The Eyes— The Best Strategic Decisions

Last week I emphasized the point that all Survivor players, no matter who they are, are going to make mistakes. Because of the fact that we’re all human, it means that no one is perfect. The key in Survivor is trying to minimize your mistakes and be able to adapt to them, as well as monitoring other people’s mistakes and trying to take advantage of them.

While everybody, even the eventual winners, makes mistakes during their games, there are also strategic decisions that are for the best. These are decisions that are made by players that positively affect their standing in the game, as well as possibly for their tribe or their alliance. My focus this week will be on this side of the coin.

Just as last week, I have chosen five different instances, and they are not ranked in any particular order of importance, but rather in the order they appear in seasons 1-10. These decisions are not all necessarily made by people who went on to win, because there have been some pretty impressive strategic decisions made by other people who did not go on to win. The major criteria for appearing on this list is that the action or decision had to have a major positive impact on the game of the player who made it at the time, whether they won or not in the end. It is also favorable to have had a positive effect on an alliance or tribe the player was involved in at the time, but I did not view that facet as necessarily a requirement for appearing on the list.

As I said with last week’s list, I have based these on my own personal preferences and observances of the strategic aspect of the game of Survivor. You may agree with some or all of the items on this list, and you may have your own that you think should replace some of these, and that’s fine. I know very well that there are far more than five great strategic moves made in the game of Survivor, but this list is only five items long, and so I have done my best to pick the five best.

So, without further ado, let’s begin looking at the list.






This makes the list primarily because of not only the impact it had on the first season, but also because of the impact it had on the entire concept of the series. The credit in my little title goes to all four, but we all know full well that the main perpetrators of this were Rich and Sue. In any event, this was groundbreaking for the very young game. These four banded together fairly early on and said, “Hey, we’re going to be the last four.” They recognized fairly early the need for alliances in this very social game. While the young people on Pagong were having a party and the other Tagi people were remaining fairly clueless, these four saw the potential in making a solid alliance to get them to the end. And they did it. The other players knew that there was an alliance, but they never really did anything. If you go back and re-watch the first season, you will see that there were some small attempts to make counter-alliances, like Jenna and Colleen at the barbeque, but they were either too little too late or they never really amounted to anything other than talk. If you watch carefully, you will see that the Pagong tribe actually Pagonged themselves because the Tagi Alliance held strong and the Pagongs all started voting against each other. While this alliance of four was never picture-perfect because they would have voted Kelly out from the Final Six onward if she ever lost Immunity, it doesn’t matter, because what is important is the concept it established. Players in future seasons have modeled and adapted to this strategy, and the game has been evolving ever since…..and it all started on one tiny beach on one tiny island in Borneo.




At first it looked like almost nothing. It was a seemingly very minor action, but the consequences were huge, and had a large effect on the entire game. The merge had just happened, and it was the first individual Immunity Challenge, the Perch. After several hours of standing on the perches, the sun had set, and Tina and Keith were the only two players left standing. Keith turned to Tina and said “I need this.” Three very simple words. After a moment of consideration, Tina stepped off her perch and Keith had won Immunity. Okay. Rewind the tape. Remember that at this point, because of Mike Skupin’s accident, the tribes had merged evenly with five members each. While they weren’t revealing it, Ogakor had gained some very valuable information early on in the game: Jeff Varner had had a previously cast vote (back then, ties were still determined by previous votes, as you may recall). The problem was that Keith, who Ogakor knew had more, was a likely target of Kucha for various reasons. The point is that, in that moment, Tina realized that if Keith did not have Immunity, chances are he would have been the target, and since he had more previous votes than Jeff, he would have been voted out. This would have given Kucha the upper hand once again, and Ogakor would have been finished. Tina grabbed the opportunity and traded Immunity for a shot for her tribe to continue living in the game. Keith was safe, and Kucha targeted their strongest, Colby, who had no previous votes. Ogakor voted against Jeff because of the one vote they knew he had, and he was gone, and Kucha was finished. With one action in the Perch challenge, Tina secured the future of herself and her tribemates, and thanks to her, they were able to take control of the game. As you all know, Tina went on to win.




