Column: Survivor goes the wrong direction with late-game rules twist

One of the best things about Survivor over the years has been the show’s ability to introduce new wrinkles to keep it fresh without detracting from its credibility as a competition.

But the producers took a giant step back this season with the twist introduced after the last immunity challenge in Wednesday’s finale, and it left a bad taste in my mouth after watching it play out.

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

Before we go any further, you should know I was rooting for Ben to win this season and actively rooting against Chrissy, who I thought was arrogant and condescending toward the other players. So this isn’t an anti-Ben opinion, because I wanted him to win it all; he was my favorite player.

But the way he won? Yikes. It didn’t feel right.

After the upside-down U in the word puzzle cost him in the final immunity challenge, I was absolutely heartbroken for Ben. I felt sick to see him lose it that way. You could tell based on the reaction he knew the mistake had been a game-ending one, and Survivor showed us the raw emotions from both Ben and Chrissy — one defeated, one victorious — to illustrate how important that moment was.

Except…it wasn’t. Ben wasn’t out of the game, thanks to the “secret advantage” Chrissy won. As it turned out, the producers had a rule twist where Chrissy could pick who sat next to her at final tribal, but the other two players had to do a fire-making challenge for the last spot.

That is disturbingly unfair. As much as I hated the moment for Ben and was completely disappointed that Chrissy was about to become Sole Survivor, she won the right to eliminate her competition fair and square by succeeding in the final challenge.

Instead, the producers took that away from her under the guise of an “advantage.” Some advantage that was! Could she have ripped it up and said, “No thanks?” I’m guessing not, but surely she would have preferred to not have “won” the advantage since it really only helped Ben.

Ultimately, that was a game-changing, million-dollar decision by the producers. They took $1 million out of Chrissy’s hands. And that’s wrong. The one thing that has remained constant on Survivor over the years is players eliminate other players by voting each other off; Chrissy deserved to be able to vote Ben off in order to set the final three, but she was not given that opportunity.

Again, I was going to be absolutely pissed that Chrissy won. Ben had a miracle run to make it that far by finding the three idols. But he came up short. It was very unfortunate, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

Instead, Survivor threw him a lifeline and gave him another chance. And of course, he capitalized.

The producers seemed to know how bad it looked during the finale. Jeff Probst went out of his way to tell viewers the twist was a permanent addition to the game (See? It wasn’t just for Ben!) and the producers aired a highlight package of Ben’s journey immediately after the vote (See? He deserved it! The best player won!).

Sure, you could argue, “This twist is positive because it puts the players’ destiny into their own hands.” Yes, but Ben already had his destiny in his own hands at the final immunity challenge — and lost.

Survivor has continued to be successful over the years because it maintained the integrity of a real-life game while also providing drama and excitement. But that drama can’t be overly manufactured, or it will harm the competition and turn people away.

Ben has raced at his local short track and said he plans to buy a race car with his winnings, so he will understand this analogy: Despite spinning out while leading late in the race, the producers put him back on the front row for the final restart.

A decision like that doesn’t feel right — both in racing and Survivor.

Survivor Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers Power Rankings: Season Finale

Each week during this season of Survivor, I’ve been ranking the castaways in terms of best chance to win the game. Last week, Ashley was voted off after being ranked No. 6 of the six remaining players.

Power Rankings heading into season finale: 

1. Devon (Last week: 2): The $1 million is likely going to come down to Devon or Chrissy. Both of them believe they can beat the other, and it could be close — but I’m leaning toward Devon because of Chrissy’s potentially weak jury management (see a more in-depth explanation below). People have underestimated Devon all season, but he’s played a very solid game, has been likable and acted on his gut when he needed to (like ditching Ryan to go with Ben after Ryan broke his trust). As far as his resume, he also orchestrated two very smart moves as the final seven approached, then jumped on a potential final three with Chrissy and Ryan. It’s been a subtle game and not outwardly strategic, but he’s had to make a lot of adjustments. He could be overlooked by his surfer bro nature, but I think Devon may be crowned the winner tonight.

2. Chrissy (Last week: 4): I was very pro-Chrissy at the start of the season, but then she made a series of missteps. She was too cocky as the final seven approached (twice whispering in front of other players and then being on cruise control before Ben flipped) and has made statements accusing people of being unsportsmanlike or too personal — which could alienate some players. That said, she’s obviously very smart and is now in a strong position to make the final three. But can she win it? Well, there are going to be eight people on the jury, and I’m not sure she can muster up four votes based on who may be against her from the start (like Lauren and Joe). Plus, if Ashley gets over the bitterness toward Devon, Chrissy might not have that vote, either. That leaves Chrissy needing a sweep of votes from Desi, Cole, JP and the two players she votes off tonight (perhaps Ben and Dr. Mike?). This is a lot of projecting based on unknown events, but I think Devon beats Chrissy head-to-head with Ryan getting no votes in their potential final three. (Side note: Remember, if it’s tied 4-4, then the third person in the final three casts the deciding vote — which is good for Chrissy if that person is Ryan.)

