Survivor: Cambodia

Lessons in Survivor History: Bad Liars

This week, Kass went home, ostensibly because she was causing too much chaos in camp. If you’ve listened to exit interviews, or been following Twitter, you will know that once again, there was so much more to the story. While I am not a fan of coronation edits such as the edit that Mike received last season, I am finding the editing in Survivor: Second Chances to be increasingly frustrating. I can only really write about what I saw on the television, whether it makes sense to me or not. For example, I don’t know why Joe and Keith were so quick to turn on Kass. I’m not sure why Abi was on Kass’ side and not Tasha’s. The story that was presented to us was that Kass and Ciera were troublemakers. They lied to Andrew Savage, and so they had to go. The story that I saw was about honesty in the game…who can be trusted, and who certainly cannot.

This is Survivor. When you sign up for the game, you have to know that people are going to be dishonest. There’s a million dollars on the line, and in this game, anything goes. The lines of what is morally permissible are getting more and more blurry every season. In Survivor: Cagayan, Tony showed us that even swearing on your family and lying is permissible- as long as you win the game. Savage came out to play a loyal and honest game, which might have been feasible in season seven. But in season 31, you have to believe that people are going to lie. And in the end, it wasn’t the lying that sent Kass home. She’s not the only dishonest person out there. You can lie in Survivor and still succeed. For Kass and Ciera, the fatal sin wasn’t their dishonesty; it was that they did such a bad job of it. Ciera attempted to lie and manipulate people, but all she did was convince people not to trust her. In Survivor, you can lie, but you’d better be a damn good liar, man. And for that reason, this week’s lesson in Survivor history is coming to us from the sixth place finisher of season 11, Survivor: Guatemala, Judd Sergeant.

Judd is perhaps one of the most colourful characters in Survivor history. He played the game passionately, getting judd31ep7into arguments often, and was fiercely loyal to his allies. Judd also prided himself on his honesty, and would often tell the other players that he had never once lied in the game.

Judd began the game on the Nakum tribe, where he formed some close bonds, but also gained some enemies. Judd couldn’t control his emotions. If he didn’t like someone, he was quick to tell them. It wasn’t until the tribe swap that Judd found himself comfortable in an alliance. He committed to playing the game with Stephenie LaGrossa, Rafe Judkins, Lydia Morales, Cindy Hall and Jamie Newton. Once Judd had committed to an alliance, he was extremely loyal, and like Andrew Savage this season, he expected that everyone else was approaching the game the same way. For Judd, this naïve view of the game eventually led to his blindside.

One of Judd’s many flaws as a Survivor player was the way that he treated those who were outside of his alliance. Margaret Bobonich said: “When Judd gets vocal, Judd plows over anybody in front of him; he trash talks anybody he doesn’t like.” Margaret couldn’t understand why anybody would want to play with someone like that. What she couldn’t see was that Judd’s bad social game was making him into a very attractive ally. He was getting a reputation as someone who was honest to a fault. Perhaps even as someone who was incapable of lying within the game. For Judd’s allies, it was fantastic that Judd was alienating the other players in the game. And it was even better that not only did he have an abrasive personality, but he was someone that could be trusted.

Judd’s physical strength meant that the new Nakum tribe dominated in the challenges and entered the merge with a numerical advantage. Judd found himself in a great position. He was in the majority alliance, and more than that, his abrasiveness made him an attractive person to take to the end. Despite being rude to those that he wasn’t aligned with, Judd had made real relationships out there, and although his tribemates might have thought of him as a goat, he actually could have won the game. In Judd’s plans, he was going to the Final Tribal Council with Stephenie, who was universally disliked. There was every chance that he could have beaten Stephenie in a jury vote. Judd was in everyone’s end game plans, and he was completely trusted by his entire alliance. And then Judd started lying.

Judd had told little lies in the game previously. For instance, when the tribe had won reward, Judd had taken more than his fair share, and then lied about it. That was quickly forgotten. But the nest big lie that Judd told would destroy his reputation in the game. Once people started to see Judd as a liar, he became a target, and would eventually be voted out by the people that he trusted.

Judd became the first ever Survivor contestant to receive a clue to a hidden immunity idol. The clue revealed that the idol was in a tree. After sharing the information with his allies, Judd immediately went to those who were not in his alliance, and told them: “I can’t give away too many clues, ’cause I’m trying to save my own ass, but it is totally on the ground.” Gary Hogeboom, who was on the minority alliance, then followed Judd into the jungle, and noticed that Judd wasn’t looking on the ground at all. It didn’t take Gary long to find the idol, which was of course hidden in a tree.

