The 115 Funniest Things to Ever Happen on Survivor
#8. The Alphabet Strategy
Borneo - Episodes 7-10
Dr. Sean's "Alphabet Strategy" is one of my favorite moments on this list, mainly because it's so incredibly goofy. It sets a new gold standard for Survivor unintentional comedy, it goes beyond anything we've seen up to this point on the Funny 115, and I'm being completely serious when I say this. You can take your Judd speech about A.D.D., you can take James predicting all of Palau incorrectly, and you can even take Robb yelling that he lost "because of a bunch of rules." You can take all those clips, and you can throw them in the garbage. Because none of them come anywhere close to the unintentional humor caused by Dr. Sean's ridiculous Alphabet Strategy.
By the way, I seriously considered this entry as my #1 funny moment overall. It really is that fricking good.
The guy who fucked up Borneo
I bet a lot of you think I'm overrating this entry, and that it really wasn't all that funny. In fact I bet a lot of you are annoyed that it's ranked so high on The Funny 115. But just give me a moment to walk you through the entire Alphabet Strategy, and I guarantee you will be changing your tune. I promise you will do a 150- 200% flipflop. Because there's just never been a storyline like this on Survivor. And there's no way it ever could have happened on any season other than the first. You can only do the Alphabet Strategy one time, before you're branded as a moron for all eternity. And there's no way any player would ever want to fall into the same trap down the road.
So at the very least, we somehow have to thank Sean for blazing this ridiculous trail. He went places with his strategy that no other Survivor would have ever wanted to go. And half the time, I'm not sure he even realized where he was going.
I know I'm being a little hard on Sean, and I admit it. But I really don't mean to be. After all, everybody associated with Borneo has always said that Sean Kenniff was a super nice guy in real life. Nobody has ever had a bad word to say about the guy, and by all regards he has always seemed like one of the more honorable players in Survivor history. He was nice, he was respectful, he was funny, and he even looked a little like Jerry Seinfeld. So it's tough to say anything bad about him on a personal level.
The problem Sean ran into in Borneo was the fact that he was way too nice to be playing this game. Sean got to the island, he liked all the people he was stranded with, and right off the bat he knew he was going to have problems. The main problem was that Sean just didn't want to vote anybody out of the game. He hated the idea of hurting anybody else's feelings, and I always believed him when he said that this aspect of Survivor was like torture. You see, Sean was a likable politician through and through. His main goal in life was to make everybody laugh, and make everybody like him. And the idea of making enemies on Survivor just didn't appeal to him at all. Sean didn't want to come out of this experience with people hating him. He wanted to come out of this experience with a career in showbusiness. So right from the start he was very, very aware of the way he would come off on TV.
(Note: This is the exact reason I've never believed they'd ever do a Celebrity Survivor. Because the absolute worst thing a celebrity can do in his line of work is show his true personality and then find out that the public hates him. Especially on a game show where the entire premise means you have to backstab people. A negative Q-score (popularity rating among the public) is pretty much a career killer for most celebs, so I doubt many of them would go anywhere near a game show where they're required to act like total assholes. By the way, for a good example of what negative Q-scores can do to your career, look up Cruise, Tom.)
So Sean Kenniff ended up on Survivor: Borneo. But he didn't want to come off like a bad guy on TV, and he desperately didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings if he didn't have to. So what did he do to try and get around this? Easy, he decided to remove all personal feelings from the voting process altogether. Because if Sean wasn't voting emotionally, there was no way he could be accused of hurting anybody's feelings. And the easiest way for Sean to do this (vote without emotion) was to just go right down the line, alphabetically. So starting in episode seven (and the merge), Sean loudly and publicly announced to everybody that all his voting from now on would always be alphabetical. There would no longer be any emotion whatsoever behind the reason he was voting each player out of the game.
