Cook Islands: Finale

After dominating much of the game through social strategy, Yul was narrowly able to beat Nature Boy Ozzy and win Survivor: Cook Islands. Yul’s victory proves the old adage: Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Get another man to catch fish for you, you win $1 million.

After a thorough recap of the season, viewers joined up with the Aitutonga tribe at their camp. Adam, the last remaining member of the former Raro tribe, sat alone in the shelter, essentially having “given up,” in Ozzy’s estimation.

The tree mail that heralded the next immunity challenge included a spider web and a note about a kind of “directional test.”

“Sounds like another one for Ozzy,” said Yul. The other contestants groaned inwardly, knowing that he was right.

The challenge was a rope obstacle course that looked, in Yul’s words, “like a big jungle gym.” Survivors raced around the course to eight different stations, collecting bags of puzzle pieces, one at a time.

The pieces created a three-dimensional, eight-pointed compass rose. Jeff Probst described the challenge as “the most difficult puzzle we’ve ever had.”

Elements of the challenge included a rope net, bridge, tunnel, and a giant spider web that hung several feet above the ground. The two most time consuming obstacles were a set of wobbly rope steps, and two parallel knotted ropes that had to be crossed using only two wood planks, which contestants picked up and moved as they went across.

Ozzy struggled more than usual, starting off on the tricky wood plank obstacle. By the time he finished it, Yul had already retrieved three bags of puzzle pieces, and Adam had two. Sundra and Becky also had at least one bag each.

Then, Ozzy raced more aggressively, bounding across the rope net and somersaulting through the tunnel. He quickly closed the gap between himself and Yul, taking the lead when Yul got hung up on the same plank obstacle that had slowed Ozzy.

Ozzy was first to start on his puzzle, followed (in order) by Yul, Adam, Becky, and Sundra. Everyone’s hands shook as they set down piece after piece, and Adam made swift progress. But he wasn’t fast enough to catch Ozzy, who won — just as Yul had predicted.

Adam looked dejected as they returned to camp, with little he could do to save himself. In an effort to keep the game interesting, he approached Ozzy and Sundra about voting for Yul to force him to use his (Not So) Hidden Immunity Idol, but they weren’t interested.

At Tribal Council, Adam refused to go quietly into the dark jungle night. He pointed at Becky and Sundra and said, “I’m not sure what these two do. They’re boring people.” He said that Becky wasn’t going to force Yul to use the Hidden Immunity Idol, because, if Yul wins the next Immunity Challenge, he can give the Idol to her.

Adam was generous in his final comments, after the Aitu tribe members voted him out. He said, “You guys got us good. All I can say is congratulations.” Though he acted as though he took some things personally while on the island, this showed that he did understand that it was just a game.

Back at camp, Sundra, Yul, Becky, and Ozzy celebrated their victory over all the former Raros. Tree mail informed them that they’d all be taking the traditional “Fallen Comrades” tour together, during which they would reminisce about their defeated competitors, and then participate in the final Immunity Challenge.

They were stunned by this last bit of news, since it meant that there would be a Final Three — instead of the usual Final Two. But they decided that it was only fitting that all four of the former Aitus would be able to take part in the final challenge together.

The final Immunity Challenge relied heavily on balance and endurance, as it usually does. These challenges typically favor women. But this season, all challenges favored Ozzy.

Out in the water, the Survivors had to stand on a small steel perch that had been individually proportioned to their foot size. Every 15 minutes, a section of each small platform fell away. After one hour, they’d be standing on a piece of metal less than half the size of a postcard.

Everyone made it successfully through the first two rounds, as a portion from the front and then the right side of the platform fell away. At the 45 minute mark, when Becky released a part from the left side of the platform, she fell into the water.

After one hour, everyone survived the release of the final removable section of the platform. Yul balanced on the tiny square in a squatting position, while Sundra and Ozzy stood upright. When Jeff asked Ozzy which of his body parts was most uncomfortable, he answered his sweaty, itchy “nether regions,” causing Sundra to laugh and briefly lose her balance.

Eventually, Yul tried to stand up, and he fell into the water. Sundra and Ozzy lasted a total of 2 1/2 hours, before Sundra’s knees buckled and she fell. Ozzy’s winning streak remained unbroken.

At camp, Yul and Ozzy talked about that evening’s vote. Ozzy had the Immunity Necklace and Yul had the Immunity Idol, so they were both assured spots in the Final Three. Yul wasn’t about to vote for Becky, and Ozzy felt that in the interest of fairness, he should vote for Sundra and force a tie.

Yul consented to allow the women to battle for the final spot with a tiebreaker challenge, but he had a backup plan. He pulled Becky aside and said, “If you want the Idol, I’ll give it to you.” But she was afraid of how a “sneak attack” on Sundra would look to the jury, and she declined.

The vote at Tribal Council ended in a tie, and the women prepared for a fire-building tiebreaker challenge. It proved to be an embarrassing display of exactly what you could manage to avoid learning while stranded on an island for 38 days.

Becky and Sundra built pyramids of kindling and, using flint and steel knives, furiously tried to catch sparks on some coconut husks. They worked up a sweat, but after an hour, they had no fire, and the jury was fighting to stay awake.

At that point, Jeff said, “Stop where you’re at. We’re gonna go to matches.” The first matches caught the husks on fire, but they didn’t last more than a minute. Both women had to restart from scratch.

After 30 more minutes, Sundra ran out of matches. She watched as Becky took her time, carefully cultivating a fire that was able to burn through a rope and raise a flag. She joined Yul and Ozzy in the Final Three.

