Each week in Lessons in Survivor History, I will revisit another season to compare gameplay and draw from the lessons that have been learned.
Lessons in Survivor History: Inexplicable Loyalty
What a fantastic episode- but even on the rewatch, it was tough to watch. In fact, I found myself getting even more emotional on the rewatch, noticing all of the little errors that eventually came together to see Jessica rocked out of the game. It would have been devastating to see anyone leave the game because they picked the wrong rock, but there was something especially sad about watching Jessica grapple with whether or not she should switch her vote, ultimately decide to stay with her alliance, and then, thanks to her loyalty, be sent sobbing home. And then, in her final words, she recognised that had she flipped her vote, it would have been Hannah heading to Ponderosa. And Jessica would still have been in the game, with a good chance of winning the million.
And so this week, we are all talking about the decision to go to rocks. Was it the right move? Could it have been avoided? In this era of ‘big moves’, are we going to see more and more people leave the game the way that Jessica did, or was her devastation a deterrent that will see future Survivors much more willing to flip their vote?
If we go back in Survivor history for the answer, you’ll find arguments for both sides. In season 19, Survivor: Samoa, there was a tied vote at the final ten. John Fincher switched his vote, sending Laura Morett, who was loosely part of his alliance, home. In doing so, he ceded power of the game over to the opposing alliance, and not only did everyone in his alliance lose the game, but Fincher was the next person voted out. In his case, it could certainly be argued that picking rocks would have been advantageous.
However, this isn’t always the case. Last season, Survivor: Kaoh Rong saw a tied vote in the tribal portion of the game. In this case, Aubry Bracco changed her vote, and sent her ally Peter Baggenstos home. Although she did anger some players in the game, Aubry was able to regroup, find new allies, and make it all the way to the Final Tribal Council. For Aubry, the decision to avoid the rock draw was undoubtedly the correct one.
And then, we can look back at the most recent rock draw- at the final six in season 27, Survivor: Blood vs Water. In that season, a rock draw happened at final six, when Ciera Eastin, Katie Collins and Hayden Moss realised that they were not going to make it to the final three unless they stuck together. Knowing that they were making an ‘all or nothing’ move, they forced the tied vote, and went to rocks. Tyson Apostol, who would eventually go on to win the game, also chose to go to rocks at that vote, rather than vote out Monica Culpepper, who was part of his final three plans.
Obviously, there is a difference between going to rocks at final six, where if the rock draw is in your favour, you make it to the end of the game, and what we saw this season, which was a rock draw at the final ten. As Tyson pointed out on this week’s recap episode, Blood vs Water was a season where Redemption Island was in play, which meant that the rock draw was a calculated risk on his part. Yes, he might lose the rock draw, but there was a pretty good chance that he would be able to win his way back into the game anyway.
This week, the contestants chose to draw rocks despite not having the safety net of Redemption Island. And despite the fact that at the final ten, there is still plenty more game to play. Will might have said that “none of us are willing to give up our games for either one of these two”- but yet all of eight of them ultimately chose not to switch their votes. All eight of them had security in the game, but yet out of some inexplicable act of loyalty, not one of them switched their votes. They willingly put their games in jeopardy just to prove their loyalty to their respective alliances, and at this point, that just makes no sense at all. So, for this week’s lesson in Survivor history, we are going to take a look at someone who made a similarly baffling choice in order to prove his loyalty. We are going back to season 16, Survivor: Micronesia, and the infamous ice-cream scooper, fifth place finisher Erik Reichenbach.
Survivor: Micronesia was a fans vs favourites season, and Erik began the game on the fans tribe, where he was able to fit in with the tribe and vote with the majority alliance. When the tribes were swapped, Erik began to ingratiate himself with the favourites. He openly admired Ozzy Lusth, and befriended the other favourites on the tribe- Amanda Kimmel and Cirie Fields. He was a fan of the show, and this, combined with his youth, made him come across as quite naïve. The other fans in the tribe were sent home one after another, and when the vote came down to naïve, trusting Erik, or Ami Cusack, who had been a villain in her previous season, the favourites voted with Erik, sending Ami home.
When the tribes merged, Erik stuck with Ozzy and the favourites alliance. However, the favourites weren’t able to stay together. While the tribes had been swapped, Parvati Shallow had developed relationships with Alexis Jones and Natalie Bolton, who had begun the game on the fans tribe. Parvati intended for the three women to join with Amanda and Cirie, and to take all the women to the end of the game. To the shock of Erik, Ozzy was blindsided, leaving Erik completely vulnerable.
