You really understand this stuff, Astroman. In my looking into smaller (not necessarily "tiny"), I've found it to be just as you stated. The game is rigged.
In one "Tiny House" community I've investigated, they're charging $600 per month just for the pad to place the tiny house! Then, of course, there's the cost of the tiny house -- some of which are now around $100k (some more, some less). That's insanity. With the tiny house mortgage and the lot rent, you're at $1,000 or $1,200 per month. What's the point?
The tiny home boom has driven up the prices for these homes. Personally, I wouldn't need or want granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, bamboo floors, etc. To me, all of that goes against the point of going smaller in the first place. I just want a small, comfortable place with the bare necessities, and insulated really well. Less is more. I bet you and I would make good roommates!
Regarding your friend's cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is that in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, or Virginia? I'm guessing it's not Maryland or Pennsylvania, since you mentioned the summers are sticky.