SurvivorSurvivor Kaoh Rong

The Alpha Males, the Woman of Color, and the Beauty: Gender Dynamics of Kaoh Rong

Before the season started, I wrote a blog, The Young Lasses of Kaoh Rong, about the age discrepancy between the men and the women: only two women were over thirty; only two men were under thirty. Survivor already has a reputation for sidelining its female players, and I feared a season where nearly all the women were younger than the men could only exacerbate the problem. Had I known that both of those young men and one of the older women would be gone before the swap, I might have written off the season entirely.

In fact, Kaoh Rong was arguably the most feminist season of the show yet and certainly had the strongest female showing in years. However, Michele was also the most controversial winner in years, so this hasn’t been an all-out success for the young female demographic or for the series.

Now that the dust has settled, let’s review how this played out and what production got wrong and right.

Viva La Revolución!

One prediction I got right was that the women would end up as the junior partners of their male allies. It’s most noticeable at the merge when the male power players (Jason, Neal, Nick) were brokering deals, each expected to speak for their female ally (Cydney, Aubry, Michele). Gender bias might have played a part, but age bias definitely did. Nick is six years older than Michele. Jason is eight years older than Cydney. Neal is nine years older than Aubry. (To take a pre-merge pairing, Peter is seven years older than Liz.) Of course, the men are going to assume a leading role in those relationships.

(There was one male player who was consistently seen as subordinate to his female ally: Joe. On RHAP, Nick included Joe among the alpha personalities on the jury, and certainly, Joe had a reputation for digging his heels in over his vote, but when it came to the strategic game he was happy to follow first Debbie’s lead, then Aubry’s. The other difference with Joe was that we never saw Aubry or Debbie get any credit for being his dominant partner. Indeed, the jurors decried Aubry for ‘needing’ Joe even as they decried Joe for being her ‘extra vote’.)

We shouldn’t assume that these men had no respect for their protégées. Alecia showed us how Jason deals with people he doesn’t respect; Cydney earned her place as his ally. Likewise, Neal and Peter each paired up with the Brain woman they felt most compatible with. Nick, who had a contentious relationship with Michele, is the exception here, but even he initially aligned with her based on the promise he had seen in her application video (posted to YouTube prior to filming), and the two maintained a friendship after the game.

That said, Nick ultimately viewed Michele as a weaker player that he could bring to the end and beat. For all the respect the other men might have had for their female allies, it’s unlikely that their plans for them were any different. The women were very much the subordinates.

Not so in the edit: The women were almost invariably the narrators of the season, and even the male-dominated pre-merge was seen largely through female eyes. Take the first Brains vote where Neal and Peter went head to head, but the tale being told was Liz vs. Debbie. Or the story of the Brawn tribe which followed Alecia’s battle to stay in the game, even though it ended in defeat. Or the merge episode where Neal’s game came to an untimely end, but Aubry gave his side of the strategy and provided the emotional weight to his medevac.

This isn’t to say the show has entirely dropped its male-centric habits. If you look at the five-minute opening of the season—designed to hook the viewers and invest them in the characters—out of nine confessionals, seven of them come from men: Neal was the only male juror who didn’t get an intro confessional; Debbie was the only female juror who did. The Beauty tribe might have contained the winner, Michele, but its story revolved around zero-votes Tai who ended up with the highest confessional count of the season.

That said, when you look at total confessionals, women had 249 to the men’s 245. (Compare San Juan Del Sur which had an all-female final three, but the women managed only 175 confessionals to the men’s 270.) Aubry and Michele may have had ‘only’ 70 and 57 confessionals to Tai’s 74, but it was Aubry’s loss that took us by surprise, not Tai’s. Michele’s confessional count is one of the highest for any female winner and holds its own against your average male winner. (It’s higher than both Tyson’s and Jeremy’s.) This was a balanced season for screentime, and content is more important than numbers.

Obviously, the post-merge was dominated by the women, as I blogged at the time, so the edit had more to work with than I expected. It could be argued that the sheer numbers of young women created an environment in which they could take control. Yet there are a few other factors I would like to raise:

Firstly, there was the perfect storm which nullified the men’s power in the post-merge game. Neal got medevaced which led to Nick’s blindside which led to Jason and Scot adopting a strategy that sabotaged their chances of regaining the numbers.

