The Survivor Finale: Jury My Heart In Samoa

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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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.
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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.
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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.
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Short Man Syndrome at its best :) The poor arrogant little troll should have not been so arrogant...!
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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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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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Russell deserved to win and should have won. Natalie did nothing but ride Russell's coattails the whole way through. Everytime an undserving person who flies under the radar wins, I promise myself that I'm done watching Survivor because I can't stand seeing someone win a title and money for doing nothing. Although, obviously I continue to watch and will continue to watch. It's a shame Heroes vs. Villians was taped already (or at least pretty much done with) because I would have loved to see Russell get a 2nd chance both because I believed he deserved to win the first time around and also to see if he would switch up his strategy realizing that people are idiots who cannot separate a game from real life.
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I may be alone here, but I hated Russell. I'm really happy Natalie won. She deserved it.
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@burnsdg: Ruppert would be a Hero for sure.
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So if they can talk Rupert into playing for a THIRD time, would he be a Villain or a Hero?
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Russell did EVERYTHING right, EXCEPT his discussions with the jury. His opening statement was weak, and the few times he did get a question directed at him he didn't pounce on the opportunity and keep PLAYING THE GAME. It's like he walked into the final tribal council thinking the game was already over, when he needed to keep PLAYING just a wee bit longer. There were a couple that wouldn't have voted for him no way, but I think there were votes to be had and Russell didn't fight for them.

Natalie DID fight for the votes, and WON.
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How soon the contestant forget what they did during the game, they are just pissed that Russell beat them at their own game. And Jaison is the biggest sooky lala that I have ever seen, someone had to be voted off and he was the unfortunenate one. Build a F@#king bridge dude. He needs to suck it up and toughen up. Because there is noway I would hire him as a lawyer, Russel is the all time Survivor champ and the game has changed forever.....I hope he is the next and Jaison is not.....
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it was all eriks fault, he clouded every1's head, i bet even the jury were thinking after, why did i vote natalie
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While I find Russell to be one of the best players this show has seen for quite a while, I don't think Natalie was UNdeserving of the win. Natalie played a good game, and while some may not recognize it, riding on coattails IS a legitimate strategy. She made some good points about seeming like the underdog because the stronger girls were gone within a few days. Aligning herself with Russell was smart and look where it got her. Unfortunately, I don't think Russell will live long in the next season (because he's a shoe-in to be there, no doubt) because it's different when you are using a strategy for the first time, but using it against seasoned players will prove tricky. I just hope he lasts longer than Coach if he's there. I couldn't stand him. Oh well, Russell did deserve the fan favorite prize and he can at least be content that everyone ELSE thought he should win.
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Russell played the game in the spirit of the game. OUTWIT. OUTPLAY. OUTLAST. He did all three of these things with incredible skill and determination, regardless of what people think of him personally. This is akin to one chess master outwitting multiple opponets, them forming a jury, and giving the championship to someone else. The spirit of Survivor dictates that the whoever stabs others in the back the best wins. You all know it, because you tune in weekly to see specifically that happen. If everyone were nice and courteous, truthful to a fault, this show wouldn't have seen season two.
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Russell was robbed. He completely and totally deserved the win.
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If not Russell, then Natalie. I, at the most, am ok with it. If Brett had won, I would had ended my evening chugging Pepto Bismol. Thankfully my dinner remained where it should. Juries always vote on emotion and always will. The voted out can never seem to get over themselves, just look at Laura & Jaison. Hell hath no fury like a blindsided Survivor contestant. A comment about Russell's loyalty. Look who he took with him, he stayed Foa Foa to the end. He could have taken Shambo or Brett and only let Jaison go in an effort to keep Foa Foa intact. Yes of course he had good reasons beyond loyalty to make those moves but in the end he was still loyal as all the Foa Foa Four-a were.
The Galu's were the sorest bunch of outwitted contestants ever. They shot themselves in their collective feet and can only blame themselves. Kind of sad really.
Can't wait for Heroes vs. Villains. Kelly Wiglesworth! now that would be just too awesome to imagine.
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Natalie did not deserve to win. The jury proved just how dumb they are. The master of the game from the get-go was Russell. He was brilliant.
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Even though this finale doesn't reached NZ until the New Year, I have to admit that this season of Survivor really hits me hard(because Samoa is where my mum was born). :) Great challenges though. Just wished that Brett won. :(
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Great article... I think you are right on about why Natalie deserved to win more than Russell. In life, as in any game, how you cause others to perceive you and your actions are just important as any other part of strategy. You are also right on about the get-ups... they all look much better on the island... and Russel's hat was simply embarrassing.
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While watching the season I had mixed feelings about Russell winning the $1,000,000 - on the one hand, I think he really did a brilliant job of finding hidden idols with no clues, getting people he wanted voted off, etc. On the other hand, his arrogance and smugness was SO annoying that in the end, I believe that's what did him in. Did he play the best game? Most likely. Does that mean he should automatically win? Seemingly not. He needed to remember that ultimately his fate was in the hands of human beings, and those human beings were not fond of him for the same reasons I was not fond of him. That's the game of life, Russell. And you definitely don't know how to play that one...
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Russell's biggest mistake was when he got rid of Shambo at 5 rather than Natalie. The IC's would have played the same and if Russell took Shambo and Mick to the final three, he would have got the win. As for the upcoming season, I've seen a lot of names tossed around such as Coach Wade and even Rob Mariano...should be great regardless.
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The image that sticks in my mind is of Natalie hanging upside down, holding on with nothing but her knees, stuffing flags into that log, she would have had my vote for that performance alone. But I was astonished at how bitter and pathetic the jury was, Galu got outplayed, show some respect.
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In the end, Russell cut his own throat with the jury. By using them the way he did, HE decided his own fate. It does not matter if he played the game better, the fact it in the eyes of the jury, he is sucks as a person, that is what helped Natalie win.
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Russell was the better player, Natalie might of won, but Russell played better than her and made the bad decision of taking Mick and Natalie with him
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For me it's like this: Nat didn't win, Russell lost. She followed him as he bulldogged his way (with frightening, evil skill) to the top and then watched as he sunk himself. She was like Johnny Depp in the begining of Pirates 1, riding the ship oin as it sank itself only to step off, light as a breeze, onto the dock and a million dollars. Did Rus play a good game? Sure. But as has been said before he burned to many bridges. He defeated himself and it was Nat who was able to become compelling enough to get the votes. She was honest about her lamprey status where as Mick's holier than thou-ness rang false. Her meekness became her weapon. So Well do to her for beating Mick and for know when and how to step over Russell as he shot himself in the foot.
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Natalie won because it is acceptable to go under the radar a ride coattails as a women. But not acceptable for a man to do the same, as Mick did. No one respects the man who rides coattails in this game, thats why he had no chance. Russell was the best player, but he missed the part of being kind in victory and that cost his game. The jury always seems to play by emotion then by game play. No matter how much I want it the other way around, I guess the emotions of the game cannot be ignored.
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"..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."

