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Tim Rowland, 8/27/00

August 25, 2000

On 'Survivor' as in politics, nice guys lose



No way are Al Gore and George Bush as despicable as Kelly and Rich, but when, for the first time, I tuned in for bits and pieces of the final Survivor episode Wednesday night all I could think about was how the pseudo-drama mirrored presidential politics where the best candidates are pre-determined to fail.

Like the presidential race, I had tuned out until the last minute. All the months of build-up and Internet intrigue had about as much appeal to me of a Hamptons' fund-raising speech in June.

But this week I had a stake in it. I don't like to brag (actually that's not completely true - I love to brag, but I'm right so infrequently I never have the opportunity), but a week before I'd made a well-documented prediction in the office of who would win, this without having seen a single episode.

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With a rudimentary knowledge of human nature and politics and a description from co-workers of how the elimination process worked, there was only one pertinent question to ask: Who is the second-most hateful person left on the island?

This is subjective I know, but my coworkers, being past or present reporters, have a pretty keen perception and attention to detail, so this didn't seem to be too long a limb on which to climb.

Universally, Rudy was the best and most-loved candidate. Like the presidency itself, this meant he was toast.

As for lowest on the food chain, there were two camps. Kelly and Sue fought like cats (there's CBS' next Survivor show: Sue and Kelly in a cage) and people seemed to hate either one or the other the most - the one they didn't hate, they ranked second, behind Rudy.

People hated Richard, but they always seemed to hate either Kelly or Sue just a little bit more. Maybe out of grudging respect to his villainy, or perhaps that of all the backstabbers, he was the one who was honest about his treachery.

So there was the answer, and here's why.

As long as it didn't directly affect them, the survivors would continue to vote for Rudy. That meant he was guaranteed to be in the final three.

But the problem for Rudy, just as in the presidential primaries, was that good guys are always weeded out before the main event.

In politics, it's big money, special interests and the parties themselves that conspire to put down anyone who might rock the boat with fresh ideas and conceptions of political reform.

On Survivor, it was simply a matter of greed, and really, common sense. Kelly had the final vote to knock either Rudy or Rich off the island.

The final vote was to come from a jury of seven former survivors who previously had been voted off.

The winner got $1 million. Kelly knew if she went head-to-head with Rudy in a jury vote she wouldn't win. She also knew Rich was roughly as unpopular as herself and she'd have a fighting chance.

There was no decision to make. Had the choice been his, Rich would have done the same thing. The two least-popular candidates will always vote out the best. There is no way, under the current Survivor procedure, that the superior candidate can ever win. Bye-bye Rudy. So long John McCain. Don't even think about it Bob Kerry.

Even if you hate him though, you have to love Rich. I don't know how long he had it figured out, but he obviously knew his last real danger vaporized when Sue got the boot, just as presidential candidates must hope to eliminate candidates similar to them in their views in the primaries. He'd won and there was nothing the other two could do about it.

So perfect was his strategy, he didn't even have to take part in the cockamamie, shopping-mall-publicity like stunt in which the contestant who could hold on to a totem pole the longest would get a bye into the final round.

There was no point in him participating. If Kelly won the battle, he won the war. If Rudy won, Rich lost. But Rich rightfully had faith in Kelly's stubbornness. For more than four hours he lay on the beach grinning and eating orange slices while the other two, covered with mud, glared at him and humiliated themselves clawing at a post. When Rudy broke contact, Richard beamed.

He'd postured himself perfectly in a head-to-head against Kelly as the lesser of two evils. In other words, the second-most-hateful person on the island.

Or maybe third, counting Sue "Got Issues?" Hawk. Sue, Sue, Sue, great little speech at the end, babycakes. I bet Bill Bradly wished he had thought of that. "Al Gore, you may win the election, but you won't get my vote. If I pass you on the street and you're dying of thirst I'll let the vultures have their way with you." Kelly may have been a snake and Rich a rat, but she was a cockroach.

In the final debate, Sue almost cost him with that vicious tirade (an attack ad, if you will) against Kelly. This almost backfired against Rich, but in the end the negative campaigning, as it always does, proved effective. Rich won 4-3.

Actually, the 4-3 vote bothered me. It just seemed a little too convenient - made me think it was all an act, and the "survivors" were really washed-up old porn stars and the whole thing was more scripted than a national political convention.

In applying the Survivor paradigm to presidential politics, I like to look at the bright side. The absolute worst person in the field will never win. Neither will the best, but hey, one step at a time.

Meanwhile, Richard for president in '04.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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