Who won ‘Survivor’ season 32? And what happened to Douglasville’s Cydney Gillon?

"Not Going Down Without a Fight" -- Michele Fitzgerald and Cydney Gillon during the finale episode of SURVIVOR: KAOH RONG -- Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty. The two-hour season finale, followed by the one-hour live reunion show hosted by Emmy Award winner Jeff Probst, on SURVIVOR, will air Wednesday, May 18 (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab /CBS Entertainment ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights. Reserved.

“Not Going Down Without a Fight” — Michele Fitzgerald and Cydney Gillon during the finale episode of SURVIVOR: KAOH RONG — Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty. The two-hour season finale, followed by the one-hour live reunion show hosted by Emmy Award winner Jeff Probst, on SURVIVOR, will air Wednesday, May 18 (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab /CBS Entertainment ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights. Reserved.

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The magic of “Survivor” is that even when you enter the final episode, it’s very difficult to judge who will win. There are too many variables.

Tonight was no different. Of the final four, at least three of them had a viable shot at the victory.

One thing we did know: Mark the Chicken wasn’t going to win but wasn’t going to be eaten either.

For me, I thought this was Aubry Bracco‘s game to lose. Michele Fitzgerald seemed to be the dark horse, who slid under the radar for much of the game before winning some crucial challenges in the end. I still didn’t think she had a realistic chance.

I was so wrong.

Michele won five of the seven jury votes to pocket the $1 million and title of sole survivor. I’m stunned.

Douglasville’s Cydney Gillon ended up fourth behind Trai Trang, who not surprisingly received no votes for his vacillations and inconsistent play.

In hour one, the immunity challenge was crucial. Cydney couldn’t make heads and tails of the final portion, which involved puzzle pieces. She told me in an interview before the season aired she was not good with puzzles and maybe that’s why she said that. Because not winning immunity ultimately cost her a spot in the top three.

With Aubry  targeting Michele before the immunity challenge, Michele did the best thing for her game: win. She came from behind and passed Tai at the last second. So Aubry had no choice but to go after Cydney. Sure, they’ve been tight but Aubry believed sticking with Tai was the smarter play for her end game. (Not a bad thought to be honest.)

But Aubry was aware Tai was unpredictable. “He might turn on me,” she said. “If he does, I’m screwed.”

Michele talked with Tai and Cydney to vote out Aubry. “Aubry is the easy vote,” Tai said.

But Tai stuck with Aubry and went after Cydney. That ultimately cost Cydney the game when getting rid of Aubry would have been the better move for any of the final three.

"Not Going Down Without a Fight" -- Michele Fitzgerald during the finale episode of SURVIVOR: KAOH RONG -- Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty. The two-hour season finale, followed by the one-hour live reunion show hosted by Emmy Award winner Jeff Probst, on SURVIVOR, will air Wednesday, May 18 (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab /CBS Entertainment ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights. Reserved.

“Not Going Down Without a Fight” — Michele Fitzgerald during the finale episode of SURVIVOR: KAOH RONG — Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty. The two-hour season finale, followed by the one-hour live reunion show hosted by Emmy Award winner Jeff Probst, on SURVIVOR, will air Wednesday, May 18 (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab /CBS Entertainment ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights. Reserved.

So it was time for Cydney and Aubry (two votes each) to make fire. Aubry built a huge flame that started breaking through the rope but then petered out, giving Cydney a shot. But Aubry quickly recovered and her second build worked. The rope was cut. Cydney couldn’t even get a flame started. She was out.

Cydney played a solid 37 days and began crying. She wanted to help her mom Tangelea Tucker-Gillon pay her mortgage off, pay for school and get health insurance. That wasn’t going to happen.

“I hope it helped fulfill part of the adventure you were seeking,” host Jeff Probst said as a consolation.

Michele afterwards knew Cydney had no chance with the fire challenge “She’d never made fire with flint,” she said.

Aubry was psyched that she was able to pull that out when she needed to.

And Michele told Tai: “I think you just handed Aubry a million dollars.”

How wrong she was.

And instead of a final two, with one more immunity challenge, Probst pulled out a twist. There will be a final three. But the winner of the challenge could  get rid of a jury member if they win.

Michele won and took Aubry’s ally Neal Gottlieb off the jury. “You don’t stand a chance,” Neil sneered to Michele, departing. (Oops….)

