Season 26 of Survivor came to a close last night and as it turns out, this season ranked most certainly in the top half of seasons – possibly in the top third. It is pretty amazing when you think back at the first half of the season – which was populated with insanity from Sgt. Hulka, Phillip and especially Brandon Hantz. More on him in the Reunion review. But the second half? Several great episodes marked with some effective strategy and, crazy as it may sound after 26 editions, things we have never seen before on the show.
It’s crazy when you think about it – but the two Fans vs. Favorite seasons were eerily similar. The weird first episode featuring a monumental first boot (Fairplay’s destruction vs. Francesca’s history of failure). The fans’ overall trouble with keeping up with the Faves. More than one medical evacuation – including one fairly late in the game. And most especially, a very unlikely winner.
Parvati was not an especially impressive player in Cook Islands, so it is not surprising that few people expected much from her in the first FvF. Amber was similar back in All-Stars. This is why I had predicted Andrea to be the winner this time – a decent finish, but unimpressive game the first time. My mistake was that I went with the theme of good looking young women – Amber, Parvati, Andrea. I didn’t look down the roster for the better choice – although, if you recall, I did pick Cochran (and Sherri!) for the Final Three. Cochran fit the bill too – decent showing, poor overall first time. But the potential was certainly there.
Look back at South Pacific. If Cochran had been placed on Coach’s tribe from the start, he might have actually gone pretty far. With Coach, Sophie, Albert, Rick, etc. it was a much better fit for him – and perhaps Cochran could have had a legitimate chance of being at the Final Tribal instead of Sophie. But he was on Ozzy’s team – populated with bullies, pretty boys, and beauty queens. He had no real chance with that group. He was ridiculed; he was pushed around and taken for granted. He flipped because he had to – but he was really damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t. He deserved another shot – he was interesting, funny and fun to watch.
Cochran came out this time with a plan and improved confidence. He understood the Boston Rob Rules more than Phillip did. He also tweaked them a bit. He got himself into a solid majority alliance in the early part of the game. More importantly, he developed a hard core ally to navigate the miasma with in Dawn. Along the way, he found sub-alliances in the majority alliance. He was wise to position himself alongside a larger personality in the alliance (Phillip) to attract the most attention from enemies. He managed to get Dawn on the firing line – her social game plus his strategy was the combo – to take the brunt of the jury ire. He was not afraid to make big moves, and stepped up his physical game. To use baseball terms, it was not a perfect game like Boston Rob in Season 22, but Cochran threw a six-hit, complete game shutout.
He joins Earl and JT as the only unanimous winners – curiously, all three did it with different jury numbers (7,8,9). And no matter what you think of the man, it is hard not to smile just a bit. He was a kid watching Richard Hatch win the first time around, and here he is on the show. He wore a buff to high school. He wrote a thesis about Survivor juries. He is us. If Cochran can do it, so can you. So can I. Well, maybe not me, but you know what I mean. Dawn would have been a worthy winner too – her game was just as good as Cochran’s, except it was a bit flawed. She just cried way too much and didn’t time her moves the way Cochran boasted that he did. Who could have known that Dawn would have become the end game villain this season?
I do think that Dawn’s undoing was in the works already but really her game ended with the Brenda blindside. I went through it all last week. Only Eddie and Erik posed threats to Cochran in the Final 5 and all he had to do was keep his F3 alliance with Dawn and Sherri intact and immunity out of the boys’ hands for the F4 vote. He did and it is over.
As for the episode – anyone paying attention knew that it was just a two hour march to Cochran’s coronation. Only the one challenge posed any kind of threat to that eventuality. If Eddie won that immunity challenge at Final Four, he was going to be a huge threat for the vote. Dawn would have probably been voted out, but Cochran would have had a hard time winning that vote to win. So there was some drama there to see how the challenge turned out – and at the Reward Challenge.
What? Reward Challenge in the Finale? How can that be? It can be because Erik made history again. Last time it was for giving up immunity at the Final Five and getting voted out – this time it was for almost giving up his life. After leaving Tribal Council and booting Brenda, Erik began to feel feint. He said everything was spinning and had to lie down. This is literally just down the path from Tribal, so Probst is still there. He pops in to talk to Erik as the Survivor doctors show up and amazingly get schooled by Eddie. He does so much lunkheaded behavior that it hard to forget – even as it appears on chyron – that Eddie is an EMT. He knows that Erik is going to need an IV and is malnourished badly. It is curious that Erik, one of the most well-fed people this season thanks to rewards, is the one to fall victim to this. Sherri and Dawn are showing their skeletons badly, and Eddie is a shell of the he-man he was at the start. Wait, He-Man and Skeleton…er…Skelator… Whoa.
Anyway – so Erik is told by Dr. Joe, or whatever his name was (I was hoping for Dr. Nick, everybody) that it’s over. No one has ever been evacuated this deep into the game – breaking the record held (I believe) by James in the first FvF (7th place). At Ponderosa he reveals that it just took a couple of hours of IV to get him right – but if he didn’t have that, he could have been in grave danger. Amusingly, Probst starts talking strategy with them with Erik lying right there. Cochran goes up to Erik and says, “I don’t come out here to make friends. But I seriously made a friend in you. I wouldn’t have wanted to share this with anybody else.” I think part of that is true, and part of that was Cochran’s self-proclaimed psychotic ability to separate the game and life.
I feel badly for Erik. He has been ridiculed over the last few years for the immunity necklace thing, so this was a great chance for redemption. Instead, he is essentially silent for 30+ days and has to be carted out at the exact same position as he was in the last time.
We go to the Reward Challenge which would have been the F5 Elimination Challenge and clearly Erik’s evacuation was too sudden for them to come up with a picnic lunch or something. Instead it was for a Final Elimination Challenge advantage – they did this last season too, but they also didn’t have five in the Finale. I would have liked a more pure Reward for food – or the old car reward – and have a final challenge without advantages. As it turns out, Eddie would have lost anyway. He and Dawn were neck and neck throughout the physical part and she was dusting him on the puzzle.