Survivor: South Pacific – Why Sophie Won (and Coach, Albert, & Ozzy Lost)by David Bloomberg -- 02/14/2012
Sophie was, by her own admission, not the best social player of Survivor. And yet she won the game with a solid margin over Coach and completely shut out one of her original allies, Albert. How did she pull it off? When did she pull it off? What could Coach have done to change everything? Why did Coach, Albert, and Ozzy lose and why did Sophie win?
OK, so I’m a bit late in getting this article posted, but now that we’re approaching a new season of Survivor, it’s time to wrap up the previous one! Throughout last season (and, indeed, the seasons before it), we looked at why individual players were voted out of Survivor: South Pacific. As I sat down to write about Sophie’s win, I realized that her win was so intricately linked with the losses of Coach and Albert that it would be somewhat silly and redundant to separate them into different articles. In a situation like this, the reasons that counted against one player counted for another. Ozzy was a bit of a different story, but we’ll also address that in a moment.
Even though we’re looking at four different people, we’ll mostly go about it the same way. That is, we’ll use the roadmap provided by What South Pacific Survivors Should Have Learned to see what each of the finalists did right and where they each went wrong.
However, we’ll begin by jumping ahead and getting one member of the final four out of the way. As I said, Ozzy’s situation was somewhat different from the final three. He didn’t quite make it that far, but there is still really no reason to do a separate article just for him. Why? Because we can sum it up in one rule – the sixth, which says not to be too much of a threat.
Ozzy was voted out for one reason and one reason only: He was a major threat. The other three knew that Ozzy was well-liked among his former tribemates, had earned respect for staying in the game via Redemption Island (not to mention volunteering to go to Redemption Island the first time), and had no ill will directed at him because he hadn’t done any real lying or backstabbing (mostly because he’d been on Redemption Island for so long!).
All three of the final Upolu members knew they were much better off going up against one another than against Ozzy. He had to go – there was really no choice in the matter. That is why Ozzy lost – and why a separate article on the subject would have been rather short.
Now we can move on to the actual final three, all of whom fully understood the necessity to scheme and plot in accordance with the first rule. Indeed, as Sophie noted in her interview with me, she specifically sought out somebody of like mind to discuss and plan strategy – and found Albert. The two of them and Coach aligned very early on as a sub-trio within the Upolu Five. As Albert noted in his interview, it was somewhat amazing that the three of them made it to the end together after having mostly worked as a unit throughout the game (other than near the end, when Albert correctly identified Sophie as a threat and tried to get her voted out, and when she was going to return the favor if it hadn’t turned out that Brandon stupidly handed over immunity). Normally, somebody within an alliance like this one either gets knocked out due to an untimely immunity challenge win by an opponent or is voted out because most people don’t want to face the jury with a strong opponent.
In this case, though, all three of them made it to the end. It wasn’t always smooth going, as Sophie had to fight against Albert’s ideas of upsetting the balance several times, but in the end she won out on that front – and obviously she was correct to do so! She used her strategy of creating – and sticking to – a solid core and stayed with that core until the very end.
Sophie was able to do that because she outschemed the others, in accordance with the first rule. Sure, we saw a lot of Coach making promises he would later have to break (despite his claims to playing an “honorable” game), but Sophie did much of the same – we just didn’t see it. As she told me, “I definitely felt like all the time I knew what was going on and nothing ever happened that I didn’t want to happen. I think I had a lot of influence over Coach that wasn’t shown on TV. I always felt in control of the game. From Day 1 or 2, I recognized who I was playing with and knew Brandon and Rick and others were immovable and would be the most loyal allies in the game. That’s huge, to have people who would never flip on you.”
Indeed, “huge” may even be an understatement! Sophie identified the most controllable players and then controlled them. She made multiple alliances and only turned on people when it was eventually necessary. She further described this by telling me, “I had a final three agreement with Rick. Edna had a promise from me that we were in the final three. There were a lot of inner alliances and keeping everybody calm was difficult. I wanted everybody to be happy and calm and comfortable. In a game where’s there’s already so much paranoia, that’s difficult to do.”
Indeed, paranoia is usually the rule on Survivor, so anybody who can seem to be a rock in the middle of the swirling winds of the game may come to be relied upon by the others. And from there, she put her plan into action:
I knew I had a very clear path to the end. I knew I could keep six people feeling comfortable. I knew of the six, five would vote out Edna. At the five, I knew Coach and Rick were in my back pocket and we’d voted out Brandon. I knew Coach and I or Albert and I could go from there.Of course, Sophie wasn’t alone in thinking she was in control of the game through scheming and plotting. I would say all of the final three believed it – and Coach agrees, as he said in his interview, “Did Albert think he was in control of the game? Yeah. Did I? Yeah. Did Sophie? Absolutely. We all carried each other. It was good times, bad times. it was a mutually benefiting alliance. We all helped each other. All three of us helped each other.”
There really is no doubt about that. The three of them worked together from the beginning – they schemed together, they plotted together. But only one person can win. If they did these things together, there must have been other factors that came into play.
The second rule warns against scheming and plotting too much. The first inclination might be to disregard this rule as irrelevant here, since all three of the core allies made it to the finals together. But that would be a mistake. The jury made it quite clear that at least one of the finalists – Coach – was viewed as having been too much of a backstabber for their tastes.
But it wasn’t just his backstabbing. It was the way he went about it, both when it was happening and then in discussing it at final Tribal Council. It’s difficult to preach honor and loyalty while also playing Survivor the way it should be played. But Coach might have been able to overcome that if he had just been honest in the end. This isn’t just me saying that. Winner Sophie herself told me:
In final Tribal Council, they wanted the truth. Neither Albert nor Coach could give them that. Albert tries to weasel his way around everything and Coach had all his honor and loyalty. All you had to do was say, “Yes, I backstabbed you and I’d do it again.” I think final Tribal Council was really important to me.She added:
Had Coach said, “Listen, that was all bull$#!+. I manipulated you, I used religion to manipulate you, and I’m here and I was a mastermind.” If he had said that, he would’ve won. But because he tried to defend himself and insist he was still honest and this BS, that lost him the game.She wasn’t the only one with that opinion. As another example, Ozzy said:
I really wanted to give it to Coach because I knew how hard it was for us to make it. Coach let me down in that final Tribal Council. I tried to lob him softballs. I beat Albert up and beat Sophie up. I wanted Coach to be honest with himself and all of us in that he didn’t play an honest game. Even though he tried, he should have owned up to the fact that he played a great game and didn’t play honestly.Coach may have told the jury that he’s a horrible strategist, but that wasn’t the problem. Backstabbing wasn’t the issue – scheming and plotting too much while simultaneously claiming not to have done so – all the way until the final vote – was the problem for him.
Moving to the third rule, how did our trio fare? Interestingly, this rule says to be flexible and if there is one thing they weren’t, it’s described by that word. But they didn’t need to be! They controlled the game. Anything that changed it up would have been worse for at least one of them, if not all of them.
As we’ve already discussed, Sophie felt she had a complete handle on what was going on. So why would she want to change it up? Albert did want to make changes – and considering the jury votes, he was smart to attempt it. But Sophie and Coach squashed his attempts. Could Albert have forced the issue? Maybe, but he would have needed to completely cut ties with Sophie and Coach, and there is no way of knowing where that would have left him. Indeed, he said in his interview, “Our tribe was so tight, so close, that nobody wanted to make a move. I walked myself in a corner. All the players in my alliance, nobody wanted to move. I loved that they all were playing honorably, but it limited my moves.” So in this particular case, “flexibility” was overrated.
The fourth rule, however, was not overrated, as it deals with the avoidance of emotional decisions. Throughout the entire game, all three players had to make allies with some pretty decent people. Indeed, seeing them interact now that the game is over tells me several of them have become long-term friends (others, not so much, but we won’t worry about that now). I’m sure it was painful for them to vote off Dawn, for example. But it was also 100% necessary for their game.
All three of the finalists knew better than to allow emotion to come into their decision-making process. But that’s not to say emotions played no role. Quite the contrary, Coach’s whole premise of honor and loyalty is completely emotion-based. But rather than falling for it himself, he used it to manipulate others.
This was especially true when it came to Brandon and his religious beliefs. Coach disagrees with this and even after the game was over, claimed he only talked to Brandon about the things that connected them, but did not use it against him. Brandon has a much different opinion, saying, “he went a little too far with me as far as my relationship with Christ. He really took a hold of that, despite what Coach may say or not, he went too far, period.”
Ironically, Coach caused Brandon to play emotionally. That worked in the trio’s favor for a while, but in the end, that emotional play transferred to the final vote, which Brandon admitted he made because “I was pissed. I did not want Coach to win.”
On a similar note, all three finalists did a pretty good job of following the fifth rule, pretending to be nice. Albert was perhaps the smoothest of all of them in this regard, but that ended up being used against him! He was so willing to entertain possible changes in strategy that I’m sure he expected some of the jurors to vote for him based on his apparent attempts to save them. Instead, they viewed him as more of a snake who was actively trying to solicit their votes.
Sophie helped that along, as she told me, “They didn’t show a lot of it on TV, but I threw Albert under the bus a lot at Tribal Council, saying how sleazy he was he was because he was too smooth.” We saw from some of the comments made by jurors and by the lack of votes cast for him to win that Sophie succeeded in that regard.
