Survivor Gabon down to five for live finale

Survivor Gabon concludes live this Sunday night, starting at 8 p.m. ET with the two-hour finale, and finishing up with a live vote tally and one-hour reunion. That’s all going down in Los Angeles, where I’ve traveled to watch it play out in person.

This season definitely ranks significantly below the last two in terms of strategizing and drama, but it’s had some pretty stunning moments, never mind spectacular scenery. High definition was long overdue and is now easy to take for granted; it helped expose Marcus to the world, never mind show us the distinct geography that Gabon has, which I’m not quite sure any place will be able to rival because they’re such epic locations.

The country has hosted a lot of entertainment: from the absurdity of Fang to the downfall of Kota, from Sugar blindsiding Randy and stomping all over his self-esteem to Bob coming from nowhere to dominate in challenges and maybe even strategy. Last night’s episode gave us more, as Sugar switched alliances and cried again, and even gave her actual hidden immunity idol to Matty to protect him, not that he needed it. Thus Kenny is now alone after Crystal was voted out—but first, Olympic gold medalist Crystal gave us one final, spectacularly awful challenge performance, which she topped off by trying to slam dunk a ball into a basket that’s shorter than she is, and totally missed.

The final five—Robert “Bob” Crowley, Ken Hoang, Jessica “Sugar” Kiper, Susie Smith, and Matty Whitmore—is an interesting group and evidence, at the very least, that my first impressions can be very wrong.

Of the five remaining, those I liked the most after brief conversations (Susie, #2, and Ken, #5) have been disappointing, or at least their edit has disappointed me—a pretty important distinction. Susie is practically wearing Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, as I wrote here in my run-down of the final five after last night’s show, and Ken’s arrogance and entitlement has not matched his game play at all.

The person I ranked third from the bottom, Matty, has surprised me, as his dismissive attitude changed into something far more interesting. But I knew that in Gabon; literally immediately after the game started my impression of him changed, as he turned around to help teammates during that hill climb challenge. And Bob has, too, primarily because he literally didn’t want to play the game, but clearly, that’s changed recently.

I wasn’t quite sure how to read Sugar, since she is an actual actor and all, and she’s been sort of drifting around camp, playing the game but erratically and infrequently. But she may just get rewarded for that, if Bob can’t win enough challenges to get him to the final three.

None of them appear to be likely or ideal winners, but that’s what makes Survivor so damn awesome even eight years later: real people surprise you, season after season, episode after episode. A few twists don’t hurt, either—unless, of course, you’re the Kota alliance.

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