30 from 30: #9 – The Survivor Loved Ones Bring the Tears

The Moment:

Get your hankies ready. It’s time for the Survivor loved ones tradition to begin.

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-survivor-kathy-vavrick-obrien-family-visit

Why It Matters:

At the time of Marquesas, Survivor was still tinkering with its format. It had a good idea what the elements of the game were by now, but presentation and execution were still open to debate. One of the classic rewards late in the season was a visit with a loved one. In Borneo, Dr. Sean won reward and got to see his loved one, ditto Colby in Australia. But Marquesas did things a bit differently. In Marquesas, the final six showed up for the reward challenge and Probst gave a little pre-challenge speech about how it’s been rough on them and how they could really use a pick-me-up.

Out came Paschal’s wife, Vecepia’s husband, Neleh’s mother, The General’s sister, Kathy’s son, and Sean’s friend (yes, it’s the first full loved ones visit and we have someone bringing out a friend instead of a family member already). The scene in Marquesas went roughly as expected: tears flowed, people screamed in joy and generally everyone had a really nice moment, before Jeff announced that only one loved one would get to stick around.

The game then pulled its next trick: it had the loved ones compete in the reward challenge rather than the players themselves. Kathy’s son won the challenge, and he got to spend a night at camp telling the audience how disgusting roughing it was (and providing a sounding board for Kathy’s end game strategy).

After his night at camp, Kathy’s son goes home, the Survivors get ready for the end game, and a new tradition has been created.

The Impact:

It is hard to describe how important something is that is essentially just a production decision. Yet think of how many memorable moments we have been granted due to the fact that everyone gets to see their family member, rather than just the winner of one reward challenge.

First and foremost is perhaps the most memorable Survivor loved ones visit of all: Thunder D and the dead grandma lie. Following Sean’s lead, Jon Dalton invites out his friend for the loved ones challenge. But Jon provided him with specific instructions on what to say and do when he arrived (which, being Thunder D, he promptly forgot and had to be reminded of).

Thunder D hugs Jonny Fairplay
“When I say hello Mr. Thompson and press down on your foot, you smile and nod.”

Thunder D dutifully told Dalton his grandma had died, and Dalton then used the planned lie to garner sympathy from the other remaining survivors.

Sandra Is a Badass
Well, most of the other remaining survivors.

The impact of the dead grandma lie may be occasionally overstated, but the entertainment value certainly isn’t. For the more strategically inclined, Chris’ family visit in Vanuatu earned him a sympathetic reprieve that ended up imploding the majority alliance and leading Chris to victory.

In Panama, we saw Terry explain the hierarchy of loved ones to a very bitter Aras. (Reminder: Spouse at the top, then children, then siblings, then- and only then- parents. No word on where Terry would rank Thunder D.)

thunder d 2
Woooooooo!

In Tocantins, the Survivors were greeted by former Heisman winner and former NFL star running back Eddie George, and somehow this wasn’t even the most amazing “family member” we saw. No, that honor belongs to the unforgettable Assistant Coach.

assistant coach 1
This really happened.
assistant coach 2
If you listen closely, you can hear Survivor casting high-fiving each other.

Remember Kat and her weird cousin? The one she greeted by crawling to, jumping on, shrieking in unintelligible gibberish, and then talking about how much they love each other and live together. Seriously, rewatch this because I couldn’t make up how messed up they are. And check out the reactions of her fellow players to watching all this unfold.

In Caramoan, Cochran saw a physical challenge that he and his mom were unlikely to win, so he decided to just hang back and catch up with his mom during the challenge. Brenda won that challenge, gave up her own loved one visit so that everyone else could have one, and the tribe voted her out for being too generous (and thus threatening).

Recently, it seemed we might have finally reached the point where the loved ones challenge was on its way out. In three seasons (Cagayan and both versions of Blood vs. Water) there was no loved ones challenge, though there were understandable reasons for not having family members visit in Blood vs Water seasons. In Cagayan the loved ones still appeared, but they just sat around and ate lunch while the players competed (it was odd).

