30 from 30: #12 – Swing Vote Christy Swings and Misses

The Moment:

Christy Smith goes from the driver’s seat to the side of the road in one episode.

We’re counting down the 30 Moments That Shaped Survivor, events that happened on the show that helped create and evolve the game and the series that we know and love. Go here to view the criteria we are using to determine what qualifies for the list. And since these posts are covering the first thirty seasons of Survivor, there will be spoilers for various Survivor seasons.

Why It Matters:

Being a game of numbers and opposing sides, it’s only natural that swing voters would become a part of Survivor. Sean Keniff was an accidental swing vote when his alphabet strategy (noticeably absent from our list of influential moments) helped Jenna Lewis go home. Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien was the swing vote in the final five during Survivor: Marquesas. The illustrious Rob Cesternino managed to be the swing vote at the first tribal council in Survivor: The Amazon. He would then go on to make Christy Smith one of the most notorious swing votes in Survivor history.

Have I said swing vote enough? Swing vote. See, it’s funny because he’s swinging and also he’s married to Heidi… (Editor’s note: I cannot confirm Emma’s claim that Cole and Heidi are swingers.)

After Rob flipped to vote Alex Bell off, Heidi and Jenna were furious. Despite largely treating her poorly through the whole game, Heidi immediately targets Christy to switch to her and Jenna’s side. Heidi points out that she’s never lied to Christy, and that the guys will vote Christy out as soon as Jenna and Heidi are gone. Rob picks up on the fact that the girls are trying to sway Christy and plants seeds of his own, stating that the main reason Heidi and Jenna are upset that Rob turned on him is that they can’t believe they are going to be voted out before Christy. That seems to be the right thing to say, as Christy then says how happy she will be to get rid of them. It seems that the girls’ days are numbered.

But their legacy would live on.
But their legacy would live on.

But wait! It’s confessional time and Christy is saying that while she likes and trusts the guys more, she thinks she will go farther with Jenna and Heidi. Her debate is whether it’s better to get final three or be a bad ass as the last woman standing.

(Side bar: It’s much more bad ass to support your fellow women rather than knock them down for your own success. Not that Christy owed Jenna and Heidi her support, but is it really less bad ass to have an all-female final three than to finish in fourth place as the last woman standing? Okay, carry on.)

This has been your token feminist minute with token female Emma.
This has been your token feminist minute with token female Emma.

Anyway, despite her uncertainty about her next move, Christy is very confident about her position in the game. During the loved ones visit she even whispers to her boyfriend that she’s going to be in the final four. Given that Rob’s relationship with Heidi and Jenna seems irreparable, she may not be far off. Still not used to the fact that they’re on the bottom because their friend betrayed them, Jenna and Heidi have been reaming into Rob for the past couple days. They are very focused on the fact that he doesn’t care about the personal relationships in the game and that he lies to them. The two sides are very much divided, and Christy can easily take her pick.

The problem is, now Christy is getting cocky. Heidi brings up the plan again and Christy explains in a confessional how the girls are only kissing her ass because they need her.

Christy from Survivor Amazon does the power dance
“Since when have you ever wanted to talk to me? Just since I have the power!” *power dance*

Before the vote, Rob talks to Christy to see if she’s still voting for Heidi. “I guess so,” and “I don’t know,” are not the answers Rob wanted to hear, but they’re the answers he gets.

Note to future contestants: this is the face of someone who just decided to vote you out.
Note to future contestants: this is the face of someone who just decided to vote you out.

Oddly, no one seems to mention that if Christy goes with the girls, the vote will be a tie.

After his conversation with Christy, Rob instantly (at least as far as the edit is concerned) goes to Heidi to discuss a new plan: make it easier for everyone and just vote out Christy. Since Jenna won immunity (although she will ultimately give it to Heidi), Heidi is very much on board with this plan.

But was she on board with a move to Texas?
But was she on board with a move to Texas?

After some required ironic quotes about being in the driver’s seat and some awkward comparisons between physical beauty and physical disability, Christy is voted out for being indecisive and relishing her newfound power.

The Impact: 

The impact of this move is two-fold. Strong players know that swing votes who dangle their power in front of everyone are to be disposed of. Strong players who find themselves as the swing vote know to tread lightly.

The quickest impact came in All-Stars, where Big Tom found himself with an opportunity to turn on Boston Rob and Amber and instead vote with Rupert and Jenna Lewis. Mario Lanza explains it better than I can, but the gist is that Tom makes the fatal error of referring to himself as a swing vote in front of his supposed allies. It does not go well.

I am also told that in Survivor: Vanuatu there was a castaway named Dolly Neely.

She's a sheep farmer? Named Dolly?? Are you sure you guys aren't trolling me? Is this really Tatiana Maslany?
She’s a sheep farmer? Named Dolly?? Are you sure you guys aren’t trolling me? Is this really Tatiana Maslany?

