Survivor Fan Friction – Zeke Smith

It’s time for another edition of Fan Friction, a 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). This isn’t a place to be fair and balanced. This is a chance to let your fan freak flag fly. This time, Diego Armando joins us to discuss Zeke Smith, the Survivor player.

Why He’s Great:

Somehow Zeke Smith has become one of the most polarizing Survivor players in recent memory. Although he is a personable superfan, some cite him (along with people like Ciera, Spencer and, somewhat bafflingly, Tai) as a big move addicted game-bot who have irrevocably ruined the beautiful social experiment that is Survivor. This is complete garbage. Zeke is one of the best contestants to come out of the most recent seasons of Survivor.

Zeke was one of the best audience surrogates Survivor has ever given us. The list of people who are strong characters, great narrators and strong strategists are few, but are some of the show’s most legendary players: the Robs, Cirie, Sandra, Cochran, and Malcolm are strong examples. Zeke is also on that level. He is a fantastic narrator, confidently showing us where the current standings were on Millennials vs. Gen X and Game Changers while giving us our required daily dose of snark. His strategic chops cannot be denied: when he learned that David was planning to take him out in MvGX, he successfully put together an alliance of the people he had just voted against and convinced them to draw rocks for him. That is incredible. I repeat, Zeke was able to convince people he had previously voted against to draw rocks instead of letting David’s alliance vote out Zeke! That needs to be up in the pantheon next to Parvati’s dual idols, Yul flopping Penner, and Earl’s group defeating the Four Horsemen.

Not only has he shown great strategic chops, but he has shown himself to be a truly remarkable person. Varner, a player I am disgusted for having previously liked, forcibly outed Zeke as Transgender on national television. This was one of, if not the, the worst moments in the history of the show. Any way Zeke could have handled this, from shocked speechlessness to violent profanity, would have been completely understandable. Zeke’s responded with dignity and composure I know that I would not have been able to muster up if I were there. This and his subsequent essay on this experience and his relationship with Survivor forever won him my respect. We need Zeke’s in this game and we need to honor his skills as a player.

Haters Gonna Hate:

He turned on Cirie & Andrea’s sure-to-win alliance

Zeke did screw things up here, but I don’t think this is anything close to warranting the amount of vitriol it got. First off, I think people were angry at this for the same primary reason they were angry that Cirie was taken out with no votes: people wanted Cirie (plus Aubry, Michaela and Andrea) to succeed and were angry when people did things that did not benefit her. Let’s look at the make-up of the two alliances. The first alliance contained: Andrea, who was a huge threat to win (the rest of the players and the Jury stated this); Cirie, who is Cirie; Aubry, who should have won her season; Michaela is a challenge beast and loyal to Cirie; and Ozzy, who came within one vote of winning Cook Islands and one challenge of winning South Pacific. The second alliance contained: Brad, who threw away victory to get revenge on Tai; Troy, who received no votes at final tribal; Sierra, whose strategy to save herself later was promising Sarah that she would give Sarah her Advantage if she was voted out; Debbie, who is Debbie; and Tai, who has a hard time communicating under pressure. Which side sounds more beatable? I think Sarah, his closest ally, was also on board with aligning to this group and he thought he had more inroads with Debbie than he actually did. He had reason to believe he could make this work. You don’t have to like his decision, but sticking with Cirie’s group would not have led to a Zeke victory.

I also think that the incident with Varner threw his game into a tailspin. He had his agency removed in the worse way possible and claimed to have had most of his Final Three offers evaporate out of fear of losing to him. These criteria could easily cause someone to try and completely shake up the game as a way of creating new openings and gaining a semblance of control. Also, as ADAM proved, going through severe emotional distress does not benefit your ability to make strategic decisions.

He is arrogant

Yes he is. This is a fact. So are the majority of players on this program. The vast majority of the most popular players on the show (The Robs, Parvati, Sandra, Rupert, Michaela, Ozzy, Tony, Cochran) have enormous egos. Modest people typically do not go on reality television. At least he can back up with some legitimate accomplishments, such as forcing the rock draw and helping to vote out the GOAT Sandra. Zeke has a sense of humor and charm that helps offset some of his snark and arrogance and he is capable of having some truly human moments. His discussion with Bret about the differences of coming out as gay between their respective generations was one of the most moving moments of recent Survivor. He handled being outed as masterfully as possible. Zeke is not for everyone, but he is very good at providing the show with great material.

