updated 12/16/2013 AT 1:00 PM ET
•originally published 12/16/2013 AT 1:45 PM ET
Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach. Erik Reichenbach is a Survivor fan-turned-favorite, a comic book author and artist. He placed fifth on both Survivor: Micronesia and Survivor: Caramoan. This is his first season illustrating episodes of the show for PEOPLE.com. Follow him on Twitter @BloodyAmer1can
“When it comes down to it, I want that million dollars. Exotic, expensive furs on my shoulder. Jewels on these pretty fingers. We’re talkin’ big time.”
– Tyson Apostol, Survivor: Tocantins
Sunday night on Survivor, Tyson Apostol beat Gervase Peterson and Monica Culpepper for a million dollars, the title of Sole Survivor, and the highly-coveted Final Fishy.
After two seasons of over-thinking and self-destructing, Tyson played a dominant strategic game. That was capped off by his masterful jury performance, one of the best in the show’s history.
Tyson, who typically maintains an attitude of almost sociopathic sangfroid, broke down in tears talking about his girlfriend Rachel, who was the third person eliminated. Rather than swap places with Tyson at Redemption Island, Rachel had elected to compete, believing that Tyson had a better shot in the game.
“I [had] to focus every day and show her that I appreciated her sacrifice,” Tyson said. He made big moves, found idols, and won challenges, but “it wasn’t ever personal.”
Tyson was helped by poor performances from Gervase and Monica. Both struggled to get out of Tyson’s shadow. Monica got particular heat from the jury for being, in Hayden’s words, “fake.” She repeatedly insisted that the experience was one of growth and discovery – but eventually grew frustrated with the jury’s questions. “Have you all never met a nice person?” she demanded.
Gervase and Monica only lit up when asked to describe Tyson’s game.
“You can’t knock anything about his game,” Gervase said. “Hands down you have to vote for Tyson,” Monica said.
The jury obliged. Tyson won 7 of the votes, with Vytas voting for Monica because he had promised not to vote for Tyson.
A Season of Success
Throughout the season, Tyson had been a part of almost every alliance, found two hidden immunity idols, and won the two final challenges. Though he talked frequently about napping, he played the game harder than anyone.
He also played the game with kindness. The Tyson we saw in confessionals was snarky and strategic. But at the start of every single episode, you could see Tyson hugging the person who was most affected by the previous night’s vote. It went unremarked on by the show, but it’s an important detail in explaining his victory.
Having played with Tyson myself, I know firsthand what a generous, supportive human he is. His sense of humor can seem jerky to the uninitiated, but really he’s all big hugs and long talks. That behavior kept loyalty with key allies, like Monica.
Anybody has to get lucky to win Survivor, and Tyson had his fair share of luck. Rachel leaving the game early saved Tyson from being part of a threatening pair. (Aras and Vytas Baskauskas, by contrast, each played a spectacular game, but together they were too obviously dangerous.)
Tyson also injured his shoulder early on. That looked like a setback, but ultimately made him seem less of a physical threat. He benefitted too from some vitriol after blindsiding Aras. “You just lost four jury votes,” Tina told him in front of the entire group.
And of course, Tyson got lucky at the rock draw, where he had a one in three chance of being immediately eliminated from the game.
But Tyson knows enough about Survivor to realize that you need luck. At key moments, he put himself in fate’s hands. During both the tribe swap and the rock draw, he asked to draw last. Not to get all hippy-dippy, but that attitude suggested a deference to the vagaries of fortune that govern Survivor (and life!).
From stealing coconuts to asking Jeff to knight him, Tyson was both having fun, and made the show fun to watch.
Now, with a million dollars, he can finally buy that man-tiara.