30 from 30: #2 – Snakes and Rats and the Unforgettable Jury Speech

The Moment:

Sue Hawk gives Survivor‘s most famous jury speech and shows future jurors how it’s done.

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.

30 from 30- Sue Hawk gives snakes rats speech

Why It Matters:

Imagine for a moment that you are watching Survivor for the first time. You see the early episodes where the tribes build a shelter and hunt for food, compete in challenges, and vote out the weak links. Then you see the tribes come together, and an alliance emerges and takes control of the game.

Eventually the game gets whittled down to 2 (or 3) contestants. Now the contestants have to face the people they have voted out and answer to them for their actions and these jurors get to ask them anything they want! You have no idea what type of questions are coming. You might expect someone to ask, “What would you do differently?” Maybe even, “Who should be in the final two instead?”

Maybe you expect the most educated person on the island to offer bland platitudes of little substance.

Or maybe you expect someone to just fuck with the final 2.

Borneo- Greg final tribal pick number

The one thing you probably don’t expect to see is someone making this moment all about themselves instead of the final two. But that is precisely what Sue Hawk did as she engaged in obvious self-serving grandstanding while spinning an elaborate metaphor meant to highlight why one person shouldn’t win and the other should. In Survivor: Borneo, you may not have expected this type of moment. But now you should, because almost every season has this type of elaborate look-at-me speech that doesn’t seek to ask a question, but merely make an elaborate statement that is more about the speaker than about the final two. And it is all because of this:

Sue Hawk’s “Snakes and Rats” speech is arguably the single most memorable Survivor moment ever. It was the most memorable moment on the most watched episode ever and it is to this day used as a template for the ending speech at Final Tribal.

The Impact:

Sue’s speech is the gold standard in jury speeches. Do you want to rip apart a player that angered you while at the same time stealing a little spotlight for yourself? Giving a speech like Sue’s is the way to do it. And Survivor players have noticed. Lex isn’t talking about a stack of greenbacks without Sue Hawk. Penner does not talk about Denise riding Lisa and Skupin like oxen without Sue Hawk. Reed does not compare Missy to a wicked Stepmother without Sue Hawk. And Shirin does not compare Mike to a howler monkey, Carolyn to a stingray and Will to a dead fish without Sue Hawk (ok, her metaphor may not have been as rigorously thought through).

Beyond that, Sue’s speech gave future jury members the idea that their chance to speak at final tribal council is their moment to shine. It’s a juror’s last chance to say, “Hey audience, remember me?” And while Sue’s moment will forever live on in Survivor lore, there are other jury speeches that will do the same for entirely different reasons. The first of these happens in Amazon, when Heidi gets her moment to speak and delivers one of the greatest comedic moments in the show’s history:

Years later, Lisi steps up in Fiji and gives the absolute antithesis of Sue’s speech. In just two cringe-worthy minutes, Lisi’s speech includes:

  • a game of “eeny meeny”
  • asking to see the water shoes of one of the final three
  • offering a critique on those water shoes
  • debates the existence of the single-dimensional objects necessary for string theory to be viable
  • asking how many zeroes are in one million

(I made one of those up.)

But the concept of the jury’s speeches mattering at all starts with Sue, who tapped into a very real emotion and gave us a show at the end of our very first final tribal council. We saw a level of anger, bitterness and hurt that we hadn’t realized this game could tap. It revealed that the people playing Survivor were not just playing a game, but were investing real emotion into this experience. And that meant that some people were going to get hurt. Sue Hawk showed us that even when people get hurt, we can still be entertained. It took off the kid gloves and forced to actually watch people pay for their mistakes.  And this is why, fifteen years and thirty seasons later, “Snakes and Rats” is the greatest final tribal speech.

What Else Made the List?

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Matt has an irrational dislike for all contestants named Michel(l)e. Also if he ever takes a strong stance about why everyone else is wrong, it is he that is inevitably wrong.

Favorite seasons: Micronesia, Heroes vs. Villains, Palau, Philippines, Pearl Islands, Cagayan
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38 thoughts on “30 from 30: #2 – Snakes and Rats and the Unforgettable Jury Speech

  1. I think there is another key strategic development in this moment. The idea of final tribal council questions was that they would help the questioning juror make their voting decisions. And the other jurors mostly follow through (sometimes in absurd, Greg-ish ways)- speaking in terms of their own vote.

    But Sue’s vote had already decided. And yes, in part Sue’s used this certainty as an excuse to grandstand and make the moment about her suffering and her betrayal. But she’s not alone in stealing focus, hell Rudy literally states that he is entirely uninterested in the two contestants and talks about his own challenge performance instead.

