Did the right person win Survivor: Samoa? Um, how should I put this? NO!
A travesty. That’s really the only word for it. Wait, here’s another one: A joke. You could also go with absurd, ridiculous, lame. I’m going to make sure that I am absolutely clear about this: Natalie winning over Russell is the worst jury vote in the history of Survivor. That honor previously belonged to the All-Stars season, when a bunch of bitter Bettys couldn’t handle being outsmarted by Boston Rob and awarded the million dollars to Amber instead. But this is worse.
You may not like Russell. You may consider him cocky, sneaky, and lots of other things. But he OWNED this game, and he owned the final Tribal Council as well. Natalie’s opening speech to the jury contained NOT ONE SINGLE REFERENCE to anything she did well in the entire game, just that it was ”the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Hey, hand her the million then! Later, she talked about how her big strategy was to NOT be aggressive. That was her strategy!!! Don’t do anything. Again, hand her the million!
Look, Natalie seems like an absolute sweetheart. I have nothing against her whatsoever. I hope she enjoys the money and uses it well. The jury members are the people who should be ashamed. And don’t give me any of this baloney about the social game. Todd in China blindsided and betrayed and went to the final Tribal Council owning every single move he did. You know how that jury responded? They respected it and handed him a million dollars. Not this time. There is no WAY any of those players can honestly think Natalie played a better game than Russell. They can say they liked her better and would rather give her the million dollars. But no way can they say that she played a better game, no matter what crazy Erik says. And let me make something clear: You may have been rooting for Natalie because you liked her better (And that’s fine. I get that.) but if you are voting, and you take that job seriously, you have to put that aside and vote for the best player. Any way you slice it, Natalie was not the best player. Jeff Probst tried his best at the reunion to paint her as a worthy winner, starting off by prompting her to talk about her key move of helping get rid of Erik, and then going out of his way to jumpstart a conversation about how much better her social game was than Russell’s, but even he seemed half-hearted in his attempts. Probst knows a dud winner when he sees one. He won’t ever say it, but if you read between the lines, you can tell.
NEXT: Brett’s no Mike Tyson but he delivered one last good jab
Okay, I’ll rant more about this later (can you tell I’m riled up?), but let’s get through some of the episode basics first. The finale began with Jaison sharing waaaaaaay too much information about his diarrhea. The rest of the first 5-10 minutes were all consumed with everyone treating Brett like he was Superman for winning two immunity challenges. Two! Thankfully, Russell finally spoke up as the voice of sanity, announcing, ”He’s not Mike Tyson. He’s Brett!” Only Brett did have a little punch left in him after all as he won another immunity challenge, one that involved going through a ridiculously easy obstacle course and then putting together a Survivor: Samoa logo puzzle.
I found this challenge to be majorly disappointing. Usually these next-to-last challenges involve huge, epic obstacles. Remember the ”vertical maze” in Vanuatu? That was incredible. (Take note, Eliza: I just said something nice about your season.) But the obstacles at play here were a super easy balance beam and a net. It was as if the entire challenge was smothered in weak sauce. That said, Brett’s victory at least ensured some drama. In retrospect, the two most interesting comments coming out of the challenge were Natalie saying ”I’m the weakest one” (her words, not mine), and Russell commenting about wanting to make sure to bring Natalie to the end because ”There’s no way she can beat me in votes.” (Whoops!)
Russell was left to decide between ousting Jaison and Mick. His dilemma: Jaison could not beat him in the finals but also couldn’t help eliminate Brett; Mick could help beat Brett, but also had more of a shot to beat Russell in the finals. In the end, they ousted Jaison. Let’s see, what parting words do I have for Jaison? Jaison was entertaining at times, but also enigmatic. He showed a lot of fire in taking on Ben, and won a few challenges, but at other times he appeared to be either disinterested or just totally spent. He even said after the game that the thing he was most proud of is that he didn’t quit. When the thing you’re most proud of is not being a quitter, it’s hard to get too excited about you, so let’s move on.
If you thought Russell was all out of moves, you thought wrong. Realizing that Brett was the only player left with whom he did not have a finals deal, Russell made one with the soft-spoken T-shirt designer. The two of them did their best Colby Donaldson impersonations, pretending that they were all about taking the ”deserving” players to the end and thereby vowed to take each other. Honestly, I’m kind of surprised they did not both burst oust laughing even as they were making the deal, since it was painfully obvious that neither of them would honor it.
By this time it was clear that we were going to be having a final three as opposed to final two. I’ve vented on this time and time again, so I will try to keep this short, but I hate, hate, hate the final three. I get the whole line from producers that ”some great players like Ozzy may never have made it to the final Tribal Council if we had only two at the end instead of three.” To that, I say this; I DON’T CARE! There is something that is just inherently so much more dramatic in pitting two people against each other and making people choose between them. It’s a good ol’ fashioned face-off! When you have three, it jut becomes pick one of the above. Lame. Plus, one of the coolest things in all of Survivor is watching the person who wins the final immunity having to choose the person they go up against. With a final three, it’s just another elimination.
NEXT: Russell uses a pole to vault into the finals
In any event, like I said, if it was going to be a final three, and we had four players left at this point, that could mean only one thing: the dreaded Fallen Comrades tribute. Would it be by land or by sea? The suspense was killing me! Turns out it was by land. The segment was as ludicrous ever, although I do appreciate the way producers have basically turned it into one big bloopers montage, showing Mike and Dreadlocked Russell collapsing, Yasmin falling down at a challenge, and Erik getting clotheslined. (I also found Shambo’s comments that she wants to ”lift people up, don’t team ’em down” curious considering her comments later at Tribal Council.) Of course, the funniest thing about the Fallen Comrades segment is when producers make the final four just stand there at the end by the fire for what I’m sure is an eternity, so they can get their various cool looking helicopter shots.
After that hilarity, it was time for the final immunity challenge. Let me tell you, when I first saw it, I was unimpressed. Holding up a statue on a long pole? As they say on Modern Family, WTF! (Why the face?) But, boy was I wrong. As each poll was extended (and yes, I realize how dirty that sounds), the pressure built (again, I am really trying my best to not sound pornographic here). And once Mick and Natalie went out, it became a duel to the death. (Note to producers: See how two people facing off is more dramatic than three). As each breeze came and went, the tension mounted, until Brett finally succumbed and dropped his statue, giving Russell his first individual immunity win — when he needed it the most.
Laura looked particularly disgusted upon seeing Russell wearing the immunity necklace at Tribal Council. The editors tried to create some drama making it look like maybe Russell would keep Brett around, but I don’t think anyone with half a brain cell ever thought that would happen. Okay, eulogy time for Brett. Brett, we’ve had some fun at your expense about your lack of screen time this season. The reason why your tribe liked you so much is most likely the exact same reason they never showed you on TV: You’re a nice, low key, drama-free dude, and drama-free doesn’t work so well on reality television, so that’s why you received approximately 1.3 seconds of air time per episode before the past week. But you did win three straight immunities, were the last of your original tribe, and went out with class. So, well done. (Unless you voted for Natalie, in which case, again, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!)
Once the final three were set, the trio enjoyed a celebratory feast while Russell started quizzing the others about their strategy with the jury. I don’t know exactly what the heck he was trying to accomplish here. Why get these two thinking about their jury strategy at all? Not like it helped. Mick’s opening statement amounted to him saying he was unwilling to not be moral in the game. (Huh?) Natalie then told the jury that she deserved to win because people told her before the game that she couldn’t do it. Again, huh? How does that have anything to do with how you played the game? Jeff Probst has often complained about how he wishes players who played great cutthroat strategic games would come into the final Tribal Council and be proud and own how they played instead of apologizing for deceiving and trying to massage egos. In essence, give the jury members respect that they will respect how you played the game. Well, that is exactly what Russell did. He didn’t give a sob story like Natalie. He didn’t make up some absurd moral argument like Mick did. He presented an unassailable argument for how he played the game better than anyone else. And what did it get him? As for the jury members and their ”questions”, well, here are my quick takes:
NEXT: The jury hated the player… and his game
Jaison: He took a long winding route to get to what he wanted to say, which was, focus on their games, not on who claims to need the money, and I actually think his point was valid and valuable. Too bad no one (I am guessing including himself) took his advice.
Shambo: It’s no secret. I haven’t been a Shambo fan this season, but she was right on the money with her comments to Mick (”Mick, wow, dude, you have got be kidding me,), and Natalie (”I’m calling major B.S.”).
Brett: What the hell was going on here? This was the oddest same-sex sexual tension since Natalie Bolton grilled Parvati at the Micronesia finale. Brett asked Mick about what it would be like if they went out on a ”bro-date” (um, awkward?), only to later clarify that it was ”nothing sexual, just a little guy time.” Oooooooookay.
Kelly: Her comment to Natalie that ”I don’t think you were ever on the field” made sense, but why ask Russell if he is different outside of the game? Who cares? Again, vote on how they played the game!
