The New Survivor Female Archetype

Inside Survivor contributor Joy Davis looks at the recent trend of the intelligent quirky female archetype on Survivor.

Survivor has borne witness to many female character archetypes over the years: the girl next door, the tough chick, the mom, the bikini babe flirt, the crazy lady, the alternative chick, and so on. However, the past few seasons have presented a new archetype: the intelligent, quirky woman. Oxford dictionary defines quirky as “characterized by peculiar or unexpected traits.” For this examination, quirky characters extend to those who exhibit some self-awareness about their quirkiness and lack seriousness about themselves – this excludes contestants such as Coach Wade, Phillip Shephard, Tarzan Smith and Debbie Wanner.

Many intelligent women have played Survivor: Shii Ann Huang (Survivor: Thailand and Survivor: All Stars), Eliza Orlins (Survivor: Vanuatu), Sophie Clarke (Survivor: South Pacific), and countless others. These women had impressive credentials outside of Survivor, either from attending Ivy League universities and/or pursuing prestigious careers. They speak eloquently and have confidence in themselves and the game. Their humor comes from a biting wit, rather than silliness or grandiose displays.

We’ve also seen quirky female contestants not perceived as particularly intelligent, most notably Kat Edorsson (Survivor: One World). Kat’s humor is not for saying something clever, but rather from doing something out of the ordinary. Kat dances her tray of food back to the benches at the Survivor auction, after exclaiming that there was bacon on her BLT. Later in the season, Kat crawls on all fours toward her cousin at the family visit.

The combination of both archetypes has been witnessed in male characters dating back to Survivor: Borneo. Greg Buis is the epitome of an intelligent, quirky character. Greg’s intelligence is unquestionable; he attended Brown University, and post-Survivor founded a renewable energy development company. Richard Hatch also viewed Greg as his only formidable opponent strategically. Greg’s quirkiness is also unquestionable, and perhaps exceeds that of any other contestant. When the Pagong tribe finds that a wild animal ate their chicken during the night, Greg runs up the beach shouting, “Alright! Who did it? Who did it?! Who counted that [expletive] chicken before it hatched?!” One of Greg’s most memorable moments from the show is talking into his coconut phone (or as he referred to it, his nature phone). He described the virtues of the phone as, “You get reception everywhere, you’re always incommunicado with anything or anyone, and ya know, it’s light, it’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s relatively inexpensive.”

Greg Buis nature phone gif

The intelligent, quirky male has had many iterations throughout Survivor history (Matthew von Ertfelda, Stephen Fishbach, John Cochran, etc.), yet the first intelligent, quirky female took thirty seasons to witness. Shirin Oskooi is a Brown University graduate and Yahoo Executive, and also expresses her enthusiasm in quirky ways. When Shirin spots howler monkeys having sex, (or as she describes, “Big Papa, big Mama howler monkeys just. Got. It. On.”) she imitates their howling before running back to camp to relay her experience to her tribe. Shirin walks around camp naked from the waist down. Shirin sings the national anthem at the top of her lungs. But Shirin also understands numbers loopholes. Shirin also fills the power vacuum of no one wanting to make a decision for the first vote on each of her seasons, by successfully executing her own plans.

Shirin skipping

Aubry Bracco, another Brown graduate, followed in Shirin’s footsteps as the intelligent, quirky woman of Survivor: Kaȏh Rōng. Aubry’s pre-season bio and cast video displayed her quirkiness with her wand skills, love of coloring and passion for manatees. During the game, Aubry showed her strategic intelligence by running the post-merge game with Cydney Gillon and analyzing each potential move. Her quirkiness complemented her game, as Aubry is shown doing silly dances at camp, doing pirouettes at a reward challenge, doing the chicken dance with Cydney and Michele Fitzgerald, and providing confessional after confessional dripping with similes comparable to John Cochran.

Aubry more dancing gif

Shirin and Aubry both proved to be popular contestants; fans voted Shirin into the cast of Cambodia and Aubry is part of the Season 34 cast, currently filming in Fiji.

The upcoming Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X features a new smart, quirky woman in Hannah Shapiro. The millennial graduated from Northwestern University, where she attended Max Dawson’s Survivor class. Hannah’s Twitter account is ripe with tweets such as, “I winked at a tree today. Guess you could say I’m BRANCHING out socially.” “GrubHub guy knew me by name, so I guess you could say I’ve “made it.” and “‘You have something in your teeth’ is the fastest way to gain the upper hand on a first date.”

The new archetype is notable not just for providing viewers with more fun and intelligent women, but also of the complexity that these contestants have. Gone are the days when Survivor showed female players as one-dimensional, as merely the girl next door or just the tough chick. The quirky, intelligent woman displays more than one quality, and other female archetypes are also following suit.


Photo Credit: jeffgunn via Compfight cc

Joy is a 26-year-old Freelance Writer from the Chicago suburbs. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago where she studied political science and history. Joy has watched Survivor since she was 10 years old. When she isn’t watching Survivor, Joy spends her time writing, reading and enjoying the outdoors.

  • Charlie Jenkins

    Two words: Kelly Goldsmith

    • Martin Holmes

      I think Kelly G falls into a similar category as people like Courtney and Sophie, intelligent and witty, rather than “quirky”.

  • Justin

    Loving this new archetype. I was rooting for both Aubry and Shirin, and I hope to do the same for Hannah.

  • Jimbo

    So Eliza is listed as intelligent but isnt she quirky too?

  • Chad

    Love the post, but I disagree with your assessment that Debbie Wanner didn’t fit with the definition of ‘quirky’ that you were using for the purpose of this article.

    I think Debbie is very quirky. She did unexpected things all the time. She knew she was considered quirky and I don’t think she took herself seriously at all. In my opinion, anyone who took themselves seriously would probably never see themselves as quirky and would most likely reject the notion if anyone call them such.

    • Snsetblaze

      Agreed. Debbie came out in her pregame stuff and said she was like Coach. She was mostly self-aware. It did not feel like a put-on like Coach or Philip did sometimes.

    • Paul

      completely agree. I don’t think her age takes anything away from Debbie being very much this archetype. If anything, she’s so much this archetype that it overrides any ‘mother’ kind of role that might have been put on her. She was pretty self aware, but also very intelligent and ready to play strategy surprisingly well.

    • Ben

      The question is whether or not Debbie took herself seriously. Some people feel she did, others feel she didn’t. She is hard to categorise in that sense, but I think Debbie was a new female archetype of her own anyway if she doesn’t fit in this one, as characters like her were also only male before she came along.

      I think it is good we are getting diversity in female casting. Jeff always decries how few good female returnees they have available. I think this comes directly from their casting policy for females – they haven’t allowed such a wide range of casting archetypes for females as they have for males, and many of the archetypes they seem to insist on casting generally speaking don’t have the gameplay to make for being good returnees. It’s also because they try to cast to that kind of archetype expectation even on returnee seasons, which leads to people like Sierra DT being there for a second time while someone like T-Bird still isn’t.