Survivor: Worlds Apart

Lessons in Survivor History- The Fall of the Superfan

This week saw a much more entertaining episode of Survivor. It was fantastic to see the blue collar tribe lose immunity and have to attend Tribal Council. However, once they got there, it seemed like Dan and Mike, despite being portrayed as socially awkward and certain to be voted out, were actually in the powerful position in the tribe. I’m not sure where that came from because it definitely isn’t the story that the edit has been telling us, but nonetheless, I was thrilled to see Dan and Mike, both huge fans of the show, in a safe spot.

After being confused by blue collar dynamics in the first episode, it was the portrayal of Max and Shirin that raised a lot of questions for me in the second. While it was no surprise that Max was voted out, and the seeds for this storyline had been there for the last two episodes, I was surprised that the editors chose to throw Max and Shirin, the biggest superfans out there, under the bus. They were both portrayed as on the outs solely because of how annoying they are to live with, and while we have been presented with a number of reasons that someone might find Shirin annoying, it seemed that Max’s most irritating trait was his love for the game of Survivor, something that I would expect the editors to celebrate him for instead of turning his love for the game into a cause for mockery. While I will be honest and say that I was not enjoying watching Max the Survivor player (I found his constant references to the television show to be a little gimmicky), I really didn’t enjoy the message of the last episode- that loving Survivor is acceptable (Jenn has been shown as someone who has seen every season), but being a superfan (like Max, Shirin, or Dan) makes you a bit of a freak.

spencerimg8Survivor has had a long history of superfans, from season two’s Mitchell Olsen to season 29’s Reed Kelly, and there were plenty of places that we could have looked for this week’s lesson in Survivor history. But for a player who prided himself in his encyclopaedic knowledge of the television show, but proved to have a poor grasp of the social aspect of the game, we are going back to season 18, Survivor: Tocantins, and 12th place finisher Spencer Duhm.

Spencer played Survivor at the age of 18 and was a huge fan of the show. He had watched since the first season and knew the game extremely well. In his bio, he claimed that his knowledge would give him a huge advantage, describing himself as a fanatic. When he began the game on the Jalapão tribe, he was excited to start playing and realising ,what was for him, a childhood dream.

Unfortunately for Spencer, his game never really got started. He was never able to get himself into a good position, although he was able to survive his first two Tribal Councils. He was unable to form real bonds with the people on his tribe, and had the extra bad luck of being on a tribe that was down in the numbers and needed challenge strength. He was sent home before the merge in 12th place.

The biggest flaw in Spencer’s game was his failure to understand the importance of the social game. While the other members of his tribe were creating bonds, Spencer was quiet, sitting back and not taking part in tribe conversations. Part of this was due to his desire to keep his sexuality under wraps- a lot of the tribal conversation revolved around relationships, and Spencer, not wanting to reveal that he was homosexual, hung back and didn’t take part. This reluctance to reveal anything about himself led to his tribemates seeing him as untrustworthy. When he gave a poor performance in a crucial challenge, Spencer was sent home.

We have no shortage of fans on season 30- unlike last season, I think the majority of this cast are applicants rather than recruits, and some applicants have applied multiple times. Before the season, most commentators believed that this would make for a superior season of Survivor with Jeff Probst’s enthusiastic backing of the season 30 cast adding fuel to people’s suspicions. Surely, with so many people that knew the game, we were going to see some outstanding strategy. And so far, this hasn’t been the case. Joaquin, who had no knowledge of the game going in, has proven more adept at the crucial skill of building relationships than any of the so called superfans.

Certainly, being a recruit does not mean that somebody is going to be terrible at the game. In season 14, eventual winner Earl Cole had not even seen the show until weeks before heading out to play. As recently as last season, we had Natalie Anderson, who had been recruited and had very little previous knowledge of Survivor, outwitting and outlasting those who had been watching the show for years. I do not think that you need to be a fan of the show to be successful at the game. But what is curious is how often the opposite seems to be true- that often, but not always, superfans seem destined for early, often humiliating exits.

Max, Shirin, Dan, Mike, Carolyn and Jenn have all been depicted as big fans of the show. For Shirin, coming on the show was a lifelong dream, and she has spent time preparing for this experience. She talked about how she had prepared herself to slaughter chickens by practising on rabbits, an anecdote which impressed no one, and further alienated Joaquin, who compared Shirin to a sociopath in his confessional. Compare that to the attitude of the no collar tribe. When they won the chickens and chose to eat one of them, Hali asked Joe if he had ever done this before. Joe responded “No!” gleefully, and the two of them proceeded to kill the chicken effectively.

