We have crowned New Zealand’s very first Sole Survivor, Mr. Avi Duckor-Jones.
In what was an enjoyable season and a very good start to the hopeful New Zealand series, we finished the game with a winner that is very representative of Kiwis as a whole. Avi demonstrates the characteristics any person would love to have: integrity, honesty, and loyalty. He played a great game and was able to keep his hands clean for most of it. While all this is true, I do think the wrong person won this game, and while I recap the episode here, I will let you know why.
There is not much to go over about this episode besides the Final Tribal Council. The producers took the chance of centering the entire episode around FTC, rather than the US format where 5 or 6 players remain in the finale. Instead, the two hours consisted of the FTC and the after show. I’m not going to go too much into the after show as it is not the main event, but I will touch on it. I will say I like the idea of getting to see more of the jury questioning, even if it wasn’t too much more than usual, as a fascinating part of the game is always how the jury will react to the finalists.
Now onto the episode, which starts with the final three breathing a sigh of relief having accomplished all they can in the game thus far. We get confessionals from both Avi and Tom about how they are worried they will take votes away from one another. I think something to note here is how Barb is not mentioned and does not seem to be a worry for the two boys.
I wanted to touch on this as I gave a significant proposal of why Barb could be able to win the game in my last recap. I think everything I said is still true. She was the best strategic player. She voted correctly every single time. She made the biggest move in the game. With all that said, a crucial part of Survivor is jury management. If the best strategic player won every time than Russell Hantz would at least have one victory to his name. We did see a lot of Barb lounging around camp not pulling her weight. We didn’t see her apparent disrespect of some of the other players. A fact of the game is the jury will talk to each other about the players remaining; you can’t change that, so her bad image preceded her. I think it also hurt her game that the jury might not have seen how well she played strategically, something that we viewers were able to see much more clearly. Sala even said he was surprised by Barb’s game in the after show. Barb was not treated fairly during the FTC at all, but I do not believe she should have won the game.
In the episode, we then get a series of confessionals from each of the three remaining players about why it means so much to have made it this far in the game.
Avi says he has done everything he can to get to this point. He tells the story of how he used to be so obsessed with Survivor that he made his friends play the game when he was younger. He knows the key for him now lies in winning over the jury at tribal council, to prove how hard he has fought, and that he is proud of the game he has played. After that, it is all up to trust in the jury.
Barb talks all about her family. How much she misses them, how she won’t be telling them how far she has gone and just letting them find out as they go, how she wants to give them a lesson on how you play a game like this. She says that this life journey for her was all about being selfish. It was her Eat, Pray, Love journey to challenge herself. And lastly, she says she doesn’t need to sell herself to the jury, that if they don’t recognize what she has done it is their fault. But ultimately this is about the money for her and her family.
Tom talks about how the thing that got him this far was his head. More than the challenges it was about keeping his focus, continuing to be headstrong and knowing it isn’t over until it’s over. He is similar to Avi in that he fell in love with Survivor ever since the first season and he never imagined ever getting a shot at the game. Now he just wants to be able to plead his case, to let the jury know that Avi did not carry him there, and to hope that they see him as the most deserving.
As we get to FTC, we see they will be using the regular jury format, not the open forum version used in the most recent season of the US season. The final three will make their opening statements and then be questioned by the jury.
Tom’s opening statement tells his story of wanting to play Survivor since he was a kid. He mentions how he is a role model for kids in his regular life as a teacher, how he wanted to play with honesty, and how he wanted to push himself to the very brink. He asks for their questions and will answer them honestly. I really wish he would have gone deeper into the game he played here, as this is his best chance to do so and it could have helped him immensely.
Avi’s opening statement talks about his job of being a youth leader. He tells the story of how he has his kids write down their intentions before an expedition and how he did the same for Survivor. His intentions were to leave everything out on the field, to play with integrity and honesty, and to make genuine connections. He says he feels he accomplished those goals and trusts the jury will make the right choice. This was a great story, very well thought out and told. It was quintessential Avi and was an excellent start for him.
Then there is Barb’s opening statement. She basically tells the jury that she was better than them, insults their gameplay, and tells them about the big egos she had to deal with. I just want to let Barb know that it is not a smart move to insult the people who are in charge of handing you the prize money.
Onto the jury questioning portion of the FTC. None of the questions that meant anything went to Barb. She got berated and abused the entire tribal by almost every jury member. It was hard to watch, and I can’t imagine how much worse it was being there. In the after show, host Matt Chisholm asked Tom and Avi how they felt about that. Avi said he should have stepped in, and Tom agreed it was harsh. We learned Sala told Barb that she was “a turd that wouldn’t flush.” Shay had asked if Barb thought of herself as a kind person. Jak told her she earned zero respect from him and that she was selfish. So overall, it was not a good night for Queen Barb.
Some of the highlights were as follows:
- Shay questioned Tom on how he dragged her name through the mud. He responded by saying that isn’t entirely true, but it was also going both ways of her dragging his name through the mud as well.
- Mike wanted Avi to convince him he wanted to win more than Tom. Avi said he spent hours writing in his journal giving himself pep talks and how he has never wanted anything more in his life.
- Mike conversely asked Tom to convince him that he is a solid character with good morals like Avi. Tom tells him that every day he wakes up to make a mark on kids lives and that his day to day activity is to make everyone the best person they can be.
