After a shocking Tribal Council request, the most deserving player emerges victorious
Survivo Caramoan Finale
Credit: CBS

He did it. The bastard went and did it! I have to admit, before this season began I would have told you there was 0.0% chance of John Cochran going and winning Survivor. Not only would I have told you that, I did tell John Cochran that. “Is there any sliver of a chance in hell you win this season?” I asked him before he shipped out for the Philippines. “Oh, God! You’re like my mom!” he responded in horror. (Hey, watch what you say about Cochran’s mom, Cochran!)

But I had my legitimate reasons for being so skeptical. It wasn’t because he’s a “nerd” or any of that business. It was because of how he played and what he did his last time. I’ve talked about being on location for South Pacific’s first Tribal Council and witnessing one of the worst T.C. performances in history. I was amazed that someone who was such a fan of the show could perform so horribly right out of the gate.

But that wasn’t why I thought Cochran couldn’t win. It really had nothing to do with what he was capable of, but rather the reaction of other people to what he did. I’m referring, of course, to his decision in South Pacific to not pick colored rocks and instead doom both himself and his entire tribe by switching sides. It was the type of move I was sure would make him completely untrustworthy in the eyes of the other returning players. It would make him an immediate target. I was sure of it.

I could not have been more wrong. Instead, Cochran blended right in and no one at any point in the season seemed to even worry about him at all (with the exception of a brief targeting by Malcolm that was too little and way too late). Was Cochran that good or were other players just that bad to let the guy waltz all the way to the end without a single vote cast against him? Probably a little from column A and a little from column B.

But even I still don’t understand why he was never more of a target. And even though his bragging about winning four individual challenges is a bit much because he had huge advantages in two of them, there is no doubt that John Cochran definitely deserved to win Survivor: Caramoan. And it is cool to see how far he came from that first South Pacific disaster to now putting forth such a solid outing in all three phases of the game: social, strategic, and yes, even physical. It’s no secret I like it when real fans win and get to see their dreams come true, so I am truly happy for the guy. So Cochran, you can drink with me at a bar anytime, my man! And you can even bring your dog too! Because we’re drinking at Eddie’s place! And Eddie’s place has a place for dogs! It’s incredible!

Okay, we have a lot to get to — including Brenda deciding to humiliate Dawn by having her remove her teeth, which I thought was beyond petty and absurd — so let’s get right to it. After a montage recap of the entire season which only serves to remind us how awful some of the pre-merge episodes and people were, we’re back to night 36 as the final five leave Tribal Council after Brenda’s ouster. But before they can get back to their camp (which is on a completely different island from Tribal Council) Erik says that, “everything is spinning.”

NEXT: Down goes Erik! Down goes Erik!

He’s not talking about all the head-spinning blindsides, but his actual head feeling like it’s spinning. All of sudden Probst pops up Beetlejuice style as if someone has just summoned him by chanting his name three times, and the host brings in Dr. Joe and Dr. Jen to check on The Silent One. (Side Note: Do Survivor doctors not have last names? Their consistent lack of surnames has me wondering if these are even real doctors. Seriously, we’re about two seasons away from contestants receiving treatment from The Simpsons’ Dr. Nick: “Hi, everybody! I land on island! Get it! Oh, no! Blood!”)

“He’s in a starvation state,” says Dr. Joe, which is a bit curious seeing as how Erik has gone on several reward eating challenges. Regardless, he doesn’t look good, and I’m not just referring to his unfortunate island goatee. After taking Erik’s blood pressure, Dr. Joe votes the player out of the game: “Right now he’s going down and I don’t want him to go any further. I understand the risk and rewards in this game, but in this case, no, you’re not going.” Bam! Just like that, it’s over for Erik. Once again, he goes out fifth. I’m not sure which is more painful — becoming a national punchline for giving up your immunity or being pulled from a game for medical reasons with only three days left. They both suck.

Now comes the awkward part where everyone has to say goodbye and act sorry that Erik is leaving the game, when, in fact, they can’t help but be secretly thrilled that their chances of winning each just increased by 5 percent. It also gives the remaining contestants a chance to work the latest jury member for his vote. “I love you!” says Dawn, which is what she says to everyone right before they are sent out of the game. But Cochran takes it to a whole other level. “I don’t come out here to make friends,” he begins. “But I seriously made a friend in you. I wouldn’t have wanted to share this with anybody else.” Shockingly, nobody bursts out into laughter as this is being said.

