The one constant of Survivor is that, in the end, there is one winner, decided upon by those that were voted out before them. To win Survivor is to not only make it to Day 39 and allow the jury to render judgment upon you but to put people on that jury that will look upon your game favorably.
Today’s Historical Perspectives will examine the Final Tribal Council and how juries are influenced, both before and during the final speeches.
SURVIVOR 101: GETTING JURY VOTES
Juries vote for somebody they like. Period. End of story. If a jury member does not like you, you’re not getting their vote, so you shouldn’t try for it. Personality conflicts are normal in Survivor, and it’s very difficult to please everybody unless you’re sitting at the end with a goat and a sheep, the way winners such as Earl Cole, Boston Rob, John Cochran, and Adam Klein have done. Certain individuals have lost Survivor because they put people on the jury with a sour disposition toward them, and then did not get those votes despite expecting such. Others lost Survivor because, at no fault of their own, big babies made the jury phase of the game and that affected a fate they could not avoid.
The former category includes Russell Hantz, who in two seasons viciously attacked people, burned their belongings (though Queen Sandra would unknowingly give Jaison retribution), and boasted his godlike ego, yet still expected their votes. While Hantz is a shrewd strategist, he does not have social awareness nor does he recognize that the most significant thing juries factor into their vote is likability. He was strongly disliked because he was a bully.
Aubry Bracco is in the latter category, as she was unable to control a few certain individuals making the jury phase – individuals that would cut her off as a viable alliance option, then blame her for it. In these situations, there’s nothing you can do, especially when an unfair twist that significantly undermines the crux of Survivor – much like in HvHvH – taints the jury’s perspective. Michele was able to win since she had those social bonds with individual jurors, the same ones that had closed off Aubry, and because she was able to vote off Aubry’s biggest advocate from the jury in a twist that will hopefully never be repeated.
One individual that fits both categories is Boston Rob in All-Stars. While he burned Alicia and Big Tom in ways that would never earn their vote, he still should have won that season since Lex was bitter for no good reason. Boston Rob did to Lex the exact same thing that Lex had done to Ethan and Jerri in the two preceding votes, so why Lex did not respect his own strategy is mindboggling. Boston Rob was able to rectify that and win on his fourth try, in Redemption Island, by playing a dominant strategic game and making the end with one of the most abrasive, polarizing figures in Survivor history and an emotional nineteen-year-old in over her head. Because of his personality, Phillip Sheppard could never win Survivor, but it’s possible for Natalie Tenerelli to do what Boston Rob’s wife did in All-Stars and win by sneaking to the end. After all, every Natalie in Survivor history has made the final four.
Winners are simply more liked and respected than their losing counterpart(s). And no, Jeremy Collins and Adam Klein did not win because they delivered an emotional closing argument that brought light to their motivations. They won since their juries liked them and respected their games, and those revelations, along with the weaker cases of the others, helped the few waffling jurors (such as Chaos Kass and Jessica Lewis) make up their minds. Those moves led to unanimous wins. Killing your grandmother off in such a speech, however, will be frowned upon; you need the right reputation to be believed.
THE UNFAIR TWIST
Much like Kaoh Rong, the precursor to the Final Tribal Council of HvHvH was an unfair twist that changed the end result. In Kaoh Rong, had Neal been at the FTC, he might’ve been able to convince somebody that Aubry had her pulse on the game better than Michele. Or, if that had been a straight-up immunity challenge, Aubry gets voted out on Day 38, and nobody complains that Michele beats Tai in a final two.
In HvHvH, Ben and Devon were given the opportunity to showcase their fire making skills. While it was the lack thereof that made nobody take Becky Lee seriously in Cook Islands and may have cost Carolyn Rivera in Worlds Apart, Ben acing fire in front of the jury was flashy and epic. Meanwhile, Chrissy taking Ryan blatantly due to his inability to make fire gave him the label of a goat. No matter how many lies he told at Final Tribal, he wasn’t getting votes from anyone but Devon. This twist was done to create a similarity to a Final Two in that the winner of the last immunity challenge would decide who they sat next to, allowing them to drag a goat along. This allowed Chrissy to select her goat, the bellhop who had been her wingman since Day 3 (thanks to the Super Idol MacGuffin).
