'Survivor: Island of the Idols' crowns Tommy Sheehan winner over Dean Kowalski, Jeff Probst apologizes to Kellee Kim at reunion for Dan Spilo handling
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 12/19/2019
Survivor: Island of the Idols named Tommy Sheehan its "Sole Survivor" winner over runner-up Dean Kowalski during Wednesday night's three-hour finale event of Survivor Season 39 on CBS.
Tommy, a 26-year-old 4th grade teacher from Bayville, NY, who currently resides in Long Beach, NY, walked away with the competition's million-dollar prize in a 8-2 jury vote over Dean, a 28-year-old tech salesman from Westfield, NJ, who currently resides in New York, NY.
Tommy's victory was announced by longtime Survivor host Jeff Probst during the portion of the finale broadcast that was pre-taped at CBS Studio Center in Los Angeles, CA, earlier on Wednesday. (The reunion special did not air live for the first time inSurvivor's 39 seasons).
"I actually felt kind of like a Kingpin. Everyone was telling me everything. I'm not trying to sound cocky, but I was very open and real with people. And I think when you're real with people, they're real with you too," Tommy explained at the reunion.
"People were telling me they found an idol; people were telling me they found an advantage... And then it was me saying, 'Let me mix this up and do what I want with it.'"
Tommy added that he loved everyone in the cast but wasn't playing to make best friends -- he was playing to win the $1 million for his family, friends at home, and students at school.
Survivor: Island of the Idols featured former Survivor winners Rob "Boston Rob" Mariano and Sandra Diaz-Twine serving as mentors to this season's group of castaways, and Rob said of Tommy, "He never came to Island of the Idols, but everyone else that did come there, they all said that Tommy was their ride-or-die and Tommy was their No. 1."
"They were in with Tommy," Rob elaborated, "so he was doing something right from the beginning."
Tommy received the following jury votes to win: Jack Nichting, Missy Byrd, Karishma Patel, Lauren Beck, Jamal Shipman, Kellee Kim, Elaine Stott, and Janet Carbin.
Dean earned two jury votes from Aaron Meredith and Elizabeth Beisel.
Survivor: Island of the Idols' finale broadcast began on Day 36, with the castaways on Lumuwaku receiving a letter from a man on a boat, instructing them to all head to the Island of the Idols, where Sandra and Rob awaited all of them.
Rob and Sandra gave the castaways special buffs and wished them all good luck in having a strong finish. The remaining five castaways also learned they'd be playing the rest of their Survivor games on the Island of the Idols, taking over the shelter Rob and Sandra had built for them.
However, Rob and Sandra left the group with one last test, and Rob hoped someone had been paying attention.
The castaways were given a supply of fruit, chickens, comfort and more. Janet had a hidden Immunity Idol in her pocket, so she was guaranteed Final 4. She also figured no one could beat her in a fire-starting challenge, so she thought she was a shoo-in for Final 3 as well.
Janet planned to go to the end with Tommy, and the pair agreed they were "solid." Dean, however, talked to Noura about how Janet was more of a threat than Tommy given she's so loving. Dean predicted Janet would receive emotional votes, but Noura wanted Dean out first.
Noura said Dean is like a "slick ex-boyfriend" no one can trust, and so she was hell-bent on getting rid of him.
Tommy then found himself studying his buff because he expected there would be an advantage or idol somewhere on the island. Tommy noticed there were machetes on the buff, which was out of the ordinary, so he assumed one of the machetes at camp was a clue.
Tommy searched the place left and right and discovered a machete perfectly placed inside a cracked-open coconut that he believed was colored red on the inside; however, Tommy revealed he was color blind and so his eyes were probably playing tricks on him.
The clue led Tommy on a scavenger hunt in which he searched the island for something pink, red or orange, but he needed help -- and so he shared his information with Dean, whom he could likely trust due to the Tribal Council in which Dean had saved him.
