The eighteen new contestants of Survivor: Kaȏh Rōng were released last week, filling fans with excitement, anticipation, and questions about the upcoming season. The pre-game is ripe with speculation of who will dominate the competition and who will gloriously flame out. The cast videos released by CBS gave small glimpses into each contestant’s strategy, from pretending to listen to flirting the way to the end. But I find myself most curious about who will lie about their occupation, and why.
Elaborate and long-term strategies are often disregarded as soon as the castaways hit the beach, but lying about one’s job is a quick decision that must be made on day one. Given the varied and unique occupations of the new cast, it’s always interesting to hear how each person perceives their own job, and how they think others will perceive it.
There tend to be two main reasons to lie about your occupation on Survivor: because the job lends itself to wealth, or to a skill that could benefit you in the game. It’s a burden that must be carried with you throughout the game, lest you decide to come clean later. However, the lie provides the contestant with the ability to craft their narrative and control the perception that people have of them.
The first instance of concealing an occupation dates back to Willard Smith in Survivor: Palau who tried to avoid the stigma attached to being a lawyer by pretending to be a mail carrier, a job he’d had earlier in life. But it wasn’t until the following season, Survivor: Guatemala, where the show truly focused on a player hiding their identity.
Former NFL Quarterback Gary Hogeboom feared that his tribe would assume he was wealthy and didn’t deserve the money, so told his tribe he was a landscaper named Gary Hawkins. The eventual winner and sports radio DJ Danni Boatwright recognized Hogeboom and even shared the information with his tribemate, Brian Corridan. Hogeboom vehemently denied the accusation, even after Amy O’Hara promised to beat him down if he was lying.
In Survivor: Panama, Dan Barry told his tribe that he was a NASA Scientist, but didn’t share that he was an Astronaut. Dan slowly and dramatically revealed his occupation to his La Mina allies of Terry Dietz, Nick Stanbury, Austin Carty and Sally Schumann. The revelation had no noticeable impact on the game but provided Dan with his only real storyline of the season.
Russell Hantz was the last contestant in the pre-Heroes vs. Villains era to lie about his occupation. Initially, Hantz told his Foa Foa tribe that he was a Fireman but later admitted to his alliance that he was a wealthy businessman. His declared occupation in Samoa was an Oil Company Owner, which has been heavily questioned post-game.
Jim Rice of Survivor: South Pacific was the next to lie about his occupation, with no real gain or loss. The Medical Marijuana Dispenser Owner told his tribe that he was a Forensics Science Teacher. The topic never came up on the show again and didn’t sculpt Jim’s narrative the way it did with Gary and Dan.
Survivor: Philippines started a fascinating trend, and it will be interesting to see if Kaȏh Rōng continues on the same trajectory.
In every season that’s started with three tribes (excluding All Stars), three contestants have lied about their occupation. RC Saint-Amour’s claim to be an Executive Assistant instead of an Investment Banker was the least impactful of the three job lies, but her reasoning is outside the scope of previous contestants. RC was concerned about the negative connotation of bankers and Wall Street, and how that would impact her ability to connect with the other castaways. Survivor: Philippines was filmed six months after the Occupy Wall Street movement began, and RC’s apprehension to share her career reflected the polarizing time.
The next Philippines contestant to lie about his job also had politics on the mind, albeit at the end of his game. Jeff Kent, a retired MLB second baseman, told his tribemates he was a rancher. Unbeknownst to him, tribemate Sarah Dawson knew who he was. After Dawson subtly baited him by mocking baseball, Jeff felt paranoid that she knew who he was. Katie Hanson and Dawson were on the outs of the four-person alliance, so Jeff orchestrated Dawson’s demise.
Lisa Whelchel told her Tandang tribe that she ran a ministry for moms. Though true, Whelchel failed to divulge that she starred in the 1980s sitcom, The Facts of Life. Similarly to Jeff, Lisa was also recognized, but since Michael Skupin and Jonathan Penner came to her directly, they were able to bond over the secret.
Whelchel’s hidden occupation affected the game much more than previously witnessed. Penner used the information to relate to Lisa, and eventually convinced her to turn on her original Tandang alliance. Her job also came up in numerous emotional confessionals and contributed to her full-season narrative of inner conflict and personal growth. Most importantly, Lisa’s acting career was brought up by Penner at the final tribal council, telling the jury that they deserved to know when they were casting their vote.
Survivor: Cagayan was the next three tribe season with three career bluffs. Interestingly, each tribe had one career deception. On the Luzon, or Brains, tribe, Kass McQuillen hid her occupation as a lawyer, instead telling everyone that she was a farmer and animal handler. The lie was not depicted on the show but was maintained the entire season. Although it didn’t seem to affect the game, the lie did contribute to one of the most memorable moments of the season. Kass told her cast mates that she had llamas on her farm, which inspired Tony Vlachos to speak like the animal Kass is most familiar with.
On the Solana tribe, Jeremiah Wood kept his career as a model under wraps, though the original lie was never aired in the series. In fact, audiences didn’t even know about the lie until Jeremiah’s boot episode when he decided to share the news with allies Spencer Bledsoe and Tasha Fox. The reveal proved undramatic, though comical in an unintended manner.
In contrast to Kass and Jeremiah, Tony’s lie about being a construction worker arose multiple times throughout the season. Tony didn’t want to tell his Aparri tribe that he was a police officer, because of potential negative perceptions of the career. When fellow Brawns tribe member Sarah Lacina sniffed Tony out with her “cop-dar,” Tony maintained the bluff for the first few days. By day six, Tony needed to assemble a coalition against Cliff Robinson. Tony shared the truth with Sarah, effectively gaining her trust as they each swore on their badge in commitment to Cops ‘R Us.
Tony later came clean to allies Woo Hwang, Trish Hegarty, LJ McKannas and Jefra Bland. The confession struck a nerve with LJ, who revealed in a confessional that he didn’t previously have Tony pegged as a smart competitor, but now he does.
Former MLB player John Rocker was the next former athlete to lie about his profession. Although Rocker lied to his San Juan Del Sur tribemates to conceal his wealth, he also hoped to camouflage his infamously controversial reputation. For that reason, Rocker claimed to be John Wetteland, an MLB pitcher. However, the attempt fooled no one, and both tribes became privy to his identity.
Survivor: Worlds Apart is the most recent three tribe season to feature three separate career lies, all of which proved anti-climactic. Kelly Remington decided to lie to her Escameca tribe about being a State Trooper, instead posing as a bartender. The lie resulted in nothing, as that would mean Kelly would have to be shown on an episode. Rodney Lavoie Jr. also decided to lie to his Blue Collar tribe about his job as a General Contractor. Rodney instead told his cast that he was a furniture mover, to ward off the suspicion that he hustles to make a dollar. The lie never came up again.
Max Dawson had a unique reason to hide his profession. Max, a former Professor at Northwestern University, taught a media class about Survivor. Billed as the Survivor Professor, Max feared that his background would create a large strategic target on his back. His attempts at secrecy were not neutral, though, as fellow White Collar tribe member So Kim recognized Max and shared the information with their Masaya tribe.
Kaȏh Rōng contestants who are inclined to lie about their profession certainly have a long list of examples to reference. It’s still unknown how each new castaway perceives their occupation and its effect on the game, although former NBA champion Scot Pollard does state in his CBS video that he intends to be open about his basketball career. The diverse perspectives will assuredly provide compelling television.