Monday is here once again which means another Feature Article is coming your way! This week, Mr. Nick Chester, takes a look at how and why the social game can win you Survivor. In his article, Nick discuss why strong social players sometimes don’t get “big edits”, how human empathy can make a Jury member simple vote for the "nicest finalist and lists examples of why good social players won their respective seasons! Don’t forget that you can get involved by leaving your thoughts in a comment below!
Outwit. Outplay. Outlast. This very famous mantra has been a part of Survivor since the beginning as is the essence of what it takes to win the game as its most fundamental level. Survivor editing is able to show the first two of these very easily and does so to great effect. We can all name with ease many great strategic players and gifted challenge competitors. However, I don’t think the show does a good job of highlighting good social players. This seems to be harder to show than a big challenge win or bold strategic move, so the value of it becomes sidelined. I have read many comments Jeff has made about needing to “make big moves” to win Survivor. But the comments about being well liked and respected are less and less common. This can then lead to a lot of frustration from viewers when a season is won by someone whose game is built primarily on the ability to be well liked, such as Natalie White or Fabio, and not on making big flashy moves.
Survivor is a long game and the ability to be simultaneously well liked but not so well liked that you are a threat is difficult. Amongst all the challenges, blindsides and Idol hunting, the real aim of the game is to remain on good terms with most players and make it to the end having not upset too many people. Ultimately making it to the end as the most well liked of the remaining players is the only goal. You only have to be one Jury vote nicer than your opponent to win the game. Whilst it is possible to win the game without particularly good strategic or challenge skills, it is simply impossible to win if you don’t have good social skills. If you aren’t well liked, the Jury won’t vote for you. Plain and simple.
Although this article has been framed around the end game, social skills obviously play an immense role throughout the duration of Survivor. We see the edited version of the show that focuses on the key events in a three day cycle, being challenges, Tribal Council and the strategising that occurs between these events. But most of the time is spent in camp and players with grating personalities would clearly become difficult to live with. Although good players will drag a “goat” to the end in order to ensure an easy win, this doesn’t happen all that often, as people’s social shortcomings often become too much to bear and lead to their downfall. For every Boston Rob dragging Phillip to the end, there is a player who just annoys their tribe mates so much that they become unbearable, and the desire to eliminate them and get some peace at camp outweighs the potential benefit of taking them to the end. In Tocantins, there is a good case to be made that the Jalapao alliance should have kept Sierra around longer as she irritated everyone so much and would be easy to beat in the end, but the social capital it would have cost to keep her there when players were desperate to see her gone ultimately made this move impossible. First boots are just as often people who fail to fit in socially as they are physical liabilities.
First boots are frequently voted out for social reasons.
Survivor’s end game is almost always a decision based on the likeability of remaining players. As has been discussed in other feature articles, understanding what drives a juror to vote the way they do is complex and a lot of factors are at play. Some jurors can lay aside personal feelings and vote for the person they think played the best game. Some will use their Jury vote in vengeance for a player that cost them the game. What seems clear is that jurors very rarely, (if ever), vote for the player left at the end that they personally like the least. They want to be able to sleep at night knowing they vote for someone worthy of the win and worthy of being the winner of the season and the person who ultimately beat them. It can often be about picking the lesser of two evils. Ultimately, a bad social game will still beat a terrible social game. Therefore, social skills are the most important factor for a player. Without them, you simply have no chance of winning. For viewers who value strategy over social skills, prepare to be disappointed regularly by the end result of the show. Expecting jurors to vote for the best strategic game and forget the hurt feelings that led to their own demise is naive and a lack of understanding of a human being’s basic desire to get even. For many of Russell’s fans, this is a particularly sore point. Likewise, viewers who expect challenge dominators to win based solely on this skill will often be disappointed. Ozzy’s close loss in Cook Islands doesn’t just demonstrate Yul’s strategic acumen but his considerable social skills. Two of his five votes, (Adam and Penner), were in large part due to his ability to work with and befriend them even though they had been working towards different objectives. Yul’s strategic and social skills are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate them.
