Feeling bored this Wednesday? Looking for something interesting to read? Well Survivor Oz is here to help with another weekly Survivor Oz Top Ten! This week’s article comes from Ozlet Clayton Shirley, who counts down Survivor’s top ten underrated strategists. Over the years, Survivor has evolved into a game based mainly on strategy, and although some players are widely recognised for their strategic prowess, many players go unnoticed and are even criticised for their style of game play. Below are ten of these lesser known Survivor strategists, many of whom are winners of their respective seasons. Who will make number one? You’ll have to read on to find out.
10. Natalie White – Samoa
I don’t believe Natalie White to be a great strategist, but I do believe her to be an underrated one and that’s what this list is about. Known as the girl who should have lost to Russell Hantz, Natalie made her choices early in the game and stuck by them. It was no accident Natalie attached herself to Russell, as she states that she knows she can beat him in the finals as early as Episode Four of Survivor: Samoa. Natalie never chose to kid herself. She knew she was aligning with someone who was going to do all the dirty work and make all the enemies, so she made it her job to be as sweet and friendly as possible along the way. In a way, she was to Russell what Cochran was to Dawn, but unlike Cochran, Natalie actually did something in cultivating relationships with her fellow tribe mates. She saw that Russell’s social game was horrible and decided to capitalize on it. I don’t believe that Natalie made many strategic moves in Samoa, but she made at least one big one and she made it count.
9. Phillip Sheppard – Redemption Island & Caramoan
Phillip Sheppard has been called many things, but “good strategist” is rarely one of them. True, Sheppard’s game in Redemption Island assured he could never win the top prize, but in Caramoan he showed a much keener understanding of the game. In launching Stealth-R-Us, Phillip created an alliance that comprised nearly his entire tribe, giving everyone nicknames to make them feel included. Other tribes members laughed behind his back, but the names still served their intended purpose. While many in Stealth-R-Us didn’t like Phillip or thought he was a fool, no one challenged his authority, and in letting Phillip think he was a leader when, in fact, there was no leader, he in effect became their leader. Phillip continued to sit pretty after the Merge, blindsiding his arch-enemy Corinne with the information given to him by Dawn. Had the Three Amigos not played Idols to save themselves, Phillip likely would have gone much farther in the game and, while a win would be questionable, I believe he would have performed better than many would expect.
8. Matthew von Ertfelda – Amazon
Many would consider Matthew von Ertfelda the opposite of a great strategist in that, for the majority of the game, he had no idea what he was doing. Ertfelda himself admits as much several times during the game, yet unlike so many Survivor contestants who haven’t got a clue, Ertfelda utilized his defining a trait in real life and made it his biggest asset in the game: his thirst for knowledge. One look at Ertfelda’s resume will show that he is always trying to learn or to better himself in some way. Just look at his comment about his realization that he should relax more often in everyday life, in which he muses how he should watch more television as opposed to “learning Swedish.” The guy loves to study things so that he can master them, which is exactly what he does on Survivor. He teams up with Rob, clearly an expert on the game, and studies him. Sure Rob uses Ertfelda every step of the way, but he fails to understand that he is being used as well. Ertfelda may do everything Rob says, but he does so knowingly and he’s picking up things along the way. By the time Matthew von Ertfelda found himself in the Final Three, he understood the game so well that he threw the Final Immunity Challenge (a concept suggested by Rob earlier in the game) in an attempt to avoid being forced to choose who to take to the Final Two. Ertfelda lost the final vote due to a poor social game, but he made it as far as he did by admitting his ignorance and using his assets to correct it as much as possible. It’s one thing to ride coattails the whole game with nothing to show for it, but quite another to learn from those coattails until they’re sitting on the Jury while you’re not.
7. Vecepia Towery – Marquesas
A contender for the most maligned winner of all time, Vecepia Towery is remembered for being unmemorable. While Vecepia’s onscreen persona was sorely lacking, her game play was not. Vecepia was able to manoeuvre throughout the game flying under the radar while quietly fanning the flames of other people’s conflicts. Once Vecepia’s alliance had the numbers, she used Sean as a shield to deflect any and all discord. When the time came for Kathy to make a choice between voting out Vecepia or Sean, Sean was sent home. Kathy spared Vecepia, who would go on to betray Kathy at the eleventh hour, striking a deal with Neleh and securing a place in the Final Two and ultimately the million dollars. Many on the Jury weren’t happy with their choices as to who would receive the prize, but like it or not, Vecepia had worked and earned her way there by her own subtle and extremely effective means. The first of her kind, Vecepia showed that you don’t have to be a power player to win the game, just a very clever one.
6. Clay Jordan – Thailand
Often regarded as Survivor’s first true goat, Clay Jordan suffers from a severe lack of respect from the fan community. Remembered as an unlikable bigot who was dragged to the finals, Clay was able to form a strong alliance early in the game and stick with it to the very end. In addition, Clay was actually well liked by a number of fellow tribe mates and knew the value of getting to know people, something that helped get him votes in the finals. Jordan was also able to avoid a lot of blame for the vote offs, allowing Heidik to shoulder the responsibility. I believe Clay’s reputation as a goat to be completely undeserved. Heidik might have known he could beat Clay, but this was because he knew he had secured four votes, which was all he needed. That is very different from relying on the negativity surrounding your opponent to lead to your win. Brian Heidik’s win came from his accomplishments, not Clay’s failures. Goats don’t lose by one vote.
