Pre-credit sequence. Poor Jaclyn is all alone and there's a scary creature in the trees. “You've gotta do what you've gotta do,” Natalie tells Jaclyn, who also praises her fellow castaways for their acting and being fake. “I'm loyal to a fault in my life,” Missy replies. Natalie and Jaclyn get into a shouting match about who does or doesn't know Jon. Jaclyn is particularly angry, which I guess makes sense. This, of course, is exactly what Natalie wanted, because she wants people to be wary about aligning with Jaclyn. She knows it'll take effort to maintain her ties to Missy and Baylor in the short term. “You've gotta put in work if you want to win this,” Natalie says.
3-and-2. It's the morning of Day 36 and Baylor and Missy are talking about their shared dream of being in the Final 3. Baylor's currently still planning on going to the Final 3 with her mom and with Natalie, but Missy is worried about her foot — she's diagnosed a fracture, which she's magically been able to do without X-rays — and how that might impact strategy. Short version: Keith and Jaclyn aren't allowed to win.
A bridge too far. We transition into a challenge instantly appears to have enough stages that Missy isn't going to stand a chance. It's a Reward Challenge. Players are tethered to ropes and have to unspool the ropes, assemble a bridge, use sandbags to knock over a series of blocks. Wanna know what they're playing for? They're playing for an advantage in the next Immunity Challenge. As we've seen in recent seasons, this challenge is always won by the person the majority doesn't want to win. That's just how it goes. But does that also mean we didn't get a “Survivor” Auction this season? Boo. Probst tells Missy he has good news and bad news, chiding her first for being unable to compete, but telling her that the good news is that she's still in the game. Oh. That wasn't much good news at all, Jeff. “That. Will. Leave. A. Mark,” Probst says as Jaclyn stumbles on the bridge-building. Where did Jaclyn suddenly get yoga pants? The editors are certainly pleased. Keith has the sandbag-tossing. I've been skeptical about his challenge-dominance, but Keith sure looks like he's got this under control. Indeed, Keith wins Reward. “That's crazy,” he says, taking a sealed envelope Jeff. Keith has to send somebody to Exile. Yikes. This is a big deal. With Missy ineligible, he'd sure better send Jaclyn. And he does. “Getting beat by a 55-year-old man is not easy,” Natalie says, since Keith is her first target.
A matter of perspective. Hmmm… With Jon out, is there any chance that there's an Immunity Idol hidden again at Exile? Apparently not, since Jaclyn reads the clue and it's the same one they got previously. Unable to make fire, Jaclyn is unhappy. She puts things in perspective by reminding us that she can't have kids. She envision's Jon advising her to rock it out and she's determined to fight through the night in Exile.
Flashover. “The Reward Challenge was sucky,” Baylor says, as Keith goes off into the woods to read about his advantage. The other women agree that if Keith doesn't win, he's still out next. Keith's advantage is that he's got a table to practice for the Immunity Challenge, which involves transporting balls through a Rube Goldberg machine using spoons. Monkeys! He gets to practice for as long as he wants, but once he stops, he's done. “This is a big advantage, believe me,” Keith says, comparing this to a flashover when fire-fighting and vowing to practice until dark. This isn't easy, especially with Keith saying he's losing focus.
Keith's got balls. Natalie is musing on her options. She tells Baylor that she's with them, but she tells us there's a chance she could decide to go to the end with Keith and Jaclyn. Interesting. Oh and don't forget that Natalie has an Idol already, so she's set for the Top 4 no matter what happens. Jaclyn returns for Immunity with a big, forced smile. Missy, wearing Jon's shoe, is ready to compete for Immunity. As we already know, the challenge is transferring three balls using the paddles. All four women are going through the learning curve that Keith faced yesterday. It takes a while for Keith to lock in, but he's the first to transfer a ball and then he begins to move like a tremendous machine. Keith deposits his second ball before any of the ladies have landed even one. Frustration is building as Keith completes an absurdly dominant Immunity win. It's his third Immunity victory. He compares this to making the NCAA Final 4.
Ladies Love Kool Keith. “Nobody got a ball? Really?” Keith asks the ladies, incredulously. We get to see the scatter-brained lead-up to Keith's confessional as he assumes that Jaclyn's heading to the Jury. Monkey! “Jaclyn's ready to go,” Missy says, incorrectly. “If you want to vote one of them out, I'm down,” Jaclyn tells Natalie, separated from the other three. Jaclyn thinks taking Missy out first would be smart, because Baylor does whatever her mom says. Wandering later, Baylor tells Natalie that it would be cool if Natalie played her Idol for Missy. Natalie tells us that big moves win the game and she's just thinking about herself. The choice is playing it safe and voting out Jaclyn, but taking out Missy or Baylor would be big.
