A Monday brings a feature with it as your favourite Canadian Ozlet Colin Hilding brings you the first in a series of ‘special articles’ as he analyses the winners who aren’t necessarily perceived as ‘great’ in the history of Survivor. Today he grabs the magnifying glass and looks closely at Marquesas winner Vecepia, and goes over just why her win was unique and why she deserves more respect in the grand scheme of Survivor. Click for more!
There are many Survivor winners deemed forgettable, or considered lucky in the game. Over time, on closer examination, fan opinions on many winners have drastically changed. Tina Wesson and Sandra Diaz-Twine are perfect examples of this. No winner in the history of Survivor has a lack of legacy that puzzles me more than Vecepia Towery-Robinson, the winner of Survivor Marquesas. Many to this day still question how impressive her win really was. She is often ranked near the bottom of list of winners. I’d love to jump down the doubters throats for this view, but I honestly can’t as it was only in the last year or two that I even started to appreciate her game in Marquesas. Like many others, I have re-watched Marquesas many times over the years, and always came to the same conclusion; that Vecepia was a lucky winner. I even used that as an excuse for my lack of interest in Marquesas as a season. She was a disappointing winner, so I wasn’t happy with the season overall. My opinion as of late has not only changed on Vecepia, but it has changed so drastically that while I probably would have placed her in my bottom 5 winners only 2 years ago, I recently ranked her in my top 10 winners, at number 9 to be more specific.
So what has led to my turnaround on Vecepia’s win? There are several elements to her game that I recently came to admire. Vecepia had a good social game, she positioned herself in the right alliances at the right time, and became the first person to master the strategy of “flying under the radar”. These are the qualities she is known for, and they were key to her winning the game. What I want to do is look closer at these moves and others to make a case for why Vecepia is, in my opinion, one of the strongest winners in the history of Survivor, and without a doubt the most underrated at the same time.
VECEPIA WORKED FROM THE BOTTOM UP
I’m going to start by making a very odd comparison. Vecepia’s game was a complete reverse of Rob Cesternino’s. Only one year after Vecepia’s under-appreciated win in Marquesas, Rob Cesternino changed the game of Survivor forever with a wild and revolutionary strategy. Cesternino kept himself in a position of power by constantly changing his alliance up. He did this not by aligning himself with others in a position of power, but by finding those who were clearly on the bottom, and therefore desperate, and bringing them in as his swing votes. He seemed to do this every week. Once someone was on the outs in the tribe, he teased them with offers of joining him in a new alliance. Cesternino has been given credit for recognizing the value in using the bottom players who have no power. He 100% deserves credit for this change in the game. What I recently discovered was that Vecepia played a strategy that was a complete reversal of this in Marquesas. She was never really in the position of power like Cesternino was, but she played the role of the bottom person of the alliance time and time again.
Vecepia knew from the beginning that there was power in being the low woman on the totem pole. She could be a great swing vote in a season where for the first time ever, power alliances were being broken. As many times as I’ve seen Marquesas, I have never found one moment where Vecepia seemed to really want power, but she was always scheming in her own way to keep herself safe. When the tribe shuffle happened, Vecepia and her former allies Rob and Sean joined the stacked powerhouse tribe of Rotu. Anyone could see that they were in the bottom and lined up for a Pagonging. What Vecepia did was buddy up to her new Rotu tribe mates. Rob and Sean recognized and complained about this. On the surface it looks like she was just sucking up to keep herself safe longer than Sean and Rob. In reality she was happier being on the bottom of a winning alliance than sharing the top of a losing one. Why shouldn’t she want that? Her target was briefly removed, and she even managed to maintain a good enough relationship with Sean that they teamed up together again in the 2nd half of the game. Keeping herself on the bottom as a strategic move would work again in her favour when it came down to the final 3.
Now I’m not saying that Rob Cesternino adopted the strategy of valuing the players on the bottom from Vecepia. All I’m saying is that if Rob and even Jonny Fairplay deserve credit in valuing the under-the-radar players, why shouldn’t Vecepia get credit for BEING that kind of player, and using that to position herself from one vote to the next. I don’t see her as lucky to escape the vote time and time again; I see the skill in where she chose to fall in various alliances.
VECEPIA WAS AS COOL AS THEY COME
One thing that I can’t believe I never noticed about Vecepia’s game was how calm and collected she could be, even in the most difficult circumstances. I’ll cover my thoughts on how she remained calm in the biggest fights of the season for the next section, because I believe that is a different story. Look instead at how she reacted even when on the bottom. We saw how the tribe shuffled fazed Rob and Sean. I can’t find a single moment where Vecepia was even bothered by it. The last time I watched Marquesas I was amazed at Vecepia’s integration into the new Rotu tribe. While I used to get annoyed at how she was “sucking up” I can now appreciate how hard it must have been to keep your cool and work yourself into a much more powerful alliance. Even harder would have been the infamous coconut chopping challenge, where the Rotu alliance arrogantly revealed their pecking order, which included Vecepia going very early. She knew immediately that her place was on the bottom, and yet her reactions were completely calm. Vecepia played a major part in the first ever power shift in the tribal that would follow, but unlike the others on her side, she never seemed to be bothered by the arrogant display.
