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That feels like a fitting end to what turned out to be an all-time great season of Survivor. It’s especially fitting that such an entertaining season would include a final episode that had a Tribal Council so complicated, so unprecedented that it literally had to be broken down for the audience to understand. So what if everything that happened after that was pretty predictable? Jeff Probst pulled out a white board!

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The crazy Tribal Council wouldn’t have been possible, though, without one of the best things about this season: Immunity idols. Before Second Chance, Survivor was in a terrible immunity idol rut, with season upon season featuring idols that were too abundant and way too easy to find. The twist of hiding immunity idols and clues in places where people would have to sneakily grab them without their fellow players noticing added a very fun element to the game and made the idols feel important in a way they hadn’t for quite some time. It helps that once people got their idols, they used them in ways that turned out to be tremendously entertaining, like when Kelley used hers and caused a Savage blindside because of it.

That streak continues here at the first Tribal Council, where Kimmi attempted to flip the switch on her alliance and vote out Jeremy instead of Kelley. When Kelley plays her idol, Jeremy decides to do the safe thing and play his as well. The result is unprecedented in Survivor history, with all votes being nullified and no votes technically cast for anyone. This then leads to an unprecedented case of confusion when the vote comes out as a tie, and Jeff has to call for a consensus otherwise Keith will automatically go home. It looks like Keith will volunteer to go home, but everything quickly shifts to Kimmi being unanimously voted out instead. It isn’t until the show cuts to Jeff at the reunion show—complete with player board and a marker to lay out exactly what went down—that it becomes even remotely clear what actually happened. With three people immune, two people left who per the rules would become immune to a rock draw if no consensus could be made, then Keith would have been the only choice to go home (as he would be the only one who could draw a rock) if the group didn’t come together and decide to vote out Kimmi. Even with all the confusion, it’s a thrilling thing to watch play out, especially when thinking about how a show that is 31 seasons in can still surprise the audience and players alike so thoroughly.

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After this first Tribal, the episode becomes much tamer—if not less entertaining. The most exciting thing is Kelley Wentworth proving just how important she was to the narrative of this season by winning a crucial Immunity challenge to make the final four more interesting. Jeremy, Spencer, and Tasha have been portrayed as the closest thing to an actual alliance in this entire season, but if there was one person who could somehow blow that alliance up and sneak into the final three, it was Kelley. Watching her fight so hard only to totally blow the final immunity challenge and know her chance at making the final three was essentially over was brutal to watch, but a great ending to her narrative in the game. She was always on the bottom trying to fight her way up, and she just couldn’t make that final leap.

Jeremy could, however. Jeremy’s winner edit was noticeable fairly early on, and his narrative of playing for his family is classic Survivor winner narrative bait. But what’s interesting about Jeremy’s win is that a lot of the time, he was so wrong about the actual strategy of the game. The biggest example of this is in the finale with Kimmi, where he was so certain Kimmi wasn’t going to flip right up until he saw the votes and realized she had flipped. There were multiple instances of this very thing throughout the game, with people telling Jeremy what was happening and him getting it wrong. What’s impressive about Jeremy’s game is that he got through a little of it because of luck, but he got through a lot of it because of the relationships he made. In a game where the new buzzword was “voting bloc” over alliance, it was Jeremy’s social game and ties to other players that kept him afloat all the way to the end, and it’s a very pleasant type of game to watch be played. Jeremy wasn’t a challenge monster. He was smart enough at game strategy but made plenty of mistakes along the way. But it was his rock solid social game that got him to the end, and that’s the type of subtle game that can sometimes get overlooked when thinking about good players.

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Where Jeremy is definitely not subtle here is the moment that likely sealed the deal for him. The last thing he does at final Tribal Council is give a genuine, impassioned speech about his family and the baby he has on the way. It’s the ultimate capper to his season-long narrative of playing the entire game for his family, and a sure sign he’s going to win. It may not be a shocking ending, but it’s a satisfying one. Thanks for a great season, Survivor.

Stray observations

  • Next season: Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty, again. Awful Caleb from Big Brother is in the cast! And like five people might die!
  • The challenges in this episode were incredible and perfectly selected for a finale episode. Other than that weird rut of balancing individual immunity challenges, the challenge team this season was spectacular.
  • Poor Tasha had to know she was screwed after the final jury questioning. She barely got any questions.
  • Kelly made a (good) fake idol but Keith didn’t play it! Come on, Keith!
  • The final jury was barely bitter at all, which was nice to see but didn’t make for many fireworks either at final Tribal Council or the reunion show.
  • I like Joe a lot but that “Joe is awesome” segment at the reunion was too much. Imagine that same package about a savvy strategist instead? (Ha, that will never happen.)

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