To himself, Judd justified his lie because it wasn’t to those in his alliance. He called his lie “part of the game.” And he was right- everybody else in the game had been lying. It was just that Judd’s lie was so easily exposed. And when Judd attacked Gary at Tribal Council, calling him a liar, it was easy for Gary to respond. Gary told everyone where he had found the idol. Judd had to admit that, yeah, he had lied. This was a contributing factor in his allies losing trust in him, and he was subsequently voted out.

Of course, Survivor is a nuanced game. Judd wasn’t voted out simply because he was discovered to be a liar. With the presence of Stephenie in the game, who had angered the entire jury, there was no need for a player like Judd. To Rafe, who had been in control of the game, Judd became a threat when it became clear that Stephenie would have a better chance in a final two against Judd than she would against Rafe. When Rafe realised that Judd was virtually guaranteed a place in the Final Tribal Council, he needed to get rid of him. Rafe didn’t care that Judd was a bad liar. He cared that Judd threatened to take his spot at the end. But Judd’s bad lie did help Rafe to turn Stephenie against him, and that was vital in Judd’s being blindsided and sent home in sixth. For Judd, his lie unalterably changed his reputation, and that sent him home.

ciera31ep7This week, we saw both Tasha and Ciera tell terrible lies to other players, with differing results. While Tasha still has a place in the majority, Ciera found that, like Judd, her allies had no more use for her. Joe would much rather stick with other athletic players like Jeremy and Savage, lessening the target on himself. Keith had more trust in Jeremy than he did in Kass or Ciera. As long as the prevailing strategy is for the alpha players to ‘bro-down’, then players like Kass and Ciera are always going to struggle, but appearing to be untrustworthy made the decision for Joe and Keith much easier. In Survivor, the last thing you want is to be seen as untrustworthy.

One of the reasons that Judd made it so far in the game was because of his trustworthy reputation. In Survivor: Second Chances, reputation has proven to be vital. Both Ciera and Kass came into the season with reputations as schemers. And that is part of the reason that Ciera couldn’t successfully lie this time around. Fairly or unfairly, she has a reputation for being cutthroat. Everyone else is wary of her. She can’t pretend to be innocent when they all know she voted her mother out of the game. When Joe and Keith had the choice between sticking with their Ta Keo alliance or rejoining with Jeremy and Savage, they chose the more trustworthy option.

Perhaps Ciera’s biggest mistake was the lie that she chose. She decided to tell Jeremy and Joe that Andrew had been gunning for them, that he had made statements about going after some of the bigger players. But instead of talking savage31ep7to Jeremy about this while Jeremy was alone, she did it while he was in a group–a group that included Savage. I can understand that in a merged tribe of 13 people, it is probably difficult to find one-on-one time with anybody, but surely there was a better time to throw Savage under the bus. I cannot understand why she didn’t at least wait until he wasn’t there! As Ciera should have expected, Savage immediately defended himself, telling Ciera, “I never mentioned his (Jeremy’s) name, or Joe. And there’s not any chance in hell I would ever go after them.” From what we saw, the consensus was that Savage was telling the truth. Nobody questioned his loyalty. All Ciera managed to do was to increase the target on herself.

I can understand why Ciera chose to target Savage. After she and Kass teamed up last week to vote out Woo, she pretty much burned any chance of working with Savage again. Interestingly, when the tribe returned to the beach without Woo, it was Savage who was doing the lying. He told Ciera and Kass that he would have been totally fine with voting Woo out, promised never to target Spencer again, and set about acting like a ‘wimpy non-leader’. And yet, nobody is questioning his integrity. I suspect that Ciera and Kass weren’t really taking much notice of what Savage was saying at that point because he was a non-factor in the game. They were set to vote him out at the next Tribal Council, and the only thing that saved him was the early merge.

Savage came into this season with virtually no baggage from the past. If he had a reputation, it was as a challenge beast and an inspiring leader. He didn’t tell any lies. He didn’t betray anyone- he never got the chance. He made an early alliance and he stuck to it. Both Kass and Ciera, who were trying to turn people against Savage, came out of their seasons with reputations for scheming and betrayal. In pre-game interviews, many people pointed to Ciera’s voting out her own mother as a reason not to trust her. Of course, neither Ciera or Kass see themselves as disloyal. Ciera knows that when she voted Laura out of the game it was with Laura’s blessing and was a show of loyalty to her alliance. Kass was telling Abi in the shelter that in her season, she didn’t lie to a single person in either of her seasons. But in Survivor, perception is more important than truth. Jeremy was far more likely to believe the word of a loyal player like Savage than he was to listen to sneaky schemers like Ciera and Kass.

