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Welcome to the Heroes vs. Villains Finale and Reunion Lollapalooza. It will be worth your three hours if only to see Coach arrive at tribal council dressed in an outfit that would drive Tim Gunn to cheap booze. From the waist up he looked like Gatsby going to the croquet field, from the waist down like a Miami geezer getting ready for an afternoon of shuffleboard.
SHARPSHOOTING GENTLEMAN, SULTRY TEMPTRESS, ET AL
It’s the finale, so Host Probst gets to do a Wolf Blitzer report on the final 5. Major screen time devoted to a montage of Colby’s “season of shame” including the infamous challenge when he ejected after only 15 seconds. But, hey, he’ll always have Australia, where he was “the sharpshooting gentleman.” Jerri, Jeff reminds us, was the original “black widow.” This season she’s become the crucial swing vote to take out major players. Sandra has been using stealth and attitude and trying to take out Russell. Parvati (Probst can’t resist) is described as a “sultry temptress” who’s “just as cunning and just as physical” as ever. And Russell? More of the same from his season on Samoa: creating chaos, burning bridges along the way, making deals with everyone in sight.
Yin Yang, Night 36. The gang is back at camp after tribal council. Russell’s mad at everybody. He berates Sandra for “making a terrible play playing the idol. You didn’t need it.” As if Sandra cares, “What, every time I find an idol I should rush up and tell you?” He accuses Parvati of lying to him about not knowing that Sandra had the idol. Parvati can’t believe he’s acting like a two-year-old, “I didn’t know. But I don’t know why it would matter if I did know.” Apparently it matters to Russell; he informs Jerri and Colby “Parvati’s next.” All this bickering is fine with Colby, “This dysfunctional family of Villains takes the attention off me.”
DON’T DITCH THE DISHES
The first immunity challenge tonight is one played in China where the contestants have to keep one hand steadying a balancing arm, while at Probst’s direction they keep piling on top of it pieces of crockery. When the pile topples and the dishes shatter, one is eliminated. Jeff immediately starts taunting about how hot it is standing out there. And just when every one gets a good stack going, the wind begins whipping about.
Sandra gets nine dishes before he pile crashes. I’m not sure why Sandra even bothers to show up for the challenges; I doubt she could win a bubble-gum-bubble-blowing contest. Finally, it’s down to Colby and Parvati, with 17 dishes on their stacks, and we know who really really really needs to win this one. But he can fuhgetaboutit. Parvati wins another immunity! That’s a relief to Jerri, “Once again Parvati escapes her elimination vote, but we still have one more person we can get rid of, that being Colby.”
YOU HAD ME AT GOODBYE
Back at camp, Colby knows he’s a goner and gives his concession speech, “Can I just say, I made my play yesterday. Let’s just enjoy today. I’m not gonna hustle. I’m proud to be the last Hero.” May I just say that it comes as no surprise to any of us to hear that Colby is not planning a last-ditch campaign? He’s barely breathing.
Off by himself, Colby chokes up and gets teary-eyed: “Hell, I almost convinced myself I was giving up. I’ve never quit anything in my life.” He makes a half-baked attempt at convincing Russell to keep him around. Russell pretends to think about it for all of ten seconds on account of not being able to trust Sandra and all, but Colby in a final three with all those Heroes sitting on the jury? Bad plan.
Tribal council and to vote go as expected. Colby gets in one dig at Sandra, telling her, “I love you to death, Sandra but everybody wants to be sitting next to you at final tribal council.” The general consensus seems to be that no one thinks Sandra can possibly win, so she’s the perfect person to be competing against for the money. Parvati notes that she hopes her alliance (with Russell) still holds, because “I’ve been promised the sun, the moon and the sky.”
Colby is the last Hero to be voted out of the tribe and on to the jury. As he leaves, he reminisces, “It’s disappointing, because challenges are something I used to be good at. Guess I’m just a dusty old veteran. My third time in, guess I’m not destined to win.”
Afterward at camp, much of the discussion is about Rupert’s demeanor on the jury. The consensus is that he “looked like a lunatic.” Jerri and Russell pow-wow and conclude that one of the two of them must get the final immunity necklace or Parvati has this in the bag, “If we don’t win [the upcoming challenge], she wins.” Russell can’t resist belittling Parvati, “They all think she’s some big strategic player, but she’s not. I been carrying her.” Too right, Jerri quickly affirms, “She’s just been tucked under your wing.”
The four remaining players have the awesome responsibility of walking down the beach, gathering wooden tags with the names of those who have been eliminated from this game and have no chance of getting the million bucks. Memorable moments:
•Sugar playing the first challenge topless after Sandra ripped off her bra.
