LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Michele Fitzgerald, the 24-year-old bartender from Freehold, New Jersey, was named the ultimate “Survivor” Wednesday night in a live finale that aired on CBS.
This season — aka “Survivor: Kaoh Rong — began by pitting 18 people — three teams of six — against each other representing beauty, brains and brawn. Before the merge of all tribe members, Fitzgerald was a member of the beauty tribe.
As the winner, she takes home the $1 million top prize.
Aubry Bracco (29, a social media marketer from Cambridge, Massachusetts and member of the brains), Cydney Gillon (23, a bodybuilder from Douglasville, Georgia and member of the brawn tribe) and Tai Trang (51, a gardener from San Francisco and member of the beauty tribe) rounded out the final four. They bested a group that included students, an ER doctor, a former reality star, computer programmers, trainers and a former NBA standout. And who could forget beauty-team member Nick Majorano, the 30-year-old obnoxiously handsome personal trainer from Redondo Beach?
Fitzgerald, Bracco and Trang made the final three. In a new series twist, the final three competed in a reward challenge that allowed the winner to strike one member of the voting jury. Fitzgerald won that challenge and she ended up voting off Neal Gottlieb, a former ally from the brains group.
CBS2’s Entertainment Reporter Crystal Cruz talked to Fitzgerald moments after she was declared the winner.
She told Cruz she never lost faith in herself and pulled inspiration for the win from her favorite characters from “Harry Potter.”
“I have a little magic up my sleeve every once in a while,” she said.
And now that she’s in the money, where will it all go?
“I’m going to pay off my car and save. I’m young,” she said, “and I think if I invest it now, hopefully, I can keep it.”
Trang was a clear audience favorite — which might be an understatement. Viewers fell deeply in like with the guy for his spirituality and his going to bat to keep Mark the Chicken alive even when his tribemates made it clear they wanted Mark for dinner, and not as the guest of honor. (Mark turned out to be pretty popular in his own right.)
Of course, it wouldn’t be a “Survivor” finale with something truly wild and unexpected happening.
Out of nowhere, during the taping of the finale, the pop superstar Sia announced her presence from the audience. “Hi, I’m Sia,” she said above a whisper.
Host Jeff Probst was taken aback called her onstage and said her appearance wasn’t a planned bit. At this point she told contestant Tai that his love for animals really touched her heart. She said she also loved his humanity.
Apparently. She told him she was giving him $50,000 and another $50,000 for him to donate to the animal charity of his choice. “I want to thank you for showing America how to be kind to animals,” she said.
The audience gave her a standing ovation.
Trang told Cruz Mark was something of a lucky charm.
“I think Mark is America’s most favorite chicken,” Trang said, “Luckier chicken. A local family will have him, raise him and care of him. I know he’s in good home.”
Prior to the beginning of the season, Fitzgerald explained why she knew she would win.
“My positivity. I wouldn’t let anything dampen my spirit,” she told CBS. “Enthusiasm is electric, and that attitude would shape the tone around camp. I may be a Jersey girl, but don’t let that fool you. I have no problem roughing it.”
She was also a student of the game and used that to her advantage. “I’ve watched every season, so I know what it takes to be successful on this show.Using my charm, I think I can build strong relationships and lead an alliance without being viewed as aggressive. I want to make big, badass moves that will get me further in the game, and have fun doing it.”
The season will be remembered for excellent game play and being particularly hard on the contestants. The show was billed as “the most punishing season” on a show that has sent more than a few contestants to the ER and a few sent home with permanent injuries. Almost a third of the male contestants ended up leaving due to medical emergencies.
Series host and producer Jeff Probst called it “non-stop drama.”
Caleb Reynolds, a former “Big Brother” contestant, over-heated so badly in one challenge he had to be airlifted out. In the same challenge, at least three other contestants had to seek medical attention.
Kaoh Rong, or Koh Rong, is a remote island off the coast of Thailand. The island played host to the French version of the show in 2012. The 16th season of the Swedish version was also shot there in 2009.
The next installment of the series, “Survivor: Millennials Vs. Generation X) was filmed in Fiji.
For more about this season’s “Survivor,” (including an episode guide, cast photos and interviews,) click here.