Early boots in Survivor can be tough to decide when there are two distinct options for which there is a compelling case. Either you take the blue pill and vote out the safest choice in the person who could cost you more challenges going forward, or you take the red pill and make a move against someone more valuable physically but less valuable in a cohesive alliance. The best pill to take can vary from one situation to another, depending on the trustworthiness of each person.
This week’s entry of Historical Perspectives will examine the choice the Hustlers Tribe made between Simone Nguyen and Patrick Bolton, pre-game alliances notwithstanding, and compare that decision to those of Survivor seasons past. This entry will solely focus on the pre-jury phase of Survivor as this dilemma turns opposite come the merge.
SURVIVOR 101 LESSON: A TOUGH CHOICE
It’s been a conundrum for years. On one hand, you have a player who is strategically predictable, a sheep ready to be led to a Final Tribal Council slaughter but stinks up the place in challenges to the point that the tribe fears keeping them will only ensure a prompt return to Tribal Council. On the other hand, you have someone who is an asset in most challenges but at the same time is disruptive to the tribe’s camaraderie in some form or other. It’s always perplexing to decide which person here is more valuable. Do you keep a loyal vote, even if it means returning to Tribal frequently? Or do you take a chance with a less predictable player that may be hard to live with and hope you’ll avoid Tribal until a swap or merge?
The answer to these questions varies depending on the level of trust each person has. For example, if a challenge liability has proven to also be disruptive at camp, the decision is easy. This is why in Cagayan, Tasha and Chaos Kass voted out J’Tia, the worst challenge competitor in Survivor history, over Spencer. However, at other times the challenge strongman was the less trustworthy one and the powers that be saw an opportunity to take control. This is exemplified in Micronesia by Ozzy and Amanda choosing to oust Joel instead of Chet, the only challenge competitor in the same league as the abysmal as J’Tia. Joel wasn’t exactly a mental giant in challenges and had insisted that the Favorites sacrifice Cirie before voting out a Fan to give himself a majority. Cirie knew this and subtly pushed Amanda and Ozzy to vote Joel out to solidify her alliance with them, knowing it would also change the reasoning behind future votes.
The very first instance of this dilemma was in Marquesas, with Boston Rob at the centrifuge. Boston Rob, being Boston Rob, wanted a tribe of people he could control. This included his first Survivor love interest in Cleopatra clone Sarah Jones. This did not include Hunter Ellis, the strongest physical presence on Ma’raamu, who wanted to control the vote himself. Boston Rob, again being Boston Rob, wanted to be the dictator, so he gathered his allies to blindside Hunter. This was innovative in the history of Survivor strategy, as in the first three seasons the challenge liability (Sonja, Madd Dogg, Diane, Jessie) didn’t even try to offer up an alternative target. Votes were most often based on who others liked, but that began to change thanks to two guys named Rob.
THE BLUE PILL: TO IMMUNITY AND BEYOND
Nowadays, it’s rare that voting off the challenge liability takes priority. The Hustlers of Yawa made an exception to this rule by voting out Simone, their weakest member physically, over Patrick. On the surface, this reeks of an old-school decision, which Simone outright tried to deter them from, but looking deeper would indicate there’s more to it. What likely saved Patrick is his pre-existing relationship with tribemate Ali Elliot; the two were acquaintances in their collegiate days. However, Ali is only one vote, and the other four could have banded together to make a decision of their own. They did not, choosing to keep the tribe strong even if divided. But as the show indicated, neither Patrick nor Simone were competent social players for different reasons. Simone’s exit press only proved this point further, as she admitted she did not understand that her tribemates were put off by her talking about herself incessantly. Simone needed to adhere to the Bloomberg Rules and be one with her tribe. She did not, so she got snuffed.
