Blind melon. We begin on Redemption Island, where Brandon arrives to greet the predictably snoozy Ozzy. “I got blindsided,” Brandon explains, admitting that it hurt to get stabbed in the back by his closest friend. Then Brandon gives Ozzy a partial explanation for that alleged blindsiding. “He wasn’t blindsided. He gave up the freakin’ Immunity necklace,” Ozzy says aptly, calling Brandon’s strategy “a blind faith game.” This is the smartest and most analytical Ozzy has ever seemed.
Coach’s dyspeptic pep talk. “Brandon made one of the stupidest moves ever to be made,” Sophie gloats, also noting that Albert not returning the necklace to Brandon won’t play well with the jury. She’s overjoyed. Coach, however, is pissed off, claiming that Albert knew Brandon was going home. Did he? Unless Coach revealed the results of his conversation with God, that’s not true. Coach’s sick of people lying to him. “I’m not going to be made a fool out of out here,” Coach rants. Albert knows he’s in a precarious position and that he may be in trouble. That’s a lot of Coach speechifying that we’re missing.
Pole position. It’s the last day on Redemption Island. It’s Final Duel time. Ozzy is ready. “Don’t underestimate the little man,” Brandon says. “I’ve found out things about myself that I never would have imagined,” Ozzy teases. Duel time. They have to hold onto a pole for as long as they can. On one hand, this is the sort of thing Ozzy’s usually unbeatable at, but will Brandon’s faith keep him aloft? Jeff Probst tells them that this is sheer willpower, in case they didn’t know. He also tells us that while it’s a familiar task, they’ve never done it with this thin a foothold. After 20 minutes, Ozzy changes his position dramatically. Everybody’s rooting for Brandon (or, rather, against Ozzy). Ozzy shifts again after 40 minutes and he looks entirely uncomfortable. Brandon loses his entire foothold and clings by his arms. Probst was right. This is an insane piece of willpower. Brandon’s almost at the bottom of the pole. Ozzy’s wobbling at the top. Down goes Brandon. Ozzy wins and the two men share a hug. “I may have lost the game of ‘Survivor,’ but I’ve won,” Brandon says, adding that he’s leaving holding his head up proud. Ozzy thanks the remaining Upolus for sending him to Redemption Island and vows to return stronger than ever before. Sophie’s worried that if Ozzy keeps winning, her fate is no longer in her hands.
Return to Oz. The Upolus welcome Ozzy back with minimal enthusiasm. “We all know we want him out. He must know we want him out,” Albert says, clearly somewhat relieved not to have a target on his back quite as much. “I don’t think you’re going anywhere,” Coach reassures Ozzy and he even vows to give him his Hidden Idol, but only if he thinks he’s in trouble. We all know what that means. “Who in his right mind would want to take me?” says a skeptical Ozzy, who at least tells Coach to his face that he wants to take him to the end. “I think that my alignments in this game are so secure with so many different people,” says Coach, thinking this is his game to lose, believing everybody remaining wants to take him to the Final Three.
House of Cads. Immunity? It’s back up for grabs. Once again. In the challenge, players have to build a house of cards to a certain level. Easy, right? Wrong. The catch: The building has to be done with one hand, because the other hand is holding a balancing board steady with a handle. Sophie admits that she has a book about how to make houses of cards. Nice. It turns out that Sophie’s strategy is flawless in terms of structural integrity, but highly flawed in terms of utilization of available resources. Coach’s tower topples. Ozzy gets nearly to the top, but runs out of tiles. “Hey Albert, drop your stack and come pick up my pieces!” Sophie says. It’s a brilliant gambit, but Jeff Probst shoots down any thought of teamwork. After many more topples, Ozzy and Coach are close. Coach’s strategy is architectural. Ozzy’s strategy is flawless balance, with a teetering tower that would collapse under the pressure of even a minute muscle spasm. OZZY WINS. That was darned impressive. “I should have won that,” Sophie grumbles. So another member of the Upolu alliance is doomed.
