Survivor Marquesas: 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 fourth season, Survivor Marquesas.


The Fall of an Alliance

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Survivor Marquesas is one of those forgotten seasons of the show. Out of 16 Marquesas castaways, only two came back for a second attempt at the game. Comparing this with The Australian Outback’s eight returning castaways, we see how the producers view Marquesas compared to other seasons.

I really liked Marquesas’ pre-merge, with Boston Rob and Hunter Ellis’ power struggle at Maraamu, and the latter’s shocking blindside, and John establishing the Rotu 4 between him, General, Tammy, and Zoe. The season climaxed during the Soliantu merge episode and the one following that. Boston Rob, arguably the biggest strategist of Marquesas, was voted out in the merge tribal council, one place away from being a member of the Jury. Three days later, the ringleader John was shockingly voted out by the outsiders of the Rotu 4. With Maraamu down to just two members, Sean and Vecepia, and Rotu still with 7, Neleh, Paschal and Kathy from Rotu jumped ship to vote out John. Out of the four seasons of Survivor, it was the first time that a majority alliance crumbled, shifting the power to the minority who banded together.

The Final 8 to Final 6 episodes were a snooze fest, with the other Rotu members systematically voted out one after the other. The pace sped up again during the Final 5, wherein Kathy served as the swing vote between the Neleh-Paschal and Sean-Vecepia coalitions. Sean tried to sway Kathy at Tribal Council to side with him and Vecepia, but Kathy ultimately decided to go with Neleh and Paschal and vote Sean out, leaving Vecepia the next one on the chopping block. The Final Four immunity challenge was the Fallen Comrades challenge, and Vecepia had been preparing for it since day one by filling up her journal, a luxury item, with information from her tribe mates. Vecepia ultimately won the challenge, granting her immunity, and causing Kathy to scramble. Kathy offered Vecepia a spot in the Final Two in exchange for a vote against Neleh, forcing a tie between Neleh and Kathy, leading to a tiebreaker. Vecepia agreed, and the tiebreaker ensued. Unexpectedly, the tiebreaker was not a quiz, but a rock draw among the three non-immune castaways, Kathy, Neleh and Paschal. Ironically, even though Paschal had no votes against him, he was the one who drew the purple rock, eliminating him in fourth place. In the final immunity challenge, Kathy was eliminated first, leaving Vecepia and Neleh to fight it out. Even though she had a Final Two deal with Kathy, Vecepia haggled with Neleh that she’d let her win in exchange for a seat in the Final Two, to which Neleh agreed and leaving a disappointed Kathy in third.

The Final Tribal Council centered on Neleh and Vecepia’s religiosity throughout the game, using it as a facade for deception. Vecepia owned up to her game while Neleh struggled. In the end, Vecepia emerged as the ~Survivor~ against Neleh in a 4-3 vote.

In terms of themes, big focuses this season were religion and race. The Final Two this season were two of the most religious people the show has seen up to that point, with Neleh a Mormon and Vecepia a Christian. Constantly, we see the castaways attributing their good fortunes (i.e. winning a challenge) to the grace of God, which I found quite grating. I don’t really think God would have the time to think about Survivor. Sean would always bring into consideration his issues as being the only black man in the island.

Personally, I found Marquesas to be a great season with a number of interesting storylines, albeit the majority of those happened during the pre-merge. Most of the interesting castaways (Gina, Rob, John) were eliminated quite early, with Kathy being the only one interesting, from an entertainment perspective, reaching the endgame. Once Rob’s and John’s torches were snuffed, nothing really game-changing happened next, and so I can understand why the season ranks quite low for many.

P.S. Neleh and Paschal’s relationship was basically a carbon copy of Elisabeth and Rodger’s in Australia, albeit a more strategic and successful one since Neleh and Paschal finished 2nd and 4th, while Elisabeth and Rodger finished 4th and 5th.


The Winner’s Game

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Vecepia Towery

At the time, Vecepia was quite panned as a winner. She was never in the power position in the game, and she even admitted that her strategy basically boiled down to waiting for someone else to approach her to do something. She flipped a total of four times in the game, which is outstanding since Survivor was a different game then, and loyalty and trust were the foundations of gameplay. Vecepia’s flips are as follows:

  1. Maraamu: Hunter’s “productive” group -> Rob’s “lazy” group (Rob, Sarah, Sean)
  2. Rotu: Rob’s “lazy” group -> Rotu 4 (John, General, Tammy, Zoe)
  3. Soliantu: Rotu 4 -> Outsiders (Kathy, Neleh, Paschal, Sean)
  4. Soliantu: Final Two with Kathy -> Final Two with Neleh

Personally, I am a big fan of Vecepia because it was the first time that someone playing from the bottom won the game.

She made it a point to make a relationship with each person in the game, solidifying her social game. This particularly came in handy during the Fallen Comrades immunity challenge, which was crucial for her to win since she was the next one to go at Final Four. In terms of the physical game, she was decent but not outstanding, making her a non-threat in immunities and never putting a target on her mind. Strategically, she was no mastermind – she never really called the shots – but her constant alliance flipping always ensured that she was in the numbers, and if she wasn’t, she was able to protect her spot with immunity.

Coming into the Final Tribal Council, Vecepia only had one vote locked in, Sean’s, while Neleh had two, Kathy’s and Paschal’s. The Rotu 4 votes, it seemed, were up in the air. Vecepia performed quite well answering the jury questions, while Neleh appeared very unsure and kept reiterating that she only started playing the game on Day 24. Out of the Rotu 4, Vecepia managed to get three, which granted her the majority of votes, sealing her the win.

Vecepia is, no doubt, the most complex winner of the show among the first four winners. She didn’t dominate the social game, the physical game nor the strategic game, she was just always in the background, letting the power players duke it out. Flipping a record number of times to ensure she was always in the numbers, winning a crucial immunity at Final Four, and making a Final Two deal with Neleh were the three things which ensured her to get to the final two. A strong Final Tribal Council performance was the one that locked in her win.


Please Bring Back

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Vecepia Towery

Out of the 16 Marquesas castaways, only two, Boston Rob and Kathy Vavrick O Brien, returned to compete for a second time. Strong cases can be made for other castaways, particularly Neleh, John, and Gina, but the person I want to see play again is Vecepia. Yes, I know, she doesn’t really make great TV, but her flying-under-the-radar strategy is very effective as a way to get herself deep in the game. I believe it would work really well in the modern version of Survivor, as Sandra demonstrated in Heroes vs. Villains.


Moment of the Season

The Power Shift: John Voted Out

John being voted out at Final Nine was the biggest power shift Survivor has seen in the first four seasons of the show. It was also the first time that a majority alliance cannibalized itself. With the majority alliance gone, the outsiders (Kathy, Neleh, Paschal, Sean, Vecepia) were able to coast their way to Final Five. Ah, what would have been if Brandon didn’t flip on Kelly G. and voted for Lex during the merge tribal council in Africa.

Runner-up: The Purple Rock at Final Four


Most Hilarious Moment

Kathy Peeing on John

One particularly funny moment at Rotu camp early in the season was when John emerged from the ocean, panicking because he got pricked by a sea urchin. He screamed for someone to pee on him, since the ammonia in urine would neutralize the venom. Then came Kathy hilariously rushing from camp to eagerly grant his request.

Runner-up: Neleh offering a mint from her mouth to the starving tribe after coming back from the reward


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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