Survivor Survival Guide: Previewing the Finale

It’s really the finale already? Sure doesn’t seem like it, does it, what with the eight castaways still having a chance and only a single big move made all season, way back in the third episode, right?

It’s nigh impossible to judge this 22nd season of Survivor and its concomitant introduction of Redemption Island now, on the day of the finale episode, since so much about the season has yet to be defined. This is true to an extent of every season, but how Redemption Island plays out in tonight’s finale will go a long way toward determining how this season is remembered. If one of the four remaining castaways on Redemption — Matt, Mike, Andrea and Grant — comes back to win the game, well, it couldn’t help but cheapen the concept just a little.

So it is with more trepidation than usual that I approach this finale, anxious not only that someone I don’t want to win will walk away with $1M, but rather that someone I find overwhelmingly undeserving will.


1. What if Julie had gone with Russell, Stephanie, and Krista?

Because the Zapateras weren’t sure whether Russell had a hidden idol or not, they planned to split their six votes between Russell and Stephanie, meaning there’d be a tie with one of their own (Ralph, as it turned out). Russell knew that was the plan, and he and his alliance jumped on the weakest member of the six-man alliance: Julie, who had expressed serious reservations about throwing the previous challenge. This was always Russell’s best skill: isolating the person least in touch with his opposing alliance and getting them to do what he wants. Julie, for her part, didn’t buy in, even when I expected her to. I’m not sure if this would have bought Russell just one more cycle or if it would have sprung him to greater heights this season; it would certainly have altered the pre-merge Zapatera dynamic, though, if they had thrown a challenge to vote off Russell and failed to do so.

2. What if Sarita had beaten Matt in the final, pre-merge Redemption Island duel?

Had Sarita defeated Matt—and remember she had a sizable lead—it would have been 6-6 going into the merge instead of 7-5 Ometepe. Now, you’re thinking that Rob voted off Matt anyway, and so this probably wouldn’t have mattered much. But Matt didn’t vote with Zapatera in that tribal, and his telling Rob he would stick with Ometepe allowed Rob the luxury of both voting him off and not worrying about his own safety (and possibly playing his idol). If it were Sarita there, Rob might play the idol (thinking he’d be the main target) or we could’ve ended up with a tie decided by picking a rock or starting a fire or something like that. Game changer.

3. What if Ralph hadn’t played his hidden immunity idol so quickly?

Ralph was so gosh-darn happy to find that thing that he forgot how to use it. By playing it in the first post-merge tribal, he rendered that advantage useless and his tribe helpless against the series of eliminations that followed. Hanging on to the idol would have likely forced Rob to play his at some point, as Ometepe would have had to split its votes time and again in order to be sure it would knock off a Zapatera member. This was the single biggest mistake in the game.


Bronze Medals












Silver Medals









Gold Medals









The Single Most Intriguing Possible Final Three



Look, if Rob isn’t in the Final Three, it’s probably not going to be very interesting, because it’s hard to argue that anyone else really deserves to win all that much. I threw in two with Natalie, Ashley, and former Ometepe members in Redemption Island because I think Andrea and Grant can make compelling cases that, despite being voted off, they deserve to win more than Natalie or Ashley.

Overall, though, the most interesting dynamic will be if it’s Rob with Natalie—whom he has perhaps overpromised to and I don’t think should be taking quite this far—and Mike, the one player on Redemption Island who has tight connections with all the Zapatera jurors. Incidentally, I think Mike would win this final trio, just as I think he’ll win every final three he gets into.



I think someone from Redemption Island is going to get into the Final Three, and I think Grant—as disappointing as he has been in some challenges of late (which we’ll get to later)—has the best chance of those four. Matt’s been too fatalistic for me, and we’ve seen Grant dominate Mike before in a challenge. Andrea’s pretty good at challenges, you know, for a girl.

Furthermore, if the winner of Redemption Island goes back into the game before the Final Three, Grant has the best chance of sticking around by either winning immunity or playing the alliance card.


It will be interesting to see what kind of challenge they do to decide who goes back into the game (not to mention when that person goes back into the game). Survivor has tended to go with focus-driven challenges at the most important times of late. I’m thinking here of the Fans v. Favorites marble challenge with Parvati, Amanda, and Cirie; the house of cards challenge that Susie and Jerri won (and which they used earlier this season on Redemption); and the coins on the sword hilt challenge used last season that JudFabio won to earn his way into the Final Three. In a challenge like that, I would pick Mike and then Andrea to win over Grant or Matt.