Still, over the years the Survivor loved ones challenge has provided the show with its requisite crying, the internet with its obligatory complaining over that excessive crying, a few very odd and funny moments, and very rarely a strategic opening for a player willing to use the emotion to his or her benefit (or use the emotion against someone else for their own benefit, as happened to Brenda). In short, the loved ones challenge is a staple of the show, it helps shape the endgame and the story the show is telling. And occasionally, if we’re lucky, Thunder D shows up.

thunder d 2
Remember me? WOOOOOO! (Never gets old.)

What Else Made the List?

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

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Matt

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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  • sharculese

    The loved ones visit also occasionally gives us an interesting chance to see what it sounds like when one of the players tries to run through their game with an outside observer – Kathy in Marquesas, Helen in Thailand, Lisa in Philipines. Or to a lesser extent Kass in Cagayan, which showed us just where her finger was in relation to the pulse of the game.

    • purplerockpodcast

      It’s funny that all the examples you cited are women. I have a feeling that’s because that’s one of the few templates Survivor has developed for how to explicitly convey a female player’s strategy to the viewers.

      • sharculese

        I was thinking that as I was writing, and there’s probably a huge amount of truth to that. Interestingly enough, I was trying to run through in my head when we’ve seen a dude break down their game to a loved one and the first two examples I can come up with are Mike and Terry, who were both in a position where their game amounted to ‘don’t lose challenges.’

        • andythesaint

          Did Bucky Bo tell Big Tom to stick with Boston Rob and trust him? I feel like someone did that. Also, Rob talked strategy with his sister on RI (which I just learned now while trying to figure out if it was Grant who did instead until I got bored).

          • sharculese

            My major memory of the All-Stars visit is Tom immediately putting Bucky Bo to work, and of course Rob making fun of how he talked. So I’m not sure. They have that whole bro-down with the pizza and beer thing, right?

            I forgot about Rob and his sister on RI, but I kind of putting letting Boston Rob describe things in a separate category because it’s kind of Survivor’s default setting. Not that I’m complaining since he’s a.) very good at it and b.) in the center of most things.

          • andythesaint

            This is the best moment of Big Tom’s family visit:

            [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqIqF7CnNR0&w=420&h=315%5D

        • Purplerockmatt

          you know who ran his entire game by his loved one and they both concluded that he was a lock to win? Fairplay. (seriously though, I love Thunder D. WOOOOO)

        • Kemper Boyd

          Kim also ran her game passed her sister in One World, she did a “who do I take? because I can take anyone” conversation and I think the answer was “whatever, you win against everyone”.

          • purplerockpodcast

            I don’t remember that, but I like the idea that even Kim’s sister could see from a short time together that Kim was running that game.

          • Kemper Boyd

            Please do not quote me on it, but I’m like 99% sure there was a scene on the beach where Kim is all “Alicia is crazy, no one will vote for her, but if I don’t take Sabrina will I look like a backstabber?”.

          • sharculese

            I think that happens, but it could very well be a case of production being like “hey, can you at least pretend there are still decisions to be made? We still have more show to make.”

        • Barbara Anderson

          Let’s not forget Cirie and HB. Although Cirie didn’t win that challenge, her Loved Ones visit just made us love her even more….right?

          • purplerockpodcast

            False.

            But only because it is impossible for me to love Cirie any more. I’ve said it before, but no other Survivor has ever made me think “I want to be friends with that person” the way Cirie did.

            Until Shirin, of course.

          • Barbara Anderson

            Oh, I understand that. Her visit with HB made me go from Infinity to Infinity to the power of Infinity on the “How Much Do I Love Cirie?” scale.

      • Kemper Boyd

        Is Kim Spradlin one of the few/only first time female players who was portrayed as strategic and in control?

        • Barbara Anderson

          I would say yes, but with an asterisk. Among the female winners, I would say absolutely. Natalie Anderson got that edit, but it wasn’t until Jeremy was gone. Cirie was definitely portrayed as strategic, but I don’t think that she was ever truly in control of her alliances (if anyone wants to debate with me on that, I’m willing to.)

