For this installment of my Survivor Rewind series, I decided to watch the tenth season of the show, Survivor: Palau. Now, instead of the usual rundown of the seasons ups and downs like I usually do, I think I’ll have to structure this blog a little different for Palau. Instead, this blog more or less should be titled ‘Why Survivor: Palau is the best season in the show’s history’ because…well, it might just be. This season had incredibly fun game play, some of the best drama and storylines, and some of the most likeable contestants the show has seen, in my honest opinion. I’m not sure one blog is going to fully capture just how much I love this season, but I’m certainly going to try. Here are some of my thoughts on one of the best seasons of Survivor ever:
- It was obvious pretty early on that season ten would be unlike any other season we had seen before. All twenty (yes that’s right, 20!) contestants were dropped off near a beach and given a boat to row to shore where immunity would be waiting for the first male and female who get to it on shore. Never before had contestants on the show fought for their life in the game on day 1, yet it appeared as if that was going to be a twist this season. When Jolanda and Ian won the respective immunities, I think the cast certainly expected some answers as to what the hell was going on, but the producers decided to really keep everyone on edge a little longer. For the first day all contestants lived on the same island, without any mention of tribes or how the immunities would come into play. I think this will go down as my favorite beginning of a season, everything was very up in the air, and the way it was presented on TV really kept you guessing where they were gonna go with structuring the season, something that’s never been in question before. After a day of suspense, Jeff Probst finally came around camp to let the cast know that there will be a schoolyard pick and only eighteen people will continue on. It was quite the bombshell, and a really fascinating move by the show to take two people out before the first challenge. In the end, it was happy-singing Wanda and boat jumper Jonathan who were not selected. It was a harsh turn for the show, but it went to prove that this would be a special season, one that would have to be fought from the first minute ‘til the last; just the way it should be.
- One of the main reasons why Survivor: Palau was one of the most entertaining seasons in the show’s history was because of its great subplots, and as far as I’m concerned there have been few better in the show’s run than that of the Ulong tribe and their epic futility. No tribe before (and no tribe since) has been wiped out completely in the game, yet Ulong became the very first tribe to go winless in immunity challenges, forcing them to vote out every member until one stood alone. Watching the trainwreck that was Ulong was truly riveting TV, they were a tribe of seemingly fit people who could never muster up that extra bit of effort to be victorious, and it was equal parts sad and entertaining. The Ulong tribe had some fairly interesting characters that made their trials and tribulations interesting. First there was James Miller, dubbed the ‘Oracle of Ulong’ on a fan-made YouTube video, whose enthusiasm and team belief provided great ironic narration of the tribe. It seemed like every time he said something in a confessional it was sign of doom because the exact opposite of whatever he predicted came true every time. Then there was Angie, the tattooed, punk-looking woman who was chosen last, but proved to be strong in challenges, one of the bright spots of the team. If it wasn’t for a great surprise twist at tribal council, where the Koror team got to vote a member to get immunity, she would have stayed in the game a bit longer. In the end, it was fitting that the two strongest, hardest working members of the team Bobby Jon and Stephenie stood alone facing the eight man Koror. In a tough fought eating challenge, Stephenie and Bobby Jon fell just short, forcing an unprecedented situation where one tribe would be completely decimated until only one member remained. Since no vote could be held, the two had to face off in an immunity challenge at Tribal Council, where they had to build a fire and burn a suspended rope first. Even though Stephenie went in lacking some confidence, she ended up advancing, becoming the lone remaining Ulong member in the game. In my opinion, a big part of the success of this season can be attributed to the failure of Ulong. Even though it was occasionally painful to watch them struggle to compete and survive in the game, their futility became an extremely exciting subplot in the season, keeping me on the edge of my seat waiting to see if they could ever pull through. Ulong may forever go down as the worst tribe in Survivor history, but at least they will surely be remembered.
- While Ulong were the lovable losers, Koror were a group of Survivor superheroes, featuring some really memorable characters that went on to dominate the gameplay with heart and courage. A mixed group of old and young, athletic and non-athletic competitors, Koror was able to rally together as a team behind really strong leadership, primarily from Tom Westman, a New York firefighter, Ian Rosenberger, a dolphin trainer, and Gregg Carey, a business professional. Those three were able to put their team on their backs during challenges, and built a really solid alliance with Jenn and Katie on board. The Koror tribe had its fair share of characters, with the likes of hairdresser Coby, who found himself to be a surprisingly strong team player, if not a bit of a rabble-rouser, and Janu, the Vegas showgirl who bit off a bit more than she could chew out on the island. Despite being a team of misfits, they all bonded, and they bonded strong, winning challenge after challenge, dominating the survival aspects of the game, and even catching a shark! Tom and Ian in particular seemed like true Survivor heroes from the get-go, strong, likeable team players who were steadfast with both their words and their actions. Koror was all-around a great tribe to watch, it never got boring with them even though their winning was predictable, and the end-game of the season where they had to cannibalize their tribe was quite fun to watch.
