Fourteen years ago to this very month CBS aired the finale of Survivor: The Australian Outback, the show’s second season, which averaged a weekly audience of around 30 million people. In that finale, all American Mr. Texas himself Colby Donaldson, who had won five consecutive Immunity challenges, decided to take Tina Wesson with him to the Final Tribal Council over the perceived goat and easily beatable Keith Famie. Colby lost the final vote to Tina 4-3, and his decision is often touted as one of the biggest blunders in Survivor history. If you pay close attention to that season, and in particular to the way Colby played the game and his relationship and alliance with Tina, it makes perfect sense why he would take Tina to the end. It was very much a partnership in the way that JT and Stephen was a partnership or even Boston Rob and Amber was a partnership – going to the Final Tribal Council together was always the intention. However, while I don’t think it was the biggest blunder ever, it was clearly a mistake on Colby’s part.
In the season finale of Survivor: Worlds Apart, all ‘Merican Mr. Texas himself Mike Holloway had just won his fifth Immunity challenge of the season, tying Colby’s record. Mike had the choice of who he would take with him to the Final Tribal Council – the goats Rodney and Will, or the shrewd strategist and potential jury threat Carolyn. Mike, perhaps surprisingly, decided to allow Carolyn that spot, with a little help from fate, and sat next to his biggest competition at the end. Colby’s nightmare could have easily befallen Mike Holloway, but it didn’t. Mike won, but how?
How bloody fantastic did that Final 5 Immunity challenge maze looked! Seriously, the Survivor challenge and art department deserve a reward with all the fixin’s for that thing of beauty. There are not many Survivor challenges I’d like to try myself because I’m not a strong swimmer, and my success rate at fairground games means my chances of getting a ball in a bucket are very slim, but I love mazes. I once did the maze at Longleat Safari Park here in the UK, where I unintentionally insulted a presenter of BBC children’s show Blue Peter, who were filming at the attraction, but that’s another story.
I’m not as good at mazes as Mike, though. He killed that challenge. But I’m probably better than Mrs. Holloway. How adorable was Mike’s mother? The way she was blaming herself for failing to navigate Mike through the maze in his run-through advantage was heart-breaking. But Mrs. Holloway has nothing to be ashamed of, after all, she’s been on more rewards than Rodney has all season. The loved one’s segment felt a little rushed, but that is a result of putting it in the season finale. Personally, I’m okay with that because I think it can often eat up too much screen time. It was disappointing not to see Rodney’s mother out there; from the way he spoke about her and how she was a “10”, I wanted to see if she lived up to the hype. I love that Rodney even calls his dad “bro.”
I’m not sure I fully understand Sierra’s game, whether that be her lack of edit, or her inability to put her thoughts across in an easily digestible way, but it didn’t seem like she played a game to win. While she often talked about making a move or switching alliances, she remained rigid throughout, always voting with her original alliance. That kind of loyalty can get you deep in the game, and even though I’m not on the Jeff Probst train of thought of “Big moves win this game,” at some point, you do have to demonstrate to the jury why you deserve to win. You can’t just rely on a speech at the Final Tribal Council; the jurors need to see actions. Otherwise you will see yourself going home in fifth place or sitting at the end like a dead fish (more on that later). I’m assuming Sierra’s original intention was to go to the end with Rodney and Will, believing them to be perfect goats, but it’s my belief that Rodney would have beaten Sierra in a jury vote. With the game Sierra played I think fifth place was the right position for her.
But it was after Mike won the final Immunity challenge when things got interesting. I would like to say the moment where Carolyn, Rodney, and Will crowned Mike with the Immunity necklace for the last time was a nice moment, but it didn’t quite have the impact intended due to Will leading it; the guy that was hurling abuse towards Shirin just four episodes ago. The next moment did have a bearing, though. Mike decided that he didn’t want to take the easy route and go with two goats (Rodney and Will) to the end, he wanted to give Mama C a fighting chance and therefore split the vote between Carolyn and Rodney forcing a tie. For the first time since Survivor: Gabon we saw a fire-making challenge at Tribal Council. How exciting, right?
Come on guys! Okay, it did take a ridiculous amount of time for Carolyn and Rodney to start a fire, but almost an hour and a thousand broken flints later they both managed to get a flame, and it was a tense final few minutes. At least Probst didn’t have to break out the matches like he did in Survivor: Cook Islands for Becky and Sundra. Rodney using up all his coconut husk and being unable to maximize his flame was the perfect ending to his up and down yet highly entertaining story arc. The kid that whined and complained about Mike making him collect firewood was forced into a fire-making challenge by Mike and was unable to maintain his fire long enough to keep himself in the game. It couldn’t have been more beautiful, and it brings another added dimension to Dan’s hilarious comment from the jury box.
