This past season, Survivor fans were treated to the latest version of the Survivor alpha male. This time around, it came in the guise of Danny Massa.
Danny was an excellent challenge athlete. He excelled in all of the tribal challenges, and came dangerously close to winning individual immunity twice (finishing 2nd twice). He also joined a multi-person alliance on a tribe that won several early challenges, and had the numbers early on.
So why didn't Danny win? My theory is simple. He played like a typical Survivor alpha male.
But this column isn't devoted to Danny and his impressive somersaults.
Instead it's a historical look back at alpha males through Survivor history - most of whom were beloved and often favored by Jeff Probst - and why so many of them fail.
Most Survivor alpha males have certain qualities in common:
This was certainly true about Danny, who rudely dismissed Frannie's voting strategy, and never realized he'd made himself a target by excelling in challenges. He also didn't see how he was alienating some players too. But why didn't Danny see these developments coming? He was a huge fan of the show, and had seen several seasons. I think he simply didn't learn anything from his alpha predecessors. So let's take a look back at Survivor's alpha males.
Colby Donaldson (The Australian Outback)
Colby didn't display most of the typical alpha male qualities. He got along well with most of the other players. He did butt heads with his partner Tina over the voting, but was smart enough not to overreact when she won out at the Amber boot. Colby's problem was that he won too much.
Colby set a Survivor record in winning 8 individual challenges (5 Immunity and 3 Reward). In winning so much, Colby became resented by the other players. Every time he returned to camp well-fed and rested, those left behind at camp wanted less and less for Colby to win the game. Just the same, Colby's winning streak didn't cost him the win. His bonehead move of taking the beloved Tina to the final two instead of the disliked Keith did the trick. This stood as the dumbest move in Survivor history until Woo came along in Cagayan.
Lex van den Berghe (Africa)
Lex epitomizes the typical Survivor alpha male better than Colby. He probably created the mold that hasn't been broken to this day. Lex quickly assumed a leadership role on his tribe, and was the most influential voice in his sub-alliance with Ethan and Big Tom. But Lex's alpha male tendencies ended up being his undoing, too.
At the first merge vote, Lex was surprised and offended when he received two votes. He knew the booted player Clarence cast one of them, but he became obsessed with learning who cast the second vote. His aggressive interrogation of everyone caused more resentment from the future jurors, and the remaining women started plotting against him.
Later, Lex alarmed Ethan and Big Tom by insisting they vote for Frank and dismissing their choice of removing Brandon. Ethan and Big Tom realized how power hungry Lex had become, so they sent him a message by voting out Brandon instead. The guys feared Lex was protecting a pocket vote he'd use against them later. Lex kept himself around with a couple of Immunity wins, but lost at the final 3 challenge to Kim Johnson. She voted Lex out, in part because she disliked his abrasive attitude.
Boston Rob Mariano (Marquesas)
Nobody epitomizes the typical Survivor alpha male better than Boston Rob. Right from the start, he established his need for control, saying in confessional "Doesn't matter if my team is stronger physically or even stronger mentally, just that they obey."
He took dead aim at tribemate Hunter when he realized some on his tribe were listening to Hunter more than to him. Even when Boston Rob found himself on the wrong side of a tribe swap, he still aggressively confronted John, who was leading the opposing alliance.
Boston Rob's tactics enabled him to reach the merge, but his aggressiveness caused too much mistrust. First, he tried to trick Kathy into thinking John had betrayed her. This inspired Kathy to win Immunity. It also made it easy for John, who saw to it that Rob got booted next. Boston Rob didn't make it to the jury.
Roger Sexton (The Amazon)
This season's players were surprised when they learned it would start as a men vs women season. This turned out to be horrible for alpha male Roger. First, he tried to seize control of the men's tribe by shaming those he saw as camp lazy, or weak in challenges. This worked for some early votes, but Roger never realized some of the men (Rob C., Alex) were already plotting to use Roger's attitude against him. Rob and Alex saw how the women disliked Roger, so it was only a matter of time until they'd turn the tables on him.
Sure enough, at the 10-person merge, eventual winner Jenna pushed hard to remove Roger because she knew he'd never vote for a woman if he sat on the Jury. Rob and Alex happily helped blindside Alpha Roger, who never saw it coming, and assumed the men were all with him.
