A hearty congratulations goes to…
Sit the hell down, Bob Crowley! That’s right, take a seat, old man! Plop down on your gigantic pile of money — the million dollars you accumulated by winning Survivor: Gabon — for all I care. But you are no longer the champion. I mean, yes, you are still technically the champion of Survivor: Gabon, as well as the champion of turning a buff into a bow tie — those titles remain intact and undisputed. But your fake immunity-idol-making skills have been officially put on notice!
That’s because of one David Wright. David did not win Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X. Adam did and we’ll definitely get to that in a minute. But let’s stick with David for now. After being voted out so close to the end, the guy said “I’m going to walk out of this game a new man, and that’s worth more than a million dollars. So, in a way, I did win!” WRONG! You can take all that personal growth garbage and shove it, mister! No, you won, David, because you constructed the most insane, impressive, incredible fake immunity idol of time. It was Van Gogh, Monet, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Picasso, and Warhol all wrapped in one. The bizarre, random pink circle you put on the outside of the coconut to make it look like a coconut wearing one of Zeke’s shirts? Brilliant!
Of course, the brilliance of David’s fake idol was more than just paint and beads and shells. It was performance art, and the performance in this case came courtesy of Jay. Poor Jay. The dude is so likable. And he played hard. And, for the most part, well. Pretty impossible not to dig the guy. Which is why I kind of felt bad the show basically made fun of him for almost half an hour for not realizing it was a decoy idol. But not too bad, obviously, seeing as I am about to do the exact same thing here.
See, if Jay had just found the phony-baloney idol and been happy about it, it would have been mildly amusing. But when he started turning into Braggy McGee because of it, things truly went to the next level. “Luckily, these two fools didn’t look down,” he laughed when he thought David and Ken simply hadn’t been as observant as he was. “Take me out of the game, b-tches? Thank you, bastards!” he bellowed as he went back to retrieve it. “No one saw me get the freaking idol. I have a train of losers following me back to camp,” he mocked as he kissed his new prized possession.
Oh, it was simultaneously wonderfully hilarious and painfully difficult to watch, but was yet another great piece of theater in what turned out to be a great season of Survivor. A season that remains great due to the crowning of a solid winner in Adam, who by no means played a perfect game. He foolishly trusted Taylor right after he voted out the guy’s island girlfriend and I still can’t believe he fell for Sunday’s Tribal Council ruse that the opposition would vote for Ken instead of Hannah. But he bobbed and weaved throughout the game, identifying the biggest targets and trying to take them out, even when Hannah wouldn’t let him. He won an individual immunity. He found a reward steal and two hidden immunity idols. Not a dominating game, but a very solid one to be sure.
And then there is his personal story. Now, you regular readers know I have no heart whatsoever and feel that outside forces — what you do for a living, how much money you have, whether you are single or supporting a family — should not be factored in when deciding on whom should win the million-dollar prize. The vote should go to who played the best game. Period. But OH, MY GOD, Adam’s story about being a massive Survivor fan with his mother, applying for the Blood vs. Water season together, and then going to play in her honor while she suffered from stage 4 lung cancer back home — how can you not want to honor that? Even a crusty old curmudgeon like me can’t help but want to see Adam have a somewhat happy ending.
I say “somewhat” only because Adam’s mother died shortly after he returned home, and I am sure he would rather have his mother than the title of Sole Survivor. But what a way to honor her and bring the experience he shared with her watching Survivor full circle by going on the show and winning the whole kit and caboodle. And when he pulled a Jeremy Collins and dropped that emotional bombshell in his final words right before the jury went up to vote? Game. Set. Match. Now, don’t get me wrong, if I had been up there and felt Hannah or Ken had played a better game, I still would have voted for them, even if it was in between drying my eyes with Kleenex. But they didn’t. And Adam’s words about his mother, her connection to him, and their connection to the game only served to cement his status as the deserving winner. Bottom line: Those final words may not have had any impact on the vote, but it had to impact how great it made people feel to vote for him.
So, a hearty congratulations to Adam Klein. Winning Survivor is a dream come true for so many people, but I am pretty confident I can say no win has meant as much to a winner as yours did. To take a tragedy like this and have even a sliver of positivity come out of it is flat-out awesome.
But we were all winners, really, when it comes to this season. (Well, not Rachel Ako. She got voted out first. That has to suck.) It was a season that went from not bad to pretty good to legitimately great over the course of a few months, and for that, we should all be grateful. So let’s do the Time Warp again and recap everything that went down in both the finale and reunion. WARNING: This is my longest Survivor recap ever. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is as debatable as Zeke’s choice in shirts.)
