Weeks of intense competition, alliances, betrayal, and elaborate mind games on Survivor all boiled down to one night, as the twenty-sixth Sole Survivor and $1 million prize winner was announced on Sunday.
After over a month in the Philippines' scenic Caramoan Islands, the competition, which began with ten fans and ten returning players, was reduced to five players: Sherri Biethman, John Cochran, Eddie Fox, Dawn Meehan, and Erik Reichenbach.
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The returning players outnumbered the newcomers by one heading into the series finale, but that margin was soon evened when Erik, who originally appeared on Survivor: Micronesia, was forced to withdraw from the competition for medical reasons.
That left two males and two females remaining in the game. After reacting to the shocking news of Erik's late-competition departure, the final four reflected on the remainder of their sixteen departed fellow contestants.
Eddie reminisced on his "first 'Survivor' love," Hope; Sherri pondered on how Shamar was "misunderstood" in the game; Dawn recalled how Brandon was a "challenged beast" who couldn't manage his personal life; and Cochran marveled at Phillip's mastering of the game despite his eccentricity.
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However, the nostalgia was quickly snuffed when it came time for the remaining contestants to participate in their final immunity challenge.
With a reward carrying over from a previous challenged, Cochran was put at an advantage over the remaining three contestants and was able to pull through and win the challenge.
Cochran safe from elimination, it was up to the jury to decide if Eddie, Dawn, or Terri would be sent packing. After nerve-wracking deliberation, the affable Eddie was eliminated, allowing Dawn to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
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The competition was now reduced to two returning players, both of whom competed on Survivor: South Pacific together in 2011, against a fan from Boise, Idaho (Sherri).
Although Cochran had just been given immunity, he still had his doubts facing the final stages of the competition and had an internal battle prior to judgment.
"I've written a prize-winning paper at Harvard Law School on the 'Survivor' jury system. There's a big difference between writing a paper and living out the reality, and I'm grappling with that dichotomy right now," Cochran confessed. "...All of a sudden, these doubts are plaguing my mind."
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Then, it was time for the final judgment.
Under the flickering light of Tiki torches, the contestants were questioned by the jury and emotions ran high as the jurors traded passionate and heated words with the contestants.
Then, it was time for the moment of truth. With a handsome fortune and the title of Sole Survivor on the line, the jury selected Cochran by unanimous decision.