There are no words. No words to describe the – disgust? – that I’m feeling right now towards Survivor. But oh, words will come. Lots of them.
I will try to get through and formulate my thoughts on what looks on the surface to be a clear “jump the shark” moment for my favorite show. By all accounts, up until tonight, Survivor: Edge of Extinction was a good, if not great, edition of the best Reality TV Competition Show on the planet. But it wasn’t able to stick the landing. And in fact, not only was tonight’s ending shocking and controversial, but it may have caused permanent damage to the show’s legacy.
As I do at the beginning of every recap, please heed the following. Remember that this recap assumes that you have already seen this week’s Finale Episode of Survivor: Edge of Extinction. If you have not and don’t want to be spoiled, please come back later! It’s important to add that while we WILL hit on all of the important developments of the episode, this is not a linear “blow-by-blow” recap. It is more of a discussion and reaction of what we just witnessed together.
CLICK THE CONTINUE READING BUTTON FOR MORE, AND THIS IS YOUR LAST *SPOILER* WARNING!
So I’m pissed off. I have so many thoughts circling around my head, I apologize in advance if this rendition of my Recap feels a little all over the place. But I’m just going to reach up and grab one at a time, and try to make sense of it all.
To be clear: I’m reacting much worse than I thought I would to the fact that a player from The Edge ended up winning the title of Sole Survivor. To Chris Underwood, Survivor Winner, I say…congrats? I must give him mad props for how he played the game on those final three days, he really did maximize his time in the game at that point and made some stellar moves to get him to be sitting in the Final Three.
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His manipulation of Lauren, his ability to entrust Devens with one-half of his Idol, knowing Devens would feel indebted to him, and then his ballsy move to give away his Immunity Necklace and take Devens head-on in a fire-making challenge…these are all to be commended. Don’t forget that this dude also won the biggest comp of the season (to get back into the game on Day 35), won the final Immunity Challenge and then did what he had to do in order to position himself for the win.
So taking nothing away from what he WAS able to accomplish, the fact that Chris Underwood is now a Sole Survivor puts the game’s legacy and future in total jeopardy. As I’ve stated in my recaps this season, I’ve had a bit of an “old-school” mentality when it comes to thinking that a Survivor Winner could have at some point been voted out of the game. As a purist, this didn’t make sense to me.
I was not against the IDEA of The Edge of Extinction, but I guess I had thought of it as a fun diversion, a cool twist that did bring some extra layers of excitement to the game, made the jury pool a bit larger and more interesting, and ultimately led us up to what was – heading into the night – one of the most unpredictable Finales we had ever seen. 18 of the original 20 still had a chance to win! But not only did Chris become the first Sole Survivor to have had his torch snuffed in the game, but he was only in the “actual game” that we have come to know and love for a total of 13 days.
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And sorry, I don’t buy the argument that “well, he played within the rules of this game and won.” Of course he did. And that’s why much of my frustration is not aimed at Chris, or even at Jeff Probst or Survivor for this theme. It’s at this jury. Just like we have different branches of government that act as checks and balances on one another, Survivor has a built-in fail-safe: The jury. If a terrible player gets to the end, or if a horrendous theme or game twist puts someone at Final Tribal, the jury is still the gatekeeper standing in front of the title of Sole Survivor, and protecting the game’s integrity. When I was enjoying The Edge of Extinction twist this season – and I was, admittedly – I never thought in my wildest dreams that the jury would allow a player to win the game who didn’t deserve it, or even one who had previously been voted-out.
Especially a jury that consists of four returning players who all understand the integrity of the game, and other supposed students of the game, like Wardog. But Kelley Wentworth was the only player among the four returnees to vote against Chris. It’s an absolute travesty that Chris was allowed to win this game. The blame though, falls squarely on this group of individuals who somehow rationalized Chris as being more deserving than Gavin, or Julie.
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Now, we have had jury-fails before, where arguably the “best” player did not, in fact, win (look no further than the fact that Natalie White is a Sole Survivor, and Russell Hantz is not). Usually, we call this the “bitter jury syndrome,” but this group this season was not bitter at all. They were simply mistaken. Most of them had spent time on The Edge…were they not thinking clearly? Chris, of course, was helped out by the fact that he was sitting next to two players who weren’t going to necessarily be thought of as “great,” “good” or even “mediocre” Survivor Winners, had Gavin or Julie won.
I think Julie was clearly not getting much consideration from the jury, and Gavin really did go along with more than he directed…we the viewers saw Gavin time and time again have a solid plan of action, only to get his idea trounced and overruled by other, stronger players. But as Devens pointed out at jury, Gavin was the ONLY player out of all of the players in the game who never had his name written down even once. Yes, Gavin was just nine winning votes shy of having played the worst Perfect Game in the history of Survivor (a Perfect Game being defined as having received no votes against, and then winning the final vote unanimously (only two have done it: JT Thomas and John Cochran).
But Gavin at least played the game we know to be Survivor. Chris made the most of his final days out there, but what about his first eight, where he was blindsided and discarded early? Shouldn’t a player’s entire game be considered when casting your final vote? Is it just me, or is this the most unsatisfying finish in the show’s history?
