Pre-credit sequence. It's Night 35 and the Top 5 castaways return to camp. Carolyn is giddy. Mike is incredulous. Rodney is offended that Carolyn didn't tell him about the Idol, which is funny since Carolyn's offended that Rodney voted for her. They agree that without Idols or advantages remaining, everybody wants Mike out, which is especially funny since Mike was the only person to support Carolyn at the previous Tribal. But loyalty doesn't go very far when you're this deep into “Survivor.”
Mother-Lover. Tonight's Reward is an individual challenge and it's really only worthwhile if Rodney loses. No Rewards for Rodney! It's a complicated challenge involving tiles, a number puzzle, shuffle board and other stuff. Wanna know what they're playing for? LOVE! Carolyn's husband comes out and she cries. It's a fairy tale marriage. Everybody cries. Mike's mom comes out and he cries. It's a fairy tale mother-son relationship. Everybody cries. Rodney's dad comes out and he cries and calls him “Bro.” It's a fairy tale bromance and everybody cries. “I'm finally at peace with Natalie now,” Rodney tells his father in a moment that Rodney Senior is clearly uncomfortable with. Sierra's father comes out and we all briefly have to remember who Sierra is. Everybody cries. Finally, out comes Will's wife. More tears. “I'm not fat no more,” Will tells her. Will is pumped! We haven't seen him this pumped since he was telling Shirin how much nobody loves her. The winner gets timed with their loved one and an advantage in the next Immunity. Even Jeff Probst is impressed to see Will in action. Mike gets out to a huge lead with his tiles, followed by Sierra. Mike keeps getting the wrong combination. But he finally wins time with his mother. Farewell hugs are exchanged for everybody but Mike's mom. Mike's pumped to inflict a night of “Survivor” suffering on his mother.
Yas, Queen. Monkey! Everybody treats Mike's mother like she's the queen. But Mike wants quality time to tell his mother about how everybody has villainized. him and ostracized him. Narc. “Nothing is about me. It's all about him,” Mike's mom says, as he praises everybody for being out to win the game. Mike says this is one of his better “Survivor” days, even better than the day he ate the scorpion. Or the day he ate the snake. Or the day he ate Max. The next morning, Mike and Deborah go to the site of the next Immunity. They have 30 minutes for Mom to navigate Mike around an elaborate maze, still blindfolded. Mom's eager to help, but she can't solve the maze herself, even with her eyes open, so there's no indication that if twists and turns exist, that Mike has figured them out. In 30 minutes, with his mother leading him, Mike is unable to make it through to the end. “That's just devastating,” Deborah says, crying and worrying that she let him down. She's just like Hayley on “The Amazing Race.”
You can call him “Minho,” because Mike's a Maze Runner. This is an awesome, sweeping compass maze they're playing on. Mike gives up his Immunity and everybody gets a blindfold. They have to find four medallions and get to the Immunity neckless. There are guide posts along the way and this is clearly what Deborah and Mike should have been concentrating on, making sure that he knew how to use the directions. Even despite wasting his advantage, Mike still gets to the first medallion first, followed by Sierra. Mike gets his third medallion before anybody else gets their second. Smartly, Rodney begins steering other people to medallions, figuring an “Anybody But Mike” strategy could work. Mike has four medallions, but can he get to the Necklace first? He does! Deborah is off the hook and Mike wins his fourth Individual Immunity. Boo-yeah! I'm a little happy for Mike and a lot happy for Mike's mother. “This is the 'Survivor' that I signed up for, Mike says, even though he knows he's only bought himself a one-Tribal reprieve.
Fugazi-ass Women. Everybody pretends to be happy for Mike. Carolyn feels exposed without an Immunity Idol, but she thinks that she and Mike have a bond. Sierra, Carolyn and Mike agree that, relatively speaking, Will is more useful than Rodney. “At this point, I'm willing to do anything Mike wants,” Sierra says, apologizing to Mike with a Dan-esque level of genuineness. Nobody's making long-term plans, they pay lip-service to the idea that they're a Final 3. Monkey! Rodney invites Mike to cuddle with him on the hammock and Mike tells Rodney that he's been targeted by the girls. Rodney finds this hilarious. “I don't kiss no man's ass, bro,” Rodney tells us, promising to tell Mike his choice is going with “fugazi-ass women.” Rodney tells Mike he has a better chance of going against “vulgar” Rodney than sweetheart Sierra. Rodney swears on his sister's soul that he's good with going to an all-male Final 3. “If I make the wrong decision, it could be a million dollar mistake,” Mike says.
