Attending the Survivor Cambodia finale and reunion

As you may already know if you listened to our podcast about the Survivor: Cambodia finale, I got to experience something that very few Survivor fans ever get to do: attend the finale and live reunion show. And because I love our listeners and readers, I present to you this firsthand account of what it’s like to attend a Survivor finale, reunion, and after-party. 

Getting into the Survivor finale

The first question I imagine most of you have is “How the hell did you get in?”, because that’s the question I also had before I eventually found out the answer. The studio where the finale is filmed is not very large; I’d guess it seats around 400 people. Worse still for your odds of getting in, a decent percentage of those 400 people are friends and family of the players and show staff, a few former players, some actors/actresses, and Survivor media.

Erin Cebula at Survivor Cambodia finale
Look, it’s Erin “Canadian Parvati” Cebula!

So those few available seats must be a pretty hot ticket, one would think. Perhaps they are auctioned off, inciting bidding wars amongst Survivor superfans? If so, I must have high-rolled my way into the finale by shelling out some of the massive revenues brought in by the cash cow that is the Purple Rock Survivor Podcast, right?

The actual answer is that about a year ago, I saw a post on r/Survivor from someone claiming that he or she had attended the Survivor finale by signing up as a seat filler. You read that correctly. The live reunion show that tons of fans would love to watch in person is populated in part by people whose major selling point is saying, “Sure, I can sit down for three hours.”

I created an account (or two…or more) on the seat filler website, then told Emma to do the same in the hopes that at least one of us would get in to the finale. Finally, an email arrived saying that the site was accepting seat fillers. I applied immediately, and got a response saying that I’d find out in 24 hours if I was getting in or not.

Survivor Cambodia finale set
I want to go to there!

A few hours later, a second email arrived from the seat filler group. They were looking for fans of the show to potentially do video segments about which player they had most wanted to be voted on to the show that season and some general thoughts on how the season had played out.

Holy. Shit.

I am a person who has written multiple Survivor hype posts; I know how to sell people on my love for various players. The only question I had was whether to be honest and say I was all in for Shirin and Varner or play the odds and pick one of the final six to hype (probably Wentworth, since I’d voted for her multiple times and was loving her game).

But just a few hours later, before I had even sent in my response, yet another email arrived from the seat filler group:

We sent out an email today asking for fans who would be interested in being a part of the finale to answer some questions and submit your story to us to be submitted to producers of the show. Unfortunatley (sic) someone posted this on Reddit and we are asking whomever posted this to please remove it immediately.

They ended up nixing the plan to have fans be a part of the finale. But since it was posted on Reddit, I was now likely going to be competing against a much larger pool of people for an extremely limited number of tickets. Fuck! If only the seat filler company knew that I had exactly what they needed: an ass that can fit in a seat for several hours.

Fortunately, the next email I received informed me I’d been selected as a seat filler. Not only did my wife and I get in, but Emma would be joining us. (My guess is that they ended up selecting the people who applied earliest.)

Being in the crowd

The email that I received was very clear that there were rules to this. I was there to be scenery, not to get all up in the business of the show. I had three jobs: sit, smile, and clap. Under no circumstances should I be taking pictures.

All of those were reasonable and understandable things for them to request of me. On the other hand, I will probably never get this opportunity again, so…

We were there long before the show started, so there was plenty of time to walk around and observe the crowd coming in to the finale. Yvette Nicole-Brown, star of Community and apparently a huge Survivor fan, was in the crowd. There were also several other names much more familiar to Survivor fans: Tyson, Cochran, Rob Cesternino, Josh Wigler, etc.

Eventually, we had to take our seats. That’s when the warm-up guy came out to get us hyped up. The warm-up guy serves two important functions: making corny ass jokes and telling you when to clap. My next scheme to get in to the Survivor finale will be to audition as the warm-up guy. I’ll make sure to include my ability to speak into a microphone and demand applause on my application, since those seem to be the only criteria.

From my seat, I noticed a familiar face a few feet in front of me: Danny Deitz, Terry’s son. This was exciting for two reasons: One, I support children being alive- a controversial stance, I know. Two, Danny was definitely going to be shown, so there was a chance that there might be televised proof of my Survivor: Cambodia finale attendance. My theory was correct: the show didn’t even make it to the first commercial break before they put a camera in Danny’s face.

The actual finale airs on several large monitors around the stage area. And it begins, of course, with a recap of who the final six are and how they got there. I generally watch Survivor with my wife, and we don’t feel the need to yell out our support or disdain for players during this recap portion because that would be weird and awkward. But the warm-up guy told the audience to make their opinions known, and this audience knew how to comply! Here’s the collective audience opinion of the final six:

Jeremy: Cheers and applause. Nothing insane, but he’s well-liked.

