Survivor just wrapped up its 20th season, Heroes versus Villains, and for the first time since the show went to its current "three people in the finale" format, I was actually unsure of the outcome going into the vote. However, in the end, my gut proved right, and Sandra ended up taking home the million dollar crown.
Russell, the evil manipulator, cared so little about the social aspect of the game that he had no problem making sure that every single member of the jury hated his guts before making sure they knew he was the responsible party for their ouster from the game. His ability to work alliances to his advantage was unprecedented in the game, yet because the final vote comes from within the game itself, and not from any impartial observers, the only way he could win is if both of his two fellow finalists were equally unlikeable and hadn't won any challenges. Otherwise, the jury will find any reason to give one of the other two the prize.
Parvati was indeed equally as unlikeable to many players, but because she had won immunity time and time again, she was far from weak and wasn't going to fall victim to the "riding coattails" argument that usually befalls the "second bananas" of a power couple in the jury's eyes. In fact, it didn't even come up in the final Tribal Council that Russell saved her by handing her a hidden immunity idol earlier in the game - an event that probably would have signed, sealed and delivered the check to Russell in most seasons.
The problem was this wasn't a normal season - it was made up of veterans of the game, and Russell thought that meant they'd respect his strategy, and also that they would be hesitant to award the top prize to someone who had already won (both Parvati and Sandra won in a prior season). In a way, he was right. Juror after juror tried to get Russell to simply apologize for going a little overboard in his "evil" but he was so self-centered that he couldn't take a step back, cut back a bit on the persona he'd created for himself, and earn a few votes.
Parvati's mistake was that she didn't distance herself from Russell enough. Rather than take the angle that she simply let him do what he was going to do and stayed out of the way, she basically played the "poor me" card that she had such a huge target on her back from being a prior winner (which was true) she simply had to join forces with Russell, the only player who would have her. In essence, she painted herself as a helpless victim, and the jury was only going to give her the money because she was strong. She dug her own grave with any undecided voters here.
Meanwhile, Sandra was indeed pitiful in the challenges, but she was not only honest to a fault, she was able to win because she had a weapon in her arsenal that Russell forgot to consider. She had the juror's own guilt on her side. They didn't want to vote for Russell. They hated the fact this person that had so little respect for was sitting there in the final three. Sandra was honestly able to say that she had tried to get Russell out of the game for weeks, and every time she approached the Heroes about switching sides and voting him out, she was unable to get them to see the light.
Sandra gave the jury an "out" and she knew it. By not making any major faux-pas in the final Tribal Council, she was able to parlay "I hate Russell" into a million dollar victory. And this was not a passive strategy, but an active one made by an incredibly under-the-radar shrewd competitor. How else can you explain the fact she took Russell's hat and "secretly" tossed in into the fire hours before the final vote? She wanted Russell to be upset about it. She wanted Russell to make a stink about it in front of the jury - because she knew that when she finally fessed up, the jury would have been so delighted, she probably would have won unanimously.
Sometimes the jury does get it wrong, as I believe they did when they didn't give Russell the top prize in Samoa. However, this time around, they got it 100 percent right. The best player won, hands down.