But Don’t Scheme and Plot Too Much/Keep Your Scheming Secret/Don’t Backstab Until You Absolutely Need To
There’s a fine line that needs to be drawn. If you spend all your time scheming and plotting, and you try to scheme and plot with everybody, they will all know what you’re up to. In the end, nobody will trust you and they’ll turn on you. This is precisely what happened to Kelly in the very first season. She tried to be all things to all people. Instead, it cost her everything when Susan turned from a trusted friend to a hated enemy.
It has happened quite a bit since then, of course. I could list a litany of names dating way back, where people either did scheme too much or were perceived as doing so, but there is generally at least one person every season – sometimes more than one. These days, it seems players are highly tuned to this type of player and actively seek them out, so it pays to be extra careful not to come off this way.
A really bad example was Erik in Micronesia. As Amanda said at the time, did he really think with four women left that they would never compare notes? What’s worse is that Erik was the outsider of the group. The women had been scheming together for quite some time, so it was downright foolish of him not to realize they would likely talk. He could have at least done some advance damage control, such as telling one set of women that he would be pretending to align with another set, just to keep up appearances. I don’t know that anybody would have bought it, but at least he would have been trying!
I have to say that many viewers during Amazon thought a certain Rob Cesternino fell because of this flaw. But let’s give credit where credit is due: He was definitely scheming and plotting a lot, and everybody knew it, but he managed to make everybody think that he was being honest with them. Jon in Pearl Islands somehow managed to pull off a similar feat, as did Boston Rob a couple times. This is a method reminiscent of the one used by Dr. Will on Big Brother 2. It takes a special kind of schemer to pull it off.
Over the years, we’ve seen a particular type of scheming too much that involves an unaligned player realizing they’re the swing vote and refusing to pick a side. For example, we had Christy from The Amazon, who avoided any sort of plotting and scheming for most of the game, and then ended up being voted out because she did too much of it! She was approached by two opposing alliances and refused to make a promise to either. Bad move. The opposition realized they were both vulnerable if she couldn’t tell them for sure and joined up to get rid of her instead! (Another reason to always say “yes” to requests for an alliance!) What’s worse is that Dolly duplicated this same mistake on Vanuatu, also refusing to say which alliance she was going with, which caused some people from each side to join together against her. Most recently, Odette in the second season of Australian Survivor did the exact same thing! Being a swing vote is fine, but you have to convince people that you’re with them!
An important part of this rule is that players should not be open or obvious about their scheming. Rob’s old pal Alex showed us that on Amazon when he revealed to Rob that Alex would vote against him in the final four. By doing this, he was looking too far ahead and scheming too much. He obviously was not keeping it secret since he told the person he was planning to vote out – turning Rob from a friend to a foe by taking out the knife, showing it to him, and telling him exactly where he planned to stick it in his back. Had Alex just kept his mouth shut, he would have been in a much better position.
Other examples throughout history go back to Lex feeling he needed to be honest to Clarence and then again (at least partially) to Kelly before voting them off. Sorry, but that was the wrong move. Lie to their faces, and then vote ’em off. There is no reason to alert them to their impending doom – it only gives them time to plot their own counterattack. And especially know that naming names before the immunity challenge is dangerous – Kim was a perfect example of why in Winners at War. She named Tony, he won immunity so he couldn’t be a target, and then people told him about what she had been trying to do.
As much as some targets say they want to know ahead of time, and as much as players might feel like it’s a good idea to let the targets know in case they make it to the final two/three and have to face those previous targets at the jury, the fact of the matter is that it’s better to risk it and at least get to the final two/three rather than giving your target an opportunity to turn the tables. Then you can talk to the jury about how good a player you were, and hope they buy it. We saw a great example of this in the sixth season of South African Survivor when a player with an idol asked someone who had been both her ally and enemy to let her know if her name came up. He didn’t know she had an idol, and letting her know would have totally turned the game on its head. But he didn’t do her the courtesy she requested and she was voted out with the idol in her pocket while he went on to win!
This has been less of an issue recently because blindsides have become the big moment that everybody wants. Whether people are doing it for strategic reasons or to have their TV time, it doesn’t really matter – it’s a good move.
As for the part of the rule that says to keep scheming secret, we can point back to the downfall of the Rotu 4 in Marquesas, which was also almost entirely due to their failure to recognize this. They thought they had it made. They were in the final four and there was nothing anybody could do. So when it came time to chop down those coconuts in an immunity challenge, they laid out their plans just as clearly as if they’d written them down and handed them out. Paschal and Neleh were shown that they were not part of the core alliance and the best they could hope for would be fifth and sixth place.
By making their scheming so apparent, the Rotu 4 were instead chopped down one by one, just like those coconuts. I wish we would see more of this type of challenge, but I fear the producers may believe it’s broken after the core alliance in San Juan del Sur just decided on who would win after Jeff Probst got fed up with them. If this challenge does return, it is a trap that must be avoided.
