As a franchise, Survivor has evolved quite a bit over the years. Sometimes this is for the better, while other instances make for a more controversial debate (looking at you, final four fire making). At its core, Survivor is about the players we come to know and love as they endure the game of a lifetime in pursuit of the grand prize and the title of Sole Survivor. After the conclusion of their first returnee season, I am more convinced now than ever before in my belief that no series understands this better than Survivor SA.
Six weeks ago, fans from all over the world eagerly watched the premiere of Return of the Outcasts, which featured some of the series’ most beloved contestants, as well as those with untapped potential. 24 episodes later, this 39-day adventure reaches its epic conclusion, with the ultimate superfan Dino Paulo beating out notorious villain-turned-underdog Shane Hattingh in a 7-2 vote.
On a personal level, it warmed my heart to see someone with such a deep love for the game achieve a feat that so many of us dream of. It doesn’t hurt that the final two also happened to have one representative from my two favorite seasons, as well as one pre-merge and one post-merge player. On a more objective level, how can one not be enamored with the top-tier gameplay and the genuine love and respect this season has for its audience and players? Survivor SA may be for the superfans, but even the most casual viewers can find something to adore about this season. Nowhere is this more evident than in this finale, and it all starts with the two finalists making their cases to the jury.
I am of the opinion that the greatest Survivor players are not those that have the easiest ride to the finale but rather those that grow from their mistakes. Dino’s two-season arc solidifies him as one of the greats in my book. Over the course of this season, we learn about Dino’s struggles with self-confidence both before he was a Survivor contestant and after his first time on the show was cut short. That person has transformed into the power player we see at the final tribal council.
Even before the finale, Dino was highly favored to win. It was never going to be a shock that he won or that he won by such a large margin. There’s a reason why Dante was adamant about getting him out before they reached the individual level of the game. What did surprise me was Dino’s unapologetic approach to his answers while simultaneously acknowledging the role that other players had in getting him to this spot. From the No BS alliance to his friendship with Marian and even his actions towards Tejan, no stone was left unturned in his quest for the two million rand. It’s a complicated balance when you’ve burned so many people to get to the end, and Dino did it near flawlessly.
Shane as a player holds a special place in my heart for many reasons, the chief among them being that in his first season, he asked my favorite jury question of all time (“Would you watch yourself for 27 days?”). This is the Shane that I remembered as the season began, and it was the Shane I knew would come up again in the final tribal council. Coming in to make his case, Shane knew that he was the underdog. He was well aware of his position and knew the case he had to make for even a fighting chance. His focus was more so on his personal growth and how this change was reflected in his gameplay, for better and worse. He refused to let his winning odds stop him from giving the final tribal performance of his life, and what a performance it was.
Dino’s 7-2 win was well-earned and should be celebrated as such. That being said, a 7-2 vote does not reflect the Shane we saw in the final episode. I believe both things can be true. Shane’s greatest strength was his awareness of his position and recognizing how he needed to spin the narrative in his favor. This was exactly what he did, and it was a performance better than most. The runner-up giving such a phenomenal performance should serve as evidence of the high quality of the season, as well as the love and respect that was paid to everyone involved.
How Far We’ve Come
In the end, Dino outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted everyone, winning the two million rand and the title that goes with it. In the 7-2 vote, only Steffi and Killarney voted for Shane to win. To continue the trend of production knowing their audience, the show hosted a reunion shortly after Dino’s win to reflect on the season as a whole. Truly, it was the perfect ending to a season that relied so heavily on the journeys of its contestants. Every player was present and had an opportunity to speak at the reunion. There were laughs to be had and secrets that were revealed to honor how far this series has come. What a perfect way to pay respects to the hard work that went into every aspect of season 9.
"Be happy for others' blessings." What a way to celebrate the end of a season unlike any other. Thank you, @ToniTT79! We're going to miss your winning spirit. #SurvivorSA 🔥🪨🌊 https://t.co/GCvIjiGMvx pic.twitter.com/pAoxu47tiJ
— Survivor_SA (@Survivor_SA) August 25, 2022
Truthfully, Dino’s win was my second favorite part of the finale. My absolute favorite was the final segment, where the players got to share what their personal victory was over the game. Some found their second experience more enjoyable, some beat their placements, and others made friends they never expected to find out on the Sunshine Coast. It was a perfect way to end a magnificent season and to close out the story of a superb winner.
Everything about Return of the Outcasts was for the love of the game, and how many other returnee seasons can say that same? More than ever before, Survivor SA has proven itself to be the series for the superfans, and for that, I will always be grateful.