In this new multi-part feature Martin Holmes traces the origin of the Survivor alliance and whether or not Survivor: Borneo winner Richard Hatch was truly the originator.
The legend goes that Richard Hatch invented the first Survivor alliance and that without Richard’s involvement in the first season, then alliances would never have happened. In fact, some people go as far as to say that without Richard Hatch, then Survivor itself would cease to exist to this day. The most commonly held belief is that without alliances, the show would be forced to focus primarily on the survival and adventure aspect, therefore giving the format a very limited shelf life. But is this a fact, or is it a Survivor myth?
In this three-part feature, we will take a look at the birth of the Survivor alliance and the players and parts involved. Starting with perhaps the most notable Survivor contestant of all.
Survival of the Deceptive?
Before 2000, if you heard the word alliance the first thing to come to mind would likely be the Rebel Alliance from Star Wars (at least it would be if you’re a massive nerd like me). The alliance was Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, beating up bad guys and taking on the Evil Empire. The alliance represented the forces of good overcoming the forces of evil.
By the time the summer of 2000 was over, the word alliance would come to mean something much more sinister. It represented the forces of evil overpowering the forces of good. It was no longer Solo, Chewy, Skywalker, and Leia – it was Richard, Susan, Rudy, and Kelly. Otherwise known as the Tagi 4, the first ever Survivor alliance, created by Survivor: Borneo winner Richard Hatch – or was it?
In the build up to the Survivor: Borneo premiere (at the time only referred to as “Survivor”), the show was promoted as a “survival of the fittest” competition. Sixteen men and women from across America were going to be pushed to their limits in the ultimate test of endurance until only one survived. The details of the format were kept strictly under wraps. Funny 115 creator and long-time Survivor writer Mario Lanza goes into great detail regarding the public reaction to Survivor’s imminent arrival in his fantastic book When It Was Worth Playing For. But basically, the prevailing sentiment among the American population was – holy s**t, they’re going to kill someone on television! When does it start?
Nobody in 2000 imagined that Survivor would be about scheming and alliances and Machiavellian plots. Of course, it seems obvious in hindsight. Throw a bunch of ambitious men and women on an island and have them vote each other out until the last person remaining wins $1 million? Obviously, they’re going to scheme and backstab! But people weren’t promised that kind of show, nor was it the show people wanted – at least not at the beginning. Even the majority of the contestants in the first season didn’t expect strategic game-play and social politics. The cast, like the rest of America, expected a survival adventure show that would reward the strongest and punish the weakest.
The Man with the Plan
There were a select few, however, that saw Survivor for what it was from very early on. Namely, Richard Hatch, the corporate trainer from Newport, Rhode Island.
Richard has stated in numerous interviews over the years that he had the game all figured out before he even stepped foot on the beaches of Palau Tiga. In an interview with the Dom and Colin Podcast, Richard talked about how he had recognized the necessity for an alliance prior to filming. Before filming begins on any season of Survivor, the cast are flown to location where they take part in various pre-season preparations. They undertake a series of medical and psychological tests, learn about survivalist training from local experts (so that nobody gets eaten by a snake or falls in the fire… oops), and take part in various press interviews. During this time the cast are allowed to see each other but they’re strictly prohibited from interacting and speaking with one another. It’s during this period in which Richard claims to have observed his competition and sought out his future allies.
When you look into Richard’s background and his life experiences, it’s no surprise that he was already thinking two steps ahead of the competition. He describes himself as introspective; constantly under self-examination, even from a young age, due to a history of molestation in his childhood and the death of a sibling when he was 15 years old. Richard would escape by looking inward, analysing his mental state and processing how to deal with his own life and life around him. He applied his intelligence and analytical abilities to his studies – majoring in Marine Biology and Oceanography at Florida Institute of Technology. He later enlisted in the Army, where he was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He served for five years, after which he was honorably discharged. After working a number of different jobs in New York city, Richard moved to Washington, DC, where he graduated from National-Louis University with a bachelor’s degree in Management/Applied Behavioral Sciences. He would later return to his hometown of Newport, Rhode Island, where he once again continued his learning, pursuing a Master’s degree in Education and Counseling from Providence College.
There is no doubt that Richard is an intelligent human being with a learned past and a natural capacity to understand how people think. He began by studying himself and figuring out who and what he wanted to be. Living as an openly gay man, with an adopted son, Richard was somebody that was very comfortable in his own skin – way before he exposed that skin (and the rest) to 50 million television viewers across America. Even the show psychologist, Dr Gene Ondrusek, who has a doctorate in psychology from the University of Texas and who spent upwards of 7 hours testing each finalist in a process that lasted for 10 days, described Richard as a “consummate strategist” who had “the game all figured out in his head.” (Survivor The Ultimate Game by Mark Burnett).
If you provided the Borneo cast bios to 10 people that had never seen a single episode of Survivor and asked them to name which cast member formed a voting alliance, you could bet nine times of out ten they would pick Richard Hatch. And you wouldn’t be able to fault them for doing so. It’s entirely believable. So believable in fact that even the most ardent of Survivor fans to this day believe that Richard Hatch invented the concept of alliances. But should they believe that?
I would never undermine Richard’s accomplishments in Survivor, after all, he won the very first season and deservedly so. He best exemplified the skills it took to triumph in a game of survival and social manipulation. What I dispute is the claim that alliances wouldn’t have existed without Richard. I also question the validity of whether Richard invented the first ever alliance. I would go so far as to say that without Richard Hatch, not only would alliances still have happened, but they would have emerged sooner.
In Part 2 we will look at the alliances that were forming on Tagi beach way before the Tagi 4 ever became a thing.