[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only after you have watched the season finale of Survivor: Ghost Island.]
Reality TV history was made on Wednesday night’s finale of Survivor: Ghost Island as the jury recorded its first-ever tie vote for the million dollar prize.
After host Jeff Probst shocked the contestants by reading the votes in Fiji instead of transporting them back to the United States, it was revealed that the 10-person jury was deadlocked at five votes apiece for Wendell Holland and Domenick Abbate. Probst then informed the third member of the final three — Laurel Johnson, who had received zero votes — that she would cast the most important vote in Survivor history and break the tie.
That parchment was delivered back to Los Angeles and revealed almost 11 full months after it was first cast, and it was for Wendell, earning the 33-year-old furniture builder from Philadelphia the title of Sole Survivor.
Wendell almost did not even make it that far. Like last season’s Ben Driebergen (who also went on to win), Wendell would have been voted out at the final four after Domenick won immunity, but was saved by the new final four fire-making contest, in which he defeated Angela Perkins to advance. He then had to survive a somewhat testy final Tribal Council in which he and Domenick verbally sparred over who played the better game.
In the end, the jury was equally divided and so it came down to Laurel — whom Wendell had given an (albeit ceremonial and useless since she was already safe) immunity necklace at the final five, and whom Dom had brought to the final three — to cast the deciding vote, and the former Philadelphian ultimately chose Wendell.
Domenick also had a close call making it to the end, bluffing Sebastian Noel and Laurel out of voting him out at the final six by using his fake immunity idol and not using his real one, leaving himself exposed if the ruse did not work. It did, but the showy fake out left Sebastian hurt and may have possibly swayed his vote over to Wendell, leading to the tie. (Dom also considered giving up his final challenge victory and taking on Wendell himself at the fire-making contest to get him out, but ultimately deemed it too risky.)
And there was one twist left at Ghost Island as Domenick had to choose from among three “cursed urns” from The Australian Outback, Cagayan, and Game Changers. These urns were allegedly cursed because they were all from seasons where people — Colby Donaldson, Woo Hwang, Brad Culpepper — chose the wrong folks (Tina Wesson, Tony Vlachos, Sarah Lacina) to sit next to them at the end, who ended up beating them. Domenick chose the Cagayan urn, and he too suffered the same terrible fate, even though he didn’t choose to bring Wendell due to the new final four fire-making wrinkle.
It was a thrilling end in which the two best players of the season went toe-to-toe and traded blows and votes until the last possible second. But there can be only one winner, and that winner was Wendell.
Also check out my full recap, along with interviews with Jeff Probst, Wendell, Domenick, Laurel, Angela, Donathan, and Sebastian. You can also read our franchise deep dive with Probst and Mark Burnett as well as their preview of NEXT season, Survivor: David vs. Goliath. And for an endless amount of Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.