Pearl Island Strategy #10:  She's Not Quite Dead. She's Getting Better.
Written by Mario Lanza on 11.30.03

"I am gonna help my Gram-Gram. She is the one that taught me it is better to be truthful and good, than to not."
-Steve Martin, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

I will start this week's column with the following disclaimer:

There are two types of people in this world: There are those who enjoyed the dead grandmother strategy... and there are those who hated it. And there is not going to be any middle ground on this issue.  So really, it is a bit of a political deathtrap to even try to discuss it at all.  I mean really, you are either on one side or you are on the other. You either loved it or you hated it.  So why waste space talking about Jon Dalton?  Instead, we should just move on to the far more interesting topic of strategy and delve into why Tijuana got booted.

Let's ignore Jon, and let's just talk strategy instead.

(long pause)

I can't believe you thought I was serious! Oh man... you bought right into it. There's no WAY I am going pass up a chance to talk about the "fake dead grandmother" strategy. Or as I like to refer to it, "The single greatest thing that has ever happened on television."

I felt it was important to get my column out early this week. I felt it was important to get my voice up and heard before the anti-Fairplay tidal wave comes crashing down. Because I know I will be one of the few remaining fans of Jon Dalton after this week's episode. I know I will be one of the few... one of the proud... one of the naysayers who will stand up and proudly say "You know what? That episode was f-cking HILARIOUS!"

Okay, so my column didn't exactly come out as fast as I would have liked. So much for that. But putting aside all ethics and talk about morality and basic human decency, I will just come right out and say it. Jon Dalton came up with a strategy that I had never even considered before. And I have come up with a lot of nasty, soulless, evil strategies in my day.  But Jon topped me.  He trumped me.  He has outdone every single sinister scheme I could ever come up with. I will now have to make my All-Star stories TWICE as scheming and twice as twisted, because Jon raised the bar on me. And sure, you can trash him for crossing the line of human decency.  But Jon is absolutely right when he says "You should take every single advantage possible in this game." That's all that he did. He found the one weakness that a lot of people have, human emotion, and he exploited it for personal gain. And honestly I have never even for one second thought that was a bad thing. Jon simply outwitted them.  He outwitted ALL of them.  He outwitted the game.  He even outwitted Jeff Probst!

The most impressive thing to me was the patience it must have taken for Jon to pull the whole thing off.  He had to wait two months (at minimum) for the dead grandmother scheme to finally come to fruition. He had to work it out with Thunder Dan ahead of time... then play the game for nearly 30 days... all while building up this story of his "sick grandmother back home" to the other players.  Because we never saw it on TV, but you know Jon must have been talking about his grandmother around camp all the way back on day one.  He had to have been working out a foundation for the scam down the road. He probably talked to Lill about it on their catamaran ride, that's probably one of the ways that they bonded!

It just astounds me the kind of patience and discipline it must have taken for Jon to pull this whole thing off.  People who know me in real life will tell you that I have the patience (and the attention span) of a border terrier.  I can't stay focused on something for more than about 10 minutes.  So I can't even imagine how Jon could hide this scheme from the producers and keep it to himself and not tell anyone what was going to happen. You don't expect that kind of forethought and self control from a guy like Jonny Fairplay.  But he did it.  He pulled it off. And yes of course it was only for a meaningless reward challenge, but Jon had no way of knowing that ahead of time. It very well could have been for immunity (like in Thailand.)  In fact, it wasn't so much that he won a reward as it was that he managed to change his image. Jon found a way to think outside the box... by using his loved one as a weapon... and all of a sudden the other players forgot that he is just some douchebag who is there to betray them.  So yeah, of COURSE I thought the dead grandmother strategy was great. Jon managed to come up with a Survivor first, and he did it in such a way to ensure that he will be remembered forever. And as many people who want to be infamous will tell you, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Jon just became a legend. Whether you love him or hate him, Jonny Fairplay is now a Survivor legend.

What I am saying is that yes, on an ethical level Jon crossed about every line possible. I certainly couldn't have gone as far with a scheme as he did, and if you know me in real life that is saying something.  But on some level I think you HAVE to appreciate the level of deceit and forethought (and the balls) that went into planning the whole thing out. And it worked!  It is going to work! And as our very own Murtz Jaffer said to me this week, "If you don't respect what Jon pulled off, you don't have any respect for the game of Survivor."

Okay, enough about Jon. I just felt I had to say all that.  I thought it was great at the time and I still think it is great.  Dead Grandmother cracked me up.  Although of course there will be fallout from this after the season.  And of course Jon is going to take a lot of flak from people after the game is over. I mean, just imagine the reunion show this year. Who is going to murder him first? Will it be Rupert? Will it be Lill? What about Sandra?  But hey that will all be down the road a bit in the future.  Let Jon enjoy his fun for now.  He will get his eventual comeuppance and of course it will be awesome to watch.  Because as the great Kenny Rogers (aka Zeus) once sang:  "You never count your money when you're sitting at the table. There'll be time enough for counting... when the dealing's done."

So on to strategy this week.

The first thing I want to say is that the game has officially entered Cesternino mode. Alliances are now shifting at the drop of a hat. Power shifts happen every five minutes. And the weak are inevitably going to vote out the strong. There is something I have wanted to say about Survivor for a while now and this appears to be the perfect time to say it:

In many ways, Rob Cesternino revolutionized the game of Survivor. He took it to a whole new level and he taught people the correct way to play it. But what Rob ALSO did was ruin it. I hate to say that but he did. Once the game reaches Cesternino mode (which it probably will every season now), it is impossible to predict who is going to win. It is also impossible for a strong player to win the game once we reach this phase. The weak will always take out the strong and the outliers will always take out the power players. So for this reason alone, my power rankings are essentially going to be useless from here on out. Too much will happen between here and the end, too much will shift, too much will change. Rob, you ruined it for me. I give up.

