Survivor: Heroes v Healers v Hustlers

Historical Perspectives: It’s A Fake?!

Andy Pfeiffer travels back into Survivor history to look at how to concoct a fake alliance.

Spies, lies, and tight self-control. Those are the three ingredients it takes to concoct a fake alliance. Fake deals have been done every single season, like false promises of safety and things like that, but rare is it that an entire alliance is fabricated in such a way that the concoction is not spotted. A phony alliance will blow up in the face of its mastermind if the two right people compare notes – something that absolutely must be considered when forging such a plot.

This week on Historical Perspectives will examine how to concoct a fake alliance with someone whose vote you need… and how not to get caught.


Let’s face it – unless you’re a completely clueless twit who shouldn’t be spending 39 days without food, clean water, electricity, societal awareness, or a proper roof over your head, you’re going to lie at multiple times during a game of Survivor. Playing an “honest game” means you don’t lie any more than necessary – only to deceive somebody you’re about to vote out. Such a playstyle makes you a threat to win, at the same time lying too much makes you an ideal jury goat. Idiots who get to Ponderosa have at times boldly declared they didn’t tell a lie – an egregious statement considering how quickly they broke their self-declared streak after getting snuffed.

The modern state of Survivor is that malicious lying is unacceptable, but anything else goes. As long as you’re not lying because you don’t like somebody and are not “messing around” for fun at the others’ expense, other players will respect it as a game move. It’s quite difficult to pull this off effectively when deprived of sleep, but the willingness to lie (and lie well) separates the contenders from the pretenders.

The grandmother of all Survivor lies dates back to Pearl Islands when Jonny Fairplay asked his loved one and best bud Dan (aka Thunder D) “How’s Grandma?” Sticking to a pre-planned script, Thunder D replied: “She died, dude.” Except she didn’t really. She was busy at home, watching Jerry Springer, who himself was watching Survivor (or so he said). This not only made it easy for Jonny Fairplay to sweep the loved one challenge, which was in the “Coconut Chop” format that season, it also made production show mercy and allow Jonny and Dan to bro down at the Balboa camp while punting everyone else off to the old Morgan beach. Production was none the wiser until a well-timed phone call to Jonny’s house was answered by the very living grandmother his buddy had claimed to have kicked the bucket.


This lie was revolutionary for the Survivor game in that it set no limitations on what you could lie about – or when. Every single person on Balboa bought it except for Queen Sandra, who was quickly slaughtered the moment she asked Thunder D to take a step back, and because they all bought it, Jonny milked that one lie for all it was worth, swearing on his grandmother’s grave that he was being honest with them. This allowed him to turn the tables on Tijuana in the same episode.

Mixed with the Rob Cesternino style of play from the prior season (which had its roots in Marquesas) of continually shifting alliances as necessary, the Survivor game started drifting toward its modern shape. Not only could alliances change, but they could also be faked entirely, with a new one made with no intention to keep it. Chris in Vanuatu made two conflicting F3 deals at the final five, one of which he never intended to stay true to since Julie Berry was the only person left who could beat him in a Final Immunity Challenge. If a pathological liar like Chris could do something like that and be rewarded with a million dollars, who wouldn’t do it?


Devon’s plan is a new one. He suggested that Ben vote with Ryan and Chrissy and act blindsided so he could gather intel while fooling Joe and Dr. Mike into thinking they were valued alliance members. This created two fake alliances, one of which was solely Spy Ben’s responsibility, the other controlled by Devon, Lauren, and Ashley. Usually, a plan to spy happens in reverse. In the South Pacific merge episode, literally titled “Double Agent,” Ozzy pretended that Cochran had idoled him out of the game and used this to get Cochran to feel ostracized enough to go gain info from Upolu as to who they were playing the idol on. Upolu bought it for all of five seconds. They used this opportunity to endear themselves to Cochran in ways everybody at Savaii not named Dawn Meehan had yet to do. Cochran ended up betraying his old tribe for a new one, and Ozzy’s plan became a reality in the reverse way he intended, with Cochran actually defecting.