Finally back at he beach, Eddie proves just how clueless he is when it comes to gameplay by announcing that not only does he think he can beat Cochran in the finals, but that the last one he wants to see at the end is Dawn. Doesn’t he realize that Dawn just kissed any chance she had of winning the million goodbye after blindsiding Brenda? No, of course, he doesn’t. I forgot. He’s Eddie. Speaking of which, can someone please get Eddie’s dog a beer?!?

We then head off to the reward challenge that was supposed to be an immunity challenge before Erik got medevaced. It’s one we have seen several variations of before, as the players use one hand to steady a balancing board while simultaneously building a house of cards with the other hand. First one to reach the finish mark wins. And what do they win? Has to be food, right? A little extra fuel heading into the most important competition of the season? Nope. Just like last season, it will be a huge advantage in the final immunity challenge. Okay, in a very calm and controlled manner, I am going to warn you that Angry Dalton is going to be appearing in just a manner of seconds. I would like to apologize in advance for anything Angry Dalton may say or do while he is in his state of rage, but he really cannot be held responsible for his actions. Oh, I hear him coming. He should be here in 3…2…1…

NEXT: The arrival of Angry Dalton

NOT ANOTHER ADVANTAGE IN THE FINAL IMMUNITY CHALLENGE!!! STOP IT! JUST STOP IT! We all know I am against advantages in challenges because I want to see how people fare against each other when they battle head-to-head. But I am especially against advantages in the final challenge. This is it. This is the one. You win and you are guaranteed a spot in the finals! This is the challenge when we want to see everyone on a completely level playing field because it’s the most important one by far.

Yes, yes, I know, I could just look at it as a two-part challenge, with part 1 giving you a lead in part 2. Nobody was voted out in between so they could be seen as extensions of the same challenge. But they are not the same challenge. I didn’t like it when Malcolm got a do-over last season, and I did not like it when — Spoiler Alert! — Cochran got tons of extra time to do the puzzle in the immunity challenge here. (And it should be noted that I like both Malcolm and Cochran a lot as players. I just don’t want to see them win with advantages. I want to see them win straight-up.)

That’s the problem with advantages. They add a “Yeah, but…” Cochran and Probst keep boasting about how he won four individual challenges this season. However, he had advantages in two of them. That’s one hell of a big “Yeah, but…” So Survivor producers, I beg of you — if you’re going to keep having the advantage in challenges, AT LEAST KEEP THEM OUT OF THE FREAKIN’ FINAL CHALLENGE!! Okay, going back to my happy place now.

So like pretty much every house of cards challenge, we get to watch everyone get really close multiple times before their stacks completely crumble and they are forced to start over. Like many challenges, you can tell when someone is actually getting close to completing it by the musical cues. Once we get close to a crescendo, you know someone is about to finally finish. In this case it is Cochran. Good for him. Knowing what a hardcore fan he is and how this type of challenge always seems to pop up at some point, I have to assume he practiced quite a bit back at home with mom Arlene while Papa Cochran was acting all “Hollywood” outside by grilling meat with his sunglasses on. Well, it paid off.

Back at the beach, Sherri must be drinking from the same crazy cocktail as Eddie, because she also views Dawn as the biggest threat to win. She thinks the crying will play well with the jurors and she could not be more wrong about that if she tried. “I’m not sitting next to that,” says Sherri. “She’s too powerful.” Powerful at what? Crying? Pissing off jury members? Pulling up knee socks? It’s been well established that I like Dawn — and she was my episode 1 pick to win it all — but it is clear as crystal by this point she has no shot at all of winning. Eddie’s dog could probably beat her.

NEXT: Try not to fall asleep during the Fallen Comrades

And we move on to day 38. Uh-oh. You know what day 38 means. The dreaded Fallen Comrades Rites of Passage. The players get a Tree Mail alerting them to their duty to wax faux poetic about the people they barely knew or were happy to get rid of along the way. Ah, but will be this season’s Fallen Comrades tribute be by land or by sea? The Tree Mail says to keep an eye out for two men in a boat so it looks like by sea it is! BUT NO! It was all a sneaky ruse put in place to throw the remaining Survivors off the scent! For this boat will actually be taking them to…land! Wow, talk about twists you didn’t see coming! This is like a fake merge, hidden immunity idol, Exile Island, and Redemption Island all wrapped into one!

