After eight weeks and 16 episodes, Survivor UK has come to a close with tonight’s double-dose of episodes. It’s quite literally been a season of two halves: a plodding, predictable, and often frustrating pre-merge followed by a compelling, entertaining, and more unpredictable post-merge. These last two episodes contained elements of both, at times slow and drawn out and, in other moments, highly tense.
Over the past few weeks, a big question has been whether the BBC will renew Survivor UK for a second season. The ratings have been underwhelming (for a weekend evening show) but consistent, and the post-merge has shown signs of promise in the format. But is that enough? It’s hard to say, and it felt like tonight’s finale (and the result) could play heavily into whether the show will be given a second chance.
However, before we get to the finalists and winner, let’s recap how we got there. The first of tonight’s two episodes opened with an excessively long loved ones segment, and it didn’t even involve family members physically on the island. Instead, we saw a series of video calls at the Outpost, with the castaways determining the order and length of time each got to spend on the call.
This was an intriguing twist on an old format, putting the decision in the players’ hands, with the unlucky ones only getting three or one-minute calls with their loved ones. But it didn’t particularly cause much tension, as most agreed that those with kids and grandkids should get the most time, so Leilani and Pegleg lucked out, as well as Hannah, who was picked to go first. Poor Matt and Chris were left with the dregs.
An interesting wrinkle would have been to include an advantage for the person who ended up with the one-minute call. Maybe they could have earned an advantage in the Final 5 immunity challenge? Something to spice up what was quite a repetitive segment and offer a reprieve for the person chosen to go last.
However, Chris didn’t need any advantage in the challenge, as he went on to win his second immunity necklace of the season. Hannah came extremely close with her puzzle but had her top row the wrong way around. But with Chris safe, the vote came down to who posed the biggest threat at the final tribal council. Each player discussed their options, but it quickly became clear who was target number one.
Nobody wanted to sit next to Pegleg in the end; his friends on the jury, plus the grit and determination he’d shown throughout the game, made him a frontrunner to win it all. Even Hannah, Peg’s closest ally, knew it’d be a mistake to go to the end with him. And so, after 32 days, Pegleg was voted out and became the penultimate member of the jury.
With that, the final four embarked on the final immunity challenge of the season, and it was an old favorite, Hands on the Idol. It’s such a simple challenge but one that always delivers in intensity and drama. While this wasn’t quite as emotional as the Australian Survivor 2016 showdown, it gave it a run for its money. The challenge lasted over five hours, with Chris ultimately beating Leilani after she collapsed from her perch, causing medics to rush into action.
Thankfully, Leilani was okay, so Chris could celebrate his victory with a smile on his face, even if his pants were wet from peeing himself mid-challenge (hey, when nature calls!). Because the challenge went on so long, the group didn’t have time to return to camp and instead were whisked straight to tribal council.
Much like the previous vote, it all came down to the biggest jury threat, with Chris prodding Leilani to admit that Hannah was the most threatening player remaining. They weren’t wrong; while Hannah wasn’t the most proactive player, she had a lot of friends on the jury, hadn’t really offended anyone, and picked up her gameplay towards the end. So it was no surprise Chris, Matt, and Leilani sent her packing.
And so we were down to three: Chris, who spent the second half of this season as the game’s most wanted; Matt, who changed the course of the season with his flip on Tinuke and Nathan; and Leilani, an early target who survived a swap and made it all the way to the end.
Chris opened his pitch to the jury by talking about his self-doubt coming into the game. He mentioned that he came in with no set strategy, instead focusing on forming organic friendships and being himself. But this approach changed after his failed challenge throw, which irked some of his tribemates. From there, his alliances crumbled, and he had to go into survival mode, whether winning challenges, playing an idol, or making big moves. And through all that, he’s learned to believe in himself again.
