They survived! Every last one of them. Unless you were abducted by aliens and haven’t seen TV or internet in the last 24 hours, you already know that Russell won. What? He didn’t? The “dumb blonde” (Russell’s words) Natalie beat him for the title of Sole Survivor and the million bucks? Never saw that one coming. Big big shocker. The whole season has been devoted to Russell’s brilliant game-play, his total control of every other player—“They my little puppets. When I’m finished with ‘em, I’ll just throw ‘em in the trash”—and his perpetual discovery of hidden immunity idols strewn around Samoa like prize eggs at an Easter Egg Hunt. And yet, in the end, the jury voted as it pleased and picked Natalie.
So, in case you missed the three-hour marathon last night, here are the highlights.
Host Probst started off with reminders of what we already knew:
-“Nobody thought Natalie would make it a day, much less a month.”
-“Jaison, a Fulbright scholar, was the conscience of the tribe.”
-“While FOA FOA struggled, GALU sat back and laughed.” And then there was a merge, and the laugh was on them.
-The minute there was a merge Shambo became a turncoat and helped FOA—despite it’s 4-8 disadvantage—take out one GALU after another.
-Bret keeps winning individual immunity challenges to hang on in the game.
Day 37 starts with Russell waking everyone and announcing tree mail, “I’ll read it to y’all in bed” telling them they’ll need ‘balance, speed and patience to fight to the Final Four.’ A future writing Hallmark greeting cards the CBS interns do not have. Jaison shares entirely too much information with us about his recent gastrointestinal problems and complains that he hasn’t slept all night.
Up Close and Personal Moment with Russell: “It’s a shame I’m set up with these misfits. I should be here with SuperStars.”
The others are concerned about Brett winning another immunity challenge. Not so Russell: “He’s (Bret) not some freakin’ athlete genius. He’s no Mike Tyson. He’s freakin’ Bret…you know the dog in the corner; we got four of ‘em in the corner. If Jaison can win two immunity challenges in a row, Anybody can win two.” Natalie explains to us her strategy of being the underdog and going to the top with Russell.
I think the production crew has just about run out of ideas for challenges. The survivors must run across a plank and some suspended netting, retrieve a bag of puzzle pieces, return across the obstacle course, climb a platform and assemble the puzzle. They all make short work of the obstacles and start working on their puzzles. Everyone is making progress on assembling the pieces except for Fulbright Scholar Jaison who stands there looking at them as if they might be covered in deadly germs. It’s close between the other three guys, but Brett succeeds first and wins his third immunity in a row.
Back at camp Natalie is worried she’s in danger. Russell says she is, but “I’m gonna change that.” He explains to us, “Jaison checked out of this game a long time ago. The bad thing about keeping Jaison is that he can’t beat Brett in the challenges. The bad thing about keeping Mick is that he might beat me in the final.” Separately, Russell convinces Jaison and Mick not to vote for Natalie.
The remaining castaways arrive for the penultimate elimination Tribal Council. As the jury enters, Shambo and Russell exchange adoring grins. Jeff attempts to elicit some controversial comments, but they’re all playing for the jury, complimenting each other on how strong they are. In the end, it seems Russell has decided to keep Mick over Jaison, “Hate to do this, but I gotta keep to my strategic plan. This is the best move for me to win the game.” To say that Jaison was blindsided would be an understatement: he hadn’t even brought his possessions with him to tribal council. With a glowering look on his face as his torch is snuffed, he stomps out and warns in his “exit” speech: “I don’t think I’ll be cheering for Russell from here on.”
After Tribal, the final four are back at camp. Natalie is relieved, “Thank you Lord.” Brett thinks it’s a miracle he’s still in the game. Russell tries to make Brett think he’s considering taking him to the Final Three. In fact, he makes one of his worthless deals with Brett, “What I can promise you is that you and me will be in the Top Three.” What is this, like the hundredth person Russell has promised to take to the Final?
When day 38 dawns, Russell is as cocky as a rooster, “If I win this challenge today, I’m positive I’m going to win a million dollars.”
There’s tree mail and a somber task to be performed. You guessed it—it’s the trek to gather symbols of the not-so-dearly departed and to have a big bonfire at the end. Really, of course, it’s just an excuse to show clips reminding us of some very forgettable characters. Notable moments: when they get to Erik’s mask, Mick comments “almost psycho.” Russell rushes to say that Monica was “the fakest person here.” The others try to mitigate, calling her a “firecracker.” Shambo’s clip shows her bitterness, “I was alienated, shunned and disrespected.” As to Jaison, Mick predicts, “We’re gonna be voting for him for Senator.”
Okay, just for old times’ sake, let me mention the music blaring from my television as the flames start to consume the masks of the fallen: it’s the sound track used for every B-Western movie made in the 1950’s. I swear, the only thing missing was the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves. I was not inspired.