Tribal Council, Part I. Mike announces that he's the swing vote, but admits that he can't trust anybody there with him. This seems correct. Rodney knows that it's him or Rodney. Sierra knows it's her or Rodney. She tries arguing from a position of strength and says this should be about who's trying hard and who deserves to be there. This attitude confuses Jeff Probst and confuses Mike. Rodney wants to get to the vote, which will prove where he's at in the game. And Dan's just sitting on the Jury glowering at everything. In contrast, Shirin's huge “I can't believe I'm really here” smile never wavers.
The Vote, Part I. Rodney votes for Sierra and says he outwitted her. Sierra writes Rodney's name. Probst tallies: Sierra. Rodney. Sierra. SIERRA. Dan is shocked. Carolyn is disappointed. Sierra takes being voted out as a compliment.
Bottom Line, Episode I. I'm glad to have one of the three people who definitely didn't deserve to win out, but it seems to me that Mike's best move was orchestrating Carolyn's elimination and taking out the only genuine threat remaining. Somebody would have joined him. And sure, it would have run the risk of getting us to the indefensible Will-Sierra-Rodney Final 3, but… if Mike loses to Carolyn either in the next Immunity or at Final Tribal, he'll regret this, I assume. But Mike's strategy has never really been his greatest strength.
Episode 2, results and Bottom Lines on Page 2…
Splash Zone. Big waterslides! Is this Final Reward or Final Immunity? Immunity! You start by tying nots, race up a tower, zip down a waterside with a key, go through an obstacle course, get puzzle pieces and repeat until you can solve a lighthouse puzzle. I'm always glad when there's a worthwhile Final Immunity and this looks like it'll require effort. Mike gets out to a solid early lead, but it's hard to imagine any lead lasting permanently. Whee! Mike's lead holds up through the collection of the puzzle pieces. Everybody is utterly exhausted and who can blame them? Rodney gains an impressive amount of time and is right behind Mike. The lead wasn't big and Carolyn is right on Mike's tail. Suddenly Mike is on a run. Probst starts talking about Mike's historical company if he wins his fifth Individual Immunity. HE DOES IT. Mike is in the Final 3 and if he doesn't win, there's something very, very, very wrong. “You're a better person than when you walked in, brother,” Rodney tells Will, who agrees that this has proven that he can do whatever he sets his mind to. Probst gives Will a fist-bump. And in a nice moment, Will and the other losers present Mike with his Immunity necklace. And Mike does a Happy Dance. And if you're keeping score at home, Mike ties Colby, Tom, Potentially Second Chance Terry and Ozzy for most Individual Immunities in a single season. And no, that isn't a great track record when it comes to winning the game, is it?
Flame-Broiled. The Final 4 returns to camp arm-in-arm. Rodney's impressed with his physical effort, if not his puzzle-making. “Tonight's decision is huge,” Mike says, saying this is yet another million dollar decision. Rodney is sure that Mike's good with the guys, but Will is skeptical. “If you want a million dollars you don't bring someone who's nicknamed Mama,” Will observes. Mike reassures Carolyn that he felt betrayed by Blue Collar and he isn't going to vote for her. But Mike wants to force a fire challenge against Rodney. Really? He urges Carolyn to sneak off and get her fire skills in order. Mike makes no commitments to Rodney and tells us that if Rodney loses, it's poetic justice. Mike doesn't want to be the guy who took two goats to the end and won. Of course, he'll do it anyway if Mama C can't figure out how to make fire. She's frustrating and crying, but vows to put on her game face later.
Tribal Council, Part II. Dan glowers at another Mike Immunity win. Everybody is touched as they talk about the heartfelt moment at the end of Immunity. Dan sits on the Jury and grumbles and complains, attempting to earn his place as the worst Jury sport in “Survivor” history. Everybody makes fun of Rodney's effort back at camp. And then they go to vote.
The Vote, Part II. Carolyn votes for Rodney. Rodney votes for Carolyn. Probst tallies: Rodney. Carolyn. Carolyn. Rodney. Shirin is pumped. Dan is grumpy. And Hali and Jenn are pumped to watch some fire-making. Dan laughs like a crazy maniac. And we go to commercial.
