From its beginning to its conclusion, "Survivor Micronesia: Fans vs. Favorites" was a season of surprises, both to its players and to viewers. The second all-star season limped into existence, a not-so-all-star collection of returning "favorites" and unimpressive "fans."
But it followed an exponential curve, transforming into a season worthy of the designation of "best season ever," at least in terms of game play, but also because it repeatedly offered shocking turns of events.
At its best, "Survivor" is a human game of chess, and this season the strategy and game play was thrilling to watch as pawns repeatedly and unexpectedly bumped off more powerful pieces, and other pieces fell off in startling ways.
During the 39 days, there were a record number of total blindsides at Tribal Council and the first-ever all-female final four — an alliance formed on the very first day that splintered only when it was forced to break apart.
That alliance took down the most powerful players in the game — men who were both physically and mentally strong — and nearly unbeatable because each of them held immunity. Still, never expecting it, they fell one by one (Ozzy, Jason and Erik — and Alexis, too, although for somewhat different reasons).
Keeping things interesting
Despite all of those strategic moves, both Cirie and Amanda ironically found themselves in nearly identical positions at the end of the game as where they were during their original seasons.
Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings Both times, Cirie left the game just before the final Tribal Council, although in Panama, it was not due to a vote, but because she lost a tie-breaking challenge.
And Amanda found herself sitting next to two of the more overt schemers on "Survivor: China." And despite having a friendlier disposition, she lost to them, just as she lost to Parvati.
Those familiar moments were outnumbered by plenty of the unexpected to keep things interesting, like a record number of injuries and people to be forced out of the game for medical reasons, never mind the two people who quit (although one, Jonny Fairplay, asked his tribe to vote him out).
Even the final vote itself was a surprise because the jury members had just two choices. For the first time since "Survivor: Cook Islands," the game concluded with two players sitting next to one another at the end, not three.
Yet after all that, we're left with a winner who didn't make a whole lot of sense, at least not based upon what viewers saw.
More Entertainment stories
Autistic ballerina dances her way into hearts
In a popular YouTube video, the beaming little ballerina dances an entire four-minute routine seemingly perfectly, matchin...
- Every on-screen drink in 'Mad Men' in 5 minutes
- See the 'Dancing' stars' most memorable moves
- Emmy's biggest snubs? Cranston, Hamm, more
- 'Toy Story' toys burn up in prank on mom
- Autistic ballerina dances her way into hearts
Surprise from the jury
The show delivered its final surprise at the end, when Parvati won five out of the eight jury members’ votes, even though they all seemed bitter and angry toward her during the final Tribal Council.
Jason called Parvati a "devious, manipulative player," and then voted for her. Eliza told her, "You might just be a mean person," and then voted for her.
While most of the jury treated Parvati with equal hostility, no one matched Ozzy's anger. "You put a price on our friendship," he told her. "I don't want to talk to you." The reason, he said, was because she "took away 14 days I could have spent with Amanda," a confession of love for Amanda that survived to the live finale. He voted for Amanda, giving her one of three votes (the other two came from Erik and James).
Parvati even admitted that she has one primary tool to fall back on: flirtation. "It gets me what I want. I'll flirt with girls to get my way, I'll flirt with guys to get my way," she said. "It is an old standby; I'm not going to lie."
Even before that final Tribal Council, when there were just four people left, Cirie and Amanda seemed to be the most likely to win the game thanks to a combination of likability and strong game play . That explains why Amanda chose Parvati instead of Cirie to sit next to her in the final two, because Amanda thought Parvati, who was known more for her flirting than anything else, would be easier to beat.
In the second-to-last episode, Parvati tanned on Exile Island instead of searching for the hidden immunity idol. She was there simply as a placeholder to prevent either Erik or Natalie from finding that final lifesaving idol, and her time there was an excellent metaphor for most of her game play: She did the least amount of work possible while taking the most credit possible.
While she gathered together the alliance of women who dominated these past few weeks, she risked her initial alliance by forming bonds without the others' permission. Later, she helped to blindside Ozzy, but that was Cirie's plan, not her's.
Ultimately, it was probably the final twist — the additional immunity challenge — that shattered the alliance and broke Amanda down, likely costing her the game.
Amanda cried after winning the final immunity challenge because she had to vote out one of her two friends, and the jury didn't seem to buy her emotional breakdown as genuine. Instead, they probably saw it as an attempt to sway them. In that sense, her masterful performance and game play a few weeks ago, when she pretended as though she didn't have the hidden immunity idol and was going home, worked against her.
With that in mind, how Parvati won may not be that much of mystery. The jury seemed unsure of what they were getting with Amanda, while they seemed confident knowing that Parvati was who she always was, however unlikable she may have been.
"Survivor" itself doesn't have that problem. After 16 seasons, we know what we're getting, and a season like "Survivor: Micronesia," with its unpredictability and raw human drama, reinforces why we love it. That the show remains a top 15 series and consistently batters its direct competition may be the least surprising part of all.
© 2013 msnbc.com. Reprints