The Survivor: Cambodia - Second Chance finale started with an epic, grueling challenge (recycled from a season in which not one member of this cast appeared), followed by one of the strangest Tribal Councils ever, dispatched the folksy fan favorite and the popular, plucky underdog right before the jury vote, then ended with one of the most compelling Final Tribal speeches ever, punctuated by Jeremy's 10-0-0 shutout win. An emotional, enriching end to an amazing season.
Cambodia succeeded for a lot of reasons, but foremost among them has to be the cast: almost to a person, they embraced their Second Chances with gusto, fought valiantly to remain in the game, and when their runs ended, truly appeared to appreciate the opportunity. These are the kinds of players actual Survivor fans enjoy watching. Not the usual hodgepodge of former celebrities who've maybe seen an episode once (in a bar, with the sound off), random ex-Miss [Name of State] USA smile-and-wavers, and the desperate detritus from other CBS reality shows. Instead, we had seasoned players who embraced and relished the game; players who put everything they had into making one of Survivor's finest seasons.
Some credit is also due the Second Chance format itself. Because of the fan vote, potential contestants started playing the game weeks before Day 1. Having the live vote reveal, and then have the chosen cast depart immediately for the location also helped. The fans generally chose people who had shown they really wanted to play, and that energy carried over to the season. Those picked either constantly remembered why they were there, or were at least reminded frequently about it during confessional interviews. While the vote wasn't perfect, the net effect was a highly incentivized set of contestants. CBS and Survivor took a huge risk on the concept, and it paid off perfectly. Less Redemption Islands, more of this, please.
In praise of the final six
As we mentioned last week, there was really no way for this season's finale to end poorly, simply because just about any combination of the remaining six players would have produced a satisfying ending. That's how strong this cast and this season were. Let's just take another few minutes to appreciate how great they were:
6. Kimmi was hidden for much of the season, but emerged as a player in a surprise mini-arc in the final two or three episodes. She tried to pull together a women's alliance at final 8. When that didn't work, she then tried to sabotage the majority three's grip on power by tricking them into an ill-advised vote split. And when that was sniffed out, she almost escaped, but was ultimately the victim of the double-idol/zero-votes business. Clearly, she wasn't didn't have the best luck, and a results-oriented read would be she wasn't the most effective player, but we certainly can't fault her for trying. Based on her brief The Australian Outback appearance, we weren't expecting much from Kimmi, but she more than delivered in what little screen time she was allotted.
5. Keith is the Keithiest Keith who ever Keithed. He hot-wires tuk-tuks, uses Joe's shirt as an umbrella while he's away at a reward, generally remains oblivious when Jeremy is trying to catch his attention, doesn't go in for those fake-idol shenanigans, and punctuates confessionals with a terminal expectoration. Together, all of this combines to form one of Survivor's most beloved curmudgeons since Rudy. But far more than Rudy, Keith is also a fierce challenge competitor, second only to Joe this season in Mean % Finish in individual challenges. Like Joe, Keith's game is mostly challenge-based. Joe however, tried to work a more devious social/strategic game this time around, whereas Keith stuck to the plan that worked in San Juan del Sur: appearing harmless and loyal. And he is historically harmless, as the person most gloriously incapable of voting people out, ever. (14 times!) As a result, Keith has now played the third-most days of any two-time player. Don't change a thing, Keith Nale. Next time, it just might work.
4. Kelley dropped the ball just short of the endzone, but still managed to give an MVP-worthy performance. Coming in to the game with the fewest days played probably helped Kelley a little bit, at least in avoiding elimination early post-merge, as higher-profile names like Kass, Ciera, Stephen, and Joe were picked off. Even so, Kelley clearly came to play, almost immediately finding an idol (clue... then the actual idol) she would later use to save herself, winning two individual immunities and a reward challenge, and later finding another idol and saving herself again. All while having to play from the bottom, alliance-wise, forced to depend on the Keiths and Abis of the world as her strategic partners, especially late in the game. To go as far as she did against these odds, including having only two Tribal Councils under her belt coming in, was a huge accomplishment. Next time she wins?
