Features Monday is here and today we bring you something a little bit different by advocating for the return of a single player: the one and only Terry Deitz from Panama. Our Kiwi Ozlet Nick Chester takes you through why he feels Terry is a deserving returnee and why we have been robbed for all those ‘nearly moments’ of him coming back for a second time. Click to read on and see if you agree or disagree with Nick!
If there is one aspect of Survivor that divides the fan base, it is returning players – who should come back, in what format, or even if players should return at all are all issues up for healthy debate. The casting of the five seasons with a significant veteran element have been discussed relentlessly and we no doubt all have favourites that have never returned. There may be various reasons why a player wouldn’t come back – often they are just not memorable, or don’t fit the profile that producers like. One name that has always jumped out as me as a glaring omission from the ranks of returning players is Terry Deitz. Terry seems to embody everything the producers like in their veterans – alpha male, pretty good at confessionals, great at challenges and a leader. He also narrowly missed out on winning due to one lost challenge – and he found an immunity idol. It is so strange as to why he has never been back, so its time to look at why this wouldn’t have happened.
The Tom who sucks
One unfortunate part of Terry’s part in Survivor history is his timing. A hard working, physical “older” (at least on the Survivor age scale) guy from the East Coast of America, who is dominant in challenges and who people seem to gravitate towards. Didn’t we just do this? I have heard Terry described as Tom Westman’s understudy before and it’s a very fitting description. They follow a similar casting type. Terry can probably thank his casting in Exile Island at least in part to Tom’s success, both as a player and character. Tom would also kind of explain why Terry has never been back for a second season – around the time of Micronesia, Tom was apparently the first choice, although Terry was in the mix too. Production eventually moved on with other options. Terry would have made a great Hero in season 20, but when Tom said yes, there was no reason to have Terry as well. Those were realistically his only two shots at coming back, and they didn’t happen. Which is a shame, as I think Terry is a much more compelling and complicated figure than Tom ever was, because he has way more faults in terms of how he plays the game. Tom had the game on lockdown – he went with a (somewhat risky) strategy of taking the lead and sticking with it till the end, knowing he was a target but planning on winning challenges and making key connections to ensure his safety. Terry’s plan was somewhat different, as will be described below, but one thing is for sure: Terry would have much more to prove if he ever played again. Terry is nowhere near as polished or politically skilled as Tom, and his mistakes make him a potentially more interesting player. Whilst there is an understandable allure about seeing former winners return to the game, often they are less hungry to win, and although this may not be entirely true for Tom, its interesting to think how Terry may have done in his spot in Heroes vs. Villains.
Worshipping False Idols
When I tried to evaluate Terry’s decision making and strategic skills, I discovered that it was pretty hard, as there is so little to go on. This isn’t a criticism – Terry is such a hard player to assess because he has played the entire game with an over-powered hidden immunity idol. Whilst we may all have disliked the “Tyler Perry” idol in Cagayan, at least Tony found it late in the game and it didn’t really have much of a bearing on how the season unfolded. The same cant be said for Terry and his idol. He found it early and it had a profound impact on how he chose to play the game from that point on, and you can see why. Essentially he had a get out of jail free card, meaning if he ever messed up his plan, he could simply play the idol and try again. As it turns out, his impressive abilities in immunity challenges made this even more valuable, and he never had to play it. So it’s interesting to think of how Terry may play the game with an idol with more “standard” rules, or even without an idol at all. Would he still want to form an all-male alliance, which would have a better shot of beating him in challenges? How would he deal with being in a majority alliance, instead of being the underdog who the power players just can’t get rid of, for various reasons? For a returning player, there is a pretty good case to be made that we really don’t know how Terry might play in a more normal game environment. It is something I would like to see.
Terry’s popularity in season 12 was to a large degree built on strong challenge performances, with him only losing a couple of individual challenges. He was also easily La Mina’s best challenge performer, despite spending several nights on Exile Island. Had he not been there, La Mina may well have been decimated sooner and even more convincingly. One of the interesting stories to follow of bringing him back now is that he is less likely to be so dominant in challenges. I have no doubt that Terry is still in great physical condition, but he would now be in his mid 50’s and may find the challenges more taxing. Similar to Colby losing his mojo in Heroes vs. Villains, this may cause extra frustration to Terry – which would be an interesting story to follow. The idea of an idol-less Terry, not as good in challenges and having to up his strategic and social game is a pretty compelling story.
What is the Plan?
