It’s not been a spectacular season of Survivor: Gabon this Fall, but it has been a very subtly interesting season in terms of strategy. There has not been a overwhelmingly strong player all season long, but there have been a lot of pretenders to that throne. Through virtue of coincidence, emotional decisions, and manipulation, we have five survivors who are all here for different reasons. Kenny for his lies, Bob for his ingenuity, Matty for his tenacity, Susie for her innocuous appearance, and Sugar for her timely alliances, but in two short hours, we’ll see which factor can take a survivor to the top this season.

Bob-ination – that’s a horrible pun. The final five return to camp after Crystal’s elimination, and Sugar’s feeling pretty good about herself, definitely sowing her own oats. Kenny, on the other hand, is feeling down, and wants to claim that Bob isn’t a man of his word. The fact of the matter is that Kenny is still alive. Not the way that he wanted to be, but that’s no fault of Bob’s – the result would have been the same had Bob handed over his idol last tribal. Sugar tells the camera that she wants to be final three with Bob and Matty. Not a great move strategy-wise, but perhaps the more emotionally satisfying path for her. She and Kenny check tree mail, and she convinces Ken that she wants to keep him safe. The manipulator has become the manipulated.

The tribe mates are given paint and other materials that they can use to make themselves look like fierce warriors for the next challenge. At said challenge, immunity is at stake, to be won by the survivor who can maneuver themselves through a maze fastest to find puzzle pieces that they can assemble into a Gabonese hut. First to assemble their hut is safe. Sugar is the first to collect all her pieces, and starts assembling the puzzle, but Bob is not far behind. Bob does indeed assemble first, and wins immunity, even as Susie is still collecting the last of her puzzle pieces.

Between two outsiders. Kenny is feeling oddly secure at the immunity challenge, secure in the fact that it’s Susie who will be going home. Matty reinforces this belief, and throws up smoke in front of Susie at the same time. Susie is definitely feeling threatened, but Matty has no answers for her. Matty tells Sugar that he is willing to vote Susie next, and Sugar seems willing to go along. But, she is also expressing her concern about Kenny’s ability to lie. After some token indecision on Sugar’s part, all head to tribal council.

At tribal, Bob’s dominance at immunity challenge is discussed. Matty admires him for it, and Kenny seems willing to surrender to the fact. Bob’s deal with Kenny as of the prior tribal council is discussed again, and Kenny claims that Bob reneged on said deal. Bob, on the other hand, claims that Ken was trying to sell the idea to blindside him, should he give up his immunity. Kenny says that he feels safe on the night, but that he would like Bob to keep up his end of the bargain. Bob does not, and the survivors vote. In the end, the remaining survivors elect to rid themselves of the manipulator and vote Kenny for elimination.

Memory lane.
Tribal council is over, but Bob’s challenge dominance is still the topic of conversation among the remaining survivors. Susie and Matty collect tree mail, and it is discovered that the walk of shame is next on the docket. The final four pass the torches of the fallen survivors, and reminisce on the adventures they shared with their comrades. This touching staple of the season has lasted since the first season of Survivor, and again, it does a good job of putting the season into perspective. Also, Sugar has somehow found a bit of lipstick to apply for this last hurrah. She’s made pin-up models around the globe proud tonight.

After their tour of the past, the survivors walk up to a bonfire being held by the native Gabonese, where all immunity idols and icons of the game past are burned in a symbolic transition to the final stage of this season of Survivor.

Susie in balance. At the final immunity challenge, in a refreshing change from the usual endurance challenge, the survivors find that they must built a house of cards from two hundred tiles provided for them. The first contestant to build a house ten feet in height (or the one with the highest house after 30 minutes) wins immunity. Some try to build up fast, and some try to build slow, but stable; all suffer setbacks at some point. Susie builds up a lead at eight feet tall over the others as time winds down, but Sugar and Matty threaten to eclipse her. Nonetheless, Susie wins to guarantee herself a place in the final three — the final tribal council.

So, Susie will definitely be part of the final three. IMO, this is a strategically insignificant development. I don’t think any majority of the jury would vote for Susie, making her an ideal partner on that pinnacle. Should I be proven wrong, I will be more than happy to admit my own folly.

Trial by fire.
The final hour of this season of Survivor begins with a round of hugs from the remaining survivors. It is generally assumed that Bob will be voted off that evening, as he is the most popular survivor remaining. Matty is despondent, Sugar has been brought to tears, and Susie can’t shut up about how surprised she is that she won. Susie asks Bob if he thinks that he would get more votes than her from the jury. Bob resents the fact that Susie is offering him a chance to debase his own popularity and integrity to get into the final three . Everyone seems to be talking about how much they need to shut up about Bob going home, but no one seems to be able to stop talking about it.

All this talk leads to Sugar discussing the possibility of a forced tie with her and Bob voting Matty and Matty and Susie voting Bob. Once again, Sugar’s emotions threaten to swing the game in a specific direction, and both Matty and Bob are feeling the flames of elimination as night falls.

