by Martin Holmes and Ian Walker
As the landmark 20th season, Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains stands as both a celebration of the ten years of Survivor that came before and as the end of a transitional period signaling the current era of the show. It’s fitting, then, that the finale encapsulates the past, present, and future of the show, best represented by the final three players who sit at the Final Tribal Council.
First, there’s Russell Hantz.
Having burst onto the scene in the previous season, Survivor fans had been swept up in Russellmania for the better part of a year. Russell injected the show with a jolt of energy the likes of which hadn’t been seen before. When Russell wound up losing the final vote, it galvanized a divide in the fanbase into pro- and anti-Russell sides, both of which were watching curiously to see if he could do it again in Season 20.
However, by the time Russell got to the end for the second season in a row, the seams in his game were starting to show. Some of those pro-Russell supporters were converting to the other side. The fact that Russell had played almost 78 straight days of Survivor, and had gone a little nutty while consumed by ego more than ever before, didn’t help his chances in the final vote.
One of the constants in Russell’s second game was his desire to hook up with some “dumbass girls,” which brings us to Parvati Shallow. That’s not to say that she is a dumbass girl, but rather the furthest thing from it.
Parvati came into the season as a winner, but now, for this third attempt, she came into this season with something she didn’t have the last time: a huge target on her back. Yet she defied the odds and made it all the way to the Final Tribal Council with a couple of big moves to her resume and a newly bolstered reputation as a challenge competitor. But she still had that Russell stink on her, making some of the jury members reluctant to vote for her.
Which leaves Sandra Diaz-Twine.
Having already won the game once before, Sandra’s Survivor philosophy can be boiled down to one simple phrase: As Long As It Ain’t Me. Yet, there’s a little more complexity to it than that idea might initially suggest.
Sandra may not care who eventually goes home, but she sure as hell has opinions about who should go, and she’s willing to insert her voice into the conversation when she sees fit. This time around, that strategy created bigger holes in her game. Her desire to boot Russell seemingly at every turn, despite the huge jury goat he would prove to be, was not the best move to make at times. She was never in any real danger, though, and was able to smoothly sail to the Final Tribal Council proudly waving the anti-Russell banner to a jury full of Heroes who had all been made to look like fools by the hands of Hantz.
As for the episode itself, it contains many iconic moments. First of all, the fact that Colby Donaldson and Jerri Manthey both make the finale episode and get eliminated one after the other is a perfect ending to their long story-arc. Their journey began as a flirtmance on Survivor: Australian Outback before they developed into mortal enemies, which continued into Survivor: All Stars when Jerri gleefully took revenge on Colby by voting him out of the game. To arrive at this moment in Heroes vs. Villains where Jerri cries after voting Colby out (with a love-heart on the parchment!) is a beautiful end to their Survivor story. Also, Jerri going from hated villainess to a rootable hero (she was even cheered at the reunion!) was a great turn-around for her as a Survivor character.
The other stand out moments from the finale come from Parvati and Sandra toying with Russell.
Watching Russell’s game go down in flames is always a joy to behold, and there is no better metaphor for that than the image of his fedora hat burning on the camp-fire after Sandra throws it in. Russell’s arrogance that he can beat Parvati and Sandra is off the charts ridiculous! But we as viewers can revel in the fact that he is wrong, and the more he boasts that he can beat anyone, the more Sandra’s line keeps ringing in our ears – “I don’t know about that!” Russell wasn’t the threat, and that was proven at the Final Tribal Council.
When the votes came in, and Sandra was declared the winner, the fanbase fractured into even more divisive groups. Team Sandra fought with Team Parvati over who should have won and who should really be the new “Queen of Survivor.” While bitter Russell fans muttered to themselves, confused more than ever why the King didn’t win again.
It was a splashy and controversial end to one of the wildest and enjoyable seasons in Survivor history, with the final vote still talked about to this day.