In Sean Kenniff's mind, this new "alphabetical" voting strategy was absolutely perfect. After all, he would no longer make enemies just by voting for a particular player at Tribal Council. And Sean expected this would win him a lot of respect. He also thought it would spare him a lot of unnecessary guilt.
But what Sean didn't realize... was that he would ruin the entire Borneo season in the process.
Think I'm exaggerating? Like hell. Dr. Sean's decision to vote alphabetically was not only ridiculous, it also became the single biggest turning point in the entire season. And a lot of people don't seem to remember this. In fact most Survivor fans remember the Alphabet Strategy as being a "ha ha, what a dumb idea!" moment. They tend to forget that it was also an "That idiot ruined the season! What a prick!" moment too. Because, as a simple matter of fact, the "J for Jenna" episode was the last moment in Borneo that anybody could have stopped the Tagi alliance. The Pagongs had one last chance to stop Richard, they finally had their act together and were thinking strategically, and they were thiiiiis close to actually pulling off a comeback. But then Dr. Sean's dumb J vote reared its ugly head and fucked everything up and ruined the whole show for everybody. People tend to forget that. But I didn't. And that's why they pay me the big bucks to make lists like the Funny 115. :)
So anyway here's the ultra-detailed extended version of Dr. Sean's Alphabet Strategy, in all its retarded glory. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll cringe. You'll wince. And then you'll laugh some more. And then, just for good measure, maybe you'll do a little more cringing and wincing. And I think you'd be completely justified in doing so.
After all, it isn't every day that I say "This moment was just as good as Judd!"
It's the seventh episode of Survivor: Borneo and the Tagi alliance is in their fledgling stage of dominance. Richard and his four-person alliance are well on their way to winning the game, having started with the removal of their first victim (Dirk Been) just a few days ago. The Tagi Alliance is strong. The Tagi Alliance is powerful. And now, on the eve of merge, they have only a few small obstacles remaining in their way.
The alliance itself is made up of four people: Richard Hatch (the ringleader), Sue Hawk, Rudy Boesch, and Kelly Wiglesworth. However, this was not the specific foursome that Richard had originally had in mind. Richard's original plan (according to Mark Burnett's book) was to bring in the brainy young neurosurgeon, Sean Kenniff, as one of the original members of the alliance. And why did Richard want Sean so badly in his Tagi Alliance? Well, it was kind of sort because Richard was gay. And Sean was cute. And Richard liked having Sean Kenniff around.
"And because he liked him, you know, in a sexual way."
So yeah, Richard had the hots for Sean Kenniff. But according to Burnett's book, Richard (much to his dismay) had to end up scrapping Sean from the alliance plans, for several reasons. The main one was the fact that Sean just wasn't into it. Sean had no interest in voting as a bloc. In fact he hated the whole aspect of voting people out altogether. And Rich worried that Sean just wasn't cutthroat enough to be trusted with such an important task. So Sean was dumped in favor of the much more hungry and strategic Kelly.
(Note: A second reason Sean was dumped was because Rich thought he was a little too much of a distraction. Since Rich had such a crush on his little pierced-nipple Superpole-builder, he was a little worried that he might make strategic mistakes if Sean was always around. And Richard didn't want to make any silly mistakes on his way to a million dollar check. So there's a bit of fun trivia in case you haven't read Burnett's book. Rich dumped Sean because Sean ended up being too much of a sexy distraction.)
So Sean was kept out of the loop. The rest of the Alliance didn't tell him the first thing about what was happening around camp. And that's why Sean was so stunned when his buddy Dirk got voted out at the end of episode five. Dirk was the first victim of the Tagi Alliance, Sean never saw it coming for a second, and (even worse) Sean seemed to be completely unaware that an alliance had somehow formed around him. Sean had no idea there was a Tagi Alliance. In fact, Sean had been so completely left in the dark that he had no idea he was the only member of Tagi not in the Alliance! And this oblivious cluelessness would be a Kenniff trademark from here on out.
In fact, some would say it was his single most defining trademark.