          • purplerockpodcast

            I think if Cirie had won Micronesia, we would have seen her as being in control of that alliance. I have a feeling they had enough material to make the edit go either way between her and Parvati, and since Parvati won we got the story of Parvati being the leader.

          • Barbara Anderson

            Yeah, I can definitely see that. If only either Cirie could have won the FIC, we could have seen a different edit on the show. Other than that, are there any other women who are portrayed as strategic and in control?

          • Kemper Boyd

            This is why I asked the question, many have been strategic but rarely are they portrayed as in control.

          • purplerockpodcast

            Andy brought up Ami, which was a good one. But Survivor has long had problems showing women in that light. The one other example that I think might fit is Andrea in Caramoan. I vaguely remember her looking like she was running things for a little while.

          • sharculese

            I’m not sure if it’s so much that she’s running things as that she’s really the one being shown to get up and go do stuff, and mostly smart stuff at that.

          • Kemper Boyd

            Cirie got boned by James being medivaced. Had he not been then the production schedule would have given a final 3 and I think Cirie had a huge chance of winning the whole thing. Though I fully agree with you, because of Parvati’s win we see her as in control when in reality Cirie and Parvati worked together almost through out. This is the unfortunate truth about players who are in an equal strategic relationship with a winner. Becky comes to mind, Yul says every single thing he did was talked through with Becky and they made those decisions together but he win and she seems like a coat-tail rider.

          • purplerockpodcast

            Dawn is another example. I think- and post-game interviews with various players have mostly supported this theory- that Dawn and Cochran were running the game as equals. But for whatever reason, Cochran gets all the credit and Dawn takes all the blame.

          • andythesaint

            Cochran sweeping her in the final jury would count as “some reason” for the edit.

          • Kemper Boyd

            I just rewatched San Juan del Sur this weekend (don’t judge me, it’s all on youtube so I can cast it to my tv and as a Brit this is about the only way I can watch it on my tv), mainly to see if Natalie’s game was a good as I remember it being. It is as good, maybe because everyone else was a moron. But she was not in control of the game, Jon thought he was in control and mostly was and Natalie was like a resistance fighter, she made these moves from within the alliance to break it up. If she were in control she wouldn’t have had to lie about messing up when she got rid of Alec, she’d have decided to get rid of Alec and the troops would have fallen in line. The Jon blindside was amazing but even the Baylor move in the next tribal had to be done with an idol and the cooperation of one other.

          • sharculese

            By her own admission Natalie was asleep until Jeremy was voted out, and I think that is part and parcel to the game she’s able to play. As far as Jon, Jaclyn and Missy are concerned, she really is just a pawn who’s happy to be taken to the end with nothing on her resume because that’s precisely how she acted with Jeremy, and that’s the only reason they don’t realize she’s pulling the game out from under them until it’s too late.

          • Barbara Anderson

            Keep in mind, according to exit interviews, Jon/Jaclyn, Baylor/Missy, and Natalie had a final five deal. At that point, Jaclyn and Baylor would have been willingly sacrificed to give us a Jon/Missy/Natalie final three. This is how stupid this cast was-people were WILLING to be voted out so their loved ones could go further. So dumb!

          • sharculese

            To Baylor’s credit, she was not a wholly willing participant in that plan which is part of why Natalie is able to do what she does.

            I’m not sure I even think the fall-on-your-swords plan is the worst thing ever (as a plan. it would have been terrible television) – it’s entirely possible you don’t want Jon and Jaclyn splitting the votes between them. We’ll never know. But where they do screw up (besides trusting Natalie) is taking on faith Missy’s assurances that Baylor will do as their told and, as far as we see at least, not really bothering to check on that themselves.

          • Barbara Anderson

            Valid point. Unfortunately, Baylor was unable to predict that as soon as she was a disposable threat to Natalie, she was voted out.

