Save for maybe Sonja Christopher, every single person who has played Survivor has told at least one lie in the game – from the first one out to the idiots that say “I never lied even once in this game!” and, well… violate their tenets by saying that. You have to lie to get far in Survivor. You have to lie well to win Survivor. But at the same time, you have to not overdo the lies, tell ones you get caught in, or be so blatant that you think people will believe you if you tell them the sky is purple. If you get caught lying about your dead grandmother, chances are you’re going to be voted out for that.
This week on Historical Perspectives will examine what Desiree Afuye should have learned in regard to lying on Survivor.
SURVIVOR 101: HOW TO LIE
The best Survivor players are not the ones that go around lying on a constant basis – the more you lie, the more likely you are to get caught, and the less likely people are to trust you. No, it’s best to tell the truth most of the time to everyone but your target (so they don’t play an idol), which increases the chances of them believing you when you need to lie to them later. Case in point: Why was Kellyn so insistent that Des and Chelsea were on her side? Because they hadn’t told her a significant or blatant lie before, which had earned them her trust when combined with having voted together on Malolo. When the time came to lie to Kellyn that they were still the bestest of besties even though they were brandishing a knife, she believed they were still solid. Des only did the “get people to trust you by being honest” part right. She didn’t handle the lying part well.
As this blog has mentioned previously, Jonny Fairplay revolutionized how lies are told on Survivor by staging his grandmother’s death to give him a sympathy card and a non-existent object to swear upon. He made it so players didn’t only lie to their targets to avoid the dagger circling back around to them, they lied to further their game. Pearl Islands was still at a time when people would tell a friend they were going home out of respect. Idols did not yet exist so there was no concern of retribution – it was at times beneficial to winning over jury votes to tell someone they were leaving at the very last possible chance. After Jonny Fairplay killed off his grandma, this shifted quickly and players were more willing to lie.
That said, it didn’t always work out for them, given how the Vanuatu jury berated Twila Tanner for swearing on her son’s life and then double-crossing the promise. However, nobody cared in Guatemala, when Gary Hoge- er, Hawkins… lied that he was a landscaper to avoid being targeted for having money from his NFL past. Nobody questioned him about this except eventual winner Danni Boatwright, whose sports radio background gave her recognition of many NFL quarterbacks.
To succeed with lying in Survivor, you need to two do things. One, you need to gauge the necessity of the lie and discern whether or not it will further your game. And two, you need to utilize the best of your abilities. Lying skill comes down to every single part of your body. The biggest tells that someone is lying to you are that they won’t look you in the eye – much like Des wouldn’t make eye contact with Domenick or Kellyn when she was trying to defend herself – or that they’re fidgeting. Because she was on defense as opposed to offense, Des threw tells right and left. Her anger was clearly because she’d gotten caught and was getting frantic, not because she was angry to have been accused of something she didn’t do. She could have taken a clinic on watching Survivor legends to see what made them so effective… or so ineffective.
HOW TO GET CAUGHT IN YOUR OWN ROPE
In Tocantins, after the Jalapão Three took out Tyson Apostol when Erinn Lobdell suggested the idea, it was clear that the Jalapão group now had a majority. The remaining Timbira members wanted to get the gang back together… except for Sierra Reed, whom they’d written off entirely earlier. Coach and Debbie Beebe approached Sierra with such a deal and she returned the favor from earlier by writing them off, too. Since the Jalapão Three were on reward and Erinn was at Exile, no witnesses were there to discern who was telling the truth to JT, Stephen, and Taj. Coach, since he’s Coach, claimed he was being as honorable as always, but Sierra knew he was full of himself. She stared Stephen into the soul and said the episode’s title: “They both went BANANAS!”
Sierra knew she was in trouble, so she called Coach and Debbie out, prompting Coach to backtrack and cover his ass – the exact same thing Des tried to do to avoid getting caught. Just like JT and Stephen realized that Coach was, in fact, a liar, Des made it obvious to Domenick that she was trying to cover her tracks. By butting in aggressively to Laurel’s side of the story to insist that Laurel was the liar, Des was only making it more evident that she was the one lying. This wasn’t much different than how Coach denied it, then slightly changed his story when pressured, and acted defensive and pretended to be honorable like Coach always does. Des was caught in a lie and had no chance to redeem herself in just a few hours. At the very least, Coach waited until he was confronted. Why didn’t Des?
So Kim was so eager to play Worlds Apart after her sister did not pass the final physical for San Juan Del Sur that she got careless. A twist on day one brought a choice between a medium-sized bag of beans (“Honest”) and a small bag of beans with an idol clue (“Deceive”) for the pair chosen at the start of the game. Two tribes chose the medium-sized bag, though there was skepticism because the bag wasn’t “big,” but the White Collar tribe’s So and Joaquin, used to getting ahead through action, chose the “Deceive” option. So came up with the lie that there were three boxes with unknown contents, not just two visible bags, and they picked the “Neutral” one in the middle to be safe. Shirin Oskooi didn’t buy it because that didn’t fit production’s MO. Mama C smelled an idol clue. This lie did not work out for So since it didn’t make any sense – and she had no reason to lie. The others promptly voted her out. When this exact twist was repeated in Australian Survivor 2016, albeit a week into the game, Nick Iadanza and his right-hand woman Tegan decided to share a fake idol clue with their tribe – something about “a throne for a king” – and it backfired just as royally.