Matt talked about how others often perceive him as naive, and he played into that perception at the start. Like Chris, he came in with the intention of playing with his heart, but he had to put his “game head” on at the merge. This meant making big decisions and blindsiding friends, moves that he still stands by. He concluded by saying he came in as a boy and is leaving the game a man.
Leilani described Survivor as a “brutal, brilliant, awesome game,” one she expected to chew her up and spit her out. But it didn’t, and she said that took “balls, courage, and bravery.” Unlike Chris and Matt, she didn’t have any specific moves to point to, but said she often relied on her gut and was happy to join alliances and make up numbers. Plus, she also tackled the challenges with determination, even if she never got a win.
As I said at the start of this article, the season’s winner could play a significant role in the future of Survivor UK. It’s a tone-setter, much like how Richard Hatch‘s victory in Borneo laid the blueprint for Survivor U.S.’s success. Each of these three finalists brought something different and represented their own style of gameplay.
Chris, who was my personal pick to win, fell more into the Richard Hatch role, not in terms of control, but in the sense he was the more open gameplayer not afraid to lie and scheme. He survived despite being a constant target, sometimes due to clutch immunity wins, but also by his keen observation and manipulation skills, knowing who to approach and when to make a move.
A Chris win would have cemented Survivor UK as a true game of “outwit, outplay, and outlast,” but, unfortunately, Chris failed to sell his game to the jury. To be fair, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Welsh singer, as there appeared to be a significant anti-Chris sentiment on the jury, particularly from Lee, who continued to spout his “moralistic” bullshit and lie about the all-male alliance thing.
At one point, Doug gave Chris an opportunity to own his game, asking about the Matt flip and the part he played in it. For whatever reason, Chris backed off, telling Doug that everyone is their own individual who makes their own decisions. Maybe he thought Doug was setting a trap? But this was Chris’ chance to claim credit for the game’s biggest move, explaining how he convinced Matt to flip on Tinuke and Nathan.
On the flip side, there was Leilani, who, while I’m sure a lovely person, didn’t have much of a resume to speak for. This was brought up by Nathan and Laurence, who basically said she was a bench warmer for most of the season. Leilani highlighted her five-hour stint in the final challenge, calling herself a “badass bitch,” and tried to claim that sitting next to Chris and Matt was her “big move” of the season.
A Leilani win was what I feared the most. Again, I have nothing against her as a person, but I feel had Leilani won, it would have doomed Survivor UK even further. It would show that the UK still isn’t ready to accept gameplayers and will always go for the nicest, least offensive option. It would have set a bad precedent for future players and the future of the game itself.
That left Matt, who was a cross between the two. I suppose he was the perfect winner for the season in that he represented both sides, the sort of go-with-the-flow, safe-thinking of the pre-merge and the riskier, flippier game of the post-merge. Matt flipping on Tinuke and Nathan was the major move of the season, one that set him on the path to the final. And, in many ways, it was refreshing to see the jurors not hold that against him, earning six of their votes to win decisively.
Matt’s social game obviously tipped things in his favour over Chris. He received some backlash from the jury over being a puppet, again, a suggestion that they knew Chris had more control. But Matt did well to put out those fires, talking up how he made the decision for the benefit of his own game while at the same time showing he took those decisions to heart due to the genuine connections he’d formed.
Chris played the flashier, more impressive game with more moves to his resume, but he didn’t have the respect or friendship of the jury. Whereas Matt made enough moves, even if he wasn’t the one leading the charge, while still having the social bonds with those he voted out. So it’s understandable why the guy who couldn’t properly lock a padlock won out in the end, earning all but two votes (Chris and Leilani received one vote each).
And so, for the question of whether Survivor UK will be back for a second season, Matt’s win might have helped keep the flame alight for a little longer. He had just the right mix of social likability and strategy that keeps the essence of the Survivor format alive and might encourage more active gamers in a potential second season, much like what we saw in Australian Survivor 2017.
Until then, congratulations to Matt. Oh, and a word of advice for your £100,000… I suggest you double-check the padlock on your safe.