So going into the Borneo merge, Sean wasn't entirely sure there was a Tagi Alliance. But it didn't matter. Because, five episodes later, he wouldn't be sure if there was a Tagi alliance either. In fact... to this day... Sean still might not know if there was a Tagi alliance. He still could be out wandering the jungles of Borneo for all we know, trying to figure out what happened to Dirk and his beloved Superpole. Sean still may not be aware that the game actually ended seven years ago.
So we come to episode seven, and this is where we come to the fateful Borneo merge.
Sean has no idea that the rest of his tribe is an in alliance.
Oh, and he's decided to vote alphabetically from here on out.
This is where our story begins...
Sean is the first Tagi to meet the members of Pagong, as he has been elected "ambassador" to go over and greet the other tribe prior to the merge. And right away Sean sets the tone of cluelessness that will follow him throughout the rest of the season. This is where it all begins, my friends.
"Oh, there's no Tagi Alliance."
The Pagongs are worried that Tagi is going to pick them off, but Sean repeatedly assures them that it isn't going to happen. He tells them over and over that there's no alliance, he's never heard anything about a Tagi alliance, and he promises them that the Tagis aren't going to play like that. In fact Sean is so reassuring to the Pagongs that it would have been the most cutthroat move of all time if he had actually been lying. He would have been in Brian Heidik sociopath territory if he had actually led the Pagongs to the slaughter, like the Pied Piper of frigging Hamelin.
The only problem was that Sean wasn't lying. He really did think that there was no Tagi Alliance.
And it only gets worse from here.
At Tribal Council, Jeff asks the players if they're worried about rumors of an alliance. Sean, of course, is the first one to pipe up and deny this. He very publicly declares that there is no alliance, because he feels it would be way too early for anybody to start thinking like this. Sean denies the existence of an alliance not only once, but TWICE, while Richard Hatch sits next to him, peeing his pants in giddy delight.
Note that Sean isn't trying to be deceptive here. Remember that. Sean is NEVER trying to be deceptive in anything he ever says. EVER.
"I think there's a lot of room, in a group of ten, to not think ultra-strategically just yet."
"From talking to my tribe and talking to the other tribe, as the ambassador, I think that most people were very concerned about alliances. Just having a Tagi versus Pagong internal bloodbath, you know. But I don't think that's gonna occur."
Sean repeatedly tells everyone that there's no alliance. Then he caps off the unintentional comedy by unveiling his new "alphabetical" voting strategy. Sean figures this is a good way to avoid making any enemies among the Pagongs. And, hopefully, he can ride this neutrality all the way to the end of the game. So who's the first member of Rattana up alphabetically? Who's going to get Sean's vote at the first post-merge Rattana Tribal Council? Why, it's "C", of course. C, for the fetchingly winsome Colleen.
"I am not really employing any strategy. I'm voting for Colleen today, because I love her. She's cute, adorable, and nice to look at, and fun to have around. But she's the first in a long list of alphabetical order. And... uh... she won't get another vote from me, unless she pisses me off or something. But it's her turn today, to be the first. Alphabetical order."
So what happens when the votes are revealed? Duh. The Tagi Alliance gangs up to vote for Gretchen, and pick off the leader of the Pagongs. Gretchen gets four votes, all in succession, and it turns out there really was an alliance behind the scenes after all. It turns out there actually was a Tagi Alliance! And the devastated look on Sean's face when he figured this out is absolutely priceless. What? Gretchen got voted out? There was actually an alliance after all?? Holy crap!
Stunned reaction #2
This is where it starts to get really funny. Because despite the fact that he's seen the alliance in action TWICE now (once for Dirk, once for Gretchen), Sean isn't quite convinced that it actually exists. Oh, he thinks there might be an alliance, but he isn't willing to go out on a limb and actually say so. He's still willing to give these people the benefit of the doubt.
At least, for now.
(Mario's Note: lol)
"Last night was a very strange vote."
