Words cannot even express how thrilled I was that Natalie hadn’t left her move too late, and managed to oust Jon last week. I am 100% on board with Team Twinnie, and am desperately crossing my fingers for a Natalie win, all the while fearing that she won’t make the Final Tribal Council. We’ve entered the most crucial phase of the game now, with the Survivors having only two votes to survive before they get the chance to plead their cases for the million before the jury at Final Tribal Council. At this point, all of the players left must have spent some time crafting their argument. They have had plenty of down time to ponder what the jury is thinking. What arguments does the jury want to hear? Being aware enough to sense the mindsets in the jury is crucial to winning the game. You need to be sitting next to the right people, and you need to have the right argument. More than that though, you need to have created the right relationships. It is extremely rare that the game is won and lost at Tribal Council- the jury will vote for the person that they liked and respected most for the 39 days that they played the game. Nevertheless, the Final Tribal Council is an integral part of winning the game. The players need to have a grasp on what the jury wants to hear. They need to have their argument planned, and they need to make sure that their path to the end of the game includes sitting next to people that the jury will not respect.
There is no doubt that the players of San Juan Del Sur have been thinking about when they face the jury. They each have their plans, and know who they want to be sitting next to at the end. And they must have spent countless hours thinking about the argument that they will make- how they can convince their peers that they deserve the million dollar prize. However, it is still difficult to see if any of them truly understand what their end game is- are they choosing the right people to bring with them? Are they making sure that they are getting the credit for their games? And what type of game will the jury respect?
The fact that we are so close to the end, and the players seem to have such varied and confused ideas about what the jury will want to hear, means that this week’s lesson in Survivor History is coming to us from season 20, Heroes vs Villains, and third place finisher, Russell Hantz.
Russell’s Heroes vs Villains game was one of the most strategically dominant games that Survivor has seen. With his close ally Parvati Shallow, Russell was able to use idols and intimidation to dictate the outcome of every vote he was involved in. If Russell deemed another player to be a threat to him winning the game, he would immediately move to get them voted out. Although he started the game as an outsider in a three-person alliance on a tribe of ten, with the help of some clever idol play Russell and his allies were able to take control of the tribe, voting out the majority alliance one by one.
Russell had played the game only a few weeks prior, in Samoa, where he played with the same aggressive strategy, and was beaten in a jury vote. This time, he thought that the outcome would be different, because he would be playing with all-stars- who wouldn’t get as bitter on the jury, who would understand the need to backstab and betray. The first day on the beach, Russell declared “Finally, I can play the game with somebody who respects the game”. This was the way that Russell would view the jury right to the end- that these players would ‘respect the game’ enough to award the player who had played the most aggressive game with the win. When he did get to the Final Tribal Council, he found out that his assumptions about the jury were very, very wrong.
The first player to join the jury was Coach Wade, who considered himself to be a part of Russell’s alliance. However, when Russell felt threatened by Coach, he immediately moved to organise Coach’s blindside. Coach went to the jury hurt and angry, and set the scene for what was to come. One by one, people were sent to the jury by Russell, often feeling hurt and betrayed, but always feeling angry.
When it came to the Final Tribal Council, Russell was confident in his game. He had played the game, and the person that he had chosen to bring to the Final Tribal Council, Sandra Diaz-Twine, had not. In a now famous confessional, Sandra said that Russell wanted her at the end because “I’ll never get a single vote. But I don’t know about that!” Russell’s closest ally, Parvati, warned him about taking Sandra to the end, as she had friends on the jury. But their other option would have been to take Jerri Manthey, and Russell thought that having Jerri on the jury would be a guaranteed vote for him.
Russell’s inability to see either the kind of game that the jury would respect, or the people that the jury would support, as well as his refusal to back down on his aggressive strategy at all led him to receive zero votes at Final Tribal Council. The jury told him in no certain terms that they had not respected his game. Colby Donaldson called him “delusional”, Coach called him a “little man”, Danielle DiLorenzo told him “Nobody respects the way you played the game”, and Rupert Boneham told him, “If you think you should be proud of how you got here, you’re sadly mistaken.”
The jury in Heroes vs Villains didn’t want to vote for Russell because they simply didn’t like him. He had delighted in making fools of them all, laughing at their mistakes, and they could not reward his behaviour. They gave the win to Sandra, who they liked and respected. She got their votes not through her strategic gameplay (She admitted herself that “I wish my strategy had been better because had it been really good, Russell wouldn’t be sitting here”) but through the virtue of not being Russell. She had been actively opposed to Russell throughout the game, and treated the players who ended up on the jury with respect. And sometimes, that is what you need to do. Throughout Survivor history, the jury has awarded the win to the player that they liked and respected the most. I expect that the San Juan Del Sur jury will vote in the same way. But what does that mean for the players still left in the game? Who has the best awareness of what the jury is thinking? Who is playing the game in a way that the jury will respect them?