Who's the Firestarter? Jeff Probst blabs for a bit and then goes silent. At six minutes, Carolyn's flint breaks. Apparently you get a backup? Oh SCREW THAT. After 20 minutes, Rodney moves to his backup flint. Carolyn's second flint backs after 21 minutes and… she gets more? Oh, come on. Neither of these people deserve a million dollars. Yes, Jenn's Yawn. You speak for all of us. After 45 minutes, nothing is happening. “If you were alone, you would be in trouble,” Jeff says. Shirin loves it. And Rodney gets a flame. It goes out. He blames sweat. After 50-something minute, Rodney gets a bigger flame. “Get wood! Get wood!” Dan yells. Just in time, Carolyn gets fire. Carolyn has a teepee strategy. Rodney just tries to make a pile. There's no question Carolyn's fire is more sustainable, but is this about sustainability? It is. Rodney senses his fire is going down. Rodney storms off. “I [bleeping] used all of my coconut husks like a [bleeping] idiot,” Rodney says correctly. Why do I suspect the exact nature of Carolyn's underdog win there may have swayed a few votes? And we end with representatives from all three Collars. Rodney's sure he would have won the game if Mike had taken him to the Final 3 and he calls Mike a “silly redneck,” a “scared little baby” and a “scumbag.” Ten minutes later, though, Rodney says he's found peace.
Mike's the Kool-Aid Man. It's Day 39. Will is relieved there's no more strategy left. This proves one last time that it's ridiculous that Will is in the Top 3. “I made the moves that I had to make,” he says, pointlessly. We used to do Rites of Passage here. Now everybody just eats breakfast. Carolyn says she played the game from start to finish, calling it “a season of gamers.” She says that being White Collar helped her make contingency plans. Mike felt alone in this game and dug deep into himself. He can bust through any walls, he now knows. But he also knows people don't like him.
Final Tribal. Wait. No Opening Statements? Joe says he has an open vote and tells Will to own his game, tells Carolyn to own her game and asks Mike to prove he did more than win challenges. And that's all Joe has. Hali asks Mama C how being a “mama” has been a disadvantage. Carolyn says that people see her as a mother and not a player, but she says she played hard and fought hard. That's all Hali has. Here come da Rodney! Rodney asks Will how he kept it real. The music stars as Rodney says he came in with what he has as a person. Shirin shakes her head. “I think I have a relationship with everyone on the Jury. Maybe not Shirin,” he says. She shakes her head in agreement. Rodney asks Carolyn what moves she made. She says her biggest move was taking Tyler out and then hooking up with Mike to take Dan out. Rodney has nothing for Mike, who hasn't said a word yet. Whew. Tyler asks Mike what he brought to the table in “a redeeming social manner.” “Really, I wanted to do better socially than I did,” Mike admits. “I guess I miserably failed at that,” Mike says as Dan shakes his head over and over. “I suck” is Mike's final answer. Wow. Congrats, Carolyn! Tyler tells Carolyn that he's gutted at her betraying him. “You were my most difficult vote,” Carolyn says, but she adds “'Survivor' makes you do things to get to this point that you may not be proud of, but if you don't do them you're sitting on the Jury.” Wow. Why is that so hard to say? Sierra asks which trait from the other players they wished they had. Will liked Mike's work ethic, but not his approach. He liked how Carolyn analyzed things. Jenn says they're all lovely people. Then she turns to the Jury. “Half of you are the most bitter people I've ever met,” Jenn says. “What else was he supposed to do?” Jenn says of Mike. She says that Mike is the only one who outwitted, outplayed and outlasted. “Get over it. Prove that you're a fan,” Jenn says. Dan rolls his eyes with the respect he's showed women (and everybody) all season. Dan tells Mike that Colby proved that winning Immunities doesn't get you the win. “There's no necklace to save your ass tonight,” Dan says. Mike asks to make a statement. He apologizes to Dan for what he did at the Auction. Why is he entitled to that? Mike says he hopes they can be friends. Dan returns to the podium. “That is the most genuine thing that you have said to me since the Auction,” Dan says. “That, finally, was real. And for that, I am grateful,” Dan says. Dan is, as we know, the Master of the Authentic Apology. Shirin gets to go last. She was hoping that Will and Mike would be there together. She's thankful that Mike protected her when Will attacked her. “That was a million dollar moment for me,” Shirin says, noting that she made her first million when she was 25. “But Mike, that doesn't mean you have my vote,” she says. She compares Mike to a howler monkey. She compares Carolyn to the stingray, crediting Carolyn with being on the right side of every single vote. “Will is the dead fish that we dragged in with our nets,” she says. Fine. I like you, Shirin! Are you satisfied! Yay, Shirin. She closes by quoting Sue Hawk. “When we got to vote… let it be the way that Mother Nature intended,” Shirin says. We needed Shirin on the 30th Anniversary Jury because nobody else was going to give us that.