At this stage, I honestly thought it was Aubry’s game to lose among the final seven jury members. Michelle had only one guaranteed vote in my mind: fellow beauty Julia Sokolowski. I couldn’t see Tai getting any votes to be honest despite his “David vs. Goliath” story. (I was right there.) Aubry had played a smart game and I thought that alone would merit the votes of the other six.

The final tribal council changed the equation or maybe I just misread Michele’s appeal. Aubry started slow but built her game early enough on to be a clear front runner. She made a bunch of smart strategic moves.

But Michele really didn’t alienate anybody on the jury, even Julia, who she blindsided. And somehow, her final moves and challenge wins swayed the jury. Scot was the first sign that she had more than Julia’s vote: he said she grew stronger while the other two grew weaker. ‘You out-toughed those two,” he said, then applauded her. (Aubry’s argument that he should respect her game, even though it was different than his style of play, didn’t work.)

Michele ended up getting five of the seven votes, including Cydney and the three dudes Scot, Jason and Nick as well Julia. Aubry could only nab the votes of fellow brains Joe and Debbie. Perhaps Neil’s departure did work in Michele’s favor.

This is the magic of “Survivor.” It’s never predictable.

"Not Going Down Without a Fight" -- Tai Trang, Cydney Gillon, Michele Fitzgerald and Aubry Bracco during the finale episode of SURVIVOR: KAOH RONG -- Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty. The two-hour season finale, followed by the one-hour live reunion show hosted by Emmy Award winner Jeff Probst, on SURVIVOR, will air Wednesday, May 18 (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab /CBS Entertainment ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights. Reserved.

“Not Going Down Without a Fight” — Tai Trang, Cydney Gillon, Michele Fitzgerald and Aubry Bracco during the finale episode of SURVIVOR: KAOH RONG — Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty. The two-hour season finale, followed by the one-hour live reunion show hosted by Emmy Award winner Jeff Probst, on SURVIVOR, will air Wednesday, May 18 (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab /CBS Entertainment ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights. Reserved.

POST-MORTEM FROM CYDNEY

I was able to talk to Cydney just a few minutes after the reunion finale by phone from New York, where the reunion was aired.

She was naturally disappointed not winning but she was proud of her game play.  She laid low during the early days when the Brawn tribe was struggling. But once the merge happened, she sniffed out Michele and Aubry as allies. Then she made crucial strategic move after strategic move.

When she had to make fire in the final four challenge, she had no idea how good or bad she’d be. She said she knew the basic steps. “It just didn’t work out,” she said.

Crying at the end, Cydney said, “was definitely a release. And it was sad at the same time. Just snatched your dream away from you.”

But she was cool with picking Michele to win because “she was my girl out of the gate. It was an honor playing with her. She was a beautiful spirit.”

Although she was able to acknowledge Aubry may have played a better strategic game, “it was more a loyalty thing. She never wrote my name down.”

She said she got a sense at Ponderosa (the camp where the jury hangs out) that Michele had an edge. She could tell the dudes (Scot, Jason, Nick) were favoring the beauty (Michele) over the brain (Aubry). She didn’t agree with Scot that Aubry got weaker but did agree that Michele rose to the occasion near the end, winning challenges when she needed to.

Cydney also wasn’t surprised Tai received zero votes. His game play was too erratic despite how likable he was. She was also well aware that Tai may have cost her the $1 million by voting for her instead of Aubry in the final four vote.

She said she was confident she could have won if she had made the final three. “I was part of every single move,” she said. “I was confident in my game play.”

Cydney said Nick told her he would have voted for her. And she thinks she could have swayed Jason. Scot, she admitted, might have been a tough sell. If Michele had been voted out in the final four and it was Aubry/Tai/Cydney, Cydney would likely have gotten votes from Michele, Nick and Jason while Aubry would have had Scot, Joe and Debbie. Julia? Not sure. She would hae been the probable tie breaker. If it had been Tai/Michele/Cydney, Cydney would have likely gotten votes from Aubry, Joe, Debbie and Nick, leaving Michele with Julia, Scot and Jason. In other words, a win.

Oddly, nearly fainting in that early challenge was not her scariest moment, she said. “Any time I touched water was the scariest for me because I only learned to swim the month before I joined ‘Survivor,’ ” she said. Impressively, nobody noticed. Cydney never showed that type of weakness.

Occasionally, Cydney got crabby. She said it was less about hunger and fatigue but annoying personalities (read: Scot and Jason). “I tried to keep it under wraps but sometimes it slipped out,” she said.

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