3. Ryan (Last week: 3): I’ve enjoyed Ryan as a character this season, but I expected him to be more of a player. Instead, he got too comfortable with Chrissy and ultimately seemed to take a backseat to her as she led and made the decisions. He seems headed for the final three, but I’m not sure he has a winning resume unless he pulls out some big moves late in the game. His best chance is to go along with others as they eliminate Ben, then take out Chrissy and make the case for himself against Devon and Dr. Mike — which could still be a losing proposition.

4. Mike (Last week: 5): It’s been a fun ride for Dr. Mike, but the end of his journey likely won’t result in the $1 million. I have a feeling he’ll jump on the “Vote Ben Out!” train to save himself in the first vote tonight and then he’ll be a victim of the final cut before the three at the end. Even if he does make it to final tribal, the jury hasn’t respected his game enough to reward him with the Sole Survivor title. To win, he would probably need to team up with Ben for a vote to get Chrissy out, then flip and take Ben out to end up in a final three with Ryan and Devon. Even then, he would probably finish third.

5. Ben (Last week: 1): There’s no way Ben can possibly make it to the final three. Right? Right?!? The players speak openly amongst themselves about how he’s the biggest threat and everyone knows if he makes it to the end, he will win. So these smart players can’t possibly pass up an opportunity to get him out. Right? Right?!?! That means he would have to win the two remaining immunity challenges, which seems like a longshot because he’s not particularly great at those. I guess it’s possible if he keeps pulling out miracles like the last two weeks, but he’ll likely be the first boot tonight.

 


Eliminated: 

Week 1: Katrina (ranked No. 6 of 18 remaining players)

Week 2: Simone (ranked No. 17 of 17 remaining players)

Week 3: Patrick (ranked No. 16 of 16 remaining players)

Week 4: Alan (ranked No. 13 of 15 remaining players)

Week 5: Roark (ranked No. 10 of 14 remaining players)

Week 6: Ali (ranked No. 5 of 13 remaining players)

Week 7: Jessica (ranked No. 9 of 12 remaining players)

Week 8: Desi (ranked No. 8 of 11 remaining players)

Week 9: Cole (ranked No. 10 of 10 remaining players)

Week 10: JP (ranked No. 9 of nine remaining players) and then Joe (ranked No. 7 of nine remaining players going into the double episode)

Week 11: Lauren (ranked No. 2 of seven remaining players)

Week 12: Ashley (ranked No. 6 of six remaining players)

Survivor Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers Power Rankings: Week 12

Each week during this season of Survivor, I’ll be ranking the castaways in terms of best chance to win the game. Last week, Lauren was voted off after being ranked No. 2 of the seven remaining players.

Week 12 Power Rankings: 

1. Ben (Last week: 3): Everyone wants Ben out of the game, and yet none of them seem to be able to do it. Now, with Lauren gone, does Ben actually have an opening to make something happen? There are two strong pairs — Chrissy/Ryan and Ashley/Devon. So it feels like Ben and Dr. Mike are suddenly in the middle. If Ben and Dr. Mike can team up, they potentially could have a say in how the final three ends up — which would allow Ben to pull off an improbable victory after everyone gunned for him in the final weeks.

2. Devon (Last week: 1): Losing Lauren was a major blow to Devon’s chances of winning this season. Now he’s down to a tight alliance with Ashley, is on the outs with former ally Ryan and saw his once-great bond with Ben dissolve. So now what? He needs to rally and do some damage control. Devon can win if he gets to the final three, but he can’t let Ben get there with him.

3. Ryan (Last week: 5): It’s certainly not looking great for Ryan, but he’s hanging around and still has an outside shot if things fall the right way. I can almost see his game being somewhat similar to Adam, who won a few seasons ago in part because the bigger threats kept taking shots at each other.

4. Chrissy (Last week: 6): I’m still down on Chrissy, although her chances certainly improved with the shocking Lauren elimination. But she’s taking things too personally and not playing with her head on straight, so it might be too late to craft enough of a resume to where the jury would recognize her game as winner-worthy. Would she be willing to work with Ben for one vote?

