After having one last love-fest at Koror, Blurry Denzel and Barbara Anderson finish the Watch-Along of Survivor: Palau with Episodes 12-14.
The Purple Stone
Blurry Denzel: On the surface this was supposed to be a straightforward endgame. If you just look at just the Survivor Wiki page, Tom mowed down a bunch of losers to on the path to a dominant victory. But just like the premerge showed that there was so much rich stories told in Ulong’s complete destruction, Palau goes beyond the surface to tell a story full of emotion and twists in an epic final trilogy of episodes. The action starts with a bang with a bold decision, a willingness to leave the game to chance in the fight not to lose.
Barbara Anderson: I am just shocked that the seed of this idea came from Caryn of all people. In what is her best move of the entire game, she correctly predicts that Gregg and Jenn will be able to pull Katie in to take out Tom and Ian. Of course, part of her assumption is tied to the fact that telling the two alpha males this is her ONLY option left, but she can see it due to Jenn and Katie’s apparent bond. The men only really think it can be truly serious once they realized that the reward was also a secret loved ones visit (remember when the show used to do this?) Thus, a fairly simple vote to ensure that the top 5 alliance makes it to the final 5 becomes a much more complicated and emotional vote that leaves a mark on everyone left in this game. In other words, Caryn leads to the biggest game changer of the entire season.
BD: A lot of the emotion of this vote comes from the relationship between Ian and Katie. They have been close allies the entire game. Ian picked her above anyone else to join Koror in the beginning. In the previous episode, when Ian confronts Katie about the rumored all women alliance, we hear both Katie’s desire to get out Tom and a reiteration from both Ian and Katie that they would choose each other over anyone else when it came down to the end. I’m a little taken aback to see Ian throw Katie under the bus as he confirms to Tom that Katie has indeed flipped on their day one alliance. Rock draws can be a scary proposition. To be in a decent-to-good-place in the game to gone in a snap is something that some people aren’t willing to risk. Katie is currently in a good spot, with many paths to the end. The power Katie holds is stripped away when Ian and Tom shake on the deal to go to rocks. Why would Katie risk what looks like a great chance to make Final Tribal Council? Ian knows this when he finally lets Katie in on the plan. He also lets her know right before Tribal, not giving her a chance to give her voice to the decision. That seems like a shitty way to treat the partner you claim to be closest to.
BA: I think Ian starts to lose this game when he shakes hands with Tom. Despite the worries that Caryn will give up the ghost and act excited that she isn’t leaving, Ian almost spills the plan to Gregg when he mentions that Tribal Council will be “interesting”. Why would Caryn leaving be interesting to Gregg, Ian? Luckily Tom is there to smooth over that gaff. Unfortunately, Tom is not around for when Ian lets Katie in on the plan. The way that he tells Katie is something I believe starts his quick and somewhat unexpected descent into third place.
BD: I do wonder if rock chicken was the right move for Ian. As a fan, this was very exciting, memorable, and pretty clever, so I’m glad it went down that way, but would Ian be better off dumping Tom after he doesn’t win immunity at final six? Now he wouldn’t have the shield to protect him but he would also be the favorite in all the immunity challenges. It would seem like Gregg and Jenn have all the power but would Katie and Caryn align with Ian to break up that duo? This might have been a huge missed opportunity in a game where opportunities may disappear both you know it. As impressive as it was to bet on rocks to get what he wants, it would have been cool to bet on himself to make it to the end without Tom.
BA: I just don’t think Ian had that conniving nature in him at this point in the game. He has so many confessionals saying that he was here for the million dollars, but he does so many things (especially in the endgame) that counters that sentiment.
The Tomfather and The Final Five
BA: Final Five highlights why Ian is not one of the great Survivor players. He is easily swayed by his emotions and morals as well as others around him. For example, he takes Tom on the car and resort reward despite the fact that Tom says to him beforehand not to do that because he says that he promised Tom that they would go on the car reward together (I am just confused as y’all). On top of that failure, he screws over Katie who he has promised to take on any rewards that he wins. This leaves the women together at camp to see how Ian and Tom had lied to them, which was the exact situation that Tom wanted to avoid.
