The Survivor Finale: Jury My Heart In Samoa

By Richard Lawson

Dec 21, 2009

Well, was it the Worst Jury Decision Evar!1! as many folks are crowing, or did the truly sneaky player deservedly get the spoils? That seems to be the big debate about last night's Survivor finale, which saw an all-time show favorite pitted against a nicer, more subtle player.

I'll just come out and say it. I'm glad Natalie won. Earlier in the season I would have told you that I didn't want Russell to win because he was an arrogant bully, a bit of a woman-hater, and a completely scrupleless player in a game that does, in the end, demand some amount of social grace. But now I'd hinge my distaste for Russell solely on that last point. Did Russell deserve to win the game if it was decided in a jury-less vacuum? Yeah, he probably did. But he knew from day one, as everyone else did, that ultimately a bunch of potentially pissed-off people were going to be the ones who decided to hand over the cool million, and he didn't seem to pay much attention to that. Natalie did and thus, in my estimation, played the game just a little bit more fully than Russell.

Or maybe, rather, she didn't play the game at all, which is, you know, one way to actually play it. She sneaked in there behind Russell, only darting her head out to get Erik voted off, and effectively used the bulldog as a blocker until she was at the one yard line and then tip-toed into the endzone for the win. It's definitely a more passive and less exciting strategy than Russell's big grand theatrics, but it certainly proved more effective in the end. She also managed to somehow distinguish herself from Mick, the other relative non-entity in the final three, which indicates to me that she did something else right. And, as I saw a commenter note on another site, Natalie was the reason Erik got voted off, and then Erik was (likely) the reason Natalie won. She somehow managed to turn a negative into a positive, and I suggest that there was definitely some skill at work there.

As much as folks might bemoan the fact that Natalie just rode those proverbial coattails, she wasn't the one pushing Russell to stick his neck out there and make himself a big, bald target. That was an active choice he made, and it bit him in the ass in the end. I suspect he could have played a quieter, but no less cunning, game and walked away with the million. But he was just too brazen and brash and boastful about his success and didn't seem to think that he needed to work for the jury's votes. Which clearly proved a mistake.

I guess the question then comes down to this: When is the game over? Is the game over when the last player is eliminated before the finals? If that's the case, then Russell was certainly the best player. But, as the rules of the game stand now, the only way to secure victory is to effectively sell yourself all the way up to the point when the last jury vote is cast. In that regard, Russell dropped the ball by 1) picking the wrong people to bring to the finals and 2) not doing much to win the jury's sympathy. Those are two enormous fumbles, and ones that do seem to tarnish the argument that Russ was one of the best contestants in the show's history. Best for the first 38 and a half days? Yep. But he lost it there in the all-too-crucial end stages. Natalie played a smooth, clean game of competent but unassuming team member all the way through the finale and, whether we agree with the format or not, clinched the jury—the show's most important elimination challenge.

That said, it certainly wasn't a terribly thrilling conclusion to what had otherwise been a cutthroat and nerve-jangling season. Brett made up for his general nobodiness in the end by throwing an immunity-laden wrench into Foa Foa's gears there for a bit. And, you know, he was really cute. So good for him. Mick began to look more and more pathetic as the final episode wore on—the kind of guy who never really had a plan and then tried to make that look like a plan. At least Natalie owned up to hiding behind Russell. Mick just tried to make his longevity seem like some sort of moral victory, which was a pretty weak play. I was surprised by shambling shambles Shambo's venom for both Mick and Natalie, and when I spoke with Natalie via satellite this morning she told me she was just as shocked. (Video on that brief interview ought to be forthcoming.) I thought Erik's emotional outburst was a bit silly, though effective. It's clear that this kid really thinks about the game, and it did make me wish he'd stuck around a little bit longer. I think he could have been exciting to watch as the days on the island winnowed away.

It was funny to see everyone at the Reunion all fattened and be-makeover'd. To be perfectly honest? I think I preferred some of them skinny. (Brett, I'm looking in your direction. Sigh.) I definitely preferred Natalie's island style, makeup-free and a huge tumble of hair messily piled atop her head, to her done-up pageant look during the live broadcast. And Russell deserved to lose for his bizarre outfit alone. That silly hat! I've never seen him look pitiful before. It was jarring.

