So it's come to this: the last episode of Survivor: Marquesas. Normally, this sort of occasion calls for two hours of "fond" memories of contestants past, much sitting around (since the only physical challenge involves not moving), and angry interrogations from spurned former friends on the jury. In short (and no, it's never short), it's like an extra-long edition of The Real World. Except, unlike the MTV show, someone gets a million bucks at the end. Oh, the tension! So without further ado, let's get it over with, shall we?
We open, as we often do, stirring the ashes of the previous episode's tribal council, in which Sean, who could have guaranteed Kathy a spot in the final two, was booted. Kathy seems to now be wavering about her decision. And it's a good thing, because she has no chance in hell of getting to the finals now.
But she can at least go through the motions, and participate in the fun camp activity of "Say Goodbye to Sanity Day." Paschal, appearing not unlike a furry skeleton, admits he doesn't look so good, but swears his mind is sharp. Having stood up to make this claim, he retreats to his previous activity of laying under a tree. Meanwhile, Kathy tries to convert Neleh to a new religion, one that apparently involves wearing rocks and screaming a lot. Neleh seems curious, and tries out some of these rituals. Her yelps alarm Pappy, to the extent that he almost lifts an eyelid in an effort to de-program her, but quickly gives up and returns to his flatlining. Exulting with her new disciple, Kathy screams, "I hate third place!" Whoops! Actually, it was "I hate this place." Sorry to ruin the "suspense" for ya.
Soon it's time for the final four "Fallen Comrades" immunity challenge, also known as, "What's in Vee's notebook?" This was chosen mainly because that's what they always do at this point, except in Australia, where everyone got really wacky on the security guards' bounteous spliffs, and used it for the final three immunity challenge instead. But also because Mark Burnett has been itching to use his new tiebreaker rule for the last five weeks, and the only way he's going to get to do it is if Vee wins immunity. So while Vee quietly studies her "poetry" book (which everybody has politely declined to listen to for the last 36 days), Paschal, Neleh and Kathy rack their brains trying to remember who the other people they booted off were. This is indeed challenging, since Pappy and Neleh have spent all their time making googly eyes at each other, and Kathy has been busy combing the ocean in a desperate search for more sea urchins for John. "Who was that one guy with the curly blond hair?" Pappy asks, desperately. "You know, he was like my son?" Neleh offers, "Oh my heck! Wasn't he called Zowie or Zooey or something like that? I think he caught lobsters...." Meanwhile, Kathy rocks back and forth, cackling, "This is crazy!"
And the challenge itself is pretty much more of the same. Vee wins, narrowly, but the real shock is that she does not immediately leap up, exhorting the heavens with cries of "Praise Jesus" for the next half hour. This is because, since Sean was booted, she's formed a secret alliance with God, who swears that they will go all the way to the million together. Of course, in doing so, He's stabbing poor Kathy in the back, but as He explains in a confessional, "When she did that thing with lining the rocks up on her legs, all bets were off. It's go time!"
So, in this completely "unpredictable" turn of events, a tie vote happens, with Kathy and Vee trying to oust Neleh, and Kathy being targeted by Humbert Humbert and his young bride. Probst threatens them that they'll have to grab the round objects in his sack if they don't come to an agreement about whom to boot, and pronto. After a brief discussion with God, Probst amends that to "Except Vee, of course." After a couple of minutes of negotiation, Kathy and Neleh selflessly decide that Paschal also deserves the opportunity to be booted, so all three have to draw colored rocks from Jeff's magic bag. In a dramatic moment, they all reveal their lots, and Neleh and Kathy have harmless yellow rocks. But Paschal stares in horror at the purple rock in his hand, which, as he vividly recalls from the Rev. Donald Wildmon's crusade against Tinky Winky, is the universal color of homosexuality. "Oh my Lord, I'm turning gay!" Pappy shrieks, and he collapses to the floor. Later, he lets loose a withering departing comment about the tacky decor of the tribal council set, and suggests it might be improved by some fabulous window treatments. "But I'm not holding my breath."
Back at camp, the three remaining women take stock. On the bright side, they're now free to curse like sailors and fart like Sean. The downside is, there's nobody around to turn away in horror from their "Chick Dance." Which begs Kathy's rhetorical question, "I mean seriously, what use is there in dancing, apart from making guys cringe?" So instead, Probst rousts them early so they can enjoy a full day of arts and crafts and makeovers. First there's something about the assembly of a canoe (which appeared to be largely pre-made), which they must paddle "around the island" to the challenge site. In reality, they make it out to the speedboat waiting just off shore, but their efforts still look Herculean on camera.
Next, it's time for the traditional "feigning cultural sensitivity" segment, in which the American contestants defame the local indigenous people by mimicking their native dress with approximately the same depth and precision as third graders at summer camp wearing feathers and war paint. In this case, it's "Marquesan tattoos," which leads us to believe that in traditional Polynesian cultures, people covered their bodies with crucifixes. All the while, Neleh reminds us that "This is soooo neat you guys, I mean, seriously! Especially that we got to shave our legs before this painting stuff!"
