Survivor: South Pacific - The winner is ... (spoiler alert)
In the end, the third time wasn't the charm for either of Survivor: South Pacific's two returning players.
Ozzy most certainly would have won the million dollars had he got to the final three. But after handily dispatching Brandon in a gruelling Redemption Island duel and winning the first immunity challenge once he got back into the game, Sophie snatched the most crucial immunity victory from his hands.
And she also snatched the title of Sole Survivor from Coach, who couldn't overcome the bitterness he had sown among the people he had to discard to get to the finals and had to settle for second place.
I was disappointed for Ozzy. He'd become a duel-winning machine on Redemption Island and it would have been nice to see him get the benefit of that perseverance. Sure, he was arrogant at times but no more so than anybody in the final three, Coach, Sophie or Albert.
At least Ozzy had the consolation of winning the $100,000 Sprint fan favourite award on Sunday night. Cochran was a distant second. Jeff Probst said Ozzy won by the biggest margin in the history of the award.
Dare I say I was disappointed for Coach, too. He went from having a target on his back at the start of the game to becoming leader of his tribe and turning his alliance into an impregnable group (with some help from Cochran after the merge). Sophie seems smart and she was strong at challenges, but I can't figure out what she did strategically besides choose the right alliance and stay loyal to Coach.
Coach put a good face on his defeat, telling Jeff at the reunion show that he had redeemed himself this time around and he counted it as an accomplishment just to get to the end as a returning player after Boston Rob's victory last year.
I guess you could say that Coach played with some of the "honour and integrity" he kept harping on throughout the game, since he went to the finals with two of the players from his original alliance of five.
Turns out Coach might have won if Sophie hadn't been sitting next to him, which is what the jury members told Jeff at the reunion, but it seems like Coach was damned if he did and damned if he didn't.
If he'd taken Ozzy to the finals, as he promised several times, it was a guaranteed loss. And as Coach himself pointed out, if he'd taken, say, Cochran and Edna to the finish, "people are going to say Coach isn't a man of his word."
In the end, it's a game - albeit a life-changing one for the players, they attest - and somebody's got to win and lose.
Sunday's finale started half an hour late because of a late football game (I neither know nor care which one, I just know it was annoying).
Nothing much interesting happened until Redemption Island.
Brandon put up a good fight in the duel, which involved holding onto a pole with just a quarter-inch of wood as a foothold. After more than 40 minutes, which left both Brandon and Ozzy sweating and struggling to keep their grips, Brandon couldn't stop himself from sliding to the bottom and out of the duel.
Ozzy rejoined the four remaining Upolu members, Coach, Sophie, Albert and Rick, and won the next immunity challenge, which involved building a deck of cards with one hand while holding a board steady with the other.
Victory was by no means assured. Coach was right behind Ozzy and Sophie was brimming with confidence since she made houses of cards for fun, she told Jeff, and had a book about how to make them. But that turned out to be a curse rather than a blessing since she made her house so elaborate that she ran out of cards before she got to the required height.
Ozzy had to start over too, when his stack of cards wasn't high enough. Then Sophie got panicky and knocked her cards over. And that's when she showed a rather unflattering side of herself, barking at Albert to, "Drop your damn stack and pick up my pieces. I'm gonna beat you."
Albert refused and Jeff had to tell her that help wasn't allowed in the challenge. "You want Ozzy out of this game, beat him," Jeff said.
She couldn't, not this time.
Sophie got her chance at the next challenge, where Ozzy looked to be headed for another victory. He beat the other three castaways (Rick had been voted out by then) in a race through an obstacle course to grab bags of puzzle pieces, but he stalled on the puzzle. Sophie quickly caught up and won the challenge.
Ozzy' had one last chance to stay in the game: get Coach to vote for Albert, which would have forced a tie and fire-making challenge, one at which Ozzy could likely have easily beaten Albert.
Coach said he wanted to take the strongest players to the end (which should have automatically disqualified Albert), but he decided to dance with the ones that brung him, so off to the jury Ozzy went. All the jury members applauded him as he got his torch snuffed, which Ozzy said was an "awesome feeling" (not as awesome as winning would have been, but beggars can't be choosers).
