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Surviving the Jury on Survivorby Betsy Wasser -- 12/15/2007
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On Survivor, surviving the elements, winning challenges, and making it through tribal council isn’t enough to win the game. Once a player has made it to the coveted final two (or three) position, he or she has to face what might be the toughest obstacle yet: the jury. As Jeff Probst has pointed out many times, players then face a unique challenge. They must convince the jurors—those same people whom they had a part in voting out—that they deserve the million dollar prize and the title of sole Survivor.
Jeff often comments that for the first time, those players are not in control—the outcome of the game is in the jury’s hands. He’s right in a way, but I believe that in those last few moments of the game, a player still has a chance to improve his chances of winning. Some jurors wait until that final tribal council to make a decision. Still others have actually changed their votes based on an answer a player gave. A Survivor player cannot stop playing when he or she reaches the jury. The game is not over until the last juror has cast his vote.
I am always surprised at how little preparation some players seem to put into their appearance at that final tribal council. Their opening and closing statements are often either extemporaneous, or are simply comments on the lines of, “You saw how I played the game, so I put the decision in your hands.” Players are taken aback by some of the questions asked. In contrast, Vanuatu winner Chris gave one of the best performances at final tribal council ever. He prepared ahead of time, and even more importantly, told the jurors exactly what they wanted to hear. Chris even tried to improve his chances before he and his opponent Twila left for tribal council. He told Twila that she shouldn’t put up with any crap from the jury. Then in an interview, he admitted that he said that to deliberately rile her up so she’d say something that would offend the jurors! With preparation like that, Twila didn’t stand a chance.
If I were ever a contestant on Survivor, I would never take a fatalistic “it’s up to the jury now” approach to my last chance to win the game. I would spend that last day at camp preparing my opening and closing statements and doing the best I could to anticipate what kinds of questions I might expect from the jury. Think of it this way: before a job interview, isn’t it smart to practice answering likely interview questions? After so many final tribal councils, we find that there are certain kinds of questions that often come up. Let’s look at what those sorts of questions are and examine the best way a player can answer them to improve their chances of winning. After 15 seasons, there have been a lot of different jurors and finalists, so I won’t hit every one, but I will talk about the highlights and the trends that have emerged. Then, I’ll spend a little time thinking about what the contestants on Survivor: China might expect from the jury at tribal council.
Questions about character: We have seen many instances of jurors asking players what personality traits got them where they are. This sort of question has come up four times already, a smart player should have some character traits in mind. But it was the first Survivor winner who answered it best. Richard Hatch’s opponent, Kelly, said that her faith got her through the game. But Richard said he used “self-awareness, observation, and ethics.” Richard’s answer reflected his general argument, which was that he played the smartest strategic game. Throughout that tribal council, Richard stressed that his strategy made him the deserving winner, and it worked.
Questions about your opponent: One of the most interesting questions, in my opinion, that we’ve seen asked at final tribal council is why your opponent does not deserve to win. This kind of question comes up a lot, so we’ve seen players answer it to their advantage – and to their disadvantage!
In the Amazon, I think both Jenna and Matthew offered good reasons why the other player should lose. Matthew said that Jenna didn’t work as hard as he did around camp, and reminded everyone that just a few days prior, she had wanted to quit the game entirely. Jenna said that Matthew didn’t play the game from the start, opting instead to tag on to an alliance. Both answers certainly showed the other player’s weaknesses. Ultimately, Jenna showed that hard work at camp was not as important to the other players as strategy and game play were.
During the Survivor: Cook Islands final tribal council, Adam actually demanded that Ozzy “talk trash” about Yul and Becky. Ozzy said that Yul didn’t work as hard around camp as he could have. Becky, on the other hand, rode coattails. I was a bit disappointed that Ozzy sank to Adam’s level and put down two people whom he respected, but he did give the jurors reasons to vote for him if they were wavering.
In the Pearl Islands, Sandra told the jurors that Lill voted every single one of them out. I think Sandra was still afraid that she would lose the game because Lill was considered such a nice person and she wanted to show them that Lill wasn’t so nice after all. I think she would have fared a lot better if she had pointed out that Lill was voted out of the game once already, and therefore did not survive the entire game like Sandra did. Instead, by pointing out the hand that Lill played in eliminating all of the other players, Sandra convinced Tijuana that Lill was actually a better tactician than she’d thought. Sandra’s answer cost her Tijuana’s vote.
Questions about other players: Jurors sometimes ask the final two players questions about other deserving players. They’ll ask which juror should be in the final two, for example, or who else deserved to win. It’s come up quite a few times, so players should definitely give it some thought.
In season three, Brandon asked a two part question—which juror would you choose to replace you, and which juror would least deserve to win. Ethan and Kim both chose Lex as the juror that most deserved to be in the final two. Really, if in doubt, the third place finisher is a great answer to this question. That player obviously did something right, since he got farther than any other member of the jury.
In answer to which player least deserved to be in the final two, Ethan famously told Brandon that Brandon himself did not deserve to be in the final two. When Brandon voted, he said that he had been set to vote for Ethan, but because Ethan insulted him in his own question, he was changing his vote to Kim! Ethan still won, of course, but he did provide a lesson to future Survivors – beware of insulting a juror who might be on the fence.
In the Cook Islands season, Nate said that he perceived Yul as the “mob boss” and Ozzy as “the warrior.” He asked Ozzy if he’d played just as strategically as Yul. Ozzy pointed to the strategic moves he made, such as convincing his original tribe to throw a challenge and playing up his “surfer dude” persona. As for Becky, Nate asked what, exactly, she contributed. Becky said that it was a misconception that Yul was running the show. She claimed that she worked with him all along in all of the strategizing. Nate, unfortunately for Becky, wasn’t buying it. Both Ozzy and Becky were given the opportunity to improve their standing in jurors’ minds. Ozzy probably did a better job of positioning himself as a strategist than Becky did. Considering that Becky didn’t get any votes, it’s safe to say Ozzy played that better.1 2 3 4 5 Next-->
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