He is addicted to Big Moves™

Zeke needed to make most of these moves in order to keep himself in the game of Survivor. I have already defended his flop in Game Changers, so let’s look at his other Big Move™. During MvGX, he found himself in the minority alliance early in the game and due to tribe swapping, had a low number of close allies. He knew David, who was close with Jessica and Ken, wanted him gone and Hannah accidentally told Zeke that she would not turn on David. That left him with few options other than to turn to the desperate Bret, Sunday, Jay, and Will. He phrased this in the parlance of making a big move to change the game to help build up the perceived urgency of his group and distract the others from the fact that Zeke would be immune if they drew rocks. This was necessary to help Zeke remain in the game.

I hate Jeff Probst and Zeke helps reinforce his stupid Big Moves™ agenda

Also, why do people hate big moves? I agree that big moves aren’t always the best and that small, subtle moves can be more effective, but this feels like outright contrarianism. Probst has a lot of issues, but he is interested in making good television. Rock draws, immunity idols, blindsides and unpredictability make good television. Pagonging, Day One alliances, and Michele are boring. Sophie did everything she needed to win, which was keep the status quo and keep people from doing stuff. That was terrible television. Tony did every possible lie, trick and move he could think of to win, several of which were unnecessary and some of which had backfire potential. That was great television. The hardcore fans are already invested, but we need the people to be willing to do flashy stuff to keep the casual fans interested in the show so that it does not get cancelled.

Embrace Debate

Zeke is not the greatest player in Survivor history or even the best player of his respective seasons, but he is one of the most entertaining and important. He is one of the ambassadors for the current flavor of hyper-strategic gameplay, and that is fantastic. He has done everything in his power to provide entertaining television and, though this was not his original intention, attempt to show America that gay and transgender people are just like everyone else. I don’t know what else he can do to endear himself to the audience, other than win. Speaking of that, I have absolutely no doubt that Zeke will be reappearing in a future season and I cannot wait.

Diego Armando

Diego Armando

Diego Armando has been an avid fan of Survivor since Amazon. He has been pointing out factual mistakes on Survivor posts since Gabon. Feel free to ask him about Survivor, animals or video games.

Favorite Seasons: Cambodia, Philippines, Tocantins, Cook Islands, Heroes vs. Villains

Favorite Players: Sandra, Boston Rob, Yul, Earl, Cirie
Diego Armando

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103 thoughts on “Survivor Fan Friction – Zeke Smith

  1. Well done! I really hope that when Zeke comes back (because that is an inevitability at this point), he has learned from his past experiences what not to do.

    Also, important point: Sierra and Debbie were wanting Zeke out around the merge immediately following his outing because of his story. They were scared that people were just going to pity vote for him, despite the fact that he lead the charge to get out the Queen!

        1. Otherwise he’s classic villain casting for playing hard and being clever in confessionals, but you know what​? We could use more of that stuff on a Heroes tribe.

          1. Yeah, he probably falls into “classic villain” status, that being anyone who is clever, willing to flip, maybe a bit snarky or a bit sneaky. But not everyone on the original Villains or Heroes teams fit those roles perfectly. I think the next HvV will be a bigger step toward the idea of actual Villains and Heroes, with a bit less grey area.

          2. I think he was even aiming for Villain. That was the persona that he wanted. However, him being on the Heroes tribe would be good because hopefully, if this happens again, they decide the definition of hero is not basically “arrogant, but otherwise devoid of personality” again and cast people like Zeke as Heroes

          3. I think that Zeke was originally going to be the villian on MvsGenX but then Game Changers happened. This mainly because of the fact that Probst compared Zeke to Richard Hatch in the pregame.