          • Kemper Boyd

            There is an argument to be made that even if Baylor worked it out by final 5 there is little she can do. Keith has immunity and Natalie has an idol. If Natalie felt threatened at all she’d have played the idol for herself not Jac.

          • This is true. Even as Natalie played her idol for Jac, Missy thought it meant that she was going home.
            BTW, this may start off some negative comments, but I am going to say it anyway. I think SJDS may have had one of the better post-merges. From the iconic words “Stick to the plan”, that season turned up a notch. Admittedly, that notch was from a 5 to 6, but it still meant game on. Without Keith screwing over Reed, Natalie wouldn’t have won that season.

          • Kemper Boyd

            I think the problem with SJDS is the unlikeablity and stupidity of the cast, because there are some properly amazing moments. From Drewchebag’s throwing of a challenge to get himself kicked off to “stick to the plan” and Nat telling Jon to play his idol, to the Jon blindside and the final 5 idol play, all are individually superb. But because it’s happening to properly stupid people or awful people it undermines it. Apart from Nat do you really root for anyone and even then I find Nat difficult to root for.

          • I really liked (and like) Keith. Getting rid of Keith at final four was necessary for Natalie because he was a jury threat. Although I don’t like how he treated the younger women, I feel like it was mutual. Other than that, there is really nobody that I really liked as a Survivor player.

          • Kemper Boyd

            Keith is the dumb side of this cast all being dumb or unlikeable!

          • I agree with that. Keith is the modern Survivor version of Big Tom. Here’s looking forward to Keith wanting his neighbor’s wife to be his loved one!

          • Barbara Anderson

            I can absolutely see your points here. However, she was quietly in control. Think about how many people did what she wanted them to do. Jon used his idol because of her. Keith came over to her side for the Jon blindside. She used Baylor to convince Missy to vote for Jaclyn and thus sealing Jon’s blindside. Immediately after that blindside, Jaclyn helped her vote out Baylor. And, when they should have gotten out Natalie at Final Four, they got out Keith because of Natalie’s suggestion. She also managed to have no votes against her, which I think says a lot about her social game.

            However, if she is to come back on an all stars season, she will not be able to play the same game because (for the most part) returnees are not as idiotic as the SJDS cast.

        • andythesaint

          Ami Cusack was. Until she wasn’t.

          • Barbara Anderson

            Good pull. I know some of the castaways from Vanuatu argue that Leann was the true leader of that alliance, but that was not how it was portrayed on the show. Maybe that was due to the fact that Ami was such a polarizing character and Leann was just “adorkable”.

          • andythesaint

            It’s not insignificant to note that two examples we thought of came in split gender seasons.

          • Barbara Anderson

            Based on this example, could Deena from Amazon count as well for a few episodes?

          • andythesaint

            Possibly. Been too long since I’ve seen it to comment (and I watched the show differently then).

          • Kemper Boyd

            True, to some degree getting the strategic edit when you aren’t going to win is the highest compliment Survivor can pay to a female player.

        • andythesaint

          Stephenie in Guatemala as well. Of note: she was not portrayed favorably. But definitely strategic and in control.

  • Purple Rock Emma

    Thunder D is great and all, but Assistant Coach is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

    • Purplerockmatt

      This is the difference: Assistant Coach is hilarious because of what it says about Coach. But Thunder D is hilarious because he himself is ridiculous and hilarious. Seriously just the way Thunder D runs is like the greatest thing ever.

  • Zachary

    was this mentioned on the nomination episode?

    • purplerockpodcast

      I don’t think that it was. Andy and I debated our own nominations on the podcast, then let our other writers throw in their own nominations. The family member visit got added in that stage. As we were discussing it as a group we realized that for all the eye rolls and groans it has caused, it has also yielded some great/influential moments as well.

    • andythesaint

      It came to us late in the process, largely because we are game bots who have a hard time not processing everything in how it relates to strategy. Also, I think we kinda forgot that it took four seasons to become a thing.