The Eyes: Biggest Survivor Blunders

Since Palau ended, I have provided a sort of Survivor manual that could hopefully be useful to future players of the game. I have looked at the first people voted off and at the common denominators that resulted in their demises, and offered advice on how future players can avoid the same fate.

I have also looked at the winners and the common ingredients that led to their success and offered advice to future players on how to meet with that same fortune.

Then, in the general context of the game, I have analyzed various aspects to it that are required and offered advice on how future players should handle each individual aspect. I have talked about the Jury and how players should stack the Jury and then behave if they are in the Final Two. I have looked at the challenges, and offered advice on the ideal way future players should prepare before the game so they can use their successes and failures in the challenges to their strategic advantages. Last week, I even looked at Jeff Probst, and gave advice on how to handle his questioning and offer a perspective on why he’s there and what his purpose is in the game itself.

What I’d like to do now is to take the information that has been gleaned from these various articles and put it all together in looking at the first ten seasons of Survivor. This week, I am going to run down a list of five big strategic blunders players have made that have had major impacts on the game itself and/or their own personal games. Next week, I will do the opposite and take a look at some of the five greatest strategic decisions players have made. Then, in the weeks that follow that, I will devote one column to each one of the winners and really pick apart their strategies with the strategic thinking part of the game, the challenges, and the final Tribal Council. I have given a general look at all ten winners in one column; now that we have addressed many aspects of the game individually, we can get even more specific with each winner and see what works based on the information that we have learned about what it takes to do well in this game. Hopefully, at the end of this process, all of this information will prove to be invaluable to you as you study to become a future Survivor contestant.

With that said, it is time to address this week’s topic: Survivor strategic blunders. There have been many players who have been standout characters and players. Some of these people have great strategies, but in reality, no matter how good you are, everyone is only human. Mistakes are a natural part of being human, and as such, it really is impossible to have a perfect game. If anyone played a perfect game, they would win 7-0 in the final vote. The trick to Survivor is not being perfect, but adapting to change and people in order to play the game the best.

The other trick is to make sure that the mistakes you DO make are not the ones that cause your ultimate downfall. The truly good players are the ones who can make mistakes and then overcome them. It is important, as a future player of this game, to remember that.

And have there been mistakes made that HAVE cost players the entire game? You’d better believe it. Some mistakes were beyond the player’s ability to change. Others were not, and were very controllable, and ended up being that player’s demise. I’m sure that you can come up with many more than what is on this list of five. I’m sure that you may not agree with all these, and maybe think some should be traded for others. I made this list based on mistakes that caused the biggest impact on simultaneously the player/players making the mistakes and the entire game as a whole.

They are NOT ranked in any particular order. I simply thought about it, came up with a list of five, and am now going to share that list with you. The order is simply based on the season order. They come from many different seasons of Survivor, and no individual season or player is represented on this list more than once. So, without further ado, here is the list.






The Australian Outback season is consistently cited as one of the favorite seasons for many. The cast is cited as one of the best and most dynamic, and there were many memorable moments, like the flood, the trade of shelter for rice, and this moment right here. In quite possibly one of the biggest shockers in Survivor history, Colby voted Keith out in the penultimate Tribal Council, choosing to have Tina as his opponent. At the surface, it really doesn’t seem like such a big deal. If you have never seen the show and you just read that single sentence, it sounds okay, and you’re probably wondering what’s wrong. (Of course, if you are, then maybe you need to read a different column). At essence, the mistake comes from this: Keith was highly disliked among the members of the Jury, mainly because of his perceived arrogance. Normally, when you win Immunity in the final challenge, you have earned the privilege to set yourself up to have the advantage in front of the Jury in the final Tribal Council. Keith was the most disliked player at that point, and Colby took Tina with him instead because they were friends. Is it honorable? Absolutely, and it remains as quite possibly the most honorable thing to be done in the history of Survivor. But I write this column from a strategic vantage point, and even though this was still early in the series, Colby was fully aware of what he was doing. If he had taken Keith, it may not have been as honorable, but he would have made the correct strategic decision and he would have been the Sole Survivor. As much as you want it to be, friendship can NEVER become a factor in this game if you want to win.