May the Oz be ever in your favor. Ozzy thinks everybody wanted to know how he won Immunity. They don’t, but they nod politely. “I am going to be a facilitator in the process,” Ozzy says of the cannibalization of the Upolu remnants. “Loyalties will be broken tonight,” Coach says, before agreeing to Brandon that Rick needs to go next, just in case the Jury looks for a likable person to give the million to. Ozzy starts his conniving by going to Albert and throwing Sophie under the bus. Albert is swayed, at least partially. Rick is worried that he needs to start scrambling, though he doesn’t know if he can trust Coach. For his part, Coach tells Rick he’d vote for Sophie and not against Captain Mustache. Further muddying the waters, Ozzy tells Albert about his own alliance with Coach. Coach then gives Albert an excellent non-denial/denial to that alliance talk.
Tribal Council I. The Savaii representatives on the Jury are overjoyed to see Ozzy back in the game. Coach is wearing the hidden Immunity Idol around his neck. Albert says he’d be good to keep around because he can go toe-to-toe with Ozzy, who rolls his eyes. Sophie claims she’s also a threat to Ozzy and Ozzy rolls his eyes at that. Rick makes the case that he should be kept around because he *won’t* win Immunities, while Sophie flips that and says that’s exactly why he should be voted out. In a random piece of laundry-airing, Ozzy tells everybody about his alliance with Coach, but Sophie says she really wants Ozzy out because Ozzy hasn’t respected her. That’s a new subplot nobody’s mentioned previously this season. Ozzy says that Sophie is a “spoiled brat” and that people say she sleeps all day. “Whatever,” Sophie responds, adding that people don’t usual attack her character. Sophie’s unravelling here, crying and talking about how much this hurts, that she doesn’t feel like her skin is getting thicker. Even Probst is unnaturally sympathetic. People on the Jury are getting emotional with her, but Probst’s sympathies are gone, as he tells her this could be a reason to vote against her. That was VERY weird. I want to believe that this was theater from Sophie, playing for jury sympathy, but I’m not convinced.
The Vote I. Rick writes Sophie’s name. Ozzy also writes Sophie’s name, along with a non-apology/apology. A cocky Coach doesn’t bother playing his Idol and Jeff Probst tallies the votes: Rick. Sophie. Rick. [That’s it already.] Sophie. RICK. Coach gets up to hug Rick and Rick tells him to have a seat. I wish we’d seen that pluckiness earlier from Captain Mustache. “I wish I would have made a bigger move,” Rick says, blaming Coach for misleading him and pledging his vote to Ozzy.
Christian Man in the Mirror. Has Coach somehow played a Russell Hantz game? A game designed to masterfully reach the Jury, but which he can’t possibly win? How weird. Three weeks ago, I’d have thought he was unbeatable if he reached this point (and could get rid of Ozzy). Ozzy can sense victory. “Winning” is both Plan A and Plan B in his very limited playbook. Aiming to get an edge, Ozzy fills up on coconuts and doesn’t share, which is fine by Sophie, who doesn’t want to share plantains with Ozzy either. Coach feels mad and sad with Ozzy, looking for a way to escape from his pact as “a Christian Man.” Ozzy protests that he’s been cheated, been mistreated and he’s curious about when he’ll be loved. Coach, hurt in “Survivor” love before, has his faith in Ozzy rekindled. In their little pow-wow, Coach and Ozzy like the idea of forcing Albert and Sophie to make fire at Tribal Council. “This is the last challenge that I will ever play in this game,” Ozzy promises.