Carolyn earned and deserved her spot in the Final 3. She may have come across somewhat low-key throughout the majority of the season, but she was someone who was very aware of what was happening around her. She was almost always within the numbers and had a hand in the voting off of every single person sitting on the jury. In another season Carolyn could very easily have won this game, and that’s why on first impression Mike’s decision to force a tie rather than keeping Rodney appears a little baffling. But it is very similar to Colby’s decision. Colby was someone that prided himself on loyalty and hard-work, and while Jerri Manthey may dispute that first trait, Colby was someone that worked his butt off, along with Tina, to make it to the end. He wanted to sit next to the person he respected and who worked just as hard as him. Mike is very much of the same mind-frame, he prides himself on worth ethic and playing hard, and he believed that Carolyn deserved a seat next to him at the end. The fundamental difference, and why Mike won and Colby didn’t, is that I think Mike knew deep down that he could beat Carolyn.
It didn’t matter if Mike sat next to Carolyn or Rodney or Will. All Mike needed to do was get to the end, and he did that. Colby always knew there was a chance that Tina could beat him and still willingly took that risk because it was the honorable move. For Mike, he got to make the honorable move without the unnecessary risk attached. Whether Mike knew the fire-making challenge would also show up Carolyn and Rodney to lack basic survival skills in front of the jury is a question only Mike can answer. I think that was just a happy accident, but it was yet another move that demonstrated to the jury why Mike deserved to win the most…and this is what I was talking about with Sierra.
As for the Final Tribal Council itself, it was one of the better ones in recent memory. Jenn had a neat speech that was directed at the jury, stating why Mike deserved to win and how they should let go of their bitterness. Rodney talked about being real a lot, whatever that means. Dan and Mike had a heart to heart moment. But the best was saved for last when Shirin delivered a speech that was part emotional and touching, and part hilarious and mean. Shirin took a leaf out of the Sue Hawk playbook and compared the finalists to animals. Mike was the howler monkey, that if attacked throws its poop at you (I want to see that deleted scene). Carolyn was the stingray that is stealthy and defensive. And the best was saved for last – Will was the dead fish; lifeless, eyes glazed over, do what you want with him. It takes a lot to coin a new Survivor term this late into the show’s history, but I’m pretty sure that “dead fish” is going to become a part of the Survivor lexicon right next to “goat.” A word to describe a player that wasn’t brought to the end because he was hated or pissed off the jury, but a player that was so lifeless and inept in the game that he was dragged there by everyone else.
My favorite moment of the entire Final Tribal Council though was Shirin’s homage to Greg Buis from Survivor: Borneo in the very first season’s Final Tribal Council..
The fact that Carolyn and Will tied for second place with one vote a piece is a huge insult to Carolyn and her game. In a season without Mike, Carolyn would have been a major contender to win; she had numbers, she had moves, she had a solid strategy. For her to only receive one vote, the same as Will massively undersells her accomplishments. But I guess Will kept it real and for Rodney Survivor is about Outwit, Outplay, Out-real? That said, Mike won, and he deserved to win. He fought tooth and nail to make it to that Final Tribal Council, and despite losing trust along the way he gained every vote but two. He was also the winner this season needed.
Survivor: Worlds Apart started with a ton of hype, from Jeff Probst, from the contestants, hell, even I’m partly responsible for building the hype for this season. Unfortunately, it never delivered on that hype. Even though the early pre-merge showed promise and the editing, for the most part, was fair and consistent (well, maybe not according to Dan), around Episode 5 things began to come apart at the seams, and as we went into the merge things only got worse and worse. It had big characters, but they weren’t always entertaining characters; they were too unlikeable, and it made for frustrating viewing rather than engrossing. The rootable, likable folk were booted one after another while we were made to watch uncomfortable scenes of verbal abuse and misogynistic behavior. The gameplay was severely lacking, even though it had an abundance of superfans on the cast; the latter half of the game was essentially a Pagonging blocked by a Terry Deitz style challenge beast. If Mike didn’t win this season, then the bad taste would linger long after it was done.
But fortunately, Mike did win, in what was a splendid finale episode. Perhaps the day when I can bear to bring myself to re-watch this season it will be better viewing knowing what is coming. Knowing that Dan is eventually voted out after misplaying a super advantage. Knowing that Rodney’s attitude and lack of work ethic comes back to haunt him in a tie-break fire-making challenge. Knowing that Shirin gets to rip into Will at the Final Tribal Council. And knowing that Mike eventually overcomes the Axis of Evil and triumphs. Survivor: Worlds Apart has been an exhausting viewing experience, but when it comes down to it, it is still Survivor, and I love it 150,000%.
I’m not going to say much about the reunion other than Probst defending the show and embarrassing Dan was riveting viewing, although it ate up far too much time of an already shortened reunion, and it was ridiculous how Will, and more so Rodney, were pretty much let off for their comments. I’m going to talk more about the Second Chance reveal and the cast in a separate post; I can’t relive that heartbreaking moment Shane and T-Bird didn’t make it again just yet.
Thanks for reading and I’ll be back with more episode reviews for Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance in September. In the mean time keep tuned to Inside Survivor for all the latest casting spoilers for Season 32 which I revealed here will be Brawns vs. Brains vs. Beauty II, and be on the lookout for more feature articles coming very soon.
(Credit to Survivor Addict for the gifs)