BD: I found it interesting how differently Ian and Tom handled trying to fix the mistake. Ian is constantly frazzled and stumbling over words. Caryn does a great job of immediately putting pressure on Ian as soon as they return from the resort. Ian crumbles in conversation but would probably be better if he had time to think. He definitely wasn’t prepared for Katie. The beach conversation with Katie is one of my favorite scenes of the season. I don’t often see that much raw emotion on Survivor. It’s another one of those “more than a game” moments the show delivers. Katie has been cut deep. She feels betrayed, not by another contestant, but by her best friend. A friend that has broken his promise and lied to her. She gives it to Ian until he finally collapses in the sand and throws his hands in the air, defeated as Katie towers over him. Moves may make sense to you but you have to account for other people feel and Ian is failing at that repeatedly.
BA: I am one of the the big South Pacific defenders on this site because I love how psychologically dark it gets and how that impacts the gameplay. This episode gave me great flashbacks to watching that final five episode, because Ian’s realization that Katie was deeply hurt by him starts the idea of quitting in his mind. It might also start Katie thinking about how close Ian is to the brink of breaking down. On the flip side, Katie gets pissed off at Tom being a bully.
BD: While Ian’s approach is shaky, Tom’s has such a calm demeanor. While Ian is apologetic, Tom is cold. Tom stands close to Katie as he slowly states his threat. If Katie was to ever flip, then she is the next one gone as payback. This is such a godfather move from Tom. He is someone who still feels like he has the power in the game, even when people are on to his game. He will never let anyone pounce on any sign of vulnerability. His comment to Katie is fascinating but is also uncomfortable to see. Tom deciding to drive fear into Katie is a rare time he intentionally deviates from the heroic persona that he has crafted throughout the season. This might be effective but it feels unnecessary here as I don’t think Katie was actually going to flip. Tom’s social game has holes that his strengths were able to cover.
BA: My big question is why take out Caryn at five when Jenn is still a vital threat to potentially win immunity? Caryn is a logical 4th placer, yet she is in 5th.
BD: Caryn is no longer willing to just play along with Tom. She was played by him and now she realizes the truth. I don’t think Tom wanted that in the game. He wanted a goat he can control. He also made sure to go out of his way to paint her as a fool during that tribal when it really seemed she was in the right. Also, Tom just might not think that highly of Jenn, which is a misread on his part.
Jenn and Final Four
BD: Jenn has some tricks up her sleeve and will not go quietly in the night. It takes a second for her to see the whole picture but she is able to recover well and it left me impressed. We see her get in Ian’s ear back in the final five. She explains well about how he needs to cut Tom if he wants to win. It’s so logical that Ian has to have it on his mind. It’s too much to ignore. This is all that is needed to cause a rift between Tom and Ian. When Ian comes back in the final four and tells Jenn and Katie that he will cut Tom if Tom doesn’t win immunity, Jenn gets the ammunition she needs.
BA: I like that Jenn doesn’t immediately run to Tom. She waits for him to come to her and then drops the Ian bomb. She knows that running straight to Tom doesn’t help her case and makes her look like Caryn, especially when she is already shown accepting her fate. I also love that she lurks in the background during the Ian and Tom confrontation to see what Ian has to say about the scenario of what would have happened if Tom had lost immunity.
BD: While Jenn is strong here, Ian continues to falter. Ian again says unnecessary shit that he should be keeping to himself. There is no reason to let Tom know how tough the decision would have been if the shoe was on the other foot. Just the thought of actually going back on your word loses credibility in Tom’s eyes. It makes the words Jenn say resonate with Tom even more. Katie has also not forgotten what Ian has done. This all makes the final four tribal Ian’s worst moment yet.