Kimmi: Mostly silent. A smattering of polite applause.

Spencer: Practically a standing ovation. They love Spencer.

Keith: Cheers and applause, with a little bit of laughter mixed in. I’m guessing everyone knows he’s not going to win, but they like him and he’s adorable.

Tasha: Mostly silent. The audience is at best indifferent towards Tasha.

Kelley: Another near-ovation. Hard to tell whether Spencer or Wentworth got more love from the crowd. It’s close.

Hearing all these reactions from the audience, it finally sinks in that I am at the Survivor finale. I just watched Jeff Probst doing one of his pre-commercial break segments on stage. I was going to watch in person as Probst read the votes from final tribal council. I was going to see the entire cast take the stage for the reunion.

This was fucking cool.

Also fucking cool? Just a short time later, we were watching one of the more insane tribal councils Survivor has ever had: the final six vote, when both Jeremy and Kelley correctly played immunity idols. A decent portion of the audience was trying to figure out what the rules were with re-votes and tie-breakers, but I had a decent idea. So when the second round of voting ended up tied again on Tasha and Kimmi, I let out an audible, “Keith, no!” when Keith didn’t change his vote. It was almost unfair; you couldn’t expect Keith to know the potential risk of not changing his vote.

Fortunately, Probst ended up making it clear that Keith would be going home if the votes didn’t change. As Keith told Probst that he would let that happen and keep Kimmi in the game, there were audible protests in the audience. Eventually, Kimmi went home, and the crowd- obviously sympathetic towards Keith- was satisfied. Then Probst came out on stage, and this happened:

Probst diagrams Survivor Cambodia final six vote

The rest of the in-studio experience was pretty predictable: sympathy for Keith when he was voted out, followed by a mixture of outrage and relief when Kelley went next- outrage that it was Kelley, relief that it wasn’t Spencer. If the Survivor finale audience were a high school prom, Kelley and Spencer were the prom queen and king.

In the break before final tribal council, the warm-up guy was walking around asking people who they were rooting for. He made his way to the front of the audience and talked to one of Jeremy’s kids. You’re not going to believe this, but she was hoping her dad would win. And when the warm-up guy asked her what she’d want for Christmas if it turned out her dad was suddenly a millionaire, she replied, “I just want a baby brother.”

Jeremy’s daughter might have worked the audience better than Jeremy worked the jury.

The ballad of Emma and Cochran

For those of you that don’t know, once upon a time all of us at the Purple Rock were simply commenters on the AV Club’s Survivor reviews. As you might expect from a site named AV Club, it caters to a certain demographic- the people who were being called nerds before it was cool.

While Survivor: Caramoan was airing, there were many places on the internet that were very hostile towards John Cochran. The AV Club was not one of them. We had wholeheartedly embraced Cochran as a sweater-vested, bespectacled, vampirically-pale hero. He was the champion of the Survivor nerd crowd. And one commenter in particular was really into Cochran. Not in a homosexual way, as Rudy would say. In a heterosexual way.

Emma comment about Cochran on AVC
(If it wasn’t entirely clear, Little Emma Adderall is the AV Club name of our own Purple Rock Emma.)

Remember earlier when I said Cochran was at the finale? And that Emma was attending the finale with us? During one of the commercial breaks for the show, the lights in the studio came up and people were mingling and taking bathroom breaks. At that point, my wife, Emma, and I exchanged a series of gestures and mouthed words that roughly translated into: “Cochran! You see him?” “Cochran! There!” “Go go go!”

There was already a line forming to take pictures with Cochran, and Emma was in line behind Missy from San Juan del Sur. Watching from across the studio as I half-heartedly talked to someone else, I was internally yelling at Missy for taking her sweet time chatting Cochran up; commercial breaks only last for so long, and I wanted to see some magic happen! Finally, Missy pulled herself away from the animal magnetism of John Cochran, and Emma stepped up for her turn.

Watching their interaction from afar was like watching some sort of “How to tell if she’s into you by reading her body language” video. It took all of two seconds for Emma to begin flipping her hair, nervously laughing, gesturing wildly with her hands, and generally turning into human Jell-O. She could have worn a flashing neon sign that said “I want to make your babies” and it would have been more subtle.

Emma and Cochran at the Survivor Cambodia finale

As she walked back towards me with a face that looked like she was holding a winning lottery ticket, I said, “You met Cochran!”


