Survivor Cook Islands finale: Why was Yul’s win so close over Ozzy?

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 17: (L-R) Contestants Oscar 'Ozzy' Lusth and winner Yul Kwon attend the 'Survivor: Cook Islands' Finale at CBS Television City on December 17, 2006 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 17: (L-R) Contestants Oscar 'Ozzy' Lusth and winner Yul Kwon attend the 'Survivor: Cook Islands' Finale at CBS Television City on December 17, 2006 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images) /

The Survivor: Cook Islands finale establishes a precedent that’s mostly held to this day, but it also has an extremely close vote. Let’s discuss it all.

Five people were left at the beginning of Survivor: Cook Islands‘ finale. One made it to the end — Yul Kwon. It’s time to talk about the key moments in the final two days of the game.

Much as the other three members of the Aitu Four didn’t want to actually bring Ozzy into the final four if they could help it, they all also pointed out that the odds of Ozzy actually losing were low. They observed that the clue sounded like an obstacle course, and yes, it ended in a puzzle.

Jeff Probst informed the five players that the puzzle was the toughest in 13 seasons. It seems quaint now, but Survivor started having its eye on history pretty quickly anyway.

Ozzy did not lead the entire challenge in terms of retrieving the eight bags of puzzle pieces, but it was between him and Yul, with Adam also coming in close, as these things have gone for a large portion of the season. At Tribal Council, Becky and Ozzy had stumbles with the jury, as the sound effects indicated, while Adam basically made Yul’s case for him about having a hold on the game. Yul did not have to play the idol. Adam went out 4-1.

Although Survivor has since repudiated the endurance final immunity challengeCook Islands very definitely pre-dates that shift. There were platforms which gradually became smaller that everyone had to stand on to win it all. Becky, Yul, and Sundra all lost to Ozzy, which meant he’d snagged five individual wins. If episode 14 made the case that Parvati should return, then this finale also finishes Ozzy’s case as a big-name player for his physical skills.

What Cook Islands does not predate is the final three, which Probst also told the players about. This season marked the first time that this shift happened. In some ways, it doesn’t matter — normally whoever takes third place doesn’t get that many votes, if any at all.

Ozzy decided to let Sundra and Becky fight it out in the tiebreaker at Tribal, although Yul did actually try to give Becky the idol. (Then Ozzy talked about it in front of the jury, which basically forced Yul’s hand.) This was a mistake … mostly for Becky and Sundra.

Third place doesn’t always get votes to win. In the case of Cook Islands, the tiebreaker is a big reason why. Even if it didn’t come up at the final Tribal, the entire jury had to sit there for hours and watch the two of them struggle to make fire, even with matches after an hour! Sundra actually ran out of matches. You can just hear Probst’s disappointment and a little bit of incredulity throughout this entire scene. It is more than a little absurd, and all of the editorial decisions reflect that. Just to bring it home, Ozzy talked about it in a confessional.

Nate set the tone: Yul was “the godfather,” Ozzy “the warrior,” Becky a question about why she deserved to win, and Nate didn’t like her answer. From there, most of the attention went the two guys’ way, with the exception of Parvati.

Here’s another thing that helped bring that final vote as close as it was. From Brad’s question, Ozzy talked about playing a specific social role, and then he had a very emotional moment talking about his relationship with his dad.

But here’s where Yul sealed the deal. The very last juror to ask his question, Jonathan, asked Yul to defend his game, and Yul did not argue the points Jonathan made, “half-truths…half-lies” and all. Ozzy’s question to Jonathan about how he’d use the money involved an answer about going to school.

Probst made the transition to live TV, read the votes, and announced that Yul was the thirteenth winner of Survivor, 5-4. To make a brief observation, Yul’s win actually continued a tradition of primarily strategic threats winning over primarily physical threats that stretches back all the way to Survivor: Borneo and Richard Hatch winning over Kelly Wiglesworth.

Next: Survivor flashback: The legendary Gabon GIF

We’ll be breaking Cook Islands down a bit more, and for my next season … I’m thinking Micronesia, with all the talk of returning to the game.