Secondly, there was Debbie. A terrific character in her own right, Debbie was also an aggressive player with a feminist bent. (I could write a whole blog on the Debbie/Nick flirtation role reversal and the ethics of playing that as sexual harassment comedy, but considering the atypical personalities involved, I’m just going to put it out there and move on.)

The Coach comparisons were apt, but there was more to them than the oddball figurehead whose life tales were too tall to be believed. Like Coach, Debbie rallied a younger group around her, making herself their mentor through the game. Unlike Coach, she did it with the younger women, urging them to think of their own games rather than what their male allies wanted.

When talking to Rob, Cydney credited Debbie with inspiring her to play the game for herself. Cydney, of course, is our final factor in how the women were able to take control. She stepped up at that first merge vote and got Debbie’s suggestion of a women’s alliance to happen, before taking out Debbie herself to become the reigning alpha player. Cydney doesn’t deserve the credit for getting every post-merge vote to happen, but for five consecutive tribal councils, the votes went how Cydney wanted.

That’s an impressive stat for any player, but bear in mind that, at twenty-three, Cydney was the second youngest player of the season—and a woman of color to boot.

Bias Intersection

Let me preface this next section with the observation that I am ridiculously white and middle class. I know very little about race issues and even less about how they intersect with gender. However, it’s become an unfortunate trope of Survivor that women of color get voted out early. When they do go far into the game, there aren’t any voices in the media that can comment on them from a place of understanding. Moreover, I was becoming embarrassed by my own reluctance to address this aspect of gender issues.

While I will finally tackle this topic, I have no deep comprehension of the challenges women of color face. I have attempted to inform myself, but as we discuss Cydney’s game, please bear in mind that any information I have is but the tip of the iceberg, and consider my commentary to be raising questions rather than reaching conclusions. (I would always encourage readers to make their own interpretations in any event!)

RHAP Intern, Lita Brillman, did some research on the early boot statistics for her academic thesis, “The Impact of Race and Gender in Survivor”. For the first thirty seasons, she found that while 28% of all contestants were voted off in the first five boots, 45% of women of color were voted off that early. For black women specifically, the percentage was even higher: 56%. Black female players are the only ethnic demographic that is more likely than not to be voted off before the sixth episode of the show.

Lita’s data didn’t include Cambodia or Kaoh Rong. Between Tasha and Cydney, that particular statistic has since improved, but Shirin, Peih-Gee, and Monica’s boots have continued the overall trend: Going into any given season, viewers should expect half the women of color to be early casualties.

It’s a depressing rule of thumb. The factors that cause this statistic are so numerous and situational, that I won’t go into detail, especially as they don’t apply to Kaoh Rong (which only had one woman of color to start with). However, to speak very generally, this probably comes down to alliances being built on common ground. In early alliances which stem from first impressions, any sense of ‘otherness’ can cause contestants to (consciously or subconsciously) exclude a player from their shortlist of allies. That’s where race can pose problems (see Darnell and Tai).

That early racial bias then intersects with the gender bias that women are going to be less useful to the tribe in terms of challenges. The tribe comes to an agreement that a woman should be voted off, and the one who hasn’t yet found an alliance is the one who’s most disposable.

Clearly, this isn’t the only reason women of color get voted off, but that’s one example of how the combination of race and gender can create a challenge for women of color that other players don’t face.

So what factors led Cydney to escape that first five boot fate, despite going to three of the first five Tribal Councils? Alecia was weaker than she was, Darnell struggled more to fit in, but why did Cydney outlast Jenny?

It’s not an exact parallel, but I focused my research on what attributes help women of color succeed in careers more typically dominated by white men. Many thanks to Shirin Oskooi and Lita Brillman who supplied me with some fascinating reading material on this subject. One common theme that kept coming up was mentoring: the difficulty women of color have in finding a compatible mentor and, if they succeed, the positive impact that mentor can have on their careers.

Cydney bonded with several people on her starting tribe, but the key proved to be Jason. Scot regretted not keeping Jenny over Cydney, but he couldn’t because Jason (and presumably Alecia) wanted Cydney to stay. Jason was Cydney’s advocate up through the merge, bringing her into every alliance he made—likewise, Cydney protected Jason when Jenny tried to target him, and it might have been due to her influence that Jason was the last of the opposing alliance to be voted off post-merge.

