And the Winner of Survivor: South Pacific Is...

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That's right, a young upstart who watched the first season of Survivor when she was only 11 years old beat out three-time Survivor veteran Coach for the title. Sophie's victory capped off a relatively shrewd game that included a number of individual immunity wins, alignment with power players, and establishing herself as a primary strategist within her alliance without getting entangled in too much of the accompanying drama. Meanwhile, longtime frontrunner Coach discovered the doubled-edged nature of the religious fervor he'd been stirring up all season when some of his former disciples suddenly realized he'd been swearing on the Bible without always keeping his word.

Despite Sophie's victory (and Coach's open-hearted contrition), much of the two-hour finale and post-show reunion revolved around Ozzy's close-but-no-cigar return from Redemption Island. After knocking Brandon out of the game in an endurance challenge in which the two men literally clung to wooden poles, Ozzy immediately won immunity, watched Rick get the boot, and then nearly won immunity again only to blow his huge lead while Sophie swooped in for the win. Despite a last-minute reminder to Coach that he'd pledged to take only the strongest warriors with him to the finale, Ozzy saw his torch snuffed in favor of a particularly oily and unconvincing Albert (who then received zero votes from the jury).

All in all, despite an occasionally aloof awkwardness that some castaways found condescending, Sophie's victory was the right decision. Coach's game may have been solid, but his quest to play honorably, religiously, and deviously all at the same time left him tied up in knots by the time an angry jury came calling for apologies. Which he gave... over and over again. Poor Coach! Ultimately he just seemed like a nice guy who probably overestimated his scheming abilities. Better luck next time? (Just kidding, please no more veterans PLEASE).

The question we asked before this season began was, after 23 seasons, does Survivor still have enough life left in it to keep clinging to that pole? If Survivor: South Pacific is any indication, that answer is a resounding yes. Even with conventions as tired as returning veterans and the stakes-lowering, unexciting Redemption Island, this season still managed to seem surprising even though in retrospect very little of it actually was. In fact, the preview for Season 24 makes it clear that the producers are looking to address this season's lack of surprises head-on.

Survivor: One World promises to be the first season of Survivor in which both tribes will live together on the same beach, a scenario that will hopefully weaken alliances and prevent the post-merge massacre that occurred in South Pacific. Also, it isn't confirmed, but rumors have it that neither Redemption Island nor returning veterans will be featured next season. Whew!

Other highlights from the reunion special?

Keith and Whitney are indeed living the dream. (Sorry, Whitney's former husband, sometimes a person just can't ignore those jungle drums, you know?)

 

Edna's knocked up!

 

Cochran's both single AND America's second favorite player. Unfortunately, second place gets no cash prize from Sprint.

 

Ozzy seems cool with his fourth-place finish, as it will keep him working hard at his job (waiting tables). You know, after his $100,000 America's Favorite Player cash gets spent!

 

Russell Hantz is still awful.

 

Brandon Hantz's reaction to his uncle's criticisms was absolutely heartbreaking. Obviously Brandon played an awful game and created some of the most awful TV of 2011, but he's nowhere near as awful as his uncle. I never thought I'd say this, but I actually felt bad for Brandon here.

 

Stacy's still rockin' her braces. She and Christine talk on the phone every day and occasionally refer to themselves as Salt 'n Pepper. Also she remains my favorite player from this season.

No updates on Mikayla, Papa Bear, Rick, Semhar, or Elise because Jeff Probst straight-up ignored them the whole show. But Mikayla's hair is super dark now, so that's something.

All in all, a solid conclusion to a solid season. What did YOU think?

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