The Jury Phase
If you play your cards right, you might eventually get to the jury phase, specifically being in the final three (or possibly two, but it’s been almost all final three for a while now). If you do make it, you need to be ready, and many previous contestants have not been.
Before getting to that point, you need to seed the jury with as many people who will vote for you as possible. How? There are a few suggestions from history.
J.T. was thinking ahead in Tocantins and didn’t cast his vote against Coach when he knew Coach was being voted out. So Coach knew it was instead the “evil wizard,” Stephen, who’d turned on him. While J.T. foolishly acknowledged this in his jury discussions and Stephen tried to point to it as well, Coach by then had it solidified in his head that J.T. was an honest warrior who would get his vote. This maneuver was similar to something done by Clay a number of seasons earlier.
Yul topped even this. He specifically made a deal with Adam, who knew he would be on the jury. Yul’s alliance had already decided to vote out Jonathan. Adam didn’t know that and made an offer to Yul: Vote out Jonathan before me and you’ll have my jury vote. Yul, of course, agreed – and he won by that single vote!
In Micronesia, Parvati seeded the jury with several people who were likely to vote for her. Her social relationships with Natalie Bolton and Alexis, along with following through on her promise to do what she could to help them get further, made it a virtual lock that they would vote for her at the end. The way she worked with Cirie on almost every move made her a likely vote as well. And while Samoa’s Natalie didn’t go quite that far, she definitely played up the social game in being nice to those she knew would end up on the jury, while her main opponent Russell just wallowed in his own ego and turned them off.
I’ve already mentioned how in Game Changers Sarah didn’t fight the vote against Zeke because she had to preserve her own game. But it went further than that – by letting him get sent to the jury, she ended up with a strong advocate in her favor, one who told us in jury speaks videos that he was lobbying all the other jurors on her behalf.
Beyond seeding the jury, you need to be aware of who you will face. This means putting aside all thoughts of wanting to face the toughest competition or some BS like that. You need to bring a goat (or a Muffin) or two along with you. Bring along somebody you can beat! This point was laid out very well by Jeanne from the sixth season of South African Survivor in as she was trying to convince another player who held himself to high moral standards to vote out a strong competitor. She said, “Beating the best doesn’t mean you have to stand up against them at the end. Beating the best means you vote them out and they’re on the jury.” I couldn’t have said it better myself! This is a great argument against anyone who plays and says they want to bring the best to the end – no, you don’t! You want to bring someone beatable to the end!
That consideration came into play when it looked like Sarah was debating whether or not to force a firemaking challenge between Tai and Troyzan. A number of viewers couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t force the tie. Even I tweeted some thoughts in favor of forcing the firemaking before thinking about it some more and realizing she was 100% right. The question was who Sarah wanted to face in the end. She had no choice about Brad, but she saw that Troyzan had basically done nothing to earn jury votes, and I’m sure she knew how most of the others felt about him. Tai, on the other hand, was generally well-liked and had little or no blood on his hands. That’s the same reason Brad didn’t want to face Tai in the end! So when Sarah had the opportunity to force the firemaking challenge and possibly bring Tai to the final three, she decided against it, letting Troyzan come instead. Additionally, from Sarah’s perspective, keeping Tai around would’ve run the risk of splitting some of the anti-Brad jury votes, while bringing Troyzan had the potential to take votes away from Brad.
Once you get to face the jury itself, you have to realize how important jury arguments are. In fact, they can be $900,000 important! So be prepared. Be ready to tell the jury why they should vote for you and not for the other people. Many Survivor winners have been decided by a single vote, which could have been changed during that final Tribal Council.
J.T. did well at his acting and playing the martyr. He also clearly knew what he wanted to get across to the jurors and was able to argue it. He played up his aw-shucks country boy aspect, did a lot of smiling, and basked in the love from the jurors.
Amazon was won in part by Jenna because Matthew messed up his final arguments. While many of those on the jury were probably already leaning towards Jenna, Matthew made sure they went that way. Rob told me at the time, “I personally also felt that Matthew had a very poor final Tribal Council showing. His opening statements were along the lines of, ‘I have played this game with utter honesty and integrity,’ and his closing statements were, ‘I have been deceitful and dishonest during this game.’ All in all I felt the entire performance was inconsistent, whereas Jenna’s responses (while not divine answers from the heavens) were more straightforward and truthful.”
In China, Todd did a masterful job in front of the jury. Because he is such a student of the game, Todd knew that he had to be thinking about the jury far before he was going to have to face them. So some of the actions he took were done with this in mind. For example, Todd told me he didn’t boot James earlier in part because he wanted to make James think he was helping him, so James might carry that feeling into the jury box with him. Maybe it worked, since James did indeed vote for Todd to win. But more importantly, Todd knew exactly what he was going to say to the jury. He understood the necessity of making a good impression and saying what they need to hear. He received at least two votes (Jean-Robert and Jaime) based almost solely on what he said that night to the jury.
