Marquesas Strategy #13: Silent but Deadly
Written by Mario Lanza on 05.27.02

"So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little bit of money, y'know. Don't you know that?"
- Margie Gunderson, FARGO

The right person won after all!

I put off writing this column for a few days because I wanted some time to think about what transpired at the end. When I first watched the show, I hoped for a great final episode, but I didn't really expect much. I knew Paschal wasn't going to win, I didn't care much what Vecepia did, and I wanted Kathy to win mainly because I didn't want Neleh to win. It all goes back to the "reverse Neleh" theory which had been floating around all season. For those of you who don't know what that is, some people noticed that there were a lot of reversed shots in the episodes this season. There were lots of scenes where an image was "reversed" and its mirror image was used instead. A lot of people theorized this meant that Neleh was the winner, since a big deal was made at the start of the season that her name is Helen (her grandmother's name) backwards. I'm always amazed at the number of people who insist that Mark Burnett edits these shows himself, and that he wants everyone to know who the winner is going to be. There was a very similar theory last year about Ethan, and he ended up winning it all, so the reverse Neleh theory was floating around all season and I really didn't want it to be true. I hate when spoilers turn out to be true, and Murtz (our webmaster) and I even debated if the "Neleh theory" was a valid spoiler or just a theory. So in the end, it turned out to be nothing. Congratulations to whomever it is that edits these episodes, because you pulled one over on just about everybody.

By the way, one could even make a case that the "reverse" theory applied to Vecepia, not Neleh, because of all of Vee's flip-flopping ways throughout the game. That is, if one were inclined to think there was actually a message there. That's all I'm sayin'.

So I did enjoy the final episode. I enjoyed it once, and I enjoyed it even more the second time I watched it. I remember thinking that the Paschal ejection was a very dramatic TV moment, and I didn't think it was unfair in the least. Probst told them EXACTLY what would happen if they didn't reach a consensus, and they chose to tempt fate. Just because Paschal and Neleh played with their hearts, and not with their heads, don't feel too bad for Paschal. The guy even said, "the goal is to get to the end," and then he DIDN'T change his vote to go against Neleh when he had a chance to do so. So while I admit it's a crappy way to go out, he took his chances, he lost, and he didn't complain. And if Paschal didn't complain, neither should we. Pappy definitely went out with class, which is the same way he played the game all along.

Now the Kathy ejection was a bit more troubling to me. She was royally screwed by Vecepia, like getting a 2-by-4 right between the eyes. And as a Kathy fan, all I can say is... WASN'T THAT GREAT?! What a great piece of deceit by Vee, right at the time when it mattered most. Sure I was sad to see Kathy go, but this game had been sorely lacking in some good old-fashioned evil since Richard Hatch left the game, and Vee really did him proud. In fact it's pretty much the exact same thing Rich did to poor Rudy. That's the first moment in the game where I really started to respect Vecepia, and the moment when I became a Vee fan. So I was really pulling for her to win in the final vote, although to be honest I was also rooting just for Neleh to lose. And it wasn't just the "reverse theory" that had me rooting against Neleh. It was also the fact that I just didn't feel she belonged in the elite club of Survivor winners. I didn't think she should stand next to Richard, Tina or (to a lesser degree) Ethan. I just didn't think she earned it. She was nice as... well, as heck... but she totally blew her jury questions. She was far too apologetic and defensive about the whole thing. Whereas Vee, while a bit slippery and preachy for my tastes, came right out and said, "I had a strategy, I played it the way I planned, and I got to the end." And if I'm a juror, that's really the only answer I would ever want to hear. "Yeah, I beat you. Now give me the money, because I earned it." Score one point for the Vecepinator.

