How He Won: Forgive me for all the cutting-and-pasting, but Tyson's win bears a lot of similarities to Cochran's victory, so I'll just write the same thing I wrote last May…
As a student of the show, it's no surprise that Cochran won using the same method that won Parvati S16 and won Sandra S20. Both of those returning player seasons (Parvati a Fans vs. Favourites, Sandra an all-oldies cast) featured the winners getting to the end within a small core alliance that seemed shaky since it seemed to be constantly cutting off members on the outskirts of that core.
But, as Cochran put it in his (obviously excellent) jury speech, the key was to eliminate these threats before they had a chance to eliminate you….Cochran did this by scheming to eliminate Andrea and Brenda from the remnants of "Stealth R Us" and getting to the end with his preferred partners of Dawn and Sherri.
And boom, Tyson was in some ways Cochran redux. He had the big advantage of being one of 10 returning players against 10 newbies (more on that later), he quickly teamed up with Gervase, Monica, Tina and Aras within the returnees, got more good luck in the tribal swap when he ended up on a physically dominant tribe that won both subsequent challenges, then was able to corral together an alliance of players without loved ones to overthrow the Wesson/Baskauskas dynasty. It was clear all the way that Tyson wanted to go to the end with Gervase and Monica and he pulled it off.
I also wrote last time that even though Cochran had a big edge as a returning player, I still gave him credit for being able to navigate his way through the minefield of other clever veterans. I tip my hat in a similar way to Tyson, who had to overcome the wholly unique "loved one" twist that essentially turned the season into Doubles Survivor. While I'm on record as heavily disliking the Redemption Island gimmick and I still would prefer to never see it again, RI only becomes tolerable within the 'loved one' context since it created another layer of added drama and strategy to the proceedings. Congratulations, Survivor producers….you finally got me to admit some begrudging tolerance for Redemption Island. Talk about a big win.
Skillset: Despite a shoulder injury (that he may have exaggerated for his own purposes), Tyson was still a very strong physical player, held his own in mental challenges and was able to keep his natural douchiness in check. I suspect that Tyson's "edit" on the show makes him seem worse to the viewer than he does within a tribe setting --- we get to hear all of his snark and cockiness in solo interviews, whereas in the game itself, Tyson comes off as relatively nice and funny. He was certainly the least of three evils when it came to Gervase (who was just too cocky for anyone) and Monica, whose over-analyzing seemed to drive everyone nuts.
Tyson had clearly learned a lot from his previous two appearances when he came off, frankly, like a idiot. His vote switch from Russell to Parvati in S20, thus getting himself eliminated, was one of the all-time dumb plays in Survivor history. This time, he just stuck to a basic alliance strategy and it paid off in the end. His ability to find hidden immunity idols also ended up being a huge benefit, as you would expect, both in protecting himself and in keeping them away from the likes of Hayden and Ciera.
Could He Do It Again?: So now, after praising Tyson all this way, let me now illustrate why I can't rank him above the bottom third of Survivor winners. Firstly, it was his third time playing the game, giving him even an added advantage over most of his fellow returnees. (I similarly had the heralded Boston Rob ranked only 10th on my original ranking of winners since it him four tries to finally win the show.)
Secondly, this is now the third time that Survivor has employed an returnees vs. newbies format and it's the third time that the newbies have been essentially dominated. I'm forced to conclude that experience is just simply too big a factor in this game, especially when you look at how returning players have done even in seasons when it's just a couple of them against newbies…
S11: Steph finishes second, Bobby Jon makes the jury in ninth
S22: Rob wins, Russell Hantz finishes fourth-last
S23: Coach finishes second, Ozzy finishes fourth
S25: Skupin finishes second, Penner finishes seventh, Russell Swan finishes fourth-last
So between eight players, that's three silver medals and three jury finishes. Even the Russells were voted out under somewhat extenuating circumstances, as Hantz's tribe threw a challenge to purposely eliminate him, and Swan was stuck on one of the worst challenge tribes in the game's history. In the seasons where it's all returnees against all new players, the returnee tribe is 10-4 in challenges against the new tribe, which is a pretty glaring record. I have to not only factor this into how I rate Tyson's win, but also retrospectively how I rate Parvati and Cochran's wins.