•Randy talking about “my weakness is my lack of ability to communicate with twenty-six-year-old girls.”
•Tom regretting “that you can get dumped in favor of a guy hopping around on one foot.”
•Tyson acknowledging, “America thinks I’m an idiot.”
•Boston Rob opining “getting rid of me the first smaht thing they’ve done in twenty seasons.”
•Coach spouting some nonsense about “people love to hate and hate to love, I’m number one on the all time hit list.”
•JT sheepish, “You would never have known a Hero would make the biggest mistake in the game giving the biggest Villain in the game an idol… and he used it to vote me out.”
•Amanda regretting giving up the clue to Danielle.
•Parvati calling Danielle, “the Boston brawler.” Jerri saying “sorry” for voting her out; Sandra not sorry at all.
•Jerri calling Colby “my favorite Cowboy.” Russell saying his first nice thing on the show, “He was the real Hero.”
Props to the props department. They’ve built a giant wooden “Burning Man,” so the castaways can throw their fallen comrades nametags onto it and have a giant bonfire. Not shown: roasting of s’mores.
STUMBLING AROUND IN THE DARK
The last immunity challenge finds the four Survivors blindfolded, wandering around a wooden maze, guided by Braille-like carvings on guideposts, trying to find four necklaces with the proper symbols carved on them. They then must negotiate their way to the finish pole where the immunity necklace is hanging.
They stumble around like, um, like blind rats in a maze. Poor Parvati keeps crashing into the wall. Sandra is lost out in the middle, loudly berating the puzzle, itself “Stupid box, how many times did I come over here?” Russell grabs hold of Parvati to try to follow her. At the end, Russell, Parvati and Jerri go for the prize at the same time. Sandra’s somewhere out in Never Never Land. Russell snatches it first and wins a place at the final tribal council. Even Jeff is impressed by the closeness of the contest, “Of all my time on Survivor, that is the most dramatic finish I have ever seen.” Russell, like a small child waiting for the gold star to be glued on his coloring page, takes off the immunity necklace and makes Jeff hang it back around his neck “officially.”
Parvati is a tad uneasy, “I’ve gotta talk to Russell, make sure I’m still his girl. If he thinks I’m a threat, I could be going home.” She doesn’t seem to be in danger; Russell shares his reasoning with the audience, “If I send Jerri home, I’ll still get her vote. If I send Parvati home, will I get her vote? Maybe. I’ve suffered too much in this game. I have to win it.” Jerri feels safe: Russell assures her Parvati’s going home. Sandra and Russell have an interesting chat in which he tells her she needn’t worry; he’ll keep her to the end because he doesn’t think she’ll get a single jury vote.
ONE LAST TORCH-SNUFFING
Discussion at the penultimate tribal council seems more aimed at influencing the jury than the evening’s vote. Jeff asks Sandra about her strategy and just to make sure, asks, “So your play to Russ [for keeping her in] was that ‘you can’t win.’” Russell isn’t about to miss an opportunity to show he’s still the big-man-in-charge, telling Jeff it’s, “Who do you wanta bring that you think you can beat?” Sandra, protecting her position, meekly goes along.
Prodded by Probst, Parvati is less circumspect. She’s almost waving the red flag in front of the bull, saying she’s been ‘protecting’ Russell the whole time, “I say, if he’s gonna be loyal to anybody in this game, if he wants to redeem himself as far as the Villains go, then take me.” If Russell had any hair on his head, it would have bristled, “ Who you been protecting? ME?” He is perturbed in the first degree. Parvati, feeling his ire, hurriedly backs down, “We’ve been protecting each other.” Russell is not quite mollified, “It kind of annoys me.”
With only four people, the vote doesn’t take long and almost before Jeff can say, “The tribe has spoken, Jerri is on the bus to Ponderosa and the jury. Before she leaves, she gets in a quick word to Russell, “I can’t wait to hear this story later.”
Having put her trust in the troll, Jerri was completely blindsided by the vote, “Crap. One more night. I was sure I had this.” As to her upcoming vote for the winner, “I’m leaning toward Russell; he’s a little reactionary. For the most part, Russell makes decisions that make sense. Except for tonight.”
PAYBACK IS BEYOOTIFUL
The finalists arise to find a sumptuous breakfast. Later in the morning, Russell off somewhere, no doubt planning on how he’s going to spend the million bucks, Parvati and Sandra lounge by the campfire. Out of the blue, Sandra tells Parvati, “I’m gonna burn his hat.” Sandra is nothing if not careful: she has to be sure she has a partner in crime, accosting Parvati, “Are you gonna tell?” Parvati, laughing with delight, assures her, “No.” Consigning Russell’s incredibly ugly ubiquitous fedora to the flames of perdition, she whoops, “Screw it, that’s payback for everything he’s done in this game.”