On a much higher note, the Black Widow Brigade duped poor Erik Reichenbach hardcore by creating a fake alliance involving him, Cirie, and a skeptical Natalie Bolton, where his word would be good as gold if he surrendered his immunity necklace. We all know how that turned out. Had Natalie, who was sent for reconnaissance, reported Erik refusing her offer, Cirie would not have been able to ice the deal, however phony it was. Other successful spies of varying styles include: Sandra listening in on Fairplay and Burton with Tijuana in Pearl Islands, Michelle Yi in Fiji (who successfully reported a slew of info on Moto to Earl), Tony Vlachos who took the Spy Shack to new levels (first seen with Boo Bernis in Fiji) and overheard a slew of key conversations, and Luke Toki in Australian Survivor 2017, who needs no introduction for anyone who has had the pleasure of watching him.

Devon’s plan worked because Ben was a fantastic actor, unlike Ozzy and more like Natalie Bolton. He was believable enough that Joe, Dr. Mike, Ryan, and, until the last vote for Joe turned up, Chrissy all bought that he was a dethroned dictator. None of them had any clue that Ben, not Joe or the sex doctor, was a real alliance member of the Rogue Knights and that he was not with Ryan and Chrissy. While the strategy to gather intelligence ultimately did not pan out since both Ryan and Chrissy had immunity – after the previous vote, there was no way Ryan was going to risk getting snuffed with an idol in his pocket – it did successfully make the last two Healers willing sheep to be led to the slaughter.


At some point in the game, a player that has created multiple opportunities for themselves has to make a choice. At that point, one deal that was initially meant as genuine turns out to be unneeded, resulting in a need to lie about a deal’s continuance. Ask Jay Byars, who was clueless as to how hard he was being played because he was too blinded by the headlights. If you choose to be honest and renege publicly on the deal, then congratulations, you’re not winning anything. Just ask another J.B., in this case, Jefra Bland, who in Cagayan entertained a flip to Spencer and Tasha to avenge LJ, only to be convinced not to. After Spencer’s bro Jeremiah was snuffed, Jefra followed because neither side could count on her vote.

In Heroes vs. Villains, Sandra lied to Russell Hantz that Coach was gunning for him. This was not unheard of, seeing as Coach had lost his closest ally in Tyson due to a lie of Russell’s own. Russell bought it, but as he’s a very gullible player when it comes to anything that threatens his position in the game, it was a logical lie to tell. Such a lie would not have worked on higher-caliber social players. Even Rupert was able to pull the wool over the eyes of Russell just by sticking a rock in his pocket.


Conversely, there are also unnecessary lies. Debbie on Game Changers started spewing rubbish to Aubry, thinking she would buy the land in Florida. Instead, Aubry delivered an eye-roll that would make Ciera Eastin jealous the moment Debbie walked away. Not only was Debbie telling Aubry that Sarah wanted her out unnecessary, it made no logical sense given their history. Aubry proceeded to blindside Debbie in exactly the same way as in Kaoh Rong, giving Sarah the same spiel about Debbie being volatile that Julia had already heard. Had Debbie not told Aubry that lie, Debbie might have lasted longer since even a player of Aubry’s caliber would not have been able to flip a cop like Sarah so easily.

Chrissy and Ryan were had by the Rogue Knights, whose promises of making the final seven as a bloc had no basis in reality. No, they wanted to make the first move and take out one of a trio, then take over the game. They did that and continued to lie afterward. Ben sold everything he did, exhausting himself by playing a victim, while Devon convinced Joe and Dr. Mike that they were part of a final five alliance that was an illusion. The lies worked because they used reality-based logic that the intended targets believed. By voting with Ryan and Chrissy in the prior vote, Ben conned them into thinking he was still with them, which allowed him to continue to feed them crap for three days. They fell for it hard.


Loose lips sink ships. All it takes is one person to blab to someone they shouldn’t, and all of a sudden somebody else is getting blindsided. If you can’t keep your coalition tight-lipped, somebody with an idol might decide to turn the tables. Kelley Wentworth was informed by Joe Anglim in Cambodia that she was a goner, but since nobody anticipated that she had an idol, they all got blown away at Tribal, nine votes along with them. This is merely the most drastic example in recent memory. This was nothing new to Wentworth, given how a blathering idiot was conspiring against her when she was eight feet away in San Juan Del Sur in one of the most epically entertaining strategic meltdowns the show has ever seen. Later in SJDS, another infamous loose-lipper told everyone to “stick to the plan” at Tribal Council, which led Natalie Anderson to force Jon Misch to play his idol. Oh Keith Nale, never change.

