Survivor’s fourth season, Survivor: Marquesas started out with the promise of intrigue and excitement as the cast would be forced to subsist in a tropical locale with little support, no food, and no water provided for them. In the end, what started out as a promising group of castaways whittled down to a wishy-washy tale of love and hate, overly emotional play, and hypocrisy. Marquesas provided us fans with some wonderful characters like the hugely popular “Boston Rob” Mariano, Sean Rector, and the nutty, but entertaining Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien, but otherwise was filled with less than stellar players who were either obnoxious, conceited, or not very exciting to watch. There’s no way around it, this season was really kind of a letdown for me, a bad cast, questionable strategy, and an unfavorable winner. Without any further ado, here are my unfiltered thoughts on Survivor: Marquesas:
- My initial reaction to the cast was actually one of positivity. Simply just judging by looks and careers, the cast seemed diverse and full of people who would be gamers. But, soon after the tribes set forth, it became kind of apparent that this group of people would just not gel in a functional or entertaining way. The Maaramu tribe had some great characters that were fun to watch, like the quotable Rob Mariano, and the outlandish Sean Rector, but overall the tribe was divisive and overly self-sabotaging. With the exception of their fun morning radio broadcast skits, the tribe was basically just shown bickering and complaining constantly, ending up losing the only three pre-tribe switch immunity challenges held. Rob, Sean, and Vecepia preferred playing a social game rather than showing their strength as providers and hard workers around camp, alienating the likes of Gina and Hunter who ended up on the wrong side of the numbers. Contestants like Sarah and Peter were immediately despised, Peter getting voted out first, and Sarah only lasting as long as she could ride Rob’s coattails for. So, for entertainment value, this tribe had the heads up, but as a functional tribe of game-players, they rank pretty low on the list of pre-merge tribes in Survivor history in terms of success. The Rotu tribe, on the other hand, gelled magnificently from the get-go, winning challenges and building familial bonds, but was so damn annoying to watch. The bubbly, energetic behavior of people like Neleh and Kathy got old kind of fast, Gabriel’s lack of interest in playing a strategic game was just mind-boggling, and other than Paschal who had a certain admirable southern charm and patriotic spirit, I couldn’t find anybody else on this tribe to get invested in. Still, their family relationship worked out well for them over the first two weeks of the competition, even if it made for blasé television, so good for them I guess.
- The tribe swap on this season was so unfortunate in so many ways, because it enforced pairings that ended up taking away a lot of the entertainment potential of the contest. For one, seeing Boston Rob and Sean fall into a position of being seriously outnumbered after fighting for control of their original tribe was disappointing for me since those were really the only two I ended up rooting for. Also, the way the Rotu tribe broke up enforced two other annoying storylines; the Neleh-Paschal father-daughter relationship which consumed the end play of the season, and John’s assumption of a leadership role, which turned him into a conceited, and somewhat loathsome villain. All-in-all the tribes divided in a way that, in my opinion, didn’t enhance any of the good storylines that were being built. After John became paranoid of Gabriel’s lack of strategy and acted to oust him, he enacted his plan to get Boston Rob out, all the while becoming more and more conceited and arrogant by day. It was unpleasant to watch his alliance play, none of them were portrayed as particularly jovial, all of them were overly industrious, and none of them seemed to have any strategy beyond reuniting the seven remaining original Rotu members. Then there was the outnumbered new Maaramu tribe, with Kathy, Neleh, and Paschal joining Gina and Sarah from the previous tribe alignment. This tribe whittled down predictably, with Sarah and Gina getting voted out after being outnumbered, but it was the enforcement of the new happy-go-lucky trio of Paschal, Neleh, and Kathy that ended up creating a monstrous force that would stay intact all the way until the final four. The happy feelings between the three of them, the naiveté of Neleh, the father-like behavior of Paschal, the warm nuttiness of Kathy all started because of the random pairings from the tribe swap, and these character dependencies ended up taking away from the good strategizing and game play that possibly could have occurred if the tribe swap had split people differently. It’s tough to say the game could have shaken out better if the tribe swap went differently, we’ll never know that for a fact, but this season definitely didn’t work out in a way I wish it would have, starting at the moment of the swap. Survivor is a game of chance though, and the way it shook out worked well for some, and not well for others, but that’s just the way it goes.
