It’s finale time for “Survivor: Russell.” After more than two hours of programming on Sunday (Dec. 20) night, will the season’s dominant player come out ahead and win the million bucks? Or will a stealthy underdog like Brett or Natalie sneak in and upset the presumptive champ?
[Click through for two hours of recapping exhaustion.]
Four against One. There’s no pre-credit sequence tonight. Instead, we’re eased into the episode with crashing waves and a swimming tortoise. It’s morning on Day 37 and Russell is up before the rest of the Final Five, which means he also receives Tree Mail. Balance, speed and patience will determine the Final Four, the clue tells us. Jaison’s experiencing diarrhea and he’s complaining. Jaison’s been complaining a lot this season and Russell doesn’t understand how, after 37 days, anybody can bother to complain. “It’s a shame that I’m here with this bunch of misfits, because I should be here with superstars,” Russell declares. The plan remains simple: Vote out Brett. But that doesn’t work if nobody can beat Brett. Russell lays things out for Natalie: If Brett wins Immunity, Natalie has to go next. She doesn’t get it and gives a shrug. “He’s not some freakin’ athlete-genius,” Russell says, trying to encourage her. Instead, Natalie tells the camera that she doesn’t see any way she can beat Brett. “You’re telling me he’s all of a sudden Superman because he’s won two?” Russell says. “He’s no Mike Tyson. He’s Brett.” I may just need to transcribe every word out of Russell’s mouth tonight. He’s on a tear.
Can Brett keep winning? That would be puzzling. At the Immunity challenge, Russell agrees with Jeff Probst’s assessment that it’s four against Brett. Brett only smiles. The challenge is involves running, obstacles, a climbing wall and a puzzle. Russell comes out early like a man possessed. We haven’t seen him really *want* something in a challenge for a while. Can he translate desire into a win? He begins his puzzle-making first, but all five players are basically equal. This task comes down entirely to puzzle-building. Mick’s a doctor. Jaison went to one of the best universities in the country. Russell’s a millionaire businessman. Surely one of the three of them can beat Brett? NO. BRETT WINS IMMUNITY. Jeff observes that the odds were stacked against Brett. This isn’t exactly true. Brett’s glad that finally a Foa Foa member will be put on the jury.
Russell goes on the prowl. Natalie’s miserable as they return to camp. A Foa Foa has to go home and she knows she’s the weakest one. Russell promises Natalie that he’s going to try to keep her around. He thinks that she’s been riding his coattails and that he can beat her with a jury. But who will he choose to boot instead? He turns his sights to Jaison, who he says checked out of the game a long time ago. He thinks Mick might beat Jaison in a challenge, but might also beat him in jury votes. Meanwhile he thinks he can beat Jaison in the vote, but he doesn’t think Jaison can beat Brett in a challenge. Russell goes to Jaison and says it’s time to lose Mick. He goes to Mick and says Jaison has to go next. Both Mick and Jaison trust Russell completely and say they’ve had a pact with him since the very beginning. With this, it’s up to Russell and Natalie to decide who goes home. They weigh the pros and cons and…
Tribal Council. Lots of excuses from the Foa Foas for how they’ve now been unable to beat Brett the last three challenges. Russell looks concerned as Jeff asks Jaison about the difference between picking people who can beat Brett and people you can beat at the jury. Russell doesn’t want either Mick or Jaison thinking too hard about strategy. Jeff asks Brett if he’s been sandbagging to this point. Brett says he’s had nothing to lose and these challenges have lined up with his skillset. Why is everybody so sure that Brett would get all of the jury votes? Russell makes a funny about how Brett shouldn’t get that much credit, since beating Foa Foa hasn’t been so hard this season.
The Night’s First Vote. Mick writes Jaison’s name down. Jaison writes Mick’s name down. The other three votes are a mystery. Russell says he’s making his best move to win the game. Which move did he make? And who did Brett vote for? Does it even matter? It’s Jaison going home. This makes me sad, since I only learned today that Jaison is a good friend of a good friend of mine. Jaison tells the camera that he’s pissed off at Russell and he’s now rooting for Brett. Uh-oh. Bitter Jaison.
Triple-dealing. Natalie thanks the Lord that she’s survived. Brett calls it a miracle that he’s still there. Have we learned nothing from last week’s episode about how little God cares? Ah. Good. Brett says that his fate is really in his own hands. There’s a little perspective at least. The next morning, Russell asks Brett if he thinks he can beat him in the Top Three. Time for Russell to scramble and make a contingency case. Russell’s argument is that if it comes down to deserving it, he deserves it most. And Brett says that ridiculous thing where he promises he’d rather go against people who deserve it than people he can beat. Russell attempts to make a deal with Brett that neither one will boot the either if they win Immunity. “I take care of me,” Russell explains. They shake hands. “It looks like I’ll be in the Top Three no matter what,” Russell declares.