Had they known about this twist pre-game, like they should have, and voted Ben out before he found idols like crazy, we have a strikingly different endgame. Had it not occurred or had Chrissy got to pick her goat without fire-making, Ben goes in a run-of-the-mill 3-1 vote to set up a Devon vs. Chrissy showdown. Instead of “earning a spot” via fire, they’d be earning jury votes at the FTC, which somebody articulate like Devon could have done. This twist should not recur after Ghost Island unless it’s a final two, which would allow one more chance to vote Ben out. It goes against the fundamentals of Survivor since it does not involve a vote. Surviving votes is the real way to “earn your spot.” Always has been.
WHY BEN WON
Ben knew that flashy moves like Tony Vlachos throwing idols all over the place in Cagayan and Natalie Anderson completely owning the final five of San Juan Del Sur in front of the jury is a great way to get votes. He’d also witnessed Mike’s Statue of Liberty play firsthand and was able to learn from all the mistakes Mike made in his execution of that move. He took out Lauren by ensuring his one vote was the deciding factor, and he earned her respect (and her vote) by making it clear that he was doing so since she had played such a good game, which made her a threat.
The next Tribal Council, however, was more shades of Tony than the one before, when he set off his first Ben Bomb™. He pulled out his idol much like Malcolm and Tony had and made it clear he was going to play it as means to intimidate people to vote for somebody else. Having watched those two legends before him, he recognized that Malcolm’s bluff was called in Caramoan. Had Malcolm or Eddie played one idol preemptively, the confused Stealth R Us majority would have to decide who to split the vote between at Tribal Council. It would have been impossible to coordinate with everyone in earshot, as whoever the target would be (likely Andrea) would immediately defect, making it difficult to split the vote effectively. Ben’s move to play the idol preemptively was not only flashy, but it also set a new precedent that will no doubt recur in the future.
Devon’s Secret Spy plan was revolutionary, but how Ben pulled it off was every bit as influential. Had he not been such a good actor, the strategy would have gone down as “too risky.” Instead, with Ben fooling everyone, he made the plan viable for future players. Of course, it’s still a major risk, especially once castaways start trying to pick up tells that somebody might be a spy. This is bound to increase paranoia in the future. It can be compared to Richard Hatch creating the very concept of the alliance in Borneo, which laid the foundation for how Survivor was to be played (surviving the vote, not the elements), but that’s a disservice to Borneo. The Tagi Four will always be the most influential alliance ever because, without them, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. Secret Spy Ben is not on that level. Nothing is.
Jonny Fairplay killing off his grandmother rewrote the book on how to lie on Survivor, influencing players like Chris Daugherty going forward. Ben’s lie will yet again rewrite how and when to put on an act on Survivor. His performance helped him win the game, though it would have been a far more epic showdown if he had to battle Devon in the finals.
Joe also threw Ben a softball to help Ben convince other jurors to vote his way. The “Half-Murphy” is essential modern Survivor and was before David Murphy directly addressed the Redemption Island jury with an epic argument as to why they’d be morons to not vote for Boston Rob to win. Erik Cardona had rallied for Natalie White in Samoa in a similar fashion. Before him, however, rallies were more subtle, and the jury questioning seemed more natural and genuine as opposed to theatrical. Because they improved the FTC format to quell theatrics, Joe egging Ben on felt more authentic, the way it should.
WHY RYAN LOST
Third-place finisher Ryan committed several gaffes that ultimately contributed to his loss. He did not do much around camp to the point that it got Chrissy to take him to the end. Ryan lost because he was brought to the end by a better player. One good final two example is Tom Westman taking Katie Gallagher in Palau, though that was more due to Ian’s bizarre quit than anything. Katie, who did not do anything strategic and was not a welcome presence in camp, was subsequently dominated by Tom in a 6-1 jury vote. Danni Boatwright also got to choose her goat – Guatemala villain Stephenie LaGrossa, a bully who had burned over half the jury and made boneheaded decisions in voting out the most beatable people in Judd Sergeant and Cindy Hall. Brian Heidik, Jenna Morasca, and Chris Daugherty were the only other of the first twelve winners to win the Final Immunity Challenge and then the game.
In China, Todd Herzog won the game at the Final Tribal Council by delivering beautifully-crafted arguments that shut up loudmouth poker player Jean-Robert Bellande and convincing several Zhan Hu jurors that he was the strategic mastermind of the Fei Long alliance. By all means, he won the game at the FTC since over half the jury could not discern the difference between him, Amanda, and Courtney. The three of them were a dominant voting bloc that had functioned as a unit unwaveringly, despite Amanda’s yearn to blindside Todd – a recognition that he was her biggest competition.
