By Ally O'Connor
Just about two months ago, Survivor wrapped up its thirty-fifth season, “Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers,” and crowned former marine Ben Driebergen as the winner. For those who are not familiar with the popular reality show, Survivor abandons a group of men and women in a remote location, where they must provide food, fire, water, and shelter for themselves. In addition, Survivor contestants engage in a thrilling social game during which they must vote out one member of their “tribe” every three days. The only way to be exempt from elimination is by earning immunity either through difficult physical and mental challenges that occur once during the three-day period, or by finding the ever-elusive hidden immunity idols. At the end of the thirty-nine-day competition and adventure, those who were eliminated turn around and vote for the remaining Survivor contestant who played the best game, using the titular tactics of “outwit, outplay, and outlast.”
This past season, “Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers,” brought intense gameplay and new methods of social manipulation. I am always most excited about seasons that bring back some of my favorite players from seasons’ past, so admittedly, I was a little let down about the cast of all new individuals. Further, with little investment in any of the contestants, I found the first few episodes somewhat dull. However, as this season progressed, I was impressed by numerous players, particularly Ryan Ulrich, the twenty-three-year-old turtleneck-wearing bellhop from North Arlington, New Jersey. In many ways, Ulrich reminded me of John Cochran, who was one of my favorite winners from seasons past. Although neither man possessed great physical abilities, their social and mental game was that of the methodical and highly educated thinker—someone whom I appreciate.
As the end of the season drew near and only four players remained, Ben Driebergen was the obvious choice for elimination. He had been a mental powerhouse throughout the entire game, acting as a double agent, creating and managing numerous alliances, spending long nights searching for hidden immunity idols, and finally, playing three idols in a row, which helped him to his final four seat. The other three remaining players — Chrissy Hofbeck, Ryan Ulrich, and Devin Pinto — fought hard to beat Ben in the final immunity challenge. Unfortunately for Ben, Chrissy was the victor, and everyone expected that there was no question that Ben was the next to go. However, with Chrissy’s win came a secret advantage, that revealed that she would pick one player to go to the final three with her. This meant that the other two castaways had to compete in a fire-making challenge to earn the final spot. As expected, Chrissy chose Ryan due to his physical shortcomings, and sent muscular outdoorsman Devin to compete against indestructible Ben.
Ultimately, Ben won the fire-making challenge, and concomitantly, the title of “Sole Survivor,” by demolishing his two opponents with his record of fierce gameplay. However, had the game’s format been like every other season of Survivor, Chrissy, Ryan, and Devin would have unanimously voted out Ben. As a result, this issue has spurred controversy among Survivor fans. Some believe that the game was “rigged” so that Ben could win, thereby hurting the chances of the three other players, but others feel it justified as the format change will now be implemented in every new season of Survivor.
To be candid, I was rooting for Ben at this point in the game, so to some degree my assessment might be biased. However, I feel strongly that this change in Survivor format will only make the game more interesting in future seasons. Many fierce players have been eliminated due to one small mistake that cost them the final immunity challenge, but with the new format, the two players who are not chosen for the final three will have to earn their spot, affording everyone a last chance. As for the old format, I believe that it was flawed because it gave too much power to the winner of the final immunity challenge, wherein they not only earned their own spot at final tribal council, but also chose who sat next to them, eliminating the fiercest and worthiest competitors. This new system seems much more fair.
Overall, “Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers” was another fantastic season of Survivor that kept me on the edge of my seat. I have been watching this show since I was a little girl and cannot wait for the next season.