Nicole was a different type of player than the "schemy, scammy," strategically oriented gamers that made up most of the Survivor SA: Immunity Island cast. But this ended up working out perfectly for her, because she was aware that pulling off blindsides and flip-flopping between alliances just wasn't something that was in her wheelhouse.
So instead, she decided to play a loyal, straight-up game, which maximized the effectiveness of her social game. At multiple points in the game where the opportunity arose to switch to a different alliance, flip on Anela, or something of that sort, she thought about it, decided she couldn't very well have played an honest game just to a certain point, only to throw it all away at say, final seven. So she decided to stay the course. It was a restrictive game, but also an effective one.
Much as she held her form and balance in her multiple endurance challenge wins, she steered a calm, non-duplicitous path through a tumultuous game, let the Big Move-makers take each other out, and eventually found herself at a Final Tribal Council where she could point to her unwavering game, replete with unbroken social connections, and say: "See, I did it this way because that's who I am."
And it worked!
In a lot of ways, Nicole's season-long approach was a very old-school Survivor one, a throwback to a time when the most important rule was staying with your alliance from original tribe. And just as the season turned off the tap of new-school twists and trinkets at final six, and reverted to Classic Survivor for the final five through final three votes, the Classic Survivor player — the straight-up, alliance-strong social player with her original-tribe partner by her side — suddenly found herself in a position of power, as the swing vote in a battle between warring nemeses from the other original tribe. She carried that alliance through to the end, won the final challenge, and regaled the jury with details of her chosen game style, compared to that of her more modern-Survivor-playing partner ("the biggest flip-flopper in the game," in Chappies' words).
Importantly, she never disparaged making big moves, nor the modern Survivor game. She just admitted that it wasn't something that would have worked for her, so she played her game instead. And the jury, primarily composed of modern Survivor-leaning voters, respected that, as they should.
In the end, old school toppled new school, and it's an outcome that anyone who decries the excessive amount of game-breaking twists in certain other franchises ought to appreciate. Like Tommy Sheehan's win in Island of the Idols, it's a reminder that the core original game is still strong, and an old-school approach can still be a victorious one.
A triumphant win, eventually
Getting to that victory took an unexpectedly long time. The finale delivered its final two, the jury had their say, they cast their votes, Nico and the urn were helicoptered away ... and now we wait. Close to an hour later, after a completed reunion show and the awarding of the fan favorite award to Chappies, we finally get the vote reveal: It's an 8-1 blowout for Nicole!
This was an odd way to order the events. Despite what was otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable reunion show, this viewer at least was starting to think "Come on, just get to the vote reveal, we can reminisce about this all later." (Spoiler: We couldn't have, since the reveal was the show's last event.)
This kind of thinking by the viewer is, of course, not fair to the cast. (Sorry!) They had interesting things to say. Santoni's candy delivery to Tyson was hilarious! Anela and Nicole re-visiting the site of the Osindile camp and Tribal Council, now being reclaimed by nature, was unexpected and really fun. Everyone was just as positive and spirited as they were on the show. The security guards to (paraphrasing Nico) keep Chappies and his sticky fingers away from the urn were a cute touch. Honestly, it's hard to go wrong with as solid a cast as this, and the reunion was absolutely time well spent.
And YET ... to viewers accustomed to 40 seasons of the traditional Final Tribal -> Jury vote -> Vote reveal sequencing, it was all a bit frustrating. There was an ever-present feeling of unfinished business. Wait, why are you awarding the Fan Favorite prize before revealing the actual season winner? Where are your priorities?
Maybe it was a network decision, hoping that by stringing the audience along, people would be forced to keep watching all through the second hour, instead of clicking away the second the winner reveal took place and the reunion started? Maybe it was just SurvivorSA trying something different, to see how fans would react? Whatever the reason, the reunion is essentially a news story. It's the actual reality part of the reality show, and as a news story, it's supposed to have journalism's inverted pyramid structure, with the most important item at the top. As such, it felt a little insulting to Nicole and Anela that their big story was instead treated as the least-valuable part. (I'm sure this was not the intent, just explaining what felt off about it.)
Even so, congratulations to Nicole. She played the game in exactly the way she intended. She made the correct decision at the Final 3 vote, and came away with a landslide victory and a million rand. (Although it's possible she might also have won against Chappies, Tina Wesson style ... the answering of this question is another reunion staple we missed out on due to the order of events.)
