Thoughts On The Season Finale:
- After a very deflating penultimate episode which saw no action take place outside of Joe getting sick and being evacuated from the game, we finally got back to a little game action this week. With only the final four in play for the entirety of the two hour finale, and with the promise of a never before seen twist in the game, this episode was set up to be quite an excellent episode before it even started. Before there was even a challenge, the show set up how the relationships had broken down without Joe around; Cydney and Michelle were a tight pair, while Tai and Aubry were each hinging their games entirely on each other. It was really unfortunate for Aubry that her extra vote advantage, Joe, was evacuated from the game, because she was sitting so pretty with him and Tai on her side. Now, she was facing a fearsome pair of competitors Michelle and Cydney, and had to win immunity or face the real potential of elimination. The reward challenge came pretty fast after the pairs were established, and Aubry came through with a clutch victory, and did the really smart thing by sharing her food reward with Cydney. If there was any chance for Aubry to make it to the end, it was by sucking up to Cydney and convincing her that sticking with Michelle would be a bad idea, considering the jury. I’m not entirely certain if this was in her head, and judging from the fact that we just didn’t see it in their conversations I’m guessing it really wasn’t, but the hope was that giving Cydney a reward would boost her chances at winning immunity and keeping it out of Michelle’s hands. So when it came time for them to compete in their last(?) immunity challenge, Aubry and Cydney should’ve had an easy leg up, right? Well…this is Survivor, and things don’t really go as planned all that often. The challenge was to retrieve a bunch of keys to unlock puzzle pieces needed to build a three tier tower puzzle. When it came to the racing part of the challenge, the reward actually did seem to fuel Aubry and Cydney as they seemed to move the quickest of the four, but the puzzle rally kicked everyone’s ass. It was a struggle to get the pieces on every tier to fit together so that every level was even, but finally one person figured it out. Like the memorization challenge a few episodes before, this particular puzzle just clicked for Michele and she got it finished way ahead of anyone else, winning immunity and giving what’s probably her greatest single shot on the show by drop kicking the puzzle over in celebration. People will say a lot of things about Michele’s game, but one thing cannot be understated; she competed in challenges and fought like hell for her safety in the game. Michele was always a dangerous player because she was capable of making friends and winning challenges, a deadly combination that doesn’t require careful planning or intense strategy, but can be just as effective. In short, Michele kicked ass, and then kicked the puzzle for good measure!
- Between the two pairs active in the game, it seemed like the final four decision was going to come down to a deadlock. Michele famously told Cydney she didn’t really need to brush up on her fire-making skills because she thought Tai would side with them, but I think both Cydney and Michelle really underestimated the bond between Aubry and Tai. Even if Cydney pissed off more of the jury than Aubry, Tai still felt a kinship to Aubry, and forced the tie vote when Tribal Council came around. So, for the second time in three seasons, a fire-making challenge at Tribal was going to decide who advances to the final three. Aubry got out of the gate strong, building a strong and powerful fire that started to burn the rope, but just as she was about to win, her flame started dying, eventually going out completely. It was such an Aubry moment in this game, she thought she had a grasp on something, but then fate threw her a curveball and made things difficult. She did manage to recover well from her original failure, mostly because Cydney didn’t hone her skills properly (way to misguide your ally Michele!), and Aubry eventually got her fire back, burned her rope, and secured her final three spot. I’ve got to compliment Aubry on her game at this opportunity, before I spend the rest of this article totally trashing her game, because she did play one hell of a strong strategic game, and also showed up as a fierce competitor. Aubry didn’t dominate the game as some people on Twitter and Reddit would love to claim, but she did her damnedest to control her destiny, and achieved it for the most part from the time Nick was voted out and onwards. It was great to see Aubry pull out the fire challenge; I think she earned her spot in the end even if she was drawing dead with the jury.
