Survivor Still Has Some Surprises Left In The Finale

Despite cramming three challenges, three votes, and the jury questions into one episode, there are still twists and turns before the winner is crowned.

Idol Hands

Jay regrets wasting his Idol at the last Tribal Council. Bret regrets that they didn't take out David when they had the chance, and tells Hannah so, and then makes a regrettable Osama bin Laden allusion. David realizes that he needs a little luck to avoid getting voted out next, so he creates a fake Immunity Idol in the time-honored tradition of Bob Crowley (in that it actually looks like an Idol and not a stick).

Jay spots the fake Idol and thinks it's real. David did a really good job; he even hid it inside a coconut and put a pink paint splotch on the outside. Jay celebrates in a way that has every viewer cringing, because we know what he does not. Guys, IF THERE'S NO NOTE ATTACHED, IT'S NOT REAL!

Leg-acy Up In the Game

It's Day 36 so Ken finally gets to open the Legacy Advantage, and unlike the Reward Steal, this is actually huge. It gives him immunity at the next Tribal Council. So in my mind, if Ken were smart, he would somehow try to throw the Immunity Challenge while also helping someone he wants to stick around win it. Anyway, the challenge is physical -- under a net, up and down a ramp, solve a puzzle, you know the drill. The winner gets Immunity AND Reward in the form of a steak to eat back at camp.

During the challenge, Jay is the first to figure out an important combination of numbers, but he runs off without covering up his panel and everyone else (except Ken, who is hot on his tail) looks at Jay's panel so they can move on. This results in David winning Immunity; it's doubtful he would have won if he hadn't seen Jay's numbers.

As Jeff is explaining the Reward, and that David will get to choose two people to share dinner with, Jay interrupts and uses his Reward Steal. He at least chooses to share it with David and Adam. I don't know if that's the best move strategically, because I don't know Jay's final three plan, but it feels fair at least.

There's A Lot At Steak

As Jay, David, and Adam eat their steak dinners, Jay makes his pitch for voting out Bret next. Jay thinks that he could serve as a shield for the other two because they'll want to get him out first, so keeping him around makes sense. Adam points out that Jay could keep winning challenges, and Jay admits that he could. Jay offers them a Final Three deal, and adds that Bret has a lot of friends on the jury, so if he makes it to the finals, he could win. No one makes any promises, but will think about it.

David wants to vote out Bret, and Ken and Hannah agree. Adam strongly thinks they need to take the opportunity to take out Jay while they can.

Back at camp, Bret and Jay have a chat about how it's one of them going home tonight. At least they can laugh about it. One of the refreshing things about the post-merge section of this season is that they all understand it's a game (except maybe Ken) and seem to respect gameplay. It's refreshing for a newbie season.

Hannah and David take Jay aside (to Bret's disgust, because he thinks this vote is a no-brainer) and say that he needs to get Adam on his side. Jay pitches Adam hard, and promises to take him to the final three with David. Maybe Adam doesn't want to take David to the end? It would not be a smart move for him. Adam doesn't make any promises.

Idols And Advantages And Votes, Oh My!

Bret and Jay both point out that they each have friends on the jury. Probst needles Jay about his blunder at the challenge, and Ken sticks up for him, saying that given how far they are into the game, mental mistakes are easy. Probst asks about Idols and no one has much to say. Oh, I'm going to be so secondhand embarrassed for Jay when he plays his fake Idol.

So after the votes, Jay tries to play his Idol, and he's SUPER-smug about it, until Probst says it's fake and tosses it in the fire. The look on Jay's face. The look on EVERYONE'S face except David's. Oh my word. And then, Ken stands up and pulls the Legacy Advantage out of his boot, explaining what it is. Everyone is dumbfounded. When Probst reveals that it's immunity, Jessica nearly throws up on the jury, thinking about what could have been. Probst finally gets to read the votes and once Jay sees his first vote, he knows it's him. He has a very genial exit as he hugs everyone and congratulates them and laughs his way out. I started out the season not liking Jay much but he won me over. I like how he plays the game.

Not A Participation Trophy

We jump right to the next Immunity Challenge. They have to maneuver a buoy along a rope, starting in the water, and then transport puzzle pieces over a teeter totter so that they can solve a word puzzle. Bret and Ken get to the puzzle first, but it's tough, and everyone catches up. I love how Hannah has to put on her glasses before she starts doing the puzzle. Ken ends up getting the winning phrase first, "Not A Participation Trophy." David gets emotional because he's pretty sure he's going home tonight. I mean, he should, but who knows?

One Last Idol

Adam immediately goes out looking for an Immunity Idol, and Bret covers for him, claiming he has stomach issues. While he's gone, David pitches Hannah and Ken on voting out Adam. Hannah wonders why Adam instead of Bret, and David says the three of them are final three, so why not Adam first, since he has a better chance of winning the next Challenge? Hannah and Ken agree.

Meanwhile, Adam totally finds an Idol. I did not think that was going to happen.

David and Ken pitch Bret on voting out Adam, and Bret agrees under the "anyone but me" philosophy. Bret immediately runs to Adam and finds out Adam has an Idol.