Tribal Council, Part I. Jaclyn says that it's good not to worry about having the person she trusted, but it's bad because you don't have anybody you trust. Keith recalls the near-catfight after the last Tribal. Missy is confident about the Idol situation, which confuses both Jaclyn and Keith, who know nothing about Natalie's Idol. Missy feels good about her alignment. Natalie admits that Keith winning Immunity made things complicated and also says that Jaclyn came to her to negotiate. Missy feels that there are no cracks in their situation and that it's Jaclyn's time. Either this vote is going to be dull or the editors are blindsiding us.
The Vote, Part I. Baylor writes Jaclyn's name. “Natalie told me to do this and to just trust her,” Jaclyn says, though we don't see her vote. Hmmm. Natalie takes out her Idol and announces that she's playing it for someone else. “Jaclyn, did you vote for who I told you to vote for?” Natalie asks. WOW. “I'm playing this for Jac,” Natalie says. WOW. “I knew I liked her,” Jon says on the Jury. Probst tallies: Jaclyn. Jaclyn. Jaclyn. Baylor. BAYLOR. Wow. I don't love the strategy on a game level, but I love the TV moment. The Jury is also pleased. “I feel surprised. That was a really good blindside,” Baylor says, calling it “a really good move.”
Hour One Bottom Line. So Natalie has to be hoping/assuming that she can get Missy out next, because otherwise she just guaranteed one vote for Missy. If that's her strategy, and I'm still not sure I love it, at least she made the right move in targeting Baylor, who might have accidentally won Immunity, assuming that the last Immunity Challenge will be something that Missy's foot makes difficult. But if she's doing that, she's going to the end with Jaclyn, who has Jon's vote no matter what, and Keith, who has Wes' vote. Or am I reading too much into the “Blood” ties? Is there a chance that Wes or Jon or even Baylor or Missy could be objective and vote Natalie over her loved one? I sure wouldn't think so. So Natalie's assuming that Jeremy, Reed and Josh will admire big moves and strategic gameplay. To me, going to the end with Missy and Baylor sure feels like the easier win. And even going to the end with one of them and Keith seems like a Natalie rout. I like Natalie was perhaps a bit enamored with making the big move. We'll see if that becomes a problem. One thing Natalie can say: Both Keith and Jaclyn are 100 percent, totally, unquestionably only in the game right now because of her. That's something.
Missy Congeniality. Returning to camp, Missy has to make her own way, because nobody will give her a piggy-back. Natalie explains she didn't want to trust two family members and be an outsider. “That was pretty slick,” Keith tells her. Natalie's also hoping that Keith will view Missy as a bigger threat. Missy tells Natalie she isn't mad at her. “It's a game and I'm OK with it, because I don't have to write my child's name on a voting ballot,” Missy tells us, but she also cries that her fate is in their hands. Natalie tells Jaclyn that her desire is to go to the end with her and Missy, meaning that Keith can't win. When have we heard this before?
Tower of Power. It's Final Immunity time and it's Missy's worst nightmare. There's a giant tower and poles and slides and obstacles and the requirement to go up and down steps many times. Then they have to solve a puzzle with three missing pieces that correspond to a code necessary to unlock a flag. Is Missy just allowed to randomly guess numbers? Nope. She has to sit Immunity out. Keith gets out to be a bit of a lead, followed closely by Natalie. I like that this Final Immunity is a war. You can't just win it by balancing something or standing in place for a long time. Natalie is the first to start on her puzzle-making. It's not a big advantage, though. The puzzle is the season's logo Jaclyn, using her buff as a top, has a point-of-reference that maybe the other two don't have? Oh. Natalie's got her buff on her wrist. “I'd written her off,” Probst says of Jaclyn, who comes from way behind and is the first to finish her puzzle. Out of energy, Jaclyn forgets the “pole” part of her descent. In pain after a big fall, she shakes it off. Natalie finishes the puzzle next. Jaclyn thinks she has the numbers, but are they right? They are! That was pretty big for Jaclyn. It's her first Individual Immunity of the season and it's well-earned. “I couldn't get that for nothing,” Keith says of the puzzle. Keith figures he's in big trouble. But is he? Gratitude aside, I can't see much reason for Jaclyn to want Natalie anywhere near the Final 3.
