The Struggle of Female Finalists (Part 4)

Inside Survivor contributor, Derek Beets takes one last look at 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 previous editions, we looked at the Undeserving, Unlikable, and Untrustworthy. In the final part, we take a look at the…


As an audience, we often get to see more than the other players get to see, which gives us relatively honest insight into how each player is playing the game. Unfortunately, while the game is happening, the other players cannot view the game as we can. They can’t be in two places at once; they don’t see the private confessionals and side conversations that we as an audience are privy to. Some finalists play just as well as the person that wins, but are not, and cannot be rewarded, because the moves that they made were not obvious or overt enough. Sometimes, this may be their fault because they are playing too quietly. More often, though, it’s because someone else’s antics or skills overshadow them.


Speaking of being overshadowed by someone else’s antics, Danielle DiLorenzo was one of the saner members of Survivor: Panama’s Casaya tribe. When you’re in the company of an eccentric karate master, a fire dancer, and a man who is basically in the process of detoxing, it’s hard not to look normal. By the time that Danielle reached the end of the game with alliance member Aras, the jury was stacked with the players mentioned above. Those players had spent so much time involved with their own issues and squabbles, that they were hard pressed to see what anyone else did.

Going into the final tribal council, Danielle and Aras were pretty evenly stacked. They had many of the same allies and enemies, they had proven themselves capable in challenges, with Danielle even winning the final one. Danielle had even eliminated her two biggest threats by besting Cirie in a fire-making tiebreaker and voting out Captain America Terry at the final three. So why did Aras win and not Danielle? It’s hard to say. There certainly wasn’t clear reason on paper why Aras deserved the win over Danielle. It was maybe that the jurors rewarded Aras for a lot of the brilliant moves that Cirie Fields made, while Danielle, who didn’t work with Cirie as closely was not.


Amanda Kimmel had it all going into the finals of Survivor: China. She had played a good, strategic game, and was arguably the most likable out of the three finalists. However, once Amanda got to the final tribal council, everything fell apart for her. While Sherri Beithman may have had the worst final tribal performance in Survivor history, Amanda is the poster child for screwing things up for oneself in the finals. Amanda was unable to articulate her strategy and moves efficiently and devolved into a bumbling, incoherent mess.

By being unable to defend herself or her actions in the game, the jury found her to be less deserving than the (brutally) honest Courtney Yates and the devious, yet eloquent Todd Herzog. What’s unfortunate for Amanda is that she wasn’t even able to reflect on her endgame before playing again and gave yet another dismal final tribal council performance the next season in Survivor: Micronesia. Amanda is underappreciated because she wasn’t able to explain her moves (through nobody’s fault but her own). If she would have been able to control her nerves and enlighten the jury on what she was doing out there, perhaps the outcome of China would have been a bit different.


It’s hard to get people to pay attention to what you have done in the game when your competition has just won a formidable five individual immunity challenges and saved themselves with a hidden immunity idol. That was the dilemma that Carolyn Rivera faced in the endgame of Survivor: Worlds Apart. She found a hidden immunity idol of her own and also won individual immunity for herself twice. She played a part in the first elimination of the season and eliminated what she felt was her biggest competition in Tyler Fredrickson, but up against the odds that Mike Holloway overcame, she was overlooked and shut out.

There’s no other way to explain why that vote went the way that it did. Carolyn gained one vote, but the jury was firmly Team Mike. He was seen as a hero who had defended Shirin Oskooi against her bullies, and a Survivor in the sense of the word for all the obstacles he made it through. That is fair enough, but even if Mike got eliminated before the finale and Carolyn ended up in the finals with a combination of Will Sims, Rodney Lavoie, Sierra Dawn-Thomas or Dan Foley, it is still unclear if she would have had the votes to win. For some reason, the jurors didn’t appear to appreciate her game.


Female finalists don’t always lose to men. In some instances, in a mixed gender final tribal council, a woman beats a man and another woman. So what about the other woman? Why did she lose? It’s only happened three times, so let’s take a look at those “special cases”.


Parvati Shallow came into Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains as a former winner. She had done it before, and her gameplay in Heroes vs. Villains proved that she could do it again. Parvati’s problem this time around was that she had allied herself with Survivor’s most notorious villain, Russell Hantz. She can’t be faulted for that decision too much because she had never seen Russell play before, and therefore, knew nothing about him.

She certainly proved that she doesn’t “ride coattails, baby,” made several impressive moves on her own throughout the game (that double idol play!) and won three individual immunity challenges. Facing a jury that was wholly anti-Russell, Parvati was punished because of her connection to him, while Sandra Diaz-Twine was praised and ultimately rewarded for trying so hard to get rid of him.


