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Survivor Tie-Breakers: How the Purple Rock Has Changed Players' Strategyby Evan Meikleham -- 03/16/2003
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Ties and tie-breakers have always been one of the imperfections of the game of Survivor. There has never been a way of resolving ties that really makes people happy.
On the most recent episode of Survivor: The Amazon, we saw Heidi sell out her old tribemates. It was not because she was trying to save herself like Kelly Goldsmith or because she felt excluded and thus more willing to switch sides, like Shii Ann; but it was a purely strategic move, probably just to avoid a tie. And as a fan of the show, all I could say when I saw it happen was, "It's about time." Every single season slips into the same cycle of predictability after a while, and it is at the very least more enjoyable to watch the show when you don't know what's going to happen next. Smart or not, Heidi's vote is exactly what Mark Burnett has been trying to get people to do. And the origins of her vote go back a long way. In fact, the chain of events that led up to Heidi's defection strategy started back when there was a fat naked guy prancing around the beaches of Pulau Tiga.
Think back two and a half years to the dog days of summer 2000. Yeah, I know, I can't remember too much either. But I can remember one thing: eagerly waiting to see if Richard Hatch could actually pull it off. He did, and will go down in the record books as one of the greatest players ever. The debate will go on forever whether or not he was the greatest; I personally don't think so, but I'll save that for another time. But one thing that not even the great Richard Hatch knew until almost a year later was how close he actually was to a fourth place swansong. For those of you who don't remember, after Kelly averted doom for the third straight time by winning immunity, there was a 2-2 tie between Rich and Sue Hawk. The tie-breaking protocol was not known at this point, and Kelly decided to switch her vote from Rich to Sue and sent Sue packing. Had she voted for Rich again, we'll never know if she would have been able to win, but we know Rich would not. We would have discovered that Rich's four past votes would have come back to haunt him, because Sue only had three.
So, the next season comes along, and Mitchell becomes the first victim of the past vote rule. I don't think anyone had any beefs with the rule at this point. Things got iffy when the Kucha and Ogakor tribes merged and Jeff Varner, one of the most popular castaways ever, got screwed by Kimmi's big mouth. Whether you loved or hated Jeff, the season went downhill from here. Now, I'm not saying that Mark Burnett should have stepped in and stopped Jeff from getting ousted, but it hardly seemed fair that Jeff lost because Kimmi either didn't know or didn't care about the tie-breaker rule.
Then the show went to Africa and the tie-breaking rules had implications several times in the game. First, we had the infamous Samburu tribe. The tribe of eight split into two factions of four, both of which were content with pushing a tie. Although immunity saved them for a while, by the time they finally had to go to tribal council, irreconcilable damages had already been done. Carl and Lindsey, neither of whom had any prior votes, went to a Q&A session which ended with Carl leaving. Carl was a good sport about it, but I don't think it was that interesting to see the tie resolved that way.
Then we had the twist that sent Lex, Kelly, and Tom to Samburu. None of those three had any past votes, but Lindsey had four. As unpopular as Lindsey was, it was really not that fair to her that there was no way she could protect herself.
After Lindsey was given her walking papers, we had the merge. Although the tribe had agreed to vote Clarence off unanimously, Jeff Probst revealed two ballots with Lex's name written on them. If past votes didn't matter, this probably would not have been such a big deal, but it led to Kelly Goldsmith's downfall.
So, we had seen two sides to the past votes rule. We saw how past votes can give leverage to people in minority factions, which is a good thing because unpredictability is the key to entertainment in reality television. But we also saw how past votes can make the show incredibly predictable, as was the case with Jeff Varner and Lindsey. But one thing was certain: we would NEVER see another Kelly Wiglesworth-like vote switch.
But then Survivor went to the South Pacific and Mark Burnett decided to get rid of the past votes all together. He said he got rid of the previous votes because it made the game "too mathematical." From the point of view of someone who likes to dissect strategy, I don't think he needed to go so far as to abolish the rule altogether. Maybe it could have been tweaked a bit, for example you get a clean slate every time tribes are changed. But to Joe Blow who just watches for the heck of it, I can see how this could get boring, so I won't fault Mark on that one.
So, Survivor: Marquesas came along and totally refreshed the franchise. Worrying about a tie was never a big deal mostly because the initial part of the game was so one-sided in favor of Rotu. Twelve votes passed and the only time there might have potentially been a tie was the night Gabe Cade lost. Then came one of the show's most infamous moments ever.1 2 Next-->
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