The Struggle of Female Finalists (Part 1)

Derek Beets looks at the different perceptions of female Survivor finalists.

One of the great things about Survivor as a game is that honestly anyone, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, or age, can win. However, there does seem to be a discrepancy between male and female winners. When fans have suggested a Champion Edition, Jeff Probst has even said that they don’t have enough female winners. It also doesn’t help that Probst always seems less enthusiastic about a season when a woman wins – no matter how well she plays. It appears that unless a woman is up against a goat or other women, she has a harder time winning the game; this isn’t always the case. There have been a handful of occasions where a man and a woman faced off in the final tribal council, and the vote could have gone either way, however, it’s more common that a man will win against a woman.

In the 22 seasons with a mixed gender final tribal council, only eight women have won, and twenty have lost. After the first season and Richard Hatch’s cutthroat level of gameplay, some people didn’t think that a woman would ever be able to win Survivor. Men will be forgiven more easily for they’re “evil” and deceptive gameplay. However, if a woman was to do the same thing, she’s often labeled a “bitch” and vilified. It’s a double standard that Survivor continues to face even as recently as Survivor: Cagayan when Chaos Kass discussed her gameplay, which was just as aggressive as the way Tony had been playing. In the end, Kass missed out on the final tribal council, but throughout the latter part of the game she was ostracized and Tony was not.

In life, a man who is driven and gets things done and works hard and kind of pisses people off sometimes is considered a great success or something great. But a woman who works hard, and presses on, and makes moves, and goes forward is a bitch. It is a double standard. The move I made changed this game, no one can argue… there are currently four people, half the jury is there because of what I did, and they’re bitter. It’s crazy to me. If I were a man and I did that, I would be considered a huge threat to win.” –Kass McQuillen

So why the double standard? Well, it’s not exclusive to Survivor. It’s a double standard that permeates modern society. Women, especially women of a certain age (40+) with children, are expected to be gentle and nurturing and agreeable, even when it comes to a game like Survivor. When that doesn’t happen, the reactions of their fellow players show the double standard clearly.

This multi-part feature will look at the instances in which women have lost against men and why it happened. We will not be discussing seasons with only one gender represented in the finals.

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 most accurately represent. It’s important to keep in mind that many of these finalists can (and do) fall under more than one of these categories, but I’ve placed them where I felt the jury viewed them the most.

First up…


Out of all four categories, the jury viewing someone as undeserving is probably the most common theme in a female finalist not winning against a man. Whether it be relying on her male counterpart to bring her to the finals through his moves, or not making any big moves of her own, these women rarely have a pleasant experience in the final tribal council.

Kim Johson, Survivor: Africa.
Kim Johson, Survivor: Africa.

Kim Johnson entered Survivor: Africa at a marked disadvantage. She was the oldest cast member and seen as a substantial liability in challenges. However, thanks to her impressive social skills and the fact that there always seemed to be a bigger target to get rid of, Kim managed to survive. She integrated herself into an alliance with Ethan Zohn, Lex van den Berghe and Big Tom Buchanan, and once they made it to the final four, she won the last two immunity challenges; allowing her to take the game into her hands. Kim took Ethan to the end, not because she necessarily believed that she could beat him, but because she had a better connection with him than with Lex. Ultimately, the jury awarded Ethan the victory and deprived Kim. Even though she had won two immunity challenges, the jury widely believed that up until then, she had ridden on the coattails of the three men in her alliance to get to the final four.

Katie Gallagher, Survivor: Palau.
Katie Gallagher, Survivor: Palau.

Going into Survivor: Palau, many people, expected Tom Westman to be in the finals. Many people did not expect that his counterpart would be Katie Gallagher. Katie represents several of the categories that cost someone the game. Several jurors saw her as mean and unlikable and she had proven herself to be somewhat untrustworthy. However, up against someone who had such an impressive game resume as Tom, Katie had little argument to give.

In the jury’s opinion, Katie had gone along with Tom and Ian Rosenberger’s every move to get herself to the end. Even though we as viewers saw Katie’s plan to usurp the boys with her failed women’s alliance plot, the jury didn’t see nor care. Her actual final tribal council performance did her no favors either. Responding sharply and defensively to juror questions or refusing to answer them at all sunk Katie for good. Her only vote came out of spite for someone else, and not because they believed she earned it.

Becky Lee, Survivor: Cook Islands.
Becky Lee, Survivor: Cook Islands.

The finals of Survivor: Cook Islands are fascinating because it’s the first time you see a definitive showdown of brains versus brawn. You have Yul Kown, the mastermind, up against Ozzy Lusth, the god of physical challenges. Oh yeah, Becky Lee was there too. I think Becky falls under the underappreciated category as well, but the jury didn’t see it that way. She had been with Yul since the beginning, and had made all of her moves in tandem with his, but the jury saw her only as a coattail rider. Coupled with a disastrous fire-building tiebreaker challenge, Becky was completely shut out in Survivor’s first three-person final tribal council.

