“King Arthur’s journey is officially ended.” –Coach
“The Heroes built it and the Villains burned it.” –Parvati
“This is how I hustle, this is how I make my money: I come out here and play Survivor. That’s what I’m best at.” –Sandra
“If she can win the game twice, there is a flaw in the game.” –Russell
Perhaps it was because it was clear that one of the two people I thought should win was going to win. Perhaps it was because the voting went almost exactly as I expected,* from five down to four down to three down to one. Or perhaps it was because I wrote those 2,000 fawning words about the euphoria of a Survivor season finale.
*Qualification time: I said “almost exactly.” Even though I said Parvati was the favorite, I thought we would get to a Final Three of Russell, Parvati, and Sandra, and that Sandra would win in that scenario (I thought 4-3-2 before the final tribal and 5-3-1 after it, with JT sticking with Russell. He didn’t.).
But I have to admit, there was something a little disappointing about last night’s finale. Let’s review it (you can also skip down to “The Disappointment of It All” if you think you’re above a quasi-analytical recap):
FROM FIVE TO FOUR
It started with highlights from the players’ previous Survivor experiences, and what struck me most was the difference in the reactions of Colby and Russell when they each lost. I had forgotten just how likable Colby was on Australia; I mean, he jumped up and fist-pumped the moment he lost because he was excited for Tina! What a guy! Russell, meanwhile, looked like the sorest loser in Survivor history–a designation he would add to later.
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The night the first Survivor finale aired in the summer of 2000 is oddly salient in my memory. My parents were on vacation, so my cousin was staying with us, and I remember having to go with her to drive my brother to a friend’s house quickly before the finale started–except that I was kind of ashamed of falling prey to this reality TV thing, so I never mentioned it, and we had trouble finding the house on a secluded street, and I was panicking in the back seat because I wanted Rudy to win so badly, and we ended up getting home about two minutes after the episode started. Even today, when I pass that secluded street, I think immediately of that night.
Like I said, oddly salient.
Although the Survivor finale that night didn’t give me the result I wanted, it certainly did deliver. It gave us arguably the landmark moment in reality television and a winner who, while unpopular with many, was probably the best the show could have had for its long-term health.*
*The polarity of opinions on Richard Hatch and how he played the game remains an issue 20 seasons into the game. Does controlling the game and risking the alienation of others constitute playing it the best? Or is it better to lay low, ride coattails, and hope your opponent is voted against? It’s a subjective stance, and it’s what makes the finale so interesting time after time.
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“Are you with me or are you against me?”
“I’m against you, Russell.”
“Who invited Boston Rob to the party: Are you with me or are you against me?”
For the second time in this season of Survivor, we were coming off an explosive, landscape-shaking Tribal Council. Just as Russell’s earlier victory over Boston Rob, his decision to ax Danielle last week reshaped the final days of this season. And just like earlier, the episode after the big move couldn’t possibly live up to its predecessor.
Even with reduced expectations, “Loose Lips Sink Ships” was disappointing. You can even make a case it was the worst episode of the season; it was easily the least dramatic since at least the merger. It almost felt like an early-season episode. There was a long “Previously on Survivor” (if a justifiably long one; even I had forgotten there were two Tribals last week), they showed the entire theme song (you know it’s an action-packed episode when they skip the intro song), and they spent a lot of time on mundane camp stuff like treemail (I don’t know if you realized, but it was sponsored by Sprint) and Rupert’s inconsiderate late-night wood-chopping.
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“I’m not fully in control of this game right now; me and Parvati are equally in control, and that makes me worried.” –Russell
“He’s getting outplayed by me AND DANIELLE at this point.” –Parvati on Russell
“Russell is insane.” –Danielle
Bravo, Survivor. You gave us an episode that matched this season’s earlier showdown between Boston Rob and Russell at a far more significant and usually predictable part of the season. And somehow, through two more immunity challenges that neither won, through another hunt for a hidden idol that neither found, and through two more tribals, Rupert and Colby are still standing.*
*This is especially astonishing in Colby’s case, considering he wasn’t even a member of the top alliance within the Heroes’ camp. I remember thinking how strange it was he even made it to the merge, and now he’s in the final six!
The episode started with the fallout from Candice’s betrayal of the Heroes in voting out Amanda last week. That left the Heroes down to two remaining members, Rupert and Colby, with the former describing Candice as “weak, pathetic, self-centered, and manipulative” before saying in almost Coach-speak, “Colby and I are on a stranded ship. There are no other heroes.”
Rupert then decided to go off on Russell at breakfast, calling him a “disgusting” human being who cared only for himself. Russell naturally didn’t back down, and the two digressed into a much-beeped argument that didn’t really go anywhere.*
*This episode had about as much cursing as any I can remember in the show’s history.
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“This is ridiculous! Colby!” –Danielle
“I didn’t even see what happened. I was watching Treasure Island.” –Colby
“Jumping Ship” established its premise early: Led by Rupert, the Heroes would try to sway Sandra to their side; Russell would counter by trying to get Candice to come over to the dark side. The vote would almost solely be determined by their respective yet intertwined decisions. Both seemed receptive to the offers of the one-time opposition. Sandra still wanted Russell gone while Candice appeared persuaded by Russell’s not-quite promise to take her to the top three.
Things got more interesting after the Reward Challenge, which split the nine into three teams of three to play “Survivor Shuffle,” a form of shuffleboard. In relatively unsuspenseful fashion, Colby snuck within Russell’s puck on the game’s final turn to win it for the Blue team, which also included Danielle and Amanda. The prize had to be one of the most incongruous Survivor awards ever: a trip to author Robert Louis Stevenson’s house (now a museum) that would include a tour, a viewing of the theatrical version of Treasure Island, and a night in a bed. Danielle and Amanda instantly began thinking about the possibility of a hidden immunity idol, completely ignoring ALL the fascinating aspects of the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, which housed original copies of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Kidnapped, AND Treasure Island! As someone who has marveled at the L. Ron Hubbard House in DC, I was really put off by their lack of interest.
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