Jaclyn's Yoga Pants take control. Everybody is exhausted and impressed with Jaclyn. And nobody is walking with poor limping Missy. Jaclyn is giddy, but she knows she has a huge decision, which could be a million dollar mistake. Monkey! Keith tells Jaclyn that Missy will get a sympathy vote and that she's guaranteed to get Baylor's vote. It's not a great case. “It's obviously me and you,” Jaclyn tells Natalie, who still wants Keith gone. Jaclyn is amenable, but tells Natalie something crazy could happen in her head in the next four hours. A bit later, Jaclyn is correctly putting together the pieces of Natalie's game and recognizing her strong strategic position. “If your gut's talking to you, you need to listen,” Missy tells Jaclyn, who admits that Jon would tell her to vote Natalie out. Oy. Jaclyn's best argument for booting Keith is fear that the guys on the Jury might vote for him, which is absurd.
Tribal Council, Part II. “It's a good feeling, but at the same time it's hard,” Jaclyn says, calling this “tough.” Natalie says it would be “a nice gesture” if Jaclyn were to keep her. “I do and I don't,” Jaclyn says of any obligation she might feel to Natalie, mentioning that Natalie blindsided Jon. I'm not liking the way this sounds. “Everybody loves a fireman,” Natalie says of Keith's allure. “Natalie's got a bunch of votes over there,” Keith says. Natalie agrees that she has a good shot at winning. Alec is slack-jawed. Natalie is basically making her Final Tribal statement here. I'd vote her out after that. Ugh.
The Vote, Part II. We see nobody's vote. Probst tallies: Keith. Missy. Keith. KEITH. That was very nice of Jaclyn and Missy to seemingly write Natalie a check for a million dollars. I'm baffled. “I wasn't blindsided. It was three women,” Keith says, claiming no hard feelings.
Second Vote Bottom Line. I'm not sure how Natalie loses this, but no matter what happens, this has been a great finale. We've had two Tribal Councils, both with unexpected results, or at least with dramatically interesting results. I'm not sure Natalie made the right move at the first Tribal, but it was great TV. And I'm not sure Jaclyn (and the generally irrelevant Missy) made the right move at the second Tribal, but it was plenty interesting. As it stands, I can foresee a situation in which Jaclyn somehow pulls out a narrow win. She's going to get Jon's vote and maybe Jon can sway Alec and Wes and Keith? And then Missy gets Baylor's vote. But we're definitely going to have all three Finalists get votes here, which is rare.
Grrrrrrrrrrrrl Power. It's Day 39 and the Final 3 Women are excited by the position they've put themselves in. “I'm so not intimidated by seven men,” Missy says. Natalie is proud that she's been able to do this on her own, without Nadiya. Over the Last Breakfast, Natalie is determined to plan her closing statements. And Jaclyn is feeling like she was underestimated and that the million dollars would mean more to anybody. Why? Because she can't have babies. Jaclyn wants the title even more than the million.
Final Tribal – Opening Statements. Missy is up first. She emphasizes humility and says that the roles could be reversed, comparing the decision to the Jury on a murder trial. Ick, Missy. She says her deal was loyalty. Alec is slack-jawed. Missy says her biggest decision was voting Jon out. Her foot has now become broken, not just fractured. It keeps getting worse. She praises her loyalty and dignity and integrity. Jaclyn says that she went through a lot of ups and downs in this game, just as in life. She suggests she was a target from Day 1, which isn't true, is it? She mentions the successful flip-flopping that she did with Jon. She says her journey in the game is a metaphor for her life, talking about her MRKH diagnosis. She turned negatives into positives. Natalie recites the slogan of the game, talking about outwitting, outplaying and outlasting. It's a bland opening after Jaclyn's plea for sentiment. Natalie closes by saying that she should have been voted out at the last Tribal. Who does she think that would have swayed? I fear Jaclyn may have won that portion. I remain convinced Natalie's gonna get Jeremy/Reed/Josh, but statistically that won't be enough on its own.