Monica: She pulled out the classic ”tell me why the people sitting next to you don’t deserve the million dollars” question. It’s an oldie, but a goodie. And sure enough, Mick and Russell started scrapping over it.
Dave: He asked what people thought their chances of winning were, and I have no idea why. My guess is that he thought Russell was confident he was going to win and so just wanted to make him look silly by having him say how sure he was he was going to win, and then not. Dave said ”Russell was born to play this game” when he was voted out.” It would be especially tragic if Dave, who at least acknowledged Russell’s brilliance, didn’t give him his vote.
Laura: She basically made it all about herself by asking Russell why he felt he needed to get rid of her. And then didn’t seem to like his answer. (Man, she looked great at the reunion show, though.)
John: He asked Mick for the ”hard sell” for why he should vote for him. ”Blow my mind right now.” Mick proceeded to give the least mind-blowing answer I have ever heard in my entire life. Natalie then told John how smart she was by deciding not to play the game at all, for had she played the game aggressively, she would have been voted out. Of course, no one played the game harder or more aggressively than Russell and it got him to the end just the same as her, so go figure!
Erik: I don’t know what the heck was gong on here. Was Erik drunk? Am I? I don’t know, but I couldn’t figure this out at all. Apparently, Erik was mad that he and Russell had ”nothing in common.” But my favorite was what he said to Natalie: ”People will call you weak [check]. People will say you’re undeserving [check]. But why are those characteristics any less admirable than lying, cheating, and stealing?” First off, what does cheating and stealing have to do with anything? There is no cheating in Survivor and there is nothing to steal! And they both lied. So what the hell are you talking about? (Keep in mind, this is also coming from the person who was trying to backstab and vote out one of his own teammates, Monica.) Did you notice the inspirational music swelling as Erik delivered his passionate plea to vote for Natalie, as if producers were trying their damndest to make us fall in love with a winner that they knew had no business winning?
NEXT: Russell keeps it interesting at the reunion
So the jury voted, and Probst suddenly, magically appeared in L.A. (I miss the days when he would jet ski/sky dive/motorcycle/cab ride his way back to the States.) I took a quick glance at the finalists before Probst read the votes, and their faces told us everything out the outcome: Natalie looked like she knew she had won. Russell looked like he knew he had lost. And Mick looked like he was concerned that he had used a bit too much hair gel. It turned out all three were correct.
Natalie received five of the seven votes read by Probst, meaning it is safe to assume she got seven of the nine (Russell got the other two, with a donut for Mick). As disappointing as the final vote was (and I’ve ranted about it for long enough now), and as awkward as it was watching Probst have to be a team player and pretend to be excited about Natalie’s victory, at least we then had a good reunion show. Russell kicked things off by offering to pay Natalie $10,000 (which Jeff then took it upon himself to increase to $100,000) for the title of Sole Survivor. That led to the genius exchange:
Probst: ”Are you asking Natalie to say to you: You’re a better player?”
Russell: ”No, I’m asking her to ask you to tell me that I’m the Sole Survivor.”
But the little man wasn’t done. After Jaison took his ”negative contributions” to task, Russell took out another pair of socks for Jaison and dropped them in the fire, leading the two to start jawing at each other as we went to commercial break. The only thing more enjoyable than that at the entire reunion show was the overenthusiastic bongo player in the Survivor band. Best. Bongo player. Ever. Also: Only. Bongo player. I have ever noticed in my entire life.
Okay, it’s late, and I’m getting a little loopy. Let’s wrap up this season of Survivor: Samoa and put a little ribbon on top. As far as I see it, Samoa turned out to be a great season with a disappointing result. I’ve spoken with almost everyone on the jury and I do like the majority of them as people — I just think they let their bitterness cloud their judgment in the end. It’s too bad, but as a whole, the ride turned out to be well worth it.
And what of Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains, you ask?? Well, I was on location for filming and while I can’t say much now, you can expect to see a lot of activity on EW.com leading up the season premiere on Feb. 11, including video interviews with the entire cast and lots of other goodies. Big thanks to Jeff Probst for his insightful and entertaining blogging, to CBS for providing exclusive deleted scenes, and to the cast for making it a fun and feisty one to write about. But most of all, thanks to you all out there for reading. You’re the reason I stay up to all ungodly hours (even when you bitch about my sleep-deprived typos.). We’ll have Survivor Talk interviews with both Russell and Natalie up on Monday, so check back for those. In the meantime, watch our deleted scene with Monica below as she talks about her jury vote. And for all the Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains scoop, make sure to follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss.
See you in 2010!
[Sorry, video not available]