I am thoroughly enjoying this season of Survivor. I will admit that Survivor: Worlds Apart was a little disappointing, but season 31 is more than making up for the predictable finish that we saw last season. Heading into the final episode with six contestants, at least three of whom have something of a winner story, is exciting. I honestly don’t know who is going to win this- and that is what has made such a good season.
I think that the players are aware of this. They have always known that this was going to be something special- it’s only the third full all-star cast in Survivor history. More importantly, these players are all desperate to be there. Nobody is there just to make up the numbers. They all campaigned for this. And despite what most of them claim, they were all involved in the pre-gaming too. Making and receiving phone calls, ensuring previous relationships were still solid, planning for various scenarios. They may not all have been Varner-level pre-gaming, but there is no doubt that they were doing it, and their hard work and desperation has paid off. It’s given us an exciting season, with idol plays and blindsides galore.
It’s far from a new phenomenon for the players to realise that they are making a television show. Even on the first season, there were people who only signed up in the hope that it would lead to a career in the media. Recently, people have been playing Survivor purely with the intention of being entertaining television. Given the choice between being successful or being memorable, many players choose to be memorable. They almost seem to be playing for the chance to be invited back. Individual players who are aware that they are on television and adjust their game accordingly will always be part of the game.
But this season, something unusual seems to have happened. This season, it isn’t just one or two players who are deliberately playing to entertain the audience. This season, the entire cast seems to be on board. Perhaps as a direct response to the public voting them on to the season, this cast is feeling the pressure to entertain. It’s this awareness of the audience and the way that this is changing the way the game is being played that takes us to this week’s lesson in Survivor history, which comes to us this week from season two, Survivor: Australian Outback, and the third place finisher, Keith Famie.
At the beginning of the season, I set myself a challenge- this season, I’ll only be writing about one time players who have never won the game. Nearly every week has been a challenge and I’ll admit that this week I’m cheating a little bit. The player that I really wanted to write about here was three-time Survivor player Colby Donaldson- who doesn’t fit into the second chance theme. So making Keith the focus of the blog was a way to discuss Colby- and in particular to discuss the way that Colby allowed the audience at home to become his focus. And in doing so, he lost the game.
Keith began the game, along with Colby, on the Ogakor tribe. Although Keith proved to be valuable to the tribe in terms of survival, he was an immediate source of conflict, arguing with the younger members. Every time that the Ogakor tribe went to Tribal Council, Keith was in danger. When the tribe was down to six members, Keith became the target, as Jerri Manthey, the leader of the young people’s alliance, despised him. She, along with her two closest allies, voted for Keith. Keith joined with Colby, as well as Tina Wesson, and voted against Mitchell Olson, one of Jerri’s allies. The vote was tied, but Mitchell went home on account of having previous votes cast against him. Colby, Tina and Keith were now the majority alliance on Ogakor.
What was interesting about this vote was the rhetoric behind it. From this point forward in the game, it would be all about who was ‘most deserving’. Colby joined with Tina and Keith because Jerri didn’t deserve to win. These players had just seen Survivor: Borneo, and they knew the reaction that America had when Richard Hatch, who had been edited as a villain, managed to win the game. America had been supporting the ‘good guys’, and the cast of season two were determined that this season, a good guy would win. This was largely driven by Colby and Tina, who saw themselves as the good guys, the people that America would be cheering for back home. And Colby, Tina and Keith crowned themselves as the judges- it was they who decided who deserved to be in the game, and who did not. While Keith was useful to them in the game, he was deserving. When he outlasted his usefulness, he became one of the undeserving ones.
Ogakor entered the merge equal in numbers with the opposing tribe, Kucha. Knowing that Keith had previous votes against him, Tina stepped down at the immunity challenge, allowing Keith to win. Using previous votes to break the tie, Kucha’s Jeff Varner was sent home. The five Ogakor members then voted together to get rid of the two most physically threatening members of Kucha, and Alicia Calaway and Nick Brown were sent home in the next two Tribal Councils. Then, the notion of playing for the audience came back into play. Keith, Tina and Colby decided that the two remaining Kucha members- Elisabeth Filarski (who was weak and malnourished) and Rodger Bingham (the oldest person left in the game) were more ‘deserving’ than Jerri and her ally Amber Brkich. They were blindsided, leaving a final five of Keith, Colby, Tina, Elisabeth and Rodger.
