Survivor San Juan Del Sur – Finale Review

Going into this season, I never would have guessed I’d be rooting for one of the “Twinnies” from The Amazing Race to win. Yet for the past several weeks, I’ve been rooting for Natalie to win. In fact, by the time we got to the final five (even before that, really) I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with anyone else winning. So, did she do it? Click on through if you’ve seen the episode.

Yes! She did! Natalie was the most deserving player, and she makes a great winner. The physical, social and strategic components of her game were all very solid. She won challenges, made big moves, and even remained friendly with the people whose loved ones she’d burned.

I was so impressed with Nat’s performance in the final Tribal Council. Missy went the “loyalty and integrity” route, which always burns me up – it’s very rare that someone gets to the finals without breaking a single promise, and Missy was not one of those rare players. Any lie is made one million times worse when the perpetrator tries to convince everyone what a moral, upstanding game player he or she is.

Jaclyn went the “personal life struggle” route, which I really hate because it’s so irrelevant.  Had Natalie not been in the final three, I actually would have been rooting for Jaclyn to win (more on that later) but she didn’t sell herself enough in the finals.

Natalie’s argument was straight forward: ‘I deserve this the most.” She did, and the jury gave it to her. We’ll get back to that pretty great final Tribal Council later, but for now let’s take it from the top.

Tribal Council Aftermath and Challenges

I think Jaclyn’s biggest weakness in this game was that she was a pretty emotional player – and we saw that when she laid into Natalie after they returned from Tribal Council. I wanted to shake both Natalie and Jaclyn. Natalie’s comment about Jon not being loyal was a rare misstep for her. You won, dude! Natalie, you won – Jon’s out. Keep quiet and don’t rub salt in Jaclyn’s wound. You still might need votes for these people. And Jaclyn, keep your feelings in check! Natalie voted out your boyfriend but you may still need to work with her.

All along, I’ve felt that Jaclyn was a stronger player than Jon. I think what the final Tribal Council revealed was that the jury members did not think that. But I thought that every time that couple was at a crossroads, it was Jaclyn saying “We shouldn’t trust her” or “We can’t play with them”. Even though Jaclyn exploded at Natalie, she didn’t let the vote get in the way of them working together later. Jaclyn stayed in the game because Natalie decided she didn’t want to go to the finals with a mom and daughter, but I do think Jaclyn deserves partial credit for managing to work with Natalie and stay in the game.

The Reward Challenge was a decent one, but I hated the reward – an advantage in the following Immunity Challenge. I’ve always felt the advantages have been too strong, and it’s too late in the game to let someone coast on through to the final four.

Keith won the reward, and his advantage was receiving essentially unlimited time practicing for an Immunity Challenge where practice made perfect. The Immunity Challenge required players to move three balls throughout a tricky obstacle course. Lo and behold, Keith managed to complete the entire challenge before his competitors had even gotten one ball through the course.

After Keith won that Immunity Challenge, I started to get nervous. It was his third win. The guy is truly a terrible strategic player (“Stick to the plan” and all) – was he going to win? This season, post-merge, was particularly bro-heavy. I was concerned that most of the men on the jury, many of whom had been burned by everyone left standing but Keith, would vote for him.

Natalie’s Big Move and the Final Immunity Challenge

Even though Keith won Immunity, Natalie held most of the power in the next vote. She had an Immunity Idol to protect herself, so she had to decide – vote out Jaclyn, and plan to go to the finals with Missy and Baylor (presuming Keith didn’t win the final challenge) or break up the mom and daughter duo?

Missy and Baylor clearly thought their alliance with Natalie was rock solid. Baylor even asked Natalie to play her Idol for her mom, which I thought was a mistake. That Idol was Natalie’s guarantee to make the finals. Asking her to play it on someone else could put a shred of doubt in her mind. If I were Natalie, I would have started to wonder if Baylor and Missy had other plans.

Natalie’s concerns about going to the finals with Missy and Baylor were, I think, somewhat warranted. The two of them getting to the end in tact could have appealed to the jury. Of course, they would have also had to worry about the votes getting split up. But the fact is, I think Natalie had the win locked down as long as she could make it to the final three – with any combination of people. So the real question was, who would take her there?

Natalie playing her Idol for Jaclyn – and asking her “Did you vote for who I told you to vote for?” – was a baller move, made out in the open in front of the jury. I think it helped solidify Nat as the strongest strategic player and helped her win. I thought it was a good move.

Now, let’s talk about that final Immunity Challenge. I really liked it, because it required a combination of brain power and stamina – two things that most players are seriously lacking at this stage of the game. Jaclyn’s performance in this challenge is a big part of why I hoped, if Natalie wasn’t going to be in the finals, that Jac would beat Keith. Every time she fell off that fireman’s pole because she didn’t have the arm strength to hold on, she got back up. She powered through, even though she looked like she was about the faint throughout most of the challenge. Her perseverance impressed me, and I thought by winning that challenge she thoroughly earned her place in the final three.

Back at camp, Keith, Missy and Natalie were all at some point in danger of being voted out. But really, it seemed to come down to Keith or Natalie. Keith was dangerous because of all those dudes on the jury. Natalie was dangerous because she played the best game. No seriously – that’s what everyone was saying. Taking Natalie to the end was risky because she might win “based on gameplay”.

