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Survivor Season-Finale Recap: We Who Are About to Rock


Photo: CBS

While I absolutely adore everyone in the final three, I think something Jeff said to Maria is making this game’s final stages frustrating for me. He said that the hard thing about being too good is that it makes you a target. What ends up happening is there are three mediocre players at the end because all the C students keep getting together to assassinate the honor roll. What we’re left with is a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion to a very bonkers season. That said, it does feel good to see that a nice person finally finished first, despite conventional wisdom.

As the episode starts, it’s just after Maria gets her hand caught in the cookie jar, the cookie jar being trying to vote out her key ally/America’s Biggest Taylor Swift Fan. She tries to tell Charlie that everyone was telling her all day they would vote for him, but she got bamboozled by Kenzie, Liz, and Ben. Charlie, of course, knows this is bullshit because he’s been working with them just as closely as Maria, which shows that his “close no door” theory of gameplay was a huge asset.

Going into the challenge, Maria is the one to beat, and she’s also competing to be the first female contestant to win four individual immunities, a record that this 47-year-old mom very rightly deserved. The challenge is a bunch of obstacles followed by a puzzle, but in a twist, the puzzle isn’t the end; it tells the players a series of clues so they can figure out the combination, and once they figure that out, they win. Kenzie has to be reminded of this when she finishes her puzzle and throws her hands in the air like she has just landed a touchdown.

Kenzie and Maria are both working on the puzzle, and Kenzie is pulling ahead. We then see Liz do something that is practically unheard of in a Survivor finale. As Kenzie is trying to figure out the combo, Liz reads her puzzle and figures out that Kenzie needs to count the holes in a plank from a much earlier obstacle. Liz voluntarily goes back, gets the plank, counts the holes (incorrectly at first, I might add), and essentially helps Kenzie just edge out Maria. Kenzie always wins the reward, and when Jeff asks who she wants to take, she says, “I’m torn between Liz and Ben.” She’s torn? Who does she think she is? Natalie Imbruglia? She doesn’t get to be torn; Liz literally won the challenge for her! Luckily for her, Liz tells Kenzie she’s allergic to pasta, so she should take Ben instead.

It’s clear that since Maria didn’t win, she’s going home and, no matter how many times they tell her it should be a compliment that it took two of them to beat her, she still doesn’t really believe it. Maria is going around camp telling everyone that Ben is a huge threat, that it seems like he hasn’t been playing the game because he’s been playing this super stealthy game, and he’ll annihilate them all in the finale. Um, the reason it seems like Ben wasn’t playing a game is because he wasn’t. This guy wrote down his best friend’s name because he was drunk on pizza, and Maria thought she was going to convince people he was a secret mastermind? Please. I feel like if she had done this to Kenzie and Ben about Liz, she might have had a better chance, but she was really doomed. The subsequent tribal council is more like a funeral because everyone knows that Maria’s game is deader than the people that little kid saw in The Sixth Sense. (Spoiler alert!)

The final challenge is excellent — it should be called Death Plinko. The players have to throw a ball up a pinball-esque rig, and while the ball is rolling down, they can solve a puzzle, but they have to throw the ball back again before it hits the bottom, or they get a penalty while their ball rolls down a very slow trap. They do a similar challenge every season on Big Brother, except the puzzle usually falls apart if you don’t hit a button in time. Anyway, this is a great final challenge because it tests all sorts of great skills that aren’t strength or endurance, which I think are assets that are wildly over-indexed in this game anyway.

Because it’s something that is hard for everyone, then anyone can win. Still, it’s a little shocking to everyone, including Ben, that he’s the one who takes the necklace. But as soon as he gets back to camp, he starts agonizing about who he will ask to make fire in the final four. He knows he wants Liz gone because he can’t beat her, but that means he has to decide whether to put up his day one brother from another mother and Dumb and Dumber alliance member or Kenzie, the woman who has helped him through night terrors every time the sun goes down. He ultimately decides that Kenzie and Liz should make fire.

Instead of recapping that excruciating fire face-off, and while I have Daddy Moneybags Vulture III’s soapbox, I would like to post why I hate the finale format of Survivor in general. First of all, the fire-making challenge sucks. Liz isn’t good at it, not because she hasn’t practiced or done it all seasons, but because her wrist ligaments are too big, so she has clompy wrists. (How does Liz, on a basic human level, function every day?) That Liz should go home because of nothing other than that and not the consequences of something she said or did is bullshit. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it is “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast,” not Outkindle. To boil someone’s entire game down to one skill — one skill that is essential for survival, yes, but not essential for the game — misses the whole point of what we’re doing here. The game should be about strategy, relationship-building, and, yes, physical challenges. Fire highlights none of these. You might as well ask two people to lip sync for their lives like it’s RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Also, the choice of sending two people to fire could still ruin a winner’s game. What if Liz won and then beat them all? Ben’s victory at Death Plinko would mean nothing. That’s why I hate that the biggest decision is at final four rather than final three. The ultimate choice is winning an immunity challenge at three and bringing one other person to the end. I miss the drama of that; I miss there being a choice between two very different games rather than, as we’ve seen the past couple of seasons, a choice between one different game and two games that are basically the same. I don’t think that Survivor needs to go back to what it used to be, but I think producers should investigate the current endgame. What kind of winners is this iteration producing? Is it possible to do better?

So, yes, Kenzie beats Liz, who gives us a lot of hilarious sass on her way out (“Booooo. Tomato, Tomato.”) The final three is Charlie, Kenzie, and Ben, who are all excellent people, but I wouldn’t say they’e excellent players. I think both Liz and Maria were better and deserved to be there, but their targets got too big for the new era. Oh, and while we’re talking about format changes: I love how final tribal is structured to be more of a discussion, where people can just chime in and make points. That’s why I go commando; I like it free-flowing. That said, it seems like this season, other than Q misremembering his own game and everything that occurred on the beaches, we’ve reverted back to the “one jury member, one question” format of ealier seasons. (Kenzie’s highlight is when Q is misremembering things, and she says, “Guys, this is what I had to work with. I deserve this win!”)

None of the final three do a good job selling their games or their overarching strategies. Charlie is the only one who has a philosophy: never to close a door, keep himself safe, and always keep a little bit of power. Ben cops to not really having much of a game and being “a bit of a goat for a few votes” but highlights how he made friends with everyone and stayed under the radar, listening to everyone and knowing where the power was lying so he could side with it. Kenzie is basically just like, “I was nice to all of you. Don’t vote me out.” I kid Kenzie, who I love. She has a great answer for Tiff about how she convinced Tiff and Q to keep her friend Ben instead of Tim as a move she really owned. She also owns that her social game was her strategic game, something that many in the “new era” don’t want to hear.

Eventually, Kenzie gets the most votes, which is unsurprising because she has friends on that jury, especially Tiff, who seems to be rooting for her as soon as these three sit down. Though she might not have had the flashiest game or made any crazy blindsides, Kenzie is a very deserving winner. Soft skills are often overlooked in this game, as is coming back from a deficit at the merge. Kenzie has said skills and managed to stage a comeback when she was down — that’s as good of a game of Survivor as anyone has played. And I hope she doesn’t close down the salon now that she’s rich because I’d definitely come in for a bang trim.


Brian Moylan , 2024-05-23 04:47:28

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