In a PI, Sandra states her case for winning the game, “Not a day went by I didn’t focus on getting rid of Russell. Those heroes, they’re responsible. I never had a safety, didn’t hide behind an immunity necklace. I had to take care of myself. I want the title of Sole Survivor; I think I deserve it.”
Favorite scene of the season: the threesome getting ready to leave camp for the last time to go to final tribal council, Russell desperate searching for his missing hat. He is not, he swears, going anywhere without it. Parvati and Sandra deserve acting awards for looking suitable concerned about his loss. Eventually, Russell concedes; they burn their shelter, and decamp.
INSTEAD OF SLAYING HIM, I KEPT HIM AS MY PET
Before the jury gets to question the finalists, Jeff offers the final three an opportunity to make opening statements. Sandra says she’s done what she’s had to do to stay in the game, “I tried to make sure I got here with my torch lit and left with it lit.” Russell’s speech is defensive, “Some people think this is a game of luck. There isn’t any luck. For some reason, I fell like when I come here I feel like people look at me like I did something wrong. If I offended anybody, I’m sorry.” Parvati compliments her peers on being among the “twenty best players” ever in the game. She denies that she has ridden Russell’s coat-tails, “He was the Dragon, and instead of slaying him, I kept him as my pet.”
The jury gets their turn.
Colby chides Russell, “You are delusional if you think you can get to the end without a little luck.” He asks Parvati about her strategic play. Parvati reiterates that she was forced into the alliance with Russell, because no one else wanted to align with her, and “everyone over there [on the Heroes’ tribe] wanted me out. JT said it in the note. She talks about the moves she made and the huge risk she took when she gave away the two idols.
Coach calls Parvati a charmer, Russell and schemer and Sandra a “coat-tail-rider.” He looks directly at Russell and says, “You’re a little man in stature and in words and deed.” Then, Coach being Coach, he blathers for a bit about his own honor and integrity and quotes from the Bible. He ends by confessing that he’s misjudged Parvati and now holds her in higher esteem, “Coming into this game I was wrong about you. In an ironic twist of fate the day I trusted you was the day you turned on me. As a Christian man, I’ll be taking my responsibility quite seriously.”
Amanda asks Sandra about her strategy. Sandra ruefully admits, “I wish it was better, because Russell would be outa here. But every time I’d go to the Heroes, they’d vote for somebody else.” Russell sarcastically demands, “Work for you?” Sandra doesn’t back down, “No, I could never get you out.”
Courtney uses her time to briefly congratulate Parvati on playing a good game, but mainly she wants to give “my girl Sandra” “an opportunity to defend something people perceive as weakness but is really strength,” he unfailing loyalty. Sandra restates, “If I tell you I got your back, I got your back.” Courtney tells Jeff, “Thank you, Jeffrey” and sashays back to her seat.
NOBODY HERE RESPECTS YOU
JT, badly burned by Russell’s perfidy, wants an explanation, “People you voted out: you think you preserved their vote?” Russell hardly seems to care, “I might not et anybody’s vote, but I have to stick to what’s gonna get me here.” But he hasn’t finished; he claims Parvati is only at the end because of him. And Sandra? He addresses her directly, “In challenges, you only give fifty to sixty percent.” Sandra isn’t having it: “I give 110%.” She turns to JT: I wish I could have intercepted you before you stuck that thing [JT’s hidden immunity idol] in his bag.”
Danielle and Russell almost come to blows. She demands, “Russell, it’s clear that there’s been a lack of skill in your jury management. Hearing what you’ve heard, would you change anything?” Russell sneers, “I’m not gonna sit here and tell you what you want to hear.” Danielle gets the last word, “You’re not gonna get any votes. Nobody here respects you.”
Jerri wants an explanation for Russell’s betrayal at the last tribal council, “Right after you won the immunity necklace, you said the plan was to get rid of Parvati.” Russell mumbles, “All day I thought that, then…” Hah! Interjects Parvati, want to know what really happened? “The reason he told me you were leaving is that he knew one hundred percent he’d get your vote anyway.”
Candice has harsh words for Russell, “Russell, you have to tell lies in this game, but you go too far, you tell dirty lies. You tell lies you don’t have to.” She doesn’t think much more kindly about Parvati, “You played this game in Russell’s control, you’re like a bad abused spouse. As tough as this game is, it’s not just what you stand for; it’s what you fall for.
