The Struggle of Female Finalists (Part 3)

Inside Survivor contributor, Derek Beets continues to look at the different perceptions of female Survivor finalists.

In this multi-part feature, we are looking at the instances in which women have lost against men at the Final Tribal Council and why it happened. In looking at the data, it becomes apparent that people lose Survivor if the jury finds them either UNDESERVING, UNLIKABLE, UNTRUSTWORTHY, or they are UNDERAPPRECIATED because the jury didn’t see all of the moves that they were making. I will be grouping the finalists into the “U” that I think they more accurately represent.

In Part 1 and Part 2 we looked at the Undeserving and the Unlikable, this week we take a look at the…


In some ways, it’s impossible to get to the end of a game like Survivor without being a bit untrustworthy along the way. The nature of the game is to be deceitful and dishonest at times. However, sometimes a player’s actions can be so erratic and incongruous that they eliminate other players who feel blindsided and completely taken for a fool. These players reach the end of the game and have to face a jury who feel taken advantage of and misled, and often have no idea what kind of game that person was playing.


Since it was the first season, a lot of the rules weren’t written yet in Survivor: Borneo. Kelly Wiglesworth made it to the end as part of Survivor’s first successful alliance. She wasn’t unlikable to most of the jury because she was able to garner three votes. She wasn’t seen as undeserving because she won four individual immunity challenges on her way to the finals (alleged producer interference notwithstanding). If anything, she was considered to be untrustworthy, and this was primarily due to her betrayal of alliance member Susan Hawk.

The drawback to winning so many immunity challenges, especially the last two, was that Kelly took the heat from the eliminated players because she was immune. She did betray Sue in the final four and chose to bring Richard Hatch to the finals over Rudy Boesch to give her what she felt was a better chance. As mentioned before, Kelly did earn three votes to win but had to endure Sue’s famous “Rats & Snakes” speech along the way. Whether or not Sue’s speech swayed some of the other jurors away from Kelly and to Richard is unclear, but it proved that if anything, Kelly fit more into the untrustworthy category than she did in any other.


To her credit, Dawn Meehan played an excellent game in Survivor: Caramoan. She made big moves in tandem with John Cochran, but in the end, the title of Sole Survivor was rewarded to Cochran and Dawn was shut out entirely. Again, the double standard comes into play here. How can two people who played such a similar game, have such a disparity between them in votes? The jury expected Cochran to play the way that he did. They had seen him play deviously in his first season.

However, someone like Dawn, a sweet, Mormon mom, was not supposed to play deviously. It was something that they weren’t expecting, and when she had a hand in voting them out, they reacted angrily. Brenda Lowe’s request to have Dawn remove her teeth is still one of the most uncomfortable final tribal council moments ever. Dawn was seen as untrustworthy primarily because her gameplay did not match her personality and the perceptions that the other players had of her coming into the game. Again, people were more forgiving of a man than they were of a woman playing a cut-throat game.


Monica Culpepper is similar to Dawn in that they are both mothers over forty. What’s different is that Monica didn’t dominate the game in Survivor: Blood vs. Water like Dawn did in Caramoan. The elimination of her husband Brad pre-merge was part of the reason for Monica’s success. Without Brad, the target on Monica’s back wasn’t as large and allowed her to navigate to the end of the game.

Another part of Monica’s success came from the fact that she always seemed to be the swing vote. The primary reason that Monica was seen as untrustworthy by the jury on her season was that (as the swing vote) she had many opportunities to change the direction of the game. On several occasions she told the opposing alliance that she would work with them, only to stay true to her alliance and vote them out. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me two or three times, and then you didn’t intend on doing anything differently. In the end, Tyson Apostol was rewarded for his more overt and strategic gameplay and Monica lost because some of the jurors had put their trust in her (sometimes more than once) only to be betrayed.

In Part 4 we will look at the final category, Underappreciated, as well as some unique cases.

Photo Credit: jeffgunn via Compfight cc

Derek Beets is a 29-year-old middle school reading teacher and writer. He's been following Survivor since the first season and has been officially obsessed since 2004. He is currently working on his first novel.

