30 from 30: #21 – Survivor Introduces the Final Three

The Moment:

Survivor mixes it up and adds one person to final tribal council on Survivor: Cook Islands.

We’re counting down the 30 Moments That Shaped Survivor, events that happened on the show that helped create and evolve the game and the series that we know and love. Go here to view the criteria we are using to determine what qualifies for the list. And since these posts are covering the first thirty seasons of Survivor, there will be spoilers for various Survivor seasons.


Why It Matters:

When Survivor started there were a few core game mechanics. The show started with two tribes, there was a merge, the jury was formed from those voted out after the merge, and in the end two people sat in front of the jury and argued their case to be the Sole Survivor.

Slowly, the show started to change some of these core mechanics. The first to change was the idea that the two tribes were separate when the show introduced the tribe swap. Then, in All-Stars and Panama, the game started with more than two tribes. But these were both pre-merge changes. Survivor hadn’t altered the show’s fundamental end game in twelve seasons. Then, in yet another example of the show refusing to stagnate, Survivor decided to have three people argue their case in front of the jury in Cook Islands.

When the final episode, started there were five contestants left. But one of them was this dumb-ass:


So fairly quickly, we were down to just the Aitu 4.


Ever since the Aitu 4 took control at the merge, it seemed like the win would go to either Yul or Ozzy. One seemed the obvious brawn and the other seemed the obvious brains of the tribe- I say “seemed” because Emma would kill me if I neglected to mention Becky’s role in Cook Islands. This is for you, Emma! (Editor’s note: Yul was all six-pack abs and rock-hard pecs, and Matt just referred to Ozzy as the obvious brawn. The views expressed by Matt on this topic are not necessarily the views of the Purple Rock Survivor Podcast.)

There was nothing the show wanted more than to see Ozzy and Yul face each other in the finals. And for the first time, before the final four immunity challenge, the show announced that there would be a final three facing the jury, not two.


Yul had his idol,


Ozzy won immunity,

ozzy immunity

and after a detour through the most exciting moment in Survivor history (“We’re going to matches!”)

fire challenge

we reached the final three. Yul, Ozzy, and Becky would get to argue their case to the jury, and the producers got their preferred showdown. And also Becky was there.


The Impact:

The impact of having a final three was immediate. After having only one close vote in the final tribal council over the previous 7 seasons (All-Stars), Cook Islands saw perhaps one of the most interesting choices for Sole Survivor the show has ever offered. Ozzy vs. Yul was the quintessential Brains vs. Brawn choice (Editor’s note: Or Brainy Brawn vs. Ozzy) and the jury rewarded Yul (rightly) for his control of the social game by a 5-4 vote.

Ozzy vs. Yul was the exact scenario that the show wanted to see when they expanded Final Tribal from the traditional two people to a final three. The show had tired of seeing strong players voted out at final three, and thus seeing one strong player drag a weak player to the final two (or, even worse, two weak players making final two). A final two without two strong contestants deprived the last 30-40 minutes of the finale of the type of suspense and entertainment that the show wanted. By expanding to a final three, the producers were trying to engineer a Yul vs. Ozzy scenario. And it worked!

In fact, it worked so well in Cook Islands that only three seasons since then have gone back to a final two: Micronesia, Tocantins and Cagayan. And since two of those seasons featured blowout wins, they did nothing to disabuse the producers of the notion that a final three was more likely to produce a competitive final vote for Sole Survivor.

Of course, the Survivors themselves have merely adjusted to the final three by trying to take two goats into the finale, and have frequently proven adept at this. In today’s game, final four is the new final three, and close votes since Cook Islands have typically been choices between either an uninspiring final three:

Gabon final 3

or an outright horrible final three:

nicaragua final three
Also an outright horrible everything else

When two strong choices have appeared in final tribal council, the jury has typically worked out beforehand which one they prefer and thrown all (or almost all) of their votes to that person (China, Caramoan).

Image copyright: A poster on Emma’s wall.

So the final three may not have solved the problems that producers were trying to address, but it has become the show’s new normal. And it’s all because the first time they used it, it worked like gangbusters.


What Else Made the List?

You can view all our 30 from 30 content by clicking here.

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Matt has an irrational dislike for all contestants named Michel(l)e. Also if he ever takes a strong stance about why everyone else is wrong, it is he that is inevitably wrong.

