game, and the person with the most votes would have their torches snuffed out. Over the years, there have been some twists to the way people are voted out (tie-breaker challenges, the Redemption Island twist) but for the most part, once your torch is out, the tribe has spoken, and you are out.

Halfway through the game, the tribes merge into one larger tribe, and the competition becomes an individual game. The rewards and immunity are still in play, but only one person can win each. The people who make up the merged tribe choose their own tribe name, and go to Tribal Council as a group to vote an individual out. In most cases, these tribe members go on to form the jury that will decide which of the final two (or three) is more deserving of the million dollar prize. Depending on how the jury was voted off, their reactions can range from mild irritation to total disgust, so endgame players would really have to mind their P's and Q's in order to sway the jury in their favour.

The votes were tallied and the winner announced live in front of a studio audience, and the sole survivor would get the million dollar prize.

Over the last 22 seasons (they air two seasons a year, one in February, one in September), there has been hundreds of contestants that have played in the game, and hundreds of moments in the show that range from the brilliant to the bizarre. Some moves were incredible, while others were incredibly stupid. Some rose to the challenge, while others fizzled out. Some tried to play an honourable game, while others told so many lies that they couldn't keep them straight.

So for this blog, I thought I'd reminisce about some of the biggest game-changing moves, the dumbest players ever, and some of the most shocking moments that have aired on this program the last eleven years. After all, I'm sure that there must be some fans of the program who read this blog, right?

Why don't we begin with...


I'm not just talking about contestants who have appeared on more than one season of Survivor here. I'm talking about contestants who actually kicked off their careers by being on Survivor. There aren't a lot of them who have made it big, but the one that most people would probably recognize is Elisabeth Hasselbeck. She was on season two of the show, which took place in the Australian Outback, and she made it to the final four, despite being so plagued with malnutrition that her hair started falling out. She has since made a name for herself by becoming one of the panelists on the ABC talk show The View. Unfortunately, she has been linked to controversy on the show, and it's hard to forget the argument that she had on the show with Rosie O'Donnell. Still, on Elisabeth's original season, she was nice and sweet, and I was actually wanting her to win that year.  And sometimes, famous faces come onto the show to play as contestants (examples being Gary Hogeboom and Jimmy Johnson).


It seems a bit odd that more couples would find love on Survivor than most of the people who appeared on the Bachelor/Bachelorette show. I mean, after spending 39 days on a deserted island, the last thing I would probably be to someone would be attractive. But yet, the show has spurned a couple of love connections over the years. 'Boston' Rob Mariano and Amber Brkich fell in love during the All-Stars season, and both of them made it to the final two where Rob proposed to Amber. They've been together ever since. Another couple that fell in love that had Survivor ties were Ethan Zohn from Survivor Africa, and Jenna Morasca from Survivor The Amazon (who will be competing on the Amazing Race soon). Even Jeff Probst ended up falling in love with a former contestant (Julie Berry from Vanuatu), but that relationship did not last.


On the very first season of Survivor, we saw Richard Hatch go against Kelly Wiglesworth in the battle for the first million dollar prize, and Sue Hawk was still bitter at Kelly because Kelly betrayed her, which inspired one of the most venomous, hate-filled speeches by a juror. There have been many angry jurors over the years, but Sue set the precedent for the template of angry jurors. You can see her famous speech below.


Love him or hate him, Johnny Fairplay (born Jon Dalton) was quite the character on Survivor Pearl Islands. He was sneaky, smarmy, overconfident, and arrogant. He also told a few lies during the course of the game, but none could compare to the lie that he told midway through the season.

It was at a reward challenge. Specifically the reward challenge where the castaways were reunited with each other. The plan was for Jon's grandmother to come onto the show, but instead his friend came on to deliver some tragic news.

So you saw that, right? Where Jon told everyone his grandmother died while they were on the island, and how everyone basically let Jon win the challenge so that his friend could share her final moments with him. It would have been a really sweet moment.

If it were true.

The whole thing was a lie that Jon had arranged prior to the filming of the show as a sort of strategy. It seemed to work, as the remaining castaways felt bad for him, and for leverage, he would tell them that he would swear on his dead grandmother that he was telling the truth.

For the record, the lie was exposed, and Johnny Fairplay did come back to play on the Fans vs. Favorites season, but didn't last long.


Sometimes on Survivor, the conditions can be treacherous, rough, difficult, and torturous. At some point, I would think that almost every contestant had thought about quitting the game at some point, even if for a microsecond. Most of them seem to manage to get through okay.

Well, unless your name happens to be Osten, Kathy, NaOnka, or Purple Kelly. Those four quit the game for a number of reasons...they couldn't deal with the rain, they didn't like the people, they got chased by pelicans. With so many people wanting the Survivor experience for whatever reason, to have these people walk away from their experience knowing that someone else could have made the most out of their spot is somewhat shameful.

I must note that there are exceptions. Both Jenna Morasca and Sue Hawk had reasonable grounds for walking away from the game during the All-Star season. And that isn't counting all the people who were forced to quit because their bodies quit on them or because of an injury, which brings us to our next moment.


The first Survivor contestant to be evacuated from the game for a medical emergency was Survivor The Australian Outback contestant Michael Skupin. You can see what happened below.

For the record, he had no long-term damage from the accidental burn.


Poor Ulong. Prior to their existance, the tribe with the worst losing streak was the Pagong tribe way back in season one, with all the members getting picked off by the Tagi tribe members after the two tribes merged. At the very least though, Pagong and Tagi were dead even with five members a piece before they became the merged Ruttana tribe.

