At the end of every season Probst congratulates the contestants and says something like, “This was one of our best seasons ever, if not the very best.” This season I think I actually agree with him. This was a fantastic season and virtually every player was a real joy to watch. Old players I thought were washed up came back to surprise me, and new favorites got their comeuppance in some satisfying ways.
Let’s start by talking about (and then never mentioning again) Colby. He lost immunity, then was voted out. No surprises here, right? Good.
The final immunity challenge was a blindfolded maze, which is fun because lol @ people bangin’ into shit. Russell won this challenge, but only very narrowly. The person who wins the final immunity is always in a very powerful position; not only are they guaranteed to make the finals, but they can create a “you’re with me or against me” situation. There’s no way to go against the immune player without forcing a tie, and ties are always bad news. This means Russell essentially gets to pick who goes home, and he picked Jerri.
Jerri would observe later, during the reunion show, that during her first game she was such a hated bitch people couldn’t wait to get rid of her. During her third game she had so many friends people couldn’t risk keeping her around. Looking back on the season as a whole, I really wasn’t as disgusted with Jerri as I probably came off. She’s still a terrible player — don’t get me wrong — but she didn’t stink up the screen the way Coach did.
And that brings us to final trib– no, wait. Sandra threw Russell’s hat in the fire. That was funny. Remember when Russell threw Jiason’s socks in the fire for no reason? Well, Sandra had a reason. She couldn’t get rid of Russell, but she could at least get rid of his stank-ass hat. I about doubled over laughing.
And that brings us to final tribal council, where it quickly becomes clear Russell simply doesn’t have a shot in hell. This situation is totally wacky because it means the game comes down to which of the two previous winners will take the prize.
There was something else unusual about tribal council: nobody on the jury got up their and embarrassed themselves. There wasn’t a lot of talk about hope and rainbows and friendship, etc. There was some talk about breaking promises and telling nasty lies, but that was all directed at Russell, and — get this — I think it was spot on.
Usually, when the friendship card gets played, it’s because the juror is hella butthurt and looking for some excuse to not vote for the guy who kicked them out. I find these arguments pointless and tiresome, and very much “outside the game”. This season, though, the “you lied! you lied!” arguments were very much inside the game. This season wasn’t characterized by put-out jurors who were unable to play properly, but by a finalist who only managed to play 95% of the game well.
During the reunion, after Russell learned he had lost again, he consistently and repeatedly claimed he “didn’t care” about the jury’s perception of him. He likes to play hard — super hard in fact — but he does it with no consideration for that all-important final council. Juries are emotional and irrational, and a smart player will remember that during the game.
Richard Hatch won with “I played hard, but that’s the game. Put your emotions aside and vote for the best player.” That was ten years ago, and it’s not really what Russell was selling. His argument was more like “I was a dick to everyone, but that’s how I play, and if you don’t play how I play you are not worthy.” Unfortunately, he was sitting next to two people who had played amazing games.
Coach gave a nice little speech about honor etc. that didn’t make me want to throw up too much. Danielle got in Russell’s face about how much everyone hates him. Everyone else just sort of said their piece and sat back down. They showed us enough votes for Sandra and Parvati that there were no illusions of where the race was by the time we got to the live show.
And Sandra won, 5-4. First ever two-time winner.
I decided to watch the reunion show because 1) nobody in this season was a dud and 2) several folks had already told me it was worth watching. It definitely was. The initial conversation was dominated by: is Sandra the best player ever? The answer is more complicated than could be answered in the five or six minutes they spent on it at the reunion. Every season is a different game with different variables, and what works against one group of people might damn you against another.
Still though, it’s hard to dispute the evidence: two wins.
At the end, I feel like the most heroic villain won… if that makes sense. You lose if you’re too heroic, which is why Rupert has spent so much time slumming it on the jury. And you lose if you’re too villainous, which is why Russell can only ever come within eyeshot of the check. Survivor is a game where you have to know when to give and when to take — and Sandra does.
Some thoughts on various players this season:
I wish Tom and Steph had stayed in longer. The two of them had this dynamic in Palau where they wanted to play together, and would have done really well together, but tribal lines simply prohibited it. I think this was a case where the old guard couldn’t compete with the new hotness — players like Amanda and James and J.T. were simply too much for them.
Speaking of James… it seemed to me walked into the reunion with a noticable limp. Did he do permanent damage to his knee?
Russell. Ah, my boy. I don’t need to see you ever play again, man. I loved watching you two seasons in a row, but I’ve seen your game inside and out at this point. You can’t win, and it’s clear you don’t even understand how to win. You’re a great character and I’m sure you’ll be part of Survivor lore forevermore, but next time there’s a comeback season I hope they leave you home.
Ditto Parvati! I loved how your game evolved between your first and second outings, but it’s sort of plateued now. You won in Micronesia because you had the good sense to cut your allies at the right moment. You contrasted yourself with Coach by saying you’re not a dragon slayer, but rather a dragon tamer… and well, can’t the tamer be held accountable for the dragon’s actions? That’s exactly why you didn’t win again.
J.T., didn’t deserve that Dumbest Move Ever award. He made a stupid move, but he made it with imperfect information. Not only didn’t he know there wasn’t a women’s alliance, he also didn’t really know who Russell was or what his game was like. I still say Erik deserves the grand boobie crown, and it’s going to take a lot to dethrone him.
Boston Rob made a comment to the effect of players being smarter now. I think that’s very true, and it was most evident in the face-off between Rob and Russell. Rob played it like he was in Survivor 8; Russell played it like he was in Survivor 20. Watching the metagame evolve from season to season is one of my favorite aspects of Survivor. I hope things really get stepped up in Nicaragua this fall.
See you there, Survivor fans!