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. 🙂