The three-hour episode saw most of the cast's dreams of winning the season -- and taking home the $2 million prize -- dashed. After all, there can only be one two-time winner. (Well, two of them, as this season's champion joins Sandra Diaz-Twine.) Tears were shed, breakdowns were had, and we felt it all through our TV screens.
Players' connections outside of the game were a source of paranoia and contention early on this season. By the time the finale rolled around, however, new allies had been made, and the castaways seemed to feel for each other on another level.
Mental and physical exhaustion, powerful sacrifices and more led to one of the most profound episodes of Survivor we've ever seen -- and one of host Jeff Probst's favorites. Here are the most emotional moments from Wednesday's season finale.
NATALIE RETURNING TO THE GAME
The episode kicked off with an intense competition among those at the Edge of Extinction to get back in the game. Natalie was the favorite to win as she earned three advantages in the contest, but her reaction to finishing first was truly unexpected.
"After 33 days, being the first person voted out, she is now part of the final six," Jeff announced. "What a story!"
As her fellow contestants circled her with praise and encouragement, Natalie collapsed to the ground in tears.
TYSON REFLECTING ON HIS SURVIVOR JOURNEY
Once Natalie was revealed as the one Edge of Extinction-er reentering the game, players got emotional about seeing their Survivor journey come to a close. Tyson teared up, recalling what this game has meant to him.
"I mean, the last decade has been, for me, pretty much Survivor. There's nothing that fully encompassed all the weird talents I had as a person more than Survivor," he shared. "The first time I played, I was like, 'This is the only job built for me.' And then, you know, I had kids, and I think, for me, that encompasses all of my weird talents even better than Survivor does."
"I think I needed to come out here and struggle and play from the bottom. I've never had to do that. I think I kind of needed it to know I don't need it," Tyson continued. "I think being a dad, for me, is a good replacement for Survivor."
ROB CRYING OVER AMBER'S STRENGTH
Rob and Amber also couldn't help but break down over the conclusion of their Survivor journeys, with Amber revealing insecurities she had over her Survivor: All-Stars win.
"I didn't come here for me. I only came here for one person, and I came here for him," she cried, pointing to her husband. "Nobody respects this game more than my husband does. I wanted to be here for him. I wanted to be his rock. I never thought I had a chance in hell to win this time around, because even when you read my name as the All-Star winner, [Jeff], nobody really felt like I deserved it. Everybody felt that this guy deserved it, and the only reason why they voted for me is because they hated him more than they hated me."
That's when tears started streaming down Rob's face.
"But if there's any lesson I want to take away from this, we're out here to show our kids you try, you don't quit, you don't give up, and you do your best. And their mother's the toughest woman in this world. She stayed out there that whole time, made rice for everybody every single day, never complained. This is a woman that's a champion. It's been 188 days for me, But I leave here with nothing but love for everybody, gratitude and appreciation," Rob said. "Thank you."
PARVATI BREAKING DOWN OVER RETURNING TO THE GAME
Parvati left behind her baby girl when she joined this season of Survivor, so coming out was an extra big deal for her.
"I didn't have much gas in the tank. When you called me and you were asking me to come back, I was like, 'No way. You're out of your mind,'" she told Jeff, reflecting on how "happy" she was as a new mom "with a little newborn who's the love of my life, who is squishy and cute."
"Then there's Survivor, which is the exact opposite of that. It's, like, blindsides and deceit and, like, really hurting people. It's a vicious game. I didn't know if I had that in me, but I was willing to come back out here and play this game with every ounce of heart that I had. And I feel like I did," she added. "It's been a very different ride for me this time than it ever has before. But I'm going back out really proud of who I was in this version of the game."
ETHAN GETTING REAL ABOUT BEATING CANCER
Then there was Ethan, who returned to the game after battling -- and beating -- cancer.
"You know, Survivor: Africa changed my life. Because of Survivor, we launched Survivor Stands Up to Cancer, which has raised millions of dollars for cancer research. And I don't know if many people know this, but some of the money raised through Survivor Stands Up to Cancer helped fund the drug that saved my life," he revealed.
"So, not only did it create a life for me, this show saved my life. Not too long ago, I was battling a rare form of blood cancer, and I just craved survival. Like, I just wanted to live one more day. And I was thinking to myself, 'If I get out of this transplant alive, I want to play Survivor.' And I prayed and I dreamed that I could get myself healthy enough to be able to come out here and play again. And I did," Ethan said. "For me, this is like the perfect bookend on this crazy and amazing life that Survivor has gifted me. And I'm so grateful and honored to be part of this crew right here."
SARAH POINTING OUT GENDER BIAS
Natalie rejoining the game came with a few revelations -- like how the Edge of Extinction crew saw Tony as the one to beat. This upset Sarah, who saw herself as just as much of a contender as her ally. She tearfully brought up gender bias to Jeff at Tribal Council.
"It made me realize that if a woman in this game lies or cheats or steals, she's fake and phony and a b**ch," Sarah said. "If a guy does it, it's good gameplay."
"It's a gender bias, it holds me back. It holds other women back from playing the game the way we should be playing the game," she added.
Then came a surprising revelation from Jeff himself, as he admitted to having gender bias over his years hosting the show.
"Let me own my part. I am certain if I look back at all of the comments I have made over 20 years, I would find the exact same bias in me -- who I call by last names. Guys have different relationships with each other, and I might not know how to have that relationship with a woman," he expressed.
"So, I'll definitely own that I don't think I saw it when Survivor started, and I don't think I even knew I was supposed to look for it. But I'm very much aware of it now, and I'm grateful that we can open up and investigate, even though it comes with crisis or hardship or it comes with some tears. Whatever it is, it's out there and it's being talked about," Jeff said.
BEN TELLING SARAH TO VOTE FOR HIM
Sarah survived that Tribal Council, and her speech had a big effect on Ben, who gave her his blessing to vote him out in an effort to build her résumé.
"You have my permission," he told Sarah. "You have to win it, though. OK?"
"I've struggled enough in my heart. I know she's been struggling to protect me, and I don't want to drag her down. It's just, I feel in my heart the right thing to do is to give her permission. And she doesn't have to, but if she does, she does, you know?" Ben explained to the camera. "I know, no matter what happens, I'm gonna walk away from Survivor with my head held high and actually have actual friends. 'Cause having friends is worth more than money."
Sarah broke down after Ben's selfless act. "Ben has given me the blessing to vote him out. And it tears me up," she admitted. "He's looked out for me this whole game, and I've looked out for him. And in a game where you can't trust anyone, we trust each other 100 percent. And to see him in tears destroys me."
"He's the last person that I want to hurt," she added.
TONY BEATING SARAH IN THE FIRE COMPETITION
Ben was voted out, and then Natalie won immunity in the next competition. She chose to bring Michele with her to the final three -- forcing Sarah to battle it out with her other ally, Tony, in a fire-making competition for that last spot.
Tony beat Sarah, and it was devastating. He broke down in tears in Sarah's arms. "Oh my god, you won," she explained. "I love you… you don't have to be sorry for anything."
"If I was gonna go out of this game, that's how I wanted to go out. And if I wanted someone to take me out, that's who I wanted to take me out. And if someone was gonna take him out, I wanted it to be me," Sarah said, as Tony struggled to stop sobbing.
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