As the final five contestants approach the endgame of Survivor: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers, all are evaluating and arranging their preferred opponents in the final three, with an eye to making their best case to the jury, against optimal competition. One factor that always remains a question mark is, though: What kind of player do juries actually want to reward?
It turns out there's not one safe answer. This season in particular, there are a lot of ways the eight jurors could decide to vote, and it's not really clear which criteria will garner a majority (or plurality) of their votes. They are, after all, free to vote however they see fit: strategy, likability, challenge aptitude, or something else entirely. Furthermore, just about every potential finalist stands out in some way, and has a ready-made argument through which to pitch for votes.
So here, we'll go through the logical approaches each potential finalist could take, and make note of past Survivor winners who represent that same winning formula. We've arranged them in rough order of least likely to most, but our main point is that none of these people are absolutely out of the running, and depending on various circumstances, any one of them could win. This is one of the rare seasons where, entering the finale, every remaining player is a long-time fan of the game. Let's hope they give us a good show.
Dr. Mike - The nice guy underdog
The genial player with little to no blood on his hands
Past examples: Bob Crowley (Gabon), Fabio Birza (Nicaragua), Michele Fitzgerald (Kaoh Rong)
Dr. Mike has been out of power almost the entire game. He was a first boot waiting to happen on the Healers tribe, but they avoided Tribal Council. On post-swap Yawa, he found himself in the same spot.Then the merge hit, and all of a sudden his almost-intact original Healers tribe was the big threat the Heroes and Hustlers needed to take down, but luckily for Mike, he was seen as less of an immediate threat than Desi or Cole, so he had some time to find his footing. Mike and Joe briefly seemed like they'd finally found their place in the game when they participated in the JP blindside, but that turned out to just be a one-Tribal ruse.
Despite all that, somehow Mike is now just two votes away from the finals, a smart and affable guy against whom nobody has any major beefs. Well, okay. Maybe Lauren has a tiny, ashen smidge of a reason to be angry at Mike for his in-game actions. More importantly, Mike has three former tribemates, all of whom like him, out of the six people currently sitting on the jury. Not to mention that they're most likely pretty unhappy that none of them had a realistic shot at making anything work with the Heroes and Hustlers, and they could well see Mike as their avatar in the finals. That should worry everyone else, because three votes may be enough to tie for the win, if the other votes are split 3-2.
With respect to the non-Healers on the jury, Mike has a chance at those votes, too. He voted out just three people the entire game: the aforementioned JP, plus two unanimous votes against Cole (unanimous after Mike's idol play, at least) and Ashley. The fewest people a winner has ever voted out? Four, by Michele Fitzgerald in Kaoh Rong. So it wouldn't be all that unprecedented. This could also be argued as a factor in Mike's favor. He tried constantly to work with people, only to be rebuffed or sidelined whenever he made an offer. So his argument is obvious: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it's not Dr. Mike's fault you're sitting there. He didn't backstab you. Maybe if you'd given his schemes a shot, you'd be sitting here in the finals with him. Plus he made everyone (except Ryan) laugh with his Coco-Nuts routines with Joe! What's not to like?
One major difference between Mike's game and other similar winners (Fabio, Bob, Michele) is that the others all had significant late-game challenge-winning streaks. Mike had a brief flirtation with challenge dominance in Episode 10, finishing second in both challenges (also, coincidentally, the JP blindside episode... Mike's game peaked early). But this tells us he has some useful skills, and if the last two immunity challenges involve balance and/or puzzles, he could have a legitimate shot at bringing this all home. Never underestimate Dr. Mike!
Ryan - The overlooked schemer
The player who quietly took everyone else out
Past parallels: Sophie Clarke (South Pacific), Denise Stapley (Philippines)
Ryan's biggest problem in the finals is that he's a strategist with a solid social game who is now allied with two other strategists, both of whom have (arguably) stronger claims to some of the same big moves as Ryan, and who have superior social or physical games on top of that. Devon seems better-liked by everyone. Chrissy has won a lot of challenges. As such, Ryan may have more in common with several non-winning finalists like Stephen Fishbach (Tocantins) or Spencer Bledsoe (Cambodia) than with most past winners.
Working in Ryan's favor is that, not counting the two votes he voided with his idol play, nobody has voted against Ryan all season, while he himself has sent eight people out of the game, tied for the most this season. In that sense, he has parallels to other smart players who were part of a dominant alliance and/or simply voted out a lot of other people, while receiving little blowback themselves. Sometimes, it helps to not be noticed, and to work with people against whom certain jurors hold grudges. Ashley may feel especially betrayed by Devon, with whom she'd worked since the swap. Desi felt shut out of the strategic game by the dominant early post-merge Heroes/Hustlers alliance, and seemed to place some of the blame for that at Chrissy's feet.
Some juries reward the prime architects of big moves (Cagayan), but if they feel those big movers disrespected them as they made those strategic plays, other juries can express their anger and frustration by heaping votes on someone who was part of those same moves, but was more generally pleasant to be around (Samoa). If Ryan can properly gauge juror anger at his fellow finalists, he could turn that disgruntledness into jury votes with a carefully crafted argument. Ryan did try to work with Mike after the JP blindside, for example, but Mike shut him down (to be fair, in retaliation for Ryan doing the same to him for the previous week or so).
It's also possible the edit has simply been unkind to Ryan, and boots like Roark and Ali were actually his handiwork, but shown as being someone else's idea. It's hard to judge these things with 100% certainty. Either way, if Ryan plays up his social game, and reminds jurors why they were happy to hang out with him, that should be a net positive for his vote total. Especially if he can slyly cast his fellow finalists as mean, uncaring strategy-bots in the process.