          4. I’d agree. You can kind of see the remnants of the villain edit that they discarded. Also, who else in that post-merge would be the villain? Can’t be: Adam, Ken, Hannah, David, Bret, Sunday, Jess or Chris, for various reasons. You could use Jay, except his bromantic rivalry with Adam kind of precludes that, especially given the hammock scene. Taylor was more a buffoon than a villain, and nobody would take it seriously if Will was the villain (although he was kind of a viable candidate, given his flip). Double that with Zeke clearly wanting to be the villain, I imagine even during filming they had that in mind and were using him for villainous quotes and not really banking many others so when they could no longer fully use him as a villain, they were caught flatfooted

          5. Yeah, that true. But I think he could have been edited as Tyson from Tocantins, the snarky villain from the losing alliance, if not for his relationship with Adam. And voila, you have your “villain” in the Survivor sense, but not your JFP kind of villain

          6. I think that’s true, but I think they had to have seriously considered Zeke for that role. But the snarky Survivor “villain” role (Courtney, Tyson) not the real villain role (Petebro) or the dickhead villain role (Jason/Scot)

    1. I want the alternate universe where Varner doesn’t out Zeke and Zeke goes on to play the rest of the game without anyone knowing he is transgender.

      Varner outing Zeke as transgender and Varner torpedoing Zeke’s game, the latter is minuscule in comparison when it comes to real life consequences. But Varner did destroy Zeke’s game – after that, no one wanted to let Zeke get to the finals because of “his story”.

      Just once I’d like to see a player with this sort of “story” that can’t be allowed to get to the end (i.e. transgender, artificial leg, deafness, etc) tell everyone at the start of the game “Hey, I’ve got a great life. I don’t need $1 million to ‘fix’ anything. If I win I’m spending the money on a boat and a new car!” and have all the other players believe them.

      1. And then other players would be all, “Look how brave and strong they’re being!” and keep right on piling pity and fear on them. I think you’d have to be a massive a-hole to break through our shitty narratives about disability on Survivor.

        (This is not intended to apply to trans players. Just to be clear.)

        1. I know. I guess the only way to combat that would be for that person to be rude and argumentative to everyone so people would say “Man, that guy with only one leg is such a dick!”

  2. It is interesting that Big Moves can get a player so much shade, considering that these moves often define a season. Big Moves are good TV, and pagonging is frankly not. I think what often makes people so negative about Big Moves is that they aren’t always *necessarily* good strategy. They can be good strategy, or bad strategy, but regardless, they are always a risk. And I think people see Zeke (or anyone) taking a risk, putting a ‘target’ on his back, and want to say “How stupid, he’s going to blow up his game” out of a belief that they would never make that mistake and that we viewers are smarter than silly old Zeke.

    I can remember yelling “Zeke, nooooo” at my TV, because I knew his Game Changers #BIGMOVE wasn’t going to work, but I had TONS of information he didn’t, particularly that Sierra and Debbie wanted him out. As Diego points out (awesome article by the way, well done!), a lot of the thinking at the base of his 2 biggest moves was very sound. He read Hannah in MvGx (no big feat) and knew that he was on the outs, and needed to pull something together. He sized up the two sides in GC and knew that it would be easier to guide the duds to victory then navigate a bunch of accomplished players. We had a lot of information from our semi-omniscient view that makes these seem poor choices, but the logic was sound and as Zeke deemed, worth the risk. If either of these moves had proven more successful in the long run, we would probably be heralding him.

    Also, it makes a lot of sense that superfans want to make Big Moves, because they constitute many of the exciting things we all so enjoy. Kelley Wentworth is the poster child. One of her biggest goals going into Cambodia was to do all the Survivor things she didn’t get to do in SJDS. Zeke was likely the same way, he wanted to blindside and strategize and flip the script, and he did.

    1. I have some frustration with the way Jeff talks about Big Moves, but very little with the moves themselves. Sticking with the status quo is usually only a good move for one to three people, and everyone else may as well try to shake things up when they have the chance. And it’s not like playing the Sandra game, where you recognize that “taking control of the game” isn’t necessary to keep yourself safe and win, won widespread acclaim the first time she did it. Survivor fans are tough to please.

