It’s been a few seasons since I entered a Survivor finale with so little investment in who would take the million dollar prize. Todd? Amanda? Courtney? Denise? Who won the Survivor China crown?
Math wizards. It’s Night 36 and everybody’s going through the usual "We actually did it," raving. "I thought I would be in 16th place and here I am guaranteed at least a one-in-four chance of winning," says Courtney, spewing that standard mathematical fallacy that Jeff Probst usually spouts. Courtney dreams of winning the last Immunity, which didn’t necessarily need to be said, since the joy of the night before has turned into exhaustion the following morning. There’s one last Reward challenge coming and the contestants see it as one last chance for food.
Puzzles for Pizza. Reward hinges on what Jeff describes as the Survivor version of the Great Wall of China (not to be confused, I guess, with the actual version of the Great Wall of China, where the contestants visited just last episode). Want to know what they’re playing for? They’re playing for pizza, beer, soft drinks and brownies. The thought of a caloric infusion has Amanda on the verge of tears. The challenge has nothing to do with stopping Mongol invaders and everything to do with puzzle-building and blurry footage of Amanda’s tush. Seriously, what can she possibly be showing? In the final Tetris-esque showdown, Amanda bests her fellow castaways and gets a choice: Does she keep the reward grub to herself, or does she invite one fellow player or two fellow players? Staying true to the alliance she made on the very first day, she calls Todd over to split the food, leaving Courtney and Denise to mope back at camp.
Pizza and a Butterfly. "Oh, it’s pizza with a butterfly," Amanda coos before explaining to the camera that she chose Todd because he wouldn’t have chosen her. She chose him to keep his head right. In an interesting strategic twist, she actually expresses her distrust to Todd over slices. He swears that he’s been honest to her from the beginning. He’s a bit hurt, but he assures Amanda that he’d rather lose to her than to Courtney or Denise.
Survivor paranoia. Todd isn’t sure if he can trust his three women, worrying that the next vote might "go all Girl Power." With Courtney just feet away, Todd and Denise express concern that they might lose votes to the other two. Calling Todd a "slippery little sucker," Courtney steps away with Amanda and begins planting the seeds of discontent. Todd experiencing his own paranoia walks up behind the gals and tries squaring things away that unless Denise wins, she’ll be done next. If Denise had done much of anything to advance her cause in the game, I’d feel sorry that she’s such an outcast. But she hasn’t. So I don’t.
We who haven’t died salute you. Given how long Survivor finales tend to be, there’s no mandatory segment that I love quite as much as the Necrology, where they remember folks like Bossy Chicken and Ashley the Wrestler. I love it because it gives me a chance to go pre-heat my oven and to check out Sunday Night Football to IM with a friend stranded at an airport in Korea and to hit the bathroom.
Final Immunity Challenge. The challenge will test their ability to ignore distractions, so Jeff says. Really, it’s just about balancing dishes on a pole. It seems like it’d be more exciting than it ends up being. Todd topples his place settings first. Courtney smashes things next. Down to two, Denise starts trying to make a deal. Amanda keeps telling her she’d prefer not to. It’s a good choice, because just moments later Denise loses her concentration and with it her dishes.
Castaway bemoans the welfare state. Todd is pleased for Amanda. Amanda is pleased for Amanda too, but she recognizes that her vote tonight could really alienate the last person in the jury. Poor Denise. Her attempts at strategy are so late and so clumsy. And so sad. She gives a tear-filled speech about how everybody else has choices after the game, but she’ll have to go back to her family and her seven-dollar-an-hour lunch lady job. Amanda isn’t sure what she wants to base her vote upon. Todd is planning on voting against Denise, but his paranoia is getting the best of him again. He wonders how Amanda will go, but Courtney reassures him that Amanda would rather go against "the schemer" (Todd) and "the tagalong" (Courtney) than the more sympathetic Denise. Then Courtney throws any sympathy she might still have had out the window by ranting about how "This isn’t like welfare" and Denise shouldn’t win just because she "sucks at life." She closes with, "I’m the biggest b*** on the planet." Yeah. Just a bit.