This is not a new development. Winners such as Richard, Brian and Jenna were far from universally loved by the Jury but were preferable to their opponents. You don’t need to be loved – just better liked than the person/people next to you, and only by one vote. Cochran, J.T. and Earl may have won unanimously, but it doesn’t earn them any extra money than players who win by one vote.
Here are a few other examples.
One World is a really good example of how being a good social player will win you the game. Kim is often lauded for her impressive strategic game and challenge prowess, as she rightly should. However, she went to the Final Three with probably her two biggest threats in Sabrina and Chelsea, who had both shown themselves to be good players of the game, at least to a degree. It’s easy to say that Kim won the game because she played a better strategic game than her two opponents, but the reality is that she was the best liked. Jurors had no problem voting for her because they liked her more than her opponents. This was foreshadowed throughout the season through confessionals from other players who viewed Chelsea as distant and lacking warmth and Sabrina as lazy. Kim went to great lengths to ensure people liked her and could relate to her. If you need more evidence for this, (and the fourteen episodes of One World should be all the proof you need), watch the secret scenes following Kat’s vote out in Blood vs. Water, which show her luxury item as a framed picture of her with Kim!
Kim was a great strategist but an even better social player
Nicaragua provides another insight to this dynamic. Fabio certainly is not renowned for outwitting or outplaying anyone, (apart from a well timed Immunity run at the end of the season). He is often ranked at the bottom of a list of winners in terms of his strategic ability and I don’t think it’s unfair to say he often had little clue as to what was happening round him. However, he was clearly the best liked of the Final Three. Sash played a pretty incredible strategic game, (especially when what must have been his planned opponents in the Final Three quit with ten days to go), but was seen as sleazy and disingenuous. Chase was seen as indecisive and noncommittal and did a phenomenal job at the Final Tribal Council to earn four votes. Fabio had to do very little other than be himself. His likeability and down to earth attitude were appealing characteristics that allowed jurors to easily cast a vote for him in the end. His lack of strategic awareness mattered very little when it really counted.
I have saved the best example for last. The argument that Sandra is the best player because she has won twice is often disputed by fans who say she did nothing to get there and doesn’t have a good strategic game. Although I am not Sandra’s biggest fan, it does her a great disservice to claim that she doesn’t deserve her two wins because she isn’t strategic. Sandra’s success in Survivor isn’t built on strategy; it’s built on social skills. Many will say her social skills aren’t great either (She can get loud too…what the f**k!), but a lot of what Sandra does so well is stuff that isn’t shown on screen, as its either not interesting or relevant to what else is happening. Russell kept her around for a reason and that was that she swallowed her pride, realised he was in charge and then stroked his ego, telling him she couldn’t beat him at the end. She made friends in all the right places and said all the right things at the end. The “anybody but me” strategy is the ultimate in social play, even if it has strategic pitfalls. She makes herself available to anyone should they need a vote and therefore never comes off as a backstabber. She doesn’t come across as too nice and therefore threatening, and is certainly no challenge threat. By either luck or design, (and I personally think it is a combination of the two), she has arrived at Day Thirty-nine both times with people less well liked than her. If the other voting option is unpalatable, Sandra will always get enough votes. So if you ever need proof of the value of a well balanced social game to win Survivor, look no further than our only two time winner herself, Sandra.
Here’s someone who gets the social side of Survivor.
The likelihood of social skills being highlighted more clearly is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. Production has deemed it of greater importance to show the big strategic moves and spend a lot of time on challenges. So spotting what makes a good strategic game will be more difficult going forward. However, it’s unlikely to change how the eventual winner is chosen. So keep an eye for players who spend time talking to each other, are relaxed and spend time making connections that are not always for a strategic purpose. These players may stick around longer than you expect and ultimately may determine why they beat the big movers and shakers.
Do you Agree or Disagree with Nick? How important is a good social game? Let us know what you think by commenting below!