Going into the finale, it is clear that Natalie is the fan favourite. She is certainly playing a strong game, and has been portrayed as the brains behind Wes, Alec and Jon being voted out. She has an immunity idol and good relationships with everyone. She has given up her rewards and voluntarily gone to Exile Island in order to curry favour with the other players in the game. From our perspective, she has been making moves, playing a strong game, and would deserve the win.
Her end game plan seems to be to go to the end with Missy and Baylor. After Baylor and Missy offered her a final three deal while they were on a reward together, Natalie said “Final three with me, Missy, and Baylor would be a handpicked team for me to go to the final three with. I would be a sure win- in my head. I mean, anything could happen, but I feel comfortable going to the final three with them.” This statement speaks volumes of the level of respect that people in the game have for Baylor and Missy. The audience have definitely seen Baylor referred to as lazy and spoiled, and Natalie’s statement demonstrates that she thinks Missy and Baylor pose far less of a threat for jury votes than Jon and Jaclyn. However, the Ponderosa videos seem to indicate that the jury thinks Missy was behind all of the power moves in the game. They seem to see Natalie as Missy’s puppet, making all the moves from behind the scenes. Alec even tells Jon that Missy told Natalie to change her vote and save Keith.
Jon’s post-game interview with Rob gave a really interesting perspective on Natalie’s plans. It seemed to me watching that as the fifth person in the alliance, Natalie was in the perfect spot- she could get down to the final five, and then choose to go with the pair that would be less likely to get jury votes. Jon said in his exit interview that the final three was to be Natalie, Missy and Jon, with Jaclyn and Baylor both recognising that they would not get enough votes, and sacrificing themselves. Clearly Natalie thought that sitting next to Jon at the end of the game was too risky, although watching the jury’s reaction to Jon, I’m not sure that she made the correct decision.
Russell thought that in taking Sandra to the end, he was taking a jury goat, who was easy to beat. In reality, he was taking the player that the jury most wanted to see win. Watching the Ponderosa videos this season, I don’t think that the jury (apart from Wes) is rooting for anyone in particular, although they certainly seemed to be rooting against Jon. One of the most important moves in the end game is determining who to sit next to at the end. Natalie’s wish to sit next to Baylor and Missy tells us that she sees them as goats. When it comes to Baylor, she is likely correct- we have seen Keith, Alec and Josh make disparaging remarks about her, and strategically Baylor has followed either Josh, Missy, or Natalie for the game. Missy has the credentials to argue that she was a strong strategic player. She can certainly claim some credit for the Jeremy blindside, and for earning the trust of most of the tribe, as well as keeping Jon and Jaclyn loyal to their alliance when it was needed. I don’t think she is disliked either- she ‘won’ the coconut chop challenge, and the only disagreements she has with anybody is when people are attacking Baylor- nobody has said anything against Missy directly.
The closest parallel in Survivor history here is Dawn, from Survivor: Caramoan. I think that Missy is seen as someone who can’t win a jury vote because she has put so much effort into creating emotional bonds with people whom she later blindsided. She has betrayed friends, Natalie has betrayed competitors. We often see juries feeling hurt by players like this- because the betrayal doesn’t feel like a game move; it feels personal. In the Ponderosa videos, Jeremy repeatedly refers to “owning it” as the way to secure his vote. He says that he will respect people who betrayed him, as long as they own up to their moves. With a good performance in the Final Tribal Council, could Missy be taken to the end as a goat, only to end up winning the game?
I think that unless Natalie completely falls apart during Final Tribal Council, she should be able to beat anybody left in the game. Keith has a compelling underdog story if he makes it to the end, and he has his son on the jury. Wes is a guaranteed vote for Keith, and I would expect Alec to vote for Keith as well. Keith will also have the advantage of not ever being part of the majority alliance. He has no blood on his hands, no jurors angry that he blindsided them. But it was Keith’s “stick with the plan” moment at Tribal Council that ruined the games of Reed, Alec and Wes, and surely that will come back to bite him in the form of jury votes. I cannot see Josh or Reed voting for Keith at this point, and Jeremy has had a long distrust of Keith also. For Keith, finding himself sitting next to the right people will be crucial.