David: Mike, Rob, Matt, Grant, Andrea, Natalie, Ashley, Philip

Julie: Mike, Matt, Andrea, Rob, Natalie, Grant, Ashley, Philip

Steve: Mike, Rob, Andrea, Matt, Grant, Natalie, Ashley, Philip

Ralph: Mike, Andrea, Matt, Grant, Natalie, Ashley, Rob, Philip

I think they all dislike Philip and would pay tribute to Rob in varying degrees (David certainly the most likely in this latter regard).


Rob: Natalie, Grant, Philip, Ashley, Matt, Mike, Andrea

Natalie: Rob, Ashley, Grant, Andrea, Philip, Matt, Mike

Ashley: Natalie, Rob, grant, Andrea, Matt, Mike, Philip

Philip: Rob, Andrea, Mike, Matt, Grant, Natalie, Ashley

Mike: Matt, Natalie, Grant, Rob, Andrea, Ashley, Philip

Matt: Andrea, Mike, Grant, Natalie, Ashley, Philip, Rob

Andrea: Matt, Mike, Natalie, Ashley, Rob, Grant, Philip

Grant: Rob, Natalie, Ashley, Philip, Andrea, Matt, Mike

I think there will be a tendency among those on Redemption Island to vote for someone from Redemption Island, since they know how difficult that process was (especially Matt and Mike). Rob would probably enjoy giving a young girl like Natalie the money if it’s not for him (he’d probably win fan favorite anyway).


Out of the 28 scenarios, Rob wins 10, Mike wins six, Matt wins three, Andrea wins three, Grant wins three, and Natalie wins two. Ashley and Philip are shut out. There would be one tie (Rob/Natalie/Matt) broken in Rob’s favor when Ashley switches the lone vote for Natalie over to Rob. So 11 for him.


Natalie’s chances to win are probably better than anyone’s outside of Rob and maybe Mike. I’d be very surprised if she weren’t in the Final Three, and if she’s there against Rob and Ashley or Philip, she can probably draw some votes from those who want to punish Rob for voting him off. Outside of Mike, the I only think the Redemption Islanders can win if Rob is not involved.


All this said, I don’t know how the jurors will factor in Redemption Island to the final calculus. Personally, I’d have a very hard time voting for someone to win the season when that person had actually been voted out once before—especially considering how much easier it has become to stay on Redemption Island in these four-man competitions that eliminate one contestant at a time. If Matt had continued winning one-on-one duels throughout the season, then yeah, you can make a case for him to win. Right now, though, it’s hard to consider any of these people especially deserving of the prize.

That’s my opinion, and I very much doubt it’s the majority one held by those who will constitute the jury.


8. Matt: Look, it’s nice that he’s lasted this long on Redemption Island, but you can’t win Survivor if you never actually play the game. And he’s too religiously fatalistic even for me.

7. Grant: If he ever made one move…

6. Andrea: In retrospect, she didn’t have a chance not because Matt threw her under the bus when he got back from Redemption, but because she hung out with him in the very beginning. Would have been a totally different game otherwise for her. My aversion to her winning is predicated almost solely on my aversion to anyone from Redemption winning.

5. Mike: I kind of like Mike, so I wouldn’t feel quite so bad if he won from Redemption. Still can’t say he’d deserve it, though.

4. Natalie: It’s cute that she’s young and naïve, but those shouldn’t be the qualities we espouse in a sole survivor.

3. Ashley: At least she’s tried to pull some strings behind the scenes of late. And if she’s going to win, she’d probably have to finally make one of those moves work. More important, what other contestant finished third in the America East Conference in scoring while a college basketball player?

2. Philip: There’s a big-time caveat here, which is that for Philip to have any chance of winning, he’s going to have pull a kind of magic trick. He’s alluded to a great speech he can give against Rob, although I doubt he’s much of an orator given his enunciatory problems. But if Philip reveals this was all an act—I don’t think it is, but there’s that tiniest of possibilities—well then, I’d like to see him rewarded.

1. Rob: Who else could it be? The quandary is that, if Rob wins, it will almost certainly not be in exciting fashion. But let’s face it: He’s long been a Survivor favorite—and for better reasons than Russell—and it would be nice if he could finally win it himself.


