Survivor crowns a new winner after a fairly tense finale

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Previously on Survivor, it was quite an up and down season with Andrea and Michaela most recently sent home. And heading into the finale, Sarah has a legacy advantage, Tai has two idols, and Troyzan has one, so who knows what’ll happen?

The season finale went really almost as I expected, except that I thought it’d be Sarah/Tai/Brad in the end. And if Sarah had chosen to vote in that last near-tie vote, I’d have been right! But until Brad started acting all jerkish, I was more alright with a bitter jury handing him the victory if he went on a challenge run. And then he apparently needed a product placement Snickers, so I was legitimately a bit worried he might win.

I’ll get back to the final Tribal Council in a bit.

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The first segment of votes was truly fascinating. Every immunity play left that could’ve been played was played, and the only person that didn’t need it was Troy. Although if he and Cirie had been the ones left, would Troy have gotten any votes? Cirie was the clear threat, yet Sarah and Aubry probably would’ve voted for Troy. Maybe.

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It was a bit surprising and also touching how Jeff Probst interrupted everything twice to get Cirie a great send off, once before she left the game, once back at the live audience. I can’t remember the last time he did that, if ever. It’s great how much respect he showed to the legendary player who got screwed over by not really doing anything wrong except not being as close to Tai as Aubry.

It’s funny how people were using a lot of very rational arguments; Tai was annoyed at Brad being bullying, yet he also knew Aubry would almost certainly beat him. I laughed several times over the course of this finale and reunion, and the first was when Aubry said she couldn’t wait to “watch these psychopaths.” She’s great, and it’s a shame we got so little footage of her; now we know why.

The final vote out of Tai really just made sense; he didn’t win immunity and didn’t sway Sarah into going for a firemaking challenge. It was a good argument, but it was a risky move, and Sarah clearly believed voting against Tai was a better chance to get to the end. Since it worked, it’s hard to argue against that.

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We saw a new way of doing the final Tribal Council, more like an ongoing conversation instead of people getting up and saying things or asking questions in turn. I like it, because it gives us chances to hear smart players like Cirie or Zeke give interesting insight, or watching Michaela acting rationally and maturely in the face of Debbie’s emotional craziness.

Plenty of great moments were here, like Michaela pushing Brad on whether he learned anything real about her, Ozzy giving a respectful, decent defense of Brad, a good speech from Brad and Sarah, and an honest, sincere concession speech from Troyzan. It’s the most I’ve ever respected him in the two seasons he’s played.

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I was pleased that Sarah won, because she seemed so obviously the most capable player among the final three. Brad started the game strong, but his strategic and social game declined after the merge, despite his challenge prowess, while Sarah’s social and strategic game stayed consistent. Sarah is a bit odd, certainly, but she played pretty well.

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The reunion was also surprisingly enjoyable, with quite a few laugh out loud moments, like Probst forcing Brad to play the “what if you made a different choice” game and then telling him the choice would haunt him for years. And the Cochran/Aubry thing was great, especially how Aubry turned it around expertly on him.

Thinking back on this season, there was some really great play early on. Sandra was a delight from beginning to end, and there was plenty of strategy and drama. But there was also a lot of missing pieces and flat editing moments. For me, it was a decent season with a deserving winner, but it won’t be one I’ll revisit.

Next season is the 35th, with the theme “Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers” and it’s meaningless until we see it in practice. But it’s an all new players season, and that’s good to see! New blood is needed to keep the game going. No spoilers here, but I hope it’s good. Congrats again to Sarah Lacina.

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