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Survivor: Heroes v Healers v Hustlers Historical Perspectives: The Anatomy of a First Boot


Andy Pfeiffer takes a look back into Survivor history to compare and contrast first boots.

Survivor has lasted to a point now where anybody with a compendium of historical information can analyze any situation and go “Oh, this is like that time when…” in their head when determining whether to take the red pill or the blue pill. Thirty-four seasons of information as to what will end you and what won’t are stuck in the minds of superfans in the game and outside of it. If your information as a player is accurate, knowing both when and whom to strike can become crystal clear based on comparing it to a similar situation from the past to the current one – and at times you can look at what happened when either pill was consumed. This blog will examine the critical gameplay decisions from the prior episode and apply historical situations to discern whether or not such decisions were the right ones and whether or not they will pay off going forward.

This week’s entry of Historical Perspectives will take a look at first boots exclusively, as there is a critical difference between someone booted on Day 3 and someone booted even on Day 6. A first boot vote cannot be compared to a vote at any other phase of the game because it’s based on three days’ worth of impressions – plus whatever glimpses you get at pre-game Ponderosa – and you don’t have time to know or understand somebody.

SURVIVOR 101 LESSON: THE FIRST BOOT

Historically, the first boot in any newbie Survivor season is who the losing tribe perceives to be their weakest member. A tribe will jump on any moment of weakness and use it as a reason to vote somebody out on Day 3 because, in the immortal words of Queen Sandra, “as long as it ain’t me.” Though the desire to project the status of weakest onto someone else is constant, the criteria which makes someone the weakest member to a tribe varies drastically. While one tribe may vote out someone who cost them the immunity challenge (the weakest physically), another may vote out the one they trust/like the least (the weakest socially), and yet another may vote out a self-declared messiah (the weakest strategically). Sometimes, it is a combination of the above. Unlike with veterans or former Amazing Race contestants, where anything based on the past is fair game, with newbies the one consistent factor is that the first boot showed weakness in some form. They were seen to be weak physically, weak-willed, weakening the tribe, and/or weak strategically because they let that show.

On a tribe of six, there is absolutely nowhere to hide. Any moment of weakness could be fatal. Nobody wants to be out first, but every member of a losing tribe has a 16.5% chance of being snuffed (barring an immunity twist like this season’s, which ups it to 20%) and they will take any chance they can to reduce it. Often, this means discarding the person nobody is connecting with or the one nobody can trust.

S35Ep1HistDarnell

In the old school, the first person out was often someone weak physically (Sonja, Diane) or overly bossy in regards to camp life (Debb, John Raymond, Jolanda). However, times have changed. In more recent seasons, the first boot has almost always been weak strategically or socially. Rare is it that someone is voted out first for being sick or blowing a challenge. If Darnell Hamilton is to be believed that fumbling the snorkel mask was the cherry on top of the cake of his already determined fate, much like Rachel Ako a season later, not once in the “Big Moves” era (seasons 27 to 34) was the first boot booted for flubbing the challenge. As far as the five newbie seasons of that era are concerned, two played too hard too fast, and Nadiya Anderson had a prior reputation and insulted the swing vote. Only Darnell and Rachel cost their tribe immunity but doing so simply created an excuse for the tribemates who already disliked them to get rid of them.

This goes back to that you can’t let weakness show. If a Survivor player creates such an excuse to get rid of them on Day 3, the tribe will take it, especially if they already dislike that person. Rachel’s fate in Millennials vs. Gen X was largely due to her inability to rein in her abrasive personality. The tribe also didn’t like David Wright but felt he at least made more of an effort to connect to them and, well, they were scared that he had an idol, too. Instead of going first, he turned out to be the best player that season – a storyline he shares with the legendary Cirie Fields.

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THE EASY VOTE: AN OLYMPIC TORCH SNUFFED

In Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, Olympic Swimmer Katrina Radke became the latest castaway extinguished on Day 3, but the show gave little indication as to why. What happened has stymied the fandom, because never before has a first boot been less advertised by the edit. This makes it hard to compare Katrina’s Day 3 ouster to any prior first boot. Thankfully, there is an unprecedented amount of supplemental material regarding the pre-game and this first vote thanks to a wonderful serial podcast called First One Out. Thank you, Josh Wigler!

