The answer to the question above? Easy! Survivor: Cambodia's does. Enjoy it while it lasts (which would be three more hours, all of them next Wednesday). We realize Jeff Probst's job as showrunner requires him to speak positively about every season, no matter how terrible (Caramoan pre-merge) in order to inspire viewership, so it's difficult to gauge how Probst really feels about this season. Even so, our perception is that he's been ramping up his exhortations of excellence, and asserting that this is one of Survivor's best seasons, if not the best. Not only is his rationale -- that every contestant came to play, has been playing to win, and the cast has collectively produced great results -- (dare we say it?) logically sound, but... *gasp*... we actually agree with him.
Despite our mid-Angkor fretting, Cambodia has, almost entirely through the strength of its cast, overcome some minor shortcomings (the aforementioned Angkor error, boring individual ICs, inclement conditions), and consistently delivered compelling drama, innovative gameplay, and even occasional humor, especially post-merge. It's not so much that the game has evolved. Rather, it's that the game is actually being played for once, and by almost everyone present. (Hey, even Keith thinks he's playing it, and that it's "easy.") Finally.
In praise of slaughtering goats
We have long been weary of the "correct play" of a dominant player surrounding him- or herself with lackluster or actively loathed contestants at the final Tribal Council, in order to guarantee a win. It's boring. It's predictable. It doesn't require any real effort on the part of the obvious winner-to-be. Instead, we'd much rather see a jury have to make a Tina-or-Colby, or Yul/Ozzy (or Becky!), or even a more-complex Todd/Courtney/Amanda decision. Few players can resist the temptation of the easiest possible win, but kudos to this group for trying to up the difficulty factor.
Now at least one of Spencer, Jeremy, Tasha, or Kelley is guaranteed to reach the Final Three. Any one of those four could be a plausible and satisfying winner. That's your worst-case scenario, and that would still be a pretty good ending if just one made it, because Kimmi has played a fine game (as far as we can tell, since we've only seen her twice all season, apart from hugging Tasha this episode), and frankly, watching Keith state his case to the jury would be a spectacle to behold. But the likelihood is that more than one of the four possible winners will get there, and if that happens, we'll have one of those rare, actually contested final Tribal Councils. Really, pretty much any combination of the six remaining people should make for an interesting finals, and for that, we're thankful.
Final 6 entering the finale? Eh, it makes sense
Jeff Probst has made it perfectly clear that going forward, Survivor will do everything it can to avoid ever having another Final Two (*sniff*). We don't agree with this position, but it's so unlikely to be changed that we've moved on to acceptance. In the world of Final Threes, though, this finale's approach of four days, three immunity challenges, and three boots, leading into a Final Three, seems like the best possible solution. At least in theory, since we have yet to actually see the results.
It's a simple preventative tool for production's chief concern: a late-game medevac, like James in Micronesia, or Erik in Caramoan. With seven players left on Day 35, they now have a buffer against this, and in the worst-case scenario, a mid-finale medevac just means one fewer boot. And, if you look at the calendar, there's now a boot every day from Day 35 (where it goes from Final 7 down to Final 6) through Day 38 (where the Final Three are formed). There's something satisfying about that. Plus it obviates the need for a post-merge double-boot episode.
Better yet, it also torpedoes the idea of having a reward challenge for advantage during the finale. As the advantage RC has advanced from one-off novelty to full-blown trend, it has become increasingly clear that it's simply unfair. While it didn't work out for Malcolm in Philippines, the advantage led to easy immunity victories for Cochran in Caramoan, Keith in San Juan del Sur, and Mike in Worlds Apart. Especially in the two most recent cases, the effect was that somebody who was already a challenge beast, at the point where hidden idols have expired, just gets a free extra shot at advancing without having to fuss around with that alliance mumbo-jumbo. So with a six-person finale, the advantage RC gets replaced by a straight immunity challenge. If you're going to win your way into the finals, now at least you have to win on an even playing field.
The only downside is that the finale might end up being slightly more rushed due to having one extra Tribal Council. Even so, that's better than erring in the other direction, such as The Australian Outback's glacial slog through one Tribal Council-held challenge and one boot, stretched out over two hours.
By the numbers - new week, new records
Another week brings us new movement, at least in career numbers.
Other Second Chance Episode 13 recaps & commentary
Exit interviews - Abi-Maria Gomes
Podcasts - Episode 13