So the tribute begins as we are treated to current contestants struggling to come up with something to say about former contestants (Cochran: “So who exactly was Allie? Which of the three blondes was she?”), and former contestants often saying things that simply make no sense (Brandon: “I played for a million dollars out there and when I knew I couldn’t have it, I just wanted to starve some folks. I made it rain with them beans. I don’t regret nothin’. Because I proved my point. I made my statement. I was the author of my elimination.”). Malcolm also uses the opportunity to begin his official campaign for a third outing on the island, telling us, “There’s a still a part of me that needs to be back out here to get the job done.” The affair ends with the final four setting some big wicker dude on fire while they engage in an awkward group hug so the helicopter cam can get its money shot.

The good news is the end of the Fallen Comrades tribute means the start of the final immunity challenge. The bad news is someone has an advantage for the final immunity challenge so we won’t get to see everyone competing on equal footing. The contest forces the players to race up a three-story tower, untie puzzle pieces, slide down a slide, and then go back up and do that whole thing two more times before using the three bags to build a fire puzzle.

Cochran reads his advantage note, which tells him he will not have to untie his bags of puzzle pieces. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is, enabling Cochran to lap Dawn and Eddie while completely blowing away Sherri. In addition to hating the advantage, you all know I’m not a big fan of puzzles and this is a good example of why. It’s too hard to portray who is in actually in the lead. For example, it appears that Cochran completely blows his lead when Dawn and Sherri both pass him and get their pieces on first before he does, but in reality he has had all that extra time to already work out the process of elimination on which pieces don’t go where. And sure enough, he then roars back and wins it as Probst keeps yapping on about how he has completely dominated challenges all season. (Again, he’s only won two without advantages. Would he have won four without them? That’s the problem: We’ll never know. And now his challenge-winning total will always carry an asterisk. Two of them, actually.)

NEXT: The final Tribal Council begins

At this point, the season is effectively over. Cochran has it in the bag. And he knows it: “I, Cochran, have won four individual challenges. So right now I’m thinking, okay I got the million. The big question now is who deserves $100,000 and second place.” Cocky? Yes. Accurate. Yes. “The battle for second place is a really heated one,” he continues. “And I can’t wait to see what happens. It’s so lonely at the top.” (Evidently Arlene Cochran did not dispense the same advice as Raymond Lowe to “be humble.”)

Cochran has to figure out whom he wants to beat in the finals. Sherri is a given because nobody is going to vote for Sherri, so now JC has to decide “Do I want to bring Dawn and her constant emotional outbursts, or Eddie, a chauvinistic 23-year-old idiot?” As much as Eddie tries to sell Cochran on bringing him (his actual selling point is “I’m an idiot”), John knows that Dawn is the smart play.

This is awful news for Eddie, who will now see his dreams for the cash completely dashed. Just listen to the plan he had in store for the money: “If I do win the million dollar prize I want to open, like, a dog kinda like shelter kennel playpen area, like attached to a bar. Like, those are my two favorite things. I like dogs and I like bars, so if I can open a bar, and, like, you just bring your dog there, that would be unbelievable.” I agree — unbelievable is the perfect word to describe that plan. Poor Eddie. I think he was truly onto something here. After all, as I tweeted last night, you can’t spell “bark” without the word “bar.” Just sayin’…

They go to Tribal Council, which turns into Dawn and Eddie both making a case for how horrible they each are and how Cochran would be crazy not to bring their lame asses to the final Tribal. Sherri takes a completely different tactic and starts talking about how great she is and how she can totally win! Lucky for her, nobody believes the woman, and self-proclaimed idiot Eddie is voted out.

This leaves us 24 more hours until Cochran is crowned champion, no matter how much doubt he professes to have creeping in after his Day 39 celebration feast. The show doesn’t waste a lot of time here so neither will I. Let’s just head straight to the final Tribal.

We begin with opening statements. Dawn has no shot at winning, but she does a solid job with her words here, addressing head-on the fact that she voted out friends by saying “I had to give myself permission to play the game,” which meant exploiting personal connections if necessary. That’s smart. Never hide from what you did. Sherri goes next and is as bad as Dawn was good. She talks about how she owns a successful business and has 75 employees, because telling everyone how successful you are in life is totally going to make people want to hand you a million dollars. Andrea looks like she wants to stab Sherri at this point while super facially demonstrative Reynold keeps scrunching up his nose.