R.I.P. It’s “Survivor” Necrology time! Let’s pay tribute to our fallen comrades. Ah, Marisa. And Ashley. And Kelly. I’ll miss y’all most of all. Ben, I miss you least of all, you ignorant tool. I wonder how far Non-Psycho Russell would have gone if he hadn’t passed out mid-challenge. Lots of deluded speeches from the eliminated contestants. It turns out that every single one of them would have won the game if they hadn’t been voted out. Imagine that.
Teetering on the brink of a million. Here it is. It’s the last Immunity challenge. Brett gives up his necklace. A wooden statue is placed on the end of a pole. They keep adding extensions to the pole. If the statue falls, you’re eliminated. I’m not sure I like this as a final challenge. Adding the sections of pole is the hardest part, it appears. They add a new section every two minutes. MickDreamy fumbles and exchange and goes out first. Natalie’s out seconds later. It’s down to Russell and Brett, each balancing their statue atop a six-foot pole. Russell’s pole lacks structural integrity and looks to be sagging. Wind adds tension. This challenge is getting better. Russell has a poor transition and nearly runs out of time. Brett starts to wobble and the music picks up, but he stabilizes. Russell starts to wobble. The music picks up again. Can he recover? He does and just in time. Brett loses control. Down goes Brett’s statue. Down goes Brett’s statue. Russell wins the final Immunity guaranteeing that Russell will at least have a chance to win “Survivor: Russell.” He announces, “In my opinion, I just won the game.” But will he keep his word to Brett? He’s a moron if he does, but he looks bad if he doesn’t.
How can you break two promises without breaking any promises? There’s much hugging as Russell returns to camp with the necklace. MickDreamy’s confident. Brett’s proud to have made it this far, or so he says. “I’m like a little girl, all emotional,” he says, though he next admits, “I failed.” He’s certain he’s going home, despite Russell’s deal. Natalie reassures Russell that he’s going to win. Russell’s really into himself. He thinks that Galu will be proud of seeing him with the necklace. “He’s the kind of guy that I want my daughters to meet one day,” Russell says of Brett. Natalie agrees. Russell knows that he’s going to break a promise to somebody, regardless of what happens. Mick’s paranoia is kicking in. He isn’t sure why Russell is going off to get wood. He isn’t sure why Russell is off talking to Brett. Natalie reassures him. Down by the water, Russell is explaining his choice to Brett and, again, hypothetically pimping out his daughters to the Prayer Warrior. A possible solution for Russell? Set up a vote where it’s a tie and Mick and Brett have to complete another challenge. He goes over a long list of contingencies. Personally, I’m mighty curious, which means that this has been a good “Survivor” finale so far.
Tribal Council II. The jury enters. We can’t tell their reactions to seeing Russell with the Immunity necklace. Russell says he put more effort into the Immunity challenge than anything else in the game. Natalie and MickDreamy both say it’s an easy choice and they’re not worried. Russell says he respects the game so much that Brett deserves to be with him. MickDreamy smirks and tries telling Russell that you can’t take Brett in front of the jury. Natalie agrees. They’re talking to Jeff, but they’re also talking to Russell. Brett tells Jeff (but also Russell) that keeping him (Brett) around would look good for the jury.
The Night’s Second Vote. Yeah, yeah. Mick and Natalie vote against Brett. We don’t see Russell’s vote and Brett votes against Mick. So it’s two votes for Brett and one for Mick. The fourth vote goes against… Brett. “Nice,” mutters Mick. “Wow,” says Erik on the jury. “They did it.” Although I admire the social game that Natalie has played, anybody who doesn’t vote for Russell doesn’t understand this game. But will he rub the jury the wrong way? I can imagine that.
Thrilla in Samoa. Day 39. The last day. Russell is sharpening his blade. And Natalie can’t wait to shower. And Mick can’t wait to brush his teeth. It’s telling. As usual, the Final Three receive a basket containing eggs, champagne, pancake ingredients and the rest of the spoils. Russell’s proud both at making it to the Top Three. Russell tries coaching Natalie, but she responds, “It’s in God’s hands at this point.” Why can Russell not shut up? Why can’t he just crush them at the jury? He’s just wandering around ranting and repeating his speech. “Russell has good points, but he needs to be reminded that he couldn’t have done this without us,” Mick says. If that’s the best argument you have. “Don’t make me make you look stupid on the jury,” Russell taunts. Natalie figures this is strategic on Russell’s part. Her argument is going to be that the aggressive girls were voted out. Russell swings on the hammock counting his jury votes and calling himself a millionaire. “If Mick or Natalie won this game over me, that would just be a shame,” Russell says. “I’ve accomplished the impossible here all by myself and brought a couple of bums with me.” I get it. He’s being Ali. But even Ali got knocked out a couple times.
