Credit to Edgar Torres Jr. for some bitchin’, amazing artwork. Check him out- he’s made some awesome Survivor posters.
Where’d Hindsight Bias 12 go? Well, there is no 12th Hindsight Bias. We built straight from an eleventh to a thirteenth. The writers would like to tell you that they are very sorry.
Seriously, though, apologies for missing a week. Like Joe, I’ve also had medical problems including notching nearly a second week in the hospital on what was meant to be a four day stay, so obviously energy levels have been quite low. Still, the finale is tomorrow, and this last episode is one I, unlike most of the audience, found to be fantastic. There was great setup for what looks to be a bitchin’ finale, there were a lot of great character moments, and there was a beautiful sendoff to a low-key character who is probably one of the cooler people Survivor has exported to the viewing audience. I can’t let this kind of a quality episode slide.
Admittedly, an episode like this is really fanservice to a particular kind of viewer- that kind being me. Mix some non-overbearing strategic content with genuine emotion, human development, and just a celebration of character in general. Really, though, this entire season has been fifty flavors of fanservice to me, as if it was specific. These last few months obviously have been a little rough but I get to start my recap-writing career on Kaoh Rong! I mean, if this RTV stuff went down six months earlier I would have had to start writing on Cambodia. Like, how do you fill up a thousand words on that? Yet most of the time even as tired as I am I happily squee about this season for so long I don’t even know if my bosses have read a full article by me. It’s been a fantastic season and I’m both sad yet excited to see it draw to a close. It’s thirty-two seasons in so it’s a privilege to get to say that.
This article’s gonna be simpler, and probably smaller, than usual (Post-Edit: Turns out it’s still five thousand words, sorry not sorry). I just want to go through the Final Five- giving Joe a farewell, obviously- to show where these people came from, where they’re going, and perhaps, what their legacy will be. Then, I’ll throw out some stuff for the finale, and we’ll call it a day.
And if you want my views on Episode 12 and Kyle, here’s my opinion- Kyle still sucks and I still don’t get how anyone really cares about him. Tai voting alone with the double vote while the grown-ups took care of business was hilarious. Michele’s not that bad guys. Okay, done. Onto more golden and green pastures!
Agent Del Campo in Goldfriend
My god, what can you say about Secret Ancient Man Joe? I already knew the guy was a badass going in, but on the surface what you get of Joe is similar to Rudy- he’s stoic, he’s stubborn, and he has his own way of doing things, while sometimes you’re unsure of whether you’re laughing at him or with him. Regardless, both are still seen as badass in their own ways for what they carried in and what they bring out of this season. This episode, for me, set Joe the person aside from what typically defined the older characters like Rudy and gave Joe the kind of heart and definition you usually don’t get on his demographic.
Joe’s been defined as and accused of being a goat. I think he probably pulls in a solid second place to most of the Final 5 with a little wiggle room to win, but Joe himself would tell you, and has in many exit interviews, that winning wasn’t all Survivor was about to him. He wouldn’t mind going to the end with Aubry, stating his case, and then shaking her hand and congratulating her if she won. He isn’t playing to lose, but isn’t playing only with the million in mind. He wants an adventure, he was ideally hoping for thirty-nine days, and he was hoping for a challenge win- the irony of which has been so overstated I’ll leave it be.
Joe left via medevac after being so starving after so long he lunged at the first bit of food he saw in sight despite it being, as he said, “three feet of meat kebabs”, which was not the best thing to eat if you spent years as a vegetarian like Joe has. Because of this, his digestive wiring got discombobulated, and it was enough to have the medical team decide “okay, we’ve nearly lost like thirty-five people to Kaoh Rong, let’s not even take a slight goddamn chance” and Joe was out in a day or two after that.
Joe’s medevac is in some ways quite darkly humorous. It’s the distaff counterpart to Bruce’s tragic, emotional, yet irrevocably constipation-related medevac, as Joe’s prostate and bladder were affected to the point where he couldn’t urinate. Plus, it was all caused by overeating- a sharp lack of restraint from one of the FBI’s most restrained and coordinated badasses- and the fact that Joe, the seventy-one-year-old who performs only slightly better than Olympian Failure Crystal in challenges, trotted slowly to a challenge win that was unprecedented for him. Something so fantastic turned into a nightmare that led to a very late medevac. It’s dark, but it’s still humor, and Joe himself has shared memes about how silly it all is in a microscope, so I don’t feel too bad for laughing.