8. Matt: For virtually the same reasons as above. He’s been in a tribe for like nine days. If he had kept winning legitimate duels, then I’d be less peeved by the idea of him winning. But as it is right now, it’s hard to say he wouldn’t be the least deserving champion of all-time—and perhaps, even less deserving than Dan would have been last season. Dan at least didn’t make enemies, which Matt was somehow able to do in nine days!

Additionally, it’s ridiculous that he didn’t bring his stuff to tribal after already being blindsided once.

7. Mike: Powerless to stop Ometepe’s onslaught, the only thing that separates Mike from his old teammates in the jury is he’s been slightly better at Redemption Island challenges. That’s not worth a lot in my book.

6. Grant: I thought Rob should have gotten rid of Grant way back when there were like eight people left (excluding those on Redemption Island). He seemed like a key physical threat that could manipulate his way into the Final Three. Now I realize that there are two reasons that wasn’t as big a concern for Rob. First, Grant never fulfilled his potential in the challenges. Second, he never did anything strategic, meaning if he found his way in the finals, he didn’t pose much of a jury threat. I thought he would be the one to backstab Rob; I’m disappointed not only that he didn’t try, but that he never seemed to consider it.

5. Andrea: On the one hand, she was bold enough to put herself in a position to make mistakes, which only Matt can say among the other seven remaining castaways. On the other hand, she made a lot of mistakes. She got too close to Matt early (don’t girls know you don’t overplay that hand by now? You got to do it Purple Kelly/JudFabio style), which hurt her when he came back. Also, she probably should have gone with Matt when he did return; by that point, she was too far down in the Ometepe pecking order. Finally, that she was blindsided with six people left is inexcusable.

4. Natalie: I guess you could say she was wise enough to ride the coattails of the most powerful player in the game, and to report back to him whenever anybody else even considered diverging from Rob’s plan. But Natalie has played this game like too many others who have made it this far of late, by refusing to actually do anything that would make them stand out.

3. Ashley: I said in the podcast that Ashley was my favorite of the females this season (well, after Stephanie was voted off), and that hasn’t changed. Sure, she’s been lazy, and she hasn’t performed as well in the challenges as Natalie or Andrea. But she’s shown a bit of strategic acumen—something Natalie hasn’t done—and she wasn’t voted off—something Andrea wasn’t able to avoid.

2. Philip: There’s different ways to get to the Final Three, and Philip has taken a more distinct path than most. He’s made himself seem so utterly contemptible that nobody could possibly vote for him, thus giving himself an excellent shot to earn free passage to the finals. Really, the strategy will end up doing the same for him that Russell’s did for him: It will get you to the finals, but not get you the votes. Unless Philip has a prestige coming…

1. Rob: Again, who else? Last season, I lamented the fact that we hadn’t seen a strong alliance in some time, one that really dominated the game. Well, we’ve seen a textbook one this season, one that was so well-organized that it has yet to fall victim to infighting and suspicion. That’s both a testament to Rob’s leadership and an indictment of his underlings’ incapacity for the insubordination necessary to win this game. It has been very easy for him, and if he and Russell had switched tribes at the start of the game, methinks their respective positions in the game might also have ended up swapped. Rob was able to exploit a tribe whose naivete and ease of manipulation was collectively represented by Natalie.

If Rob doesn’t win, it will be only because the jurors value their own loyalty to someone like Mike over the ideals of the game. Which is eminently possible, by the way, and impossible for Rob to defend against.





Rob’s wife Amber





It will be very interesting to see Russell react if Rob wins.


Who wins fan favorite? I speculated above that it’s Rob, but could he win both? And if not, who would be second in the pecking order? Matt?

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John S on May 15, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    I feel like you missed the most important “What If?” that you may have missed only because it was so obvious: What if Matt had actually followed through on his plan to blindside Rob on his return from Redemption Island? There are lots of ways this could have panned out: It could have worked completely, it could have totally backfired, or it could have been a tepid success. No matter what, though, it would have totally changed the way the last few weeks have gone.


  2. Posted by Richard Bonvie on May 8, 2015 at 4:59 PM

    You need to count better. Your predicted final of Grant-Rob-Natalie with your predicted order order of votes would also have left a 3-3-3. Granted it is based upon ridiculous presumptions (Mike voting for freaking Natalie over Grant or even Rob for instance, LOL!) In reality Grant would have cruhsed in that particular final 3, winning with 6 or 7 votes, with Rob getting the rest, and 0 for Natalie.


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