This is posted on Wednesday, December 14, 2016 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
CBS's breakthrough reality competition series "Survivor" is a survivor in and of itself, with season 33 set to air Wednesday night.
What's incredible about the show is its ability to surprise and engage after hundreds of people have competed, dozens have been blindsided and a few have been medically evacuated from places worldwide, from Nicaragua to Cambodia.
Season 33, set in picturesque Fiji, has been an exceptionally solid season with likable characters playing the game with compassion and verve. Three of six remaining players - Adam Klein, Justin "Jay" Starrett and David Wright - have viable arguments to sway the jury and pocket $1 million. '
[UPDATE: With Jay and David eliminated before the final three, Adam was the easy choice over Hannah Shapiro and Ken McNickle. He convinced Ken, who won his fourth and final immunity challenge, to take him and not David despite his loyalty to David. Ken played an old-school game, focused on loyalty and winning challenges. But that didn't impress the jury. Hannah provided a passable argument, including almost always being on the right side of the vote. But as she said, her game play wasn't as showy as Adam's and Chris, the lawyer on the jury, espoused Adam pretty vocally during the final tribal council. And in the end, Adam got every vote on the jury. Adam was a true fan of the show, going back to age nine, And he pulled out his mom-is-sick-with-lung-cancer line at the very end. I don't even think he needed it. Shockingly, his mom died just one hour after he arrived back home. He told her won, although he wasn't 100 percent sure himself. "She knew," he said during the reunion show. He is donating $100,000 of his $1 million in winnings to do breast cancer research.]
I talked to former Atlantan Parvati Shallow, who has spent more time playing "Survivor" than any human being on Earth and won "Survivor: Micronesia," which aired in 2008. She previously came in sixth on "Cook Island" and runner up in "Heroes vs. Villains" in 2010.
Shallow, a 2004 University of Georgia graduate whose family still lives in Johns Creek, said she is retired from competing ever again. She now lives in New York City and teaches yoga, does life coaching and consults for health-care companies.
"I'm loving this season," said Shallow, who still does "Survivor" exit interviews for "ET: Canada." "They found a fantastic group of young people. The Gen X players kind of took more time to develop."
The players over the weeks have been brutally culling out major threats. At the same time, there has been continuous pressure to make major moves to boost their resumes in case they did make it to the finals. (Will Wahl, a mere 18 years old, was a victim of pimping up his big move, then getting quickly axed.)
Parvati said she loved how the contestants this season came to play but most didn't take blindsides or lies personally. It was all part of the game and there was plenty of mutual respect.
"I think it comes from the show being on the air so long," Parvati said. "People have been watching it for years and are huge fans. It's a chance for them to compete and get their torches snuffed. People have been going out with a little more dignity and a little less resentment."
She said there has been so many slippery alliances it was hard to keep track who was loyal to who any given week. The two biggest betrayals in her mind: Jay betraying Michaela, then Zeke betraying Chris.
Parvati assessed the top 6, in order of who will least likely win to those most likely to win:
6- Ken McNickle. The pretty "Ken Doll," as many have called him, "hasn't done very much that we've seen except for developing relationships. They have shown loyalty to him." He has a legacy advantage given to him by Jessica. It's not clear if that will help him or not. And he outed Will when Will provided him with intel in a way that came off as childish. "He doesn't seem to have a good argument to position himself at tribal council at the end," Parvati said. "He does have a daughter. But he hasn't stood out. He hasn't made any big moves." He would be the perfect third person to ride to the finals given his likely inability to garner any votes from the jury.
5- Hannah Shapiro. The neurotic nerd-ess "has developed as a person," Parvati said. "I just think when it comes to tribal council, if she's sitting with Adam and Jay, she'll have a hard time winning. Hannah kind of found her way too late to win the game."
4 - Bret LaBelle. He has been a coat-tail rider, mostly with Chris Hammons early on, then Zeke Smith, now David. Although his bond with Zeke was touching when he revealed he was gay, he hasn't shown any major strategic or challenge prowess. He gets points for keeping his cop profession to himself (even if Hannah and Jay suspected it.)
Parvati had a hard time picking a winner among Adam, Jay or David. They all have compelling arguments.
"They've all played such different games, she said. "They've all played really well. They've all made missteps as well. Nobody has played flawlessly. They've all played a human 'Survivor.' Everyone has shown vulnerability this season, especially the guys, which is different. They've all been true to themselves. It's fun to watch. It's really authentic. I'd love to see all three in the finals."
David's argument: "He has positioned himself as having made the greatest transformation. That's why he's been such a target. He came in as a total fish out of water not knowing how we would survive. He's notably neurotic. But he found all those immunity idols and gained allies to protect him. He worked the social angle well. He even won an immunity challenge. He's got all the elements that he needs to win."
Jay's argument: "He's a great underdog story. The only reason he is an underdog is he turned on Michaela early. It was his own fault. He started as top banana. Then he made a move too son. But he's managed to recover and stay in the game even after that huge mistake. He could say he made a huge mistake voting one of his allies out and weakening his position at the same time. But he's been able to perservere, winning challenges."
Adam's argument: "Adam grew on me. I didn't like him at first as a contestant or character. Then he became so open and vulnerable in his confessions. You can see that he's playing with his whole heart. That's what compelled me to vote for Ozzie on Cook Island. I saw how much he invested in the game. Adam played with his whole human heart and made some mistakes. He's been really passionate about this. The reason he's doing this is for his mom with cancer. It's something greater than himself that's giving him power." (And he gets points for not exploiting his sick mom. He has only told Jay, sharing a real moment of emotion.)
Why six going into the final episode instead of four or five? "They didn't have any medical evacuations. That may have contributed to more people at the end. They do like to change things up, keep us guessing."
The Millennial/Gen X construct: It was a great gimmick but she thinks younger people in general are more adventurous and more carefree in general. That's just a construct of age, she said. She is on the cusp between the two generations but feels more Millennial in spirit.
Seven of the first eight eliminations were women: "There was a point where the women seemed to get together to get rid of all the big alphas. They got rid of one but then self destructed."
All the minorities were gone by early as well, including Michaela: "People who are cast are strong people with strong personalities. Sometimes, they really fit into stereotypes. But others will go against them, like Bret, the cop who came out as gay. Michaela was really strong and really verbal. In her game play, she was incredibly vocal. And she was smart. I liked her. They could have portrayed her as a one-sided in-your-face black girl. But they gave her more depth and dimension. They showed how intelligent and strategic and forward thinking she was. She was my favorite."
Who might return for future seasons: Parvati picked five who have stood out - Michaela, Zeke, Adam, David and Jay, with Figgy an outside shot.
"Survivor" season 33 finale, 8 p.m. Wednesday, followed by the reunion show at 10 p.m., CBS