The final episode of "Survivor: The Australian Outback" starts off with an elaborate Jeff Probst recap of what we've watched thus far. It's a sweeping version of the short summaries at the top of every show.
This time, the host is recalling the entire season: 16 survivors, two tribes and the subsequent plagues: fire, flood, famine, evil bitch queen.
You know the story.
Last season, the "Survivor" finale was the biggest TV show of the year, after the Super Bowl. CBS would love for the same thing to happen tonight, but there's a lot less fanfare. Ratings for the second edition of "Survivor" are pretty good, and CBS is certainly given credit for coming up with a "Friends"-crushing method of fighting NBC for dominance in the highly remunerative Thursday night advertising sweepstakes. Still ...
Probst, Benevolent King of All the Koalas, is here to take anyone just tuning in through our story thus far, in baby steps.
It's for people who have a life.
Or the people who couldn't bear to give up "Friends."
So are Ross and Monica married yet?
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At this point in the first season of "Survivor," in the final televised two hours of the show, we were down to four nasty, venal people. We didn't want any of them to win the money.
This time around, we're down to cowboy Colby, gentle Tina and chef Keith. Do we really care who wins?
Colby, to us, is just a big good-looking jock. We don't think he's going to have a hard life. Rooting for him would be like rooting for the Yankees, or the Michael Jordan Bulls or even the old Dallas Cowboys. Everyone might like a winner, but we'd much rather pull for the Cubs in five. Either that or the nerdy boy with the book under his arm and we haven't seen him since "Freaks and Geeks" went off the air.
So that rules out Keith. Too arrogant. And here lately, too Robert Bly. We're sick of all this stuff about personal growth and relationships; it seems a bit disingenuous coming from a guy who said he'd rather see another player lose than win himself.
Of course that other player was Jerri, onetime ruler of a vast puddle of evil but now just another defenestrated queen in hair perm disguise, but we're guessing that, oh, Buddha, for example, didn't put a retribution gate at the foot of the path to enlightenment.
And Tina? Too wispy. We don't like the way she cut down her friend, Mad Dog, so long ago. Or tore into Kel's backpack. And her alliances have always seemed a little shifty from our perspective. We could never be sure if she was playing with Keith or with Colby. She was also kind of passive-aggressive, rarely standing up for anyone, much less herself.
She seemed like a follower, allowing Keith or Colby make decisions. It was arguably -- indeed, demonstrably -- an effective strategy, but we're not excited about it.
Alas, we're stuck with them for a final two hours.
And besides, it's kind of easy to see who's going to win. Colby and Tina are going to find their alliance tested when it comes to seeing which of them will win the final immunity challenge and get the privilege, in this context, of entering the final two with Keith.
We can't know, of course, but smart money says Keith's less popular among the deciding Jury of the Damned than Colby or Tina. And history has shown that Colby's close to invincible when it comes to immunity challenges.
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After the introduction and titles, the show opens with customary sunrise and morning shots. With the rice steaming on the fire, Colby says that he slept like a rock. We suppose it's his way of saying that he didn't lose any sleep over ditching sweet but doomed Elisabeth-with-an-s at the last tribal council.
But Colby says he's sick of dealing with all this outback living. He's still trying to keep his "head in the game," but he seems a bit exasperated.
So does Tina. "I cannot believe that I am here," she says. "I never thought I could get this far."
Honestly, we can't either.
She's saying that she's evolved as a player; she's not the same person she was when she started out. She's "evolved" into a strategist.
We see a pair of nature shots: a lone bird sitting in a tree; a crocodile slithering into water. The outback is harsh, but its inhabitants, like their counterparts in Los Angeles, are excited about Hollywood, and agreeably hit their marks and go through their menacing motions each week for the "Survivor" cameras.
Either that or the producers are recycling footage of the same damn crocodile ever week.
And tonight they're got two hours to fill.
In the next scene, Tina and Colby find a box of art supplies at the tree mailbox. They're instructed to carve an idol "as a gift to the land."
Colby's a little perplexed. He's been thinking about the game, he reminds us for the 400th time, and not much about the land. Yet suddenly faced with a hunk of wood, some beads, a few feathers and some paints and brushes he's jarred into remembering how much he's taken -- and just how much the outback has given.
He points out that he's used the land for shelter, for food.
"When you do stop to think about it, you realize you've been given a lot," he says.
With that reasoning, we think Colby should carve his idol as an offering to the producers, who have provided so much more in the way of tarps, blankets, fire, knives and rice. Not to mention trips to the Great Barrier Reef in slick helicopters, dinners with salty, sexy outback cowboys, plates of seasoned tortilla chips and a brand new car-thing.
Keith, on the other hand, is using his idol for closure, a word that will pop up a few dozen more times this episode. And Tina is using hers to make her feminist statement; she's proud to be a woman among two men here at the end of the game.