At least until the Ulong tribe came along in Survivor Palau.

Initially, there were nine members on each tribe after Jonathan and Wanda the singing Survivor were sent home after not getting chosen for either tribe. The Ulong tribe was in blue, Koror in brown.

Before the merge happened, there were eight Tribal Councils. One of them was a double-elimination. Willard from Koror was one of the eliminated contestants.

The other eight were from the Ulong tribe.

One by one, each of the Ulong tribe members were voted out because the tribe lost EVERY FREAKIN' IMMUNITY CHALLENGE. Every single one. The tribe was unable to form a coherent bond like Koror did, and as a result, each member was voted off. The only survivor of Ulong by the time the merge happened was Stephenie LaGrossa. By then, Stephenie's fate was more or less sealed, although she did manage to outlast Janu and Coby before being voted out.

Stephenie and her tribemate Bobby Jon Drinkard were invited back for the following season to compete (where Stephenie placed second), but neither one of them will forget their time on the tribe that lost the most challenges in a row.


By the time the merge occurred on Survivor Marquesas, the self-dubbed Rotu 4 (Tammy, Robert, John, Zoe) were well on their way to becoming the final four players. With Paschal and Neleh firmly on their side, and Kathy, Sean, and Vecepia clearly on the outs, the Rotu 4 thought that they were invincible, and acted quite cocky about it.

So cocky that they made no attempts to hide their desired pecking order. During a reward challenge, where the player had to answer questions and cut the ropes of opponents eliminating them from the competition, they made their move. They eliminated Sean first, followed by Vecepia, Kathy, Neleh, and Paschal. And when Tammy won the challenge, the Rotu 4 made such a big show of celebrating their victory that Neleh seemed to think that there was more to their celebration.

In fact, Neleh cleverly deduced that the Rotu 4 were telling them the order in which they planned to vote everyone out so that they could win the game...and Neleh was NOT settling for sixth place.

Convincing Paschal and Kathy of this theory was simple enough, but Neleh knew that she needed Sean and Vecepia to join up with them to have the numbers to go after the Rotu 4. Once they had their numbers, they teamed up against their first victim, John, and voted him out with the Rotu 4 in complete shock. Zoe, Tammy, and Robert were quickly snuffed out after that.

This was a pretty powerful move by Neleh, but it helped bring both her and Vecepia to the final two. For the record, Zoe understood Neleh's plan, and held no grudges, but the other three certainly played the Sue Hawk angry juror card against Neleh.


There are some Survivors that just end up irritating a person for whatever reason. Whether it's because they aggravate their fellow castaways or viewers themselves, they somehow end up making the show. You already know about Johnny Fairplay, but here's a few more examples of these rogues.


Richard was the first winner of Survivor, but how he got there wasn't without controversy. He walked around nude and made no apology about it (his nudity triggered Sue Hawk's exit from the All-Stars season, matter of fact), and he was very arrogant and hard to stomach. But if there is one lesson we can learn from Richard Hatch it's this...if you win the million dollars, PAY THE TAXES! He's been in and out of prison as a result of this missed step.


Probably one of the first female villains of the whole series, Jerri managed to manipulate her tribe into getting rid of Kel when she fabricated a lie that he smuggled beef jerky into the game.  She also played mind games with Colby and she tried to scheme her way further into the game with her wicked ways.  Although she has softened in return appearances, she is still worth mentioning because she was the first in a long line of people who flirted their way to endgame (Parvati Shallow, for instance).


In the last five seasons of Survivor, Russell Hantz has played on three of those five seasons, and has lost every single time. In two of those seasons, he ended up making it to the finals, but it was hard to feel sorry for him since he was already a millionaire, and since he had the idea that people would respect him for his bold moves and not his personality. Which is why Natalie and Sandra ended up beating him in the finals of the two seasons he did make it to the final three. I'm not saying that Russell was a terrible player who made terrible moves. As a game player, he was brilliant. But one needs a great social game to have a shot as well, and while Richard Hatch managed to balance these factors out, Russell couldn't do this. We'll see if his nephew can do much better, as Brandon Hantz is one of the contestants in the newest season.


Every time I think of him, I have the song 'Secret Agent Man' playing through my head. Though, with a question mark after that occupation every time you saw the typeface under an interview session. Phillip from Survivor Redemption Island was one of the craziest Survivors ever. Phillip would tell you that his crazy behaviour was all an act, and maybe it was. At least I hope so, because his allegations of racism against his tribemates and his volatility towards the females of the tribe certainly didn't win him any favours.

Did I mention that he wears tighty-pinkies? Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, as you can buy men's underwear in almost every colour under the sun. But, I doubt that I myself would be caught wearing pink briefs (unless there was some mishap involving a red sock in the wash), and I'm sure his tribemates didn't appreciate his choice in undergarments either...especially after 38 straight days without laundering them. Yuck!


I was such a fan of Rupert Boneham. I even had him in the Heroes vs. Villains Survivor pool at work. I think part of the charm of Rupert was that he was clearly at his element. He loved fishing, collecting wood, building things. That, plus he had such a childlike way of looking at the world. Very refreshing to watch. Especially on his original season. How could you forget him stealing the shoes of the other tribe and using them to get more supplies for their own tribe during their shopping excursion at a remote village before the game began?

Whether you love it or you hate it, Survivor has been on the air a long time, and while some feel it has passed its best before date, others can't get enough of it.

Because ultimately, the show provides a valuable lesson in self-preservation, as well as a life lesson against those who stand in your way of getting your dreams.

Outplay. Outwit. Outlast.

And now, one final moment.

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