The one common link, however, was that all three returning-player seasons featured a final vote that seemed just as much a vote against the losing Final Tribal Council players as it was a vote for the winner. Amber won because there was so much anti-Rob animosity, Sandra won because everyone loved her and everyone hated Russell (and to some extent Parvati), and Jeremy Collins won in a unanimous vote in a seemingly uber-version of that Sandra victory. Let’s check out Jeremy’s case….
How He Won: Virtually everyone on this “second chance” season made an adjustment to their previous Survivor strategy since, well, it obviously didn’t work the first time. Jeremy’s adjustment was interesting since he didn’t necessarily change his own game but rather just did a better job of hiding it. In S29, Jeremy was the clear big dog on his alliance and it made him a big target post-merge, so this time around he looked to surround himself with other alpha-type players (Joe, Tasha, Savage, sorta Keith) so he wasn’t as obvious a threat. This idea was shaken up by the multiple tribe swaps, but Jeremy adapted by sticking with his “old Bayon” teammates (Kimmi, Stephen) who all stayed together through the swaps and also picking up other temporary alliance with the likes of Spencer or Kelly Wiglesworth.
Let’s talk for a second about the whole “voting bloc” thing that was allegedly so ground-breaking this season. It was basically all horsecrap. From the merge, you had the core alliance of Jeremy/Tasha/Kimmi/Andrew/Stephen, the Ciera/Kelley/Kass/Abi minority, and the Joe/Kelly/Keith/Spencer swing votes that mostly swung with the group of five. (They all joined with the Big Five for the first two post-merge votes, until Kelly was blindsided.) So it was essentially a three-alliance game at that point that was a bit more fluid than usual thanks to the wild card that was Joe. He drew so much attention since he was SUCH a challenge beast that everyone had their eyes on getting him out as quickly as possible, which is why the women’s alliance didn’t join up with him full-bore. Joe himself was trying to play a bit of the ‘hide amongst the alphas’ strategy which is why he also didn’t join full-bore against Jeremy’s alliance.
Every Survivor season has players targeted for being challenge threats yet Joe was such an outlier that, really, it proved Jeremy’s strategy correct. There were several points in this game when Jeremy didn’t have control in a vote — the blindsides of Andrew and Stephen, for instance — yet he avoided being targeted himself since those other big players he was teamed with had drawn more attention (and enmity) to themselves. I also wonder if Jeremy was considered for a boot but kept in part because the others needed someone around to give Joe a run for his money in physical challenges.
Long story short, this season wasn’t really all that different from any other Survivor season that had a big majority alliance that took a few detours to victory (whether via opponents playing idols or some strategic vote-offs of unneeded alliance members) rather than being a straight Pagonging. While Jeremy ended up in the FTC with only one of his original alliance and one of the swing votes, the numbers game still ended up working in his favour. The “voting bloc” narrative was pushed by Probst and, it seemed, Stephen and Ciera to try and make things perhaps more complicated than they really were — Ciera to try and help her own game, and Stephen because I swear, that guy is such a gamebot that he could obsess over a four-person voting structure even worse than Michael Bluth in the dorm room.
Skillset: Jeremy was an important part of Bayon’s early challenge domination and he won that final individual immunity challenge, so it’s not like he was a stick in the mud out there. Still, that final challenge was the ONLY thing Jeremy won himself in the post-merge game. It’s usually a bad spot to be the “perceived to be a threat but not actually that good at challenges” guy, though it isn’t impossible to win from this role (as Ethan showed us way back in the third season). Again, playing amongst actual challenge/gameplay threats helped Jeremy in this regard. It also didn’t hurt that Jeremy helped himself by having two immunity idols of his own to aid his game, including the big one that saved him at that insane F6 tribal council.