Dean loved having knowledge, but he didn't appear to use it. Instead of looking for an advantage or idol, Dean just relaxed and did some yoga and stretching.
In the meantime, Tommy stumbled upon a red piece of bamboo along a walkway, and when he pulled out the piece, an "H" was written on it, which was clearly the next clue.
Tommy's mind was "going nuts" while his competition just laughed and had fun in the shelter. Tommy wondered if it could be an "h" for hammock or heart.
Tommy couldn't solve the puzzle, so he recruited Dean once again for help. Tommy told Dean that if he ended up finding the idol or advantage, it belonged to Tommy.
Tommy thought Dean could care less, but the wheels were definitely turning in Dean's head. Dean just didn't want Tommy to realize he was working hard for his own benefit.
Dean thought the "H" looked like the swing, so he decided to go for a ride. After finding nothing, Dean walked by the swing and suddenly caught another "H" carved into bamboo right by the swing out of the corner of his eye.
Dean ended up with the perfect opportunity -- when no one else was around -- to rip out a bamboo stick and grab a package that awaited him inside. Dean ran off, opened it up, and discovered a hidden Immunity Idol.
In the package was also a note from Sandra and Rob that read, "You didn't think we'd leave without one last test, did you? You passed. Good luck."
"Tommy is probably still over there looking, sweating frantically. He might just be looking forever, which I find hilarious. He's never going to find it. There's no way I'm telling Tommy," Dean told the cameras.
"I'm keeping it to myself. I guess 'DK Chillin' has turned into 'DK Villain.' Tommy is kind of playing a little bit of a fourth-grade game and I'm out here teaching algebra out here! Come on, step your game up, Tommy! Come on, man!"
On Day 37, the five castaways met Jeff for an Individual Immunity Challenge.
Dean returned the immunity necklace to Jeff, who then explained each player must retrieve a series of rope rungs and use them to climb a tower. After maneuvering a bag of balls up a tall ladder, they'd have to land those balls on a table maze.
The first person to finish would win immunity and be guaranteed a spot in the Final 4. In addition, the castaways were playing for Reward in the form of steak, baked potato, salad and, if necessary, vegetarian options.
Tommy and Dean made it up their ladders and began their table mazes around the same time, with Noura right on their heels. But after some time, all the players were working on the maze at the together, and Janet was actually the person who landed the first ball.
In the end, Dean won Individual Immunity and guaranteed himself safety at the next Tribal Council and a spot in the Final 4.
Dean was then afforded the chance to choose one person to join him for Reward.
Dean said this decision was all about who's going to win Survivor and potentially take him to Final 3. Jeff also pointed out Dean would be fueling somebody for the next challenge.
Janet was begging Dean to eat, and he and Tommy had become close -- but in a surprising twist, Dean picked Noura to eat with him.
Dean explained that choosing Noura was his way of making amends since he had betrayed her at the Tribal Council when Tommy was supposed to go home but didn't.
Dean was hoping he and Noura could "squash their beef," but Lauren pointed out Dean was "just doing jury management" and there was "no way" Noura would "fall for it."
Dean gushed to the cameras about how he was no longer a goat because not only did he have an immunity necklace around his neck and a hidden Immunity Idol, he also had an "Idol Nullifier," the second to ever be seen on the Survivor franchise.
Noura and Dean had fun at their lunch together, and Noura insisted Dean had blossomed from a boy into a man right in front of her eyes. Noura actually felt like she was on a beautiful, romantic date, and she seemed to develop a crush on Dean, calling him "cute, pleasant and gentlemanly."
But Dean hated that he had to listen to Noura talk throughout their entire meal.
Dean really wanted nothing to do with Noura, but he wanted to be in her ideal Final 3 and so he kept up his little act.
"I'm trying to get on her good graces and see what can happen with Noura and Dean, the God forsaken Romeo and Juliet of Season 39," Dean said in a confessional.