      1. Exactly. Particularly those of us who over-analyze the game, because we love to get really drawn in to the game, which yields the “why are you doing that? I wouldn’t make that mistake” kind of investment, but also the “what makes this good TV? How does this compare to other seasons” analysis. Together, these two things make it easy to knock Zeke’s Big Moves as bad gameplay but also want to give credit for them as reasonable choices. Basically, were all over the place.

      2. I do agree that subtle moves are great and there are times where that is the best move for people. It just creates drama less TV.

    2. I think a big reason people were so negative about Zeke’s flip in GC (besides the fact that it went against their own desires as viewers) is that it was edited as a mistake (and immediately failed). However, I feel vindicated by the fact that THE WINNER OF THE SEASON also flipped to that side. So, you know, it might’ve been a fine move.

      1. Yeah, it was a fine move FOR SARAH. Just cause some move may be good for one person, it doesn’t mean that it may be a good move for the other person. Like, if Cirie flipped to that alliance, would it be a good move just cause it worked out for the eventual winner of the season?

        1. If Cirie had a good relationship with that side (which we know she didn’t), then yes, it would have been. Zeke had a prior relationship with Culpepper, Tai, and Debbie that he thought he could parlay (including his closest game relationship – Sarah, a thing that everyone tried to deny at the time because they couldn’t understand how it could ever surpass the permanent bonds that are created by playing Survivor on a weekend in a park).

          1. He had such a great relationship with Sarah, that she showed what a great ally she is by voting him out. I would only dream of having such a good partner.

          2. First off, giving someone permission to vote him out is a BAD gameplay. You can respect the move if someone does it to you, but it doesn’t mean that you should TELL them that. And second, I would rather prefer having a shot at winning, than being in the jury. Plus, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she would flip on him even without that permission.

          3. LOL at the idea that Zeke had any chance to win that season or did anything to materially change his odds one way or another.

          4. But he could possibly be still in the game. He could have definetely done some things to at least go from 10th place to at least 5th.

          5. Who fucking cares tho? This is the mistake a lot of players and viewers make. They’d rather do nothing and lose later in the game than try to do something to potentially win the game, even if doing something also increases your chances of going home early. (again, not that he had a chance anyway).

            The avoidance of risk in Survivor isn’t the same as playing well. Sometimes when you avoid risk you’re also letting your opportunity to win pass you by. Games are often lost long before you’re removed from the game.

          6. I think Andrea her hand. Andrea won Immunity and wanted him gone and had Cirie and Aubry on her side. Sarah would either have to spend a lot of capital or work with the minority alliance they were attempting to flush an idol from in order to save him.

          7. Yeah, I understand that, I was mostly trolling Andy 😛

            But there always is a question which ally is better for your game: a strategic player, with whom you can trade off ideas back and forth, but who can backstab you if in the end it improves their own standing, or a player who just lets you make all the decisions, either cause they can’t any for themselves, or doesn’t feel the need to be the one in charge, but if you make a bad decision, you don’t have someone to throw it out of your head. I think in the end it depends on the type of player you are; the first one is better to fill up your own problems, making it a 1, or 1.5 good player (for example Amanda and Todd), and the second one if you are a good leader (for example Boston Rob).

          8. The answer depends on how you’ll be perceived in relation to that ally. Having Amanda as an ally worked out great for Todd. Having Todd as an ally didn’t work out as well for Amanda.

          9. Yeah, but she could’ve voted him out at F4, and that way she could have two easier opponents to beat, and maybe Todd would’ve advocated for her (Courtney still could very well win if Amanda still has bad FTC, which there isn’t any indication that it isn’t the case). And in the end it comes down to with this types of alliances that the person who makes the last move against the other wins, and Amanda still gained a lot from that alliance, and had possibilities to actually win.