    Where Sue innovates is by making a direct plea to the other jurors. She’s not just a vote for Rich- she is also his spokesman. Sue realized that jurors don’t just have to be jurors. They can also be lawyers. And this possibility has not only reshaped the rhythms of final tribals, but materially altered the way that contestants must treat jurors.

    1. So there are two types of this speech. I think Sue is less Rich’s spokesman, than she is anti-Kelly. She isn’t the David Murphy, “c’mon people vote for this person” she is “don’t vote for this person” and while that difference has little to no distinction in a two person final tribal, the tone is entirely different.

      Also I agree that jury questions were supposed to help them decide their vote, but I think if you watch that tribal again, everyone had made up their minds already. I doubt anyone was swayed by what was said.

      1. You are probably correct that everyone (give or take a Colleen- she does state when casting her vote that she changed her vote, and a Greg because only Greg REALLY knows what Greg was doing) had already decided their vote. However I think there was a real taboo against STATING that decision at tribal and seeking to directly influence other jurors that Sue smashed in its infancy.

        Certainly Gervaise and Jenna were always voting for Kelly, but at final tribal they projected ambiguity, saving their impassioned pitch for Kelly for when they were alone with the camera. Admittedly Colleen did take an incredulous jab at Richard, but she never connected it with her vote while in a shared space.

        And that’s to be expected given how controversial merely talking about regular votes was in Borneo, how evil coordination seemed to this jury. Many of these people took the idea of a secret survivor ballot seriously. Sue changed that. From the point when Sue baldly stated that she would vote for Rich and pleaded for the rest of the jury to join her, jurors didn’t merely get to cast one vote. They got to try to influence the game any way words could.

          1. Heh…given that I have watched a grand total of four seasons of Survivor (Borneo and the last three), I am spectacularly unqualified to put together a write-up on influence. I can do no more than poorly parrot received wisdom once we get past Season 1.

          2. How many of us are there who started with Cagayan? I know at the very least it’s you, me, and Other Scott.

          3. All of them. I have a job where I partially work from home doing things that don’t require my full attention, so that helped, but it also involved skipping out on several shows this year and catching up over the summer because I wanted to be able to say I was all caught up by the time World’s Apart ended. I finished One World, which was last on my list, like a week before the finale.

          4. yeeesh even I haven’t watched every season (though to be fair i’m staying away from the ones my friends here regard as the three worst)

          5. What can I say I’ve got completist tendencies, and once I had passed a certain point I was like ‘welp, might as well just go all in.’

            Honestly with the exception of Gabon and Nicaragua I felt like every one had at least something enjoyable about it, even if that thing was just one person

          6. is it any surprise that two of my three are gabon and nicaragua? (thailand is the third)

          7. I have to go on record as saying that Thailand is worth watching. It’s nowhere near my favorite season, not even in the top half, but definitely enjoyable in my opinion.

          8. i will probably get to thailand and gabon at some point (never nicaragua) but i’m not in a hurry

          9. Looking through old comments because procrastinating is hard work. It’ll be funny if Nicaragua becomes the only season you haven’t seen and Gabon is the only one John hasn’t seen because then you can argue about which one is worse.

          10. me and john agree about too much so we’d each just take the other’s word for it and leave it at that

          11. Contra the Purple Rock rankings I actually hate Gabon more than Nicaragua. Nicaragua just kind of left me feeling numb, Gabon made me angry.

            On the other hand, there is educational value in Gabon, even if that lesson is ‘this is what it looks like when you only cast people who don’t know how to play Survivor.’ There is nothing to be learned from Nicaragua.

          12. Ok, then are you ready for your next viewing assignment? Watch The Genius. I’ve only seen season 1, but it’s fantastic.

          13. AAAH nobody told me this website had homework!

            Nah, The Genius looks crazy as shit and I’ll probably try to watch it at some point.

          14. Realized I completely missed this article and comment section.

            Technically, I started with Cook Islands, but I didn’t move on and watch another season until Cagayan, so for all intents and purposes, yes, that’s where I started. Though I did see at least most of Borneo before Cagayan as well when it was being marathoned on some TVLand channel or something like that.

        1. It is a great point about the idea of a secret ballot. I think there were some people very into the idea of a secret ballot. I wonder what a Ponderosa of season 1 would look like. Now I’m really curious what they discussed

  2. I want to also give props to the editors who gave us hints to this speech all season. We were able to see Sue and Kelly constantly switch between friends and enemies until Kelly votes her out in the final 4. Without those hints, it would be unwarranted. They also have Sue talk about rats and/or snakes early on in the season (I rewatched Borneo in December, so my memory isn’t as fresh on it) to set up the analogy, because they knew that that speech was and is GOLDEN!

    1. During The Merger episode, as they’re leading into tribal council, they actually play footage of a snake eating a rat.

      (I only know this due to my recent research).

