Jeff Probst proclaimed, immediately before reading the final jury votes, that this season’s Survivor was one of the most entertaining and exciting in the show’s history. This is saying something, considering that this was Survivor’s thirteenth go-around. While I may not always see eye-to-eye with Probst (this isn’t to say I don’t love the man; he is absolutely the best host on TV), I agree with him completely here. This season was one of the best that I can remember.
Why? As with all reality shows, it comes down to casting. The large cast of twenty that began the season was unwieldy at the outset, but eventually proved effective, giving the viewers more time to get to know the more dynamic competitors. I certainly think the racially diverse casting had something to do with the high quality of the season. Although conflict of a racial nature was non-existent, the mixing and matching after the initially segregated tribes definitely provided a nice forum for drama.
The number of iterations of tribes was also a solid way to play with the strength of the alliances. Yul, Becky, Sundra, and Ozzy stayed strong. Anything with Jonathan did not. Survivor is a game of alliances and how those alliances keep up as the show goes along. Never was this more evident than this season.
This cast was easily one of the most intelligent casts Survivor has ever seen. Yul was, obviously, a very smart guy and he showed it time and again as the show went along. Ozzy’s intelligence was more instinctual, his ability to adapt and compete unmatched. The Adam, Candice, Parvati triumvirate was overlooked in terms of smarts and game play, something which I cannot understand. Those three probably would’ve found themselves at the final tribal council if it weren’t for Jonathan’s inexplicable betrayal. Parvati was a lot more intelligent than she looked and kept herself around far longer that she should have been.
The highlight of the early season was definitely Billy’s proclamation of love for Candice. After Candice had innocently said “We love you,” to Billy, meaning that their tribe was a fan of Billy and his Latino Death Metal look, Billy interpreted this as love at first sight. How Billy made this leap is beyond me, and I still can’t believe that CBS showed us all the available information. Did those two have any other interactions? Nonetheless, Billy acted like a big old creep and Candice, much to her credit, shrugged off this information once it came to light.
The anonymity of some cast members was a little off-putting, but I can understand its necessity. Why focus on some of the more boring cast members when a) they’re going to get voted off fairly early and, b) there are so many better people to focus on. Jonathan Penner is one of these interesting characters.
Jonathan was this year’s villain. No way around it. Frankly, it was nice to have an all-out, shameless, intelligent bad guy on Survivor. He had no problem being morally corrupt. He had no problem being totally obnoxious. When he turned on his Raro tribe members in favor of Yul and his immunity idol, it made me absolutely sick. But, predictably, when he got booted the game got a tad stale. Still good, but lacking the edge that Jonathan brought. He created tension and conflict every moment he was on screen, which is a priceless commodity for any reality show. He was also the only one to really rip into the the finalists during the jury questions, winning him the “Sue Hawk Memorial Award”.
The Adam and Candice love connection was foreshadowed from the very first episode. It was, also, totally understandable. Both are unquestionably great-looking, young, single people. No one can blame them for gravitating to each other. Throw in the fact that Candice became a veteran of the Exile Island process, and the loneliness of Exile Island must’ve made her need for companionship that much greater. Apparently, the relationship didn’t continue outside of the island, but, as we all know, island-love-in-front-of-a-multitude-cameras is a difficult way to begin a relationship.
Had you asked any reality show connoisseur before this season of Survivor who the greatest reality show athlete/competitor of all time was, there would only be one answer: Alton from The Inferno. It seemed highly unlikely after Alton displayed his dominant physical abilities on MTV that anyone would ever again come close to dominating competitions at that level on a reality show. Ozzy, however, did the unthinkable.
Ozzy, on Survivor: Cook Islands, turned in the most impressive physical performance I have ever seen on a TV show. Simply mind-blowing was the resiliency, competitiveness and athleticism of the waiter from San Diego. The only reason he stuck around until the end were his victories in every important individual immunity challenge. Not only that, he led the out-manned (by 8 to 4) Aitu tribe to an epic comeback by leading the charge in the team immunity challenges. If I were on the jury, I would’ve voted for Ozzy.
Yul Kwon, the eventual winner, deserved it. I can admit that. Did he deserve it more than Ozzy? I don’t think there’s a right answer to that. Yul completely dominated one aspect of the game (the mental), while Ozzy completely dominated the other most important aspect (the physical). Which is more important?
Yul made every correct decision, even taking some necessary and difficult risks. His capture of Jonathan’s vote was the most pivotal moment of the season and will surely go down as one the all-time great Survivor moves. I can feel good about Yul’s victory which, for me, has been a rare occurrence over Survivor’s run. It just goes to show you how satisfying a great season of Survivor can end up being.
This is the show that started it all, is responsible for countless terrible knock-offs, and has been the object of parody for the better part of a decade. Yet, it keeps on ticking. This is a testament to the formula concocted by Mark Burnett, the steadiness of Jeff Probst, the risky and insightful casting, and the foresight of the producers to alter the game every season to keep it fresh.
Survivor still has a lot of juice left in the tank and I can’t wait for next season.
-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer