Firstly, I would like to thank the readers of these recaps. Both Evan and I have a deep love of the game and I hope that comes across to you all. I appreciate everyone that takes the time to read our analysis and those that put up with my rants and hot takes (plenty of more hot takes yet to come). It’s been a fun season and all that I can wish for is that our coverage entertained you guys along the way.
I didn’t get to eulogize my beloved Tara last week, so I’ll start my final recap of the season with my thoughts on her game and her exit. It’s come out in exit interviews (which aren’t canon) that Tara had a better understanding of Survivor and a stronger hold on the game than the edit depicted. It must be hard for anyone to go out there, have an amazing experience, make moves and come home to a purple edit. We’ve all made jokes (me especially) about how useless she is, and I feel bad that she didn’t get more shine in the edit. The way she went out might have something to do with the editors burying her.
Tara has gotten a lot of flack for “quitting.” It’s weird that the fanbase would have such a problem with her decision because it probably ended up saving Lisa (Dave beats Lisa in a fire challenge surely) and it gave us a very competitive final three which is what we all want as fans. How often do we wish the zero-vote finalists have a shred of self-awareness and give up their spot to someone more “deserving”? I love that even on her way out Tara was still hustling, outplaying even gamebot Lisa to get what she wanted. You only get prize money for coming in first (to my knowledge) so what’s so wrong with Tara falling on her sword here? The audience would have been livid if Lisa went out fourth and Tara was sitting at the end instead. Be a little grateful.
Entering the finale, I would have been okay with any result. Each of the finalists had a story (some better than others), and there were enough reasons why any one of them could win or lose. It would all come down to what the jury valued most.
The U.S. seasons tend to cram three immunity challenges, a reward challenge or two, three votes, final tribal and the reunion into their last episode. I enjoyed having a whole episode to see Matt’s downfall. I even enjoyed the predictable Adam boot and Tara’s swan song. Saying that; I wasn’t sure what would happen in the finale as there wasn’t much left to cover. Ultimately the team behind the show decided on having half the episode be a dragged out reunion. I actually like what the U.S. Survivor reunions have been doing lately. You don’t need an hour-long glorified clip show like what ended happening with Survivor New Zealand.
Opening the episode, Matt Chisholm recaps the season going through the major events that led us to this final three. These season recaps are interesting to see what spin they put on these events. Lisa seemingly gets credit for Arun’s vote out (something that would have happened anyway) and co-credit with Matt for Brad’s blindside (she was a part of it I guess). When Chisholm talks up Tess’s game, he starts at day 37. He really tries to sell us on her but like… what was she doing for the 37 days before winning those last couple of immunity challenges?
After the opening credits, we get straight into final tribal council. This is my favorite part of Survivor. For me, the game only really starts at final tribal. Lisa is the first to give her opening statement. She stresses that she’s a fan which gets an eye roll from Renee. Lisa talks about her limitations and frames her moves (even inaction) through a strategic lens. Lisa does a pretty good job selling herself. Most of the jury have a good poker face, so it’s hard to see if her pitch is working. Matt and Tara are all smiles though.
Lisa does the one thing she needed to which is own up to playing the game. She admits to lying but says her personal relationships were real and if anyone could get to the end without lying, they’re a better player than she is. This gets a big smirk from Tess (who is ironically lying to herself in this moment). Lisa talks about how hard voting Matt out was (Dave has got you beat there) but her first alliance was with her family. That’s always the perfect argument to make. It softens you and makes your actions forgivable. Overall Lisa does pretty well here. I was surprised how composed she was and that she managed to break her game down as well as she did. Not only that, but she connected with the jury emotionally, which is what I thought her biggest hurdle would be.
Tess is up next riding in on her high horse. Her argument centres around honesty. She kind of has been loyal to her alliances, but I don’t think she has made it 39 days without bending the truth a little. She betrayed Kaysha and Liam to some extent. And last episode she lied to Dave and then wrote his name down. It’s all a bit hypocritical. Tess goes on to say that she didn’t rely on alliances (calling it The INVISIBLE five doesn’t make it so) and that also fought hard to be there by hanging onto two poles and even when she should have made moves she didn’t (unorthodox argument) because she’s an honest gal.
