Survivor: The New Dragon Slayer

Before your regularly scheduled recap appears, allow me a moment to gloat.

I WON I WON I WON I WON! I won the Survivor office pool that I have been participating in and failing to win for years now! I won! ME! OK OK, not just me. The boyfriend and I went splitsies on the pool and had a healthy debate over where to rank all the players, so he gets a lot of credit here as well. But seriously? I’m so excited! I finally won! Thanks for the cool $170 that’s coming my way, Sophie!

OK, onto the show – it was a nail-biter, through and through! If only the whole season had been as exciting as the last two episodes were.

God’s an Ozzy Fan

We kicked things off with our final four – Coach, Sophie, Albert and Rick – about to go watch the final duel and find out who’d be joining them to create a fivesome. Coach was feeling the pressure to perform in what’s his third and probably final Survivor appearance. “I’m not gonna be made a fool out here. I’ve been made a fool enough in my life. I’ve been made a fool out of so many times because of this game,” he said. Well, Mr. Sailed Down The Amazon Escaping Dangerous Situations, whose fault is that? He’d also had it with his competition. “I’m sick of people coming out here and acting holier than thou,” Coach complained. Holier than thou, Coach? Really? Well, that makes two of us, buddy!

Meanwhile, Ozzy welcomed Brandon to Redemption Island and was surprised to find out that Brandon was not “blindsided” like he said, but that he gave away his immunity necklace. Ozzy’s right – that’s not getting blindsided, that’s asking to get voted out. “He’s playing the game like he’s playing with God, and he’s not,” Ozzy said. “He’s playing with human beings that are greedy and want that money.”

The final duel was what we all expected – an endurance challenge. With the strength of God holding him to that pole, Brandon was sure to win…right? Wrong. I knew Brandon stood a shot because he’d performed OK in a previous endurance challenge, but Ozzy stands on top of palm trees. He was like a monkey on that thing. Over 40 minutes and one tough battle later, Brandon slid down the pole and was out of the game.

Oh, Brandon. I sure didn’t care for the guy, but you have to admit that his good vs. evil struggle was pretty interesting to watch. I hope he finds peace and a really good therapist when he goes home.

I was disappointed to see Ozzy win the duel – not being a huge Redemption Island or Ozzy Lusth fan, I didn’t want to see him go to the end. He was a shoe-in to win and it would make for a disappointing and predictable finish. Luckily, things got interesting.

Wheelin’ and Dealin’

Up until he voted Brandon out, Coach had been playing a strong game. But then it all began to unravel. Coach’s buzz words have always been honor and integrity, but he was playing a strategic and cutthroat game. Telling people you want to play with honor and then lying and deceiving is much worse than just playing with lies and deceit. Coach made too many deals with too many people – he had final three deals with Brandon, Rick, Sophie, Albert and, most surprisingly, Ozzy.

Coach never should have made a final three deal with Ozzy. It was a stupid move, no matter how you slice it. Let’s say Coach kept his word and took Ozzy to the end – well, now not only have you betrayed someone from the alliance you made on Day One, but you’ve done it for someone who will handily beat you in the finals. Now let’s say Coach didn’t keep his word and voted Ozzy out as soon as he hand the chance – well now Ozzy is mad, you’ve lost his vote as well as the votes of any jury members who might value Ozzy’s opinion. Stupid. Either way you slice it.

Coach began to feel like he was doing well because everyone wanted to take him to the end – “It’s my game to lose,” he said. And he did lose it. His game play became too scattered, and he made too many deals without thinking about how that would come across once those deals had been broken. Maybe Coach could have pulled out a win if he’d taken less likable people to the end, like Edna and Cochran, but he chose not to. Coach tried to be honorable and cutthroat, and that’s an impossible wire to balance on.

House of Cards

Immunity challenge time! Wasn’t this an amazing one? I freakin’ loved it, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Each player had to balance a surface on which they’d build a house of cards – two difficult challenges wrapped into one.

