Survivor: HHH Finale Recap: The Early Bird Gets The Worm

I’m not ashamed to admit that I still get the tingles watching the Survivor Finale each and every season. Watching the Finale is an event in my home, in that it is the rare occasion that my wife and I watch live TV that isn’t news or sports, and isn’t a show that has been DVR’ed or downloaded. It’s a ritual that all of us share, feeling that excitement of not knowing what outcome we’re about to see play out before our very eyes. There is no need to avoid spoilers or to stay off of Twitter, because whatever is about to happen hasn’t happened yet. There is a weird feeling of impatience that washes over me when I’m not able to fast-forward through a commercial break.

Yes even at its worst, Survivor is better than most shows on TV. I’ll take a mediocre season of Survivor over any other season of any other Reality Competition Show out there. As this season drew to a close, I had to give myself a small pat on the back though, because my predictions rarely – if ever – come true. Just after the merge, when this season looked like it was just going to be one of those average, ho-hum seasons of Survivor, and people started to leave the show, I pleaded with my followers to stick this season out. I had a feeling that there were some strong players left in the game, and that once we had whittled it down, that this season could still have potential to be great. My eyes and ears began to perk up over the last few weeks when Survivor: HHH gave us several strong, dramatic episodes in a row, and this two-hour Finale did not disappoint (even if the Live Reunion Show that followed did). Not in the least. In fact, not only did I get the tingles, I felt myself on an emotional roller coaster that carried all the way through the final vote reading. By my measure, this was not a good end to to a mediocre season…this was a GREAT end to what became a pretty strong season.

The Finale was not without controversy (Twitter was all up in arms about a few specifics, which we’ll get to). But before we get ahead of ourselves, the normal disclaimer: Please remember that this recap assumes that you have already seen this week’s Finale Episode of Survivor: HHH, so if you have not and don’t want to be spoiled, please come back later! It’s important to add too that while we WILL hit on all of the important developments of the episode, this is not a linear “blow-by-blow” recap, and is more of a discussion and reaction of what we just witnessed together.


Survivor: HHH Finale Recap: The Early Bird Gets The Worm

First things first: A big, heartfelt congratulations to Ben Driebergen, the winner of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers. It was the unlikeliest of scenarios, but it happened…although we’ll have to wait for my exit interviews today to know for sure how the votes went down (don’t miss today’s Podcast!). What we can gather, is that Ben won the final vote 5-2-1, with Chrissy getting two votes (from Ashley and Mike) and Ryan getting just one (from Devon). Ben was crowned champion and Sole Survivor by playing a fierce game throughout that the jury had no choice but to respect, especially when he found and successfully used three straight hidden Immunity Idols in order to reach the Final Four (he’s the first ever to use three Idols in a row, successfully). Then at Final Four, in what is being heralded at best as a controversial twist, and at worst, the “jumping of the shark” of the show as a whole, Ben got to compete in a fire-making challenge against Devon to earn his place in the Final Three.

Now, I know what many of you are saying: This game is rigged! There’s no way that Ben just “found” three straight Idols! And then production must have created that final fire-making twist as a way to keep Ben in the game! Also Ben was the second shooter on the grassy knoll! Sorry, but I call BS on all of these theories. While I’ll admit that it does look suspect when Idols are put back into the game and then they are found by the same person – not once, but twice – there’s a major flaw with this way of thinking. As pointed out in the show, the other four people in the game had every opportunity to look for these Idols themselves, or at the very least “babysit” Ben as he scrambled off to look. Chrissy even admitted that they all knew he should be watched, but the four of them sat around hoping that someone else would be the one to actually be the one to keep an eye on Ben. So basically I look at this as Ben simply wanting it more. Yes, it’s inconvenient to have to wake up and follow Ben out in the darkness on Day 38 in the game…but for a million dollars? Even if production was leaving these Idols in plain sight for Ben to find, the others should have been right there to witness it…and it’s their own faults that they weren’t.

Survivor: HHH Finale Recap: The Early Bird Gets The Worm

As for the fire-making challenge, this was a secret advantage introduced BEFORE the Final Immunity Challenge…so the conspiracy that this twist was created to benefit Ben is just bullocks (I think that means crap or something, in British). Ben could have – and should have by the way! – won that Immunity Challenge, so would that have also been rigged? I find these allegations against Ben to just be some serious internet trolling…it’s time to give the man some credit for outworking, outplaying, outwitting and outlasting his fellow tribe mates.