An advocate is almost essential in Survivor. An ally who won’t stick their neck out for you is only useful when you’re around to monitor them. Conversations will happen without you, and when they do, you need somebody who will look out for your best interests—and that means building a relationship of trust. Women of color may be in more need of that assist in the early votes; they’re also the least likely to find immediate common ground with somebody else on their tribe.

It’s not clear how long it took Cydney to earn Jason’s trust, but when she collapsed from heatstroke in episode four, he was obviously committed to her. On her second tribe, she met Debbie who, as previously stated, was taking it upon herself to mentor the younger women and who took an immediate shine to Cydney. Between the two of them, Cydney was in an informed and thus powerful position come the merge.

Plenty of players have been in a similar position of power and done nothing with it. Annette Skervin’s “Success Factors for Women of Color Information Technology Leaders in Corporate America” repeatedly came back to the importance of confidence and a support network of friends ‘on their side’.

Confidence can be a double-edged sword. Many of the women of color who were early boots made alpha males wary because they were assertive. Then there’s the “Angry Black Woman” stereotype which has been unfortunately prevalent on Survivor. Cydney’s mention of “Storm” in her pre-season interviews had almost all of us write her off as a trainwreck waiting to happen, thanks to our own racial bias. As it turned out, Cydney was poised but not confrontational in the early game (and rarely sought conflict afterward). Even so, when she flipped on Jason and Scot, it was perceived as an emotional move.

This isn’t totally wrong. Cydney played a very reactive game in the post-merge and was probably not a big enough fan to appreciate the ramifications of her moves. Removing or neutralizing the older power players was a good instinct on her part, but in the long term, it gave Aubry more loyal numbers (in Tai and Joe) than it did Cydney. By the final five, Aubry had control of the majority. Cydney would have been wiser to rejoin Jason, at least long enough to either blindside Tai and his idol or to eliminate Joe—or Aubry herself.

That said, if Joe doesn’t get medevaced, I believe Cydney makes the end; her unit with Aubry and Joe felt like the tightest of the game, and although Joe was more loyal to Aubry, I doubt she could have talked him into voting Cydney out over Tai. (If she would even want him to.) Cydney’s main hurdle would have been winning over the jurors who believed her decision to turn on her original alliance was irrational and based on anger.

Cydney compared herself to Tony pre-season, and there are certainly similarities in their aggressive moves, designed to overturn the status quo of the game. There are differing views on this, but I will never believe Tony had the foresight to plan a consistent path through the game. He re-evaluated almost hourly, going from one crazy theory to another, exasperating his tribemates but managing to make it work perhaps because nobody could keep up with him, perhaps because other players had made bigger enemies. Or perhaps, when a thirty-nine-year-old white man votes emotionally, he’s ‘going with his gut’. When a twenty-three-year-old black woman does it, she’s ‘being a diva’.

While I believe this potential stereotyping merits attention, it’s not necessarily preventing black women from winning Survivor. The juries of Cambodia and Fiji resented Tasha and Cassandra too much to acknowledge their résumés, but Vecepia won Marquesas despite a dismissive jury. In One World, Sabrina was well-liked, and although she lost to Kim, she won votes from the jurors who considered her the more palatable alternative. Cirie never faced the jury, but twice she came within a whisker of a final she would likely have won.

We can’t even be certain Cydney would have lost in the end. Yes, the voting bloc of Scot, Jason, and Julia would almost certainly have voted for anybody else in the final five over Cydney, but she should have got Nick’s vote, and if she gave her “health insurance for my mom” speech at final tribal council, along with the revelation that she was an Ivy Leaguer, it’s entirely possible she could have swung three more votes.

African American women are too small a sample size to draw definitive conclusions about the intersection of racial and gender bias on a Survivor jury. What we know is that this was a jury that valued strength, both physical and mental, a jury that wanted to vote for somebody who had taken charge and played a dominating game. Of all the games played in Kaoh Rong, Cydney (who, let’s note, went out on a tie-breaker rather than by vote) played the one that best fit that criteria.

Yet, she couldn’t count on any juror’s vote. Cydney remains a cautionary tale about how game-changing can be perceived by the jury. Even though she made up with Jason before he got voted off (his last in-game words to her were to represent Brawn), Scot had the seniority in that dynamic duo, and a few days in Ponderosa was enough to get Jason ostracizing Cydney once she arrived. It’s a sad end to the friendship we saw during Caleb’s medevac, but Cydney brushed it off, independent as ever.

