By Kurt Chirbas
After ending up on the wrong side of a tribal swap, Julia Landauer ’14 this week became the eighth contestant eliminated from “Survivor: Caramoan,” the latest season of the long-running reality series.
In an episode that aired Wednesday night, the 21-year-old professional race car driver and Stanford undergraduate saw her torch snuffed out when her fellow tribe mates decided to vote off one of the two non-returning players on the tribe.
“This game was so different than I expected going into it,” Landauer said in a post-elimination interview that aired during the episode’s end credits. “It was tough going up against veteran players who knew this game inside and out and who had played before… I’ve had a wonderful experience, even though it’s been incredibly frustrating at times, and I couldn’t have done anything differently.”
Fans vs. favorites
“Survivor: Caramoan” began with 20 contestants divided between two tribes: Bikal, which consisted of well-known returning players, and Gota, comprised of fans playing the game for the first time. In each episode, the two tribes compete in an immunity challenge, with members of the losing team forced to vote off one of their own at a so-called “tribal council.”
Initially a Gota tribe member, Landauer found herself in the majority alliance, aligned with other contestants such as Matt Bischoff, a 38-year-old BMX bike salesman; Michael Snow, a 44-year-old personal event planner; Sherri Biethman, a 41-year-old fast food franchisee; Laura Alexander, a 23-year-old administrative officer; and Shamar Thomas, a 27-year-old Iraq War veteran.
As the season progressed, however, Gota lost several immunity challenges to the more physically imposing Bikal tribe, prompting the elimination of some of Landauer’s fellow alliance members. Those losses included Thomas – who was medically evacuated from the game when he accidentally scratched his cornea – and Alexander, who was voted off because she was perceived as physically weak and a liability in the immunity challenges.
Still, Landauer appeared to be in a comfortable position, with a member of the opposing alliance – Eddie Fox, a 23-year-old fireman and EMT – crediting her as one of the stronger female contestants left in the game.
That favorable dynamic changed, however, in last week’s episode, when contestants were reassigned within the tribes based on the color of paint inside randomly assigned eggs. Fans ended up comprising a 3-4 minority on both tribes, giving the favorites the upper hand.
While Landauer initially expressed a “sense of relief” at being assigned to the new Bikal tribe – where two of her closest allies, Bischoff and Snow, would join her – her new team was physically ill matched against the new Gota tribe, putting the Bikal at a severe disadvantage in subsequent immunity challenges.
Moreover, Landauer also seemed to struggle to socially integrate herself into her new tribe, where the returning players adhered to their “favorites” alliance. Those players also criticized Landauer in on-camera confessionals as quiet and strategically inactive.
Corinne Kaplan, a previous contestant on “Survivor: Gabon” known for confessionals attacking fellow contestants, alleged that Landauer “does not contribute anything, except a nasally voice.” John Cochran, a veteran of “Survivor: South Pacific,” would later compare Landauer unfavorably to the flavor vanilla, in a sound bite that quickly went viral on social networking sites.
“I’m tempted to say that she has a vanilla personality, but I feel like that would be a great disservice to the flavor vanilla,” Cochran claimed.
That same reserved approach, however, unexpectedly became one of Landauer’s greatest assets on the island. Last week, returning players mistook it for confidence that she would survive another round through the possession of a hidden immunity idol, which can be used to invalidate votes cast against the possessor at a tribal council. In the event that a hidden immunity idol is played, the contestant with the second-highest number of votes against him or her is eliminated from the game.
For that reason, the Bikal tribe decided to eliminate Bischoff – rather than Landauer – after losing last week’s immunity challenge. Even as Landauer survived, however, she received two votes for elimination from Bischoff and Snow, emphasizing her precarious position if her tribe were to lose another challenge.
When that eventuality occurred on Wednesday night, Bikal reconvened their tribal council, during which Landauer’s efforts to target Phillip Sheppard – a returning player who is famous for wearing pink underwear and giving fellow contestants “stealth” nicknames – failed to fracture the favorites’ majority alliance.
While the tribal council’s vote was initially tied 3-3 between the two remaining fans – Landauer and Snow – a tie-breaking revote sent Landauer packing by a 4-0 margin.
After her torch was snuffed by “Survivor” host Jeff Probst, Landauer turned back to face her fellow tribe mates and, bowing, told them, “It’s been fun. Good luck.”
Landauer’s Twitter followers quickly jumped to her defense following her elimination, especially taking exception to Cochran’s assertion that the Stanford junior’s personality was “vanilla.”
“Racecar driver @julialandauer is as far from vanilla as anyone I know!” tweeted Angela Becerra Vidergar, a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature whose course Landauer took before travelling to the Philippines to film “Survivor” last spring. “Stanford love! #Survivor #TeamJulia good run!”
Even Kaplan took to Twitter to clarify her description of Landauer.
“For the record, @julialandauer is an m’er f’ing racecar driver,” she tweeted. “She doesn’t need to do anything else to be extraordinary in my book.”