Before I get into this post’s meat, let me get something very clear: this is, currently, a bottom five season for me. The cloud the whole Dan controversy put over the season marred what pre-Merge seemed like such a promising start, and while a Janet win might’ve actually done a quite a bit to salvage it — at least in my personal opinion — the fact that Dan remained in the game long beyond when he should have is unacceptable to me. With that said, I’m going to do my very best to focus on what silver linings (a line Jeff seemed to love so much in the finale/reunion) can be taken away from the fabled “Island of the Idols.”
Survivor is sorry
I may be on an island here (yay puns!), but I truly believe production, and especially Jeff, did the best job they could in the aftermath of the whole Dan situation. This by no means excuses their lack of action while the game was going on, but the way I see it, production could’ve (A) ignored the problem, largely sweeping it under the rug, (B) recognized Dan’s behavior but chalk it up to an anomaly, doing nothing to prevent it in the future, or (C) meet the fact that they royally fucked up head on and deal with it. In my opinion, they opted with C, and assuming Survivor has a few more seasons, years, or even decades left under its belt, this was by and far away the best choice for longevity, the obvious moral implications aside. It takes guts for anyone, let a lone a show that’s been on for two decades to admit when they screwed up. Although the show and production deserves really every piece of flack they get for how they handled Dan and Kellee in-game, in my opinion, the steps and recognition they took afterward deserve some respect, even if it does very little to rectify choices made while the game was going on.
Allow me, now, to turn to Jeff specifically. It is no secret that Probst is an easy target to pick on in the show — after all, his commentary in challenges alone is typically cringe-worthy. That being said, when confronted with these situations, he met them with all the vigor he could muster. At Jamal’s vote out, Jeff tackled Dan’s behavior head-on, and while (again) more should have been done, I truly believe he did the best job he could in instigating a conversation. Furthermore, at the reunion, when Probst and Kellee had their one-on-one, I really thought Probst handled the situation with grace, rightfully apologizing to Kellee for not believing her, for not doing more, and promising her that her voice will make a difference in the safety and security of future players. While it’s only fair to bring up that, at the barest of minimums, Survivor should have been on notice about the potential for inappropriate behavior since Sue Hawk in All-Stars, Probst’s apology on behalf of the show and production seemed genuine to me. It is not my place to say it was adequate — that is Kellee’s and Kellee’s alone — but I believed Jeff when he said he was sorry. For all the lackluster commentary and play-by-play on challenges he gives us each season, I think Jeff is a well-intentioned soul. It doesn’t make up for everything, not by a long-shot, but it’s something.
What can be said other than this cast — barring a glaring notable exception — was bomb. Let me take this moment to say that while I’m stoked to finally have the TDT Fantasy Crown, and to welcome Tommy into the inner circle of Tom Westman, Todd, Bob, and Sarah as my pre-season picks to take home the title, Tommy’s win feels somewhat hollow to me. Yeah, in so many technical respects he deserved to win (and I LOVE the fact that he did it without a single advantage to his name, which to me, actually means he’s more deserving), the fact that so many women this season slayed makes his win feel, more holistically, undeserved. I would be genuinely excited to see nearly half this cast back, but when I list who I’d want to see in order, I think you all, dearest readers, will see a common theme ...
Notice anything? Maybe that they’re all women? While, to be fair, Dean is surprisingly 6th (followed by Lauren, Tommy, and Jamal), the women dominated this season. Even females who I strongly disliked watching, like Lauren and Karishma, were good at the game or, at the very least, had interesting stories. My only point is, for how killer the ladies were this season, seeing yet another man win (making this the eighth time in the last ten) was anti-climatic. I said it in my Merge assessment, the strong women were red-herrings. That’s a real pity. Hopefully the ladies can take the crown next season as they’re far more interesting, by and large, than the men.
Janet & Kellee
Please allow me to take a moment to just gush and fanboy over these two. Janet is solidly one of my all-time favorites to ever play. She did what she needed to in order to win only to have her idol cancelled by a stupid advantage (but, to that point, she only would’ve advanced with an advantage of her own, so that helps curb the bitterness mildly). More importantly, more than anything else, she jeopardized her own game to stand up for what she believed was morally right. I don’t think anyone else can take that solid of stand. While Missy, Elizabeth, and Aaron (but strangely not Lauren who used the logic of “well, what others are feeling isn’t happening to me, so I don’t care”) are taking shit for taking the positions they had in game, people should be giving more love to Janet. I know there are plenty out there who are and have been, but goddamn it, Janet is one of the purest, greatest people to ever play. Production allowing anyone even a shot at an idol-nullifier that deep into the game is one of their greatest technical mistakes this game has seen.
