NEW YORK — Thirty-nine days, 18 people, one Survivor ... and it's exactly who it should have been all along.
Surprising nobody but relieving everybody, 29-year-old bridal shop owner Kim Spradlin won the million-dollar prize on "Survivor: One World" on Sunday, and she deserves every penny. Blue-eyed Kim wasn't just the best-liked person out on the beach, she was the strategic mastermind who engineered the complete collapse of the game's men, a physical powerhouse with four immunity victories to her name, and a savvy enough player to sniff out a hidden immunity idol she never even had to use.
Watching the season, it didn't take an eagle-eyed "Survivor" fan to know that Kim had all the makings of a fantastic winner. But try telling that to Kim herself. Speaking with MTV News at the "Survivor: One World" finale, the pride of Salani revealed that going into the evening, she honestly didn't think she had a chance at taking home the grand prize.
"Honestly, it was just starting to feel too obvious," Spradlin said of watching herself on television this season. "I thought there's no way [I'm winning]. Something's up. Something's wrong. When you're out there on the island, you get really paranoid, and you carry that back into your life. So I feel like I came back concerned that I wasn't getting [the win]."
But it was a different story out on the island. Kim weaved her way through numerous alliances to secure a top spot at the end of the game, leaving more than a few bitter jurors behind in her wake. Though she initially feared their wrath going into the final tribal council, she ultimately walked away from that experience feeling encouraged.
"At the very end of the final tribal council was the first time where I really thought I could win this," she said. "Up until then, I hadn't heard the jury speak. I had no idea how mad they were going to be. And [throughout the season], they looked really mad. I didn't think I had that great of a chance until I heard them talk."
In the end, Kim credits her win to two things. "I really wanted to keep my options open. I said that a lot on the show. If something went wrong here — if Chelsea was med-evaced one day — I'd have other options. I never wanted to put all of my eggs in one basket," she said. "But at the same time, I wanted to be this great presence that people trusted, that felt calming, that people liked having around. I wanted people to think that I was on their side, so that they'd keep me around for them."
Her strategy worked, and now, Kim's already being talked about as one of the all-time great "Survivor" winners. Indeed, during a commercial break at the live finale, original "Survivor" winner Richard Hatch piped up from the back of the Ed Sullivan Theater to describe Kim as one of the best players to ever play the game. That's pretty high praise within the "Survivor" community, to say the least.
"Honestly, I'm shocked," she said of people's reactions to her game play. "I feel like people are giving me too much credit sometimes. It just came naturally to me. And I got lucky — I think that's a big part of this game. I've heard people refer to the butterfly effect out there: If someone stumbles upon a little thing, everything could end up totally differently. I think that's very true."
Luck is a factor, true, but there's no doubting that Kim's inherent understanding of the game of "Survivor" fueled her victory as well. Now, with whispers of all-star seasons coming up in the future — the next season, set in the Philippines, is already slated to bring three former players back into the mix — fans are already ready to see Kim return to the beach and walk all over her competition again. The question is: Is Kim up for another round of "Survivor" action? "How do you say no to playing 'Survivor'?" she said with a grin, before adding, "But I'm glad I'm not leaving tomorrow!"
What did you think of the "Survivor" finale? Tell us in the comments section or tweet your thoughts my way at @roundhoward!