Sophie Clarke’s win is centered around massaging egos and working strong alliances from the beginning. Can she do it again in Survivor: Winners at War?
Though Survivor: South Pacific is not in the better half of seasons (in our opinion), it cannot be overstated how bigger than life some of its characters were. Coach carried forth a strong note of religious moralism to play into the mindsets of others like Brandon Hantz, while Ozzy and Cochran played out their own version of David vs. Goliath.
It put Sophie Clarke immediately into the role of the sane, sarcastic, responsible player, herding a bunch of cats that made up her alliance of The Family. As a consequence of being part of a season designed to let one of two three-time players win the game through repeated chances to get voted out, she had a more understated role early on, but a rewatch is more than favorable to understand her underappreciated win.
Both Ozzy Lusth and Coach “Don’t call him Benjamin” Wade served as captains in South Pacific, with Coach being designated to Upolu by random draw. With two tribes of nine set to compete, all it took was for a group of five on Upolu’s beach (Coach, Albert, Brandon, Sophie, and Rick) to work together to outrank the other four, with Coach serving as a mentor the tribe looked up to.
She saw the game as it was unfolding better than anyone else, as she played down her intelligence and played into the egos of Coach and Brandon. With Edna being Coach’s loyal subject, she sat back as those who opposed Coach would be voted out, letting him take the heat. This worked well through the merge, as the Upolu tribe brought John Cochran over to defeat a 5-5 standstill and begin a straightforward Pagonging of the Savali tribe.
Where Sophie’s cunning comes into play is how she builds her ability to win by making others she works with detestable. While she worked to compile her resume by being the first castaway ever to win two Immunity Challenges on the same day, Coach was preaching belief in himself and his religious good while playing in what the jury considered to be an un-Christian way.
Her biggest move, arguably, was to win the Final Immunity Challenge on Day 38, effectively guaranteeing Ozzy’s third and final vote-out of the season and guaranteeing a spot on a Savali-heavy jury that was angry with Coach. Albert seemed incapable of not seeming two-faced, and Coach’s ego refused him to admit being contradictory as part of Sophie’s lie-exposing deluge, allowing Sophie to become the title of Sole Survivor in a 6-3 vote.
In three of the past four seasons, there has been at least one woman who wore the Immunity Necklace three times in their run-up to losing the game at the Final Tribal Council. In contrast, only Kim Spradlin (four) and Jenna Morasca (three) have won those immunities without being voted out as a threat, but Sophie Clarke’s puzzle-solving abilities, as well as her impeccable balance, makes her a stealth challenge threat for the modern game.
More importantly, her original Survivor win has primed her for Winners at War, as she will need to rely on playing into the egos of more prominent players if she is to succeed. She is but a one-time player who never shared time competing against any returning winners (that were available, so excluding Cochran). She is experienced in seasons where players have a shot at returning late in the game and winning and has proven to be able to stop one of the game’s biggest challenge beasts.
One thing that will help Sophie is her tangential connections to the Survivor community, especially through Rob Has a Podcast. She has been a staple of finale Know-it-All podcasts, replacing Rob Cesternino and going out to events with other former winners. It helps keeps her in the loop for pregaming purposes while remaining off peoples’ radar going in.
One thing I do worry about is that she did come off to her first tribe as curt and fairly direct, which didn’t help her perception. While she was able to use her alliance as shields before, I have to wonder about the potential endgame ramifications. She mentioned in her ET Canada interview how much of an introvert she is, flying in the face of a game that requires active relationships with everyone, not just a core group of five.
How Sophie reacts to the high octane present-day Survivor for Winners at War will be one of the more interesting dynamics early on, I believe. She’ll need to dive headfirst into a game faster paced than she’s ever played, and she’ll need to start swimming along if she doesn’t want to sink.