Ohey, this old thing.
Last we checked in was in Episode 3, where FrankyWatch lasted as briefly as my lazy ass would have wanted while poor Franky did not. Something became a theme in my articles- the reconstruction of canon. To me, this was important, as SNZ started off with drastic steps to not be the first season, so I took that as close to canon as many people do the 2000s Australian Survivors, or I will US Season 38. (Oh, that’s gonna eat so much shit, I am telling you now.)
Honestly I considered writing this last week but then things so as you can imagine I am really grateful to Tara for bowing out because the three in the finals are the three I wanted to cover. This makes Tara way more interesting than just a random goat, and also lets me cover all three of the main characters as finalists, so thank you Tara!
This leaves Tess, Dave, and Lisa. All three of them developed the canon of Survivor New Zealand in their own ways. Lisa, who was probably the most influenced by the US Survivor, rapidly accelerated the development of the canon’s strategy with a next-level move that would be seen as rare in modern US Survivor (especially as they canonically prohibit the big moves they crave). Tess’ inherent likability at the cost of strategic input has showed the massive benefit of the social game even in the face of big moves. Dave would be seen, then, as a happy medium, but he is… interesting, not the least because he took advantage of a massive boon to his game that no one else had the ability to access.
I would like to talk about all three of them, as the first Final 3 in the show’s revitalization and the effects they could have on the show’s future. In truth, we got a very generous Final Three, especially the dichotomy between Lisa and Tess, set up from the start where Lisa questions Tess’ ability to play and Tess says that knowing nothing about Survivor doesn’t mean you can’t play it. Dave makes things interesting, but it’s all about the two Khang Khaw.
As such, I will get Dave out of the way.
Dave is the one man in the endgame, so as you would imagine, the fans go crazy caping for him. However, it is entirely fair, and in my view permissible, to say that his game has largely been formed by his bond with Matt, his friend from the mainland. Dave managed to make that work to his benefit by saving Matt in the post-swap while he voted out allies of his, and at merge, Matt did the same by voting out the other Chani while sparing him. However, that’s a special advantage only Dave and Matt got, entirely for free, not even intended by production (because let’s be real, I correct mistakes in these articles better than they correct mistakes in their casting). I would be less than impressed if he won. Sorry, JT.
However, the friendship comes as a double-edged sword. After it became clear to Dave that he was Matt’s hanger-on, Dave joined Lisa and Tara to blindside him in a 3-2-1 vote. However, this left Kiwi Henry in Ponderosa, who surprisingly non-maliciously relayed his pre-game bond with Dave to Ponderosa to a relatively poor reception.
This fascinates me, because before a lot of the jury would see Dave as the last standing Chani underdog, who survived the destruction of his tribe due to a deft move and joining a solid F3. Hell, Tara even indirectly quit (in the show’s first 2-1-1 vote ever) because she felt Lisa and Dave deserved to be there. Now they know he got as far as he did because his close mate in real life saved him.
This is actually a total slap in the face to other Chani, who know now they lost the be-friends-with-a-Khang-Khaw lottery that would have gotten them ahead, and Tara, who now knows the reason she quit to be false because Dave didn’t get there by his own guile, but with the help of an actual close friend, a freak accidental Blood vs Water pairing that affected the game in ways that Ali/Patrick and Brett/Laura could only dream of. Needless to say, the bond will dominate a lot of the conversation towards Dave when it comes to the final vote.
Outside of that, Dave played a pretty decent game, although one with a few flaws. His social game was brought into question by Adam who, despite what the audience may feel about him, was painted to be in the right a lot.
Whenever there was a reward, Dave either played ungrateful or insincere in his eyes. There was also the incident where he informed Matt to play his idol in the TC where he himself voted for Matt. However, the guy knew when to make a move, how to get into a good spot at Chani, and how to leverage his friendship to get him further.
At the end of the day, the anomaly of the friendship is an anomaly to the canon, and it ends up consuming the perception of him- inside and outside of the game. If he won, the first thing it would say is “don’t cast friends again”.
Tess may win based off of pure likability, which is amazing because of the sheer amount of strategic mistakes she has made. She’s let loose secrets, she’s been a perpetual underdog, and she’s even resigned herself to going home. In many ways, she’s somewhat like Jenna in that regard. Also like Jenna, socially she’s been ace. A lot of fans boil that down to her being a hot woman, you know, because there isn’t an achievement done by women that people won’t degrade. However, it’s been more than her luring people in with her womanly whore-woman-ness.
