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She might not have been the most expected winner. She might not be the most likable winner in Survivor history. Yet Michele Fitzgerald, the 24 year old bartender from New Jersey, won the million dollar prize on Survivor: Kaoh Rong

To put it mildly, fans are not as excited as Michele. Many feel that Aubry was completely robbed of the victory she rightfully deserved. While those fans aren’t totally wrong, they’re also mistaken to say Michele didn’t deserve to win. She might not have been anyone’s first pick but Michele certainly deserves her title of Sole Survivor.

Choosing Her Moments

It’s ridiculous to say that Michele is the most satisfying winner possible. Aubry owned the vast majority of Survivor: Kaoh Rong. In that way it does rankle a bit that one of the best Survivor players in a long time did not actually walk away with the prize. It’s equally insane to assert that Michele has no business actually winning the game. If Tai had ended up the victor then things would feel truly upside-down. Michele, while not the most deserving, is certainly deserving in her own way. 

Survivor: Kaoh Rong Finale Recap: And the Winner is… >>>

A lot has been made of Aubry and her gameplay for good reason. Aubry pretty much orchestrated the elimination of every single member on the jury, except for those that were medically evacuated. Aubry lived up to the monkier of her original tribe and used her brains to their full effect in Survivor: Kaoh Rong. In all the praise for Aubry, it has gone pretty much ignored that Michele played a very good game as well.

Ever since the merge Michele has been a very important and active player in Survivor: Kaoh Rong. Michele’s game was certainly much more in the background than Aubry but she was still playing the game. She wasn’t floating or coasting on anyone’s coat tails like Julia tried to claim in the Final Tribal Council. (It’s hard to imagine how anyone could hold on to Julia’s coat tails considering the amount of flip flopping she did all season.) Michele played a quiet game but she was active and in power when it was required. 

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The worst thing that can be said about Michele is that she only finished strong. The fact of the matter is that finishing strong is still finishing strong. The endgame of Survivor is the most important part of the game as it’s where the winner is decided. Michele played her butt off in the last few days of the game. She won challenges, actively tried to get rid of Aubry, used her new powers of voting a jury member to great effect. Michele was on a roll in the endgame. Michele’s biggest strength though was how she handled herself at Tribal Council.

Knockout Punch at Tribal Council

If we take Nick’s opening Tribal Council comments at face value, the jury was undecided about who they wanted to win when Tribal began. So that really means that the winner was determined in the jury interrogation. In that jury interrogation, Michele was head and shoulders above her competition.

Michele was confronted about how she didn’t really appear in the game until very late. Her answer was not only extremely well spoken and thought out, it made perfect sense. Michele didn’t see a reason stick her neck out at a time in the game where things were dangerous. Aubry didn’t have much of a choice. Aubry was fighting the entire game but that’s not Michele’s fault. In fact, it’s easy to say that Michele should be praised for not allowing herself to get into a position like Aubry where she was fighting for her life every day.

To continue the Michele and Aubry comparisons, again Tai is a non-factor here, Aubry’s answers at Final Tribal weren’t bad. Aubry, who had been so smart did not seem to know her audience. Even if the jury was filled with jerks like Jason and Scot, Aubry still needed to appeal to those jerks to win. She didn’t really do much persuading. Aubry mostly let her actions speak for herself at Final Tribal while Michele worked very hard to articulate why she deserved to win. While Aubry came off as defensive and angry and Tai came off as being on another planet entirely, Michele was laser focused and battle ready. 

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The social game of Survivor often gets very lost in the mix. The reason is obvious. It is pretty boring to watch people get along on reality TV. Survivor makes a point of showing when someone is playing an awful game but they rarely show people playing a good one. Yet from what we saw of Michelle, she did play an excellent social game. There didn’t seem to be a single player on the jury, or left in the game, who didn’t like Michelle. Well except Neil, but then again Michele wisely dismissed him from the jury. 

At Final Tribal, Michelle’s social skills were on full display as she said the exact right things and the exact right time. She proved she was intelligent. She wisely explained the reasoning behind her actions. Michele managed to appear strong to appeal to people like Cydney but also appeared vulnerable to appeal likable to neanderthals like Jason and Scot.

But what do you think? Is Michelle’s victory still an outrage? Do you even think she deserved to win more than Aubry? Who was your pick to win Survivor: Kaoh Rong?

(Images courtesy of CBS)

May 19, 2016
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