Burton Roberts & Rupert Boneham (Pearl Islands)
This is the season we saw a major shift in Survivor strategy that remains to this day. Burton and Rupert started on the same Drake tribe. Drake won the first 6 challenges (3 of them for Immunity) and were cruising along, thanks largely in part to Rupert's standout performances. This season's players were very familiar with the game, and suspected Rupert could go on post-merge Immunity run. Trish floated the idea of throwing a challenge to remove Rupert, but her plan was thwarted by Sandra, who'd aligned with Rupert.
But Burton and Jonny Fairplay revived that plan. Burton even convinced Rupert to sit out of an Immunity Challenge, saying he wanted to remove one of the weaker women. Drake threw the challenge, and Burton was happy they'd be able to blindside Rupert. He also believed he had Fairplay's vote in his pocket. But a twist saved Rupert from the vote, as he was kidnapped by the Morgan tribe. Sandra concluded Burton was behind the shenanigans. Fairplay flipped, and Burton found himself voted out.
I've always wondered if Probst (who has always adored his alpha males) inserted this twist as a means of saving Rupert. Rupert had been killing it in confessionals which Probst easily could have seen in the dailies. He's not above manipulating the game to preserve someone he thinks is good for ratings.
Burton returned via the outcasts twist, but got blindsided again later by Sandra. But like Lex in Africa, Rupert lashed out at the tribe when he received one vote against him at final 11. He made it to the merge, but also got blindsided at final 7. In both cases, they were voted out in part because others feared they could ride an Immunity streak to the end.
Pearl Islands represented the first time a tribe tried to remove a player pre-merge to prevent a post-merge Immunity streak. In The Amazon, Rob C. was already aware of this possibility. He had a second alliance with Matt von Ertfelda, who had been doing well in challenges. Rob advised Matt to sandbag so as to not make himself a post-merge target, but Matthew didn't listen. However, future contestants did listen, which I'll discuss soon.
In the first all-returning player season, we saw alphas Colby, Lex, Boston Rob and Rupert all competing again. Boston Rob was one of two players (Shii-Ann being the other) who failed to make the jury as rookies. Colby got booted pre-merge 3-2, mostly for his reputation as a challenge beast. But he didn't help himself when he insulted Shii-Ann by saying she didn't deserve to be an All-Star. Her lone vote may have been the difference. Boston Rob and Lex played the same way they did as rookies, which led to an inevitable confrontation at the merge. Boston Rob won that battle, and booted Lex, but he lost the war. He made it to the finals, but had alienated too many jurors (including Lex) with his aggressive, insulting behavior. Rupert made it to the final 4, benefitting from being the only unknown player. None of the cast had seen most of his game in Pearl Islands.
Sarge & Ami Cusack (Vanuatu)
Yes, you read that right, I'm listing Ami as an alpha male player. Vanuatu started as a men vs women season, and both Sarge and Ami assumed a leadership role on their tribes. Sarge quickly formed a majority alliance with the older, less-athletic men. The first 3 voted out came from the younger players. Ami did a good job of uniting the women against the men. The first two women voted out largely shot themselves in the foot, enabling Ami to maintain her cover. But things fell apart for both of them at the swap.
Sarge trusted Twila with too much information when he believed he'd recruited her. At the merge, Twila returned to the women, identified Sarge as the men's leader, and he was gone as soon as he was vulnerable. Ami had the women convinced they'd eliminate all the men first, but broke her word when she suspected Lisa was plotting against her. When Lisa left before Rory (the last man left on the swapped tribe), Twila, Scout and Eliza realized Ami could turn on them too. Once again, Twila hatched the plan that resulted in Ami leaving at final 6. Had Ami shown the loyalty she'd demanded from the other women, her fate might have been different.
Are you noticing a pattern? Those who appear to be in control, or play aggressively early on end up getting themselves targeted for that very reason. Those who don't play aggressively early on, but exert a more subtle influence on voting decisions end up lasting longer. This group would include winners Rich, Tina, Ethan, Vecepia, Brian, Sandra, and Chris D., and standout strategists like Kathy, Rob C., and Scout.
But one of the best things about Survivor is the fact that it is unpredictable. And that brings us to our next alpha male - Fireman Tom Westman.
Tom Westman, Jolanda Jones & James Miller (Palau)
Palau is somewhat of an anomaly season, in that one tribe was so bad at Immunity Challenges, they were allowed to dwindle down to just two members. But just the same this season offers an interesting contrast in the alpha male style.
Jolanda went straight for the leader role on her Ulong tribe. She won the day 1 Immunity, which gave her temporary safety. She wouldn't be left out of the schoolyard pick of tribes. But perhaps she got overconfident. When running the first challenge, Jolanda insisted her tribe carry all the supplies up for grabs through a jungle obstacle course.