Fortunately for Erik, he was extremely good at challenges, and won the next three individual immunities. During this time, the remaining men in the game were voted out- leaving Erik, Parvati, Amanda, Cirie and Natalie. Erik knew that the women in the game were against him. He had voted for Amanda in the previous tribal council (Amanda saved herself with an immunity idol), and Amanda was furious with him. Erik knew that he needed to win the immunity challenges to secure his place in the game- and again and again, he was able to do just that.
Erik’s misplaced loyalty
There was every chance that Erik could have won the remaining immunity challenges, found himself in the Final Tribal Council, and had a bitter and angry jury reward him with the million dollars. But unfortunately for Erik, that isn’t how his story ends at all. Despite Erik knowing that he was on his own in the game, despite the fact that he had literally said that he knew he would have to win immunity if he was to survive in the game, and despite the fact that it was crystal clear to everyone watching that the women were in an unbreakable alliance, Erik made the inexplicable decision to put his trust in Natalie. Natalie had been his ally in the original fans tribe, but the two of them had never been particularly close. Also, Natalie had told him that the only way for them to work together was if Erik gave her the immunity necklace.
Erik knew it was a risky move. But he really believed that he had to show loyalty to Natalie. He thought that he had broken so many promises, and still felt so guilty about voting for Amanda, that he really did believe Natalie when she told him that this would buy him favour in the game. He proved his loyalty to Natalie by literally handing her his security in the game. He gave her individual immunity. She repaid his loyalty by immediately voting him out. Erik knew that he was jeopardising his own game when he gave up immunity. But to him, it was worth the rewards. He really believed that by making this move, he was securing himself a place in Natalie’s alliance. Sadly for Erik, he was wrong. His loyalty was misplaced, and his move is often discussed as the dumbest move in Survivor history.
Erik’s move was not dissimilar to what happened this week- where we saw all of Zeke and David’s loyal soldiers jeopardise their safety in the game in order to prove their loyalty to their respective alliances. For some of them, like Erik, their loyalty is misplaced. They just made a huge, risky move, to protect someone who would turn on them in an instant. For others involved in the rock draw, the move was much more understandable. So, who made the right decision, and who should really have been more concerned with self-preservation than with loyalty?
Those with no loyalty
Erik’s loyalty was misplaced for a few reasons. Firstly, because of the timing. This was final five. The players believed that they were playing for a final three. Therefore, even if Erik’s move did get Natalie on his side, there was no reason for Amanda, Cirie or Parvati to join them. They knew that they were going to the final three together. And all three of them had played such a cutthroat game that it would have been insane to bring Erik, who was so nice that he would give away immunity, to the end with them. Erik’s loyalty was also misplaced because of who he was. He had won the three previous immunity challenges. There was a high probability of him winning the remaining challenges. He was a threatening person to sit with at the end of the game. Amanda, Parvati and Cirie simply had no motivation to reward Erik’s loyalty. Erik wanted to make a loyal move, but he was playing with people that had zero loyalty to him.
Watching the rock draw this week, it struck me that there are quite a few people who have put their loyalty in the wrong place. And most of them are on Zeke’s side. Like Zeke said to Jessica, “I realign with people all the time”. Zeke doesn’t necessarily see his current alliance as the alliance that he is going to take to the end of the game. We saw how easily he turned on Hannah. In Zeke’s defense, though, it was completely obvious that Hannah had flipped on him, and I can’t blame him for immediately targeting her. But in losing Hannah’s loyalties, he also lost Adam, and we didn’t see him try to fix that relationship at all.
Zeke’s approach to his alliances reminds me very much of Survivor: Thailand winner Brian Heidik. For Zeke, people are pawns, loyal soldiers. He will align with them when he needs them, and dispose of them when he doesn’t. He’s proven that recently- he was very quick to turn on Chris, who was completely convinced of Zeke’s loyalty right until the votes were read out. He’s actually turned on every member of Vanua- he and Michelle seemed to be super tight on the switched tribe, but he easily voted her out. And now he’s coming for David. Zeke is playing a game that has little use for loyalty- and yet he commands the kind of loyalty that sees people drawing rocks to protect him. It’s impressive to watch, but I don’t think it is going to lead to victory. His callous way of talking about people isn’t going to go over well in front of a jury. Hannah decided to vote with David because “Zeke is condescending, and he can be a flip-flopper”. The other castaways see his arrogance, and I don’t think they are going to vote to reward it.
