Ozzy, Coach, Cochran, Brandon, and that other Hantz dominate, but Sophie wins Survivor

Sophie Clarke won six of the Survivor South Pacific jury members’ votes and thus the $1 million prize, beating Benjamin “Coach” Wade and Albert Destrade, with Ozzy Lusth taking the $100,000 fan favorite prize in the largest margin in the show’s history. Despite her clear victory, however, Sophie was screwed over: by the editing and by host Jeff Probst. Also last night, next season’s awesome twist and name, Survivor One World, were confirmed.

Sophie played a strong, strategic game, aligning with the right people and also playing slightly under the radar, though the typically bitter jury viewed that as her being standoffish rather than Rick. Though she did not appear to be responsible for any major strategic moves–she certainly didn’t Cochran, whose name I’m making into a verb for a game-changing move–she was usually in conversations with Coach, who the editing seemed to credit all season for having the game in his control.

Besides the fact that she won individual immunity three times, with the last victory mattering the most, she did not make empty promises to people, and she also responded well to what was happening around her: “they created this religious framework,” she explained during the reunion, adding that she “worked within that.” The jury rewarded her for that, even though they clearly didn’t love her, ripping her during the Q&A, which followed an emotional breakdown in the previous Tribal Council (“I’m just this big, awful, selfish spoiled bitch, and it “makes me regret coming,” she cried). She explained during the reunion, “I’ve been told my whole life to have self-esteem and so to have that thrown back in my face as a weakness was hard.” If anything, Sophie deserved to win for overcoming Jeff Probst’s overreaching, ridiculous response to that breakdown, which was to basically tell everyone to vote her off for showing so much weakness.

Sophie wasn’t just a strategist, though; as she pointed out during her opening statement, she managed to outwit, outplay, and outlast. She beat Ozzy in the final immunity challenge, and despite his final-two deal with Coach, Ozzy was voted out yet again, this time for good. He knew it made no sense to keep him and took it extremely well: “Sayonara, Survivor. Man, I had a good time,” he said. That he ended up on the jury was another one of Coach’s “irrevocable” promises made in the name of religion that was broken and ultimately cost him the game, I think. It’s smart strategy to get rid of Ozzy, who’d win in a landslide against any of the final three, but bad strategy to consistently align with people using powerful arguments about loyalty and honor, and then bail on that when you realize it doesn’t make any sense to stick with that person.

At the reunion, Probst spent most of his time with Coach, Brandon, and even–Jesus!–Russell Hantz, because why spend time talking to a female winner you’ll ignore when you can talk to alpha males who were clearly robbed because men are the only ones who’ve really ever done anything amazing on Survivor?

Probst was a considerable asshole when he introduced Russell, because Russell told Brandon he’d sit down and shut up because this was Brandon’s moment. That was the most generous thing I’ve ever seen Russell do on Survivor, but Probst insisted Russell critique Brandon’s game, even though Brandon was clearly already wounded by his family’s lack of support for him. The kid has issues that manifested themselves in different ways this season, but didn’t deserve to be berated by Russell, whose game also sucks. Russell, predictably, was mad about both Brandon’s game and his attempt to improve perception of his last name.

Brandon lost the final, final duel (let us pray for Redemption Island’s permanent demise!), which looked like it should have been called “The One Designed for Ozzy Because We Couldn’t Make a Challenge About Spearing Fish.” Brandon and Ozzy held onto a pole with several notches carved in it. After 40 minutes, Brandon was, incredibly, still in it, and Ozzy was struggling, too, but Ozzy pulled out the win. Brandon said he felt like a winner because of God and yadda yadda yadda, and has “no bitterness.”

His arc as a character, from crazy person to prayer leader to tough little bastard is one of the many reasons why this season was amazing, from its memorable challenges to its memorable players. I’m still not a fan of bringing players back in non-all star seasons, but both Coach and Ozzy were interesting to watch. Ozzy was voted out three times this season but almost won, which is incredible and a sign of Redemption Island’s lameness. Had he won, it would have been easily deserved, not just for his challenge performance, but for his ability to use that twist to his advantage.

Ozzy, along with Sophie, seemed to be one of the few people who didn’t see the game as being played by Jesus alone (although the jury accused Albert of just using God to get himself further in the game; Albert played a comically bad game, concluding with his desperate, sad, pathetic attempts at the final Tribal to lie to Brandon and make himself seem like he was strategizing with Sophie instead of always trying to undermine her plans). Ozzy described Brandon’s strategy as a “blind faith game. He’s playing the game like he’s playing with God, and he’s not. He’s playing with human beings that are greedy and want that money.”

And that brings us to Coach, who played really well all season but had no real endgame. At one point, he said, “I’m sick of people coming out here and try to look like they’re holier than thou,” and he might as well have been talking about himself. This wasn’t the arrogant and delusional Coach of Survivor Tocantins nor the diminished Coach of Survivor Heroes vs. Villains, but an evolved version who did a lot of things well, even if his genuine religiosity made him frequently seem like a hypocrite and made his lies look much worse than they actually were.

To his credit, Coach acknowledged during the final Tribal Council that he lied and broke his word occasionally, and called himself a “terrible strategist.” The jury, including a freshly pigtailed Ozzy, was mostly bitter about the way the final three played the game, though Edna and Cochran made impassioned pleas for Coach’s game and being backstabbed, respectively. But Coach’s journey from destruction to absolute victory” ended with partial, runner-up victory.

Surprisingly, man not eaten alive on Eaten Alive

Eaten Alive

Discovery Channel’s happy family holiday special Eaten Alive aired Sunday, rewarding viewers for their two full hours of viewing by ensuring that they spent quality time in the company of others instead of wasting that time doing something else that might not have been as satisfying, such as buying things that have labels which accurately reflect their contents.


Winter 2015 reality TV debut schedule

winter 2015 reality TV schedule

Mark your calendars with all these upcoming reality TV show debuts, including Celebrity Apprentice, The Bachelor, and another season of MasterChef Junior, all of which kick off in early January.

There are also 20+ shows debuting in December--including the one-off return of The Sing Off. No winter break for reality TV.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.