Dan has been trying to get on the show for years and claims to be an expert in talking to women. Yet after returning from Tribal Council, where the majority alliance had split the votes between Lindsey and Sierra to protect themselves from an idol play and sent Sierra’s main ally Lindsey home, Dan proceeded to alienate Sierra telling her everything that she had done badly in the game so far and leaving Sierra seething. Compare that to the way that no collar treated Will, who was in the same situation (he had received votes from the majority alliance to protect themselves from an idol play). They immediately embraced him, told him that nobody wanted him to go home, and then killed a chicken in his honour for his birthday. As a consequence, Sierra is desperate to turn against Dan and the rest of his alliance, whereas Will is staunchly loyal to Jenn and Hali, despite being in a situation where he could have ruined their games.

Max, Shirin, Mike and Dan have all been portrayed as annoying to varying degrees. Curiously though, when blue collar went to Tribal Council, Mike’s insistence on constantly working, which had seemed to be such a big issue, didn’t even play a part in the decision. Being a fan of the show has only been a positive thing for Jenn and Carolyn, who both credited their long time viewing of the show for being able to find an idol without a clue. Other than Jenn and Carolyn, we’ve seen the fans of the show deliver less than stellar social performances, and in the case of Max and Shirin, it seems to be that their love of Survivor is directly responsible for this.

The very first thing that Shirin said to her new tribemates was “I don’t know how big of a fan you guys are of the show or anything”- and this was in response to Max telling everyone she was a good cook. Max was seen telling a clearly bored Jenn all about the astrological signs of former winners. When discussing who to vote off, Jenn said “Why’d they let us know they knew so much about Survivor?”, almost making it seem that it was that fatal error that turned everyone against them.

I don’t think it was their superfan status that got Max voted out. I don’t think it was their incessant talking about the game, or the fact that Max can reel off the names of the post-swap tribes of One World that got Max voted out. However, I don’t think it helped. At Tribal Council, Shirin said to Jeff “I’m assuming everyone here appreciates my fandom”, which was met with eye rolls from everybody else. They clearly didn’t appreciate the incessant Survivor talk, but both Max and Shirin had other social problems that ended up being a bigger factor.

Jenn had so many wonderful confessions in this week’s second episode. Nearly every one of them was about how annoyed she was with Max and Shirin. She couldn’t stand either of them from the start. I think that both the no collar tribe and the blue collar tribe were already feeling some animosity towards the white collar tribe (no collar cheered blue collar on in the first immunity challenge and cheered when the white collar tribe lost immunity), and so Jenn was probably never going to love Shirin. But Shirin’s approach of immediately assuming that they were all family and therefore she should tell everyone her life story was the worst possible strategy to take. The no collar tribe see themselves as laid back, and they want to play the game with like-minded people (just look at the way that they voted out Nina, as much for not fitting in as for not being an asset in challenges). Shirin talked too much about everything- Jenn claimed that she knew her life story within 12 hours of meeting her. The secret scenes this week show Shirin regaling her new tribe with the monkey sex story. When she told it to the white collar tribe, it served to paint a big target on her back according to Tyler, and it had the same effect on Hali and Jenn (and presumably Kelly and Will also).

The bigger problem was the breaking off into an obvious twosome, strategising obviously, and making themselves look as untrustworthy as possible. When Will spoke about his vote, he didn’t bring up the constant referencing of Survivor trivia. He said “The debate tonight is between Max and Shirin; who is the most annoying? I think it’s about neck and neck because neither one of them will shut up, and they won’t stop strategising.” While the rest of the tribe sat chatting together, Max and Shirin were huddled together, strategising about the need to blindside Will unaware that everyone was noticing their behaviour. Carolyn had no reason to stay with them- they ignored her completely. When Shirin caught Carolyn for their discussion in the water, she mentioned that they haven’t had any time together yet- she had clearly taken Carolyn’s allegiance for granted, and had done nothing to ensure that she still had Carolyn on her side.

This is exactly the same mistake being made by Dan and Mike over on the blue tribe- they do realise that there is a possibility that Sierra might not be on the same page as them. They recognise the danger that she might flip over to join Tyler, Joaquin and Joe, and yet one of the first things they do when they get to camp is to leave her alone with them. As soon as she was left alone, Sierra wasted no time in telling the men how badly she had been treated by her original tribe, and told them that she was looking for new alliances. If she hadn’t been left alone, if Mike had tried to work on her emotions first, it could have worked out differently. As it was, the damage is perhaps not too bad, as their tribe is so physically strong that they are unlikely to visit Tribal Council before the merge anyway. But taking Sierra’s allegiance for granted, and leaving her alone while she was in such an emotional state was not good play by those who are such huge fans of the show.