- Was anyone else besides me thinking that we were heading for a final two? With the medevac situation so close to the end of the game, the whole schedule of the game got screwed up and I kind of thought they would end the season with a final two solely because that’s how many people would be left if they didn’t cancel a challenge. For this cast, I wouldn’t have really minded a final two too much, I think the final three in place would have a lot to play for in such a scenario, and I would have been very intrigued to see how the jury would have voted given any pairing besides Aubry and Michele (cause we do know how that was going to end up). But, Jeff didn’t tease about a twist, and I kept it in my head that he was going to bring something out that was going to change the game up a little, with maybe a reward challenge to earn an extra vote or something, but Jeff revealed an even more interesting twist, something I was hoping would be done some day; the ability to vote someone off the jury. I love this idea, solely because it creates an extra amount of strategy and drama to the end game, even though I do have to admit it seems like a pretty unfair deal for whatever juror gets the ax. It certainly has to be rough to be voted off the jury after you made it far into the game of Survivor, but it’s just another twist in an unfair game, and I think the drama of it all was well worth the unfairness. This twist made the challenge unbelievably critical because, based on the way the jury was made up, it seemed like Aubry and Michele probably had a fairly even split of the eight jurors in play. If either of them won, it could’ve probably turned the tides of the jury on their side, and it would be just that simple. Riding her end game momentum swing all the way to the end, Michele won the reward and got the distinct honor of being the first Survivor contestant to be able to vote out a member of the jury. What ensued that day as they prepared for a bit of an interesting Tribal Council was a lot of head games. Aubry initially thought voting out Joe was the obvious pick, but Tai made a very strong case that getting out Neal would be the best case scenario because of his lingual abilities. Tai was of course thinking that he might have at least a prayer of a chance at getting Joe’s vote whereas he had no relationship with Neal whatsoever. Aubry, realizing at this point that she may lose the game based on this one decision, did a damned good job trying to convince Michele to vote one of the wildcards out of the game, like Scot. I got super nervous watching it because I was admittedly very invested in Michele winning and I was watching her really give a lot more credence to Aubry’s pitches than she should have. If Aubry could have convinced Michele to vote out someone she would’ve received a vote from it basically would’ve been a two vote swing for her and more importantly it would’ve been a great argument she could’ve brought to the jury. But, Michele made the right call in the end, voting Neal off the jury, who threw a good bit of shade towards her on his way out. It was pretty clear from his parting words that Neal would’ve ripped Michele’s game to pieces, so she actually made quite a fantastic choice, better than I even realized. It was the crowning moment of Michele’s game in retrospect, making the right decision once again to set up a better Final Tribal Council for herself. She thought things through really well in the game, truly better than anyone else, and only looking back on it a few days later can I really gain good respect for her great decision-making under pressure.
- Let’s just skip ahead to the outcome, shall we? Michele won the game and the title of Sole survivor pretty handily over Aubry and Tai who got 2 and 0 votes respectively. Judging by the Final Tribal Council I thought it might have been a bit closer than all of that since both Michele and Aubry made great cases for their respective game play, but Michele was able to sway 5 votes and that was more than enough to claim victory. The great finale and ending we saw was kind of sullied by all of the social media and critic chatter afterwards, discussing bitter juries and whether or not the jury got the vote wrong. I’m mainly here writing this finale recap to explain why Michele is the correct, deserving victor of Kaoh Rong, and to a certain extent explain why I don’t think Aubry deserved to win. There might be a little bit of bias from me on this one because I did, unabashedly, pick Michele as my winner at my post-merge power rankings, but I really do see a great deal of merit in the way Michele played the game. You don’t have to look too far back into the tape to see the rationale for Michele winning the game, Aubry made the claim twice in previous episodes that Michele played a flawless social game with the jury, not burning a single one of them (with the sole exception of Nick) and keeping open and friendly relations with them throughout (which was something Aubry and Tai neglected to do). Michele managed to play that middle position much more secretly than anyone else who tried and failed to do it (like the rest of the merge Beauties) and somehow maintained great relationships without being divisive, something that you hardly ever see on Survivor. I really admire the game she played a lot, it sure wasn’t flashy or particularly great for TV, but it was exactly what she needed to do to earn the support of the jury she was playing with. I think viewers at home and keyboard warriors on the internet fail to understand the concept that every Survivor game has its own ethos, and that ethos is developed by the combination of unique individuals and circumstances that come together to make a Survivor season. It’s this fluctuating ethos that is the quintessential element of Survivor making it one of the greatest competitions on television, and so often players in the game lose because they can’t adapt to the collective ethos and earn their peers’ respect on the island, in the game. I love Michele as a winner because she adapted to the group ethos perfectly, and played a game that would allow her to look the jurors in the eyes in the end and ask for their support knowing she did everything she could to respect their games and play her own to the fullest at the same time. Make no mistake about it, the jury really did get this vote right because they rewarded the person who understood the unique game they were playing together the best.