Finale Tribal – Angry Jury Members. Jon's up first. He asks Jaclyn to talk about a big move that she was solely responsible for. Jaclyn correctly discusses the decision to turn on Josh. This is so clearly a conversation that they had previously and she answers well. He has nothing for anybody else? Keith asks Natalie about lying to her. Natalie says that the only way she could survive was by selling Keith as a big threat. Jon smirks as he sees Jaclyn getting another vote. Keith is felt up with the lies. Alec asks Natalie what her biggest move was. She tells him that her big move was voting him out, laying out how that led to the rest of the Top 3. Alec asks Missy how she was motherly in the game. She says that she, as the mom, directed people in her dysfunctional family. “So happy for you guys!” Baylor says. She talks about going through the wringer with her mother in life as in the game, talking again about the various marriages and divorces they've been through. She cries, as you would. And Baylor says nothing to anybody else. Josh asks Jaclyn if she's there on her own merit or choices by stronger players. Guess what? Jaclyn thinks she was there on her own merit. “My merit carried a lot of those decisions,” Jaclyn says and again she repeats that voting him out was her move. And he has no questions for anybody else? This is an odd Tribal. Wes asks what it was like for them to play with their loved ones. Missy says she loved it and loved playing with Keith. Jaclyn says boyfriend-girlfriend is a different experience. Natalie is proud she did this alone. Jeremy likes good moves and says the best player is going to win. “Nat balled out. You've gotta just give it to her,” Jeremy says. Alec is slack-jawed. “Don't be mad,” he tells the other Jury members. Thank you, Jeremy. “I loved watching your gameplay,” Reed tells Natalie. He's looking forward to hanging with Jaclyn. Awesomely, Reed calls Missy “The Wicked Stepmother” of the Tribe, accusing her of spoiling her child. “You got more gimmes in this game and performed the worst out of anyone,” Reed tells Missy and tells her she abused the minority alliances. “Unlike life, in the game of 'Survivor,' the outcasts are the ones who get the final say,” he tells her. Ouch. “This is why I love fairy tales, because they always have a happy ending and the wicked stepmother never wins,” Reed says, reducing Baylor to tears. “Baylor, don't worry about it. It doesn't matter,” Missy tells her daughter. I believe that was pretty much Reed trying his hardest to be more memorable than Josh so that he gets the eventual All-Stars invite between the two of them. I think he got it, too. I remain convinced that Natalie has three votes, Missy has one and I fear Jaclyn's got the other four. Or that's my prediction.
The Final Vote. Jon votes for Jaclyn because… he would. Jeremy votes for Natalie, as he said he would. Wait, was that Reed voting for Jaclyn? Ugh. Noooo. “I think you played the best game, no matter what anyone else says,” Baylor says, writing Missy's name. I'm already pre-pissed off. I'm resigned. But I'm unhappy. Natalie made one move too many and it may cost her the million.
Live Results. Jeff Probst is confused that we ended up with an all-female Final 3. Probst tallies: Jaclyn. Natalie. Jaclyn. Missy. Natalie. Natalie. NATALIE! Yay! I look forward to finding out how I miscounted. But we got the right winner. Nadiya is every bit as happy as if she'd won herself and they rush down to their parents in the crowd.
Closing Bottom Line, Part I. Natalie was the deserving winner. She made right moves. She made smart moves. She made big moves. And the one big move she made that may or may not have been the right move? It didn't hurt her. She went to the Final 3 with two people who had their loved ones as support from the beginning and she did it despite have Nadiya go out first. She also, as Probst mentioned, instigated the fight with John Rocker that upset the apple-cart on the other tribe and ended up sending him home. And despite a reputation for getting emotional and playing out-of-control from two “Amazing Race” seasons, she played entirely in-control the entire season. The Alec move was huge. telling Jon to play the Idol was huge, blindsiding Jon was huge and obviously the Jaclyn save was huge, at least for TV drama. Natalie was the season's most deserving winner. Good for her.
Closing Bottom Line, Part II. That was a great final episode. There were good challenges, two great Tribal Councils and a tight final result that I certainly wasn't able to predict. Most of the Final Tribal wasn't very good. There were too many dim bulbs — Sorry, Wes and Alec — on the Jury and too many Loved Ones. Reed salvaged things a bit at the end, albeit with pure theatrical hamminess. Still, despite that Final Tribal, it was a top-tier finale episode.
Closing Bottom Line, Part III. A great finale episode and a deserving winner go a long way toward lifting what I might have said was a slightly below-average “Survivor” season at least to average and possibly a hair above. I still don't think the pre-Merge game was all that good. Drew orchestrating his own demise was a classic episode, but it was a classic episode of pure stupidity. And the post-Merge game included the lameness and game-shifting of Julie quitting and featured the Alec and Wes. When I look back on the season, I'll remember Natalie's strong performance, I'll remember Jon & Jaclyn's paired domination and I guess I'll remember how Jeremy, Reed and Josh were dispatched basically for being too strategic. It's notable that Ciera remains the only Blood vs Water castaway in two seasons to vote against a loved one, which disappoints me just a bit. I think we probably don't need another one of these Blood vs Water seasons for a while. I guess that this season didn't cause me to lament the absence of All-Stars, which was a relief, but I don't know how many of these castaways are going to be future All-Stars, even by the thin standards “Survivor” has set for All-Stars. Actually, I can imagine many of these castaways being All-Stars, but I can't imagine being especially excited to see a lot of them return. Anyway… It was a good close to a so-so season. But go Natalie!
What'd you think of the finale? What'd you think of Natalie's win? And what'd you think of the season? Five exit interviews tomorrow morning before 10 a.m. Good times!