Still, as easy as it is to remember Joe as the funny cranky old guy who was Aubry’s goat and got medevac for pigging out so much he broke his pisser, this episode, and the amazing swath of Joe-related content post-episode that CBS released, gave Joe a beautiful sendoff. Because of the nature of his medevac, he was able to walk around and function mostly well despite some severe pain, and was largely medevac’d because of immediate internal risk that sitting around for six days longer would have ran too dangerously. Because of this, Joe was able to patiently sit through a goodbye session with Probst and then impart comforting goodbyes to everyone left.
All five of Joe’s interactions with Probst and those remaining are beautiful. Probst genuinely admires the guy like a kid meeting Superman. This isn’t like Probst’s infatuation with Boston Rob because Rob says strategy a lot, or Ozzy for climbing trees. Probst genuinely admired Joe and probably was the one who pushed for him in casting, because of Joe’s perseverance and classy elder statesmanship. Unlike some of Probst’s other fawning tributes to people, this one felt legit and personal, never overcompensating and overblown. Probst simply had a personal admiration for Joe and it quite adorably seeped through.
With Tai, they didn’t get along fantastically all the time or have the connection Joe made with the girls, but Joe seemed to get Tai, and was understanding that Tai was emotional yet still goodhearted. While you’d think the saboteurs would never get forgiveness from Joe, they seemed on good terms, and Joe seemed to care about how Tai felt as Joe went out. Michele also spoke with a lot of respect about Joe and his “honorable” nature largely in a secret scene, and while Michele identifies as someone who doesn’t get influenced by anyone, for many reasons Joe won her respect and she took his viewpoint into account for her own decisions.
Cydney’s reaction to Joe leaving was very hard to watch, especially factoring in the equally emotional secret confessional she gave that showed up online. To her, from the time she met Joe she viewed him as a “substitute grandfather”, reminding of her own eighty-something grandfather whom she knows isn’t long for the Earth. Cydney’s obviously someone who, for many reasons, puts a shield up to protect herself- one of genuine strength, fast wit, and most importantly distance. She claims that if a friend got hit by a bus, she could shrug it off, but family is her soft spot, and it’s clear how that translates to Survivor.
The kind of comfort Joe provided to everyone before he left is directly reminiscent of what her own grandfather would say, which breaks her down. Not only that, but Joe, despite not being a woman (well, as far as I know), was probably the most loyal and compassionate one in the women’s alliance. Joe stood up directly to Scot and Kyle when everyone else tried to work around them, and he went out of his way to stand with the women that obviously earned his loyalty. Cydney is incredibly strong, but most anyone on this Earth needs a nucleus of safety. To Cydney, that’s family, and for a couple of weeks, Joe was that family- through deeds, not inheritance.
Aubry is the one that probably had the most complex relationship with Joe. Aubry’s emotional breakdown on Day Two as the game hit her was staved off by two supporters- Debbie, who comforted her, and Joe, who worked with her. Because of this, Aubry drifted to their side over the side of the hip young kids. Joe was firm with her, and once Aubry ended up being the de facto Brain mayor on NuGondol he would treat her like a growing leader, both by supporting her and by delivering harsh truths. Still, his support would be a tool in Aubry’s belt that would help her develop her voice as a leader, and even if it wasn’t always a voice that Joe agreed with or obeyed, he still followed her as a leader with no reservations. Aubry thanked him for as much on his way out, and Joe simply encouraged her to take her new skills with her in real life. I’m amazed that this genuinely beautiful storyline was one we got on Season 32, but it’s real, and it’s canon- not just a crackpot theory of an obsessive fan who loves these people too damn much for her own good.
Joe was a low-key character, but he was a force of good throughout most of the season. He showed people the kind of respect that not everyone would give them, especially the women he aligned with, and unfortunately you can’t always say that about every septuagenarian. He helped make them better- defending them, encouraging them, giving them harsh truths that never detracted from them- but let them take the spotlight instead of playing a self-centric game. It’s not always gonna help you win Survivor, but it will help people grow to be their best selves. That’s something important.
Thank you, Joe. You were one of the good ones.
Cydney Gillon is a tour de force. It’s crazy, yet wonderful, that she’s probably the most agreed upon favorite. Everyone seems to have a contingency against her, but hers is probably the smallest and most irrational (and often uncomfortable). Aubry has people against her because of her neuroatypicalities- anxiety, emotion, stress, and the like- while Michele doesn’t stand out to many fans one way or the other. Tai is also burning favor with his more recent strategic blunders, leaving Cydney as someone everyone can come to a pretty positive consensus on. She’s entertaining, she’s clever, she’s standout, and she’s strong. This is pretty awesome to see for Cydney, and far from what I expected to see for her.
