To that end, I have never seen a season so thoroughly shoved to one side as this past edition of Survivor. CBS clearly took so much heat over the asinine behaviour of Dan, Will and Rodney* that they were in major damage control mode, as you had Probst devote almost the entire show to publicly shaming Dan and Will and then quickly moving onto the fan vote for the S31 cast. I think maybe six of the 18 players from S30 were actually addressed during the show, making much of the cast simply there as window dressing. (Also, memo to Probst: if your aim is to deflect accusations of sexism during this season, talk to more female players than just Shirin and Carolyn.)
* = Rodney got off relatively scot-free, as CBS and Probst seemed eager to paint him as just a harmless, whiny goofball rather than a guy who said some pretty horrid things himself. In other seasons, Rodney would’ve been the villain, yet amazingly he only took the bronze medal in the wake of the Dan & Will Cavalcade Of Stupidity.
The amazing thing was, Probst was raving about S30 in the preseason media rounds, so talk about a misread on his part. Probst described the season as a great year with an “epic winner,” which kind of gave away Mike Holloway’s eventual victory once you saw how things were shaping up. Let’s delve into Mike’s win before CBS has this season removed from our memory banks, Eternal Sunshine-style.
How He Won: Pretty simply, he kicked ass in challenges. Mike won more immunity challenges than any other winner (he’s tied with Tom Westman), and it was made abundantly clear that had Mike had to win them all to avoid being voted out. He found the hidden immunity idol* so he had one get-out-of-jail-free card, but he won the other challenges he needed to win to continue on in the game.
* = thanks to some pretty stupid gameplay by Joe, who was in even more desperate need of the HII yet he decided to share his discovered clue with Tyler. Why bother, Joe? So Tyler saw you find the clue, so what? The rival alliance will already be on red alert for you trying to find the idol anyway, so don’t friggin’ help them out by telling Tyler what the clue says. It could be argued that Joe’s bonehead move handed Mike the game, since otherwise he would’ve been voted out after losing that “hold onto the rope” challenge to Carolyn in the final-7 Tribal Council.
Challenge performance was not one of my major considerations in my ranking of Survivor’s winners, which is kind of weird since they’re the most direct way to victory. Conceivably, a player could be on the winning tribe of every pre-merge immunity challenge, and then win every single individual immunity challenge to leave themselves completely protected throughout the entire game. In a way, it’s almost kind of an end-around through the social aspect of Survivor as well, since unless a player was an absolutely horrible human being, even the bitterest jury would be hard-pressed to vote against someone who literally won everything out there.
As I wrote in the Tom Westman entry, “If you can win challenges to keep yourself in the game, great….that's what they're there for. If you can keep yourself in the game WITHOUT winning challenges, however, that's more impressive in my books, which could've coloured how I saw Tom's Palau win. What's more impressive than winning a few challenges or winning no challenges, of course, is when you win SO MANY CHALLENGES you can virtually take a warp whistle through the game.”
There is a much longer list of Survivor winners who have been pretty lousy at challenges, however, than there have been winners who have been true challenge monsters. That list consists of Mike, Tom and (of all people) old Bob Crowley. While many winners have needed to pull out a clutch immunity win or two, Mike, Tom and Bob are probably the only three who truly needed a big win streak to stay alive in the game, and even Tom wasn’t quite in the make-or-break camp since he had Ian and Caryn backing him up.
Beyond just challenges, Mike also gained points for being a fairly genuine guy, which especially helped him compared to the jackasses he was playing with. If he was aligned against you, you generally knew it, and if he was on your side, he’d be loyal. For all the talk of Mike’s error at the auction (which admittedly was a notable mistake, since it instantly gave the counter-alliance ammo to openly go after him), he wasn’t wrong to be paranoid, since Rodney/Carolyn/Tyler/Will actually had formed their own faction to pick off the other old Blue Collars.
Skill set: Well, no surprise that challenge prowess tops the list again. Mike was good at both mental and physical challenges; the latter in particular since he had no real physical equals once Tyler was voted out. It helped Mike that Joe was such a big and obvious target in the early going pre-merge, and then I’d argue the anti-Mike alliance erred in getting rid of Tyler at F7 since he and Carolyn were the only ones who really stood a chance of beating Mike in a challenge. Use Tyler for at least one more vote to see if he can finally end Mike’s streak, and then try to vote him out later if you must. Then again, Will/Dan/Rodney/Sierra were all so useless in challenges that if they’d gone this route, it’s quite possible Tyler is the one who goes on a streak and wins the game, so they could’ve been screwed either way.
I mentioned earlier about Mike being genuine, and while he seemed to be generally though of as a good enough guy, I’m not sure you could call him a great social player. As noted earlier, being a challenge beast helps your “I deserved it” case so much that you get a lot of leeway in a jury vote (unless you’re up against an excellent social player, like, say, Tina Wesson). In Mike’s particular case, however, he seemed to form a strong bond with Shirin and Jenn as they all joined together as underdogs in the wake of Mike’s auction screwup, so it’s not like he was lacking in the social department. It also made it easy for the old No-Collars to root for his run to the end against overwhelming odds and Mike earned all of their votes.
The Bob Crowley comparison is pretty apt, since S30 seemed like the most overall generally unlikable cast since that pack of douchebags that populated the S17 Gabon cast. You had the final three of Mike/Bob, the only other seemingly competent player in the game in second (Carolyn/Susie) and then a complete no-hoper (Will/Sugar). Mike’s paranoia, and general hard-ass behaviour about working around camp might’ve hurt him against he been against actual tough competition, though with the four No Collar votes in his pocket already, he would’ve beaten any combination of Carolyn, Will, Dan, Sierra, Rodney and probably Tyler to boot.*
* = during the reunion show, Hali and Jenn claimed they would’ve voted for Rodney had he been in the final three instead of Carolyn, which I have trouble believing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Probst’s unofficial reunion show poll (a big favourite of his) is usually pretty slanted since by that point, the players know more information since they’ve actually seen the show. Secondly, judging from post-show interviews, Rodney won a lot of points from Jenn and Hali at ponderosa once he was out of the game and more relaxed; had he still been in the game and never had this chance to mingle, I doubt he earns their votes. And, my unofficial third reason, can you REALLY see friggin’ Rodney winning Survivor? Joe, what do you think?
Could He Do It Again?: The thing about being a challenge monster is that, as we saw with Tom in S20, you immediately have a massive target on your back. If Mike does return for my long-hoped for all-winners season, he would still stand out even amongst the cream of the crop since he’d be a big physical threat even with a couple more years on him (he’s 38 now). Like Tom in Heroes vs. Villains, his fellow tribemates might not want to give him a chance to get even out of the blocks, and align against him before the merge. Then we’d have to see how his social game and scrambling ability really are, and if they were lacking in any way, I suspect Mike would be toast in a repeat performance.
Since I had Tom ranked seventh and Bob 22nd in my previous winners rankings, I feel like splitting the difference and putting Mike around the 13th-14th range for now. This already seems low since it could be argued that Mike did more to “survive” than anyone in the history of the show, though my counter would be that a true Survivor master wouldn’t have gotten themselves in that win-or-else situation in the first place.