Well, that's all I really have to say about that, I guess. Again, I can't complain about Natalie's victory—she got the votes, and that's the whole point—though I do understand the grumbling that, in a perfect world, Russell should have been given the crown and peg-legged off into the sunset with a million pirate doubloons in hand. But this isn't a perfect world! It's the delightfully, frustratingly, beguilingly imperfect Survivor, an adventure I think is still worth watching unfold, despite its obvious human flaws. Feel free to wildly disagree with me in the comments below.

Also? What do you think about this impending "Heroes vs. Villains" season? Mostly I'm curious as to how they make the value judgments about each player. Who's good, who's bad, etc. Essentially everyone's bad on Survivor, so maybe the Heroes team will just be old cast members who were the lesser evils. And how far back into seasons past do you think they'll reach? What if Kelly Wiglesworth showed up? That'd be something, huh?

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  • amber_93 Jan 01, 2010

    Brett should have won... Of course you can't blame Russel for wanting to keep his tribe in the finale but i think its pretty amazing that Brett was the only one from Galu to make it to the finale and he didn't even have a strategy until almost the end of the show when he started winning immunity which was the only thing that kept him in the game...and he deserved to win even if he wasn't the strongest or biggest person on the show. Out of the 3 that were left i think Natalie did deserve to win.

  • blkfootblaque Dec 29, 2009

    I felt soooo sorry for Russell at the end of the finale. He was sooo hurt. It looked as if he was holding back tears. He appeared to be innocent in what the jury might think.... as if the jury were people based on skills and not petty emotions. It shows that Russell had the right attitude coming in this game and going out of this game. He stuck by his tribe through it all. What a hero.

  • catndog Dec 26, 2009

    Russell should have knowned that the jury is usually loaded with sore loosers and I thought this jury was the sorests loosers ever.

    Maybe if Russell played a better social game he would have won.

    Russell tried to be the ED (from Big Brother) of Survivor and it cost him.

  • schrzan Dec 24, 2009

    Short Man Syndrome at its best :) The poor arrogant little troll should have not been so arrogant...!

  • magic1969 Dec 23, 2009

    The right one won.I only got to watch the last one and I hated Russell from the first monent.Bret should have won the 100,000 grand deal

  • chrismarks28 Dec 23, 2009

    Actually Russell knew everything there was to know about "Survivor" except how much the other players hate a braggart. I honestly believe that Russell played the best game I've ever seen with the exception of knowing when to shut his mouth. I honestly don't think seven people voted FOR Natalie I think at least five of them were voting AGAINST Russell - and he had nobody to blame for that but himself. Had he played the jury better than he did he would have taken home the prize but he just couldn't rope in his ego. Even after the vote he had to pull the childish stunt of burning another pair of Jaison's socks - give me a break, what a sore loser. The following morning he was still whining about Natalie not deserving to win on the Early Show. He said that he wasn't in real life the same as he was on "Survivor" but I beg to differ - his actions after the game was over and the winner announced prove otherwise. He said from the start that he wasn't there for the money and didn't need it - he was there to show people how easy it is to win "Survivor" and I guess he failed because he didn't win.

  • commeca Dec 23, 2009

    There is something seriously wrong with the country when people can publicly (and even cheerfully) admit that they admire and cheer for a man who cheats, lies, and is willing to win at all costs. Survivor is at its best when people like Ethan Zohn and Yul Kwon take the prize. At its worst when people like Richard Hatch and Vecepia Towery win and people like Russel Hantz gain notoriety. It's simply trivial when the Natalies of the world win.

  • conanthegreat02 Dec 23, 2009

    Russel is simply the best player in survivor! Too bad the jury were too dumb to realize how strategic and manipulative Russel was and how hard he fought just to be in the game. Well, we should have expected it since they were outplayed when they came into the merge 8 Galu, 4 Foa-Foa yet the final 3 were Foa Foa.

  • Klod007 Dec 23, 2009

    I think it all comes down to this: The race isn't finished until you pass the finish-line. Russel might have lead the whole race, but he was passed on the finish-line.

  • zaibutzu Dec 23, 2009

    Eric is dumb! He suayed a lot of the jury cause of his speech. But Natalie was the one who caused him to be voted off. Her actions contradict what he said about her. I bet when he watched the show he was like damn! And Russel deeserves it just cause of that one time, he whipped out his immunity idol changing the votes to remove kelly. Most kickass television right there!

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