Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Survivor: “Million Dollar Question”

Illustration for article titled Survivor: “Million Dollar Question”
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

It’s amazing how even in a season full of likable people, a season full of great players who both think and play strategically, the jury can still manage to be so incredibly bitter. It’s something that should be a given by now, and yet every season finale, I find myself in shock as the jury questioning devolves into the worst possible display of bitterness and anger from otherwise reasonable people. At this point, the only true surprise at the final Tribal Council would be one devoid of embarrassing displays of unpleasantness.

But the surprisingly bitter jury did nothing to dissuade me from thinking this season of Survivor was one of the best in recent memory. Most any pettiness displayed toward the final three wasn’t present during the game, and that general amiability—along with a group of people fully committed to strategy—made for a mighty fun season to watch. Part of this was fully due to the interesting three-tribe structure at the beginning of the game, which made relationships within the tribes much easier to track and strategy much easier to follow. It’s a structure I hope the game repeats in the future.

Most interesting, though, was how this season even made the inevitable seem interesting. The decimation of the Matsing tribe should have been the most boring thing ever witnessed, but it was absolutely saved by the remaining two being the memorable twosome of Malcolm and Denise. Truly, this was a season saved by casting, the sort of lightning-in-a-bottle thing that is almost impossible to predict. Even the groan-worthy premise of having both returning players and famous people in a single season managed to work in the game’s best interest, as those players for the most part added much more than they took away.

And in the end, it was a famous person and a returning player (the surprisingly powerful Lisa and Skupin) who ended up controlling the tenor of the game. From the beginning, Malcolm and Denise got the kind of edit that made it pretty clear they were in it for the long haul, but Lisa and Skupin’s dominance was a much bigger surprise. Skupin making it to the end wasn’t too shocking, but Lisa’s continued relevance as the game went on was truly a surprise. In all my years of watching Survivor, I’ve never seen someone play the game quite like Lisa, wearing their heart on their sleeve while simultaneously playing a strategic game, making a big move and failing miserably yet not being strategically affected, and getting to the point of almost a public breakdown then coming back from the brink to make it to the final three. It was impressive and compelling, even if in the end, all of those things that got her to the end were likely what prevented her from taking the win.

Seeing how the final four shook out, was it really surprising Denise took it all? From the editing at the beginning of the episode, it was fairly obvious Malcolm wasn’t going to make it to the final vote, and from there, it seemed pretty obvious Denise would take it. Doubts only started creeping in when the jury questioning seemed quite skeptical of Denise’s achievements in the game, almost discounting her completely when they weren’t being outwardly hostile. This was a giant misdirect, however, with Denise ultimately getting every vote except for RC’s (Lisa) and Carter’s (“Skoopin”). After a season full of her showing competence at almost every aspect of the game, from the physical to the social to the strategy, a Denise win feels like a satisfying way to end a very satisfying season.

The most incredible thing of all is that Survivor is still capable of creating something so satisfying to watch after 12 years and 25 seasons. Next season of Fans vs. Favorites is going to be yet another gimmick-filled season of returning players, but this season definitely proved that gimmicks aren’t necessarily the kiss of death for Survivor after all.


Stray observations:

  • I understand why the episode did it, and I respect it, but the moment of silence for the victims of the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Conn., felt very uncomfortable. It was just too awkward a transition.
  • Skupin was very, very confident in his game and his ability to win the game. It wasn’t his most attractive side.
  • Speaking of not attractive sides, Malcolm was certainly Mr. Bitter in the jury, no? I appreciate him saying he was angry, but he was going to do the same thing to Denise she did to him, so directing his anger at her wasn’t his most pleasant moment. At least he voted for her in the end.
  • On a more likable note, Malcolm sadly casting his vote for Denise when he knew he was doomed was heartbreaking.
  • Carter and his face devoid of emotion and his “’Sup, guys?” and “Skoopin” and his amazing reunion hair and Probst’s assertions that he was lively in his interview process remains my favorite thing. Come back, Carter!
  • Theory: RC’s horrible giggle was perhaps why no one could stand her.
  • Abi’s remorse at the reunion show seemed genuine. Hopefully, we’ll never know if she actually changed, because she’ll never be on Survivor again. (Fingers crossed.)
  • Dawson mauling Probst is in my top moments of all time. After all of the grief he gives females on the show, he deserves to be a little uncomfortable for a few seconds.
  • Lisa wins fan favorite, which was truly a surprise. People love Blair Warner!
  • Skupin: “I’m not happy for her loss; I’m just happy for our peace.”
  • Malcolm: “The advantage would have to have been ‘Malcolm, you automatically win’ in order for me to pull that one off.”