BA: It also makes a surefire 3-1 vote out of Jenn transform into the first real appearance of our second favorite tiebreaker around here, fire making. They have even modified it from the last Ulong tribal council to the classic lighting the string. Of course, this crew didn’t know that this would be the tiebreak. I actually wonder if they thought that Katie would go home ala Paschal, but who really knows. Anyway, it is great to see Jenn really show that she had some game. I would actually argue that she ended up having more game than Gregg. She manages to hide how upset she is at his boot to the point that Tom and Ian are impressed by that. All in all, it does seem like she was a great person to be around…which means it is time to address the elephant in our coverage. Yes, unfortunately, Jenn became the first Survivor to pass away. She still was close to her castmates and Probst to the point that she attended the ten year anniversary party a couple weeks before she died. She was mentioned in both Tom and Steph’s HvV bio as the Survivor they most respect, which I think says something about her. Her personality is a hard one for the show to highlight, but she did genuinely come across as someone who everyone likes and got around with while having a good sense of the game. I can think of no higher compliment I can give a castaway.
BA: Ian’s last day in camp is easily his worst as he gets bombarded by both Tom and Katie as they return from Tribal Council. It’s like having an angel and a devil on your shoulder, except the angel is actually another devil and both of them are pissed at you. This is not what he needed after almost leaving the game unexpectedly, but is it what he deserved?
BD: I feel bad for Ian and don’t think he deserves all of that. I understand what he is going through. It must be devastating for him to think he caused so much pain to his friends, that the relationships were cultivated throughout the game and the moments shared can all go away. One of my own biggest fears in life is that I lose the friends I care about deeply through my actions. I would never want to do or say something to hurt them. Tom and Katie don’t let up either. It’s rough and I find myself yelling at Ian to just say whatever they want just to make it stop. It was already a sinking ship that Ian was trying to patch up but after this, there can be no recovery.
BA: At points, Tom and Katie’s back and forth feels rehearsed, but you can tell it wasn’t. Both of them are hitting different weak points for Ian. Tom is coming after his integrity, while Katie goes after his friendship. The double attack is very effective and clearly factors into what happens next for Ian.
BD: Holy shit, that final challenge. There is something about an endurance challenge to finish it all. A battle of wills to see who wants it the most. Ignore the conditions, ignore the pain and hold out for that guaranteed spot for the position that was worked so hard for. They went out and broke the endurance challenge, at least as a final challenge. Katie has her best showing of the season, lasting a whopping five hours and that wasn’t even half of what Ian and Tom do. They have been the biggest players of the season and they show it for one final time. Tom offers Ian a deal to step down and be taken to the final two. Tom is a stubborn guy who is never stepping down and he knows that. Ian has nothing but time to think of what has happened and just like this challenge, he finally broke. As an apology for his actions, Ian steps down but instead of taking Tom’s deal, he insists on Tom taking Katie. This wowed me when I saw it. I still wonder if Ian was thinking clearly. On one hand, Ian sabotaged his chances to win a game of a lifetime. That feels insane. On the other hand, Katie and Tom meant so much to him that this redemption was his victory. It’s a powerful moment.
BA: I also wonder if Ian knew that he would not be able to handle the jury’s questions at Final Tribal Council, especially with the inclusion of a bitter Tom or Katie as the final juror. So, I guess it is time to ask the big question surrounding Ian: did he quit?
BD: This is such a weird situation. It seems like his goal was not to win Survivor. He decided that it was not worth the heartache. The path Ian took was to leave the game with lifelong friends that he went on a unique adventure with. He accomplished what he wanted but it’s not the standard we see from the show. Ian probably doesn’t feel like a quitter for this decision and I don’t feel like he quit. I feel like he set his own rules for success. Do you think he quit?
BA: I honestly think that he may fall into the Janu camp slightly since he is leaving the game with this big condition that Tom take Katie. Imagine if Tom decided to take Ian instead after that. I think that his heart just wasn’t in it anymore, so he left. But, I feel like my mind will probably change about this in a couple of years.
