30 from 30: #8 – John Carroll and the Fall of the Rotu Four

The Moment:

John Carroll was the leader of a six-person alliance that was dominating Survivor: Marquesas — right up until the moment it became a four-person alliance.

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- Fall of the Rotu four

Why It Matters:

From the beginning of Marquesas, the Rotu tribe dominated tribe-based challenges. And just as in sports, winning was hiding any problems. Rotu was the self-described “love tribe”, setting up massage trains and picking up the slack for team members that weren’t feeling well. They were like a well-oiled machine, efficiently dividing up camp duties and decimating the other tribe.

John Carroll oiled
John Carroll, well-oiled machine

But John Carroll didn’t come to Marquesas to have a camping trip with some strangers; John Carroll came to kick ass and slather himself in oils. As you can see from the picture above, he was already halfway there. For the other half, he enlisted the help of three of his Rotu tribe members: Tammy (the Dawn to his Cochran), the General (the loyal follower), and Zoe (the…Zoe).

Of course, the Rotu Four alone weren’t enough to control the game in a ten-person merged tribe. They added Paschal and Neleh to be the fifth and sixth wheels and give them the numbers to control the vote. And for at least the first vote, they did— the Rotu Four (plus two) took out Rob Mariano in the first post-merge vote. You may remember Rob Mariano from such Survivor seasons as “That one where he sold out Lex for a stack of greenbacks”, “That one where Tyson kinda blew it for him”, and “That one where CBS took no chances that anyone else might win.”

Boston Rob Redemption Island final three Phillip Natalie
Seriously. No chances.

After the alliance flexed its muscle and voted out Rob, the writing was on the wall. The Rotu Four had succeeded, and John was was giving confessionals about Neleh and Paschal supporting his victory and calling them his “two free passes.”

The next order of business on John’s inevitable march to victory was voting out Sean Rector. The only way Sean could save himself was with an immunity win. In a seemingly fortunate coincidence, the immunity challenge was one that essentially made it impossible for Sean to win immunity: the coconut chop. When John goes up to make the final chop that will deny Sean an immunity win, he gives him a parting gift.

Marquesas Sean catches kiss from John coconut challenge

There was just one minor flaw in John’s plan. It was a little thing. Surely nothing would come of it, because the Rotu Four was solid and Paschal and Neleh were on board and the next three votes would be easy. In fact, the votes were so obvious that the Rotu Four took them out in order in the coconut chop challenge.

Marquesas coconut chop challenge
“Remember that time I farted in front of 20 million people? Or has it not happened yet? I forget episode orders.”

Strategically, once Sean was eliminated, it no longer mattered who won immunity. But the Rotu Four decided to demonstrate their loyalty by not targeting each other until they absolutely had to. The one problem with that? Neleh and Paschal thought they were members of the Rotu Six, not bottom-of-the-totem-pole fodder. The challenge made the pecking order clear.

After the challenge, Neleh and Paschal discussed whether they were willing to accept their position in the Rotu alliance. The answer? Nope. A few hours later at tribal council, a new pecking order was established.

Sean Rector votes out John
Always bet on black. Unless you’re betting on Neleh, then bet on super-white.

The Impact:

There are a lot of moments that descend from this one, depending on exactly how you categorize the fall of the Rotu Four. Was this the template for the underdogs to overthrow the favorites? Because that’s a narrative that has appeared again:

Twila Chris Vanuatu
“So what’s the plan again? Can you say it, like, slower? Maybe draw it in the sand?”
Danni Stephenie Guatemala
“If you win the million, any interest in investing in my steakhouse?”

Or maybe this is just about not accepting your fate just because someone tells you that you’re going home, and that even when you say yes to an alliance you should always be on the lookout for a better deal than the one you’ve got.

Rob Matthew Amazon
And don’t be picky. Align with the guy who may kill you all.

Regardless, it taught us that even when the game looks bleak, things can change. Just one lucky break (even one that, for Sean, seemed like an incredibly unlucky break in this case) can be the difference between a march to victory and a swift boot. For future Survivors, the lesson was that you should try to exploit every opportunity, and every tribal council you survive is one more chance to work your way into a better position.

Troy Christina One WorldUnless you’re Troy. Nobody wants to work with Troy.

What Else Made the List?

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

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John is the co-host of the Purple Rock Survivor Podcast. He can get loud too, what the fuck!

Favorite seasons: Heroes vs. Villains, Cagayan, Pearl Islands, Tocantins, Cambodia
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  • Other Scott

    The interesting thing about the coconut chop challenge is that it didn’t actually go in order. I think Neleh made it to 3rd place or something like that. But even though they didn’t go out in the exact pecking order, Neleh and Pascal were still able to see there was a pecking order. Which good on them, and bad on Tammy and The General, who I think were the real culprits of targeting the people on the bottom of their alliance.