    2. damn those are great observations and some amazing editing. I think the editors for Survivor are one of the crucial things that sets it apart and has given it such longevity. They are just great at their job

      1. First of all, thank you for saying that! Secondly, I was just mindblown about how well they just set that up. For such a “rough” season, the editing is on point.

  3. From an entertainment standpoint, by and large Sue’s contribution was a good one for the show. Most of the jury performances we remember are a descendant from her. But I must say, it’s starting to get old. I get that most jury members already have their minds made up before that TC happens, but I’m starting to feel like we as viewers are getting cheated out of answers from the finalists, since no one seems to be asking any questions any more.

    As fans, we like to talk about who had a great FTC performance (Todd, Chris, Kim, etc) and who had bad ones (Twila, Amanda, Amanda). But for the past few seasons, I’ve felt like we just can’t judge. How do we know if Mike was good or bad if he basically only received one question (from Tyler)? The rest was grandstanding (Shirin being the worst offender). We’ve gone from the odd juror’s performance being a nice value-add to the main event (the final performance of 2-3 people) to the jury being the whole show. It’s a problem.

    1. I think the point where grandstanding is a problem is when no one has any interest in hearing the finalists talk at all. This past season seemed to be the culmination of this problem as there was maybe one question asked of the finalists and the rest was just statements that were occasionally responded to despite the juror not looking for a response. I think one or two of these types of speeches is ok, but I do agree that the momentum is towards them becoming everything about the jury.

      1. Yeah, it’s been an evolution and the balance is out of whack. This is where production needs to step in. I know they pre-screen to ensure there’s variety, so they need to ensure actual questions are being asked. If everyone wants to make some showy “let me talk about me” speech, then production should make them audition for one or two spots. Or say “that’s great and all, but you need to ask a question somewhere in there”.

        Worlds Apart was made even worse because there were no opening statements either. I wanted to hear Will justify his existence, and he barely had the chance to. I wanted to see what Mike would or wouldn’t admit to. I wanted more Carolyn bitch face!

        1. I think another part of the problem is that there haven’t been any close decisions in a long time meaning the responses matter less and less when we are getting a 7-1-1 vote. so in those cases people just grandstand because even swaying one or two people’s opinions wouldn’t matter anyway

          1. This is true. The Tony-Natalie-Mike trifecta didn’t leave a lot of room for drama. But that’s when you hit them with the ol’ “Will: justify your existence”.

          2. Based on what Rodney has said post game about his FTC plans I’m disappointed we were denied seeing that. (Not that I can blame Mike for what he did.)

            I’m not convinced it would have worked, but it would have been interesting.

          3. I think we’re just going to constantly have votes that are strongly in favor of one person. And I think it’s because the players do more and more discussion of the game (and their winner votes) at Ponderosa. Since nobody likes to back a loser, I’m sure that sways votes.

        2. They just put up a blog post making some of those points on Survivor Oz a few days ago. I don’t think there’s much that can be done to make FTC more contentious when the vote is an obvious blowout, but I definitely agree that production has to be willing to use it’s influence to at least try to make it kind of interesting. Worlds Apart may have been the least entertaining FTC I’ve ever seen.

    2. I think for people like Mike, it might have been for the best that he only got one question because he seemed to crumble under the pressure of just the question’s implications. If he had been asked more questions, he would have probably lost a few more votes. Not enough to lose the season, mind you, but enough to make it interesting.

    3. I think a lot of the problem is that for most of the Jury has been sitting in Ponderosa, TALKING to each other. They vent to each other, get their frustration out, and then come into the final tribal all calm and docile and just wanting to give a nice little performance.

      Here’s my experiment I’d love to see — Solitary Ponderosa. Where the jury members cannot talk to one another, cannot fill each other in on things that went down at camp after their elimination… if someone got the wrong idea about why they were voted out, let them KEEP that wrong idea and actually confront the person at the final tribal. Let it stew a bit…

      Granted, it would SUCK ASS to be the first person on the Jury, hanging out by yourself for that long. But from an entertainment/game perspective, it would be really interesting to see how it impacts the final vote. I could see people legitimately changing their vote on the fly.

  4. Probst is well aware that Ponderosa chatter is a flaw of the game. It’s just not economically feasible for them for to keep jury members separated. They would need to build places for 7-9 players, with support staff for each. He’d like to make it happen, but it just can’t.

    1. Yeah, I get that it’s a logistical nightmare, but I’m sure they could work something out if they really wanted to… they have enough money and the show is successful enough.

      In the end, though, we’re talking about the last 15 minutes of the last episode of the season. I get that this isn’t where pulling out the big stops is going to make a difference to the show’s continued success. But it’s on my Survivor Wish List 🙂

      1. They’re successful because they’ve figured out how to cut every possible cost without negatively impacting the show. Once they get expensive, it could cease to exist.

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