Jury Vote. Jenn votes for Mike and says he deserved it 150,000 percent. Rodney casts the dumbest vote in “Survivor” history and goes with Will. Sierra votes for Carolyn because she played the best game in its entirety. Dan bangs his head against the voting table because he can't vote for Dan.
Live Vote Reveal. Probst tallies: Mike. Will. Carolyn. [We knew all of those.] Mike. Mike. MIKE!
Bottom Line, Part I. To me, Mike was as deserving a winner as we could have gotten this season. His social and strategic game was absolutely slash-and-burn, but after a certain point he didn't have any choice. All he could do was win when he could win, get value out of things like that Immunity Idol he found without a clue and occasionally try to push things around to steer votes when he had the chance. Getting behind Carolyn with the Dan vote was a good move. But really, Mike's best move was making sure that the straggling No Collars felt like he was a part of their underdog alliance when things were collapsing. So when Dan claimed that Mike didn't think about the Jury? Dan is just plain wrong. Mike thought actively about the Jury when he knew how bad the numbers were against him after the Merge. Nobody from the majority alliance was going to take Mike in, but no matter how much Mike was alienating his old Blue Collar chums, he bonded sufficiently with Jenn, Joe, Hali and particularly Shirin. That's four people. Even if one of those four voted for somebody else, two of them made impassioned defenses of his game at Final Tribal. Sorry, Dan, you blustery buffoon: That is a textbook example of playing to the Jury.
Bottom Line, Part II. There was some bitterness and anger on the Jury, but there was also some desire to respect gameplay. Kudos, I guess, for that. But I don't think it would have been a bad thing at all if the Jury had rejected Mike and gone with Carolyn instead. She came out of a largely dysfunctional tribe, took the one person whose assistance she valued, remobilized in another alliance that proved stronger and cut the throat of her biggest ally at exactly the moment she needed to. She found one Immunity Idol and used it perfectly. She won an Individual Immunity at a good moment. And she made fire in a must-win circumstance. I never warmed to Mama C as a personality, but if she had won, I'd have gone, “OK. That's a vote that really does reflect an interpretation of 'Survivor' virtues.” I was rooting for Mike, but Mama C was a worthy alternative and I'm glad that Mike at least gave her the option to make fire and go to Final Tribal with him, because even if Mike had still won regardless, I'd have been pretty disgusted to see that many votes for Rodney. Really, Jenn? You'd have voted for Rodney because he did funny impressions? Really? I bet she'd have come to her senses if necessary.
Bottom Line, Part III. Oh, Dan. I appreciate his earnest commitment to the things he thinks he believes, but come on. Blech. We had three Tribal Councils, including Final, of eye-rolling, mumbling under his breath and general poor sportsmanship, followed by desperate attempts to milk every possible second of screentime both during Final Tribal and during the vote. And then he got a really bad edit in the Live show, eh? And after all of his statements about giving hollow apologies to women, how pathetic is it that the crowd cheered for Dan's “apology” to Shirin there? But Jeff Probst's smackdown of Dan, even whipping out uncut footage to expose Dan's complaints about a bum edit, was meticulous and vicious. “Clearly I'm remembering it wrong,” said the sheepish Dan, while still insisting he doesn't have prejudices against anybody. Probst even called Dan out on the taste of his “Mail Escort” t-shirt. “I'm a guy who speaks his mind and I don't always get it right,” Dan finally said. White flag! White flag!
Bottom Line, Part IV. Will's live-show apology was dreadful. And Jeff Probst's birthday cake for Rodney, while amusing, made light of the awful things he said and did and just made it seem like he was a baby who cried about his birthday. It was more than that.
Bottom Line, Part V. I can't wait for next season. This season was pretty bad. I'd put it in the Bottom 5 all-time for “Survivor” seasons. But that's OK. Sometimes that just happens. At least the season had a deserving winner and that reduces that bad taste I might have otherwise had in my mouth. Had we ended with that Rodney/Sierra/Will Final 3, that would have guaranteed that this was the worst. We avoided that.
What'd you think of the result? The finale as an episode? And the season as a whole? [I'll do a second story with the Second Chance winners later.]