Survivor Borneo: In Retrospect

I decided to rewatch every season of Survivor, starting from the very first one.  Here I share my thoughts on the season, the winner’s strategy, who they should bring back, and the most iconic moments of the show.

  1. Borneo
  2. The Australian Outback
  3. Africa
  4. Marquesas
  5. Thailand
  6. The Amazon

In this post, I share my thoughts on the first season, Survivor Borneo.


The Most Deserving?

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Survivor’s inaugural season is a way different beast from its current iteration. As Richard Hatch said in one of the latter episodes, most of the castaways treated their participation as a vacation, oblivious to the words “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast” on the show’s banner.

The majority of the castaways viewed Survivor as a survival-in-the-woods type of game, with the vote-outs determined by who was the least deserving, measured in terms of physical prowess in challenges and day-to-day contributions in camp.

The show’s first two tribes, Pagong and Tagi, are stark contrasts to one another. While Pagong ended up being dominated by the younger contestants, Tagi ended up with the older ones. While Pagong was mostly in it for the fun of the game, Tagi was in it to win it, doing whatever it takes to win, implementing a “cheap” tactic of forming a voting alliance. Most Pagong members were averse to creating an alliance, since it would have allegedly sucked out the fun in the game. Some flat-out refused to play that kind of game, and so the Pagong tribe was decimated by the Tagi 4 alliance.

Speaking from 2017, the season didn’t really age that well. It was annoying to see the castaways refusing to strategize and be “bad.” But we have to take into account that no one has played the game before, and so they didn’t really have a castaway to emulate. Nowhere to be seen are hidden immunity idols and legacy advantages, which I’m not sure is a good thing or a bad thing, taking into account the Cirie situation in Game Changers.

It was hilarious for me to see how the majority of the Pagong tribe were still in doubt of the existence of the alliance, even if one by one their torches were being snuffed. Kelly’s regret of joining the Tagi alliance caused her to have a moral dilemma: should she stick with her alliance, or should she stick with her gut instinct of who to vote out? Ultimately in the end, her wishy-washiness led her to lose to Survivor’s first villain, Richard Hatch.


The Winning Game

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Richard Hatch

The show’s first villain, Richard Hatch, was no doubt a controversial winner at the time. How could such an arrogant man garner the majority vote and win the game?

Rich played a strategic game, not a physical nor a social one. Initially, he presented himself to the Pagong tribe as a fisher, a crucial role which made him immune for the first few tribal councils. Eventually, he founded the game’s first alliance with Kelly, Sue and Rudy, the Tagi 4, which made quick work of the Pagong tribe. Founding the alliance is the crowning glory of his Borneo game, serving as a template for all subsequent alliances in Survivor.

The downside to Rich’s game is the social aspect. Appearing as very arrogant and unlikeable caused him to be targeted a number of times by people outside his alliance. If it weren’t for Sean’s alphabet strategy causing Jenna’s ouster, we would have seen a different winner, and probably a different type of Survivor today. His arrogance also caused him to lose the jury votes of most of the former Pagong members. While Kelly mingled and befriended the Pagong members, subsequently earned their jury votes, Rich made no effort and banked on the jury votes of the Tagi members. However, one could also make an argument that Kelly and Sue had a falling out due to Kelly befriending the ex-Pagong castaways, leading her to lose Sue’s jury vote, which was the swing vote. Argh, it’s a very complex game.

Rich winning against Kelly also proved that Survivor is not a physical competition. Kelly hot streak of winning 5 back-to-back challenges at the endgame wasn’t enough to compensate for her wishy-washiness in the eyes of the jury.

All in all, Rich is a deserving winner, playing a strategic game when all others weren’t. Clearly ahead of his time.


Please Bring Back

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Gretchen Cordy

Gretchen, the merge boot, was arguably Pagong’s strongest member. She was extremely adept at camp survival life, and was the de-facto leader of Pagong. Her elimination during the merge was surprising for the Pagong tribe, as she wasn’t explicitly targeted. Almost every castaway received a vote during the merge tribal council, due primarily to the fact that each member of Pagong just voted for whoever they individually didn’t like, while the Tagi 4 all directed their votes to Gretchen.

If given the chance to play again, I believe that Gretchen would do well. We only saw a little part of her game, mostly the survival aspect, but I’m sure that she has a lot up her sleeve. She has this certain something about her that just screams that she’d do well in the game. Yes, she was averse to creating voting alliances, but you have to remember that, at the time, forming an alliance was viewed as a cheap tactic. Also, it’s probably a product of her apathy to the other members of Pagong. If she were initially a member of Tagi, I believe she wouldn’t have been against the idea of alliances.


Moment of the Season

Sue’s Rat and Snake Speech

Sue’s speech at the final jury vote is the most iconic jury speech of the show to date. Likening Rich to a snake and Kelly to a rat, Sue delivered, with all the bitterness and anger she could muster, a tirade against Kelly, who caused her elimination two tribal councils prior. The speech is the first instance wherein a castaway showed an intense level of bitterness towards another. Definitely, the Rate and Snake speech is the climax of the season.

Runner-up: Merge tribal council with almost everyone getting votes and Gretchen being blindsided


Most Hilarious Moment

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Sue’s Audition Tape

Just moments after the Survivor finale, the Survivor reunion was shown. Interspersed between the show and commercials were the castaways’ audition tapes. Sue’s tape involved her, in pigtails, holding a vase of sunflowers and reciting a poem, sounding very innocent. It was a very WTF moment, considering the fact that the Rat and Snake speech was just shown a few moments before.

Runner-up: Rudy’s performance in the Blair Witch immunity challenge


Season and Winner Rankings

*To be updated as I rewatch the other seasons.

Season Ranking

  1. The Amazon
  2. The Australian Outback
  3. Marquesas
  4. Borneo
  5. Africa
  6. Thailand

Winner Ranking

  1. Brian Heidik
  2. Tina Wesson
  3. Richard Hatch
  4. Vecepia Towery
  5. Jenna Morasca
  6. Ethan Zohn

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