For such an iffy season, this was a surprisingly solid finale episode. It’s partially that it doesn’t take much to make an interesting episode when you compare it to some of this season’s duds, and partially because for once everything just shook out right. There was good gameplay, maybe not-so-good gameplay, a few decent challenges, and a few genuinely shocking moments. If the entire season was just this episode, it would be much more highly regarded, historically, than it will likely end up being.
Let’s start with the good, the obvious being the winner. This was a season that was frustrating in that it lacked a strong narrative throughline, seeming like every time a strategic player took control they would almost immediately get cut off at the knees. Either Natalie was simply able to last a little longer or she just played that much better, because once she took the reins of the game she didn’t let it go (granted, she did take control at the exact right time to make an end run, but still). She’s a great overall winner for a not-so-great overall season.
Natalie’s game didn’t come to the forefront until the final third of the season, and her gameplay itself was an interesting mix of calculated strategy and insane risks. It started with keeping Keith over Alec and ended in this finale, with her giving her immunity idol to Jaclyn and voting out Baylor instead. Each time she made one of these moves, the conservative game player in me cringed, all while recognizing she was likely singlehandedly making the end of this season watchable. It’s either a symptom of her great gameplay that none of these moves backfired, or a symptom of the lack of gameplay from her fellow players, but either way, it worked in splendid fashion. What would this finale have been without her pulling out that immunity idol and saving Jaclyn? It just might have saved the entire season.
The heightened gameplay wasn’t the only thing that worked here, as the challenges were also surprisingly fun and competitive. Keith’s reward win was fairly typical, but where it got interesting was when it gave him an advantage in the next immunity challenge. Advantages in immunity challenges don’t always work out—just ask poor Malcolm—but the advantage here turned out to be a good one, as Keith got to practice maneuvering the Mouse Trap-esque device for as long as he wanted prior to the challenge starting, pretty much guaranteeing him a win. Even more exciting was the final immunity challenge, which started out as a dud and turned into a fairly epic underdog story for Jaclyn, as she trailed throughout the physical portion of the challenge and then made up all of her time on the puzzle to end up winning. Her struggle to come from behind—punctuated by a nasty fall that sent Jeff Probst scrambling to see if she was hurt—is one of the more memorable individual challenge performances in quite a while.
Despite the lively episode, during the jury questioning it seemed as if this entertaining episode might all fall apart. The speeches from Missy, Jaclyn, and Natalie as the final three were pretty terrible. The jury questions weren’t much better, with everyone asking either boring questions (Keith, Josh, and Alec, who basically asked the same question Josh did), self-serving questions (hello, Jon), gave supportive speeches (Baylor, Jeremy), or asked nonsense (Wes, seriously?). That is, until Reed started in on Missy with his scathing, fairytale-laced tirade about her being a wicked stepmother. It was honestly shocking because other than their one tiff, it didn’t seem like Reed hated her so much. I might not agree with the content of the speech but it was most definitely an entertaining end to a dud of a jury question round, that’s for sure.
Once Natalie made it to the final three there was very little doubt she would win, but this season more than ever it felt like her fellow players might be kicking themselves about how many times they could have flipped the game on her. Jaclyn rightly points out during the reunion that she had no idea Natalie’s support with the jury was as strong as it was, otherwise she would have flipped that vote and got rid of Natalie instead. (But would you have, Jaclyn? Really?) Missy and Baylor never thought about how them being together as a united front might be something Natalie wanted to break up going into the finale, and took Natalie’s loyalty for granted. And Keith, well, Keith is just not very good at Survivor. Natalie’s speech started with how she outwit, outplayed, and outlasted all her fellow players this season, and it’s pretty much impossible to argue with her there. Congratulations, Natalie. Your risky moves toward the end might have given me a few gray hairs, but in the end you made me like a Twinnie for the first time.
- Next season is Survivor: Worlds Apart. Class wars!
- Alec’s face is an editor’s dream. They should just cut reaction shots of him into all CBS shows.
- Remember when I said Jaclyn getting a big segment about her inability to have children meant she would make it all the way to the end? Behold, my mediocre skills of prediction!
- These live look-ins during the finale are generally terrible and must be stopped. (Except Austin’s bit, which was the best.)
- “I just wanted to help the show. You’re welcome.” Austin rules and I want to be his friend.