Shady Lady Katie
BD: Katie leaves Palau with the legacy of playing a near perfect second place game. She was able to get in the majority from the jump and stay there but not make meaningful connections with anyone outside of the those that can help her build any kind of resumé. She made herself desired to be taken to the end as someone who does nothing, at least in the perception of her tribemates. I wonder if and when she knew she was drawing dead in this game. Was the plan just to make sure she got there?
BA: I think she may have one of the latest drawing dead epiphanies I have ever seen in my years of watching the show. After all, she walks into FTC with the biggest grin on her face and the conviction that the jury will vote for her solid game. She seems to not realize that the opposite is true fully until Gregg’s question, which does not make her look great. I just think she thought more people would be bitter like Coby and vote against Tom. However, that was never going to happen after that FTC performance.
BD: People did seem really pissed at Tom, but Katie didn’t have the game to take advantage of that. She made a good point about not being athletic like others and how she needed to align with the competitors to survive. It’s smart to align with someone who is strong where you are weak. What Katie misses is you have to be extremely good in other places. Sandra is at worst a top three player in the history of the show and she has a reputation of being very weak in challenges (besides puzzles). Sandra was always moving though, always thinking, always open to working with anyone. She was always strategizing and actively positioning herself higher in the game. Katie needed to play a game like that and she didn’t come close.
BA: No, she didn’t. I also think she thought the jury would see her more like Jenn because of how much she insists that people don’t like her gameplay because of her personality. When you straight up refuse to answer a juror’s question, you are not just throwing away Janu’s vote, but you could be actively giving evidence to other jurors about why they shouldn’t vote for you and feel good about that decision. Sure, Courtney did the exact same thing in China, but I suspect that she thought she wasn’t going to even get second place. Katie went in thinking that she was going to win, despite the fact that Janu and Caryn did not like her and she betrayed a bunch of the jury by sticking with the two alpha males, much like Laurel in Ghost Island.
BA: Speaking of alpha males, Tom is arguably the only alpha male bigdog winner of the show (feel free to tell me otherwise in the comments), which fits this season so well. An “oddball” season with a dominant tribe needs an “oddball” and dominant winner. Throughout this Watch-Along, many people have reached out to talk about their dislike of Tom and I can see why. His behavior towards Gregg at the F6 reward challenge was extremely grating and unpleasant. The way he treated Katie and Jenn in this stretch of episodes definitely felt a bit domineering. Someone in the comments (I wish I could remember your name. Sorry!) brought up the excellent point last week that it feels like the show edited around Tom’s flaws and I think that is pretty clear. We were still in the day and age where the winners had to be fairly “nice” people. That being said, I think he is the best player this season for the simple fact that this group had a few chances to get rid of him but just never did it. He got extremely close to having the first perfect game in the show’s history. Sure, part of that is Katie was the other option, but part of that is that he is a good all-around player.
BD: I feel like you are intentionally forgetting Boston Rob as an alpha male bigdog winner, possibly just to needle Andy, and I’m here for it. As for Tom, I think he is an excellent winner of this season. He is able to play to his strengths very effectively. He is very strong physically and mentally. He is a natural leader with a great strategic mind for how to handle challenges, camp life and making it through the game. He makes sure he is protected even when he doesn’t win immunity. He plays from in front the entire game, which is so hard to accomplish in this game. Koror winning constantly was great for Tom as he excels when he has power. I think Tom can also be an asshole at times. I think Jenn nailed it when she called him chauvinistic. He is down way more with the “manly” men who will kill snakes with him. He is very stubborn and needs to have his way even if he needs to strong arm people to get his way. He is very effective at it though. He reminds me of a Boston Rob but the key difference is that Rob is able to let the audience in on his mustache-twirling ways while Tom presents himself as a hero figure. I think Tom is great here and is good overall but I do wonder if he can succeed if he was in a different newbie season.
