Survior: Vanuatu – Islands of Fire was a very interesting season to go back and watch. It was the best of both worlds in a lot of ways; it was both highly entertaining at times and somewhat boring as a whole, it featured a great final five, yet had a generally uninteresting cast as a whole, and it relied a lot on specific cultural and geological points in Vanuatu, despite seeming generally mundane in the grand scheme of seasons up until that point. Even though Vanuatu may have been a chore at times to watch, I can’t help but feel really satisfied with how the show played out. It featured some very savvy players, and ended up being one of the more dramatic social games to play out up until this point, with serious lies and backstabbing as the focal point of the narrative throughout the game. In the end, an improbable, yet very deserving winner was crowned, and in the process, us viewers were treated to seeing a completely different strategy from a winner than any before. I think in the end the pros outweigh the cons with Vanuatu, making this is a solid and enjoyable season of Survivor. Without any further ado, here are some of my thoughts on the season:
- The season started off on a sour note as Jeff Probst announced that the tribes would once again be divided by gender. I thought it was way too soon for them to be going back to that twist, since it had only been 3 seasons since we’d originally seen it in The Amazon. While that season was entertaining, I don’t think the gender split is a great way to do Survivor, it takes away from the natural ebbs and flows of the game and concentrates players’ thinking away from the game itself. With that being said, I kind of started out with a little bit of a negative feeling towards the season, and the initial tribes didn’t help too much. The all-male Lopevi tribe immediately struck me as being one of the worst assortments of guys I’d seen on the show. A lot of this was ‘cause of casting, they put a lot of bulky older guys on the same season, which seemed kind of odd to me. There were just way too many indistinguishable guys on that tribe, and it made it hard to root for them. Ultimately, the older bulky guys outnumbered the young jocks, meaning Brook, John P., Brady and John K were dead to rights in the game without ever honestly doing anything wrong. In contrast, the all-female Yasur tribe came ready to play, and were highly enjoyable, featuring a dynamic mix of women from all ages, and all walks of life. After seeing season 6, it was pretty predictable that the younger women and older women would divide into two alliances and battle for supremacy, leading to some solid strategic drama from day 1 on. One of my early favorites from the season, Eliza, a 21 year old pre-law student, ended up being the deciding vote between the younger and older alliances, siding with the older women to vote out Dolly, which eventually led to the departures of Mia and Lisa. I think I have the unfortunate habit of rooting more for the male heroes on Survivor than the female heroes, but this season really had me sipping the girl-power kool-aid. The women’s tribe was far more dynamic and interesting to watch than the men’s, plain and simple.
- It was extremely interesting to see what happened when the tribes got switched. Just like in its format predecessor, the game really got good only when the tribes were gender mixed for the first time. This was when we saw the gamers really emerge from the crowd. Keeping with the shows use of native Vanuatu residents, each tribe got a visit from a neighboring tribe member mid-game, who selected a leader from the group. Those two leaders, Scout and “Sarge” Lea, were tasked with re-dividing the tribes and picking their respective tribes. Sarge chose to stay with Lopevi, with a team consisting of Chris, Chad, John K., Twila, and Julie, leaving Scout at Yasur with a team consisting of Amy, LeeAnn, Lisa, Eliza, Rory, and Bubba. The teams did stay fairly gender divided, with each tribe gaining two members from the other original tribe. Neither team decided to keep with the gender divide as time went on however, both eliminating minority alliance members of their own tribe. At Yasur, it became clear that Amy was fully in charge of the women’s alliance, as they all listened to her lead when they got rid of Bubba and Lisa over Rory, in moves meant to secure her leadership. The Lopevi tribe saw a new alliance form between some of the savviest game players in the season, with Chris and Sarge pairing with Julie and Twila. This foursome, along with Chad as their fifth, looked like a force to be reckoned with in the game going forward, and it was really exciting to see an alliance of strong, intuitive players form in the tribe switch period of the game like this. Unfortunately, this alliance was fairly short lived after the merge at final 10, since the women decided to band together, and get the guys out one by one until just one man was left standing; Chris. That was the point when all the fun really began.