  3. I have never been a huge Zeke fan, and looking back I think there is a very simple reason for this: in both his seasons, I was rooting for the other alliance (for the most part). I enjoy Zeke as a narrator and a player. However, especially his second time around, he was up against an alliance I really was pulling for so when he voted against them I was very critical, because I was seeing the game through “my sides” eyes and I was rattled.
    Keeping in mind my above mentioned bias, I was also always critical of “BIG MOVEZ” Zeke, but I also feel I can’t really blame him. I don’t think he makes BIG MOVEZ for the sake of making them, but he often couches his confessionals in that language, sometimes instead of outlining the strategy he is following, which only comes out later in exits, etc. This is probably partially Survivor’s fault for pushing the narrative but I feel like Zeke also, though I can’t blame him for this, understanding that talking about his moves as BIG MOVEZ is going to get him airtime. Basically, its Zeke’s play for airtime, and if you’re going to get on Survivor, why wouldn’t you play for airtime in confessionals? Its probably not going to blow up your game and is a pretty good way to get yourself asked back

    1. Good point. I feel like this happens more in Survivor lately. I want to see an explanation of why a move would be good for your game, because that’s interesting. I don’t want to just see “I’m gonna make a big move” because that should speak for itself.

      1. And I’m not sure how much of that is the players’ fault or Survivor’s fault. I feel like the explanations for the moves are there but being left on the cutting room floor to create drama and suspense and as a result, we get people like Zeke and Ciera just yelling “BIG MOVEZ” in confessionals

          1. Replacement descriptors for the impact of a move:
            -Surface Area
            -Bravais Lattice

          2. “This game respects flinging a kid out of the window and I need to fling my kid out of the window right now!”

  4. There are people who hate Zeke with a passion and I don’t understand it. He has a certain joy of being out there and playing that was sorely lacking in Game Changers otherwise.

  5. Zeke made me want to be on Survivor, he really is a great audience surrogate. With that said, I must offer one piece of criticism.

    Not enough /r/survivor trolling.

  6. I feel like Zeke needs a like-minded strategic thinker on the opposite side of his alliance in order for him to make his best moves. When he doesn’t have that, Zeke starts outplaying himself, and that is when he’s prone to errors. But I love Zeke. I would hope that his third go-round is full of good, entertaining players. Like, the entire post-merge MvGx group would be fine with me, just bring all of them back.

    1. Just replace Taylor and Will, with Figgy and Michaela, and this would be the greatest post-merge group ever.

    2. I actually am going to disagree. In my Zeke hype post for Game Changers, I mention how much he needs to be in control of an alliance that isn’t going to question him. He also proved this point in Game Changers by going with the other alliance to try to take out Andrea.

      1. But Andrea was in his alliance, not on the opposing side (originally, at least). The other alliance didn’t really have a solid strategic thinker, and Zeke went against his own alliance and joined up with them.

          1. Right, I think he needs to have that formidable person in the opposite alliance so he doesn’t feel the need to jump ship on his own alliance in order to outplay them all.

      2. There was a good stretch towards the end of Zeke’s run on MvGx where it felt as though in each of his confessionals he talked about his alliance in military terms, with him as the general. As was pointed out, it must have worked in that they drew rocks for him, but I can imagine that attitude becoming off-putting if it bled into his interactions with everyone.

        1. I remember this – something about it bugged me and I wasn’t even out there playing with him!

      3. I thought pre-MvGX that Zeke would want to be the leader since he seems like he wants to be the center of attention. I think I called that correctly.

  7. Great article. I liked Zeke, he was definitely a fan surrogate. What I liked was his attitude too, he wanted to play and he wanted to enjoy the experience. I can see where he could get bucketed as a “GameBot” but his edit in both seasons just made it seem like he was having way too much fun out there (prior to That Tribal Council) for me to put him in that category. I want to see more players like him – you can be strategic without being cold. In fact I would say cold strategists are less likely to succeed because they have a harder time making the emotional connections necessary to win over the jury. Zeke struck me as having the right balance of strategy and emotion that a winner needs (maybe he needed more strategy or more luck in MvGX and unfortunately because of That Tribal Council we’ll never know how he could have done in GC because from that point on he was seen as being too sympathetic).

    Arrogant? Yeah I guess I could see that, but as written most people who’d be willing to put themselves on a reality TV show probably have a pretty inflated sense of self to begin with. Honestly if you wanted to talk arrogance he’s never going to be the first person that comes to mind when you think of Survivor players. Hell, I’d say he wouldn’t even be the first person that comes to mind if you were asked who the most arrogant players were in each of his respective seasons.