- After Boston Rob’s untimely ouster after the tribe merge at ten, the final nine became decidedly more relaxed and comfortable with the game, even while the undercurrents of the end game started to show their roots. Even though I found Rob to be one of the more animating characters of the season, and even though he ended up being the main guy I was rooting for, he did bring a lot of tension and animosity wherever he went. Without his influence on the game, things calmed down a bit for the final nine, at least until the castaways participated in the “Pecking Order” immunity challenge. This seems to always be the challenge of truth on Survivor, where people know based upon what point in time their plaque is knocked out. Sean and Vecepia knew they would be first out in this, as they were the only two remaining original Maaramu members, but the new Maaramu members did not expect the group of John, Rob “The General,” Tammy, and Zoe to show any decided preference in terms of the latter pecking order. This was an amazing tactical mistake from those 4, tipping their hands to a newly formed alliance within the seven, and upsetting Neleh and Paschal to the point that would turn on John, voting him out 5-4 in the first somewhat shocking twist of the season. Once again, the arrogance of John’s group became apparent, and lead to their ultimate undoing. It would have been so simple for those guys to turn on each other, let Neleh or Kathy win that immunity for the sake of saving face, but they just weren’t thinking overly strategically, and their short-sidedness ruined their game. From there, an unlikely new five-some of Sean, Neleh, Paschal, Vecepia, and Kathy cruised to the final five.
- It was really at final five when it truly became apparent to me that I was going to be unsatisfied with this game anyway it shook out. The relationship between Neleh and Paschal was just way too over the top, and was detrimental to both of their individual characters. Vecepia, who made a habit of slinking in and out of alliances throughout the game, continued to change her mind and flip flop to get ahead in the game. After Sean was voted out due to Kathy’s inability to turn on her early alliance with Neleh and Paschal, Vecepia wormed her way in and out of alliances going through to the final. As the final four were gridlocked, and were facing a potential tie-breaker, Kathy made a deal with her for final two, which forced Paschal, Neleh, and Kathy to go to a newly instituted tie-breaker, commonly referred to in Survivor lore as the purple rock tiebreaker. In an odd sort of poetic justice, the one player who sacrificed their safety for chance, Paschal, ended up getting voted out on the tiebreaker, leaving Neleh clearly on the bottom after the two made their Tribal Council deal. However, Vecepia quickly went back on her word at final three at the Immunity Challenge, stepping down and letting Neleh win in exchange for a spot at final two. It was an unbelievably shady move from Vecepia, who put her interests in getting ahead in the game over fairness and honor. It’s hard to critique her over making what she felt to be a million dollar decision, but it was equally as hard for me as a viewer to support the way she played the game. She spent the whole game being unassuming, getting her foot in the door with others, and finding ways to get just three more days ahead every vote. It was good strategy for her, but weak strategy in terms of the all-time great Survivor seasons.
- Vecepia ended up winning the crown of Sole Survivor in a tough 4-3 split over Neleh at final two, with most of the John’s alliance backing her based on her ability to actively play the game throughout. I really didn’t have a favorite at the end, and while I do understand the votes for Vecepia, it’s just so hard to look past the shady moves with Kathy. As one juror stated, the person who really deserved the win was sitting on the jury, and it was Vecepia’s deceit that put her there. This was a tough ending to swallow, and a bad ending to what I felt was an already bad season. Survivor is a terrific franchise, sometimes seasons turn out great, while others simply don’t. This was just one of those casts that never reached its potential, and a game that just never unfolded in a way that was exciting or gripping. This is the kind of season I just want to move on from, it didn’t entertain me too much, I didn’t find the game play to be great, and above all, the results left a lot to be desired.
Survivor: Marquesas was a mixed bag at best, a season with some fun, memorable players, and some good moments, but overall it just wasn’t a remarkable season of a show that’s had more than its share of memorable games and players. Sure, Boston Rob has gone on to play three more times, winning finally in season 22, and has become one of the all-time favorites in the franchise, but aside from him, this season hasn’t produced any lasting memorable players, and because of that, it’s sort of become just a faded memory in the 15 year span of this show. The only real talking point of the season that persists was the purple rock tiebreaker, especially since it was revisited recently in the popular Heroes vs. Villains season, and even that had little to nothing to do with the game play, but simply the pure shock value of that tie-breaker format. I have no qualms about calling this season a dud, Dalton Ross of Entertainment Weekly might disagree with me on this point, but I’m in agreement with Jeff Probst about how to look back on this season. When asked about Marquesas later, Jeff said it was likely the worst location they ever shot in, and had a final two that made him snooze it was so boring. That about sums up my feelings too, nothing much to write home about with this one, and this is not a season I would really recommend going back and watching.