Deflowered. The season’s final Immunity Challenge is very elaborate. It’s a giant, flower-shaped obstacle course. They have to collect puzzle pieces and then solve said puzzle. Only puzzle failure can doom Ozzy, right? Certainly Ozzy is the first to collect his first puzzle bag. Albert is first with two bags, but Ozzy moves back into the lead with three bags and then four bags. As expected, Ozzy has all five bags with a solid lead. Only Ozzy’s brain can stop him now. Ozzy flounders as the other competitors catch up at the puzzles. Sophie locks in the first and second pieces and the third piece before Ozzy can lock in his first. Ozzy ties at three, but Sophie goes on a run and she wins the season’s final Immunity. “So close, but so far away. Yet again,” Ozzy says. This is Sophie’s third post-Merge Individual Immunity and I think she won a lot of sympathy at the last Tribal. Suddenly, this feels like Sophie’s game to lose. There was nothing more that Mark Burnett and company could do for Ozzy.
Will Coach start the fire? Ozzy compliments Sophie’s performance in the puzzle and she rubs salt in his wounds by talking about how easy it was once you got started. “Of course. Stupid puzzle. My mind turned inside-out and I couldn’t do it,” Ozzy sighs, expecting Coach will soon be going back on his word. Indeed, Coach is literally kneeling before Sophie and crowning her as the new Dragonslayer. Sophie says that she and Albert will certainly vote for Ozzy, but she worries that Coach may mess things up. Indeed, Ozzy requests the opportunity to prove himself in fire-building and he and Coach go back and forth over whose betrayal invalidates Coach’s word more. So will Coach take the warriors to the end? Or will he cop-out? “I’m sitting here with another anguishing decision,” Coach whines.
Tribal Council II. Jim is disappointed to see Ozzy without Immunity. “It feels absolutely amazing,” Sophie says of her power position. “I’ve gotta let it go, but it’s gonna nag at me for the rest of my life,” Ozzy says, playing straight into Coach’s emotional wheelhouse. Probst reminds Coach about his sense of “honor,” prompting Coach to insist that Albert and Sophie are also strong. “I know how to make fire. It’s like saying you know how to drive, but are you going to beat Jeff Gordon in a race,” Albert says, smartly.
The Vote II. Albert votes for Ozzy, who votes for Albert. Sophie writes Ozzy’s name down, leaving the decision resting on Coach’s shoulders. Probst tallies: Ozzy. Albert. Ozzy. OZZY. Everybody claps for Ozzy, whose torch is snuffed for the third time this season. Ozzy runs off into the jungle screaming. And with that, Coach has surrendered any chance he had of winning. I’d assume that Sophie’s gonna be close to unanimous here, depending on whether Brandon can bring himself to vote for a girl and whether Ozzy can bring himself to vote for his vanquisher. Actually, maybe it won’t be nearly that clear-cut.
Flight of the Phoenix. “At the end of the day, it really was a no-brainer,” Coach says of his vote, quoting somebody or other saying that if this is a dream, he’d rather not wake up. But wake up he does and it’s the Day 39 breakfast. They celebrate by gorging and hugging. But as Albert walks down the beach alone, Coach and Sophie agree that Albert was “squirrelly.” Sophie’s goal is to keep her composure at the final Tribal Council, approaching the Jury logically rather than emotionally. Weirdly, Albert is convinced that he played “a head-and-shoulders better game” than the other two. Hmmm… That has no connection whatsoever to the game we’ve watched this season. Coach tells a weird story in which he compares himself not to a dragon, but to the phoenix. “I see myself rising above everybody, rising above the misery,” Coach says.
Tribal Council III – Opening Statements. Wait. No Rites of Passage? Albert, Coach and Sophie have gone as far as they can go. Albert goes first. Albert is humbled and lectures the Jury on the idea that “Survivor” is a “social experiment,” even evoking a higher power. He says nothing about himself. Sophie felt like she held her own in challenges, like she stuck with her five-person alliance from the beginning and like she made some solid friendships. “I think I fulfill the requirements,” Sophie says. Coach says that he had an uphill battle, but he led with compassion, love and respect. He adds that he opened himself up to the people around him and that he took a piece from each other them. Coach wins the opening statements.