2-tie. Tasha came in with a reputation as a challenge beast, and left with an appearance in the finals, but with a far more complicated storyline. The narrative the show presented portrayed her as Tasha Fierce, fighting an uphill battle to build alliances (or at least relationships) in a season in which they were transient and ephemeral. She (with Savage) overcame both terrible conditions and a horrendously unlucky swap at Angkor, with the added difficulty of having to do so while working as an Abi wrangler. But then Tasha's position became more murky. As her castmates departed, few seemed to have kind words for her, all while the show kept showing her as a strategic, unflappable fighter. We have no way of judging where the truth really lies, but clearly, the jury didn't love her. So obviously her game went wrong somewhere, but it's difficult to assess exactly where that happened, or why. Regardless, Tasha outperformed her previous finish, which is an achievement in a cast this rich in strong players.
2-tie. Spencer also had a disconnect between his edit (overwhelmingly positive) and his standing with the jury (the opposite), which was great for creating mystery as to who the winner would be, but ultimately a bit confusing for the audience. As in Cagayan, Spencer overcame massive pre-merge difficulties (8 votes against through Episode 6!), but scraped through to the merge on a combination of luck (swaps galore) and the whims of Chaos Kass. After the merge, his game did a 180, and he became the shooter instead of the target. He voted out four people, including Stephen, from Eps. 7-13, while receiving no votes against him. In the finale, however, his fortunes reversed again, and after winning the first immunity, he received votes at every subsequent Tribal Council. Except, critically, the final one where the jury voted. Savage (!) called Spencer out for being arrogant, a perception echoed by other jurors. Since his golden edit didn't really show this, it's hard to know exactly where he went wrong. Perhaps part of the problem is that Spencer has played a *lot* of Survivor in the past two years. He's already a career leader in individual immunity wins (3rd), individual challenge wins (7th), and in voting people out (18th). Then again, his record is mixed, and he's also among the career leaders in not voting people out (3rd), and being voted against (11th). He's one of the most intelligent people ever to play, and if he comes back a few years from now, rested and wiser, at the ripe old age of 27 or so, we have little doubt he'll finally be able to put it all together.
1. Jeremy came into this season on few people's list of potential winners, simply because he seemed highly likely to meet the same fate as in San Juan del Sur: out right after the merge, too big a threat. In his pre-game interviews, he talked about taking a break from working out, in order to appear less physically dominant, while also planning to keep as many challenge beasts around as possible post-merge, to act as meat shields/buffers. Even after saying that, it still seemed unlikely that Jeremy would be able to pull it off. But he found a way to do just that, proved everyone wrong, and executed a near-perfect game that went almost exactly to plan: no (non-idol-voided) votes against, and a clean sweep of the jury votes.
Early on, there was evidence Jeremy was playing at a higher level, as he tricked Stephen into continuing to search for an idol that Jeremy had already found, and somehow used that as a bonding tool. That was possible because of Jeremy's outstanding social game. Everyone (except maybe Keith and Abi) wanted to work with him. He managed to do things like sneaky-sneakily finding two idols and keeping them secret, while still coming off as an honest, straight-shooting guy, one Savage would never suspect of doing something devious like hunting for an idol. Jeremy wore his heart on his sleeve, yet kept every other part of his tactical game tucked tightly away, close to his vest... er, Cambridge Fire Department t-shirt. That combination of sincerity and strategy positioned him perfectly to make that Final Tribal Council speech about Val and his unborn son. It was a breathtaking hybrid of authentic, raw emotion and calculated placement. It worked because it was real: he was saying what he actually felt... but at the same time, it was also just happened to be something that every juror connected with, and was delivered at exactly the right time and place to nudge any remaining fence-sitters over into's Jeremy's camp. It may well be the greatest speech by a finalist, ever, perhaps even the most compelling Final Tribal speech of all time. Yes, even topping Rats N' Snakes. It was that good. And the most amazing thing is, he may not even have needed it. Post-game interviews indicate he would still have won without it, most of the jurors were already planning to vote for him before the final Tribal Council. But what an exclamation point on his game, and on this season as a whole.
Other Second Chance Episode 14 recaps & commentary
Exit interviews - Jeremy Collins (winner)
Exit interviews - Spencer Bledsoe (2nd place)
Exit interviews - Tasha Fox (2nd place)
Exit interviews - Kelley Wentworth (4th place)
Exit interviews - Keith Nale (5th place)
Exit interviews - Kimmi Kappenberg (6th place)
Podcasts - Episode 14