  8. Also you know what cool thing this article did for me? Made me question how much of the #bigmoves era we seem to be in is about players’ strategy and how much of it is the editing. #bigmoves is a much better way to market the show then a logical explanation about why a player has to do what he’s doing.

        1. Prime example of a counterpoint to the Game Changers edit: Ciera’s two #bigmoves in Blood vs. Water. Not only did we see her weighing those decisions, but we understood why she would be thinking that way. Yes, she voted out her mom, but she did it because her mom was an anchor to her own game. Yes, she forced the rock draw (with help from Hayden), but she saw that Hayden and Katie was a guaranteed Final 3 path (I think she wins but it depends on how many people are bitter with her and give votes to Hayden. Katie for sure has 3 votes).

          1. Ciera had such a good edit. I had been off of Survivor for a few years both before and after Blood vs. Water, so I am probably off here, but I saw Ciera (and her edit now that I think about it) as the birth of #bigmoves Survivor for a while. If not the beginning then it sort of “sealed the deal” in making it a thing. Sounds like it may have started with Malcolm but sadly I have not seen Phillipines.

            Side Note: Everyone always leads with “She voted off her Mom!” when they talk about what a great Survivor player Ciera was but comparatively speaking forcing a freaking rock draw for the first time in 20+ seasons was SUCH a bigger move it doesn’t even compare for me.

            Which of course circles us back to Zeke and the MvGX rock draw which was also quite a feat.

          2. I may be a bit blinded still by her BvW turn which was her best by far. She hasn’t looked so good since then. I also did see BvW in isolation (Redemption Island had been the last season I watched before it, and I didn’t see any other season until Worlds Apart) so I may have her overrated since I missed a lot of the great seasons and players that were in her general vicinity.

          3. 1) Quick addendum: Voting out Laura is such a seemingly unnecessary move because she was going out anyway, but it showed her alliance that she was sticking with them.

            2) I may be more down because my first time with Ciera is Cambodia. I essentially saw the parody before the original.

          4. 1) Yeah it was a good move, the right move. But for sure it was one we’ve seen before, making a vote to prove loyalty (even if the vote was against her own mother).

            2) Everything makes sense now.

    1. “#bigmoves is a much better way to market the show then a logical explanation about why a player has to do what he’s doing”
      Is it though? It’s good for encouraging fan contestants to shake up the game when they’re on the season, but it makes for worse entertainment.

      1. Well I mean it’s almost gone meta now, the Big Moves Movement has taken on a life of it’s own, it’s kind of fueling itself at this point. I’m expecting the show to start moving away from it soon after the last couple of seasons because I agree that it’s not helping either strategically or from an entertainment perspective anymore and they’re usually self aware enough to spot such things. Probably too late for 35 but hopefully in time for 36.

        1. Hm, interesting. Maybe this is actually why I’m over Big Moves – the concept is just tired and overplayed.

          1. We are almost to the point where they’re making big moves just to make big moves and forgetting why they need to be making moves in the first place…

  9. Great article Godot!

    I’m probably one of the only people here who doesn’t like Zeke AS much as most (but it doesn’t mean that I don’t like him, mind you!), and it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly why. I think one of the main reasons was that he didn’t reach my pre-season expectations of him. I do think he’s still an above avarege character, but he seemed as he could be much more from his pre-game press, and he’s one of the players, which when I think about him I think about his game moves during his seasons more than his personality or character, even though it seems like it should’ve been opposite, and when I think about my favourite players, I think first about their great personalities, and good gameplay is mostly a bonus for me (even though Zeke does seem as a really great guy!). Of course he has two huge character moments- the first one was great to watch…the other one was not, even though it showed what a fantastic human being Zeke is. But cause most of his content is game related, if that content doesn’t satisfy me, then it’s harder for me to fully enjoy his character (I still am not a fan of his flip in Game Changers).

