“I’ve been to about 100 Tribal Councils. Never, ever seen anybody lay down their torch, so this is a first for me.”
That was Jeff Probst in the Pearl Islands season. Season 7, it was, and it was the first time we saw someone quit the game of Survivor. Probst was clearly disgusted, telling quitter Osten Taylor, “Osten, per your wishes, go home” while snuffing his torch and then laying it down on the ground instead of up with the ones of the other voted out contestants. “All due respect to Osten,” said the host, “people work too damn hard to get in this game and fight to stay alive. If he wants to lay his torch down, so it shall be.”
The stigma of quitting the game was so huge back then that the guy was basically treated like an outcast by the Survivor community (coincidentally, it happened in the season with the much-derided Outcasts twist). But something happened after that: more and more people started quitting the game. It’s almost as if nobody had even considered it before, but once Osten did it, others were like, oh, right, that’s an option. I’m cold, hungry, and tired. I can just quit! And they did. The floodgates had been opened. Some quit outright, some did it sneakily through phantom injuries (as Probst accused Colton of doing his first time out), and some simply asked their tribemates to vote them out (as former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson did, although that was never shown). Now quitting is something you can seemingly count on every single season. And the more people who do it, the less others hesitate to do it themselves.
Another byproduct of all that quitting is that it is becomingly increasingly difficult to muster outrage when it keeps happening. Probst even praised Lindsey last season for making what he described as a mature decision by pulling herself out of the game before she got physical with Trish (although I think the heart of Lindsey’s quit was the fact that her main alliance partner just got blindsided and she couldn’t hack it without him, using her beef with Trish as an excuse to pull the plug).
All of which brings us to Julie. As I have written, before the game started other members of the press and I out on location were dubious as to whether Julie could hack it out in the wild. She seemed perfectly nice, but just did not come across as a woman who could make it without the creature comforts. Other contestants were similarly dismissive of her. But once the game started, Julie appeared to be doing okay. I even gave her some props and wrote that maybe I was wrong about her. But I wasn’t wrong. Once the going got tough (boyfriend voted out, a rainy night with no tarp, getting busted for stealing food) Julie got going. She summoned Probst to the beach, told him how she’s always been prejudged because of her looks, and then confirmed every single one of those judgments by opting out of the game.
Amazingly, she also did this just hours before Tribal Council, which only confirms that although she told Jeff she was partly doing it because she was on the verge of being voted out anyway, that was a huge lie. If that were the case, she would have hung on and been voted out to save a bit of face. By all appearances, the two targets were Josh and Jeremy—not Julie.
Did Jeff let her off too easy? Hard to say. He pointed out how kids go away from their parents for summer camp to minimize her claim about missing John. He called her decision “quite possibly a million dollar quit for someone else” so that she understood the selfish nature of her move by letting down alliance members counting on her. But there was also no outright disdain of the magnitude served up for folks like Osten or Colton. Of course, all circumstances are different. Osten talked a big game and then that huge, hulking mass of a man couldn’t back it up. Colton was—according to Probst—quitting for the second time in two appearances. I definitely thought Jeff was too easy on Lindsey last season. This time, I found his response compassionate but also unwavering in that you could tell he did not agree with the move. I’ll let you guys argue it out on the message boards whether his response was too strong or not strong enough. I didn’t have a problem with it, but I do worry that future contestants watch that and say, “Hey, that doesn’t seem so embarrassing.” And thus a new generation of quitters is born.
Before we move on, a quick note that you should definitely make sure to check out my weekly Q&A with Probst, where he not only presents a super-interesting theory as to why Julie insisted on quitting right then and there, but also takes some of the blame for what happened and reveals who would have been voted out had she stayed. One of the best Probst Q&As you’re ever going to read. Okay, let’s get to the other big moments of the episode. I’m actually out of town for work again so easily could have handed these here recap duties off to someone else, but guess what? I’M NO QUITTER! Anyhoo, here’s what else went down in episode 7 of Survivor: San Juan del Sur.
NEXT: New battle lines are drawn at the merge