December 21, 2009

Outplayed - Spoiled Survivor

I must admit to being one of those who watched this season of "Survivor" in awe of the audacious game play of Russell (pictured above). Not only did he manage to find hidden immunity idols without the benefit of a single clue - in fact, he found the first one by searching for it before it was even revealed that one existed at all... Russell was clearly a fan of the show - but he was seemingly the only player who understood that there was a need to employ strategy at all. This fact, though, was both the reason he made it to the final vote and the reason he ultimately ended up losing.

As for his strategy going in... to make "secret alliances" with as many people as possible, and then systematically vote out those who unearthed this plan before they had the opportunity to "spill the beans" was perfect for this group. Because most of the players were "cast" for their looks/backstory rather than had a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of the game, it was easy for them to be fooled by this tactic. Then, once Russell's tribe was halved by all the eliminations, the "underdog" nature of the tribe as a whole ensured their loyalty, at least until such time as they evened the numbers with the other tribe.

All they needed at this point was to find a split in the majority and work it. Enter Natalie...

Natalie (above, left) was sweet and innocent and everything that Russell was not. Had he gone to the other tribe and tried to convince them to start voting out their own, it would not have worked. However, Natalie was able to work her charm to perfection to get the ball rolling. After that first vote for Erik, it was clear that Shambo was an ostracized member of the Galu Tribe, since nobody bothered to fill her in on the plan. At that point, Russell swooped in and earned her loyalty with another of his dime-a-dozen "Final Two" promises.

By the time it got down to the final six players, Russell was now forced with a decision to make... which two of his loyal quartet of co-conspirators should he keep to the end in order to ensure victory: Natalie, Mick, Jaison or Shambo? (Russell obviously knew he had to get rid of Brett, the last remaining Galu member, since the whole jury was made up of Galu.)

Had he gone with Mick and Shambo, the million dollars would have been his, and nobody would look foolish by singing his praises as the "greatest player in Survivor history." However, he went with Mick and Natalie, and signed over his prize to Natalie in the process. Russell's failure to recognize this is the reason you can't be "outraged" by the final vote.

On this show, there are no rules as to who the jury can vote for to win the game or why. Heck, way back in the first season, one player made his decision on who came closest to the number he was thinking of... If a season is made up of smart players who are fans of the show, then Russell's strategy (had he made it that far) would have been respected and likely rewarded. However, just by watching the body language of the jurors during Tribal Council, and listening to words like "lying, cheating and stealing" coming from their lips before being picked off by Russell, it should have been clear to him that his "strategy" was coming across as "immoral" and "evil."

When playing with a group of players like that, the only way to win is to bring players with you to the final who the jury disrespects at least as much as you. Mick was a good choice, since he really didn't win any challenges and as we ultimately saw in both Brett and Erik's comments, he was soundly disrespected for both his lack of leadership as well as his complete disinterest in "getting to know" the other tribe as people.

However, going with Natalie instead of the hated Shambo - whose traitorous flip was the primary reason almost all the members on the jury were eliminated - was Russell's fatal error. Not only did he give the jury a more likable option than himself, but Natalie was also the person who actually initiated the conversations that resulted in that first rift in Galu. Whether or not it was at Russell's behest is irrelevant. Without Natalie, it doesn't happen - and since the perception of the jury is all that matters in deciding the winner of the game, Russell's personal belief that he was the mastermind of that ploy matters not a whit. He knew he had to send Natalie to work that bit of magic, because she was the only one who could have succeeded, but by doing so, he should have also realized that he gave her the power over him in the final vote.

Without Natalie, Russell couldn't have won... and because he failed to take her out, that's why he (rightly) didn't win.


  1. Good point. My thoughts: I've watched every season of this show, and there have been some where I've been indifferent to who wins; I didn't have a favorite in the race at the end. I hated Russell in the beginning, because of his arrogance, but then it became clear that he was an amazing player at this game. I grew to like him and root for him, and in the end, I've never been so upset with a final vote as this one. I hated Richard Hatch in the first cycle, but this final vote pisses me off more. Yeah, Russell made that one mistake, but in my mind, that one move was Natalie's ONLY move, aside from aligning with Russell. Actually, if Russell made a second mistake, it was that he didn't point out to the jury that Natalie was THE first alliance he made, and he kept that word through to the end. Players have made that argument in past seasons and it's worked well for them. I just think this jury was made up of a bunch of spiteful, immature (even the older ones), selfish players who, in the end, didn't have that moment of realization or epiphany that previous jury members have. (Sorry for the treatise. I should just write a post on my own blog, I guess.)

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