A Journey Through “New-School” Survivor: Season 23, Survivor: South Pacific
While there is no “official” start to the New School era, I consider its beginning to be after Heroes vs. Villains, the twentieth season of Survivor; often considered one of the best, if not the best season in Survivor history. This season has always seemed to be the “opening of the gates” to how everyone could play things strategically, even when odds are against you and numbers aren’t on your side. Nobody was simply “happy to be here” or “just wanted the experience”, everyone wanted to win and do it in a way that could put them in the pantheon of Survivor legend status. And with that, the old school survival and social experiences of the show took a back seat to hardcore and fast paced strategy that defines the new school era.
And with that, I continue my journey with Survivor: South Pacific. Since I took a break from watching Survivor when it aired pretty much after HvV, I’m coming into most of the seasons completely fresh without knowledge of what happens (with a few exceptions of one or two seasons I have watched before and a couple more seasons where I have knowledge of who the winner is already). I will start each article with a spoiler-free review of the season for people who stumble upon my little write-up here and haven’t seen the season yet and want to watch still. After that, I will go into an in-depth analysis of the season’s strategy and entertainment through the vessel of awards and superlatives.
Survivor: South Pacific — The Spoiler Free Review
This season, while named after its location, is essentially Survivor: Redemption Island 2, Electric Boogaloo. Survivor: South Pacific brings two well-known returning players back to lead their teams, while also bringing back the format change of Redemption Island, a place where eliminated contestants arrive to compete in duels for a chance to return to the game. While the big Redemption Island twist played out in essentially the same way as last season and stifled the tension of the vote-out, some fun performances from key players helped keep this season from being completely stale.
Ozzy and Coach returned to this season to be captains for their respective tribes, and unlike last season, both players were able to establish themselves in their tribes and bring the star-power that was promised at the start of the season. Ozzy picked up right where he left off in his Survivor legacy by being an absolute stud in both the survival and challenge aspect of the show. The concept of Redemption Island is perfect for a player like Ozzy who can live in the wilderness on his own and dominate in a one-on-one challenge, and it showed this season. Coach as a “Survivor Legend” was a bit surprising to me: it must have been a decision based on the state of Survivor returnees in the pre-social media age being unavailable because of real life commitments (Coach seems like the type of guy who would have plenty of time on his hands). While I don’t really care for Coach as a personality, he did surprise me with his social game and strategic performance this season. Outside of the returnees, the cast came to play a bit more than the previous season, with its shining star being the super Survivor nerd Cochran. In the reunion Cochran was introduced as a “polarizing character”, which is shocking to me since I can’t really see how anyone could hate his lovable awkwardness and self-deprecating humor. Beyond the big personalities of Coach, Ozzy, and Cochran, no one except Brandon really stood out but at the very least players came to play a little bit harder than the previous season where everyone kneeled at the altar of Boston Rob. And when I say Brandon stood out, I’m not really sure if it was for better or worse, as most of his decisions left you cringing or scratching your head in confusion.
Overall, I think the big weakness of this season is the lack of big Survivor strategic moves. The result of this season is decided by two or three plays; other than that you as a watcher could predict who’s next to go most of the time. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t exciting and entertaining moments sprinkled in every now and then.
RATING: 2 OUT OF 5 STARS
A few great personalities help carry the entertainment in a season lacking in a lot of big Survivor moves that stick in your memory. A forgettable season but not a painful watch.
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AWARDS AND SUPERLATIVES
(Here on out it’s spoilers)
Ten Best Moments from the Season
10. Ozzy Gets an Round of Applause after Finally Being Voted Out For Good
I can’t remember a contestant getting unanimous applause like this as they leave the game. The period to the sentence of Ozzy’s performance this season.
9. Sophie Wins Final Immunity
This locked in the win for her this season by beating Ozzy, who had earned the respect of everyone in the game at this point.
8. Stacy Rants about “Benjamin” at a Duel
Stacy was not a good player and didn’t perform well at all in the duel that followed, but she definitely brought the most sass. Her rant against the majority alliance in her tribe, highlighted by calling Coach by his actual name, was some good shit. On top of that it taught us that Coach hates being called Benjamin with a fiery passion, like his real name is taboo on the same level as Voldemort’s or something.
