The Finish Line

In 2004, after the ex left, one big thing that kept me going and even got me excited (owww!) was “Survivor: All Stars.” Not only had one of my favorite shows returned, but damn if Rob Mariano wasn’t a total rock star. He was like a villain, but/therefore my hero. Slicing and dicing the competition, tearing up the challenges like it was nothing. But what impressed me the most was his ownership of the fact that this was a game that required lying and manipulating, if you want to get to the end. He at one point had an “alliance” with every player in the game for Final Two! But the person he chose to align with for real was Amber Brkich. He didn’t lie to her, and they played together. Back to back, like Wolverine and Liev Schreiber.

Obviously I decided it was time to try and get on “Survivor.” I was inspired. Thing was, I knew I could handle starving, eating disgusting stuff, and all the other awfulness that comes with the territory. But I didn’t know if I could strategize. I hate lying, but knew full well that was a huge part of the game.

So when I got a random invitation from a stranger on AIM to play an online game of “Survivor,” I was in. Strategy could be learned before I had to starve and get eaten by bugs!

The first night, our tribe met in a chat room, and right away, I met a guy named Adam who was awesome. He lived in Nebraska and was mad cool and really smart. And unlike the flashy dude in our tribe who (I’ll call him Joe) was making a strong but obvious alliance, Adam knew how to play the game. As, it was turning out to my pleasant surprise, did I. We quickly were like, “I’ve got a good vibe about you,” and decided to try to win this!

I didn’t really care about first place so much. I cared about getting to Final Two, because that was the most complete game experience (this was pre-Final Three, a “Survivor” decision with which I humbly do not agree). And I knew I wanted to have one person I liked, and trusted not just to not backstab me, but also to play strategically, and just be good company in a game where you can’t really trust anyone. Reality News Online has a set of rules to play the game that I followed to the letter, except that you’re supposed to take the person to Final Two that you have the best chance of beating. I decided that a) I didn’t want to lie to Adam, and b) figuring out how to backstab Adam in order to take a weaker player to Final Two was a moot point if I never got there. Lex’s advice in the Santa Cruz Sentinel stuck with me, beef with Rob notwithstanding.

And the only way I could make it there was to have one person in the game that I would never lie to, that I would play with, not against. If we got to three and I won the immunity challenge, I would still take him, even though that might be me asking for second place, and earning a spot in the RNO Hall of Shame.

I was majorly inspired by Rob Mariano’s game play. I loved his balls-out approach and aggressiveness, and told Adam I had no problem drawing the fire (a la Faith in “Revelations”) and being the bad cop in order to help us get to Final Two. The power alliance had numbers, and the leader of that alliance, Joe, asked me to join. So I said yes, because you don’t ever refuse an alliance, and this way I could be a mole! I made a real alliance outside of that one, and waited for the right time to turn on the fake one, knowing that if Adam sold me out, I was screwed and gone.

He (Adam) didn’t. When the tribes got shuffled, Adam was in a minority among the power alliance, and Joe (also shuffled to Adam’s trib) did not like him. Intuition or pettiness I don’t know, but when Joe came to me and said they were voting Adam out, I was not down, and had to convince Joe that Adam was too strong, and we needed him to be a fifth down the line, and to sit tight and vote out someone not from our original tribe.

While I worked for Adam, he was working for me. I was in the minority on my new tribe, and he was friendly with his new tribe’s leader whom I’ll call Mike. Adam worked with Mike to keep me. It wasn’t hard to do, as Mike totally thought I was a sweet girl in need of protection, and he seemed like a person who thinks the bigger the boobs, the lower the IQ. Perfect, my bread and butter. He protected me from the vote, and there were talks to bring Adam and me into his alliance when we all merged.

So when we did merge, Adam and I voted him out! It was glorious. By that point, he’d revealed himself to be cocky and controlling with a zesty dash of misogyny thrown in, so we blindsided him. He was SO MAD. It was awesome. And showed he didn’t really get the game. You can’t treat people like property and assume they are there to support your own game. Fatal “Survivor” mistake!

Once the leader was gone and we had the numbers, Adam and I voted out everyone not in our real or my fake alliance. This is where I knew things would get ugly. But bottom line is, it was either Joe, the leader of my fake alliance, or Adam. Even if I weren’t loyal to Adam, I knew I was a fourth at best in my fake alliance. It never ceases to amaze me, how many people expect someone to be happy with being fourth or fifth, and just accept it and bow down to the majesty of the king and his court. The Rotu Four debacle was 11 years ago!

And yet.

So we voted Joe out, and slowly but surely, creeped to the finish line. People got pissed and butthurt, and one lady blocked me from AIM after getting voted out despite the fact that she was from an opposing tribe that, had they played a better game, would have voted me out as well.

No vote was really hard for me until we were at four. I liked the two guys besides Adam very much. One I knew for sure could beat me at two because the jury was mostly his alliance, but I cared about him and felt bad voting him out at four.

But there is no TIME for sad feelings in “Survivor!” Good thing I had made a promise to Adam. We stuck with the plan and got to three. Our main goal was to make sure the third guy didn’t win, rather than to compete with each other.

I lost the challenge. Good in a way, because now I didn’t have to vote out the third guy anyway. Bad because my fate was out of my hands now.

But Adam’s and my alliance was so strong that he took me, even though he had a better chance to beat the other guy than me. I was happy that I never once considered dropping our alliance, that my step of faith had fallen on such solid ground.

In the end, much to my true shock, I won the game. I thought more people would be too mad at me for voting them out since Adam and I had done the good cop/bad cop routine. But people seemed to respect that I played so obnoxiously and that if we’d become friends online, it was because we met playing a game about backstabbing each other, and you can’t really get mad if you get taken out first without being a hypocrite. Two people who did not vote for me to win? Joe and Mike. It was amazing. Mike managed to simultaneously think his ouster was my fault, yet he said Adam did all the work in the game. Heh.

But the bottom line is, I would never have won, or probably even made final four, never mind two, if I hadn’t played the game with Adam. We helped each other, realizing in a game that could only have one winner, we might as well team up and work together to get to the end.

Meanwhile over on real “Survivor,” Rob and Amber did get to Final Two together, but too many people felt betrayed by Rob, and Amber won, but then they got married so it was literally win-win!

This past season on “Survivor,” J.T. and Stephen pulled off some incredible work together, and were both vocal about playing to get each other to the end. There could only be one winner, but until then, they were a unit.

I was proud to have won my online game, but would seriously have taken just as much from that experience if Adam beat me in a unanimous vote. During a time when I was really having trouble believing that two people could stick together and be loyal in any way, I got to watch an incredibly dynamic couple form before my eyes on national television, kick ALL kinds of ass, and march their way to the finish line — together. That gave me hope, and it taught me a lot about balancing levels of trust. And a real model on how to recognize the people who want you to fall in line out of loyalty, but would vote you out if it served their purposes. In the game, and in life. Adam’s and my relationship was strictly platonic and businesslike, so we did not get married on the Internet like Rob and Amber did on a CBS special, but our alliance, that whole experience, gave me joy that kept me going until times got better. And mostly it showed me that I don’t need to focus on and control everything around me to do well. I just need to play with someone I like.

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