NEXT: The Legacy Advantage is finally unleashed
Every Survivor finale starts the same way: with a recap of all that comes before it. And it’s fun to see all the big moments and big changes people went through. Look, there’s David with no beard! Look, there’s Michaela with no top! And look, there’s Jeff Probst getting absolutely hammered by a wave! And he didn’t even get knocked down! Why does Jeff Probst have to be so strong and possess a complete mastery over all matters of balance? Honestly, that wave hits me and I am probably dead, while Probst is all, “Whatevs, Mother Nature. I have a fridge full of Muscle Milk, a perma-tan, and the raddest dimples you’ve ever seen. What else you got?”
Then we get a brief reintroduction to the final six — including Probst’s questionable assertion that Hannah went from someone who “suffered a panic attack while merely watching a challenge” to someone who “matured into a dangerous player.” (Doesn’t matter, anyone who worries about whether her armpit hair is hanging out during an interview is okay by me.) After all that table-setting, we go back to present day — which is not really present day at all, since this was filmed around seven months ago, but it’s at least “present” in terms of picking up where we left off after Sunday was voted out.
There’s a lot of weird stuff going on. David is busy admiring Jay’s balls — or “balls of steel,” as he calls them — while Bret is pissed off Hannah allowed the biggest threat in David to stay in the game, comparing it to when the Navy SEALs stormed into Osama bin Laden’s compound and how it would have been like them saying “Let’s go grab some coffee. We’ll come back tomorrow.”
Okay, first off, I’m pretty sure David is positively thrilled to be compared to the most despised terrorist ever, but ignoring that for a minute, is Abottabad really known for its coffee? I mean, maybe it is. I don’t drink the stuff so I wouldn’t know. The raid did happen super early in the morning, so I suppose the SEALs may have been a bit groggy and needed a pick-me-up. I guess that tracks. My wife won’t let me talk to her until she’s had her first cup of coffee, so I could see how they may want to be a bit more “on their game” before they finished the job. But still, I think Bret’s point holds that Hannah made a mistake on that one, as I outlined last week. “I’m working with complete morons,” Bret complains. “Jay and Dave are going to win this thing. We have to vote them out.” One would think.
After David makes the best fake immunity idol of all time and Jay picks up the cheddar from the mousetrap, we check in with Ken to finally learn the contents of the Legacy Advantage Jessica gave him. It’s day 36, so we can now open that sucker. What could it be? Maybe he gets an extra vote at Tribal Council! Or can nullify a vote! Or can force Jeff Probst to do a dramatic reading of the entire script of Dude, Where’s my Car? It’s none of those things. It’s just immunity at the next Tribal Council. Good for Ken, kind of boring for us.
After all the buildup for this new twist, I thought we might have something a little more exciting than another plain Jane immunity. (Hey, at least it wasn’t an advantage in a challenge, which I have never been a fan of due to the fact the person with the advantage almost always wins and therefore the challenge itself is less dramatic to watch.) That said, I love the concept of the Legacy Advantage and its introduction into the game, and here’s why: It has the potential to impact how future seasons are played. Not next season — because that was filmed before they saw this one play out on TV — but now if you are dropped on an island for season 35 of Survivor, there is another angle to be considered.
Now you have to wonder: What if there is a Legacy Advantage that can be passed from one player to another in the game? Does that mean you have to find a way to keep early booted players on your good side in the hopes of having it willed to you? Or is there a way to be even more diabolical, where if you think an alliance partner has it, then you secretly work behind that person’s back so he/she is voted out and they give you the advantage on their way to Ponderosa. Just a lot of interesting potential wrinkles to this one, even if it never actually makes it back into the game. Just the potential it may be out there could make a difference. Okay, enough about that — we have three immunity challenges, four Tribal Councils, and a million more tangents to get through, so let’s get moving!
NEXT: Jay gives away his answer…and possibly his spot in the game
The first immunity challenge is a huge build the length of a football field, as players must race through obstacles while collecting a bag of tiles, then use the numbers inside to solve a combination lock that will release a key. Then the players are supposed to cover their numbers — that will come into play later — and go under a net, over a wall, and use the key to unlock puzzle pieces before racing to solve a bat puzzle. That’s a lot of instructions I just gave, and you are forgiven if your mind started to drift into pondering what the hell Michelle was doing wearing a dragon on her shoulder during the reunion show. Honestly, I’ve had that in the back of my mind the entire time I have been writing this recap.