Tom told his tribe to only carry the fire making supplies. Tom was right, and Koror won Immunity. Jolanda continued to be bossy around camp, which irritated several, including James. James convinced the tribe Jolanda was too pushy, and she was voted out first. Then James seized the leadership role. James dictated the tribe's challenge strategy (very badly) causing several losses. He also threatened to vote out those he saw as lazy.
Many fans call Ulong the worst tribe in Survivor history because of their losses and dysfunction. I say the tribe's inexplicable tendency to listen to James (and some really crappy luck) was their undoing. Instead of uniting the tribe against Koror, James united the tribe against him.
By comparison, Tom's game looks stellar (but that's not saying much is it?). Tom and his partner Ian came up with successful challenge strategies, and kept their tribe fed well.
But Tom's style wasn't much different from your typical alpha male. When the tribe won a huge tank of water, Jenn lobbied hard to take a shower. But Tom rudely shut her down, insisting they use it for drinking water instead. In confessional, Jenn conceded Tom was right, but still resented the "my way or the highway" style he used to make his point. When the tribe won fishing lessons from a local, Coby asked to be one of the 3 to get the instructions. Coby didn't want to be relegated to gathering bait. But again, Tom rudely shut Coby down. Tom, Ian and Gregg got the lessons (and Tom lost a Jury vote). Tom also had a run-in with Caryn, who'd trusted him all game long. She left the game furious with Tom.
However, Tom's partner Ian had an exceptional social game. Ian would regularly smooth over the hurt feelings Tom would leave behind. Ian convinced his tribemates to abandon plans to go after Tom at least twice - when Tom had no idea there was a plot against him. Tom also kept himself safe with 5 Immunity wins.
Tom ended up in the finals with Katie, who was hated by everyone. This gave him a landslide 6-1 win. But make no mistake about it, Tom's "my way or the highway" style had half his jury upset with him.
Stephenie LaGrossa (Guatemala)
After playing in Palau, Stephenie was brought back to play again in Guatemala. In Palau, she was indecisive and hesitant, so she decided to take charge the 2nd time around. She played an alpha male game. Being a returning player mixed in with rookies gave her a huge advantage, as nobody wanted to vote her out, hoping she could help carry them through the game. But the power went to her head. She was insulting to Lydia, hinting she didn't deserve to stay in the game.
She became paranoid, and led a blindside on tribemate Jamie. Danni exploited Stephenie's paranoia, and convinced her to blindside partner Judd. By the time she reached the final 3, Stephenie had become the most hated player left. Danni won the game 6-1.
Terry Deitz (Panama)
Of all the Survivor alpha males, I don't think any of them were more oblivious to their effect on others than Terry.
The season started with 4 tribes divided by age and gender. Terry started on the "older men's" tribe, which lasted for one vote. Eventual winner Aras was on the "younger men's" tribe. After a swap, Terry took charge, and gave orders on how to set up camp. He also dictated challenge strategy. Terry was noticeably cocky when his tribe won, and visibly angry when they lost. By contrast, Aras sandbagged his athleticism in challenges as a means of lowering his threat level.
He avoided the "leader" role until his tribe lost 3 in a row. He volunteered to lead his tribe's challenge strategy, but laid back in camp. His tribemates often tried to kill each other, but he (and Cirie) remained the sane release valve that kept them loyal.
Post-merge, Terry's attitude caught up to him. His tribe merged in a 6-4 hole. Terry was confident he could lure a defector, especially after sharing stories of his days as a fighter pilot. But he didn't know he was making himself resented by the younger players. His attempts were rejected by Bruce, Danielle and Cirie, and he reacted with more anger. Terry even held the overpowered Idol, but couldn't figure out how to protect his tribemates with it like Yul did in the next season. A frustrated Terry said in confessional "I didn't come here to make friends with 24-year olds.... I'm winning the million dollars, and that's all."
Terry scolded Sally when she lost some fishing gear, and scolded Cirie when he tripped over her torch in the dark. Terry and Aras butted heads a few times down the stretch.
Terry tied Colby's record for immunity wins. but Aras outlasted Terry at final 3. Danielle won the challenge (when Aras let her). She took Aras to the finals, and he won 5-2. Much like Tom, Terry had angered several on his jury. Since Terry was so good at angering people when he spoke to them, its hard for me to believe he'd be able to talk himself into Jury votes once he realized a juror was upset with him.