And this is where we get my favorite Sean quote of the entire season. This one ranks right up there with "We lost to a bunch of rules!" in terms of sheer ironic ridiculousness. By the way, I'll be referencing this quote for the entire rest of the Funny 115. I just wanted to warn you now. Be prepared.
"The bloodbath has begun. You know, people have started taking it a different way. 'Cause there's really no good reason, other than strategy, to vote Gretchen off."
That's right. Other than strategy, it didn't make any sense at all. Good point.
Later in the episode, here's Sean coming as close as he can to saying that there probably is an alliance. Note that he still uses the word "probably", just to hedge his bets. Sean still isn't willing to commit to this opinion just quite yet.
"I think that my former team, Tagi, probably formed an alliance against what they perceived was the strongest member of Pagong, which was Gretchen."
So anyway Sean marches along happily into the second post-merge Tribal Council. He thinks there is probably some sort of Tagi Alliance, but he isn't willing to flat out believe it without some concrete proof. And even if there is an alliance, Sean doesn't seem to be all that concerned about it. He seems to think the alliance won't affect the game all that much in the long run.
(Note: Sean may be somewhat oblivious to the truth, but in no way does he realize just how dangerous this naivete is going to be. Because the worst thing about Sean's cluelessness is the fact that he doesn't seem to realize that the Tagi Alliance is just going to piggy-back on his alphabetic votes from here on out. Since everybody and their mother knows who Sean is going to vote for every Tribal Council, all the alliance has to do is vote for the exact same person, and they effectively now become an alliance of five. Sean doesn't seem to notice that he is inadvertently helping the Tagi alliance by telegraphing every one of his alphabetical votes.)
So now we're at Tribal Council number right. Sean is oblivious, Sean is completely unaware of how the game of Survivor works, and he proves this (as well as digs his own comedic hole even deeper) with these ridiculously naive voting comments for Greg at the next Tribal Council.
"In keeping with my strategy of alphabetical order, I'm voting for Greg tonight. It would have been Gervase's turn, but he won immunity. So I had to skip him. Next person in order is Greg. I don't think this vote is gonna mean very much."
So does the vote mean very much? Hell yes it does! The Tagi Alliance knows that Sean is gonna vote for Greg, so they just pile their four votes onto Greg as well. And Greg now ends up with a very-fatal five votes at Tribal Council. And that means buh bye, coconut phone boy. You just got beat by the alphabet strategy.
And Sean, once again, is stunned.
Okay now we're at the peak of the Alphabet Strategy Experience. Because this is the episode where Sean Kenniff officially ruins the game. This episode is chock full of Sean and his stupid alphabetic cluelessness, and anybody who was rooting for Pagong to come back must have been absolutely pissed. Because Sean literally puts the nail in their coffin in this episode. And the sad thing is, he isn't even intending to do it.
The Pagongs are reeling now, having just lost their best two leaders at the hands of the dreaded Tagi alliance. All they have left are Gervase, Colleen, and Jenna, and there's no way they can win a numbers game with that sort of disadvantage. What they need right now is a fourth vote to swing over to their side against the Tagis. The only problem? Sean is the fourth vote that they need. And unfortunately the Pagongs all think he is a blithering idiot.
"Listen to what Sean says today. Cause they voted 4 against Dirk, then they voted 4 against Gretchen, and then... obviously 4 against Greg... and Sean's like, 'If it happens one more time, then I know...' And I was like, what are you talking about? It's happened THREE TIMES!"
Colleen is a major critic of Sean in this episode, as she repeatedly calls him things like "clueless" and a "putz." And she's not the only one who is beginning to dislike the guy. Kelly starts trashing Sean for being a holier-than-thou hypocrite. And Sue Hawk chimes in by giving my very favorite anti-Kenniff quote of the season:
"Sean is not in the alliance, because Sean.... is dumb."
