SurvivorSurvivor Cagayan

Survivor: The Unknown Does Not Instill Greed

There are only a few things I feel strongly about when it comes to Survivor:

  1. Before players hit the beach, each has a potential win percentage ranging from 0% to 100%
  2. It’s best to be a sociopath rather than a regular human being
  3. Final Tribal Council should a) be a final two and b) NOT be a surprise

With the finale around the corner, now is the perfect time to discuss #3.

Production receives flexibility with a final three and/or the unknown. Therefore, it’s understandable why this strategy is employed. After all, they’re leaving themselves outs. But at what price?

Greed and fear are the two main emotional motivators in Survivor. The latter is more prevalent and less entertaining to consume. This is because greed-based decision making produces action, whereas fear-based decision making typically produces inaction. Thus, production should be seeking an environment that induces greed, not fear.

Why it should be a final two

In today’s Survivor, a final two SHOULD result in more strategy, more blindsides and more entertainment. Yet, the main reason for not doing a final two is because it MAY produce a less entertaining Final Tribal Council.

If we dig up past seasons’ Final Tribal Council results we’d find:

  • 64% or 9 out of 14 final twos have been close contests (a one or two vote swing would result in a different winner)*
  • 46% or 6 out of 13 final threes have been close contests (a one or two vote swing BETWEEN THE WINNER AND RUNNER-UP would result in a different winner)**

I’m not sure how anyone can argue a final three is more competitive when it’s proven the exact opposite. If someone wants to argue a final three provides production with more options to make a final three SEEM more competitive, then fine. But even if this were true (which recently it hasn’t been), it would mean production values 13 pretty good episodes and a SEEMINGLY competitive Final Tribal Council over 13 amazing episodes and a POTENTIALLY less competitive Final Tribal Council.

The following will exhibit why I believe a final two would produce a more entertaining game…

Let’s say the merge occurs when 11 people are left. You’re “You” and the other players are “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, “E”, “F”, “G”, “H”, “I” and “J”.

If it were a final three, you could make five different alliances to cover all your bases:

  • You + A + B
  • You + C + D
  • You + E + F
  • You + G + H
  • You + I + J

If it were a final two, you would have to make 10 different alliances to cover all your bases:

  • You + A
  • You + B
  • You + C
  • You + D
  • You + E
  • You + F
  • You + G
  • You + H
  • You + I
  • You + J

By the looks of it, a final two makes the game much more difficult to manage. Imagine having to make double the amount of alliances in today’s Survivor. It would be a paranoia party for 13 wild episodes.

*The nine final twos that were close contests: Borneo (4-3), The Australian Outback (4-3), Africa (5-2), Marquesas (4-3), Thailand (4-3), All-Stars (4-3), Vanuatu (5-2), Panama (5-2), and Micronesia (5-3)

*The five final twos that weren’t close contests: The Amazon (6-1), Pearl Islands (6-1), Palau (6-1), Guatemala (6-1), and Tocantins (7-0)

**The six final threes that were close contests: Cook Islands (5-4-0), China (4-2-1), Gabon (4-3-0), Heroes vs Villains (6-3-0), Nicaragua (4-3-0), and South Pacific (6-3-0)

**The seven final threes that weren’t close contests: Fiji (9-0-0), Samoa (7-2-0), Redemption Island (8-1-0), One World (7-2-0), Philippines (6-1-1), Caramoan (8-0-0) and Blood vs Water (7-1-0)

Why it should NOT be a surprise

Humans are more fearful than they are greedy and the number of seats available at Final Tribal Council being unknown perpetuates this reality. It boils down to the simple question every human would ask themselves: Why take on more risk for something that might not happen?

Before you get any ideas, telling the players it’s a final two when it’s actually a final three would be foolish. It would accomplish the ultimate goal (a more entertaining 13 episodes) at the expense of players’ trust going forward. Thus, future players would do what they do now; resort to playing cautiously.

The typical counter argument is that a final two makes it harder for the best player to win because they basically have to win the last Immunity Challenge. If it’s a KNOWN final two and the best player doesn’t win the last Immunity Challenge and they want to be considered the best, then they better have put themselves in a position to be taken to the final two. It’s their job as a player to give themselves the best chance possible of a) getting to the final two and b) winning the final two. Anything less means they are not the best.

