Survivor: Kaôh Rōng Episode 14 Review – Going Out With A Huh?

Survivor: Kaôh Rōng, the season that exceeded expectations, leaves audiences confused in a fine but flawed season finale.

It had everything against it. A brutal location. Three medical evacuations. A successful returnee season to follow. Lack of hype and excitement from CBS. But like Leicester City winning the English Premier League, Survivor: Kaôh Rōng, the underestimated outsider that never stood a chance, captured the hearts of the public and exceeded all expectations. However, unlike Leicester City, Kaôh Rōng didn’t quite bury that final goal in the back of the net.

Last week’s medical evacuation of Joe Del Campo opened up a range of possibilities heading into the finale. The final four all had the capability of working with one another, or against one another. Throughout the merge, Aubry Bracco and Cydney Gillon had worked in tandem to control the majority of the votes, but they also recognized each other as threats. Cydney also had a tight friendship with Michele Fitzgerald and stuck her neck on the line to save her in the past. Likewise, Aubry had a close relationship with Tai Trang, but he had also grown closer to Michele in the previous episode. It was a dynamic and likable final four that seemed primed to deliver an exciting, unpredictable finale.

For the first 45 minutes of the episode, it was indeed exciting. Aubry had won a reward challenge and worked on cementing her bond with Cydney. The target was firmly pointed at Michele as the next boot until she came from behind to win a hotly contested final immunity challenge. Now, Aubry appeared to be in danger, with the rest of the tribe realizing she was a big jury threat. But once again, her psychic bond with Tai saved the day, forcing a tie between herself and Cydney and leading to a fire-making challenge at tribal council. These are all classic ingredients of a thrilling finale episode.

Aubry Bracco and Cydney Gillon in a fire-making challenge in Episode 14 of Survivor: Kaoh Rong.

Aubry Bracco and Cydney Gillon in a fire-making challenge in Episode 14 of Survivor: Kaoh Rong.

Cydney was not only one of this season’s best players but one of the most naturally gifted players Survivor has ever seen. It was, of course, sad to see her go this close to the end, but the finale still had momentum on its side. Once again Aubry had overcome another obstacle and pushed on forward, just like Kaôh Rōng itself had done all season long. But then it stumbled over the ball, and things got a little bit confusing.

Jeff Probst and production can claim all they want that the “jury twist” was something they had planned before the season, but one can’t help but think it was hastily thrown in at the end due to Joe’s evacuation and the number of days remaining. Instead of an immunity challenge and a tribal council to determine a final two, the show decided to introduce a game-changing advantage, one that allowed the winner of the challenge to remove a jury member. Twists are necessary to keep the show evolving and exciting. This one, however, felt fundamentally flawed and not interesting enough to warrant such a significant change to the rules.

It’s highly unlikely that Neal Gottlieb remaining on the jury would have changed the outcome, and his insensitive comments to Michele as he left didn’t make us sympathize with his plight. Regardless, allowing a player the ability to kick someone off the jury screws with Survivor’s most interesting facet – having to vote people out but still get their vote at the end. Getting to vote someone out, and then vote that someone out again, leads into dangerous territory where people don’t have to feel repercussions for their actions. Was it worth trying? Possibly. Should it be done again? Definitely not.

But that wasn’t what caused all the confusion. No. What left audiences baffled was the final result. Michele beating Aubry so handily, five votes to two, was to many people, completely out of left-field. It was not the kind of unpredictability people wanted. While those expert edit readers recognized the high chance of Michele winning the season based on her abundance of air-time, it was not something understood by a casual audience who had been set-up for an Aubry victory. As pointed out on the Purple Rock Podcast, even those reading the edit weren’t prepared for Michele’s victory against Aubry. You only had to take a quick glance at social media after the finale to get an idea of people’s utter bewilderment.

That isn’t to take away from Michele’s game. She accomplished what only 30 other people have managed to do. Even though she didn’t have a lot of control over the game, she made social bonds and pulled out formidable challenge victories towards the end when she needed to. For this jurors that was enough. The problem lies then with the story-telling. Without turning this into an Edgic post, it’s worth focusing on the edit for a minute. Usually, Survivor is edited in one of two ways: 1) Here’s how Person A won or 2) Here’s how Person B lost. In most seasons it’s clear what led to a particular result. That wasn’t the case here, and it’s what has created such a backlash, unfairly, against Michele.

Michele Fitzgerald winning the final immunity challenge in Episode 14 of Survivor: Kaoh Rong.

Michele Fitzgerald winning the final immunity challenge in Episode 14 of Survivor: Kaoh Rong.

There have been quiet, or social game focused winners in the past; Danni Boatwright and Natalie White come to mind. The difference between their victories and Michele’s is that it was very clear why their final tribal council opponent lost. Stephenie LaGrossa, a fan-favourite in her previous season, was shown as cocky and rude throughout Guatemala. Russell Hantz, despite his aggressive game-play, was also portrayed to be bullish and arrogant, and disliked by many of his tribemates. Even though those results also came with a backlash, especially Natalie’s win, it was easy to see why the other person lost. The problem here isn’t “Why did Michele win?” but rather “Why did Aubry lose?” The edit never made it fully clear why Aubry lost, and that is what caused the shock and confusion that is still resonating.

