The finale could have been trimmed (or expanded in other areas, such as airing the complete intro), but it was at least a satisfying end to a satisfying season. The reunion show was a step up from Caramoan's, primarily in that it restored the pre-jurors to their rightful place on the stage. Even so, poor choices were still made: Probst completely ignored Marissa, yet found plenty of time to talk to Colton the Quitter, talk to another random person in the audience, AND air a cringe-inducing bit with Will Arnett and Cochran, which served as an extended ad for The Millers.
What we've always liked about Tyson is that he is, indeed, fun-loving. Listen to his various RHAP appearances. Watch his YouTube channel. Watch his audition video. Tyson's refusal to take anything too seriously is refreshing in a game like Survivor. To some degree, that version of Tyson was kept in check much of this season, as he maintained his focus on playing to win (apart from the Coconut Bandits stuff, anyway). Even so, it was great to watch all the pieces finally fall into place for him, as he marched, one-armed, to a non-conventional win (and we note it took him one fewer try than Boston Rob).
One of the strengths of this season, however, was that the field of competition Tyson faced was surprisingly solid. It may not have been reflected in the final jury vote, but Monica and Gervase both played impressive games themselves. Up until the finale itself, it looked like the final vote might break evenly along strategic-vs-physical game lines as it did in Cook Islands, with Tyson's vote mastermindery narrowly edging Monica's challenge dominance. Gervase, too, played a great game, consistently saying smart, game-aware things at Tribal Council and in confessionals, or demonstrating social smarts (such as comforting Monica after Brad took verbal heat from Marissa... at the duel in which Marissa was eliminated). But Tyson's dual finale IC wins erased Monica's physical argument, and also rendered Gervase unable to dispatch the leader and claim the throne for himself. And beyond the final three, Hayden, Ciera, and Vytas played fierce, laudable first-time games. Lots of people (including the final three) made mistakes along the way, but almost everyone was playing hard. And that's more than a lot of seasons (hello and goodbye, One World) can say.
The finale itself
As satisfying as Tyson's win was to watch, the finale episode itself was, well... a bit of a snooze. And the blame for this lands squarely at the feet of the editors. This should have been a great finale: a do-or-die re-entry duel that took out a challenge dominator, two great, brand-new immunity challenges (the last one epic in scale), even a hidden idol play. It seemingly had all the ingredients. But even so, there was almost zero suspense, especially over the last hour. Why? There were no season-long narratives still in play for much of it, except Tyson's.
The only plausible winner candidates left were Hayden, Ciera, and Tyson. Hayden was eliminated in the opening duel. Ciera was gone within the first hour. Perhaps the greatest suspense was found in wondering whether Tyson would play his idol, or keep it as a souvenir. And even that trifling question was answered in the first hour. Was the explosive controversy over Monica elbowing Gervase in the challenge really something worth spending five minutes on?
Tyson himself has said he was worried he was going to lose to Gervase. Why couldn't the editors have crafted a better argument that Gervase or Monica could actually win this? Or show jurors (on the way out at Redemption Island, at least) angry at Tyson? Anything? In a way, it seemed like the editing was simply playing to get to the Final Three, then hadn't bothered to think of an argument to win the game.
Some of the finale's lackluster feel should probably be blamed on the jury questions, as well. After Tyson's brilliant opening speech at the final Tribal Council, the jury mostly gave him a pass, instead taking turns making Monica cry and ignoring Gervase. It was neither fun nor particularly interesting to watch. And despite all the perceived plodding of the pacing, there was still no time for the full intro/title sequence, which never once aired with the show? Maybe Tyson's tears were because he couldn't nap through this.
On the whole, though, this was a season that easily and triumphantly surpassed our (admittedly dismal) expectations. Before seeing the premiere, we were convinced that a twist with some intrinsic dramatic potential (loved one pairs playing Survivor) would be crushed beneath the combined weight of so many additional twists (Redemption Island, swapping out at duels, duel winners giving away idol clues, and did we mention Redemption Island?). But we were wrong: It all worked wonderfully. Even post-merge Redemption Island, for all its pointless time-sponging, had a couple of brief moments of relevance: Tina stepping through the gate to eliminate Katie; and Ciera's building excitement at the foregone conclusion that Laura M. would be coming back to make the second final five, only to have that crushed, again by Tina.