7. Ozzy Thrives At Redemption Island
How can you say no to an Ozzy spearfishing montage? Watching him do his thing on Redemption Island after being voted out the second time was more exciting than what was going on in the main game at the time.
6. Elyse is Blindsided
It was a well-executed blindside led by Jim and Cochran that sent Ozzy into a fit. From that Ozzy had to give up the power he thought he had and built the foundation for the tribe unity they brought into the merge.
5. Brandon’s Dad Begins to Strategize For Him
Truly a wild thing for someone’s loved one to try to make deals with current contestants without his son really knowing about. Brandon brought a lot of things on himself when it came to his position and reputation in the game, but I felt sorry for him that his dad felt the need to do something like this, and that his family were openly displeased with how he preformed on the show.
4. Ozzy Volunteers for Redemption Island
This “big move” really meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, but it was risky to put yourself in a clear do or die situation like that, and it was cool to see Ozzy think to use Redemption Island in this way. Christine was doing well in Redemption duels at the time but Ozzy is just built different.
3. Cochran being Cochran
From the moment he asked Jeff to call him by his last name I was in on him, and he didn’t disappoint. You could pick out great moments from any episode he was on and put it here.
2. Cochran Flips on His Old Tribe
It was the most consequential move of the game as Cochran, who felt on the outside of his “tribe alliance”, flips on the Savaii members and gets verbally eviscerated afterwards. It’s the reason that the former Upolu were able to sit in the last tribal councils. Cochran framed the move as his way of standing up against his poor treatment by the old tribe, but it could have just as easily been his way to put his stamp on the season.
1. Brandon Gives up His Immunity Necklace and Gets Voted Out
It was the most fitting way for Brandon to leave the game. The man who received a spiritual awakening on the island puts unconditional faith in his Christian connections with Albert and Coach, only for Coach to vote him out and for Albert to happily accept safety at the expense of Brandon’s place in the game.
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All-Survivor Teams: Outwit and Outplay
Similar to the All-NBA teams, the section awards five contestants who did the best in the season, separated by Outwit (for best strategic play) and Outplay (most entertaining to watch)
2 men, 2 women, and a wildcard spot for each team
Coach — He was the figurehead of a day one alliance that lasted for as long as an alliance possibly could. It was his best game, as he built the best social connections this season that put him in a “Poor Man’s Boston Rob” position from last season where everyone was planning to take him to the end.
Sophie — She played smart, allowing Coach to take all the heat for the actions of their alliance while still taking credit for the strategy. Textbook under the radar gameplay.
Ozzy — It’s weird saying that getting voted out is a good strategy, but Redemption Island was made for Ozzy and he was guaranteed to win if he could’ve won the last immunity challenge to lock his spot. Won the hearts of his tribemates with his talent and grit despite his cocky attitude.
Albert — His peers often criticized his gameplay but he was the only Upolu member they showed that wanted to make a big move, and his social connection with Brandon paid off big time as being gifted the immunity necklace saved him and essentially got him to the top three.
Dawn — The women this season did not stand out at all strategically except for Sophie, so I’ll give Dawn the second spot in the All-Outwit Team, because she had a social game that put her in good graces with a lot of people and painted her as a threat to the Upolu majority.
Cochran — Fantastic Survivor personality. Smart, witty, funny, and willing to make his mark on the game. He personified the super fan and wasn’t afraid to make his mark on the season.
Ozzy — It’s still fascinating to watch Ozzy being so in his element in the survival aspect. But from a show standpoint he added a sense of excitement and risk to his game moves that were missing from his previous seasons. Redemption Island was made for him to show off as well.
Brandon — Watching Brandon at times was like watching a car accident where it looks awful but you can’t take your eyes off of it. He was the emotional spearhead of a very religious tribe, and a player who spent multiple tribal councils ranting from the strategy to his faith to his life at home. His game was so un-strategic that it brought a needed wild card to a predictable season.