The ladies’ only hope is that Cochran completely screws the pooch — hopefully not at Eddie’s bar, though — in his final Tribal performance, but it’s not going to happen. “I’ve lied along the way,” he says. I’ve deceived along the way. And I’m proud of it. And I want to own it. I want to prove why I played the best game.” Because he made no strong personal connections like Dawn did, he can say this and people will embrace it.

NEXT: I’ve got three adjectives to describe Reynold

After this, the jury questions begin. Malcolm lies and tells Dawn his vote is still up for grabs if she fights for it, while Eddie tells Cochran he will vote for him depending on where he sits the next time they go out for a beer. That’s not some sort of metaphor or joke. That’s what Eddie is actually basing his vote on. Phillip then confuses everyone by complimenting Sherri only to then add, “As of this day forward you are no longer a member of Stealth-R-Us. I am now rescinding that and taking that back. I have nothing further for you.”

Erik wasn’t voted out so he can’t be mad at anyone, right? Wrong! The Silent One will be silent no longer! “Are you aware of the damage you caused when you played the game that you played?” he lights into Dawn. Then he turns his Reichenbach wrath onto Sherri, informing her that, “You never did anything in this game. You were a seashell on the beach the entire game and that’s why no one respects you.” I never really understood why people light into floaters like this at final Tribal. They floated. So don’t vote for them. I wouldn’t vote for them. But why go out of your way to tell them how useless they are? To my knowledge, Sherri did not hurt anyone emotionally or personally in this game. So don’t vote for her and leave it at that. Of course, Sherri is not going to leave it at that: “If you’re done with me, I’m done with you,” she tells Erik. “I don’t need to listen to you. I don’t need your vote. Obviously I’m not going to get it. You can sit down.”

Michael is up next. He makes the excellent point that Cochran is getting off scot-free while Dawn is taking all the heat. And then it is Reynold’s turn. Reynold is all about one thing: Reynold. So it is no surprise that he uses his time to yell at Dawn to come up with three adjectives to describe…Reynold! She finally complies, telling him he is chauvinistic, vulgar, and has a great sense of humor (I would agree with two of those three) and Reynold then orders her to tell the jury that she kicked their ass in the game and liked it.

Andrea acts like an adult by announcing “I’m not bitter” and giving props to Dawn for the way she played, but then it is time for the main event: Dawn Vs. Brenda II: This Time It’s Personal. And ohhhhhh, is it personal. It’s time for the tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth. Brenda asks whether Dawn would have really quit the game if she had not been able to find her retainer for her missing front three teeth. When Dawn responds that she would not have quit, Brenda hits her with this: “I need you to go beyond words this time and I need you to prove it to me. I want everyone to see you the way I saw you that day. I want you to take out your teeth, Dawn”

NEXT: Brenda humiliates Dawn just for the hell of it

“Yeah, I’m not going to do that,” responds Dawn, but Brenda won’t let it go. “If you’re asking me to take them out and humiliate myself, I am happy to do that,” says Dawn. Truthfully, I will do it. I really will. But all I wanted to do in this game is play hard.” Brenda makes her do it, so Dawn does it, flashing a huge gap right in the middle of her bottom row of teeth. This is where you would figure I would be howling about this week’s Incredible Dawn Meehan GIF of the week. But I won’t, because I thought this was a pretty gross move by Brenda.

You can hate what Dawn did by voting out Brenda. And I went on and on the other day about how much I hated it on a strategic level. But it was a game move pure and simple. Dawn thought you could separate friendship and gameplay. She may be wrong in the eyes of the jury and a lot of viewers, but what she did to Brenda was strictly because she thought that gave her the best chance of winning. (She was wrong, of course. Blindsiding Brenda killed Dawn’s chances of beating anyone, with the possible exception of Sherri.) Keep in mind every single person there — including Brenda, who was planning to blindside Cochran — is trying to win the game. Dawn may have hurt Brenda’s feelings in the process, but the point of the move was not to hurt Brenda’s feelings. If you sign up to play Survivor, you sign up to play a game in which your supposed friends are going to backstab you if they feel that will help them win. Period.

What Brenda did was completely different. She set out to humiliate Dawn on a personal level for no other goal or purpose other than humiliation. It was petty and ugly. In fact, I would call it the ugliest moment in the history of Tribal Council. As bad as Dawn feels she may have looked with her teeth out, Brenda came off looking 10 times worse. And let me say this: I’ve talked to Brenda several times over the years and I really like her a lot. And I still like her. Super sweet woman. It’s just a shame she let herself go to this dark, dark place because someone voted her out of a game that is all about voting people out.