In short: The big story of the reunion show is supposed to be the winner. We're always happy to see everyone else and catch up, but moving that part of the story to the end just felt like it didn't work.
Chappies and Nicole: Surprisingly statistically similar games
In totaling up Chappies' and Nicole's individual stats, it's remarkable how similar their games were over the length of the season. Both voted correctly in exactly 50% of the Tribal Councils they attended, with Chappies voting 6 people out in 12 tries, Nicole with 5 in 10. Each received just three votes against them. They were both strong in individual challenges, with Chappies winning 7 of 11 with all-around athleticism/agility and swimming prowess, whereas even though "Endurance is [Chappies'] middle name," Nicole clearly dominated in the three endurance challenges she won.
Chappies and Nicole were, of course, almost polar opposites outside of those big-picture areas. They started on different tribes. Nicole played a very honest, sincere game, while Chappies giddily enjoyed the purloined fruits (coconuts) of Chappies' Diner. Nicole was deeply rooted in her tribe and her alliance with Marisha, with Renier, with Amy, and later in her Tied Destiny with Anela. Chappies, in contrast, was always a bit of an outsider, aligned with Chappies first and foremost, although he did hold key connections with Santoni and Anesu.
And yet, for some reason, they kept finding themselves on parallel paths. Of course Chappies and Nicole were the only ones to compete in the "Keel Hauling" challenge, while everyone else sat out to eat spaghetti bolognese. They went out back-to-back in the merge IC, "Get a Grip," somewhere over two hours in. And of course they were the last two standing in the final face-off, in "Hand on a Hard Idol." They were both fierce competitors; neither ever gave up. At times, they were each hopelessly outnumbered: Chappies isolated after the second swap, and again later in the game after Anesu and Santoni were sent to the jury; Nicole after the "Tied Destinies" twist personally saved her (and Anela), but removed the rest of her original Zamba allies from the game. Still, they both made it to the final three.
Does the Final Two produce more gender balance for winners?
Both SurvivorAU (as is always the case) and SurvivorSA had final twos in their seasons that ended this week. Both featured women champions, who won via lopsided margins (7-2 in AU, 8-1 here) over men. Contrast these results with US Survivor, where in the six final three votes held since Game Changers, women have won zero times, and received a total of just 6 jury votes in that stretch, to 64 (!) for men. (Including a 44-0 streak from Ghost Island through Island of the Idols.)
This led me to pose this question on twitter: Is it the final two that's the difference here?
Looking across all instances in the English-speaking international Survivor franchises (US, AU, SA, and NZ), looking just at final two/three scenarios where women faced one or more men, women have won just under half of all final twos, at 8 out 17 instances (US: 3/8, AU: 3/5, SA: 2/4). That's remarkably even.
In final three seasons, in contrast, it's much more a male-dominated affair in the winner ranks. Women have won those just 7 out 26 times (US: 6/22, SA: 0/2; NZ: 1/2). Notably, none of those US wins have come since the advent of forced final four firemaking (which coincides with the 64-6 and 44-0 jury vote disparities mentioned above).
So is this just a coincidence, or is the final two format fundamentally more fair to women? Stats sadly don't help much here, because even with two decades of US Survivor data to work with, the sample size is still too small ... the p value for the proportion of women winning in F2 seasons differing from the proportion of women winning in F3 seasons is 0.088, so it falls just short of significance (unless you're happy with a 90% confidence interval). Even so, the recent data (44-0!) certainly don't suggest women are going to start dominating final three votes any time soon.
The final stretches of episodes in both AU: Brains v Brawn and SA: Immunity Island have highlighted just how different the endgames are in final three seasons versus these two winnowing down to a final two. In final two seasons, tight pairs are a threat to everyone around them, as are people who are good in challenges. The person who wins final immunity is the sole decision-maker in who faces them at Final Tribal, and if someone in a tight pair wins, they're taking the other, duh.
In a final three, it's tolerable to keep a challenge beast around, because in a group of three, they can prevent players outside the group from sneaking into the finals by winning the final immunity. All three of you are still going to the finals! Besides, juries aren't necessarily all *that* impressed by someone who won a bunch of challenges. (See: Brad Culpepper, Ozzy Lusth, etc.) Furthermore, for a solo player, being the third person in an alliance with two pairs at final five is actually the optimal scenario, because you can go with either one. In a final two season, that's suicide.
