All Star Strategy #10:  Karma Can Be Fun
Written by Mario Lanza on 04.14.04

"Sometimes charity hurts."
-Rocky Balboa, Rocky III

Obviously, as a Lex fan, this week's episode of Survivor was one of the harder ones for me to watch. After all, the last time I saw a person get screwed that completely on TV was when Paris Hilton bought her first camcorder. This week's episode was harsh, this week's episode was memorable... and also happened to be very, very good TV.  And that's one of the reasons why we watch Survivor, isn't it? We watch to see the different ways that people will act in a game based on relationships. We watch to see how peoples' morals will fluctuate and their ethics will change as the game gets ever more stressful.  And most of all-- as police chief Marge Gunderson said in the movie Fargo-- we watch to see the terrible things that people will do "... for just a little bit of money."

That being said, this column is tough for me to write.  It is tough for me to write because... sigh... I know I have to say it... because Lex van den Berghe got exactly what he deserved.

The thing that sucks about me saying that is that Lex has always been one of the nicest Survivors in the history of the show. He has been very generous with this website, and in fact with all fan sites. He has been a great diplomat in general with the fans of the show.  He also holds a special place in my heart because he was the first Survivor I ever communicated with via email on a regular basis.  And last year I even got to meet him (and his wife Kelly) in person. In short, Lex van den Berghe is one of the greatest spokespeople and diplomats that Survivor has ever had.  He would do just about anything for this show-- and in my opinion he is possibly the best casting choice that SEG has ever made.

But that being said.




During All Stars, Lex played one of the worst games of Survivor I have ever seen.  Good lord.  I mean, what did he expect? Going into the merge he made blunder after blunder.  And you can forgive him for maybe one or two of them... but he didn't stop at just two. Just take a look at this carnage:

1. He voted out Richard Hatch during the tribal portion of the game. And I'm sorry, you can dislike Richard, you can hate his guts all you want, but he is simply one of the greatest providers and camp presences that the game has ever seen. You don't get rid of a guy simply because he is arrogant and because he won Survivor before. That is narrow minded thinking at its best.  And it was no surprise that this was going to happen. You could see all along that Lex just wanted to stick it to Richard. He had this vendetta in mind from almost the moment the Mogo Mogos got to camp-- and there was no way he wasn't going to take the chance when he had it. And I remember commenting on this in my column at the time. I said that Lex is going to vote out Richard and it will be one of the worst mistakes of the game. Because he will be getting rid of a food provider, a challenge asset, and somebody they can all hide behind after the merge.  And they are doing it simply because they don't like him.  That was strike one against Lex's strategy right there.

2. He voted out Colby right after that.  As if getting rid of Richard wasn't bad enough-- Lex could have actually salvaged things. He could have realized that hey, getting rid of all the other alpha male challenge threats (as well as Mogo Mogo's best athletes) was a slow path to suicide. But no, he went after Colby next and he took out another player who he could have hidden behind after the merge. That's strike two against Lex.

3. He voted out his buddy Ethan. Okay, at this point Lex had just started to lose it. I will never understand any justification whatsoever for why he took out Ethan at the point that he did. And I know that Lex will say it was because Ethan wasn't in his alliance, and it was because he and Ethan never had any sort of deal. But really that wasn't the problem. The problem was that Lex chose a poor alliance to be in in the first place. He seemed to have an innate fear all along of all the other alpha males.  And in my opinion, it was this fear that cost him the game.  I feel he started playing the individual portion of this game way too soon.

What happened with Ethan is that Lex took out the only other challenge threat on Mogo Mogo that he could have hidden behind after the merge. Seriously, just look at it.  Mogo Mogo was losing challenges.  They were struggling.  They were going to go into a merge undermanned. That much was obvious by this point. Now of course they might have actually been WINNING challenges if they HADN'T VOTED COLBY AND RICHARD OUT IN FAVOR OF THE FEMALES.  Yeah, you think that possibly could have been a factor?  But at this point in the game Lex knew he didn't have the numbers. He realized that Mogo Mogo was going into the merge in a minority and he probably realized that things weren't looking too good.

If Lex knew he didn't have the numbers going into the merge, he at least should have tried to change up his strategy. At the very least, at this point he should have shifted gears and tried to hope for:
A) A reunion of his Africa alliance
B) Another alpha male (and a former winner) to hide behind after the merge

In either case, the choice is obvious.  At this point in the game you keep Ethan!  There was just no good reason to dump Ethan at the point that he did. None! The only excuse you can really give in Lex's defense is that, okay, he was going along with the whims of his alliance. Well, if blindly going along with a weak alliance gets you slowly voted out and then eliminated, well then I guess more power to you.  I'm glad you held true to your friendships.

And then... just as a little icing on the cake... Lex managed to vote off his buddy Ethan in a rather cold and remorseless manner. And... jeez... I mean, if that isn't setting yourself up for bad karma, I don't know what is.  In fact, just keep in mind that what happened to Lex was nearly identical to what happened to Ethan.  If you do, you will appreciate why irony exists. As a reader named Thomas pointed out to me... don't forget that Lex used this quote (paraphrased) in his vote for Ethan: "It's easy to win with dignity, but it takes a real man to lose with dignity. Let's see how you handle this tonight."