We wonder if this whole thing is supposed to be some sort of comment on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The survivors managed, if not mastered, living in the outback. They have food, water, shelter and warmth.
They're more or less safe, with some security, stability and freedom from fear.
You could argue that there's belonging and love, with friends if not family.
They have some self-esteem accorded to them by various reward and immunity challenges.
And now, toward the end, the three remaining survivors have reached the fifth level of Maslow's Hierarchy: self-actualization, which can include pursuing inner talent, fulfillment or creativity, here represented by arts and crafts.
Or maybe the "Survivor" producers were just impressed by that whole Wilson the volleyball concept in "Cast Away."
Whatever. Colby hacks at his idol and paints the damn thing green.
After several more nature shots and a nostalgic conversation, the three get their marching orders. They're to pack their bags, bring their little stub idols and start walking toward tribal council. Along the path, they'll pass the extinguished torches or their offed compatriots.
Keith thinks the experience will be tasteful and appropriate.
We can smell the slow-motion retrospective tributes from here.
The survivors start their walk along a ridge that overlooks a river. On cue, the music swells and swells and then swells some more.
We see each of the extinguished flames one by one: bossy Deborah; furtive Kel; brassy Mad Dog; mopey Mitchell; squeamish Kimmi; psycho Mike; whiny Jeff; hardtack Alicia; sinister Jerri; sturdy Nick; mild Amber; fatherly Rodger; poor, lithe Elisabeth-with-an-S.
The music's really over the top. It reminds us of the opening scene of "High Anxiety."
"What a dramatic outback," we think.
And then we see Jeff sitting at the top of the ridge. Jeff wants the remaining survivors to look now inward. They're supposed to reflect on their time and toss their idols into the river.
"This is your chance to give back something to a land that has given so much to you," says Jeff.
We give back laughter to the show that has made us laugh so many times.
After his quiet moment of realization, Keith says that his experience here is more valuable than money.
Tina says that she's realized that she's been trying to be a strong individual and independent, but that the outback has taught her how much she needs her family. She's going to go back and nurture them.
And Colby, feeling philosophical, says that the outback has made the players appreciate the things they miss at home.
And then each heaves his or her idol off into the gorge.
We wonder if there are some enterprising PAs downstream harvesting them for eBay.
And then we wonder if the idol toss is going to create another environmental scandal, like when the "Survivor" 'copter buzzed the bird sanctuary, or when Colby stole coral from the Great Barrier Reef.
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The three troop to tribal council for the final immunity challenge. The winner gets to go to the final round and sit in front of the Jury of the Damned. The winner also gets to send one of the final three home.
The challenge is called "fallen comrades." It's a trivia game about the other players. In a twist, the Jury of the Damned is sitting in their jury box.
It seems like a remarkably fair final challenge. Colby, Keith and Tina each had the same chance to get to know their teammates and opponents. And it's not a challenge that plays to Colby's physical strength.
They begin. They have to identify catch-phrases, hometowns, jewelry, a photo of Elisabeth's brother. They're all pretty even, but they get stumped a few times. One question asks who was the only member of the Barramundi tribe with a master's degree. Colby picks Jeff. Tina and Keith pick Nick. Turns out the only one is Rodger, aka Kentucky Joe, aka the guy everyone thought was an old hick who grew up on a farm!
We also find out that Jerri spent 12 years in Germany (duh), that Alicia and Jeff have tattoos with Chinese characters and that Elisabeth has a boyfriend (sigh).
It comes down to Tina and Colby with seven correct answers apiece. In the end, Colby knows that Amber's proudest moment was being on the dean's list for five semesters in a row.
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Under "Survivor" rules, he gets to de facto toss Keith or Tina out of the game.
It's a big moment. He could easily walk with the $1 million on this decision.
If he sends Tina away he'll face the relatively disliked Keith in the final vote.
If he sends Keith away, he's facing a much less straightforward time, hoping that the Jury of the Damned will reward him for being a decent guy and for pretty much dominating the entire game.
He walks over to the voting booth, deposits his vote and takes the basket back to Jeff.
It's Keith. Jeff extinguishes his love light. Keith walks.
Colby and Tina walk back to camp for one last night.
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Back at camp after the vote, the two burn their candles like spendthrift fools. They start incinerating the parts of their camp they won't need anymore.
They play backgammon.
"It was sheer exhilaration," says Tina. "I did something that I wanted to accomplish, which was make it to the last two."
"You're a sore loser," Colby tells Tina over the backgammon board.
"I hate losing," she says.
We're thinking that this is about more than backgammon.
But we get to see some of the factors that lead to Colby's oddly chivalrous decision to oust Keith and not Tina.
We find out how closely Tina and Colby have been allied. Tina says that she and Colby "pulled [Keith] along" because they needed his vote to dispatch the last of the Kuchas.