Rupert is disgusted with Russell, “Russell, to be a manipulative, deceiving lying person is every easy. If you think you should be proud of how you got here you’re wrong.” He admires Parvati, “you’re a very very strong player. You deserve to be here; you worked for it.” He tells Sandra that he wishes that he’d played more like her and that she deserves “a big thank you on behalf of all the Heroes.” Heroes everywhere, save the stamps; Rupert has already expressed gratitude on your behalf….
I’LL BEAT HIM SO BAD HE’LL NEED A SHOEHORN TO HANG HIS HAT ON—Mohammed Ali
Jeff reminds the jury in casting their votes that they’re voting this time for someone, not for an elimination. Some of the jury comments as they cast their ballots:
Candice (for Sandra): “You work hard, you put family first, that makes you a true Hero to me.”
Coach (for Parvati): “You are a Warrior and that’s why you get my vote. King Arthur’s journey has officially ended.” He bows ceremoniously.
Unfortunately, everyone will have to wait for the Live Reunion Show in New York City in a few months to learn their fate. Cut to: Letterman Auditorium, New York City. Present time. No helicopter drops or jet-ski landings this time for our Host Jeff Probst: he’s strolling down a hall onto the stage with the vote pot in hand. Sandra and Parvati looks glamorous and beautiful. Under the brim of a replacement hat, every bit as ugly as the incinerated one, Russell’s face is a study in glumness.
Jeff reads the first six votes, alternating between Sandra and Parvati. Then he announces another pair for Sandra and she becomes the first two-time winner of Survivor! Unable to vote for himself, Russell gets zero. Sandra jumps up and ignores Russell, seated between them, to hug Parvati. She dashes into the audience to embrace her husband (back on a two-week leave from Afghanistan just for the festivities) and daughters. Back on stage, she finally lets Russell close enough for a hug. She doesn’t appear to find it particularly enjoyable.
OLD HOME WEEK
I won’t bore you with all the details of the reunion show, but here are a few high points—and low ones! After the commercial break, we’ve reconvened. Sandra is now wearing a rhinestone tiara and Host Probst has changed from his regular safari shirt into a black “Simon Cowell” crew-necked jersey.
Jeff inquires of Sandra if winning for the second time makes her the “best Survivor player ever?” You bet it does, crows Sandra, “It makes me the Queen. I have two titles. My goal is to make it to the end and that’s what I do. Twice.”
What about me? Parvati has an argument for her own supremacy, “I’ve played the most days; I’m kind of a challenge dominator.” In fact, says Jeff, you’re tied for second in most challenges won. Who’s first? Colby Donaldson. Presumably from seasons past, definitely not this time around.
Now, we get down to it. So, Jeff wants to know, “Russell, is Sandra the best player ever?”
Russell goes off like an atomic bomb. “You really want me to explain this to you?” If you could make wine with sour grapes, Russell could corner the vintner’s market. Pointing at Sandra, he starts ticking off her defects, “Social game? No. She’s lippy. Physical game? She’s the worst physical player ever. Strategic game? Her strategic game: get rid of Russell. The problem is the game. There’s a flaw in the game. If she can win the game twice, there is a flaw in the game.”
Apparently Russell skipped the grades in school where they teach one about Sportsmanship.
Jeff, hiding a smile, inquires, “What is the flaw in the game?”
Russell is obviously ready to launch into a diatribe, “Let me tell you what needs to happen…”
Jeff has had enough, “You’ve had seventy-eight days to talk. I’ll give you ten seconds.”
Russell begins to explain, “America needs to have a percentage of the vote.” Sandra butts in, “You still wouldn’t have won.” She points at Russell’s family in the audience: “The only people that like you are right there, one, two, three, four, five.”
Jeff appeals to the ultimate gentleman, Tom, who calms things with a perfect answer, “The game is one third physical, one third strategic, one third luck. I’ve always said whoever wins that season deserves to win.”
Jeff wants to know if Russell was surprised not to receive a single vote. Russell claims he didn’t play twice, that he just played once—for a long time—as if that has anything to do with the price of cotton. Then Russell gets nasty again, pulling out the letter JT wrote to him—he’s so proud of it, he’s had it laminated—to proclaim his greatness is proved by his having made JT “look like the dumbest player ever.” Coach was right about one thing: Russell is a little man.
After the usual reunion-y things, Jeff awards the voter-chosen, “Dumbest Move Ever” tacky tiki-idol trophy to poor JT. JT is a good sport about it, despite the fact it comes with no money. On the other hand, Survivor viewers have opted to award the hundred-thousand-dollar “player of the game” prize to Russell Hantz. I wish that I could say that I consider him a worthy recipient.
Until autumn, when we reconvene in Nicaragua, Adios! And just for the record, I’m with P.J. O’Rourke, “ A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady and left off for the rest of your life. Nothing looks more stupid than a hat.”