Sandra Diaz-Twine did exactly what she promised and won Survivor Heroes vs. Villains, becoming the show’s first-ever two-time winner by using a strategy very similar to the one that worked for her in the Pearl Islands. The most surprising part of a surprising finale was how unsurprised the final three seemed during the live vote reveal; it’s almost as if they knew the outcome in advance.
Parvati Shallow would have been a great winner, but had to settle for second place–and the distinction of the person who’s played the game longer than anyone else, 114 days. Her three individual immunity challenge wins also tie her for second, though Colby Donaldson retains that title, despite his lackluster performance this season (he attributed that during the reunion to a lack of excitement about being back for a third time).
And Russell Hantz got zero votes, though he did win $100,000 thanks to dumb viewers. If, after watching the live reunion, Russell’s fans are still convinced that Russell deserves to win, they are as delusional as he is. Rob Mariano explained it perfectly: “the problem with Russell is that he doesn’t play the game to win … he plays a good game to get to the end.” I completely agree: Russell has some incredible game, and over 28 episodes, made some great moves. But he’s also so pig-headed and arrogant and stubborn that he refuses to understand how the game works.
Jeff Probst, thankfully, really questioned Russell during the reunion about whether or not he ever considers jury votes while making moves and behaving like an ass. “I don’t care about that,” Russell said, and continued to say the same thing he’s been saying since he lost in Samoa. Probst didn’t let up–”you haven’t answered what I’ve asked”–and Sandra, hilariously, said, “he doesn’t understand.” He doesn’t.
At the reunion, he even tried to blame the structure of the game for his loss, which is absurd. “The problem is the game. I think there is a flaw in the game. If she can win the game twice, then there is a flaw in the game,” Russell said. I wish Russell would have just said his goal was to get as far as possible, and that makes him more successful than people like Rob–or something like that. He kind of did that during the final Tribal Council, saying, “I might not get anyone’s vote” but “I have to stick to what’s going to get me here,” and also noting that “people look at me like I did something wrong” but “if I did anything to offend anybody, I apologize.”
He also said, “I didn’t play twice, I played once, but a long time.” That’s a really good point, but eight months and two consecutive losses later, his ego demanded that he refuse to acknowledge that meant he would have played differently a second time. Russell Hantz’s decisions are never, ever to blame for anything that happens to him, ever.
Tangent: There’s some talk about how Russell knew he lost Survivor Samoa based on something he said during the episode: “Last season, I brought two people because I thought I could beat them, because they were the weak players, and I didn’t.” To me, that was him acknowledging that things didn’t go well for him during the final Samoa Tribal Council. Plus, he did have a few weeks between seasons last summer, so it’s quite possible that jury members or others talked to him during that time (and they do talk). Don’t forget that he registered RussellGotScrewed.com before the finale, so he knew he was losing before the finale, and therefore may have known even before returning to Samoa.
Incredibly, Parvati may have lost in part because of her connection to Russell. “Russell was so hated by everyone in the jury that everyone just lumped me in with him,” she said during the reunion, while during the final Tribal, Candice said Parvati was like “a spouse in a bad, abusive relationship.” Parvati hilariously said that she “kept him as my pet,” articulating essentially the same strategy that his allies in Samoa did. (That came up in an earlier Tribal Council, too, when Parvati said, “I’ve been protecting you,” and then when Russell’s head exploded, Parvati corrected and said, “We’ve been protecting each other.”) Parvati also pointed out that she was an immediate target and she was forced to align with the person everyone hated.
I would have been happy with a Sandra or Parvati win, and Sandra seems like the least likely winner of the two, but that’s only because her game play is more subtle. And she made an interesting argument during the reunion when she said, “I didn’t hide behind no immunity necklace.” In other words, she was always vulnerable–especially as a former winner, when the former winners were all out before the merge during the last all-stars–yet she managed to stick around. And she had some great moves, particularly faking out Russell by convincing him Coach was targeting him.
I also loved Sandra talking about being on Survivor as her job: She said her husband, who was in the audience for the reunion, is “out in Afghanistan fighting for our country, and here I am fighting to be the sole Survivor. … This is how I make my money. … coming out here, getting my money, going home.”
Overall, the jury Q&A was remarkably measured, with less bitterness than we’ve seen in the past, perhaps because they’ve been through this before. There was still some bitterness, though. Sandra was praised for her loyalty and, after she confessed that her strategy had been to get Russell out but that the Heroes refused to help her, Rupert thanked her: “you opened the door and we kept slamming it in your face.” He also called Russell “a disgusting human being,” so that was fun.
Speaking of fun having to do with Russell, on day 39, Sandra burned Russell’s hat in the fire. That was something that would normally seem petty, but considering Russell burned his tribamates’ stuff on his very first episode, it was more than fitting that Sandra got revenge on his very last (let’s hope!) episode. To his credit, Russell said at the reunion, when he first learned how his hat disappeared, “I think it was a good move.”
The rest of the episode was pretty strong. At the first immunity challenge, Colby didn’t drop out immediately, but outlasted everyone except Parvati. Though he made a play to be saved by pretending he didn’t want to be saved and then trying to work Russell, they sent him to the jury. The second immunity challenge, though, was the most dramatic, although in only the way that a race between blindfolded people clawing wildly at the air can be. Jerri Manthey and her new attitude almost won it, but Russell beat her to the end of the blindfolded maze by about a second. And Parvati was right behind Jerri. That sealed Jerri’s fate, because Russell was convinced she’d be a solid vote for him on the jury (wait, I though the said he didn’t think about the jury?). She wasn’t, and voted for Parvati instead.
Other good moments: the eagle soaring sound effect after Coach–dressed for the final Tribal as a prep school boy instead of a Samoan drag queen–voted and launched into a Coach speech; Russell pulling out and fondling the love note he got from JT’s package, which JT lunged and hurled toward the fire; and Russell taking off the immunity necklace and giving it to Probst because “if you put it on me, then it’s official.”
The reunion highlighted two remarkable milestones for a series that just completed its 10th year and 20th season: the birth of the first Survivor baby, Rob and Amber’s kid, and the first Survivor contestant death, Jenn Lyon.
As to the dumbest Survivor move ever, a prize awarded based on viewer votes, I don’t think JT’s move should have won. Although I am no fan of JT’s assumption-driven strategy, it was more of a strategy that backfired. Tyson voting himself out was far stupider, as was Erik’s decision to hand over immunity–as was his decision to give himself an even dumber haircut than the lion’s mane one he had on the show. (Speaking of hair, what is with Jesus Tyson?)
Overall, this season made me believe in all-star seasons again; Micronesia was only half spectacular, after all. But Probst saying this was “one of if not the greatest season we’ve ever had on Survivor” was a bit much, as is all this talk of this being the “best ever.” I think that’s just because it’s fresh in our minds. If there’s anything Survivor does well, though, it’s keeping the show fresh, and with Probst teasing a surprise in Nicaragua, I’m sure more great seasons are ahead.