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Survivor: South Pacific Watch - Season Finale

This season, the twenty-third in Survivor epically long run, started out well enough… sixteen brand new players were brought to the South Pacific, along with two veteran players: Benjamin “Coach” Wade (aka “Dragon Slayer”), and Oswald “Ozzy” Lusth. Both had played the game twice before but come up empty. Both took leadership roles in their respective tribes, Upolu and Savaii, but these two tribes were so evenly matched that neither tribe was able to win consecutive Immunity challenges two times in a row. After six episodes, the teams were all knotted up at six members each.

After the merge, it looked like there was going to be a deadlock at TC, which meant the player going home would be left to a random draw. But rather than have that happen, nerdy Survivor fanboy Cochran, who had suffered numerous indignities at the hands of his jockish tribe-mates, switched sides. And ever since then, it’s been all Upolu. Every Savaii who made it to the merge now sits on the jury, with the exception of Ozzy, who has dispatched every opponent that has come to challenge him on Redemption Island. Last week, Ozzy defeated ex-Upolu Edna to win his fifth duel in a row, and tonight will begin by battling Brandon, the nephew of Evil Russell who finally wore out his welcome with his tribe.

Last night it all ended. One more duel, two more eliminations, and one final Tribal Council. And it couldn’t come soon enough for me. This season has worn on me from the get-go: between the high-school bullying tactics of Savaii and the cult-like atmosphere surrounding the Upolu tribe (propagated by Brandon and Coach), I’ve had enough. This season may not be the last season of Survivor that I’ll watch, but it will be the last one that I recap. Thanks again to you for reading and to Cinema Blend for allowing me to continue to contribute.

Albert did a good job burning his bridges with Coach, Albert and Sophie last week, and he would have definitely gone home if Brandon hadn’t blithely giving him his Immunity necklace. Coach accused him of being a coward in not giving it back, despite the fact that it saved his bacon. The bad news for Albert is, he has no friends left, and his chances of winning the million dollars may have completely slipped away.

Duel #10: Ozzy vs. Brandon. The final duel is a simple one. Ozzy and Brandon climb to the top of a pole, and must hang on for as long as they can. There are notches in the wood at various heights that they can use for toeholds, but they are very small (only ¼” wide), and it is not long before cramps start setting in. Forty-five minutes in, Brandon loses his final foothold, and Ozzy wins a spot back in the game for the second time this season. Brandon smiles as he leaves the game, seemingly at peace with God and the way he played. Whatever, I’m just glad he’s gone.

While Albert (and, I’m sure, Sophie and Rick) feel that the #1 priority is to make sure Ozzy doesn’t keep winning Immunity, Coach is secretly glad Ozzy is back. So much so, that he promises Ozzy that if need be, he’ll give Ozzy his HII to save him. So it would seem that Coach was being genuine about wanting to take Ozzy to the Final Three. And while I respect Coach for his whole “if you want to be the best, you got to beat the best” mentality, but with five Savaii members on the jury, Ozzy has more than enough to win the million dollars.

I guess time will tell who Coach’s other choice for Final Three is. Ozzy, however, isn’t buying Coach’s strategy. Not one bit. But then it makes sense: Coach has engineered it so that everyone still in the game, including Ozzy, now believes wholeheartedly in Coach, which means he is safe no matter who wins Immunity. And, having the HII, he’s safe twice over (though that particular lifeline will be gone after the next TC).

Immunity Challenge. Another toughie. The players must, while holding a small platform steady with one hand, use the other hand to build a stack of cards to a height of several feet without having them topple. Sophie admits that building card-houses is something she does for fun, and the structure she builds is very solid, but by doing so she uses all of her allotted cards, and has to start over again. Ozzy runs out of cards about a foot from the designated height, and he has to backtrack as well. It’s nip and tuck for a while, but Ozzy, nerves of steel, wins Immunity. The Upolus look less than pleased.

The pre-TC scramble basically consisted of two things: Ozzy in the catbird seat, stirring the pot and planting seeds of dissension in the heads of the other four, and everyone going to Coach for advice on who to vote for. Coach, for his part, tells Albert that Rick is next, because he’s likeable, and then he tells Rick that Sophie is next because she’s turned into a major brat. Ozzy seems to have the strongest connection to Albert, who even confronts Coach about his promise to take Ozzy to the end “as a Christian man”, which Coach blatantly denies (even though it’s word-for-word true). So there you have it: despite all proclamations otherwise, Coach is just as capable of deceit and treachery as anyone.

