Not since Survivor Nicaragua 10 seasons ago have we had a particularly close final tribal council, which begs the question "is it broken?". In recent seasons jury questioning has simply become a formality, with the editors carrying the burden of trying to make straightforward wins look somewhat unpredictable and interesting. Any facade of open-mindedness has been dropped, with most jurors simply using their allotted time to campaign for a finalist or lap up their last couple of minutes in the spotlight. In today's feature article Nick Chester puts forwards his suggestions for fixing final tribal council to return it to its former glory. Read on to find out some solutions to the current dilemma.
As a fan of a long running TV show like Survivor, I have come to accept that things will change over the course of time, often in ways I don’t like. This is how a show survives and stays on the air, often doing things long term fans don’t like in order to keep the show fresh and interesting. The catalogue of hits and misses in terms of production’s tinkering is long and varied, but one area that seemed to have stayed the same was final tribal council. The basic premise hadn’t changed much – that he final 2 or 3 get a chance to plead their case to the jury and ultimately jurors vote to award one player with the title of sole survivor and the million dollar prize. I talk in the past tense because unfortunately things have changed, and this became awfully apparent during the World Apart Finale. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a knock on Mike or his game because he did a great job. But the format and the way the players and jury interact has changed enough to now be having an impact both on the show and result. The way things are going, opening speeches, jury questions and closing statements could all be done away with and the jury could simply walk in, berate the finalists and vote. The changes have not happened as a sudden twist but a gradual shift over time, and have moved the game from an opportunity for jurors to ask hard questions into jurors simply attacking the final 3 for the sake of drama. I like good TV as much as the next person, but this does kind of screw up the whole purpose of Final Tribal Council. It has now become something of a challenge in itself – who can withstand the attacks of the jury the best. What should be the defining moment of the season is nothing more than a blood sport and the voting is a predetermined formality.
Sequester the Jury and Give Up On Ponderosa Videos
It’s now just a trial by consensus.
This isn’t the first time that I have made this suggestion, but the mixing and mingling of jury members after being voted out seems to be having a negative impact on how the winner is chosen. Since Micronesia, we have got the online “Ponderosa” videos as each member gets voted off, but since that time only 2 of 15 final tribal councils have been decided by one vote. In early seasons, juries seemed to spend time together after being voted out but were placed with handlers who ensured talk of the game was kept to a minimum. And this is how it should be. A jurors vote should be a factor of their perception of their own time in the game, and how the finalists treated them or played the game, from their own perspective. It has now become less of a measure of the value of players, but a trial of consensus, as jurors are encouraged to discuss the game for the benefit of a seven minute online video clip once a week. This has undoubtedly messed with the fabric of the game. The other big problem with Ponderosa is that a large proportion of the game is happening there which is unchecked. Once a player is out of the game, they can make up whatever lies they want and turn the jury against a certain player they dislike, and the player left in game is left with no defence. You could argue that finalists have the right to defend their game at the end, but the damage is long since done by then, and due to other factors listed below, finalist’s ability to set the record straight is being reduced pretty constantly. Having a pretty major section of the game left unchecked and out of control seems a major problem, yet it’s not only being ignored, but actively encouraged by the producers, who seem to like the drama or intrigue that comes from the Ponderosa videos. I know its impractical to keep jurors apart completely, but surely some reasonable steps can be taken to counteract this. The other negative impact of Ponderosa and continuing to have cameras on the players even after being voted out is it increases their feelings of self importance to the game – suddenly their one jury vote becomes a big deal with cameras still following them and wanting to know their thoughts. This is having an obvious spill over into their performances at final tribal council. Instead of just cutting to the chase and asking a question, many more people are feeling the need to make some grand gesture or overly dramatic speech. Seemingly they are putting more thought into their speech than their vote, which can’t be a good thing for the integrity of the game.
Bring Back the “Jury Speaks” Segment – and Let Finalists See It
Knowing what the jury is thinking is important – for the finalists and viewers.
Whilst I truly believe in everything I have written above, I know that it will never happen. Production is just too much in love with Ponderosa and having juries attack to ever try to change the status quo. However, I think if we are going to continue along that vein, we should at least give finalists a chance to take the temperature of the jury before they reach final tribal council and plan accordingly. I hate that a very major portion of the game happens outside of the island, but it’s a reality. So let’s bring back the “jury speaks” segment. This used to be where the jury would give their thoughts on the finalists, usually done over the top of shots of the finalists heading to tribal council. It was a staple of the first 7 seasons, and has appeared briefly on the odd occasion in later seasons (Gabon is an example). It’s good because it sets the stage on what to expect for viewers. But lets send the videos to the finalists as well, you could even tie this in with a product placement of a smart phone so they can view it. I think it’s only fair for finalist to know what the jury is thinking, especially members who may have been affected by things that have happened at Ponderosa. Of course this will mean having to maybe give up screen time from the completely unnecessary reward challenge in the finale, but it seems a worthy price to pay. It may not change the outcome, but at least gives the players a fighting chance and an even playing field.
Give the Finalists a Chance to Plead Their Case
Surely we want players to plead their case…after all, is that not the whole point???
The final tribal council used to have a straightforward but important format. First, the finalists would get a chance to plead their case to the jury. Then the jury would ask questions or make comments, and then the finalist would have a chance for closing statements. This final part was important, because often jurors would make comments or not allow a finalist to respond, so closing comments could address this. It could also allow them to change opening comments in light of what they heard from the jury. Over the years, this has eroded and the closing comments are long since gone. But in Worlds Apart, so were the opening comments. When I first saw the finale, I assumed the opening comments from Mike, Carolyn and Will had just been cut for time, but they had in fact never happened. Why? What was the rush? I could understand if not agree with cutting it for time or if it wasn’t interesting, but surely finalists should be allowed to make their case to the jury – otherwise why go through the charade? We are crowning a winner and giving them a million dollars – that’s no small deal and we shouldn’t just give the event over to some kind of spectacle where jurors get to tear them apart with no response. I can only conclude that producers have seen the Ponderosa effect as well, and decided to not bother with the finalists and just get final tribal council over as quickly as possible.
Stop the David Murphy Speeches and Enforce Questions
Are you choosing a winner or advocating for your friends?
Conclusion – Can Final Tribal Council Be Saved?
It used to be the climax to a season – the conclusion and closure to all the loose ends. What used to be a fact finding mission for jurors to make an informed decision has now become a grandstanding opportunity for players who weren’t good enough to make it to the end. I am under no illusion that almost every final tribal council was a done deal before anyone opened their mouth – most jurors know how they are voting already. But it used to be an opportunity to use questions to confirm their thinking and solidify their vote. And yes, in rare cases like China, allow a good player to convince a jury to vote for them. Surely it isn’t too hard to get back to this. As viewers, we really don’t have to give up anything that valuable. Producers don’t even have to make that many changes. It could all so easily be improved, if only we wanted to.
Do you think that final tribal council is broken and needs fixing? What changes would you implement if given the chance?
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