What Future Survivors Need to Learnby David Bloomberg -- 07/10/2002
Anybody who wants to be on the show needs to know a few things to survive. No, not hunting or fishing or how to make a fire. These would be good in a real island survival situation, but not on TV. The show demands quite different survival skills.
So what can these future contestants learn?
1) Make Machiavelli Proud: Scheme and Plot
The survival skills necessary here are more along the lines of something you might learn from Renaissance schemer Niccolo Machiavelli. From the very beginning, you have to start making alliances and cementing relationships. While it may be difficult to know who you can trust after just a couple days, if you take too long to figure it out, you may not have to worry about it because you won't be around. Heck, Richard said he started planning even before he got to the island. Although he obviously couldn't have known specifically who he would ally with, he knew what kind of people he'd be looking for. Similarly, Sue has noted in an interview that the best preparation is to "read lots of books on game-playing, civil wars, the fall of the Roman Empire—don't waste a lot of time on survival books." In the second series, Debb talked about how she read up on the very books Sue recommended against! We saw how long she lasted.
The most important attribute of an alliance is that they won't vote for you to leave. The second most important attribute is that they will vote the same way as you will for somebody else to take the long hike. As the Tagi alliance showed, if you get a group together, you have a much better chance of surviving against the rest of the unorganized clods wandering around, shooting their votes this way and that. Both Kucha and Ogakor realized this and both put aside any internal squabbling as soon as the two merged, and voted strictly along tribal lines.
Note that I have been talking about making alliances, not making friends. Sean, the last non-alliance member to be voted off, noted before his departure that these were the "most conniving bunch of people I've ever met." He added, "there's not an honest one in the bunch." Finally, he said that they are "callous, cold, and duplicitous people." He was right. And the most duplicitous of them won.
The Pagong folks made friends. As Jenna said at the end, "I couldn't have been ruthless." That's why they lost. As a lawyer friend of mine says, "Too bad, so sad."
2) But Don't Scheme and Plot Too Much
There's a fine line that needs to be drawn. If you spend all your time scheming and plotting, and you try to scheme and plot with everybody, everybody will know what you're up to. In the end, nobody will trust you and they'll turn on you. This is precisely what happened to Kelly. She tried to be all things to all people. Instead, it cost her everything when Susan viciously turned from a trusted friend to a hated enemy.
You need to pick a core group that you think is trustworthy and mature. Sean was viewed as immature by the Tagi alliance, in part because he thought it unethical to vote in such a manner. So he wasn't included in their planning, though they did use his stupid alphabetical system to help get rid of Pagong members. When he finally figured out how to play the game, in episode 12, it was too late, and he was voted off. They mistakenly thought Kelly was mature for her age. We saw later that this wasn't really true, though she ended up holding her own in the scheming department and simultaneously beat everybody else in immunity challenges four times in a row.
3) Vote Off: Weak, Strong, Weak
In the beginning, vote off the weak. In the middle, after the tribes have merged, vote off the strong. Then vote off the weak again. Now, in each case, "weak" and "strong" need some definitions, and actually mean different things at different stages.
Early on, the weak are those who will hurt your tribe's chances in the immunity challenges. Your best bet for staying around is to have a larger tribe going into the time when the two are combined. By winning the immunity challenges, your tribe stays strong. Even the reward challenges can keep you on your feet, as we saw with Kucha's string of victories – giving them plenty of food while Ogakor practically starved. So, early on, it's time for the survival of the fittest. We saw this several times in both editions of Survivor. And we saw how Ogakor's vote to eliminate a fairly strong Kel contributed to them losing future challenges. They went against this advice and suffered for it.
Later, when the tribes merge and it's every man, woman, or voting bloc for him/her/itself, it's time to vote off the strong who are not part of your alliance. If they are allowed to stick around, they will hurt your chances at the big money.
Here, "strong" has varied meanings. It can mean those who are literally strong and thus able to win the physical reward and immunity challenges. If you boot them when they are vulnerable, you won't have to worry about them later. "Strong" also means those who can organize others. The Pagong people almost managed to boot Richard, the glue of Tagi's alliance. They missed by a vote, because they didn't catch on until it was too late. If they had moved a little sooner, things would have been much different. I doubt Rudy would have allied with Susan and Kelly had it not been for Richard. The Tagi alliance, however, knew they needed to do this and took out Gretchen, a leader, as soon as the tribes merged. Greg, one of the most well-liked amongst his Pagong cohorts, immediately followed.
In a post-show interview, Sue explained that they were going to vote off Greg first, but he won immunity, so they went with Gretchen first instead. She noted, "They were all different kinds of leaders--either emotional or physical."
Both Kucha and Ogakor realized the need to vote off the strong. Unfortunately, that was not necessarily the right strategy for their particular situation. Obviously, you need to be flexible. Kucha voted as a bloc to try to get rid of Colby, Ogakor's strongest member. But they should have instead been looking for the weak link. They knew there would be a tie vote, which would lead to a look at previous votes cast against the two who are tied. But they didn't pick up on Jerri's problems with several other tribe members – problems which they might have (correctly) figured had gotten her some early votes.