5. Mike (Last week: 7): You can never count out Dr. Mike, as he reminded us once again in the most recent episode. But here’s the thing: Has he really done enough to win? Aside from being unpredictable, like throwing Lauren’s idol in the fire (#wow), what is he really doing strategy-wise that would result in the $1 million? I think he could get to the final three, but there’s little chance he could actually win.

6. Ashley (Last week: 4): Lauren’s departure might hurt Ashley more than anyone. Now she has no choice but to play second fiddle to whatever Devon decides, and there aren’t any big moves she can orchestrate by herself. Even if she wins out on the rest of the immunity challenges, the jury isn’t going to reward her with the Sole Survivor title.

 


Eliminated: 

Week 1: Katrina (ranked No. 6 of 18 remaining players)

Week 2: Simone (ranked No. 17 of 17 remaining players)

Week 3: Patrick (ranked No. 16 of 16 remaining players)

Week 4: Alan (ranked No. 13 of 15 remaining players)

Week 5: Roark (ranked No. 10 of 14 remaining players)

Week 6: Ali (ranked No. 5 of 13 remaining players)

Week 7: Jessica (ranked No. 9 of 12 remaining players)

Week 8: Desi (ranked No. 8 of 11 remaining players)

Week 9: Cole (ranked No. 10 of 10 remaining players)

Week 10: JP (ranked No. 9 of nine remaining players) and then Joe (ranked No. 7 of nine remaining players going into the double episode)

Week 11: Lauren (ranked No. 2 of seven remaining players)

Survivor Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers Power Rankings: Week 9

Each week during this season of Survivor, I’ll be ranking the castaways in terms of best chance to win the game. Last week, Desi was voted off after being ranked No. 8 of the 11 remaining players.

Week 9 Power Rankings: 

1. Ryan (Last week: 1): Guess who is playing the best game the last few weeks and now has an idol to go along with it? I’m feeling better about Ryan’s chances as Ben and Chrissy show cracks in their game.

2. Lauren (Last week: 5): It’s pretty clear there’s a Ryan-Chrissy alliance and a Lauren-Ben alliance now, and Lauren made a good move with her voting advantage last week. By the way, how in the world did the other players not notice there were only 10 votes cast instead of 11? Math genius Chrissy? Hello??

3. Chrissy (Last week: 3): Keeping her at No. 3 against my better judgment. She’s shown some serious cracks in her game recently. I wish she’d stop playing so cocky and doing things like whispering in front of other players. She is smart, but now everyone knows she’s smart. Fortunately, she has a strong alliance to keep her safe for now.

4. Ben (Last week: 2): He’s getting sidetracked by being drawn into yelling matches on the beach with Joe. I understand why he wanted to defend himself, but how often do you see Survivor winners engaged in such antics? It typically doesn’t work out well.

5. Devon (Last week: 4): He’s playing a solid game and I don’t see him being a target anytime in the next couple weeks. The key for Devon is to stay under the radar as long as possible.

6. Mike (Last week: 6): He flipped on Joe/Desi — along with Cole — and seems desperate to integrate himself into the majority alliance. Perhaps he has done that now, but he’s still probably on the bottom — though he does have that idol.

7. Ashley (Last week: 7): There’s no reason to get rid of Ashley at this time, so she’ll probably continue to stick around. That said, what’s her long-term future in the game?

8. Joe (Last week: 9): Joe is pretty much screwed. Even Dr. Mike and Cole flipped on him last week. However, Joe as a wild card could still make something happen, and he could find another idol. I’m not ruling out some more craziness before he gets the boot.

9. JP (Last week: 10): Here’s how clueless JP is about what’s happening in the game: He sees Ryan frantically digging in the sand and walks by like it’s no big deal. He will probably make the final three but get no votes.

10. Cole (Last week: 11): This bum finds a clue to the idol, leaves the plate for other people to find (under a napkin!) and then immediately takes a potty break after he gets back to camp. Then he pretends to have found it after the wrestling battle in the sand. Why?! This guy…ugh.


Eliminated: 

Week 1: Katrina (ranked No. 6 of 18 remaining players)

Week 2: Simone (ranked No. 17 of 17 remaining players)

Week 3: Patrick (ranked No. 16 of 16 remaining players)

Week 4: Alan (ranked No. 13 of 15 remaining players)

Week 5: Roark (ranked No. 10 of 14 remaining players)

Week 6: Ali (ranked No. 5 of 13 remaining players)

Week 7: Jessica (ranked No. 9 of 12 remaining players)

Week 8: Desi (ranked No. 8 of 11 remaining players)

Survivor Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers Power Rankings: Week 8

Each week during this season of Survivor, I’ll be ranking the castaways in terms of best chance to win the game. Last week, Jessica was voted off after being ranked No. 9 of the 12 remaining players.