- Palau had a very strange merge as only one player remained from the Ulong tribe, Stephenie, who was essentially absorbed into the remaining Koror tribe (Willard was voted out earlier in a double elimination episode). Still, drama was found around every corner of the post-merge game as we got to see what would happen when a tribe that’s lived together uninterrupted for twenty something days had to turn on each other. With Stephenie joining the tribe, the easiest course of action would be for the eight Koror tribe members to get rid of her first, but the cracks in the armor proved a bit too much for Koror to hold steady, as Coby’s loose lips made him a very easy target for first elimination. Next it was Janu’s turn to leave the game, only she did it on her own accord, graciously stepping out of the game because she didn’t have the spirit to play that Stephenie had, and didn’t want to stay in a situation she didn’t want to be in. Janu’s quit was the first time quitting the game was played out in a positive light, a serious turn from Jeff’s harsh behavior towards Osten in the Pearl Islands when he decided to quit. Janu was portrayed as selfless for quitting, giving up a spot for someone who wanted to stay in the game and taking the game and its strategy into her own hands, which was both a refreshing take and an extremely odd way for the show to edit a quitter. Still, even though Janu and Coby were outsiders on Koror, they still seemed like heroes for brashly being themselves, a testament to the character of the tribe and the environment created by everyone at camp. Stephenie’s time was finally up at the Tribal Council of the final seven when she couldn’t get all the women on board for an all-women’s alliance since loyalties ran deep in the Koror group, and the big five of Koror had the game on lock. That was, of course, until a contentious pecking order reward challenge split the alliance straight down the middle.
- Survivor just loves having that pecking order challenge in seasons because it always seems to be a point of divisiveness, and this season was no different. Gregg managed to win, only after asking his game partner Jenn permission to make certain moves. Everyone expected him to take Jenn with him on reward, and he did, but when prompted to take another player with him, he chose Katie, thereby turning his back on the stronger competitors like Tom and Ian. Caryn, who was on the outs, used the day at camp trying to convince Tom and Ian that the all-female alliance that she nixed was targeting them as the first two out, and the three of them decided together to blindside Gregg, even if they could only force a 3-3 split. Ian had to leverage his sister-like bond with Katie at the last minute to make the move work, but all worked out as planned and Gregg was the first true blindside of the game, going out in sixth place. From here, everything fell apart into tears, hurt feelings and drama as Ian and Katie fought each other over perceptions of betrayal and Tom and Ian squabbled over matters of honesty and integrity in the game. Koror fell so fast from being a happy home to a quiet, bitter hell for the hungry, tired and stressed final five, and while Caryn and Jenn were the ones to go to the jury, they left a trail of tears behind them, ripping apart alliances with accusations. At the final three immunity, the once strong bond between Tom, Katie, and Ian was gone, and the final immunity turned into an ‘every man for themselves’ battle. The challenge itself was simple; hold onto a large pole over the water as long as you can, and the battle raged on for hours and hours. Even Katie, who was not particularly amazing in challenges, gave it a hard battle, but it came down to Ian and Tom, as it seems like it had been building up to be all along. Hours passed by and neither of them flinched, making for a really exciting challenge on TV, and assumedly a very boring one in person for the cast and crew. Tom and Ian bantered back and forth every once in a while about whether or not one would step down, but in the end Ian decided enough was enough. For the sake of his pride and the friendships that he sullied in the game, he decided to step down asking Tom to take Katie and vote him out. It was a shocking end to a shocking game for sure, but the reconnection between the three of them after the challenge made it pretty worth it; despite the fact that I would have preferred that challenge see its true end. Now no one could hold Tom back from claiming what he fought hard for, the million dollar check and title of Sole Survivor. Sure, the jury was very bitter, and gave them both a real tongue-lashing, but in the end everyone knew that the success of Koror had a lot to do with Tom’s great leadership skills and determination. Tom was a hero in his everyday life, fighting fires in one of the largest cities in the world, and he became a hero in camp and on television screens across America, carrying his team, providing for them, and showing the spirit of a champion from day one. Tom is one of the best winners Survivor has seen, a great competitor, and seemingly just a great guy in general.
Survivor: Palau was about as entertaining and exciting as any season of Survivor I’ve ever seen, and I don’t take that kind of hyperbole lightly. This season had all the twists and turns of a great season and then some, with the day 2 vote-offs, the lack of a merge, the organic way one tribe completely decimated the other, and the breakdown and rebuilding of friendships toward the end. It was wonderful television all the way, with tied votes, eccentric characters, heroes and villains alike. In the end, the season ended with the crowning of a fantastic winner in Tom Westman, a guy who worked hard and became a fan favorite because he typified all the traits of a great Survivor player. I think it’s tough to say what season of the show is my favorite, I love some seasons more than others for sure, but Palau will always go down as one of my favorite seasons to watch, just because it had a little bit of everything; intrigue, excitement, great play, hilariously bad play, drama, and so many more things than all of that. Survivor: Palau is about as good as the show gets, if you love Survivor, if you just like it, or even if you don’t know the show well, do yourself a favor and go back to watch this season, I guarantee you it will not disappoint you!