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Survivor: Pearl Islands – In Defense of Rupertby Bruce Barker -- 11/05/2003
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The Rupert-bashing machine seems to be picking up speed every day and it's beginning to look like I'll be among the last dissenting voices. While I fully believe that Rupert is a long shot to actually win Survivor, here are my reasons why I believe Rupert is a lot smarter than many people give him credit for and why he is the best thing to happen to Survivor since Hatch wore his birthday suit:
1. His "day job." I spent over three years working with troubled and psychiatrically disadvantaged teenaged boys myself and can tell you that the most essential skill needed is the ability to do whatever it takes to manipulate the motivations of people. You manipulate school administrators to give the kid more chances, you manipulate the family to get them to do things that are in the child's best interest, and you manipulate the child himself – doing whatever is necessary to get them moving in the right direction.
While everyone viewed Rupert’s explosion after tribal council at face value, I saw it as something entirely different. I saw a technique being employed. First, you confront the person strongly and before they have the chance to assemble their argument. The more you can seem on the verge of losing control, the better this technique will work. You then let the person stumble through their first line defenses (which is all they have had a chance to muster) until they begin to repeat themselves. In this case it was a lot of, "Yes I voted against you because so & so said this, blah blah blah." First line excuses are invariably simple and easily discredited. This is why people invariably have backups they assemble when opportunity arises. The next step is to change the volume and tempo of things BEFORE the person gains composure and starts using their backup rationales. If you notice, once Peter Panic began to repeat himself, Rupert got very quiet. He became very conversational. The standard phrases used in this situation are things like, "But can't you see how that view is incorrect?" and, "But surely you can see now that you were making a mistake, right?" Rupert used variations of both of these. End result, the person is incredibly relieved, thinking they narrowly dodged a bullet (or a fist to the chops) and quietly vows to himself to be more cautious and think things through better in the future. They ALSO think twice about crossing the "angry" person again. From a clinical perspective, what you are doing is activating a Fight or Flight response from the person and then, while the adrenaline is really pumping, removing any cause for fear. In the hyperadrenalated state, the person is VERY susceptible to the power of suggestion because they will do almost anything to avoid feeling this way again. In effect, Rupert was attempting to neutralize an enemy. In future situations, Rupert need only throw a cautionary look and Jonny Truefart will recall the main event and have a visceral reaction much stronger than he normally would have. What many saw as a blown temper, I saw as a stroke of manipulation.
2. As I write this, he is the pick of almost 50% of respondents at the Survivor website to win the whole shebang. Now this poll isn't so much an accurate barometer for picking the actual winner as it is a popularity contest. It shows that Rupert is more popular than virtually all the others combined. People STILL love him to death.
3. I don't know what's happening where others live, but on Fridays the topic of conversation at the hospital I work at is Rupert. They are still talking about that brief shot of him sewing his own clothes on the beach. Each week there are new participants in the conversation – people who overheard the week before and got curious enough to start watching. This isn't just a local phenomenon to my neck of the woods though, because Survivor is regularly beating Friends for the first time. Name another show more than five seasons old that is still in a GROWTH phase. Rupert is most definitely one of the reasons for this growth.
4. More than any other contestant, Rupert bought into the "fantasy" aspect of the adventure. As a result more viewers are not only more aware of the backstory this season, but participating in it as well. Think about it. I hear people talking about this season and saying things like, "well, if they were REAL pirates they would..." Yet not once during Survivor: The Australian Outback did I hear a single person say, "Well, the original settlers were convicts you see, and that's why the contestants should..."
5. He's a big lovable teddy bear who wears his heart on his sleeve. This didn't happen overnight and I'm quite certain that he's more than a little aware of how to use this to his advantage. I'm certain of this because I'm built very much like old Rupert and I've learned how to be cuddly and endearing OR intimidating and dangerous, depending on the circumstances. Men my size all do it. It keeps us out of trouble and it keeps us from scaring a lot of the women we meet who might be made nervous by a deep booming voice from a man who looks like a football linebacker. Rupert knows how to go from Pooh Bear to pissed polar bear and back in a matter of moments.
6. Right out of the famous RNO rulebook on how to survive Survivor: If you feed them, they will keep you around. There are a lot of hungry Morgans left. They keep talking about how they miss Rupert's fishing skills. After the merge – and there will be one sooner or later – those Morgans will be easy alliance fodder for the man who fills their bellies.
7. Rupert has created an alliance that right now has a majority in Drake. Any attempt by Johnny Lonewolf to break that alliance is going to wind up with him dealing with reason #1 again. So Rupert is going nowhere until the merge hits.
8. As far as everyone in the game knows, Rupert has been the most honest player to ever appear on the show. While we all watched him sell Shawn down the river three days after promising they would be together, none of the others are aware of this turn of events. It was a secret alliance made by Rupert to save his own sizeable butt when his back was against the wall. For as long as he can hold the sham together, Rupert's word is still the biggest stash of gold on the island. A big factor of Survivor is not how well you lie, it's how well your lies remain concealed, and thus far Rupert has shown a mastery of the art.
So there you have it. I'm sure I missed a few things, but Rupert is the sole reason I'm still watching this season and I look forward to Thursday night television now in a way I haven't for a long time. I know that in many eyes, Rupert has become a liability, and I respect that. But I'm still firmly in Rupert's corner and doubt I'll be vacating the turf anytime soon.
Bruce Barker is the co-owner of Movie Boss – a free online game. He has also been writing about the entertainment industry for over 10 years with articles appearing in numerous publications including Box Office Magazine. He has written about several shows here at RNO and also at Foxes on Idol. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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