After 39 days of what was originally intended to be a show about surviving and creating a society, the jury rewards the person who treated the show like the game it was.
|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.
Why It Matters:
Just one day before the most important vote of Survivor‘s first season, Richard Hatch was standing on a beach in Borneo with his hands on a wooden idol and competing in a challenge that would secure him a spot in the final tribal council. Once there, he could make his case for why he deserved to be the game’s first ever winner. All he had to do was keep his hand on the idol longer than Kelly and Rudy, and immunity- and the spot in final tribal council- would be his.
But Richard willingly removed his hand from the idol and gave up his chance at immunity. Was he crazy? Why fight so hard to put yourself in contention to win, then suddenly decide to leave it in the hands of someone else? In true Survivor fashion, the show didn’t wait to make us find out.
The answer, as Richard tells Jeff Probst, is that both Kelly and Rudy had reason to bring Richard with them to final tribal council. If Kelly won, she’d want to be up against the villainous Richard. If Rudy won, he’d want to bring his most loyal ally. Winning the final immunity challenge would actually hurt Richard’s chances at winning the game; by having to vote out either Kelly or Rudy, he would anger them and potentially lose a vote at final tribal council.
Kelly, of course, wins the final immunity challenge. And as Richard predicted, she votes Rudy out. After Kelly and Richard plead their cases to the jury, they have to answer questions from some of the jurors- and listen to a very famous jury speech. Perhaps the most famous question comes from this man:
Greg’s question? “Pick a number between 1 and 10.” Keep that in mind.
We see and hear from six of the seven members of the jury as they cast their votes. Watching them now, 30 seasons later, they range from adorably quaint to surprisingly prescient. Gervase is the first to vote.
Gervase casts his vote for Kelly, even though you can’t tell in that screen shot. And he takes the opportunity to reference Sue’s famous speech by saying, “that’s what in my town we call a sore loser.” Jenna votes next, followed by Sean.
It was overlooked at the time, because viewers still thought this show was what Mark Burnett and company had originally intended it to be: a show about survival in a difficult environment, with a group of strangers interacting and working together. But as Jenna and Sean discussed the remarkably similar reasons for their votes, they laid out what the game actually is: a social game that takes place in a difficult environment.
Jenna explains her Kelly vote by saying, “She befriended me, and whether that was part of a friendship or strategy, it was all a part of the game. She played it well.” Sean, apparently not just voting for Richard because Rich’s name was up next in his alphabetical voting strategy, says, “Richard…is just an out-and-out scoundrel. But I like him. Fat naked fag with a million dollars is just hilarious.” (In fairness to Sean, it seems “fat naked fag” is a nickname Richard gave himself.) But perhaps Jenna and Sean’s thoughts are quickly forgotten precisely because the next vote is Colleen’s.
Colleen says she had intended to vote Richard, but changed her vote at final tribal council. Her vote puts Kelly in the lead, 3-1. Her reason for doing so? “Maybe this’ll make you be nice or something.” That’s an actual quote. And all of America said “awww” at the same time while doodling little hearts around Colleen’s name. At this point, Richard needs to win each of the final three votes in order to win the game. Fortunately, two of those were a foregone conclusion.
As hilarious as it would have been if Sue would’ve given that speech and then voted for Kelly and said “jk lolz still bff?”, it wasn’t going to happen. And Richard’s strategic decision to drop out of that final challenge paid off, with Rudy apparently not offended that Richard had essentially said “If you want to stay, just beat someone nearly fifty years younger than you at an immunity challenge.”
With the votes tied 3-3, the deciding vote goes to Greg. If you recall, Greg had asked Richard and Kelly to pick a number. Rich picks seven. Kelly chooses three. Greg’s vote goes to Richard, and Hatch becomes Survivor‘s first ever winner.
At the reunion, Greg is asked what the number was. He says it was the number 9, and the fact that Richard was closer was what won the million dollars. (Not convinced? Further discussion of that point is here.)
But it doesn’t actually matter how Richard Hatch won, or even how close it was. What people remember is that the jury voted for him. And his win shapes the course of the show for years to come. Yes, people despised Hatch for having the audacity to treat their survival show like a strategic/social contest- they were still booing his name three years later at the Pearl Islands reunion. But that first jury vote sent a signal to the people who would play the game in the future: reward the person who played the best game.
Future players took that message in different ways. The very next season, with the benefit of having seen Borneo, many of the players tried desperately to avoid being perceived as a villain the way Hatch was- a fear that likely prompted Colby to bring Tina with him to the final two. Other players seemed to read Richard’s win as evidence that a jury would reward cold, calculating strategic play over social skills, a theory that was proven incorrect by multiple juries in the course of Survivor‘s 30+ seasons.
What matters, though, is that Richard’s win has had a dramatic effect on the show, the game, and its players over fifteen years. Survivor gradually removed focus from the survival aspects of the show, the game itself is subject to constant tinkering as producers attempt to prevent predictable strategy, and players have come to embrace the idea that voting someone out isn’t some moral quandary- it’s an opportunity to play the game. And that is an amazing legacy.
(For the purposes of this series, we’re writing only about what was seen on the show itself, not rumors or after-the-fact confessions. Still, I’ve seen multiple claims that Greg was always going to pick Hatch, and that the number selection thing was just another way for Greg to screw with production of the show. I searched fairly extensively to find confirmation of this rumor. Instead, I found an interview where he says that the number-guessing was entirely legitimate, meaning he really would have chosen Kelly if she’d picked the right number. If you can find any evidence to the contrary, please send it my way.)
What Else Made the List?
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John is the co-host of the Purple Rock Survivor Podcast. He can get loud too, what the fuck!
Favorite seasons: Heroes vs. Villains, Cagayan, Pearl Islands, Tocantins, Cambodia