Ozzy Lusth (Cook Islands)
Ozzy is easily the best challenge athlete Survivor has ever seen. He has played the game 4 times, and dominated in every effort.
Unfortunately, Ozzy was very slow to learn from his mistakes. Cook Islands is his least alpha male-ish effort, so he actually got worse with experience. He came in as a self-described loner. Just the same, he seized a leadership role when he convinced his tribe to throw a challenge to remove Billy, whom he'd decided "didn't deserve to stay." He followed that move by sending Yul to Exile Island without so much as asking for opinions from his tribe's women.
This double shot of arrogance almost got Ozzy voted out as Billy tried to exploit the resentment Ozzy brought on himself. Too bad Billy killed his own plan with a subsequent self-inflicted verbal blast. Ozzy dominated the early challenges which led to Yul plotting to remove him to prevent a post-merge Immunity run. Ozzy got saved when Penner and Candice defected back to their original tribe. Ozzy made it to the finals (also tying Colby's Immunity record), but lost to Yul 5-4 in the most competitive finals until Domenick and Wendell squared off in Ghost Island.
Ozzy's alpha tendencies got worse the more he played. After having Cirie initially on his side in Micronesia, his arrogance inspired her to blindside him right after the merge. In South Pacific, he had the advantage of being a returning player mixed with rookies. But his arrogance inspired the rookies to work against him. Ozzy gave orders, and was condescending to Cochran and Dawn (who called Ozzy a phony in confessional). His tribemates weakened him by voting out his pocket votes Semhar and Elyse. His harsh treatment of Cochran and Sophie led to his defeat in South Pacific. He seemed to finally learn from his mistakes in Game Changers, and vowed to play a better social game. But he couldn't keep himself from bragging that he could outlast Tai in a challenge Ozzy had won before. Tai won the challenge, and Ozzy got voted out next.
Russell Hantz (Samoa)
I know I don't have to explain why Russell's style doesn't work, but I will offer a little perspective. Russell played a good social game through the first half of the Samoa season, and he had a realistic chance of winning the game. He was an insulting ass in his confessionals, but he didn't let that side show to the other players until Foa Foa had the numbers at final 7. Then of course, he scorched the earth. Just the same, right before Jaison was voted out, he was telling future jurors "Russell deserves this." Then of course, Russell brutally blindsided Jaison, losing his vote.
Boston Rob, Russell & Colby (Heroes vs Villains)
These alphas met for the first time in Heroes vs Villains. Russell had the advantage of being an unknown player. Fireman Tom and Rupert also played this season. Boston Rob did as he always did, and took dead aim at anyone who wouldn't obey him. But this time, he got out-alpha'd by Russell, who knew how to use an Idol - something that was foreign to Rob.
Russell won the battle with Rob, but proceeded to scorch the earth again, losing the million to Sandra. Tom tried to strongarm his way through, but after saving himself with an Idol, he'd lost too much trust and missed the merge. Rupert broke a toe early on, and that may have been part of the reason for his more subdued game. He made it to the final 6. But the most interesting to me was Colby's game.
Colby showed he learned from his mistakes. He didn't want his reputation as a challenge beast burning him again. I don't think he'd ever admit to it, but I believe he sandbagged both his physical and strategic game. Coach dragged Colby around like a rag doll in the first Reward Challenge, and just like that, Colby's reputation was gone. Nobody felt threatened by Colby's athleticism, but he might have overdone it strategically. Several believed he'd checked out completely.
Intentional or not, it got him to the final 5, where a couple of Immunity wins could get him to the finals. If he'd gotten there against Russell, Jerri and/or Parvati, he might have actually won if he admitted to sandbagging. Then again, if a majority of jurors thought he'd actually checked out, he could easily have been a zero vote finalist.
Shannon Elkins (Nicaragua)
Shannon was a horrible Survivor player, who displayed racist, sexist and homophobic behavior. I'm only including him here because he's the alpha male who got himself voted out faster than any other. In a season divided by age, the younger tribe was confident they'd steamroll the older tribe. They indeed won the first two challenges. But the older tribe gained an advantage and used it to win the second Immunity Challenge. NaOnka Mixon (another one of the worst Survivor players ever), had already gotten on people's nerves, and seemed like an easy first boot. But Shannon forced the issue, and pressured people to commit to voting with him, gaining resentment with every word. Brenda picked up on the growing resentment, and flipped some votes to Shannon. The tribe was evenly split as they entered Tribal Council ... until Shannon decided to speak. His inflammatory comments chased his allies away. Even the lovable but clueless Fabio advised Shannon to soften his tone. But Shannon didn't listen, and became his tribe's first boot by a 7-3 tally.