Edna — This season was a male-dominated season so it was hard to pick the most entertaining women. Edna lasted for a while and had storylines as the 6th member of the Upolu “family”
Christine — I’ll give a shoutout to her for her winning streak in the duels… I think if Savaii had sent Cochran to Redemption Island instead of Ozzy she could’ve won and made some waves returning to the game
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The Wallflower Award — Most Forgettable Player: Rick
I imagine his confessionals were so dull that they decided to just not use any of them. I think he spoke like four times the whole season.
Foulest Move: Coach, Albert, and Sophie Fabricate Finding the Idol
The general use of religion to unite the Upolu tribe made me a little uneasy, but if there was one move that really felt morally over the line it was Coach, Sophie, and Albert’s lie of “finding” the idol under the illusion of fervent prayer and team unity to deceive Brandon, Edna, and Rick who were unaware of the idol already being in Coach’s pocket. A cruel move that could’ve been solved by just telling them straight up, as the tribe already had a tight bond by now.
The Idiot Award: Brandon Hantz
Giving away your individual immunity will always be a stupid move. Period. Also, him being intimidated by Mikayla because she’s too hot was a whole thing. And between all of that was a spiritual awakening that caused him to decide to play the game on complete moral grounds, to the point where his tribemates verbalized actively not talking strategy with him. Brandon probably would have been better off not playing Survivor, but of course he’s a Hantz if you weren’t aware so we need him for the gimmick storyline.
Biggest Unanswerable Question: Which base did Keith and Whitney get to?
In the midseason recap episode we learn that these were in an “alliance with benefits” while at Savaii which makes me wonder, how far did they go on the island? I’ll put my money on second base: anything else would’ve been too tough to hide from the cameras.
Best Showmance: Coach and Cochran
Coach’s wooing of Cochran was a real work of art on how to play the social game. It was cute seeing them do tai chi together on the beach like it’s Tuesday aerobics at the rec center.
Most Religious Tribe: Upolu
I don’t remember a tribe infusing prayer into their daily camp life as much as this tribe, to the point where it seemed like some players (Coach) were using it to take advantage of others and to consolidate an alliance on a moral basis.
Most Missed Format Twist: The Pre-Merge Tribe Shuffle
This makes two seasons in a row where the tribe who wins the first merge vote is able to cleanly sweep out the other tribe, essentially removing the suspense of who’s going home
for three or four consecutive episodes. These tribe bonds made at the start of the game need to be muddied so strategy has to be used, and the best way to do that is a tribe swap that makes people connect with those they haven’t had to and reassess their position in the game.
The “I Was Actually The Most Smartest Survivor Player” Player of the Season: Jim
Basically wanted to recognize the player who would convince him/herself after the show ended that he/she was the best Survivor player who ever lived regardless of being voted off early, and that they didn’t win because everybody else was a bunch of idiots. Jim talked a big game and when Cochran flipped on him and his tribe post-merge, he called him scum because he couldn’t handle the thought that someone wouldn’t follow everything he planned. His ego was annoying as hell throughout the season.
Most Interesting Fashion Decision: Edna’s Makeshift Visor
There was simply no explanation for it so it shocked me a bit to see someone use a tree mail clue as clothing. I couldn’t pull it off. I don’t have the swag for it.
On a scale of one to ten, how much did the winner deserve the win?
Sophie played a good game but it was definitely more under the radar than you would like and if Coach managed the jury better the case could be made for him to win, as he was the figurehead for the victorious alliance. She made no enemies with her gameplay but also she didn’t make any move that you could say was individually hers. Her jury performance should be commended; she boasted her game accomplishments well and brought down other players’ moves in a smart way.
Who Should be Invited Back Again for a….
Heroes vs Villains Season
Heroes: Ozzy — The perfect survivor personality. People clapped for him after he was voted off, how could I reward this to any other player
Villains: Albert — I like Cochran too much to call him the villain, so I’ll give the spot to Albert who was happy to lie and strategize but everyone else around him saw him as squirrelly and a liar and lazy.
All Stars/Fans vs. Favorites Season
Cochran — Easy decision. He was the most fun contestant of the season and I would love to see him play again.