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‘Survivor’ Crowns Winner of Its ‘Most Punishing Season’ Yet

Finale culminates in live reveal of $1 million winner of show’s 32nd season, ”Survivor: Kaoh Rong“

(Spoiler Alert: Please do not read this if you have not yet watched Wednesday’s “Survivor” finale)

Michele Fitzgerald, a 24-year-old bartender from Freehold, New Jersey, won the title of “Sole Survivor” and the $1 million prize in the live vote reveal, broadcast from the CBS lot in Studio City, California, on Wednesday night.

In a season split in to “Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty” tribes, Fitzgerald started on the Beauty tribe. Even though she had fleeting screen time in a season laden with breakout characters, several close watchers of her story arc had pegged Fitzgerald as a potential winner from early in the 32nd season.

On Wednesday night before a live audience and millions watching on TV, those prognosticators were proven right.

The “Most Punishing Season”

Survivor Caleb Reynolds Life in Danger Cambodia Heat

Jeff Probst, medical staff and production crew attempted to revive Caleb Reynolds

The pioneer of the modern reality era managed to score some firsts, even in its 32nd season.

CBS and Mark Burnett‘s team accurately billed this as “the most punishing season.” One-third of all male cast members left the game due to medical emergencies instead of being voted out.

Survivor 32 Koah Rong Medevac Caleb Neil Ice Cream Joe Del Campo 71

Caleb Reynolds, Joe Del Campo and Neil Gottlieb (CBS)

Most notably, Caleb Reynolds, a muscular and fit former “Big Brother” player suffered a life-threatening heat condition when he was left unconscious, unresponsive and overheated after a challenge. The medical staff called in a helicopter and flew with him to a hospital.

At the time of Reynolds’ harrowing evacuation, three players were concurrently receiving emergency medical treatment. Producers broke the fourth wall and showed members of the crew congregating around downed contestants on a hot beach, something that was unprecedented in the show’s 16-year history.

Two other players also left the game without Jeff Probst snuffing their torches. Neal Gottlieb, a 38-year-old ice cream entrepreneur and Joe Del Campo, a 71-year-old retired FBI agent (who is friends with the original elderly Survivor from Season 1, Rudy Boesch), were both also removed from the game for medical reasons.

In a less death-defying and more administrative evolution, this season was the first to air out of order. Taped from March through May 2015, this season stayed in the can for nearly a year as an entire other season was cast, shot in the same location and broadcast — before this cast was even “announced” to the public.

That Show Is Still On?
Yes, and “Survivor” still draws good ratings.

The most recent episode before the finale was the most-watched of the night, drawing 9.43 million viewers. In the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic, it earned a 2.1 rating.

And as the summer off-season, CBS reality fans will not have to wait long for a fix. Three prime time editions of “The Price is Right,” featuring the hosts and contestants of all of CBS’ veteran reality franchises — “Survivor”, “The Amazing Race” and “Big Brother” — will air from May 23 to 25.

“Survivor” has been renewed for two more seasons.