    And the only problem I have with your post, is that just cause the side from which he flipped had bigger names, doesn’t mean that sticking with them for a few next votes wouldn’t lead him to victory. My problem with the flip wasn’t the flip ITSELF, but rather the TIMING of the flip. Like, it’s not hard to believe that other people from that group would target people like Cirie and Andrea (which was shown by Cirie herself targetting Andrea later in the season). And even IF he would have to make it with the whole alliance intact, it doesn’t mean that he would necessarily lose against any of them. I think we as fans would LIKE to believe, that just cause a player like for example Sandra makes the FTC, it basically means that they have a free win, against less known player. Like, it seemed like Zeke HIMSELF would’ve voted for Sarah over Cirie, so that itself shows nothing is really set in stone, plus I think players should think about who they can beat from Final 9, or 8, but that’s just me.

    But the thing I agree 100% with all of you, is that Zeke hate is SOOO over the top. Yeah, Zeke has flaws, but sometimes I feel like he’s hated almost as much Will, Dan, or Colton, and he DOESN’T deserve that much of the hate.

    In the end, I think Zeke is as of right now an OK player, who’s main problem going into GC was not seeing his season, and not knowing exactly what mistakes he made, which basically is the case for all back-to-back players. I hope that if comes back (which seems like it at the moment), he will learn from his mistake, and improve.

    1. Thank you. Zeke isn’t my favorite player, but one who I thought was in need of defending. I think he got a weird level of hate that seems undue.

      As for that siding argument, I was mostly doing my best to weakly defend the swap. I agree that it was too soon and not a great idea. I mostly just paraphrased Andy for strategy. I think it was a mostly emotional decision to try and get the away from his outing.

      1. That is a really good point. While Zeke’s outing essentially destroyed his ability to make any final 3 alliances, it also put him in a position where he felt all his initiative was removed. So, it seems reasonable that he would want to make a big move, not only to benefit his chances toward the end of the game, but also to show everyone that the incident was not affecting his gameplay. It would allow him to show his head is still in the game, and that he is a serious player, and thus might help him get some initiative and some alliance back on track.

        And more so, in making his big move, Zeke would probably upset a few of the people who had gotten super close to him as a result of the incident and resulting trauma. This might seem mean, but for a person trying to remove the idea of themselves as the ‘trans survivor player’ this could be pretty calculated. By betraying, say, Andrea, Zeke shows that his dedication is to the game, and that what’s important to him is playing the game as the person who he is and who he wants to be. Let’s say Zeke stays with his majority, they run the game, maybe even he wins, there is always the possibility that Zeke’s gameplay, win, or ability to get far could have been boiled down to ‘sympathy for a victim.’ It is likely that Zeke was aware his game would be defined by the outing, and felt that it was better to take the risk of a big move so that whatever might follow was marked by his strategic choices instead.

  10. Zeke for me is in an odd place. Zeke as a person is someone I enjoy seeing on Survivor but as a character on Survivor he does nothing for me. Let me explain. Zeke’s best moments are the ones were he shares something from his personal life, such as talk with Bret about what being gay means bewteen the two of them, his joy at providing fire to his original tribe, and the way he handled himself after he tragically outed by Varner. However, when he giving stuff to camera trying to be one the great confessionalists it does not work because most of what he says is about the game . He been good but not great.

    1. I agree that his confessionals don’t do much for me. His delivery is a bit like bad stand up comedy :/

  11. I felt I needed to write this one after reading some particularly whiny anti-gameplay articles (Funny 115). I do think this hatred is less about Zeke and more about what he and others represent.

    I think Survivor was pushed into this type of big moves promotion due to Redemption Island, South Pacific, One World (I exclude Nicaragua because its failures were so extreme and varied that it would be hard to replicate). These seasons were characterized by one person or group taking power on day 1, running a Pagonging, targeting anyone who threatened Rob/Kim in the slightest and holding the status quo. This made for dull television only interesting to students of gameplay and those who wanted to watch weirdos yelling at each other.

    Then Malcolm, Ciera, and Tony came along and made Survivor entertaining again by playing aggressively, refusing to be 4th place and doing entertaining things with Idols. The producers obviously wanted more of this and have gone out of their way to encourage big moves as a way to increase interest in the viewers, and have given a strong platform to those who were willing to parrot back that idea. After all, they would much rather have a Cambodia than a South Pacific.