The pecking order is revealed
The best example of Vecepia’s unfazed attitude has to be the final immunity challenge. This is the move that won her the game. She had been aligned with Kathy, who easily would have walked away with the win against anyone from this season. As the final immunity came down to her and Neleh, Vecepia had no issue with offering to give the win to Neleh if she voted Kathy out next. In no way did she betray any deal she had with Kathy, but it was a shrewd move none-the-less. What fascinates me is how Vecepia has next to no hesitation or reaction making this offer, which would seal the fate of the one person who had her back leading into the final 3. There was no malice in it, and not a hint of villainy. It was just a cold and calculated move from someone on a business trip. Some have questioned Vecepia’s ethics as being contrary to her spiritual faith, but every move she made was within the rules of the game, and I love how professional, and not personal, she kept her game.
The deal that won the game
VECEPIA WAS THE INVISIBLE INSTIGATOR OF DRAMA
There were several blow-ups during Marquesas. Vecepia is famously known for her phrase of “There’s too much drama” during and after these fights. If you look closer at the fights, Vecepia was usually the one to indirectly start them. Remember that Vecepia’s background was in Sociology and Psychology. She understood human behaviour and interaction, and was by far the person most qualified to defuse fights. Vecepia presented herself as a mediator on more than one occasion. She would gather the tribe together to discuss drama that was starting to unfold, like a good psychologist would, and then sit back and watch the situation explode. She classically bookended these scenes by claiming that there was “too much drama” yet I think she knew exactly what she was doing the entire time.
“Too much drama…”
I think Vecepia wanted the drama, as it would draw attention to people other than her. Her closest friend in the game was Sean Rector, who was opinionated and explosive. By surrounding herself with people like Sean, Rob, Sarah and Pascal, she could use these therapy sessions as perfect opportunities to throw the spotlight on others. The most credit Vecepia is usually given as a player is that she flew under the radar. This is true of her, but hardly does her justice. Anyone can be under the radar by not doing anything. Vecepia is one of the few players to fly under the radar intentionally, with clear calculation in her moves. It took a lot of skill and great understanding of human dynamics to keep herself under the radar the way she did.
SHE PLAYED TO WIN, NOT MAKE GOOD TV
By no means is Vecepia an unlikeable player, she just wasn’t an exciting character like Boston Rob, Sean, John or Kathy. I would be willing to bet that 100% of the time the casting directors, CBS and the producers of Survivor are only concerned with casting people who will make good TV. You will have those who are likely to be terrible at the game, but will be entertaining to watch. Obviously they cast a lot of people who will be great at the game, but guaranteed the top priority is always that they make for entertaining TV. I doubt any casting decision has come down to a statement like “Hey, I know they’re not exciting to watch, but they’re good enough to win the whole thing, so let’s put them in the final 16!” Nobody has ever been cast on Survivor who wasn’t a big character in casting. If Vecepia was cast on Survivor, it was because they figured she’d be entertaining to watch. Now of course there are many reasons why someone may not come across as interesting during a season. Maybe they weren’t around long enough to make an impact, by chance didn’t play into any of the major moments, or the conditions dragged down their physical and mental energy. None of these applied to Vecepia. She was one of only 2 people there for the entire 39 days, was involved in almost every key moment, vote-out and scene of drama, and her health and attitude were always positive.
I believe that Vecepia, like Lex before her and Brian Heidik to follow, saw Survivor as a business trip. She may have been cast on personality, but she played from day 1 to 39 with only one goal, and that was to win. Vecepia was never worried about screen time or how her character would be portrayed. From what I have gathered from her interviews since, I don’t think she even cares that she came across as a less than stellar character, because she won and that was what she came to do.
Again I will confess that for years I always saw Vecepia as maybe the least interesting winner of the show. For the most part when a person plays well, but their game isn’t entertaining to watch, I won’t feel the need to give them that much credit. Surprisingly what I’ve found in Vecepia’s game recently has changed my opinion on her as a character too. There’s something in seeing her calculation, calm demeanour and manipulation of the bigger characters that makes her incredibly fascinating to watch now. Maybe those who are still sceptical of her win won’t be swayed by the points I’ve made, but I love that even after 10 years, and countless viewings of a season, I can still find new appreciation in contestants and the game.
Do you agree with Colin? Do you feel Vecepia’s win deserves more respect? Let us know your thoughts below!
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