The final tribal council didn't produce any Susan Hawk vs. Richard Hatch-calibre drama, but there were some tense moments and also some laughable ones.
Did Albert really think his butt-kissing opening speech to the jury would win him votes ("To me, it's not a game about chess pieces, it's a game about people. I think a higher power really brought us together," he said).
Ozzy, quite rightly, assessed Albert as "a person that happened to be at the right place at the right time and didn't really do anything too amazing." He called Sophie "a privileged, pretentious brat" (a similar accusation at an earlier tribal had Sophie in tears and Jeff essentially telling her to suck it up). And he demanded that Coach justify his refusal to keep his promise to take Ozzy to final three (Coach essentially said he wanted to win the million, so he was "dishonourable" at times).
Rick was the most outraged. He said Coach stuck him in the back; he said that Albert taking the immunity necklace from Brandon and using "the God thing on him, that was a bunch of bull"; and he told Sophie, "you lied the whole way through." She told Rick the only thing she was ashamed of was lying to him, but he seemed unmoved, declaring "You know how I feel about liars" before sitting down.
Brandon, meanwhile, wasn't as angry as you'd expect. He confronted Coach about voting him out of the game despite giving his word "as a man of God" he would never do so but seemed satisfied with Coach's answer that he wanted to make it up to Brandon. And he got pushy with Albert about whether Albert knew that Brandon was going home the night Brandon gave up his immunity necklace but seemed to believe Albert when he said no.
Coach seemed most affected when Cochran attacked his use of the word "honour."
"When you try to please everybody you end up doing all the wrong things," Coach said. "I tried and I fell short. I stabbed all of you in the back.... It became one big convoluted mess and I didn't know how to get out of it. My game that I tried to play was in shambles."
By the time Jeff walked off with the urn full of votes, Coach looked devastated, whether because he genuinely felt bad about screwing people over or because he knew he'd just lost $1 million is hard to say.
Now, a few highlights from the reunion show.
1. Jeff asked Coach about all the praying on Upolu, the most we've ever seen in any season. Coach said it "became almost like a prayer-palooza where everybody was praying openly every day" because people wanted to grab something "unshakeable" like faith in the rigours of the game.
2. Ozzy said he was incredibly proud of the way he played, that it was love of nature that made him want to play a third time and if he'd won the million, he might have slipped away to a deserted island somewhere. He also changed his tune on Sophie, calling her "one of the smartest people I think has played this game."
3. Cochran never apologized for flipping on his old tribe, although he did say he regretted the "defensive posture" he adopted in the game and he loved everybody there. But apparently the love ends in the studio, because he told Jeff he has not yet had a date as a result of his TV fame.
4. Speaking of love in the studio, Whitney and Keith are still a couple, but we were not treated to a Boston Rob-style marriage proposal or anything like that.
5. The saddest segment involved Brandon, who told Jeff that his family is not supportive of the way he played the game. In fact, no one from his family had travelled to L.A. to support him. His notorious uncle, Russell Hantz, was there, but at CBS's request to comment on Brandon's game. Russell at least had tears in his eyes when he told Brandon he was still Uncle Russell and would sit down and shut up if Brandon wanted him to. But it was obvious he was not pleased about Brandon's contention he wanted to restore the Hantz family name. "I made greatness. I brought the game to a level that you can't even comprehend," Russell said, adding that Brandon didn't do one thing right out there, to boos from the audience. Obviously, the Russell Hantz ego is still intact. It's the first time I've actually liked Brandon.
6. Season 24 of Survivor starts in February with a new twist: the tribes will live together on one island, with the tribe with the resources having to decide if they want to share with the have-not tribe (I'm guessing no).
Of course, I'll be watching and recapping when the show returns. And I thank you all for reading this season and putting up with my ramblings.
(The photo of Coach, Albert, Sophie and Ozzy is by Greg Gaynes for CBS.)