Right off the bat, Sophie was in the lead. She told Probst that she builds houses of cards for fun and has a book on how to make them. For real? That’s either a surprisingly useful nerdy pastime, or an incredibly intelligent lie devised to psych out the competition. Sophie was surging ahead until the realized that she was out of tiles – each level she was building used too many and she ran out well before reaching the height needed to win. Ozzy, her stiffest competition, had the same problem. And that’s when Sophie began to lose it. She dissembled the top half of her tower and when some of her tiles fell she barked at Albert to abandon his own challenge and come pick up her stuff. I believe she shrieked “Drop your damn stack and pick up my pieces! I’m going to beat you!!!” Look, on the one hand I get it – Ozzy is the common enemy and as long as one of you beats him all is well until next Tribal Council. But Sophie, come on – she couldn’t have been ruder when she demanded that Albert help her (which ended up being against the rules anyway) and as she bickered with Albert she just got more and more flustered.

As Sophie lost focus and began to make mistakes, Ozzy rebuilt his tower making sure to use the tiles as sparingly as possible. Coach made some headway on catching him, but to no avail. Ozzy won the second last Immunity Challenge, and I almost had a fit.

Rick Rolling

I knew immediately that it was in Coach and Sophie’s best interest to eliminate Rick. Albert was their best shot at beating Ozzy if the final Immunity Challenge was physical, and Ozzy was the true threat in the group. Sophie seemed to understand that better than anyone, which I think is why she panicked so much. She seemed like the only person who really grasped the idea that Ozzy sitting in the final three was a done deal. He’d beat any of them, hands down. And Sophie also knew that without Ozzy there, she stood a pretty good chance of winning.

For some reason Coach thought Rick was a threat in the finals. Coach saw a hardworking, honest cowboy, but it seemed like the other players just saw a guy who never made one strategic move the whole time, and we viewers at home saw nothing but a silent mustache. He even said “Rick’s got the best shot to win this game right now,” like he’d never seen Ozzy climb a tree or something. So at first, Coach was on board with Sophie to vote Rick out. But Ozzy had his sights set on Sophie, who he thought was a brat, and Albert was easy to bring on board. Albert has always thought Sophie’s a threat in the final two, and he was right – Sophie was a bigger threat in the final three than Rick would have been, but I’m glad it didn’t go down in Albert’s favor.

The sparks began to fly at Tribal Council. Ozzy outed Coach’s promise to take him to the final three, which obviously made everyone mad. The tangled web of lies Coach had been spinning slowly began to eat him. He’d played a good game up to a point, but you can’t make final three promises with everyone left in the game and not expect a few broken promises to come back and bite you in the butt.

Yet, just as it looked like things were going South for Coach, the tables suddenly turned and the attention was on Sophie, who Ozzy had described as a pretentious spoiled brat. Ouch. And for the first time in the game (seemingly, anyway) Sophie totally broke down. The girl was reduced to tears. You had to feel bad for her, since Ozzy had been saying that everyone in the game felt that way and everyone who came through Redemption Island said she was awful. Here she thought she’d made some friends who would vote for her in the end, and then in the final days discovers that she’s actually a really unlikable person? Not fun, but she needed to pull it together. I was worried she wouldn’t pick up the pieces in time to stay focused for the rest of the game. That said, do you think Sophie’s breakdown helped endear her to the jury members? Sophie was seen as cold, and showing a little (OK, a lot) emotion might have actually helped humanize her. Sophie clearly thought the tears shed had hurt her, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the case.

In the end, Coach didn’t play the Idol (an arrogant move) and he voted out Rick. Bye bye, silent mustached one! I was disappointed to see my mom get eliminated from the office pool (she invented it and is now probably the only participant who’s never won) but ya gotta look out for numero uno, y’know? I was just happy to see Sophie still in the game.

Flower Power

I can’t believe how easily forgiving people in this game have been. I’m like that chick from Revenge, I never forgive! Yet here’s Coach, forgiving Ozzy for throwing him under the bus at Tribal Council. And why? Because Ozzy spun a little story about the emotional damage and trust issues he was left with after Amanda broke his fragile little heart on Fans vs. Favorites? Or maybe he was talking about getting burned by Parvati. Or Cochran. Who knows? Ozzy allows himself to be stabbed in the back like it’s going out of style. But why? Why would Coach forgive Ozzy for exposing their “secret” “alliance”? But, then again, I didn’t understand why Coach was all buddy-buddy with Ozzy to begin with.

