The Cheese Fry loves him some "Survivor," having breathlessly witnessed just about every episode since its debut in the halcyon summer days of 2000. Past Cheese Fry posts have been devoted to the arcane details of the show. We maintain that much of its appeal lies in the way the show's premise so cleverly sets up an impossible social situation. The people you vote out on your march to the million-dollar prize are the same people who in the end decide whether you will get that million-dollar prize. That is, the people you stabbed in the back must now be convinced to award you the money. If there's not dozens of sociology and psychology dissertations on the ever-shifting relationships and moral dilemmas of this pressure-cooker situation, there sure ought to be.
We're always amused by the inability for the contestants on the show to grasp the simple fact that the only way to advance in the game is to, you know, lie and cheat and wheedle. Everyone does it. Surely these people are familiar with how the show works. Right? If you try and pull an Honest Abe and never tell a lie, you'll likely find yourself unable to open your mouth. Even those contestants who like to pretend they won with honor and integrity, in fact, did no such thing. They lied and cheated and wheedled. But they did it with charm and charisma. The other folks never even felt that knife going into their back. And that really is the key. More on that later.
It never fails that when the "jury" (the so-called group of outcast contestants who stand in final judgment of the last two or three players to determine who gets the money) gets a chance to speak in the show's last tribal council, invariably several of them suffer from an extreme case of poor-loser-itis with a side dish of shameless hypocrisy. They're shocked (shocked!) at the deceit and treachery that surrounded them, disgusted (disgusted!) by the collective decision that so heartlessly voted them out, and insulted (insulted!) at how cavalierly they were double-crossed and blindsided. The outrage is laughable. Someone has to lose, after all. They just can't believe that the someone is them.
What isn't so laughable, however, is a recent trend of jurors voting with emotion rather than reason. Twice now, the player to completely dominate the game - Russell Hanz - failed to get a single jury vote. Russell is undoubtedly a polarizing figure. Some viewers love him, others loathe him. The Cheese Fry is 100% on Team Hanz. No one has played "Survivor" with this kind of unapologetic scorched-earth strategy and gotten away with it. If you dare to cross Russell or even suggest you're not in complete and total agreement with his plan, chances are good he will conspire to get you voted off immediately if not sooner. That the other players didn't recognize this remains a mystery. Those who saw what a threat he truly was often came to that conclusion too late.
And yet the two juries looked over at Russell and were so hurt and bitter by the way he used and abused them, even though he so clearly manipulated and controlled every aspect of the game "from day one" (such an overused phrase in the world of "Survivor"), they chose to give the final grand prize to someone whose only game strategy was just to sort of hang around (including the insufferably smug and proudly lazy Sandra - blech). Both times Russell lost, the jury got it wrong. They know how the game is played. They just refuse to acknowledge it with their votes.
That said, the Cheese Fry is willing to stipulate that there is indeed a "social game" aspect to "Survivor." There's a right way and a wrong way to backstab. You do it, as we mentioned earlier, with charm and a smile. You let the other players save face where possible. You pretend to like them. Russell seems incapable of this sort of play. He likes to bully and growl and humiliate. As much as viewers seem to like Russell thanks no doubt to clever editing, it seems clear now that the people who actually lived with Russell found him to be utterly loathsome.
But he had his chance. At the final tribal council, some past winners have used that forum to beg for forgiveness for their game-play sins. That's the perfect time to apologize for the deceit, to remind the jury they only did what they had to do to win the game, to insist they hate themselves for the choices they made, to express regret and uncertainty. In other words, it's where you tell your biggest lie of all. But Russell in the "Heroes vs. Villains" finale remained stubbornly defiant and surprisingly clueless. Unable to read the jury or grasp the social element of the game, he apologized for nothing. We think he could have maybe swayed them with just a spoonful of humility, even if we would argue that even without humility he deserved to win the money. But the jurors are people and people get things wrong. So instead of a million dollars, Russell instead got from the jury a collective middle finger.