Filmed: December 8-10, 2008 | Aired: Sunday, May 17, 2009 | Re-watched: July 17, 2015
Notes: On re-watch, the F4 IC was on par with the similar one in South Pacific as a surprisingly nail-biting mix of physical and mental effort. Except this time, the Ozzy held on and won it. Had JT not raced out to a gigantic lead collecting the bags (say, if Taj had refused to let him pass when they were both in the same tunnel, at a time when she knew perfectly well he was about to collect his final bag), he probably would have lost, which would have created an interesting conundrum for the other three.
But no, everyone, especially Taj, loves JT. And he escapes a resurgent Erinn on that challenge, calmly outlasts both Erinn and Stephen on the next one, and coasts to a unanimous jury victory. On rewatch, Stephen's above-the-belt Final Tribal approach, refusing to speak negatively about JT, should have earned him the respect and vote of Coach. But again, no. Everyone loves JT. ("He's so fast!") Certainly, Stephen could have owned his moves better, and sold his strategic game more aggressively. In the end, though, this stands as perhaps the single most unfairly lopsided jury vote in Survivor history. To be sure, JT was an outstanding player here: a physical powerhouse, and his irrepressible Spradlinesque charm led everyone to want him in their alliance, never vote against him, and shower him in jury votes. We get it. After all, his performance here is the best ever by the SurvScore stat. But strategically, Stephen was more than a few steps ahead of him, and the final jury tally should have been much more balanced.
And in looking back at the final four Tribal Council, which occurred two days earlier in real time, there's one person who probably deserves an assist here: Jeff Probst. As Stephen tries to give a non-answer to avoid revealing the looming Taj blindside, a dismissive Probst mocks Stephen with "It's almost as if you just showed up, and it's your first day here, and you don't know how the game is played." Stephen, flabbergasted, pauses, then manages a shocked parry, but the damage was done, especially in the eyes of the jury. To modern audiences, having seen this and subsequent seasons play out, re-watching a proto-Know-It-All Stephen making a series of strong social and strategic decisions, Probst's accusation is absolutely jaw-dropping in its geek-shaming, testosterone-worshipping audacity.
It was a joke, yes. But it was a particularly cutting one, and it undermined almost Stephen's entire (self-effacing) final jury claim to having been an equal strategic partner with JT in each juror's ouster. Because Stephen and JT did their plotting in private, many of the jurors probably weren't aware this was such a ridiculous exaggeration. But the audience did. And Probst, despite his claiming not to know what goes on in camp, had to know it as well. And it's not a joke Probst would have made about JT. The only thing close would have been Probst saying at the F3 Tribal Council: "JT, sure you're good in challenges, but you seem to be a simple country bumpkin who didn't even know Coach was getting booted two days back. Would it help if I explained this voting thing to you more slowly?"
But that would never happen, because JT is a telegenic, handsome young man who won three straight immunities.
We have complained about Probst playing favorites and tampering with the outcome through his line of questioning in modern seasons. It's shocking to rediscover how blatantly he was already doing this at what is now roughly the show's midpoint.
Final Four vote count:
- Taj received 3 votes, JT, Stephen, and Erinn (voted out, 3-1).
- Erinn received 1 vote, from Taj.
Final Three vote count:
- Erinn received 1 vote, from JT (voted out, 1-0, or 2-1 if you count Erinn's and Stephen's auto-votes).