Despite my concerns going into the finale, we ended up with the best Final Tribal Council since Dawn and Cochran were sat on the jury bench. Though Cochran might have been the obvious winner, he was up against the person with whom he’d worked the whole way to steer the course of the game to their advantage. Against popular expectation, Dawn remained dry-eyed and owned the moves she’d made. As I’ve said before, I love this pairing, and one of the highlights of Final Tribal for me was when they had a hushed, side-of-the-mouth squabble with each other in the middle of answering Michael’s question. This old married couple moment was a break in their respective performances for the jury and an insight into their friendship which tickled me no end.
But it was Cochran’s night, and on a season of snubs, Dawn, Sherri, Eddie and Erik were relegated to irrelevance with no votes, an illogical fourth place finish and a med-evac. I was tempted just to write about Dawn and Cochran for this blog, but after the not-quite-a-reunion I don’t have the heart to omit the other three. I am going to bundle them all together, but at least they get to go first.
So near, yet so much further than we expected
Erik has yet again made Survivor history by being the latest ever med-evac. It must have been a shock to the system to go from thinking he had final three sewn up, to being med-evaced before he even realized his closest ally had been blindsided. Even more bitter, he was on the verge of improving his previous finish, with or without Brenda.
The teeter-tower challenge would have been an immunity challenge, and Cochran felt Erik would have won it; even if he hadn’t, there was a solid chance that Eddie would have gone home anyway. With nobody holding advantage going into the final immunity challenge, Erik should have had the headstart on the puzzle in a field where everybody struggled. There’s no guarantee he would have won, but there’s no reason to think he would have been any slower than Cochran and Dawn. (Malcolm must have died a little inside watching that with the memory of his Philippines’ final challenge.)
When it comes down to it, Erik’s strategy to get to the end was a valid one—it could have as easily been undone by the wrong immunity challenge as by the med-evac, but every strategy requires some luck. I doubt he could have pulled out the win, but Erik was very aware of the game he was playing and he might have done well with this jury who wanted finalists to be honest about their game. I can’t prove he would not have won, after all. So we will never know… and neither will Erik.
The same might have been said about Eddie, who was surprisingly articulate on the red carpet. He said he kept trying to make deals, but his role was always the dumb, fun guy so that’s what he was. That’s easy to say in hindsight, with the benefit of seeing the episodes, but he knew at the final four that his pitch was that he had done nothing. Even if Cochran was right in his interview when he said Malcolm and Andrea would not have voted for Eddie, his honesty about his own game might have won over Brenda and Erik. Eddie could have tied with Cochran, which would have been a considerably less satisfying end to the season.
The big difference between Sherri and the two men was that she never believed that she was carried through the game. Going into the finale, the thing I was in the most suspense about was what case Sherri would make for herself at final Tribal Council. It turned out that she’s been hiding her franchise-ownership, so that all anybody knew about her was that she was a stay-at-home Mom. Her pitch was to reveal how she had fooled them all.
This is a strategy I’ve heard people suggest before, where you play the game one way and then tell the jury: “Actually, I’m … ” but I can’t think offhand of anybody else pulling it off (though some have had secrets outed at Final Tribal before). Based on Sherri’s precedent, it’s not worth it as a strategy. The jury had already made their minds up about her, and finding out that she had a job was not going to change their opinion of her game.
Listening to Sherri on the podcast, particularly the way she bantered with Dawn, made me think that perhaps she really did have some game in her. I do give her credit for the start of the game, when she seized control of the dominant alliance, and it’s hard to blame her for the destruction of that alliance through challenge loss. She did a good job of worming her way into Stealth R Us, and it’s clear that she adopted the candid game-talk style that suited Cochran and Dawn so well, locking herself in with the two people that had the most power in the game. That meant she was in on the Andrea and Brenda blindsides, and she got her place at final three.
It’s a good showing… it’s better than Reynold or Eddie managed. (Then again, she didn’t have the challenge-threat target.) I can see how from her point of view, she got herself into a power position. But what she failed to grasp was that the other jury members had dismissed her as a non-player, who didn’t understand the game, had nothing going for her socially and was carried to the end as a goat.
Whether it was nerves or sheer inability, she could not articulate what she had done. Had she stuck to playing up her underdog status, and pointing out the deals and contacts she’d made to get herself to this point, she might have eked out a vote or at least some respect. But she rashly proclaimed that she controlled the game without anything to back that up.