Much like So and Nick, Des had no reason to lie about her actions. It was her initial misstep that led her to hang herself in her own noose. By approaching four Malolos at once and saying “Okay, here’s the plan, and you’re all on board the Des train!” she ensured that word would get back to the kingpin since all it would take is one of the four to blab. She didn’t even gauge where anyone was at before determining trust. The Blue Collars and No Collars chose to not stir the pot since they hadn’t yet been able to read the room – they wanted to earn trust, not lose it immediately. Des lost it through her methodology and soon found herself with only one friend in the game. Once the ball got rolling, it never stopped – much like for Nick, who never earned much trust back, and for So, who was voted out just as quickly for her sloppy duplicity. But not like Sierra, who was voted out after outing Coach’s lies because nobody needed her vote anymore and she was becoming exhausting to live with.
A GOOD LIAR
The first person Des could have examined was the Queen of One World herself, Kim Spradlin. Kim was great at building relationships with people and getting all of them to trust her – but unlike her flunkies, who were fidgeting and looking away, she stared them right into the soul. This led a moron named Jay Byars to eat up everything she said even though none of it was true. When his buddy Troyzan told Jay not to trust Kim, Jay told Kim everything. Jay ended up blindsided hardcore, learning a life lesson in the process. He had no clue he was the target!
Tony Vlachos lied effectively in Cagayan, but his penchant for backstabbing ended up making it hard to believe a word he said. While he was lying to people’s souls – fellow Cops-R-Us member Sarah Lacina, for instance, about Cliff and Lindsey targeting her, so he could have her do the dirty work for him – and promising on everything he loved, he had them all eating out of his hand. Though there were some questions, like LJ being confused as to why he’d trust Tony after he “proved his trust” by admitting he’d lied about his job, Tony managed to get away with lie after lie because he had an ability to recover from his missteps – in large part due to his closest confidant being Trish Hegarty. And, at the end of it all, Tony had earned the respect of the jury, all but one of whom voted for him to win. He lied a lot, sure, but he did it in a way that did not go beyond the game. Unlike Russell Hantz.
Des could have learned from both of these winners. She could have looked Domenick in the eyes and swore that it was Laurel’s idea like Coach had with Sierra. Instead, her eyes were shifting and she was clearly angry in a way that made it seem more like she was caught as opposed to being infuriated. Her recovery from her duplicity was sloppy and nothing like Tony would have done. When Des looked away in shock and disappointment that the jig was up, Chelsea didn’t fidget at all. She was ice cold! The difference in demeanor is a tell that Des was lying. And why go up to Laurel and accuse her? You’re just putting a target on yourself! That Wendell saw what Des was trying to do was even more bad news. And then going up to interrupt Laurel pleading her case reeks of desperation. Desperation to cover your tracks. Wait until you’re accused and then your anger will seem more genuine.
While Des did not handle her recovery well, she still had Kellyn thinking they were the bestest of besties – which does say something. Either Kellyn is very naïve and impressionable, or Des actually did a good job conning Kellyn into thinking they were going to the final three together. Or both. This was more because Des had been lying properly beforehand – not too much, but enough to get her further. It got Kellyn to trust her, which makes it odd why Kellyn was the target seeing as making Wendell and Domenick paranoid will ensure they play their idols. Once she changed gears, however, and got caught, it was all over. Des has nobody to blame but herself.
Des was by no means a great player and while it’s obvious why she lost – she got caught in a lie due to the unnecessarily bad execution of a plan with the wrong target in mind – she leaves behind another example of how NOT to lie in Survivor. At the same time, it’s also good to avoid that situation in the first place by not creating a condition which necessitates a lie. Had Des gone to Laurel one-on-one and felt her out about Naviti targets, she could have made a powerful swing in the game. Had Des outright lied that Kellyn was talking about wanting Laurel gone for appearing too close to Domenick, she could have had ammunition to execute her desired plan. But instead, she took the Monica Padilla “Princess” route and presumed that everyone would just listen to what she said. Her plan was concocted under the presumption that she was the grandmaster and everyone else the chess pieces – a foolhardy strategy for anyone since you need to remember what is best for your pawns, too. Des did not.
Had Des owned up to her maneuvering and offered an excuse that she was just feeling Malolo out, perhaps she could have bought herself another vote. But instead, she put on an over-the-top display of lying that sent red flags in every direction. She was too aggressive and desperate. She wasn’t willing to handle the truth. It was her word against that of four. When you need to lie, don’t put yourself into a corner. Own it and pretend it’s true – and make sure it’s what the person wants to hear. Only then will you be able to win Survivor through your abilities of deceit. They might not even know what hit them!