Week 8 Power Rankings: 

1. Ryan (Last week: 2): Ryan is making the same moves as Chrissy, but yet he’s not being talked about or viewed as a target like she is. And now he’s in the majority alliance with good numbers — and has bigger targets with him, to boot.

2. Ben (Last week: 3): He was briefly in the middle, but now Ben has shown his cards by going against Yawa and siding with the majority Chrissy/Ryan alliance. That should protect him for weeks to come, because Chrissy seems determined to work with him and she’s actually a bigger target than he is.

3. Chrissy (Last week: 1): This is the most concerned I’ve been about Chrissy’s long-term game. She showed herself to be too smart last week, which got her a ton of votes, and then she was openly talking game with Ben at a group setting where he was basically trying to shush her. I hope she doesn’t get too cocky and sink her own game by becoming a target.

4. Devon (Last week: 6): He ended up in the majority alliance and showed he is willing to be a leader and make moves (there was one scene where he was sort of rallying the troops). Since he gets along well with people and isn’t a target, he could slip under the radar as bigger threats go home.

5. Lauren (Last week: 8): Even though she’s probably on the bottom of the new majority alliance, Lauren should be safe for a few more weeks now. And that might give her time to make some more inroads and relationships with her new group.

6. Mike (Last week: 4): It’s going to be pretty tough for Mike at this point since he doesn’t have the numbers anymore, but I’ll rank him the highest of those in the minority alliance because he seems like a guy who can scramble (and he still has an idol).

7. Ashley (Last week: 7): She ended up on the majority alliance in the merged tribe. That’s great for her and she’ll probably last a few more weeks, at least. But I don’t see her playing the type of game that would be rewarded by the jury in the end.

8. Desi (Last week: 10): Hey, she won immunity. Nice work! This is the highest she’s been in the rankings all year. But I still don’t see her making it to the end, especially now that she is in the smaller alliance. She seems full of surprises, though.

9. Joe (Last week: 5): Welp, Joe is back down the rankings after misplaying his idol and exposing himself as a target yet again. Now he has no protection and is in the minority alliance. I would guess they will come for him soon.

10. JP (Last week: 11): He ended up with the numbers because he’s a loyal guy, but I’m still keeping him toward the bottom of the rankings because he’s simply not playing the type of game that would result in him winning in the end. No jury would go, “Yeah J.P., we’ll give you the money.”

11. Cole (Last week: 12): This guy. Ugh…


Eliminated: 

Week 1: Katrina (ranked No. 6 of 18 remaining players)

Week 2: Simone (ranked No. 17 of 17 remaining players)

Week 3: Patrick (ranked No. 16 of 16 remaining players)

Week 4: Alan (ranked No. 13 of 15 remaining players)

Week 5: Roark (ranked No. 10 of 14 remaining players)

Week 6: Ali (ranked No. 5 of 13 remaining players)

Week 7: Jessica (ranked No. 9 of 12 remaining players)

Survivor Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers Power Rankings: Week 7

Each week during this season of Survivor, I’ll be ranking the castaways in terms of best chance to win the game. Last week, Ali was voted off after being ranked No. 5 of the 13 remaining players.

Week 7 Power Rankings: 

1. Chrissy (Last week: 3): Ryan got the blood on his hands with the Ali mess while Chrissy stayed out of it. Meanwhile, she goes into the merge with three loyal allies — Ryan, Ben and now JP — and won’t be viewed as a physical threat. Watch out, everyone!

2. Ryan (Last week: 2): Ryan did not handle the Ali situation well, and I question his moves the last couple weeks. That said, the self-described “friggin’ weasel” won’t be a target early in the merge and now has time to work some magic.

3. Ben (Last week: 1): Now that the merge is here, I’m worried he could be viewed as a physical threat and get booted. I don’t think that’s the case because of his social relationships, but it’s concerning enough to drop him a couple spots.

4. Mike (Last week: 4): Mike is pushing himself (he caught a small fish!) and also playing a smart game. He has an idol and a couple strong allies, and he also won’t be targeted as a physical threat in the post-merge game.

5. Joe (Last week: 10): I’ve been hot and cold on Joe all year, but he is dangerous and can play hard in the merged tribe now — especially since he has an idol. At the same time, he could also get voted off any week.