- Chris Daugherty was truly a mastermind of the social game in Survivor. Unlike anyone I’ve ever seen on this show, Chris was able to convince people to keep him around solely by being nice and likeable, and he let his natural charm carry him through the game. After day 3 when his mistakes cost his team the first immunity challenge, there was a big push for him to be the first person voted off the island, but Chris’ social contacts were able to keep him around, and keep him firmly grounded in alliances that stayed solid past the merge. It was amazing to watch Chris work his social charm, considering he was a rather unassuming looking guy, a chunky construction worker in his mid-thirties, wearing a faded tank top and a beaten-up old hat. He did not look the mold of the classic Survivor charmer, but I honestly think that’s what made him so successful in working the social game. And the most interesting turning point of the season was when it got down to six women and Chris, because Chris was still very capable and eager to work all the angles and all the relationships on the island, even when he was for sure a goner. Chris successfully built relationships with his fellow castaways, especially Twila, who made a pact to go to the end with him, despite swearing her allegiance to Amy and Leann. Twila, Scout and Chris brought in Eliza, who had been targeted to go next, in order to turn the game on Amy, who was indeed running the show for quite some time, taking out her closest ally Leann before being voted out next herself. Chris should have been gone at final seven, and it would have been an easy decision, but it seemed like everyone truly wanted him around for some reason or another, despite what strategies and alliances were dictating before. Instead of being voted out, Chris saved himself and got himself in a position to be the swing vote at final five. In some of his least savory moves of the season, Chris sided with the older pair of Twila and Scout, backstabbing Julie and Eliza after making unnecessary allegiances to them. Chris wasn’t a saint by any means, he made a lot of cruel moves in the game to the get to the end with Twila, but his social prowess was outstanding, and somewhat unique, and in the end he outlasted a tough onslaught from a bitter jury, winning the title of Sole Survivor in a 5-2 decision. Chris was the story of this season for sure, his ability to weave in and out of relationships and alliances was noteworthy, and completely unlike any winner before him. It’s difficult to say where his win ranks amongst all the other Survivor winners; he did things in a very different way than most other winners, and had a decidedly different experience than most winners do. Still, I liked this season, and the main reason why that is is because of his story and his game-play, it was true Survivor gold!
- While I just got done saying I liked this season, I can’t help but mention how difficult it was to get fired up to finish it or even finish this blog. I think the narrative of Chris winning was great, but overall the pacing and location of this season and the diversity of the cast was a bit of a letdown. The whole show seemed strange, and it’s difficult for me to pinpoint exactly why that was other than to say that the cast just didn’t interest me much, the game-play felt sluggish, and the location didn’t provide nearly as much intrigue as it was built up to have. Of the eighteen players that were cast, far too many of them were anonymous characters, or were typecast in ways that overlapped with other players. Truth be told, I had a very hard time distinguishing a lot of the men from each other, some of them seemed so similar that gaining interest in their stories was almost impossible. Maybe that was what lead to the seemingly slow build up of the action on the season. The Lopevi tribe was so uninteresting to watch that it stunted my interest in the season, with the only saving grace being the non-stop drama at the Yasur camp. When the cast boiled down to the final nine or ten, the game started picking up, but it took a little too long in my opinion. As for the location, I’ll give the show props for trying to include the Vanuatu culture and location into the show, but this too just didn’t have the viewing impact I would’ve hoped to see. I’m not even really sure if I could have expected more, the volcano scenes were cool, as was the story of Roy Mata, but it just didn’t seem as interesting as Africa or Pearl Islands, in terms of incorporating culture. It’s not to say that Vanuatu wasn’t fun to watch, all seasons of Survivor are fun to watch in their own ways, but this season won’t likely go down as one of my favorites, and I think it was probably the catalyst for some changes in the casting process going forward.
Survivor: Vanuatu – Islands of Fire was a very different feeling season of Survivor. It didn’t have the prototypical Survivor players, or the usual alliance formations and battles. The ideas of heroes and villains were much more blurred within this cast, making it hard to discern while watching it who you were supposed to root for or who you were supposed to root against. In those ways, Vanuatu was great to watch because you just didn’t know where it was going to go, or how it was building up to end. While it had its flaws, Vanuatu ended up having a great story at the final seven, and ended up crowning a really good winner with Chris Daugherty. His story was by far the most compelling of anyone on the season; a guy who was seemingly on the outs multiple times found ways to ingratiate himself with everyone, and rode his relationships through to the end. It was a very different win than any we had seen up until that point, showing yet again how exciting and unpredictable a season of Survivor can be. While I may not be completely satisfied with everything about this season of the show, Chris was a deserving winner and his crowning as Sole Survivor tied the season together brilliantly. I would recommend a re-watch of this season for any hardcore fan of the show, it’s nice to see a season that wasn’t dominated by one or two central figures, and watching this will provide a great contrast for viewers used to seasons dominated by big personalities. Vanuatu was definitely a unique season, not the best there was, but solid nonetheless!