Boston Rob & Russell (Redemption Island)
Let's be real here, this season was entirely designed around these two battling alphas. Neither one of them learned from their prior mistakes, and neither one changed a thing about their approach. Russell got himself voted out early when his behavior contradicted his promise to play differently. Once he was gone, suddenly any and all obstacles in front of Rob disappeared, and Idols wearing Red Sox caps appeared wherever he went. He got the easiest win in Survivor history.
Troyzan Robertson and Alicia Rosa (One World)
It's a little harsh to include Troyzan in a group of alpha males because that's really not the core of his playing style. In fact, in his second appearance (Game Changers), he was a passive coattail rider. One World was another men vs women season, but this time, both tribes started out living on the same beach. Pre-merge, Troyzan played a stellar social game. He got himself into a majority alliance with the men. And while some of the men annoyed or insulted the women, Troyzan made friends with them. In fact, after Jonas' clumsy attempt to borrow the women's canoe backfired, Sabrina quipped to Kim "They should have sent Troyzan over here, he's the only one we like."
On the other hand, Alicia went full Alpha from the moment the tribes stepped off the truck. She aggressively pitched a 5-person alliance with Kim, Sabrina, Chelsea and Kat. When Christina Cha tried to broker a deal with the men to get some embers for a fire, Alicia took dead aim at Christina, and started pressuring others to boot Christina first. The women lost Immunity, and Alicia lit into Christina at Tribal Council. But the women were spared from voting when they learned injured Kourtney had been medevaced. Just the same, Kim, Sabrina, Chelsea and Kat all started second-guessing their decision to align with the volatile and aggressive Alicia.
At the swap, Troyzan solidified his relationships, and believed he had a top position in an alliance with Kim, Sabrina, Chelesea, Kat, and Jay. He felt so confident, he even told Sabrina and Kim that he didn't trust Michael. Alicia was swapped to the other tribe and found herself in a gender minority. So she aligned with Colton (who was leading a men's majority), and continued to berate and target Christina as a means of saving herself.
The script got flipped at the 12-person, even genders merge for both of them - one in a very bizarre manner. Unbeknownst to Troyzan, Kim decided to stick with the women. She and Sabrina came up with a plot that would get the women a numerical advantage without alarming Troyzan or Jay. It worked perfectly when Michael was blindsided, giving the women a 6-4 edge. Jay was suspicious, but Troyzan ignored Jay's warning. He was shocked when Jay was blindsided next. Troyzan reacted by going full alpha male. He was angry and confrontational, knowing he was the next target. He started fights, and berated those who wouldn't go along with his plans. When he won Immunity, he boldly screamed "This is my island!" This only served to anger the women more, and they sent him to the Jury at the next vote.
But Alicia shockingly improved her social game. Tarzan was playing to reach the Loved Ones visit, and was using Colton as a shield. After Colton quit, Tarzan put his vote in Alicia's pocket. Even more surprising was when Alicia made up with Christina! She even let Christina wear her dress! When Kim, Sabrina, Kat and Chelsea decided to stick with the women, Alicia mistakenly believed she was in charge again. First she pushed to remove Sabrina, then went after Kat after Kat nearly beat Kim for Immunity. When Kim realized Tarzan had sided with Alicia, she fooled Alicia into thinking Tarzan had betrayed her. Alicia's overconfidence was her undoing, as Kim fooled Alicia into helping blindside Tarzan, and then blindsided Alicia at final 5.
Brad Culpepper (Blood vs Water & Game Changers)
Brad Culpepper isn't a bad guy, he just acts like one when playing Survivor ... I think. Jeff Probst had been drooling to get Brad on Survivor for a long time. Brad and his wife Monica applied for The Amazing Race. That didn't work out, but Monica ended up playing in One World. So when searching for pairs for the first Blood vs Water season, Probst had Brad and Monica at the top of the list.
Brad put his foot in his mouth on day one. When Brad and Monica were placed on separate tribes, Brad hinted he'd throw a challenge if he knew it meant Monica would benefit from it. This alarmed Marissa Peterson, who called him out for potentially betraying his own tribe. And just like that, Brad had an enemy.