Independence vs. Loyalty: A Paradox

There was one particular passage in Annette Skervin’s study that struck me. It doesn’t directly apply to Cydney or her game, but it helped me get an understanding of an apparent paradox regarding independence, and I’m going to quote it in its entirety:

Black women focused on using political support to get access to opportunities. In the words of participant A008: ‘I don’t really need you to open the door, just point me to the door because if I get to the door I’m going to kick the door open. I just want a chance.’

This could be related to the socialization of Black women, who as young girls were taught to use their self-esteem and self-worth to gain strength and to push through or overcome barriers of discrimination (Clay et al., 2007; Davis, 2012; Thomas & King, 2007). This façade of self-sufficiency may prevent them from asking for help when things go wrong.

In Survivor, as in life, everybody needs somebody sometimes. Yet for all women, there’s a pressure to equate self-respect with independence, (remember Michele’s “I’m a strong, independent woman,” disclaimer,) and this can be even more important for women of color. Cydney reached the merge with the support of Jason, and Debbie pointed her at the figurative door—but once she had kicked it open by voting off Nick, she didn’t need them anymore. The independence imperative probably kicked in at that point, but Survivor is never truly an individual game, and Cydney’s numbers ran a little too low, a little too soon.

She never lost her support network of friends, though these needed Cydney’s boundless confidence to propel their games. She had clicked with Aubry on an intellectual level, and the two became strategic soundboards for each other. Then there was Michele, the player closest to Cydney in age, and one whom she related to on a deeper level than Aubry. After her own exit, Cydney rewarded Michele with her jury vote, offering up loyalty as an explanation.

Like most people, I took that as a vote against Aubry, as hypocritical as that might seem considering Aubry only turned on Cydney when Cydney turned on her. I now think it was a vote for Michele.

Cydney emphasized on RHAP just how rare it is in Survivor to find somebody truly loyal to you. Technically, we can’t be sure Michele would never have voted out Cydney (Michele knew she had been directly saved by Cydney in the game, so she might well have returned the favor), but as far as Cydney’s perception goes, she actually had a person in her support network whom she could genuinely trust.

Again, a support network is something many women of color personally identify as being a key factor in success. Cydney got into bodybuilding because she was supporting her parents’ decision to get fit; her mother remains her training partner. Her mother is also the reason Cydney wanted the money, so she could get health insurance.

More so than most of us, Cydney can appreciate the value of having somebody there for you. I don’t believe her vote was a statement that loyalty was the way to play the game; I believe her vote was a mark of gratitude to Michele for supporting Cydney’s own game, a final “Thank you, Boo.”

Would Cydney have been as loyal to Michele? It certainly appeared in-show that had Michele been vulnerable in the last two votes, Cydney would have gone along with Aubry’s wish to vote her off. Even if that’s the case, I don’t think it makes Cydney a hypocrite. On the island, she had her game on, and nothing was going to stop her bringing the money home to her family. Once she was out of the game, her competitive drive didn’t apply. Jurors get to choose their own criteria, and that meant Cydney was well within her rights to pay back her best game friend.

Besides, Michele was worth the gesture. On RHAP, she explained how Cydney offered Michele her family’s seats at the reunion because she couldn’t afford to fly her family out. Michele, travel agent and imminent millionaire that she was (though still not sure of that second part), gave Cydney’s family plane tickets to LA.

While recent seasons have managed at least one women of color going deep into the game, Cydney was still a refreshing person to see on primetime television, all the more so because her ethnicity was not muted to suit Caucasian tastes. She wore her hair in a natural style and (to the particular delight of viewers) spoke in slang. (Regrettably, this might have been the reason for her low confessional count compared to the more conventional narrative stylings of her allies, Jason, Aubry, and Michele.) Combine this with her Southern courtesy, athletic drive, and Ivy League brain, and not only do we have a great character but also a Survivor player with a number of personal resources to draw on.

I hope she does return and play again, but I hope even more that she has encouraged the show to cast more women like her. Cydney has proven what an asset a woman of color with the attributes to succeed can be to the show. In fact, the most successful women of color in recent seasons have also been successful in their education and careers.

I don’t want to imply that production should only look for college-educated, career women but if Survivor won’t go back to a fully diverse model of casting, they might want to look for women of color who have experience of dealing with people in predominantly Caucasian environments.

And then cast two of them. At least.

