30 from 30: #19 – Danni Boatwright Buys an Advantage at the Survivor Auction

The Moment:

The show introduces some strategy to the Survivor auction in the form of an advantage, and Danni Boatwright uses it to propel herself to victory.

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:

Danni Boatwright was just treading water. Nu-Nakúm was in the process of Pagonging her Nu-Yaxhá tribe (with a brief interlude to blindside crazy Jamie). The former beauty queen/model/sports radio host/Gary Hogeboom biographer was the last one left, hoping to stay afloat, but unlikely to do so in the three days she had to work with.

You could say that she was trying to keep her boat, right. ... I'l show myself out.
You could say that she was trying to keep her boat, right.

I’ll show myself out.

Sure, she was saying the right things like “this alliance is going to have turn on each other sometime”, but that time is typically after the person saying that is voted out (especially when they’re saying it when the remaining player total is even). But the game was about to throw her a life preserver. (Sorry. Last one, I promise).

At the Survivor auction, after she’d already purchased beef jerky for $20 and split a “Philly cheesesteak” (put in scare quotes on purpose) with Rafe, Jeff announced that the next item would be an advantage in the upcoming challenge. For the first time ever. This was just the break Danni needed. But remember, she’s already bought two food items. So if the rest of the players out there were thinking, she shouldn’t have had enough money to buy it (she is still eating her previously-bought food while bidding).

Most successful auction performance of all-time.
She is locked. In.

Fortunately for Danni, the other players were more concerned with other things, not knowing exactly what an “advantage” would entail. Stephenie bowed out at $180, and Danni Boatwright, underdog, bought herself a new life in the game for $200 (she still had money left over to bid after this). On the one hand, it’s forgivable. This was a completely unprecedented experience. They weren’t prepared for an auction to be about anything more than food or love letters. On the other hand, why would they let the only person not in their alliance have an advantage? Especially since you could all outbid her (sharing money was still allowed then).

The challenge was one of the classic ones where the players are human board game pieces, flipping over tiles when they step on a new one (Rudy won it in the first season). When there are no new pieces to flip, you’re out. Danni’s advantage? She gets to switch positions with any player at any point in the game. So, basically, unless she’s a total moron, there should be no way to lose this (particularly, again, since the other five players don’t work against her). She is not a total moron, and switches with Stephenie when it’s clear that Steph has an insurmountable lead (somewhat interestingly, the edit suggests this decision comes after Probst remarks on Steph’s good fortune), and Danni wins a timely immunity.

Theory: Steph built up her lead because none of her tribemates dared get in her way. Which is a metaphor for the season.
Theory: Steph built up her lead because none of her tribemates dared get in her way. Which is a metaphor for the entire season.

Sometimes in Survivor, you just need to win the right immunity. The tides can turn quickly, particularly when an alliance gets a taste for settling personal business. So Danni’s immunity allows her to join strategy conversations without seeming desperate, and point suspicions at Judd while building her relationship with Rafe. Then the Nu-Nakúms get pissy when Cindy doesn’t give them cars. Then their season-long annoyance with Lydia comes to a head, and Rafe’s loyalty to Danni is unbreakable. Now it’s the final three, Danni wins one immunity and suddenly she’s in front of a jury with no scores to settle and you can tell Jeff to cut the cheque (that’s right, with a q, bitches).

So the first time Survivor offers an advantage for purchase during the auction, its winner leverages it into the title of Sole Survivor. A little more impactful than the first time they threw an immunity idol into the game (for those keeping score, that was six days previous).

Turning $200 of free money into a cool million? That’ll do.

The Impact:

For years, the Survivor auction was a simple little diversion from the game. A fun little segment of bidding, Monte Hall-style antics, contestants good-naturedly salivating over meager foodstuffs, an easy way to get some calories into starving competitors late into the season, maybe a little food porn mixed in for good measure.

Or, depending on your kinks, porn porn.
Or, depending on your kink, porn porn.

In this version, the way to “win” the Survivor Auction was to either get the best food or to hold out for something from your loved ones (typically a letter, although in Guatemala, it ended up being the actual loved ones visit). I’m guessing the loved one “something” is what Judd was holding out for. Maybe Stephenie as well (although she did bid on items without winning). It’s probably how Danni got her advantage for such a steal of a price. At that point, the auction was an easy way to get a little something for yourself in the game. And then things changed.

Welcome back old friend!
Welcome back old friend!

With that addition, strategy entered the auction beyond whether or not you should switch the item you won with what’s behind door #2. For those who enjoy strategy, this was a welcome way to spice up what was otherwise a fluffy segment. For those who feel that strategy has infected every single moment of the modern game at the expense of character-building and levity, it may have signalled the end of the fun.

Interestingly, it took awhile before people realized how powerful an agent for change this advantage was, even though the first person to get it won the whole fucking deal (to be fair to future contestants, they can be forgiven for forgetting the events of Guatemala, since the show itself seems to want us to do so). For a few cycles, it seems like the only person holding out for an advantage (or its successor, the immunity idol clue) was the underdog who needed it most (Corinne, Troyzan, Abi-Maria, Malcolm). Which speaks to how freaking hungry these people are. Hard to pass up food when you feel like you don’t really need an advantage to keep going, forgetting that if the only underdog gets the advantage, then one of you really needed it- unless you’re up against Corinne, who loses despite getting an advantage.

Or if Andrea won't let you find the idol.
Or if Andrea won’t let you find the idol.

In recent years, auction-as-strategy has been taken to its extreme. In Cagayan, three players refused to bid on anything (well, almost anything, as Tasha forgot for a moment), keeping prices for food low and turning the whole segment into a waiting game, then a random drawing for rocks (White fucking rocks! You’re killing me Survivor). They tried to mix things up by tempting the three people waiting it out for an advantage with loved ones letters in Worlds Apart, which ended up being a major turning point in the game (leading to a lot of the ugliest drama that dragged that season down). But in the end, it still came down to a rock draw for the advantage.

And that, I think, shows that we’ve stretched this auction advantage thing about as far as it will go. The trappings of the auction have been largely been rendered meaningless (although there’s now an argument to be made that if the advantage has become a matter of random chance, then you might as well load up on cheap food unless it’s your only way to remain in the game). Something needs to be done. Maybe get the advantage out of the way early. Maybe have more than one. Maybe you just don’t have one. The auction can still be a fun way to get some food into these people right around the time they’re too lethargic to do much else. But the advantage is now sucking all the fun out of it. Who knew too much strategy could be a bad thing?

Quite a legacy, even if Survivor would have you believe nothing of import happened this season.

What Else Made the List?

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