Ozzy was trying to convince Coach to make Albert and Sophie do a fire challenge to see who’d make the final three. I guess they were assuming that Albert and Sophie would each vote for each other, so if Coach and Ozzy each voted for one of them then it would force a tie. But that was a risky plan – if those two somehow caught on to what was happening, all they’d have to do was throw both their votes on the guy who wasn’t wearing an immunity necklace and that guy would be gone. Why risk that in the final vote? It’s silly. Luckily, it never came to that.

The final Immunity Challenge was a giant obstacle course that ended in a spinning flower puzzle that Probst said was the hardest of the season. At the reunion show Probst said puzzles are Ozzy’s “bread and butter”, but let’s get real – the dude is a dolphin in the water and a monkey in the trees, but he’s no Boston Rob when it comes to puzzles. If Ozzy was going to lose the challenge, I knew he’d lose it in the puzzle portion.

It looked close, but Ozzy did start the puzzle with a lead. Coach and Sophie were in it and, surprisingly, Albert was the farthest behind. That guy was a real disappointment this season – he didn’t perform as I’d expected strategically, socially or in challenges. Ozzy was like a monkey out on the obstacle course and blew threw it, but Sophie held her own. When she got to the puzzle she sped past Ozzy, fitting in piece after piece as he struggled to find the first piece. And just like that, the whole game changed – Sophie won Immunity (!!!) and Ozzy’s fate was sealed.

Out Again

It should have been an easy vote, but with a lunatic like Coach on your tribe nothing’s ever easy. It was a piece of cake decision for Sophie and Albert to vote out Ozzy, by far their biggest competitor, but Coach was actually considering forcing a tie. Albert and Ozzy would have to battle it out in a fire building challenge for a spot in the finals. And why? WHY??? For honor and integrity? That was long out the window. Why on earth would Coach even consider letting Ozzy win his way into the final three? Sophie beat him, fair and square! I was terrified that Coach was going to cost me $170 in office pool money. I would have tweeted a request for reimbursement.

Thankfully, Coach stuck with his original alliance and sent Ozzy to the jury. I think the damage to his game was already done, though. Coach betrayed his own alliance by making secret deals with Ozzy, and then he betrayed Ozzy by failing to follow through on those deals. In short, Coach just pissed too many people off to win. Ozzy left with a few yelps of…anger? Joy? I don’t know, but for a minute there I thought he was going to run into the woods to live forever after getting his torch snuffed for the fifth time. (Twice previously, three times in this game alone.)

After that it was easy as pie. The final three, who stuck together from day one through thick and thin, enjoyed a celebratory breakfast together. They torched the camp. And, in the best twist Survivor has thrown us in two seasons, we didn’t have to sit through one of those “fallen warriors” memorial montages. You guys, I think they finally might be reading my blog!

Question Period

Shall we take a moment to discuss how much a final three sucks compared to a final two? Because it really does. A vs. B is much, much more compelling than A vs. B vs. C, who’s over there in a corner getting ignored. It seems like someone in the final three is always fat waiting to be trimmed – this person doesn’t have many questions directed to them during the final Tribal Council and receives few or no votes. Last season that was both Phillip and Natalie, before that it was Sash, before that Russell, before that Mick. The final three means that the people vying for a million dollars don’t get as much time to make their cases or answer questions, and it bugs me. I want the final two back.

Going into the final Tribal Council I thought Sophie would win, but nothing is ever for sure. Plus, things so rarely go my way that I was sure Sophie would lose purely because the universe wouldn’t allow me to win the pool. But it looks like December is coming up Jill! Anyway, I digress. I’m just too excited to go spend that money on shoes.

The opening statements weren’t anything to write home about. Albert came across as cheesy and too slick, as he did all along. I liked that he reminded everyone that Survivor is, ultimately, a social experiment, but I groaned as soon as he mentioned a higher power. Sophie cut to the chase and made excellent points, but she was nervous and sounded a little manic. And Coach, well his speech was just full of so many Coach-isms that I was too busy rolling my eyes to pay attention to what exactly was said.

Ozzy was the first jury member to speak, and he mostly addressed Coach about his betrayal. I was really unsure who Ozzy would vote for, but I knew it wouldn’t be Coach. Next Jim asked Albert why Sophie and Albert shouldn’t win, but instructed him not to start off with compliments. So instead Albert complimented Jim’s excellent question. Sigh. That lack of self-awareness is why Albert received no votes.

