Brains over brawn – Yul wins Survivor: Cook Islands

“This Tribe Will Self-Destruct in 5, 4, 3…” In a surprise 3-person finale, Yul’s strategy beats out Ozzy’s physical prowess to win Survivor: Cook Islands.

Countdown to self-destruction
Waking up on day 37 and having gotten rid of 2 bothersome gnats in Jonathan and Parvati, the old Aitu alliance was all too aware that they were looking at self-cannibalization in the eye. And considering Ozzy’s domination in recent challenges, they were beginning to wonder if they shouldn’t have done it sooner.

Hilariously, Adam was all but forgotten by the tribe. Not surprising; he hasn’t contributed much up to this point anyway, and aside from a few comments aimed solely at stirring up the pot, he’s been all but invisible. They certainly didn’t seem to be taking him seriously for the upcoming challenge, which they all but conceded to Ozzy as soon as they got the tree mail.

Compass rose puzzle
The first Immunity Challenge was a huge obstacle course in which each castaway would find 8 bags containing pieces of a 3D puzzle. As they began, Ozzy stumbled and fell behind early.

We have to wonder what was going through the heads of the other castaways when they realized Ozzy was behind. Did they figure they might actually have a chance on this challenge? Or were they thinking he would catch up and win anyway? He did; it looked like he used the toughest course first to get it out of the way; even though he was 2-3 bags behind Yul and Adam he kept plugging away, seemingly jumping over the rope bridge and maneuvering the rope climb like a monkey.

What was surprising was that Yul, generally seen as the “smart one” and not that far behind Ozzy when it came time to assemble the puzzles, seemed to struggle while Adam, generally seen as one of the dumber players this season kept right up with Ozzy. If Raro had known Adam was a savant when it came to puzzles, maybe they would have used him instead of Brad when they…uh…never mind.

Adam fires up his brain cell
As imbecilic as Adam appears to be, he seems to have a propensity toward some pretty good ideas – such as forcing Yul to play the Hidden Immunity idol in order to get it out of the way. At least it seemed like a good idea…until you consider this: why didn’t he try this earlier? He had as much of a chance as he did in this episode, and whether Sundra, Ozzy, and Becky went along with it or not it was certainly worth considering.

His last move was to call Becky and Sundra “boring people” and wondering aloud what they do. Again, mildly entertaining, but ultimately worthless, as has been most of his game. Parvati and Candice’s giggling like schoolyard bullies was par for the course, and Adam joined them on the jury.

Unlikely final four
With all the clowns on jury duty, the final four finally had a chance to celebrate. Ozzy woke early to enjoy the sunrise, and Yul reflected on the importance of having an all-minority final four. All while Sundra and Becky did…basically what they had done all game so far, which certainly wasn’t starting a fire. More on that in a minute.

The final Immunity Challenge was, as usual, an endurance challenge in which the Survivors stood on a pole, each custom sized to their foot size, which progressively became smaller over time via keys which were removed to drop pieces off, the final piece being “half the size of a post card.” As with any endurance challenge it was pretty uneventful – Becky lost her balance after dropping the thrid piece, and Yul fell after trying to stand (having previously squatted the entire time) just before the 2 hour mark. And although some bothersome sweat in the nether regions was driving him…uh…nuts…he held on while Sundra finally fell.

Diplomacy to the end
Facing questions about how they would self-destruct when the time came (and with Sundra noting that they hadn’t even discussed it), Yul and Ozzy came up with a brilliantly simple and fair way to settle things – let Sundra and Becky duke it out. Specifically, send them to a tiebreaker and fight for the win.

OK…maybe “duke it out” is the wrong term. After two hours, neither of the two had even come close, and – unbelievably – were given matches – matches! – and STILL couldn’t do it. Sundra burned through her matches and could only watch as Becky finally got a flame going and joined Yul and Ozzy in the final three. And since the final three is the new final two, that was a good thing.

It was worth noting that Yul, wanting Becky to win so badly, offered her the Hidden Immunity Idol to play as a surprise, risking exposing himself in the process. Ultimately she decided that it would hurt how the jury viewed her (insert laughter here) and declined.

