Camp Ponderosa—for those who don’t know—is where the Jury lives until the end of the game, when they have to decide who wins the million dollars. You know how Jeff says, “We’ll now bring in the members of our Jury” at the beginning of each Tribal Council, right? Well, that’s where they’re coming from. The Ponderosa “tribe” gets constant meals, tents to sleep in, bathroom and shower facilities, counseling from a psychologist (another Jeff in this season), and mini vacations.
But the most important thing about Ponderosa is that it brings the players back together. The game is over. The stress of suspicion, competition, scheming, backstabbing, and alliance-making is behind them. All that remains are the fundamental building blocks of the game: people, and the eliminated players have the chance to construct something more lasting and positive out of them. Unsurprisingly, “enemies” become friends and all the laundry, dirty and clean, is laid out. The players can finally be themselves, completely open, without worrying about how it might affect their place in the game. They can step away and realize how trivial it all was.
As of now, there are three Jury members (eliminated in the following order): Brendan, Tyson, and Sierra. Brendan and Sierra were part of the semi-secret “Exile Alliance,” which originally included Taj and Stephen and adopted J.T. after the merge. Tyson was a co-founder of the dominant “Warrior Alliance,” now lead by Coach and Debbie. Tyson (along with half the other players) hated Sierra; in fact, during his last three days in the game, he intentionally mocked and insulted her as much as possible, just to make what he thought were her last three days more painful. He actually said he wanted to see her cry at Tribal Council. As for Brendan and Tyson, their rivalry came mostly from being members of opposing alliances. Brendan was the head of the dragon Coach’s alliance wanted to slay. (The only way to understand that is to watch the show.)
But that seemed to disappear when they each crossed the bridge to Ponderosa. Tyson even welcomed Sierra with a hug. Soon the three of them were laughing and chatting together more than they ever would have on the beach. You can watch it for yourself here:
I think we fans forget the Survivors are regular people outside of this game. In a high-stakes competition, anyone can become devious, dishonest, and unkind and say and do unexpected things. Because this is a television show, the players become “characters,” and we viewers assign qualities to them based on what we watch, just like we would with cartoon characters. But real humans are multi-dimensional, and their personalities aren’t inked and filmed into place. What we see isn’t always what we get.
Take the game away, and the Survivors are allowed to act more like they would in real life; that’s when we get to see them (and they get to see each other) in a purer light.