Of course, I need to put in a warning here that we’ve seen a few instances of keeping your scheming too secret, such that the jury doesn’t know you were playing the game. One example in particular was when J.T. took all the credit for strategy even though Stephen was pretty much an equal partner. At least one of the jurors told me in an interview at the time that it wasn’t that they saw him as more of a backstabber or were bitter – they simply didn’t give Stephen enough credit for the scheming and plotting he did, which they only later saw on television. I think that’s one reason Stephen put so much emphasis on making visible moves in his second season. We saw something similar in Kaoh Rong when Michele won and many viewers were up in arms (some still are!). Could bitter feelings have been in play? Yes. But several of the jurors have also said that while we saw Aubry’s game on TV, they didn’t see it out there. Aubry apparently spoke at length in the final Tribal Council about what she did and how she played. But much of the jury simply didn’t believe her because they didn’t see it.
Going back to the main theme of this rule, and somewhat on the flip side of the previous point, a corollary to it is that if any alliances do get out in the open, do not let it be known that you are the decision-maker – even to those within your own alliance, if possible! Rich Hatch succeeded in great part because he allowed his cohorts to believe they were making the decisions. And Parvati (in Micronesia) knew when to step back and let events happen – such as when her Fan allies were aiming to vote out her Favorite ally, Amanda. She said she wouldn’t vote for her, but we never saw her try to turn it around – if Amanda hadn’t possessed the hidden immunity idol, she would have been gone and Parvati would have simply kept right on plugging away. Sarah in Game Changers had a similar attitude when necessary. She knew at one point, for example, that the main target was Zeke, a tight ally of hers. But she also knew she had to let him go for the overall good of her game.
On the other hand, Parvati’s erstwhile friend and ally, Ozzy, was directing everything, including even deciding who would go to Exile Island. Even in his final episode, he was trying to call all the shots, making it clear to everybody that despite the group promise given to Jason, they were all still expected to vote him out. Ozzy was acting like the king. But in Survivor, kings are made to be deposed. After all, how many times have we heard players say that they need to cut off the head of the snake? It just keeps happening.
I’m also going to bring in one more point regarding open scheming – couples. I’m talking about joining up openly with another person for any reason, whether it’s love/lust, a pseudo-father-daughter type thing, or whatnot. Open partnerships are just begging to be split up – and they also provide an easy opportunity to split a vote in case of an idol. We’ve seen it time and time and time again. Note that showmances are even worse than other duos because of the way they’re perceived. Witness Island of the Idols, where many duos had formed but the alleged showmance was the one targeted early.
Another point in discussing the open scheming takes us to Peter from Survivor: Marquesas. What’s that you say, you don’t even remember Peter? Yes, that’s my point. He was the first one booted from that season, in large part because he tried to discuss the vote with everybody in the tribe. He wanted to force them to talk openly about who should get the boot. What was the result? They decided that he should get the boot! Garrett on Cagayan tried something similar by insisting that nobody talk and suffered the same result.
The main point in dealing with the backstabbing portion of this rule is that it goes along with scheming and plotting, and backstabbing too early is scheming and plotting too much. In the second series, the Colby/Tina/Keith alliance didn’t get rid of Jerri until they had whittled down the numbers of Kuchans to the point that they felt safe. Frankly, they weren’t really safe since Amber could have joined the remaining Kuchans to overthrow the alliance, but things ended up working out (though I believe if something similar happened now, with players who have seen a lot more alliance-making and breaking, it wouldn’t work out the same at all). Jeremy basically paraphrased this part of the rule in a Winners at War Tribal Council, saying, “If you want to make a good move, you gotta make sure you’re not making it too early because you can’t beat anybody at the end if you don’t get to the end.”
Sometimes you have to keep the person you don’t like for a little while longer if it means keeping the alliance (and therefore yourself) secure. Several players in Survivor history showed precisely how to hold your knife until the last minute. With Brian in Thailand, Ted knew he was probably going before Tribal Council, but by that point there was nothing he could do about it; and Helen was utterly clueless until the knife had been plunged in deep. Compare that situation with Edge of Extinction (a season many of us would otherwise like to forget), where Stephen Fishbach said in his blog, “If this Survivor season is remembered for anything, it should be that it showed how disastrous it is to turn on your alliance too soon. The entire post merge has been players getting restless, voting out their allies, and immediately being hoisted out of the game themselves. Eric turned on Joe, and was gone the next week. Julia turned on Eric, then she was out. Wardog turned on Wentworth, then he was immediately gone. It’s a reminder that the fundamental unit of Survivor strength is still – and will always be – the alliance. Upend it at your peril.”
As I was looking back over the rules, I realized that I never added anything, until now, about Big Moves. Yes, we know it’s in the Survivor lingo and Jeff Probst/production really wants everyone to think they need to make Big Moves in this game. But as we’ve been saying for a while now, what production wants is not necessarily what a player wants. Remember, they’re making a TV show, players are trying to win the game, and Big Moves are generally not how it’s done. As we’ve discussed on the podcast many times, often when someone makes a Big Move, they’re out at the next vote, if not the very same vote at which they’re trying to make that Big Move! Winners generally make lots of good, small moves. People may want to talk about the Big Moves on your resume, but more often than not, it falls into this rule as scheming and plotting too much.
I have to say that I feel the need to single out Tony as an exception to this rule. It’s still not entirely clear to me how he managed to make it through. There were certainly times when I felt he backstabbed too soon or made unnecessary moves. But no matter how he did it, future contestants should not count on being able to duplicate it!