"Ok, so I'm just gonna cut to the chase. It's on our buffs. It's about outwitting, outlasting, and outplaying. And when it comes to outplaying I felt like I held my own in challenges. When it came to individual immunity, I won three individual immunities. When it came to outwitting, I definitely felt like there were two parts to it. And one part was the strategic part. And I felt like I did that well. I made a five person alliance from the beginning and I wanted to keep that five person alliance to the end. And it wasn't necessarily the easiest thing to do, but I made sure that my strategy revolved around it. And then the other half of outwitting I think was the social game. And I think it became more clear to me a couple tribals ago that maybe I wasn't so good at the social game. I felt like I made some genuine friendships back at Upolu, but, you know, I’m not a used car salesman. I came out here and I was myself. And I do think I was as honest as possible, so I think I filled the requirements.” - Sophie Clarke
If a player wants to win the game, he has to convince the jury that he is more deserving than the other two people he is sitting in the final three with (or other person, in the case of a final two). The sticking point here is "deserving." What does it mean to be "deserving" of winning the game? Aren't you just the person who played the game the best? And isn't the person who won the game the person who played the best? Well, yes, but when the game is still being played--which is true while the final tribal council is going on--it's impossible to say who is most deserving based on the criteria of "the person who won the game deserved to win." This is the challenge faced by the players arguing to the jury, and it's what makes Sophie's opening statement so incredible. For the first time in Survivor history--both externally and internally to the game--someone attempted to explain what the requirements are for being deserving of winning the game.
Sophie Clarke delivered the best final Tribal Council performance in Survivor South Pacific because she knew what she wanted to say. She broke her game and the game of Survivor down to their most basic level--what their defining characteristic or characteristics are--beyond the generally given "Survivor is Survivor." That statement is certainly true. A thing is what it is. However, it is not sufficient. In order for Sophie to know what she wanted to say, she had to know what she was talking about--the game of Survivor in general and her game specifically. Why? Because every argument is based upon a foundation, some fact or set of facts in reality that the points (and ultimately the claim) in the argument refer to. To better demonstrate what I mean, I'm going to quote Erik Caronda's jury comments from Survivor Samoa:
"If there's one thing that I've learned in this game it is that perception is not reality. Reality is reality, and you (Natalie) are sitting there and that makes you just as dangerous as any one of those guys there. You would say that you are probably the least deserving of the title of Sole Survivor, but maybe, just maybe, in an enviroment filled with arrogance, delusional entitlement, maybe the person who thinks she is least deserving is probably the most."
What Erik is doing here is explaining how his beliefs about the game changed because of what happened in reality. He does this through two steps. First he says that what happens in the game is what happens in the game. The people sitting in the final three are the people sitting in the final three. This statement is the same as the one I already made about who deserves to win the game, just taken back one round of the game to the final three. Second he defines what he thinks are characteristics that a deserving winner would NOT have--arrogance and entitlement. Since Natalie had neither, he deemed her most deserving and voted for her---and because of this content, Erik's speech is the logical predecessor of Sophie's.
What makes Sophie's speech more impressive than Erik's is its two major difference from it. The first is the level of detail. Erik only claimed that someone is, in reality, more deserving of winning the game. He then said that, in the specific instance of Survivor Samoa, Natalie was that person. It's great that he was able to figure it out for his purposes, but not going into detail about what it means to be deserving leaves a player like Sophie in the dark. She is forced to either argue that she deserves to win because she is like Natalie or figure out why Natalie deserved to win beyond the simple statement that she won the game. Sophie tackled that foreboding task with seeming ease.
Just as Erik stated why Mick and Russell didn't deserve to win, Sophie could have easily argued why Albert and Coach didn't deserve to win. Don't misunderstand me. Sophie certainly talked about why Albert and Coach (ok, mainly Albert) shouldn't win at some points, but the primary thrust of her arguments were positive--why she deserved to win. This perspective can clearly be seen in her opening statements. She stated a condition of what it meant to be deserving and then provided a concrete example of how she filled that requirement. She then stated another condition and then another relevant example. It was an approach that let the jury know where she stood and what they would be voting for if they wrote her name down. It was something that Albert and Coach did not do and perhaps the power that pushed her to the final victory.
Being able to argue for herself increased the value Sophie took from the game. She earned the title and the money. She is now a million dollars richer (well, pre-taxes anyway) and is in an elite group of 22 people. The title of Sole Survivor can never be taken away from her for the rest of her life. No matter what happens to her (barring NCAA investigations), she can always look back on her accomplishment and be proud. In other words, in order to be the most deserving, she first had to know what it meant to be most deserving. Only then could she go about checking the boxes and explaining how she did.
Unless we're one of the lucky few who get to play the game, we'll never have a chance to be able to check those boxes. However it is still to our advantage to figure out what they are exactly. Why? Because, like Sophie, the more we know about them, the more value we get out of Survivor. It is impossible to talk about what it means to deserve to win Survivor if you don't know what it means to be deserving. Yes, you can always say a player deserved to win if he won, but that only points back to the question of what does it mean to be deserving. Imagine if Sophie had argued that she deserved to win because she deserved to win. No one would have taken her seriously, and she might not have won at all.
The title of Sole Survivor is an achievement and people deserve to be praised for it. However, they're not the only players who deserved to be praised. Many players check many of the boxes but fail at the most important ones. Knowing what it means for a player to be deserving, allows us as fans to praise players for checking any assortment of boxes--and that is what being a fan is about. You appreciate the thing you're a fan of. I don't know about you, but I'm a fan of Survivor so I appreciate it and those who excel at it.
Erik taught us that Survivor is Survivor (reality is reality). Sophie taught us that there are requirements to fill to win the game. She also provided us with a good start as to what those requirements are. Now it's up to us to define them on a detailed enough level to know who the players we appreciate the most are and argue for them. Otherwise we're just doing Coach Things. I suppose that's good enough for three votes. I just prefer to win.