Tribal Council. As the jury files in, all of the ex-Savaii smile when they see the Immunity necklace around Ozzy’s neck. Yep, two more challenge wins and the million is all his. Coach has brought his HII, and says he will play it, since this is the last TC that he can do so. So it becomes a choice between Rick, Albert and Sophie. Albert and Sophie claim they are capable of beating Ozzy (which elicits a haughty chuckle from him), whereas Rick goes the other way, stating that he’s not a threat. If that’s the case, Sophie asks, why does Rick need to be there anymore?

Then Sophie, the pillar of strength, has an emotional breakdown right there in front of everybody. After Ozzy accuses her of being a brat, based on the words of all the RedIsle opponents that have crossed his wake, she weeps openly about being hurt in a way she’d never been before. And then, just like that, comes the votes. Coach actually doesn’t play his HII, figuring the threat of using it is enough to keep him safe. And it does. At least he has a souvenir to take home afterward. Rick and Ozzy do indeed vote for Sophie, but the other three cast their votes for Rick, and he becomes the eighth member of the jury. Wish I had any opinion about him at all. Coach tries to hug him on the way out, but Rick waves him off.

Final Immunity Challenge. The next day, a brisk rain greets the final four players as they vie for the only guaranteed spot in the final three. This was, literally, a million dollar challenge for Ozzy, who would surely win in a landslide vote if the cards fell right. The last challenge is usually very complex, and this is no exception. The players must race through an obstacle course shaped like an eight-petaled flower, retrieving bags of puzzle pieces, pieces which must be placed perfectly inside a series of interlocking gears in order to win.

As I said, this was Ozzy’s championship moment, and, as expected, he grabs an early lead, retrieving all five of his bags before anyone else can even do four. Ozzy is a beast at challenges, and he’s no dummy at puzzles either, but he’s not quite in Rob Mariano’s league in that department, and his lead soon evaporates. It’s the kind of puzzle that once you find the first piece, the rest easily fall into place, and the panic on Ozzy’s face increases as Sophie finds one piece, then another. Ozzy kicks it into overdrive, putting the pedal to the metal, but it’s too late. Sophie wins, and now the game is back on again. Sophie gets bear-hugs from Coach and Albert, and Ozzy can only walk away, uttering expletives under his breath.

Tribal Council. I’ll keep this short and sweet, as the pre-vote exposition is irrelevant. With no Immunity around his neck, it would have been the height of stupidity to keep Ozzy around, and Albert, Sophie and Coach do what must be done. Ozzy falls just short of total victory yet again, and in doing so, becomes the first and only person in Survivor history to be voted out of the game on three separate occasions. I have vacillated between admiring him and hating his scrawny ass over the course of the three seasons I have watched him, and now, I can only just feel sorry for him. He really played his guts out, and now he has been reduced to a mere spectator. He does get a round of applause from all present on his way out, which was cool.

So the million-dollar vote will come down to Coach, Albert and Sophie. I’m not at all surprised Coach made it this far, he’s been in control of his own tribe since Day One and in full control of the game since the merge. He was the only person this season never to see his name written down, and that says something. But where he and Boston Rob diverge is that Coach, simply, is not as charismatic. Coach has this weird code of honor in his head and tries to live his life by that code. Still, Survivor is a game that tends to trample noble notions like honor.

When it comes down to it, I’m sure Coach is a really cool guy, and I’m sure the kids he coaches all love him. But it’s probalby a bitter pill to be voted out by someone professing to value honor above all else, and I’m sure the jury members will call him on it. Yes, Coach has wrestled with a lot of his decisions – in fact, some of them have made him feel horribly – but that’s cold comfort to someone who is voting for a winner instead of vying to be the winner.

As for Albert and Sophie, well, my feelings toward them have fluctuated as well. Albert has played the most social game of the three, and while he’s ruffled a few feathers, he hasn’t been a bully or a twerp like so many others have. Sophie has just been a consistent player; she’s never wavered from her alliance, and though she’s been an obnoxious snot at times, she’s also won three challenges, and is deserving of a shot at the million.

Final Tribal Council. After everyone has taken their places, Albert, Sophie and Coach all make their opening statements, basically saying what you’d expect them to, thanking the jury for their participation and outlining what makes them so special and blah blah fishcakes. Then comes time for the Q&A, which is always fun, because that’s when all the bitterness comes out!