Self-awareness is so key to Survivor. Awareness of how the jury sees you is possibly even more important.
What a Jury Wants
While the jury was anything but even-handed, it was not as bad as I had expected, though, according to their interviews, it seems it came as more of a shock to three finalists, who had lacked any kind of warning from social media. For me, even Brenda’s question did an indirect favor to Dawn. Firstly, by getting Dawn to go on camera without her teeth, Brenda completely withdrew that initial favor, so if you are in the camp that believes Dawn should never have betrayed Brenda, she has in fact received appropriate punishment, and the hate-mail can be stopped. Second, it demonstrated that Dawn would not necessarily have quit the game. (I thought it proved it, but apparently people remain unconvinced.)
Mostly, it seemed pretty clear that the jury expected Dawn to cry and in some cases were trying to provoke that reaction. Before Final Tribal Council, Andrea admitted that she was nervous (3:40) because she knew so many people were bitter to Dawn. On her way to Tribal Council (2:09), Brenda confirmed with Phillip that they would be making people feel uncomfortable tonight.
I don’t really want to get into the debate about whether it was a fair question or not, but I’m sure Brenda was egged on by other jurors, because that’s what happens when you get people with a shared grievance. While Dawn might have complied with their demand, she didn’t give them the reaction they had really predicted which was to cry about it.
Does this matter when none of them voted for her? Cochran had won the first battle in-game, biasing the jury in his favor. Most of the jury entered Final Tribal Council wanting Cochran to rationalize their vote for him and for Dawn and Sherri to give them reasons not to vote for them.
While we all protest bitter juries, the point of Survivor is that the jury is not objective. There are no requirements for how a juror votes, and Brenda and Erik both admitted in their jury speaks videos that they weren’t voting entirely on strategy, but with their hearts as well. I would rather they remained more objective, but I respect them for being honest about it rather than adapting their ideas of a good game to the person they want to win.
Still, it’s not a juror’s job to be self-aware. Eddie declared that he was not going to accept an answer from Dawn that she wanted to win the million for her six kids, because he wanted to know why she deserved to win not what she’d do with the money. He went on to declare that if somebody said they’d donate half the money to an animal foundation, that would sway his vote. (Eddie’s dating prospects take note: kids bad; pets good).
Phillip had a long list of things he wanted to know from each of the final three, yet never asked a question and berated Dawn for being disruptive. At least he showed the same Stealth in his voting intentions that he had applied to his entire game.
Cochran had the easier ride of it, and was able to abandon his plan to tear Dawn apart (props for this intended homage to Sophie’s playbook), but that doesn’t diminish his performance. Malcolm wanted to see some awareness of the flaws in his game, Cochran’s opening statement was humble and he answered Malcolm’s own question by describing himself as insecure. Phillip wanted to know what he did around camp and how he kept morale ‘joyful’. Cochran described himself as Dawn’s therapist. When Brenda asked him about voting her off after she gave him the family reward, he explained that he saw it as an emotional gift, rather than a game gift—beautifully expressing the argument I was trying to make last week about Dawn and Brenda.
Then there was Dawn, who the jury expected to prey on the sympathy vote, bringing up her six children. But when Dawn was a juror in South Pacific she had wanted Coach to drop his Holier Than Thou attitude and admit that he had exploited people to his own advantage, and that’s exactly what she did for this jury. It rather stepped all over Malcolm’s speech about being her best friend and telling her what to do, but he made it anyway. (I do wonder if Malcolm ended up hurting Dawn, since jurors might have felt she would have resorted to the Mom-bit without that tip.)
Reynold stated he wanted to vote for the person who was instrumental in everything, made big moves and took risks. Dawn (also cribbing from Sophie) implied that her strategy brought not just herself but also Cochran to the end and pointed out that she had put herself forward more than Cochran had.
She couldn’t please everybody (Erik wanted her to apologize; Michael said she couldn’t apologize), but she took everything they threw at her with her chin up and eyes dry. For Phillip, Brenda and Erik who had all been concerned about Dawn’s lack of morals, that probably did confirm their decision not to vote for her. But she exceeded everybody else’s expectations, Malcolm, Michael and Andrea all acknowledged that she’d played a strong game, and she fulfilled her part of the bargain that Malcolm had offered for his vote. If nothing else, somebody might have thrown her a vote just for surprising them.
But they didn’t. Reynold had admitted before Tribal that he was going to vote for Cochran, Michael acknowledged that Cochran would have to lose his vote, and I get the feeling that Malcolm was not intending to vote for Dawn so much as he wanted to vote against Cochran, to bring him down a peg or two. So Dawn, despite her role in the game, came away with the same score as Sherri.