This “Dolly” had a hard time deciding whether to vote with the older women or the younger women, probably because as a clone, the concept of aging confused and frightened her. Though she ultimately decided to go with the younger women, she had already made Eliza too nervous…

I know, I was surprised Eliza got skittish too.
I know, I was surprised Eliza got skittish too.

…so she convinced the older women to join her in voting out Dolly.

After thirty seasons of Survivor, we have learned a few key lessons about how to successfully play the role of swing voter:

  1. Be decisive about it like Cirie in Micronesia and pick a side, own that pick, and don’t hint that you’re going to stray.
  2. Keep quiet about your position, like Sierra in Worlds Apart. Her flirtation with flipping may have annoyed us as viewers, but she at least didn’t share those thoughts with her alliance.
  3. Have a strong pair like Jon and Jaclyn in San Juan Del Sur and be too important for either side to risk voting you out.

The ultimate example of this swing vote legacy occurs in Survivor: Cagayan, as it shows both what to do and what not to do. There were two swing votes the night Sarah Lacina went home, but half the players only knew about the one. Guess which one went home? You can argue that Kass flipping was a bad move, but it at least wasn’t as bad as Sarah waffling about her decision and gloating about her new-found, short-lived power in the game.

The President of Cagayan.
Farewell, President of Cagayan.

What Else Made the List?

You can view all our 30 from 30 content by clicking here.

Emma
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Emma

Emma is the token chick of the Purple Rock Podcast. She has watched the show continuously since the second episode and is pretty sure she's never seen the pilot.

Favorite seasons: Heroes vs. Villains, Micronesia, Cambodia, Cook Islands, China, Philippines

Favorite players: Courtney Yates, Parvati Shallow, John Cochran, Cirie Fields, Yul Kwon, Kim Spradlin
Emma
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  • Purplerockmatt

    awww now I miss Cole.

    • Purple Rock Emma

      Wrote that for you, boo.

      • purplerockpodcast

        I know nothing (Jon Snow) of baseball, but I’m a fan of people that have a name that could easily be mispronounced as Hole Camels.

        • gouis

          Most people I know exclusively call him that.

  • Other Scott

    As soon as the fourth vote for Christy was read, Heidi knew instantly that Rob had stuck with them in voting out Christy.

  • andythesaint

    You know, when I put this moment on the list, I was thinking of it in terms of Rob’s moment killing the swing vote, not Christy’s of indecision. Because, sexism, I guess. But I think I like this better. The moment was Christy Smith reveling in her new found position. The move was Rob switching the vote to her. You feel it every time someone gives a confessional about being a swing vote.

    • Purple Rock Emma

      Perhaps I should have mentioned this in the article, but I also don’t happen to think this was a good call by Rob. There’s so much else he could have done, whether it’s be really shady and tell Heidi about the plan and not following through on order to cause a 3-2-1 plurality, or simply explaining to Christy that forcing a tie puts her in danger.

      • andythesaint

        I disagree. I think the most dangerous player in Survivor is the unpredictable player. Hard to make plans when you have a wild card like Christy out there. Rob understood what motivated Jenna and Heidi and used it. Christy was a wild card that needed to be removed.

        It would’ve worked if Jenna won one less immunity.

        • Purple Rock Emma

          I think she loses her options after that vote anyway, so there’s not much she can do to be unpredictable at that point. Or she’d settle down after the threat of the purple rock.

          I think I’m still just baffled by the fact that Christy flipping would make it a tie didn’t come up once in the entire episode. I keep wondering if I forgot about a contestant that was still in the game.

          • andythesaint

            Now, I shouldn’t undersell that there was more than a little ego at play here. Rob didn’t like Christy laughing in the face of his new found power either. So this may have been equal parts strategy and petulance.

          • Kemper Boyd

            I listened to the Evolution of Strategy Podcast on Amazon this week, I literally finished it yesterday and he says part of it was that there was little clarity of what the tiebreaker would be and how it would work. Obviously had he known he would have been immune I think he’d have risked it and not turned on Christie.

      • sharculese

        How much time does Rob have there? Iirc the whole thing takes place over just a few hours. Given that, I can’t really fault going for the low-risk, low-yield plan over something more ambitious you don’t have time to smooth over if it goes sideways.

      • DrVanNostrand

        I agree with you. In the end, I don’t see Christy choosing a tie, and after this vote you don’t even need her number for the alliance. She’s good fodder going forward, and even has some goat potential.

      • Kemper Boyd

        It’s also not a great plan because it doesn’t take into account if Rob and Matt vote Christy but Christy says to the girls “I’m with you” and they vote 3 for him and it’s 3-2-1 and Rob is out. I think if had Christy come to the girls and said “hey, I’ll go with you”, they would have jumped at a chance to cut Rob off at the knees.

  • DrVanNostrand

    I’ve been rewatching Cagayan recently, and I just saw the Sarah boot last week. Spencer, Tasha, and Kass were so bad in that episode. I can’t wait to see them on Second Chances.

  • andythesaint

    Thought I just had: you know who may have been the most effective swing vote in Survivor history?

    Scoutmaster Lil.