We discussed this Marquesan challenge disaster in some depth when I wrote the column on the challenges a few weeks ago. However, this incident caused the demise of four people and caused a complete switch in the power dynamic of the Soliantu tribe, and as such, I would have been remiss if I had left it off this list. For those of you who did not read the challenge column and need to have their memories refreshed on this particular episode, here’s the set-up: the Marquesas cast is down to eight people. There is a tight alliance of four in John, Zoe, Tammy, and Robert, aka the “General.” The other five are on the outside, but some do not realize it. Sean and Vecepia, who are from the original Maraamu tribe, are fully aware of their status, as well as their ability to change it. Kathy has also come to realize the truth about this alliance, even though she was an original Rotu. Paschal and Neleh, on the other hand, need some more convincing, so they are unwilling to commit when Sean approaches them with a proposal to change the game and join their five together. Here we arrive at the Immunity Challenge, which is the infamous Coconut Chopping challenge, which is the type of challenge that is designed to reveal your status within the tribe. It is a trap, and some players are smart enough to step around it. Not the Rotu Four. They very foolishly band together in the challenge and knock out the others. This disaster is the convincing tool that Paschal and Neleh needed to change their minds and align into a new alliance of five with Kathy, Sean, and Vecepia. The end result? John, Zoe, Tammy, and the General are eliminated one by one, and these five successfully took over the game and made it to the end. This is an example of how you need to be wary of your challenge performance, because anything could end up leading to your downfall. As these four people learned the hard way, it is always important in Survivor to keep your cards close to your chest.




In each of the first four seasons of Survivor, the merge occurred when only ten players remained. Naturally, the Thailand group assumed this would happen again. Ten people are left, and Jeff Probst informs the castaways that the two tribes will now be living together on one beach. This is assumed to be a merge, and Shii-Ann couldn’t be happier, because she felt completely isolated on her old Sook-Jai tribe and wasted no time in openly cutting a deal with the Chuay-Gahn tribe to eliminate Penny at the next Tribal Council. We all remember the big moment when they arrive to the Immunity Challenge and learn that they were wrong: there was no merge, and they were still two tribes. Shii-Ann goes home that night when Sook-Jai loses Immunity. So why is this on the list? Yeah, Shii-Ann made a bad assumption that cost her the game, but everyone else made that same assumption. Even so, this incident illustrates two principles that all future Survivor players should follow. First, NEVER assume anything. Not only did Shii-Ann assume that there was a merge, but there was no real mystery as to what she was doing with her new deals. She even walked right up to Ken and told him what she was doing. Second, this also serves as an example of Jeff Probst’s role, which we discussed last week. He never once lied to these castaways. He said to them that the two tribes would now live together on one beach. He never said the word “merge” anywhere in that sentence. Was he deliberately trying to mislead them? Absolutely, the wording of that comment was intended to mislead the castaways. Remember what I said last week: his role is to help elicit some drama for a TV show. But he never once lied, and if anyone had taken the time to actually listen to the wording of what he said, then they would have been more leery of making big decisions at that time. So, really, the ultimate mistake here was making assumptions, and that was made by the entire group. However, in this incident, Shii-Ann was the one who ultimately paid the price, and this helped further the decline of Sook-Jai even further, ultimately leading to Chuay-Gahn’s domination of the endgame.




No list of Survivor blunders, no matter how big or how small, would be complete without this. The controversy that surrounded this one single decision, as well as the madness that ensued afterwards, is surreal. I always hear talk from people that the All-Star edition of the series royally disappointed them. While it was a little more predictable in the end than I would have liked or expected with a group of All-Stars, I have to say that there are many memorable moments from this season that really did make it all worth it. I watch Survivor reruns quite a bit, and no matter how many times I watch this incident unfold, I can never seem to help myself when it comes to screaming at the television set. This is quite possibly the dumbest thing anyone could ever do in the game of Survivor. Lex and Kathy were given the golden opportunity after the “switch” to get rid of an original Chapera and make their position in the eventual merge better. Instead, they brought friendship into the game (remember above when I told you never to do this as a future player? Take notes) and as a “favor to Rob” kept Amber in the game. Now, Kathy has since said that there were more reasons than that for keeping Amber, and I can almost see how you would want options in this game. However, there is a difference between trying to keep your options open and completely shooting yourself in the foot. They had no real good reason to trust Rob or Amber except for their friendship with Rob. The results of this? Lex and Kathy are betrayed (who didn’t see THAT one coming a mile away?) and Rob and Amber work together through the rest of the game (surprised yet? Not me) and make it to the Final Two. Amber wins. Big surprise there, too. So was this a really dumb move? I can’t think of anything dumber. Did it have an effect on the game? You bet. The effect was unbelievable. This move actually caused Amber to win, because it got her back together with her partner-in-crime and was the beginning of the complete destruction of any positive images Boston Rob was holding on to. All it would have taken was one good decision to be made on Chapera beach that day in the middle of the game, and the entire game would have been very different indeed.




