|To celebrate the 40th season of Survivor, we’re counting down the 40 Most Influential Survivors to ever play the game. Because Survivor is a game, a tv show, and a rabid fandom, we’re taking all forms of influence into consideration for this list. Go here to view the criteria we are using to determine what qualifies for the list. Note: this list is presented in chronological order and there will be spoilers for various Survivor seasons.
Erik Reichenbach is the 22nd entry in this series.
If you have been following along with our 40 Most Influential Survivors series, you might have noticed that thus far the influential survivors have tended to be people that the show wants contestants to emulate. Even when Colby made a monumentally dumb mistake, the show still wants to cast more Colby Donaldsons. And the triumphs of the players we have covered so far are triumphs that the show is interested in being repeated and evolved. The show wants more heroes, it wants more villains, it wants more strategists, it wants more showmances. Some of the more astute among the commenters have wondered, “But, what about those people with negative influence?” In other words, where are the people on the list who the show doesn’t want its contestants to emulate? The examples of gameplay so bad that the show decides to make an example of that person and their mistake in order to to send a message to future contestants, “Do not do that!” And to answer this question, I present to you Erik Reichenbach.
In truth, Erik should not be the first example of negative influence on this list. Some very smart people point to James Clement on China, who was not only an insanely popular survivor for the three years between China and HvV, but also made one of the all-time Survivor blunders. James’ blunder was so large in fact that the show would routinely trot it out for years afterwards when asking about the all-time biggest Survivor mistakes. And the reason they kept trotting it out was simple: James went home with two hidden immunity idols, and the show wants people to play idols. It is more fun for the show to have idols be played! And the error James made is different from Erik’s, even though yes they are very similar. Going home with two idols would make for bad TV in the future. The show wants idols to be played. But going home by giving up immunity and getting clowned? Oh that is good TV. But James is not on this list, in fact no one from China is on this list. So instead Erik is the first example of this sort of negative influence.
We all know what Erik did. We all know why it was dumb. We have talked about it before. Frankly, it is not worth recapping. (Editor’s note: Would that be the case if the writer was not recovering from surgery? Hard to say.) They say “show, don’t tell,” in writing, so here is a series of images known as “Erik’s Blunder.”
In truth, Erik’s mistake was understandable. He was young, they twisted his head around so much he didn’t know up from down, and he desperately wanted approval. It was a dumb move, he also recognizes it was a dumb move. It is what follows that has made the moment and Erik himself influential. The show was not merely happy to just present the moment, great TV though it was. No the show made the moment into a Survivor PSA. “Hey kids, did you know that peer pressure is wrong? Did you know that if your friends told you to jump off a bridge, you shouldn’t do that? Well, in Survivor you shouldn’t give away your immunity necklace at Final Five because oh my god that is dumb and they will vote you out right away! Don’t be an Erik!” (Above dialogue may not have happened). This moment was regularly replayed during reunions. It was regularly referenced by Probst as one of the worst mistakes ever made. They even had a poll during Heroes vs. Villains where they pitted the shows biggest blunders against each other and asked fans to vote for the biggest. Shockingly, Erik lost to JT. Classic case of recency bias.
Now you might be thinking, “But, Matt, how influential could Erik be if Brandon Hantz gave up immunity at Final Six just seven seasons later?” To which I say, no Hantz ever watched Survivor before season 19 ,and they don’t pay attention when a Hantz isn’t on screen, so Brandon had merely not received the warnings that the show was trying to give. Like if someone were without internet or phone service or news for the past month and came back into society touching their face now. You cannot heed the warnings you never saw.
The fact is, now that we are in the second half of our 40 most influential list, more of the list is going to become people who have negative influence. Perhaps the show is more interested in controlling what it considers good and bad moves, or good and bad TV. Perhaps more of the obvious good roles have already been taken, so all that is left is the influence of what not to do. After all, how many heroes can be influential? How many villains? How many characters? But there are always new ways to fuck up and make a mistake that is either impossible to ignore or results in bad TV. Whether it be JT writing Russell a love letter or Laurel refusing to do anything to better her own chances in the game, mistakes are like snowflakes whereas a character archetype is just that, an archetype. So welcome Erik, King of the Negative Influence, you have ushered in a new era of Survivor.
Who else made the list?
You can see each entry on the list by clicking this link.
Matt is convinced that all Survivor contestants named Michel(l)e are bad tv and you cannot prove he ever said otherwise. Also if he ever takes a strong stance about why everyone else is wrong, it is he that is inevitably wrong.
Favorite seasons: Micronesia, Heroes vs. Villains, Palau, Philippines, Pearl Islands, Cagayan