Survivor loves showing us an emotional, personal journey of growth. In Survivor: Philippines, that journey belonged to actress Lisa Whelchel. The drawback to having an emotional, personal journey of growth is that it makes you…emotional. Throughout the game, Lisa struggled to do duplicitous and devious things that contradicted from her Christian lifestyle.

When she reached the end, she was able to garner a vote, but ultimately couldn’t compete against Denise Stapley, who proved not only to be more physically and socially adept but who had also survived every single tribal council that season. Hard odds to go against, especially when you add in that the majority of the jury felt betrayed by Lisa’s actions and believed that she couldn’t handle the demands of a game like Survivor.


Aubry Bracco had her own emotional, personal journey of growth in Survivor: Kaoh Rong. Unlike Lisa, Aubry kept it in check a bit better and played a masterful strategic game. By the time she faced off against Michele Fitzgerald and Tai Trang in the finals, it was clearly between herself and Michele. Aubry is the perfect example of an underappreciated finalist. She made amazing moves in the game, had incredible social intelligence, and proved to be quite competent at the physical aspect of the game.

In the end, Michele’s social ties and late game challenge wins proved to be the tipping point to her victory. However, Aubry’s game showed us what can happen when the jury isn’t acutely aware of all the moves you are making; another drawback to how the audience can see the bigger picture, while the other players cannot.

Well, there you have it! Will the women continue to take home the title now that Michele has broken the female winner dry spell? Or will future players fall into the same traps and mistakes that past players have made? Thank you for taking the time to read this article and feel free to add your comments, opinions, and observations below. Also, be sure to check out my other article, “Survivor Themes That Haven’t Been Used…Yet.”

Header 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.

  • Ryan

    Loved this series entirely – not sure I’d consider Michele winning to be a dry spell break, since Natalie just won S29, and we only had two males win in between (including Jeremy being a first male to win an all returnee season after Amber and Sandra took the first two.)

    Still hoping the girls keep breaking through to even up the total winner count though.

    • Derek

      Thank you!

  • Mark F

    I would personally put Tasha under the Unappreciated category. Jeremy and Stephen both have spoken about her game highly, and just because she has some internet haters and a couple of loud game haters doesn’t make her seen as undeserving by most. That’s just me though.

  • Snsetblaze

    If neither Mike nor Rodney were there, Carolyn might have won. Against Dan and Will, absolutely (Rodney would have had to choose between Dan and Will but otherwise, who would have voted for them? She even had a good shot against Rodney and either Dan or Will since Rodney was actually a bully himself at times and/or actively participated in the major incident.

    But Carolyn, from what we were shown, only seemed to bond with the men really during the game and was on the side of the bullies if not an active participant in the actual bullying so it might have been an uphill battle against Sierra (who was also on the side of the bullies but we did see actively sitting and bonding with the women at some point other than Carolyn).

  • Sean

    I feel like the major reason more men than women have won Survivor is challenges.

    By winning challenges contestants not only are immune from the vote but they also give the jury a quantitative reason to vote for them. Immunity can also embolden players to make a move, prevent enemies from getting to the end by an immunity streak, and protect players from drawing rocks. In addition, whoever wins the ultimate or penultimate immunity tends to have disproportionate influence on the vote.

    This point is hard to articulate because there is not always a direct cause an effect and it is impossible to know what would have happened had a different person won immunity. In terms of totals, excluding challenges with both a male and female winner, men have won 161 immunities while women have only won 94. This includes challenges like Vanuatu’s premerge immunity challenge, Marquesas’s F3, Micronesia’s F4/F3, and One World’s F5/F4 challenges where there were all of one gender competing. And I didn’t feel the need to calculate how many wins/appearances there are for each gender cause I’m lazy and 67 is such a large gap that I do not think it is needed. Also within this men have won 18 Final Immunities while women have won 14. I do not believe this has had a major impact of the game however I do think that if an equal number of men and women won immunity challenges then it is very possible that at least 2 more women would have won the game, evening out the number of male and female winners.

  • Ali

    Derek and Martin,

    I want to commend you for taking a look at an incredibly important dynamic in the game of Survivor. Gender, along with race, really does affect how people are able to play the game effectively. I particularly appreciated the times when you pointed out women who made moves incredibly similar to the (male) winners (e.g. Becky, Dawn) and who were punished for it. However, I would really have appreciated a female perspective on this issue.