Final Tribal Council
The irony of Becky not being around to receive the final feast wasn’t lost on Ozzy, and he predicted it would symbolize the final vote

The final Tribal Council was in a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere. The immaturity we expected to see from Candice and Nate (you know you did – don’t lie) wasn’t really there. Jenny was pretty subdued. Jonathan was the most vocal, and he probably made a better jury member than he would have final three member.

Nate began by asking Ozzy how he strategized better than Yul, which Ozzy answered as saying he took a Yul-like position in his own tribe, throwing a challenge to ditch Billy, and not really doing anything to show he did it better than Yul. He asked Becky why she deserved to win over Ozzy or Yul, and she pointed that she made decisions as much as Yul did…not really an answer, but then again, not that it mattered what she said. Or if she even showed up.

Jenny asked Yul what was more important – playing well strategically or physically. To no one’s surprise, Yul answered strategic, but probably won some bonus points for saying he was happy to let Ozzy paint a target on his own back.

Parvati simply asked Becky to convince her that she wanted to win…which Becky wasn’t able to do. Thinking back, were weren’t even convinced Becky was there.

Rebecca wanted Ozzy and Yul to tell them something she didn’t know. Yul had the benefit of going first, which helped because, well, once he said what he did – that he wanted to improve how minorities are portrayed on TV – Ozzy didn’t have much choice other than to say, “Uh…what he said.”

Adam, who couldn’t seem to tell that he wasn’t in the game anymore, told the three they were boring, and even lumped Sundra in with them. Bonus points to all three for not laughing at the pot calling the kettle black. Adam needed someone to spice things up, so he asked Ozzy to talk trash abou the other two. Ozzy was as diplomatic as he could have been in the situation, saying that Yul didn’t work as hard as he could have, and Becky was a coattail rider. Adam’s attempt to get them to implode (despite the fact that the game was over) failed.

Candice demanded a simple yes or no from Yul – anything else and he would lose her vote…was he shamelessly working the jury? What kind of question is that?! He hesitantly said “yes”, and she noted that he hesitated. Yul started to clarify, but Candice cut him off and chastised him for being a naughty boy, saying it could affect her vote. Yawn.

Brad was as bland as he had been in the game…how on Earth did he stay in the game long enough to get on the jury? He asked Ozzy what his most challenging experience was. Ozzy started talking about the father he barely knew, and got choked up. Now…in situations like this you hate to accuse someone of being insincere, but the tears seemed forced, and didn’t seem to do him any good. He seemed more genuine at the reunion when he introduced the father that raised him. It’s a touchy subject that you hate to be cynical enough to accuse someone of insincerity in, but in a game where people have lied about their family dying, you just have to wonder.

Sundra wanted to know one thing each had learned about themselves. Interestingly Becky gave the best answer, noting that she had felt she was always a person who was defined by time and what she was doing at certain times of day, and that she found she could get past that.

Jonathan was pretty much the only jury member to rock the boat, asking Yul how his half-truths contributed to a game he says he played honestly and fairly. Yul owned up to his deceiving ways, eliminating any confrontation. Jonathan was also the only person to call Ozzy out.

“On occasion I have found you arrogant, as if you are a prince. I have a problem giving a million dollars to a 25 year old kids who I perceive to have issues of entitlement…how is giving you a million dollars going to make you a better person, your world a better place, and my world a better place?” – Jonathan, to Ozzy, during the final Tribal Council

It was probably the most damaging to Ozzy’s case. He wanted to go back to school with his own money – fine – but then he seemed to feel like he needed to add something else, and said he just wanted to try and change the world for the better. Well, yeah, but how? Whether he was sincere or just sincerely naive is impossible to say, but it was a weak answer.

Amazingly we weren’t treated to G.I. Jeff jumping off helicopters, riding jet skis, and wrestling a puma (didn’t he do that one year?) bringing the votes back to the reunion. And in a tight vote, Yul’s strategy beat out Ozzy’s physical abilities by a single vote, with Becky not receiving any votes.

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