Monday, December 21, 2009

And in the end...

So a new "Survivor" winner was crowned last night. And even though I didn't watch this season (I kicked the "Survivor" habit after Fans vs. "Favorites"), this was one of those editions where it was impossible to not be aware of some of what was going on. And what happened with the ending has me thinking about the larger question of how the winner of a reality season affects our perception of that season, which I'll talk about (including, obviously, a spoiler on the "Survivor" winner) after the jump...

So Russell, whose apparent dominance of the game - and all the writing being done about that by other TV writers I follow - made me feel like I was watching the season even when I wasn't, did not win. Natalie did. Some people are already calling it a hose job, a lame jury vote akin to Amber beating Boston Rob because the All-Stars were pissed that Rob outplayed them, or akin to Neleh losing in Marquesas under similar circumstances(*). Linda Holmes, who used to recap "Survivor" for Television Without Pity, argued earlier this year that the Russell-as-greatest-player-ever narrative was constructed by the show and Russell's desire to self-promote, and didn't reflect what was actually happening, and she wrote this morning that the jury vote vindicates her take on the guy, and the season..

(*) Anyone want to argue against Vecepia (who beat Neleh) as the least deserving "Survivor" winner ever? She did nothing all during that season, and backed into the win because there was always a bigger fish to try in her original tribe, then because Neleh and Pascal organized an alliance flip, then because the producers screwed up the Purple Rock of Death twist, then because Kathy's chest was too big, and then because the jurors were a bunch of whiny babies. I know some people will argue for Sandra from Pearl Islands, but at least she was a key part of what was that season's longest-lasting, most dominant alliance, and she was going up against a contestant who was eliminated, then voted back into the game through a twist so lame the show has never recycled it. I say Vecepia, all the way.

But whether you believe the Russell hype or not, this season was all about Russell's alleged dominance, only it ended with him not winning. And if you bought into the guy's mystique and aura, I'm wondering whether his loss retroactively makes you enjoy this season a little less.

When I was working on the Best Reality Shows list for my Best of the '00s package, I briefly toyed with the idea of making it a Best Reality Seasons list, mainly because I felt weird about putting "The Apprentice" season 1 alongside the completely body of work for four other series. And while I was thinking about that, I asked a few reality fan friends for their thoughts on what were the best seasons of my respective candidates. When I told Adam Bonin that I was thinking of going with "American Idol" season five - which I felt had the best mix of talented singers, memorable performances and weird things that happened - he objected on the grounds that Taylor Hicks won that year. I argued that the winner shouldn't matter if the rest of the season was good enough, and that I found the David Cook season really unsatisfying even though I liked Cook himself a lot and was glad he won.

But the more I thought about it, the more I saw Adam's point. Taylor's win doesn't taint that "Idol" season for me, necessarily, but there are plenty of other reality seasons I like less because of who won, like Jenna on "Survivor: Amazon" or Hosea on "Top Chef" a couple of seasons back. Conversely, two of my favorite "Survivor" seasons, Palau and Cook Islands, had incredibly deserving and likable winners in Tom and Yul. Had Katie or Becky, respectively, won because of bitter juries, I might think less of those years in spite of all the entertaining things that happened in each.

Now, I've heard from fans of scripted shows like "The Sopranos" or "Battlestar Galactica" who so hated their finales that they decided they retroactively hated the whole series. And I'm sure the "Lost" finale (which simply won't be able to satisfy everyone, no matter what Cuse and Lindelof do) will lead to some of that.

But at least in those cases, the endings were crafted behind the scenes by the people who made you like the show in the first place. Reality producers don't have that luxury. I'm sure the "Idol" producers were tearing their hair out when Daughtry went home and it became clear Taylor was going to win, just as Jeff Probst for years has made his displeasure clear when someone other than one of his alpha male favorites wins. (This was really obvious, and awkward, at the Cook Islands reunion, when Jeff did everything short of beg the jury to do a re-vote in favor of Ozzy.) All a reality show can do is assemble the strongest cast they can and hope that the jury, the judges or the American public votes to keep things interesting and ultimately satisfying.

Anyway, to sum up that long ramble (forgive me; it's my first day back in the office after a week off), I'm wondering whether people who watched "Survivor: Samoa" all the way through are upset that Russell lost, how that impacts their overall view of the season, and how much you all weigh endings in general when judging a TV season or series.

93 comments:

Michael said...

Russell should have won the vote 7-0, from what they showed us on TV. It's fair if the jury doesn't vote the way we expect, as we only get to see what the editors let us, but they at least have the responsibility to make sure that we see the reasons why the winner won. The editors didn't let us see that from Natalie. Riding coattails is a great strategy to get to the end, but if you're up against the guy whose coattails you rode, you shouldn't get the vote. Even if the Foa Foa crew had staged a coup and voted out Russell, I still can't envision an end game scenario where Natalie wins.

I enjoyed the season and was very disappointed at the outcome, but I still enjoyed the season.

Joe Reid said...

My feeling on this is probably skewed by the fact that I found Natalie's win last night to be totally defensible. The "stalking horse" strategy is totally legitimate -- I thought Amber totally deserved to beat Boston Rob too. It's one thing to bulldoze your way through a season of Survivor (and it'll certainly make you popular with the home audience, as we saw last night), but if you haven't played in a way where those jurors are gonna want to put your name down, you haven't played it the whole way through. It seems like Russell (like Rob before him) was too much of a gratuitous jerk for people to want to vote for him. (Also, Natalie was the guiding hand behind Erik's elimination, which was the turning point of the whole season; she's far from a Vecepia.)

Sorry, this is speaking to the micro-issue and not the macro- one. Generally, my feeling on a reality season has jelled before the finale airs anyway, so it'd have to be something bug to sway my opinion. Interestingly enough, Alan, you mention Palau as a positive example -- that season (quite good) left a terrible taste in my mouth after seeing Tom basically guilt-trip Ian into giving the game away.

cadfile said...

Like Alan I didn't follow the season but did catch the blogs and articles on some entertainment sites and I did watch a couple of episodes.

I learned a long time ago that the producers create the drama and narative of the show so the actual episodes rarely show what really went on but from what I saw and read Russell was the best player of the game so he that he didn't win makes the season seem like those Idol seasons when the pretty guy wins over the talented one.

Blah!

hearsmusic said...

I'm not upset that Russell didn't win, but I do think there was some premeditated group voting going on. Especially in light of the fact that many of the jurors had little or nothing to say (Dave Ball, for instance) which leads me to believe they had already determined to stick it to Russell in the end. Eric's speech at the end may have been a little foreshadowing from the jurors that an 'upset' was in the works.

Russell's ego got the best of him in the game and he seemed truly upset not to have won, almost to the point of not really being able to focus on the reunion show. Did anyone else notice after the votes were read and everyone was walking around hugging the Russell was standing by himself? Obviously he may have been a fan favorite but nobody out there with him liked the guy.

As more of a casual fan (my husband is the Survivor nut) it didn't really affect my enjoyment of the show this year that Russell didn't win.

Myles said...

Russell played the game that could convince producers and the audience that he deserved this prize, but not a game that the players themselves were going to respect enough to give him the win.

With Survivor, I think people respond so strongly to "wrong" decisions because the game purports to make the final decision a collective consideration of the season as a whole, and there is an expectation that we as the audience are comparative to the jury. They construct a narrative, and as Linda Holmes points out that narrative falls apart when the Jury comes into play and the producers are no longer in control, and our judgments don't match with the Jury who has seen things we haven't, and haven't seen things we have.

It's one thing with a reality show like American Idol where the narrative is in the hands of the American public, and thus subject to variables out of anyone's control. It's another where the narrative has been perfectly drawn all season only to fall apart in the end. And it's another when you have The Amazing Race, a game where luck and skill are not always in balance, and where a team can dominate all season but lose in the final leg.