Now as for the whole idea of the fire-making challenge itself, herein lies the major controversy that fans are trying to wrap their heads around. Many people did not like the idea that the Final Four Immunity Challenge winner would then get to choose one person to go to Finals with, leaving the remaining two players to have to make fire in order to reach Final Three. With this argument, I hear both camps and I’m sure there are legitimate points on each side. I though, happen to LOVE this. If you’re going to have a Final Three, then I think this is a great way to do it, because what it does is it rewards players for getting to this milestone part of the game and it gives them a chance to earn their way into the final spot. This method of course doesn’t make sense if you’re doing a Final Two, and I still like that in a Final Two scenario, the Final Three winner gets to choose who he/she will sit next to in the end (The whole Final Two vs. Final Three is a whole other issue and article that I won’t get into here). But when you are down to just four left in the game, there isn’t much in the way of drama or big blindsides that you can expect, so adding this exciting element to spice things up at this point in the game? I’m all aboard.

Survivor: HHH Finale Recap: The Early Bird Gets The Worm

Survivor, by the way, has CONSTANTLY changed and morphed itself over the years…and being that ambitious has opened up the show to a number of successful twists (tribe swaps, immunity Idols) and a few failures (the “Outcast” tribe coming back or The Medallion of Power). But it has never been afraid to go in a new direction, and this has been the life-blood of the show (that, along with strong casting). So I don’t buy that this new Final Four twist is somehow ruining the integrity of the game. Have the last few seasons had a few too many secret advantages and hidden Idols? Perhaps. But just because they did, doesn’t mean that every concurrent season will now have the same. True Survivor purists know that the producers throw a lot up against the wall to see what sticks, and they usually keep the ideas that pay-off with good drama. Judging by the way this season went with the Ben/Devon show-down, I think it’s hard to argue that this twist worked.

And when it comes down to it, many opinions may rely on whether or not you personally wanted Devon or Ben in the Final Three…if you love Ben you were likely happy with the fire-making twist, but if you hated him you probably think it sucked. What are your thoughts? This will be a fun one to debate, but haters better get used to the concept: Jeff Probst announced at the Live Reunion Show that this Final Four structure is here to stay.

Survivor: HHH Finale Recap: The Early Bird Gets The Worm

So whether or not you believe that Ben had help from production (he didn’t), I loved how his rivalry with Chrissy paid off. These two were allies at one point in the game, but were gunning for each other – hard – down the stretch. Ben kept himself alive with Idols and his ability to keep them secret, while Chrissy pretty much willed herself to the Final Three by winning a record-tying four Individual Immunity Challenges in one season (she is only the fourth woman to do so, and the oldest by far, joining Kelly Wiglesworth, Jenna Morasca and Kim Spradlin). And how about the fact that of the nine Individual Immunity Challenges held this season, eight of them were won by females? That’s pretty remarkable, but no great surprise considering the strong female competitors this season.

Ben‘s first Idol of the night led to Dr. Mike‘s downfall, and what a great Tribal that was. Devon made the expert move of trusting his gut and he cast a single vote for Mike against the wishes of his alliance…in doing so, once Ben played his Idol, he forced a tie between himself and Mike. Had he not done this and voted for Ben, Devon would have been sent home. It was a fitting end to Mike’s erratic season, and it solidified Devon to me as one of the stronger “triple threat” players I’ve seen in quite a while…if the dude could only have made fire, he not Ben, may have been holding the million dollar check.

Survivor: HHH Finale Recap: The Early Bird Gets The Worm

Chrissy drew a lot of hate this season (yes, I read the comments here!) but she played a very strong game and I was deeply impressed with the way she carried herself at Final Tribal. In today’s game, Immunity Challenge wins don’t seem to hold as much weight as strategic and social prowess, but Chrissy would have most definitely been a good winner to represent this season. Only poor Ryan would have been the disappointing choice, even though he was a fan-favorite. Just moments into that Final Tribal, we all could see that Ryan was not going to win over the jury and was in serious trouble. Kudos to him for actually winning over Devon‘s vote, but there seems to always be one player each season who plays a fairly good game, but isn’t perceived as doing so by the others. This season that player was Ryan, and as we all know, perception is everything in the game of Survivor.

Survivor: HHH Finale Recap: The Early Bird Gets The Worm

Episode Take-Away: Overall, I just absolutely loved the way this season ended. It was admittedly a slow start to the season, and even all the way into the merge it just seemed like this season wasn’t firing on all cylinders…until it was. Those last few episodes and this Finale, to me, feel like quite the stretch of great episodes. Going into this Finale, we had a serious underdog in Ben, and that underdog ended up overcoming all odds. All of the challenges were exciting (man, that upside down “U” had me jumping and screaming!), as were the Tribals. Let’s give a shout-out too, to one of the least-bitter Survivor juries I’ve ever seen, or at least in recent memory. I am loving that new tweak (ditching the “one question” each at Final Tribal and instead discussing things as a group). To me, the fire-making challenge was breath-taking to watch, then heart-breaking as Devon had to leave the game. All in all, I’m not sure what more we could ask for in a Finale…well, there is one thing I guess: The “tie-vote” that was rumored to have happened with the final vote obviously did not. Talk about an exciting finish. Maybe one day!

