The legend goes that Richard Hatch invented the first Survivor alliance and that without Richard’s involvement in the first season, then alliances would never have happened. But is this a fact, or is it a Survivor myth?
In this three-part feature, we will take a look at the birth of the Survivor alliance and the players and parts involved. In part one we looked at the man himself, Richard Hatch, and how his background helped form his strategy going into Survivor’s first ever season. Today we look at the first alliances of Survivor: Borneo.
Who Runs the World? Girls.
If four people get together and agree not to vote for each other, what do you call that? An alliance?
On Day 2, in Survivor: Borneo, the Tagi tribe had lost the first ever Immunity Challenge and had a date with Jeff Probst at Tribal Council the following night. That evening the first person would be voted out of the game. Sonja Christopher, the tribe’s eldest woman at 63 years old, was the initial target due her age and her poor performance in the Immunity Challenge. She tried to keep the tribe’s spirits up by singing and playing her ukulele, like George Formby entertaining dejected troops during the Second World War. But it was to no avail – Sonja was toast. Or was she? You see, Kelly Wiglesworth and Stacey Stillman didn’t want to lose Sonja, and together with Susan Hawk, the four women made a pact not to vote for each other and instead agreed to target one of the men.
“Kelly and I get along real well, and we’ve been talking about strategy and who would be best to vote off. I think we’ve come to a mutual decision, and we’ve talked to Sue about it.” – Stacey Stillman, Survivor: Borneo, Episode 1.
The first person to use the word “strategy” in Survivor was Stacey Stillman. On Day 3 the first proposal for a voting-bloc alliance was made. Not by Richard Hatch, but by the Tagi women. I’m sure Richard was thinking about alliances at this point too, but like with everything in Richard’s life, he internalized his thoughts first before applying them to real life. While Richard was perched up a tree, judging everybody, like some Bizarro World Buddha, the women had taken the early initiative. By bloc-voting out a guy, the women would gain a 4-3 advantage over the men of the tribe. The word “alliance” itself may not have been used, at least not from what we saw on screen, but a pact, agreement, an arrangement – in Survivor it is all the same thing.
The women, on the whole, were more strategic than the men in Survivor: Borneo. In fact, out of the 16 castaways, the only people who were thinking about or considering strategy and alliances early in the game where Richard, Susan, Stacey, Kelly, Gervase Peterson, and Jenna Lewis. Jenna might seem like a surprising choice because it’s become a custom in the Survivor community to poke fun at her at any given opportunity. Jenna’s desperate quest for post-show fame made her somewhat of a laughing stock among Survivor fans for a long time. But the truth is, when it came to the “non-strategic” Pagong tribe, Jenna was the only one that grasped the concept of the game and how strategically intense it would become. To provide this argument with a little more weight, the only real and competent “alliance” on the Pagong tribe was between Jenna, Colleen Haskell, and Gretchen Cordy when they planned and executed the elimination of Joel Klug.
“Jenna was eagerly looking two weeks into the future when eight or nine people had been voted off, and life would be turning cutthroat. “Things are going to get really nasty,” she exclaimed as if nastiness in its purest form was a very good thing.” – Mark Burnett, Survivor The Ultimate Game, Pg 41.
Jenna’s return in Survivor: All-Stars, while a baffling choice on paper, proved she had a strategic awareness to make it deep into the game; although she lacked the social grace ever to pose a serious threat to win. After all, it was Jenna’s bullheaded “vote-out-the-winners” strategy that saw the demise of many of Survivor’s greatest players in the All-Stars season. My point here is not to claim that Jenna, or any of these other women for that matter, could have won the game had Richard not been included. But that alliances would still have formed without Richard’s inclusion, and they most likely would have been controlled by women.
Before you think this is all just conjecture, and I have no real basis for my argument, I’d like to take you on a trip to Sweden (not a genuine offer, so don’t go billing me your travel expenses). If we are looking at the first ever alliances, it would be remiss not to mention the real original alliance in the world of Survivor.
While Survivor has enjoyed immense success in the United States, the birthplace of the format was in Europe. British television producer Charlie Parsons developed the format in 1994 in the UK, but it wasn’t until 1997 when the first ever production was broadcast – in Sweden of all places. Expedition Robinson was the name of the show, and like the Survivor we came to know and love, it featured 16 contestants battling it out on a remote island for a cash prize.
In Expedition Robinson an alliance was called a “pact.” Similarly to how the word “alliance” became synonymous with Survivor, the word “pact” became synonymous with Expedition Robinson.
The initial season in 1997 played out with little strategic game-play. Instead, those who proved most capable of surviving in the elements were rewarded (i.e., – how people imagined Survivor would be without Richard Hatch). The first instance of pact formation came in 1998, in the second season of Expedition Robinson, when eventual winner Alexandra Zazzi led an all female pact called the Girl Mafia. Zazzi, at the time a 32-year-old chef of Italian descent, maneuvered her way to the end of the game by subtly and efficiently controlling an all female alliance comprised of herself, runner-up Brigitta Åberg, Katarina Johnson and Sophie Uppvik. All four women made the final four and Zazzi’s pact strategy became the blueprint for all future Expedition Robinson seasons.
“It started a little tentative before the participants learned pact formation and above all dared to be so scheming on TV, but then took it off. Most memorable Pact is of course of 1999, when Jerker, Jesus, Klas and Robert managed to hold it together all the way and go to the plank. But Alexandra Zazzi led a similar women’s Pact 1998.” – Mikael Forsell, Seven years of “Expedition: Robinson”, www.HD.se.
Still not convinced that women had a grip on the concept of Survivor alliances before the men? Then let’s stay in Scandinavia but hop over to Denmark.
Robinson Ekspeditionen debuted in Denmark in 1998; the same year season two of Expedition Robinson was airing in Sweden. The two seasons share significant similarities. Both seasons featured all female alliances controlling the post-merge game and making it to the final four. While Alexandra Zazzi was laying down the foundation of pact-formation in Sweden, it was Regina Pederson taking home the victory in Denmark after her all-girl alliance of Karina Winther, Gitte Schnell, and Kathleen Kai-Sørensen made it to the final four.
It’s genuinely fascinating and critical that women comprised the two original alliances to emerge in the world of Survivor, and that the first instance of an alliance in Survivor: Borneo involved women. But unlike the Scandinavian success stories, the female alliance of Kelly, Sonja, Stacey and Susan did not prevail in Borneo. In fact, the alliance failed to make it beyond Day 3. Why? Because as quickly as people make alliances, they are just as easily break them and Susan Hawk loved to break alliances.
In part three, coming next Friday, we will look at how the women’s alliance broke down and how Richard Hatch learned from their mistakes.