Favorite seasons: Micronesia, Heroes vs. Villains, Palau, Philippines, Pearl Islands, Cagayan
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55 thoughts on “30 from 30: #21 – Survivor Introduces the Final Three

  1. I think this is a good reminder that rating players based on their ability to make the finals is a fool’s errand. With the exception of these three (yes, three) or HvV or maybe another one or two others, the non-winning finalists of seasons are usually much worse players than the last one voted out or even sometimes the first couple of premerge boots.

    And it’s a problem the show just can’t fix. They want exciting mano a mano finishes to season (and make no mistake, there is no issue with that phrase being gendered), and thought that adding one more person might help that happen (with the third person being the obligatory goat). But the game just won’t let that happen. The true players know that winning time happens before the jury gets to choose. Especially since Colby taught them years ago what happens when you let the jury choose.

    1. China would be another good example of worthy finalists squaring off. Until one of them fucked it up at Tribal Council.

      1. i think China is one of those seasons where you have two worthy people squaring off, but the vote was never going to be divided. Everyone was going to decide to throw their vote either to Amanda or Todd rather than split it. In other words, even without Amanda’s awful jury performance, Courtney still gets 2nd in my mind

    2. also I’ve basically become convinced that the only time we are going to see a 5-4 vote again (or any one vote difference) will be in an all-star season. Just way fewer goats in those scenarios and it is a lot more likely to have multiple worthy people in at the end. newbie seasons almost always shake out with one clear choice who will win handily these days.

    3. FYI, mano a mano is just Spanish for hand-to-hand. Mano is a gendered noun, but it’s actually feminine. I could have let that one slide because I get what your intention was, but I’m a pedantic asshole.

  2. I feel like they know game-play wise that the final 3 doesn’t make any difference, and do it for production reasons now. With final 3, as soon as you go up to 18 or 20 players, without quits or medivacs there’s minimal double boots, and you still have the flexibility to accomodate the quits and medivacs by reducing to a final 2 if necessary.

    1. Oh I meant to raise that point, final 3s allow the show to have more starting players than older seasons did. seasons now typically have 18 or 20 to start with whereas the old number was 16. the more people the show casts the better the chance to find someone great

  3. Thanks for the shout outs, boo. But as if I would choose island Cochran over Caramoan finale Cochran.

    Maybe next offseason we should do a series of articles based on hypotheticals and I can talk about how if Becky wins if Cook Islands was a final two of Ozzy and Becky.

    1. We can pair that with John’s “Kourtney Moon would’ve won Cook Islands AND Blood vs Water if she didn’t get hurt” hypothetical.

      1. Kourtney Moon would have built a time machine and went back to Cook Islands if not for her wrist? Yeah, John’s hypotheticals definitely win for craziness.

        1. Wait, didn’t I read that because of her Survivor injury she went to a follow up and they found a grapefruit sized cancerous tumour in her abdomen? That injury may have saved her life, I say may because I can find no articles after the one about them finding the tumour.

          1. She’s alive enough to block me on Twitter for being a weirdo who remembered her being on Survivor.

          2. Good to know. I hope she’d be on board for my dream First Boot v Second Boot Season. Honestly I would love 10 first boots and 10 second boots to go up against each other. It’s basically a new cast as we barely saw them and a lot them would be dying to prove they don’t suck. Also Francesqua can be the first player to be booted first 3 times.

          3. Seeing the list my wish for this season has lessened but fuck it, after San Juan Del Sur and the Collar system I’d take it.

          4. hey I saw you commented on the Outcast draft page. Just wanted to let you know that when I saw that comment I had already sent out 9 invites. It was nothing personal, and had I known of your interest I would have been happy to invite you (despite your non-love of Savage). I promise you a spot in next season’s Outcast league if you want it, but I didn’t feel comfortable uninviting one of the 9 I had. There really is no rhyme or reason to who gets the invites, its mostly those who have expressed interest to me in the past, and who I see around here being active, and you are an active commenter so I felt bad that I didn’t invite you and that you found the page.

            Anyway this was just to let you know what was happening

          5. It’s fine mate, I was mainly taking the piss trying to get in on something I assumed was closed! If anyone drops out though you know where I am.