Take away Terry’s idol and challenge performances, and what do we have left? Is he a competent strategic player? I think the answer is that we don’t know, we just haven’t seen enough of Terry making strategic decisions without the idol or from a position other than complete desperation. To put some historical perspective around it, Terry played at a the start of a time of transition for Survivor, where new twists were being introduced but for the most part, tribal based alliances that held until the end were still very much the only way to play. His game is very much based on gathering a tight alliance around him and taking it to the end. In that sense, picking a group of physically strong men to form the basis of his alliance made some sense. However, Terry seemed to have somewhat of an obsession with keeping the tribe physically strong, and on the eve of the merge, he votes out his closest ally, when physical strength was going to be less important. This didn’t make much sense and although it really played no role in how the rest of the game played out, it does speak to some of the gaps in Terry’s game logic and high focus on physical strength. Given that we saw Dan had pretty decent social skills (and probably better than Nick or even Austin), it seems an odd time to get rid of him. Going into a merge down in the numbers, it was imperative that Terry convinced a member of the Casaya tribe to flip sides and join him. He approaches Bruce, which on the face of it seems the most logical, but it is less clear from the edit if he approached other members too. This would have been the time to use his idol – sacrificing for Nick in order to keep his numbers intact, but he didn’t do it and left a bigger target on his back. When you compare how Yul deals with a similar situation in the following season, Terry does seem to have botched this chance. Further along the season, he repeatedly targets Aras, which given the end result of the season could be argued was a smart move. But without support to pull it off, he was never able to change the game, and while he could have targeted people lower on the totem pole, he didn’t seem to do so and painted himself into a corner. He could have given his idol to Shane at the final 5, and apparently he seriously considered it. Shane seemed to genuinely want to go to the end with Terry, but Terry let his greatest lifeline at that stage go. In retrospect, if he had managed to successfully get rid of Cirie at any point, he may have changed the whole game, but due to his obsession with physical strength, he never saw her as a threat and the strategic glue holding the dysfunctional Casaya together. I think it would be fascinating to see if Terry learned from this experience and was able to correct these mistakes on a return to the game. Could he keep up with the swiftly changing dynamics, especially after the merge? If he got his hands on an idol, could he leverage it to change the game? This would be really interesting to find out.
Of course the big disclaimer is that we only saw a fraction of what happened, and Terry himself says in his Survivor Oz interview that many of his plans were never shown, so it’s even harder to evaluate his real strategic abilities. This just builds an even stronger case to bring him back and see something we haven’t yet seen.
Could he win?
The assumption throughout Exile Island is that if Terry were to make it to the final 2, he would win hands down. We are told time and time again what a big threat he is to win and this seems to be confirmed at the reunion when jurors are asked who they would vote for. But is it that straightforward? Let’s assume the final immunity challenge is something completely different and Terry wins it. We know he would vote out Aras. So who does the jury vote for? I think Terry gets the votes of Sally and Austin easily. But Danielle has a pretty good chance of getting the votes of Aras, Cirie and Bruce. Shane apparently would vote for Terry, although he had a closer bond with Danielle so that doesn’t seem as certain. This leaves the winner in Courtney’s hands and while I think she probably votes for Terry, its not certain. The point I am getting to here is that whilst Terry clearly has a great physical game, his strategic game is unclear and I would say his social game was certainly lacking in Exile Island. So winning a jury vote for Terry may not be all that straightforward.
Terry doesn’t exactly impress me with his social game. It’s too blunt, lacking in subtlety and relies heavily on his assumption that his position as a leader earns him respect. When I look at the La Mina tribe following the merge of 4 tribes into 2, Terry doesn’t have great relationships with the other players. There is absolutely no doubt that they are reliant on his survival skills, and when he is sent to Exile Island, they seriously struggle without him. But in terms of personal connections, he doesn’t have many. Clearly the exception is Dan, who gets along very well with Terry during the season. But he doesn’t seem to have any relationship with Misty or Sally, and Ruth-Marie’s connection to the group is primarily through Dan, not Terry. His relationship with Austin and Nick is an interesting one – and sems to be built from that idea of respect, rather than a noticeable amount of friendship. I do think that had Parvati been cast a season sooner in Misty’s spot, there is a good chance she can use her social skills to bring Austin and Nick onto her side and Terry’s whole game could have been different.
Following the merge, Terry’s social skills seem to let him down although I think a lot of it can be pegged to a genuine frustration at not being able to break into a Casaya group that must have appeared anything but unified. Aras may well have been the one who made unnecessary remarks but Terry didn’t walk away – he engaged in needless bickering and was seemingly unable to forgive anyone who lied to him. He had moments where he came across as arrogant or condescending, after winning a challenge, and his complaining at losing a challenge because Jeff didn’t explain the rules just seemed petty. I can only imagine how he may alienate others if he were in a position of power on a future season, and I’m not sure he has the kind of political skills that Kim or Boston Rob have to keep all his allies in check but not come across as too powerful. I can imagine a similar situation to South Pacific where a Sophie-type player is able to utilise Terry’s weaknesses (much like Coach’s) to eventually steal the win out from under his nose.
Is it Too Late?
The obvious problem for Terry is that his chance to play Survivor has probably been and gone. Whilst we have seen “old school” players return in recent seasons (namely Gervase, Tina and Aras), Terry may not have the star power on his own to justify a return after such a long time. However, I think that is a BS answer because the number of people who wouldn’t remember Terry is probably reasonably low, given most Survivor viewers are pretty long term, loyal fans these days. And the point I am making here is that it really doesn’t matter anyway – its unlikely Terry will play in the same circumstances as he did in Exile Island, and will have to develop a new series of skills to stay in the game. So in a way, we are getting an all new player, which is an exciting prospect. From his Survivor Oz interview, he is keen to do it again and I don’t think he would disappoint. So whether you were a fan of his game or not, Terry seems like such a good choice to bring back, just due to the fact that he will bring something different from his first game. And his casting makes a lot more sense than some of the other players who have returned in recent years (Brandon? Francesca?).
So let’s get the “Bring Back Terry” campaign going – its never too late
Do You agree that Terry should be brought back? How do you think he would go if he returned? Let us know in the comments below!
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