So, at least on paper, we're not at all concerned that one of seasons 29 or 30 (which film next year) could resurrect the Blood vs. Water format. There's still a lot of life left in it, still a number of strategic layers that could be more fully explored. But there should be some caution here: This season worked because it had a large number of smart players looking to exploit the format for novel ways to gain and maintain power. Blood vs. Water also succeeded because both the returnees and their first-timer loved ones had a level playing field, navigating the complexities of an entirely new format, even if it mostly reverted to standard Survivor post-merge (not surprisingly, that led to an all-returnee final three). The novelty helped. The casting definitely helped. It will probably work again with newbies. But only if they come to play, and play hard.
One last thing: Random-access memories
I'm still alive! And my mom could be back in the game tomorrow! Things are looking up!
Anyone want to see my idol?
Um... where have you been hiding this, again?
Whoa, I could sure use something like this, Tyson
I could really use some hand sanitizer after that. You guys have any?
Ciera won the immunity necklace, and I didn't even get to see her wear it at Tribal Council? Curse you, Redemption Island!
The final Redemption duel treemail! Let's see if it rhymes...
Gosh, I'd sure like to go back into the game today.
Please, Tina. I've already told Ciera I'd be back. They wouldn't have shown that if it wasn't true.
Look Ciera, one of these people might get voted out tomorrow, instead of you. Ep14 Duel.
Okay, guys. This is just a formality, since we all know Laura M's going to win. But pretend to think it might be you, Tina and Hayden.
No foreshadowing, but this challenge was last used to prevent a multi-duel-winning beast from coming back into the game at final five. Everyone ready?
Sadly, very few 'little Captain in you' jokes were made. Probably to avoid confusing/insulting the host.
Laura's already struggling
Tina, looking steady
Hayden, barely batting an eyelash
One eyelash too far. NOW he's Hay-done.
And just like that, we do not have a chance to have a Laura voted out five times in one season
Sorry Ciera. If it helps, we would have voted her out again, anyway.
First finale final words
It's okay, Laura. I have to go. I don't need a backrub right now. Seriously.
I'm saying 'Boo, urn', Jeff
What was the point of winning all those duels, only to lose the last one? [Ed. note: Also, what's the point of winning the last one?]
How could you, Mom? I just got done saying how great it was that Redemption Island exists.
Mmmm... Redemption Island
Laura, watch out! You're about to run into that hashtag!
What do I get for winning? Is it Doritos?
Well, it's a little smaller and more cylindrical than I was hoping, but I'll save that little morsel for later! *wink*
Great job, Tina. You were the one Ciera least wanted to see. No offense.
Just two more challenges, and I could win the game. Suckers.
Seriously, do we have to draw another picture for you guys?
Guess this puts to rest the 'Is hiding an idol in a tree unfair?' question
Uh... keep climbing?
Tina, and the idol up a tree? M-I-S-S-I-N-G
Tina just lectured me on why I should flip for an hour. I love Plan B.
What, no ice cream or room service with this challenge? Pretty weak, Probst.
Seriously, Probst? You avoiding using 'the tables have turned' for the entire challenge? Who's writing this stuff?
A rocky start (come on people, this is our A material)
The one-armed dude is about to beat the three moms (and Gervase)
To be honest, we're hoping [NBA player on S28: Cagayan] makes Probst use a stepstool
Uh, guys? This is Galang's old idol. You just dug it up and re-hid it here.
You want to boot Ciera? really? What are the chances of a puzzle on the next challenge?
Don't be silly, Gervase. We should target Tina. We may be balancing pots on a see-saw next challenge.
Can you guys hurry up and decide which of us to vote out?