No Mothers Allowed
Let me get this straight. I am not in any way saying Dawn should have won. I went into a lot of detail last week about how she lost. Nor am I saying that Cochran won by default—I’ll be talking about what he did so well in due course. But after last week’s blog was posted, a fascinating (and mostly civil!) debate went up in the comments about whether or not Dawn’s action in voting Brenda off was immoral, and whether or not Dawn herself was a bad person.
When I watched the Jury Speaks videos, I discovered many of the same reactions and justifications as in the comment thread. Malcolm said that she couldn’t be a master strategist and a warm-hearted mother of six. Eddie felt that the constant breakdowns meant that she wasn’t strong enough to make her moves and the oddly specific answer he was looking for with his question was that the tears had all been faked to cover up strategy sessions in the jungle. Reynold was convinced that Dawn’s overwhelming niceness was a hammed up performance and completely fake—honestly, Reynold was the last person I expected to go after anybody for taking personality traits to extremes, but like I said, jurors don’t have to be self-aware.
If I’m going to be strictly honest, I find a lot of this reasoning offensive. So far as I can tell, there is nothing wrong with being both a warm-hearted, loyal bro and a master strategist. To be fair, nobody is saying mothers can’t play a ruthless, not nice, game—look at Denise and Sandra. Yet Denise said that she deliberately avoided the mother hen role, and while Sandra talked more about doing this for her family, she’s never had a reputation for being nice. The message I’m getting is that it’s OK to be a mother, provided it’s the right kind of mother. A sensitive, loving mother cannot play Survivor.
From my perspective as a mother of small children, I think of a mother on Survivor and I think of somebody who will fight tooth and claw for her children (real children, not game ones). Bros at least have some kind of code or loyalty—mothers just get straight down to survival. And if there’s one thing I learned after having a baby, it’s that even when times were rough, and I was being reduced to tears on a daily basis, I could still find it within myself to power through the tears and get the job done. (Don’t worry, Rob and Nicole, best thing to ever happen to you, I swear!)
This is how Dawn has kept my sympathy through the game. But I’m thirty-five, married, with children. The only person on the jury with a child (at time of filming) is Phillip, and I think I’m right in saying that Phillip’s son does not live with him. A full half of the jury are single men in their twenties. In fact, there’s only one juror who is within a decade of Dawn and Sherri’s age, who is (to all intents and purposes) married, and that’s Michael.
My moral outrage aside, the whole point of Survivor is to make the jury sympathetic to you, so putting yourself forward as the mother hen is a risky strategy, unless you think you can get to the end without any blood on your hands. However, I’m not sure Dawn was doing that deliberately.
She said in her xfinity interview “I didn’t feel like I treated Brenda like I was her mother, but she mentioned that I’m like a mother to her.” I recall Andrea saying somewhere early on in the season that she was excited to play with Dawn, because it would be nice to have an ‘Island Mom.’
Dawn’s reputation from her previous season was the Mormon Mother of Six, and that was how players envisioned her fitting into their game, even if they ended up giving her moral support rather than the other way around. Considering all her nerves in the game, it makes sense that from Dawn’s point of view, she was making friends, not taking on island-children!
Dawn did talk about her family a lot, and Michael commented how at the merge feast, she took on the “Mom” role, cutting the bread and serving other people. Phillip felt she had put herself forward as the mother of Stealth R Us. My own belief from reading her blog and reading the comments of people who know her outside the game is that… that is just who Dawn is. Her comfort zone is doing stuff for other people, supporting them and saying nice things about everybody regardless of how she feels. You can argue how genuine anybody like that can really be, but when it comes down to it, Dawn is the person for whom Corinne made a heart sign at the reunion. (Corinne! The woman who had been vowing to hand out bitch-slaps from the audience!)
Dawn seems to be a person who lives by selfless moral standards yet played a cut-throat game of Survivor, but only Andrea and Michael had no problem with that. (Though Andrea believed Dawn’s paranoia had hurt her own game and resented that.) The rest of the jury just couldn’t reconcile the two aspects of Dawn. To them, she was the mother, and a mother means warm fuzzies and somebody who lets you win. So it is that one of the lasting impacts of this season will be that my son is going to find it an awful lot harder to beat me at Busy, Busy Airport.
