Survivor Archetype: The “Evil” Mum


It’s the penultimate Monday for 2014 so that means we have to bring you the penultimate feature for the year! Today our Norwegian superstar Ferdinand Joppe sits down and brings you a topic very close to his heart: a look closer at the ‘evil mum’ archetype. Are they really that bad? Why do so many do well but never win the game? And do they need more respect in the world of Survivor? Click below to find out and don’t forget to have your say in the comments section below!

Survivor like any storytelling medium relies on characters to carry the story, in Survivor the story is of course the journey for a million bucks. Some of the 16 to 20 contestants are turned into protagonists for the viewers to cheer on while others are turned into antagonists, while most fall somewhere in-between.

Most seasons of Survivor has a diverse cast when it comes to gender, age, ethnicity and different personalities. However the personality of a contestant is probably only around 1/3 of what in the end will be the ‘character’ we see on our screens. The other two thirds are editing and audience perception.

In the end there are these three parts that combined creates a character archetype in Survivor. Over the years these archetypes have changed alongside what the audience wishes to see on their screen and what the producers have deemed successful. Season 20 Heroes Vs Villains was a season that strongly revolved around the idea of archetypes and of course included the epic battles between the two oldest and most well-known archetypes Hero/Good vs Villain/Evil. Since Heroes Vs Villains Survivor has arguably been more focused on including certain archetypes in every season which often includes more recruiting (not saying there was a lot of recruiting in older seasons, just look at Fiji). The archetypes in newer seasons are however probably easier to identify even before the season airs than in the older seasons based solely on the players appearance.

In this feature I will look at one archetype which usually causes a lot of discussion between the fans of the show – The Older Female, or “The Evil Mum”.


Kass didn’t make FTC, but she still got slammed at it.

To classify as “The Evil Mum” archetype you have to fit certain criterions. First of all you have to be a woman over the age of 40 and secondly she must make it far into the game. The reason for this is to make them easier to classify. There are six women who fit this since season 21: Dawn and Sherri from Caramoan, Monica from Blood Vs. Water, Trish and Kassandra from Cagayan and Missy from San Juan Del Sur.

To clarify, saying that they fit into “The Evil Mum” archetype does not mean that I view them as bad people or that I disliked them as players. Personally I usually find my favourite player within this archetype which is the reason I find them so fascinating and wanted to take a closer look at how they are portrayed and perceived.

Sherri is just over it.

The mum archetype is not something that is new in Survivor as it has certainly been present since the earliest seasons. However lately there has been a lot of negativity around them. Negativity which I would argue is often unjustified. Not liking a certain player or archetype is of course something we should be all allowed to do, however there seem to be a certain stigma towards these women such as being bitches, not getting credit for their moves or being unfairly seen as weak physical players.

First lets look at these women’s strategic game. All of them managed to make the finale in their respective season except for Trish. Dawn, Sherri, Monica and Missy all made it to the final tribal council. They also have in common that none of them won. They basically had no chance of winning even if they had made it (Trish might have been an exception). They are also usually viewed as goats because of the way the jury views them. Most of these women were also leaders of their alliance. Sherri controlled the fans in Caramoan while Dawn was one of the top-dogs amongst the favourites. Monica started out on the bottom of her alliance, but when she realised this she cut the ties to her former alliance and became one of the leaders within her new alliance.  Even if these women make “big moves” they are often under-credited/ignored or outright hated for them, not always, but often. Examples of this includes the infamous Brenda vote-off in Caramoan by Dawn, the Kass flip in Cagayan and Missy’s vote-offs this season. A lot of their strategy doesn’t even make the air and one can only find out about it from interviews and Ponderosa videos. From interviews this season Missy was apparently one of the main reasons Drew was voted out, but in the actual episode Missy didn’t even get one confessional about it. The reason for this was probably to make Natalie an even bigger character as she received the credit for it instead of Missy. Another way to discredit the move’s these women make is by making the storyline about them just being “emotional” and suddenly their story-arch turns from “how to win the game” to “who am I? Why am I such a mess?”. Examples of this is Missy’s one million husbands, Dawn’s teeth or “It’s Monica’s time to shine”.


One of many teary Dawn moments

Screen-time allocated to this archetype is rather varied, but most of them has landed somewhere around 30 confessionals. This is not a bad amount, however since most of these players make the finale it is not very high either. The big exception to this of course the one and only Kass from Cagayan. She managed to get over 60 confessionals which is extremely high for a female player and she even beats out most female winners. However other players such as Sherri, Trish and Missy only received very situational screen-time. This means that most of their confessionals were something that had to be shown for the season to make sense. Also the screen-time they receive is closely connected to another player’s storyline instead of their own. The Evil Mum’s are often have a symbiotic relationship to a more popular archetype, “The Golden Boy”, which I will come back to another time.