At this point, Keith was seen as the least deserving person out there. Colby was talking about what a despicable person he was, and that for Keith to be sitting in the final two would be a disgrace. Rodger and Elisabeth were seen as better people. Despite that, when it came to the final five, Colby and Tina kept Keith, and voted out the two Kucha members. At the final three, Colby won immunity, and had a choice between taking Keith to the end (where Colby would easily win) and taking Tina to the end (where Tina ultimately won in a close vote). In keeping with the narrative of the season, Colby chose the ‘more deserving’ player, Tina. Keith, who had been painted as a villain, didn’t stand a chance. Colby had already decided to make the choice that he believed the audience wanted, and nothing that Keith said was going to make a difference.
Re-watching Survivor: Australian Outback, it is difficult to see exactly why people didn’t like Keith. From what we saw, he made a real effort to connect with Jerri. He was a provider for his tribe and worked hard. Colby’s problem with Keith seemed to be that Keith was playing the game somewhat strategically, trying to form relationships with people that were going to form part of the jury. Perhaps the problem in Keith’s game was that those relationships were never genuine, and because this was transparent, Keith got a bad reputation. The trouble was that once people’s minds were made up, once people had decided that America wanted to see the good guys win, and Keith was not one of the good guys, Keith was trapped.
We’re seeing the same thing happening this season- the players are in agreement about the kind of person that they want to see win. This time, it isn’t necessarily one of the ‘good guys’ that has to win, but someone who deserves it. Someone who is seen as a real player, who’s made the big moves and has an impressive resume. The nightmare scenario would be if three goats made it to the end. This mindset is all well and good if you are considered to be one of the players, but as Keith found in season two, if you are considered to be undeserving, it’s a hard thing to overcome.
In season two, the mantra of ‘the most deserving player must win’ was used by Tina and Colby to manipulate the other players. They would use the other players in the game, as they used Keith, as long as they were necessary. As soon as they were unnecessary, they became ‘undeserving’ and were voted out. Ultimately Tina used the ‘most deserving’ mindset to manipulate Colby into taking her to the final two and giving up a million dollars. Here, it seems to be Tasha who is in charge of the narrative. Pushing for Abi’s elimination, she said to Spencer and Jeremy, “we cannot let Wentworth, Abi and Keith make it to the end. That would be an abomination…maybe another season, you’re going to take a goat. Like, this season, it would be a disservice to the fans who voted us on, to all of the great strategies.” Jeremy and Spencer seemed to be in agreement with her. The only way for this season to have an appropriate ending would be for the three of them (or maybe Kimmi) to be the final three.
I hated the self-righteous sentiment of it all. The idea that there is only one way to play the game, and that the fans only respect one type of player is crazy. If you really want the fans to be happy, then just roll over and let Joe have the money. It seems so hypocritical to vote Joe out one week ostensibly because he is the biggest threat in the game, and then decide the next week that only the best players should make the end. It seems ridiculous not to realise that the same people who voted for Tasha, Spencer and Jeremy also voted for Kelley, Abi and Keith.
I am willing to give Tasha the benefit of the doubt. It is probable that she doesn’t necessarily believe that she, Spencer and Jeremy are the only deserving players out there. But she needs a way to get them to work with her. She needs to convince them that she is their best option. And clearly from a game standpoint, she is not. Both Spencer or Jeremy would have a much better chance at the win if they went with Abi and Keith. Tasha has to sell herself to them, and knowing that there were no obvious game reasons for them to work with her, Tasha instead decided to sell them on the meta-game. What would the fans want to see? In season two, I don’t think Tina necessarily thought that she was the most deserving player out there. But she did know that it was unlikely that she was going to win the final immunity challenge, and she needed people to have a reason to take her to the end. I think that Tasha is doing the same thing. If it comes down to final four, Spencer and Jeremy would likely want to take Kimmi, Keith or even Kelley. Unless they buy into Tasha’s narrative that they have to play the game the fans want to see. If Spencer and Jeremy believe her, then Tasha is in with a chance.
Of course, the obvious problem with this is that if Tasha follows through with this narrative, then she is sitting at the end with Spencer and Jeremy, and will come in third. She hasn’t created strong relationships with the jury and has no certain votes. Kass and Abi are both certain not to vote for her. It’s all well and good to have two people that are convinced to take you to the end, but if you can’t beat either of them, then what’s the point? Is it really worth playing for third place? In season two, Keith continued to work with Tina and Colby, despite having no chance of beating either of them. That was early in Survivor, when changing alliances was unthinkable. In season 31, Tasha has a lot more power in her hands. She had a previous working relationship with Abi, and Abi’s vote for Keith confirmed that she was willing to work with Tasha once again. Instead of flipping, and working with people that she could beat, Tasha orchestrated Abi’s blindside. And now, she is with Spencer and Jeremy. If they have bought into her story, if they believe that the fans want to see all ‘deserving’ players at the end, then Tasha should make final three.
