It is the penultimate episode of the season, and we are so close to the end of the game that I could almost (as JLP would say) bust a nut! There are no more twists, no more idols, and no more shenanigans standing in our way. For the players, the only thing standing in their way of the final 3 is a gargantuan Immunity Challenge, and for one contestant, their dreams of making it to the final 3 will be crushed right before the finish line.
The stage is set, and the narrative is clear. Brooke will be the next person voted out unless she wins Immunity. Her absolute dominance in the challenges, in conjunction with a strong social game, has made her a major threat. Considering that the final 3 Immunity Challenge has always been an endurance challenge, something Brooke specialises in, the remaining players don’t want to take any chances by keeping her in the game. Not only that, but she is also a serious jury threat by way of having a lot of friends on the jury who would be locked votes for her.
Brooke’s journey in this game has been understated but undoubtedly hard-fought. Having started the game in such a dominating position with her majority alliance, she forged a strong bond with AK and secured a powerful relationship with Locky, which saw her in a great position for the first 30 days of the game. However, come the merge, we saw her slowly begin to lose her grip on the game, clinging only onto fire-making twists, exile beach, and her own Immunity Challenge prowess to potentially save her alliance and her game.
The loyalty built between Sharn, Moana, and David is incredibly strong, and they all believe they have a good chance of beating each other in the end. There is no other path for Brooke to take, so she must win the remaining immunity challenges if she wants to make it to the final 2. And this challenge is a monstrous obstacle course that involves speed, agility, endurance, and ends with a vertical puzzle. David and Brooke quickly break away from the pack and establish a lead that sets them apart for the rest of the challenge. From that moment onwards, it’s a tightly contested race between David and Brooke that comes down to the puzzle. In the end, David keeps his cool under pressure and is able to finish off the puzzle with fewer errors than Brooke and guarantees himself a spot in the final 3.
Despite being vulnerable, Brooke still keeps open all avenues of communication. She always wants to make herself available to be used as a number for any moves anyone might want to make. Brooke’s plan is very simple—if she can get either Sharn or Moana to flip their vote to go against the other, she can force a fire-making challenge that might be able to save herself. Alternatively, if she could get both of them to vote for each other, then, with David’s vote going for Brooke, she effectively becomes the swing vote and could vote anyone she wanted out of the game.
Brooke gets straight to work and pulls Sharn aside to begin planting seeds of doubt in her mind. She tells her that Mo and David have a much stronger relationship with each other than they do with her. She adds to this by saying that David admitted this to her in a past conversation. The main pitch Brooke gives here is that without her competing in the final 3 challenge, then David almost certainly wins the final challenge. Given Sharn’s shaky relationship with David spurred by her desire to blindside him, it makes sense for her to assume that David would take Moana. We don’t get to hear a confessional from Sharn about this, but Brooke doesn’t buy that Sharn’s onboard and would rather make the move with Moana.
Afterwards, Brooke turns her attention to Mo, who seems to be a lot more amenable to flip her vote as she seems super sketched out by Sharn and the way she is acting around camp. There’s a hilarious conversation between Sharn and Moana, where the editors try their best to edit Sharn unfavorably by only showing clips of her when she smiles largely or laughs unnecessarily. Mo has a conversation with David, where she opens up to him about feeling a bit unsure about Sharn and whether or not she would make a move with Brooke. Interestingly, David comes to Sharn’s defence and tries to calm Mo down about the whole situation. From Moana’s perspective, she really has nothing to lose by making this move as she seems to be in the best spot. In my mind, she doesn’t lose respect from anyone by blindsiding Sharn, and I still think Brooke and David both take her in the end over each other.
When Tribal Council rolls around, we pretty much get a reiteration of Brooke’s pitch, which is that she is the only person who can beat David in the final immunity challenge, and if she does win, she will take the person who saves her to the final 2. However, in the end, Mo and Sharn stick to their alliance and vote Brooke out. I am personally quite surprised that neither Sharn or Moana chose to seriously take Brooke up on her offer to flip the vote and force fire-making as it would have potentially benefitted either of their games if Brooke was to make it through. Since Brooke placed her vote for Sharn, it is less egregious that she didn’t vote for Moana because she would have sent herself home. However, Moana not choosing to blindside Sharn might be a mistake that could cost her the game if she doesn’t get chosen to go to the final 2. In the likely event that David wins final immunity, the decision to choose between Brooke and Sharn/Moana is much easier than the decision between Moana and Sharn.
So that leaves us with our final three of David, Moana, and Sharn. In retrospect, the finalists are quite predictable after the Pagonging that we saw, which was only exacerbated and prolonged by the series of twists thrown in to try and prevent the Pagonging. With that said, this is an extremely strong top 3, so let’s take a brief look at each contestant heading into the finale!
Moana has been one of the most underestimated players this season by being the glue that has kept her alliance with Sharn and David together. Without Moana, there is no doubt that the alliance would have falled apart, as her strong relationships with Sharn and David gave her the influence to consistently whisper in each of their ears to reassure them that the other one wasn’t planning to vote them out. Her journey was filled with calculated big moves, vengeance, and subtly. She started with everyone having very little knowledge about her game or what she is capable of as her season ended so shortly last time due to illness. Even this season, Mo was in the background for a portion of the pre-merge, and it took a while for her to really come to the forefront. Although, Moana was very vocal throughout the season that a large part of her strategy was falling under the radar so she can observe her competition before starting to make her moves.
