Recently, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the hit CBS show, Survivor. So much so that my girlfriend threw me a surprise Survivor-themed birthday party a few months ago.
I started with season 28 for the sole reason that it was available on Netflix . Then I got sucked in, and decided to watch all 45 seasons. I saw the newer seasons first and eventually worked my way back to the first ten. As much as I love the show, watching Survivor episodes from the early 2000s sometimes feels like getting a shock to the system. In older seasons, misogyny was the order of the day, and overt homophobia and racism from individual castmates often went unchecked. So imagine my surprise when a powerful women’s alliance emerged in Survivor Vanuatu, which aired back in 2004. Imagine how delighted I was to learn that Ami Cusack, the leader of the women’s alliance, had a girlfriend, and Scout Cloud Lee, another alliance-member had a female life partner. I had high hopes for the women that season. I really did.
On Vanuatu (season 9), the contestants were split along gender lines from the start. One tribe consisted of nine women and the other consisted of nine men. The tribes competed against each other in physical challenges, and as is customary on Survivor, the members of the losing tribe had to vote one of their own out. The women won the first immunity challenge, and brought both the men’s numbers and their gigantic egos down a peg. Most of the guys had come in thinking they would easily defeat the women in challenges, but they were quickly proven wrong. At the merge (which signifies the beginning of the individual portion of the game), the women outnumbered the men six to four. Although it wasn’t all sunshine and roses among the women, they banded together to vote three more men off, making Chris Daugherty the last man standing. In a game that is largely about having the numbers to pull off votes, the six women could and should have overcome their differences long enough to vote Chris off, thereby cementing themselves in Survivor history as the first and only final six that comprised of all women.
Ami Cusack’s goal in the game was simple– get a group of women to the final four. She was a strong physical player who did well in challenges, had a positive attitude, and was generally liked by her tribemates. Post-merge, she arguably spearheaded three of the successful vote-offs that sent men home. Her chances of winning seemed relatively high. This is one of the reasons why Twila Tanner felt that Ami had to go.
Twila was a highway repair worker from Missouri who didn’t mince her words. She was hardworking around camp and rough around edges. In her regular life, she was accustomed to spending more time with men than she was with women, and she was initially apprehensive about being placed on an all-female tribe. However, she struck up a genuine friendship with Scout–the oldest woman there–that lasted throughout the game.
Twila and Scout gave Chris a new life in the game. They teamed up with him and Eliza (whose days were already numbered because her tribemates–Scout and Twila included– thought she was annoying) and the four of them orchestrated a blindside that removed Ami’s closest ally, Leann, from the game, thereby destroying the previously untouchable women’s alliance.
Together, Twila, Scout, and Chris, took out Leann, Ami, Julie, and eventually even Eliza. Ultimately, Chris and Twila made it to the final two where the jury, save for Ami and Scout, awarded the million dollar prize to none other than Chris.
Twila had set out to win the game by any means necessary. An argument can be made that she needed the money more than anyone else. It can even be argued that the only way she stood any chance of winning was by turning on the women’s alliance and getting rid of Ami when she did. However, in focusing all her energy on knocking Ami down, she allowed Chris to skate on by, and in an ironic twist of fate, she ended up losing to him.
There’s no way of knowing for a fact who would have won if Twila hadn’t betrayed the women’s alliance. Maybe Ami would have indeed had an easy victory and brought Leann along in second place, or maybe Twila, who was a strong physical competitor herself, would have won enough immunity challenges to be in the final two next to another woman. In this hypothetical scenario, she realistically would have earned enough votes to win (Scout’s guaranteed vote, along with votes from Chris, and the two other men on the jury).
After Ami’s exit from the game, it was disappointing to watch the rest of the women place more faith in Chris (who was playing them all) than they did in each other–an act that led to their collective demise. Maybe there’s something that we can learn from this. Either way, the women’s alliance on Survivor Vanuatu was great while it lasted.
I’ll leave you with one of Ami Cusack’s final statements during that season: “Coming into the game, my strategy was to get the women to stick together, and I have to admit, we created a very powerful force. We were definitely a force to be reckoned with.”