          6. absolutely. and as i said you have a spot in next season’s outcast league, just remind me after this current season so i don’t forget

          7. I’ve been thinking, would a 1st boot v 2nd boot v 3rd boot be an easier (maybe better) way of doing this? 6 of each, if they can’t find 6 people for each team after 30 seasons I’d be surprised.

          8. A better approach would be an all-pre-merge season. That’d give you a lot of talent to work with.

          9. This very true but I fear it gives them too many “manly men” that Probst will think were robbed. Do you want to see Silas or Joaquin again?

      2. She would’ve stood a better chance at winning Cook Islands than One World. She wasn’t going to beat the Unbreakable Kimmy Spraudlin.

    2. I wasn’t suggesting that was the only Cochran poster you had.

      And good luck with that fan fiction. That might be worse than the crazy ideas Matt comes up with.

      1. If it had been a final two, the jury starts at Nate, instead of Brad. Ozzy already loses two of his votes right there. Becky gets Yul and Sundra for sure. Assuming Ozzy keeps Parv and Nate, they’re fighting over Adam, Penner, and Candice. I doubt Penner votes Ozzy. I wouldn’t be surprised if Adam goes for Ozzy in this scenario, but is it really so ludicrous that Becky gets Candice’s vote? She can argue her strategic strength versus Ozzy and would have Yul fighting for her (admittedly not for long) at ponderosa. I’m not saying it’s a guaranteed win, but it’s a lot less far-fetched than you’re making it out to be.

        1. Yeah, the issue is that she wouldn’t have Yul on the jury long enough to make her case. I’m going to ask Penner on Twitter which way he would’ve gone, because I’m not convinced it’s as much of a lock as you think.

          I’ll grant you that Yul and Sundra are probably locks, though.

        2. I really, really, really don’t see Candice voting for Becky. I feel Ozzy has basically the Parvati, Nate, Adam, Candice block on lockdown

    3. Let’s do this. Final two, Ozzy vs Becky.

      Here’s the jury:

      (let’s leave Brad off, assuming Yul takes his place).

      Yul votes Becky, easy. I think Penner would as well.
      Nate is a lock for Ozzy. Adam probably is as well.


      I can’t remember enough about Rebecca to suggest she doesn’t stay for Ozzy, so let’s keep her.

      3-2 Ozzy

      But I think Sundra was closer to Becky than Ozzy and would see herself in Becky.


      So it boils down to what you think Parvati, Candice, and Jenny do. Jenny was on Becky’s original tribe, but she didn’t vote for Yul. Parvati seemed to recognize what Becky brought to the game, but she also admitted that she didn’t rate compared to Ozzy. So you think Candice votes Becky?

    4. Another question: what are the odds that Ozzy takes Yul to the end anyway? They’re not zero, right?

          1. And he was already forming “who deserves to be here” arguments before that. Of course, such arguments are arguments in his favour.

      1. Yes, he was always talking about taking the best to the end and he was definitly arrogant enough to think he would beat Yul (hell, I was rooting for Ozzy at the time; don’t worry, I sobered up and am now 1,000,000% aboard the Yul bandwagon).

    5. I think that might have been possible. She was close to Brad, Candice and Penner. Yul was a definite vote for her. I could see Jenny, who only had interaction with her and not Ozzy, voting for her. Rebecca never played against either, so she would be up in the air. Adumb, Parvati, Nate, and Sundra probably would have voted Ozzy.

    1. No i was thinking of China. China was 4-2-1 but my point there, as made elsewhere in this comment thread, was that the jury was basically deciding between two people and were going to throw all their support to one or the other, courtney was gonna get her vote or 2 either way but no more. so when the jury tipped towards Todd 4 of the 5 swing votes went to him. The point is that coming into that jury todd and amanda were very close, but there was no way there was going to be a close vote between them, it was one or the other.

  4. Poor Becky, you were the Amber to Yul’s Rob, but due to the hilarious fire challenge, the jury and a lot of the viewers think of you as a goat. I would honestly love to see her back on the show again.

    1. She was Amber to Yul’s Rob, but the difference was that Yul didn’t burn all of his bridges during the game. Being the UTR sidekick isn’t a bad strategy if you’re sitting next to a steamroller like Russell or Rob, but it’s a terrible strategy when you’re sitting next to Yul.

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