I guess what you're seeing here is a reminder that Survivor is a bait and switch: its narrative sucks you in and suggests that you can make an objective analysis of who won, but then it pulls out of that narrative when the decision is actually made as if to suggest that you knew nothing at all. And I think the negative reactions are less about Russell and more about the audience feeling bamboozled.

Chris said...

In the case of Russell, it wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't made it to the finals or if he'd been beaten by Brett at the jury vote. Moreover, the jury was bitter and focused on how morally bankrupt Russell was, as though that wasn't part of the game, but ignored all the things he had done that didn't require lying. Namely, making it his mission to find the immunity idols, something any of the contestants could have done, and winning that final immunity challenge. It's not always the case that a season is ruined when the person you want to win doesn't but in this case Russell lost because people were angry that they were outplayed.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I just added a link in the main post to Linda's own expanded thoughts on Russell's defeat.

Anonymous said...

I've never really understood how a winner of Survivor can be judged not deserving. It's entirely self-contained; there are no external factors involved. Even someone who does nothing at all but manages to be the better of two bad choices in the end deserves to win, by virtue of having held on till the end and appearing more palatable to the jury (which is part of the game, of course). Those winners are extremely boring and unsatisfactory, of course, but I can't see them as undeserving. They say "Outwit. Outplay. Outlast.", but you really only have to outlast to win. Idol is different in that the voting audience is a big external random variable.

I don't think a bad winner taints a season for me. Partly that's because Survivor has very little rewatch value, but in those cases it's interesting to look back and try to figure out where the more obvious choice went wrong.

Nicole said...

I think we need to blame the editors for having set up the Russell show, only to deflate it at the end. Natalie didn't win this as much as Russell lost it by failing to realize that the jury would be composed of a bunch of really bitter people. The worst part is that the ones who were actually betrayed by Russell in a direct fashion were the ones with the least bitter speeches/questions (John, Shambo and Jaison). The rest were just annoying (except for Brett who was a cipher throughout this season).

I think that there were still awesome moments this season, but the editors really could have shown Natalie doing more, because she was the one behind Erik's ouster, and that started the Galu downfall, a key move for this season. They also ignored Brett so much that by the time he showed up, people thought he was a member of the crew who was caught on camera. Perhaps that was an inside joke, but it's kinda ridiculous that a guy who makes top five had such little screen time.

Russell definitely worked the hardest for the win, and what's disappointing to many is that it didn't pay off. However, Natalie played the smartest, knowing that an aggressive woman is a target on this show (and that's a whole other issue that is a little scary) building relationships with the bitter bunch and using Russell as a shield. Natalie did far more than Amber or Vecepia ever did because there are examples of her social game at work, even with the very little that editors did show. She also bonded with Brett as a "prayer warrior", which I found annoying, but it was smart because Laura was a minister and this is something Brett would have told her when he got to Ponderosa. I really couldn't stand Laura, but getting her to like Natalie, meant that Kelly and Monica would vote for whoever Laura wanted, so that was four votes right there.
So I go back to the editors not really showing this play out.

Beaver said...

This is akin to voting the 53rd man on the '97 Broncos roster as MVP over Elway.

As an ex athlete, it always drives me absolutely crazy that people take things that happen within the game so personally, and call the deception 'unethical'. I played just about every sport imaginable, and I played against friends fairly often. Everything that happens within the field of play is all in the name of winning the game...it is inconceivable to me to have a guy be personally offended by the way another person plays if he's playing within the rules.

Deceiving in Survivor is no different than bluffing or slow playing a hand in poker - if you play poker with friends, do they get mad if you take them out by slow playing a big hand? Do they call it unethical?

Jaison and Erik are punks.

Rob Badger said...

What was with that idiot Erik saying something about how never in his life has he seem someone who lies and cheats be successful? Where on earth has he lived? Where does he work? Does he never watch the news? I can tell from his bio on the Survivor website that class and honor is very important to him: "Proud womanizer, Erik claims that he can date four to five women at the same time without any issues. He has no qualms about chasing after a taken woman just for the fun of the chase."

In the first season the logic for voting Hatch the winner was "we hate you BUT you played the best game so you win." Now it seems to be "you played the best game BUT we hate you so you lose." It's hard not to see the jurors as voting more on spite than anything else.

Yes it's a valid strategy to coast through but Russel made a good point that to view the "coatriders" as more noble and honest in some way is absurd -- they supported him and applauded him the whole way. The "smile to my face and let Russel stab me in the back" seems far worse to me than Russel's "sneer to my face and then stab me in the front."

However people seem unable to reconcile the idea that they are playing a game on television. They're the same kind of one-dimensional "thinkers" who are surprised when soap opera actors aren't like their characters; or when pro fighters turn out to be good family men. "You'll be surprised to learn this fighter is a real family man outside the ring." No I won't -- I'd be more surprised if it turns out he was punching his babies in the face.

Major tangent there but people can't seem to get past these labels.

I also think people always tend to give the quiet cute people an enormous benefit of the doubt that "they are smarter than they look" and "they planned it all along." Russel could have taken anyone with him -- Natalie hit a lottery ticket.

Does it ruin the season for me? It takes a shine off for sure ... I'll still watch next year of course.

Lykaon said...

I've found over the years that I remember the players of a Survivor season more than the winners.

Survivor 2 was all about Colby, and 3 was about Big Tom and Lex.

Very few seasons have resulted in the perfect winner - Tom Westman and JT are two that come to mind, though.

Two years from now I'm going to remember Russell, but I'm not going to remember anything about Natalie. It'll be a miracle if I even remember some blonde chick beat him.

So I guess for me, the winner has ceased to matter. Generally, I think the jury is wrong, often selfish and petty. But that's part of the game, I guess so it is what it is.

Ten years from now when they have Survivor All-Stars 40, Russell will be in contention to come back and entertain millions. If Natalie comes back, people will just scratch their heads and say, "Wait who was she again?"

Nicole said...

Based on the extra attention on Russell last night at the reunion show, I think that he will be returning for the Heroes v. Villains show. He has been pimped out so much this season, and he certainly seems the type to want to play this show back to back.

Linda said...

Here's my question: I agree that it's stupid to get tied up with "honor" and so forth. But I really don't think that's what happened. I think this was much more about "I don't like him."

If, in fact, anything you do within the rules if fair game, why isn't it fair game to say "This person is nice and likable, and that guy treated everyone like crap the whole time, so I'm going to give the money to her and not him"? What, other than some version of "honor," would require you to vote any other way? That vote is within the rules. That vote is self-interested. If self-interested behavior within the rules is all fair, then that vote is equally fair.

Anonymous said...

I hope this isn't considered a spoiler, but it's been reported elsewhere that Russell did take part in the Heroes/Villains edition that starts in February. It was shot almost immediately after Samoa ended on basically the same site.

Mike E. said...

Nicole...that very thought crossed my head as well. I wonder if the producers asked Russell to play up the brooding, sore loser angle to help sell the "villain" angle.

Brandy said...

I didn't watch but everybody I know who did wanted Russell to win but worried he wouldn't because of the jury vote.

While BSG's ending was dissatisfying on some, but not all, levels (I hated it less than a lot of people) it doesn't taint the series for me... because at most you have to pretened a half a season didn't happen.

But Gilmore Girls season 7 tanits that series for me and it's hard to ever root for Lorelai on reruns because I know she's going to marry Chris. And yes, I know (although I've never seen it) that they divorce midway through that season.... it doesn't change the fact that it was my line in the sand.

But reality series winners? If hating a winner could taint my love for realtiy series I wouldn't have made it through half as many seasons of TAR.

Lacy said...