One main emotional motivator

Production’s decision to have a final three and/or the unknown is ironically, driven by THEIR fear of the unknown. Their fear of a POTENTIALLY less entertaining Final Tribal Council. Their fear of casting decisions POTENTIALLY being incorrect. Their fear of POTENTIALLY not having a worthwhile winner or story to tell.

If production’s goal is to produce the best possible product, a KNOWN final two will get them just that.

Because as they’re well aware, the unknown does not instill greed. It instills the opposite. 


Finale gambling prediction

Before last week’s episode I was certain Tony comes in fourth, Woo gets third, and Spencer beats Kass to earn the title of Sole Survivor. I felt the same way immediately after the episode and even a day later, as I emailed Michel Trudeau Thursday evening saying how all I heard during the Immunity Challenge were Probst’s in-a-studio voiceovers of a Spencer “comeback”.

But um, I recant. You’re always changing your mind! With new information comes new opinions. Be a man and stand behind your prediction! What? This has nothing to do with being a man. You’re a scatterbrain like Tony! Stop yelling at me, Trish.

Fine, who are you picking to win now? Woo. You have to be kidding me. Hear me out. The only thing I hear is a fish out of water flipping and flopping! Heck, maybe I’ll start calling my flip-flops Nick-flops.

The only way to analyze AND play this game is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes AS THAT PERSON. No, the only way to analyze and play this game is to treat it as a zero-sum game and figure out what the best move is for each person. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Jeff Probst, you know, the guy who hosts the show, agrees with me! Well, he’s lying or wrong.

At final four, Kass is safe because everyone wants to take her to the end. Tony is safe due to the ambiguity of the Special Idol. Spencer might call his bluff since he’s a superfan and should know idols can’t be played once four people remain. Hey, what’s the title of this column?

Either way, it comes down to the Immunity Challenge. If Spencer wins, Woo goes home. If Woo wins, Spencer goes home. I 100% agree, but hold on, let me touch upon the ambiguity of the Special Idol.

As much as I love Tony and feel apathetic towards Spencer, it’s bullsh*t that Tony’s going to make the final three due to the hidden rules of the Special Idol. And I’m not blaming Tony for this. It’s his job to look for an advantage any which way he can. But gosh darn it, now’s the time to let the social strategies flourish or come to a screeching halt.

Anyhow, the only way to predict who goes home between Spencer and Woo is by dissecting what we’ve been shown from a storytelling point of view. Spencer’s story of a comeback now seems excessive to me. It’s like bagel shops that spread an insane amount of cream cheese on your toasted sesame bagel. No, really, that’s way too much cream cheese. You’re totally from Jersey.

À la Malcolm Freberg, I believe his story was crafted to invoke strong feelings of disappointment and outrage when he’s voted out in fourth.

At final three, Kass is obviously safe. It comes down to the Immunity Challenge again. If Tony wins, Woo goes home. If Woo wins, Tony goes home. What if Kass wins this one? No chance. Wouldn’t it be fantastic television if Kass decided who wins $1,000,000? Yes, but it’s not happening. Okay, but just to let you know, she’d pick Woo out of vengeance via rationalization. Doesn’t matter, not happening.

Tony’s story of kill or be killed has been in direct contrast with Spencer’s. Therefore, if Spencer’s elimination leaves the audience feeling burned, Tony’s subsequent elimination will serve as their relief. Like aloe!

I believe Tony’s story was crafted to invoke strong feelings of satisfaction and joy when he’s voted out in third.

With a Woo win, I believe we’ll simply be reminded: when contestants have fun playing the game, we have fun watching them play it. 

Instead of “10 sentences or less”, I present my reactions in GIF form for the potential winner of Survivor: Cagayan!

4. Spencer @SpencerBGM

If Spencer wins…


3. Tony @tony_vlachos

If Tony wins…


2. Kass @KassMcQ

If Kass wins…


1. Woo @YungWoo23

If Woo wins…


Always keep your opponents guessing…

Thank you for bantering with me. It was a pleasure.

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