But is Sean concerned about the way the rest of the tribe is beginning to perceive him? Um, no. Not so much. Sean is still as solidly behind his alphabet strategy as ever. In fact it's pretty much all he talks about during this episode. Sean is very, very proud of his new alphabet strategy, and he isn't shy about telling people about it either. Here are some of his best quotes. Watch as Sean gets more and more self-righteous and ridiculous as he goes along.
"I think it's a fair system. And Gerv, I think you're a perfect example. I'm glad I decided to not go back for the alphabetical order after you win immunity. Because it gives the contestant an out, to avoid my vote."
"I think it adds a new dimension to the game, if you go alphabetically."
"I'm going in alphabetical order. Jenna is next. It would make me happy if Gervase does not win immunity, 'cause I had to skip him last time. And maybe Jenna will win it, and get out of the order."
"You know what's nice? That if you win immunity you get skipped, and then you never get in the rotation."
"The way I figure it, like, my vote is gonna go alphabetical, okay? Today's Jenna. If I'm gonna be the swing vote... which I don't think I will be... then I won't vote for her, obviously."
Sean never shuts up about his wonderful alphabet strategy, he never shuts up about how Jenna is going to get his vote tonight, and eventually the other players start to get a little tired of him. And, of course, that's when we get this wonderful commentary on Sean Kenniff, from the one and only Gervase Peterson.
"About Sean's alphabetical order... it's like my granddaddy used to say. If you wanna be seen, stand up. If you wanna be heard, speak up. If you wanna be appreciated, shut up."
So here's where we stand going into the ninth Tribal Council: Sean is going to vote for Jenna. And no amount of reason can possibly sway him. Sean is too dead-set on his beloved alphabet strategy to listen to the pleas from the other players. The Pagongs. meanwhile, are still desperately trying to put something together to save their own skins. They are desperately trying to find that fourth vote with which they can force a last-minute tie. But this is proving to be impossible since Sean will only cast his votes alphabetically.
The Tagi Alliance, of course, knows all about Sean's plans to vote for Jenna tonight. And they know that all they have to do is tag along this one last time. If the Tagi Alliance all votes for Jenna, thus piggy-backing onto Sean's vote, they can avoid any prospect of having a tie. And this will essentially mean doom for the Pagongs from here on out. Once the Tagis (and Sean) take out Jenna, there's no way they can be possibly be stopped.
Sean, of course, doesn't seem to be aware of this.
As always, he remains a solid four (or five) steps behind.
Sean's boneheadedness is put on full display at the ninth, and pivotal, Tribal Council. Because this is where he goes on and on about how his Jenna vote tonight isn't going to mean anything. Sean repeatedly promises that his "J for Jenna" vote isn't going to be important tonight. And in doing so, he digs an unintentional comedy hole the likes of which we may never see on Survivor again. In fact, to this day, I still can't believe he possibly could have been this clueless. Please tell me all this was just an act. Please tell me he was just putting on a show. Can anybody please verify that Sean was just acting dumb for the sake of fooling the Pagongs? Anybody?
"Jenna knows. She wouldn't take it personally. And I think she's a safe vote tonight. If I felt she was in jeopardy I would think twice, at the very least, in casting my vote."
Does Susan have any comments on Sean's decision to vote for Jenna tonight? Durhay. What do you think?
"Sean's neurotic. He's an idiot. Either that or he doesn't have enough balls to make a decision."
And this is where the season officially ends. The Pagongs put up a desperate struggle, they try their damnedest to get this game turned around, but they just can't compete against Sean and his ridiculous alphabet strategy. And Sean personally puts the nail in their coffin right here, with this particularly moronic quote while casting the fatal "J" vote for Jenna.
"Continuing my alphabetic strategy. Jenna, you know I love you, no offense to this. I hope you don't get voted off. I think... you might have one vote, or two votes, or something like that. But nothing major I don't think. I hope."