I think that sums it up perfectly. Russell was so clearly upset he didn't win that it was kind of funny. Yes he did play it masterfully but he burned far too many bridges on the way to the final three. That and he apparently took the wrong people to the end, another part of the game that decides whether you finally win. I can't wait to see him though in the Heroes vs. Villains seasons - he's a shoo-in for the cast! (Wonder if Colby Donaldson will be one of the Heroes?)
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A friend of mine and I both have a lot in common with Russell, including the little temper tantrum he had at the reunion. I think I'm more let down that he lost because of that. It's as if the strategy that I've been thinking about for 19 seasons was just proven to be faulty and it upsets me. But he did get his 'title' of Player of the Season, so I hope he's ok with that at least.

As for next season; I was really hoping for Winners vs Losers with 10 people who have won and 10 people who were the first voted out of their seasons. Either way All-Star seasons can be amazing or terrible depending on who they can get so we'll have to wait and see if we like the cast in two months. Should be interesting.
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I still don't think Natalie deserved it over Russell. I like her, and I'm sorry for the hate she's probably receiving for beating out what was most of the country's preferred win, but she didn't work like he did for where she was. If it wasn't for Russell's work, none of the Foa Foa Four would have even gotten near the finals. She may have been Russell's preferred confidant, but that doesn't mean she worked harder for the win for it. Plus, she was NOT the reason Eric was voted out. That fell solely on the ignorance of the original Galu members. They orchestrated their own demise by pushing to get him out in that episode and gave Foa Foa the perfect opportunity for Russell's hidden immunity idols to gain them the majority. Also, that jury was made of a bunch of whiny sore-losers who, I believe, only voted for Natalie in order to really stick it to Russell. That does not make a good jury at all - whenever you're giving a million dollars to somebody, you really need to think about it instead of voting on petty emotions . . . especially you, Jaison, you bitter, lazy jerk! I'm sorry Natalie, but Russell was robbed.
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