Survivor: “It’s Do Or Die”
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"We're both totally coming back to play this game again someday." "Yep."
"We're both totally coming back to play this game again someday." "Yep."

Survivor: “It’s Do Or Die”

A strong season deserves a strong winner

Is Tony the most unlikely likely Survivor winner ever? From the beginning of the game, he put himself in the spotlight by playing hard. Most of the time it seemed far too hard and far too out in the open to remain a successful lasting strategy, but somehow he always managed to make big moves and avoid most of the fallout, at least in the short term. Tony’s game appeared to be somehow simultaneously off-the-cuff and highly strategic, and this—combined with a great, likable cast—made for a resoundingly satisfying season.

Jeff spent a lot of time during the live show and interstitials extolling this season as one of the best of all time. Whether or not you agree with that bit of Probstian hyperbole, much of the reason for this season’s success lies in the fact that while Tony was playing a winner’s game from day one, there was always enough spontaneity and recklessness in his game to leave the door open for it to all fall apart. How many times did it seem like there was no way he could get away with a big move? Then something would shift—like Trish talking Kass into switching sides and taking out Sarah—and Tony would be back on top. Some of this was pure serendipity, but a lot of it was simply Tony making moves and then figuring out a way to sculpt the narrative around those moves so that the people left in the game didn’t feel taken advantage of. It was pretty impressive stuff.

The finale itself is a fairly tame one (especially in comparison to an extremely lively season) simply because there weren’t a lot of options left at this point for surprises. As soon as Spencer lost immunity the suspense lessened further, because there was no way anyone was going to let Spencer within whiffing distance of the jury, especially not Tony. Spencer laid out a somewhat plausible scenario to Tony as to why getting rid of Woo would be a smarter move than getting rid of him, but it’s almost as if by making that argument Spencer was just digging his grave even more, because why would Tony want to take a person who can spin strategy so well to the finals? Tony does the only thing he can do and votes out Spencer, the one person left who it felt could really challenge him for the win in the final two.

But first Tony has to get there, which means either winning immunity or leaving his fate in either Woo or Kass’ hands to take him with them. Their fate is decided by one of the absolute best challenges Survivor has ever done—a massive, complex, gorgeous maze followed by an equally cool cog and gear puzzle at the end. It’s the kind of spectacle challenge this show does best, and Survivor makes the most of it, using sweeping helicopter wide shots to show off their technical prowess. Luckily the challenge turns out to be fun to watch in addition to beautiful, right down the the very last second when Woo pulls out a win.

It’s here where the finale gains a bit of intrigue, if only for a brief moment. Woo’s best move—his only move, really—is to vote Tony out and take Kass to the finals. Woo just isn’t the player that makes that move, though, so although it’s in his best interest he goes on the idea of “loyalty” and sticks to his alliance with Tony. It makes for a bit of a weird jury experience, because although Woo is a surprisingly good speaker who gives a decent performance during jury questioning, it’s fairly clear from the start that not many of the jurors really respect Woo’s game all that much. They respect Woo just fine (it’s his game that’s the issue), so when the votes are read it doesn’t come as a surprise at all to see Tony run away with the win.

So thus ends a surprisingly strong season of Survivor. It went out with a bit of a whimper but certainly a deserving winner. Take note, Survivor producers: Casting is everything. All-new casts can be great casts. And never, ever forget: Redemption Island is the worst.

See you for Blood vs. Water II!

Stray observations:

  • Let’s talk about the idea Survivor players always seem to have that swearing on loved ones, graves, etc. means anything at all. It’s meaningless! All Tony did was exploit this meaninglessness! You’re all the suckers for believing him!
  • Biggest jury surprise? That Tasha voted for Woo. I figured her for a strategy vote for sure.
  • Second biggest jury surprise? That Spencer practically did a campaign speech for Tony during his jury question. Calm down, bro.
  • I don’t trust the jury straw poll in the reunion show saying they would have all voted for Woo if he had brought Kass. They watched the show. That vote is tainted.
  • Family visit at final four is much later than they normally do them, right? The family visit itself was kind of a dud, but Kass’ come-from-behind immunity win while the family members watched was damn impressive.
  • Pretty sure Woo still doesn’t know what happens if there is a tie in the vote with four people left. Thumb war?
  • If Kass got to jury her planned strategy was going to be that the other women think she’s a bitch, so she’ll argue that she played like a man. Kass, you can “play like a man,” whatever that means, and not be an asshole.
  • The live show interstitials during the finale were mostly useless, but we learned one interesting bit of trivia: As soon as the players get voted out at Tribal, they go to medical and get evaluated and weighed.
  • Tyler Perry, there is no justification for your idol. But you did redeem yourself a bit by hilariously saying you didn’t want Tony to find it.
  • “Oh, damn, I look good!” Charming to the end, that Woo.

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