Credit: Robert Voets/CBS
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Survivor still has the power to transport and thrill audiences with its mix of exotic locales, shocking twists, and unique personalities. And, judging by last month’s finale of the show’s 32nd installment, it still has the power to fuel passionate debate as well.

Many viewers were aghast when cerebral finalist Aubry Bracco was beaten in the end of Survivor: Kaoh Rong by Michele Fitzgerald when the jury awarded Michele five votes to Aubry’s two, even though Aubry appeared to play a more aggressive and complete game. (A third finalist, Tai Trang, received zero votes.) Message boards here on and elsewhere lit up with negative reactions to the verdict, proving the show’s final results can sometimes be as unpredictable as the series of events leading up to them.

So how does the host himself feel about the fan reaction and the result itself? We asked him while on location in Fiji for the filming of season 34 (which will air in early 2017).

“I love that they have opinions, and I actually agree with them,” says Probst of the fan uproar over Aubry’s loss. “I think had the audience voted, Aubry wins. I also think had the show been structured differently and the jury could see all the moves that Aubry was making, she wins. I bet if we polled the jury right now — and had Sia not jumped on the stage I would have had more time to get to stuff and I would have asked the jury that question — I think they would have said, ‘Yeah, Aubry would win.’ So that’s that.”

Probst also weighed in on the complicated nature of playing the best game and then having to convince the people you beat to give you the money “You have to figure out when you’re playing the game, how do I play this game and survive?” says Probst. “How do I vote people out in a way that they’ll still vote for me and how do I let them know what I’m doing before it’s too late? Because if you wait until final Tribal, you’re not going to sway anybody. So it’s a super complicated game of saying, ‘It wasn’t me, but it was all me. Don’t hate me, but I did this.’ Because the minute that you start telling people your moves, you become a threat. So it’s hard. Aubry’s a super shrewd player.”

But Probst notes that while Aubry may not have won the title of Sole Survivor, she won in a less tangible, monetary way. “I think you could make a spiritual argument that from a hero’s journey point of view, Aubry got her reward,” says the host. “She grabbed the elixir, which was the elixir of knowledge and of believing in herself — the transformation. She had a spiritual death on day two, she rebirthed, and she conquered it. She got to the finals. Okay, the audience didn’t give her the prize. Whatever. She did it. “

While many are focusing on Michele beating Aubry, Probst also points out the fascinating dynamics at play that allowed the winner to topple Tai. “If you get rid of Aubry and just look at Tai versus Michele, this is what I thought was super interesting: Tai starts the game up here with the moral high ground. I’m a humanitarian. I love all living things. I’ll protect the chickens and every insect I see. He starts to play the game, which requires betrayal, and people are disappointed because ‘you’re not living up to your expectations.’ So he starts to plummet and gets penalized. Michele comes out on the Beauty tribe as simply what? You’re just a beautiful girl. You don’t have any game. Then Michele starts to play, which requires betrayal. She betrays her best friend, Julia. And instead of getting penalized like Tai, people go, ‘Wow, you’re exceeding my expectations,’ and she ascends. I think that’s what happened is that Tai was not a bad guy. He’s longwinded, whatever. Michele got credit for surprising people and that’s how she got the votes.”

The debate over whether Aubry played the better game because she made more moves and was on the right side of every vote leading up to that final Tribal Council, or whether Michele played the better game because she was on the right side of the final vote that mattered will wage on. And while many fans were disappointed with the result, the fact that the show can still inspire such a passionate online watercooler reaction in its 32nd season perfectly illustrates the fun of a game in which every decision can be debated while demonstrating that the health of the reality franchise remains rock solid.

What do you think? Was Aubry robbed or did Michele deserve to win? Feel free to weigh in below. To hear our entire interview with Jeff Probst from Fiji tune in to EW Morning Live on Entertainment Weekly Radio (SiriusXM, channel 105) this Thursday, June 16. And for more Survivor coverage, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Episode Recaps

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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