Russell was a great player in that he created great television. He burned socks, poured out water, and eliminated his competition mercilessly. However, his great mistake was to expect his defeated opponents to reward him for his ruthlessness. He proved once again you can reach the end of the game by burning everyone, but you can't win if no one will vote for you. Russell never worried about winning jury votes. And ultimately, that's why he lost.

I sympathized with him when he was visibly upset by his defeat. It was fitting that he won the favorite player award -- he was a lot of fun to watch.

DolphinFan said...

I didn't watch this season either (work and fatherhood leave an inelastic amount of time for TV, and my Thursday amount has gone entirely to NBC's great comedies) but I did follow it online and have a simple take on SURVIVOR in re: Russell H. losing to Natalie that can also apply to the other truly superb reality TV competition show, THE AMAZING RACE. It's this...
barring truly vile thoughts or actions in connection with the end result, said result will always be 100% valid.
In SURVIVOR terms, that means the only way a jury result would be beneath acceptance would be if the jurors openly stated they wouldn't vote for a finalist based on their gender/religion/sexual orientation/race and then followed through on that. It would be beyond the pale because such reasoning would have nothing to do with anything valid IN THE GAME, but would still be applied to decide the game. There has been a little gender BS in the final jury rounds (in both directions: Deena pathetically trying to make Matt look sexist in The Amazon for saying "may the best man win", Jean-Robert differentiating between Todd selling him out and Amanda being a bad person for lying in China) but never to an extent that I thought it was illegitimizing the end result.
Along similar lines, the only way a TAR winner would be invalidated would be if a team broke the law, used physical force/threats, or did the worst kind of sabotage (FE, if a team threw another team's luggage out in mid-Race, they would never be accepted as winners even if they did the rest of TAR in textbook fashion).
Long story short, SURVIVOR is always legitimate by the end and the fact that fans often are unhappy or even outraged at these end results doesn't change that.

Robin said...

I agree with Lykaon - I remember players, not necessarily winners. I couldn't tell you who won the season with Burton and Jonny Fairplay (actually, I could, simply because Alan referred to her), but I can tell you when Burton messed up. So, the winner doesn't ruin the season for me, even if it disappoints me.

And really, I didn't have a problem with Natalie winning last night. She arguably made the most decisive move in the game, convincing Galu to vote out Erik. Without that move, Foa Foa was probably toast, and Russell would've been screwed.

Beaver said...

Anon - I don't know how the scheduling for Survivor works, but how would Russ have been there for the finale and also already completed the 20th season as well? How long after completion do they wait for the finale?

Anonymous said...

Good take on Russell, and Boston Rob, not winning b/c they were jerks to people and they didn't want to vote for them in the end. That's part of the game as well. In that regard, the best Survivor player/winner ever was that skinny guy with the curly 80's hair who did soft core porn. He dominated the game to the point where he had everyone doing exactly what they wanted and they loved him for it. He was never really in danger of being voted out even though he was the biggest threat. Just a completely dominant performance any way you slice it.

It actually made for a somewhat boring season b/c he kept everything under control almost the entire game. I can't remember his name though.

Personally, I don't like it when the person who does the most to win the game by eliminating the competition loses to someone who basically just kept their head down and tried not to get anyone mad at them. I wish the voters would get over it and appreciate that they got beat by the Alpha Dog and vote them the winner. It's the main reason I got bored with the show. I felt like the person who worked the hardest to win never got rewarded.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Beaver, they've done that in the past. Rupert was available to be at the Pearl Islands reunion because the first All-Star season was filmed before that live reunion. Ditto Amanda and James doing China and Fans vs. Faves back to back.

Padraig said...

An utter and complete travesty. Akin to naming Canada the greatest country on earth. Russell was one of the greatest players ever. Dude found what 3 idols? Won the final challenge. His tribe was outnumbered what 8 to 4 after the merge and came this close to taking all 4 of them to the final four? Pathetic. What a world we live in when Shambo, Shambo!, sees the truth.

U-S-A U-S-A U-S-A

Beaver said...

Thanks Alan. Do you know how long they typically wait between leaving camp and the finale? I never thought about how excruciating that wait would be for the players...

My fantasy football playoff life hinges on tonight's game, and I have a hard enough time waiting for that to start...I can't imagine waiting a couple of months to see whether or not I won $1 million.

Nicole said...

Natalie was identified as the winner when spoilers started coming out a few months ago, so I don't think Russell was entirely surprised when her name was called out. I suspect he knew before the show aired. And unless he is deaf and blind, the jurors at the FTC were pretty obvious in terms of who they would be voting for.

There are spoiler sites that identify the filming dates for every season, so you can see how it would be possible for Russell to do both Survivors and then show up for this finale. After all Jeff has to be there too.

Michaelangelo McCullar said...

For all those who are trying to justify a Natalie win, let me give you this scenario. Imagine at your job you're on a team where you're doing 95% of the work. You're putting in extra hours, staying late, doing everything you can to make your project a success. And while you're doing all this work, one of your teammates has the time to hang out with people in the office, including your manager. Your project's a success, and you did all the work, but because your co-worker was friendly with the manager, she gets all the credit.

That's essentially what happened here. Did Natalie play a better social game? She sure did. She had that luxury because she had Russell doing all the heavy lifting. If it wasn't for Russell, she would have been gone well before she would have had a chance to become the social queen of Samoa. That's why I have such an issue with how this season ended. It's similar to All-Stars, but in that case I think the difference is Boston Rob abused his relationships with people outside the game to further himself. He asked Lex and Kathy, not as one competitor to another, but as good friends outside the game, to save Amber, and then he turned around and stabbed them in the back. When you take advantage of real-life friendships like he did then you can't expect to be rewarded afterwards.

This was different. These people didn't know each other. Russell didn't screw over real-life friends. He played the game as aggressively as we've ever seen anyone play. He singlehandedly carried his tribe when they were down four players post-merge and got them all to the final five. And I think people are giving Natalie way too much credit for Erik's ouster. Remember, a Galu was going home that night one way or the other. The original plan was to get rid of Monica. Natalie floated Erik's name, but she didn't convince six people to flip on one of their own. They were more than ready to start tearing each other up.

The bottom line is, the gameplay that Natalie is being credited with would not have been possible without Russell. There's no objective way you could say that Natalie (or Mick) played a better game than Russell. But the jury proved to be extremely bitter, and so they decided to reward the nice country girl. Did it ruin the seaosn for me? Well, ruin's a harsh word. But it definitely knocked it down the rankings. Had Russell won, this would have been most likely a top 6 season. Now it's much closer to the bottom of the pile.

Hannah Lee said...

I didn’t make it to the end of this season’s Survivor. A few episodes in, after it became clear that the producers were making The Russell Show instead of Survivor, I stopped watching. I don’t know if any of the other cast members were interesting this season, because none of them were really shown in the episodes I watched.

But, to answer your question: Yes, the ending of a reality show can affect my impressions of the season. Usually it happens when the producers haven’t done a good job of showing the events that led to the result, or if the judging seems arbitrary. Shows like Survivor and Top Chef are more prone to this. It’s less of a problem with shows like The Amazing Race, since the outcomes are more subjective (Either a team made it to the mat first, or they didn’t.) and not subject to judging or voting.

In scripted television, a bad ending can impact my view of a series more than in reality. If I'm more vested in the characters, seeing a show go off the rails, taking its characters with it (e.g X-Files), can make me feel jerked around by TPTB and taints my opinion of earlier episodes.

RichC said...

I thought this season had been one of the worse, but the final verdict actually redeemed it a little for me. That Russell called Natalie a "dumb-ass blonde" in the first episode and she ended up outsmarting him for the jury votes is awesome. Bravo jury. Bravo.