  12. Thank you for all the compliments. I enjoyed writing this. This has been a summer of mixed emotions (and a lot of travel) and I want to thank everyone here for making this such a wonderful place to hang out and talk.

  13. I do not think Zeke flipping on his group was a great idea. It did not crack the bottom five worst ideas of the season though.

    My picks for those are:

    5. Attempt to use Sarah’s double vote against her
    4. Accidentally cause your alliance to vote out Malcolm
    3. Vote out Tai instead of Sarah
    2. Tell Sarah what your advantage does and tell her you will give it to her if you go home
    1. Out Zeke

    1. I agree that all these are definetely worse than that flip. I think the fact that it was at expense of our favourite players, and the reasoning behind it, made the flip more frustrating for me at the time.

    2. Absolutely. I criticize Zeke mostly because I think he’s a great narrator, and really perceptive, so I just have really high standards for him. His mistakes are not mind-numbing idiocy. I’d love to see him come back again, and think he could really learn a lot from his mistakes with a little bit of perspective.

  14. Great article! This is the first one that has really made me think. I am a fan of Zeke as a character and as a person outside the game. But I’m lukewarm on his ability to come up with solid strategies and execute them. Yes, convincing people to go to rocks was impressive, but even his all time best move wasn’t enough to shift the game enough for him to stay in control.

    I know I come across as being down on Big Movez, but that’s not necessarily the case. It’s just that I’m a fan of GOOD moves, whether they be big or small (unless it’s someone I hate making the move, lol).
    What I’m not a fan of is this attitude that some players (including Zeke, imo) have that’s almost like whenever things are going too smoothly they need to blow everything up. I get the argument that they’re looking ten steps ahead and not liking the perceived end results, but sometimes it really might be better to stick to existing plans and make a few easy votes with your allies.

    I think a lot of this Big Movez tendency comes from living in a post Tony Vlachos world. Now is the time that I have to confess an unpopular opinion: I’m not actually much of a Tony fan. I love Cagayan as a whole package, but if you isolate Tony alone as a player, I’m not that into it. I think his win was lightening that isn’t going to strike twice, and yet we continue to see players (and superfans no less) who come into the game itching to play like Tony. As we saw, even Tony can’t pull that off twice. I’m not against people trying things that make the game more exciting, but I’m unlikely to consider someone a great player if their entire strategy consists of “Make Big Movez”

    Anyway, back to today’s article – I really think that Zeke has more in him than just big moves, but his 2nd game was unfortunately kneecapped by another player way too early. I’d love to see Zeke back in a few years with a more mature strategy. Then I think he’d have a lot better chance at winning.

    1. I will admit that I agree to having felt he wanted to stir things up just for the sake of it. I guess I ride the fence, probably because of the editing. I understand the logic and respect the balls to make the move he did. And I stand by, if it had succeeded, it would have been pretty impressive. But I also felt the edit was VERY clear it wasn’t going to work, and because Zeke’s confessionals were so positive and excited about it, it came across as Zeke making big moves for big moves sake. It seemed like he simply wanted to create chaos because he wasn’t comfortable with calm, and in that way I was a bit annoyed.

      I will note that, I would (and probably have) praise the same behavior from Abi-Maria. I guess I expect the people I like to play smart and the villains to play crazy. Eh, Survivor viewers be complicated…

      1. Excellent points. I’ll admit I’m definitely easily manipulated by the edit. Also, I’m pretty unapologetic about judging the merits of a move by how it actually turns out rather than the potential. I mean, if the Black Widows hadn’t voted out Erik then giving up the Immunity necklace would have been the ultimate big move, right? (Reductio ad absurdum I know, but still…) 🙂

  15. I’ve criticized Zeke, but I still think he’s great. This series continues to be excellent, though completely non-controversial. If you want controversy, why don’t you do something completely insane, like trying to make me care about the amazing race?

    1. I think Zeke, Rodney, and today’s entry could be controversial. But, part of that is due to the fact that we are not the larger Survivor community. There are people in the pipeline that could be controversial.

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