Meanwhile, Amanda completely fell apart. She seemed utterly incapable of explaining to jurors why they should vote for her and not one of the other two. She stumbled around, unable to answer questions to make herself look favorable. “My alliance made me do it” is a pretty lousy answer. Amanda sat there looking depressed and broken at a time when she should have been upbeat and pushing herself as the best player ever. China was quite the case study in just how important jury arguments can be!
Unfortunately, Amanda followed up that horrible jury performance with… another horrible jury performance in Micronesia! Even after going through it once, she still was unable to explain why she should get jury votes and Parvati should not. For example, look at Amanda’s answer to Cirie’s question of why Parvati deserved a million dollars more than Cirie herself did. Amanda should have said, “I don’t think she does deserve a million dollars more than you – because I think I should win against either of you for the following reasons…” Instead, she actually gave reasons why Parvati played a really good game, making bold decisions and being the powerhouse! Why not just hand her the million dollars and be done with it?!
Similarly, Russell went zero-for-two as well, doing an even worse job than Amanda did because he went so far as to alienate the jury – including people who otherwise might have voted for him! We only need to look at what a couple of the jurors said to get a feel for how poorly he did. Colby told me: “The problem with Russell is he has an inability to show any humility. … Arrogance is why he didn’t get a single vote. … this game is by design one where you need to get favor with those you vote out.” Jerri said: “Russell made it very easy for me not to vote for him. … sitting in the final Tribal Council and listening to him basically belittle and slap every single one of us in the face… Not showing any gratitude, not being apologetic, not being respectful of all the people he had to oust. His arrogance just made me sick and there was no possible way I could give him my vote.”
Russell himself said it at the reunion – he just didn’t care about the jury. And that showed. His dismissive nature towards them certainly didn’t make any of them want to vote for him. Indeed, it had quite the opposite effect!
On the flip side, we can look at Game Changers again and see that it seems Sarah knew exactly what she needed to say, and had for a while. Brad completely misjudged what the jury would be looking for. And I don’t know exactly what Troyzan’s plan was.
I do know that Sarah had a masterful final Tribal Council, and the new format really helped her expand on her game even more. It was a great move on her part to bring up being undercover as a police officer, because that really did help explain how she could play this game as she did and still be a good person. She read the jury correctly and pointed out that her time with them was personal, but voting them out was the game – and she was able to separate the two. Indeed, Sarah had pushed this in Tribal Councils a couple times already, such as the Andrea vote, when Sarah talked about how the jury should reward game play.
While Sarah was unapologetic about her game play, taking credit for her moves and explaining them, Brad was on the defensive much of the time. Michaela showed how Brad totally ignored and dismissed her. Andrea noted that Brad never reached out to those on the bottom, and was an ass to Tai. Tai himself took Brad to task about the way Brad talked down to him.
Sometimes, it’s obvious what you need to say. Sometimes, it’s not. If the jury is looking for apologies, then in general they are good. Say you’re sorry to those you ran over to get there. While you’re at it, flatter ‘em – it never hurts. Point out that it was nothing personal, but you only acted that way for the game. Etc. But don’t overdo it, or they will know you are faking. And if you go this route, you need to make those apologies specific, not just a general “sorry” to the whole jury.
On the other hand, some jurors (hopefully most) won’t be voting on a personal level, but on game play. In that case, you have to reverse yourself and talk about what a great job you did of outplaying them. It all depends on the jury. Again, you have to know what they want and you can’t just rely on your own viewpoint. Taking Russell as a prime example once again of what not to do, he may have had valid points, depending on your opinion, about how the jury should have voted. But the fact of the matter is that you have to play the game as it is, not how you think it should be. You can’t play chess and decide that the rook should be able to move diagonally as well as horizontally and vertically. Similarly, you can’t decide how the jury has to vote. If you insult them repeatedly, it’s a lot less likely that they are going to vote for you, no matter how good a strategic game you played.
Juries have gone back and forth over the years between rewarding strategy and voting emotionally, and a good player simply has to take that into account, not just bull his or her way through the competition, ignoring the social game completely, and then complaining about it later. This kind of thing reminds me of my kids when they were younger and would bowl in tournaments on lanes they were not used to. They would roll the ball and it wouldn’t curve like it did in our home lanes. Did they adjust in order to get better shots? No. They complained about it and kept throwing the ball the exact same way. I told them that no matter how many times they did it, the lane was not going to change for them, so they needed to adjust to the lane. Similarly, the good player needs to adjust to the game and their particular jury.
I should note that sometimes, it doesn’t matter what a player says by the time they get to the jury. It’s quite possible that all minds will be made up. But as I noted earlier, sometimes a win is decided by just one or two votes, so even if only one or two people are willing to change their minds, you have to give it your best shot.
In the end, the eventual Survivor: Island of the Idols winner will need to use every ability to Outwit, Outplay, and Outlast.