The last quartet of our hardy band of Survivors must put aside their feelings of tenderness and loss: there’s one final Immunity Challenge to be fought. They’ll each have a short pole with a small platform at the top. They must place a small wooden statue atop the pole and balance it. At two-minute intervals, holding the pole in one hand, they must add a one-foot section of pole to the base (they’ll have 30 seconds to affect the transition).
The whole thing looks really difficult, and it doesn’t take long before all four are balancing six-foot-long poles. Mick goes out first, followed immediately by Natalie. It’s a fight to the death between Russell and Brett, who are both grimacing with the effort. Jeff makes it even tougher to concentrate: “This is quite possibly a million-dollar challenge.” The wind begins to gust. They have to add another section; Russell almost doesn’t get his new section added in time. Both Russell and Brett almost lose their balance; both recover. Natalie can’t bear to watch; she covers her face. Brett’s pole starts to lean and he can’t bring it back. Russell wins—his first immunity challenge. Jeff points out the obvious, “It couldn’t have come at a better time.”
With the necklace garlanding his chunky neck, Russell crows, “This is worth a millyun dollars. In my opinion I JUST WON THE GAME.”
Back at camp, Russell is salivating over his win. He can’t wait for the night’s Tribal Council: “Whatcha think GALU’s gonna say when they see me walk in with the necklace around my neck.” “Whatcha think about my chances to win the million.” It’s a rhetorical question; he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks—he’s positive he’s getting the million.
The afternoon is fraught with tension. When Russell heads off to gather wood, Mick freaks out that Russell may be off doing a deal with Brett. He demands of Natalie “What’s going on? Russell’s never gathered wood the whole time we’ve been here.” Natalie tells him to calm down and assures him that none of them want to go up against Brett in the jury.
Russell is doing damage control with Brett. “I know a made a deal with you. The problem I’m weighing is I made a deal with everybody. The truth is you’re exactly the kind of guy I want my daughters to marry.” I think there was a movie about that: Monster-in-Law
Brett is philosophical, “Your fate’s out of your hands at this point. I’m like a little girl, all emotional. I failed. The only thing I have to fall back on is Russell’s deal he’d take me to the final.”
GONE WITH THE GALU
Tribal Council opens with the Scary Music Overture and a full moon looming above. Cinema verité it ain’t—that moon has been “full” for the last 38 days. The jury is looking fat and sassy. Kelly seems to have raided the make-up trailer; she’s wearing about five pounds of black kohl eye-shadow. Laura’s dressed up like she’s headed off to the prom, and Jaison in a pajama-shirt and geek glasses looks like Urkel.
Jeff does his best to create some suspense about who’s going home tonight, but the vote is never really in question. Natalie says it best, “Russell would be crazy to keep Brett.” They vote and Jeff pronounces the inevitable, “The fifteenth person voted out and the ninth member of our jury, Brett.” Brett’s good-bye is gracious, “Good game, guys, thanks for the adventure.”
THE END IS NIGH
It is, at last, Day 39 of Survivor Samoa. Russell, for some unfathomable reason, is sharpening the machete. Natalie is longing for a shower, and Mick looks forward to brushing his teeth.
Russell takes it upon himself to harangue Natalie and Mick about how they’re going to be pilloried by the jury. He proceeds to conduct “mock court” asking Natalie questions. Finally, she’s had enough and tells him to “ease up.” Privately Mick observes that Russell needs to remember that he needed the two of them to get where he is.
Tiring of “putting down” Mick and Natalie, Russell tells them how it’s all going to end in a few hours: “Here’s how the vote’s gonna go—Shambo, Dave, Brett, Erik, John. I am another millionaire.”
Night—more bonfire. They burn their hut. Natalie is not sorry to see it go, “I’m never sleeping on bamboo again.”
Russell graces us with a valedictory PI: “IF MICK OR NATALIE WON THIS GAME, THAT JUST BE A SHAME. I’VE PLAYED THIS GAME BETTER THAN ANYBODY IN HISTORY. I’VE ACCOMPLISHED THE IMPOSSIBLE AND BROUGHT A COUPLE OF BUMS WITH ME.”
GETTING THEIR SAY. SORT OF
The grand finale, end of the season, rock ‘em sock ‘em Tribal Council will begin with opening statements to the jury by each of our finalists. Mick’s claim for the million is that he’s played morally; Natalie thinks she should win because nobody thought she’d be able to survive. Russell arrogantly enumerates all his brilliant strategy moves “I came here to do what I said I was gonna do to win the game.” He practically taunts the jury as he points to Mick and Natalie “if either one of Those outwitted or outplayed me, vote for them.”
Shambo is grinning like a nincompoop. You’d think She’d just won the million. I suppose she’s taking mental credit for Russell’s wonderful position here at the top.
Jeff charges the jury, “You’re trying to make a million dollar decision.”