Vote #1: Ben played Idol on himself, Chrissy was Immune. 1 – Mike (Devon), 1 – Devon (Ben), 3 – Ben, negated by Idol (Chrissy, Ryan, Mike).

Re-Vote: 2 – Mike (Chrissy, Ryan), 1 – Devon (Ben).  Dr. Mike voted out and became seventh member of the jury.

Vote #2: Chrissy won Immunity, chose Ryan to be in Final Three. Ben won fire-making challenge over Devon to reach Final Three.

FINAL VOTE to win Survivor: 5 – Ben (Cole, Desi, Joe, JP, Lauren), 2 – Chrissy (Ashley, Mike), 1 – Ryan (Devon).

Winner: Ben Driebergen

Survivor: HHH Finale Recap: The Early Bird Gets The Worm

Live Reunion Show Recap: This season’s Live Reunion Show was unlike any other, and not in a good way. First off, the show itself bled into the hour usually reserved for the Reunion Show by about 20 minutes, which left Probst with very little time to get to ask questions of the cast. But to our surprise as viewers, asking questions to the cast seemed to be the least of his priorities. The new format seemed content that we weren’t going to get in-depth with the cast at all, and instead had a lot of shots of Probst interacting with the live studio audience or showing pre-edited clips from the season. Usually a few cast mates in the back row don’t get to speak, but this had to be a record because other than the Final Three, only Lauren was asked a question! That means 14 contestants just sat and looked pretty for the camera but we didn’t get to hear from any of them. Well I guess it beats surprise, unwanted appearances by Sia! Here are some of the few tidbits we did learn from the Live Reunion Show:

  • Chrissy actually quit her job to appear on Survivor, having made it on the show after applying continuously for the past 16 years! She is still unemployed but loving her time with family.
  • The highlight of the Reunion Show had to be the big surprise that was planned for Ben, as three of his old Marine buddies took the stage with the recently crowned Sole Survivor. Ben had no idea they were there and hadn’t seen them in over a decade, and it was a tearful reunion to say the least. Much of Ben’s story this season has dealt with shining light on the problems former soldiers face battling PTSD, so the show took a moment to recognize those struggling with PTSD.  They even flashed a website to go to for help so please do:
  • Season 36 of Survivor! As always, we were given a preview of the upcoming season, and Season 36 will be called “Survivor: Ghost Island.” It will premiere at the end of February and will feature all new contestants vying for the million dollar prize. But am I the only one still a bit confused as to its premise? Jeff explains that the theme deals with “past mistakes” that players have made in the game, and that next season will look to “reverse the curse” of some of these terrible moves…but, um…just what the heck does that mean, exactly? I guess we’re going to have to wait and find out next February!

Survivor: HHH Finale Recap: The Early Bird Gets The Worm

Coverage Ahead: This marks my last Recap of the season, and I just wanted to thank all of you who have followed and read this column all season long! But the season-end coverage is not over yet, because tomorrow I will have my final round of exit interviews with all five contestants from tonight’s Finale. I’ll speak to Ben one-on-one, and then will have a call with Chrissy and Ryan, as well as a call with Devon and Mike. All five of these interviews will appear in a mega-sized FilmSurvivor Podcast on Thursday. But that’s not all, because by Friday I will also be posting my updated season-end Rankings – Most Memorable Seasons and the All-Time Winners List – with Survivor: HHH and Ben factored in. Where do you think this season should place among the 35 seasons of Survivor? One of the best? One of the worst? Somewhere in the middle? And where should Ben fall on the Winners list? I’ll keep an open-mind until tomorrow, so if you want to influence me at all, please comment below and plead your case!

Of course once we move past this season’s coverage, please follow me –  on Twitter, @tomsantilli or on Facebook – for any breaking Survivor news as we head into 2018 (!) and towards Season 36 (!!!).

Again, a big thank you for watching Survivor and for reading my recaps, and an even bigger thanks if you’ve been listening to and/or following the Podcast! It’s a blast covering my favorite shows and getting to interact with fellow Survivor fanatics, and your support is truly appreciated. Have a great and happy holiday and New Years, and we’ll see you to do this all over again next February!


Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira