Survivor Seasons: How Vanuatu changed the game of Survivor

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It’s amazing how a Survivor season that aired nearly 15 years ago can still be equally entertaining and surprisingly modern compared to today’s game.

Survivor: Vanuatu is one of the most underrated seasons in the show’s early history. It has great tribe dynamics, plenty of surprising Tribal Councils, entertaining rivalries and a deserving winner. The progressive strategies seen in Vanuatu have become hardwired into modern Survivor gameplay. Let’s take a look at three strategies and how they have revolutionized this game.

1) Taking out big threats before the merge

In old school Survivor, a common practice was to vote out all the physically weak players before the merge. Although Boston Rob changed the pattern when he blindsided alpha male Hunter in Marquesas, it was Vanuatu that popularized this strategy.

After the men lost their first challenge, Chris decided to gather the older and less physically strong men together to turn on the young, athletic males of the group. Right from the start, they played the long-term game, worrying about the young guns’ threat to go on an Immunity run and outplay them.

Even the women’s tribe picked up on this strategy, as they decided right before the first Tribal Council to vote out the sneaky swing vote instead of sticking with an obvious target. This produced a strategic post-merge game and a lack of physical threats that enabled Chris to go on an Immunity run.

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2) Power of a women’s alliance

One of the key themes of this season was the gender division, thanks in part to the tribes being split up by men and women. However, it was more than simply the tribe dynamics that gave birth to the first true all women’s alliance.

Ami Cusack, one of the most underrated social players in Survivor, developed close relationships within her tribe of women. What she excelled at was building genuine friendships. That motivated everyone to look to Ami when deciding who to vote for.

As we can tell by the winner, the female alliance didn’t take it all the way, but that doesn’t change how dominant they were. They were able to come into the merge, convince the guys of their safety, and then vote them out. This set the stage for even more powerful female alliances in Micronesia and in One World.

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3) Flirting is a strategy

I’m not saying that flirting was never used in Survivor prior to season 9. However, it was Julie Berry who turned her charm into a legitimate strategy. Due to the tribes divided by gender, it took a swap to give her an opportunity.

It turned out that Julie and Twila were forced to join a new tribe with four men. While Twila was bonding with the guys because of her work ethic, Julie used a different strategy. She used her charm… and her body to prevent the boys from taking her out.

It worked! To everyone’s surprise, the core group of guys decided to take out the last young male instead of Julie. She even worked on Jeff, and he told Julie that flirting with him wouldn’t do her any good. Turns out it did, as she ended up dating Probst!

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Julie’s flirting combined with her strong social game moved the guys to put full faith in her. There’s no doubting that she played an essential role in this season’s female alliance and had a very Parvati, Cook Islands-type of performance.