The other player who isn’t showing loyalty to anyone is Jay. Yes, Jay was part of the tied vote, and at the moment, Zeke probably sees him as one of the loyal soldiers. But as Jay had the immunity necklace around his neck, there was no risk to the move for him. He hasn’t had any real interaction with those on David’s side of the numbers (aside from Hannah), whereas Will, Sunday and Bret are Jay’s friends from Ikabula. He went with the side that he felt closest to, but if he didn’t have immunity, I have no doubt that Jay would have flipped his vote. He described himself as the ‘lone wolf’, and that’s the game he’s playing. He’s making himself available as a number to those in power, but without making any promises. He’s got his immunity idol, which he is going to keep for himself, and he’s got the ability to continue to win challenges. Apart from Adam, who can apparently taste Jay’s blood, nobody is targeting Jay anymore, despite the fact that they probably should be. Zeke and David are so fixated on each other that they are missing the person who really is the biggest threat- and I think that person is Jay.
Those with misplaced loyalty
I don’t actually think that Jessica necessarily made the wrong move. At the last Tribal Council, her name came up. She knows that Bret and Sunday, at least, want her out of the game. I don’t think there is a path for Jessica moving forward with them. And then there is the fact that she does owe her life in the game to David. Would it be seen as too disloyal for her to flip? There is a lot of game left to play, and if we are looking at this purely from a results orientated place, then yes, Jessica’s move was wrong. She clearly had a better chance if she is still in the game. But with six people drawing rocks, her odds of picking the correct rock were good. Also, I feel bad for her. I’m not going to question her move.
On the other side, I think that Will, Bret and Sunday all had good reason to flip. It was a pity that they were the first ones to vote, giving them less time to think about their decision. Will’s loyalty to Zeke seemed to be built on nothing more than having no other options in the game. He called Zeke his liferaft. This, coupled with the previews for next week’s episode, tells me that Will had no strategic reason to stick with Zeke. In the end, it made little difference to Will’s game whether Zeke or Hannah went home, as long as it wasn’t him.
Bret’s loyalty is seemingly built on a personal connection. He said, “I just like him (Zeke) as a person”, and obviously the two of them bonded on the reward this week. He admires the fact that Zeke is comfortable in his own skin, and he enjoys the company of his Fijian drinking buddy. And where Bret goes, there Sunday goes also. The two of them were very quick to forgive Zeke for voting against Chris. They forget that trusting Zeke isn’t always a good idea– and Chris was much closer to Zeke than either Bret or Sunday are. I have no idea why the two of them were willing to risk their place in the game for him.
Those with their loyalty in the right place
Making huge, loyal moves does sometimes pay off. In season 20, Survivor: Heroes vs Villains, Russell Hantz made an Erik-like play when he gave his immunity idol to Parvati. In Russell’s case though, it paid off. He and Parvati remained loyal to each other until almost the end of the game. Erik shows us what happens when you give your loyalty to the wrong person. But if you give your loyalty to the right person, it can take you all the way to the end.
David and Ken are completely loyal to each other. David gave Ken his immunity idol (admittedly, only after Adam warned him that the vote was coming Ken’s way), and Ken has said that he will never write David’s name down. Their partnership is based on a real friendship. That is the way that David has built his army. Hannah decided to vote for him because she identified with him as a person. Although Bret’s harsh words at Tribal Council revealed that not everybody finds David’s neuroses endearing, Hannah’s main reason for flipping is that she really does like David. She relates to his neurotic gameplay.
The difference between David’s army and Zeke’s army is that David’s army genuinely like each other. They all like David, and David likes them. For David, his alliance is a group of people. They aren’t just numbers. They have a real friendship. I don’t think that David plans on betraying Ken– he really is willing to sit at the end with him.
Comparatively, Zeke, by his own admission, just wants “to have the power and control”– and he’s willing to vote out people that he trusts in order to get it. We saw this when he voted out Chris. Chris was on Zeke’s side, and had no plans to move against him. But Chris controlled Bret and Sunday, and Zeke wanted that control for himself. When deciding whether or not to vote against Chris, Zeke’s reasoning was “this next vote is all about amassing the soldiers that I need to march my army down the field”.
Zeke and David both see themselves as the chess players. They are driving the strategy. Both of them can command such loyalty that people are willing to jeopardise their games to help them. Hannah knew that if she flipped on Zeke, she’d be in trouble. And she was, but she had made her decision, and she didn’t go back on her word to David. Will, Bret and Sunday had only really been in Zeke’s alliance for a week, and yet they were willing to go to rocks rather than flip their votes and send him home. It is definitely interesting watching two such strong players going up against each other. Who is going to come out on top? For me, Zeke is the stronger strategic player. But David is the stronger social player, and I think that a social player is more dangerous.
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