“I think I played as ethically as is humanly possible. I think I played cleanly, and I think it’s a really important piece because if you undermine your credibility along the way, you stand less of a chance here (at Tribal Council) when you face the people that you’ve worked with to get where you are.”
– Richard Hatch, winner, Survivor: Borneo
Sunday’s Survivor finale brought One World to its inevitable conclusion. After a season of complete domination, Kim won her $1 million, the award for Sprint Fan Favorite, and the title of Sole Survivor. She also wins the greatest reward of all – the final Fishy.
The episode had very little drama – like the season itself. Kim won all the challenges. She ran the strategy. And she dominated the final tribal council.
Kim’s final tribal performance has to go down as one of the best ever. While Sabrina and Chelsea made excuses and tried to share Kim’s credit, Kim took a page out of Boston Rob’s book and talked about her family. In fact, Kim’s speech mirrored Boston Rob’s so closely (“I love you guys, but really I’m out here playing for my family”), I wondered how much of it was genuine and how much cribbed directly from the master.
That gets at the fundamental enigma of Kim’s gameplay. Somehow she was able to play the most coldhearted game while also forming the deepest bonds. Christina basically thanked her for voting her out. Alicia high-fived her too. A good chunk of the jury spent their speeches fawning over Kim – for example, Kat’s teary paean. Even today, the One World cast is tweeting about how much they love Kim and how wonderful she is, even after they watched her ruthlessly betray each of them on TV.
When Jeff asked Kim what her biggest move was, her answer should be required reading for all future Survivor contestants. “I think my biggest move was just getting to really know each person,” she said. “I think if you go and win all the challenges, you can’t get any votes at the end if you don’t have a personal connection with almost every person sitting on that jury.”
So was it just about the votes? Is Kim a nice person who made hard decisions, or a Russell Hantz-like sociopath who built social bonds to further her own ends?
I briefly met Kim at one of the pre-finale parties, and could see why her cast members were so enchanted. In a pool of people chosen for being charismatic, she stood out as engaging, friendly, and kind – even when she had nothing to gain. She didn’t try to make an alliance with me for a hypothetical future season, which is the default move of some Survivor charmers.
Unless, of course, she was secretly lobbying for that final Fishy.
One of the Greatest of All Time
To a certain degree, the best strategy to win Survivor is the one that wins you Survivor. Natalie White road Russell’s coattails, and that worked for her. Sandra’s brilliant “anybody but me” strategy got her two victories – and you can’t argue with results.
But there’s something thrilling about watching a player who takes control. Kim owned One World physically, strategically, and socially – almost as much as Boston Rob did on Redemption Island, and with the added virtue of playing for the first time. She’s easily one of the top five best ever.
Kim got lucky, too. You can’t win Survivor without getting lucky. Colton’s medevac might have been the single best thing that happened to her. But what separates good play from bad is people who can make the most of their luck.
Her decision not to bring goats to the finale could elevate her gameplay above Rob’s. She stuck by her friends and still won. As she said, if someone was going to make a bitter decision, she was going to lose no matter whom she sat next to.
Ultimately, the decision paid off. She won. And I’m excited to welcome Chelsea to Team No Votes.