Monica was a challenge beast in the first Blood Vs Water, but Tyson still overshadowed her

Their personalities or life stories are often an important aspect of the season they are in, like the ones mentioned above. However these personality traits or stories are often so repeated to the extreme. This causes these women to become flat or one dimensional, who instead of being an interesting contestant turns into a hyper symbolised object. Editing 16 to 20 contestants is not an easy job, and you often only have a minute or two per character each episode for character development so this is not something that only happens with this archetype. Unfortunately they often come off as much worse than many of the other archetypes because the audience is slammed in the face with the same often unflattering backstory. This is what I believe is one of the main reason for the backlash these characters often receive. It is the same in any storytelling medium, nobody likes flat characters as they become predictable and one dimensional.


Albeit dominating much of the strategy in SJDS, Missy still ended up with the short end of the stick.

Although it is a controversial archetype in Survivor the Evil Mum has truly cemented itself as on of the key type of players we see go far in the last couple of years. If this trend will continue only time will tell. If I had to make a guess I think we will see many more fascinating Evil Mum’s in the years to come, love them or hate them, I bet they are here to stay.

Next time I will look at an archetype closely related to the Evil Mum; The Golden Boy.

*So while I am writing this article Reed pops up with the most obnoxious jury speech of all time, bless his soul, and manages to call Missy an “Evil Step Mum”. Perfect timing Reed, thank you! Once again we see how this archetype gets a lot of hate from audience and players alike!

What do you think of the ‘evil mum’ archetype? Do you feel they need more respect or it’s fine the way it is? Let us know below!



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15 Comments on Survivor Archetype: The “Evil” Mum

  1. Why do you think some mothers like Tina and Lisa aren’t given the evil mother role?

    • I feel Lisa, although not edited evilly, received a FTC jury slamming similar to these ‘evil mums.’

      Joppe, I love your reads. Very entertaining. You seem like a great dude who I would love to get a drink with.

    • Tina came from “another time” in Survivor then the one’s I focused on, even if she was in BvW1. The producers and editors just gave her a more under-the-radar edit than in AO.

      Lisa like Tina has a very different edit than the “evil moms”. There are many reasons for this and hopefully I will have another article up where I look at Tina, Lisa, Jane and Holly who could have been edited as “evil mums” but weren’t. One big reason for this is probably that there were other huge villains in their seasons: Abi, NaOnka etc.

      Thanks Dino!

  2. It’s Malefikass!!!!

  3. Excellent article, Ferdinand! I’m an “older” woman (without kids), but I get furious every time these women get such a crazy rap for just being normal human beings. The backlash to Dawn’s good play puzzles me to this day. It was one of the worst case of cyber-bullying I’ve ever seen. Even “I” got bullied for a couple of months after defending Dawn, who’s a nice person, and obviously is a good parent to her six kids. The sexism tied to these archetypes has finally pushed me over the edge. I blame Jeff for much of this. Interesting your next piece will be “the golden boys,” — I now find them boring and so irritating I want to throw my TV on the floor when they open their mouths. Too bad the CBS poohbahs don’t study their core viewers better, and just let people be who they are. I don’t give a rip if Dawn or Boston Rob cry on the show — good grief! Those people are out there for a month in the strangest conditions. Curious how you feel about Laura Morrett — she gets a bad rap, which is unjustified. I know her, and she’s an incredibly warm and generous person, but hasn’t come off that way on the show or in some of her interviews. She and Ciera both are freaking nice people, but Laura gets a bit of the Dawn treatment. She plays hard, but she’s a great person…

    • I saw your comment after my comment. I wondered the same thing about Laura M but decided to leave it be. Her first season was 19, and as pre-HvV seems to me to not quite be in this survivor “era”, and in BvW, despite being a huge part of the season, spent most of the time on Redemption, and didn’t go to the end in either season, so is a little different IMO.

      And despite getting a few Dawn-vibes from the edit, her edit is quite different (in a good way) IMO. Without knowing her or Ciera (like you evidently do), just watching the show they both, for the most part, came off incredibly nice, and some of the Survivor players I wish I knew in real life, the most.