Ben - The hard-charging lone wolf
No allies, just aggressive gameplay
Past parallels: Chris Daugherty (Vanuatu), Mike Holloway (Worlds Apart)
For Ben, the clearest obstacle he faces is actually reaching the finals. He's made it through the last two Tribal Councils purely because of idols. His chances of turning the vote around at the next one also seem remote (and in the post-episode finale preview, Chrissy's public display of the now-dead Super Idol seems ominously like it could be intended to fool Ben). So it's idols, winning immunity, or bust for Ben from here on out.
Should he make it to the finals, though, he's done almost all the things recent juries reward. Flashy idol plays and a great personal story, like Jeremy Collins? Check. Flip-flopping alliance whittling like Tony Vlachos? Check. Openly stating how he's voting and trying to rally others to follow along (to no avail), like Mike Holloway? Check. All of these are very public, jury-pleasing elements of Survivor gameplay, so it's no surprise that the remaining players universally see Ben as the biggest threat remaining, the one to beat, the guy who would block their own chances of winning. So if Ben is a finalist, he's winning.
If he gets there. Therein lies the rub. His edit this season is reminiscent of David Wright's in Millennials vs. Gen X. David fell just short of the final Tribal Council, because everyone there saw him as unbeatable. Hopefully Ben can escape this fate himself, but you know... he could always find another idol at final five, and then there's a final twist/advantage coming at final four, which might just save him. It's unlikely, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.
Chrissy - The strategic challenge beast
Immunity streaking to the end?
Past parallels: Brian Heidik (Thailand), Tom Westman (Palau), Danni Boatwright (Guatemala)
Chrissy has been leading the remaining contestants in Mean % Finish in individual challenges ever since Cole left the game, and she now has three wins (two immunities plus the, uh... marble-drawing RC) to show for her efforts. She's the clear favorite to win the two remaining immunities. If she does that, she would be simply winning her way into the finals. There's not really a precedent for an over-40 woman to do that, winner or otherwise.
Chrissy also presents something of a strategic anomaly as a potential winner. She's been a vocal, public leader, and has controlled the vote fairly effectively in her pre-merge tribes (except in the premiere), especially after the swap. Then she lost power shortly after the merge, but has since regained it, albeit largely due to factors outside her control (Ben's idoling of Lauren collapsed the opposing majority alliance). But she's now in a great spot. As long as she can keep Ben away from idols, she appears to have the numbers to control the endgame. In that sense, she's probably closer to a Danni Boatwright than to post-to-post leaders like Brian Heidik or Tom Westman.
Working against Chrissy's efforts: unlike those three winners, Chrissy doesn't have anyone highly unpopular to drag along to a Final Two. First because it'll be a Final Three, obviously, and second because everyone left is far better-liked than, say, Clay Jordan. Furthermore, recent history has been a bit of a mixed bag for game-ending immunity streaks. Brad Culpepper (Game Changers) and Ken McNickle (Millennials vs. Gen X) won their way into the Final Three, but were not given the million for doing so. In contrast, Michele Fitzgerald's two finale challenge wins in Kaoh Rong really seemed to impress the jury, demonstrating that she'd grown as a player. That might also be true in Chrissy's case.
Either way, Chrissy has the intellect to argue her case effectively in front of the jurors. Whether they'll be receptive to her case remains to be seen. Definitely don't count her out, though.
Devon - The secret strategist
Zen and the art of daggering backs
Past parallels: Ethan Zohn (Africa), Earl Cole (Fiji), Jeremy Collins (Cambodia)
Devon snuck up on a lot of people this season (well, Ben literally did more often, we suppose). With his chill surfer bro exterior as his public face, Devon was able to win people's confidence and gain valuable information, while quietly formulating plots and schemes, the most elaborate of which took two full boot cycles to carry out. More vocal personalities like Chrissy, or Ben, or even Lauren were perceived as the leaders, even though Devon's preferences were generally the ones that ended up being carried out.
There's a rich history in Survivor of the lieutenant (or "assistant coach," to use Ethan's phrase) eventually rising to the top and seizing the winner's crown. The guy that everyone thought was their friend, at least until that friend voted them out. Devon has played that sort of game. He's almost always managed to find himself if not in the actual power structure, at least adjacent to it, as the valuable swing vote. And not a single person has ever written his name down this season, even at that post-swap Tribal Council where he was unable to vote himself. That's a sign that Devon is extremely well-liked, especially because he hasn't won a single immunity challenge or found any idols or advantages to use as vote shields.
Does that translate to a winning game, necessarily, though? Maybe. To succeed, Devon will probably have to give an in-depth explanation of just how involved in the strategizing he actually was, removing the surfer facade. He's certainly capable of doing that, since he's been talking about his (actual) game in confessional all season. But as Stephen Fishbach found out in Tocantins, and Aubry Bracco in Kaoh Rong, there's an inherent risk in not revealing the extent of your game to the jury until the very end. Jurors often enter Final Tribal with their minds already made up, and it may take some time for a new revelation—such as that someone they hadn't suspected of running things was actually doing so—to sink in. And just this episode, Devon purposely held back talking about his game in front of the jury simply because Ben was not yet a part of that jury. That's potentially a major misstep.
Still, if the jury wave breaks at just the right moment for Devon to drop in, he has the skills to ride it to the million. We'll see soon enough.
Other HvHvH Episode 13 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - Ashley Nolan