I remember the night of May 13th, 2007 incredibly well. I was glued to my TV screen, already in my pajamas because I absolutely had to be in bed no later than 10pm. On any other day, I would not have been allowed to stay up this late on a school night. But this night, it was of the utmost importance that I stay up because it was the night I, as a 12-year-old Survivor fan, was anxiously awaiting the results of Survivor: Fiji.
Of course, I wasn’t the only Survivor fan tuned in for the conclusion of the fourteenth season. While many were anxious to learn the outcome of the infamous car deal, I was waiting to see if we would get a Black winner. As a child that started watching the show when Vanuatu was airing, I had no prior knowledge of Vecepia Robinson‘s historic win. With the notable exception of Cirie Fields in Panama, this was the first time I had watched where a Black winner seemed possible. To my pleasant surprise, I witnessed history being made when Fiji ended with the first (and currently, only) all-Black final three.
While all three finalists were intelligent and capable players worthy of the win, Fiji would make history twice in one night when Earl Cole became the first unanimous winner of the franchise. Despite what the edit may have wanted us to believe, the final three in Fiji wasn’t just a happy coincidence. Future interviews from multiple contestants revealed that Fiji‘s final three of Earl, Cassandra Franklin, and Dreamz Herd was the result of their hard work and calculated strategizing, starting with the formation of the first Black alliance in Survivor history. This alliance, which I have informally dubbed the Fiji Five, also included Erica Durousseau and Anthony Robinson, who were voted out before the merge.
This is not an analysis of Survivor: Fiji as a whole, nor is it a piece to debate the merits of individual players. This is a tribute to an alliance that was never given the acclaim they deserved and to players that never received the recognition they should have. Nevertheless, their success left an indelible mark, a symbol of hope and perseverance, for future Black players that would go on to represent the Survivor franchise.
Black Survivor players supporting one another was not a new concept in Fiji. These connections have always existed, starting with the debut season where Gervase Peterson and Ramona Gray formed a friendship while on Pagong. Most prominently, Vecepia and Sean Rector shared a tight bond from the beginning of Marquesas, one that led to them being the last two members of their original tribe. But it wasn’t until Cook Islands that we even had more than two Black contestants in a season, a trend that continued into Fiji before reverting back to their original casting formula.
The purpose of all-Black alliances is not to ostracize players outside of the alliance. Rather, these alliances are chances to uplift historically marginalized contestants. The erasure of Fiji‘s dominant alliance in the edit seems especially poignant now, given how Black alliances were a defining point in 2021 reality TV. After years of implicit and explicit racism plaguing Big Brother US, “The Cookout” alliance decimated the competition, with all of their members making it to the final six. As a result, Xavier Prather was unanimously crowned the show’s first Black winner of the civilian series.
Less successfully, the all-Black alliance in Survivor 41, unofficially called “The Campout” by fans, led the charge in several vote-outs as they struggled to balance their personal games with the bigger cause. None of them won, but Deshawn Radden secured second place thanks to alliance member Danny McCray’s lone vote.
These Black alliances were identified, named, and discussed in depth throughout their respective seasons, triumphs and struggles alike. The edit in Survivor: Fiji did not give us that, but the alliance’s presence was noticeable throughout the season. While they always prioritized what was best for themselves over anything else, they were never shown to entertain the idea of betraying each other. Earl, Cassandra, and Dreamz were vastly different from one another in their personalities, but their common goal of getting to the end united them throughout the merge.
Their road to the finale was far from an easy one. In fact, they lost two of their numbers before the merge. With Earl on Exile Island, Erica was the second person voted out of the season, with only Anthony voting to keep her. She was a strong and capable player and should still be recognized as a member of this alliance even though her time in the game was short. Anthony’s journey was more complex, but I’ll always remember him as a distinguished player who was unapologetically himself. The self-proclaimed nerd never gave up and offered a refreshing presence on tribes obsessed with physicality in challenges. He was a defining character of the pre-merge, which meant a lot to fans like myself who saw themselves reflected in him.
Each of the final three had an uphill battle to make it to the end, Haves and Have Nots alike. Cassandra and Dreamz were at the bottom of Moto (the Haves tribe) from the very beginning. Camp life segments showed them eating separately from their tribemates, waiting for the day they got the opportunity to flip. Other cast members were worried that this may happen but never anticipated just how outmatched they were. The tribe swap gave Cassandra the opportunity to make new allies that would last her throughout the game, whereas Dreamz’s betrayal of the Four Horsemen turned the tides for himself and the rest of the alliance in the merge. Without their foresight to flip when it was best for their individual games, Fiji shapes up to be a much different season.
Meanwhile, Earl, along with Erica and Anthony, was on Ravu (the Have Nots), who would go on to lose every challenge they participated in. Despite Earl’s frequent attendances to Tribal Council, he was a consistent leader that was never in danger of being voted out. His strategic and social dominance throughout the season is something we rarely see in a winner, though many have tried and failed to replicate his style of play. Despite having never seen the show before, he had an eye for the game and was unanimously rewarded the million-dollar prize for his efforts.
On an individual level, they all wanted to be the Sole Survivor. On a grander scale, they found a way to support one another as much as they could without jeopardizing their own games. Was it perfect? Perhaps not, but it was incredibly effective. Many alliances fall victim to the individualistic nature of the game, where the desire to stand apart triumphs over what is best for the group. The best alliances can overcome this to have their members reach the end game. The results of Fiji are hard to ignore. With three of their members making it as far as they could possibly go, should their alliance not be recognized as one of the greats as well?
No one was happier than me on May 13th, 2007, to see such a dynamic group of players make the final three. These three contestants did the seemingly impossible and overcame the odds to secure not only our first Black male winner but also our first unanimous winner in the show’s history. They were smart, strategic, and underestimated, but they had a common goal: they wanted what was best not only for themselves but also for the Black fans watching at home. In real time, they were not given the praise they deserved—not from the jury, not from production, and certainly not from the fanbase. What better time than now to begin righting the wrongs.
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It is time that they receive the proper praise that they deserved almost 15 years ago. These players were ahead of their time, both in their alliance and their willingness to do what was necessary to make it to the end. While we lost two great characters along the way, it does not diminish their contributions to the game or the historic final three that defines Fiji. There is nothing more I can say than to thank them for their time in the game and for how they impacted my life as a Survivor fan. They changed the possibilities for future Black players, even if we’re only just beginning to see casts that reflect their efforts.