Simone was a Fishbach out of water, a city slicker with nonexistent wilderness experience, a greenhorn more than excited to take the first AquaDump™ of her life. She was out of her element but willing to adapt and push herself to do new things. While her mind was strong, her body wasn’t, and therefore she was eternally on puzzle duty. When she failed at this despite Devon giving them a gigantic lead in the challenge, she became expendable. Despite this, she was a vote – a valuable number on a six-person tribe where you have nowhere to hide. Even so, Simone articulated a well-crafted argument at Tribal, indicating it’s not old school Survivor anymore and that a vote is a vote. This didn’t work. Outright promising her loyalty was empty to a modern Survivor player, and if you sound that smart, people are going to see you as someone who can get people on their side by using logic.
As discussed last week, there aren’t many modern examples where someone got voted out for costing the tribe a challenge. Those that flubbed challenges only exacerbated their existing targets, including others that took an AquaDump™ (though unlike Simone’s, Darnell’s did not sit well with his tribe). Aside from extenuating circumstances like Jeff Varner injuring his foot in Cambodia, the most recent example of someone booted solely for being pathetic in challenges was J’Tia, who was even less cut out for Survivor than Simone. That decision, however, was on a tribe of four versus a tribe of six, and they could not guarantee a swap would happen, so J’Tia was the safest vote to preserve their own futures. The Nguyen-Lose Situation at the Hustlers is at minimum two more votes removed from a swap, so it’s not an ideal comparison.
Perhaps a better comparison would be to Tocantins, when Timibira opted to vote out an ailing Jerry Sims (apologies for picking on him two weeks in a row) over Erinn Lobdell, who Coach and Tyson did not trust. After that decision, Timbira did not lose another immunity challenge, but they imploded at the merge with Erinn freely waltzing over to the rival Jalapao. While Erinn was nowhere near as erratic as Patrick, she was still not somebody most of her tribe would have benefited from having around. Jerry was a vote, but Timbira had lost two of three immunities and had to win at least two more to guarantee even numbers in a merge. Voting him out ensured they all made it to merge, but their poor social games doomed them to self-destruct. This is a far from perfect comparison though, seeing as Patrick seems more ingratiated into Yawa than Erinn was into Timbira.
Looking back even farther, the best comparison would be the dominant Koror tribe of Palau. This tribe was not as tight of a group as their challenge performance would make them seem. Animosity generator Katie Gallagher was a prime target, but the one time the tribe voted someone out pre-merge they went for old man Willard, their only challenge liability and a likely jury goat (the role that, ironically enough, ended up being Katie’s). Katie’s friends protected her like Patrick’s pals protected him this time and it worked wonders for them. They continued their total annihilation of Ulong without a hitch despite Katie continuing to cause conflict. The dominant alliance ended up in the Final 6 without many issues.
While this was a great move for Tom, Ian, Katie, Gregg, and the late Jenn Lyon (RIP), it was not a good move for Coby, Janu, or Caryn as it ensured their chances to win the game had all but dried up. That said, there was nothing that group could have done to change that result in pre-idol Survivor. Gregg was only saying they’d blindside Tom and Ian after voting out Caryn because he wanted to keep Coby in line and keep his own options open as the game progressed. There was no way he would flip at that time to be sixth in a new alliance. Since Coby felt he could be in a foursome with Gregg, Jenn, and Janu, he reluctantly voted with the majority even though it was a better move for them than it was for him.
THE RED PILL: MAKING A GAMBLE
Patrick is every bit as bad of a social player as Simone, if not worse. He goofs around at camp thinking he’s funny, but in reality, he’s the drunk with the lampshade on his head that the sober people shake their heads at. He’s making a fool of himself by not recognizing that his sense of humor doesn’t enthuse people and, in doing so, he’s making himself less predictable. If he behaves like that socially, how is he going to act strategically? It’s impossible to tell what he’s thinking, a stark contrast to an open book like Simone, and as Tribal proved, he might slip and say something he shouldn’t. It was this that made Patrick a more appealing choice to boot for some, particularly Lauren, even though he’s one of their better challenge competitors.
