Before he started playing the game of “Survivor,” 58-year-old bow tie-wearing physics teacher Bob Crowley sat under a tree in Gabon and told me, “I'm not playing the game, I’m here to have a good time, I'm here to experience — Christ, I've already won the game. I've got a free trip to Africa, I have got two free trips to L.A. And a million dollars only buys you friends you don't need and tempts you with sins you shouldn't be committing anyway.
So, I've already won.”
Now he has $1.1 million, and he will have to deal with those new friends, temptations, and sins. Bob not only won the majority of the jury's votes, but viewers also voted him as their favorite cast member, so he added $100,000 to the show's $1 million prize.
During the final Tribal Council, he told the jury, “I don't think I outwitted you. I don't think I outplayed you. The only thing I did was outlast you.” That may have been his biggest lie of the whole game.
Despite his apparent unwillingness to play the game or admit he played the game, Bob definitely played “Survivor.” He didn't play it hyper-strategically like video game champion Ken Hoang, nor did he opt for the extremely under-the-radar approach of runner-up Susie Smith, He didn't really play a role in working votes like Sugar did, nor did he form mostly tight alliances like Matty Whitmore.
Because of that, Bob's strategizing may not place him in the ranks with Todd, the winner of last fall's “Survivor China,” nor with the cast members who blindsided one another time and time again last season on “Survivor Micronesia,” but he was strategic nevertheless, even if his game play was different those who've come before him.
Bob's construction of two incredibly realistic immunity idols allowed him to gain leverage at key moments in the game — although one could have cost him the game. He let Sugar use that idol to trick and humiliate Randy, who ultimately still voted for Bob.
For four weeks in a row, Bob was part of the minority voting bloc, but managed to work his way into the dominant alliance right when he needed to. He also lied when it mattered, first to Randy about the immunity idol, and later to Ken about giving up individual immunity as a demonstration of goodwill.
Bob reneged on that deal, and it was slightly ironic that gamer Kenny would challenge Bob's lie, considering Ken did his own lying, nevermind the fact that he intended to backstab Bob the second Bob gave up his immunity. Ultimately, Kenny's general untrustworthiness and cockiness caught up with him and he was the first voted out during the final episode.
Still, that would have been Bob, had he not won yet another immunity challenge. And really, even though Bob insisted he didn't outplay anyone, the record shows otherwise.
Making it look easyBob was the second-oldest person this season (and now the show's oldest winner), yet he pulled out an apparently effortless streak of wins — five challenges in a row, which Jeff Probst said during the live reunion tied the show's record — but most importantly, he pulled out a win in the last challenge that mattered.
That was a tiebreaker fire-building challenge, and Bob proved that he was playing the game long before Tribal Council by sneaking into the woods to practice making fire.
That fire cost personal trainer Matty $1 million, as his failure to create one knocked him out of the game, and he became the final member of the jury. The rest of the jurors revealed during the live reunion that they would have voted for Matty had he made it to the final three.
Although he won that tiebreaker, Bob owes his win to Sugar. That's because he lost the last immunity challenge to Susie, and knew that he would be voted out next because he was so well-liked by the jury, a prospect that made him cranky even when Susie suggested he may be able to work something out.
Sugar gave Bob that opportunity when she turned on her ally Matty — turning on allies was something Sugar excelled at as the game drew to a close, which explains why she received zero votes from the jury. She forced a tie and thus the tie-breaking challenge, giving Bob once last chance.
That was a chance he needed. Bob seemed destined to win if he could just make it to the end, considering how well-liked he was.
That's why he knew he was going home once he lost that final immunity challenge, because he was one of the few exceptions to the rather mean-spirited tone that permeated the game in its latter half.
“Survivor” got personal this season as its twists complicated the initial trajectory, which had the losing Fang tribe fighting with one another and the victorious Kota tribe all but cashing their checks for making it to the end. The latter's bitterness over being defeated was evident during a rather surely and even vindictive jury Q&A period, which included perhaps the most appalling thing anyone has ever said on “Survivor,” and of course that came from unapologetically awful Corinne when she addressed Sugar.
Despite remaining above that fray, Bob almost lost to Susie, who received three of the jury's seven votes. If “Survivor Gabon” was about good versus evil on any level, both were on the good side, decent people who weren't perfect but weren't terrible, either.
Thus, the jury favored the person who most definitely outplayed everyone else — especially since being good was part of his game play.
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