And now, a brief interlude on Women’s Alliances…

  1. Don’t talk about Women’s Alliances. On Brawn, Jenny tried to rally the women to vote out Jason. Both Alecia and Cydney told Jason. Jenny got voted out.
  2. No, really. Don’t talk about Women’s Alliances. On Beauty, Anna successfully brought Michele and Julia into a women’s alliance. The women then told the men about this alliance, threatening to go to rocks if they had to. Beauty never lost immunity but moved forward with a massive rift. Only once did a Beauty man and woman vote the same way. (Tai and Michele voting out Julia.)
  3. For the love of Probst, stop talking about Women’s Alliances. On Dara, Jason and Scot worried that the women might band together. Nick checked in with Julia and reported back to his male allies not to worry. Cydney saw this exchange and confronted Jason. He explained; she gathered together the women and jumped ship.
  4. It’s just a conversation that doesn’t end well. On Chan Loh, Debbie used the idea of a women’s alliance to court Cydney and Michele’s trust. On Dara, Cydney took her up on the offer; subsequently, Debbie became the only person in the game to be voted out by an exclusively female majority.

Conclusion: Women’s alliances are a sexy proposition which continues to captivate and intimidate Survivor players, but in practice, they work better as a voting bloc (with or without male additions) than as a long-term gameplan. Considering the paranoia that accompanies them, they should not be brought up lightly.

Anti-Climax Conquers All

As dominant as the women were in Kaoh Rong, at the end of the day (RIP Caleb), we have another season with a female winner that tells the story of how somebody else lost. It’s how a woman lost, which is a progressive step, but yet again, Survivor has failed to root for the woman who won.

CBS were hamstrung by the jury’s insistence on discounting the first four weeks of their winner’s game. The jury couldn’t respect Michele (or Aubry or Tai) for how she played. It’s not straight up sexism. Nick probably put it more accurately as a division between betas in the final three and (mostly) alphas on the jury. The jurors favored aggressive gameplay; the finalists had moved through the game with caution, often deferring to the wishes of others. That said, many beta attributes are also typically female ones.

There’s a danger of neurosexism here, so let’s note that not all betas are women and not all alphas are men. After all, Tai was among the betas, Debbie is an indisputable alpha, Nick described himself as an alpha-beta and Joe is an alpha who played a beta game. It is entirely possible for an individual man to display more ‘typically female’ traits than an individual woman, etc. Such things aren’t binary.

But the jury’s reaction reflects a damaging cultural bias: women should emulate typically male characteristics if they want to succeed. Aubry was known for being nervous about committing to any move. In the business world, this used to be known as ‘risk averse’, but the term ‘risk aware’ is gradually superseding it. Why? Because evidence has linked gender-diversity to higher profits, and one theory behind that is the gender-diverse company is more likely to address the risk itself rather than simply weighing up whether or not the prize is worth the gamble. Aubry overthought every move, but she steered herself to the end, while the overconfident jumped headfirst into their blindsides.

Meanwhile, Jason, Scot, and Julia could only vote for Michele by stripping away her actions for three-quarters of the game and imposing their own narrative on her. Thus, their votes were for physical dominance and speaking up at Tribal Council, the closest thing to an alpha display among the finalists. They completely devalued Michele’s beta-behavior of building relationships and boosting camp morale.

So did we. Every time I talk about the edit on the show, I get comments saying that they did show X doing Y, I just chose not to see it. While the online consensus was that Aubry or Cydney should win the season, there were plenty of fans rooting for Michele and enjoying her game. They tended to be drowned out by the winner-edit debates, but they were there.

It’s become a bit of a stereotype that the online fanbase hates alpha males, but plenty of men have played low-key, straightforward games, won against more aggressive players, and we are willing to give them credit at the very least for being a nice guy. (Partly because we assume men inherently have a target—not always true.)

We are less generous with that same approach from a pretty, young woman. Michele’s game of demonstrating loyalty to the majority while being nice and friendly to as many people as possible is a tried and tested way to win Survivor. She didn’t have a lot of adversity to overcome, she never shook up the game herself, but there was very little wrong with her approach.

Of course, she was up against Aubry and Tai, both massive fan favorites. It still doesn’t explain why, with her fifty-seven confessionals, Michele didn’t register with us as somebody we were also invested in. She certainly seems very lovely, and her interview with Rob was delightful, but we never paid attention to her on show (except for the edit-readers, who paid a kind of negative attention to her screentime.)