Dean and Noura then promised each other they'd take each other to the Final 2. Dean also had a Final 2 deal with Tommy, so he felt he was sitting pretty.
Both Noura and Dean agreed Janet should be the next person to go home, and she didn't mind that Dean was trying to "butter [her] up" a little bit.
Before Tribal Council, Janet told the cameras she planned to use her hidden Immunity Idol for herself. Janet told Tommy to have everyone put votes on her and then she'd vote for Lauren, taking Lauren out.
Tommy was glad he'd walk away from Tribal Council with clean hands since he had been close friends with Lauren the entire game, while Janet looked forward to making a big move and eliminating a huge threat and very social, likeable player.
Janet then told Tommy that she'd take him to Final 2 "on [her] life," and Tommy promised her the same in return. Tommy said Janet was like his mother in the game and she had a huge part of his heart; however, he admitted to cameras she needed to go.
Tommy explained that Janet was the best fire-maker and would likely win if she sits in the Final 3. Tommy thought this was his last chance to get Janet, and so he warned Lauren about Janet's plan.
Tommy and Lauren then begged Dean to play his "Idol Nullifier" to remove the power from Janet's hidden Immunity Idol. The pair explained to Dean that Janet would win this game if she makes it to the end, but Lauren secretly feared Dean wanted to send her home so he could be in a Final 2 with Tommy no problem.
And Lauren had every right to be concerned.
"If Lauren squeaks by, she's beating both of us," Dean told Tommy when talking through the difficult decision they had to make.
But Tommy told Dean this would be a great opportunity for him to make a big move, and Dean recognized many castaways loved Janet and found her endearing.
Dean had to decide whether to solidify his Final 2 with Tommy by taking Lauren out or removing a big threat like Janet by showcasing a sneaky move to the jury.
Before Tribal Council, Tommy received some weird vibes from Dean, so he could only hope for the best.
On Night 37, the Lumuwaku tribe met Jeff at Tribal Council, and the jury entered to listen in. The jury included Elaine but not Dan since he had been removed from the game due to an allegation of inappropriate touching.
Janet bragged about being "the fire lady" in the tribe and how great she is at starting fire, but little did she know Dean had an "Idol Nullifier" he was debating on using against her.
Dean pointed out everyone left in the game had a perfect Final 3 in mind and so everyone just needed to decide which of the two outliers should go home next.
After all the votes were cast, Janet decided to play a hidden Immunity Idol for herself. However, Jeff immediately revealed an "Idol Nullifier" had been played to block Janet's power.
Janet appeared completely shocked and devastated at the same time while Dean made eyes at the jury to let them know he had been responsible for that move. A few of the ladies -- Missy, Elizabeth and Karishma -- giggled and seemed in awe of Dean.
Jeff then read the votes aloud in the following order: Lauren, Janet, Janet, and Janet.
Lauren told Janet she had done an amazing job in the game, and then Jeff snuffed Janet's torch.
"I allowed myself to get really hopeful because I was so close to having an impossible dream come true," Janet said following her ouster.
"I feel really naive and stupid to think I allowed myself to go further in my head that I had it, but I'm proud of the game I played just because it's who I am."
Noura, Lauren, Dean and Tommy all voted for Janet, while Janet voted for Lauren.
Janet admitted during the reunion special her mind was blown by Dean's move and she should have listened to her gut, which had told her not to tell Tommy about her idol to begin with.
On Day 38, Dean practiced making fire, but he acknowledged he absolutely needed to win the final Individual Immunity Challenge to avoid being in that situation. And Tommy apparently felt the same way after telling Noura he's not good at making fire.
Tommy lied to Noura about his fire-starting skills, but he insisted he wanted to take her to Final 2 "on a heart level." Tommy also threw Dean under the bus by telling Noura that Dean didn't mean what he had said about promising her the Final 2.
Noura suddenly found herself as the popular girl at camp with power, and she gushed about Survivor finally being about herself and her own game -- not about "making things easier for everyone else."