Oh, and then we come to Lex mistake number four. Although, honestly, in my mind, this is the one that was the most forgivable:

4. Lex saved Amber (at Rob's request) and he voted out his buddy Jerri instead. Now this mistake I can actually forgive. At this point in the game Lex was more or less cornered by the Amber hostage situation, and it was pretty much a dilemma of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't. Either he loses an ally (Jerri), or he pisses off the guy (Rob) who will be calling all the shots. So what do you do?  Lex really didn't have much of a choice. He was forced to act, he made an executive decision and he trusted Rob... and it just happened to fall through because Rob is a dick. And frankly I probably would have done the exact same thing that Lex did. I mean, he had no idea if Rob's friendship with him in real life would hold true in the game as well. And he had no idea if Tom would actually join him after the merge. After all, Tom could very well be mad at him when they merged.  Lex didn't know.

After all, Lex had just voted Ethan out of the game three days earlier.  So who knows if Tom would be all that crazy about any sort of an Africa reunion.

So anyway, Lex will probably get flak for keeping Amber around and voting out Jerri, but I don't think that was his fatal mistake. No, if you want to criticize Lex you should criticize the mistakes that he made PRIOR to the Amber decision.  Criticize the mistakes where he managed to box himself into a corner in the first place. I mean really, what did he expect?   He went into a merge undermanned.  And he happened to be the only male athlete left on his tribe when they merged. Who else was Rob's alliance going to vote out?  Has there ever been any deviation whatsoever from the Survivor policy of "take out the best athlete on the other tribe at the merge"? Has that ever happened at all?? I mean even if Rob HADN'T decided to target Lex, don't you think the rest of his alliance would have targeted him anyway?  Because remember, Boston Rob isn't a one man tribe.  Don't forget that you also have Alicia... Jenna... Rupert... etc.  And all of them have opinions too.

Yes, it sucked seeing Lex get stabbed in the back that badly on TV. It sucked to see it happen to a nice guy and it sucked to see it coming from one of his best friends. Personally I think Rob was a complete asshole for what he did to his friend, and how he did it, but strategically it was definitely the right move to make. He had no choice.  That was the move that simply had to be made.

All I am saying about Lex is that he totally brought this entire thing on himself.  And he made suicidal strategy mistakes nearly every single step of the way. Lex's downfall started with the Richard vote... it was fueled by his paranoia of being around any other alpha male athletes... and it climaxed when he taunted karma by giving his buddy Ethan the middle finger without a single pang of regret.

In my opinion, yes.  Lex got exactly what was coming to him. And yes, on the flip side, I do think that Rob had an ethical obligation to save him.  I mean, I have seen Lex and Boston Rob together in real life, they are good buddies.  And when you shake on a deal you have common courtesy to follow through with it when you are dealing with a friend.  Rob Mariano definitely crossed the line when he was dealing with his friend and frankly I can't stand behind his actions this episode at all.  I think what he did was one of the biggest asshole moves in the history of Survivor.  But still... at the same time... from a big picture point of view... Lex pretty much slit his own throat about four episodes ago.

Yuck.  Sometimes karma can just be tough to watch.


Long live Amber! Bow down before the she beast of Panama!

1. Amber Brkich
Give it up for the best player in All Stars. That's right, I said it. Brkichmania starts now.

2. Rob Mariano
I will write a whole column on this next week, but Rob is simply on the wrong show. Only on The Apprentice do the most outwardly dominant players win. Rob will be removed from the picture in due time because he is an alpha male, and because that's just what happens.  Just ask Lex.  But Rob should be safe for now.

3. Tom Buchanan
Still hates Clarence.  And cherries.

4. Jenna Lewis
Remember her? She's still here, you know. And I would laugh my butt off if she didn't get a video from home this time around as well.  That would be cruel, but it would also be surprisingly funny.

5. Rupert Boneham
It was good to see Rupert get a big moment this week, and wind up with some two-girl Fairplay style hotel room action on the reward trip. The old Rupert we knew and loved finally showed up again. And unlike Tom, Rupert actually kept his pants on around the girls.  So that was a plus.

6. Alicia Calaway
Hmm... she could go very far... she could be gone soon.  Tough to call.

7. Kathy Vavrick-O'Brien
Oops. So much for that #1 ranking.

8. Shii Ann Huang
Switching sides helped her for one vote but it doesn't help her much in the long run. She is officially on death row now.

Boot pick for next week:  Kathy

The S-C Apprentice:

As I have mentioned before, this will be my last season writing this column. *cue sad music*  And as I mentioned last week... I will be running a game in the offseason called "The S-C Apprentice." Basically I will be choosing between 10 potential writers to see who gets to take over this column (and the Power Rankings) next season. I will be running the game just like the real Apprentice show... only it will all be writing challenges. The results will be posted on the message board all throughout the offseason (and I will also post who gets fired each week.)  So if you are interested in playing... and possibly taking over as the writer of Survivor Strategy next season... please drop me an email. I hope to hear from a lot of talented writers and talented Survivor fans. This could be your big shot to become a columnist!


Mario Lanza is a 29-year old writer and programmer from Los Angeles. He is the lead author of the S-C All-Star Stories as well as the smash hit Survivor: Okinawa (currently on episode 11!) He also hates server crashes as much as you do.

P.S. Sorry Lex!