During her parting comments, Sundra said, without a hint of irony in her choice of words, that getting this far in the game had “ignited so many things in me.”

The next morning, the Final Three watched their last Cook Islands’ sunrise, and then Becky went for a walk. While she was away, two native women arrived in a canoe with breakfast. After screaming Becky’s name in vain, Ozzy and Yul dug into the chow.

Ozzy felt it was fitting that he and Yul share breakfast alone, since it was likely they wouldn’t be sharing any of the votes that night with Becky.

Yul and Ozzy asserted their dominance at Tribal Council that night by giving great opening statements. Yul was pleased to have taken his entire alliance to the end and said, “I’ve done more than anyone else to affect the overall course of the game.”

Ozzy mentioned that he was a provider who had “embraced every aspect of the game.”

Becky elicited eye rolls from Jonathan and Adam when she said that she knew she wasn’t the fastest, strongest, or smartest competitor, so she had played a social game. It was funny, considering it came from someone rarely seen talking to anyone but Yul.

Nate began the Jury questions portion of Tribal Council by giving “props” to the remaining contestants. He asked Ozzy in what way he’d played a better strategic game than Yul, and Ozzy replied that he’d been the mastermind behind throwing the challenge to oust Billy in the season’s second episode.

Nate then asked Becky why she deserved to win instead of Yul or Ozzy. Becky said that Nate hadn’t been privy to many of the conversations she’d had with Yul, and that Yul hadn’t been directing the game by himself.

Jeff asked Nate if he was satisfied with Becky’s answer, and Nate said, “No.” Becky then said that part of the reason she deserved to win was that she’d turned down Yul’s offer of the Idol. With that juicy disclosure, Nate took his seat.

Jenny was up next and asked Yul if he thought the game was more physical or strategic. Yul didn’t hesitate to reply “strategic,” giving the example that he’d let Ozzy’s prowess in the challenges deflect the attention away from him so that he’d be seen as the lesser threat.

Parvati was up next and said, in the light of learning that Becky had turned down the Idol, “Beckers, convince me that you want to win.”

Becky said, “I’m not a sneaky person,” and that if she was going to win, she wanted it to be in a way she could be proud of.

Rebecca told Yul and Ozzy that she was torn between them, and she wanted to know something that would help her make her decision. Yul eloquently said that he felt that “minorities are underrepresented in the media,” and that he hoped to be an advocate for more realistic and fair portrayals of minorities.

Ozzy followed Yul’s speech, saying, “I have very similar interests and goals.” He also was eager to help people with their racial questions: “‘Hey, what’s a Mexican?’…This is a Mexican right here!”

Adam took the floor next, and he told the Final Three that they were all “painfully boring,” so he wanted Ozzy to “talk trash” about Yul and Becky. Ozzy obliged, accusing Yul of not working as hard as he could’ve and reminding Adam of Becky’s embarrassing fire-making display the night before.

Candice told Yul she had a question for him, and she wanted a straight answer, not political doublespeak. She said that, in order for Yul to get her vote, he could respond only “Yes,” or “No.” Any elaboration would lose her vote for him.

Candice then asked her question. She asked if Yul had been “shamelessly working the Jury” at Tribal Councils past and present.

Yul put his chin in his hand and thought for a few seconds, before answering, “Yes.”

Candice thanked him, saying, “I know that was hard for you.”

Yul shrugged and replied, “Well… shamelessly?” Candice pointed at Yul and said she would have to reconsider whether he’d just violated her yes-or-no-only condition.

Brad was up next, and since he’d had virtually no time to get to know Ozzy before being voted out, he asked Ozzy what his most challenging life experience had been. Ozzy broke down in tears as he said it was his troubled relationship with his father.

Sundra then asked what each of the Final Three had learned about themselves or life during Survivor. Ozzy gave the dippy reply, “Pure love,” Becky said she’d learned to live without a schedule, and Yul said he’d gained self-confidence.

The Jury questions came to a close with Jonathan. He confronted Yul, asking him to defend his telling of half-truths throughout the game. Yul responded, “What you’ve said is absolutely true,” admitting that he had lied, but only in the context of the game. It’s not how he would’ve acted in the outside world.

Then Jonathan asked Ozzy how giving him $1 million would make his own, and Jonathan’s, world better. Ozzy said he’d love to have the chance to go back to school without worrying where the money would come from, and then “try to change the world for the better.” He didn’t specify how he would do this.

After that, it was time to vote. Parvati cast a vote for Ozzy, calling him the “ultimate competitor.” And Jonathan wrote Yul’s name, saying of the other contestants, “Yul outplayed you all.”

Host Jeff picked up the votes and disappeared into the forest. Seconds later, we cut from filmed footage on the Cook Islands to the live feed from Hollywood. In the studio, the finalists and jury sat, as Jeff walked onstage with the votes.

Before Jeff read the votes in the studio, he said this 13th season was “one of the most enjoyable seasons we’ve had in quite a while.”

Jeff then read the votes. After eight votes, Ozzy and Yul were tied with four apiece. Jeff announced that the ninth, and deciding, vote went to Yul — making him the winner of Survivor: Cook Islands.

While Yul had looked prepared for a loss, Ozzy looked positively devastated after the final vote was read. After hugging Becky and Ozzy, Yul went into the audience and celebrated with his family.

I’ll be recapping the Reunion Show in a day or two. Check back soon!