The Aitu Four: True Underdogs or Easy Road to Victory?

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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!

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19 Comments on The Aitu Four: True Underdogs or Easy Road to Victory?

  1. I like the idea of the article, but an 8-4 tribal disadvantage is usually insurmountable. I do not understand how the argument about the jury (which was one of the focal points of the article) had any correlation to whether or not the Aitu Four are overrated.

    I guess it is a tough article to write though since you kind of have to argue against facts so I commend the effort!

    • I completely agree that the 8-4 disadvantage was nearly insurmountable, but the point of the article was that their miraculous overcoming of those odds had more to do with the luck of production twists than it had to do with anything the Aitu alliance did on their own.

      As far as the jury goes, I said above that I don’t believe the jury mess had anything to do with them mounting a comeback and gaining the numbers that led them to the finals, but I absolutely believe their overall win is tainted by an uninformed jury. When 1/3 of the jury never played the individual game, their votes are almost throwaways. Imagine if Joel and Dirk had made the jury in Borneo, or if Tracy and Chet had made the jury in Micronesia. They just didn’t have the knowledge of the game and the players to make an informed decision. Nobody in the Aitu alliance ever had to be held accountable for 1/3 of the Cook Islands jury exits, and were not even present in their vote outs. The fact that this past week in Cagayan Alexis was not announced as a jury member shows that production learned from the mistake. Putting someone on the jury who has no chance of playing with the finalists makes any vote they would have irrelevant. I like that Yul one, and I’m glad the votes shaped up that way, but with so many on the jury never being able to play the game, it easily could have gone a different way.

    • The moves from production could go both way so its unfair to take away from the performance Aitu 4 has put on. I understand viewers can easily bias towards the more “fun” and good looking Raro but still…

      And you can’t win the game without any sorts of luck. Like Yul says you need to capitalize the good luck and deflect the bad luck.

      I don’t see it as “predictable” when a game plan works perfectly. Perhaps viewers read too much spoilers from TDT back then. Still no one had predicted Yul would turn a 4-5 number to a 5-4 advantage instead of playing the HII to save himself / his alliances into merge. Back then nobody would have guessed Yul to trust the mutineer again.

      You can always flush the HII no matter what type it is. Nothing is “invincible” on Survivor. The key to a successful Plan Voodoo is timing and to act fast before its too late!

      With memorable players such as Poverty, Candice, Ozzy, and Jonathan you can consider Cook Islands as a season of semi-all-stars. And yes Yul would have gained more jury votes in today season, well at least one from Poverty’s.

      One of the best underdog wins? Most definitely. A 8-4 advantage is huge one can easily predict that after the merge the underdog will be picked off one by one “like zits.” But because the season was based on tribes being racial, once the minorities began diminishing the Raro like hot knife through butter, of course the majority viewers would lose interested.

  2. Nice article. I was there and I can tell you that because production treated Cook Islands as a re-boot there was a l

    • Because production treated Cook Islands as a reboot there was a lot of experimentation. Some things needed the bugs worked out of others they dropped from future seasons.

      BTW. It was the thirteenth season. Just saying. Nice job none the less.

  3. i personally prefer Foa Foa 4 rather than Aitu 4 since Rusell Hantz is more impressive in eliminating a majority tribe one by one. Ozzy and Russell should have won their 1st seasons in my opinion.

  4. Thank you so much for writing this! The Aitu Four did not make a come back on their own. They got there with the help of the most blatant riggage Survivor has ever seen (other than handing Russell H an idol every time he needed one). It sucks that it happened but I definitely understand why. Burnett and Co. love a good underdog comeback story and I don’t think a season involving the tribes being divided by race ending with a final four of all caucasians would’ve went over very well. Oh well! Candice, Jonathan, and Parvati all got to play two more times so whateva! Although poor Adam…

  5. Survivor is never ever rigged. I truly believe the people in charge of the show respect their fans and their contestants enough to give everyone an even chance on paper. And I believe like how I set up my Survivor games online, they map out the twists from Day 1 to Day 39 before the game even begins and only modify it in case of a medevac or a quit. I give credit where credit is due to the Aitu Four. Even though Ozzy and Yul were good at challenges, Becky and Sundra didn’t appear to be and they were up against formidable opponents on the Raro tribe (Pretty much everyone on that tribe except Rebecca and Jenny were decent in most challenges that season). But a lot of things did just happen to go their way that were instrumental in their success. I did think the bottle twist was a bit of a cheap shot and did make this comeback look suspect because not only was that the first time they did this so they had no clue what it could entail, it happened in the Tribal stage of the game where getting numbers to the merge could determine how the game pans out. I prefer that twist in Redemption Island and South Pacific where it is post merge so you don’t have to worry about numbers going into the merge because you’re at the merge. And interestingly I never had a problem with pre-merge jurors before until I read this article and realized “holy crap! There was a juror that was never on the same tribe as any of the finalists”. That does affect the vote and it could cost someone based on something they couldn’t control. At least in Heroes vs. Villains the pre-merge jurors and the finalists all came from the Villains tribe and it was a returning player season so it wasn’t that big of a deal. A lot to think about in Survivor and that’s what makes this show so interesting.

