Warning: another essay coming up.
Originally Posted by SabreWolfy
As a viewer, I would have voted for Russell at the FTC, along with Tashi
. His social game was poor as we've discussed, but surely you can concede that he played the game well. He found idols and used them at the right time. He built alliances and removed threats. He played hard. He was not out there to make friends and be nice to everyone.
No, he's not, but he needs to make an effort. Survivor was conceived as a social experiment, and as fun as all the backstabbing can be to watch, it's still largely social. And he wasn't simply not being friendly, he was actively being hostile to them.
I like making fun of him but let me put that aside for some real talk. He was a good, not great player. We clearly got a very one-sided positive edit of his gameplay that makes it difficult to properly assess, but trying to look at it objectively, and not just buying wholesale into Russell's self-narrative, here's let's nevertheless assess his game as a whole.
THE RUSSELL POST-GAME CRITIQUE
-- He claims he controlled the game and was responsible for all the votes.
The women he targeted early for "catching on" on would've been targets regardless. They were physical liabilities in a losing tribe. When his alliance disagreed with who he wanted gone, as in Ben, he couldn't do shit. Post-merge, his votes were all in the interests of the FF alliance as a whole except for the Jaison vote. How much was him calling the shots and how much was the alliance coming to the decisions together (like Jaison suggesting Shambo) or him taking charge and the others not making a fuss because the order failed to matter after Laura's elimination? For all his talk, he was part of an alliance and he needed their votes as much as they needed his. Nothing groundbreaking.
-- Finding the immunity idols without clues and using them properly.
The most impressive part of his game. He didn't find the first oneentirely on his own - he saw Yasmin looking at trees and figured out she was looking for an immunity idol. He was lucky that the idols were hidden at the beach and there was no Exile Island. He's also not the first to find an idol without a clue - Gary in Guatemala did it first. Still, three in a row shouldn't be laughed at. He wasted his first immunity idol, but played his second perfectly in a key move. The third ended up being pretty pointless and he make yet another social faux pas when he smugly didn't play it but said he'd keep it as a souvenir.
-- He got Shambo on his side.
The only social aspect he got right and an important FF advantage for a few TCs following the Erik vote. It was Erik's elimination that got her pissed off enough to defect though.
-- He got John on his side for the purple rock vote.
John was willing to jump as soon as he got wind of Monica's plan to split the votes but Russell did try to sway him, as he should have. Point Russell.
--He won immunity at the right time
Timing is everything and this was the best time to win it. Prevented a certain Brett victory and he got to choose who to take with him to final three.
Out of those, I'd consider his major moves that made a difference finding the idols, playing the idol at Kelly's elimination, developing a relationship with Shambo, and winning final immunity. Pretty good, but not controlling every step of the game like he says. He was helped by the fact that Galu largely self-imploded, but so were the rest of Foa Foa, so that's irrelevant to comparing him to Mick and Natalie.
OK, let's look at his flaws that I noticed:
--Terrible social game
I hardly need to expand on this. He actively alienated most of his opponents at every turn. Some might argue this is inevitable when you're the face of an alliance voting them out, but Yul, Earl and JT would disagree. This is the biggest thing that screwed him - you can get by with no physical game but good luck winning without a social game - but there's more.
--Can't read people
An aspect of social gameplay but let me expand on this. Social gameplay isn't just being friendly, it's having a good read on people (something Natalie showed in spades). He misread the jury when he thought he had them sewn up and they'd appreciate their grandstanding. He misread his allies that they were keeping him around because he was their leader, not their goat. He misread Natalie as a dumb girl who had no chance at anything, rather than a giant jury threat (something that was obvious even to us viewers with a limited edit).
--Can't resist bragging
Did you notice that every time he said he was going to keep something to himself, everyone knew anyway?
Like the first idol and how he was actually a millionaire, not a fireman who'd been caught in Katrina. If you're going to make up some sob story, don't go bragging about how smart you are for pulling one over on people.
--Playing hard not playing smart
He says he spent hours searching for the idols while scoffing at the thought of others "making friends" and not playing hard. Cool, but there's a tradeoff. He played hard, but he played only half a game. Winning over the jury doesn't start on Day 39, it starts on Day 1.
--Most of his wheeling and dealing either came to naught or actively bit him in the ass.
Remember the first post-merge episode where he failed to make any inroads into Galu? He is a bad negotiator when he doesn't have any power behind him because people can see through him and don't trust him for shit. Then there's promising Jaison he'd say if he was leaving but blindsiding him instead. He did the same thing with Shambo but since she was the only one he'd made a decent social relationship with, she forgave him. Or making a deal with Brett to take him with him if he won immunity, and reneging. Being a good player isn't backstabbing for the sake of it when it doesn't benefit you. He's about strategically sound as Dreamz here.
--Wrong choice of opponents in the final TC
He had Shambo right there for god's sake. Even a Jaison or Mick combo at final three might have split the votes enough for him to win.
Now once again, several of those flaws had a greater impact on his eventual loss, specifically the social game, unnecessary backstabbing, inability to read people, and wrong choice of opponents.
So would I
vote for him? What does it matter? I'm just a viewer, I don't get a vote, nor should I. If I were in the jury, I'm sure I'd have a very different experience than watching from home. It's not as if the extent of Russell's strategic game was somehow any more hidden to them than us. He was more than happy to brag about it to them at every turn. We just got the flashy Russell-positive edit, they got the real deal.
At any rate, it has never been a rule of Survivor that the jury has to vote for the best. Jeff says that they must vote for who they want to win. If they want to vote against someone because they pissed them off, it's their prerogative. That's part of the game - negotiating a jury of humans with human emotions.
Now I ask you, do you think someone who only played half a game is a great player? Does someone who ignores such a vital aspect of the game as the inevitable jury vote (19 seasons and this is the one thing that has remained constant) really understand the game that well?
Ultimately, that back-fired on him, because the game is more complex and subtle and he completely missed the social game. But so did Mick, and I'd say Russell deserved to be in the final three much more than Mick did. Just because Russell played a poor social game doesn't mean be played a poor game overall. Foa Foa was 4:8 down at the merge and managed to elimate all of Galu. Of course that wasn't exclusively Russell's doing, but he played his part in that.
No such thing as deserving in Survivor but I agree that Russell played a better game than Mick. I do disagree with what seems to be a widespread attitude that Russell played so much better than the woman who beat him 7-2 and was complicit in all those same Foa Foa votes.