Looking into the pre-game, Katrina seemed “out there” to this cast. Chrissy, oddly edited to be Katrina’s ally, mentioned a hideous “red sequined visor” – something surely combustible and ideal for kindling – that stuck out like a sore thumb. Chrissy thought appearing as an eccentric older woman would not endear Katrina to the younger members of the cast. When they hit the beach, Katrina did nothing to disprove this, and her aggressive, kooky behavior only validated their ideas. Alan threw Katrina’s name out as the one who said JP had an idol, which diverted JP and Ashley’s target from Chrissy to the Olympian even though it was untrue.

These glimpses, plus Katrina’s own admission that she wasn’t on a tribe with anyone she connected with pre-game, indicate Katrina was not socially adept. A better social game could have ensured that JP and Ashley told her about Alan ratting her out, dooming him instead. To excel in Survivor, you need to know how to bond with the people around you without coming across as a Persona user who changes depending on another player’s strengths and weaknesses. Katrina entered the game as herself and refused to adapt to certain types of people. This continues another trend: The first boot is someone who does not establish a bond with their tribe in the first three days.

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This diverts back to Rachel and Darnell, two recent examples of players who paid the price when they were unable to bond with their tribe, iced by challenge failures. In other examples like that of Vytas, if nobody finds a different reason that sticks, they’ll just boot whoever they’ve connected with the least. Again, if you show weakness or distrust, they’ll vote you out. People are going to run with any reason the majority is going to take when they haven’t voted together and don’t yet know who they can trust.

Of course, this was the Heroes tribe, and the moniker definitely did not help Katrina’s cause. The very name of the tribe indicates a sense of “HONOR” and “INTEGRITY” in ways far more serious than “One of Those Coach Moments.” From what Katrina has stated, not only were these her values, but the tribe held them in even greater esteem. Anybody who rocked the boat was problematic. Katrina says that her gameplay would have been considered subdued on a veteran season like Game Changers, but here it was too much for a tribe with such values. This reeks of an old-school season where, even if people are fighting, they’re going to stick to their promises. The Fat Five, anyone?

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THE ALTERNATIVES

There were two other realistic options for the Heroes at Tribal Council (Ashley wasn’t going anywhere). The first, Chrissy, was already labeled as “older and weaker” and only strengthened her target by puking her guts out after the challenge. Granted, this merited Ryan Ulrich donating her his one-off Super Idol – an unprecedented twist nobody would see coming – because historically there have been first boots that made such a display in the past. Diane Ogden was voted out first in Africa after vomiting. Jim Lynch in Guatemala tore his bicep, and that made him expendable. By Micronesia, the game had evolved to where the first boot had to make sense strategically – if a sick person was a useful vote, they were kept around. Or sometimes, they got lucky (see: Eliza in Micronesia). Only Jerry Sims in Tocantins (a Day 9 boot) wasn’t so lucky. Sick or not, puking is a moment of weakness a tribe can jump upon with so little to go on. The fact that Chrissy survived shows the strength of her social bonds with her tribe. She was more trustworthy than Katrina. If she can be trusted, keeping her is the right call since she’s a positive influence on tribe chemistry.

The second person to paint a target upon themselves was Alan, who had an atrocious Day 2 where the first pangs of hunger disrupted his mind. He got excessively paranoid and started accusing JP and Ashley of being a power couple – despite them barely knowing each other – and presuming they had an idol. He still didn’t believe them when a naked JP was standing in front of him, clearly not in possession of an Immunity Idol. This only served to get his Day 1 alliance to question not only his loyalty but his stability as an ally. He was labeled a loose cannon, which is not the kind of first impression you want to make.

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At the same time, anyone reading this should remember how well making a play against a strategic loose cannon worked out for Garrett Adelstein, who ended up snuffed on Day 6, and the rest of the Brains tribe, who had to deal with J’Tia being difficult both at camp and in challenges for another week. Taking out Alan would have been more akin to Garrett taking out David than JP and Ashley would’ve liked. It would have painted them as serious gamers and made them the target of a team-up between the Mom Squad and Ben, the same way Tasha, J’Tia, and Chaos Kass teamed up in Cagayan.

Conversely, in Worlds Apart, So Kim over-strategized and ended up gone first – a consequence of her playing Survivor in her head for three months after the SJDS casting debacle – which ended up of more benefit to the White Collar tribe than booting Shirin. So tried to make a big move on Day 3, when she didn’t know who she could trust, and it blew up in her face because none of her tribemates trusted her. However, So leaving did not damn the games of any of her tribemates and therefore she was a smart person to discard. It was the right call – they didn’t lose another challenge, and all five made the swap. On the other hand, Matsing lost every challenge despite getting rid of Zane first, but that tribe was a royal disaster. Ousting Zane was the right move since he was weak in challenges and making conflicting alliances with everybody. Not even Angelia Layton (aka “Angie Cookies”) was weaker than him!

