Day 37. There's a huge sun on the horizon. Little pink clouds blow through the sky. A dozen tiny black ants run every which way. And Elisabeth-with-an-s is spending some quality time with the camera.
"I'm the last of the Kucha tribe," she says, after having watched her comrade Grandpa Rodger take the fall for her at the last tribal council. "I was lonely last night. It's different here without Rodger. He was a little treasure I happened to find out here from Kentucky."
It's a sentimental moment for someone who's basically dying of hunger on camera. We see dissolving edits of Elisabeth behind wispy smoke, Elisabeth walking through the trees in slow motion, Elisabeth palming her forehead and wandering aimlessly.
All of a sudden "Survivor" is a Hallmark commercial. What's next -- a close-up of an old Koori man with a teardrop in his eye?
We see Elisabeth scraping the dregs of the rice out of a pan, sitting around the fire with chef Keith, cowboy Colby and nurse Tina. On a voice-over, she's saying that Rodger wouldn't want her to lay down and die, which happens to be a lyric from Elisabeth's Beth Orton CD. But in front of the others she's admitting that she didn't expect for the game to be so emotional.
We like Elisabeth, of course -- but we get the sense that she probably finds a lot of things emotional, including particularly cute puppies and movies starring Julia Roberts.
Tina and Elisabeth lie on the river beach together. Elisabeth says she misses her family; Tina misses her husband and her children. With Tina up on her elbow, listening intently, Elisabeth opens up: "Sometimes I feel like I'm not here for my life."
We wonder what she means. What part of being on the wrong side of the Equator and the opposite side of the hemisphere, shadowed by cameramen 24 hours a day and surrounded by half-starving, sallow-faced contestants on the most-watched television show in America seems incongruous with the life of a 23-year-old shoe designer living in Newton, Mass.? Don't post-college Yanks travel Down Under all the time?
Colby is a little sensitive as well. He takes a little dip in the river. He misses his mom. He says he talks to her every day when he's off by himself.
"She doesn't respond to me orally, but I know she's hearing me," he says.
As if to mock Colby's claim, we see him in camp chatting with the two women. He says he's going down to the store. Do they want anything? He's going to stop at the ATM machine and pick up some cash. He's crazy, see? Outback life has finally cracked him. Apparently everyone else is really tired because no one laughs.
We are really tired too. We think we know what's going to happen on "Survivor." The Ogakor members are going to mercilessly execute Elisabeth tonight. And on next week's finale, Keith and Colby are going to make short work of Tina, because neither would like to give the Jury of the Damned the opportunity to give her a million dollars.
And then, faced with the choice of Colby and Keith, the jury's probably gonna give it to Colby, because he's a little bit less dislikable than Keith.
And the challenges don't seem likely to throw any wrenches in the works. We can't think of anything Elisabeth can beat Colby doing at this point. Same for Tina.
Our only hope: that offstage, in the deliberations of the Jury of the Damned, Jerri, the much-missed Cruella de Puddle, is reunited with her evil myrmidon Amber and is cooking up some trouble.
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The reward challenge is sort of a greatest hits of reward challenges. We note that often greatest-hits compilations, whether from a band or a television show, are the result of creative bankruptcy.
Jeff Probst, King of All the Koalas, tries to spin it another way.
"It's not often that you get a chance to make up for past mistakes; today you will," he says. "Today's challenge combines elements of previous challenges you've already done. So if you've learned anything -- piece of cake. If you haven't, you're repeating history."
This might be neat, we think. The producers could bring back vegetarian Kimmi so they could feed her some disgusting worms again.
And evilbitchqueen Jerri so they could each drop her off a large wall.
No such luck. Instead, each survivor must put on a blindfold and shackles, navigate ropes with carabiners, work out a tile puzzle, fill a bucket with water and start some blazes in another.
Apparently they were having a fire sale down at the "Survivor" props lot.
This is the final reward challenge, Dingo Jeff points out, and the reward is something grand. It's actually a brand-new car-thing, a sort of blocky, ugly sport utility car-thing that we've seen in many, many commercials during "Survivor." The winner also gets to "break it in" the next night -- the back of it converts into a tent -- and gets a meal and a hot shower.
"A car? We are playing for a car?" says an exasperated Tina.
She hasn't seen the vehicle, but she'd be asking the same thing if it was at the finish line. It's a car-thing Tina!
It turns out that this challenge is almost exactly like all the others: Colby wins. Elisabeth is close, but Colby wins.
He throws his fists up in the air, "Yeah!"
"I just won a new car," says Colby. "I've never had a new car."
"I've had one hell of a winning streak and I'm just going to ride it as long as I can," he says.
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After some commercials, we get one of those awful segments where we see exactly how a rice-subsistence diet ravages the body.
Colby's sunken face makes him look like a war internee.
Tina's skin looks like an old vinyl car seat.
Elisabeth's hair is falling out. She pulls out big clumps and twists them in her fingers.
In a brightly lit shot of Elisabeth wearing her "Survivor"-rag bikini, she looks strikingly like the high school girl who spends most of her lunch hour in the bathroom.
In order to remind the survivors of their detention-camp good looks, the producers send the ravaged four a vanity mirror and bathroom scale.
Tina's lost 16 pounds. She can't seem to work off that silicone, though.
Elisabeth's lost 12 pounds. She's Karen Carpenter in a fleece jacket.
Keith's dropped from 170 to 143. He secretly resolves to go on an all-foie-gras diet when he returns home.
Colby's lost 25. He's probably wishing he knew this diet trick when he was on the wrestling team.
They all figure that among the four of them they've slimmed down by 80-something pounds -- a third grader.
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Keith sets off on walkabout by himself, heading up a ridge. Honestly, it's one of the things that we're surprised we haven't seen more often. The survivors tend to hew pretty close to home, but they're in this amazing place that real survivalists would endlessly explore. Maybe they just like to save their energy.