Cydney is someone I was fearful of going in. She had a pretty embarrassing list of female misogynist quotes that were hard to get behind, even as I admired her bodybuilding and tenacity. It was unfortunate to see someone strong in an unconventional way demean other women when it’s often a social challenge to be accepted as a female in her field. Still, she defied this when she hit the show, managing to work out her disagreements and dislikes like a rational adult in a tribe of crazy, immature little shits. She wasn’t big on Alecia, but instead of condescending to her and taking away name privileges, she zipped her lip, let Alecia vent to her, and used that to a strategic advantage that gave her sway and information. It was clear that unlike everyone else on To Tang, she knew what was worth fighting for and what was worth recuperating around.
Still, a fight wasn’t out of the equation for her. When it was clear that Nick was trying to control the behavior of the women and the two To Tang men were going off with him and deferring to him, she spoke up. And I loved it. I loved it because she didn’t like it, and she was going to state that, but she said it in a manner that was very eloquent and well put together, a skill lacking in Survivor. She’d joke around and add some fun turns of phrase in it, but I see no reason anyone could really object to how Cydney handled it. She said her piece, it was valid, and she said it in a valid way. When it was clear the guys were gonna treat her like a loon and continue to push her out in favor of Nick, she took control of her fate and voted Nick out, creating a new alliance.
Cydney has, more than anyone, demonstrated strategic control in the post-merge. She was the one who united people in the Nick vote, and she was the one who kept them strategically united. When Julia faded out, she just casually had Julia executed. When Tai went against Michele, she shut it down and went to Aubry about it. Cydney gets stuff done in an efficient matter, and while the weaker-minded will take her strength and independence as an unforgivable weakness, it’s kept this machine rolling smoother than any other cog.
On top of that, Cydney is just naturally witty. I’ve been fascinated all season in how you can define her speaking mannerisms by the path of life she’s taken. She’s defined herself as a Georgian city kid in a school system she didn’t care for who rose above and went to an Ivy League school before learning the discipline it takes to learn bodybuilding. The woman builds a case and explains an argument and position with the vocabulary and mannerisms of an Ivy League student, while mixing this with the fast-talking playful informality of a city kid, all wrapped together with a small dash of Southern Charm. She’s deceptively smart, but undeniably so, and she’s hysterical in a natural way that turns what could have been staged in the hands of a lesser being. I love the phrases and terms she comes up with on the fly.
Cydney’s been one of the most impressive Survivor players in awhile. Socially, she’s not a perfect ten, but she can get along with all types and not alienate most smart people when she disagrees with them. Strategically, she knows both how to play quietly and when to make a move that shakes things up, but never overplays one hand or the other. Physically, she’s managed to downplay herself despite being a bodybuilder, but still can win a challenge with grace if needed, while never being targeted as a physical threat. In fact, she only got targeted once for the sake of vengeance, and an implausible plan I couldn’t get away with in a fanfic was set into place to save her, and it worked. She’s done pretty damn well for herself and I’m excited to see what her legacy is from here on out. It’s gonna be a great one, I’d imagine.
That might have been the unfortunate instagram name Debbie gave herself for her part-time modeling, but it certainly describes the swath that the unlikely heroine has cut through the game. Aubry started day one unsure of herself, scared, and just waiting to shatter, and she ended day three having helped her tribe immensely to victory. Her growth was just beginning, however- later on she herself would describe herself, and be described, as indecisive, as shown when she crossed out a vote for Julia to instead vote Peter. Come merge, enemies had been made against her, Debbie’s scrambling, and Neal’s idol, and though she tried her best to undo Chan Loh’s damage, the strike was set against Chan Loh. To make matters worse, the intended target, Neal, was medevac’d with the idol as his sole takeaway, making Aubry the de-facto target anyways at the next Tribal Council.
And then… she just wasn’t.
Somehow, she made the right connections, played just quietly enough, and watched as the guys condescended to the women and botched a split to get six people aligned against the three of them. Suddenly, Aubry was the leader that some thought she was born to be, and others never expected her to be. However, despite being the underdog turned overdog, the opposition was greater than ever. Now, the three men scorned had the power to create a Super Idol, which would undo their vote-out no matter what happened and secure them the power to punish them. If that wasn’t enough, the men would also publicly destroy the camp and stop any attempts of theirs to keep camp life going themselves. Just as she was in power, and had escaped a massive bullet with severe casualties, she was going to face an even bigger challenge.
This time, she performed more than well enough to match the occasion. It would not be without casualties, as she sacrificed Debbie to keep the more flexible and likeminded Cydney around, but she tapped into something no one expected- her weaknesses. She had seen despair, she had been distraught, she had faced self-conflict. Right then, Tai was going through the same. While he felt that the villainous moves of the trio he was part of as underdogs was what was going to save them, their cruelty and carelessness hurt Tai, who felt like he was losing what made him Tai by letting it happen.