Now, Rob Cesternino could hold a place on this list all on his own. Even though he didn’t win, he was one of the most strategic players this game has ever seen. Almost every single one of his moves was brilliant, and the only thing he did wrong was lose a challenge. The reason I singled this one event out was for two reasons: 1) This is a list of moments, not people, so I needed to choose one, and 2) This moment drives home the point I tried to make in the introduction about how future players need to be mindful and ready to take advantage of the mistakes of other players. While what happened with Deena was because of a huge mistake of hers, this one, in my opinion, was bigger. This mistake Alex made was actually so huge and so stupid that it was also very close to making my list of strategic blunders last week. For those of you who do not remember, Rob, Alex, Jenna, and Heidi were joined together in an alliance of four. One morning, Alex decided to tell Rob that when they got down to four, since Heidi and Jenna had “sworn their lives to each other” and would never vote for the other, Alex would need to vote against Rob at four. Rob once again showed his strategic genius and made the decision to turn on his friends and join forces with Matthew, Butch, and Christy to eliminate Alex. The aftereffect of this move was enormous because it changed the Amazon game once again, and it took a completely different course. This is on the list because, ultimately, no list like this would ever be complete without Rob Cesternino, and of all the great moves he made, in my opinion, this one stands out the most because it truly demonstrates the principle I hope all future Survivor players will keep in mind, which is taking advantage of the major mistakes of other players.




I feel like the sickest human being alive putting this on the list because this is the most despicable act ever committed in Survivor history. I am not even pretending to be a Fairplay fan, his game was disgusting and one of the most immoral I have ever seen. However, as a columnist, even though it is my job to give my opinion, when making a list like this, I feel I need to be impartial and unbiased. So I will freely tell you that this has nothing to do with admiration for Fairplay or his despicable and immoral action. While this really did almost nothing for his game afterwards, except for one event I will bring up in a minute, it showed a lot of pre-planning on his part. He worked this out with his friend long before he stepped foot in the Pearl Islands. Then, immediately after the fact, he used this to try and gain some more ground with Sandra and Christa. While neither one, especially Sandra, never fully trusted him again, he used it to convince them to save Burton and vote out Tijuana instead, which did have a major impact on the game. I do not suggest that future players lie about dead relatives, or even bring their relatives into this game at all. The reason this is on the list is because, as I said, it did have an impact on the game and showed pre-planning on the part of the player. Sick, twisted, evil plans, but plans nonetheless.




This could be looked upon from two perspectives. This was obviously a dumb way to play the game: why, when you are still a tribe, do you cut your legs off and vote out your strongest players? It is the same trap Lex fell into during All-Stars. However, this changes when you look at it from the vantage point of the weaker players because they are the ones who will be targeted if the ideal philosophy goes through. For these weaker people, the tribal game really has to become individual so they can get a majority and stay in the game. So this all depends on which perspective you are looking at this from. For the purposes of this list, I am looking from the specific point of view of eventual Vanuatu winner Chris. We all remember that Chris royally screwed up the balance beam in the first challenge. He was a surefire first boot. I thought for sure that he had screwed up his game by fumbling on the challenge, because as I established way back when I analyzed the first boots, at the first stage of the game, players really have nothing else to go by. However, back at camp, Chris memorably and poignantly said “This game is called outwit, outplay, and outlast….not outbalance.” He then proceeded to work in tandem with the other older men of the Lopevi tribe to vote out their biggest threats and take control of the tribe. This, coupled with his other various strategic and physical skills, helped lead to the biggest comeback in Survivor history.


As I said before, I realize that many of you may not agree with some or all of the items on this list. I’m sure many of you have your own items to bring to the table, and that’s great. I based this list based on the significance of the action based on criteria I have been trying to establish over these past several columns for the benefit of future Survivor players. Each of these moves had an impact on the game. Some of the impacts were larger than others, but the common denominator here is that these actions helped to simultaneously illustrate the strategic minds of these players and heighten, even if it was only slightly, their stance in the game of Survivor.

Next week, it’s going to be time to begin putting everything together. Every week from here on out, each column will be devoted entirely to one of the ten Survivor winners. We will begin next week by analyzing the first Survivor winner, the infamous Richard Hatch. I will take a look at how all the elements I have been talking about for the past several weeks came together in Richard’s game and helped him along the path to a million dollars.

“See” you next week!

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