When the rookies lost Immunity to their returning player loved ones, Brad formed an alliance with his tribe's men, then successfully lobbied to send Marissa to Exile Island. This, of course, angered Marissa's uncle Gervase. Marissa was followed by Tyson's girlfriend Rachel, and Tyson also blamed Brad. On Exile Island, Marisa convinced Candice Cody that Brad was running the tribe, and targeting the women. Candice won a couple of duels and gave an Idol clue to her husband John. So when John got voted out, Candice and John were both angry at Brad. Brad arrived a the next duel to be greeted by a single-finger salute from Candice, and a slightly less subtle "Fuck you, Brad Culpepper" from Marissa.
Brad had seized a leadership position, but wasn't acting like a power-obsessed alpha male. Just the same, he wasn't making any friends either. When John won the next duel, Candice asked him to give the Idol clue to Monica, knowing it would put a target on Monica's back. But Brad thwarted Candice's move by immediately telling Monica "Throw it in the fire."
This ended up hurting both of them, as Brad reinforced the perception that he was the Alpha leader, and Monica was seen as a passive follower. It was clear sticking with Brad would be toxic for anyone. In the blink of an eye, Brad found himself on Exile with Candice and John, who teamed up to eliminate Brad at the next duel.
Probst made sure Brad made it onto the list of players who could be voted in to play in Cambodia - Second Chance, but he didn't get enough votes, and was left out. So Probst didn't leave it up to chance when the cast was chosen for Game Changers. More on that below.
No, I don't consider Tony Vlachos to be an alpha male player. His rookie effort featured a fairly sloppy and haphazard social game, but Tony never gave orders, or demanded obedience from anyone. Tony was insulting to some (especially when mocking Kass with his llama talk), but didn't dismiss or insult anyone's strategic plans. Instead, Tony used confusing distractions, and slightly annoying persistence to manipulate others into cooperating with him. Much like Tom's rough edges were smoothed over by Ian, Tony's edges were smoothed over by his partner Trish.
Sarah Lacina didn't play like an alpha male for most of the game either. But when she believed she was the swing vote at the merge, she tried to force her agenda on others. She also insulted Kass, but not directly. Sarah's temporary power-hungry behavior ended up backfiring, and she was booted first at the merge.
Joe Anglim & Mike Holloway (Worlds Apart)
Joe (aka "Joey Amazing"), had one basic Survivor strategy: "I'll just win everything." He was quite capable of winning almost any type of Survivor challenge, whether it be securing tribal wins by excelling in the spotlight roles, or by winning post merge individual challenges. Joe was also good at building a great camp for his tribe, and finding food. But his consistent weakness was in the social game. Joe liked to give orders.
He alienated Vince by rudely rejecting Vince's ideas on how to build camp. Then later, he angered Nina by pushing her into a spectator role during an Immunity Challenge. Joe's message was clear to Nina: "You suck at challenges, and we don't need you." Ironically, Joe's strategy ended up causing the loss
Joe made it to the merge, but was the top target because of his stellar physical game. As soon as he lost Immunity, he was voted out. Joe didn't learn from his mistakes and played the exact same way in Cambodia and Edge of Extinction. He tried (and failed) to win everything.
Mike Holloway ended up winning the season, but needed 5 Immunity wins and an Idol to do it.
Mike also went straight after a leadership role, and inspired some loyalty from his Blue Collar tribe. But he also got into a couple of bitter fights with Lindsey and Rodney. An argument could be made that Mike wasn't targeted because he'd positioned himself more as a goat than a leader. Why vote out the guy who is pissing people off? He also benefited from the much larger target Joe put on his own back. Mike's biggest mistake came when he tried to trick his alliance into letting him get an Advantage at the Auction. He ended up getting himself thrown out of the alliance he was leading -- which created the need for his Immunity wins and Idol.
Mike got into an even bigger fight with Will when he took Shirin's side in a battle over Will's integrity. Without his Immunity wins, Mike's abrasive personality likely keeps him out of the finals. It definitely kept him from making a return appearance too. His inflammatory online comments kept him out of the cast for Winners at War.
Brad Culpepper (Game Changers)
After getting booted early in Blood vs Water and failing to get voted into Cambodia, Brad knew he had an image problem. He came up with a great plan to change that image. No, he didn't sandbag like Colby did in Heroes vs Villains. Instead, Brad showed a feminine side.
Brad hung decorations around the shelter. Brad listened to ideas suggested by others. Cirie and Andrea even complimented who they thought was "the new Brad." He was convincing for sure. In fact, when debating who to target between Brad and his partner Sierra, the women went after Sierra, thinking she was in charge.
But then the real Brad (or is it the other Brad?) showed up.
First, after a miscommunication with Michaela, he got into a fight with her. She was suggesting he could buy himself safety by catching fish, but he thought she was giving him an order.