The other player left is Jaclyn, who is an interesting variable. If Jon’s exit interview is to be believed, not even Jaclyn thought that the jury would vote for her, and she was willing to sacrifice herself for Jon’s game. We haven’t seen any respect for Jaclyn; in fact, we have seen the opposite. Natalie thinks she is a spoiled princess, Keith refers to her as “Ms Prom Queen”, and Wes and Alec didn’t even think she was worth talking strategy with at all. Josh knows that had Jon and Jaclyn not flipped on him, he would still be in the game, and Jeremy knows that Jon (and by surrogate, Jaclyn) was behind the move to blindside him. Jaclyn is in the position of being blamed for many of the big moves in the game, while Jon is the one who has been given the credit. Jon has come across as a strong strategic player, while the players in the game think that Jaclyn has done as Jon has told her to. She does have the advantage of Jon on the jury, and if he is smart, he’ll start selling all of his moves in the game as her idea, but all of his lobbying will likely come across as facetious and fake. Having said that, if Jaclyn is sitting next to Baylor and Missy at the end, she might win the same way that Keith would win- by having the jury be so angry at Missy’s betrayal that they decide to vote for the only other option.
The problem in this game is that nearly all of the final five look like they will be easily beatable in front of a jury. In order to actually win the game, you need to take the most beatable players. Ironically, with Baylor and Missy as everyone’s assumed chosen goats, it will be Baylor and Missy who likely choose their final three opponent, and Natalie needs to work hard to convince them that they can beat her. Otherwise, as clearly the biggest jury threat, after doing the hard work, and cultivating a relationship with Baylor and Missy, Natalie will likely be sent home at final four.
Other than who to sit next to, the other big decision at Final Tribal Council is what to argue. In Survivor: Vanuatu, Chris Daugherty wins by apologising to every jury member. In Survivor: Philippines, Denise wins by owning her game and refusing to apologise. The only real rule is that the jury will vote for whomever’s game they respect the most- but what each jury respects changes from season to season. The survivors this season have a few different ideas about what the jury will reward, but the consensus seems to be that the jury will either reward the ‘big moves’, a view often championed by Jeff Probst; or that the jury will reward loyalty and honesty, a view that most of the players seem to hold. Which argument to make depends on the understanding that you have of the jury. If you misjudge this, it could cost the game.
At Tribal Council, Keith made his plea to stay, saying “I’ve got a vote. Use it. I think it would be a big move. And I think they would think that it would be a big move. And big moves means that you’re playing the game, and playing the game gets you votes.” At this point, he knew that Jon was going home, that the big move was about to be made. His speech was about making a point to the jury- this is the way you should be voting.
This was Russell’s mindset in Heroes vs Villains– he came into the Final Tribal Council with a resume full of big moves, and expected the jury to respect it. Sandra came into the Final Tribal Council with no big moves to her credit at all. She had a resume full of failed moves and mistakes, and yet the jury preferred her honest game to Russell’s deceitful one. Despite what Probst often says, it does not take big moves to win the game.
If big moves are what the jury is looking for, then I’m not sure how they will find a winner. The big moves of the game have mostly been made by those who are now on the jury. Jeremy gets the credit for sending Josh home, and then Jon gets the credit for sending Jeremy home. Jon’s blindside was a big move, and at the moment Missy is getting the credit with the jury. However, Missy has created strong emotional bonds and then broken them. Jon talks about how he and Missy shared a bond based on their shared faith, and Jon is upset that Missy would use religion as a tool of manipulation. Even if Missy is getting the credit for the biggest move of the game, I don’t think people are going to reward her for it.
From what we’ve seen, Missy isn’t planning to argue that she has been the strategic mastermind of the season. She wanted to play an honest game, and that’s what she wanted to argue to the jury. She told Baylor that she couldn’t break her word with Jon, because she would get no votes. She said, “It’s important for me to feel like I’ve played the game truthfully. I wasn’t some sly dog that came in, shook people’s hands and lied to their faces.”
The jury may reward loyalty, and they may reward big moves, but they will always award the player that has built real relationships with them, who they liked more than the other players. And at some level, the players left in the game have to know this. Jon gave up his reward to Baylor this week, and referenced how he thought that it would strengthen his case on the jury. But the jury isn’t looking for nice gestures. They are going to reward someone that they felt a connection with, someone who they feel okay about losing to. And of the players left in the game, it is Natalie who has made friendships, voted people out without betraying them, and has played a game that is worthy of respect. She deserves the million dollar prize, and I certainly hope the jury gives it to her.