Kim dominated drawn-out Survivor One World finale that came alive during the reunion

Kim Spradlin is the winner of Survivor One World, and won $1.1 million for convincing both her peers and viewers that she played a pretty flawless social and physical game. Besides winning four of the five last immunity challenges, including the final two challenges, she managed to betray people and backstab them, and for some reason, they did not care. That’s remarkable.

Alas, the finale was not, and felt long and drawn out–more nature shots than normal, and a lot of filler. So much of it was predictable, from Troy’s me-me-me final Tribal Council question to Kim’s win.

There were some great moments: Kim saying her only argument at the final Tribal Council would be “I have no boobs left so have a little mercy”; Sabrina breaking down about her being recently laid off from her job as a teacher, and wanting to communicate her experiences in Samoa to her students; Tarzan pseudo-poetically talking about his wife and sand and dust and things instead of actually asking a question; Jonas satirizing jury members’ obnoxious attitudes by saying, with a completely straight face, “When I address you by name, I want you to say, ‘Yes, Master Jonas'”; Kat’s surprising confession about needing a third open-heart surgery next year and how that affected her attitude: “I don’t have time to be angry at you three”; “it’s a lot easier to smile and be happy.”

Oddly, there was virtually no strategizing, even from Sabrina and Chelsea, who didn’t make very compelling anti-Kim arguments. But at least they weren’t Christina, who, despite an 11th-hour near-win in the final immunity challenge, basically voted herself out. She refused to try to convince the final three to keep her, leading a frustrated Jeff Probst to do his best to make good television out of a really bad casting choice. At one point, he resorted to explaining to Christina how the game works: “They don’t win if they’re not at the final Tribal.”

Also remarkable is that Kim stuck with Chelsea and Sabrina, two people who were relatively strong and well-liked. Well, not apparently Chelsea, who received zero votes–but still, she’s no Christina, and Sabrina is awesome, although she kind of faded away mid-season, perhaps as a result of her strategy to not come off as overbearing, as she explained during the final Tribal Council.

That’s really the lesson of this season. There was a big chunk of dumb followers and a handful of smart players who played everyone easily. And that dampened what Probst described at the top of the show as “one of the most successful comebacks in Survivor history” with its “first time ever, all-female final five.”

While the reunions can often feel like filler, it was the reverse last night; that’s when the show came alive. First, Probst was weird: his eyes were very, very, very wide and he was swaying and saying strange things. During the Q&A, he asked Matt a question about something that happened long after Matt left, and then Probst joked, “Who can come host this show?”

However, Probst did do a pretty great job of confronting Colton Cumbie about his bigotry (and, later, Alicia about her comment about her special ed students). Yes, sure, Probst could have been more confrontational and more direct, but especially on CBS, which likes to hide bigotry on at least one of its reality shows, it was a good lesson about how to deal with things openly.

Colton basically got an entire segment, which included Probst confronting Colton’s mother in the audience; it was painful to see Colton’s mother apologize for his behavior and admonish Colton for being an asshole while clearly being aware that she’d created a selfish, entitled brat of a kid. She even scolded Colton, basically, on TV. For his part, Colton wasn’t using humor as his excuse and agreed with the criticism (“I think that’s fair. It makes me look ignorant”).

After Probst questioned Colton’s mom, TV’s Blossom, Mayim Bialik, defended Colton (!), and then Probst picked some random guy who said Colton was just acting (!!), though the studio audience didn’t buy it. So bizarre. The truly tragic part was that, his obnoxious smirk and self-satisfaction aside, Colton wasn’t that far off when he said, “When I left, everyone said it got boring.” Still, I’d far prefer another season with a Kim, a Sabrina, a Chelsea, and even a Christina over a season with Colton or someone like him.

Now we move from a season with two tribes in one location to three separate tribes, which is the producers’ attempt to shake things up. This season’s format didn’t end up changing much strategically, so it’ll be interesting to see if the three tribes do, although their returning players will probably impact the strategy more than the tribe structure. At the end of season 24, we may have reached the point where people play Survivor pretty much one way–that is, if they play at all.

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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.