The Final 4 castaways then met Jeff for the final Individual Immunity Challenge of the season.
Jeff explained each player must stack letter blocks on a very wobbly platform.
The first person to spell "Island of the Idols" would win Individual Immunity and be guaranteed a spot in the Final 3, where he or she would get a chance to plead his or her case to the jury about deserving the title of "Sole Survivor" and the $1 million prize.
In addition, the winner would be able to choose one person to go to the Final 3, forcing the other two castaways to compete in a fire-starting challenge against each other for the third -- and final -- spot in the finals.
Dean and Noura both got the hang of it, as Tommy and Lauren struggled the entire time to balance blocks on their respective mechanisms. Noura then got off to a steady lead, with Dean trying to catch up.
And finally, Noura won her third Individual Immunity Challenge of the season. Noura was ecstatic and jumped around following her victory, but she had a huge decision to make.
Noura was so proud of herself and said she had achieved the impossible.
Tommy, Dean and Lauren were scared because they viewed Noura as an unpredictable person and total wild card. They were left in suspense as Noura frolicked and played in the ocean.
But in order to ease everybody's nerves, Noura decided to announce her decision prematurely -- after talking, a lot.
Noura told Lauren that she was her friend in the game when no one else had her back and Dean is "beautiful," calm and collected. And Noura added that Tommy was loyal and an incredible person. She also gave props to Tommy for having saved her once or twice before.
With all that being said, Noura announced Lauren was a huge threat and "the queen" and so she needed to compete in fire. Lauren immediately broke down into tears and asked Noura to reveal her opponent, who turned out to be Dean.
Tommy hugged Noura and thanked her for saving his life in this game.
Lauren had a bit of an emotional breakdown because she had been Noura's No. 1 in the game, but she decided to compose herself and practice making fire. Dean also worked at it and knew if he could seal the deal, his resume would look great.
Tommy helped both castaways make fire so he could secure their potential jury votes, but he admitted he didn't want to sit next to Lauren in the end. Tommy therefore gave Dean extra help, believing he could win the $1 million over Noura and Dean.
Noura and Lauren then argued, with Lauren calling Noura "crazy" and Noura calling Lauren "selfish." Lauren was completely pissed off, but she just planned to use her anger as fuel to win.
On Night 38, Noura told Lauren that she wasn't going to be dumb by taking her No. 1 ally to the end when her No. 1 ally would win the game. Lauren, however, refused to take Noura's choice as a compliment.
Noura then announced her decision at Tribal Council that Lauren and Dean would face off in fire. Noura thought Dean had the best chance of beating Lauren, and so Lauren was clearly the person Noura was trying to take out before the Final 3.
The fire-starting challenge then commenced, and the first person to build his or her fire tall enough to burn through a rope would advance to the Final 3. Dean started fire first, but Lauren sparked a flame shortly afterward.
It all came down to building up the fires, and in the end, Dean won it. Dean announced to the jury his first time making fire had been that morning and so Tommy had "played" Noura by saying he sucked at making fire.
Lauren admitted going out as a big threat was not a bad way to go on Survivor.
"This sucks really bad," Lauren said in her final words.
"But you know what? Noura was right. Everyone does like me on the jury, and if I did make it, I probably would have won. I just wish she didn't figure that out. That's all she wrote. I love Survivor and I want to play again."
On Day 39, Noura couldn't believe she was in the Final 3. She initially thought she was going to be the first person voted out, but she insisted she had played with some great strategy.
The trio enjoyed a big feast at camp, and Tommy admitted the game was the hardest -- yet one of the greatest -- things he had ever done in his life.
Dean was also extremely proud of himself, and he felt it was going to be a Final 2 between Tommy and himself because Noura winning was "a longshot." Tommy also thought it was "a two-man race," but he wasn't ready to count out Noura since she was full of surprises.