You might think that this would be enough blatant padding to get us to the final immunity challenge. But you'd be wrong. Dead wrong. Before we even consider such a thing, we have the traditional hike past the departed contestants' torches to endure. This is an opportunity for many, many more shots of weeping, reminding us just how much we miss that one guy who got booted the first week, and the woman with the big boobs. (As a side note, much of the footage seemed to showcase Sarah's cleavage, which was all the more cavernous on the massive big screens in Central Park. This may have helped, briefly). And no maudlin torch-walk would be complete without a heartfelt closing scene of Neleh kissing Pappy's pole.
But wait, there's more! Now, the women have to paint themselves yellow and accessorize themselves with reams of island flowers (we suspect Pappy may have had a hand in planning this). And again, since this is an ancient Marquesan ritual, the majority of it seems to involve praying to the Christian, American God, and a looped audio track of Neleh saying, "Gosh, this is neat, you guys."
Finally we get to the last challenge, which "shockingly," (since the exact same set and scripted remarks by Jeff Probst were used in Survivors 1 and 3) we discover it's the old stand-by (sorry about that, some puns are just too easy), "Hand on a Hard Idol," in which the final three stand for hours on end, holding on to a pole. Suddenly we realize that this is Neleh's challenge to lose. Why? Because all this time, she's been practicing.
Sure, all those scenes of her sitting around while others worked in the past few episodes may have appeared to be simply a princess-like aversion to perspiration, but it was really a top-secret, intensive training program in the gruelingly physical art of staying almost completely motionless. To ensure a fair and equitable outcome, Kathy and Vee are given spots that force them to double over at the waist, while Neleh is allowed to lean, gracefully, in a vertical position. So the challenge begins, and unlike in previous seasons, when Jeff Probst would circle the contestants, all but pelting them with food in an effort to dislodge them from their perches, this time he just sits there, counting out the time. Apparently they blew this episode's budget on the paint for those tattoos.
By the four hour mark (and yes, it seems to pass in real time, just like 24), shortly after Probst gets Neleh to admit she's taking Vee to the final two when she wins, the valiant host starts getting bored, and hollering his time announcements in 30-second increments. Soon Neleh has had enough, and takes matters into her own hands. "Oh my heck, Kathy! Your boobs are hanging out on national TV!" Kathy seems non-plussed, responding with a husky chuckle, "Yeah, they've been hanging there for the last 38 days, Sweet Pea. Is this the first time you've noticed? That's crazy!" Neleh tries an alternate tack: "Don't look now, Kathy, but John has his arms between your legs, and he's waiting for you to pee again."
At this, Kathy leaps 20 feet in the air (easily clearing the puddle of cameraman vomit below her perch), and is immediately disqualified. Neleh apologizes, "Whoops! That was your boob again, Kathy. Sorry, my bad. Better luck next reality show!" Nudging Vee, she asks, "God will forgive me for that, right?" Vee reassures her, "Oh, sweet Jesus yeah. Just ask for forgiveness, and you can go right back out and sin again!" And with that, Vee steps off her block, having completed the letter of her deal with Kathy to choose each other for the final two, should either win immunity.
At tribal council, we learn that the unthinkable has happened: Pappy has collapsed again. Probst declares, "John, since you're on the jury and are not allowed to talk to the contestants, why don't you fill us in on what happened?" After spending a couple of minutes arching his eyebrows, John confirms that yes, Pappy still thinks he's gay. "He's been starving himself for the past few days to get his weight down to his ideal body image, and as soon as he shaved yesterday, he was out all night at the local leather bars. This might have contributed to the fainting. Apparently, he thinks that wearing his magenta buff for two weeks altered his sexuality. We all had a good laugh about it back at the cruise ship, but this fainting stuff is a bit worrisome, and not just for its woefully inaccurate stereotyping. But I'm pretty sure that as soon as he sees Neleh again, he'll snap out of it." Then, without further ado, Neleh kicks Kathy to the curb. Leading us to...
The Final Two and Jury Vote
Yep, something this momentous, this completely unpredicted deserves its own special section. Let's recap where we are, shall we? On the one side, we have Vee. And we will know her by the trail of dead corpses, denoting her many broken alliances (Rob Mariano, the Rotu Three, Zoe, Paschal and now Kathy). She has flip-flopped her way into the final two (three, if you count God), but is looking pretty solid. Then there's Neleh, who, as she will remind us ad nauseum in the coming hour, started playing the "game" on Day 24, when she stabbed John in the back, bringing down his ruling alliance.
Well, they're doing a lot of hugging, trying to get that Love Tribe vibe going for one more day. The saccharine stench is so overwhelming, the local fauna are briefly distracted from their newfound vocation of leaping in and out of John and Robert's snares, and they venture over to take a peek at what's going on. Seeing it's just Vee and Neleh, they go back. Finally, demonstrating her profound worry over Paschal's condition, Neleh burns his discarded trousers (in his new mental state, Pappy prefers more slimming legwear). So we're left with: A liar, another liar, and pants on fire.
Sorry, it was just too easy, and someone had to say it. Might as well be us.
Eventually, they run out of clothes to cremate, and head off to the final Tribal Council. As they hike, we are treated to insightful observations from the jury members, who (as they are each season) are forced to go on camera and read the giant cue card saying "Tonight will be a tough decision, I have no idea who I'm going to vote for." Okay, for Zoe this may actually be true, and John does try out a bit of improv styling, driving home his point that neither really deserves the million, particularly in light of their willful destruction of otherwise relatively fashionable clothing.
At Tribal Council, we are relieved to learn that Paschal has recovered sufficiently, and he can now spend the rest of the show staring and winking at Neleh. Whew, what a relief! First, the two remaining contestants are given the opportunity to make a statement. Vee immediately plays the George W. Bush card, filling her speech with inventive vocabulary such as "deciseful" and "gunction." And in a crippling blow, she closes with the Presidential, "God bless America." Left without a surefire strategy of her own, Neleh retreats to her standby routine of "Oh my gosh, you guys! This is so neat! I love you all! Oh my heck! Day 24!"
Now it's time for the jury to grill Vee and Neleh. Tammy starts things off by channeling the spirit of Susan Hawk, calling both contestants hypocrites for their holier-than-thou back-stabbing shenanigans. Sadly, she neglects to phrase this in the form of a question, and it is stricken from the record. Sean then quizzes them whether they preferred the braids, or the 'fro-with-headband look. Both agree that, as long as they're in a well-ventilated area, it's all good. As Paschal rises, soft music swells up from an unseen orchestra. He croons a brief medley of Andy Williams hits, in an attempt to woo back Neleh, then makes his final campaign statement. "Both of you are wonderful, please vote for me! What? I'm not in the final two? Where am I? Who am I? Well, anyway, you're both great, and in a sense, I'll be splitting my vote tonight! Although in another, more accurate sense, both of those halves will be going to Neleh."
Robert gets things back on a hostile track by daring each of them to apologize for booting him. Only Neleh falls for it, since Vee takes the opportunity to apologize to Kathy. Unfortunately for Vee, Kathy is still shell-shocked from her booting, and is busy imagining the happy days back at Camp Rotu, when John was slicing the skin off of Robert's toe. Then Zoe gets up, and says simply, "I should have won, I was there too." Suspicion creeps across Probst's face, as he asks, "Hey wait a minute, who are you? You're not on this show! Security!"
After a brief scuffle, in which Zoe sends twelve set workers to the hospital, Kathy gets to formulate a question. She tries to determine how, exactly, Neleh made it to the final two under her own power. Not having any evidence to back this up, Neleh describes the times Paschal told her how to vote, and how neat it was that he brought her along when he won challenges involving mints. "I've still got one in my mouth, you want it?" Shaken by this threat, Kathy promises to vote for Neleh, if she'll just stop with the mint thing already.
Last but not least, the final shot is passed to John. He bemoans his decision, "why should I vote for either of you?" Pointing at Kathy, he says "She should be up here! Where were your full bladders when I asked for them, huh? Okay, technically Vee's was at the other camp, but still! Give me a reason, dammit!" Neleh, after slightly rearranging all of her previous speeches, comes up with, "Oh my heck, you guys! This is so neat! I love you all (wink, wink, Pappy)! This sucks! Day 24!" Vee, ever the strategist, replies simply, "Because I have a secret alliance with God." God takes this opportunity to cue some spooky Marquesan chants and drums.
Now, after the contestants' final statements (Vee: "I wanted questions, you slackers! Think about what we said, especially you, Zoe." Neleh: "I love you guys! I started playing at Day 24! I love you guys!"), the jury stumbles off to vote. As they had threatened to do previously, the Rotu Four exacts revenge on Neleh for stabbing them in the back, and votes for Vee. Except Zoe, of course, who never could seem to get that voting thing straight. And it probably wouldn't have been as close as the 4-3 final tally, except that Kathy had to choose between the one who stabbed her in the back (Vee) or the one who looked down her front (Neleh). In the end, she decided she liked the compliment.
And so Vecepia, the invisible castaway, was crowned victorious, just as stealthy Tina and hermit-like Ethan were. And as in every series, the final three IC winner was given the cold shoulder. Oh, and as a footnote, Vee revealed in later interviews that her secret alliance partner, "God," is better known as Mark Burnett. (Sssh! It's a secret! Don't tell anyone!)
But don't worry, with the Survivor franchise hanging in Les Moonves' good graces by a slender thread, and substantive format changes sure to be afoot for Survivor: Thailand, we couldn't possibly be forced to watch the exact same finale a fourth time in a row, could we? Could we?
Eh, we'll see. Maybe.