The biggest thing that seemed to go in Jeremy’s favour was, as usual, that he seemed to be like and respected by everyone out there. This is Survivor’s dirty secret; no matter how much the show talks up “big moves” and “big plays,” the final vote is virtually always just a popularity contest. Jeremy was wholly more liked than Tasha and Spencer*, hence his blowout victory.
* = as several post-game interviews with the players has revealed, the show’s editors did quite a job in hiding how disliked Tasha and Spencer were by everyone else. For all of the “I’m learning how to play with emotion” interviews that Spencer got, apparently that was falling flat in real life. His bratty outburst to Jeremy at the F4 vote when he threatened to swing the jury against him if he didn’t vote for Kelley also apparently went over extremely poorly with the jury members, as evidenced by Kimmi’s statement/question to him in the final tribal council. Don’t forget, Spencer was almost voted out 19th when he and Shirin alienated everyone right off the bat….I doubt he ever really recovered even from that.
While I kind of pooh-poohed the ‘voting bloc’ thing, Jeremy certainly didn’t have an easy Pagonging road to the finals. He had to adapt to several tricky blows, like Kelley idol’ing Savage out of the game and then Joe/Keith switching sides in the wake of the Kelly blindside and eventually ousting Stephen. Though Jeremy did win, he may have made a tactical mistake in voting Kelly out when he did — that was an anti-Joe move they felt they had to make since Joe was safe with immunity but Kelly was apparently his closest ally (something we viewers didn’t know, so thanks for nothing, editors). Still, it seemed like Stephen took all the heat for that move rather than Jeremy so ultimately it didn’t hurt him that much, though it did make things a bit trickier.
Jeremy’s best play, ultimately, was teaming up with two goats in Spencer and Tasha who didn’t realize they were goats and thus unwittingly helped lead him to victory. Spencer/Tasha were actually probably right in thinking that they had a better chance of beating Jeremy than they did Kelley, Joe or Keith….it’s just that they would’ve lost 10-0 to any of them as well. (I’m wondering at this point whether Tasha/Spencer would’ve even beaten Abi, if that had somehow been the final three.)
Could He Do It Again: Jeremy is a thoroughly solid all-around player who’s good-but-not-overtly-good in challenges, a first-rate idol finder, seemingly a very nice and respectable guy with a fine social game AND he won an all-returnee season. I’m down on returning players who win seasons of at least half-newcomers, yet I’m very admiring of any player who can win an “All-Star” season. This is why Sandra going 2-for-2 with her second win coming in an all-returnee year makes her almost the greatest of all time.
Beyond the experienced opponents, Jeremy also had to contend with the extra difficulties of the frequent tribe swaps and the idols hidden either at camp or in challenges (both twists that I loved, btw). The fact that he navigated both of those twists in such prime form really cemented his victory, really.
However, for pure ‘could he do it again?’ purposes, I’m not sure. It depends on how you interpret this category, really. Jeremy’s win here was largely informed by his past experience; if you’re having Jeremy play a hypothetical season in a vacuum, then, he might not have the learned idea to hide amongst other alpha players, for instance. If you put the Jeremy v. 2.0 that won Cambodia into another Survivor game, he may very easily do well again. If you put him amidst other experienced players, however, I suspect he’s targeted early since a past victory will make him too big to ignore even among other “alphas” he could be playing with. Jeremy’s flaw, if you can call it that, is that he’s unable to directly hide how good he is at the game — he’s only able to obscure it by aligning with the likes of Stephen or Savage, and he was helped this time in that players often had bigger fish to fry in the form of Joe and Kelley (who played a hell of a game that in many ways mirrored Jeremy’s except she was on the wrong end of the numbers).
In my dream scenario of an all-winners season of Survivor, Jeremy might do very well since in such a season, that would be nothing BUT strong players to hide amongst. With S31 still fresh in my mind, I’m hard-pressed to put Jeremy anywhere but within the top ten in my Survivor winners’ rankings. Call it recency bias, but I can’t help but be impressed by how well Jeremy navigated a very difficult season.