We’re keeping Fan Friction going, our series of essays where one of our columnists writes an ode to one of their favorite Survivor players while defending them against any potential naysayers (both real and imagined). The series has proven so popular that it’s drawn a lurker out of hiding to sing the praises of Sophie Clarke.
Why She’s Great
You’d be hard-pressed to find a winner who polarizes the Survivor fan community more than Sophie Clarke. To many casual fans, she’s one of the worst winners ever. But to me, and to many others, she’s a freakin’ badass, and her win (almost) redeemed a pretty lackluster season.
From the beginning, Sophie had a firm grip on the game. She was a part of a Day One alliance with four men, and instead of riding coattails, as women in male-dominated alliances are often accused of, she was the strategic mastermind that kept the alliance together throughout the whole game. When they wanted to make “big moves” for the sake of it, she shut them down. She wasn’t about to let anyone mess up her plans, least of all friggin’ Cochran.
One of her best strategic moves was convincing Coach to get rid of Brandon, who, believe it or not, was well-liked by the others. She also pointed out that, at Redemption Island, all the jurors would be influenced by their stay at “Ozzy’s Pleasure Dome”, which…is not what it sounds like.
Sophie was also a surprising powerhouse at challenges when she needed to be. In fact, she was the immunity beast of her season, with three wins overall. Sure, Ozzy was on Redemption for most of that time, but look what happened when he came back – she beat him in the Final Four challenge and took him out of the game for good. Not only that, but she was the first Survivor contestant to win two immunities in one day.
But it was at Final Tribal where Sophie shone the brightest. She called out Survivor’s sexism, she undermined Coach’s massive ego (by basically calling him Natalie Tenerelli), and she gave the jury the honest answers they wanted. Her performance rivals Todd Herzog’s as one of the best Final Tribal Council performances of all time.
Finally, despite her slight edit, Sophie was entertaining to watch. She was blunt and sharp-tongued and didn’t suffer any fools. There’s a reason her nickname among many Survivor fans is Sophierce.
See, Sophie tells it like it is. She doesn’t care about your fragile ego. If your strategy is bad, or if your acting is unbelievable, Sophie will let you know in no uncertain terms. Even Probst found himself on the receiving end of Sophie’s candor. Probst: “This has been a bit of an eye-opening tribal, hasn’t it?” Sophie: “No.” Jeff, you are dismissed.
Sophie also does not care about your cross-promotion. If you’re going to “reward” her by making her watch a terrible movie, she will not even crack a smile. She will instead give a picture-perfect unimpressed face shot that is funnier that the entirety of Jack & Jill.
Sophie Clarke was a diamond in the rough that was South Pacific, and a way more deserving winner than many believe her to be.
Haters Gonna Hate
That’s what Whitney called Sophie at Final Tribal. We all know what this means, yes? It means she’s a bitch. Is Sophie a bitch? You bet your stack of wooden cards she is. She’s a badass bitch and she is not here to play.
Here’s the thing. Your reaction to Sophie probably depends on how you view assertive, outspoken women. Society tells us that women are supposed to be nice, which sets women up to fail no matter what: if you’re a “nice” woman, you get steamrolled; if you’re a “bitch”, you get punished. You see this play out on Survivor all the time: assertive, outspoken women rarely make the merge, and even more rarely go on to win. The South Pacific jury, however, respected Sophie because her blunt honesty was refreshing next to Albert’s obsequiousness and Coach’s…Coachiness. Sophie winning not just in spite of her assertiveness but maybe even because of it should make her a feminist icon, at least in the Survivor fandom.
Sure, Sophie is “condescending,” but she comes by it honestly. She probably is smarter than you, and if you can’t handle it, that’s your problem. As sheetcake-eating problematic fave Tina Fey once famously said, “Bitch is the new black.”
“Coach Should Have Won”
Well, he didn’t, so there.
Okay, fine. Coach was the one primarily responsible for flipping Cochran to get that post-merge majority, so you could argue that this is an important enough move to give him the win. But Coach tanked his own game by 1) being Coach, and 2) rubbing the jury the wrong way with his blatant hypocrisy over “honor”. Using religion to manipulate others really rubbed devout jurors like Dawn and Brandon the wrong way; using “God’s will” as an excuse to betray Brandon was a particularly bad look. Anyone who’s been on the jury twice before should have a good idea of how to manage one. And his Final Tribal performance couldn’t hold a candle to Sophie’s. Frankly, I think a lot of fans who think Coach was robbed probably just like Coach better than Sophie as a TV personality, and I’m not sure I have anything to say to those people.
She Cried at Tribal That One Time
Yeah, that was rough. After Ozzy attacked Sophie for her poor social game, Sophie did what anyone who’s spent 37 days stuck on a beach with Coach and Brandon might do: she broke down and cried. At first, it seemed like it might be the moment that would undo her game. Ultimately, though, and Sophie herself has said this, it ended up helping her game by humanizing her to the jury. Just watch Dawn tear up in sympathy for her. Not that it takes a lot for Dawn to get emotional.
She Made the Season Boring
Was South Pacific boring, or was it just pretty unpleasant to watch? I mean, there is no doubt that South Pacific is a bottom-tier season. It was a season built off of two returnees with, shall we say, limited charisma, and they were given most of the airtime, which means everyone else either got under-edited or they were casting duds. South Pacific also features bullying, creepiness, misogyny, religion being used as a weapon, terrible strategy, and some truly stomach-churning challenges. To me, it was often more appalling than boring. Either way, none of that was Sophie’s fault.
Here’s what was arguably her fault: she was the brains behind her alliance, and not only did she not make big moves, she kept big moves from happening. Sophie is the anti-Ciera, if you will. No, watching a dominant five-person alliance bulldoze its way to the end of the game isn’t as fun as watching Tony create chaos from week to week, but who could have pulled that off and win besides Tony? Sophie played the hand she was dealt, and really, what should she have done differently? I mean, if you had a Day One five-person alliance, would you give it up for a more interesting story arc?
Love her or hate her, Sophie is one of the few bright spots on an otherwise dreadful season. She established a new female Survivor archetype beyond “bikini model”, “mom”, “alternative chick”, and “woman of color who’s probably not making it to the merge”. Arguably, popular nerdy-girl players like Aubry Bracco and Hannah Shapiro, and the viewers who love them, owe at least a partial debt to Sophie. Just imagine if Sophie had answered her phone when Natalie Anderson dropped out of Game Changers. We could have had her and Aubry on the same season. The sheer amount of nerd-girl sarcasm might have caused the universe to implode.
Let’s hope the next time Sophie gets a call to come back to Survivor, she answers the phone. I think she could give today’s big-moves-obsessed players a run for their money. Now DROP YOUR STACK AND PICK UP HER PIECES, ALBERT.
Favorite Seasons: Cook Islands, Guatemala, Millennials vs. Gen X, China, Heroes vs. Villains, Cambodia
Favorite Players: Sophie, David W, Rafe, Cydney, Cirie, Andrea, Denise S, Fishbach, Adam K, Yul