The results of last weeks Kaoh Rong finale left many a viewer scratching their heads in the wake of Michele's victory. In particular the legion of Aubry fans were left wondering where exactly it went wrong for their favourite player, who despite losing a guaranteed vote in the jury elimination twist, still looked to be in pole position heading into final tribal council. In today's feature article Ozlet Nick Chester takes a closer look at the outcome of Survivor Kaoh Rong comparing Aubry and Michele's games and looking at the role the edit played in our expectations. Keep reading to find out why Aubry wasn't the sole survivor.
Survivor fans are prone to superlative. We quickly describe something we have just seen as the biggest and best – player, blindside, episode, challenge. But in the aftermath of the Kaoh Rong finale I think its warranted to say that this is one of the most divisive outcomes amongst fans since Heroes vs. Villains. Many people were left feeling Michele’s story was underdeveloped, and Aubry was robbed of a win, and therefore the ending feels somewhat unsatisfying. I count myself as a big Aubry fan since the first episode so I would be lying if I said I was anything but bitterly disappointed to see her fall short of the title. But I am also a strong believer that there is no such thing as an undeserving winner and I stand by that – Michele earned it fair and square. But I would also be lying if I pretended I’m not left scratching my head. How did this happen? Aubry seemed to play a great game, and gave a very good final tribal council performance. What went wrong? How do we explain this outcome?
A Bitter Jury?
I very recently wrote a feature article on what jurors really want and I didn’t expect to be using it as an example quite so quickly. The thrust of my argument was that the jury aren’t really all that interested in the finalists. These people are chosen to play Survivor because they are type-A personalities, and a decent amount of ego comes with that. We have been treated recently to jurors generally voting for a winner who played the most obvious and correct strategic game, forgetting that it also happened to be the person the jury felt the most comfortable losing to. Because that is ultimately what it is about – the jury are deciding who they will be allowing to “beat” them. Aubry and Tai have now joined the ranks of people who didn’t win, and therefore the jury will see little difference in outcomes between the finalists and themselves. My theory is that for the likes of Scot, Jason and Debbie, who I am sure would all admit to having at least something of a big ego, that voting for Aubry is admitting she was better than them. A vote for Michele on the other hand, who didn’t make any outwardly big strategic moves is a statement that anyone can win if the right circumstances occur – thus taking away from the sting of their own win. If Michele won without doing anything particularly special, so could they. The end result is fairly random. An Aubry win is admitting her game was better – and she therefore did things they couldn’t to win. This may not be the case (and I’m sure they are unlikely to admit it), but any pretence that the jury vote dispassionately for the best player is naive – their votes are an expression of themselves and statement about their own game as much as, if not more than the finalists themselves.
Is Michele the New Natalie White?
The idea of an undeserving winner has raised its head once again. The audience backlash that occurred after Samoa when “Russell got screwed” was intense – and poor Natalie was made out to be a substandard winner. Michele must be feeling similarly. But the situations couldn’t be more different. First, it’s very clear why Russell lost. He had an abrasive and aggressive style that was hard to look past and vote for him to win. It’s also clear that Natalie had a deliberate strategy to let Russell dig his own grave, and sit next to him in the end to cash in on his mistakes. You don’t need to have a rap sheet of big moves when the person next to you has one so long that it’s unlikely to win them respect. Aubry seemingly was very pleasant and therefore I don’t think we can make this comparison to Russell. I think it’s probable that Aubry’s style was just not to the tastes of the Kaoh Rong jury. This is pretty unsatisfying, but a fact of life. I’m not sure she did anything particularly wrong, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee her the win. And Michele didn’t make any deliberate attempt to take Aubry or Tai to the end to win. Sometimes a jury just needs to ensure an underdog has done enough to justify their vote, and I think this is the case for Michele. To me, this makes her more similar to the likes of Jenna or Sandra.