The thing about Jaclyn though, is that she did not have a shot in hell of winning. Having that necklace around her neck gave her the power to decide who would win – Keith (or, I guess, maaaaaybe Missy) or Natalie.

Natalie knew that she should have been voted out at that stage. But she managed to convince Jaclyn otherwise, an Keith was sent packing. Yes! What a relief. I really, really did not want Keith to win.

Keith’s parting words? “It was three women. I can barely handle one woman at the house let alone three of ‘em here.” UGH. Is this the most sexist season of Survivor ever, or what?

Final Tribal Council

I wrote earlier about how I thought Natalie nailed her opening remarks, particularly compared to the others. She really crushed it. She owned her strategic game, reminded jury members that she played better than the two people sitting next to her, and even pointed out that had they played better, they would have voted out her last night instead of Keith. And, she did it all alone because her loved one was voted out first. In a word? Flawless. I can only assume Alec’s mouth was hanging wide open the entire night because he was in shock over how great Natalie’s speech was.

Now, for the questions. Jon was up first, and of course his vote was going to be obvious. He gave Jaclyn the opportunity to tell the jury about a big decision she’d made on her own. I thought Jaclyn chose a good move – switching alliances right after the merge because the boys wouldn’t play with her. But, a) She should have sold it more and, b) The people sitting on the jury weren’t impressed by her move because they were the boys who wouldn’t play with her.

Keith seemed bitter, and it made me mad. You got bested, dude. Give Natalie her due.

Alec’s question just revealed how self-centered and stupid he is. He wanted to hear about how him getting voted out was Natalie’s most important move. But the reason Natalie needed him out was because he was such a dolt – Keith would be better at beating Jon in challenges, and easier to plan a big strategic move with. What a dolt.

Baylor was up next and, of course, it was simply a love letter to her mom. Yawn.

Josh’s question for Jaclyn was whether she made it to the end on her own merit, or the merit of others. I expected better from him, and I wondered if in real time he’d asked that question before or after Jon went. Jaclyn’s answer was the same, which I think was a mistake. Yes, she was the one who decided to work with Missy and Baylor rather than the boys – but she’d covered that already. She should have tried to tell everyone that she convinced Natalie to work with her instead of Missy/Baylor after Jon was voted out, and that she won the final immunity challenge and earned her place in the finals.

Wes’s question was the weakest of the night. “What was it like to play with your loved one?” Uh, great, I guess? Natalie didn’t even get to play with her loved one. At least it provided her an opportunity to remind everyone of that.

Jeremy used his time to encourage the jury to vote for the best player (Natalie), which is a move I always respect. If you know who you’re voting for, why not use that time to lobby? Especially when you have players like Keith who are so obviously bitter. Jeremy is a lover of the game, someone who really hoped he’d make it to the end, but he got got. He knew it, he accepted it, and he urged everyone else to do the same.

As always, producers saved the best for last: Reed. Reed used his time to lay into Missy, using the analogy of the “Wicked Stepmother” because she’d so played up her role as Tribe Mother. Personally, I don’t think Reed was bitter. He respected Natalie as the best player. He even respected Jaclyn as a decent player, who’d gotten him voted out of the game. Reed just straight up hated Missy and Baylor. I think he blamed Missy for the over-eating of rice early on, and we all know he thought her kid was a brat. Reed is a performer by trade, and I loved this performance.

When All is Said and Done

I’ll admit, Missy received less votes than I thought – I wasn’t sure about wildcards like Keith, Alec and Wes. And I thought Jaclyn would only get a vote from Jon. (I suspect that Reed had a good sense of what everyone else was voting, and threw Jaclyn a vote so that she’d beat out Missy for the $100,000 second place prize.) Natalie handily won, and it was the only acceptable conclusion to this season.

I was so disappointed when strong players like Jeremy, Josh and Reed were voted out early in the game. Natalie had been pretty under-the-radar until then, but she breathed new life into the late stages of the game. I’m so glad she won.

At the live reunion, an informal poll showed that Keith likely would have won had he been in the finals instead of Natalie. Missy would’ve gotten a few more votes. It definitively showed that, no matter what choice Jaclyn made, she would not have won.

The reunion show was fine – Jeff only talked to three or four irrelevant audience members. I would have bet money on Jon proposing to Jaclyn during the show, but he went the classier route and announced that they were already engaged. Probst’s declarations of “That was quite a fight, are you still together?” was maybe the stupidest thing that happened. Oh no wait – the stupidest thing was when he said “Jaclyn. You’re a woman. Getting into a fight is different for you.” WHAT. WHAT IS HAPPENING. HOW CAN I MAKE THIS STOP.

Reed, when given the chance to apologize to Missy, did not. Good! He clarified that his comments were meant in the context of the game and that Missy may be great in real life, and he stood by what he said. I’m glad.

This certainly wasn’t one of the better seasons of Survivor, but I think a strong finale saved it from being a bad season. I’ll be back in 2015 when the 30th season airs. Wow! This white collar vs. blue collar vs. no collar theme is different, so my Christmas wish is for a cast comprised of Survivor fans and strategists.

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