All I can say for sure at this point is that Burton won't win this game. He is way too strong and the rule of Cesternino ensures that Burton will be gone as soon as possible. In fact he really should have gone home THIS week, except Tijuana screwed up so badly. Tijuana made the classic blunder of getting greedy and trying to do too much at once. She tried to pull Jon in on her side for a slam dunk vote and she got nailed for it. And if you appreciate irony, please remember that this was the EXACT same thing that happened to Nicole in episode one... when she tried to get rid of Tijuana. You would think Tijuana would have learned from that!

My prediction to go home next week is Burton.  And the week after that I will pick Burton.  And the week after that I will continue to pick Burton. Like I said before, once we hit Cesternino mode the strong players simply have to go home. *shakes fist at the sky*  Curse you Rob!!

We are down to six players now. And the winner of the game will inevitably come from the pool of Sandra, Lill, Jon or (gulp) Darrah. Obviously I hope it is Jon but I would be just as happy with a Sandra win. She grows on me as a player more and more each week. and I think she is really the best bet for a win right now. But then again that could just be because I don't want Darrah or Lill (or really any outcast) to win. So it it tough to tell. But if Jon or Sandra win, I will be ecstatic. In fact, that would be my dream final two. In any case, we WILL have a Sandra vs. Jon showdown at some point this season.  And no matter when it happens, it is going to be a memorable one!

~~~ Weekly Notes ~~~

* A reader from Alabama named Dan Bartley wrote in a couple of weeks ago and he predicted Jon's "big lie" right down to almost being word for word. He nailed it a couple of weeks ago and I was impressed when I actually saw it unfold on TV. Nice work, Dan!

* I want to point out again that the music this season has been top notch. From start to finish this season has had the best music since Marquesas.

* Personally I think Sandra's lie about Christa and the fish was much more unethical than Jon's lie ever was.  Jon's lie didn't actually hurt anyone... but Sandra's lie definitely made Christa's life a living hell for a couple of days.  Sure, Sandra was just acting in self defense at that point, so I don't really fault her for it.  But her lie was in much more of a gray area than Jon's was, in my opinion.

* The greatest irony of all would be if Jon became so likable over his "dead grandmother" that he was suddenly too likable to take to the final two. That would be hilarious.

* My wife Diana pointed out that the cute hunky guys on the show always bring their mom as their loved one. She found it funny when it happened again with Burton this week. No girlfriend, no wife... the hunky cute guys always bring their mom.

* The "you get to stay at camp while the rest of the tribe is sent away for a day" reward was one I also used in my Alaska story. In case you were still keeping score.  :)

* Darrah and her boyfriend sure didn't seem to know each other very well.  I am not sure if they actually got a single question right.  I am guessing they must have met each other in the airport on the way out to the Pearl Islands.

* Great quote from Jon about Sandra: "I have about a million questions I'd like to know about my grandmother but obviously some people don't give a f-ck." Ha ha ha.  By the way, I will never get tired of this episode.

* Another great quote. From Lill: "I've gotten to know Jon. He hurts as much as anyone." I seriously hope Lill didn't just find out it was a lie when she saw it on TV this week. But you know that is probably what happened.  Poor Lill.

* More quotes. "The fake dead grandmother could easily go down as the dirtiest thing ever to be done in this game." Yeah Jon, I think you got us on that one. Although "My grandma's gonna love it" was pretty much the best quote of the episode.

* Burton had this wonderful quote which every future Survivor player should memorize: "You don't have to trust someone to have an alliance with them. You just have to have the same interests. You could hate someone's guts but if you can help them get further and they can help you go further-- hey we've got an alliance."

* Rupert in pants looks strange to me. I miss the dress.

* As a final note... why was Jon not picked for All-Stars?? Are you kidding me?! He could have pulled the "fake dead grandmother" scheme all over again, since none of the All-Stars would have actually watched Pearl Islands. It would have been beautiful!


Like I said... once we get to Cesternino mode, the weak will always rule the game.  Rob, look what you did!

1. Sandra Diaz-Twine
A strong player who is just PERFECT for this stage of the game. And she apparently uses the "eavesdrop from the bushes" tactic as a regular part of her strategy.  That's awesome.

2. Jon Dalton
I still don't think he will win. But he WILL be the last male standing and you know he will do anything to get to that final two. Never count him out of the game at this point. He will play it dirtier than anyone.

3. Lillian Morris
As much as I don't want her to win (nothing personal, she's just an outcast) I think Lill is guaranteed a spot in the final two. Jon wouldn't take Sandra to the end and Sandra wouldn't take Jon to the end. It should be one of them against Lill.

4. Darrah Johnson
Well at least she won immunity this week. That counts for something.

5. Christa Hastie
Strong, unlikable, and with very few allies.  That is a bad combination at this stage of the game.

6. Burton Roberts
Bye bye Burton. Again.

Next week's pick to leave: Burton.

Mario Lanza is a programmer who lives in Los Angeles with his ever-quotable wife, Diana, and their two small children. He is currently running the Survivor: Okinawa game, which will be written up as a story in December. He is also still laughing at the movie Bad Santa, which he saw this week and which will one day be inducted into the dark humor bad taste hall of fame. Seriously, if you enjoyed the dead grandma strategy, you will enjoy the dark humor of Bad Santa. Just trust him on this one.