Then Adam tells Hannah about his Idol. Adam! Why? I guess he's trying to build her trust in case he needs her vote in the next round or something? This just didn't seem necessary, and possibly a problem if Hannah tells David about it. Hannah interviews that she's the one with all the power, because she's been playing both sides, and now she gets to decide how to handle all of her information.

Tribal Council

This group is pretty loose considering the stakes at this point. They each make a pitch for why someone else should be voted out; we've heard most of this before. After voting, Adam plays his Idol. But none of the votes come his way; they go to David and Bret, with Bret getting the majority. Hannah voted for Bret. Adam is stunned. Bret is pissed and says, "The flipper flips again." After his torch is snuffed, he congratulates David on winning and tells the rest of them that they just lost a million dollars. I do wonder whose vote Hannah thinks she's going to get. I mean, I guess she has to do something so she's not portrayed as a total goat. But I can't see her beating David or Adam.

Going From Four To Three

After Tribal Council, everyone is surprised David is still there, especially David. Adam confronts Hannah about what she was thinking. Hannah says that Bret didn't seem to want to take her to the finals, and David does. Adam explains that Ken will never vote against David or Hannah, so that means Adam will be out unless he wins Immunity. Adam still thinks Hannah is on his side; I'm not so sure.

So let's hop right to the Challenge. They have to use a pole to maneuver a bowl through a channel and then place the bowl on top. If they hit the structure too hard, they will lose all of their stacked bowls. The first person to get all their bowls stacked OR the person with the most bowls stacked after thirty minutes wins. Ken and Hannah end up tied at ten and Ken wins the tiebreakers by a hair.

The Last Pre-Tribal Council Scramble

Hannah vows to Adam that she is writing Dave's name down and asks to let her talk to Ken alone. Hannah makes a gentle pitch to Ken, explaining that she knows he's all about loyalty and friendship, but that they are going to look like fools in front of the jury if they take David to the finals. Ken seems dead set on sticking with Dave. Adam spends his time practicing making fire in case Ken won't come with them and it's a tie.

At Tribal Council, David is kind of cocky about what an awesome game he's played. As a juror, that would turn me off. They each make their pitch. David talks about how he's had a Final Three deal with Ken since day three or four, and he admires Ken's loyalty and integrity, calling those traits "extinct" in this game. Yeah, because those people usually get voted out early. Who was the last winner who made zero game moves but won due to their awesome integrity? Adam says that he also admires Ken but at some point, you have to make moves that will give you a chance to win for your family. And then, holy shit, Ken flips. David goes home. I did NOT think that was going to happen.

Ten Not-So-Angry Jurors

The jury questions are not as angry as some seasons. They definitely feel like each juror is trying to allow the finalists to say something important. Hannah's basic pitch is that she came in weak and scared, but she pushed herself and got stronger. And while some consider her a flipper, she made each choice deliberately to do what she thought would get her further in the game. Adam attacks her a few times for "going rogue," but Hannah adamantly defends herself and reframes it as playing her own game.

Ken's basic pitch is, "I was loyal and honest and I pushed myself due to my anxiety," and he defends the one time he broke his loyalty, voting out David, as putting his loyalty to his daughter over his loyalty to David, because he knew he couldn't beat him in the end. A few people take potshots at Ken as being basically useless, but he thinks his final vote should earn him the win? Ken is playing the Survivor of twenty years ago, not the game of today.

Adam argues that he played the game the best. He realized that the people in charge, like Chris and Zeke, were getting voted off, so he laid back and shielded himself with strong players to get to the end. I feel like Adam played a really strong game, but I'm hard pressed to name any one move he made that was a game-changer. For the final question, David asks about their journeys, and Adam admits that he's playing for his mom, who is sick, and he starts crying. I'm crying. I think some of the jurors are crying.

You're The Best! Around!

When we return to America, Probst reads the votes and…Adam gets all the votes. That hasn't happened in a while. He was my pick going into the night, but Hannah had me worried at that Tribal Council.

Probst talks about how Adam got cast, and then found out his mom was sick. The producers told him he could pass and then play a later season, but his mom really wanted him to go to give their whole family something positive to look forward to together. So Adam knows that two days before he got home from the show, his mom was up and walking around the block. But Adam got home and got to tell his mom he loved her and she died an hour later. AN HOUR LATER. You guys. I am sobbing. Would someone give him a hug, please?

The reunion doesn't provide much other information, especially if you already knew that Figgy and Taylor broke up when they got home because he found out his (ex-?) girlfriend was pregnant. And that next season is all returning players including CIRIE and SANDRA and I am fired up. Thank you to all of you for letting me fill in during Jessica's sabbatical!


With three challenges and three votes AND the jury questions, this finale could have felt rote, but there were still enough twists and turns are hard gameplay to make the episode as a whole worth watching, which can't always be said of this show's season-enders.

Season Verdict

Are you kidding me? This was the best season in a while. The contestants were largely likable, the gameplay was sharp, and almost every episode took a turn or had a surprising result. You can't ask for much better.

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