A comparison can be drawn to the Drake Tribe in Pearl Islands, when Burton Roberts, the first moron to throw a challenge without a swap to validate it, got voted out over his target of weaker competitor Christa Hastie. Burton’s erratic decision made him a liability to align with – not much different than Patrick. Voting him out was the right move for Drake at the time because he had cost them momentum by doing something he absolutely did not need to do. He was basically a badass long before that was a thing. Christa, however, also would have been an acceptable boot choice due to her awkward, kooky behavior that could call her sanity into question. Like Simone, she was a mediocre social player and one of her tribe’s weaker challenge competitors, but without momentum and with Rupert being too kind to Morgan, physical strength didn’t matter. They had damned themselves regardless.
Likewise, here, an argument could be made for voting Patrick out, but here physical strength does matter. Thanks largely to what Queen Sandra pulled in the village, Drake had a three-person advantage while the Hustlers would be down to five people. Drake could afford to lose one of their guys. Unless they wanted to go the route of the “Intentional Matsing,” the Hustlers could not when that would mean two of their competitors would be Lauren and Simone.
The best comparison, though, is one in Samoa, when the Foa Foa tribe lost their third consecutive immunity challenge and were forced to decide between challenge liability Ashley Trainer and a stronger young man named Ben Browning who had shown himself to be a loose cannon socially, albeit in a different way than Patrick. Already decimated, they ultimately chose to vote out Ben because they liked him less and felt his stubborn, brash personality was disruptive to the tribe’s chemistry, both in challenges and at camp. In fact, the biggest reason Ben was expendable was because he was a piece of…
Foa Foa did win the next immunity challenge after voting out Ben but didn’t do so well after that. The only reasons the Foa Foa Four were able to make the final five were 1) Galu was aching to destroy itself since they’d only voted one person out and 2) because idols were being given out like candy. Was voting out Ben the right move? Probably, as Foa Foa was already down three people due to a medical evacuation on top of two losses. Things were going to be difficult for them, so the “Intentional Matsing” route may have been the best tactic.
Thankfully, Patrick hasn’t wrought Survivor with the negativity that Ben Browning once did. He is merely a clown, but one that lacks social awareness in the same way as a pig. He is a cog moving in the opposite direction, which is just as much of a disruptive force in a challenge as someone less physically capable than the rest of their tribe. That said, he hasn’t shown to be detrimental to challenge chemistry as of yet, but he didn’t do anything in this most recent Immunity since Aquaman retrieved all of the puzzle pieces and the ladies did the puzzle.
Choosing whether to boot the challenge liability is a good move or not honestly depends on whose perspective you are looking at it from. It’s a wildly different scenario for each person. Booting someone based on their challenge performance sets a precedent for future votes; similarly, not doing so causes chaos within the tribe. The former doesn’t happen often in the modern Survivor game – only on tribes called the “Hustlers” that are about going all-out and those that have already decimated themselves like Luzon. Tribes usually go the latter route, which means it’s anyone’s game.
The Willard boot in Palau is similar to the Hustlers’ situation, in that it was a fantastic move for some and a horrific one for others. Here, it was a great move for Ali and Devon, an acceptable move for Ryan, and a terrible move for Lauren. The only thing Ryan has to worry about is that, given Simone’s boot as precedent, coming across as a scrawny young lad could label him as the next challenge liability, though genetics is not something he can control. Lauren, who sat out of the challenge (never a good sign for physical strength in episode two), now has an enemy she can never unite on a vote with – an enemy that, unbeknownst to her, has a pre-game ally secretly working the numbers in his favor. Lauren has put herself in a situation where the rest of her tribe must choose between her and someone else because there is no way they can stay united going forward. When going up against Patrick, she has no chance, and unless Cole and Jessica throw the challenge to blindside Joe, Lauren is most likely going to be the third person voted out of Survivor: HHH.