The Survivor producers and editors have chosen to highlight one person from the beginning the last 2 years to the detriment of the show. Last season it was Coach and this season Russell. We end up knowing little about anyone else. Last season Probst even seemed shocked that so many people hated Coach, despite the editing.

It's hard to know how well Natalie played the game because they barely showed us that.

srpad said...

After Brett was gone, I thought Russell had it in the bag but then I started to count the votes. I knew Laura and Brett would vote for Nat, she was friendly with both and all three seemed very religous. Also figured the other Blonde would vote for her since Russell's idol was what sent her packing. Jaison was bitter so that was 4...I started to realize she's gonna win this! So the final result was not a surprise.

What doomed Galu, I think, wasn't Russell's "genius"; it was, paradoxically, they won too much. In every Survivor tribe, you will have peole that rub each other the wrong way. Tribal councils are an outlet for that negativity and help the ones that remain behind, bond. By missing most of the, Galu had fractures that Foa Foa was able to exploit. So i don't think Russell was "robbed". That said (and curse Larry David for making me self concious everytime I use that phrase :-) Natalie was clearly a backpack that Russell carried along with her (so was Mick for that matter) and all her talk of "My stategy was this... My plan was that..." is just rationalizations after the fact because the winds blew her way.

The out come didn't make me hate the season but who likes to see people they didn't like win? Most of the ones I liked had been voted out long before Sunday.

Adam said...

Hey! I know that guy with that theory that Alan liked!

There are two things that make a good ending, and they go hand in hand -- the winner must have succeeded along the criteria which the game establishes, and the editing/narrative of the show must justify the conclusion. There's a certain amount of hiding-the-ball that a show like Survivor has to do for suspense's sake, but in the end you need to understand why the jury did what it did.

Second point: each season of Survivor creates its own narrative and moral universe. Each jury can do things differently, and succeeding in the show ultimately requires figuring out what that is. Chuck Klosterman makes the point in his new book that thank *goodness* Richard Hatch won the first time, because otherwise we might only see winners who were the nicest, most survivaly-est folks rather than those who played the game the best.

My rankings of the top reality seasons should come by week's end. Expect a lot of Race, Survivor and Top Model 2.

Nicole said...

"Michaelangelo McCullar said...
For all those who are trying to justify a Natalie win, let me give you this scenario. Imagine at your job you're on a team where you're doing 95% of the work. You're putting in extra hours, staying late, doing everything you can to make your project a success. And while you're doing all this work, one of your teammates has the time to hang out with people in the office, including your manager. Your project's a success, and you did all the work, but because your co-worker was friendly with the manager, she gets all the credit."

This analogy doesn't work, because the premise of Survivor is such that "being friendly with the manager" is as much the "work" of the game as strategizing, winning challenges, hauling wood, and making key alliances. In the comments on Linda Holmes blog that Alan pointed to, there's comparison to the Giants spoiling the Patriots undefeated season. A commenter objected that the Giants won by playing a better game, not because they were "nicer," but in Survivor, scoring jury votes by whatever means the jury decides to award those votes is how you win the game. The criteria for "playing a better game" in Survivor is fluid depending on each jury, and the only way to win is to win them over. Period. Russell didn't. Natalie did. Natalie deserves the title, as she well knows.

On a slight tangent: anytime discussions of deserving and undeserving winners come up, there's a list of undeserving winners thrown around, and the deserving non-winner who got screwed by a bitter jury. Almost always the undeserving winner is a woman, and the screwed over runner up is a man. It's a pattern on the show, and it is the one thing I don't enjoy about Survivor. Who knows if it's the editing (showing all the moves made by Russell/Boston Rob, while portraying Natalie/Amber as the coattail rider instead of as a key sounding board) or preexisting notions of what makes "good" gameplay (physical strength, aggressiveness, etc.) but, as my husband commented last night, this is kind of a sexist show. It's no secret that Probst loves the strong men and sees the women more as potential girlfriends, but I think it goes deeper than that. There are two roles available to women on this show: kooky older lady and coattail riding ingenue. That's stupid, and that's why I'm gratified that Natalie won. Sure, most viewers will see her as the coattail rider, but I see her as someone who made smart decisions based on the specifics of her situation--placed on a tribe with Russell, merged with characters like Laura and Erik. The best word I've seen to describe her play: SUBTLE. That is a very smart strategy and it worked for her.

Also, to Anonymous: Ozzy, the "skinny guy with curly hair who did soft porn" did not win his season. Yul did. Ozzy also went out fairly early (and hanging on to a hidden immunity idol) in his all-stars season.

Adam said...

There are two roles available to women on this show: kooky older lady and coattail riding ingenue.

There have been savvy female strategists -- Danni Boatwright, Jenna Morasca and Tina Wesson won; Amie Cusack (one of my favorites), Stephenie LaGrossa and Scout Lee didn't. None of them were kooky (well, maybe Scout -- but Twila was kookier) or coattail riding.

Nicol said...

Adam: I'm glad to hear it. I missed most of the early seasons, and have only been watching regularly since Aras won his season. I'd love to rewatch early seasons on DVD and catch these strategic women.

I did love Eliza on the Fans vs. Favorites season.

amysusanne said...

I had begun pulling for Natalie a few weeks ago when it was clear that she *was* making moves and coming up with ideas on her own, though it wouldn't have been disappointing for me if Russell had won. It was such a meh season, not necessarily because there weren't interesting people so much as it was because they never showed us if there were interesting people. I understand the appeal of Russell and I understand that the focus on the underdog tribe making it to the final four was the most interesting story, but I barely even knew who most of the jury was and didn't really care. The blonde girl who scowled through the finale? Never made any impression at all until she showed up all bitter at the final tribal council. It wasn't until his first immunity win that I bothered to learn Brett's name, so I had no clue if Mick's answer to his final question was well done or not.

I do think that in a season with a lot of strong, well defined personalities, it would matter to me if an under the radar player came in and "stole" the win from someone that I'd been pulling for, but the way this season played out, it really wouldn't have mattered much to me if Jaison or Mick had won. Honestly, Brett pulling out a win would have been the most interesting thing that could have happened, but that wasn't ever a likely end.

It was just such a slanted season where my only real desire was to get Shambo off my television as quickly as possible.

Marquis said...

As an ex athlete, it always drives me absolutely crazy that people take things that happen within the game so personally, and call the deception 'unethical'. I played just about every sport imaginable, and I played against friends fairly often. Everything that happens within the field of play is all in the name of winning the game...it is inconceivable to me to have a guy be personally offended by the way another person plays if he's playing within the rules.

Deceiving in Survivor is no different than bluffing or slow playing a hand in poker - if you play poker with friends, do they get mad if you take them out by slow playing a big hand? Do they call it unethical?


This is a fallacy, because you're claiming survivor is the same as other games it's not.

No sport no game (other than Big Brother and some other reality shows)has the final objective to convince the people you beat to give you the prize they wanted.

It's part of the game to lie and backstab, it's also part of the game to punish people who do that by not voting for them. You can't complain about one without accepting the other.

Natalie's first confessional in episode 4 was that her plan was to team up with Russel to get to the end and try to beat him in the social aspect of the game to win at the final jury. She executed that strategy. She used Russel's strengths to get ahead and then used hers to get past him, she outwitted and out played him.

With all due respect to other people's opinions I agree with the title of Linda's column. "Outrages people who don't understand survivor."

You may not like like that personal feelings and bitterness affect the game, but guess what that's how the game was played from season one.

Take it into account and plan accordingly or lose just like Russel did.

Jerry said...

I agree 100% with what RichC wrote, though I see I'm in the minority. I don't know if the other cast members were just uniformly boring or if it's just the current way they editors package the season, but it was all-Russell, all the time---he was the only one ever shown doing anything, so how could he NOT be seen as the most "worthy" winner? We don't really know what Natalie did or said because they never showed anyone but Russell doing anything.