5. Randy Bailey – Gabon
A standout in Gabon, Randy Bailey is remembered mainly for his caustic personality and for playing a fake Immunity Idol. What goes overlooked, however, is his sharp strategic ability. On the outs of his original tribe, Randy quickly saw an opportunity for survival after a tribe shake up, aligning himself with Marcus, Charlie and Corinne. Rather than be picked off as an outsider, Randy was able to put himself in a strong alliance and, for a while, he was in a very strong position in the game. Meanwhile, in Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains, Randy served as the voice of reason no one would listen to. After the Villains lost their Immunity Challenge, Randy did everything he could to get rid of the threat that was Parvati. Of course he was right and Parvati made it to the finals, taking down the rest of the contestants along with Russell. Had his tribe listened and voted Parvati out first, the entire course of the game would have changed and Russell’s place in finals would have surely vanished. I find it perplexing how Randy Bailey hasn’t lasted longer in a game of Survivor. He’s very intelligent, extremely loyal to those he’s with, he proved in Gabon to be excellent at challenges, and his personality almost guarantees that he would get few to no votes in a Final Tribal Council. I can hardly think of a better person to have on your side than the King of Gabon.
4. Deena Bennet – Amazon
An often forgotten Survivor contestant, Deena Bennet proved to be a force to be reckoned with on Survivor: Amazon. Originally a member of Jabaru, the first all-female tribe in Survivor history, Deena found herself caught in between two camps within the tribe divided by age. At thirty-five years old, it seemed Deena would naturally side with the women her own age, but Deena knew that a tribe of older women would result in a constant power struggle. Instead, she sided with the younger women, whom she knew she could control. Older, wiser, yet still personable enough to relate to the younger girls, Deena essentially became the leader of Jabaru. Once the Merge arrived, the big question became who to vote out. Deena, shrewd as ever, realized that Roger, a chauvinist disliked even by the men, would never vote for a woman in finals should he make it to the Jury. It is this kind of thinking that makes for a great Survivor strategist; Deena was thinking ahead whilst still considering what was happening in the present. Unfortunately for Deena, she also happened to playing with Rob Cesternino, and after a forming an alliance that could have been one of the most powerful in Survivor history, Deena began taking a power trip that quickly alerted Rob of the threat that she posed, causing him to turn and vote her out. Had it not been for Cesternino, Deena very likely would have won the season, and of people who deserve a second shot at the game, Deena sits very near the top.
3. Kathy Vavrick O’Brien – Marquesas
One of the great contestants of early Survivor, Kathy was funny, likable, strange, and a fierce competitor. Originally a pariah in her tribe at the start of the game, Kathy found her way back into the tribe and made a terrific run to the end of the game, just coming up short of the Final Two. At that point in time, no one had ever played a game like Kathy and very few have since. Kathy was able to pull off the rare feat of seemingly never being in a true alliance. Even once she had learned to play with others and was in with everyone else, it always looked like Kathy was a tribe of one, playing for herself in whichever way benefited her at the time. Somehow she did this without creating enemies or alienating herself. Kathy was always in the middle, choosing one side or the other, completely out of harms way. Had Kathy not lost the Final Immunity Challenge and been backstabbed by Vecepia at the last minute, Kathy surely would have proven the winner.
2. Fabio Birza – Nicaragua
With his laid back surfer dude persona, very few people were looking at Judd “Fabio” Birza as a strategic threat in Survivor: Nicaragua, which was exactly how Birza wanted it. Perceived by many as a clumsy goofball, Birza was valued by his tribe for his ability in the challenges, while never looked at as a threat due to what many saw as a lack of brains. What few appreciate is that Birza picked up on this early. Realizing that his tribe mates found him funny, likable, as well as an idiot (and therefore non-threatening), he decided to play along. It was a strategy that worked up until the final stages in the game, when the remaining players came to their senses and realized what a threat he was to win. By that time, however, it was too late, and Birza was able to dominate in the remaining Immunity Challenges and secure a win as an easy favourite between slimy villain Sash and wishy-washy Chase. Post-show interviews with Birza reveal him to be a much more cerebral person than was seen on the show and I believe he would be a top treat to win an all-winners season.
1. Tina Wesson – The Australian Outback
Rendered a non-entity due to the target on her back in Survivor: All-Stars, all of Tina’s glory lies in the Australian Outback, though that could easily change in the coming months. Tina’s win in Australia is often attributed more to Colby’s failure in choosing his opponent than her own prowess, which is a wild misconception as Tina had more strategic game play in one season than Colby has had in three. Tina’s first big move came when, on the way to Tribal Council, she swapped the votes to Mitchell, one of her own alliance members. This was only the fourth vote off of the season, and at that point in Survivor, no one had come close to making such a move so early in the game. It was a groundbreaking move by someone who was playing the game hard and fast from the very start. Tina was also able to gain information from the opposing Kucha tribe during a challenge, where she discovered from Kimmi that Jeff Varner had previous votes against him and that, were it to come to a tie after the Merge, Jeff’s past votes would be enough to send him home. Sure enough, the information paid off, Jeff was voted out, and Ogakor had the lead, which they would never lose for the rest of the game. However, Tina’s masterstroke was her alliance with Colby. It’s clear from the season that Colby has a very strong relationship with his mother, something Tina sniffed out early and exploited to the fullest of her ability, acting as a mother figure for Colby the entire game. When the time came for Colby to make his decision as to who to take to the finals, he couldn’t bring himself to write down the name of his Survivor mother. Tina Wesson’s strategy might have been a quiet one, but it was incredibly effective and is one of the best games the show has ever seen.
What do you think of the top 10? Do you agree? Disagree? Is it in the wrong order or are there ones that didn’t make the top 10 that you feel should’ve? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!