Tribal Council III – The Jury. Ozzy, rocking great ponytails, tells the Top 3 that nobody wants to vote for any of them. Coach starts by telling Sophie that she’s a privileged brat, Albert that he was lucky and he asks Coach to win or lose. Did Coach play the way he said he would? Coach admits that he compromised and broke his word and hurt people, but that he played it “most of the time honorably.” Jim asks Albert to tell him why Sophie and Coach shouldn’t win. Albert says that he and Sophie brought Coach this far, not vice versa and then says that Sophie played well, but didn’t play well socially. Dawn only wants to talk to Sophie and asks about her strategy. Sophie says that men have an advantage, but he viewed Coach as the equivalent of a young girl she could get to follow her. That’s terrific, actually. Rick tears into Coach. “I apologize,” Coach says. “You just stuck me right in the back,” Rick, then telling Albert that he lied to Brandon and telling Sophie that she’s a liar. Sophie says the only person she feels bad about lying to is Rick. Brandon asks Coach about betraying his word as “a man of God.” Coach thanks Brandon for raising the bar and vows to make it up to him. Brandon forgives Coach. Brandon asks Albert pointblank if he knew he was going home: “Yes or no,” Brandon says multiple times. “I did not know you were going home,” Albert says. “You lie,” Brandon responds. Whitney accuses Albert of being sleazy, Coach of using Christianity as a weapon and Sophie of being condescending. Sophie vows to be better in the future. Edna tells the Jury that they signed up to be duped and tells the Jury that they shouldn’t have hard feelings for being duped. Edna doesn’t say a word to the Top 3. Coach tells Keith that he viewed the hidden Idol as a team Idol. Ha. Sophie tells Brandon the true story of how Coach originally found the Idol and then let Brandon go on a wild goose chase. Cochran accuses Coach of devaluing the word honor. Coach apologizes again for falling short. It’s a pretty good speech as Coach talks about what a poor strategist he is, prompting both Sophie and Albert to claim they were Coach’s true strategist. That was an all-time awful Final Tribal Council. I was definitely wrong that Sophie had this in the bag. Instead, it’s like the current Republican presidential field. Everybody got a chance to win it, nobody did. Instead, all three players jumped at the chance to lose the million dollars. I think Coach won the last Tribal Council, but was he in too deep a hole to win this season?
The Final Vote. Cochran votes for Coach, saying that Coach played the best game and shouldn’t be apologizing. Dawn votes for Sophie for no good reason. That’s all we see. Will Albert get totally shut out? He should be.
The Live Results. Jeff Probst calls this “a worthy season” and tells the Final 3 that they should be proud. Time to read the votes: Coach. Sophie. Coach. Sophie. Coach. Sophie. Sophie. SOPHIE WINS.
Bottom Line: I think Coach deserved to win, but I understand why Sophie won. She offended people by being herself, while Coach offended them by being a made-up character. In the end, when Sophie vowed that she wanted to change, it came across as far more believable. Based on what we saw this season, the man responsible for creating and protecting the alliance that was formed on Day One and lasted until the very end was Coach, but he betrayed too many people while vowing honor and integrity. Coach played the Russell game and you can’t win the Russell game if you’re Russell and you surely can’t win the Russell game if you’re allegedly holding yourself to a higher standard. I’m pleased there were no votes cast in Albert’s direction, because I don’t know what he accomplished. Amazingly, I think Sophie won the million with her Tribal Council tears, because I think it made several people on the Jury see her as human. If she deserved to win — and she probably did — it was less for the tears and more for refusing to buck her alliance and proving to be a surprisingly successful challenge player.
Bottom Line, II: This was a season with some very good moments in it, but I wish I could have watched the finale and actually rooted for somebody as opposed to just trying to figure out whose victory I could stomach. By the end, I could stomach Coach or Sophie winning. But after last season’s rousingly satisfied Boston Rob win, there was no possible result at any point in the season that would have made it work the same way. Oh well.
What’d you think of the finale? What’d you think of the season as a whole?