- Shannon asks Avi whether just being nice is enough to win Survivor. He says he worked hard, not just by being nice. His whole gameplan was smashed when Sala got voted out, and he had to work around that.
- Shannon also asks Tom about how Avi had saved him from being voted out and if he would still be there. Tom responds that in an alliance it is a two-way street, so the question is also how Avi needed him. He did not explain though exactly how Avi did need him, something that would have been good to show.
The majority of the other questions were just compliments to Avi and Tom about how much they respect the games they have played and them as people.
We then go to the live show, and Matt asks some questions to the jury/pre-jury before reading the votes, which was different. It really makes the final three wait even longer, which I am sure is agonizing. When Matt pulls the votes out, Avi comes out as the victor receiving six of the seven votes, with Jak’s vote going to Tom.
Now here is my take on the winner of the season.
It should be Tom.
I think Tom was the complete player. He won five immunities, tying the most ever and he beat Goliath himself Mike, but that wasn’t all he had going for him. He was a target since day one on that beach, with Shay going after him nonstop until he was able to get her out instead. Sure, Avi helped save him, but Tom helped keep Avi alive later in the game. At the merge, he was down in the numbers and survived. He continually had his back against the wall, and people were not able to get rid of him. Everyone on Redemption kept saying Tom will be next once he loses a challenge. That never happened. He was underestimated socially as he only had one enemy in Shay, and seemed to be very friendly with the rest of the players. I think this made him the most well-rounded player in the game.
Honestly, if there is a big reason why he shouldn’t have won, it was because of his FTC performance. He didn’t let the jury know all he had done. He mentioned this in the after show saying he had just incorrectly assumed when players left the game it would be voiced how he was playing. He also didn’t point out Avi’s biggest flaw. Avi was all about loyalty and honesty, but he backstabbed his biggest ally in Shay, and this seemed to fly under the radar.
But ultimately I am not a fan of Avi winning, for two reasons. Firstly, I think Tom played the better game. But, secondly, Survivor is notorious for its winner of the first season – Richard Hatch formed how we all see Survivor today. Alliances, lying, deceit, all while trying to be best friends with the people you vote out. The precedent Avi is setting for upcoming seasons of Survivor New Zealand is that loyalty and integrity will win you the game. The problem with this is it does not create for the most exciting seasons. I don’t think Tom is exactly the cornerstone of the foundation Survivor New Zealand needed either, but he was more of it than Avi. You can point to his enemies, his challenge ability, his underdog story. I love who Avi is as a person, but I just wish I could change the outcome.
Nevertheless, congratulations to Avi on becoming New Zealand’s first Sole Survivor, proving that nice guys don’t always finish last.
I wanted to give my fellow co-writer Chuck a chance to share his thoughts on how the finale turned out as well, so here is what he had to say:
I was surprised at a few things. Barbs was never going to get the respect of a New Zealand jury. I thought there might be a slight possibility of a Kristie Bennett (SurvivorAU) moment where she blew them all away at the final tribal by explaining in detail how she was the mastermind of the whole season. To her credit she attempted to do that and as you’d imagine it wasn’t received as well by the Kiwi jury. Hats off to Barbs though, she played a great post-merge game and was certainly the driving force for most of the action.
I didn’t expect Tom to almost be shut out of the vote. He played an incredible game which wasn’t as respected as it should have been. From day one he was fighting to stay alive, using his social skills to stay afloat pre-merge then leveraged the safety guaranteed by having immunity to steer the game where he wanted it to go post-merge. Tom is the real winner of Survivor New Zealand for me. The great all-rounder that in any other season is the only choice to vote for.
When I heard about Survivor New Zealand being a possibility, I knew some things would be certainties. I had guessed a number of the archetypes they’d choose before casting was even announced and knew the production values would be lacking compared to other versions of the show.
Having grown up watching New Zealand TV, I could see how the season would play out. The winners of our shows are the blandest most inoffensive people that have no real skill in the games in which they’re participating. It’s more about who they are as people and the heartwarming back stories than anything they do in the game itself. In Masterchef New Zealand they spend far more time talking about what the opportunity means to them than the food they just cooked. “Just tell me if my soufflé’s good, dude!” That’s why I was fully behind Sala as the winner for so long. It wasn’t because I liked his character or thought he was playing the game well, it was because he was the epitome of what a good Kiwi bloke is and what we value as Kiwis. He won fan favorite, so I should at least get partial credit. When he was blindsided my attention shifted to Avi for the same reasons.
Week to week I fought the idea of Avi winning as it goes against every fibre of my being as a Survivor fan. However, I dreaded the inevitable that I felt in my soul as a New Zealander. New Zealand is the darkest timeline for reality TV, gameplay is rarely rewarded, and nice guys often come out on top. He had no game whatsoever and in a normal American Survivor season would be a zero vote finalist with a non-existent edit. Avi was truly lucky having the rest of the cast playing the game for him, and all he had to do was be his touchy feely self.
In the end, Survivor New Zealand was similar to so many American seasons which end disappointingly with an undeserving winner. It’s a blessing in a way that so much of the fandom stopped watching the season after the second episode otherwise there’d be tweet storms baffled at the irrationality of the result. On the plus side, Bob Crowley is grateful to lose the title of “least deserving winner.” The land of the long white cloud also has a silver lining I guess.