Prior to the Final Tribal Council, Tommy helped Noura with her speech by explaining why Dean didn't deserve to win, ultimately helping himself.
The three castaways later confronted the jury of their peers on Day 39 at the Final Tribal Council.
Each player had to convince the jury of why he or she was most deserving of the $1 million and the title of "Sole Survivor." The Final 3 castaways had to prove how they outlasted, outwitted and outplayed, from social strategy to alliances and winning challenges.
Jack announced the jury was "tremendously undecided," so he asked the Final 3 to be clear and honest.
In terms of their personal strategies, Dean explained he had tried not to be the loudest, most physical or smartest guy in the room. Dean said it was his strategy just to chill but Kellee giving him an idol saved his game, which he took credit for since Kellee had trusted him so much.
Noura said she wasn't the typical Survivor fan going into the game but she tried not to be bossy, lazy, annoying, disloyal or weak. Elaine pointed out Noura had played the game with her emotions rather than strategy, and Noura had trouble explaining otherwise.
Noura said she had attempted to get to know everyone on a personal level, but Tommy insisted he had made genuine, real connections with everyone, who felt they could turn to him for help or in times of need.
Tommy also explained he often played the middle with "ears on both sides" and made big moves, such as flipping a Tribal Council upside down when he had been the target.
After Tommy told Lauren he had been loyal to her throughout the entire game, Noura revealed Tommy had taught Dean special fire-starting methods so he would win the challenge. Noura added that Tommy had been hoping to fluster Lauren so she would get emotional and lose her ability to concentrate.
Dean said he never promised anyone a Final 2 deal while Tommy had pretty much promised the world to everyone and lied. Dean therefore suggested he had played a more honest, upfront game.
Tommy argued, however, he played the game hard and didn't just "chill," knocking Dean's strategy.
"In this game, you can't ride coattails," Tommy announced, before admitting to Janet he had planned to take her out a lot earlier than she thought.
Noura told the jury she had tried to be transparent during the game, but Tommy owned the fact he had been willing to lie and cheat to win the game -- just not bully.
When asked to reveal a line he wouldn't be willing to cross in the game, Dean admitted he had drawn no ethical lines for himself, which prompted Kellee to say she had no idea who Dean really was.
Dean explained he's a positive and optimistic guy, which is probably why he never appeared vulnerable.
Jamal asked Noura why she chose to bring Tommy to the end, and Noura said she thought she could beat Tommy over Lauren and therefore needed someone who could beat Lauren in fire. Because Tommy alleged he was sucky at making fire, Noura admitted she picked Dean to go against Lauren.
Jamal pointed out Tommy was trying to win the game in "the goat role," meaning he had been brought to the end, which was something that's never happened on the show before. Jamal reminded the jury Dean had actually won his way into the Final 3.
But Tommy argued it was strategy to never make fire in front of the castaways so they thought he was bad at it. Tommy also gave himself credit for convincing Noura that Lauren was a much bigger threat whom Dean could beat in fire.
In terms of Individual Immunity Challenges, Dean said he had won two of the last three while Tommy had won zero.
Tommy said he didn't want to win challenges because there would be a target on his back afterward, but then Missy called him out for only succeeding in one of Survivor's three categories, meaning his social gameplay was great but he didn't really outwit or outplay.
Tommy insisted he knew where all the advantages were in the game and used them to control things. But Dean shared with the jury about faking his already-fake Legacy Advantage and finding the idol Tommy had been in search of during the final days of the game.
"I was sitting at five blinged out -- necklace on, Idol Nullifier, Legacy Advantage, hidden Immunity Idol. Did I have to play any of them?" Dean asked.
"No," Missy replied.
"No!" Dean said. "[Tommy] can take the social game, but does he have anything on 'outplay?' No. Anything you can do, I can do better. All of this!"
Tommy slammed Dean, however, for finding advantages but not actually using them strategically to advance himself in the game. Tommy basically suggested Dean was never a threat and so no one was going to vote him out at any time.