You can see why US Survivor, which loves its alpha male challenge beasts, would want a final three format almost all the time, because it increases the chances of a Mike Holloway-type win. When you throw in idols active to the final vote, you increase those chances again. If you combine it with Redemption Island/Edge of Extinction, where you're actively selecting for a challenge beast to return to the game at final five (since they're usually voted out right after the merge, because people still like having a shot at winning challenges themselves), you increase the chances of a challenge beast in the finals/winning even more.
The US game also provides multiple opportunities for late-game theatrics in front of the jury. Final five is the last elimination vote now, so an idol fiend (or challenge beast) can still thwart the will of a majority three-person alliance. So if you won the F5 IC or had an idol, and are good at firemaking, you're pretty much headed to the finals at this point. That means the challenge beast/firemaking pro gets to perform jury-pleasing feats, while the group that had everything under control strategically has to just sit and watch. If someone beats that group's wishes and makes fire at F4, they're a hero to the jury. If a solo player wins the final IC, they also get to exert their authority in the firemaking decision. There are a lot of places there for a woman with a strong social game, who knew exactly where the votes were going each time, to just not have much jury visibility in these last few eliminations, or even worse (Lauren Beck), get eliminated for simply not making fire rapidly enough.
Contrast these scenarios to final two seasons, like we saw here. Kiran and Tyson thought they had Anela with them, and thus had a solid shot at facing off against each other before the jury ... up until the final six vote happened. Kiran even had, and played, an idol then! But unfortunately for them, there were still three more votes to come. Anela (prodded by Nicole) then flipped on them at the next vote, Tyson followed Kiran out, Anela and Nicole suddenly had power as a duo, and Nicole cemented that power by winning final three immunity.
A similar serial toppling of expected outcomes happened in SurvivorAU: Brains v Brawn from F6 on. There were three strong pairs there (Dani-Flick, Hayley-Wai, George-Cara). The latter two pairs ganged up on the former to split that pair, eliminating Dani. At five, George and Cara used their knowledge of an idol to enable a vote split to take out Wai. At four, Flick was the obvious boot, but won immunity, and Hayley engineered a 2-1-1 vote to split up George and Cara, ensuring a prior conversation she and George had about taking each other to the end actually came to fruition. Then Hayley guaranteed that outcome by winning final three immunity.
There is so much more maneuvering and shifting allegiances in these last few votes of a final two season, and every person — including every woman — there has an opportunity to play an active role in it. There are no groups of three just coasting on their numbers advantage, where two people (fairly or not) are viewed as passive passengers. There are no production-mandated stunts in front of the jury at the final elimination, apart from the F3 IC winner's crucial vote. It's a more dynamic product. Maybe it doesn't get the fan favorite (or production favorite) to the finals as often, but that's Survivor.
- Dreaming of future SurvivorSA seasons: Without a doubt this season's cast has provided abundant deserving prospects for future all-star appearances. But let's dream bigger. Maybe not today, maybe not next year, but if US Survivor fans could dream of an all-winners season for ~15 years or so before it finally paid off, let's consider the concept everyone's also talking about in the video referenced in Dino's tweet, here:
https://t.co/poAroHlMcy— Dino Paulo (@AlsoDino) September 18, 2021
Just before finale aired, our @Survivor_SA cast was treated to videos from incredible @Survivor_AU and @survivorcbs family!
Featuring:@Rick_Devens @baden_gilbert @ShannonGaitz @luk3_toki @HarryHills18 #LaurenAshleyBeck@HayleyLeake#SurvivorSA pic.twitter.com/7B2I04SPkj
(Seriously, how amazing would it be to have contestants like these ALL on one season, together? Devens, Luke, and Chappies on the same cast? Hayley vs. Kiran vs. Harry vs. Anesu? Santoni and George?)
- Chappies = Terry: Terry Deitz set the overall record for most individual challenge wins (with 8) in a season in Panama, while Chappies has the overall record for longest individual challenge winning streak (with 7). As with Chappies and Nicole, Chappies and Terry are not really all that similar. Terry was the no-nonsense, play-it-straight-up alpha leader of La Mina. Chappies is off somewhere by himself, fishing, hoarding coconuts, crawling under the shelter, or feasting at his diner. But they both were the last standing from their original tribes, and had late-game immunity runs, only to be cut short when the underestimated woman in the Final 3 won the final challenge, and voted them out. Weird how history repeats itself.
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes