Tocantins, Heroes vs Villains, Blood vs Water, Winners at War
|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.
Tyson Apostol is the 23rd entry in this series.
We’ve crossed the halfway point in this Herculean project of essays that we somehow let Andy talk us into. I want to pull back the curtain a bit here.
If y’all have been following these posts, you know that this list was formed by the six staffers submitting their own Influential 40. The top vote-getters were automatically inducted. We hashed out the players that received 2 or fewer votes, then went for a revote of just those candidates. It took a bit of discussion, but we managed to whittle it down to 40. I should say that this has nothing to do with Tyson; he easily cleared the three-vote bar. But this is about all that y’all know about the process.
What you don’t know is the infrastructure that came after. And while the first rule of Staff Slack is that you do not talk about Staff Slack, I have to break Slack Code a bit for this profile to fully work. We have a Slack channel devoted entirely to this project. It’s a space where we can bounce ideas around and get help flushing out what we want to say. It’s also the spot where the profiles get assigned. Staffers can claim a player that they are passionate about—I think that some of us had players in the 20s or 30s locked down before the first post even went up. To fill in the gaps though, we basically volunteer on an as-needed basis, and it roughly ends up as an equitable division of labor.
Now, I have only one contestant locked down following this post. For the most part, I’m happy to be the pinch hitter and fill in as needed. But my line has repeatedly been “Give me the slant you want and I can probably write up anyone.” And this is why I’m pulling back the curtain.
You would think, what with Tyson not being on the bubble originally, that there would be people who wanted this assignment. Nope.
You would think, what with all of us being big ole nerds, that we could find and agree to the angle we wanted this profile to have. Nope.
Five days passed in that Slack channel, and we had nothing on Tyson. We found that a lot of us just sort of assumed that there would be a reason that he should be on this list. I mean, even in a season of all winners—a season with at most twenty legends—only two of them got a hype post*. Including Tyson in this list just felt right. But when it came down to it, no one had a clear vision as to his influence.
*Now, you could say that this was because John tends to get high on his hype supply and overworks himself in writing an epic in tribute to players like Kim. So maybe he wasn’t intending for just two, but he tuckered himself out and couldn’t continue. But even if he planned to write more, Tyson was the first player John went for.
So we came up with a list of angles this profile could take. We then promptly tore it apart. Here is a summary of our tumultuous thought process.
The casting of Tocantins reverberated through the seasons following it. Think of the characters that we got that season! But Gabon arguably had an overall wilder cast just one season prior, and if you’re going to pick one person out of Tocantins as an icon for capital-S, capital-C Survivor Characters, it wouldn’t be Tyson.
Tyson was the funny villain you loved to hate or hated to love. Or loved to love or hated to hate. Basically, he was a dick who made you laugh, and you couldn’t just have neutral feelings about him. Except, was he the most influential person from this archetype? Tyson is certainly a goofball. But even if we’re just picking from his castmates, Sandra and Courtney did “hilarious, snarky asshole” earlier and more iconically.
Speaking of Heroes vs. Villains, don’t change your vote in a vote split. Natalie did it later as a winning move in San Juan del Sur, but messing with a vote split is most commonly associated with “Tyson voting himself out.” Still, it’s hard to say that Tyson’s exit in HvV was influential because that would be like saying “Richard Gere caused people to stop sticking gerbils up their asses.” People probably weren’t doing it before, and anyone with common sense didn’t need to learn it from him.
Tyson’s influence in the fan community is strong. He’s a high-profile returnee on RHAP, and his pods are often super anticipated. Some might even say that he’s “one of Rob’s best guests.” But really? You’re going to base an entire profile on that?
He was part of bringing the rock draw back. But there have only been three rock draws in the history of the show. Being second here makes it hard to call that “influence.” On top of that, Tyson was trying hard to avoid a rock draw that Tribal; he only agreed once Ciera pushed her chips in.
“That Asshole” can win now. Except that there have been plenty of asshole winners. Like, Hatch won in the very first season of this show. We even got Heidik four seasons later. There’s a line between “this archetype can win this game” and “Tyson specifically can win this game.”
Clearly, we voted for Tyson without fully thinking about what this article would say. At the end of all the discussion, we decided that we would just publish that list and slap a shrug emoji on it. We were even planning to put a poll on the end so that y’all could vote on what you thought Tyson’s influence was.
But honestly, would that be satisfying? It would certainly be irreverent in a way that would be completely befitting a Tyson profile. But it wouldn’t be doing justice to such a legend.
I felt like there could be something to “That Asshole can win now,” even if I didn’t believe that was the full thrust of the profile. So I finally got down to the thing I always do before I write one of these posts: I go to YouTube and watch a Best Of compilation.
I watched ten minutes of Tocantins Tyson. Even if you didn’t watch that season, you’d entirely understand why Debbie loved him and Sierra hated him. I watched thirty minutes of Blood vs. Water Tyson—apparently he wasn’t on HvV long enough to get a compilation there.
Eventually, I got to a slightly extended cut of the rock draw Tribal from BvW. And then I realized that when you’re looking too closely, it’s impossible to capture the essence of Tyson. When you’re trying to make a list, for example, Tyson is everything, and he is nothing. How do you write about that? But this clip—these twelve minutes—captures the essence of Tyson.
There are so many iconic moments in this Tribal. Gervase’s “Don’t hate the players, homie. Hate the game” diatribe, for one. But you’ve also got “ruffle feathers” and “that’s your chair over there,” not to mention the rock draw. The two quips from Tyson are exactly what you would expect from Tocantins Tyson. Going to a rock draw represents the dominant, no-holds-barred game that had Hayden calling Tyson the winner at like, the Final 7.
But seeing this clip led me to zoom out and expand my scope. And when you look at Tyson’s entire trajectory on this show, you see that the theme is one of growth. Tyson was a clown in Tocantins. He was clowned on in Heroes vs. Villains. But he didn’t win Blood vs. Water in spite of being “That Asshole” who was sitting next to Gervase and a neat lady. Tyson won BvW because he clearly played the best game out there.
Some players keep their legendary status constant across their appearances—Cirie is a great example. Some players have a blaze of glory in their first seasons, but diminish each time they return—Colby is the emblem of this, but even Sandra and Aubry to some degree also belong in this group. There are only a few players who demonstrate growth as players in their multi-season arcs. Jerri would be one example. You could say Boston Rob winning on his fourth try would be another. But Tyson is arguably the best representative here. He most clearly demonstrates that people can grow. They can adapt, and even if they stay a bit of an asshole, they can go from Tocantins Tyson the Clown to Winners At War Tyson the Legend.
Maybe that’s why we all found it so hard to quit this show when it hit The Second Dark Ages in the mid-30s. Because we know that someone as acerbic as Tyson is capable of growth. So a show as bad as those seasons could return to great heights.
Maybe that’s how we end up with things like the Game Changers cast—not chock full of legends like the premise suggested, but full of players who might have had potential that was as-of-yet unbloomed.
Or maybe we needed a reason for this post because we didn’t want to admit that we voted him in just because we liked him.
Who else made the list?
You can see each entry on the list by clicking this link.
Brad (formerly known as Taako from Teevhii) has watched every season live but was too young to remember the first ten seasons (and is only saying that to make you all feel bad). He treats Wednesday nights like a religious observance and wonders if he can finagle that into a tax benefit.
Favorite Seasons: Winners At War, Heroes vs. Villains, Cagayan, Cambodia, Micronesia
Favorite Players: Kelley Wentworth, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Kim Spradlin, Denise Stapley, Todd Herzog, Courtney Yates, Yul Kwon, Charlie Herschel