  • Trintex

    Let me get this straight, you expect us to believe that women are discriminated against in the final tribal council, yet you are pointing out the reasons why they lost that have nothing to do with their gender? If they lost because they were undeserving, unlikeable, untrustworthy, or unappreciated then they lost because they were undeserving, unlikeable, untrustworthy, or unappreciated, not because they were women. You have only mentioned one female finalist (Dawn) who you say lost because she is a woman. The reason why Dawn lost and Cochran won was not because Dawn was a woman, but because she was overly emotional. Cochran did not use emotion to gain alliances and he was not constantly crying for seemingly no reason. Dawn based manny of her alliances on emotion (Brenda for example) and as such her betrayals of those alliances felt more personal. Her constant crying also caused the jurors to see her as weak. So no, Dawn and Cochran did not play almost the exact same game. There were critical differences that affected how the jury voted.
    Also, while Kass is one of my favorite players, her statement about her being perceived differently on the basis of her gender has always irritated me. She claims to have played the same way as Tony, but she did not. Tony never flipped anyone off on their way out, or caused chaos because he “wanted to make the preemptive strike”. Kass tried to flip the game for NO reason. She was in a far more secure position with her Aparri alliance. She didn’t flip because she thought it would improve her position, she did so because she had a grudge against Sarah. While I loved watching her play, I would hate playing with her. No matter how rationally and logically you reason with Chaos Kass, she won’t listen and will destroy you game if she feels like it. It would be like playing chess with a toddler who just shoves the pieces off the board and claims victory. It would be frustrating. While Tony played erratically, he didn’t do so for the sake of chaos, but in order to advance his position in the game. When he flipped, it was to get rid of a threat, not a personal enemy. The erratic nature was a result of paranoia, not emotion. This is why Tony was considered a strategic genius while Kass was considered a goat. It had nothing to do with gender.
    In the past, when men have played like Kass and flipped based on emotion, they have been treated the same as Kass. Cochran in South Pacific is a perfect example. He certainly was not “forgiven more easily” for flipping, on the basis of him being a man. Russell Hantz is another example of a man playing a very strategic game and not being forgiven for coming across as a jerk. Him being a man did not exempt him from the wrath of the jury in either season. In HvV he even lost to Parvati (she didn’t win but she won more votes than him) who played a strikingly similar game that had been intertwined with his the whole time, yet the jury awarded Parvati more votes due to Russell being more of a jerk. If men were forgiven for such behavior simply because they are men like you claim, then this would not have happened and Russell would have actually received some votes.
    I would also like to add that Jeff saying that it would be difficult to sell a Suzzie victory is in no way sexist. Suzzie openly admitted to her strategy being to ride coattails and hope to somehow wind up in the end. A season is which the winner employed that sort of strategy would be regarded as the worst outcome of all time! Even Natalie White at least made a few moves of her own.
    Women are not hated for being strategic if they are strategic in a respectable manner (this is true of men as well). There have been many strategic women loved (or at least respected) by both fans and castaways. These include Kelley Wentworth, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Ciera Eastin, Aubry Bracco, Cydney Gillon, Parvati Shallow, Cirie Fields, Natalie Anderson, Andre Boehkle, Sophie Clark, Kim Spradlin, Sabrina Thompson, Denise Strapley and many others.
    I think that it is unfair to say that men are handed a free advantage in the final tribal council. It belittles the achievements of male winners, something that I think is incredibly rude. I think it is a shame that Inside Survivor has turned feminist on us yet again. I truly see no reason for this article being specifically about women finalists. There are struggles for both male and female finalists. If a finalist is “UNDESERVING, UNLIKABLE, UNTRUSTWORTHY, or they are UNDERAPPRECIATED”, they will loose unless they are against someone who is more “UNDESERVING, UNLIKABLE, UNTRUSTWORTHY, or they are UNDERAPPRECIATED”, end of story.

    • Martin Holmes

      I didn’t write the article but just want to point out it’s about the jury perceiving the finalist as either “undeserving, unlikable, untrustworthy” rather than them actually being those things.

      • Trintex

        The jury perceived them as those things as a direct result of the way they played the game and the way they carried themselves. I do not believe that the jury has any tendency to perceive women differently on the basis of gender, for reasons I’ve already explained. Ultimately gender has no impact at the final tribal.

        • Paul

          baloney. gender plays a huge role in the game, and, in an increasingly strategy-emphasizing game, women are at a disadvantage because of ingrained stereotypes of them. period.

  • Trintex

    List of men who were not forgiven for blindsides and betrayals:
    Spencer Bledsoe
    Russell Hantz

    These men lost because of their failures, not their gender.

  • Ishay

    In the case of dawn I actually think that it was the viewers who saw her as untrustworthy but if you refer to the jury I would put her under the under appreciated