So, the rule about voting off the strong when the tribes merge must have an exception: If you're going in with a suspected tie between alliances, aim for the one you think will lose the tiebreaker. Then, once your alliance has superior numbers, start picking off the strong.
You need to go back to voting off the weak again after the unallied strong are gone. In this case, "weak" means the stragglers. These are the members of the herd who are left over, with nobody to protect them. Gervase and Colleen were absolutely right to call themselves a target and a sitting duck, respectively. They had no protection, and they knew it. They were weak, and they were removed by the alliance.
After the stragglers are gone, you still need to focus on the weak. In this case, the weak are those who can be plucked out of the alliance without completely fracturing it apart. In a way, it's like pulling cards out of a card house. Some can be removed without causing much of a problem. Others cause the whole thing to collapse like, well, a house of cards. Both Sean and Kelly were vulnerable. Kelly had broken with the alliance, and Sean was never part of it. Either of them could have gone in episode 12, but Kelly won the immunity challenge. The smaller the group gets, the more important the immunity challenges are, again emphasizing that the weak will be removed. Kelly showed herself to be strong-willed at the immunity challenges and brought herself all the way to the final two.
One interesting twist to your decision of who to vote off is that you don't want a "nice" person left with you as the final two. Because if the jury compares you and somebody they like more, you're going to lose. You want to look like an angel by comparison. It was in everybody else's best interest to keep Richard around for the final two, because he had been such an arrogant jerk. This is why Kelly correctly voted Rudy off when only the three of them were left. But it still wasn't enough. Richard's Machiavellian planning won out.
4) Don't Backstab Until You Absolutely Need To
Although it was fairly obvious that Kelly had broken with the rest of the alliance several votes prior, she wasn't "scheduled" to be removed until almost all the Pagong were gone. The other members of the alliance didn't want to backstab her too early, as she might still have been a useful resource. Of course, Susan had her own reasons, thinking that, first of all, they had a real friendship, and, secondly, she could manipulate Kelly to help her get rid of Rudy and Richard so they'd be the final two (which, as I mention above, would have been a mistake, because Kelly got along better with the jury members than Susan did). But the point is that an alliance shouldn't start breaking itself apart until it is strong enough to survive any opposition. When Colleen was the only Pagong left, they felt they could rid themselves of Kelly. The immunity challenge foiled that plan, but it was a good idea nonetheless.
5) Pretend To Be Nice
As you're making alliances, you have to pretend to be nice. It's like diplomacy. Keep your real feelings inside. When Rudy burned the fish, there was no reason for Richard to have a little tantrum. He should have been smart enough to keep his mouth shut. He was lucky because his alliance was already pretty solid and Rudy wasn't going to turn on him, but, in general, people aren't going to ally themselves with you if they think you're a jerk or you're untrustworthy. But even if you do make it past that point and you somehow get down to the final two, if the jury thinks you're too much of an ass, you still don't get the big money. In this Machiavellian world, it's not good enough to look good yourself, but you must make your competition look bad. This could have been Richard's problem, though he overcame it by earning respect for playing the game rather than being liked for being nice.
6) Don't Form Emotional Bonds
These people are strangers. You are stuck with them for a month. But then you never have to see them again (well, other than at media events). You don't need to be friends with them. You just have to get along well enough to make a solid alliance and live with them. You can pretend to be nice all you want, but don't let it get past that point. As Greg said, you might just have to break that kitten's neck. Or she might be trying to break yours. Susan thought she had a real friendship with Kelly, but she eventually saw through that. Those emotional bonds caused Susan to lose, and to be viewed as an incredibly evil woman by many due to her final speech before the jury vote. It's every man and woman for him/herself out there. Don't forget it. Only one person gets the big bucks.
As a side note necessitated by Survivor II, I guess I should add that you shouldn't form emotional bonds with any animals, either – especially if they will be food. This was one of the reasons Kimmi ended up losing, though certainly not the only one.
7) Providing Food Wins Allies / Don't Be Lazy
Rich was the main food provider with his spear fishing. While this was not the main reason he won, it's one of them. If he were, for example, as lazy as Gervase when it came to providing for others, his alliance might have turned on him.
It's not just fish, either. Earlier, several contestants were ragged on for not going to look for any food, like the tapioca roots. They also tried fishing with a pole in the middle of the day, which was a complete waste of time. People will like you if you provide them with food; they won't if you simply eat the fruits of others' labor.
These are the most important lessons to be learned for future contestants. Richard played by these rules and came home with the big prize. He was the best player and the jury recognized it. This second time is more difficult, because everybody has Richard's model to draw on. So the next Machiavellian schemer will have to be even better. He or she will need to plan at least as well as Richard did, but keep away from the arrogance that almost have cost Richard the game. The current Survivor contestants will need to use every ability to Outwit, Outplay, and Outlast in the Outback.