As for Coach, we’ve already discussed some of his problems in this area. Did he play up being the nice, honorable, loyal guy? Yes. Did people like him for it? Yes. But when it came down to it, being nice didn’t line up with his actions in the game. He wouldn’t admit that he had played anything but honorably, so he came off as a liar and a hypocrite, which we already know cost him votes.
Sophie, as we mentioned near the top of this article, had the worst social game of the final three. Ironically, that ended up helping her at the end! She wasn’t as outgoing or friendly with some of her allies, so they didn’t take it as personally when she voted them out. Brandon said flat-out in his post-show interview that he couldn’t say Sophie had directly lied to him because they didn’t really talk!
The lesson there is that there is a difference between pretending to be nice and really pushing it. Sophie could have suffered some consequences from her lack of a really good social game. We saw some final Tribal Council comments directed at her about it. But in the end, the majority decided that it was worse to have thought somebody was a friend while they were backstabbing than it was to be voted out by somebody with whom they didn’t have as much of a relationship.
The sixth rule discusses an aspect of the game that didn’t come into play at the final vote, but did earlier – the warning not to be too much of a threat. We already discussed how this rule completely derailed Ozzy’s chances of winning, but how did it affect the others?
In the end, not much. Ozzy overshadowed all of them in terms of being a challenge threat. Before that point, Albert saw the possibility that Sophie could be a threat in the end – and he was right. He noted as much in his interview:
She was the only other one there who could claim she deserved a million dollars. I know how a jury works. Given a final Tribal Council scenario, she was going to come in poised and give an answer she needs to give. Juries vote on “what have you done for me lately?” That to me was a big reason. I was concerned because she had all the makings of a winner, which turned out being true.But he couldn’t convince Coach to change things up, and he was unable to do so on his own without completely risking everything.
Sophie, on the other hand, took proactive steps to lessen the threat posed by her allies. We already discussed how she started going after Albert in earlier Tribal Councils, planting the seed that he was sneaky and sleazy – a seed that grew and blossomed in jurors’ minds.
She and Albert also targeted Coach, addressing the very issue we all saw at home – that he seemed to be the one making all the moves and directing the strategic activity. She told me, “Albert and I threw Coach under the bus, calling him a figurehead.” Coach, of course, couldn’t take these same actions of throwing stones at his competition because that wouldn’t be “honorable,” which put him at a serious disadvantage when it came to dealing with threats.
The seventh rule didn’t play a role for the final three, because it deals with who should be voted off. However, it obviously did apply to Ozzy, who was voted off just beforehand. Why? As we said, he was simply too strong and had to go.
But one thing that does apply here and did not for the previous articles this season is Appendix B: The Jury Phase. Actually, we’ve already discussed a lot about how the finalists dealt with the jurors, both before and during the final Tribal Council. We just finished going over how Sophie primed them for her arguments that Albert was a sleaze and Coach was a figurehead. But it went beyond that.
Part of the rule notes, “Sometimes, it's obvious what you need to say to a jury. Sometimes, it's not.” It seems to me that both Sophie and Albert knew what Coach needed to tell the jury. In Ozzy’s words from our interview: “I just wanted to hear him say, ‘Sorry, I had to manipulate you to get where I am. The honesty and integrity only went so far.’ That’s all I wanted him to say.” But Coach either didn’t understand it or simply would not do it. He couldn’t admit that he was anything less than an honorable and loyal Survivor player.
As for Albert, I don’t think he had much of a shot by the time the final Tribal Council rolled around. He himself admitted, “Most of the jurors had their minds made up.” The decision really came down to Sophie vs. Coach. Sophie laid out her strategies. Coach tried to weasel out of admitting he actually played the game. Given that choice, the majority went with Sophie.
All three of the finalists played well from a strategic standpoint. Indeed, as Albert said in his interview, “You don’t have many seasons where the three players who played the best game get to the end. We played a head and shoulders better game than anybody else.” He’s right. They controlled the game. They planned who would go and when. And they executed it.
But Sophie stood out higher than the head-and-shoulders of Albert and Coach. Albert kept trying to change things up, but she stuck to her guns and kept the plan intact. Coach played the best he ever had… right up until the end, when he couldn’t take the final, necessary step.
Most of what we saw on TV focused on Coach – which isn’t surprising, given his huge personality and the way he was interacting with the others. Sophie stayed quiet and in the background, not playing much of a social game but having her fingers in everything that went on, either directly or indirectly through her allies. Many viewers were surprised and upset to see Sophie win, but I think the entirety of the information we have shows that it was deserved.
Sophie played the best overall strategic game. She certainly could have improved from a social aspect, but then used it to her advantage when she could. Most importantly, she knew how to deal with the jury while Coach completely failed in that regard and Albert really never had a chance by the time they made it there. That is why Sophie won – and Coach and Albert lost.
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