The 40 Most Influential Survivors: Jonny Fairplay

Jonny Fairplay (née Jon Dalton)

Pearl Islands, Micronesia

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.

Jonny Fairplay is the 11th entry in this series.

As long as there has been Reality TV there has been villains. But for a long time, villains existed because of the natural conflict generated from having different goals than other people on the season. Richard Hatch was a villain because he turned Survivor into a game, rather than a social experiment. Jerri Manthey was a villain because she was in conflict to what “heroes” of that season wanted, and because she was in conflict to what the audience expected. Brian Heidik was a villain because he was naturally an odious human being. But none of these people entered the season thinking that they would be the villain. Until Jonny Fairplay.

Jonny Fairplay came into Pearl Islands and realized that his key to screen time was not only to be a villain, but to be a theatrical villain. He wanted to win the game, sure — everyone does — but he was happy to seize his chance for fame by giving the show what it wanted. And being a villain directly aligned with how Johnny Fairplay wanted to play the game. He wanted to play a cutthroat game; he wanted to lie; he wanted to deceive; he wanted to betray. All of these behaviors are standard villainous behavior on Survivor. If done well, they are also just plain good Survivor. And Johnny Fairplay was actually pretty decent at Survivor for most of Pearl Islands: jumping alliances, betraying bigger threats, and generally maneuvering his way into a position where he would likely have won had he won the last immunity challenge — until his own hubris caused his downfall. Well his hubris and Lil.

Fairplay was a noted fan of wrestling, and professional wrestling knows how to do villains. It builds them up, it allows them to get away with things that no one else is allowed to do, and then it reveals to the audience what they are getting away with. Consider Fairplay’s most infamous “move”, the Dead Grandma Lie. It’s a moment we have discussed many times because it is ridiculous, over the top, and incredibly funny. Fairplay came into this season so devoted to his villainous persona that he invented an elaborate lie before the season even began to help gain himself a dubious advantage. And it worked! He won that challenge largely because everyone else (except Sandra) believed his lie! Even though he was relying on this doofus to sell it!

Wooooooooooooo (never gets old)

And yet the show was happy to reveal how much of a bald-faced lie it was to the audience watching by cutting to Fairplay explaining the lie as it was happening and revealing his grandma was likely at home watching Jerry Springer. Thunder D didn’t even remember the lie when he came out! It was terrible salesmanship, and yet most people believed it because no one had ever seen someone so willing to do anything to gain an advantage in the game and win.

So who did he inspire? A long list of hit-and-miss villains owe their success to Jonny Fairplay. Coach’s outrageous lies  (Editor’s note: How dare you.) were direct descendants of Fairplay’s one over-the top-lie. Russell Hantz is probably the closest to Fairplay, a detestable human being who would do anything to win and never could. There are also people who directed their villainous edit to the camera in confessionals, or in channeling their comments on the game into “clever” remarks putting down other players. Randy and Corrinne from Gabon, Alicia and Colton from One World all followed in Fairplay’s tracks in this sense. The villains that are villains because they choose to play this aspect of themselves directly to the camera all owe Fairplay. It evolved the role and made the villains of the first few seasons look positively quaint by comparison. And it gave us one moment of sublime goofiness.

Woooooooooo (seriously, it never gets old)


Who else made the list?

You can see each entry on the list by clicking this link.