That cost him any shot at Michaela's Jury vote. Then he tried to intimidate Tai into giving one of his Idols to Brad. That very public fight cost him any shot at Tai and Aubry's votes, and likely cost him Hali, Cirie and Andrea's votes.
Had Brad been able to keep his feminine side front and center more, he might have locked down the win. He also tied the record with 5 Immunity wins. But instead, Brad found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Ben Driebergen & Chrissy Hofbeck (Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers)
Ben's game wasn't much different from Troyzan's in One World. Well, at least the first half. Ben started out very strong. He avoided the "leader" role, stayed out of the camp fights, and built strong relationships with everyone on his original and swapped tribes. Ben entered the merge with the most options available to him. Then he started channeling island-owning Troyzan. He scolded camp-lazy Cole about his work ethic. He took the bait offered by Joe Mena, who accused him of falsely swearing on the Marines about a promise. Ben blew up at Joe, exposing his aggressive side to everyone. But Ben's worst move was allowing Devon to set him up as a double agent. Ben never realized he'd eventually be exposed, and then disliked by both alliances. Ben fell for Devon's ploy, got exposed, and found himself on the bad side of more than half the Jury.
Chrissy's problem was twofold: 1) She had an alarmingly huge lack of subtlety. She was caught whispering or plotting with partners by those outside of her alliance regularly. Even when her partners warned her they were being caught, Chrissy dismissed them, blindly confident in her ability to deceive. 2) She couldn't hide her dislike of the game's other women. Every woman who shared a camp with Chrissy complained about the condescending or insulting way she treated them. These comments were made both during and after the game. Chrissy also got into fights with some men - verbal fights with Joe and Ben, and a physical fight (while digging for an Idol) with Cole.
Ben and Chrissy put themselves in horrible positions post merge. Chrissy ended up saving herself with 4 Immunity wins, tying the women's record. Ben ended up saving himself with Idols that had a curious habit of appearing whenever nobody else was watching him. It was as if those Idols were looking for Ben instead of the other way around, if you know what I mean.
Chris Noble (Ghost Island)
One might think I would have chosen either Domenick or Wendell as alpha male players since their partnership garnered most of the attention. If they had molded into one player (Wendenick? Domedell?), I might have done just that. But they kept each other in check pretty well. Neither crossed into typical Alpha territory on their own. To me, the obvious candidate from this season is Chris Noble.
Chris went Alpha as soon as he hit the sand, volunteering to be his tribe's leader. While Sebastian and Desiree ran a 2 vs 2 challenge, Chris was told he could pull a lever to forfeit the challenge if he thought his tribe would lose. Doing so would preserve a fishing kit for his tribe, but would also give the other tribe superior supplies to build a shelter. Domenick criticized Chris' decision to forfeit the challenge, and the Chris vs Domenick war began. After a swap, Chris found himself in a 5-4 majority. But with Domenick and Wendell right there with him, the Naviti 5 were hardly united.
Chris confidently believed he could convince the 4 Malolo members to vote out Domenick. They lost Immunity, but Chris was spared Tribal Council when he got sent to Exile Island. He was left dumbfounded when he learned Morgan had been booted. Chris took the spotlight role in challenges, and led a massive comeback win in one of them (with Probst heaping praise on him all the way). Chris believed his performances made him more valuable, so he bragged about his physicality, which caused resentment. He even tried to impress his tribemates with his rapping. He didn't realize how annoying he'd become. He was only enlarging the target on his back.
Chris made it all the way to the merge without casting a vote. Perhaps that's why he thought he was still in a controlling leadership position. He was confident he could convince a majority to remove Domenick. A twist even put an Idol in his hands that nobody knew about
But he lost his own vote in the process. So when Wendell and Domenick were away, Chris ordered everyone to follow him into the jungle - and everyone went with him! Chris decreed everyone would split their votes between Domenick and Wendell, and never seriously considered anyone else would make different plans. Chris watched Domenick save himself by playing a Legacy Advantage, but still didn't consider himself vulnerable
Chris never realized Wendell organized a blindside on him, and he got blindsided while holding an Idol.
Aaron Meredith, Missy Byrd & Jack Nichting (Island of the Idols)
This trio played more of a physical alpha male game than a strategic or social one. What stood out to me was that they all eagerly stood up to take the spotlight roles in challenges regularly.