Jay does something very stupid and very smart at this challenge. First, the stupid: Jay is in first place in the contest after figuring out his combination lock, but then runs to the next portion without covering up his winning numbers so everyone can openly copy them. How amazing is that? I have long theorized the reason producers do not put up partitions between contestants on puzzle challenges is because they WANT them to cheat. We know the show loves big comebacks, and the best way to ensure someone can make a dramatic comeback at the end is to give them the advantage of seeing what the other person has already done. And, in fact, I actually encourage people to copy, since it is technically not cheating since it is not against the rules. I may hate the rule, but you would be a fool to not take advantage of copying if it is legal.
Anyway, here the show FINALLY takes a stand and says, “No! This time we’re going to make all the players figure it out for themselves!” And then what does Jay do but leave his numbers right out in the open. It’s like the show wanted to give us the illusion of fairness, yet some off-camera producer pulled a Jedi mind trick on Jay by waving his hand in front of his face and saying “You do not want to cover your numbers.” And sure enough, David, Hannah, Bret, and Adam all run over to copy exactly what Jay has already done. Because why wouldn’t they?
But somehow David — even though he keeps repeatedly running over to look at Jay’s numbers — is the worst cheater of all time. Even with the answer, he keeps messing up and has to go over to Jay’s station three times to finally get it right. This ineptitude becomes even more perplexing when David goes and smokes the bat puzzle, winning immunity.
Remember when I said Jay also did something really smart at this challenge? Well, it arrives in the form of what happens after David’s victory, since the immunity win also comes with a steak dinner with two guests of his choosing. I have long said that unless the absolutely perfect scenario presented itself, you would have to be crazy to use the Reward Steal. It just runs the risk of pissing off too many people — people you then could be asking to vote for you to win a million dollars. Well, Jay is not crazy and the perfect scenario does indeed present itself. Jay announces he is using the reward steal, but with his two selections on whom to bring with him, he picks David (so the winner of the challenge still gets his well-earned reward) and Adam (so the person who gave him the reward steal gets to actually benefit from it). Brilliant. No way any player can get mad at that.
So not only does Jay get his steak dinner with a side order of no-hard-feelings, but he now gets to work Adam and David on why they should keep him around to use as a shield. David and, later, Hannah both seem to be seriously considering keeping Jay around, but Adam is not having it. He rightfully points out Bret can’t win a challenge to save his life, so they should keep him around to get rid of at the next one and take out Jay while they have the opportunity, because they may not have it again.
But my favorite part of this whole scenario is a quick moment at the shelter between the two possible victims — Jay and Bret — as they openly discuss what their pitches were to get rid of the other. That is exactly what has made this season of Survivor so unique: people openly gaming against each other without an abundance of hurt feelings. There is a bevy of strategic attacks as opposed to personal ones, and I love it. This is also illustrated in Jay and Adam’s last conversation before Tribal, when Jay pleads for another shot. “Bitter rivals with brotherly love” is how Adam describes it, and that’s pretty accurate. And pretty special, too.
NEXT: Jay gets played
Man, there has been so much to like about Jay this season. It’s a shame we must go back to making fun of him. That’s because we’re heading to our first of FOUR Tribal Councils of the evening, and it’s time for that pesky fake idol to once again rear its beautifully crafted head — but only after David, who has clearly spent too much time watching Sylvester Stallone’s 1987 epic Over the Top, challenges Probst to an arm-wrestling competition.
Bret’s money is on Jeff, and so is mine. In fact, I think David might just be the only person in the entire world I could beat at arm wrestling because my arms are roughly the same width as toothpicks. (I don’t want to dwell on this too long, but it really would be a shame to mention Over the Top and not delve a bit into the high-octane Over the Top soundtrack, featuring killer cuts from Sammy Hagar, Eddie Money, Kenny Loggins, Asia, and something called Big Trouble. Naturally, Frank Stallone also managed to weasel his way onto the soundtrack with a choice cut titled “Bad Nite.” If you’ve ever spent an afternoon replaying the music video for “Far From Over” on a continuous loop, you understand why the inclusion of any Frank Stallone track is such cause for celebration.)
But back to the fake idol. First off, let’s be clear about one thing: As glorious as David’s idol was, it did not appear to make one ounce of difference in the game. It’s not as if Jay laid back and didn’t scramble or try to stay because he thought he was safe. He worked everyone and worked them hard. This was just theater…but damn good theater. It’s like Hamilton meets Book of Mormon meets The Producers meets whatever the opposite of the recent Rocky Horror Picture Show reboot is.
So here comes Jay after the votes are cast, making his big announcement as he goes over to Jeff with what he thinks is a real idol: “Jeff, I’m not going home. You guys can chase me, but you got to be quicker than that.” Okay, now I feel legitimately bad for the guy. Because it’s not his fault! That idol looked like the real deal! Jay continues bragging about how the others have to be quicker than that to get him…when they were, in fact, quicker than that. It seems as if Jay is actually more the tortoise than the hare in this situation, while still remaining “the hair,” of course.