The question is, do they believe her? Jeremy likely doesn’t care. He remembers what happened to him in San Juan Del Sur– he was considered too big a threat to take to the end and he was blindsided. This time, he’s looking for anybody that he can trust to take him to the end. If Tasha wants to go to the end with all the ‘deserving’ players, as long as she counts Jeremy as deserving, then Jeremy will go along with it. I think that Jeremy figures that all he has to do is make it to the end. If he can make it to the end, he thinks he has the game sewn up. As has been pointed out to me in the comments section of this blog, Jeremy might be wrong about that. His performance as a juror indicates that he isn’t the strongest public speaker and might struggle to articulate his case. But I think that he has spent enough time creating genuine relationships with those on the jury that he cannot lose, even if he is sitting with Spencer and Tasha at the end.
Spencer is a different question. Spencer’s jury speech to Woo in Survivor: Cagayan suggested that he would have respected Woo- but only if Woo had chosen to take a goat to the end. In Cagayan, Spencer seemed to support the idea of taking someone like Abi to the Final Tribal Council. Has he really changed his mind? His vote this week suggests that he has. He called Abi, Keith and Wentworth ‘dream goats’, yet he failed to vote with them. He knew his choice was between strong players or those he could beat. And in the end, in a choice that could prove fatal for his game, he chose to vote against his dream goats. Spencer’s played a good game, but I think that the relationships that Jeremy has built will be too strong for Spencer to overcome. He was in the Colby spot this week, and instead of choosing the easy money, he’s jeopardised his shot at the million dollars.
And what about those people painted as undeserving? What about those people that are in the same position that Keith was in during season two? How do they avoid Keith’s fate? Of the players left, both Keith and Wentworth have been described as goats. It is amazing to me that Kelley could have found an idol, kept it secret, played it at the perfect moment, and still be described as a non-strategic player. Just as in season two, I thought Keith did very little to deserve his bad reputation, I think that Tasha, Spencer and Jeremy seeing Kelley as a goat is unfair. I can understand seeing Keith as a goat. He hasn’t made any strategic moves and has been out of the loop on several votes. But having said that, Keith came into the season with a plan and has executed that plan. He knew how close he came to winning San Juan Del Sur and so he has chosen to ‘stick to the plan’ (hehehe). Once again, he is playing a low key game, being his affable self, and hoping that challenge wins will bring him to the end. That game would have won him his last season, and I cannot blame him for trying the same thing again, but it will not win an all-star season. Keith being seen as a goat is understandable.
For Tasha to group Kelley in with Keith is dangerous. In season two, Keith Famie knew that he was seen as undeserving and did very little to try and change his fate. He continued to work hard, thinking that he would win people over that way. But he never changed direction in the game. He never took his fate into his own hands. Kelley has been a lot more active in the game. She’s got friends on the jury, with the votes of Abi, Ciera and Kass being certainties. In a ten person jury, she only needs three more. She has a strong relationship with Joe, and Keith could be another Wentworth vote should he end up on the jury. By my calculations, Kelley is a more dangerous person to face at Final Tribal Council than Tasha is.
But for Kelley to gain jury votes, she has to actually make it to the end. And if the current narrative is that only strong, strategic players deserve to go to the end, then Kelley should be looking to argue her case. By the end of season two, the relationship between Colby and Keith had broken down to the point of no return. Keith had no chance to plead his case. Kelley, on the other hand, has strong relationships with people left in the game. Final six is a pivotal moment. Whoever comes out on top at this vote has an easy path to the end. Spencer is going to have to decide whether he wants to risk going to the end with Jeremy- and if he doesn’t, Kelley should be there as a feasible option. Kimmi needs to see that at the moment, she is fourth in her alliance- and if she does, she’s had enough conversations with Kelley to feel comfortable with her.
In season two, Keith’s problem was that the other players all accepted that he was undeserving and should be voted out. They were all against him, and he had no options. Kelley still has options in this game. But she needs to move fast. If people are perceiving her as a goat, then she will soon find out that no matter how impressive her idol play was, perception is reality. Kelley has the connections to make the right move. And she’s shown in the past that she also has the courage. If Kelley plays the next few days correctly, Tasha might regret ever seeing her as a goat.