Feature Articles return for another week as Ozlet Colin takes the reins to look at the Aitu Four and whether their comeback story in Survivor: Cook Islands is overrated. Widely regarded as one of the best underdog wins in the history of Survivor, Colin argues that the Aitu Four didn’t in fact have it that tough and their victory came after several questionable moves from production and because of a unstable Jury. But what do you think? Make sure you leave a comment below giving your views on the debate!
Some seasons improve on a re-watch, while the impact of other seasons will diminish over time. For the first twelve seasons of Survivor, I was completely glued to the television on a week by week basis. I would watch, record, re-watch and even compile my own highlight tapes for each season. For whatever reason, it was Cook Islands where I started to lose my initial interest in the show. Even though I continued to watch all of the further seasons, (and within a few years I was back to my watch/record/re-watch routine of the early seasons), my memory of Cook Islands was always a negative one and it literally took years for me to re-watch the entire season again.
Going into my first re-watch of Cook Islands, I expected to have many of my original opinions reversed, as is common for all of us on re-watches of Survivor. I was never a fan of the cast, but considering how many return appearances Cook Islands cast members have made since, I assumed I had missed something the first time around. I remembered the game being fairly predictable and the twists all falling flat. I considered the opinions of many Cook Islands supporters, again assuming that I had missed something. Even with my dislike of Cook Islands for years, there was one thing I was always on board with and that was the comeback of the Aitu Four alliance, in particular the game play of Yul Kwon. As much as I complained about the season, I was always a huge fan of their accomplishments as underdogs. The one thing I never expected to change in my opinions was this. Coming out of my first Cook Islands re-watch in years, to my surprise I found myself quite disappointed with the Aitu Four game.
Let me preface this article by saying that I don’t view Cook Islands as a terrible season. There were many entertaining elements, especially following a dreary season in Guatemala and a far too negative of a season in Panama. I can understand Cook Islands being a refreshing change of pace, if viewed chronologically. I’m still not a fan of the cast, or the twists, but my main issue is the idea that I originally had, (and many others still seem to hold to this day), is that the Aitu Four were real underdogs who pulled off a miraculous comeback. Considering how the game has progressed since, I see the Aitu Four story in a completely different light. The question I want to look at today is whether or not Yul Kwon and the Aitu Four were true Survivor underdogs, or if they had a much simpler victory in the game, assisted by many poor production choices.
So without further ado….
Underdogs with Twist Assistance
The top argument I’ve always heard from fans of Cook Islands is how incredible the comeback was for the Aitu Four alliance, consisting of Yul, Ozzy, Becky and Sundra. On paper, this may sound like a great comeback story, if you look at a small section of their story. Due to a Mutiny, the power tribe of Aitu were set back in the numbers to an eight-four disadvantage. They pulled off a stunning upset and won the next few challenges, causing Rarotonga to go to the next two Tribal Councils. Yes I do see this as an interesting story, but not in the long run. This is hardly the first time a tribe has been down in numbers and pulled off a few upsets in the challenges. Did Aitu have a comeback? Absolutely. They did even the odds. Was it the greatest comeback in Survivor history? Hardly. In reality, Aitu’s comeback was cemented by a whole lot of luck due to poorly planned twists.
The message in the bottle twist was revealed at Rarotonga’s second Tribal Council visit after the Mutiny. They voted out Rebecca and immediately read the note, which instructed them to vote out another member of the tribe. Jenny then went home and in only two episodes, Rarotonga’s lead has diminished from an right-four advantage to a five-four advantage.
My argument is that Aitu were never really “the greatest underdogs in Survivor history”. Even if they were, nobody on Aitu had anything to do with the decision to hold a double vote-out, which is really what gave them the advantage going into the Merge. Even if you are to consider their back-to-back Immunity Challenge wins as a miraculous effort, you’d also have to consider the lucky break of the double vote-out as being equally responsible for their success. I have a hard time buying into a great underdog story when at least half of their success is aided by a lucky twist. Without this twist, there is no way the Aitu Four go into the Merge with any bargaining tools to swing a vote in their favour.
In my mind, there is one other component that is missing from making the Aitu Four real underdogs. They were only out of power for a few days. Looking at the big picture, the Aitu Four lost power in episode nine and regained full control at the end of episode eleven. They were only out of power officially for two episodes. Greater comebacks stories have been made after a much longer drought in the game.