Jay’s descent into public mockery reaches its nadir when Jeff holds up the faux idol and says “This is…” [huge Jay grin] “NOT a hidden immunity idol.” For just a brief second, as the confusion over what has just happened washes over him, I can swear Jay magically morphs into Randy Bailey. But here’s why Jay is so great.
After Ken trots out his Legacy Advantage — adding another dollop of intrigue to the proceedings — Jay sees he is voted out. But does he go off bitter and ashamed? Hell no! “You got me,” he laughs. “You guys, I hate all of you, dude.” He’s kidding, of course. “You’re all warriors,” he adds. “It was mad fun. Go ahead, Jeffrey. Snuff my torch.” That’s how you do it, people! Jay got fooled and while I’m sure he didn’t love it, he couldn’t help but appreciate and admire the move, making us appreciate and admire him in the process.
Oh, and can we stop to acknowledge the fact Probst tossed David’s “work of art” fake idol into the fire? Burned it to crisp. I know that’s his go-to move for fake immunity idols, but still… Show a little respect. That is a total collector’s item you just ruined. That sucker needs to be saved for posterity. You don’t see me strapping dynamite to Medallions of Power and blowing them up for kicks and giggles. (Speaking of which, memo to the Survivor art department: Please send me any and all Medallions of Power. Repeat: Please send me any and all Medallions of Power.)
NEXT: Hannah’s big mistake
Man, we are only one Tribal Council down. We have three more to go. I hope you brought some snacks, a frothy beverage, and possibly a neck pillow — we could be here a while. I’m going to do us all a favor and get through this next challenge really quick-like. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll soon undo all that good by going on for three paragraphs later about the color of Jeff Probst’s hat or something. (By the way, it’s green here. And yes, he is once again looking down at his feet as he welcomes the players in, but you knew that already because he always does that.)
Anyway, all you need to know about this contest is it involves maneuvering a buoy through a series of obstacles and then using two handles to transport puzzle pieces across a teeter-totter that will be used to spell out “Not a participation trophy.” As a side note, I never understood the beef people have with participation trophies. I mean, they’re not nearly as lame as the weird cream-colored “Heat Winner” swimming ribbons I used to get when I was young. When they put you in the lamest heat possible and then give you a ribbon for beating the kid with his bathing suit on backward, that’s really about as pathetic as it gets.
Anyway, Ken wins. It’s his third individual immunity victory and it will not be his last. He hoots and hollers, and then promptly apologizes for hooting and hollering. Back at the beach, Bret covers for Adam so the latter can go search for a hidden immunity idol (which he finds). I guess Bret figured it was for the common good to make sure David didn’t get it, but why you would help someone find an idol when you could be out looking for the idol and saving yourself is beyond me. You know what else is beyond me? Why at this point in the game you want to keep the person who will definitely beat you at the end, but that is exactly what Hannah wants to do with David. You need to play to win! And keeping David this close to the end is not a winning move, no matter what she says.
But alas, she helps boot Bret out of the game, leading Bret to exclaim on his way out “David, congratulations. The rest of you, you just lost a million dollars.” Well, not exactly, but the point holds. David is more respected by the jury and has a better chance of winning the next immunity, so David was the one who had to go here. Hannah’s argument later that she got done what she wanted loses some power when the things she wanted were not sound strategic moves. I mean, David and Ken were not going to vote against David at this point, so it’s not like Hannah had to flip a bunch of votes or anything — she just sided with the two people were never going to vote David out anyway. That’s not a power move.
“I cannot imagine what you will possibly say that will make me think that you did not make a huge mistake tonight,” says Adam to Hannah when they return to camp. I agree. Forget for a second David does not end up making the finals and Hannah does. It was still the wrong call at that time, because she kept a better player with a better chance of winning the next challenge over a lesser player with basically zero chance of winning the next challenge. Makes no sense. Plus, the only real chance Hannah had of winning was going into a final three with Bret and Ken. When she let Bret stay, she guaranteed either David or Adam would beat her in the finals. I’m 100-percent Team Adam on this one. A bad play by Hannah.
The other interesting point of this little night-vision convo is watching Adam explaining why David should have gone instead of Bret…right in front of David! It’s another great example of how unique this season is when it comes to no–apology strategizing. In the past, these are the types of discussions that would have taken place in whispers off in the woods or by the water. But here, you had Adam openly telling David why he should have gone and David seemingly taking no offense to hearing it. This is next-level stuff, people. And yes, pretty soon we are going to start running out of levels. (Hey, if Jeff Probst can keep finding new “Survivor firsts” after 33 seasons, I can keep finding levels.)
NEXT: An incredible final immunity challenge
Before we get to the last immunity challenge, can we just pause for the cause to note there was not one single “challenge advantage” this season? And I love it. I’m now conditioned at the end for someone to have some sort of advantage for one of the last challenges, and I am thrilled we got to see them all play out on a completely level playing field. Also interesting is we did not get any sort of last-second twist reward, like Kaôh Rōng’s kicking a member off the jury. (I actually liked that twist, but also like that we apparently will not see it every single season.)
I gotta say, when I first saw the setup for the last challenge, I was underwhelmed. For the last challenge, I want something either truly epic in size and scope or a simple (yet classic) endurance comp. Who wants it more? Who can hang on for the longest? That sort of thing. Here, we got neither. But boy, was the payoff worth it. The challenge is basically one we have seen before. Use a long pole to maneuver bowls through a channel and then stack them at the top. First to 13 — or whoever has the most stacked after 30 minutes — wins. That last part is important, and because Probst later reminds us about the 30-minute rule, it is clear nobody will make it to 13. It’s kind of like the early days of Amazing Race, where if Phil Keoghan said at the end that “The last team to arrive will be eliminated,” you knew someone was going home. But if he said “The last team to arrive may be eliminated,” you knew it was a non-elimination episode, and man, those were the worst.
So, we know nobody will make it to 13, but the twist comes in the form of a tie at the end of regulation time between Ken and Hannah. So, we go to a five-minute showdown, where whoever has the most stacked bowls after five minutes wins. The differing strategies are fascinating. Ken is more aggressive while Hannah plays defensive (kind of like how she has played the entire game, actually) hoping Ken will go too quick and it will fall. But his stack does not fall, so she hurries her pace. Ken gets four, then Hannah ties him. Ken gets five, then Hannah ties him. They tie at six. They tie at seven. Ken furiously tries to get one more on, but there are only seconds left. What do you do here? If you hurry, you may be able to get one more on in time and win. But in the rush, you can also knock your entire stack down and lose. It’s a risky, risky move and I honestly don’t know what I would have done in this decision — play for the tie or go for the win. I like to think the former, but that may just be me lying to myself so I sound more like a badass. I probably would have wussed out.
Ken decides to go for it, and with ONE SECOND LEFT, he gets down the eighth and winning bowl. BOOM! Wow. Again… Wow. Let’s just all bow down to the Survivor gods for a moment and thank them for that insanely dramatic finish to the most important challenge of the season. I mean, I knew Mark Burnett could do the impossible — he helped get Donald Trump elected, for crying aloud! — but unless this challenge was truly touched by an angel, then how in the name of crazy reality-show-producer beards did he and the entire show get so lucky for it to come down to the last possible second?
I am right now giving that entire challenge the most dramatic slow clap in history, but only in my mind, because to actually stand up and slow clap at my television would be downright weird and probably scare my cats. But trust me, in my mind the slow clap is more epic than the slow clap from Cool Runnings! More epic than the slow clap from Rudy! More epic than the slow clap from Mystery, Alaska! More epic than the slow clap from Hoosiers! Nope. No. Scratch that. I went too far on that last one. Nothing is more epic than the slow clap from Hoosiers. Those small-town hicks are truly in a league of their own, which, interestingly enough, does not have a slow-clap scene, but does have a perpetually drunk Tom Hanks — so that kind of makes up for it.
Anyhoodle, Ken wins! Again! It’s his fourth individual immunity victory, which would seem to give him a rock-solid résumé for the final Tribal, but since nobody there — rightly or wrongly — seems to respect his game, he could have probably swept every single challenge and still not won in the end…unless the competition was suddenly changed to World’s Hottest Introvert.
NEXT: Ken makes something somewhat resembling a move
The big question now becomes: Will Ken honor his final-three deal with David? You and me and the apple tree all know it doesn’t matter, because then it just comes down to whether Ken loses to David or Adam. But Ken doesn’t know that. He probably thinks he has a good shot at it due to all his immunity victories. He also is in a tight spot — you know he’s going to throw words like “trust” and “honor” out at the final Tribal — but how can you do that if you throw your closest alliance partner in the game under the proverbial bus? He really is in a no-win situation here — literally.
While Hannah tries to work Ken to flip on David — something Adam will later get credit for at final Tribal from Chris, incidentally — David and Adam have a fascinating conversation of their own. David tells Adam it makes more sense for him and Hannah to go at each other since he has a firm final-three deal with Ken, but Adam is having none of it. And here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the quote of the season — and it comes from Adam. “If they don’t vote you out, I lose the game. So what does it matter? I end up in third place instead of fourth? I’m not here for that. The only way I have any kind of chance whatsoever is if you go home. That’s it.”
Yes! Yes! A million times yes! This is exactly the attitude you want from every Survivor contestant. Instead of sticking around for a little extra cash and a little extra air time, Adam is going for it all. He’s had an air of desperation all season. Sometimes it got him in a bit of trouble when he overplayed his hand, but there has never been any doubt Adam came to play and play hard.
We head to Tribal to see whether Ken will flip on David or if we’re heading to a fire-making tiebreaker. Everyone has an agenda. Probst tries to convince the jury the narrative of the final challenge should not be that Ken won but that Hannah almost beat him, while Adam continues to work Ken on why he needs to get rid of David. David, meanwhile, uses that as an opportunity to work the jury, saying he has played better than Adam and going so far as to actually adjust Adam’s hand even higher after Adam uses it to illustrate what a high level David has played at.
Unfortunately for him, Ken is also there listening and votes him out. It was a great run for David, who started the game playing way too paranoid but settled into a groove and played from a place of confidence (but not overconfidence) rather than fear. If Ken doesn’t flip, then David probably wins that fire-making tiebreaker and wins the game. He was that close. And keep in mind, he easily could have been the first one out. He’ll get another shot, of course. David will be getting an invitation to return at some point. It is only a matter of when.
We finally have our final three — Ken, Hannah, and Adam. And at this point, the outcome is pretty much decided. Now, granted, at this point last season I thought an Aubry win was pretty much decided, and we all saw how that turned out. But there is something different about this season, and that difference is this: As I did exit interviews with jury members this season and asked them whom they wanted to go to the end with, two names kept popping up: Ken and Hannah. This tells you they found those two to be the most beatable people out there. Which also tells you they are not going to vote for them at the end. Also, this jury is just different. You can just tell they respect strong gameplay more than the Kaôh Rōng jury, whose egos couldn’t handle getting bested strategically by Aubry.
In any event, let’s head to the final Tribal Council to do two things:
My big question about Zeke’s wardrobe is whether he actually dresses like this in his real life or if he specifically bought a wardrobe of outrageously loud shirts just for TV. Either way, my compliments. Okay, let’s get to the juror questions, which we will handle one by one.
NEXT: The Jury questions begin!
Taylor says he still hasn’t made up his mind whom to vote for — how millennial of him! — so asks them to each pitch him for his vote. Essentially, he is offering them an opportunity to make opening statements. Hannah tries to play the evolution card while also saying she deserves his vote because she put everyone on the jury in the order they got there. That’s probably her best argument, even if the order often made little-to-no sense. Ken says he built his game on loyalty — which means he undercut his own argument with his last vote on David — while Adam says he played the best game of the three of them, pure and simple.
Sunday asks if they played more like a Millennial or a Gen Xer. I’m not sure how that is applicable in the least, other than to unnecessarily hammer home this season’s theme one more time. Thankfully, the answers are a bit more interesting than the question. Ken says he is super old-school and very rigid, but people who are adaptable are also known as flippers. Hannah uses the opportunity to take credit for getting rid of Sunday, punctuating it with the comment that “and Adam, as usual, went along with what my move was.” That’s actually Hannah’s best strategy at this point and smart of her to point out. She needs the jury to see her as the person who called the shots. The problem is, Adam points out that while Hannah may have made certain strategic decisions, they were bad ones, and I tend to agree. Call that answering session a draw between the two of them.
Jessica hits Ken in his most vulnerable spot, and by that, I do not mean his penis. What I mean is she calls him out for making his game all about loyalty, and then going and backstabbing his biggest ally at the end. There’s no getting around that one for Ken, but he does about as good a job as you can by explaining his family must come first. “David, you are my no. 2 alliance,” he says while starting to get choked up. “No. 1 is my daughter. Only reason.” That was well-handled. In fact, all three finalists are doing pretty well so far.
On the flip side, Will loves Ken’s move to get David out, although he’s confused about what happened on the Bret vote — so Adam uses it as another example to hammer Hannah for what he sees as faulty strategy. “I think it was a terrible decision to leave David in the game and could have been a million-dollar mistake,” he announces, and while Hannah then gets a bit heated and says she was making her own decisions and sticking to her guns, it is likely the jury agrees with Adam.
