SURVIVOR

In the final episode titled, "I See the Million Dollars," Underwood, Gavin Whitson, and Julie Rosenberg, battle it out in challenges for the money.

CBS’s long-running reality competition show, “Survivor,” returned this February for its 38th installment. The season’s subtitle, “Edge of Extinction,” posed as not only a metaphor for the constant threat of being eliminated from the game, but was also the title of a secret twist that was taking place on the island.

In a never-before-seen addition to the game, players who found themselves voted off at Tribal Council were faced with a choice as they exited the game. They could choose to end their adventure immediately after being voted out, or they could take a torch and head to the Edge of Extinction.

Upon arriving at the Edge of Extinction, the eliminated players were forced to survive with little food, supplies and shelter. They were armed with a small amount of rice, basic fishing gear and the knowledge that they’d eventually have the chance to compete to reenter the game and still have a shot to take home the $1 million prize. If living on “the edge” ever proved too difficult, players could raise a mast and a boat would arrive to pick them up.

This season, “Survivor” brought back four previous players with impressive track records to compete alongside 14 new players: Aubry Bracco from “Survivor: Kaoh Rong” and “Survivor: Game Changers,” David Wright from “Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen-X,” Joe Anglim from “Survivor: Worlds Apart” and “Survivor: Cambodia” and Kelley Wentworth from “Survivor: San Juan del Sur” and “Survivor: Cambodia.”

The eighteen castaways were marooned on the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji and immediately split into two tribes: Kama and Manu. From the start, it was apparent that the Manu tribe was the weaker of the two, losing the first three immunity challenges in a row and subsequently being reduced to six players by the end of the third episode. The morale on the Manu tribe was understandably low, as paranoia and aggressive gameplay were rampant at their camp due to their constant visits to Tribal Council.

The obstacles the Manu tribe had to overcome right out of the gate allowed the viewers to gain a deeper insight and understanding of the players on the tribe, as they were allotted more time in the episodes due to their complex storylines. Viewers saw what alliances were at work and sympathized with the group, as their conditions were undoubtedly worse than the Kama camp.

Following the third episode, the remaining 15 castaways were subjected to a tribe swap, where they randomly drew a buff and were expanded from two tribes to three. Five went back to the Manu camp, five went back to the Kama camp and the remaining five became the Lesu tribe and went to a new beach to start over.

In an unprecedented turn of events, all five members of the Lesu tribe came from the original Manu tribe, furthering the seemingly never-ending bad luck of the original Manu tribe. To add insult to injury, Lesu once again lost the following immunity challenge and voted off morning news anchor Rick Devens in an emotional Tribal Council. Seeing the same group of people experience all the hardships the show has to offer on such an elevated level was especially difficult and, at times, infuriating due to the fact that some castaways hadn’t even lost an immunity challenge going into the merge.

On day 17, the six players who’d been voted out prior were brought back in to the shock of the remaining players for their long-awaited chance to reenter the game. In a close battle, Devens won his way back much to the dismay of the other five players who’d been hoping for the same opportunity.

Seeing Devens return was undoubtedly an exciting moment in the season, as he’d been subjected to the harsh conditions of the Manu and Lesu tribes and was voted out from a group of people who seemed to have bonded well. Devens was an underdog due to being a member of Manu and Lesu, so his second chance came across as well-deserved.

Following the merge and commencement of the individual portion of the game, those who were considered strong physical threats were immediately targeted in traditional Survivor fashion. However, as the end of the game approached, it became apparent that Devens was the frontrunner for the prize because of his time spent bonding with the jury on the Edge of Extinction. With his back against the wall, Devens won four individual immunity challenges and found numerous hidden immunity idols to save himself at Tribal Council, despite being a constant target.

Going into the finale, it was no secret to the remaining players or those on the jury that Devens would be awarded the $1 million prize if he were to make it to the final three as a result of his flashy and exciting gameplay.

On day 35, salesman Chris Underwood won the second return challenge, permanently eliminating everyone else who’d been on the Edge of Extinction. Underwood’s return to the game added an interesting dynamic, as he was originally the third person voted out yet catapulted himself into the top six with one challenge win.

Despite spending nearly a month on the Edge of Extinction, Underwood immediately proved himself to be a physical and strategic threat with just days remaining in the game. Underwood immediately aligned himself with his fellow Edge of Extinction returnee, Devens, but acknowledged that going up against him for the million dollars would be a terrible move.

By using idols and immunity challenge wins, both Devens and Underwood secured spots in the top four, meaning there’d only be one more elimination before the players who were voted out would vote on who to award the million dollars to. When Underwood won the final immunity challenge, he was tasked with choosing which two players should go into a firemaking challenge to earn their spot in the top three.

In the most impressive move of the season, Underwood gave up his immunity at the final four, knowing he had to beat Devens himself to secure the million dollar prize. After a nail-biting firemaking challenge, Underwood completed what he set out to do, finally ending Devens’ time on the island.

Using his ability to bond with the jury on the Edge of Extinction and the pivotal game moves he made in the endgame, Underwood secured nine of 13 jury votes, awarding him the title of “Sole Survivor” and the $1 million prize. Underwood became the first player to ever be voted out in the season they would eventually win, meaning his time spent on the Edge of Extinction proved to be well worth the wait.

Contact Connor Murphy at murph2cj@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.