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I know it is, because I’m over five paragraphs in and I haven’t even mentioned much of what happened in the first two-hours of the night. It was entertaining and actually quite good, removing the end, all thanks to one Rick Devens. This guy is clearly the All-Star of this season, and as this season began to take shape down the stretch, he seemed to me to be the only really satisfying winner. And dammit, he brought it to Finale just like he had through most of the game. Making and hiding two Idols, and then having four Idols brought up to Jeff Probst at one Tribal Council? That was quite memorable, and hilarious. He battled and outworked everyone else out there. Yes, Devens too had been voted-out, but he had enough time in the game to have made a major case for himself.
Everyone out there knew he would win if he made it to the end, and they all tried desperately to get him out. The majority of viewers were rooting for him to win. He was a few flicks of fire away from saving this season, and ridding us of all controversy, and overcoming all odds. Rick Devens would have been a memorable and deserving winner, even though his torch-snuffing might have had him rank a bit lower on the all-time winner list. Had he won that fire-making challenge, Chris Underwood would have gone from Sole Survivor, to being put next to Erik Reichenbach on future “worst moves in Survivor history” highlight reels.
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Yes, this season was walking on a high-wire heading into the Finale, with a chance to pull it off. Instead, it will make history for all the wrong reasons. What seemed like a fun twist, and an interesting experiment, really did end up being one of the worst possible things the show has done in all of its 38 seasons. It was probably the worst outcome producers could have ever envisioned things going. And what we’re left with is a guy who literally uttered the words, “Hi, it’s nice to meet you!” during the Finale of the season, winning the title of Sole Survivor…a guy that didn’t get much screen-time in his three episodes in the game and whom we really got to see play for the first time just about an hour or so before he was crowned the winner.
Adding insult to injury? Season 39 doesn’t look much better. If you hate all of the Idols and twists that have flooded the game in recent seasons, you might not like that Season 39 is called “Survivor: Island of the Idols,” and features iconic players Sandra Diaz-Twine and Boston Rob Mariano not as players, but as mentors running some sort of Survivor Boot Camp for the 20 new contestants. Has Survivor jumped the shark? I don’t know…and it pains me more than anyone to say this…but when I saw the statues of Boston Rob and Sandra in the Season 39 preview, I can honestly say for the first time in 20 years of watching this show…I’m worried.
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I’m not even going to go into the laughable Reunion Show that gets shorter and shorter every season, or Lauren‘s terrible game-play down the stretch. Frankly, I’m too focused on the bigger issues facing this show at the moment. But for those keeping score at home, here is how tonight’s votes played out:
Vote #1: Devens plays Idol on himself, Lauren plays Idol for Chris. 2 – Victoria, 3 – Devens (votes cancelled by Idol), 1 – Chris (vote cancelled by Idol). Victoria voted out.
Vote #2: Devens and Chris play real Idols, Devens for Gavin, Chris for himself. Lauren and Julie both play fake idols. 2 – Lauren, 3 – Chris (votes cancelled by Idol). Lauren voted out.
Chris wins Immunity, gives to Julie. Chris beats Devens at fire-making challenge to advance to Final 3 with Gavin and Julie.
Final Vote (for the win): 9 – Chris (Reem, Victoria, Eric, Julia, Joe, David, Aubry, Ron, Wardog), 4 – Gavin (Lauren, Kelley, Aurora, Devens). 0 – Julie. Chris Underwood wins Survivor.
Interviews Tomorrow! I would like to thank each and every one of you who follow and read my Survivor content! It’s much appreciated and I enjoy reading all of your comments and interacting with you all on social media. But while Season 38 is now behind us, there is still more coverage of Edge of Extinction coming tomorrow! That’s right…it’s the RETURN of the FilmSurvivor Podcast coming to you tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon. It’s still unclear who exactly I’ll be speaking with, but it will at least include winner Chris Underwood and you won’t want to miss it…because I don’t plan to pull punches. But there will be several interviews, so don’t miss the Podcast tomorrow! It will post here and can also be found on Podbean and on iTunes.
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Updated Rankings! Also coming Thursday will be my updated rankings for “Most Memorable” Survivor seasons as well as my “All-Time Winners” list. Can you guess where I think Chris might rank?
Season 39: Island of the Idols! Then tomorrow, we’ll take a look at everything we know about the upcoming Season 39, which is set to premiere in the Fall. We’ll even glimpse beyond that, as the historic Survivor Season 40 is just on the horizon as well.
But that’ll do it! I’m sorry for ending the season on such a sour note, I’m rarely down on Survivor! But you can bet I’ll be back and hoping for the best come Season 39 in the Fall. Thanks again, everybody!
Note: Those that have followed me also know that I am a RottenTomatoes-approved film critic. I encourage you to check out my weekly movie reviews. I am also a movie critic/TV personality in the Detroit area. As always, the easiest way to get all of my Survivor coverage and movie reviews is to follow me on Twitter – @tomsantilli – or on Facebook.
TELL US – SO WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE FINALE? AM I BEING TOO HARD ON THE OUTCOME? AND WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE UPCOMING SEASON BASED ON THE PREVIEW?
[Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira/Michele Crowe/David M. Russell]