Again, that shirt. Tremendous. Zeke then informs the final three that “We are in the midst of the evolution of Survivor strategy.” Normally I hate it when cast members pat themselves on the back for being so much better than everyone who came before them. We’ve seen this self-congratulatory behavior a lot in recent seasons —especially in Second Chance, which was filmed and aired right before this group went out to play — and a lot of it is phony baloney. But there is something to what Zeke is saying here. Now, I would not go so far as to say these contestants played better than people before them, but they did play differently in terms of open strategizing and separation of gameplay and personal feelings.
The Strategy Police will not be writing up a citation for Zeke in this instance. Zeke then says the winner should reflect that evolution while dismissing Ken out of hand for doing nothing to evolve the game. (Tough, but fair.) Adam responds by saying he kept big threats in front of him, while Hannah insists on using the phrase “Trust Cluster” again, which just sounds more like a breakfast cereal than a legitimate strategy.
Things get a bit heated again with Hannah insisting “Adam is very good at taking credit.” That’s another effective jab. Look, I don’t agree with Hannah’s arguments. I’ve made that clear. But I do love how she came to fight at final Tribal. She’s trying her best to not let Adam set the narrative, and for that, she should be commended. The problem is, Adam’s narrative is just better.
NEXT: More jury questions and a big decision by Adam
We know Bret is not a big Ken fan, back from when he snapped “Welcome to the game, Ken” a few weeks back. He revisits this again when he asks Ken to name when he started actually playing, and then cuts him off and re-asks the question when he does not like the answer he gets. Bret then wants clarification from Adam on getting David out, leading to a minor beef between Ken and Adam when Adam says Ken would not do what needed to be done. “Continue to underestimate me,” says Ken, but the problem is if everyone is underestimating him, then he ain’t winning the million dollars. “Stop underestimating me!” probably would have made a bit more sense in this situation. Just sayin’.
Now here’s where things get interesting. I mean, I guess they have already been interesting, but now they get even more interesting. Jay asks Adam a very innocuous question about why Adam didn’t use him to take out David. Personally, I’m not really a fan of when jurors make the question all about themselves (“Why did you do this to me?”), but whatever.
What’s interesting is what happens next, as Adam tells Jay he does genuinely love him like a brother and “You know why.” This is referring to the talk they had on the hammock when Adam revealed his mother’s cancer diagnosis. “You know why I’m playing this game and why it’s so important to me,” responds Adam. “And you were in the way.” Here was the opening. This is the chance — if he wants — to go for the sympathy vote and let the entire jury know about his Survivor superfan mom and her medical condition.
“You don’t have to talk about it,” says Jay as Adam fights back tears. But here was a completely organic way for Adam to talk about it and possibly write his million-dollar check with the moving story of his mother. Yet Adam did not go there. The question I keep asking is: Why? Why did he not seize upon the perfect opportunity to — in the parlance of Jeff Probst — “dig deep” into juror’s hearts? At the moment, did he not want to use his mother’s sickness as a ploy? Was he worried it would be seen as too manipulative by the jury? Was he concerned they simply might not believe him and think it to be a Jonny Fairplay-type lie? Or, did he want to pull a Jeremy Collins?
Jeremy waited until the last possible minute of Second Chance’s final Tribal Council to reveal tearfully his wife, Val, was home pregnant with a baby. He wanted that to be the last thing in juror’s minds before they went up to vote. Was it manipulative? Of course! Was it effective? You betcha! So was Adam not revealing his mother’s situation here because he was worried about how it would play, or because he thought it would play better at the end? Clearly, the end is better, but you never know what that last question is going to be. What if it is like Jonathan Penner in the Philippines and not a question at all, but someone just gets up there and starts blabbing about oxen and carts and chariots and a slaughter? What do you do then?
So if Adam was deliberately waiting until the very end to pull on those emotional heartstrings, it was a gamble. And let me be clear about something: I have ZERO PROBLEM with Adam using that information as a tool if he felt it could help him strategically in the game. Now, as a juror, it would be up to me whether I let that influence my decision in terms of who actually played the best game — but as a player, you use every tool in your toolbox, and if he saw that information as something that would help him, then he should use it. His mother would want him to use it! But the question remains: Did he plan to unveil it at the end, or was it a last-minute change of mind? (A question I will be sure to ask him when we speak Thursday morning.)
NEXT: The winner of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X is crowned
I’ve traditionally been a fan of the advocacy plea. Instead of getting up there with a benign or useless question — especially when you’ve already made up your mind —why not try to talk some sense into people, especially if you sense it is a group suffering from BJS (Bitter Jury Syndrome)? I’m not sure it was really necessary here, with Chris using his time to advocate for Adam, but what is funny is watching him credit Adam for convincing Ken to finally flip on David. Chris calls it the “biggest move in the game.” He praises Adam’s “cunning” and “intelligence” in orchestrating the flip. Just one small thing: Didn’t Hannah get Ken to flip? At least that’s the way it was presented on TV, that Adam left Hannah to do the heavy lifting on that one. We do not hear her protest, but Ken sure isn’t too happy about it. “I’m amazed you think he had the gumption to make that vote because no one convinced me to make that vote against David,” Ken says. “That was my choice.”