To be honest, I’m not sure if Dawn will ever be able to win the game, just due to the emotional breakdowns. She was lucky her paranoia didn’t get her voted off, and it will never endear a person to the jury. Maybe now she knows she can make it to the end, without seeing her game taken out of her control, she’d be more confident in the future. (After all, Cochran managed a similar emotional transformation from his previous season.)
But in theory, can you play the nice mother role and cut throats without harboring resentment for it? The person that springs to mind is Cirie, who certainly in Exile Island was very nice and nurturing to her alliance, only to backstab half of them. Shane might have despised her for swearing on her childrens’ lives, but nobody else seemed to have a problem with her behavior. She came within a whisker of the finals and it was generally acknowledged that she would have won had she made it.
However, Cirie’s story was never that of the mother turned cut-throat. Her story, and how most of the jurors saw her, was the fish out of water underdog, who was doing it for the love of the game. Sound like anybody we know from this season?
It’s clear that none of the jurors had high expectations of Cochran coming into this game, and were as impressed by him as they were disappointed by Dawn. Honestly, Cochran didn’t really have much more in common with the jurors than Sherri and Dawn did, but everybody knew he was a superfan and related to him through that. Even before Brenda was voted off, Michael called out Cochran (2:47) as a deserving winner and felt that it would be a great culmination to his Survivor career, being “such a big fan like myself.”
The irony here is that Sherri and Dawn are just as much superfans as Cochran. All of the final three had been watching since the start and dreaming of playing themselves. Cochran might have written a Harvard paper on the Survivor jury, but has he named a child after Colby? Dawn’s first application was for Australia and while she was too busy adopting children to apply for every season, she’s been actively trying to get on the show for much longer than Cochran.
There is an odd trend lately, to consider only those players who’ve been watching since middle school the true Superfans. Survivor might not have aired until Cochran was thirteen, but winning it is considered his ‘lifelong dream.’ People who came to this dream in adult life need not apply. Nevertheless, Dawn has a story of a million dollar check she wrote to herself when she applied for Australia. She still has that check, but with every new application, she changes the date. It’s a reminder that her dream is still out there, and it’s worth fighting for. Perhaps this is the story Dawn should have told the jury.
Cochran’s been telling his fan-story to the cameras since day one of South Pacific, and on day thirty-nine, he told it to the jury of Caramoan. When the castlist for South Pacific was first announced, the online reaction to Cochran was hugely positive as we claimed him as one of our own. We were, at best, deflated by his performance, and by the time he exited, it was in a certain amount of disgrace.
Now he’s rebounded with this season’s crazy success story. Cochran readily admits in the podcast that it required a lot of luck for the game to break just right for him (not least winning four individual challenges despite doing no physical preparation), but he kept on top of that luck and on top of the game.
He might have had the easiest job of the three finalists when pleading his case to the jury, but that was because he had been pleading his case all game. While it took until Final Tribal Council for Dawn to stand up for her game and for Sherri to reveal her big, irrelevant secret, Cochran was always the fan—and always the underdog.
The only change he made at Final Tribal Council was to drop the tongue-in-cheek cockiness he’d displayed throughout the season and make a return to humility and self-deprecation, while still owning his achievements. He might have previously rejected the Amigos’ masculine tomfoolery, but he promised Eddie he would sit at the bar with him. It’s a sly compliment, an implication that he wants to be like them, that the reward of succeeding at Survivor is being elevated to their peer group, and I doubt he’s being entirely sincere, but it worked a treat.
For many of us watching, a win for the nerd is a win for us. I’ve often said that Cochran is the player most like myself (based on South Pacific Cochran being so close to my 24 year old self), though I’ve had a harder time identifying with him this season, due to the cockiness. I’m not sure if that was the edit or if he was playing up for the cameras, but thank goodness for a return to realistic analysis in his podcast. At any rate, while I remain ineligible to play, I will consider Cochran’s victory as indisputable proof that I could win this game.
That seems as good a note as any to wrap up for the season! Huge thanks to everybody who’s read and commented on the blog, and a shout-out to my fellow bloggers and also Scott St Pierre who posts up our work and provides the pictures to rest your weary eyes. Many congratulations to Rob and Nicole in their Rob Has A Baby endeavour (and also to Brenda)!
I expect to be commenting on Gordon Holmes’ Survivor Summer Bookclub rewatch of Cook Islands, but if I don’t see you there, I’ll be back for Blood vs Water, which I’m devoutly hoping will be better than it sounds. Have a great summer.