Gervase, I'm tired of Tina bullying me. // Shush, Monica!
Why, you little...
Seriously, did someone pin a 'kick me' sign on my back? You guys would tell me, right?
Ha ha, guys! Monica is totally gonna vote with me THIS time!
Heh, good one, Ciera!
If I did flip now, wouldn't that just piss off the people I didn't flip with before?
My heart says 'No,' but my mustache screams 'Yes!'
Zzzz. Someone wake me up when it's time to play my idol.
Tina tries to thwart the idol with her heretofore unmentioned telekinetic powers. Damn you, editors.
You know it, bro.
Thanks for using up all the Redemption Island duels, Mom
This vote is for Monica. I'm just not great at spelling.
Um, I was on 'The Australian Outback,' guys. Have you been doing that 'Australia' thing all season?
Oh, Tina. Don't you know you're supposed to be doing handstands there? Come on!
Say Gerv, is my buff slant rakish enough? Gotta look good for the ladies.
No, Tina. There are no Doritos at this challenge, either. Come on, this is for a million bucks.
Groan. This was way better when all we had to do was slide and toss rings.
I said, ON YOUR LEFT!
Yes, the Cook Islands and Tocantins versions had more obstacles, but this has a WATER SLIDE.
Tina... still in this, despite an apparent injury we won't mention!
Don't worry guys. If Reynold comes back and makes it this far, this stage will totally be tossing sandbags
Probst, momentarily forgetting it's too late to save Brad, tries to tweak Tyson's other shoulder
Good luck winning now, you other three
This necklace is pretty sweet. If I win, I'll probably dip it in gold. Unless I get all responsible, or something.
Hey, that was a great joke when you elbowed me in the challenge, Monica.
I'm still sort of mad about it, but this is actually Day 39, so I guess it worked out
For the last time, Tina. I don't have any Doritos.
Fine. Maybe they have a stash at Tribal Council.
Heh heh, there's been a stash in her torch the whole time.
Final four, ten collective appearances between them. Probably just a coincidence.
And then? Monica ELBOWED me!
Cool story, bro.
One of us. One of us.
Whoa, deja vu, Jeff.
Yawn. Can we get these people in front of the jury, and out of my forest yet? I have some napping to get back to.
Mmm, room temperature, uncooked bacon.
I'd like to make a short toast to great friends. I hid all the rusty spoons, don't worry.
They're saving the hut for the beauty tribe next season, just so they don't die.
Aw, man. It seems like we were just here.
I think I played an awesome game, reminiscent of Ethan Zohn, winner of Survivor 3. Old school. You guys all watched that, right?
Before we start, can someone please tell me if there's a 'kick me' sign on my back again?
I'm totally gonna win, especially after crying during this opening speech. You're welcome.
Vytas positions himself in the spotlight
I'm voting against Tyson, in hopes of getting more screen time.
I'm reenacting the rock incident. Thanks, Tyson.
Does anyone remember why I'm here?
I wish I could have drawn rocks! This is how I'd do that.
Please, make the rocks reenactments stop! We get it! You missed out!
Ha, that was WAY more than one word, Gervase.
Fun-loving. It's hyphenated, so it counts.
Am I too late to get in on this rocks re-enactment trend? I didn't actually get to do it the first time.
Don't forget me! I would have drawn rocks, probably.
Come on, guys. Even I'm getting tired of the rocks thing. Let's just vote.
Babies. Lots of babies.
Screentime. Lots of screentime.
While you're up, could you get me a burger? Thanks.
The cleaned-up jury. Relatively bloat-free!
The cleaned-up F3: Also bloat-free.
I know a life of coconut banditry has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society.
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Tyson Apostol (winner)
Exit interviews - Tyson Apostol (2nd place)
Exit interviews - Gervase Peterson (3rd place)
Exit interviews - Tina Wesson (4th place)
Exit interviews - Ciera Eastin (5th place)
Exit interviews - Laura Morett (6th place)
Exit interviews - Hayden Moss (7th place)