In season 18, Spencer got a much softer edit than Max and Shirin did in season 30. Spencer was presented as naïve- a superfan who thought he understood the game, but was perhaps a little young and innocent to really play. We didn’t see him make any alliances (although he voted with the majority in both tribal councils that he attended, and so must have had some strategic discussions) and when it was clear that he would be going home, he didn’t appear to even try to save himself. Spencer seemed to be somebody that was too young to play the game. He wasn’t a victim of hubris; he never felt like he was in control. Ultimately, although they may have had different edits, the reason that Spencer lost is the same reason that Max lost- he failed to create strong bonds within his tribe. The other person on the chopping block, Taj, had created a strong 2-person alliance with Stephen and had someone to advocate for her. Spencer didn’t have that. Because he neglected (or wasn’t able) to form those tight bonds, he was voted out.

Spencer’s biggest problem in the game was actually deliberate strategy on his part. He didn’t want to tell anyone about his sexuality as he felt that it would give them a reason to vote him out even if it was only subconscious. This led to him being guarded, which impeded on his ability to bond with the tribe. It is ironic that the strategy that he felt would allow him to blend in with the tribe and fly under the radar was actually the thing that made him stand out the most. While everyone else was getting to know each other and being open and vulnerable, Spencer’s unwillingness to join some conversations made him the social outcast and put a target on his back.

nagaroteShirin is now in the same position with her ally gone and Carolyn clearly not on her side. She seems like an easy option to vote out in the likely event that Nagarote lose the next immunity. I cannot think of a single challenge that they could possibly win, and although stranger things have happened, I expect to see them back at Tribal Council this week. If Shirin wants to save herself, she needs to turn her superfandom from a liability into her biggest asset.

In Survivor: Cagayan, Spencer (another superfan) was able to use his knowledge of the game to show the other players why keeping him was in their best interests. Shirin needs to do the same thing. She has to know that the merge is coming- in all likelihood, the merge will happen when there are 12 players left, which leaves only one vote- and she should appeal to Hali and Jenn, showing them that there is no benefit for them in voting her out, especially when both Carolyn and Kelly are so dangerous.

In a merge, there is no doubt that Kelly returns to her blue collar alliance. As far as Jenn and Hali know, the blue collars are still five people strong. They have no reason to think that Sierra was on the outs. This means that blue collar are the largest tribe left in the game, and that alone makes Kelly dangerous. At the merge, there is no way that Kelly is sticking around to be the fifth or sixth person in the no collar alliance when she seems to have a solid final three deal with Dan and Mike- both of whom are at times abrasive enough to bring to the end and beat. Kelly is not on the same side as Jenn and Hali, and they should get rid of her while they can.

Carolyn has proven that she will flip on an alliance, and Shirin could easily sell her as being untrustworthy. She also has Tyler and Joaquin to join up with, and there is no guarantee that she will remain with the no collar alliance either.

Unfortunately  for Shirin, it is going to be hard to make an appeal to Jenn and Hali when neither of them can stand her. Neither of them are strictly logical players- they pride themselves on playing with their hearts and being laid back. It amazed me that it was only after losing immunity that Jenn and Hali had a conversation about how they could convince Kelly to vote with them. Surely they could have looked at the other tribe and guessed that they were going to be headed to Tribal at some point before the merge. Max and Shirin saw their need for Kelly’s vote instantly, and aggressively pursued it. Hali described the no collar strategy as “we can just sit back and watch and our plan just comes to us”. And so far, it has. The gift of Carolyn’s vote just dropped into their laps; there was no skill on the part of the no collars. And  if their strategy of just sitting back and letting their plans come to them has worked so far, I don’t know how Shirin can convince them to abandon their strategy now and make a proactive move to set themselves up for the merge. Shirin isn’t going to stick with white collar anymore. She might be annoying, obsessed with monkey sex and the world’s worst whistler, but she’s a much more attractive ally than Kelly is- if only the no collar alliance can see it.

I hope that Survivor continues to cast superfans. I think they bring something amazing to the show. And I am always going to be rooting for a superfan who is living out their dream over someone who has never watched the show and is only looking to be on television. But for the superfans to truly impact the game, they need to stop being overawed by it. Both Spencer on season 18, and Max and Shirin this season, have spent most of their time on Survivor as spectators. If Shirin wants to continue in her dream, she needs to stop watching the game, calm her giddiness somewhat, and start actively participating- watching and noticing those around her, listening to them more than she is speaking, and trying to convince them to act in their own best interests without assuming that everyone will be acting in hers. She’s up against it, but there is a way out of her seemingly hopeless situation. I’ve loved her since I saw her awkwardly marching along the beach in her CBS intro video, so I will be hoping she can find it.

Become a patron of RHAP