Tribal Council #1. Amanda isn’t giving up her Immunity. Jeff leads a very deep philosophical conversation on the nature of being on the outside and the inside. Courtney tells us that everybody is on the outside of something. Whoa. Denise causes a weird and awkward pause when she says that Amanda claimed she had her back and Todd pantomimes extreme shock, leading to a request for clarification from Jeff. Todd just repeats the situation and twists the knife.. The vote goes against Denise. Amanda looks miserable as Denise throws some exiting signs. The disapproving glances of the jury suggest she may have made the wrong play.
Killjoy. Amanda is still a bit wrecked when they get back to camp. She’s sad about her decision and angry at Todd for calling her out at Tribal. Amanda is concerned about how she looked in front of the jury in general and about being in the Final Three with a guy who will stab her in the back. "It really was an accident," Todd swears. He wants to celebrate, but Amanda isn’t feeling like the life of the party. One of the key things about Survivor is that if you’re going to backstab and make tough choices, you have to own them immediately. Nobody’s ever won a million dollars looking sad and wishy-washy.
International campfire of pancakes. The next morning brings fruit, pastries, eggs and pancake batter, along with mimosa fixings. It’s a good time for them all to reflect on having made it this far. "I have never been anything but my own winsome personality," Courtney says, insisting she has the necessary personal relationships to win. Todd says that China helped him grow up and reflect on his life, declaring, "I feel like looking at the jury, I stand an OK shot." As for Amanda, she just adds to the show’s misunderstanding of probability in a subjectively determined system by saying, "I think have have a 33 percent chance of winning the money." No you don’t!Not with the final jury coming up!
Opening statements. Amanda feels blessed and explains her strategy, starting with her initial ties to Todd. She apologizes specifically to James, Jean-Robert and Frosti for writing down their names. Todd is stoked and he asks them to see the differences between his strategic choices and his personal relationships. He explains that this is his dream come true and they’ve all been a part of it, a bit like how Dorothy’s friends became the Scarecrow, Tin-Man and Cowardly Lion. Courtney says she never liked Survivor and came in knowing nothing about the strategy, that she figured out how to survive in the game despite weighing 95 pounds in the beginning. She asks for credit for the little girl who everybody thought would be gone in six days. After the opening statements, I have to give a surprising advantage to Courtney.
Obnoxious question time. James, always the amiable gravedigger, starts things off with a softball, asking Courtney to reflect on a happy Survivor memory. Jean-Robert throws in a note of hostility by asking if there’s a fourth person he can vote for. While Courtney gives a good answer to the poker player’s accusatory statement ("I won immunity… Did you win immunity?"), Amanda throws the game away with a poorly phrased apology for lying to him. Todd gains his first vote of the night by kissing up to Jean-Robert and saying the only reason he stabbed him in the back is because he viewed him as his biggest threat. While Todd’s answer to Peih-Gee’s strategy question is boring, he looks better after Peih-Gee launches into Amanda with, "Amanda, I’m sick of you looking at me with doe-eyes." Again, Amanda has a hard time owning up to her choices in the game. Somewhat shockingly, the toughest inquisitor of the night is Jaime, who basically forces Courtney to eliminate herself, by admitting that her decisions were Todd’s decisions. Amanda tries making a speech about how Courtney didn’t want it enough and Todd wasn’t social enough, but Todd’s response — "I did the dirty work for the nice girl" — says it all. Last and least is Denise, who doesn’t have a question. She just goes on a rant about how everybody stabbed her in the back because they couldn’t beat her (a questionable proposition at best). She accuses both Tood and Amanda of lying to her, leaving only Courtney for a nod of respect. How odd. Todd ends this part of the game with a big advantage. I can’t imagine him losing.
Voting time. Jaime, who says she came into the Tribal undecided, votes for Todd. Erik votes for Amanda. Denise goes with Courtney, a vote she may regret after seeing her welfare rant earlier in the episode. What this means is that for the first time in the Final Three system, each contestant will get a vote.
Live results. You know we’ve gone live, because suddenly Courtney and Amanda are sporting dueling bangs and looking far better fed. Jeff calls it a "very good" season. After the first three votes are split, the remaining votes go Courtney, Todd, Todd [eliminating Amanda] and Todd. The winner of Survivor: China is Todd, though I can’t help but feel like the story of the finale was less Todd winning and more Amanda putting on a what-not-to-do clinic on how to blow a game you should have won.
What’d you think of the finale? And of the actual results? And how about Courtney’s bangs? Hot or not?