Like Todd, Ryan Ulrich was a young, neurotic superfan overeager to achieve his longtime dream to play Survivor. However, nobody wanted to blindside Ryan because he was not the level of threat that Todd was ten years prior. How time flies. Ryan thought, like Todd, he could argue his way to a win at the FTC, but it didn’t work because his competitors had better arguments than an apologetic doe-eyed beauty queen and a sassy big-city waitress who was perceived to be dragged. Ryan instead faced the biggest threat in the game and a seasoned actuary who had merited a reputation as a badass.
WHY CHRISSY LOST
Chrissy is a more unique case than Ryan, as based on her gameplay and the Final Tribal Council, she could have seriously taken the crown. She simply did not argue hard enough that she had more strategic control than Ben did and that, while he was finding idols, she was regaining the power she’d lost when the Rogue Knights took her pet out for a walk. She instead focused on her motherhood, which had little to do with the game.
A comparable case would be Tasha in Cambodia, who created an endgame deal with Jeremy and Spencer after the three of them had not been selected for the loved ones’ reward. Like Chrissy was at the mercy of the Rogue Knights until they self-destructed, Tasha was at the mercy of her own allies, a mercy that allowed her to eke to the end and get third place because she was unlikable. Several jurors have spoken unfavorable opinions toward Chrissy, which may have prompted Devon to align with her since he thought he could beat her like Jeremy did Tasha. Desi was the harshest toward Chrissy, but Cole called her overconfident, Joe likened her to Chaos Kass, and many claimed she did not discuss strategy with them. Several Healers did not like her nor know where her head was at.
Other castaways have compared Chrissy to Missy from SJDS with her constant mothering and condescension. While the edit only gave us a few glimpses of this, it was apparent to both Missy’s archenemy Dale and her ally Jeremy. It’s good to take their word for it since they played with her and would know better than anyone watching the 43-minute version.
But how did Chrissy manage to get second place with two votes, as opposed to third place and zero votes (or, in Missy’s case, only her daughter’s)? For starters, she won four immunities, which impressed Ashley, who valued the physical game above idol-finding. Tasha did not win a single individual immunity in Cambodia after winning three in Cagayan and Missy did not win any, though she did not have as many opportunities due to a significant ankle injury. This would not have changed any minds on those juries, as Natalie Anderson was running the table without winning immunities and Jeremy dropped the bombshell “It’s a boy” to sway a couple of votes from runner-up Spencer. Chrissy also was more likable to her jury as a whole, even though three Healers weren’t fond of her.
Chrissy won those challenges but being invulnerable only saved her butt the first time. While Chrissy casually won three more immunities, Ben had to dig for treasure three times, each keeping his torch lit. Ben was also more akin to Natalie Anderson with his Tribal Council theatrics, which impressed jurors like Joe and merited those votes. Chrissy had to argue that she had more strategic control – she failed.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Ben won because he made the most of all the benefits production – and Joe – gave him. An idol at final five (that, given the final twist, should not have been hidden) and an unfairly secretive format change granted him the ability to make the finals without winning immunity. Had these not happened, he would have been voted out earlier in the finale. Had Joe not prodded him on, some of those swing votes might’ve fallen elsewhere. However, this Final Tribal Council was not gripping television, and it was hard to discern who was undecided. In short, Ben was lucky, but he used that luck to great effect.
Had Devon not had the paranoia and awareness that got him to vote for Dr. Mike, Ben would have gotten out his biggest competitor at five. Ben kept secrets from everyone else while his competition was open about every piece of information they had, which allowed him to utilize his idols to maximum effect. Meanwhile, Chrissy did not recognize that jurors need strategic awareness, which, like with Hannah in Millennials vs. Gen X, they had none with her. While she would have been a deserving winner also, she ultimately lost by not bonding strategically with jurors. Despite his social game, Ryan was seen as a tag-along who never had the level of strategic influence of Ben or Chrissy and was brought outright as a goat because he did not know how to use a flint.
Did the jury make the right decision? Yes. All but two juries in Survivor history have in my opinion. While Ben might not have merited making the final three, he was an underdog largely in control of his destiny. Ben is a deserving winner, and though many people will say that is untrue due to conspiracy theories, he earned it by working tirelessly and keeping secrets. Despite the luck, he earned it.
Historical Perspectives will see you soon for Survivor: Ghost Island. Thanks for reading!