Going into the finale, I really believe that Moana has a Sandra feel about her, particularly during her win in Heroes vs. Villains. Sandra was feisty and didn’t take much crap from anybody and went to the end with a villain who absolutely dominated the game. Now, I believe David is a lot more charismatic than Russell Hantz, and I don’t think Mo played similarly to Sandra during her second season. Still, I do think that the mentality around taking Mo to the end is similar. I think David would take Moana under the assumption that she would be a goat and wouldn’t have much to say to the jury. As Sandra famously said, I don’t know about that.
Moana has a fascinating story of having her number one ally in the game blindsided, avenging his elimination, working with her number one enemy in order to usurp her position as his closest ally. Moana played an undeniably badass game and deserves a ton of credit. I think the most exciting and interesting part of her final tribal story is that it inherently discredits David’s gameplay.
The downsides of her game are that her social play has been heavily criticised (rightfully so in some instances), which might come back to bite her. But the main danger she faces is that her game might be too subtle for her own good. Big moves come in many different ways, and some of the biggest moves don’t always come in the form of a blindside but can come from a decision that you consciously make in the game. These decisions can be conversations that you have with certain people, compliments that you give someone when they’re down, how you comfort someone or how you use your story and lived experience to emotionally manipulate someone into trusting you. For Moana, her big moves were manifested in the way she was able to make calculated decisions that reduced her threat level and surround herself with people that were either bigger threats than her (Sharn and David) or were incredibly loyal to her (Jacqui and Tarzan). These sorts of moves aren’t easy to describe, nor do they sound impressive when you say them out loud, so the biggest challenge Moana will face is trying to sell her game to the jury.
David’s journey and longevity in the game this season has been nothing short of a Survivor miracle. Tony Vlachos is often described as a unicorn during his time on Cagayan since the victory of someone so strategic, innovative, and entertaining is nothing short of a fairy-tale. If there is anyone who could challenge Tony Vlachos’ title for Survivor unicorn, then David is the closest we will ever get. While he wasn’t a winner or even a finalist his first season, the reputation he gained last season gave him the presence and notoriety of a Survivor winner.
Unlike Moana and Sharn, David appears to have no problems with his perception on the jury, with the players being willing to give him credit for the game he’s played. As Brooke put it this episode, the castaways and the jury members all believe that David has played one of the best games in Survivor history. And that’s not even taking into consideration what he has gotten up to behind their backs. Throughout all the tricks and bravado, it is easy to forget that David came into the game as a huge superfan, and with that would come a lot of pressure if he were to be sitting in the final 2, one step away from achieving his lifelong dream. It isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that David could totally freak out during the Final Tribal and bomb his speech to the jury, especially up against women who will be ready to pounce on David’s game and discredit him where possible.
While David has the clearest shot at winning the game if he makes it to Final Tribal Council, his path is also the narrowest as it is difficult to see either Sharn or Moana wanting to take David to the end. Unless the women really believe they have something to prove by going up against him, David will have to win the final Immunity Challenge if he wants a chance at pitching his game to the jury.
Coming into the season as a Survivor runner-up and one of the biggest threats in the game, Sharn is easily the most polarising contestant left in the game. There is no real way of predicting how she will be received if she were to make it to the final 2. Her edit also seems to be the most dichotomous by telling two distinct narratives. The first is a story of redemption, where we learn of how much her loss to Shane Gould weighs on her. Throughout the game, we heard how Sharn wanted to play differently this time around to ensure that she doesn’t become runner-up again. Sharn’s redemption arc has been set up throughout the season, which would leave me surprised if she somehow walked away the winner. With that said, the edit has not been shy in showing us how bitter some jury members (Shonee and Brooke) are towards her and her gameplay after she screwed them around several times.
Sharn’s gameplay this season relied on her ability to form strong relationships with everyone so that she could seamlessly bounce back and forth between factions and walk away from the chaos unscathed. She strung along and pulled the wool over the eyes of almost every member who is on the jury, to the point where a lot of them resent her for it. The main criticism that Sharn has received from the jury’s perspective is that she hasn’t played her own game and has refused to make the big move in voting David out. This has always been an interesting argument as, in the moment, it was infuriating to watch Sharn stick with her alliance all the way to the end due to how combustible her relationships with David, Jacqui, and Tarzan seems to have been. But now she is one challenge away from making it to the final 2, we can say that Sharn objectively made the correct decision in sticking with her alliance due to the fact she made it as far as she has.
Regardless of how much she burned bridges with other contestants by playing the middle, any resentment towards her from the jury would be an unfortunate disregard of her incredible social and strategic prowess. Sharn came into the season with a score to settle and something to prove, and she executed everything she set out to. Her game was subtle and relied heavily on the relationships that she made and slowly gained more momentum and notoriety as she progressed through the merge. She managed to establish and maintain a relationship with one of the most unpredictable players this season in David and use him effectively as a shield to protect her from being the target.
Sharn was her own biggest enemy in her last season and ultimately fell victim to not being able to own her game the way she should have. There is no doubt that she has the resume to win the game in the end but if the jury is as down on her game as the edit makes it out to be then no amount of storytelling and fact-checking will be able to gain her the respect fast enough to flip jury votes.