The Issue of the Invincible Idol
This was of course known on screen as the regular Immunity Idol, but make no doubt about it, it made the holder of it so invincible that they were all but guaranteed a smooth road to the finale. Unlike every season to follow, in Cook Islands you could play the Idol even after the votes had been read. Where this helps a contestant is that they can be voted out by every member of their tribe in a complete blindside, never even suspecting they were being voted for and still not go home. The new Idol makes one player in the game almost invincible. Nobody on the Rarotonga side of the game would want to risk voting out Yul, (the holder of the Idol), unless they had at least a two person advantage, which they lost due to the previously mentioned production twist.
Now let me state that I do like Yul as a player and I consider him to be a good winner. My issue again is that the Aitu tribe, (and Yul as a winner), are receiving far too much credit for something that was mostly out of their hands. There’s a good reason why the Idol rules have been changed back since Cook Islands, because the ability to play it after the votes have been read makes the player holding the Idol far too powerful, maybe even impossible to eliminate. I can give Yul credit for using the power of the Idol to turn the votes in his alliance’s favour. It was the best move he could make to swing one of the Rarotonga members, (which turned out to be Jonathan Penner), by using the Idol as leverage. Having said that, I don’t necessarily see Yul as a mastermind for coming up with this plan. I find it hard to imagine anyone in the cast not coming up with that plan had they found the Idol instead. If you receive an Idol with this much power and are down by only one member in the Merge, using the Idol as leverage to swing a vote is the most obvious strategy anyone can play. Again, don’t get me wrong, I applaud Yul for playing a great game, but he and his tribe had it a lot easier than many fans seem to remember.
The Jury Mess
Let’s do the math here. Cook Islands featured what was at the time a record three finalists. Cook Islands also featured what was at the time a record nine Jury members. The Merge came when the season was down to a final nine. That left the first three Jury members, Brad, Rebecca and Jenny outside of the Merge. How can any Jury make an informed decision on a winner without having played directly with all of the players? With a Final Three, there was always a possibility of a three way tie. How sad would it have been if a three way tie had occurred and a third of the Jury never made the Merge, therefore never playing an individual game with those in the finals? There’s a reason why Jeff Probst has always said that the final Jury vote is where you will be held accountable for your actions. Survivor is divided into two sections, a team section and then an individual section. Thirty-three percent of the Jury never even competed in the individual section. To make matters worse, the Final Three were made up of three members of the Aitu Four alliance. Yul and Becky had played with Brad and Jenny earlier in the game, but only for the first six days. Their original tribe never attended Tribal Council, meaning that even though these members of the Jury had been tribe mates with two of the finalists, they never officially played the game with any of the finalists.
Obviously the flawed Jury system in Cook Islands had no impact on whether or not the Aitu Four made it further in the game, but it does leave a bad taste for the final vote; regardless of how the finale plays out. Although I do believe Yul was the best choice for a win, the question remains whether he could have won if he had played with the first three Jury members. Maybe Yul would have lost some support had he been the one responsible for their exits. Maybe Yul could have won by a much larger majority had the first three Jury members had the chance to really see him play and not just hear about it second-hand from the other players or by watching Tribal Councils transpire. With the final Jury votes coming down to five for Yul and four for Ozzy, the chance of someone like Brad voting for Ozzy because he didn’t have the chance to play the individual game firsthand is a scary thought. The lack of game knowledge from a third of the Jury leaves too many questions unanswered for this to be viewed as a fair and informed Jury vote.
The question that I wanted to pose is whether or not the Aitu Four were true underdogs or if they had an easy road to victory. In the end, it was kind of a middle ground between the two. On screen, there’s no doubt that Cook Islands is made more enjoyable by viewing them as underdogs, but I personally find it too hard to accept their game as a one of a kind comeback story as their legacy suggests. Bigger comebacks have been made, with virtually no luck or assistance from production choices, such as in Tocantins. Furthermore, the luck of the draw with the message in the bottle and Immunity Idol twists are exactly the kind of twists that anger so many fans in recent seasons. Maybe a more interesting discussion would be whether or not the Aitu Four or Cook Islands as a season would be viewed more negatively if it transpired exactly the same in the modern age of Survivor.
Do you agree or disagree with Colin? Is the Aitu Four comeback overrated or is Colin completely wrong in his argument? Comment below to let us know!