      Whereas people like Dawn and Lisa often came off as being weak and emotional and crying all the time, both Laura and Ciera (but we’ll leave it at Laura here.. this is an older woman article) came off as incredibly strong women… She never had the “Missy’s 3 husbands”, Dawn’s teeth, or “Monica’s shine time” moments.

      I agree with you, we need more love for the “Mothers” of Survivor, Laura no exception!

      • I know I’m not Joppe, but just thought I’d give my two cents on your question. The more Survivor talk the better, right?!

    • Thank you Katherine!
      Personally I really enjoyed Laura on the show. The main problem with her is that her edit in Samoa was really horrendous and lacking all the way til’ her last episodes and in BVW she was second to Ciera and we didn’t get to see much play from her other than dominating the duels. I agree that she probably suffers the same edit as Dawn and many other women on the show: play too hard = b**ch, too much of a follower = goat. I honestly believed she was under 40, which is one of the reasons I didn’t include her. Bad research on my part haha.

      And the Dawn hate on social media was some of the most disgusting things that has happened on and outside of Survivor. I’m a fan of anyone who defended her at that time!:D

  4. Great article! I’ll share my thoughts.

    I agree about Tina being in another “era” of Survivor. Yeah she was in BvW but much of her time was spent on Redemption, and her “true” season was Aus. Outback.

    In terms of the Holly, Jane, Lisa they should be included here. Plain and simple. They come from pretty much the same survivor era (the 20s seasons) and their only difference from those talked about here is that they were edited differently (especially the Nicaragua ladies, I didn’t think Lisa was that different from someone like Dawn). As you said, Joppe, probably because of the other people in their seasons. In fact, I feel like Lisa was edited like the “evil mum” a fair deal, given that Abi-M was in her season.

    For the most part, I like the “evil mums”. I thought Sherri was very nice and deserved more credit. Monica played a subtle but good game and would have won sitting next to anyone but Tyson or Ciera in BvW. Trish was an important part of Tony’s game in Cagayan and could have won at the end, especially next to Woo or Kass. I will admit to disliking Kass and she is probably the most “evil” of all these IMO. I wasn’t the hugest Missy fan this season (Nat, Baylor, Jeremy, Josh were my favorite players) but she played a subtle game. Unfortunately for her (despite what everyone says!) there were a lot of good players this season and she picked the wrong alliance to go with. Her win would have been for sure next to Alec and Wes or maybe Reed, Keith at a long-shot, and also her daughter (unfortunately, I would’ve loved a Bay win but it wasn’t going to happen).

    In the end, I do think we’ll continue to see this type of “evil mum” in future seasons, but the question remains, can they win? I do think so, it’s just been, well, they haven’t yet. Or have they? As Joppe touched here, we really don’t know how many tricks editing plays on our minds. If say Skupin had won in Philippines, would Denise have been edited as an “evil mum”? Now there’s a thought. Maybe these ladies are totally different most of the time than we see them as (either for the better or the worse). Perhaps someone like say Reynold gave a totally advocating speech for Sherri in Caramoan. Or on the flip side, someone like Pete Yurkowski called Denise a “wicked stepmother” in Philippines (bahahahahaha) but we just didn’t see it because it turned out the opposite so the editing didn’t want us to see the other side’s opinions. Just food for thought.

    The true definition of “evil mum” may be more of how a character is edited than who they really are. There may be more, or less, of them then we think.

    As with so many Survivor topics, and posts on this site, an interesting topic and a great article! Thanks Joppe!

    • Thank you for such great feedback!
      The main reason I didn’t include Lisa, Holly, Jane and to an extent Denise is that I believe they fall into another archetype. Although they could easily been edited into the evil mum archetype the producers obviously decided against it and as such I believe it warrants another typing 😉

  5. Why don’t you include Holly and Jane in the archetype?

  6. Dawn and Sherri + Missed deserves what they got with the jury. GAMEPLAY WISE. I know they are great moms in real life but in the game, they are pathetic and no chance of winning at all, Monica, Trish & Kass though are amazing. That is all.

  7. You know, based on what contestants have said about Missy post-game, it seems like she was actually edited to appear much kinder than she actually was. And, on your comment at the end about Reed’s FTC speech, according to both Reed and Josh, Reed was like the fifth or sixth person to attack Missy that night, they just only showed his because it was the most well presented and could be used for shock value. Compared to the treatment of, say, Monica, who we could to see get absolutely steamrolled by every member of her jury, but who probably didn’t deserve that animosity as much as Missy did, Missy came out of her season looking a lot better than Monica did.

  8. I just rewatched Pearl Islands. Wouldn’t Lill fit perfectly into this archetype?

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