As it turned out, Ciera’s lie was unnecessary. The two players that needed to be convinced were Joe and Spencer. Jeremy was never going to be on her side, and instead of putting her efforts into securing the numbers, she decided to go after Savage, seemingly just to cause chaos. There was simply nothing good about this lie. Judd would have been proud.

As bad as Ciera’s lie was, she wasn’t the only terrible liar we saw in this episode. I’ve already mentioned Savage’s attempt to eat humble pie and convince Kass and Ciera that he wasn’t a threat. The other terrible lie out there was told by Tasha, who told Kass that she was no longer working with the original Bayon people. I can understand Tasha’s motivation for lying to Kass. As she pointed out, Kass was the person responsible for Tasha losing power in Survivor: Cagayan, and Tasha wasn’t about to work with her this time. She didn’t trust Kass and didn’t want to tell her what she was really thinking. Fair enough. No problems with that. But then, like Judd with his “definitely, by far on the ground” idol, or like Ciera going after Savage, Tasha felt the need to pointlessly lie to Kass. And not only was it a lie, but it was a completely unbelievable lie. If Tasha wasn’t working with original Bayon, then what other options did she have? Kass knew she wasn’t working with Kelley Wentworth or Abi, both of whom were on Kass’ side. Kass also knew that she hadn’t had any opportunity to work with Spencer or Wiglesworth. At this point in the game, Tasha’s only option is to stick to the five-person alliance that was made right at the beginning. Kass knew that Tasha’s closest allies were Savage and Jeremy. And Tasha should have known that Kass was going to go straight to Savage and Jeremy and report what had been said- it is the same game move that she pulled against Tony in Cagayan.

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Both Ciera’s and Tasha’s lies were awful. But Ciera’s lie had the effect of putting her firmly on the outside and increased her reputation as a sneaky player. When Kass exposed Tasha’s lie, the reaction from the tribe seemed to be a collective eye roll. As a group, they just didn’t care. Tasha lying to Kass was no big deal. Ciera lying to Jeremy was far more damaging.

Judd’s worst lie was told to Gary, who wasn’t part of the majority alliance. As with Tasha, none of his allies were angry that he lied to someone who wasn’t with them. But it did damage his reputation in the game, and I wonder if the same thing happened to Tasha. Judging by the catfight gestures that were being made during Tribal Council, I would say that at the very least, Tasha has lost some respect. Up until this point, she had been playing a strong game. With all that she was able to do at Angkor, she had a strong case to make if she had made it to Final Tribal. But in lying and getting into what was clearly seen as a petty fight with Kass, Tasha has damaged her prospects. It will take some effort to reposition herself in the eyes of the other players in the game.

Ironically, in an episode where we saw so many bad lies, it was perhaps the most truthful player who was sent home- and apparently she was eliminated for being untrustworthy! Kass prided herself in never lying to anyone, and strictly speaking I don’t think she did, although she certainly omits to tell the truth when it suits her. For Kass though, her reputation was too much to overcome. As long as she was sitting quietly and making friendship bracelets, she was no threat to anyone. As soon as she started to make moves in the game, it came across as untrustworthy. She was right to try to make moves. In the Bayon alliance, we know that she is on the bottom. She and Ciera had to do something to take control. But what she chose to do was to expose Tasha’s lie to the entire tribe. The resulting chaos meant that nobody wanted to work with Kass anymore.

It was such a pity that Kass had spent so long building real relationships, and then she never used them to her advantage. We know that she has got a bond with Joe and with Keith. I agree with her decision to tell them what Tasha said, but she and Ciera both made similar mistakes in approaching a group of people rather than individuals. Kass never really gave herself a chance to convince anybody to move against Tasha. She was too busy making a spectacle of herself.

Survivor is a game where deception is necessary. But unless you have the skill to do it well, sometimes it is better to just keep your mouth shut. We’ll see if either Ciera or Tasha can come back from the positions that they have found themselves in. Ciera is in a difficult position, and unless someone wants to make a huge move next week, she will be voted out. With 12 people left, it is still early in the game, but this particular game has been played fast. She might be saved by someone else overplaying and putting their heads on the chopping block.

As for Tasha, she seems safe in the game, but she needs to regain people’s respect if she’s to have any hope of winning the jury vote. She’ll certainly find it easier to control her emotions without Kass around, and perhaps she will return to the player that she was when she was at Angkor. At the moment, it seems that Jeremy, Spencer and perhaps Wiglesworth are respected by everyone. Tasha has played a stronger game than those three and needs to be able to bring back the strength that she had at Angkor. A Tasha win isn’t looking likely, though. When Kass was voted out, she became the first juror, and that’s a bad sign for Tasha. The last thing that she needs is Kass influencing the jury against her. She might find the jury perception is an obstacle that is impossible to overcome.

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