How real is the threat of Survivor’s “bitter jury”?
The phrase “bitter jury” occasionally pops up when discussing why a highly strategic player has lost the Final Tribal Council vote. The concept slightly oversimplifies the skillset of a Survivor player. Survivor at its most fundamental level is about getting to the Final Tribal Council by any means, but then having to justify those means to those that have been voted out. The belief that jury management should not be considered a vital part of a winning game is a basic misunderstanding of the game itself.
Jury management may not be the most discussed item on a finalist’s resume, but it does affect the jurors’ assessment of the finalists. A Jury’s bitter feelings can be overcome by respect for the finalist’s gameplay, but a lack of respect will sink any game no matter how strategically sound. Bitterness can be correlated with lack of respect, but to assume it is causal ignores the ability of jurors to separate the two emotions. Even if the “bitter jury” is a misnomer in its current use, is there a problem with how Survivor’s Jury system operates?
When searching for objectivity, the Survivor Jury lacks an impartial judge to help sort through the finalists’ game resumes. Jeff, who plays the closest role to a judge, may try to get to the bottom of the group dynamics, but his line of questioning often leads to smoke and mirrors. A Survivor player builds and “distributes” his or her game resume to the eventual jurors far before the Final Tribal Council ever happens.
The path of least resistance in gaining a juror’s vote is to remain likable. Admittedly, likeability is not an easy trait to maintain in a game full of deceit and backstabbing. The balance of likeability with respected strategic gameplay is a winning recipe. A finalist can win without being well-liked, but respect is a necessary component for any winning game. The problem with a “bitter jury,” using the phrase in the context of the “most deserving” player losing, is that the jury does not have a set criteria for what sort of gameplay deserves to be rewarded.
Unlike other strategic games, Survivor has a social component. The way a player interacts with their fellow competitors DOES matter. In many ways, the interpersonal relationships are what determine success in Survivor (in terms of getting to the FTC and winning once there). If you look at another strategic game like chess, the win condition is simply to get a checkmate. In chess, you win as long as you get a checkmate, even if you did not play well up until that point. Survivor, on the other hand, requires you to be rewarded for the sum of your strategic actions and the social bonds you created. However, Survivor players can set themselves up for success through their social-strategic actions just like a chess player can with their moves.
In the case of Sarah Lacina on Survivor: Game Changers, bitterness could have resulted in her losing. Yet, Sarah’s game was respected and rewarded by the Jury. In her Jury Speaks segment, Andrea Boehlke admitted, “I don’t like her… but I have to honor the game and admit that she played the best game.” Andrea could have denied Sarah her vote because of her bitter feelings, but here it is evident that the emotion can split from the concept of a bitter juror.
Jeff Probst stated in an interview with the Toronto Sun that the Final Tribal Council format introduced in Survivor: Game Changers was meant, “…to change the final tribal up to help the jury be less bitter.” Sarah’s win, despite a bitter jury, in its most literal sense, could be heralded as a success for this new format. Although, it is equally valid to argue that Sarah would have won regardless of format.
If you prescribe to the belief that the Final Tribal Council does not have a strong influence on the winner of a season, then the only resolution is to fix other parts of the jury system. The first logical step would be to sequester the jurors at Ponderosa. There may be rules that prohibit direct discussion at Ponderosa about the most deserving winner, but negative sentiments (emotional or logically-based lack of respect) can still seep into conversations as long as the jurors share a space together. The jurors should be restricted to their own reasoning until the Final Tribal Council. Then, the Final Tribal Council must have a format that will allow the finalists to articulate their gameplay to the previously sequestered jurors.
A discussion based around Outwit, Outplay, and Outlast during the Survivor: Game Changers Final Tribal Council was a step in the right direction, but could also be improved. Despite the fact that most of the jury management happens before the Final Tribal Council, a format that allows for an open conversation seems like it’d be more effective than the standard individual questions or comments. Outwit, Outplay, and Outlast can be a bit nebulous as terms, even when Jeff tries to define them. It would be simpler for both the Jury and finalists to work through the points of social, strategic, and physical gameplay.
Before the start of the discussion with the jurors, the finalists should get a chance to give a summary of their game (as they have in past seasons). The Jury should then openly convene to decide what qualities they, as a collective, are looking to reward. During the discussion, the finalists would get a chance to address specific points brought up by the Jury. The Jury would then get to ask follow-up questions, as in the Survivor: Game Changers format.
This alternative arrangement could help the Jury be more open minded in their decision and give the finalists a chance to garner more respect for the way they played. If the Jury is able to hear more context on the finalists’ gameplay from their own mouths, and less from other jurors, then they will be able to reach a more balanced decision. Even with an improved format, jury management will remain an important skill in making a convincing case come the Final Tribal Council. The important point for contestants to remember is that they don’t have to be liked for their gameplay, but their gameplay still needs to be respected.
Check back with Inside Survivor tomorrow when Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen-X castaway, Sunday Burquest, will give a player’s perpesctive on the jury format.