Aubry took the weakness she faced and used it to relate to Tai on many levels. Now, the target was on her. Knowing Tai was becoming friendly with Aubry, Scot and Kyle viewed her as too big an influence to let stay in the game rather than too powerless to stop their onslaught as they had before in the Final 10. Aubry gave Tai a human friend in a game where he was often treated as a circumstantial pawn. Because of this, when the super idol, which Tai helped make, was aimed straight at her, Tai let it go, and Scot took the fall for his deed.
Now, Aubry is seen unquestionably as the leader. Socially, she’s impressed many, and strategically people see her as central to everything. People defer to her for the vote, and she holds strong connections with everyone in the game. She became the leader Joe believed she could be, and became Joe’s leader in the process. While more hurdles presented themselves, and while stress did get to her still, she managed to overcome them all and fix any mistakes made on the way. Unfortunately, bad luck threw another large hurdle in her way when Joe, her ironclad second in command and day one gold friend, medevac’d on Day 34, being her second final two partner to clock out on a medical boat.
This finale will be tougher for Aubry than anyone else. If people remember it being said that she was a threat, or if people find her too powerful to keep, she will go quite easily. Still, we’ve seen her dodge some heavy missiles before under dire circumstances. One little finale isn’t out of the question. If she doesn’t win, however, best believe she has left behind a killer legacy that has gone on far longer than the one episode many thought she would falter and fall out of. Best of all, this legacy was made on her terms, through her skills- even as imperfect as Aubry is, she hasn’t had to change who she is to make herself better. That’s admirable. As a woman, this is why I admire her.
Michele is one of the most surprising people to ever get talked about in Survivor. On the surface level, she’s seen as a generic female saying generic things and playing a generic game. The fascination around her is the reaction others have to her- some emphatically say she’s going to win as though it’s a god given fact, and others say there’s no way she can win because she hasn’t made big moves. I’ve discussed my distaste for the argument in general, but nothing distresses me more about it than the fact that it doesn’t leave room to talk about Michele. Michele is treated like an object that summarizes everything one wants to love and hate about Survivor, essentially turning her into a vessel for the gospel of others.
Admittedly, there’s not as much to talk about with Michele as there is with the others. Michele didn’t come here with baggage she needed to shed, and she isn’t someone who would naturally stand out on a busy rush hour train. She is who she is- a tough-as-nails, pretty, spunky bartender from New Jersey. She can keep quiet if she needs to around douchebag men if it helps her win. Sadly, she has not called anyone a douchebag despite being from Jersey, whom according to Danny Sexbang has mastered the pronunciation of the insult. There’s no shortage of douchebag men this season that she could easily label as such should she want. That’s the thing about Michele, though- she doesn’t default to that. She doesn’t need to drag you through the mud most of the time, but if she does, you’re gonna be covered in it for weeks.
The last few weeks have been golden for Michele. She’s a master at nuance- she knows subtle ways to recover from being blindsided and getting back into the fold and will make the sacrifices necessary to do that. Last week, when she learned she was being targeted by Tai, she used Tribal Council to absolutely embarrass the guy nearly entirely hands-free, making some truthful statements in a way that showed she knew it was finally time to get loud too, what the fuck. Tai blows his double vote, Michele gets two votes only from Tai, and it’s like it never happened.
Last week, however, was just so good it was unfair for Michele. It was like watching Survivor being invented. After Tai tried to cut her, she was left with him alone while the other three went on reward, ostensibly because no one believed she and Tai would be cutting deals after the last fiasco. Instead, Michele talks to Tai on his level while never sacrificing her voice, and connects with him in a way that lowers his guard and, just like I predicted in my pre-game analysis of her (somehow I got a few complete specifics right haha) she managed to take the conversation just a notch higher. It was enough to help Tai notice the shields he puts up around people he doesn’t immediately trust, but not enough to make things too intense for him to see straight. Instead, he admits his faults, makes up for it with a massage, and offers her a chance to change the game with his idol if she wanted.
It doesn’t come to pass, but Michele turned a devoted enemy into a potential ally in one afternoon, and that could be a deciding factor in a game where no one expects it. If Michele makes the Final Two with Tai and that’s what nets her the win, it’s one of the most beautiful, remarkable moves I’ve ever seen in Survivor. Best of all, it’s exactly the type of game Michele masters- keep quiet when you can, but speak when you need to. No fancy big moves unless the time calls for it, and nothing moves mountains like simple conversation. Michele’s steps might feel light on the surface of Kaoh Rong, but rest assured, they could split the Earth. People say Michele isn’t good at Survivor. Me, I’m just waiting for everyone to get on her level with some of the things she does.