Colby even says that the two of them tried to figure out a way they could get rid of Keith instead of Rodger.
Many episodes ago, Keith and Colby were buds; Keith was a big factor in waking Colby up from his embarrassing infatuation with Jerri.
Maybe that's part of the reason Colby became disenchanted with Keith; at any rate, he now evinces him a stolid dislike.
"He didn't win a million bucks, that's the best part," Colby says of Keith with cold satisfaction. "I don't think he played the game well enough to deserve it."
Just before they fade off to sleep, Tina points out that she's never made more than minimum wage except for when she was a flight attendant. She'll win at least $100,000 for going into the final two. She counts dollars on her way to sleep.
The next morning the two wake up and hug. They start packing up the camp. They go for a walk to "capture visual pictures." They climb the same hill that Keith climbed last week, the one with the 360-degree view of the outback. The helicopter gives us a fine sweeping shot of the two of them sitting on a rock.
They count kangaroos.
We hear a little more of their philosophy toward the game. Colby articulates his, largely derived from cowboy movies.
The following can be sung to the tune of "The Gambler":
"You gotta wear the white hat part of the time and sometimes you gotta put on the black hat and that's the only way to do good in this game. You gotta be the bad guy, you gotta be a little selfish. But hopefully, in the end, you wore the white hat more of the time than you did a black hat."
Colby figures he kept up his end of a bargain. Now all he can hope for is that he will be rewarded for wearing the white hat and sending Keith home.
Colby describes Tina's playing style with a good mixed metaphor: "She has played the game better than anyone else. She hasn't [exactly] flown under the radar, [but] she hasn't ruffled any feathers."
In the morning of their last day in the outback, the pair strike their camp and burn whatever they can. They decide that the "Survivor" flag will go to the winner.
The two head off for the last tribal council.
We start seeing interviews with their former tribe mates, each of which reveals more about the person speaking than about Colby or Tina.
Rodger: "I would hope that whoever wins would have played as morally and ethical as possible."
Alicia: "Which of those two still has a clear focus?"
Amber: "I want the million dollars."
Keith: "There's one that won almost everything; there's one that won almost nothing. The common thread is belief in yourself."
Nick: "Colby is much more intelligent than I thought he was; he was definitely a thinker in this game. I definitely see [Tina] as a mastermind."
Jerri: "I'm in a position of power again, and I like it. The two people who are in the running for a million bucks are the two people who back-stabbed me. I want them to be forced to look at what they've become in this game."
Elisabeth: "Will the best person win? That's in the hands of a bunch of people who think they are the best person."
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Finally, finally, we get to the final tribal council. The King of All Koalas is in fine form. "You guys have endured floods, out-of-control wildfires, incredible heat, very cold nights, severe hunger," he says. "But you are sitting here tonight because you have mastered human relations."
He explains that each of the last two will get to make opening comments. Then, each person in the Jury of the Damned will have a chance to hit the final two with a tough question.
Finally, Colby and Tina will be allowed to make closing comments.
Tina recites the official strategy of "Survivor." She asks the jury to not vote against the person who hurt their feelings. She says she'll be happy to go home, reminding them all that she has a family.
Colby goes for modesty. He says that he wasn't the best at anything, but that he played each part of the game well enough.
Rodger comes up first. He acknowledges that part of the game is to not tell the truth and then asks them to give him a couple of instances when they didn't.
"Wow!" says Tina. She says that she didn't tell Amber the truth when she planned to send her home. And she says that no one should confuse ethics with strategy.
Colby says that he told Jerri that he, she and Amber would go all the way to the end.
Amber asks what three things got them there and what three things they would do with the money.
Colby says that he refused to check out of the game. And that he drank water to fool his stomach. Finally, he says he took time out to enjoy it. With the cash he says he would buy a Harley-Davidson, buy a building for his dad, and take care of his mom.
Tina says strategy, Colby and "heart/God" got her to the end. She'll pay off her house, pay off her best friend's house and put money into a fund to help out families in need.
Elisabeth essentially asks which two people Colby and Tina think are most undeserving of prize money. She mercifully doesn't ask them to offer an explanation.
Tina says Jerri and Rodger -- the latter apparently because he explained to her that he didn't need any money.
Colby says Jerri and Keith.
Keith wants to know when they manipulated people to get to the end.
Colby says when he and Tina decided to vote Mitchell off.
Tina agrees. It's not really what Keith wants to know, but he doesn't follow it up.
Alicia asks what they are most and least proud of.
Tina says that she was proud of giving Keith the immunity challenge, and she never felt good about voting people off.
Colby says that he was least proud that he didn't stop to smell the roses, and he was most proud of winning the first water-bucket challenge because he was dead last at the beginning of it.
Nick asks the two who'd be sitting in their places if Mike had not fallen into the fire.