I was surprised, though, that in the jury questions, there was so LITTLE bitterness shown towards Russell---certainly nothing that would have indicated people were going to vote against him because they hated him---except by Eric. I couldn't believe no one asked Mick or Natalie why they never tried to vote Russell off, since that is what I was yelling at them all season. The ending was a total shock to me and because I thought Russell was overhyped all along, I enjoyed it. It didn't ruin the season, it redeemed one that was otherwise pretty awful. Obviously many bought into it, so we'll see more one-man (or woman) seasons in the future I guess.

amysusanne said...

Until the jurors speak (assuming they're asked) we won't know for sure, but given that those tribal councils go on for hours there's a good chance that the bitterness was handed out a little more evenly than appeared on the show. I hope so, at least. Obviously it wasn't going to be coming from someone like Shambo (whoever gave that woman a thesaurus, I thank you for the laugh), but I would hope that there'd be a little more thought put into some of their questions.

I'm not fully on board with this "Heroes vs. Villians" thing, but at least I don't have to worry about having to rely on the editors as far as getting to know the players goes.

Henry said...

It seems I'm one of the few people who actually liked the finale to Battlestar Galactica. I think not liking the finale does have some effect on how a person views the entire series. That can be a negative or positive view of the series, depending on the overall quality of the series as it's judged. For example, if I had hated the finale of BSG, I still would view BSG as one of the best series in the history of television. I didn't like the Seinfeld finale (as most people also did), but that doesn't affect my view of Seinfeld as a series (which I still enjoy as reruns). I had mixed feelings about the Alias and Gilmore Girls finales, but that doesn't affect my viewing of the those entire series. Do I worry about Lost's finale in May? Yes, I do, but I have faith that Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse will deliver on it and it won't change my view that Lost is one of the best shows in the history of television.

Anonymous said...

Survivor is, was, and forever will be a social game. Count me as one of Russell's "millions of fans" but he didn't play a winning game. But it sure was fun to watch!

Beaver said...

Marquis -

I don't have a problem with the game - I have a problem with the jury members who can't separate their own bitterness from their votes...and those same guys who like to make their sanctimonious declarations of what is 'ethical' and 'honorable' at the reunion or tribal council. (Erik & Jaison)...

It's just like politics in that too many people vote based upon "What's s/he going to do for ME" rather than "What is best for the constituency as a whole"...jury members vote for "What did they do to ME" rather than "Who played this game the best".

Although knowing what we all know about the type of people who are on most reality shows - that they have narcissistic personality disorders - I probably shouldn't be so surprised that they cast their vote with "ME" in mind.

Anonymous said...

My god, who cares? I hate this show.

Alan Sepinwall said...

My god, who cares? I hate this show.

Well, thanks for stopping by, then! Glad to have your contribution to the discussion!

Michael said...

After reading some of the jury's comments post-finale, I'm starting to see how much of Russell's failure to win (and Natalie's win) was a direct consequence of Russell himself. What we saw on TV was edited to minimize some of his actions and to minimize other people completely.

Here's a Reality Blurred interview with Mick, Jaison, and Brett. They said basically that Russell was too mean-spirited and arrogant to vote for, and they really did award the winning votes based on the answers to the jury questions.

Ed said...

"this was one of those editions where it was impossible to not be aware of some of what was going on."


No it wasn't. I've never seen an episode, and I have no idea who those two people in the picture are. Nor do I care enough to read this article or comments.

srpad said...

I spoke about Survivor specifically in a previous post, but regarding bad finales in general:

A bad finale doesn't make me hate a show but in the case of a serialized drama it sure does discourage me from wanting pop some old seasons into my DVD player and rewatch them (except for maybe the stand one episodes I liked).

It's funny I was just tryng to think of a serialized show that had a *great* finale and I am drawing a blank. Angel comes close but is very controversial. X Files was universally thought of as poor. BSG and The Sopranos are polarizing. Buffy's was okay I guess but the entire final season was realatively weak.

Sitcom finales have it easy. All they have to do is tie a bow by letting you know what happens to each of the characters and then walk away. Standard dramas too. Serialized dramas though, have to live up to a promise that was made from the first episode which coudld have been many years earlier. It's a tough position to be in.

Michaelangelo McCullar said...

Nicole, let me come at you from another direction then. Let's say for the sake of argument that Foa Foa, instead of voting out Liz, blindsides Russell, so that at the merge you've got Mick, Natalie, Jaison, and Liz. Can you honestly imagine any scenario where Natalie, or for that matter, any of the Foas, sniff the final TC? No, you can't.

There have been previous seasons where the winner won because they were the lesser of two evils, but in pretty much all of those cases, the season's dominant player had already been eliminated. Ethan, Vecepia, Jenna, Sandra, and Aras all come to mind (Amber and All-Stars was a completely unique situation). In fact, you could point to Palau and Terry not making the final TC as the tipping point, because after that the final three was introduced to make sure that the season's dominant player had a shot at making the final Tribal Council. This is the first time in Survivor history where the dominant player made it to the end and lost.

Let's imagine you were on the jury, only you hadn't played a single moment of the game. You heard all three finalists' arguments. Based solely on what you heard, who would you have voted for? Natalie, who's admitted strategy was to let Russell make all the big moves while she hid behind him? Or would you vote for the person who had the biggest influence and impact on the game?

One last thing. Mark Burnett and the rest of the Survivor producers have known for months that Natalie won. Don't you think, knowing that, they would have highlighted more of her strategic gambits? Don't you think they would have done more to make her look like a deserving winner? Or is it your contention that they are all just so overbearingly misogynistic that they would be willing to make her look on live TV like the most undeserving winner in the show's history, even if it has the net effect of making some people so upset with the outcome that they decide they're done with the show?

Scott said...

I was disappointed Natalie won. I guess she had a big part in getting Erik voted out, but that was it. The jury was so bitter that Russell lead the charge that put them all out of the game. Kelly, Monica and Laura especially. When Erik said he was voting Natalie I started to get worried. I don't think anyone has been so bitter as Erik. If you watched any of the Ponderosa stuff on CBS.com, you hate him and his stupid beard.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It's funny I was just tryng to think of a serialized show that had a *great* finale and I am drawing a blank.

Not a fan of The Wire or The Shield, I take it?

Scott said...

I wish one could edit comments, because I want to say how much I dislike the 3 person final. I like the final jury so much more when it's 1 on 1. This season wouldn't have changed because I'm sure Russell would have taken Natalie, but overall, I am down on the 3 person finals

Alan Sepinwall said...

This is the first time in Survivor history where the dominant player made it to the end and lost.

Neleh was, in the end, the most dominant player in Marquesas, and she lost to Vecepia. And Boston Rob obviously was the most dominant person in All-Stars and lost to Ambuh. An argument could also be very easily made for Colby as not only the most physically dominant person in Australia, but the leader of the dominant alliance.

Adam said...

The whole continent, Alan, or just from among the sixteen castaways that season?

Does Danni's win over Stephenie also count?

cadfile said...

I don't disagree that the social aspect is important and we have seen like this season that if you don't do it you get taken out like Russell did. But the game is more than just the social - it is the whole package. If it isn't then it is simply a waste of time to watch the whole season.

That is pretty much why I stopped watching on a regular basis since it has become only interesting in the final episodes and the jury questions.

It reminds me of sports teams and playoffs. You play great all season and have an off night during a playoff and get sent home - does that mean you didn't deserve to win the championship or that your season meant nothing?

So Natalie spends 39 days nearly starving to death lying low and letting Russell be Russell and you win just because the other people liked you more? Ugh... That's not a game that is Tracy Flick and Election.

