"Ultimately, the most deserving player all season won the big reward," writes the Survivor: Tocantins runner-up

By Stephen Fishbach
Updated May 20, 2015 10:10 PM
Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS

Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.

"When I start working hard on something, my whole body and soul just goes into it, with every ounce of me. And that’s what winners do. Winners keep fighting. Champions keep persevering." –Bobby Jon Drinkard, Survivor: Palau

I’m filing this dispatch to PEOPLE mere moments before I learn if I’m about to be cast on Survivor: Second Chances. Whether or not I end up being selected – I want to thank all of you who have voted for me over the past few weeks. The outpouring of support I’ve received has truly touched me, and I am incredibly grateful.

Now on to Wednesday’s finale: Spoilers ahead.

Mike Holloway took home the $1 million prize, the title of Sole Survivor and the final Fishy.

The Worlds Apart finale went as the entire season has gone: completely dominated by Mike. Mike won the reward challenge and spent time with his mom. He won the first immunity challenge and voted out Sierra, his nearest competitor. He won the second immunity challenge and pitted Rodney and Carolyn against each other in a fire-making challenge.

(Let’s take a moment to appreciate that these people have spent 38 days on Survivor and can’t make fire.)

Mike needed every victory – just like he has for half of this game. More than any Survivor victor ever, Mike fought back against overwhelming odds, with a united majority alliance working against him every step of the way.

He seemed to prefer things that way. “I like having my back against the wall,” he said. “This is the Survivor that I signed up for.”

That wasn’t how Mike started out. Early on, Mike was a peacemaker on the Blue Collar tribe, other than a few outbursts about who gathered the most wood. He aligned with everybody.

At the merge, he assembled a dominant alliance that took out Joe and the No Collars. Everything seemed rosy, until the auction – when Mike almost faked out Dan and Carolyn to save his money.

That little betrayal turned his allies against him, and gave his enemies the ammunition they needed to make him a target. It was compounded by a season of players who aggressively eliminated any threats as soon as they emerged. Mike was next on the hit list.

At the final tribal council, Mike pointed to his impressive résumé of five immunity wins – tying the record with Colby, Tom Westman, Terry Deitz and Ozzy. But he was by no means a lock to win. Carolyn, sitting next to him, had played a strong strategic game and won crucial immunities, too.

(Will seemed to have only Rodney’s vote – and that was mainly because Rodney finally found the bromance he had been seeking for so long).

Many of the questions were softballs, giving the players an opportunity to explain their strategies. Rodney asked Will how he had been true to himself. Sierra asked Carolyn how she had overcome the “mother” role.

There were some emotional moments, though. Jenn gave the jury a rousing call to action, insisting that if they were truly the superfans they claimed to be, they would forget their bitterness and vote for Mike. Tyler demanded to know why Carolyn had betrayed him.

Dan spent the two hours rolling his eyes in irritation at Mike. “There’s no necklace to save your ass tonight,” he grouched – before Mike offered a heartfelt apology for breaking his word during the auction. It was a moment of genuine reconciliation that left Dan banging his head at the voting booth.

Then Shirin gave an emotional speech that compared Mike to a howler monkey for his aggressive gameplay, Carolyn to a stingray for her stealth and Will to a dead fish for his “dead fish” strategy. She lauded Mike for being the one man human enough to stand up for her.

Ultimately, the most deserving player all season won the big reward. Mike goes down as one of the great players of Survivor, who truly gave his all at every moment – and won the game because of it.

RELATED: Get a Tour of Survivor Host Jeff Probst’s ‘Spectacular’ Pad