Dawn asked Sophie why she chose to align with Coach and Albert, and Sophie’s answer was my favorite. She wished she were a man because she wanted to play like Boston Rob did, with dumb young girls who would follow her to the end, and because Coach pledged to never vote her out “When I saw Coach, I saw him as the equivalent of a young girl.” Amazing.

Rick was another tough one to read because he hated them all so much. He called Coach out on all that “honor and integrity” stuff being a load of crap, he asked Albert about the Immunity necklace incident, and he called Sophie a liar. He was one big, hypocritical sourpuss.(Rick made his fair share of final three deals too.)

Brandon’s speech was predictably insane. He also addressed Coach’s lies and betrayals. He asked Albert “How do you feel about using God to get to the final three?” (that also could have been thrown Coach’s way) and demanded, over and over again, to know if Albert knew he was being voted out when he kept Brandon’s necklace. As Albert stammered Brandon barked “Yes or no? Yes or no? Just answer YES OR NO.” It was crazy.

Whitney was also harsh, calling Albert sleazy and Sophie condescending, and telling Coach he’d used Christianity to manipulate the rest of the tribe. I figured she’d give her vote to Sophie – after what she said I knew it wouldn’t be Coach, and I think Sophie was genuine when she said that the opinions people made of her on the show had made her realize that having a tough and standoffish exterior isn’t necessarily a sign of strength.

Of all the players, Edna was my favorite merely because she said what I think the jury needed to hear – not to be a Bitter Betty about it. So they got duped? “We voluntarily came here to be duped,” she told them. I love when people try to knock some sense into their fellow jury members.

Keith’s question was all about the Hidden Immunity Idol which was a bit odd, but it did give Sophie a chance to out Coach for having found the Idol days before admitting it to Brandon. She told them about the fake praying while Brandon looked for something in vain, the staged finding of the Idol, all of it. Very well played, since it added to the lies the “honorable” Dragon Slayer had told and would possibly turn Brandon against him once again.

Finally we got Cochran. He was hilarious, but I was disappointed. Coach freely admitted that he’s a terrible strategist. He didn’t argue when Sophie said she’d been making his decisions. He never dropped the honor crap and owned up to the fact that he was playing a game with the goal of winning a million bucks. Basically, he never stopped apologizing and never owned his decisions. So why vote for him? To me, it felt clear that Sophie had played a stronger game.

And The Votes Are In!

Survivor: The New Dragon Slayer
Sophierce Wins!

I miss the days when Jeff would stage an elaborate trip from the final Tribal Council to the sound stage in L.A. for the live finale. Once Probst began reading the votes, it was clear that Albert had received none – this was a race between Sophie and Coach, and she won it rather handily. Probst only read out three votes for Coach before announcing Sophie the winner, which leads us to believe the vote was 6-3 in her favor.

So, good job Sophie! I, for one, am very happy with this outcome and not just because of my own financial benefit. I think Sophie was an understated but deserving winner. I didn’t want to see Ozzy win because I don’t respect Redemption Island. I hate that it gives players a break from the strategic aspects of the game while letting them build social relationships with every player on their way to the jury. Ozzy would have been an unsatisfying winner to me. So it came down to Coach and Sophie, and I think Sophie outplayed Coach in every regard.

Sophie won Immunity challenges, something I don’t think anyone expected of her. Sophie made strategic decisions alongside Coach all along, but the difference was that she never made them under the guise of honor and integrity. Sophie admitted to lying when necessary, because it’s a game and she wanted to win. And most importantly, Sophie never made unnecessary promises to people, promises that would only end up being broken. And for those reasons, I think she was a great winner. I’m also glad Sophie won because she’s a different winner – I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of people like Sophie do really well in this game. She’s a young woman who’s not a mindless bimbo. She’s a woman who didn’t win for being sweet and likable in fact, she was rather unlikable. I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of players like her and I think if she gets the opportunity to play again she’ll have learned from her mistakes and play an even stronger game. (Not that I think she’d win necessarily, just that I think she’s learned some important lessons about the social game.)

Check the blog later today for a recap of the live reunion show, and to find out where this season ranks among the others for me. Now, head to the comments section and tell me what you thought of the show!


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