Ozzy leads off by stating that he pretty much speaks for the entire jury when he says that they don’t want any of the three to get the money. Ouch. He then tells Sophie that she’s a brat, informs Albert that he’s boring, and then challenges Coach to answer just why, if he’s so damned honorable, would he vote Ozzy out. Coach seems contrite by explaining that every time he had to break his word tore him up inside, but tough decisions had to be made, and some of those decisions were dishonorable. Brandon turns away ashamedly, and Ozzy just nods and sits down.

Weaselly Jim asks Albert why he deserves to win more than Coach and Sophie, and Albert interestingly explains that though Savaii always assumed Coach was the leader of Upolu, and that it was Coach’s decision to bring himself and Sophie to the end, it was actually the reverse that was true, that it was the others that carrying Coach through the game and not vice versa. Which is kind of true, except for the fact that Coach had the HII the whole time and everyone knew it. Albert then says that Sophie sucks at the social game, whereas he kicked ass at it.

Dawn asks Sophie why she chose to ally herself to Coach and Albert from the beginning. She explains that she chose Coach because he seemed to value loyalty so highly, and Albert because he appeared to be a wily strategist. Eventually, though, she found that her relationship with Coach strengthened while her relationship with Albert disintegrated, and that keeping Albert around was the best strategic move for her.

Rick is practically seething with rage as he calls out Coach on his betrayal, Albert on his treachery and Sophie on her inherent dishonesty. Only Sophie is given a chance to respond, and she says that the lie she told to Rick on the day he was voted out was the one she regrets the most. He just responds by staring daggers at all of them and saying that he hates liars, period.

Brandon, naturally, goes right after Coach, bringing up the promise that Coach made early on, “before God”, to never write Brandon’s name down. Coach waffles a bit, thanking Brandon for bringing the tribe closer together. Coach then admits that he saw Brandon in the Final Three and not himself, and apologizes for hurting Brandon. Brandon just smiles and says he forgives Coach. Like we didn’t see that coming. In his heart, he really is nothing like Russell. Or his father.

Whitney, who has just been itching to tear into the trio, starts by calling Albert sleazy, not to mention cowardly for not making any big moves against Coach when he had plenty of chances to do so. She then chastises Coach for ruling his tribe by using fear, and tells Sophie that she finds her to be “the most condescending person” she’s ever met, who never took the time to get to know anyone outside her alliance. And that’s that.

Edna’s turn. She opines that Survivor is a game of manipulation, and the easiest way in history to manipulate people is through religion, and that those in the jury shouldn’t be bitter about being duped in that way, because anyone who plays this game should expect manipulation going in. She then congratulations the final three and sits down. I really like Edna, though I can’t help but wonder if her whole spiel was born from genuineness or sarcasm.

Keith asks Coach if he ever had any intention of playing his HII. Coach responds that he had every intention of using it during the first TC after the merge, when the tribes were tied at six members each. However, this was before Cochran came to him and volunteered to flip on Savaii, and after that, using the HII became unnecessary.

Last up is Cochran, who tells Coach how much he has admired him from past seasons and especially now, and getting to spend time with him was way cool. Then he asks Coach exactly what his strategy was this time. Coach replies that he wanted to play the “right way”, but the problem is, when you try to please everybody, it becomes the wrong way very quickly. He knows that he hurt a lot of people, and that his ultimate goal of reaching the end in this, his third and final go-round on Survivor, caused his moral compass to go spinning off its axis.

After one final commercial break, it’s time to vote. One by one, the jury makes the march up to the voting urn. Cochran votes for Coach. Dawn votes for Sophie. Jeff collects the urn, and then the show shifts to a sound stage at CBS Television City in Hollywood, in front of hundreds of cheering fans, former contestants and family members. Jeff explains the rules one more time, and then, for the final time, out come the slips. Up until this moment, I figured the contest was wide open.

The first vote is for Coach (Cochran’s vote). The second, for Sophie (Dawn’s vote). The third and fourth votes are for Coach and Sophie, respectively. Coach gets the fifth vote, Sophie the sixth. Three-all, three to go. The next vote is for Sophie. And the eighth vote… is also for Sophie. And there you have it. Sophie Clarke, a twenty-two-year-old medical student from Willsboro, New York, is the winner of Survivor: South Pacific. She beat Ozzy in the biggest challenge of the season and out-Coached Coach in the final vote. Good for her. And good for Ozzy, who ended up winning the viewer-vote prize by a landslide.

And it’s over. A long, tiring season is over. Thanks to all of you for reading my recaps, I hope you can live without them next season, which will be called Survivor: One World, and is starting in February. In the meantime, happy holidays to all of you!