"In the burning heart, just about to burst..."
December 13, 2008 2:40 AM   Subscribe

I haven't watched Survivor (US) since season three, except for the "All-Star" season. I'm watching bits and pieces this year, and it's making me wonder which players in the show's history stand out as being particularly savvy, shrewd, cunning, resourceful, and manipulative, to the extent of almost being unfair to everyone else they played with. Who demonstrated the most incisive understanding of the game's rules and his/her opponents, and how did they do it? And/or what's a glaring strategy that should be employed but has yet to be?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Biggest weasel was 'Johnny Fairplay", who pretended his grandmother died to win a competition.

I'd still say the best competitor was Richard Hatch, and Rudy's still my favorite for being an irascible old homophobe.
posted by orthogonality at 2:45 AM on December 13, 2008

I'm not particularly interested in the show myself, but two of my roommates are actually good friends with Ken (from the current season). From what I hear of him, he's pretty clever.
posted by aheckler at 3:53 AM on December 13, 2008

Rob & Amber in the All-Stars series? Rob did some serious bullshitting to keep Amber in the game.

Parvati in the Fans Vs Faves season.

Most of them think they are "particularly savvy, shrewd, cunning, resourceful, and manipulative". Mostly I reckon it's just luck - do other people buy your crap? does your team win challenges to avoid going to council?

Richard Hatch set a precedent, in that he was really the only person is season 1 who "played the game" and he won. Pretty much since then, most of the contestants are in there with a strategy to form alliances, but it looks like the outcome is pretty random based on who wins the challenges and random tribe re-shuffling. Contestants often get very cocky, and then the production turns everything upside down by rejiggering or merging teams which can then oust the strongest players as happened this year. I often wonder if the rules get changed randomly and are being made up as the filming goes along day by day or if they have a flow chart of "if this happens we do this, or if that happens we do something else".

The guy that won China seemed quite savvy.
posted by goshling at 3:54 AM on December 13, 2008

Oh yes, Ken in the current season.

I like him less & less as the season progresses, but he is doing his wormy little thing to win himself the money. He's been surprisingly good at getting the other idiots to believe his bullshit, so props to him, he's been key in ousting many of the strong players. He often expresses his belief that he has the game in the bag. I'd like to see the wind taken out of his sails...I guess it depends on if the jury click on how much he screwed them over before or after they vote (if he made it to the final). Ken also made a few stupid decisions based on hormones, as did a few other players this season.

I was most upset at the result last season (Fans Vs Faves). Hated the outcome. HATED.
posted by goshling at 4:08 AM on December 13, 2008

Response by poster: I figure luck plays an awfully big role in the show (although does it actually increase or diminish as there are fewer and fewer players, and perhaps fewer variables?). But I also figure a really good player would be able to constantly adapt, even if the odds seem against him/her. After all, you deal with humans who can be influenced, molded, and negotiated with.

I assumed Hatch would remain near the top (although he didn't fare too well in All-Stars), but I hoped after however many seasons they've had now, someone would've surpassed him in impressive fashion, esp since with each passing season, potential players would have more of the show's history to work with and analyze.

And not that I want to stray too far into this aspect of Survivor, but I'd have to think everything's all but laid out in advance, otherwise I think it'd be against the law to do anything close to rigging a game show, which is essentially what this is. Although producers apparently do influence the players in subtle ways.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 4:18 AM on December 13, 2008

Best answer: Generally, people are idiots. This was really emphasised in the Fans Vs Faves season where you had experienced contestants up against people who thought they knew it all by watching it on TV. The Fans pretty much all turned out to be no where near as good as the experienced players, and one of them even melted down cos she couldn't handle a bit of rain & hunger.

I think you're spot on with what you say about adaption, but the show is into it's 17th season now, so one would hope that the personality interplay would get more interesting - I often wonder if many of the contestants even bothered to watch previous seasons, because many of them seem to have no clue what is actually going on and that their strength depends on their allies. (Still, Sugar is interesting to watch this season, no real alliances any more, she has her immunity idol, she doesn't seem to be a target. The other idiots - Ken & Crystal - ought to be booting her out, or she might just pluck the prize from them - AND THEY KNOW SHE HAS THE IDOL?) Anyway, contestants can try to adapt all they can, but early allegiances are often key. I try not to judge too much, cos I'm sure there is much manipulative editing going on. I believe each episode we see is 3-4 days? I'm sure we as an audience are being manipulated by the editing.

I must say tho, while watching season 2 (I think) I knew one tribe had made camp in a river bed, so when it rained...well, that is still one of the funniest things i remember ever watching on TV.

I thought I was the only person on the planet still watching this nonsense, but I do like watching how people interact under these circumstances.
posted by goshling at 4:47 AM on December 13, 2008

ugh, here I am again...

I don't know about rigging, but I do wonder about some of the rules, they appear to be quite clearly jiggered according to previous outcomes - eg the year of stef & bobbywhassanem when there was no merge, they just whittles away til that dud tribe was just stef all alone. Also merges only happening after a member of each tribe managed to find an idol, etc

Is it a fair game if the rules are changed while the game is being played? I find that an interesting topic.

I wonder if the rules are made up before or if they give themselves options. I'd guess the production crew have a few plans depending on unfolds, but surely sooner or later a surprise crops up (like the year Stef & Bobby John's tribe lost every challenge - every one sits back and says WOAH and watches the train wreck...no merge ever happens)

They're have been idols all over the damn place this season....I wonder if the production crew must piss themselves with glee when a contestant makes a fake idol.
posted by goshling at 5:08 AM on December 13, 2008

Best answer: He's been surprisingly good at getting the other idiots to believe his bullshit

This is where Survivor luck is most important: How smart are the people around you? If you're surrounded by idiots, it's pretty easy to be a powerful player. For instance, Kenny has a good shot because when the others had a chance to vote him this past Thursday, they chose instead someone who was completely unchallenging who they could have gotten rid of at anytime. Idiots.

Brian from Season Five had the same luck. Part of it was that he was a born manipulator, but really was that everyone around him was so surprising stupid in how they swallowed his obvious lies. Each week I was screaming at the TV, "He lies you fuckwit, don't believe a thing outta his mouth."

Season 6 had a natural social animal coming out on top. I didn't like her winning, but she had a way of making people like her, almost a stereotypical bratty popular girl.

Sandra won Season 7 mostly due to luck (the horrible Outcast twist), flying under the radar and being willing to vote along with any alliance i.e. "anyone who wasn't her".

Season 8, All-Stars, was another case of the winner being surrounded by dumb players. Hated that Season.

Season 9 was an interesting case. Tribes were broken down to men vs women, with the women dominating for quite a while, until there was only one man left at some point after the merge. At that point one of the women, Twilia, realized she was low on the totem pole and got two other low raking women and the one remaining male to flip the tables. It was brilliant, a really great move, but Twilia had been engaging in fights with other women, probably due to classism and agism on both sides and this mattered when the final two were her and the lone remaining guy. A couple of the women voted for the guy because they hated Twilia, due to their own pettiness and Twilia's low social abilities. One or two voted for the guy because they figured he must have done something right to still be standing after all the women had been gunning for the men, right? Wrong. He was basically coached by Twilia to the very end and even wound up promising and then screwing over one or two of the woman who forgave him, while still hating Twilia. So the least deserving person of the F2 won.

Something similar happened for Season 10, where Ian who done most of the actual thinking of his alliance was made to feel ashamed when he attempted to create alliances outside his core alliance. Ian fell for it and wound up giving up at Final 3, letting two lesser players duke it out. This season was notable because one tribe consistently lost every challenge and was just carved down to one final player, Stephanie, who was a good athelete, a natural social player (a textbook example of a extrovert) but dumb as rocks at times, however was evidently quite popular and received a lot of camera time.

Season 11 was great, but started off terrible due to the return of Stephanie and one other popular player, Bobbie Jon, from Season 10. Once again the camera fawned over Stephanie, who was prone to emotional outbursts and could never shut up. Which is a shame, because the eventual winner of the season, a woman named Danni was a better athlete than Stephanie and much smarter. She played a great, quiet game, manipulating through others and dominating at challenges. Her winning was really no contest and well deserved.

For Season 12 I don't remember much about.

Season 13, which initially divided the tribes by race was quite good and the winner, Yul, was great: methodical, smart and good social skills made him a natural winner.

Season 14 had one of the best players ever who did win, Yau-Man Chan. Smart, with a great personality, who pulled a brilliant trick: He created a immunity idol and stuck it somewhere for others to find. Someone found it and attempted to play it and of course it didn't work. Yau was allied with Earl, who eventually won and they were a great team. Both smart, with likable personalities and methodical minds. It should be noted that Earl was the only US Survivor player to win unanimously and he definitely earned that.

Don't remember much about Season 15, mostly due to some horrible people making it to Final 3 and not paying as much attention. The winner seemed forgone conclusion around F5 or so and that seemed boring.

Sixteen 16 was frustrating in that the second place person, Amanda (like Ian from Season 10), didn't have the heart to or skill to make her case for winning and thus basically handed it to the other person, Parvarti. To be fair, Parvarti was naturally social person, but Amanada seemed smarter and did more actual planning. However Amanda didn't seem to like realizing all the "dirty" things and kinda crapped out when it came time to really make the case against Parvarti, which she could have done.

Richard Hatch was actually an anomaly in that most people didn't like him, but recognized his skill and Hatch had formed an strong alliance whom he thought were weaker than him. He almost screwed up with Kelly, who dominated at challenges. Later winners have usually been very good and natural at the social aspects of the game, with a bit of intelligence and luck to help guide them.

Sugar or Bob or Kenny will win this season, Kenny most likely if he can stay alive 'till final 3.

Yeah, I'm a Survivor fan, so what?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:12 AM on December 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

Yau-Man Chan on season 14 was my favorite player ever. He came back another season but was voted out rather early.

He made one small mistake in 14 and it cost him but he played more brilliantly than anyone in the game's history, in my book.

One of the problems with such discussions is that we don't see what's cut out. The show is edited to be the most exciting it can and this doesn't always reflect well (or poorly) enough on particular characters. For instance, in the current season, I think Sugar is more cunning than she comes across. They've had a lot of scenes of her crying so far but I suspect she's running the gears more than she appears. I believe she (or Bob) will win this season. I don't think Kenny will win at all. In fact, I think he's gone next week though they should've taken him before Crystal--that is, of course, based on what we're shown. And, what we've been shown so far, Kenny's conniving far outweighs Crystal's annoyance. I suspect that in the real world of survivor, it's the opposite, which is why they got rid of her.
posted by Manhasset at 6:32 AM on December 13, 2008

I agree with Manhasset: it's a staged and edited show, so we don't know and we can't know.
We see only what remains after editing what has been filmed from what has been staged, which means a small part of a small part of a small part of what has been going on off cameras.
So we can have an idea of what kind of drama the director wants us to believe, but there is no way to really know the people involved nor their real abilities.
It's really part of the show attraction: viewers build their own constructs of personnalities from bits and pieces. When it works it's more convincing than any reality.
posted by bru at 7:32 AM on December 13, 2008

I haven't seen this Yau-Man Chan dude some others are talking about, but from what I have seen, Yul Kwon.
posted by demagogue at 8:05 AM on December 13, 2008

Just a plug for Armchair Survivor, a Survivor podcast from the same guy that had the brilliant Armchair Kid Nation, Michael Carrino.
posted by geekyguy at 10:48 AM on December 13, 2008

I agree if you wanna see successful Survivor strategy, look at Yul and Yau-Man. Yau-Man should've won but he got screwed by some homeless rat who promised not to vote him out after Yau gave him a car he won as reward.

Really I think most successful Survivor strategies come down to selecting your alliance - make your alliance early, with who comes across the most loyal and genuine, and try to build some kind of a relationship. It also helps to align yourself with other physical and/or final-vote threats (see Yul and Ozzy), which guards against the oldest blindside argument in the show. Marcus was probably in a great position this season, until Probst started shuffling and reshuffling to try to even things out (which in my opinion is quickly ruining the show). He had Corrine and Charlie hanging off him, and I think Bob would've been swooning sooner or later.

Here's a spot-on recap of the last episode and the cast going into the finale.

My pick this season was Bob, who's still around, despite having the most scattered, guilt-driven strategy I've ever seen. He and Matty are both the biggest threats at the moment, physically and jury-wise, and I think if Sugar can stay with one alliance for more than a episode we'll see Bob (!) or Matty go home with the million. Oh, and I can't wait for the collective bitterness of the jury interrogation if Sugar is in the final 3. It will be a final 3, right?
posted by pilibeen at 11:11 AM on December 13, 2008

Also, after watching Bob's performance at the Final 3, it can not be overstated how important it is about who you're going up against and the personality of the winner. Sugar had pissed off lots of people and didn't get any votes, while Susie was kinda blah. Bob himself didn't do great at the F3, but he did stand out for being...well, Bob. He didn't deny that he rode coat tails in that matter of fact way and didn't suck up. Not a great performance, but good enough.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:33 AM on December 15, 2008

I was on EW.com today and they had a Photo Gallery called 'Survivor':15 Smartest Players Ever. I haven't watched Survivor since about the 3rd or 4th season, so I don't know how good of an assessment this is, but I thought of this question when I saw it and thought I'd pass it along!
posted by rebel_rebel at 1:10 PM on December 15, 2008

No. 10: Tom Westman

Tom was shitty player, but did well at challenges. He had no real grasph of playing the game though and had he been on the other tribe would have quickly been dispatched.

No. 7: Chris Daugherty

Nope, Twilia saved him and told him what to do. He lucked out by the woman alliance self destructing, which he had nothing to do with.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:55 PM on December 15, 2008

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