Was Aubry flawless? Of course not. She lost five jury votes. Her social bonds were obviously not up to par with Michele’s. But was that explained in the edit? Again, people who read deep into these things could point out the errors – her indecisiveness being the main one. It wasn’t clearly made, though. In fact, the opposite of that happened. Aubry was shown in control and her tribemates complimented her game, the same people that ultimately voted against her! Meanwhile, we saw little of that stuff for Michele until the end. In actuality, a lot of her bonds were hidden which is a shame given that her tribemates clearly well liked her.

On the one hand, it’s great that we went into a season finale without a clear winner (*cough* Mike Holloway). On the contrary, it felt like something was missing to explain the “how” of the result. But perhaps this was an accurate portrayal of what happened on the island. Aubry played a solid strategic game, but Michele had the better social game. There isn’t much you can do with that in the end.

Overall, Survivor: Kaôh Rōng was a season that was far more enjoyable than it had any right to be. It never let its unfortunate circumstances drag it down. It introduced us to some colorful characters, unpredictable gameplay, and of course, Mark the Chicken. Even though many are unsatisfied with the conclusion, it shouldn’t be held against the season as a whole. So long Kaôh Rōng.

Martin is a 28-year-old writer from Hull, England represented by Berlin Associates. He graduated from the University of Hull in English and Creative Writing. But if you have found yourself on this website you probably know him better as “Redmond” – the Survivor spoiler.

  • José

    As far as I’ve heard in exit interviews, Aubry’s main mistake was ignoring the people she didn’t want to work with. She only talked to people from her alliance. That’s a huge mistake. Michele’s win is well deserved… just hope edit had shown more of her strategy. The fact that she spent 22 days without going to tribal didn’t let her “strategize”. I would have been happy with either Aubry or Michele winning.

    • Matthew Hecht

      Well let us see.
      Nick- Not on her alliance, but it is clear she was willing to work with him. She tried to recruit him, and he was trying to make a move with her. He also voted for her.
      Debbie- In the very beginning it was shown that they were in opposite alliances but willing to work with each other. hey then did work together.
      Scot- She did work with him for the Peter vote out and Scot specifically said Aubry was willing to work with the other alliance. After that he was gunning for her and being unwilling to work with someone from another alliance unless they first went to him. He then went to her again (his boot episode) to vote out Cydney. Clearly Scot thinks that not working with him is being unwilling, while she just realized Scot an alliance with Scot is bad for her (based on him targeting her later a good move).
      Julia- She worked with Julia on several votes. For someone obviously playing both sides that is about as close as it can get without being in their final three plan.
      Jason- She never worked with him.
      Cydney- Of course.
      Besides Jason, Anna, and Liz she proved with votes she was willing to vote with them at some point (15/18).

      • José

        Other people had to talk to Julia… Aubry wouldn’t. Aubry had to trust Michele in convincing Julia.

        In the Peter’s vote, it was Tai (and Julia) who approached her. She just reply with a “I’ll let you know.”

  • Joe

    For one thing, I thought Aubry stumbled before the finish line with a rather “off” FTC performance. It seemed as if the thing that made her naturally “her” was missing from the get-go of it all. Michele, on the other hand, showed a lot more astuteness, awareness and authenticity in her delivery. Not to mention, she was confident in going about it. That most likely may have made the difference.

  • Trex

    Is anyone paying attention to the animal edits. All those shots of snakes, web spinning spiders and devowering ants tell lots of where the story is going. That could be a whole other chart! Awesome site. This is the first season ive seen this site and I’m in awe of all the thought, intelligence and man hours that go into it!

    • Martin Holmes

      Thank you! And yes, there is definitely something to be said for the use of animals in the show. We mention them now and again in our Edgic articles, but it might be worth looking even deeper next season. Thanks for your support.

      • José Zepeda

        I thought everyone else realized about it before lol

        Specially when they’e being sneaky and they show snakes.

      • DanM

        The dead fish was an interesting (and I believe new) piece of imagery that seemed to coincide with the theme of harsh conditions/medical problems this season.

        I haven’t had a chance to re-watch but I know for certain it was in the intro and the Caleb evac episode.

  • Enmanuel C.

    OMG I TOTALLY AGREE WITH THIS POST!!!!! It’s not that Michele doesn’t deserve the win, she does because she played a solid game but the problem was the edit, why focuing on Aubrey too much if she is gonna lose? I mean she can be shown in control ok but show us more of Michele’s game, her confessionals were vague, they did not show us why she was going to win, we don’t have a bad winner, we had a bad edit and that’s why the finale of a great season was unsatisfying.

    • Joe

      I disagree on her confessionals being vague. If anything, she still had substantial strategic content and her confessionals were confident enough yet calculated so that she didn’t look foolish when something didn’t go her way.

  • taya

    I’m happy the result was so unexpected. I did not want an expected result… it just was the perfect end to a season with so many blindsides and twists. I saw all the edgic theories but was glad that the show showed us so many possible contenders.

    I think we saw Aubry’s weaknesses too – she was off/on with confidence. She played such a solid game but then couldn’t articulate it or deliver it to the jury. She said it best herself in an interview when she said – it just wasn’t her moment and Survivor is all about moments.

    I think the recent seasons have been so much about power moves and this season went above and beyond with them.. many people thought the jury is above bitterness and now really respects power moves and a person in control. But this season proved that’s really not true… really depends on the group of people… otherwise they would have loved to see Cydney or Aubry win.

    Survivor’s best twist as you said – ‘having to vote people out but still get their vote at the end’ strikes again 🙂

  • hoodieNation

    I was 100% sure Aubry was going win. And somehow super happy that Michelle got it. Felt like a underdog/Cinderella type finish.

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