From the Jury:
Jaison is obviously royally ripped at having been thrown off the ranch at the eleventh hour. His revenge is to let the jury know that Russell’s a multi-millionaire, Natalie made good money as a pharmaceutical rep, and Mick’s a doctor—everybody knows they practically mint money. Mick counters that he owes nearly $350,000 for his med school education.
Shambo doesn’t question the finalists. She rants. “I would like to apologize to America for dismantling GALU from what I’m seeing here. Mick, you have Got to be kidding me. Feckless. Look up the word. Natalie, as for you the word that resonates in my mind starts with a ‘C’. Wanna know what it is?”
Natalie demurs, “Uh, I’ll let you say it, Shambo.”
“COAT-TAILS!” Shambo cackles. Whewwww! I confess—I was thinking of a whole other C-word. She’s almost physically vicious with her parting shot, “Natalie, Mick, no way are you getting my vote!”
Brett has an extremely awkward question for Mick: if the two of them were going to go on a “BRO-Day” what would Mick plan? From his reaction, I’d say the main thing Mick would plan would be a quick getaway.
Kelly boasts that she always tried to stand on her own in the game and accuses Natalie of doing anything but. She demands that Russell tell her if he “lies cheats and steals” in real-life. Of course not, Russell purrs, in real life his mottos are “Honor Integrity and Loyalty.” Kelly finds that hard to believe.
Monica congratulates Russell on his key moves and exhorts Natalie and Mick to “show some real passion” as they each tell her why the others should Not win the million dollars. Mick answers that all Natalie did was to align with Russell and that Russell’s ego got totally out of hand, that he tried to pit people against each other. Russell is furious at that, “he didn’t mind when I was being a snake, giving me high-fives when we voted people off. The same for Natalie. They both didn’t mind following the Snake the whole step of the way.”
Dave’s query for the jury is mathematical—what percent chance do they think they have of winning. Mick guesses 25, Natalie 30-40 and Russell admits he may be down (from 100, I presume) to 55 or so. In other words, he’s still counting on winning.
Laura wants it to be all about her, asking Russell what he learned about her that enabled him to beat her. Russell obliges by crediting her with controlling GALU and expressing his terror of what might have been if he hadn’t been able to eliminate her when he did.
John wants Mick to “give me the hard sell why you should be up here.” Mick makes the ‘moral’ argument again and suggests, “I don’t think you could give the money to a more stand-up guy.” Natalie defends herself against his accusation that she was “playing under somebody else’s wing” by pointing out that the obviously aggressive females were the first to be taken out.
Erik gets the last word, “Mick, you got the leadership necklace on Day One, but I never saw any leadership. Nobody on that team (FOA) had any guts. Russell, you played an unethical game. The crazy thing is I’m standing here and you sit there proud of it. Natalie, people will call you weak, but why are those characteristics any less admirable than lying, cheating, stealing. Perception is not reality. Maybe, just maybe in that situation you’re the most deserving.” Natalie is tearing up. Erik assures her, “You’ve got my vote.”
With that, the jury meanders one by one to vote for the last time as brooding music plays. Erik votes for Natalie, but not without a dig. He spells her name “Ratalie.” Shambo is thrilled to vote for Russell, “I hope you win it all.” Jeff retrieves the vote pot, tucks it under his arm and tells the guys he’ll see them later.
WHO’S THE DUMB BLONDE NOW?
We’re Live in Los Angeles! Here are our Three Finalists: Mick sleek and handsome, Natalie looking like a move star, and Russell dressed like a Pimp. Before he ends the suspense, Jeff announces, “One of the unique aspects of Survivor is you Need the Votes.” (Translation—it’s not like earning a Cub Scout Merit Badge. You can’t just wheel and deal and find idols. You have to convince the jury to vote for you.)
“I will now read the votes,” says our Host, for the final time this season.
Ratalie. Russell. Natalie. Natalie looks rather surprised. Russell looks rather angry. Natalie. Natalie. “The winner of Survivor Samoa—Natalie!” Russell can barely bring himself to give her the obligatory hug.
So, everything we thought we knew, we didn’t. All those hours we spent thinking it was inevitable the winner would be Russell Hantz, and in the end the sweet little blonde from VanBuren, Arkansas snatched the prize right out from under his nose.
The Reunion Show immediately followed the finale. What did we learn from that? That Russell Hantz is just about the most ungracious loser ever! With his eyes devil-red and teary, he insisted over and over that he Should have won. It was impossible that he didn’t win. Well, he did get the Consolation Prize, a hundred thousand dollars from the audience vote for “best player of the season.” Note it wasn’t the usual “fan favorite” award—the name was changed to accommodate the evil. Oh, and bully that he is, he tried to make Natalie “sell” him the title of Sole Survivor for ten grand—she didn’t bite.
Hope you had fun—it starts all over again with Survivor 20—Heroes and Villains—on February 11. If you’re bored in the meantime, I hear Russell has an internet site bemoaning his fate and encouraging a million of his fans to each send him a dollar. Don’t you dare!!!!!!