[Thisstorycontainsmassivespoilersforthe Survivor Ghost Island Finale.]
Given his haunted premise, it only fits in that Survivor Ghost Island closed with a haunting note – not to mention a historic: tie in the Final Tribal Council.
For the first time in the CBS Reality Series story, Survivor finished with a deadlocked jury and a 5-5 split vote between two of the three finalists: the construction worker Domenick Abbate and the furniture maker Wendell Holland, two dominant allies who worked together at every turn. Since the games were so intertwined, the jurors could not decide between the two ̵
Laurel apologized immediately after voting with her fellow competitors and was finally revealed at Survivor's Ghost Island live finale and Reunion on Wednesday (May 24) in front of a crowded audience at the CBS Studio Center in Studio City, California. In the end, she chose the person who had granted her immunity just days before: Wendell Holland, the official champion of Survivor Ghost Island.
In the final weeks of the season Ghost Island felt like it would grow to one of two possible outcomes: Domenick or Wendell won the Sole Survivor title and million dollar prize , The two dominant players lined up early in the game and were responsible for each and every one of the votes they hit along the way, except one. Their partnership broke out only at the eleventh hour when Dom won the final immunity challenge and was assigned to bring one person to the Final Tribal Council, while the other two players had to fight for third place in a firefight challenge.
Dom sent Wendell into the fire without any ill will between the two partners. Both knew what risk they represented for the other. Dom, for his part, briefly thought of challenging Wendell in the challenge without trusting Laurel or his ally Angela Perkins to get the job done. Finally, he chose Angela, and Wendell pulled out the fiery target. The rest is history … even real history, as there was never a connection in the Final Tribal Council and the Ghost Island finale became a monumental moment in the legacy of the series.
Continue reading for more about Probst's eventful evening, his thoughts on Wendell's and Domenick's legacies, what he learned from last season and what to expect from this fall issue of the series
It's official: We have our first Final Tribal Council band Survivor story. What was your immediate reaction when you realized what happened? And what were the reactions of the other producers when working on the milestone?
Well, the final vote is unique in that we remove our cameraman from the polling booth to make sure no one sees the votes the way they are cast – none of our crew knows the winner. Then I go back to get the voices where executive producer Matt Van Wagenen checks the voices to make sure every piece of parchment has a name and we have a good voice. Well, the only two people who know the result are Matt and me.
I usually just grab the urn and go back to tell the players that I'll see them in LA to read the voices. But this time, when I went back, Matt stared at me with wide eyes. He nodded knowingly but said nothing. I was so mentally exhausted at the end of Tribal that I did not know what he was doing. At last he formed the word, "Tie."
I could not believe it. Thirty six seasons we never had a tie. It was exciting in the sense that it was historic, so we both took a moment to acknowledge it quietly and then went back to work mode. For the first time since the first season, I read the voices in front of the players. I think the best part of the whole moment was when I dropped the urn and said, "I'll read the voices." Her shocked faces were fantastic.
In the final Survivor Game Changers for the first time, you publicly revealed the tie mechanics: The third place finisher becomes the last member of the jury and makes the last call. When was this rule established? Were there other versions of Tie Breakers discussed along the way?
I can not remember when we set this rule, but it has been in effect for years. In the early days we had a final two and a jury of seven, so a tie was not a problem. But when we got to the last three and a bigger jury and were evacuated or someone got out, it became a bigger problem.
Domenick and Wendell were such a tight pair all season long, it was incredibly difficult to separate their games as observers. In Final Tribal, was there any point in making a connection between these two players possible?
Looking back, it seems we could have predicted the high probability of a tie, but we did not. We arrived in Tribal and expected a fight, and we got that. They enforced it from start to finish, and at no time did I think, "Oh, that could be a tie." The idea of a tie just was not in our heads, as it never happened.
In the past, we have seen dynamic duos storming the game and making it to the end. JT and Stephen of Survivor: Tocantins are probably the best examples that come to my mind – and yet JT has won 7-0 in this case. What do you think about the partnership between Domenick and Wendell, which put us in a position where the jury separated the vote?
One of the most unique aspects of this season was the partnership between Dom and Wendell. Unlike other Survivor couples, where there is often a leader and a second, these two played very public and somewhat flashy games, so the jury knew their story. I think that's a big part of Survivor at this point in his evolution. If your plan is to play a quiet game and then surprise the jury with a dramatic narrative of everything you secretly did behind the scenes, you're dead. It's too late. They have already formed their opinion. You have to go the ridge of valor while you are still bearable. It is not easy.
You bring the urn back to the tribal council and announce that you will immediately read the voices. Can you describe the atmosphere at this moment? Do you have the feeling that the air leaves the room?
I can not stress how exhausting these recordings are for all of us, the players and the crew. When I went out with the voices, you could feel that everyone was at the end of their power. They had done their job and were ready for it to be over. When I said, "I'm going to read the voices," there was initial confusion and suddenly everyone woke up again and the energy came in as everyone started trying to figure out what was going on. It was electric and a pretty funny moment.
In the end, Wendell is your winner. How would you describe his legacy as a survivor master, and as the official ambassador of Ghost Island ?
I think Wendell is a great player and will be a great representative of . Survivor . He is extremely likeable, very clever and has a great social game. He's the guy you just want to be with. I would love to see Wendell play again.
Domenick is now runner-up – so close to winning and yet, just far enough. I've heard that "a bad decision haunts you forever". Do you think the saying goes for Dom?
Dom will officially go into the books as runner-up, but any survivor fan will always view him as the type who got half of the jury ballots and lost in a tiebreaker. They can not get any closer than a deadlocked final jury. Aside from missing the money, Dom should not regret it. He might wish he'd taken Wendell by the fire, but that's back seat driving. He played a great game and did everything right. There was only one voice. I would like to see Dom playing again.
Another season in the books. With Ghost Island in the rearview mirror, what's the autopsy? What did you learn about where Survivor is now, and more importantly, where Survivor can and must go next due to the experience of shooting this season?
From a producing inventory point, I am really happy with our execution of Ghost Island . It was the biggest and riskiest idea we ever made, and I can now say that I lost a few nights' sleep in those first few days and wondered if the idea was just too weird. But now that we're done, it shows that we can continue to take great risks and try new ideas. When you have reached the end of two decades, you must be ready to go for the fences to revive the format. It's a risk-against-reward scenario. We are very happy to have the same creative team together year after year. It allows us to have a gigantic idea, and once we've all decided that we want it, our focus will just shift to execution.
Speaking of the next big idea: Survivor: David vs.. Goliath . What can we expect from Season 37?
David vs. Goliath is another risky idea. Two trunks that look very uneven at first sight. One tribe always had an advantage and the other had only obstacles. But Survivor is the great equalizer. And what we hope for in David vs. Goliath is the promotion of social experiment by examining the question: how to define an advantage?
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