Even in old school Survivor, before idols were a thing, telling the person you were voting out was a bad idea – just look at All-Stars, and how much of a fool Lex made himself out to be for telling Jerri he was keeping Amber in instead of her. Rob proceeded to do the exact same thing at the very next vote, with Lex pleading for his life and looking like a royal hypocrite for being bitter toward someone who used his own strategy against him. Lex should have known better after what Rob Cesternino did to Alex Bell in Amazon a year prior once Alex told Rob he was fourth. Keep your mouth shut!


Once idols became a thing, we had the likes of the yes-you’re-hearing-this-again Edgardo blindside leaving Dreamz out of the loop because he would have run his mouth about it, like he already had to Earl’s crew about the idol. This is why Alex and Edgardo were right that Mookie should never have told Dreamz. Mookie should have listened to them. Never tell a blabbermouth anything that isn’t need-to-know. And unless it’s the final four and you want the last juror(s) to rally for you, like Adam did with David in Millennials vs. Gen X, never tell somebody you’re voting them out.

In Micronesia, Amanda came up with a genius plan when the Exile clues told her the idol was buried back at camp, one that involved outright showing the tribe that she didn’t have the idol, digging it up, and hamming it until she pulled out the rocket that claimed Alexis. She did not give any signs that her act was phony, nor did Parvati, the only other person in on it, and she was able to catch everybody else off guard. A critical key to this series of events was how she was able to confirm that Cirie was still with her in any situation that didn’t involve a rock draw, an alliance that would make Amanda the first-ever two-time finalist. Had Amanda given even a single tell, they might’ve split the vote and caught her off guard, although there was not much precedent for that at the time.

The plans the Rogue Knights made worked because they were tight-lipped about them and, as Amanda did in Micronesia, did not indicate that Ben was hamming it up. Not only did Ryan and Chrissy think Ben was with them, Joe and Dr. Mike felt welcomed into the alliance even though it was a fake. Ben was able to function as a double agent because these two pairs were none the wiser. Not only was Ben’s acting job worthy of an award, Devon, Lauren, and Ashley were able to stay silent about Ben being in on the plan while keeping a distance and for some reason, nobody ever figured out that the scheme was hatched on that reward, which would naturally have involved Ben. None of them had diarrhea of the mouth, none of them responded to a critical query about the plan (else it’d have been shown), and none of them were an idiot. And this is all going down in a season where secrets are not kept, which when used as precedent makes it easier to string everyone along.



Fake alliances don’t work easily on strategically savvy players – it’s most effective on the Beast Mode Cowboys of the world (for the non-Big Brother readers, the poor guy bought it for two months!). They require constant monitoring of the situation, sometimes through spies, carefully concocted lies that have enough basis in reality to be believable, and enough self-control for the entire alliance to not tell the wrong person the wrong thing. Unnecessary votes need not be kept in the loop; it’s why Aubry and Tai left Michele and Julia out of the Scot blindside in Kaoh Rong and why Boston Rob took out Matt Elrod when he deemed himself expendable in Redemption Island.

The Rogue Knights were able to pull their scheme off because they did all the things they needed to do and they did them in new and brilliant ways that may revolutionize Survivor double-agent play. Instead of sending a spy to report information back to the true alliance, spies may now have assigned votes more regularly to feign trust to their old deal and get the information in what feels like a completely genuine way to the target. Ben will get a lot of credit for pulling this off should he make endgame. Devon will get credit for it only if Ben and/or Ashley vouch that it was his idea. It will be fascinating to watch who Dr. Mike, Chrissy, and Ryan blame for playing them for fools.

And things like that.

Written by

Andy Pfeiffer

Andy is a 30-year-old from Wisconsin, having an English major from UW-Whitewater. He has watched Survivor from the very first episode and can't go a day without running Survivor-related thoughts in his head. When he's not entranced by a computer at home or work, he's probably playing a video game or out and about somewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @IAmAndyPfeiffer.

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