The 24-year-old office manager finishes up by saying she was poor growing up (what’s this got to do with anything?). If I had a heart it would be inspirational I guess. At this point, I wondered if every finalist would have some emotional story I’d have to listen to. For someone that had never seen Survivor before, Tess makes the best argument she could. A vote for Tess is the anti-Lisa vote. If you hate Lisa’s “cutthroat gameplay” you can send your vote Tess’s way. Tess is seen as the honest Kiwi battler, and I suppose from a certain point of view, she is. My thing with players like Tess is that it’s easy to be liked and stay honest if you never vote the right way. Her vote was barely a factor (even in the final four vote). Tess was basically camping for 39 days. And how are we still framing her as an underdog?! She was in the majority since the beginning only having to start fighting on day 37.
Finishing off opening statements is Dave. He doesn’t yet understand what’s about to happen. (Badadadada) I’m lovin’ it. He makes every argument I hoped he would. Hearing Dave plead his case removes doubts I had about his strategic game. He talks about using Arun as a shield – a concept I didn’t think he would grasp yet alone utilize. Dave does something few have done by bringing spectacle into final tribal, pulling out his hidden immunity idol and wearing it around his neck. Not to be outdone by the women sitting next to him it’s Dave’s turn to tug the heartstrings of the jury. Dave and his mother came to NZ for a better life. He grew up with a lot of health difficulties and his mum always made sacrifices so that he could be taken care of – now it’s Dave’s turn to take care of her. Matt knows all this (they’re best mates after all), so it makes his bombshell even more dickish. In any regular season, this would be more than enough reason to vote for Dave, yet we all know things will soon come crashing down.
Now it’s the jury’s turn to gather information, let out some frustration and decide who will be crowned the winner. Arun is up first asking Tess if she’s ever seen the show and she says no. Tess went with honesty here which was probably a mistake. Say you were playing into the ditsy blond stereotype and you’re actually a super duper fan (or at least are familiar with the show). The game doesn’t finish when you’re in front of the jury. If anything that’s when you should be playing hardest. Arun asks Dave how he made it there which feels like an escape hatch for Dave. If he answers honestly, bringing up his friendship with Matt it makes it easier for Arun and the jury to vote for him. Dave punts it with an incoherent ramble about “strategy bro” – of all Dave’s mistakes this season that was the biggest one. He had a chance to get ahead of scandals and own it. Cover-ups are always worse than the crime.
Brad is up to question Dave. He informs him that Matt revealed the details of their childhood friendship at Jury Villa and asks if it has hurt or helped his ability to win. Dave doesn’t appear that shocked, almost like he expected Matt to screw him over. Dave had planned to tell the jury during Matt’s jury question (another reason why Matt is a dickhead). Dave handles himself well, explaining the positives and negatives of having Matt in the game and does his best to distance himself from that pre-game relationship. It’s not what Brad or Adam want to hear, but they were always going to be Tess votes anyway.
OMG, Renee. What the hell is wrong with that girl? It’s all about Renee and that one vote that didn’t matter. She blames Dave for targeting her (Chisholm thankfully calls her out at the reunion) and asks why she should give him her jury vote. Dave was never going to give an answer she would be happy with because you can’t reason with crazy. Eve offers Lisa a gimmie question of whether or not her family would be proud and then it’s almost a repeat of Brad’s question to Dave. He doesn’t know if he would be there without Matt. How can you answer that? What we all know for sure is Matt wouldn’t be sitting on the jury without Dave’s help. And as for Adam, his question is just a dig at Dave. The answers didn’t matter at all, he went in there as Tess’s biggest fan and nothing that went on would have swayed him one bit.
Matt then gets on his soapbox preaching about fairness and what’s right for the game (We get it. You’re a hero) before asking why Dave voted him out. Dave doesn’t stroke his ego (pointing out Matt’s errors) which probably wasn’t the right angle to take. I’m not entirely sure the best way to tackle Matt. He’s not going to own up to his own mistakes (Matt is a saint!). He feels so betrayed that he’s made it his mission that Dave doesn’t win. Then Tara finishes things off by asking the standard “How have you changed?” question (that they edit out of most U.S. seasons). They all give generic nothing answers.
Back to the live reunion for the reading of the votes. Whoever is in charge of the live reunion taping is pretty bad at hiding the winner. Last year they focused on Avi’s family (who were closer to the stage) and this year they linger awkwardly on an equally awkward Lisa. Two votes Lisa, two votes Tess. At this point, I thought they had split the vote and Dave would win with three. Three votes Lisa, three votes Tess. My months of edit reads meant nothing – I was way off. The winner will either be the super fan or the rookie. You can tell how much this means to Lisa. Sitting in her RHAP t-shirt, she tries to hold back tears, fear, and excitement as the last vote is read. As Chisholm flipped that vote around, I was wishing with all my might that it said “Tess.” Yes, I am evil. The Survivor devil didn’t get his way, however, and the winning vote was cast for Lisa. Congratulations on becoming the champion of Season 2!