Elaine acknowledged Dean had also saved Tommy at the game in one point, and Missy added Dean had found the idol that Tommy had been looking for with information Tommy had chosen to give him.
On the other side of the coin, Kellee reasoned that Tommy only trusted Dean with such information because he had viewed Dean as a goat.
Suddenly, the jury all realized Dean had made Final 2 and 3 deals with people, although he had previously argued he wouldn't cross that ethical line. Dean got caught in contradiction, and Noura accused Dean of following the numbers throughout the game.
"When it rains, it pours!" Dean yelled, as it was actually pouring outside.
It then became time to discuss which person outlasted. Tommy said he'd be a good representative as the winner of Season 39 because he had made great alliances and big moves.
Noura claimed she was open, authentic, and crazy but won challenges and connected socially, and then Dean noted he had climbed his way through the game despite being on the bottom multiple times and having his back against the wall.
Dean also played the Idol Nullifier correctly and asked the jury to make history by voting him as the winner.
The jury then cast their votes for the winner of Survivor: Island of the Idols.
In Survivor's reunion special, singer Sia -- a huge fan of Survivor -- awarded her favorite players of the season money. Sia gave Jamal $15,000 and shocked Elaine and Janet by giving them each $100,000.
In addition, Jeff addressed Dan Spilo's inappropriate-touching scandal, which was sparked early in the game by Kellee's accusations she had been disrespected and disgusted by the 48-year-old talent manager's behavior.
Dan was later removed from the game on Day 36 after allegedly groping a crew member's leg while entering a transfer boat following an Immunity Challenge.
On behalf of CBS and Survivor's producers, Jeff told the audience, "We intended to do the right thing, but in the months that have passed, we have learned so much about what we could have and should have done instead. And if this happened today, we would handle it much differently."
"We've already taken important steps to lay out new policies, procedures, rules and methods for reporting that will create a better and safer environment for future players."
Jeff continued, "We are committed to doing our part to turn this into something positive, and it's all because of Kellee -- the woman who was brave enough to speak up despite the risk."
Jeff simply told Kellee after his speech, "You were right. You were right. You were right to speak up, you were right to step forward despite a lot of risk, and to speak your truth. And I want to acknowledge and apologize for your pain. You didn't ask for it and you didn't deserve it."
Kellee said she felt very nervous and a lot of pressure to do right by her own voice and those who have reached out to her who have experienced similar situations.
Kellee explained the hardest part of the controversy for her was the fact Dan remained in the game even after she spoke up. Kellee didn't feel supported or believed when she was in the game.
Jeff insisted action was taken after Kellee had voiced her complaints and producers decided to meet with the castaways privately but they weren't transparent enough about the issue.
Jeff said more allegations came up against Dan from other female castaways that turned out to be false, exaggerated claims designed to put a target on Dan's back, referencing Elizabeth and Missy's actions during the game.
Jeff seemed to suggest there was a lot of confusion about what was really true given things had kind of spiraled out of control.
"Your voice should have been enough," Jeff concluded. "The silver lining is -- it will be next time."
Kellee then told Jeff, "I hope this season of Survivor isn't just defined by inappropriate touching or sexual harassment. I hope that it's defined by change, and I feel like I can be really proud of the fact that I spoke up and I asked for these changes, and CBS and Survivor are making those changes because I asked."
She added, "We've learned a lot, [but] I think we're still learning. I fundamentally believe we can do better."
CBS aired a preview of Survivor: Winners At War at the end of Survivor: Island of the Idols' reunion special.
"It's the biggest battle in Survivor history -- 20 returning winners. They'll compete in epic challenges, face the return of the Edge of Extinction, and encounter a new twist that will completely reset how the game is played," Jeff explained in a voiceover, as "tokens" for food, comfort and fire flashed on the screen.
"Plus, they're playing for the biggest prize in reality show history, [$2 million]. It's the most anticipated Survivor season of all time."