6. Devon (Last week: 6): How will Devon fare in the post-merge tribe. He’s got Ashley and Ryan, to be sure. Can he end up in the majority?

7. Ashley (Last week: 8): I’m not sure how strong of a position she’ll be in on the merged tribe. If Devon can bring her into a Chrissy/Ryan/JP alliance, though, she could last for awhile.

8. Lauren (Last week: 9): She’s not playing a bad game, but where will she fall in the post-merge alliances? That’s my biggest worry for her at the moment.

9. Jessica (Last week: 7): It feels like she’s ultimately going to get dragged down by Cole somehow. I wish she’d just forget him and play the game for herself.

10. Desi (Last week: 11): A couple people have mentioned I’m underestimating her, but I just don’t see her chances as being very strong. And in the post-merge tribe, will she have the numbers?

11. JP (Last week: 12): JP continues to play the “provider” game, but that’s all out the window now in the merged tribe. Now he’s just a physical threat who doesn’t know the game very well, although Chrissy and Ryan may carry him to the final three.

12. Cole (Last week: 13): He catches a fish and doesn’t share the fish. It just shows the type of player he is, although it’s getting to the point where the tribe might go after bigger targets (since they know he won’t win).


Eliminated: 

Week 1: Katrina (ranked No. 6 of 18 remaining players)

Week 2: Simone (ranked No. 17 of 17 remaining players)

Week 3: Patrick (ranked No. 16 of 16 remaining players)

Week 4: Alan (ranked No. 13 of 15 remaining players)

Week 5: Roark (ranked No. 10 of 14 remaining players)

Week 6: Ali (ranked No. 5 of 13 remaining players)

Survivor Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers Power Rankings: Week 6

Each week during this season of Survivor, I’ll be ranking the castaways in terms of best chance to win the game. Last week, Roark was voted off after being ranked No. 10 of the 14 remaining players.

Week 6 Power Rankings: 

1. Ben (Last week: 4): He didn’t show anything strategically in the last episode to get him moved up, it’s just more that the top three — Ryan, Chrissy and Ali — left me a bit more uncertain about their long-term prospects.

2. Ryan (Last week: 1): Look, Ryan did the right thing by keeping his ally Chrissy in the game — even at the risk of angering Ali. Hopefully he can mend fences with Ali. If not, he made a huge mistake by not getting Ali on board with the Roark vote. Never blindside your own allies. How will he explain this one?

3. Chrissy (Last week: 2): Ryan saved her this time, and I still really believe in her long-term game. But she can’t have too many more close calls like that.

4. Mike (Last week: 5): You can never underestimate Dr. Mike! That’s according to Dr. Mike, anyway. And heck, he found the immunity idol and formed more of a bond with Jessica. All good news!

5. Ali (Last week: 3): It was harsh news to Ali to find out ally Ryan didn’t vote with her when she wanted Chrissy out. This next episode is crucial to see how she moves on from that.

6. Devon (Last week: 6): It’s the Ashley/Devon show over on the blue tribe, but we’ll see what happens in a two-two split. Would they really go to rocks?

7. Jessica (Last week: 11): She’s starting to move up the ladder. I was impressed that she was willing to work with Dr. Mike and they found the idol together. If she doesn’t rely on Cole for everything, it could be helpful for her game in the long run.

8. Ashley (Last week: 8): It’s good that she and Devon are on the same page, and if they could get Joe out, it would be a major accomplishment. But they’ll probably need to pull in Desi to do that, and I don’t know if they can.

9. Lauren (Last week: 7): She didn’t do anything wrong, but I don’t really feel like she has a great alliance with anyone (the kind that would protect her if she really became a target).

10. Joe (Last week: 9): Look, Joe is very smart. But I’m not sure he can successfully play like Tony all the way to the end. That’s why I’m going to keep him lower in the rankings for now.

11. Desi (Last week: 12): We just don’t see much of Desi on the show. It’s hard to know if she’s making any moves, but I don’t think she is.

12. JP (Last week: 13): Each week, JP is sort of just…there. You have to play strategically in order to win.

13. Cole (Last week: 14): The spoon-licker with gross habits and a huge mouth isn’t going to win.


Eliminated: 

Week 1: Katrina (ranked No. 6 of 18 remaining players)

Week 2: Simone (ranked No. 17 of 17 remaining players)

Week 3: Patrick (ranked No. 16 of 16 remaining players)

Week 4: Alan (ranked No. 13 of 15 remaining players)

Week 5: Roark (ranked No. 10 of 14 remaining players)