Meanwhile, back at camp, Colby is waiting to go off and spend some time in his car-thing. Tina and Elisabeth bring him some flowers as a car-thing-warming present.
"A lot of people you deal with in this game are disingenuous -- it's not real. But with those two girls I really believe it is," he says.
Atop a ridge, Keith says that he's been thinking a lot about his family and his new fiancée. He says he's been thinking about the game as well, but he believes that they're now in the fate part of the game where he has to play the cards he's been dealt.
We're pretty sure Keith's going to be faced with an interesting koan -- he can be dealt any hand in the world, but he's still going to come in second.
But he's going to glide in, be calm and cool, enjoy his last few days. The keyboarded inspirational music swells and we get a helicopter shot of Keith atop the ridge in the magic-hour light.
Meanwhile, Colby and Jeff show up at the camp where the new car-thing is parked.
"How wild is this thing?" asks Colby, apparently flummoxed by the vehicle's boxy lines and awkwardly raised wheel wells -- not to mention the weird tent attached to the back hatch.
He notices the stereo and the mattress in back and calls it "way cooler than he thought it would be."
Do people still make out in cars? And could you keep your Texas gal from laughing if you dropped the seat in the back of the car-thing?
Colby enumerates the vehicle's finer features. We wonder if he realizes that he's participating in a deal that has to be worth far more to "Survivor" in sponsorship dollars than he could ever win, even if he walks with the grand prize and the car-thing.
And speaking of which, why didn't Subaru pony up for its Outback model?
Colby sits down at a table with Jeff to start picking at some appetizers. Jeff asks him if he's ready for the main course. Colby tells him to "bring it on."
An older woman with bottle-blond hair brings out two plates and starts to set one down in front of Jeff. Colby turns for a glance, and wha?! -- it's ... his mom!
He gets up and gives her a big hug.
Now she can respond to his conversations -- orally!
Colby's so excited. He grabs Tina and Elisabeth's flowers out of his car-thing and sets them down in front of his mother at the table. "I don't even know how to act," he says.
He tells her about his daily diet -- four spoonfuls of rice twice a day. We cut away to a one-on-one interview with Colby's mom, identified as "Colby's Mom" in the lower left corner of the screen, where she says that there's "a look in his eyes that bothers me a lot, and I think it's probably from hunger and emotional isolation."
Like, for instance, he hasn't had anyone to tell that in 38 days he's "only been to the bathroom three times" -- another little entry for our book, "Things We Never Wanted to Know About 'Survivor.'"
"Colby!" his mother says.
Colby and his mom climb into the back of his car-thing and lie down on the air mattress.
The next day, Colby and Colby's mom walk back to camp. Introductions all around. Elisabeth starts crying when she hugs Colby's mom.
Moms are so adorable!
Colby points at the group's sad little lean-to and asks his mom if that's what she expected he would be living in.
"It's a little cruder than I thought," she says, dryly.
Colby's mom tells them some news from home. The Yankees won the World Series, for example. Then she gets up and brings them all a burlap sack full of care packages from home. There are photos and some nuts. Elisabeth cries. Keith gets up and walks away. He has a moment.
The camera cuts away to Colby, by himself. "It's almost like a conjugal visit if you were a prisoner," he says.
We think Colby needs to look up "conjugal" in a dictionary.
A helicopter sets down on the river beach and whisks Colby's mom away.
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The immunity challenge is a 3-D version of the game Memory. There's a large circle scattered with 18 pairs of objects common in the outback -- bones, kangaroo dung, bird's nests. Each is covered by a sort of large bell shape made out of tree bark.
Each player gets to reveal two objects each turn. The object is to remember what was where and uncover matching pairs.
There is very little physical activity in this challenge, which is exciting because the other three players finally have a chance to whup Colby.
But it doesn't turn out that way. Colby pulls ahead with six pairs. Keith follows him with five. Elisabeth and Tina lag behind with three each.
It's deathly boring to watch.
In the end, Colby is one pair away from winning. He uncovers a jawbone, then looks around, trying to remember its match. He finally settles on a bark bell and lifts. He wins immunity for the 308th time in a row.
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"It's anybody's game right now," says Keith at the start of the last segment.
For some reason, Keith is compulsively combing his beard this episode. Maybe it has something to do with being ravaged by hunger.
Tina says there is "doom and gloom" about tribal council. "You don't have as many people to choose from, to kick off," says Tina, master of the obvious.
"I don't wanna go!" says a doom-and-gloom Elisabeth.
We get a lot of animal and insect photography.
Colby says he still hasn't decided. He says that the decision comes down to strategy vs. getting the money to the most righteous person. What he's really saying is that he's not sure if he should dump Keith, whom he could presumably beat in the final round, or Elisabeth, who is the nicer person, but who might cream him in a one-on-one in front of the Jury of the Damned.
It still isn't completely dark at tribal council.
Dingo Jeff reminds that tonight one of the four remaining "Survivors" will have to leave one side of the fire and join the jury, just as the others did the time before this and the four times previous to that.
Jeff is full of questions. He asks Tina how frustrated she is by Colby's winning streak. She wishes she could have some of the food, but she's impressed by his ability to win.
Colby elaborates on what he said earlier that night. There's a weird line of strategy here, because he wants to play strategically without being a jerk. "You can maybe up your stock and cut your throat in the same night and you won't know until it's too late," he says.
Elisabeth says that she'll be voting with her conscience, which is sort of an appeal for the others to do the same. She votes for Keith.
The rest of them, however, vote for Elisabeth-with-an-s.
It's 3-to-1, and the last Kucha member disappears into the Jury of the Damned.
-- Jeff Stark