BTW, Colby gave his win away to Tina because of her family issues.

Anonymous said...

Nicole: I think anonymous was referring to brian from survivor thailand. Also did soft core porn. Dominated his season completely

Anonymous said...

Michaelangelo:...that at the merge you've got Mick, Natalie, Jaison, and Liz. Can you honestly imagine any scenario where Natalie, or for that matter, any of the Foas, sniff the final TC? No, you can't.

Mick, Jaison, and Russell would probably be toast, but I can certainly see a scenario where Natalie and Liz defects over to the woman alliance in Galu (and then take out all the men), and have a shot at making it to the end.

Russell played a great 38 day game, but didn't play a great 39 day game. Didn't cater to the jury in the right way at the end (though to be fair, I did think most of them were set to vote against him anyway - like Brett's q, it was more to figure out whether they want to award Mick or Natalie; and accessed that Natalie got to know them better and had a better social game than Mick), and so lost the votes. Arguably Erik had a huge hand in his closing to help Natale get more votes (I wish she did that herself, but I do think she 'deserved' it as much as Russell 'did').

Anyway, who was the second vote for Russell? Was it John, who loves arrogance?

Anonymous said...

Beaver said: "I have a problem with the jury members who can't separate their own bitterness from their votes"

Is there any rule about how the jury should vote? Is there anything restricting how they vote? If not, then they'll vote with the full effect of any very human desires and emotions they have.

It sounds to me like a lot of people actually don't like the rules of the game, specifically the very last vote that places the potential victors in the hands of the defeated.

Linda said...

"Can you honestly imagine any scenario where Natalie, or for that matter, any of the Foas, sniff the final TC? No, you can't."

Seriously?

Of course I can. OF COURSE I can. The idea that, without Russell, everything else was sealed doesn't make any sense to me at all. As has already been said, Natalie and Liz absolutely might have joined up with the Galu women. Mick might have developed a close friendship with Dave and Brett and aligned with them. Shambo might still have been just as bitter toward Laura and teamed up with Jaison, Mick, Natalie and Liz in much the same way she did with them and Russell. One of them might have found one of the hidden idols Russell wasn't there to find. There was an obvious split growing between the Galu men and Shambo on one side and the other Galu women on the other side, even before the merge. The guys already wanted to vote out one of the women, even before it came up to boot Erik.

There is no reason to believe Galu was somehow going to hang together and get rid of Foa Foa, and once that happens, there's no way to know what would have happened.

srpad said...

"Not a fan of The Wire or The Shield, I take it?"

Actually, it's funny but I have never watched either show but have had plans to make The Wire a summer viewing project and I never had much interest in The Shield but when I watched your clip in one of your Decade lists, I was so engrossed, I plan to see that one eventually as well. I'll cross my fingers the finales are worth it :-)

Michaelangelo McCullar said...

Alan, Neleh wasn't even close to Marquesas's most dominant player. She was seen, at best, as Paschal's sidekick. She lost to Vee specifically because the jury didn't think she'd done near enough in the game to merit winning. Did they like Neleh on a personal level more than Vee? Of course they did. But she wasn't a better player than Vee, and that's why she lost.

All-Stars was a unique situation. Boston Rob abused real-life friendships outside of the game to advance himself within the game. He asked Lex and Kathy, not as one contestant to another, but as one friend to another, to protect Amber, and out of friendship they did so. And then he casually turned around and shanked them in the back. If this was a case of Russell screwing over people he was friends with in real life to win the game then I'd be a bit more understanding.

Colby, that's an odd duck. I've read too many interviews and behind-the-scene stuff where people talk about how Tina was the strategic masterind of that partnership to agree with your assessment. Tina and Colby was much more of a team than you might realize.

And Adam, in Guatemala, if you recall, Rafe was the strategic juggernaut that sesaon. Stephenie was the ultimate goat. EVERYONE wanted to go with her to the final TC, because no way was she going to win, except maybe against Lydia. That's why Danni said "Thanks, sucka!" when Rafe told her she didn't have to honor her deal with him and she picked Steph to go to the finals.

Linda, if Natalie and Liz hook up with the girls alliance, they're the fourth and fifth people in a five-person alliance. Actually, they would have been even lower than that, because in reality Brett and Dave were aligned with Laura and not Erik and John. And with those odds, you can't tell me that they would have had more than a slim shot of cracking that alliance to make it further than bootees #1 and 2 when they were all that was left. And if the Foas align with Shambo, well, they're still down in numbers. Russell was the one that cultivated that relationship with Shambo. You can see the evidence in her final vote.

Without Russell and the HII, Kelly doesn't go home, and John doesn't refuse to take a rock. Without Russell, Natalie doesn't come off as the second coming of Mother Theresa in a final TC going up against Satan reincarnated. Without Russell, Natalie's just another juror.

Hyde said...

I don't have anything to add to what Linda Holmes said; I agree with all of it. In fact, I think savvy viewers of the show could have seen the result coming, as I can't recall any other edition of Survivor where someone did a premature victory lap like Russell, and then was rewarded by the jury.

Also, for all of Russell's self-mythologizing, he has to admit that he and his allies, by all rights, should have been doomed going into the merge down 8-4. It took phenomenally bad gameplay by the Galus to blow that lead--Natalie's manuevering and even Russell's idols helped, but were in the end less significant than Galu's collective stupidity. And Russell had a lot to do with putting his tribe in that kind of hole to begin with. He tried to pretend that it didn't matter and everything went according to his grand plan, but I think that's after-the-fact chest-beating.

I think it's good for the series that a woman was able to win, something that hadn't happened in a non-All Star season since Season 11 in the fall of 2005. Survivor and its host have become increasingly enamored with male brawn and notions of "leadership," and the last thing a veteran reality show needs is predictability.

the Stanfield Org. said...

Having watched the whole season, I hated the early episodes, which were basically just "watch Russell be an asshole and then brag about how smart and conniving he is to the camera", but he also almost singlehandedly turned an awful season into a very good one post-merge, with the best series of episodes down the stretch in recent memory, and one of the only entertaining/suspenseful finales I can think of. (Not sure how much of the Russell focus was due to his strategery and how much was due to the almost total lack of charisma among the other 19 contestants.)
I had no problem with Natalie winning; think she was actually less of a "coattail rider" than Mick and Jaison, neither of whom appeared to even attempt to make a strategic move all season, they were just along for the ride w/ Russell. She also appeared to at least always try to carry her share of the load at camp and in challenges, and wasn't dead weight by any means. Was rooting for Russell going into the finale, but changed my vote based on what an arrogant, insufferable prick he was after Brett was eliminated, which reminded me of why I had hated him so much earlier in the season.
Also, did anyone else do a spit-take/have a different word in mind when Shambo asked Natalie to guess what "C word" she had applied to her? (I'll leave when I'm good and ready.)

Kristen said...

I thought Russell was a great player, but him losing didn't ruin the season for me.

If anything, it made the season better, because as others have mentioned, the sexist pig who spent a season talking about how stupid women are, lost to a woman.

Anonymous said...