Perhaps it’s cooler to like the off-beat characters, the kooks, the challenge beasts, the villains… Or perhaps it’s simply rooting for somebody we can identify with. There’s nothing wrong with that. Bias is not the same thing as prejudice, and—much like the jury—it’s natural to value attributes that we ourselves excel in. But we can do that without devaluing attributes we don’t possess. Michele’s party girl vibe is not automatically inferior to Aubry’s geek warrior or Cydney’s alpha-woman. It’s worked on Survivor before, and it will do again.

That said, Michele herself felt her edit didn’t personalize her enough. Production showed us all Aubry’s dance moves, but not Michele’s lighter moments. Frustratingly, they also hid her relationship with Cydney. Even if Michele wasn’t as big a strategic influence on Cydney as she thought, why didn’t they show the two of them coming together? That friendship would have a massive impact on the course of the game.

Pre-season, I lamented that the youngsters of the cast had no life experience, yet post-season, Michele revealed she had lived in Thailand for a few months. Why could this not be brought into the show? Perhaps she didn’t talk about it, but in that case, the fault lies with the field producers who should have brought it up in confessional, shoehorned in some reason to make it relevant, just to give her more depth than ‘bartender.’ (Also inaccurate; maybe bartenders sound more fun than travel agents.)

It’s entirely possible that the field producers weren’t particularly interested in Michele themselves, and perhaps she was less responsive to them as a result—though again, we know from her podcast (and one assumes, from her infamous application video), that she’s capable of giving a good interview. If the producers couldn’t get that material from her, they should be looking into the factors behind that.

Finally, maybe Michele is a screen-dud. As thorough as the process might be, they can make mistakes and cast somebody who doesn’t live up to their expectations. And it’s possible that person will win. I can forgive that. It’s just one hell of a lot harder to accept that excuse when that person was the seventh cast member from their demographic. In my original blog, I suggested that the show could comfortably have held Liz, Alecia, and Michele back for a future season. Michele made the most of her chance, yet CBS did nothing to change my mind.

The saddest outcome of all this is that Michele’s most memorable gameplay moment came when she ranted about Nick’s condescension in confessional, saying that she would never put up with it in real life but here, on Survivor, she was going to play dumb and let him baby her. In many post-boot interviews, she remarked that this lost her Nick’s jury vote because all he had seen of her was weak and stupid.

By contrast, Aubry took a firmer approach with Neal and particularly Joe, both of whom respected and adored her from the jury. Michele herself was probably more open with Debbie and Cydney, earning their votes, while others on the jury sat up and took notice when she argued down Tai at the final six tribal council. Regrettably, the jury preferred to tell Michele what her game was instead of asking her, and the show reinforced that, editing out her questions from Nick and Debbie.

In Kaoh Rong’s edit, playing dumb became Michele’s ‘Girl Power!’ moment, which became the source of her soundbites, which became the reason she won a million dollars. And unfortunately, that’s the message the most feminist season of the modern era has left future female players with: talk less; smile more.

Regardless, this season was a vast improvement on San Juan Del Sur which had a popular, aggressive female winner and an all-female final three, yet the show made them supporting characters to male fan favorites. In Kaoh Rong, the show did its part to break the vicious circle of production/player/viewer gender bias by putting the women’s stories front and center on our screens. That’s something that hasn’t happened since at least One World; To this degree, maybe not since Guatemala or Vanuatu. Maybe not ever.

It’s also a season that broke the norm of modern Survivor as its overall confessional count was more in keeping with the first ten seasons. (Recent seasons have had much fewer.) Furthermore, there was more focus on character than strategy, and those characters were refreshingly multi-dimensional. Villains had their good side; heroes had flaws. The women themselves got a stab at archetypes normally reserved for men: Debbie was the eccentric leader; Aubry the underdog nerd; Cydney the quirky soundbite generator.

If the abundance of younger women contributed to Cydney and Aubry hijacking the game the way they did, then I can forgive casting for doing it… this once. However, I do not believe the increase of pretty young women in bikinis factored into Kaoh Rong’s positive reception, and I hope casting continues to seek out women (of all ages) who make good TV rather than looking good on it.

The biggest lesson that the show (and we!) should be taking away from is that women can absolutely carry the main storylines. I’ve always asked Survivor to have more faith in the women they cast, and this season they delivered. If they considered Kaoh Rong’s edit a gamble, it’s one that paid off in spades.

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