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THE VERDICT

When an episode gives you very little to go on, chances are the move was the right one. From an editing standpoint, it probably means the Heroes aren’t going to lose immunity again. From an analysis standpoint, it probably means the move was more obvious than was shown. Why did the edit not show much of Katrina? Because she wasn’t giving them anything. There is no excuse for that in the first three days, as everyone should be enthusiastic because they’re playing Survivor! Katrina was likely unenthused by her tribemates, and that boredom led to a disconnect she could not overcome. She lost her desire to play Survivor the moment she saw her tribe and therefore didn’t make a concerted effort to bond. She instead expected people to adapt to her, and on a six-person tribe, that’s going to condemn you every time.

The only alternative choice here that could have worked is Alan, but even so, he’s a physical powerhouse that will come in handy in pre-merge challenges. Voting him out now would only prolong Katrina’s fate by three days, as the Heroes would likely lose a second time. If they do anyway, they can get rid of the animosity generator then.

In short, Katrina was the right choice for the Heroes to boot. No matter which way the cookie crumbles, the easy vote is always the best option on Day 3. If one person makes themselves the easy vote, run with it. Attempting a big move on a tribe of six can only backfire as it did for Garrett or So. Making a move here would divide the Heroes and lead them to the same fate as Luzon, notorious for being disasters, and if he had attempted such, it would have been best for Ashley and JP to get rid of him instead. Such a thing worked for the White Collars! If they can set their egos aside, it should work out for a strong tribe like the Heroes, too. If they can’t set their egos aside, we’re in for another trainwreck that will be marvelous to behold.

OTHER SURVIVOR CONTENT

Redmond’s Premiere Recap at Yahoo TV
Exit Interview with Katrina at ET Canada
Episode 2 Press Photos


Andy is a 29-year-old from Wisconsin, having an English major from UW-Whitewater. He has watched Survivor from the very first episode and can't go a day without running Survivor-related thoughts in his head. When he's not entranced by a computer at home or work, he's probably playing a video game or out and about somewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @IAmAndyPfeiffer.



  • Donald Sjerven

    Enjoyed the article. Black and white photos worked well. My mind wandered of looking at them. Wondering about moonshots in recent seasons. Somehow I got it in my mind that if there is as much moon this season as in MvGX that it will be bad luck for Mike. If he goes home on a night when the moon is full …

    … No doubt you saved the player booted first twice for the comment section?

    • Andy Pfeiffer

      Black and white photos were Martin’s idea, not mine – and I love it, so I’m more than pleased (thanks, Martin!).

      If you want to chat about the stories in play, it’s probably best we keep to Twitter like we did last season. I’m happy to talk in either venue.

      And I tried to avoid discussing veteran seasons too much here since the first boots in those seasons are always based on the past (Tina Wesson being a winner, Sugar being Sugar, Phillip’s vendetta against Franny, Vytas being “smarmy” and Ciera being a strategic threat – the only exception is Fairplay), so Franny’s second Day 3 ouster wasn’t something on my mind much (that was also the last time the winner attended the first Tribal Council; Ryan is off by one season). Her first was because she was confrontational with Phillip and happened to be the one in her pair that was unarmed. Again, Katrina’s problem was that she wasn’t aggressive at all. She barely tried to strategize, so nobody felt connected enough with her to be in an alliance. It was the opposite of Franny, so I didn’t feel there was a comparison. Franny and Kristina should have read the room that everyone worshiped Boston Rob and been way more subtle about attempts to take him down.

      But if you want to talk about any specific first boot, you know we can.

      • Donald Sjerven

        Well then. Thanks to Martin for the B & W photos. That’s what set my imagination running … like that cameraman in ep 2 …

  • Andy Pfeiffer

    Timber Tina’s great. Followed me back on Twitter, even. And she’s from my home state, which earns her even more points in my book. Easily one of my top-tier first boots ever, rekindled with my Panama rewatch last December.

    I did think about comparing Katrina to Timber Tina (once I likened David to Cirie), but having an emotional state in disrepair is far more excusable than Katrina’s seclusion. Very different times of Survivor, too – but maybe I should’ve touched on that, even if briefly, given the tribe sizes. However, Katrina was too much of herself while Tina wasn’t enough of herself, if that makes sense. Thanks for bringing it up – it’s a good talking point.