I think the real thing it comes down to here is that lying and cheating becomes sort of a zero-sum game in Survivor. Boston Rob showed that you can certainly lie, cheat and steal your way to the final 2(and that is obviously in many ways is much easier than trying to get there without backstabbing people), but you also have to understand that each time you start lying and cheating it's going to reduce your chance to get jury votes, which is why Russell was foolish to lie and cheat in many situations where he didn't have to. Maybe if Russell hadn't tried to destroy his own tribe, he wouldn't have had to lie and cheat as much, and he might have won the game.
Look at Tom Westman, who is in my opinion without a doubt the best player the game has ever seen. He stepped out from day 1 as the leader, taking on all that responsibility as someone to blame when things go bad, he navigated his tribe to every team immunity win, won 5 of his own, made strategic plays when necessary to ensure he and Ian made the final 3, and was able to justify his actions to the final jury and won 6-1. Russell only did one of those things(strategic plays), and that ended up killing him.
Also, it's great TV to come back from 4-8 to 3-0, but you also have to know that those 8 are all on the jury after you reverse-Pagong them, which made his weakening his tribe plan turn out to be more catastrophic than he could have anticipated which he seems too delusional to realize. Russell is a good, maybe great, strategizer and legendary idol finder, but he made alot of mistakes. Getting used by Natalie for one, who knew to just stroke his ego while he took bullets for her and allowing her to make friends with everyone, because Natalie, unlike Russell, correctly anticipated how the jury would play out. He also left his original tribe in a place where even if he made the final 3 the jury would all be from the other tribe, rather than his friends.
And for all the so and so "deserved" to win nonsense, the only person other than Natalie(because she got the votes) that you could justify "deserving" to win this season is Russell. No, not that Russell, but Russell Swan. Russell S stepped up in all the challenges, led his tribe to victory after victory, nearly killed himself in the process of trying to win the game by taking his leadership position as seriously as he did, and last, but definitely not least after watching the post merge episodes, kept that group of nutcases with all their rifts and cracks together. Look at how quickly they completely fell apart without the guy and turned on their own tribe leading to them losing 7 straight members with an 8-4 lead.
None of Russell Hantz's strategy could have saved his ass if they weren't such a completely fractured mess to begin with. His machinations didn't turn them against each other, they already were against each other. All he had to do was sit and watch them fall apart, just like the disaster that was Timbira's performance last season. Were JT and Stephen good players for recognizing what a fractured bunch Timbira was and capitalizing? Sure, but they weren't some strategic masterminds for watching the other tribe dissolve around them. Russell is a good player, and had a solid strategy to make the final three, but the final challenge was "convince 5 out of 9 people you deserve a million dollars" and for all the Russell apologists, I hate to tell you, but he lost that challenge.

Scott said...

The second vote for Russell was from John to the person who asked.

Marquis said...

It's just like politics in that too many people vote based upon "What's s/he going to do for ME" rather than "What is best for the constituency as a whole"...jury members vote for "What did they do to ME" rather than "Who played this game the best".

Guess what survivor is a game of social politics as well.

A player's social game goes a long way. I'm not sure anyone's won this game without a decent social game. Or at the very least a stronger social game than their opponent.

It's been a part of survivor since forever, Russell was at least aware of it because he was concerned about Jaison in front of the Jury, but he underestimated Natalie, and if you go buy the interviews, Natalie was perfectly aware that Russell was likely to self destruct in front of the jury and helped to talk people out of going after him.

Why didn't they show this, because frankly Natalie played a low key game, and probably didn't reveal much to the cameras in case someone overheard. Plus I guarantee the producers were setting up Russel for HvsV.

Anonymous said...

To say Russell played the "best strategic game ever" is ridiculous. Winning the final jury vote is probably the most critical strategic element of Survivor. In the end, nothing else matters. No matter how masterfully you play the game, if you can't win the jury then your strategy fails. Period. Personally I thought Russell was an arrogant ass, and my guess is that his fellow contestants did too. I'm glad he didn't win.

Lester Freamon said...

I don't like the coattails argument because everyone's vote counts for the same amount. All of them needed everyone in their alliance working together to win. You could just as easily say that Russell rode Natalie's coattails

Russell couldn't have gotten as far as he did without Natalie's help. I would also argue that one reason Foa Foa never really considered voting Russell out is because Natalie's relationship with him made it hard to assemble a reliable anti-Russell coalition. If Natalie had decided that she didn't want to face him before the jury, or for whatever reason didn't want him around, he would have been gone. She faced Russell in the final jury because she wanted to.

It's not like it's impossible to be a strong strategic player and still win. Earl and Yul both dominated their seasons strategically but they also played the social aspect well enough that they could win the jury vote too. Part of the reason they did that is that they were able to put together a strategy that did not involve making deals and then going back on them. Both of them made exactly the deals they needed to to win, and no more, so the people they voted off were people that got beat fair and square, not people who were betrayed. Russell on the other hand, went around saying anything he could to anyone who would listen, and that cost him.

The biggest move of the game was orchestrated by Natalie in getting Galu to vote out Erik, which she did over his objection. Remember before tribal council when she said "I think I have the votes" and he said, " I think you think you have the votes" and then he wasted the idol? That was a dumb mistake.

Anonymous said...

Can someone do a little research on who formed the first true reality t.v. series alliance that just dominated and set the tone. I mean these things pretty much come with a book now on "how to play the game", just wondering who etched those first words into the stone.

Anonymous said...

I f you think "Survivor" is reality....It is very much controlled by the producers as is the final outcome.

Matthew L said...

Can someone do a little research on who formed the first true reality t.v. series alliance that just dominated and set the tone. I mean these things pretty much come with a book now on "how to play the game", just wondering who etched those first words into the stone.

It was Hatch, wasn't it, back in season 1. As I remember it, most people were voting according to their hearts and Hatch saw that the way to win was to put together a solid voting block.

Adam said...

What he said. Other castaways were voting on things like "who's helping us win challenges" and "who's doing a good job helping the tribe survive." P'shaw.

Dan said...

If "riding Russel's coattails" is such a great strategy, why wasn't Mick rewarded votes for doing the same thing? Mick and Natalie had the exact same strategy: Stay out of Russel's way. So why was Natalie given five votes and Mick zero?

Alan Sepinwall said...

And that led to the absolutely hilarious post-merge Tribal Council where Hatch's alliance teamed up to vote out Gretchen while everybody on Pagong voted for a different person - and they all voted for each other.

I do wonder, though, how the game would have played out in the early years if no one in that first season had thought about alliances. Everyone does it because it so obviously worked for Hatch, and because it makes logical sense. But if that first season had been won by somebody like Gretchen or Greg and there hadn't been any alliance-based voting, I suspect contestants for at least the next few editions would have viewed alliances as being as unseemly as the Pagongs did.

A guy I know at CBS once said that Hatch made "Survivor" what it is, "but he also kind of ruined the game for everybody after."

akaBruno said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
akaBruno said...

One's perspective on the outcome depends on whether or not one views the "coattail" strategy has legitimate or not.

For me, it is a "weaker," more passive strategy than being an active target, and hence, less worthy of being rewarded.

Even if you buy Natalie's efforts to oust Erik, the critical turning point was Russell's use of the idol to oust Kelly to even numbers at 5-5 (with Shambo joining the Foa Foa 4). If Russell did not play said idol, Foa Foa's numbers would once again be behind Galu. Natalie's play would not have been possibly without Russell shifting attention away from the others on Foa Foa and on him.

One question for the Natalie defenders....if we had a Survivor with 20 players all following Natalie's strategy, or a Survivor with 20 players following Russell's strategy, which would you watch?

Finally, can you trust a bunch of jurors to make a logical decision who couldn't hold on to an 8-4 lead in numbers? Weaker players/voters supported another weaker player.

srpad said...

Regarding Hatch and Season 1 of Survivor: I always said that Mark Burnett created the game of Survivor but Richard Hatch wrote the rules. The way he won set the tone for the entire series to come. I have to think if the first season went down a little more like the second season with Colby getting close to the end because he dominated challenges--even discounting the fact that he fell on his sword and took Tina with him rather than Keith--the show's history would have played very differently.

There's no reason the game *has* to be about lying and back stabs. It is just that is the path of least resistance and Richard Hatch saw that first.

Linda said...

