Riding Coattails: Survivor's Greatest Hits, Part 4


Rob Cesternino has long been touted as “the smartest player to never win” Survivor and countless other contestants have been labeled stupid. However, all of this name-calling is typically done by bitter, protein-deficient tribemates and crotch gnomes like Jeff Probst, so who can a viewer really trust?

Why, the editors, of course. Wait, that’s wrong. How about the viewers trust themselves? That’s good. Or maybe another viewer, like me? Um, but I don’t want to fill their heads with my own silly ideas about who’s smart and who isn’t and damn, what if I’m brainwashing them…


Even with a formal IQ test and Rubiks Cube showdown, human intelligence is nearly impossible to measure in a fair, reliable way. And while many people show aptitude in certain areas, like math or bong-making, general all-around smarts are much harder to pinpoint. So where does one even begin in an attempt to catalogue the brain muscle of former Survivors? Their staying power in the game may be give some indication, but people are voted out for being buff and annoying, two traits that, contrary to popular belief, can coexist with efficiently firing neuron mass. The survivors may have serious issues with subject-verb agreement and the best way to bail a canoe, but again, these are mistakes that even total brainiacs can make.

So what’s an obsessed, salivating Survivor fan to do? Well, when I was working on my undergraduate and master’s degrees (two accomplishments that I firmly believe can be achieved without smarts if one has access to spell check and a Palm Pilot and overuses words like “juxtapose”), I learned that when faced with such a ridiculous question, it is imperative to define the terms of the argument. Narrow the scope, so to speak. I choose to base my assessments on the players’ words and actions throughout the course of their games. With the exception of Richard Hatch’s recent tax evasion scandal and Rob and Amber’s reality revival on the next season of The Amazing Race, I am typically not privy to the ways in which Survivor castmates bestow their brilliance upon the outside world. I only see what the editors allow me to see, which makes my evaluations unfair at best.

But what’s more unfair than Survivor, I ask you? This column is written in the spirit of a game that gave Amber a car just because she made out with Rob and left Vecepia sitting on the beach on her birthday while Paschal and Neleh dined on a yacht. Fair has nothing to do with it. So without further ado, here are my picks for some of Survivor’s most beautiful minds:

Gervase Peterson, Borneo
I’m not saying I condone having lots and lots of children out of wedlock, laziness, or comparing women to cows. But any guy who can do that and still stay in the game is certainly not coasting on luck alone. Gervase’s game was very subtle and Grandmaster Hatch picked up on Peterson’s savvy very quickly. The fact that only doll-faced Colleen outlasted him in the now-legendary pagonging is proof that the man knew what he was doing.

Rodger Bingham, Outback
When I first saw this charming small-town dad from Kentucky, I wondered if he was too sweet to be smart. Not that an agreeable disposition is incompatible with intelligence, but most of the really sharp people I know have more of an edge to them. However, Rodger’s been around the block (even if there is only one in his hometown) enough to know when to shut up and stay out of camp dissention. He also seemed to be quite content with himself and his life, and not just because he had it easy. Plus, he befriended Elisabeth, Miss Congeniality herself, which undoubtedly helped him get ahead in the game.

Tom Buchanan, Africa and All-Stars
Yes, you read that right. That old hayseed, with his victory chicken dances and penchant for all things alcoholic is, in my humble opinion, one of the smartest cookies ever to play Survivor. Consider this: cumulatively, Big Tom has spent more days abandoned in a survivor setting, playing the game, than anyone else. Ever. He had the good sense to form alliances with Ethan and Lex in Africa and Rob and Amber in All-Stars. He stood up for himself when he needed to and took a few lumps in order to keep the peace. Plus, he wore a toilet over his head, which proves he isn’t arrogant.

To be continued next week…