Moar Fan Friction, 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). For this one, we actually got another staffer to do something around here with Mark writing about the young lad.
Why He’s Great
For a superfan who has placed 4th and 3rd in their appearances on the show, Spencer is a surprisingly controversial player among Survivor fans. Many people love him as a scrappy underdog, and just as many seem to hate on the guy. But these passionate positions are about as out of place as feelings within the man himself.
There are a lot of highly-strategic players who get branded with the “gamebot” tag these days. (Which is an ironic classification, because if you’re on this site or r/Survivor, you’re probably watching for the strategic elements of the game.) In Spencer’s case, this is in one respect due to the character he sold pre-game in Cagayan, one part his genuine love of chess, and largely the fault of the Cambodia producers who leaned hard into the “SpencerBot Learns to Love” arc in that season.
But within both of his appearances, Spencer’s real story is that of a super fan who fights hard to climb his way to the top of the pack, despite the many obstacles in his way. It’s no “my mom has cancer” triumph over adversity, but it’s an admirable experience that a lot of us can take heart in. The fact that he does it while playing a pretty great game makes him a fan favorite that has been sadly under-appreciated post-Cambodia.
Since the early days of Cagayan, I have always maintained that Spencer played a lot better in his debut season than many claimed later on. Here we have a guy who could have been voted out pre-merge—before the rice dumping J’Tia!—because of a potential female alliance, but challenged the two dominant personalities in that game (Tony and Kass) to have a real shot at the end. He fooled Kass into thinking he hadn’t found an immunity idol. He powered through a minority position to win several immunities. AND he almost convinced Tony to keep him at final 4 (Editor’s note: “almost”). It was ultimately for naught, but a brash young immunity threat on an older-skewing season should be target number one. Instead, he persisted.
Yes, he was a little arrogant at times. But so were you at 21. Instead, Spencer read the game correctly (noting the presence of a final two) and used his fan knowledge to make solid cases for his game and, ultimately, Tony’s. He’s been a fairly astute analyzer of the game since.
Haters Gonna Hate
Let’s be real, the reason you hate Spencer isn’t because of anything he did in the game. It’s because of two things:
That Pre-Game Bio In Cagayan
Except for Rob and Stephen, you dislike know-it-alls. Our progressive readership recoils at anyone who claims to like Mitt Romney. (Those were simpler times). And you certainly hate pompous guys who think they know everything. See: Mariano, Rob. But guess what? It was all an act for the cameras.
Sure, he has the upbringing to lean conservative, and is a little boastful, and thought about a strategy game show in strategic terms, but he also knew he was on a reality show that picks up people at the bar who claim to be “big fans”.
Unfortunately for your biases, we’re analyzing gameplay here. His real crime was picking bad alliance partners at the top in both of his games. But again, he recovered nicely from both calamities and went the distance.
His Cambodia Emotional Arc
A large chunk of Spencer’s storyline in Second Chances had to do with his new goal to get to know his fellow players and wear his emotions on his sleeve. As often happens on Survivor, the producers cut their storyline from the footage and molded it in their image. Thus, a scene of him crying and a scene of him missing his girlfriend was turned into this epic emotional journey.
But was that really more compelling TV then the Abi Show? Or more emotionally manipulative than Jeremy’s baby bombshell at the final tribal council? I don’t think so. A producer’s narrative turned a strong strategic player into a running joke—despite taking out his archenemy, once again aligning himself with strong players, and making it all the way this time. Not to mention, strategic fans hate when squishy feelings are put on display.
Barring a major incentive, I don’t think we’re likely to see Spencer on our TV screens again. The stress of Cambodia and a promising career seems to have dimmed Spencer’s excitement for the game. But can you blame him? He checked off a bucket list item before he got his Bachelor’s degree. His rivalry with Kass and competition with Tony was the heart of Cagayan, which is more than some players get in 3 seasons.
Taken together, he, Malcolm, and Cochran provided the template for a new vanguard of superfan casting. Which is ultimately a good thing. While Malcolm provided the crazy moves and Harry Potter jokes, and Cochran covered the neurotic angle, Spencer laid a template for underdog players and number crunchers (hi, Michaela). So the next time you complain that Spencer is just a robot who was saved by Tony, remember that he owns a lot of his game progress, not owes it.
Top 5, Baby: Cambodia, Cagayan, Heroes vs. Villains, Pearl Islands, and Palau.