What’s always struck me about Tess is that she’s never really unlikable even when she should be. A lot of people were mad that she and Adam were against Dylan for reasons, but Adam bore the brunt of that dislike because Adam hates everyone. Tess never seemed to invest dislike into it. I’ve also noticed Tess as an underdog get kind of sassy and get upset over things or at people, but never hold a grudge. Hell, her best mate Adam voted for her, and while she was upset at first the two mended fences because Tess took him on reward with the expressed intent of doing so. Even her not strategizing to save herself at Final Six fit her character- she was more content hanging out with a lizard than throwing people under the bus.
The most memorable little moment for me is when Tara lost at the Outpost and the tribe would have to pay the price by being raided. However, when Tara relayed her loss and the cost to the tribe, Tess immediately comforted her and insisted she was just glad that Tara wasn’t forced to leave the tribe because they loved having her. If there’s a more Tess Fahey moment, I haven’t seen it.
While those are moves that aren’t #playahnthegayum, I’ve never seen an actual contender with as consistent a personal character as Tess. Tess reminds me of what Rupert told Russell in his HvV jury speech- being honest in the game is very hard, while being deceptive is very easy. While I generally don’t fault someone for taking the “easy way out” I do agree that it is very difficult to be honest in Survivor, and Tess is.
She’s not generally deceptive, she’s open about how she feels, and she doesn’t go against character. It’s entirely underrated by fans how tricky that is, but Tess has made the F3 while being honest. While I doubt that was intentional, it was very powerful, because now she got to the finals with no one in the jury having reason to be mad at her. Unimpressed, maybe. It’s not like Tess has a #resume or other things fans pretend to hate and then demand, but Tess has played a very likable, inoffensive game where people are happy to see her succeed.
Tess came into the game with a bare idea of what Survivor was about, but what Survivor is about is, a lot of times, who she is. People win by being like Tess a lot more than they win by being like Lisa, like it or not. If you think that shouldn’t be the case, you need to consider what Survivor actually is, and not what you think it had better be.
That being said, if Lisa Stanger won, I would feel so vindicated.
From the start, Lisa said over and over that she didn’t wanna be the one who was seen doing nothing and gets zero votes at the end. I have a feeling that a good amount of code went into that insistence, because it does not take a lot for any mother figure to lose the jury vote. Be too much, you’re a bad woman. Be too little, you’re a weak woman. I’ve always found it weird when people insist that there’s absolutely bitterness and bias in juries, but do not ever concede that the jury often looks at older women with utmost bias. Only when the ruling class (and Aubry) do not get what they are apparently entitled to do fans riot.
I would love for Lisa to break that chain and be respected in a jury vote.
Sadly, I do not think that will happen.
Lisa has, almost by necessity, done too much. While a lot of the big moves were ones she had to make, sometimes she takes them too far. She let Adam and Matt vote Tess, when Adam likely would have been on board to vote Matt. This was, in part, because she was hoping to keep Adam and Tess separate, but it reinforced what a trash move Adam felt it was, and how cold it all was. Is there bias towards older women daring to make moves and play Survivor in the vitriolic reaction? Hell yes. There always is, I will find, considering people like Tony are favorites and people like Missy are evil. However, it’s not a stretch that Lisa thinks she needs to go further and ends up going too far.
As of late, Lisa’s had a lot of game-related confessionals, which in my opinion damper her character. I think it’s indicative of her character- that she often neglects the social side of the game because she’s focused too much on strategy. You can tell by what someone I know would call the “PR answers” where she clinically and politely discusses with others how they fit into her game. She’s never rude, and she’s never egotistical. She’s quite nice, honestly. But she’s impersonal in many ways- her politeness is general and nonspecific. She and Tess are both inoffensive, but Tess has the advantage of being authentically inoffensive, while Lisa’s feels like someone who should be inoffensive.
It’s tough to criticize Lisa, because I do adore her. I like this snarky little librarian who tore this game a new one and pulled off a legitimately remarkable move in her 3-2-1 vote against someone with an idol, one that had me screaming in my seat in disbelief and relief. I love how she has such passion for not only winning, but doing well, that her heartbreak was palatable when Matt found an idol and won immunity, because it felt like the death of her dream.
She’s a superfan, but not in a pretentious way where she acts superior to others. She wants to achieve her little checkmarks, one by one, enjoy the experience and make the game hers. That’s the kind of enthusiasm I love to see. It’s a shame the culture of Survivor is one that is exponentially harder for her, because she has the makings of a great male player.
There are aspects to the Final Three that make them all stand out. There are no Troyzans that are obvious losers or weak links. There isn’t even anyone that I think absolutely loses. I think the odds are definitely in Tess’ favor, but anything can happen.
It’ll be interesting to dissect the final conclusion of the season. It will decide the direction of Survivor New Zealand and where it will go from there.