Bob prepares himself in the event that a fire-making competition decides a tie. Night falls on the Dark Continent, and the tribe heads to council. Bob talks about the insecurity he feels, unusual for him considering his run of immunity wins. All votes are revealed to be obvious, aside from that of Sugar’s. Once again, Sugar is the swing vote, and she is right there with the tears. Matty and Bob are both given the opportunity to appeal to Sugar’s emotions. Bob, decidedly, makes the better emotional plea, and the final four head to the voting booth to determine the final three. Realistically, it would seem to me that Sugar ought to be more comfortable voting for Bob and letting the two of them make the decision between themselves, thus taking onus off of herself.

Sure enough, that is what Sugar does, and the tiebreaker is a fire-making challenge. Bob is the first to flame on, but loses his fire almost as quickly. Bob rebuilds even as Matty continues to fizzle, and manages to get his flame going again. Bob’s fire is strong, and Matty has yet to spark. Before long, Bob’s flame crosses the finish line and he secures his place on the final three. Matty has been eliminated.

Three from eighteen. Bob, Sugar and Susie are the final three, and they are rewarded with a feast via tree mail. As then enjoy their last breakfast in camp, let’s consider the possibilities. Bob seems the obvious winner, with Susie’s only contribution being to offer someone the opportunity to vote for a neutral target over better competitors. Bob has more goodwill with the jury, but Sugar has played the game harder. At this point, one can only hope that the questions posed to Bob and Sugar can reveal the leanings of the jury.

The final three burn the camp to the ground, and head to the final tribal council. Snatches of interviews with the jury make promises of the vitriol to come. Susie makes her opening statement first, claiming that all she ever wanted to do was give the Survivor challenge a try, claiming that she found her confidence in the process. Bob iterates the fact that he played hard. Not outwitting or outplaying, but outlasting his competition. Sugar cops to the fact that she lied, but that she also played a damn good game despite the odds and her own faculties, perhaps, being against her. The jury is next offered the opportunity to challenge the final three.

Charlie questions the women on the validity of their positions in the final three, Susie contends that the fact that she is still trying gives her the right to be there, Sugar doesn’t have much to say. Charlie then tosses a fluff question to Bob. Crystal is quick to call Bob and Susie out on their coat tail riding, and then asks Sugar why she, Crystal, was voted out. Sugar tells her that she was voted out for her attitude.

Kenny asks Susie why she feels like she deserves the million dollars. Susie claims that she has been honest with Kenny all along, appealing to his position as an underdog from the start. Kenny asks Sugar why she stabbed him in the back. In tears (which Sugar seems to have no lack of,) she tells him that she viewed him as a threat. Ken then asks Bob again, about the oft-discussed immunity deal that Kenny feels Bob reneged on. No new ground is discovered here. Corinne asks Susie to remove her vocal chords, which Susie refuses to do. She then asks Bob to say something nasty about Sugar, and when Bob fails to do so to her satisfaction, Corinne gets nasty herself.

Marcus is next, and he tells Susie that she hasn’t lived up to her obligation as a role model. Next, he asks Sugar whether or not she would do something philanthropic with the million dollars, should she win, and she tells him that she would support lung cancer and children’s charities. Marcus next asks Bob to be responsible for his decisions at camp, Bob claims the need for him to make decisions never came up, with other strong leaders being willing and able to tell him which way to vote or act. Randy is up next, and the fireworks come, as expected. He does not so much ask questions as take the opportunity to exchange insults with the jury. Bob is alone in backpedaling on his actions in Randy’s controversial elimination.

Matty asks Susie to tell him why she deserves the money over the other two. She responds by saying that Sugar’s actions towards Randy were despicable, and that Bob was snappy with her after she won immunity — don’t know what that’s worth, but that’s what she said. Matty asks Sugar what she’s done that was completely evil, and Sugar says that the way she turned on Ken was the worse thing that she’s done. Curiously, Matty asks Bob why the other two might be more deserving of the million dollar prize. Unsurprisingly, he says that they’re not more deserving. As if there was any other answer to that question, Matty.

The jury goes to vote for the winner of the million dollar prize. Kenny, in particular, takes a long time in deciding of whom his vote will be in favor. Jeff collects the votes and we make the journey across space and time to present-day Los Angeles for the reading of the jury’s votes. Everyone’s cleaned up nicely, and the votes are read. Susie takes the early lead, but Bob soon catches up, with Sugar receiving no votes. The final vote is for Bob, your winner of Survivor: Gabon.

Wow! I’m not surprised that Bob won, but I am surprised that Susie got as many votes as she did. I’m also a bit mystified by the fact that, despite playing what was ostensibly the most strategic game of the final three (and, as always, arguably so,) Sugar garnered no votes for herself! Usually there’s at least one person on the jury who wants to give the award to the person who played the best game. It’s good to know that, even for a grizzled Survivor veteran like myself, there are surprises to be had from what has been a largely luke-warm season of the show. Enjoy your holidays, everyone, and I will see you in Brazil in February for the next season of your favorite show and mine — Survivor!!!

Posted by:Andrew Stubinski