Historical Perspectives: Ticking Time Bomb

Andy Pfeiffer travels back into Survivor history to look at how to deal with volatile players.

The conditions on Survivor are apt to cause players to lose their minds after a month of deprivation. This often leads to the naïve and volatile players to explode in a volcano of fiery fury, which makes them a major concern for their remaining allies. These players may be discarded or, since they’re alienating everyone, utilized as a need-to-know pawn dragged to the end as a goat. Which choice is made is often reliant upon how much game is left to play.

Today’s Historical Perspectives will examine whether or not the Naviti core made the proper decision in voting out Kellyn over Donathan.


If somebody becomes emotionally unstable, unpredictable and/or impossible to figure out, that person automatically appears on the radar as a potential target. The worse you are at controlling your emotions or the more likely you are to blow up people’s games, the more likely they are to want to get rid of you. Pre-merge, it’s a death warrant – those players are not the type that you want to move forward with in a merge since they’re harder to trust and harder to discern if they’ll be loyal, such as how Bradley was perceived this season (somewhat falsely). Later in the game, however, these players become valuable as potential jury goats, seeing as nobody’s going to respect erratic, illogical gameplay that cannot be justified through an FTC speech after jurors have already closed their minds toward that person.

If you intend to take this person with you to the end as a goat, you have to keep their trust while informing them only what they absolutely need to know. As these players are impossible to predict, telling them any more risks endangering your position. At the same time, you have to ensure that said player trusts you enough despite you not telling them everything. The best approach to this is to let them ask questions, but give them honest but short-and-to-the-point answers that don’t give them too much information. This is exactly why Donathan knowing about the idols is highly dangerous, as the evidence indicates it’s highly likely he’s the one that made sure the entire tribe knew about them.

At the same time, the volatile player may also be the biggest threat – either to your game or to win. In Cagayan, Chaos Kass reneged on the plan to regroup the Brains because she felt Tony was easier to beat than either Tasha or Spencer, simply because he was a volatile loose cannon. She did not realize that, although he was reckless, the jury perceived her as a cold, emotional player – far worse than their impression of Tony – and that by helping out their friends, she could have had some respite from the jurors with the least favorable dispositions.

Taking out the volatile player is a difficult consideration that must weigh several things. Is this person as much of a goat as they appear? Is keeping them in the game going to compromise your position? Can you actually get them to the end? Or are they a sitting duck in the next vote? These are the questions that Domenick and Wendell had to weigh in choosing between Donathan and Kellyn.


In Redemption Island, Boston Rob deliberately chose Phillip Sheppard as his alliance mate, solely because he knew how irritating the man was to live with and therefore it would be hard to get votes with anyone above average in intelligence. Obviously, this worked for him, seeing as he won the game. And, in the process, he kept Phillip loyal while only telling him what he needed to know. Phillip realized his early irritating behavior cost him any chance to win, so he played it up in hopes to earn a return ticket to Survivor where he’d apply what the Robfather taught him in hopes to win the game. This strategy worked wonders until Malcolm Freberg put an end to him because Phillip had become a recognizable threat. Because of his rabblerousing personality, Rob knew Phillip was an optimal goat. This led him to blindside Andrea Boehlke, who had been on the bottom since the start and was more apt to incite a revolution with the women. Her play in future seasons proves her capability.

It may be at the point where Donathan has admitted defeat due to Domenick and Wendell’s mind control over Laurel, much like Boston Rob had over half the Redemption Island cast. For a cocky superfan that talked big in the pre-game, Laurel most certainly has become the very kind of player she said she never would in a Natalie Tenerelli type. The problem? Laurel isn’t a 19-year-old who has no idea what she’s gotten herself into. She’s a mature Survivor superfan who should be willing to bite the damn apple and make a big move that will allow her to stand above the twin towers that have been running the game. She shouldn’t buy their land in Florida!

Another example is in Philippines, when the eventual final four had to decide between Carter and Abi-Maria at the final six. They felt that Carter, Purple as his edit was, was a major threat both in challenges and with the jury while Abi-Maria was… Abi-Maria. Abi, at the very least, was aware that her best bet was the Specialist strategy to get to the end as a goat, punch a return ticket, and play a better game the second time. Though she didn’t make the end, they kept her, and it was, by all means, the correct move. Donathan is starting to act like Abi. And like Abi, whose ACL tear made it very difficult for her to be competitive, Donathan is not a physical threat. Kellyn meanwhile had been victorious in an immunity challenge once already, which made her a larger concern than Donathan, and she had friends on the jury who would have loved to give her the million dollars.