It took Tai maybe a nanosecond to become one of the most provocative, powerful, and intensely loved fan favorites. Sure, we might get a Joe or a Malcolm who gets some esteem for being a hot dude on a modern season, but with Tai, you didn’t even need to ask most people if they liked him, or even why they liked him. It was just a feeling. Tai elevated everything about Survivor- camp life, strategy, idol hunts, challenges, bonds, struggles- into something that hadn’t felt this big since the dawn of Rupert.
Everything Tai did had fifty-one years of life and love behind it. Hunting for idols outside of his reach had years as a refugee to remind him that no struggle is too big. Fighting for immunity despite the odds being against him left him to call on Buddha for strength. When he made a friend in Caleb the unlikely, it was a friend for life, even over the course of seven days. For Tai, his morals aren’t perfect, but he never enforces them on others. He has to make decisions for himself, as hard as they may be. He makes all of them with an intensity and heart we haven’t seen in so long. It singlehandedly elevates Survivor into the adventure that it hasn’t quite been for so many years.
We have seen cracks in the angelic surface, though. The first flaw in Tai is that he was often too unfocused. He searched for the idol even after he was caught, losing trust as an overplayer. Come swap, he would make his first betrayal and let Anna go to save himself and his idol. At merge, he would let too much slip and reveal the concept of the Super Idol. After he lost numbers, even though it would pain him, he felt the need to help the tribe with the sabotage, quietly putting out the fire and letting the others awaken to the flames to draw their own conclusions. Still, all of this was tiring to Tai, and it lay heavily on his spirit.
Then, he made a new friend. While Scot had taken the position as his closest friend, the cracks were setting in, and it was becoming clear to Tai that he was more of a piece in Scot’s immense armory than just a friend Scot turned to out of emotional interest. Not only that, Tai’s value in the alliance was lowering before his eyes. Julia was worming into his spot, and the decisions were being made for Tai- often against Tai. None were more brutal to him than when he told the others Aubry was opening up to him, and Scot decided it was immediately time to kill her.
Tai denying Scot the super idol is a quandary of a moment. It’s easily the fulcrum of the season, and possibly its best, most iconic moment. It’s a brutal execution of Tai’s friend in a moment where the game became the most powerful thing, but it’s also the moment where Tai no longer meekly let others perform things he didn’t want to see happen and takes fate into his own hands. It hurts his reputation and exposes him as someone who can and will flip-flop if he needs to, but also defines what he seeks from an ally and a friend- things Aubry’s emotional empathy gave him, reasons Aubry became his new gold friend.
Tai’s game has slowly started to rip at the seams. His moves are sloppier, and his reputation has been changed from an unbeatable sweetheart to a backstabbing jumping bean. Everyone still loves him emotionally, but it’s harder to deny that Tai is a very flawed player. To me, it’s seeing a very nice human being who could easily win playing closer to Michele so infatuated with the idea told to him by CBS that you have to make big moves and have to play really hard that his good qualities- his heart, his emotional center, his loyalty- become flaws in his eyes, and his flaws- reactivity, moral confusion, lack of subtlety- become his self-perceived strengths. Thus, we see a fascinating natural threat become possibly the finale loser.
Still, most everything I love about this season is because of Tai. To some extent he is overexposed but I’ve never not enjoyed watching him. Despite English not being his first language, he’s had the most confessionals this season, and it’s because Tai gives everything he has, and everything he is, to Survivor, and it’s made it a fantastic season. All of the oomph has elevated Kaoh Rong from a fun season in sneaky ways into an epic where everything matters. That’s what makes Tai so lovable- he brings us into a world where we feel things just the way he does.
The Final Battle
I like edgic more than most, and I’ll defend it as a viable and engaging hobby for the fanbase. Still, I don’t wanna bullshit y’all with winners edit statistics and who excels where. Kaoh Rong is a season that’s fun to analyze, but the experience is done not like a graph on paper, but just as something you can feel and enjoy and engage with. In essence, it’s a conversation just a little bit more intense than usual, to the point where you don’t screen everything you say, you just let the conversation become something you can remember.
We have four fantastic characters in the finale, and if any of them won, I would be happy for them. Some are more skilled in some ways than others, but their journeys and their personalities have rewarded us as viewers and made this season a fantastic one. I could predict their journeys in the finale, analyze perceived twists and preview footage, and try and tell you what happens. However, I think the time for that is over.
Now, it’s time to watch some good Survivor.
I’ll see you all for one last hurrah next week.