So Vee won the game, and now the backlash begins. People are really coming down on her, as well as the final episode in general. And I admit that the reunion show was a bit of a letdown. While it was fun to watch, Rosie really missed some important questions along the way, like "WHO VOTED FOR VECEPIA IN THE FINAL VOTE?" and a few other major ones. And while the final episode wasn't as dramatic as last year's finale, I thought it was just fine. The Marquesan finale definitely had its moments. Go watch it again, and this time watch how Vecepia played it. And I have to say that all the criticism of Vee's win is a little tough to read. I think the religion thing plays a big part of it too. A lot of people just don't like religion, or people who talk about it. Now admittedly, I think Vee abused religion quite a bit for strategic purposes in the game. But then again I credit her more for doing that, not less. She knew how to say things in a way that she could always get what she wanted. And if you can separate your personal feelings about her from her actual strategy, you will see that she was quite a player. She truly did deserve to win.

Now back to my columns for this season. I originally thought that I had a pretty bad year in making predictions. But looking back, I did hit a few key events before they happened in the game:

(episode one) "Vecepia Towery – I did notice that she was very close with Sarah at the immunity challenge, but then she voted against her at Tribal Council. Interesting… " <-- I caught her duplicitous nature early

(episode four) "Did you notice who was taking charge of the weaving puzzle? It was Gabe and VECEPIA. That's right, Vee is doing her darndest to separate herself from Sean and Rob and ingratiate herself with Gabe and the Rotu power core. I think she's a pretty sharp player, and FAR more adaptable than the knucklehead twins."

(episode six) "John will be gone soon, and the game will be worse off without his scheming."

(episode six) "Vecepia Towery - Like I said, I'm bothered by the fact that she has no allies, but she also has no enemies. Okay, Rob distrusts her, but she can adapt to anything. I want to see more of her strategy, because she knows how to get far in this game."

(episode six) "John drew a line in the sand. This is our foursome and no one else can play. But it's too early to do something like that, and now the bridges may have been burned for good."

(episode eight) "Paschal English - Pappy is in a huge power position right now, but I don't think he is the favorite to win. And there's one simple rationale: He will take a dive for Neleh."

(episode eight) "Look down the line and see that Kathy would be a huge swing vote between Paschal/Neleh and Sean/Vecepia, if they all get that far."

(episode nine) "Vecepia Towery - 20% chance to win. I want to see her vs. Neleh or her vs. Kathy in an endurance challenge at the end. That would be a war." <-- a 4 hour, 30 minute war!

(episode eleven) "And after reading what I just wrote, and laying it all out, I think Kathy will choose to go with Paschal and Neleh, and ditch Sean."

(episode eleven) "I'm pretty sure a female will win this thing though. Just count how many times have we heard "chicks rule" this season..."

Of course, I had some mistakes as well (notably the "Rob will win" column after episode six) but for the most part I feel I put up a pretty good showing this season. I wasn't the most accurate predictor, but I wasn't the worst either. And I defy ANYONE to have predicted all the major events this season. Survivor: Marquesas was nuts, and I loved every minute of it. I have no doubt it was the best season overall.

Just a few more random comments before I get to my final column on Vecepia:

* Man, Robert sure hates females, doesn't he? I knew all along he wouldn't vote for Neleh to win. It's bad enough to give the victory to a woman, but there's no WAY he would have given the money to a sweet little 21 year old Mormon female. It just wasn't gonna happen.

* I miss "Oh my heck" already.

* The challenges and setting and players were all top notch this season, but I felt the music wasn't as good as in past seasons. They added a lot of new stuff, and cut out some of the better background music from past seasons. The Africa season had probably my favorite soundtrack. It was more dramatic and less whimsical (like this season).

* I gave up religion ten years ago, and openly mock it now for the most part. But I am a little confused about the whole Vecepia forgiveness policy. Can I just wait until I'm on my deathbed and then ask for forgiveness? Do I have carte blanche until the end? What's the fine print on that policy? Or does it just apply to the game of Survivor? Can I get a ruling here?

* I think people really forgot Vecepia's age during the season. She was 37. Neleh was 21. A lot of people kind of thought of them as sisters, but are you aware that Vee could realistically be the same age as Neleh's mom? Vee looks amazing for her age.

* Vee was inducted into the Army Sports Hall of Fame a few years back. She is apparently a great athlete. Anyone see her do martial arts in her audition tape? What sport was she inducted into the Hall of Fame for?

* Man, Kathy was really shell-shocked at that last Tribal Council. I hope she has recovered since the game ended in December, she looked like the game hit her hard. She looked like she was on all sorts of medications during that final Tribal Council.

* John really loves this game.

Okay, here's my final word on Vecepia. As I said before, she is getting hammered in the public opinion polls, which is too bad. I don't think she did anything wrong. Yes, so she screwed Kathy, but good for her. My strategy is ALWAYS that anything goes. The goal is to win, and it's up to you how you want to get there. I think Vee's worst crime is that we never really got to know her. She hid herself from everybody, and it just plain pissed some people off that an unknown ended up winning the game. But she obviously had a strategy, and it worked. A few months back, I developed what I call "Mario's Foolproof Strategy" to win Survivor, and how to become the greatest villain of all time. I am proud to say that Vee shared two of my ideas, one being to always make others come to YOU for Alliances, and one to use religion as a weapon. Because whether she intended to or not, she did use religion, and it worked for her. I will have to try the rest of my strategy when I make the show, so I can't explain it any more than that. Just keep in mind that I'm a bit of a sociopath, and use your imagination. But when I started looking back at this season, I realized the brilliance of Vecepia's strategy. She was ALWAYS in my top six in the power rankings, at least after the first episode. Even when Maraamu was getting creamed, she was up there. Even when everyone was flip-flopping teams and loyalties, her position never wavered. I never noticed it at the time, but in retrospect she was playing hard all along. She was right there, on the cusp of greatness, week after week after week. And to maintain a stable position in THIS season was amazing. This season was all over the place, with no definable leaders or favorites, and Vee was the only one who never had a major drop or rise in her position. She was ALWAYS in good with the person in power, and was ALWAYS in the running to win the individual challenges. She was friends to all, and never had emotional ties to anyone. She left her options open, and didn't hesitate to cut someone's throat if needed (ask Kathy). I believe she even would have voted out Sean if the situation had presented itself. And in a season where there were multiple strong villains, Vecepia may have been the biggest villain all along. And the genius is that nobody else really noticed. Vecepia played the Godfather role better than Rob did.

In an Early Show interview after the game, Vee even said that she was the brains behind getting rid of Hunter. She had gone on about how he was the leader at Tribal Council one night, and she said that it was an attempt to "puff him up" and make him even more unbearable as a leader. And sure enough, Hunter really took over in camp the next day and was soon voted out because of his bossiness. Vecepia was the brains behind that, and that was what probably helped fuel Sean's dislike of Hunter as well. So Vecepia had a bit of Tina Wesson in her, a lot of Richard Hatch, and her strategy was nearly foolproof. Her strategy of adaptability was pretty much guaranteed to get her to the merge, and the Rotu implosion after that just let her slip past everyone, with nobody really paying attention. In fact I don't think Vee was in any way an innocent coattail-rider, I think she knew fully well what she was doing all along. So yeah I was kind of blah about her victory at the time, but in retrospect I'm suddenly seeing how well she played the game. You think people copied Richard Hatch after Pulau Tiga? Well just wait until you see how many people copy Vecepia's strategy after Marquesas. She may end up being the most influential player of all time. Just give her a few months, and watch her legacy grow. You may be ambivalent about her now, but I think Vee will become a Survivor legend in time, as bits and pieces of her strategy come out in interviews. I really think her image is going to change.

Prior to this season, strong alliances were the key to victory. You needed one to win. But this season defied all that. As a reader named Regina Cabrera explained well, "Vee won with the totally reverse strategy. Granted, she still played Rich's game, but she did almost the exact opposite, with essentially the same result: Vee always accepted an offer given to her, and that led her to win. Think about it: she was also the first ever member of the minority tribe (Maraamu never had a "central alliance") to win." And I agree with this conclusion 100%. Vee won because she was adaptable. She won because she had a strategy. She won because she was smart. She won because she was ruthless. And she won because she always kept her options open.

Vecepia Towery may be the best Survivor player of all time.

Mario Lanza is a 28 year old importer/exporter. He works for Vandelay Industries. Be sure to read his contributions to Survivor-Central's ALL-STAR SURVIVOR fan fiction story in the next few weeks. You can email Mario at