It was an incredibly close vote after a last minute push (that mysteriously slowed down after we took added measures to prevent the same person/robot from casting repeat votes) for Parvati, but the winner of the Ultimate Survivor Bracket is the woman who never loses: Sandra Diaz-Twine. In many ways, the result of this entire contest could get boiled down to one, simple explanation: scoreboard. That’s an incredibly reductive way of thinking of it, but when it comes down to clicking a single button in a one on one match-up, it’s a hard argument to beat.
If anyone was going to beat it, it’s the woman who came this close to winning twice (before losing to our champ). Parvati’s one of the all-time great personalities the show has ever featured, and either won or was runner-up in what many believe to be the best two seasons in the history of the show. She’s been involved in some of the most memorable moments in the history of the series and is author to perhaps the best. If you wanted to vote for her for her double idol play alone, I’d have no argument with you.
Where I do have an argument is with the idea that she should have won Heroes vs Villains.
I’ll admit, when I watched HvV, I came away from it thinking that I would’ve voted for Parvati were I on the jury. I never went so far as to suggest that Sandra didn’t deserve to win, because every winner deserves to win. Plus, there were things in her game you could point to if you needed to justify her win. But there was the idea that her main argument was about her failing to eliminate Russell. Whereas Parvati managed to last an entire game that began with people targeting her as a threat (for the second time) and had that jaw-dropping double idol play at the merge.
But here’s the thing about that move: it’s possible that it was the last significant move Parvati has made on Survivor.
After booting JT and giving the Villains the number advantage, she never really reaches out to any one of the former Heroes who would go on to form the majority of the jury. It’s often obscured by the fact that Russell was such a toxic jury slayer, but when you think of it, Parvati has never been that good at reaching across the aisle. Her strength lies in the deep social connections and soft manipulations she needs to stay in the game. Which is to say that she rides with those on her side, but has no time for those who aren’t. In a way, it’s classic popular kid behaviour: those who you give attention to feel extra special due to the exclusivity of the attention. And when she wants to win someone over, there are few better at it in the history of the game.
The problem is that while this has proven to be a very effective way to stay in the game of Survivor (even in Cook Islands, she was on the side of an overwhelming majority that required some major twists and a super powerful idol to stop its momentum), it makes WINNING Survivor more challenging than it needs to be. In Heroes vs Villains, she paid no attention to the future jury members and lost fairly handily as a result. In fact, we may even be overrating the control she had within her own alliance, given that she was completely powerless to prevent Russell from voting out Danielle as part of his mad schemes (and in fact, may have gone that very night were she not immune). At the Final Tribal council, Parvati had the great line about taking the dragon (Russell) and making him her pet. The Danielle vote proves that she had about as much control over her pet dragon as Daenerys Targaryen is currently exhibiting over hers (note to self: draft the Russell Hantz is Drogon comp for later).
Winning Survivor is about two basic things: 1) getting a group of your fellow competitors to decide you worthy of winning and 2) lasting long enough in the game to achieve #1. Parvati has proven excellent at #2 (Editor’s note: Tee hee!). But it’s #1 that counts. And it’s here where Sandra’s brilliance is evident, which seems an obvious thing to say about the only 2-0 player in the history of the show. But it’s important to remember that while our focus is generally on the second part of the equation, since it makes up 90% of the show, it’s all meaningless if you’re not doing the necessary steps to achieve number one.
The book on Sandra has always been “anyone but me”, a simplistic phrase that she’s used to describe her own game. It too often gets reduced simply to her in game voting decisions: Sandra sticks around because she’s not threatening and will vote out anyone. But the truth is a little more complicated: Sandra sticks around and succeeds because she will work with anyone. She doesn’t just sit back and wait to be told who to vote for. She’s actively available for everyone out there, and as a result, is always useful and forms bonds that she can call upon later when it’s time to cast a vote for the winner. This is evident by her best in game moment of HvV: when she got Russell to flip on Coach rather than vote her out. This is a man she’d set herself up in opposition to just the day before. But now it was time to work with him, so she did. Later, when there was a chance to work against him, she did, until that fell apart so she didn’t. When you’re Sandra, all doors are open to you because “anyone but me”.
It’s funny to listen to Sandra talk about Survivor on things like Rob Has a Podcast or CBS’ YouTube roundtable. People like Rob (or myself here) will go on at length about what it takes to be successful at Survivor and all the arrows you need to dodge and complex strategies to employ. But for Sandra, it’s easy: 1) get a group of your fellow competitors to decide you worthy of winning and 2) last long enough in the game to achieve #1. She never overthinks it. And by resisting the temptation to undo her win and go with the players she’s vanquished in the actual game, neither did our voters. Sandra Diaz-Twine is the Ultimate Survivor. Count tha ringzz.
Andy didn’t actually vote for Sandra in every round, but he did in the finals. But was glad he didn’t pre-write this post when her 30% vote advantage mysteriously disappeared. If you’d like to read his writing in a much, much shorter form, he’s on Twitter: @andy_sayers.
Favourite seasons: Heroes vs Villains, Cook Islands, Palau, The Amazon, Cagayan
Favourite players: Boston Rob, Kim Spradlin, Tony Vlachos, Cirie Fields, Yul Kwon, Rob Cesternino
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