30 from 30: #2 – Snakes and Rats and the Unforgettable Jury Speech

The Moment:

Sue Hawk gives Survivor‘s most famous jury speech and shows future jurors how it’s done.

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- Sue Hawk gives snakes rats speech

Why It Matters:

Imagine for a moment that you are watching Survivor for the first time. You see the early episodes where the tribes build a shelter and hunt for food, compete in challenges, and vote out the weak links. Then you see the tribes come together, and an alliance emerges and takes control of the game.

Eventually the game gets whittled down to 2 (or 3) contestants. Now the contestants have to face the people they have voted out and answer to them for their actions and these jurors get to ask them anything they want! You have no idea what type of questions are coming. You might expect someone to ask, “What would you do differently?” Maybe even, “Who should be in the final two instead?”

Maybe you expect the most educated person on the island to offer bland platitudes of little substance.

Or maybe you expect someone to just fuck with the final 2.

Borneo- Greg final tribal pick number

The one thing you probably don’t expect to see is someone making this moment all about themselves instead of the final two. But that is precisely what Sue Hawk did as she engaged in obvious self-serving grandstanding while spinning an elaborate metaphor meant to highlight why one person shouldn’t win and the other should. In Survivor: Borneo, you may not have expected this type of moment. But now you should, because almost every season has this type of elaborate look-at-me speech that doesn’t seek to ask a question, but merely make an elaborate statement that is more about the speaker than about the final two. And it is all because of this:

Sue Hawk’s “Snakes and Rats” speech is arguably the single most memorable Survivor moment ever. It was the most memorable moment on the most watched episode ever and it is to this day used as a template for the ending speech at Final Tribal.

The Impact:

Sue’s speech is the gold standard in jury speeches. Do you want to rip apart a player that angered you while at the same time stealing a little spotlight for yourself? Giving a speech like Sue’s is the way to do it. And Survivor players have noticed. Lex isn’t talking about a stack of greenbacks without Sue Hawk. Penner does not talk about Denise riding Lisa and Skupin like oxen without Sue Hawk. Reed does not compare Missy to a wicked Stepmother without Sue Hawk. And Shirin does not compare Mike to a howler monkey, Carolyn to a stingray and Will to a dead fish without Sue Hawk (ok, her metaphor may not have been as rigorously thought through).

Beyond that, Sue’s speech gave future jury members the idea that their chance to speak at final tribal council is their moment to shine. It’s a juror’s last chance to say, “Hey audience, remember me?” And while Sue’s moment will forever live on in Survivor lore, there are other jury speeches that will do the same for entirely different reasons. The first of these happens in Amazon, when Heidi gets her moment to speak and delivers one of the greatest comedic moments in the show’s history:

Years later, Lisi steps up in Fiji and gives the absolute antithesis of Sue’s speech. In just two cringe-worthy minutes, Lisi’s speech includes:

  • a game of “eeny meeny”
  • asking to see the water shoes of one of the final three
  • offering a critique on those water shoes
  • debates the existence of the single-dimensional objects necessary for string theory to be viable
  • asking how many zeroes are in one million

(I made one of those up.)

But the concept of the jury’s speeches mattering at all starts with Sue, who tapped into a very real emotion and gave us a show at the end of our very first final tribal council. We saw a level of anger, bitterness and hurt that we hadn’t realized this game could tap. It revealed that the people playing Survivor were not just playing a game, but were investing real emotion into this experience. And that meant that some people were going to get hurt. Sue Hawk showed us that even when people get hurt, we can still be entertained. It took off the kid gloves and forced to actually watch people pay for their mistakes.  And this is why, fifteen years and thirty seasons later, “Snakes and Rats” is the greatest final tribal speech.

What Else Made the List?

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