Spartanburg Produces Perhaps Survivor’s Most Controversial Winner In 38 Seasons
The hit reality show, Survivor, has been running for 20 years and thus far sees no signs of stopping. As the series continues, the production team is always trying out new themes and twists to keep the show fresh. The show used to rely on differing locations. One season would take place place in China and then visit Palau, Brazil, Gabon, and Fiji in subsequent seasons. Modern Survivor has decided to indefinitely call Fiji home due to the many benefits the country provides for the show filming there.
Due to a static location, Fiji being the first location to ever be used by the show for 8 seasons, twists and themes have played an even bigger role in the show. Themes tend to pit multiple tribes against each other that are divided into specific tribes for a reason. The most common versions of these are tribes based upon age, gender, or career. One controversial yet beloved season included tribes divided by race.
This past season, 38, once again took place in Fiji. In an attempt to change up the game and challenge the players involved, the Edge of Extinction was added.
The Edge of Extinction is a variation of two past twists that stirred up controversy from Survivor purists, the Outcasts twist from Pearl Islands (7) and the Redemption Island twist which was present for the titular season (22), South Pacific (23), and Blood vs. Water (27). The main point of contention with this style of twist is that players who are voted out of the main game get a chance to get win their way back in. There is a group of Survivor fans who think this minimizes the impact of tribal council and a normal vote. To me, it is interesting to see this new layer of gameplay added every once in awhile as long as it isn’t a back to back thing like when we had Redemption Island present for two straight seasons.
With the Edge of Extinction, players did not know of the twist’s existence during the premerge. Each castaway who was voted out got a choice to leave or to go to an island with minimal supplies and wait on a chance to win their way back in. This twist also allowed every player on the cast the chance to be a part of the jury. Only 2 of the 15 voted out players ended up quitting the Edge of Extinction.
Unlike Redemption Island, players voted out premerge had the ability to come back and win on day 37. This was an obvious nightmare for both Survivor purists and the editing team. This is where Wofford College alumni, Chris Underwood, comes in.
Chris Underwood was a preseason favorite of mine. Through the pregame press he talked about his hopes to play a perfect game. His way of talking to the Entertainment Weekly interviewer showed off his natural charisma and his knowledge of the game.
While in the game, Chris showed that he was Manu’s biggest asset in challenges but he couldn’t carry them. Some variation of the Manu tribe or its members went to tribal council for every single round of the premerge. Fan favorite, Rick Devens, was the only castaway to be voted out premerge while not on Manu, but he was originally a Manu member prior to a tribe swap.
On Rob Has A Podcast, two time Survivor player, Stephen Fishbach defended Chris’ elimination in 14th place. One of Manu’s biggest strategists yet worst challenge performers perceived Chris as disloyal after he tried letting this player in on a plan to blindside a returning player. Fishbach argues that Chris did what he should have done. If Wardog hadn’t thought he was better off keeping Kelley Wentworth, then Chris likely could have made it through the premerge. If only he made it to a swap, he could have gotten better footing in the game.
Chris Underwood ended up spending the second most days on Extinction, only beaten out by the season’s first boot, Reem Daly. The two people voted out between Reem and Chris, Wendy and Keith, decided to leave Extinction after failing to win their way back in at the merge.
Chris also failed to win his way back in at the merge, partly due to a disadvantage given to him by Keith. Chris’ time came on day 37 when the players got yet another chance to get back in the game. Chris won his way back in, was given a half idol that could only be played at the final 5 (one round away), and decided to play as perfect game as he can. While he waited on Extinction, we got to see the very depth of his regret. He had failed his goals with Survivor. He had failed to play the perfect game he felt he was capable of playing. Starting from the final 6, he decided to take advantage of every opportunity he could possibly take advantage of.
At the final 6 he was vulnerable so he used the ‘reverse-negative’ sales technique to convince a fellow Manu member, Lauren O’Connell, to play her hidden immunity idol on him. During this round he used conversations he had with the voted out players to paint Victoria Baamonde as a threat, leading to her elimination. During the final 5, he was able to play his half idol, keeping himself safe from the vote. Lauren and Julie both played fake idols hidden by Devens this vote. Lauren went out this round since she was another big jury threat. At the final 4, Chris won immunity. The immunity challenge at the final 4 allows the winner to choose who to take to the final 3, which will force the remaining two players to face each other in a firemaking challenge.
This was when Chris took his game to a whole new level.
He gives up immunity and chooses to go against Devens in firemaking, knowing that Devens wins in any sort of final 3 situation. This idea was first flirted with by runner up Domenick Abbate from Ghost Island (36). It comes with a lot of risk. There is an easy path to the final 3 but choosing to participate and winning the final 4 firemaking challenge can definitely give the player’s resume a hero moment. Chris beats Devens, winning his spot on the final 3 with Julie and Gavin.
At Final Tribal Council, Chris came in as an underdog. How did someone who only spent about two weeks in the main game somehow win Survivor?
Chris owned up to the flaws in his game while also showing off the new energy he came in with on day 37. The majority of the jury decided to crown him the sole survivor.