Know what happens next? That's right. Game, set, match Tagis. The Pagongs are officially eliminated when Jenna ends up being voted out of the game. The Pagongs came so close the last few episodes, they came so close to turning this sucker around, but...in the end... they just couldn't overcome the whims of a doofus. In the end, they got punk'd by the guy with the alphabet strategy.
Even Jeff takes a minute to comment on what just happened. And you can tell he's a little bit disgusted. "J. For Jenna."
"Did I just lose to that dick with the alphabet strategy?"
The best part of this whole scene? The fact that for the third time in a row, SEAN DIDN'T SEE IT COMING AT ALL! He is legitimately shocked that the Tagi Alliance would have piled onto his vote. For the third time in a row. And at this point we are wondering if maybe Sean has some sort of a learning disability.
A quick, apologetic shrug to Jenna and Colleen. Whoops!
Stunned into disbelief. Again. For the third time in a row. Because other than strategy, there was no reason Jenna should have left at all!
Nice job, shit for brains.
The game is officially over now because Sean has officially ruined it. Nobody can stop the Tagis anymore. The non-alliance members are about to be picked off one by one and, yes, that even includes Sean. His fate in the game has just been determined and he doesn't even seem to realize it yet. In fact, he's just now starting to accept the fact that maybe there's some sort of possible alliance. He actually seems to be leaning in that direction in this episode. He's also about 12 days too late to finally be figuring this out.
Way to go, Dr. Nostradamus.
"No, I'm not 100% sure there's an alliance. I don't know if there is one. I haven't been asked to partake in one, or anything yet."
"Sean, come on! Open your eyes!"
And now, upon further reflection, Sean finally figures out what is going on. And he finally admits out loud what the rest of the tribe has known for more than a week.
"Whatever vote I was gonna go, they were gonna copy. And if I knew -that-, I would have abandoned the strategy earlier."
With this clever deduction, Sean finally realizes that he can't cast votes based on the alphabet anymore. He now realizes it just doesn't make any sense. And this is where he finally abandons the alphabet strategy for good. Sean will be voting based on merit and strategy from here on out. Just like everybody else. Just like he should have been doing all along.
"No more alphabet strategy."
So what happens after the death of the alphabet strategy? Well, Sean is soon voted out. Duh. Right after Gervase and Colleen. But what else do you expect from a guy who ruined the season in Borneo? It's not like he was ever going to win.
Am I crazy, or did the Tagis just pile onto my vote again?
So good riddance, Sean. And good riddance, Alphabet Strategy. There's no way you could have occurred in any season other than the first. So thanks for opening that door, Sean, if only so no other player ever would have to again.
My favorite part about the Alphabet Strategy was the fact that it pissed off every other player in the game. Everybody else hated it, everybody else thought Sean was an absolute idiot, and it just goes to show you how irony can work in unexpected ways. Because have you ever stopped to realize that Sean's foolproof way to avoid making enemies in Survivor somehow made an enemy out of every other player in the game? Sean voted alphabetically specifically so he wouldn't piss anybody off. Yet in doing so, he managed to piss off every other player in Borneo. And if that's not comedic irony, I don't know what is.
Bleh. I love this moment with all of my heart, yet at the same time I absolutely hate it.
Let's just move on to number 7...
J is for Jackass
P.S. My favorite analogy for Sean's naivete is to compare him to the camp owners from Friday the 13th. Because every year the campers at Camp Crystal Lake would be slaughtered, yet the camp would open without fail the next summer, as if nothing had ever happened. And I always pictured Sean Kenniff as the director of Camp Crystal Lake. I could just picture him standing there, telling himself at the start of each summer "Well if Jason comes back one more time, then I'll know we have a death curse here. But I just don't think that's going to happen. I think camp this year is going to be uneventful." I bet Sean would have opened that camp for 5 or 6 years in a row before he finally realized that all his campers were dying. And even then he would only be about 50% sure.
"I mean, other than a homicidal maniac running around butchering people, there's really no good reason for people to be dying around camp. It just doesn't make any sense."
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