Whether that is true or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is whether the jury believes it, and it is clear they do not. Perception equals reality in this game and if the jury perceives Adam flipped Ken, then Ken and Hannah are just going to have to file that under T for Tough Noogies.
“I came in under this dictatorship of fear and anxiety,” says David. “And I’m going to leave it ready for a revolution.” Whoa! Slow down there, Che Guevara! Also, not to get technical, but isn’t the revolution not supposed to be televised, at least according to Gil Scott-Heron? In any event, David asks the finalists how they changed for the better. Again, pretty lame question, but after Hannah and Ken give boilerplate responses about how much they evolved and had to push well past their respective comfort zones, Adam drops the emotional hammer. He talks about how it has been a personal dream since he was 9 years old to be on the show, how he applied with his mom for Blood vs. Water, how she now has stage 4 lung cancer, and how he felt like he was playing with her out there on the island.
If it was a strategic gamble to wait until the very end to reveal it — the same way Jeremy waited in Second Chance — then it paid off. If it was a last-minute audible he called at the line of scrimmage, then that paid off as well. And if he was simply speaking directly from the heart with no consideration at all in terms of how it would play strategically — as difficult as that may be for someone like myself to imagine — well… It still paid off.
All that is left is for Jeff Probst to transport the votes — IN THE MOST BORING MANNER POSSIBLE! — back to the United States so Adam can claim his million-dollar prize. (Probst did promise me one more dramatic jet-skiing/skydiving/subway-riding/motorcycle-wheeling epic vote delivery, but every season he insists on disappointing me.) Indeed, the vote is unanimous, which is not a surprise, even though Hannah gave a solid final TC performance.
But wait! We’re not done — there is a whole reunion show to get to. Who will be snubbed? What random person from the audience will all of a sudden end up with a microphone in his or her face? And who will be that person from the cast who always bizarrely ends up looking better out on the island then they do back home?
In the most shocking twist of all, the reunion action stays completely on the stage. There are no questions from kids, or random John Cochran and Boston Rob shots, or international pop sensations crashing the set. It is just Probst talking to the players. Even the new Game Changers cast (and you can read tons more about NEXT season of Survivor right here) comes on the stage instead of forcing Probst out into the crowd. And I gotta say, I loved the old-school feel of the reunion show in that way. No, Probst didn’t talk to everyone, but I never feel like that’s necessary anyway. After all, did we really need to hear from Lucy?
NEXT: The most emotional reunion-show moment ever
Yes, there was probably too much of a focus on seemingly everyone overcoming insecurities. That starts to feel a little one-note after a while — here’s hoping every season does not feature an alleged nerd progressively becoming less nerdy throughout the season, which is starting to turn into a Survivor staple — but overall, it was great to hear the cast talk about the season. (And, yes, to watch Taylor — who appeared to be wearing quite a bit of eye makeup — squirm while discussing the baby he conceived before he went on the show and fell in love with Figgy.)
Of course, the best part was watching Adam talk about his mom. Well, that’s not entirely true. The best part was that dragon perched on Michelle’s shoulder.
But outside of our resident Khaleesi, the best part was Adam talking about making it home to his mom before she passed and getting to share his incredible experience with her. You could see the entire cast drying their eyes behind him, and with good reason. That is about as emotional and memorable as it gets and really raised this entire reunion show above and beyond what we are normally used to.
Incredible stuff. And just an incredible season in general. But we’re not done yet, people! We’ve got goodies for you. So many goodies. Like the exclusive deleted scene from the finale below. And our aforementioned Q&A with Jeff Probst about Survivor: Game Changers. We’ll also have a finale/reunion Q&A with Probst up soon, as well as interviews with Adam and the entire final six. (You can hear live interviews with the finalists on EW Radio at 9 a.m. ET on SiriusXM, channel 105.) Of course, for tons of Survivor scoop sent right to you, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
But now it’s your turn. What did you think of the finale? Did the right person win? Did David’s fake idol top Bob Crowley’s? Did you cry like a baby during the reunion? Hit the message boards to weigh in! But that’s going to do it for me. Another season of recapping in the books. Thanks so much to everyone for reading this nonsense (all 8,400 words of it). I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the kind words you all leave here and on Twitter. It makes it all worthwhile. Enjoy the holidays, and I will see you in a few months with a supersized scoop of the 2017 crispy!