    • purplerockpodcast

      Right. And my memory before re-watching it this summer was that it went in exact order. But it wasn’t, partly because the first three that were taken out had taken some shots on the Rotu 4 already.

      • Purplerockmatt

        the lack of targeting each other, and targeting neleh and pascal instead made what was happening really damn obvious though. The strange thing was that I think Zoe voted for John too! that really confused me

        • DrVanNostrand

          As we saw in later episodes, Zoe was eager to jump ship when she saw the tide was turning (had to try to work in some sea metaphors there).

        • purplerockpodcast

          Even though we saw it on the show as John being blindsided, I think Paschal and Neleh told John they were jumping ship and voting for him. So Zoe also knew it was coming. And these Zoes ain’t loyal.

          • Purplerockmatt

            yea i mean that must be it, but damn early survivor editing which made that seem super weird

  • Adam B.

    Yes, absolutely, yes. Contrast this with how masterfully Boston Rob played All Stars, so multiple contestants each believed he or she was the third member of his alliance with Amber. (Spoiler Alert: none were.)

    • purplerockpodcast

      Or, much later, Kim in One World. I think every person in the top 7 or 8 was pretty convinced that he/she was going to the end with Kim, and she managed to keep them from being bitter at her as she sent nearly all of them to the jury. That is an amazing accomplishment. Pretty boring to watch, but amazing as an accomplishment.

      • DrVanNostrand

        “and she managed to keep them from being bitter”… And there’s Rob’s problem in All Stars.

    • andythesaint

      Adam, you and I should do an all Boston Rob appreciation podcast. Haters to the left.

      • purplerockpodcast

        *stands to the left*

        Actually, I was surprised when re-watching Marquesas how close to fully-formed Rob’s game was already. He was already doing Boston Rob things, he just didn’t have the early numbers to sustain them through the post-merge game.

        • sharculese

          Rob has a solid mix of really good ideas and really bad ideas on Marquesas, but what separates him from a lot of returnees is that when he comes back he seems to have a solid grasp of which were which.

          • purplerockpodcast

            Right. So many returnees try to course-correct based on how they played their first game, but the result is that they end up over-correcting.

          • sharculese

            off-topic: I just saw your question in the sidebar about what platforms the podcast should be on, and since I’m not on twitter – have you guys looked at all into getting on the Zune marketplace? Because that would make it easier for me to access your recordings.

          • purplerockpodcast

            I actually did look into it at one point, and I did all the steps it said were required. (I think maybe you’d suggested it before? Apologies if that wasn’t you.)

            I just checked again, and it looks like others have had the same issue- basically, Windows/Zune no longer accepts submissions, they just find your podcast via Bing and index it that way. And it should find our podcast, because I set everything up for Bing to find and index our site. So if it’s still not showing up (and it sounds like it isn’t)…I’m at a loss.

          • sharculese

            It was me. I just didn’t know if you’d seen it.

            It looks like it’s still not working, but thanks for trying.

          • andythesaint
          • sharculese

            I can try to do that, thanks.

          • andythesaint

            Rob had three advantages on All-Stars that helped him improve:
            1. He had matured. Young people are consistently awful.
            2. As one of the least prominent former players on that season (only man to not make the jury), he was targeted as a threat to anyone’s fame (little did they know).
            3. Amber kept a lot of his shit in check.

  • Sad Lil

    Boy oh boy, you are almost getting to my season. Super excited to see what moment from Lillian Morris you have cooked up. There are so many!

    • purplerockpodcast

      The hardest part is narrowing it down to just one!

    • Other Scott

      No Survivor player ever dared to wear a scout uniform again to play. If that’s not influence I don’t know what is.

      • Sad Lil

        They made me do it! Although I represented the scouts well as a challenge beast. Outcasts win and final immunity win! A good soul won over Jon Dalton that day.

        • DrVanNostrand

          My personal favorite was your granny panty/scout shirt combo.

          • Sad Lil

            How rude!

  • This was a big moment for me as a fan, it was the first time people on the bottom worked together to oust people on the top, and more importantly it was the first time people from different tribes banded together effectively. Up until this point the final 3/4 were always a group of people from the same tribe who allied together early and took control. As a viewer it looked like the Rotu 4 were about to do the exact same thing their predecessors had.

    For some reason though my memory has always been that Kathy was the key to this whole thing, bridging the gap between Paschal/Neleh and Vecepia/Sean, but she’s not even mentioned in the write up. I may need to go back and watch this again someday (because I literally haven’t seen it since it aired) but I could have sworn Kathy played a bigger role in this…