Speaking of Tyson himself, he also had more than a little good fortune go his way. I mentioned earlier how he ended up in the physically dominant tribe post-swap, which also ended up being a tribe of mostly players whose loved ones were already gone, making them more prone to team up against the Wesson/Baskauskas quartet. If you believe internet scuttlebutt, Tina, Katie, Aras and Vytas had planned to team up before the game even began, and if that arrangement made itself apparent during the game, that painted an even bigger target on their backs and took the heat away from the would-be threat of Tyson/Gervase/Monica.
And, it has to be said, Tyson won the game by the grace of the purple rock. Okay, okay, they used white rocks and black rocks this time but "The Purple Rock Of Doom" has become such a staple of Survivor lore that I had to bust the term out one more time since we actually got another tiebreaker. For just the second time in Survivor history, they drew rocks at a tribal council, and Tyson had a 33.3% percent chance of going home. He had an idol in his pocket but didn't play it, thinking he had Ciera's vote in the bag, and it nearly cost him his whole game. Am I putting too much emphasis on Tyson winning a vote he had a 66.6% chance of winning? Well, put it this way --- the reason that rock-drawing tiebreakers are so rare is that smart players often find ways of avoiding them. I give Ciera credit for taking the plunge and forcing the tie vote (putting herself at risk, to boot), yet even though it was an especially rare and risky play, Tyson should've been prepared to see it coming and played his idol just in case.
Let's also consider that the loved one/Redemption Island twist ended up really favouring Tyson's game. Rachel, his girlfriend, was specifically eliminated because of her ties to Tyson, as the Tadhana crew thought there was a chance he'd take her spot on Redemption Island. Had Redemption Island not existed, Tadhana would certainly have kept Rachel (and Marissa, to boot) as they were better challenge competitors than Ciera and Katie. Essentially, the Brad Culpepper-led Tadhanas overthought things by playing the long game, and didn't realize that those decisions were decimating their chances to compete in the short term. See what I mean about veterans having an advantage over newcomers? No wonder Tadhana didn't win a challenge until Brad was voted out.
You can make a strong argument that Katie's early exit was the best thing that could've happened to Tyson's game. Consider that he, Gervase and Monica were the first three to see their loved ones lose a tribal council vote, allowing them all to essentially go on a Bride-esque roaring rampage of revenge and focus on themselves. Monica said this herself in one of her many first-person references to how she was "now playing for Monica," and the same was true of Tyson. Without Katie, he had the advantage of just playing regular Survivor, while the others had to play their games with the added burden (as it turned out) of having to think about a loved one in the mix.
My thesis will be proven if, during another "loved ones" season, we get another winner whose loved one was an early boot. Given how well this past season was received, I'm guessing CBS won't hesitate to deploy another Blood vs. Water type of season soon, so we can probably best my thesis within the next two years at most. S28 is already cast as all newbies, and there are persistent rumours that the milestone 30th season will be some type of "all-champions" edition (which I would love to see), so I'd pencil in S29 in September 2014 as the next loved one-season.
In conclusion, I don't think Tyson would fare too well if he were to play again during an all-returnee season, or in a Champions League scenario. He simply had too many breaks go his way in S27, and while I give him credit for improving his game, I feel that the target already on his back for being a good physical player will only grow larger now that he's proven he has a brain in his head. Ironically, Tyson would face the same "he's too big a threat, we have to boot him now" uprising that he led against Aras. Not to throw his Heroes vs. Villains mistake in his face again, but we've already seen how Tyson fares when he's in there with the big boys in Survivor history.
My original Survivor ranking post covered the first 22 seasons of the show, and it's interesting to note that in the five seasons since, Tyson is the first winner who gets a low ranking from me. Kim Spradlin is in the all-time upper tier, and I had Denise Stapley, Sophie Clarke and Cochran all in the second tier. Now, I'll be shifting Cochran down a bit in my next major rankings due to the whole "veterans vs. returnees" thing, not to mention that Tina and Aras will both see their rankings affected by their performances in Blood vs. Water. I keep hyping this thing so I swear I'll eventually, just as soon as Season 28 wraps up. Whew, six more months of procrastination!