It’s Feature Article day again and this week, Ozlet Kristan Knarr, takes a look at why male contestants are perceived as big threats in Challenges. Kristan argues that the connotation to keep strong males around pre-merge then vote them out as soon as possible is dying out and why winners or contestants as a whole don’t have to be good challenge performs in order to be good players or win the game. Agree? Disagree? Join the conversation by commenting below!
“We need to keep him around for tribe challenges, but he needs to go right after the Merge because he’s too big of an individual challenge threat!” It feels as though we hear this from players on every season, as well as from fans. However, is it really a true concern?
Colby after winning immunity, Tom competing in a final immunity challenge, and Terry after winning immunity
Four men are currently tied for the most individual immunity wins in a single season: Colby Donaldson, (The Australian Outback), Tom Westman, (Palau), Terry Dietz, (Panama), and Ozzy Lusth, (Cook Islands). They each won five Individual Immunity Necklaces in their respective seasons. I would consider Colby, Tom and Terry to be big, strong males, where, in my opinion, Ozzy falls into a different body type category – strong, but agile and smaller.
Colby Donaldson set the precedent that big, strong men are Immunity Challenge threats in Survivor: The Australian Outback. The five individual challenges that he won involved running, fire building, slingshot shooting, memory and knowledge about his former tribe mates. Years later, Tom Westman won endurance challenges, as well as water, memory, and physical challenges in Palau. Soon after, Terry Dietz dominated the first five Individual Immunity Challenges in Panama, consisting of endurance, climbing, running, memorisation, and brute strength. Whether the challenges were mental or physical, these men were nearly unstoppable.
Colby, Tom and Terry are often looked at as some of the best challenge competitors in Survivor history and rightfully so. However, what happened during the other twenty-five seasons? Is there real proof that strong, built men are the biggest Immunity threats and should always be early targets post-merge? Let’s take a look at some of the statistics from throughout the history of Survivor.
Kelly competing in a Final Immunity Challenge, Jenna after winning Immunity, and Kim after winning Immunity
As mentioned previously, Ozzy has also won five Individual Immunity Challenges in a single season. Additionally, three women in Survivor history have won four Individual Immunity Challenges in a single season: Kelly Wiglesworth, (Borneo), Jenna Morasca, (The Amazon) and Kim Spradlin, (One World). The other players that have four single season Individual Immunity wins include Rob Mariano, (All-Stars and Redemption Island), Rafe Judkins (Guatemala) and Jud “Fabio” Birza, (Nicaragua). The gender, body type, skills, and abilities of these players all vary greatly, but they were all able to win the same amount of Immunity Necklaces.
Individual Immunity Necklaces from Micronesia, Caramoan, and Vanuatu
On the surface, it would look like the theory that strong men are the biggest Immunity threats in any given season is fairly accurate. In eighteen out of twenty-seven seasons, men have won the majority of Individual Immunity Challenges. Women won more in seven seasons and there were ties in two. How many of the men that won Individual Immunities throughout the history of Survivor would be considered big and strong by most fans and fellow competitors? Certainly not all of them or even the majority of them. Men old, young, scrawny, physically weak, mentally weak have all won challenges throughout Survivor history. We have seen the strongest men fail miserably in all kinds of Immunity Challenges time and time again, yet this notion still exists that they’re the biggest threats? It just doesn’t make sense.
Taking it a step further, does it even matter how many strong men win Individual Immunities? From the first set of names mentioned earlier, Colby, Tom and Terry, only one of the three actually won the game. From the second set of more varied challenge dominators, Ozzy, Kelly, Jenna, Kim, Rob, Rafe, and Fabio, four of the seven won his or her season. Even disregarding the strong male stereotype, dominating in challenges doesn’t equate to winning the game. I understand that challenge wins can be necessary at times, but the weight put in them by contestants and fans seems vastly overestimated.
Looking deeper into that thought, is there evidence that players should focus much more on the strategic threats than the physical threats? In twenty-seven seasons, the person that won, (or tied for), the most Individual Immunities that season actually won the game only twelve times. Those winners are Vecepia Towery, (Marquesas), Brian Heidik (Thailand), Jenna Morasca (The Amazon), Chris Daugherty, (Vanuatu), Tom Westman, (Palau), Bob Crowley, (Gabon), J.T. Thomas, (Tocantins), Jud “Fabio” Birza, (Nicaragua), Rob Mariano, (Redemption Island), Sophie Clarke, (South Pacific), Kim Spradlin, (One World) and John Cochran (Caramoan). How many of those people walked onto the beach on the first day and had the other contestants look at them thinking, “That person is going to be a major challenge threat that I need to look out for post-merge?” I would say very, very few. A very small minority of these challenge dominating winners are physically strong men. Furthermore, the majority of them were actually strategic threats that happened to also win challenges. I’d even go out on a limb and say that a lot of the above winners would have won without some of their challenge wins. Challenge dominance and strong male stereotype is certainly not the main reason that many of these winners ended up at Final Tribal Council, let alone won over their juries.
Tina, Yul, Earl, Todd, Natalie and Sandra, (twice), all won the game without ever winning Individual Immunity.
Considering two things – seven seasons were won by players that never won a single Individual Immunity Necklace and many of the winners that did dominate their season in challenges were not big, strong men – leads me to a few final thoughts and questions. Do challenges change so much from season to season that it’s totally unpredictable as to which body type will excel? Did some seasons just lack the strong man stereotype post-merge, allowing others to win challenges? Does it even matter, in the full context of the game, that strong men do sometimes perform well in Immunity Challenges? Most importantly, is the perception that strong males are the biggest Individual Immunity threats and should often be eliminated right after the Merge even a real concern or simply a misconception that has remained in the minds of players and fans for years? I personally believe that it’s an outdated, flawed way of thinking. At the very least, I find this to be a thought-provoking topic that should be debated more frequently.
Final note: Survivor: Cagayan, in which five players remain at the time of this writing, triggered my inspiration for this article. Tasha and Spencer won most of the Individual Immunity challenges so far. Who saw that coming? According to the strong male theory, shouldn’t LJ, Jeremiah and Tony have been the biggest individual threats? Yet they’re sitting on the Jury or in the game without a single win. LJ excelled at puzzles, Jeremiah was good at being invisible and Tony… is Tony. When will the madness of this “strong males are challenge dominators” concept end?!