My sincere hope out of all of this is that these two women can put this nonsense behind them and move on past the bitterness to a place of mutual respect and forgiveness. But that’s for later. It looks like the jury has finished voting so now it’s time for Jeff Probst to deliver the votes all the way to America. This is my favorite part of the season! Will it be via jet ski/subway? Or skydiving/motorcycle? How about a submarine? Riding 8,000 miles on the back of a dolphin? Parasailing? What will Probst come up with next?!?

Ugh….he’s just walking them in again. LAME! It’s been years since we had a hilarious vote delivery system. Yo, Probst, you keep saying you want to reward longtime fans for sticking with the show for so long through thick and thin. WELL THEN STRAP ON A FREAKIN’ JETPACK OR SOMETHING AND GET TO IT!!!

NEXT: And we have our winner!

So Probst walks the votes in and we get to see the final three almost a full year later all cleaned up. They look pretty good! Dawn has her full complement of teeth, Cochran is rocking some sort of hipster ensemble that his mom picked out for him, and Sherri looks fantastic (but since the camera will barely show her at all for the next hour it’s all kinda for naught). Probst reads the votes and it’s unanimous for Cochran, who saunters out to the audience to celebrate with his family as we prepare for the reunion show — a reunion show that will see all the momentum of the past six weeks come to a screeching halt. There is often no correlation between the quality of a season and the reunion show that follows it, but this reunion show in particular was plagued by many poor decisions. Among them:

* For the first time ever, players who did not make the jury were not even allowed on the freakin’ stage! This is a pretty big slap in the face. It used to be every single person that played at least got one question thrown their way at the reunion. That stopped a while back, but to now not allow them even to sit on the stage for their own season is just plain rude. Could this have been because producers did not allow Brandon Hantz to attend and hoped to conceal that fact by not having any of those pre-jury people on he stage? Look, I didn’t want to hear from Shamar and Julia anymore than you did, but at least let them sit up there where they belong.

* Probst brought on a pregnant Brenda via satellite and awkwardly tried to get Dawn to apologize to her for voting her out, yet never once asked Brenda about maliciously humiliating Dawn at the final Tribal Council by pressuring her to remove her teeth. This was a glaring omission. What gives? Where’s the Piercing Eagle when you need him? Was there not enough time to put Brenda on the spot to answer for it because we had to hear from some scared little girl with braces who thinks Malcolm is dreamy?

* Sherri, who tied Dawn for second place, was not asked a single question after the votes were read. Not one. Instead we got to watch Boston Rob shamelessly promote his new book.

* Speaking of shamelessly promoting, Cochran no doubt loved the chance to pimp out his Twitter handle, but the questions from social media fell really flat.

* Wow, Malcolm is just a terrible actor. I mean, that clip of him on The Bold & The Beautiful may have been the funniest part of of the whole reunion. I would have rather watched that on a continuous loop than listen to Rudy Boesch use the word “queer” over and over. And did we seriously need to hear Rudy’s thoughts on being a Navy SEAL rather than a single word out of the medically evacuated Erik? The Silent One indeed.

* I’m going to go ahead and do us all a favor and pretend that naked sunbathing clip of Richard Hatch never happened.

* I was surprised Cochran was not in the mix at all for Fan Favorite. Instead it came down to Malcolm and Brenda. Brenda was a shocker for me because we did not see or hear from her for two-thirds of the season, but obviously she got a lot of sympathy votes after being backstabbed by Dawn. She still fell one percentage point short, however, as Malcolm won it.

* No oversized novelty check for Cochran? BOO!

* Survivor: Blood vs. Water. Ewwwww, I’ll take water, please. What can I tell you about it? Well, I can tell you that I’ll be a plane soon to head on location to watch it happen. (If I ever finish this marathon recap, that is.)

Okay, the hour is late and this is already way too long, so it’s time for me to sign off. Congratulations to John Cochran for a game well played and THANK YOU to everyone for playing along this season by reading these demented musings of a madman. Your kind words are always appreciated. Check out exclusive deleted scene from the finale below, and keep your eyes peeled on Monday for my finale/reunion Q&A with Jeff Probst as well as exit interviews with Cochran, Dawn, and Erik. Now it’s finally your turn to take over. Did the right person win? Did Brenda go too far? And was the reunion a letdown? Hit the message boards to weigh in, and for more Survivor scoop all year long, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss. Thanks again and have a great summer!