I have a history of falling for the wrong men – when it comes to Survivor, that is.
I laughed in amusement while the Tagi tribe gaped in horror as Richard Hatch walked around with his junk out in season one. In season seven, I drooled over Jonny Fairplay from the minute he told everyone his grandma had just passed away. And this season, I fell for Russell Hantz – a short, overweight oil tycoon who lied, cheated and manipulated his way to the top with the best of them.
So during the season finale of Survivor: Samoa, when the jury awarded the $1 million to Natalie White – a blonde southern belle who had done nothing the entire game except ride Russell’s coattails to the final three – I died a little inside.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But I still couldn’t believe it. Once again, the bitter, cynical jury members chose to award the $1 million not to the person who had played the best game (arguably the best game in Survivor history), but to the person who had pissed them off the least.
It didn’t matter that Natalie had blindly followed everything Russell said and voted for each and every person on that jury, just like Russell had. Because she let Russell take all the heat for the tribal councils, she won the million in a vote that wasn’t even close.
And then, to make matters worse, she told Russell at the finale that she had played the better game (without a strategy, mind you) and refused his offer of $100,000 for simply the title of sole survivor – a title he had undoubtedly earned by the time he voted Kelly off on day 24.
Natalie joins a long list of other Survivor winners who claimed their victory by riding coattails and pretending to be sympathetic when voting people off the island. Remember Sandra from season seven? The Survivor: Pearl Island’s winner had only one strategy: to vote off anyone, as long as it wasn’t her. And Amber from Survivor: All-Stars? Good thing Boston Rob married into the money, because he sure as hell wasn’t going to win the game for being the better player.
The Survivor jury used to recognize when someone had played a better game and awarded them for it in the end. Richard Hatch, Tina Wesson and Ethan Zohn won seasons one through three, respectively, and earned their title of sole survivor because of how they played the game strategically. But recently, in a disappointing number of seasons, Survivor has become a popularity contest, and it doesn’t matter who outwits, outlasts and outplays – it’s who wins in the social category that wins the game.
Russell found immunity idols when there weren’t clues, he burned socks and drained water canteens to gain an upper-hand, and he made big, bold moves that dismantled the Galu tribe one by one and led a downtrodden and disrespected Foa Foa tribe to become the final three people standing.
Russell is the sole survivor. And he didn’t have to pay me $100,000 to say that.