Survivor Island of the Idols finale: Why _____ finished in second place?

Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS 2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS 2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

Thanks to a late surge by this castaway, Survivor: Island of the Idols was given extra life during the finale, leading to a thrilling Final Tribal Council.

Spoiler alert: This article discusses the events of the Survivor: Island of the Idols finale, including the winner and runner-ups.

Every few seasons there’s that one castaway that takes a backseat for most of the game and then kills it in the final few episodes. Winners that we’re shortly going to see in season 40, including Danni Boatwright and Michele Fitzgerald, succeeded with that late-game momentum.

Dean Kowalski came on strong in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, but he wasn’t able to complete the comeback. He received two votes, while Tommy Sheehan got the rest. Did Dean deserve to win? We explain why Dean rightfully finished in second place.

Lacked a complete game

Sometimes a jury can get caught up in the latest Tribal Councils and lose sight of the big picture. Thankfully, this group of smart jurors could pick out the difference between a complete player and someone who came alive towards the end.

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Looking at who had control over the game is always a good indicator of a successful player. Dean was typically in the background for most votes, used simply as a number. It wasn’t until the Final Five when he had legitimate control over a Tribal Council. Tommy, on the other hand, had control over several votes, from taking the lead on some big moves while having a more subtle influence on others.

Dean’s reliance on Tommy

Dean is one of several castaways who truly thought Tommy was his closest ally. He mentioned in a post-finale RHAP interview that ever since the early merge Tommy made a secret pact with him. It’s true that Dean did a good job of sneaking into the Vokai group, but it was only because Tommy allowed and encouraged it.

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You can even reason that Tommy influenced Dean’s decision during that Final Five Tribal Council. His reliance on Tommy motivated him to share his Idol Nullifier. The only thing that Dean withheld from Tommy was that Hidden Immunity Idol that he used as a prop at Final Tribal. Besides asking for Dean’s non-color blind pair of eyes, Tommy hasn’t relied on him.

Season 39’s Sole Survivor did rely a lot on Lauren, but unlike Dean, he put in the effort to take out his number one ally before the Final Three. Tommy purposefully taught Dean everything he knew about fire-making, while he focused on flustering Lauren. It worked, as he once again used his social game in a crafty way to eliminate a serious threat to win it all.

Needed perfection at Final Tribal Council

The battle between Tommy and Dean in front of the jury was a fun one to watch. Tommy absolutely killed it, having that great balance between campaigning for his big moves without sounding too overconfident. He made it impossible for others to ignore his brilliant social game.

I was surprised to watch how well Dean performed in front of the jury. His enthusiastic and effective arguments proved that he deserved to be considered more than a goat, and he definitely earned those two votes with his impactful comments. The only problem was that one slip up that halted his momentum.

Unfortunately for Dean, he couldn’t keep his story straight about Final 2 conversations. He first answered Kellee’s moral defining question by saying the line he wouldn’t cross was promising Final 2’s to different castaways. It was a smart play since that’s exactly what Tommy did. It was only till later when multiple jury members realized that Dean made several Final 2 pacts, completely contradicting his arguments.

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I don’t want to pick on Dean’s one mistake at Final Tribal Council since he did such a great job overall, but that blunder could have swayed a few people back to the idea that Tommy deserves it more and was a huge momentum killer. In reality, Dean’s biggest problem was waiting 35 days to start making a move. Overall, Dean had a stellar final push and is deserving of being called a strong runner-up.