And, at long last, we come to the final item that made my list of the Top Five Biggest Survivor Blunders. And this is yet another big one. For the longest time, even I thought the females had it made. There was no way a man was going to win Vanuatu. From the merge on, the female alliance had this game locked up. But a man did end up winning, and the female alliance crumbled. What happened? Thanks to some very poor strategic moves, the politics at Alinta were thrown into chaos. Leann and Ami got a little arrogant, and let Twila know that Scout was no longer in their planned Final Four. This alerted Twila that HER standings may be in jeopardy, so like the good player she was, she pulled Scout, Chris, and Eliza into it and overthrew the female alliance. This whole episode is a great example of very poor strategic decisions made by some players that other players take complete advantage of to further their own games. If you ever play this game, watch out for the word “hubris.” Hubris, if you haven’t heard of it before, is just a fancy word for arrogance. It is the belief that you can do no wrong. Pride always comes before the fall, so when you are playing this game, be wary that you do not become like Ami and Leann and become arrogant to the point where you reveal part of your pecking order and further tick off people by deciding to get rid of a female (Eliza) before all the men are gone. Also, watch out for people who do actually do this (because, like I said earlier, mistakes are inevitable) and do your best to take advantage of them, like Twila and Chris did, along with Scout and Eliza.




The Amazon’s merged tribe remains one of my favorites to this day. For truly the first time in the Amazon season, every week’s boot was a surprise once the merge hit. Thanks in large part to Rob Cesternino and his antics and almost-weekly alliance jumping, it truly became an “every man for himself game.” One week in particular provided us with an EXTREMELY surprising vote. No one saw this one coming, and as you know from above, I am talking about the week Christy was eliminated. I know this will come as quite a shock to many, but I have never actually seen this episode. I remember that I was on a band trip that entire weekend, starting Thursday, and asked a friend to tape that week’s Survivor episode for me. Long story short, there was a problem with the VCR, and it never ended up getting taped. However, I fully expected Heidi to go because she was the bigger threat between her and Jenna and Rob had just betrayed Alex. So on Friday morning, against all my better instincts, decided to watch the Early Show in my hotel room. I was shocked when they announced that Christy was the boot. So, anyway, even though I have never seen the actual episode, I am fully aware of the poignant and shocking events it contained. Why is this only an honorable mention? Well, this was almost on the list. It was so close to making it that I decided to include it here. The reason it did not make the list was that even though it was a horrible strategic move on Christy’s part to refuse to commit and be openly wishy-washy, especially with someone as paranoid as Rob and desperate as Jenna/Heidi, it really did not have as much of an impact on the game as the moves that made the list. Yes, Christy would have gotten farther, and Jenna may not have won. I’m not saying the impact was not important, it’s just simply that the others, like Lex/Kathy saving Amber or Leann’s blunder were just bigger. But the impact was big enough I decided to include it as an honorable mention. So, the moral of this incident that was so close to being on this list it wasn’t even funny? As a future Survivor player, take this one piece of advice away from me, if nothing else: NEVER, EVER ALLOW OTHER PLAYERS TO SEE YOUR INDECISION.


And there you have it. Hopefully I have given you some insight into how you can avoid some of these same mistakes. These mistakes I chose all were major and all had major effects on the players who made them and on the game as a whole. I hope you take some of this to heart, because if I’m still writing and this is still going a few years from now, I don’t want to be writing about YOUR biggest strategic blunder that costs YOU a million dollars.

“See” you next week!