If you’re like me, you get giddy with anticipation before each Final Tribal Council. In terms of the story of a season, it is the perfect bookend to all the scheming, plotting, and epic competition. However, I occasionally find myself pondering: How big of an impact does the Final Tribal Council really have on who wins the game? Can someone truly grab the million through a great performance or, alternatively, fall short simply due to the Final Tribal Council?
My goal with this article is to speculate about the influence of the Final Tribal Council on the entire jury and an individual juror basis. As a disclaimer, none of this should be interpreted as conclusive, but rather my personal perspective.
The first topic we have to explore is whether or not the jury, as a whole, come to Final Tribal Council with the winner already picked. In any given Final Tribal Council, a juror states something to the effect of, “My vote is up in the air.” However, that jury member has spent a considerable amount of time playing with or against the finalists, as well as observing them from the jury bench. It is highly unlikely that a juror can come into the Final Tribal Council with absolutely no pre-conceived notions on how deserving each finalist is of the title of Sole Survivor. The jurors will undoubtedly approach their observation and questioning at the Final Tribal Council with a level of confirmation bias.
Suppose you are a juror who has viewed one of the finalists as a “dead fish” for most of the game, would you truly change your tune after hearing how they controlled the game? It is easy, and in some cases helpful, to throw other people in simple and confining classifications. These classifications as they pertain to Survivor could be, for example, determining that a challenge beast had no strategic say. Even more, than in everyday life, perception is a reality within the game of Survivor.
You might be wondering, though: What if a finalist gives final remarks or responds to a question in a way rousing enough to break out of the narrow judgments that the jury members have made about them?
There is undeniably a case for a finalist securing an otherwise uncertain win through a fantastic Final Tribal Council performance. One of the clearest examples is the Final Tribal Council of Survivor: China. Everyone’s favorite poker player (okay… maybe not Courtney’s), Jean-Robert Bellande promised Todd Herzog that Todd would lose his vote by betraying him- before Todd promptly betrayed him. Jean-Robert brought this up to Todd at the Final Tribal Council. You can watch Todd’s response in all its glory here: Todd owning Jean-Robert.
Jean-Robert went on to vote for Todd. This does build a case for a finalist being able to swing individual jury members. In Todd’s case, Jean-Robert’s vote was the one he needed to secure the win. My feeling is that Todd’s case is more the exception than the rule. Survivor: China had a particularly competitive Final 3, which gave the Final Tribal Council more weight.
There are clear contrary examples to the idea presented by Survivor: China’s Final Tribal Council. A very current case is the winner of Survivor: Second Chance, Jeremy Collins. I have seen the complaints (mainly on the brain trust of the Survivor Facebook page) that Jeremy solely became the Sole Survivor because he revealed his wife, Val, was pregnant. My personal sense of the jury was that Jeremy had already won the game going into the Final Tribal Council, and at most gained a vote or two from his revelation. It is impossible to say that Jeremy won by the merit of his game, but it is a safe assumption considering the members of the jury.
The truth is that great Survivor players do not need to rely on the Final Tribal Council to win. The narrative they have built up for themselves along with the bonds they have made are what lead to a finalist gaining the jury’s support. The Final Tribal Council is an excellent way to close a season of Survivor, but its usefulness is only present if a finalist has made all the right moves up to that point.
Although the theatrics of the Final Tribal Council are very entertaining, fans of not just the show, but the game itself should be skeptical of how much of a difference it makes in any given season. There will always be outliers to any assertion, though. In fact, I look forward to seeing more competitive Final Tribal Councils in the future. It also should be acknowledged that I have probably chased after my own confirmation bias. Then again, these are just my thoughts. I look forward to hearing yours.