"One question for the Natalie defenders....if we had a Survivor with 20 players all following Natalie's strategy, or a Survivor with 20 players following Russell's strategy, which would you watch?"

20 Natalies, in a walk. It would be boring, but I would survive. I would stab my eyes out if I had to watch one Russell for another season, let alone 20. This is why I will be skipping next season if he's on.

Adam said...

It would have only taken one vote to flip -- Greg Buis' "pick a number" -- for Kelly to win and Hatch's strategy to be somewhat discredited.

Alan Sepinwall said...

If you assume Greg - or anyone who does wacky jury questions like that - hadn't already made his mind up, that is. I got the sense from some of his post-season comments that Greg was gonna vote Hatch no matter what, and picked the "correct" number ex post facto.

akaBruno said...

Linda said
"20 Natalies, in a walk. It would be boring, but I would survive. I would stab my eyes out if I had to watch one Russell for another season, let alone 20. This is why I will be skipping next season if he's on."

Survivor would be off the air within 3 years if we had a show with 20 Natalies. It makes for dull, bad television.

Adam said...

Alan, true, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Sean could have chosen Kelly over Richard.

Point being that Hatch did not play the social game well beyond Rudy, and by whatever he did (I forget) to persuade Kelly to turn against Sue. And yet he still won.

andythesaint said...

Kelly turned on Sue because Sue was ready to vote Kelly out before she won immunity. Then Kelly decided that she'd rather face a jury against Rich (which was the same reason she voted out Rudy). It's the key ingredient to Sue's big speech about rats and snakes: Sue's utter, naked hypocrisy.

As for this season, I think what a lot of people are reacting to, besides the editing of CBS and Russell's own self-aggrandizing, is the fact that Natalie's strategy, while completely legitimate and proven successful, just isn't compelling television. We want to see players who make moves and put themselves out there, so much so that we'll lionize an arrogant bully like Russell for doing so (even if he actions didn't always match his bluster). Making small moves while playing a quiet social game is effective, but dull, and this show has yet to find a way to make it more interesting.

belidna said...

Isn't it all part of the fun that is Survivor though? Sometimes, riding coattails wins you the game. Sometimes, being the most strategic wins you the game. Sometimes, winning challenges helps you make a solid case. It's different because the jury is different every time, and all the better that you don't quite know whether they'd be bitter or feel bested. Sometimes "girl power" wins. Sometimes it's the alpha male. Sometimes it's about whoever has the most friends in the jury. As long as they outlasted everyone else in the game, they're officially deserving of the title whether they did the dirty work themselves or let everyone else did them for them (a valid strategy, or even a smarter one - as with any CEOs in a company who make vastly more money than someone actually doing the work).

Sure, if 20 Natalies won in a row Survivor would not have had 20 seasons. At the same time, if 20 Hatches won in a row, I think Survivor wouldn't have 20 seasons either.

sedeyus said...

What I don't get? Why are people claiming that Russell is a great strategist? The only reason he got to the final three is because production started hiding immunity idols out in the open. I could invision a situation where Mick or Natalie made it to the final three without him, but Russell couldn't do it without those idols.

Lester Freamon said...

"The only reason he got to the final three is because production started hiding immunity idols out in the open."

Seriously. Remember when Yul found his idol, and the clue was something like "find the place where the island on the horizon makes an A with the tree on the beach and start digging" ? Russell would never have found that, even with a clue.

fgmerchant said...

I have to agree with Michael on this point: "Riding coattails is a great strategy to get to the end, but if you're up against the guy whose coattails you rode, you shouldn't get the vote."

I loved Russell from the first episode and i wasn't at all disgusted by his Katrina story. I'm a Houstonian so I saw first hand the survivors and aftermath, especially since Rita came tearing through shortly after, and even then I loved that we were going to have a player who would do or say anything to win. I loved the character and I want even more people to play the same. It's just like how everyone liked Dr. Will from Big Brother. I love it when someone tells you they will lie and back-stab you, yet you make an alliance anyways and get shocked by being blindsided. Love it!

I would have to dispute that a strong woman always gets voted out. Strong women who have made it far or even won include Parvati and Amanda. The difference is that they are the kind of strong women who know they are strong and don't need to proclaim it every second! Those proclaimers are the ones who get on my nerves!

@hearsmusic
He had that look on his face before the votes were even read, and he just got worse afterward. He said, in an interview, that the 55% he gave went down while watching the season and by the end he knew he would loose. That's why he didn't get excited even when Jeff read the 2 votes for him.

Michaelangelo McCullar said...

I think Mario Lanza, who used to write for Survivor-Central, put it best: the issue with this season and the result is the editing. They just did not give Natalie a winner's edit. They didn't show her doing anything more than following Russell all season. The question is, why? They knew that Natalie was going to win the season. Were they just so invested in the Legend of Russell that they decided to throw Natalie under the bus? Or was it just that what we saw of Natalie was what we got? A player who rode someone else's coattails and counted on the fact that he would alienate every potential jury member on the way?

Narrim said...

Exactly. How come Brett was virtually unknown despite being a member of the final four and winning immunity three times (probably four since Russell's hand was way above the white mark when Brett's statue fell and no indication they were adding segments)?

I hope one day they go back to people surviving nature over scrambling votes and big personalities. I'll remember the episodes with the neverending rain more than the reverse-Pagonging of Galu a year from now. Erik vs. Daisy the chicken from the recap show I'd have loved to see more of in the actual show, not just Erik clotheslining himself. Story. Survival. Day-to-day things. Who they are and not how they scheme. It's why a lot people loved the original seasons. They were battling the elements, fighting off bugs, finding mud volcanoes in the jungle, playing with luxury items...

Marcus & Coach trying to build the best swing or bench. Ken & Michelle going out to grab some termites. Boo somehow managing to hurt himself every single episode (hammock falling, having to pop his leg back into place during a challenge). Yul defending Penner's "big feet" comment to Jeff during the hold onto a pole mission by referencing how elephants can't climb trees. Osten vs. the pelican. "IT'S JUST A ****ING STICK!" Cirie catches a fish ten episodes after being afraid of leaves. Of leaves. Gabon's elephant. Crazy Dave's firepit and his collapse due to overworking, malnutrition, and doing his best for his teammates kind of resonant of Russell S collapse this year, though I'm very glad neither was ultimately hurt.

The little moments are what make the season, and this was the season of Russell. It feels like a failed experiment. All huff and puff, but against a brick house.

Rob Badger said...

sedeyus said... "What I don't get? Why are people claiming that Russell is a great strategist? The only reason he got to the final three is because production started hiding immunity idols out in the open."

Um, couldn't every else in the tribe have found them as well? While "great strategist" might still be up for debate, it certainly makes him a better strategist than anyone else in the tribe who got voted out because they didn't find an idol. Some of them got voted out even after they knew it was possible to find them without clues and still couldn't find them. So in a way this is really more an argument for Russell than against.

vanisco said...

Making small moves while playing a quiet social game is effective, but dull, and this show has yet to find a way to make it more interesting.


That's one reason I loved Sandra--she made small moves, but she was LOUD (self-admittedly so). As far as I'm concerned, she totally deserved to win.

Also wish Russell would have won. Doesn't ruin my enjoyment of the season, but did make me hate most of the jury more than I already did.

dez said...

^oops, that's me. Put the captcha in twice, I guess, d'oh!

sedeyus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sedeyus said...

"Um, couldn't every else in the tribe have found them as well? While "great strategist" might still be up for debate, it certainly makes him a better strategist than anyone else in the tribe who got voted out because they didn't find an idol. Some of them got voted out even after they knew it was possible to find them without clues and still couldn't find them. So in a way this is really more an argument for Russell than against."
I know everyone has a different definition of a deserving Survivor winner. Best at scavenger hunts is not really mine.