survivor’s final tribal council: three is better than two.

Ever since Survivor switched to a three-person final Tribal Council to determine who wins the title Ultimate Survivor, the most deserving player usually wins. So was the case last night when Cochran, the “challenge beast,” became only the third unanimous winner in 26 installments of the show. This is not to suggest there weren’t other players worthy of being there at the end, but he was the most adept at eliminating threats before they eliminated him. Malcolm, Reynold and Brenda all could’ve won, too—and Dawn certainly played a strong game (despite emotional breakdowns along the way)—but Cochran had the right mix of being in a strong alliance, playing a great strategic game and winning immunity when he needed it. That’s about as balanced a game as anyone can play.

I mentioned the three-person final Tribal Council because, in years past when it was down to two players at the end, it wasn’t uncommon for the best players to be sitting on the jury while some stooge backed his or her way into being in the Top Two. What’s even worse is some of those players have gone on to win. Tina Wesson (Season 2, Australian Outback), Vecepia Towrey (Season 4, Marquesas) and Aras Baskauskus (Season 12, Exile Island) are three perfect examples of mediocre players who backed their way into winning the whole thing. If that’s not bad enough, some of the best players in Survivor history were taken out after the final Immunity Challenge. Lex van den Berghe (Season 4, Africa) was a much more deserving runner-up to Ethan Zohn than Kim Johnson. Katie Gallagher (Season 10, Palau) had no business being a runner-up to winner Tom Westman, but for the fact that they ganged up on Ian Rosenberger and all but guilted him into forfeiting the final immunity challenge.

Before the format change, I used to tell people I spent the entire season cheering for and against certain players up until the Final Four are determined. Because once it gets to those Final Four, it rarely plays out the way fans would want or expect, for numerous reasons: a fluke win in an immunity challenge, a red-assed jury takes out its frustration on good players (cough! Colby Donaldson…cough!), or the second-best player gets rid of the best player. For my money, a Final Three requires not must better strategy from the players, it requires them to have confidence in their moves to be matched against at least one player of equal or stronger acumen.

Of course, the Final Three format ALWAYS sucks for the third-place finisher. Always! That player is cannon fodder; an insurance policy for the fans, courtesy of the producers, to ensure a greater opportunity for two strong players battling for votes at the end. In the 12 seasons with a Final Three, the third-place player has received zero votes 10 times! How many votes did the third-place finisher receive in the other two seasons? One. But who wouldn’t take their chances on being that third wheel? At the very least, it’s a podium finish and the bragging rights to say you were never voted off the island.

But even with the three-person Final Tribal, the final vote is usually not that close. We’ve only had three one-vote wins in the trio era and we’ve never had a tie (something I’m sure producers are hoping happens one day). Nevertheless, as a fan, I prefer a Final Three to Final Two.

This is a lot of words about a (mostly) meaningless topic. I’m an unabashed Survivor nerd and would love to one day be on that game. I’m quite certain I would be a fun, strong player. And I’m certain I could win.

P.S. – Jerri Manthey. Call me sometime. 🙂



Filed under analysis, television

2 responses to “survivor’s final tribal council: three is better than two.

  1. Jackson

    Gotta disagree here–it makes the game a lot easier and limits the opportunities for outsiders to break through. If you’re in a solid alliance, you have no reason to ever step out of it in the endgame, which should be the point where the game becomes no-holds barred. Look at China, Redemption Island, South Pacific, One World, etc.–you wind up with complacent players eager to stick to the status quo. (And why not? They’d be fools to give up the easy path to the finals.) Then you have situations like Nicaragua, where Fabio wins after doing absolutely nothing all game besides winning some well-timed immunities. At least with a final two, if he wins that last challenge, he’s gotta get some blood on his hands and send somebody to the jury on his own. Mostly I just miss the drama of that last challenge and having the winner make that decision. When JT had to pick between the easy win against Erinn or sticking to his alliance with Stephen, that was some of the most compelling stuff we’d seen on the show in years. Of course, JT won in a blowout (like he would’ve in a final three situation), but at least there was some drama driven from an otherwise predictable outcome. Watching Cochran debate whether to stay true to his alliance with Dawn would’ve at least brought some compelling doubt into the mix after weeks of Cochran’s victory being pretty much a sure bet.

    Sorry for the random, lengthy response here, but I had to say it just in case Jeff Probst is Googling one day and happens upon this and says, “Aha! Proof that fans prefer the final three!” and goes with it. Not that he’s not set in his ways on the matter already, but I had to plead my case. 🙂

    • All very good points. Truth is, I don’t think there’s ever a perfect ending to this game. It’s not like, say, The Amazing Race, where you have to finish ahead of everyone else to win the game. There have been many undeserving finalists and undeserving winners. I’ve always believed Tina Wesson’s win over Colby Donaldson was a travesty. Even Russell Hantz probably deserved to win the first time he played because there was no other player who controlled the game, from beginning to end, the way he did. But his abrasive nature turned people off and they weren’t going to reward him with the million dollars.

      The reality, for better or worse, is there are no rules on voting. People have their own reasons for voting the way they vote. That’s why I turn off my rooting interests when it gets down to the Final Four. It’s usually too unpredictable, this year notwithstanding. Cochran’s win was very predictable.

      I still maintain a final three at least means a better chance at quality player winning the game, but you make many very good points. And if Probst ever comes across this blog, I’d be stunned! LOL

      Thanks for reading.

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