Survivor: America’s Tribal Council – Why Rupert Wonby David Bloomberg -- 05/14/2004
Since Survivor had a special “America’s Tribal Council” (you can read my full recap of it here) that played by different rules than the usual Survivor, I’m going to play by some different rules in looking at why Rupert won the million. So What All-Star Survivors Definitely Should Have Learned goes out the window, and we’ll just look at this freeform.
It used to be said that Rudy Boesch was the most popular Survivor contestant ever. Certainly, he had a few detractors due to some of his comments on the first series, but his gruff demeanor won over just about everybody.
Indeed, before the Survivor: The Amazon finale, Mitchell (from the second series) headlined a comedy club in New York that was attended by many of the previous contestants and a few of the web writers. He did almost all Survivor jokes, which was certainly appropriate to the crowd. One of the jokes he did was something that every contestant there could relate to. He talked about how people might recognize one of the contestants and congregate by them, asking for autographs, pictures, etc. But if Rudy should walk by, everybody yelled, “Rudy!” and immediately ran over to him. The crowd of past contestants definitely knew this to be the truth.
The very next day, I was at the hotel where tickets to the finale were being distributed. Several of us were standing around, talking to Clay just outside the hotel. Suddenly, there was an uproar and yells of “Rudy!” filled the air. Without thinking, we all abandoned Clay and ran over to talk to Rudy. At that moment, I didn’t actually realize that I was doing the exact thing Mitchell had talked about – I was only doing what came naturally. It was only in retrospect that I realized it.
Why am I telling this story in an article about Rupert? Because at the post-finale party this season, I saw Rudy again. He was in an upstairs area where the music wasn’t quite as loud and the crowds not as pushy. And he was not surrounded by people. There were fans, to be sure, but the main focus on everybody mind was where Rupert was hiding. Apparently, Rupert had arrived and was immediately surrounded by a crush of people. He had to be relocated to an even more isolated part of the club, and his brother was standing guard at the entrance to the section to make sure no more than a few people made their way in at any one time. Yes, Rudy had been replaced – by Rupert.
As if that wasn’t enough of an indication of Rupert’s popularity, all we needed to do was rewind a few hours, to the finale and reunion. As I mentioned in my recap, when the warm-up comedian asked the crowd who they wanted to win, Rupert was by far the favorite choice. As the show went on, the crowd went into an uproar when it looked like Rupert might have a chance at winning the maze immunity challenge. Then, when all the contestants came on-stage to prepare for the live portion of the show, a number of them were cheered – but the crowd went nuts when Rupert walked in. They encouraged him to do a Rupert roar, as he and the crowd fed on each other. Chants of “Rupert! Rupert!” broke out several times during the live portion of the show.
He was clearly the crowd favorite, and as soon as the special million-dollar prize was announced, it became obvious to just about everybody that Rupert was the leading candidate. RNO Associate Editor Betsy Wasser even commented that the only way anybody else had a chance of winning was if they promised to give half the money to Rupert – and it turned out that Rob Cesternino had thought of exactly that idea! However, in the end, nobody stood a chance.
But why was Rupert so popular? Well, for one thing he was in two Survivors in a row, and people certainly remembered him – perhaps more than anybody else. His original series, Pearl Islands, was tailor-made for him. It had a pirate theme and he was the perfect Blackbeard. He caught everybody’s attention from the very first episode when he pillaged supplies from the opposing tribe (the Survivor moment that was voted as the best ever, which also showed his popularity). And he kept that attention until the moment he was voted off. As much as he might have been criticized for saying things like it was his adventure, his island, his spear, the fact remains that in many ways, it was indeed his edition of Survivor. Sandra may have won, but she’s already pretty much a “Who?” Rupert, however, will be recognized for years to come.
Rupert also attracted those people who love to support the underdog. He was the “fat kid” who was picked on in school. We saw Burton and Shawn making fun of him and felt bad for Rupert. But at the same time, the “fat kid” was a challenge monster, taking his team to victory numerous times – often almost single-handedly. His motto of never giving up and never surrendering also hit home and made people support him that much more.
Plus, we got to know a lot about Rupert. He is madly in love with his wife and family, and would do anything for them. We kept hearing about how he was playing Survivor so he could win for them. He is a teen mentor who does not exactly make a lot of money (to say the least) as he tries to help kids. Frankly, if this were a television drama instead of reality TV, Rupert’s background could not have been scripted better.
The fact that Rupert was voted off in large part due to the plotting of his own teammate – the evil villain Jonny Fairplay – only made him that much more popular. Jon knows how to work a crowd and is a professional wrestling villain. For every villain, there must be a hero. Rupert is that hero.
Throughout All-Stars, Rupert’s legend only grew larger. Yes, he had the shelter and the raft failures, but Jerri the Outback Villainess was his foil there, so once again, even if he was wrong viewers were not likely to side with her. As the series progressed, we saw Rupert make a handshake deal with Rob and actually have it succeed. As he said in his final words, he never stabbed anybody in the back or double-dealt them. In the opinion of many, he didn’t exactly play with the greatest strategy in the world, but the strategists often come off as villains (Rich Hatch, Brian Heidik, Rob Cesternino, Jonny Fairplay, Rob Mariano, etc.), not heroes, to most of the viewing audience.
Despite what the RNO writers thought about who should win, most viewers don’t really care so much about strategy as opposed to simply who they like. And even those who do value strategy can get caught up in it. I fully admit that I was caught in Rupert Fever on finale night.
Sometimes on Survivor, popularity with your fellow players can make a difference in how well you do. Neleh came in second even though she had arguably shown better strategy than Vecepia, solely because three of the Rotu 4 couldn’t get over the fact that she had beaten them. Of course, Rob Mariano lost to Amber on All-Stars this week because several of the jurors were so mad at him for the way he played, rather than recognizing him as the strategist that got both himself and Amber to the Final 2 (although much of that was due to the poor strategy of others as well).
It is appropriate that there was a good deal of discussion on the special about the players as characters, both heroes and villains, because that’s really what this vote was about. If everybody on the show were strategic geniuses, but none of them were interesting, it wouldn’t last very long. CBS let the audience decide who should win, and as we all know from American Idol, the audience does not always vote along the same criteria that the “experts” think they should. Looking at the Final 4 who were in contention for the million dollars – Rupert, Big Tom, Colby, and Rob Mariano – it’s obvious that this vote was not about strategy at all; it was about popularity, pure and simple. Rupert is currently the most popular Survivor, without a doubt. That is why Rupert won “America’s Tribal Council.”
David Bloomberg is the Editor of RealityNewsOnline and can be reached at RNO@pobox.com.
Be sure to sign up for our e-mail update so you can stay informed about new articles on the site! And take a look at the rest of the site. You can find all of our recaps and other info on this show at the Survivor: All-Stars page, and take a look at our The Simple Life page and our Average Joe page. You can even buy reality show stuff at our Reality TV Store!