Survivor ends an average season with a fun, twisty finale and a solid winner

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Previously on Survivor, the season happened. We had some laughs, rolled some eyes, almost shed some tears, and above all, had an okay time.

Looking back, there were some interesting players at the start of the season, ones that it felt a little bad to see them go. Unfortunately, one of those players was Ryan, who ended up in the finale despite not really playing such a great game.

We lost Mike first, but it’s easy to see why — he was the underdog candidate, smart and surprisingly good at challenges. It was really more to show off the good play from Chrissy, who had the idea to fake Ben out with an idol, the bad play from Ryan, who is shown believing Ben fell for it, and Ben, who convinced them had been bamboozled.

Admittedly, it’s probably pretty hard to follow Ben into the woods in complete darkness, but if they had merely been watching in the camp when he got back, they might have noticed he had found an idol. There are a lot of idols this season, and Ben has always played his correctly. They weren’t the most complicated of situations, mainly just to save himself, but that’s better than anyone else.

The cuts back to Probst as he randomly asked questions to the audience were to me, pointless — while the interactions might have been alright, all they did was make the reunion show run short. Each conversation with a random person was one he didn’t have with an actual player on the season. (Editor’s Note: All the people Probst spoke with in the audience had been cast based on who they were a fan of. There was nothing random about the girl writing down Ben’s name.)

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The last normal segment worked well, leading up to an exceptionally tense final challenge where it seemed that anyone could win. When Ben lost, looking emotionally damaged, it was hard to see how he could convince Chrissy to keep him in the final three. But thanks to that twist, she didn’t have a choice.

I’m of the opinion that a single twist in one season isn’t enough to know if it’ll work for the game or not. We’ve had late game twists that haven’t come back, so I’m not inherently against it. The part of this twist that works is that it doesn’t leave it up to chance — the winner of the last immunity must pick who will compete for a fire starting challenge. That does leave strategic elements intact, even if this case was amusing, as Ryan got through because he couldn’t make a fire. (Editor’s Note: The Season 36 contestants were made aware of this new twist prior to the start of the season, so it won’t come as a surprise to them as it did to Chrissy.)

The episode kept going back and forth on who we should root for, either Chrissy or Ben, although Ryan never was really an option. So Devon lost simply because he was the one most likely to keep Ben from the final and therefore was less dangerous to Chrissy than Devon himself. Yet he acknowledged it, and Devon, always an interesting player, was into the idea.

I like how Devon subverted the idiot surfer persona and became a kind of canny, cognizant warrior archetype. Ben had an arc of overcoming his PTSD in the context of the show and wanting to help his kids, Chrissy had her arc of “superfan mom” who evolved from throwing up in terror to tying the record for most immunity wins, and Ryan bizarrely had an anti-arc — the superfan who starts out as funny, trying to run the game, but completely fails to do.

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All that said, I’m a fan of the new final jury format — even if the artificial outwit, outlast, outplay divides don’t really do anything. The open interactions between jury and competitors led new insight to the thought process and sometimes change minds — it was clear that many here wanted Ben to say the right thing, and eventually he did. Yet Devon was swayed to vote Ryan, although he was the only one.

I don’t hate Ryan, I actually like him as a character — but that doesn’t mean I think he should’ve won. Both Ben and Chrissy were worthy endgame players, both having played strong strategically and socially, although they also both had their weaknesses. I’d say that Devon was socially stronger than both, and Chrissy the more strong physical competitor, while Ben successfully pulled many idol finds and tricks.

In the long scheme of Survivor seasons, this one won’t rate that highly, but it won’t rate that badly either. Weak start, some middling episodes, and a strong finish. For me, it’s a classic middle season, but that’s fine. I’m hoping that the next one, “Ghost Island”, is a better one.

What did you think of the finale? Did the right person win? Tell us what you think!

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