Opening statements. Mick leads off. His argument is that he had parameters that he didn’t want to violate. Mostly, he means he didn’t make any promises that he didn’t break. Shambo is shaking her head. Jaison is shaking her head. Natalie says she had doubters from the minute she came in and this whole thing was about gaining the confidence to go outside of her comfort zone. Russell smirks. Russell says he came to win. He starts with Marisa and Betsy going through every decision he made along the way. He talks about the deals he made with Shambo and with John. He makes an almost unimpeachable case that every move that was made in the game was done under his watch. He tells the jury that if they think either Mick or Natalie outwitted or outplayed him, the jury should vote for them. It’s a GREAT speech. The only thing that costs him the million is sheer bitterness from the jury. Of course, bitterness has decided more than a few jury votes.
Jury fun! Jaison is up first. Damn. I’d have saved him. Jaison asks them to tell the jury who they really are. Natalie says she was in pharmaceutical sales. Russell says he’s a business man and this is the first time he’s succeeded. Mick mentions his med school debt. Jaison makes it clear to the jury that nobody is broke and they shouldn’t factor in need. He used his time to make his argument for Russell? Shambo calls Mick that his gameplay was “feckless.” Mick doesn’t know what “feckless” means. Then Shambo says that Natalie’s game was “coattails.” Natalie tries defending herself and Shambo shut her up. Shambo doesn’t say a word to Russell and just says that Mick and Natalie aren’t getting her vote. Brett opens his question by asking Mick what they’d do on a bro-date. It’s my favorite jury question EVER! YAY! Go Brett. Mick doesn’t know the right answer. It was a trick question to see how well Mick knew Brett. Kelly tells Natalie that she hoped for more from her, that she only turned to others for help. Natalie protests that she got better. Kelly asks Russell if he also lies and cheats in the real world. Russell says that outside of the game, he’s a 100 percent different person. He says that honor, integrity and loyalty are what he values in the real world. Uh-oh. Was that a mistake? Kelly doesn’t believe him. Why doesn’t he tell Kelly, “The real world is different from a game for a million dollars. I get that. Why don’t you?” Monica asks them each to throw each other under the bus. Of Natalie, Mick says she just made an alliance with Russell. Of Russell, Mick says that he isn’t the kind of person who should win this game. Russell asks why, if he’s such a snake, Mick didn’t mind following behind him. Dave asks what they think their chances are. Mick says “25 percent.” Natalie says “35 or 40 percent.” Russell says he came in with a better chance but now he’s at “55 or 50 percent.” That was pretty savvy. Russell tells Laura that she was the biggest threat on Galu. John asks Mick for the hard sell. Mick says it’s about the character and that the ends don’t justify the means and that he’s “a stand-up dude.” Natalie tells John was smart enough to find the right person to take up with. Russell doesn’t make his hard-sell? OK. Up last? Erik, who says he doesn’t need anything from anybody. Erik tells Mick he did nothing to deserve the leadership mantle he was given on Day One. Erik’s ticked off that Russell got to the right place by behaving the wrong way. Erik says that “weakness” is every bit as valid a way of playing the game as Russell’s. He tells Natalie that she has his vote, because maybe the person who thinks she deserves it least is the one who deserves it most. Umm… Erik was always insane and if he steers the jury… Ugh. I know Mick isn’t winning this thing, but I can easily imagine Natalie getting five votes and stealing the million. She’s taken the path that Sandra took to win on “Survivor: Pearl Islands.” I still hate that win.
The Final Vote. Jeff tells the jury that three finalists played very different games. Voting time! Erik votes for “Ratalie.” HA! I see what he did there! Erik, you mad man. Shambo votes for Russell, or rather “Russel.” We don’t see anybody vote for Mick and if he received a single vote, my mind would be blow.
The Live Reading. Russell appears not to have eaten or showed since he left Samoa. Mick and Natalie seem to have eaten plenty. The votes: Ratalie. Russel. We knew those two votes. Natalie. Russell. Natalie. Natalie. [Russell looks resigned.] The winner of “Survivor: Russell” is… NATALIE! God Love “Survivor.” [I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a second place finisher look as miserable as Russell does right now.]
Note: I’m not recapping it, but the “Survivor” reunion special? All-time classic. Russell offering Natalie $10,000 for the title of Sole Survivor? Jaison’s argument that in the real world, we hate Russells? Excellent. What fun…
Did Russell blow it at the jury? Or was the jury never going to vote for him anyway? Was Russell’s game the sort of game that really only will get you so far? Or was the jury just bitter?