Both me and Evan were wrong about a Chani winning. That’s something I would like to address (back peddling activate!). When I watch reality TV, I do so through two lenses. I feel a bit like Jeff Probst explaining the new final tribal format.
1) Gameplay. Everything from social interactions, personal relationships, jury management, #bigmoves , blindsides, idols, winning challenges, etc.
2) The Story. Before I got into strategy, I was drawn to Survivor for the season-long stories. The editors lay clues for the eventual winner, or the story they want to tell, that might only become apparent in retrospect or upon multiple viewings. This could be quotes they decide to include or even the choice of animal b-roll (David from MvGX being represented as a stingray – cut to Ken gutting a stingray before the Final 4 vote). Things included in episodes should add to the story they are trying to tell. Each episode is a piece of a puzzle that should only make sense at the end of the season.
For me, Tess and Lisa didn’t factor much into that kind of analysis. Their gameplay only emerged towards the end of the season. Tess winning the last two immunities and Lisa voting Matt out at Final 6. Their stories aren’t that strong either. Early on Lisa got the superfan edit (tick) and Tess was depicted as the plucky fish out of water. They set them up but didn’t do anything with them until the last couple of episodes. It’s like they set them aside for later. Considering they were the winner and runner-up, I would expect them to build their story and edit up a bit more than they did. If anyone from TVNZ is reading this, get your act together!
There were a number of narratives that seem pointless in retrospect. If Dave is the winner, it makes sense that they focus on them. Chani were the underdogs that we’re going to fight back and win. Dave makes it through the hell of Chani by navigating his way into the Khangkhaw majority and slowly clawing his way to the end only to… lose? The running joke the whole season was that Dave always came second. Why focus on that if he either doesn’t come second in the final or he doesn’t break that curse and win? We spent so much time on the Matt and Dave relationship at the expense of the winner and runner-up’s story. It wasn’t organic storytelling. So much of the show was centered around Dave. For him to not even get a single vote feels unsatisfying (both on a story and a gameplay level for me).
It all comes down to Matt’s bombshell. It’s obvious from the vote that they had made a decision not to vote for Dave based on his friendship with Matt. It’s a shame that ruined his game. Everyone was worried about how that relationship would screw contestants over and the person it screwed over the most was Dave. It also (to a lesser extent) screwed us the viewer. Not that it deprived us of a brilliant winner or anything but that it handcuffed the editors in a way. The contestants don’t know the secret, so it’s not impacting the story on the island, and when it’s ultimately revealed its done so in Jury Villa (disconnected from the show). It leads to a disjointed narrative.
I’ve spent the season pointing out Lisa’s weaknesses, her mistakes, and her missed opportunities. Her game has been far from perfect. I’ve seen a lot of hyperbole surrounding Lisa and her game. Lisa being crowned the winner doesn’t erase those mistakes for me. The title doesn’t suddenly justify poor gameplay. Before Lisa had even gone to tribal the audience had decided she was outplaying the rest of the cast and no one else even came close to her ability. The fan base is supportive, getting behind their own. That’s a great part of the community. Often though they support what a contestant represents rather than who they actually are on the show. It takes a lot more to get me excited than name dropping Stephen Fishbach or piling your extra vote on a target that was already going home (we didn’t give Debbie Wanner credit for that).
From all these recaps you rightly get the impression I’m full of myself. Going out there I would hope to play like JT, but if I’m honest with myself, I’d probably play like Dylan. If I’m lucky, I might play like Lisa. I have given Lisa a lot of guff this season (even in this very blog), but she played the game she had to. Lisa got in good with the majority and rode it until it wasn’t beneficial for her. I wouldn’t attribute the same labels the fanbase would. She’s not the puppet master of the season. Lisa just made the moves she had to at the right time. That’s how I would like to play. Laying low until the opportunity arose to take out my target. To win Survivor, you need to get to the end and get the votes. Lisa did that. She made sure she got to the end. It was sloppy at times, but she made sure she got the votes too. I came into this season wanting a better player than Avi to win. All I have to say to that is, “Tick!”