A New Dawn
I think we also have to look at what Aubry did that would turn people away from voting for her, and if we are going to make a comparison to a former player, Dawn Meehan seems apt. I think Aubry and Dawn both had moments where they struggled with the game and the emotional toll it took on them, which they weren’t able to hide from other players. I think Dawn is a more extreme example and Aubry wasn’t overly emotional, but probably enough to irritate people. I think this also makes them hard people for alpha males like Scot, Jason, Reynold and Eddie to warm to. They are just too different and connecting on an emotional level is always going to be challenging. And as discussed above, I think it’s hard for such alpha males to consider losing to a Mormon mother or “nerdy” paranoid social media manager. I think both players also suffered from having a tight alliance that was unbreakable with another player. The difference here is that Dawn’s partner would eventually go on to beat her, whereas Aubry’s was unfortunately taken out of the game before she could cash in on it in a final vote.
The Problem With the Edit
I don’t want to take a shot at the editors, who I think did an amazing job with this season. I think trying to show Michele’s social game is tricky. She also went to so few tribal councils and none before the merge. Survivor has always had a problem showing a female player with a good social game, if it isn’t in the Parvati mold of flirting to the top. However, I think it was inevitable that viewers would be drawn to Aubry as she was depicted on the show. Apparently Michele’s social game is what won her the game, yet we were shown how Aubry had a strong connection with Joe, and that her bond with Tai was so strong that Michele, who started the game with Tai and had two critical chances to be alone with him at the end of the game couldn’t turn him away from her. He even said they had no chemistry. So it’s easy to see why people struggle to see Michele’s social game as better given what we saw on the screen. The critical turning points in the game were nearly all seen through Aubry’s perspective and moments like the forming of the beauty women’s alliance and Caleb’s medevac that could have been shown through Michele’s view were not. I appreciate that the story to be told was that Michele won the game on a great run of momentum toward the end of the game so early visibility was either unnecessary or not accurate. But winners with similar runs, like Chris or Fabio were better served through the course of the season’s edit. It’s not lost on me that Michele being a female probably has something to do with this. Whatever the rationale, it’s understandable that viewers are now confused and view Michele as undeserving, which is unfair on both her and Aubry.
The True Underdog?
The problem with an edited show like Survivor is that stories have to be told that are to some degree fabricated to explain the ending. I’m sure everyone in the game sees themselves as the underdog, and sometimes the person that can own this narrative the best can benefit from it the most. You only need to ask Mike, Fabio, Denise of Sandra how powerful that tag can be. To me, Aubry’s story was totally the story of an underdog, yet somehow Michele got to take this title by being down in the numbers late in the game. I’m really interested to know if Aubry made any attempt to claim the underdog tag. After all, she started the season off in a very rough spot, battling through early struggles to align with the right people to go deep into the game with. Many players battle back from losing allies, but Aubry is the only one to lose 2 of them to medical emergencies. One of them had an idol that could have saved her if she ever needed it to. She also wasn’t perfect – the crossing out of Julia’s name when she voted Peter out was a misstep, yet she recovered well to battle on in the game. And of course, by all rights, she should have been voted out at the final 4 but used a great social connection with Tai to save herself and then win a fire building tie breaker to advance in the game. That’s a pretty great story – and even with that, she controlled a number of the game’s key votes. To put it simply, Aubry battled back from a number of setbacks, many of which were not of her making, and still made it to the end. Whether Aubry let Michele take the underdog tag knowingly, or if it got forcibly taken by Michele owning it better, it was used very effectively by Michele to get the votes she needed to win.
Embrace the Suck
Ultimately, the season ended how it did and even as a big Aubry fan, I hope that in time, the viewers will accept that Michele is a worthy winner. As Cochran would tell you, timing is everything and Michele saved her best moments for last, when the jury were most able to see them. Winning a number of challenges (especially for someone who had an earlier weak performance that had her on the ropes) is also a big deal. She deserves respect and congratulations for doing so. For us Aubry fans, we just have to accept that sometimes it doesn’t work out, and lets not rain on Michele’s parade. I for one am thankful that we got such a great season with Aubry at the centre of it. As much talk as there was about Tai being such a unique character, I think Aubry is every bit as unique. I think her story will be interesting to watch again in retrospect, knowing the outcome, and I fully expect we will see her back on a returnee season at some point. As Jason said earlier in the season, sometimes you have to “embrace the suck”, and seeing Aubry fall agonisingly short of winning really does suck. But it doesn’t change how fun the season was and Aubry was a major part of it. So give Michele her due and enjoy the role Aubry played in what has been a phenomenal season of Survivor.
Do you think the show did justice to Michele’s win? Was Aubry’s loss properly explained? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!
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