As for Kellee, I don’t want to speak too much on her, as she did more than she should’ve ever had to at the reunion. While I’m not normally someone who cares too deeply about the cast once the winner is crowned, I stayed tuned for this one. Kellee, clearly nervous, delivered a firmly heartfelt speech about her experience, extending its impact to other women who face this sort of bullshit daily. I’m so sorry that Kellee went through what she did, that she needed to have the talk with Jeff that she did, but Kellee, in the unlikely event you ever read this, you’re a hero, and you deserve all the praise in the world for your bravery. Thank you.
The FTC (+ Lauren)
Looking at the pure production value, hey, the Final Tribal Council was actually pretty good. Three weeks ago, I never would’ve thought Dean would’ve put up the sort of fight he did. If I’m being honest, the last two weeks of gameplay showed Dean, with some polish, might actually be a legitimate threat. He reminded me of an honestly better Adam: playing fairly in the middle and under the radar but taking out some key threats, like Janet and Lauren, late when he needed to. While Tommy played an overall better game from start to finish, and while Dean had some horrible miscues early (don’t talk about splitting the vote when the whole tribe is there, homie), I’ll give him that he showed up in the proverbial 4th Quarter. He earned that second place, in my book, and he leap-frogged every other male in the cast as someone who I’d honestly like to see play again.
My hot take for the season is this: when it came right down to it, I could not stand Lauren. I found her to be frankly entitled toward the end, and how she carried on when she won her II a couple weeks ago, beating out Elaine who (despite having an idol at the time) really needed it ... she seems like a poor sport and sore loser. Her complaining about being sent to fire because she’d never made fire? Are you fucking kidding? Lauren, I completely understand and sympathize with how ungodly frustrating and heartbreaking it must be to get that close and see it slipping away right in front of you, but you’re well on notice the Final Four will always go to fire now. Your inability to make fire, you never make fire in 38 days of playing, rests solely on you. Don’t take it out on Noura who correctly chose to send you there. Don’t get me wrong, Lauren was a stellar player in many ways, but I found myself groaning whenever she did anything toward the end.
Finally, Noura. While Noura was a delight this season, and while I’m super happy she not only made it to the end but managed to win 3 IIs, my final thought is she’s a lesser Debbie. Maybe I’m wrong, but I always thought Debbie kinda had a shot to win if she could only finagle her way to the end. Noura, alas, was outclassed by both Dean and Tommy. Still, I’d be psyched to see her again (her storyline of her getting in her own way was heartfelt, real, and honestly quite poignant), and if she does, I hope Jeff asked her, “Noura, where are we?” again. May she forever take that question literally <3. A constant zany bright spot this season, assuredly.
I said at this post’s very beginning that this was a bottom five season for me, currently. I use the qualifier currently because I hope, and possibly naïvely so, that this season can be a learning opportunity for all involved, as well as viewers. As Jeff aptly put during the reunion, there are almost certainly families out there who watched this season and had their younger children exposed to these harsh and sad realities too many individuals face daily. Like the show itself, families were faced with the opportunity to confront this, or ignore it. For those who opted to face it, to use this exceedingly uncomfortable moment in television to potentially lead to the betterment of some children ... well, that’s certainly not worth the mental and emotional strain Kellee went through, but I believe it’s important to get the conversation started about this at a young age, to teach children behavior like this, whether the perpetrator intended this to be offensive or not, is never all right. No means no, and if this season can help sell that point, well ... silver linings, yanno?
Why, why, why, why, *why* bring back Edge of Extinction? Ugh. If not for the worst twist in the history of the show, I’d be beyond excited for this season. Yeah, there are some duds on the male side of casting (Adam and Ben assuredly, who I wish has been replaced by any combination of Brian Heidik, Chris Daugherty, Tom Westman, Earl, Todd, and/or Bob), but it’s an all winners season! We’ve been waiting 20 years for this shit. Even with EoE back in play, I can’t wait to see some of the greatest to ever play go against each other again, and I couldn’t be more excited to see some players I’d given up hope of ever seeing on the beach for another shot (Yul, primarily, but also Ethan, Amber, Kim, Sophie and Parv). EoE puts a large cloud over everything, sure, and the currency twist could end up sucking too, but there’s almost no way it can be worst than the OG EoE was, right? It’s sure as hell not gonna be worse, emotionally, than this season ... right? Right? *sigh* Well, if nothing else, please join me in rooting for really anyone not named Ben, but especially for Yul, Denise, Parv, Nat, Ethan, and the longest-of-shots Tony. Until then ...
Dan Otsuki has been watching Survivor religiously since season two, and is a recent graduate of the University of Puget Sound, where he double majored in English and Religious Studies. He's also applied to play on the show every time he's been able to do so.
Follow him on twitter: @DanOtsuki