Last week, regarding the impending season finale of “Survivor: South Pacific,” I noted that it was Coach’s game to lose. And sure enough, on Sunday night he lost it.
Two possibilities here: Either I misread the jury from the start, or Coach blew it at the final tribal council. Either way, I was just as happy with the outcome.
The winner was Sophie Clarke, the young med student from upstate New York. I’ve liked her all season, even as I was annoyed by her refusal to consider any attempt to step outside of Coach’s strategy. Albert gave her a couple of opportunities to do so. She declined both times and ultimately branded him as a traitor for his overtures. I disagreed at the time, and I still do, but in the end she won $1 million and he got zero votes.
So how did Coach lose it?
If I was right last week, that it was his game to lose, then his performance before the jury cost him the game. And that is certainly a possibility. After 23 seasons, it amazes me that so many contestants haven’t figured this out yet: You can’t go in front of the jury and begin apologizing. “Survivor” jurors do not like it when a finalist gets all mealy-mouthed. The jurors, who are often bitter, are going to challenge the finalists. If you begin backpedaling and apologizing, you won’t win the big prize. You need to defend yourself, and explain the Machiavellian nature of your strategy. Coach did too much equivocating at the final tribal council.
That said, it might well be that I was wrong to begin with. In fact, I sort of hope so. Because if I was wrong in my analysis, then it means that the jury members were as weary of Coach’s self-righteousness as I was. It is one thing to deceive people, even people in your own alliance. That’s a fundamental part of the game, and the jurors largely understand that. But it plays out differently when you spend the entire season talking about “honor and integrity,” when you attempt to portray yourself as more ethical than everyone else, and when you consistently play the God card. Coach repeatedly looked people in the eye and solemnly gave them his word (“as a Christian man”), only to go double-cross them. When you tell people how honorable you are, when you lay your religious faith on the table like a poker chip, it comes off badly when you renege. The jury members seemed equally angry toward all three finalists, but it’s possible that they were more offended by Coach because he had expended so much energy explaining the nobility of his motives.
I was taken aback by the vitriol that was heaped upon Sophie last night by the same people who voted her the $1 million. Ozzy reduced her to tears by attacking her as a spoiled brat. The first time he did this, he was trying to get inside of her head – he was scrambling to stay in the game and trying to play off the insecurities of not only Sophie, but also Coach and Albert. But even after he had been sent to the jury box, Ozzy came back at the final tribal and went after her again – he was unnecessarily (and uncharacteristically) mean-spirited in his criticism. Several other jurors went after her, too. And, yet, they voted for her. Go figure.
Looking over the final votes on Monday morning, what surprises me is how many original Savaii members voted for Sophie. Some members of Coach’s Upolu tribe (notably, Rick and Edna) felt betrayed by him. But it was my guess that the Savaii members would not take it so personally. I figured they would look at Coach, Albert and Sophie and view them as three people who functioned as one unit – and that they would reward Coach rather than the two sycophants who did his bidding. Whitney, Dawn and Keith all voted to give the $1 million to Sophie. That surprised me. Even a bigger surprise: Ozzy went for Sophie as well. Oz, who understands how the game is played and who got Coach to admit to the jury that he went back on his word when it suited his need, nonetheless gave his vote to the “brat” for whom he has so little respect. I never saw that one coming.
Quick takes on the reunion show …
I think my favorite moment was when Sophie acknowledged that if she could take one thing from the experience, it’s that she wants to live more like Dawn Meehan, the 41-year-old Mormon college professor who was the friendliest and most sincere player in the game this season. So often, the younger contestants look upon the older constestant with a certain contempt. (The most obvious example is Courtney Yates, but there are others.) Sophie looked at Dawn and saw the person she hopes to be 20 years down the line. That reflects maturity. And Dawn’s reaction reinforced that Sophie had read her correctly.
Jeff Probst repeatedly suggested that it would be great to see a future season in which the ruthless Russell Hantz is placed on one tribe and his nephew Brandon on the other tribe. While I understand what Jeff was suggesting, I hope it never happens. In fact, I hope we’ve seen the last of the Hantz family in the game. I like Russell. I like him a lot. He’s one of the best, smartest and most interesting players that “Survivor” has ever seen. But we’ve seen enough of him, and his act has worn thin. And Brandon? While he came off as more sympathetic on the reunion show, I still found him to be not very likeable and not very interesting. His incessant need to be the center of attention got really old. He made himself the focal point of the season, and unfortunately, that probably means we’ll see him again.
Was this the last we’ll see of Ozzy Lusth? Maybe so. He had a great season, coming up one puzzle short of the $1 million. While I don’t think Coach is wrong to sense a certain arrogance in Ozzy, I think there is also great humility. After a season in which Brandon and Coach spoke endlessly about their religious faith – often came off as insincere and pompous – it was very refreshing to hear Ozzy speak of how he loves to spend time out in the wilderness because that’s “where God lives.” It might have been the first time all season that God was reference in a manner that didn’t seem manipulative or self-serving. Ozzy might be the show’s greatest challenge player, and his energy and exuberance never get old. It was great fun watching him this season.
Next season … both tribes living on the same beach. Interesting. No hint at the location of the 24th season, or whether any previous players will be brought back.