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Ben Driebergen hustled, scrapped, scratched, and clawed his way to the title of Sole Survivor and deserves every penny of the million-dollar prize.
Ben Driebergen took advantage of a twist designed to get him to the end of a game he had no business winning because he — like everyone else before him — should have been voted out instead of being given a special chance to save himself.
Which do you believe? Because there are no doubt two narratives circulating throughout Survivor Nation in the wake of Ben being named the champion of Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers. Ben defeated Chrissy and Ryan to take home the title, but the question many are now asking is: Should he have even been there? It’s a fascinating question that — like so many other things about the greatest game on the face of the Earth — can be debated and discussed ad nauseam. Which — fair warning — is exactly what I am about to do here.
Because Ben does not win unless Ben gets to the final three. And Ben does not get to the final three unless there is a new twist that allowed the winner of the last immunity challenge (Chrissy) to choose the person (Ryan) to sit next to her at the end, with the other two (Devon and Ben) having to battle it out to join them. Under the traditional voting that has been a part of every single Tribal Council ever on the show — over 500 and counting — Ben would have been voted out by Chrissy, Ryan, and Devon. He was a goner. It was a fait accompli. Instead, he was given new life and a chance to advance.
Was it fair? Was it an exciting new wrinkle, or merely a method to give a strong player extra help to survive? While most people probably fell quickly into LOVE IT! and LOATHE IT! camps, I can understand both sides. On one hand, I get it. It’s a new twist! New twists are exciting! It also adds guaranteed drama in terms of a built-in fire-making challenge, which are always either riveting or — in the case of Becky and Sundra — hilarious. But then there is the inescapable feeling that it is also a bit of a cop-out.
Survivor went to the final three format in season 13 (Cook Islands) because producers were sick of losing great contestants at the three spot. Just the season before in Panama, Terry Deitz had been voted out at three, leading to what many considered an underwhelming final two in Aras and Danielle. The move to the final three — which I have gone on record as not liking because I always think A versus B is inherently more dramatic than “pick one of the above” — was made to ensure a greater chance of an exciting player sitting at the final Tribal Council. And producers would point to the fact that both Ozzy and Yul (and Becky) made it the very first season they implemented it as proof that it worked. (Probst and I have respectfully disagreed about this for years.)
So what has happened since then? Just as before, we’ve often seen iconic players cut just before final Tribal, but now it’s at the four spot instead of the three spot. It happened to Malcolm in Philippines. It happened to previous winner Tina in Blood vs. Water. It happened to Kelley in Second Chance. It happened to David in Millennials vs Gen X. (Spencer also went out fourth in Cagayan but there was a rare final two that season due to someone quitting.) And it would have undoubtedly happened to Ben here. This new final four twist is not necessarily a get-out-of-jail-free card, because you still have to win a fire-making challenge to stave off elimination, but it does now give that person who is often either a fan favorite or the biggest threat to win — which is why the others all want him or her out — a 50 percent chance of making the finals as opposed to, in Ben’s case here, a zero percent chance. That’s a pretty significant boost.
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There are two ways of looking at this new twist. One way is to say: Good! Not only is it nice to see a new twist introduced, but I want the best people at the end and this helps make sure that happens. Plus, it’s totally fair because this special help is open to all players. It’s not like at the beginning of the season the producers said, “We like Ben. Let’s give him extra help to make it to the end.” If Ryan or Chrissy or Devon or even freakin’ JP had been the most dangerous threat still standing at the final four they would have been afforded the same luxury. Plus, this new twist offers a new strategic wrinkle. Now Chrissy has to not only think about whom she wants to sit next to at the end, but she needs to consider which person has the best chance of beating Ben. So what’s not to love?
That’s one way. Here’s the other way: They started doing the final three as a rule modification to make sure better people were sitting at the end. Now they have modified the rules yet again at the final four to once again game the system in the interest of protecting the best players to help them make it to the million dollar jury. What’s next? A final five? Everyone at the merge automatically makes it to the end? Allowing jurors to vote one of themselves into the finals? Yes, it stinks to lose great players right before the final three. But it’s also AMAZING! What creates some of the best drama on the show is watching someone who has played so well and done everything right and been on the cusp of winning a million dollars fall One. Day. Short. THAT is drama! Let it play out! Put the cheesy piano music underneath them talking about how painful it is to be so close yet so far and then call it a day. (Recap continues on next page)