Apparently my wife started the conversation between Cochran and Emma by saying, “This is your biggest fan!” Cochran, presumably having heard that before, acknowledges it politely and prepares to take a picture. Then my wife adds, “She’s from the Purple Rock Podcast.” To this, Cochran responds, “Oh, I know Purple Rock! Purple Rock Emma? Are you Little Emma Adderall, perhaps?” In internet nerdspeak, Emma got IRL-doxxed by Cochran. Then, to her horror, she immediately realizes that means Cochran has read the AV Club comments.

Emma comment about Cochran on AV Club
Does he hear that? Well, it turns out…

Emma, recounting all this to me at holy-shit-I-am-freaking-out-right-now volume, says, “HE KNEW MY AV CLUB SCREEN NAME!”

And that, dear readers, is the story of how Emma died. For the record, every human standing near us- Survivor fan or not- thought we were fucking nuts. They were correct.

After the show it’s the afterparty

The afterparty is a fascinating event. Most of the players from the season, as well as some from previous seasons, showed up to drink and mingle. There were Survivor producers there as well, which gave me the opportunity to compliment the producers that made the amazing Ponderosa videos from this season. And, of course, there were other Survivor fans. The vibe was much like a holiday party at your job, where people made the rounds and mingled for a while before ultimately hanging out with the few coworkers they actually like.

And since it was essentially a work party for him, Rob Cesternino showed up- presumably after recording the final Know-It-Alls podcast of the season. He was nice enough to spend some time talking with me about how great our podcast is and how every single other Survivor podcast is complete garbage.

Actually, unlike Cochran, he only had a vague idea of who we were. But I made him endure my praise of both his Survivor season (yes, singular- I didn’t bring up All-Stars) and his podcast.

We all made the rounds and spoke to/took pictures with various players from this season and others. I even took a picture with a beanie-wearing Savage, which I thought I’d post here just to enrage his haters in our audience. But I like you guys, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll post this picture of us with Cochran to enrage Reddit. Because fuck you, r/Survivor, Cochran is awesome.

Still, attending a Survivor finale and afterparty just isn’t enough. I needed a scoop for you guys, some information that hadn’t been posted anywhere else. And I finally got it. I present to you:

Stephen Fishbach and the undiscussed power of the advantage

Since we do a podcast about Survivor, one of the things we’ve frequently discussed is utilizing the advantages in the game. But I’m also a nerd with an MBA, so I’m not satisfied with just using those advantages successfully- I demand peak efficiency! And when new advantages are introduced, like this season’s advantage that allowed Fishbach to steal another player’s vote and cast it himself (dubbed the “vampire vote” by our commenter sharcules), there are often lots of questions about the rules involving these advantages.

One question that had bothered me about the advantage Fishbach won was the issue of tie votes. Specifically, if Fishbach used the advantage to steal a vote, would he also be able to use that person’s vote in a re-vote situation?

Fortunately, I was in a room surrounded by some of the few people that could give me the definitive answer on this. And when I saw Stephen sipping a drink and talking to some friends, I obviously assumed that he would love nothing more than to be bothered by an obnoxious Survivor fan grilling him about the minutia of in-game rules.

Fishbach indulged me and answered my question. Here’s how it works: Once you use the advantage, the vote that you steal is yours for that entire tribal council. So if there is a tie and a second round of voting, you can use your stolen vote in the re-vote as well.

Except that in Stephen’s case, the votes were being split between Joe and Abi-Maria. So if those two had ended up tied Stephen would not have been able to use Joe’s vote again, because as one of the people tied for the most votes Joe couldn’t vote again anyway. Of course, if those two had ended up tied it likely wouldn’t have mattered to Stephen, since Plan A was always to take out Joe.

But what if the vote split had resulted in Stephen and Abi-Maria tied? Stephen wouldn’t have been able to cast his own vote in a re-vote, but he could cast Joe’s vote again, improving his own odds to stay in the game.

The other possible scenario was that Stephen and Joe could have ended up tied. In that case, Stephen wouldn’t get to vote at all in a re-vote. The safer move there would have been to steal the vote of someone who wasn’t targeted (Keith or Wentworth, for example) so he could use their vote in a potential re-vote. Of course, that also telegraphs to those people that you don’t trust them to vote with you or that they might be targeted, so if he steals Kelley’s vote maybe she ends up playing the idol that she had just acquired rather than playing it like a boss at final six.

Cambodia- Kelley starts to smile

So that, in a nutshell, is what it’s like to attend a Survivor finale- you get to be on TV, you get to watch one of your friends fall to pieces as she meets Cochran, and you get to nerd out about the minutia of game mechanics with people that played it.

Oh, and sometimes you end up grabbing the nipple of some guy who owns an organic ice cream company.