But what if the bigger threat is the volatile player? Abi’s second stint at Survivor, in Cambodia, gave her the opposite outcome at the same point in the game, and although she had reined in her volatility, she was still the Brazilian Dragon at the end of the day, and the deprivation brought out the same Abi everyone remembered. She began to annoy several of her tribemates, especially when she refused to allow others to have private conversations. This made her more dangerous than the other alliance’s target, Tasha, who was just as disliked by the jury. Spencer ultimately made the correct choice for himself, especially since he and Tasha had been aligned since day 11 of their first game together in Cagayan, in taking out Abi, as it let him get a spot in the final three that would not have been his otherwise.

Referring back to Cagayan, Chaos Kass presumed Tony was more of a goat than he actually was, which was what allowed his waffling allies to feel more at ease despite his frequently reckless behavior. There was also a major factor named Trish Hegarty fighting all the fires for him, which wasn’t something Kass took into account. While Kass should have made the final two, she would not have won, so it was possibly worth flipping to have a few angry jurors forgive her, split up a power pair by sending Trish home (seeing as Tony had the Tyler Perry idol and was therefore bulletproof), and to flip back the same way Tony had and still try to make the final three with Tony and Woo. If everything played out the same, however, Woo still makes a complete moron out of himself.

Donathan is the one starting fires here, but Laurel has stopped caring to put them out because she’s so far up Domenick and Wendell’s tree. Donathan is also not the level of threat that Tony was in any department. As a Brawn, Tony was a physical threat who could contend for any challenge he wanted to, though he only ended up winning one (the mud pit, a reward). Donathan is not. Donathan is also not the idol-finding machine that Tony was, having only acquired one and playing it as a result of the twist and his justified paranoia about Jenna’s behavior. While Donathan enjoys stirring the pot like Tony did, he doesn’t have the same methodological approach. His execution is careless and fostered distrust as opposed to the opposite. Though he’s by no means a terrible liar, he doesn’t have the same ability to lie into people’s souls that Tony does.

Shane Powers in Exile Island was a trainwreck, having been experiencing serious cigarette withdrawal and quickly losing his mind. This caused a major rift in the Casaya camp, a place where life was never dull. This was especially true when he fought with Courtney Marit, whom he had a bit of a crush on regardless of the way he treated her. The two of them both had the appearance of goats because of how they rustled everyone’s feathers on a nearly daily basis. However, the legendary Cirie Fields recognized that only two people could sit at the end, and if one of those spots was occupied by a goat, it wasn’t occupied by her. She realized that Courtney was a threat because Shane and Terry both wanted to bring her to the final two. By taking Courtney out, Cirie could more easily acquire that spot herself, but at the same time, this kept in bigger threats to win.

Cirie ended up losing that season because she failed at making fire, but one of those bigger threats, Aras Baskauskas, ended up winning it all. Aras was the only one who could beat Terry in any challenge that wasn’t built for someone of a smaller frame like that season’s Final Immunity Challenge. Aras was Cirie’s ride-or-die, so she had no reason to get rid of him at that point, meaning Courtney and Shane were the logical choices. Donathan here was a somewhat logical choice, but he’s also a logical goat. Nobody is going to take him seriously because even though he’s the one who is not a sheep, his approach was seriously lacking and felt highly self-motivated. In Survivor, you need to convince people what’s best for you is what’s best for them by framing it from their point of view. Donathan didn’t do that.

Kellyn meanwhile was the one who could only hope, seeing as she had to let people come to her as she had divorced herself from any power to call the shots herself. She was a likable, strategic player whose emotions at times clouded her judgment, but being beloved by the jury made her as much of a threat as Carter, as Tasha in Cagayan (but not Cambodia), and as Andrea in Redemption Island. She was one of the few resisting the dynamic duo while having the ability to sway people against them. This made her a larger threat than someone like Donathan, who has less of that ability.


While it’s clear that Donathan isn’t making the final three, keeping him in the game right now was the right choice. By taking out the only person willing to work with him on a revolution, you take away any power he has. Though the same could be said if Donathan were voted out and Kellyn were in the game, since she had no power whatsoever. But because Kellyn had stronger connections with several jurors, namely Des, Michael and Chelsea, she was ultimately the bigger risk to keep in the game even though she’s not very volatile.

Keeping Donathan in runs the risk of him blowing up more plans, that hasn’t done much. It didn’t even manage to sway Laurel, who is all talk and no action. Donathan is both talk and action, but since the actions were questionable, it’s harder to listen to him. That is ultimately why he was less of a threat than Kellyn, who was desperate to change the writing on the wall by allowing others to come to her rather than exacerbate her own target. Because Kellyn has a lethality that Donathan does not possess as of this time, Kellyn was the correct torch to snuff.

Photos: CBS

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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