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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the Survivor: Kaoh Rong season finale.]
A new Survivor champion has been crowned.
Michele Fitzgerald was named the winner of the 32nd season of the CBS reality show on Wednesday night, beating out Aubry Bracco and Tai Trang to take home the $1 million prize.
Series host and executive producer Jeff Probst announced the winner of Survivor: Kaoh Rong — a season that started out with the contestants split into the three tribes, brains vs. brawn vs. beauty — during the live portion of the three-hour finale. Fitzgerald and Trang had started out the season on the beauty tribe, while Bracco was on the brains tribe.
This season’s third runner-up was Cydney Gillon, a former member of the brawn tribe, who was eliminated earlier in the episode following a tied vote between herself and Bracco. The two were forced to compete in a tense fire-building challenge, which Bracco won. An emotional Gillon, talking about how much her mother needed the money, then became the eighth member of the jury.
Following Gillon’s departure, the final three learned of a new twist in the game. The trio competed in one last reward challenge that allowed the winner to vote off a jury member for the first time ever. The winner of that challenge was Fitzgerald.
“This has never happened in this game, so it’s new territory,” she later said as she mulled her options, even seeking advice from her fellow finalists Bracco and Trang before making her decision.
At tribal council, the jury members were surprised to hear about the twist. Fitzgerald went on to pick off Neal Gottlieb, an ally of Bracco’s from their earlier days on the brains tribe.
On his way out to be sequestered, so he couldn’t influence the remaining jury members, he told her: “You came into this game thinking you’re a badass bitch, but you’re more like a cute little puppy suckling at the teat. I don’t think you stand a chance.”
Probst said he hadn’t heard all of Gottlieb’s comments but that it sounded like she’d made the right choice. “Yeah, I think so,” she replied with a laugh.
As per usual, the jury grilled the final three on their game play, loyalty and backstabbing at the final tribal council, which also featured another first for Survivor: the presence of a chicken, “Mark,” who’d been spared from the chopping block after Trang earlier in the season convinced his tribemates not to turn the bird into a (much-needed) meal. Trang held the chicken in his lap while answering the jury members’ questions and then ultimately released him back into the wild.
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