Dean Kowalski came to life as a detective but truly thrived as the only edit-viable threat to Tommy to win Island of the Idols. Should he return to Survivor?
There have been only a few times that a Survivor winner didn’t receive a confessional to introduce themselves to the audience of their season in the first episode. Only one time (Natalie White in Samoa) did it happen where the winner didn’t have a confessional until episode 4. Without an all-encompassing villain entity like a Russell Hantz on Island of the Idols, it seemed impossible for Dean Kowalski to win since everybody but him got to speak in the first two weeks of the season.
It’s of a great disservice to the eventual second-place finisher, though he did get his moments here and there eventually. For example, he was thought of as being in a showmance with Chelsea only for him to go Detective Dean in episode 4 once she was voted out in a massive blindside. He didn’t get to close that book, though, as he shifted his focus to a different group at the tribe swap.
He actually was given a huge lifeline in Kellee, who knew him outside of the game tangentially through a mutual friend, his ex-girlfriend. When he was on the verge of being voted out just before the merge, Kellee handed him her Immunity Idol (one that was ready to expire after that Tribal Council), allowing him to block five votes against him and vote out Jack from the game.
Though Dean didn’t have much involvement or control in the game between the merge and Day 34, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t always thinking. He was given a Legacy Advantage from Jamal’s Island of the Idols visit he thought was real (it was fake), capable of use at Final Nine and Final Six. He then used the tribe flag painting utensils to craft a copy of his (unwittingly fake) Legacy Advantage so he could “play” his copy at Final Nine and use his “real” (fake) advantage at Final Six.
Dean’s best chance to win Island of the Idols would have come when he and the others left behind at the Loves Ones reward agreed to form a pact to vote out Tommy and go to the end. However, with Noura being completely unreliable and being wishy-washy to the plan, Dean ended up saving his biggest threats in Tommy, Lauren, and Janet (by giving up the numbers) to spill the beans at the Final Eight Tribal Council, seeing Karishma go home instead.
Only after Dean gave a Final Seven that would have needed to remove Tommy, Janet, Lauren, and Elaine in the next four votes did we see Dean play for himself. He did his own Island of the Idols “test” of flipping a coin to earn a power, choosing an Idol Nullifier. This worked well to his needs when he saw Janet find a Hidden Immunity Idol shortly after, as he and the tribe nullified her idol at the Final Five.
While this was going on, Dean finally started to show his individual Immunity Challenge prowess, winning the third-last and second-last challenges in a row. With Tommy’s help, he also found a Hidden Immunity Idol on Day 37 at the Island of the Idols, though he didn’t need it. He couldn’t secure his third IC win in a row, with Noura forcing him to make fire against Lauren. He was successful, earning his spot at the Final Tribal Council.
Despite playing the perfect modern Survivor game in Jeff Probst’s eyes, the jury felt differently. Though Dean did earn the respect of Aaron and Elizabeth’s votes for his late-game surge, the jury felt his social game was lacking and appreciated Tommy’s lack of immunity wins, advantages, powers, and being dragged to the end by Noura despite being a huge threat to win. Dean’s five-game stint at making moves in the game didn’t trump Tommy’s 39-day plan.
He was one of the most under-edited castaways of the season, meaning anybody who knew anything about edits knew Dean couldn’t win the game. However, he proved to be an entertaining competitor that had a reasonable number of people fooled near the end, as the DKChillin persona evolved into an entertaining late-game DKVillain. Let us know in our straw poll if he should return to Survivor for another shot at a million dollars.