Even as Probst constantly praised them during challenges, they all seemed to embrace the attention. Finalists Tommy Sheehan and Dean Kowalski both admitted to sandbagging in challenges as a means of keeping themselves safe. Sandbagging paid off for both of them after a swap. Tommy survived when Jason was seen as a bigger threat, and Dean stayed when Kellee Kim played an Idol for him, and opted to blindside challenge beast Jack instead.
Aaron and Missy made it to the merge. Aaron knew his challenge performances had made him a target. He won Immunity twice, but was voted out as soon as he was vulnerable. But Missy committed a different alpha male sin. Missy and her partner Elizabeth assumed they had Karishma's vote in her pocket.
The problem was Karishma knew it. Missy coldly instructed Karishma to vote against Tommy, and was shocked when Karishma balked, and called out Missy's rude and dismissive treatment. Missy tried to do damage control, but it was too late. Karishma knew Missy didn't value her, so she helped Tommy and Elaine vote Missy out instead of Tommy.
Winners at War
There's not much to say about this season. Boston Rob returned, and got voted out when he tried to intimidate and control people again. Ben returned, and quickly realized how hard the game is when Idols weren't falling in his lap. Sarah was there too, but largely got worked over by Tony. And the other alpha male winners? Tom had health issues, and couldn't play. Mike talked himself out of being invited
Survivor 41 - 44
I really didn't see many players using an alpha male style in this "new era" 26-day game. Perhaps the increased pace of the game inhibits players from being as aggressive as they can be in a 39-day game? I also think most new players are hyper-aware of the danger of being perceived as the "leader." But there were a few who came close to being a typical Alpha.
Erik Abraham (Survivor 41) was a little pushy, and insulted Tiffany, but I can't say that's why he got voted out. Jonathan Young (Survivor 42) certainly played a physical alpha male game. But being so much bigger than the other players, he really didn't have a choice did he?. He did play a fairly strong social game that helped him last much longer than most challenge beasts though. Ryan Medrano (Survivor 43) got himself targeted by dominating the tribal challenges, but he never displayed any typical alpha male attitude traits at all. Karla Cruz-Godoy got a little Alpha after the merge - especially with Cassidy - but I can't say that spelled her defeat either.
For the most part, I started to believe most players had become hyper-aware of the dangers involved in displaying alpha male traits ... until Danny started rolling through the game of course.
There are a few players (and winners) whom some call alpha males, but don't fit my parameters. For one, there's J.T. (Tocantins, Heroes vs Villains, Game Changers). He did well in tribal challenges, and won several late immunities in Tocantins. But he never displayed a condescending or insulting attitude towards anyone. His social game was stronger than his physical game. And strategically, he was largely dependent on Stephen Fishbach. He proved how dependent he was in his last two appearances.
Also from Tocantins is Ben "Coach" Wade (Tocantins, Heroes vs Villains, South Pacific). But Coach was more of a self-obsessed eccentric, than a typical power-hungry alpha male. He was more about convincing others to think like he did than with inspiring blind obedience.
Some call Malcolm Freberg (Philippines, Caramoan, Game Changers) an Alpha. But I consider Malcolm to be the king of sandbagging (Aras and Yul being co-founders), which, directly opposes an alpha male mindset.
Then there's Jeremy Collins (San Juan del Sur, Cambodia). He made the mistake of volunteering for a day 1, two-person challenge in his first season, and killed it. He got labeled a challenge beast, but only displayed an Alpha attitude when interrogating Jon about finding an Idol. He made a great adjustment in Cambodia, using other alphas like Joey Amazing as "meat shields." It worked perfectly, and got him the win.
There are also a few I omitted who are classic alpha males. But this column was long enough, so I skipped past a few. This group would include Andrew Savage (Pearl Islands, Cambodia), James "Rocky" Reid (Fiji), Dave Cruser (China), Shamar Thomas and Reynold Toepfer (both from Caramoan).
So what does this mean for the Survivor 45 cast? For their sake, I hope they've all learned from the lessons of the past, and won't fall into these traps. The smarter ones will push others into behaving like an alpha, then use that player as a shield like Jeremy did with Joey Amazing and Andrew Savage. Our "new era" winners (Erika, Maryanne, Gabler, and Yam Yam), all recognized the value of appearing to be a follower, so I expect to see more of the same from the 45 cast.
But its fun to watch someone like Danny set themselves up for failure too. Any season without an alpha male robs us of seeing his/her ultimate comeuppance.
Did I forget anyone? is there someone I listed as an Alpha you disagree with? Let me know in the comments. I'm looking forward to chatting with you during the upcoming season.