Guest Post: What Mistakes Did Roxy Make on Survivor?

The following is a guest post from Contributor, Glenn Holford  – @GlennHolford

Here’s what’s great about Survivor: it’s more than just a game. It’s an authentic human drama that plays out for us week by week. The people are real. The emotions are real. The rules that govern politics in Survivor are the same rules that govern all human interaction. If we’re patient, and if we let it, the game can teach us about ourselves.

Jealousy. Lust. Subterfuge. Despair. Days 3-6 were eventful for Roxanne Morris on Survivor. Normal people don’t experience that many emotions that quickly unless they were passengers on the Titanic. Roxy may not have seen that movie though, or else she’d have learned that loose lips sink ships.

Survivor, like life, is a teacher. Sometimes in life, you’re on the outside looking in. Sometimes you want what someone else has. Sometimes you have to negotiate treacherous relationships. There are winning ways to cope with these challenges, and then there are losing ways. Generally, in Survivor, as in life, if you seek to take what someone else has, you better make sure you brought enough guns.

Roxanne claimed that her outrage over a budding relationship in her tribe was purely strategic. And, her argument was strong. The history of Survivor is on her side. Close pairs run games. Amber Brkich & Rob Mariano, Stephen Fishbach & JT Thomas, Yul Kwon & Becky Lee, Kim Spradlin & Chelsea Meissner, Russell Hantz & Natalie White. If you see a relationship budding, you have to take it as a serious threat.

Just ask RC Saint-Amour and Abi-Maria Gomes, the Yellow Tribe’s resident minxes. Even while they’re sharing idol clues and professing their devotion to one another, they’re jealously appraising each other’s side-relationships for hints of betrayal. They could have built an unbreakable alliance of their own, but each is too afraid of the other’s charisma. Neither wants to find herself facing a power couple. In Survivor, as in life, relationships are incredibly powerful things.

But Roxy’s body language, eye-rolling, and accusatory tone of voice at Tribal Council seem to betray in her another motive, quite apart from pure strategy. I think Roxy had a little crush on the Blue Tribe’s resident heartthrob, Malcolm Freberg. It seemed to really bother her that Angie was receiving so much of his attention. To put it another way, I think she got a little booty-blind.

Here’s the problem: Malcolm is the power player on the Matsing tribe. He has skillfully built relationships with everyone on his tribe. He’s also a physical asset in the challenges. He is far and away in the safest position on his tribe. No one wants him gone, and even if they did, they would never be able to summon the political capital to make it happen. There aren’t enough votes up for grabs.

This is a lesson in politics. Roxanne was right to be wary of Angie Layton. But she doesn’t control nearly enough votes in her tribe to go public with an assault. This needed to be a stealth assassination, carried out in the shadows. If you go loud inSurvivor, you better have already assembled your army behind you.

So how could you go about unseating the Beauty Queen? Subterfuge. Let’s look at what we have to work with. Russell Swan is weak, having narrowly escaped elimination last week. His vote is up for grabs. He’ll be only too glad to throw someone else under the bus. And if doing so happens to weaken Malcolm, so much the better for his game. Russell’s vote can be counted on. The scheming could have begun there.

Where Roxanne really fumbled the ball was in dealing with the Blue Tribe’s resident swing vote, Denise Stapely. Denise is crucial to her plan. You have to secure Denise’s vote, or there’s no way you can have enough guns to take Angie out. It becomes impossible. It becomes an exercise in futility. The numbers don’t lie: if you don’t have Denise, you don’t have anything. So, how do you get Denise? Well, you talk to Denise the way that she wants to be talked to. You give her what she needs. You earn her trust. Roxanne failed to do this. Instead, she pushed Denise farther and farther away by failing to be deliberate and conscientious with her communication.

In Survivor, as in life, communication is not about the message you intend to send, it’s about the message you actually do send. Intentions are irrelevant. Interpretation is what matters. People will form conclusions about you based on things that you might not have even known you were doing. I don’t think Roxanne realized that she was alienating Denise by praying in tongues. This is because Roxanne fundamentally lacks intuition. If you want to see an intuitive player, look at Malcolm.

Malcolm knows that the tribe is mad at him before anyone says a word. He also knows why. He knows that it’s probably Roxy who’s the most upset. He knows what Russell is thinking. He knows how to string Denise along. He even knows what Jeff is going to ask him at Tribal Council before he does! How? Malcolm is able to put himself in other peoples’ shoes in real time, and cater his communication to what the other person needs. That’s powerful. And it’s helpful to look at the game the way that he does. How would Malcolm have appraised Denise, if he were in Roxanne’s position?

Well, what do we know about Denise? We know that she’s a Sex Therapist. That tells us she’s highly educated, likely scientifically-oriented, hard-working. You win her over by displaying trustworthiness, and a willingness to work hard around camp. Her scientific background doesn’t necessarily mean that she can’t be a woman of strong faith, but it’s probably best to be reserved about overt expressions of faith that might alienate her, at least until you have more information. We can also surmise that she’s likely to be people-oriented, service-oriented, and that she finds it rewarding to help others. In other words, she’s the ideal right-hand man for Malcolm, and you can bet he knows it. He’ll be protecting her vote closely. Roxanne, of course, sees none of this.

So, if Roxanne doesn’t rub Denise the wrong way, and presents her with a clear logical argument for why Angie is the biggest threat in the game, does Denise vote her out? I’m not sure, only Denise knows that, but I don’t think so. Malcolm would have interpreted that as a betrayal, and Denise is in a much better position with Malcolm on her side. I don’t think that she would cut ties with Malcolm to help Roxy advance her game. If Roxy were more intuitive, I think she would have come to this conclusion as well. The best thing for Roxy to do is shut her mouth, and hope that Russell is the next one to go.

Think about it, last week Roxy seemed close with Angie. They were scheming together about voting Russell out. If Angie gets close with Malcolm, I would argue that could be good for Roxanne. Angie would need a right-hand man of her own. Angie’s not dumb, she knows Malcolm has Denise. And she will try to burn Malcolm at some point. Roxy could have been her pocket vote for that move. Angie would have protected her to keep that possibility alive. Angie and Roxy have a mutual enemy in Russell, and, once he’s gone, their shared priority would have been to get rid of Denise. After that, they control Malcolm.

Jeff Probst is fond of saying, “If you want to win Survivor, you have to make a big move.” And I think that historically that’s been the case. But you don’t make your move until the conditions are correct. Roxanne had zero chance of effectively pulling off this maneuver, and so it was foolish of her to attempt it. Lesson learned.

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