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Survivor: Cagayan Finale: It’s Not How You Play the Game, but Whether You Win or Lose

Stashed in: Pants on fire!

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The only truth in Survivor is that every time someone makes you a promise, their fingers are crossed behind their backs, even if their palms are held out for you to see:

Games are escapist, and Survivor is no exception: What makes someone a good person in life is often what makes them a bad strategist when they find themselves both chess master and pawn. The person most deserving of the grand prize is not the one who needs it the most, but the one who wants it the most, and who will stop at nothing to get it. Even making friends is a power play, because you must decide who will make you look your best in the end. In-game respect is earned not by what you give, but what you take away: threats, idols, immunity, rewards. You vampire the life and charisma out of your dwindling group until you are the Nosferatu of Probst island, your vitality levels full from draining the blood from your enemies. Woo confused respect with affinity, and as he and Tony uncorked the champagne for their mimosas he couldn’t help but chant, “One love, one love, hey man, one love.” How wrong he was: This isn’t love, it’s war.

The jury still tried to give Woo the benefit of the doubt. In his opening statement, Woo recited the five tenets of taekwondo — respect, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit — and mentioned his mother’s heart transplant. He tried to appear good, forgetting that being good not only doesn’t matter in this game, it can be a deficit. One by one, the jury attacked Tony for his pinkie swears with Jeremiah (who, earlier in the season, confessed he was a model as though he was admitting to being in the CIA), expressing doubt that the cop even had a wife and baby with souls to swear on. Tony responded to each of his interrogators by flattering them, implying that they had posed a threat to him and that he had no choice but to make sure their torches were extinguished. In a way, he repurposed Woo’s platform for his own benefit: He respected each eliminated jury member enough to admit being threatened by them, he had the integrity to own up to wronging Trish, he had persevered to achieve his goal, he had given up rice and water for others because he had the spirit to suffer to get to the finals, and … well, self-control, not so much. But four out of five isn’t bad. He didn’t have to express these points overtly, because he said enough to prove that he understood the rules better than Woo did.


Tony may be a good, honest cop and a stand-up guy at home, but Survivordoesn’t hand its money out for charitable causes. It rewards people who shed their real personas in favor of the spirit of the game, and Tony embodied that spirit with some truly next-level shit (he wants to spend his winnings on a pink chandelier for his daughter’s nursery, possibly because he has been driven mad by this whole experience). Tony and Kass played by these rules, but Tony didn’t waste his time causing a stir — he was busy sniffing out any tool that could assist him in his win, and his work paid off. 

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