Colby figures that Nick would, "because he had the mental game going," and he guesses that Mike would as well.
Tina says Mike would have made it. She doesn't name another.
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Finally, here comes Jerri.
"I want to allow you to clear your conscience," she begins.
She's projecting, big time.
She wants them to say what they did on the outback they feel remorse, regret or guilt over.
Tina knows exactly what Jerri's doing. Staring at her grimly, Tina says she feels bad for ransacking Kel's backpack, searching for beef jerky wrappers.
This was the height of the thrall in which Jerri held the then-malleable Ogakor. Tina's reminding Jerri of the witch hunt Jerri organized against Kel -- and copping to have been a good little soldier.
Colby doesn't bother to engage Jerri on this level. He just says he feels bad about having voted off Elisabeth and Rodger, and voting off Alicia because she was a physical threat.
Jerri stares at Colby, one shoulder cocked to the side, lips pursed. It's the jilted girlfriend pose, a scene we'll certainly see again and again on low-rent soap operas when Jerri moves to the next stage of her career.
He's clearly not giving her what she wants to hear. We wait for her to unload. We imagine that she's going to invoke all sorts of metaphors. She's going to call Tina a crocodile who lurks beneath the water and Colby a flood that wipes out everything in his path without remorse.
We figure she's going to invoke the wrath of the outback gods and curse them both to physical hunger, to emotional starvation and to a diet of those nasty gray worms that Tina vomited out in one of the earliest challenges.
But instead she turns and walks away.
Jeff breaks in and offers Tina and Colby closing comments. Colby declines.
The good news is that Tina steps up with a sweeping metaphor to bring six weeks of "Survivor" to a close.
The bad news is that she chooses backgammon.
"In backgammon, you have to cover your man ... There was never anything personal in voting anyone off."
The Jury of the Damned begin to cast their votes. We only see a few of them. Rodger votes for Colby, saying that he played the game harder. Alicia votes for Tina, noting that she made it to the end without winning challenges. Amber votes for Colby, who she says is more straightforward.
Jerri votes for Tina: "It has been very clear from the very beginning that, Tina, you have been the mastermind."
It's not true, of course. Back when Jerri was still in the game she said that she and Colby were the only two who could make it to the end game, but Heathers like her are always rewriting history to suit themselves, and Jerri can't stand the fact that Colby worked her over.
Jeff leaves to get the votes. Tina clasps Colby.
Probst comes back with the basket. He acknowledges that the pair have waited a long time to find out who would win.
But, Jeff says, they're going to have to wait longer -- until they get back to the States and they open the votes on live television five months hence!
Tina registers an expression of shocked bemusement. Colby just looks pissed.
On perfect cue, a midnight blue helicopter touches down near tribal council and Jeff hugs the votes box to his chest and climbs aboard. The helicopter soars away.
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When we come back from the commercial we hear the "Survivor" theme music, but it sounds a little off. It turns out that's because it is being played live in front of a big studio audience in the CBS studios in Los Angeles.
A camera pans in on the stage. There's a rough reproduction of the tribal council set and the Jury of the Damned sit in their juror seats, all wearing the exact same clothes they were wearing at the last tribal council. Colby and Tina sit on the other side of a phony fire pit, also wearing the same clothes from Tribal Council.
But they're all very clean, and they've gained weight back. Tina is wearing a lot of make-up, which looks incongruous with her "Survivor" bikini. Colby looks like a big dumb jock -- but oddly not unlike Jim Carrey in maybe "The Cable Guy." It's spooky.
They all look up at a monitor where they see a midnight blue helicopter zipping through the night over the Santa Monica boardwalk and into downtown Los Angeles.
Jeff Probst is in the helicopter. He has the basket of votes. The helicopter touches down on a "Survivor" helipad on the CBS lot. Jeff walks past a security guard with purpose, through some sets, and onstage. It's ridiculous.
"This is pretty cool," says Jeff.
He's moved to launch into a spiel about them being a long way from the outback, which he winds up by calling something like "truly an organic nature."
But no, he wants to ask some questions. How do they feel, after having waited so long. Colby says he's anxious. Tina says that it's great that they're all great friends.
Jeff reminds them what they're playing for. The runner-up gets $100,000. The winner gets the "Survivor" flag, a new car-thing, $1 million, and "maybe, now looking on the last 42 days, maybe most coveted thing, the winner earns the title of 'Survivor: The Australian Outback.'"
We've heard Jeff Probst say a lot of stupid things, but that has to be one of the stupidest.
Tina gets two votes, Colby gets two votes. They each get one more. It's three-to-three.
Jeff opens the last vote.
She covers her face with her hands. Colby gets up, starts shouting "Yeah!" and punching the air around his waist. They hug. She bursts into tears. The cast comes over for hugs.
Without fanfare, no "tribe has spoken" line, Jeff goes over to the last two torches and extinguishes one.
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