Monday, May 16, 2005

Survivor Finale: The Right Man Won

(Since I didn't watch Everybody Loves Raymond toniight - because I don't - I thought I'd sum up last night's Survivor finale instead.)

After 39 days and a bunch of episodes, the best player of
Survivor: Palau, 41 year-old New York firefighter Tom Westman won a 6 to 1 vote over PR professional Katie Gallagher. And under the circumstances it was about bloody time. Like most reality shows (and unlike my favourite The Amazing Race) Survivor isn't about being the best person, it's about being able to manipulate people without drawing a target on your own back. The person who does best at challenges and the person who shows leadership skills gets hit by the "tall poppy syndrome". Being too good usually leads to a player getting eliminated at the first possible opportunity once Tribes disappear and challenges become individual. Flying under the radar - not winning immunity challenges and not trying to lead the team but doing as much work as you have to and keeping your alliances strong but flexible - works, which is why Katie got as far as she did.

What Tom brought to the table was the whole package. He was a strong leader during the tribe vs. tribe phase of the series and a strong provider for his team. What's more he developed a number of alliances of varying strength. For most of the game his strongest alliance was with Ian Rosenberger - about the only player who was close to being his equal in the physical challenges. He also held an alliance with Gallagher and a secondary alliance with three of his fellow team mates. Another factor was that he had a clear vision of how the game would go. He played the game very much in the way that a chess player does, thinking ahead to what the best move his opponents could make would be and what his best move to preempt this would be. He planned to keep Gregg Carrey in the game until there were five players left because he thought that this would be the optimal time for Greg to make his move. In the event, he managed Gregg's removal with six players left because he got the impression that Gregg was making his move earlier than expected. After that it was a simple business of isolating and removing the remaining players who were not part of his core alliance, Caryn Groedel and Jenn Lyon.

The end for Ian came prematurely when he seemed to have burned too many of his bridges, first by not taking Katie on a reward he won which raised questions with her about his honesty and then by seeming to agree to vote Tom out if he lost immunity. It all came out. In an amazing turn of events Rosenberger dropped out of the last immunity challenge, an endurance competition, after almost 12 hours because he had thought through the events of the show and decided that he wasn't pleased with how at odds his behaviour in the game was to his own personal values. He ended the challenge after extracting a promise from Tom to vote him out, a development that astonished both Tom and host Jeff Probst.

After that it was a foregone conclusion that Tom would win. In the final Tribal Council he was articulate, and both complimentary to his opponents and even a little humble. Gallagher on the other hand was a t times abrasive towards people - at one point she told Jury member Janu Tornell that she wouldn't answer the question because she knew there was nothing she could say to get Janu's vote. Beyond that her behaviour during the game had not won her any fans. She didn't try hard at competition, she did on more than one occasion ridicule other players and, she did ride the coat tails of two better players through her alliance with Ian and Tom.

At 41 Tom is the oldest player ever to win
Survivor but as Jeff Probst pointed out the average age for Survivor winners is 34. Maturity - emotional and intellectual maturity - wins Survivor. Physicality isn't enough, indeed as we've seen over ten series being physically dominant can be detrimental because at the first opportunity you are likely to be voted out if you don't also have a solid plan in playing the game. Tom won in part because he was physically better than most of the other players but also because he had a well thought out and executed plan. He deserved to win because he literally was the best player on that island.

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