BA: Yeah, I was totally needling Andy. I didn’t forget about Boston Rob winning at all. Anyway, I think Tom was probably meant to be a one-time player, because we really got to see what he is like when he gets stuck on an Ulong-like tribe in HvV. Although he does get out Cirie in a nicely done idol play, he still manages to be a bully. I also think he got lucky that Katie gave a F+ FTC performance because his was a D+ at best. He didn’t really give many specifics and just talk in general. His best response was to Jenn, but even then, that wasn’t great. The first time he really noticed her playing was when she brought him information at Final Four? Yikes.
BD: One big thing that needs to be discussed with Tom is his handling of Ian down the stretch. I believe that there are real feelings there but I don’t doubt that he knows how to manipulate those feelings to really get to Ian. What do you think?
BA: I absolutely think that is the case. But I also think that Ian is a terrible liar and Tom knows it. How many times did Tom have to save Ian after making a verbal gaffe? Tom also knows how impressionable Ian is. It wasn’t just Tom making fun of Gregg at Final 6, but it was Ian as well. Both of those qualities are just ripe for the picking for someone like Tom, which is a great skill to have for the show.
Where Does This Season Rank?
BD: I love this season so much and this rewatch only made me realize that more. There is a unique story being told by a great cast. So much emotion, so much fascinating gameplay, I couldn’t get enough. The decision to let them pick their own tribes was great. The decision to let things play out with Ulong was great. The theme and challenges were superb. It is a mostly well edited season that makes you feel very connected to everything going on. I thought this is the best non-HvV season of Survivor going into this project and I still feel that way. My goal when I nagged you to watch, my goal with this project was to share such a powerful season with someone whose opinion I trust. So Barbara, now that you watch the whole season, what do you think?
BA: First of all, I want to see a season in Micronesia/Palau in HD. Imagine this scene with today’s technology.
It would really be something. Secondly, I agree with a lot of what you said. The storytelling is strong. Most of the cast is memorable and brings something to the show. The season also ends extremely well. However, I have some issues with the editing. The fact that a lot of the women are under-edited is pretty egregious. Sure, Steph has the most confessionals, but we fairly get anything from Jenn, our fourth placer. Hell, her reunion question was “Are you and Gregg a thing?” not “Can you talk more about how you broke up this alliance at Final 4?” As a result, some of the strategy talk falls flat to me while other strategy discussions, like the Final 6 rock draw, is utterly captivating. That all being said, I did love this season a lot. Like I said in this post, I do like a dark Survivor season from time to time and this one may be my new favorite in that regard. However, I can’t overlook my issues with the editing, so it is currently sitting at 9th on my favorite season’s list.
BD: With that, we have reached the end of our Palau Watch-Along. I had so much fun doing this. I want to thank the PRP staff for letting the JV Squad run things this month. This project meant the world to me and your support has been so great and uplifting. I’ll never forget it. I want to thank everyone who read and participated in the comments. Your positive feedback has been so amazing and I feel so humbled that I got to share my passion with a great community. Finally, I want to thank my partner Barbara for doing this with me. You are blast to work with and you put in excellent work. You brought out the best in me and I’m so proud of what we did here.
BA: BD, it has been a joy to work with you as well. Thank you for being my sherpa through this journey. I also want to thank everyone who read and reached out to us via the comments or Twitter. The conversations we have had about Survivor made me become reinvigorated with the show just a few weeks after I thought that I was done with it. I hope the same can be said for y’all as well. I cannot wait to read your thoughts on what we thought of the season.
Blurry Denzel (the artist formerly known as Black Dynamite) came back to Survivor after a 13 year hiatus since the first season and instantly fell in love. Now he spends a near obsessive amount of time talking Survivor, occasionally with rankings.
Favorite Seasons: Heroes vs Villains, Palau, Philippines, Cagayan, Pearl Islands
Favorite Players: Cirie Fields, Parvati Shallow, Stephen Fishbach, Natalie Anderson, Earl Cole, Jerri Manthey