- So, now that I’ve established why Michele was the right winner pick for this season, I do want to touch on why I don’t think Aubry deserved to win this game. It’s a perfectly legitimate opinion to have that multiple people deserved to win the game Survivor out of a single cast, but I really don’t see this game as a situation where anyone of them winning would have been great. I haven’t really been on the Aubry bandwagon this season, even though I can appreciate how hard she played. Aubry seemed to play a skittish, frenetic game for the entirety of the game, making many social faux pas’ as the game unraveled. Her time on the brains tribe started out badly as she almost folded under the elements after one day in the game, but to her credit, she shook off the elements and nerves and was integral in uniting her core alliance. But, after the tribe swap she made a terrible judgment call in writing Julia’s name down on a vote before crossing it out and casting the deciding vote against Peter instead. It was a fatal mistake, one that earned her some enemies and nearly wrecked her game. If it wasn’t for Neal getting evacuated from the game, she was probably going out as the first jury member because she screwed up that badly. After that, she had her stature as the only real strategist in the brains camp to thank for her newly found power position as Cydney decided to stop working with the men and transition over to a new alliance to remove Nick from the game. I think a lot of the credit for the maneuvering around the Nick vote really goes to Cydney, who ended up blowing her own game chances royally, but at least did so in an impressive way. I think Aubry lucked into someone else’s bad decision here, and while her end game of gaining Tai’s trust and swaying him from using the super idol was brilliant in a vacuum, in reality she seemed to play a game that was very detached from half the tribe. She betrayed one of her greatest allies, knowing that it would hurt her immensely, and chose not to work closely or communicate effectively with the minority alliance on the tribe. In effect, Aubry’s lack of game awareness lost her half the possible jury votes right off the bat, and that alone is a reason to be perfectly fine with the jury vote in the end. You have to give people a reason to vote to give you a million dollars, and being the greatest strategist around in the end isn’t always enough, and isn’t worthy of the title of Sole Survivor on it’s own. I think Aubry played a game of chess with Survivor, using the people as a means to an end, without realizing while she was doing it that people don’t appreciate getting played without any acknowledgment. I do understand what people see in Aubry’s game, and I don’t think seeing her win would’ve been the worst result of a season ever, but I also don’t get why people think she deserved to win more than Michele. I think I’ve outlined it pretty well here, you have to play an A+ social game to win the title of Sole Survivor, and Aubry simply did not do that. She played a great second place game, but anyone thinking she got robbed is over-exaggerating just a bit, in my opinion.
- After another really terrific season of Survivor, we’re getting treated to another fun season in the fall, as the 33rd edition of the game was teased at the finale. It’s going to be set in Fiji, which previously hosted season 14 of the show, and will feature a new twist pitting two prominent generations against each other with Millennials vs. Generation X. While the title could be a little better, I’m actually really into this twist because of the ideological debates and discussions it’s going to create. Survivor is always trying to divide people and pit them against each other for drama, and doing so by exploiting generational gaps is a very fun way at going about creating a season. We’ve seen the show do tribe splits where it’s been young vs. old before, but this adds an extra unifying element to the divide and it looks like they have a diverse and eccentric cast who’ll embrace the generation war fully. I think this season could be pretty fascinating, so I’m eagerly anticipating next season already!