Tommy Sheehan won Island of the Idols playing an old-school game in a season with the most new-school advantages ever. Should he return to Survivor?
One thing I’d love for more Survivor fans to realize is that the castaways as TV characters are separate from their real-life personalities. On the other hand, more of both castaways and fans should realize that the edit has a primary purpose, especially for winners; to tell a compelling story overall that doesn’t make it obvious who wins. Considering the real villains of Island of the Idols, it makes sense that the edit downplayed Tommy Sheehan’s personality all season.
His unparalleled ability to get others to trust him propelled Tommy towards the end, as even in the beginning, he had become relatively friendly with everyone he met. His strong social web early meant his close early kinship with Jack didn’t override his understanding that taking out Molly would both undermine Jack’s control of the game, but he’d be able to retain Jack as a number.
Though people knew Tommy was a good dude and a sociable player, it wasn’t until the tribe swap that Tommy’s power was first threatened. He leaned on Lauren a lot to keep him composed when times were tough, as even though Tommy sought to play with a purple + orange blend of players with an Aaron partnership, a suspiciously timed advantage grab and play forced a 4-4 tie into Lairo’s hands on the Vokai 2.0 tribe.
If there was anybody who had Tommy clocked, it was Missy, who saw through his and Lauren’s plan to through Dan under the bus as anything but deflection. Unfortunately for Missy, she was too busy telling others to miscategorize or elevate their issues with Dan to bring that around at the merge, as Tommy countered Kellee’s shutting down of his plans and worked with Lauren to take her out instead.
Though Tommy had most of Lumuwaku working in his best interests, including Dan, he was shielded from the blowback of outwardly supporting him while still taking out his biggest threats like Kellee and Jamal. With Aaron taken out at the first of two Tribal Councils on Day 27, Missy finally had an opportune time to take out Tommy. However, Tommy’s social game saved him once more, as he and Elaine used their capital to humanize Karishma’s existence in the game, flipping the script on Missy.
It would be one of a series of instances where somebody wants Tommy out, but someone in the social network he built bails him out. This would come through once more at the Loved Ones visit, as he and Janet won the right to bring Lauren and Dan with them. The remaining players plotted to take out Tommy in a blindside, but Tommy’s insistence on getting to know Dean at the merge paired with Noura’s wild streak saw Dean spill the beans at that Tribal Council, keeping him safe.
After a straightforward vote of Elaine and the removal of Dan from the game, Tommy had a fairly easy path to the end. Even if he gave Dean half the clues needed to find a Hidden Immunity Idol (shared because Tommy is colorblind), his information network meant Janet told him ahead of the Final Five she had an idol and knew Dean’s Idol Nullifier could work to take out one of his biggest threats.
Ahead of the Final Immunity Challenge, Tommy downplayed his fire-making abilities in case Noura won the Final Immunity Challenge, which turned out to be a fruitful play. He got dragged to the end, and Noura chose a goat to go up against the biggest threat to win the game, forcing Lauren out on Day 38.
At the Final Tribal Council, the jury appreciated the fact that Tommy had nothing but pure Survivor gameplay in his favor. He never won immunity, he never found an idol, he didn’t get any advantage powers, never learned from the Island of the Idols mentors; he pretty much reverted the game back into a social experiment about tribal dynamics and survival instead of being a scavenger hunt for trinkets and big movez.
Tommy Sheehan won Survivor in a way that reigns supreme to many others, securing eight out of ten jury members’ support due to the fact he worked well with everyone in the game. Vote here in our straw poll to let us know if he should return in a future season, especially considering winners are being brought back at a rapid pace these days.