    • Jsjdifjdjeisiskzjssudidjsj // April 1, 2014 at 1:18 pm // Reply

      Lost me at the first sentnce.

      • I don’t think this show could enjoy the longevity and loyalty it does if rational people really believed it was rigged… It is far more likely that decisions being made in production may have outcomes that were not predicted by the team at the time. It’s easy to criticize after the fact.

        The season was interesting, perhaps even fascinating, in light of the experimental nature of the premise, and the risks that were taken throughout.

  6. Cook Islands is the most bullshit season ever, simply because of all the rigging that took place. It was clear that the F4 were all going to be White, so the producers stepped in and started interfering as they didn’t want an all-White F4 in a season that was heavily controversial due to the race twist. Then, we got ridiculous ICs that were set-up for Aitu to win (that F11 IC looked like it was put together in minutes), the bottle twist, the delayed merge, etc. I honestly can’t see how anyone can deny that the season was rigged.

  7. I’d also argue that to make them underdogs, you need to have the favorites-to-win somehow be oppressive or “evil.” The rival alliance of Nate, Penner, Parvati, Adam, and Candice were made out to be villains who deserved to be dethroned, but I never really bought it. Just because they were winning a lot and it looked like an easy road to victory shouldn’t make them evil. Candice and Penner flipped to rejoin their former allies, which isn’t all that unreasonable. At this point, the worst Parvati had done was flirted, Adam was a bit arrogant, and Nate was fun – none were villains. So I never got why their group was vilified by the editors.

  8. If Cook Islands had been the only season in Survivor history with an invincible immunity idol, then I’d say you have a valid point, but we only have to look at the previous season to see that the idol isn’t always a guarantee of gaining the upper hand in an underdog situation. Going into the merge on Panama, La Mina found themselves in pretty much the same situation as Aitu, given that it was the four of them against six Casaya members, but they easily got picked off one by one despite the fact that Terry, one of the La Mina foursome, had the invincible idol in his possession. Yet he never could sway anyone in Casaya to flip because unlike Yul, Terry never figured out the correct way to use the idol to his advantage, namely to approach Bruce, who would have been first to go once Casaya had to vote amongst themselves, the very moment the tribes merged and basically lay out the same scenario Yul gave Penner, which was either you vote with us, or I play the idol and the person from your alliance that we all vote for goes home. And as anyone who watched Panama knows, instead of using the idol to gain the upper hand, Terry found himself having to rely on immunity wins to stay alive instead of being secure in the fact that his alliance dominated the game.

    • Although the Aitu 4 were helped by the fact, that aside from Penner, everyone in Raro that made the merge was an idiot. The moment Penner goes to Adam/Nate/Candice/Parvati and tells them that Yul showed him the idol, you’d think that at least one of them would’ve had the light bulb go off and realize that maybe voting for Becky or Sundra would be the smarter move so they can keep their majority, but no one else thought it likely that Yul could find the idol after only having been to exile once, despite the fact that both Adam and Candice were the only other ones to go to Exile and neither of them had the idol.

      • I definitely agree with you that Yul was smart in knowing how to use the idol to his advantage, but I still feel like the idol itself kills any credibility to his portrayal as an underdog. If Terry had played his cards the same way, he’d be a hard sell as an underdog as well. You’re dead on about the Raro tribe. That’s another reason I find it hard to see them as underdogs. They never had any real strategic competition. Ultimately the only thing that was working against Aitu were the numbers, and as stated above, the message in the bottle is what saved them in that department, not their gameplay.

  9. great article, i actually agree about the jury issue. 33% of them werent even involved in the game! The final 3 didn’t even have to work for most of the votes

  10. You make some valid points; they probably weren’t, in hindsight, very massive underdogs , and nor for very long either (maybe in one episode they were) but I think some people (such as myself) would still admire them for sticking to each other all the way to the end, seemingly only out of a bit of loyalty and companionship, and being overall nice, bland people. This would probably be considered extremely boring compared to seasons dominated by “Boston Rob”, that Russell bloke or any other scheming wannabe mastermind.

    The Jury issue had nothing to do with them reaching the final 4 together, so why mention it in your argument.

    You added it in the comments, but forgot to add in your article that of course their competition was so poor, strategically, it was barely a come back, the producers must have also rigged that. Duh. Or some of these other arguments whereupon they only won because of ‘reverse racism’.

  11. Yes it was definitely rigged. Having an all-white Final 4 on a season where 15 out of the 20 contestants were minorities would have definitely caused an uproar among the overly PC moronic masses. The ‘message in a bottle’ twist was so blatantly designed to screw Raro over that I’m kinda surprised more people didn’t call the producers out for it.

    I’m also glad that someone else sees Yul for the immensely overrated winner that he is. He was perhaps the worst candidate out of the whole Aitu 4. Not only was he protected by the over-powerful idol, but he was protected for the entire game, due to the Final 3 twist. Despite that, I didn’t dislike the guy until his RHAP interview where he basically talks about how good he is at the game, and how he could’ve beaten Ozzy at the challenges but wasn’t trying, and how he could’ve done the same thing with a regular idol.

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