Stephen Fishbach's Survivor Finale Blog: A Roller Coaster Ride of Victories and Blunders
Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and a member of the jury on Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance. He has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.
“You have to make moves at some point or another in order for your game to be respected. You sit at the end, you have to have something to say.” —Michele Fitzgerald, winner, Survivor: Kaoh Rong
In the battle of the generations, the Millennials just won a lot more than a participation trophy. Last night’s wild Survivor finale featured a fake idol, a real idol, a reward steal and a lot of Bret’s eye rolls. While diabolical David looked like he might walk the high wire into the final tribal, ultimately Survivor superfan Adam Klein knocked out the strategic heavyweight/ literal lightweight. He’ll take home the million dollars, the title of sole Survivor – and most importantly, the Final Fishy.
A Roller Coaster Ride of Victories and Blunders
Adam had some fantastic plays throughout the season — including finding two idols, claiming the reward steal and flipping on the bossy Millennials. But he also made numerous strategic missteps. He started the game on the wrong side of the Mari vote. He misplayed both his idols. While he often had smart strategic ideas, he had trouble convincing people to follow them. And shortly after the merge, he made a gigantic blunder by confiding his advantage to Taylor, which led to an explosive reveal at Tribal Council.
Indeed, one of Adam’s best moves was doing nothing. After the Taylor boot, Adam managed to fade into the background while the Zeke vs. David drama Hoovered the tribe’s attention. By the final seven, Adam kept out of the spotlight and kept the focus on mega-threats Jay and David.
“I made sure that at the final six, there were three people in front of me that were bigger threats than I was,” Adam said at the final tribal.
The Giant Slayer
The night’s major drama was whether Adam would be able to finally eliminate David from the game. If David sneaked into the finals, everybody knew he’d win. Watching David grow from frantic strategist shouting “I TRUST YOU” into the wind on the Gen X beach into a strategic godfather was one of the season’s most satisfying storylines. But for some reason, nobody would vote him out. Every time Adam had a chance, Hannah would spoil the plan, like Lucy yanking the football from Charlie Brown.
“I’m dealing with morons,” Bret snarked, shortly before he was voted out in yet another botched attempt to oust David.
Finally, at the final four, David’s luck ran out. With a million dollars on the line, his loyal minions Hannah and Ken made the correct decision and voted him out.
But even though David was eliminated from the game, he was the focal point of the final tribal council as well. The major question on almost every juror’s lips was — did the players do enough to eliminate David when they had the chance?
In a season fixated on résumés, Adam’s strongest bullet point may have been his repeated failures. The jury respected that he tried again and again to eliminate David, even if he didn’t have any luck. Like a great politician, Adam made “eliminating David” his signature platform. When David was eliminated from the game, the jury gave him the credit — even if Ken and Hannah cast those votes, too, and Hannah arguably was more influential in actually convincing Ken to flip.
As Chris said in his Erik Cardona/David Murphy tribute speech, “One of the three of you faced off with the giant of the game and took him out.”
While Ken struggled to express himself, I thought Hannah had a spectacular tribal council performance. Adam often had trouble getting people to go along with his plans, she argued, and “I put every single member on the jury in order.” She noted that she only on the wrong side of a single vote, and Adam often would end up doing what she said.
When Adam said that his contribution to Survivor strategy was keeping threats in the game as shields, Hannah shot back, “I had the same belief, and I decided when those shields would stay and when they would go. Not Adam.”
Indeed, while I’ve been critical of Hannah all season — I was literally shouting at the screen when she voted off Bret in the final five — Hannah argued persuasively that she would have lost her leverage if she had voted with Adam’s plan.
You can make a pretty strong case that if Adam had actually gotten his way and voted out David at the final seven, neither Adam nor Hannah might have made the final three. With both Jay and David out of the game at six, Adam would be the biggest threat left on the beach. Bret, Sunday and a vengeful Ken could easily vote out Adam and then Hannah next.
Ultimately, however, the jury sided with Adam — and handed him a shutout.
I’m still amazed that Adam was able to play such a smart strategic game while carrying the heavy emotional burden of his mother’s illness. Survivor is emotionally draining for even the most icy-hearted player. Adam’s ability to channel his worry and sorrow into focus and action was downright inspirational.
You can’t help but compare Adam’s heartfelt finale reveal about his mother’s illness with Jeremy‘s haymaker “I have a son” speech in Cambodia. In both cases, the finalists shared the deep emotion they had been storing up all season to put the game into perspective.
Interestingly, Adam and Jeremy answered very similar questions. In Cambodia, Wentworth asked “How are you making the most of your second chance?” This season, David asked, “What evolution did you undergo?”
In both seasons, the others finalists spoke about their growth journeys. Spencer learned how to feel emotion; Hannah learned how to be more robotic.
But Jeremy and Adam both made the argument that the season wasn’t about themselves, it was about their families.
As Adam and Jeremy showed in almost every confessional, Survivor is an amazing game — but the chaos on the screen is dwarfed by the powerful dramas of our everyday lives.
Survivor: Game-Changers will premiere in early 2017 on CBS.