Survivor “Not Going Down Without a Fight” Review (Season 32 Episode 14)

SURVIVOR: KAOH RONG -- Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty

Survivor concluded its 32nd season tonight with “Not Going Down Without a Fight”, as another great season comes to a conclusion and a new Sole Survivor is crowned! I’ve reviewed both Survivor and The Amazing Race on TV Equals for a while now, and I’ve always thought of these two shows as a one-two punch of Emmy-winning reality programming for CBS. However, these last few seasons we’ve really seen The Amazing Race have a downturn in the ratings. They moved the show to Fridays, which is never a good sign, and then they had two of their worst seasons of all time back to back. Today CBS announced that The Amazing Race would NOT be returning along with its companion Survivor in the fall. They’re holding it for next year. So Survivor will stand alone as their only reality competition series in the fall. Jeff Probst made a point to mention at the top of this episode that the show will be returning in the fall, to the uproarious approval of the CBS Studio audience. I’m also very glad this show will be airing another one this year, because if we can be 32 seasons in and still have a season as great as Kaoh Rong then I think we’re in good shape.

The finale kicked off with a brief recap of the season thus far. The recap scenes and Jeff’s live intro both touted the extreme conditions and the record number of medical evacuations, which is a bit concerning to me. My biggest complaint with this season was the ridiculously difficult conditions and the trigger happy medical team that seemed to pull anybody with injuries on par with a stubbed toe, so I don’t like them bragging about how hard the season was on the contestants. I don’t enjoy seeing able and willing players being taken out of the game because of easily treatable or avoidable problems, so I hope they realize that it’s not fun watching people being removed and hopefully do the next season under less demanding conditions.

The reward challenge was pretty fun, although I spent most of the last minute screaming at Aubry telling her to switch out those tiles. It’s not often that the viewers at home can so clearly see exactly what the players got wrong about a puzzle, so it was funny that the cameraman was able to zoom in on the mismatched tiles multiple times. You’d think that Aubry could have seen the guy pointing his camera directly at the bottom right corner of her puzzle and figure out what he was hinting at. She finally figures it out and wins the reward, which she curiously shares with Cydney. The only relationship left in the game that seems to have any staying power is that of Cydney and Michele, so I guess maybe Aubry is trying to worm her way into that relationship and maybe angle for an all-girl final 3?

The final immunity challenge was one of the most impressive and well-constructed challenges of the whole season. They always bust out the big guns for the final immunity challenge, and this was no different. It looked like Aubry was well in the lead the whole time, and then it looked like Tai was making an unbelievable comeback. Then, out of the freakin’ blue, Michele decides to remind us that she’s actually really trying to play this game and she actually wins a puzzle challenge when it counted! Good for her, as she is the first person guaranteed to be in the final three! Or is she…?

Michele still seems frustratingly loyal to Cydney, and she doesn’t even think about voting for her, so it’s an option between going for Aubry or Tai. Now Aubry and Tai have to figure out if they want to give up on their quasi-alliance and vote against each other, force a tie and build fire, or try to get Michele to vote Cydney. I thought for sure that Tai was gonna pull another Tai and flip on Aubry like he’s already flipped multiple times on his other alliances, but he actually stayed true to her and we had an actual fire-making competition! And what a fire-making competition was! I’ve never seen somebody jump out to such a big lead like that and then see their fire crumble down to embers. Thankfully she got it back up and knocks out powerhouse Cydney.

The second half of the episode began with a big twist, as the players thought for a second that they were actually not the final three. I’m glad that this wasn’t the twist, though. Not only would it have not actually been a twist, considering they’ve had final twos many times, but it would have been lame to yank that out from underneath those guys. The actual twist of being able to pull a jury member was such an awesome idea. Not only do you want to take somebody who won’t vote for you, but you have to imagine who they would vote for and remove them accordingly. Who is your biggest competition? Take out one of their guaranteed votes and help yourself out! Her first thought was to remove Joe, but that was obviously a huge issue for Aubry since they were best buds. I’m not sure why she felt the need to tell anybody, especially Aubry, what she was thinking. It isn’t like you need these people’s opinions anymore. They aren’t voting for you to stay and they’re not voting for you to win the million, so just get out who you want.

They didn’t make it immediately apparent when the jury member would be removed. Would they get to do all of their questioning and then be removed after the fact? Or would they just get served their papers at the door and turn around? It turns out that they were being removed the night before and not even showing up the next night! That’s pretty crazy! I do like that they don’t get to be questioned first, because that usually gives a pretty good indication of who is voting for who. The names that Michele threw out there before was mostly Joe, Scot, and Jason, with Neal really being more of an afterthought that was mentioned by Aubry. It was a nice bit of misdirection to have his name show up (misspelled), and see him get to be voted out of tribal for the first time. For a guy who was medically evacuated, it was kind of nice in a way that he was given the opportunity to stomp out of tribal and yell mean things at the person that got him out. That was an experience that was robbed from him, and now he gets the chance!

The scenes between the two tribals were all of the standard self-congratulating and reflecting that the players always do. They got a chance to see how much they’ve physically changed, but they mostly talk about how they’ve changed on the inside and what the experience has been like. Unfortunately, there was no walk down memory lane this season. I realize I’m probably the only one who likes that stuff, but I’d prefer a schmaltzy look back at the eliminated players over a breakfast and weigh-in anyday.

The jury questioning/complaining is always a frustrating and boring part of the finale episodes for me. I really don’t feel like they’re that necessary, other than giving the more bitter jury members a chance to complain about stuff again. I feel like they could really just change the final jury into just giving the contestants one last speech to pitch themselves and have that be it. I really don’t believe that many jury members are going in not knowing who they’re voting for, and I don’t believe that the stock answers that they provide in these final tribals are honest or earnest enough to really convince anybody of anything. These jury members have already had the opportunity to sit in and watch everybody actually playing the game at the regular tribal councils, and I don’t know if the answers given here are really changing anything. However, I will say that Debbie accusing Tai of having multiple personality disorders is the biggest “pot calling the kettle black” moment that I’ve seen on television in quite some time.

After the questioning the players had a chance to say one last thing before the votes were cast, and all the stuff they said was more heartfelt and a better summary of their games and personalities than any answers they had given. Michele did a great job of playing the game (winning four individual challenges), making a few important moves, and answering questions and acquitting herself well in the final jury. I’m a little surprised that Tai didn’t get a final vote, but that just frees him up to return for another season (because he totally will!)

What did you guys think of the season? Sound off in the comments section below!

Random Thoughts:

– Aubry’s fire was blowing to the side so much I thought there was a chance that it might blow over and snap Cydney’s rope!

– So glad they were able to add an extra challenge and fit in another excuse for Jeff Probst to talk about balls. “Everybody…two balls…”

– I definitely appreciated how infrequently they cut away to Jeff at CBS Studio. The last few seasons they did that way too often.