Cassandra Franklin, Survivor: Fiji.
Cassandra Franklin, Survivor: Fiji.

Survivor: Fiji isn’t remembered fondly and usually for good reason. However, it did give the show its first unanimous winner in Earl Cole. It was virtually transparent going into the finals that the jury would not reward Cassandra Franklin for her gameplay. Cassandra had the luck of remaining on the “Haves” tribe the entire game. She only attended one tribal council pre-merge, and once she was in the merge, she wasn’t seen as a physical or strategic threat to eliminate.

Cassandra began working with Earl and Yau-Man Chan, both of whom started on the “Have-Nots” tribe, after the swap and severed most of the bonds that she had with her original tribemates, save for Dreamz Herd. Using that relationship with Dreamz, she was able to help Yau-Man pull him into their alliance, but was then part of the plan to vote out Yau-Man. During the final tribal council, she was seen as untrustworthy for turning on her original tribe and betraying Yau-Man, but more so undeserving because she was viewed merely as a pawn in Earl’s schemes.

Susie Smith, Survivor: Gabon.
Susie Smith, Survivor: Gabon.

Susie Smith had a strange road to the finals in Survivor: Gabon. She was seen as the least valuable member of her tribe early on and seemed to be a bit out of her depth in the social aspect of the game. Being seen as a number in the game was Susie’s blessing/curse. While that boded well for her in that it kept her in the game, it meant that the other castaways weren’t taking her seriously. She proved her capability with her work ethic around camp and the fact that she won two individual immunity challenges, including the last one.

The craziest thing is that Susie very nearly won the game: many jurors felt Bob Crowley was also undeserving, and Sugar Kiper was not well liked by the majority of them. So it does seem a little odd that someone deemed “not important” was able to garner three votes at the end of the game. Maybe the editors chose to show us more of Bob since he won and more of Sugar since her game was very much the “emotional journey.” However, even Jeff Probst once stated that he would have had a hard time trying to sell a season where Susie won. Whether that’s just Probst being a sexist or not, Susie is one of the stranger finalist stories.

Natalie Tenerelli, Survivor: Redemption Island.
Natalie Tenerelli, Survivor: Redemption Island.

Natalie Tenerelli is perhaps the poster child of the Undeserving section. Her social skills enabled her to work her way into an alliance and become Boston Rob Mariano’s right-hand woman in Survivor: Redemption Island. Social skills aside, it’s very obvious why Natalie lost. She had more than one opportunity to take the game into her hands and refused to do so every time, running back to Rob with any information that she had gathered. She cemeneted her devotion to Rob when she turned against her closest friend in the game, Ashley Underwood, and voted her out in the final four.

When you use your game to assist someone else so much, is it logical to expect a jury to reward you? Natalie tried to argue that she should have been rewarded for her loyalty, but the jury saw the situation much differently. Her betrayal of Ashley led to her being castigated, Andrea Boehlke found her relationship with Rob “creepy,” Julie Wolfe said that Natalie’s parents should be ashamed of the way their daughter had played the game in service to a man, and Ralph Kiser revealed that Natalie had never even spoken to him during the game. Talk about a lack of jury management and self-awareness. Youth aside, she should have known better.

Sherri Beithman, Survivor: Caramoan.
Sherri Beithman, Survivor: Caramoan.

If you ever want to see an example of how not to deal with a jury during the final tribal council, look no further than Sherri Biethman’s performance in Survivor: Caramoan. Amanda has always taken flack for her underwhelming final tribal council performances, but in my opinion, Sherri had the WORST performance ever.

Going back to the beginning of the game, Sherri looked to be in a pretty good position. However, when her alliance fell apart towards the middle, she latched herself on to John Cochran and Dawn Meehan and from that moment on was perceived as a pawn in their schemes. By the time that Sherri reached the finals with them, the jury saw her as such a nonentity that she was laughed at when she responded to questions. To make matters worse for herself, when juror Erik Reichenbach asked his question and continued to dig for information, she told him to sit down because she did not believe that he was going to vote for her. By that point, she had lost all credibility and respect from the jury. To them, Sherri was not only undeserving but not even an option.

In Part 2 we will look at those in the Unlikable category.


Photo Credit: jeffgunn via Compfight cc

Written by

Derek Beets

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.

2 responses to “The Struggle of Female Finalists (Part 1)”

  1. “In the 22 seasons with a mixed gender final tribal council, only eight women have won, and twenty have lost.” I’m a little confused on the math here.

    • Super late to reply, but there can be a Final 3 where two women lose to a man. Gabon is an example presented in this very article, with Susie and Sugar both losing to Bob.

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