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Survivor: Tocantins Finale Recap
By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
May 18, 2009
Previously on Survivor, a couple of nitwits named Tyson and Coach postured themselves to be exceptional players. Confused by the point of Survivor, they proceeded to take a victory lap after they had voted off the perceived strongest player in the game, Brendon. There were eight players remaining in the game at that point. So obsessed was Tyson with the man that he spent the body of the next Tribal Council gloating over the fall of the man they had designated to be The Dragon. Moments later, Tyson was eliminated from the game. It couldn't have happened to a dumber guy.
Okay, that part is debatable since a dumber guy was voted off on his Thursday evening. His name is Coach and the fact that his vote counts as the same as yours on Election Day should be reason enough to question the idea of democracy. The end result of these two goofs bungling the end game in epic fashion is that the game's power trio - Taj, Stephen and J.T. - have coasted to the end with the type of ease the game hasn't seen since Ethan's alliance. One of the three of them or Erinn (ha!) will be the winner of Survivor this season.
Odds are that this person will be J.T., the game's most devious and clever player, but there is a chance his manipulation has been so subtle he cannot prove it to a jury. In that eventuality, Stephen, the other great strategist this season, will almost certainly prove to be the winner. We love the way Taj has played the game, but no one in their right mind is going to give the wife of Eddie George another million dollars to throw on the pile for the same reason no one takes lava to Pompeii. As for Erinn, the only hope she has is if she wins immunity a couple of times, betrayals come into vogue for the first time this season, or the other contestants suffer simultaneous congenital heart defects. That's our opinion, anyway. Of course, we thought Sugar was going to win a million dollars at this time last season, so our point of view has been proven suspect. Not as suspect as Coach's, but still.
We start tonight's episode by witnessing a stunning display of arrogance from J.T. and Stephen as they discuss which one of them will win a jury vote. Stephen is rightfully concerned because J.T. stuck with Coach on the earlier vote, meaning that he's got the "honesty" factor going for him. J.T. tries to tell him that no one knows who the actual betrayer of Coach was, but we all know that's not true, especially since Stephen's reaction after Coach's name was read gave him away. All of that is pretty unimportant, though, because we can't believe that Taj and Erinn are just sitting by as the two men determine the game's end. DO SOMETHING!
Stephen and Taj talk a bit about potentially voting out J.T. if he loses immunity at the next challenge, but they're not very emphatic on the subject. (Hint: It would be the right move, dummies.) Meanwhile, Erinn thinks that golly gee willikers, winning immunity would be nice! And if she doesn't win, she may be going home! (Scratch out "may be" and replace with "will absolutely, positively be".)
The Immunity Challenge has the contestants climbing through a "spider maze" and picking up three sets of puzzle pieces. Naturally, once they have all the pieces, they will have to solve for something that looks like a web. J.T. dominates the physical part of the challenge. Seriously, he just blows the other three away. He's back with all of his pieces before the others have gotten through the maze to retrieve their final bag. He works the puzzle, and the other three return with their pieces almost at the same time, which means that they're all playing catch up. J.T. has his puzzle almost completed when he realizes that he has one piece placed incorrectly, and he must figure out which one in order to complete the challenge. This allows Erinn to catch up to him, and she gets very, very close before finding herself in the same situation he was. Once again, J.T. is our Immunity Challenge victor. It is looking very, very good for him to win.
And so it is that we come to the point in Survivor where we play It's Anyone But Erinn. She sure gives it a great shot, though. The group decides to go sit in the water for a cool-off, and Taj opts out because she doesn't want to get sunburned. This gives Erinn an opportunity to plead her case. She does this in the most strategic possible manner. Instead of slamming Taj, she talks her up, making the point that in a jury vote, Taj is extremely well-liked and was friends with almost everyone. She really gives J.T. and Stephen reason to reconsider taking Taj to the final three. In most circumstances like this, you'll see a contestant desperately scramble, but Erinn has done nothing but give an honest evaluation of the situation.
At Tribal Council, the two boys are once again talking about how they've positioned themselves to win. We're still extremely frustrated by the fact that Erinn and Taj haven't taken a single moment to think about banding together and possibly forcing a tie between one of them and Stephen, since we're pretty sure he's not particularly adept at fire-building. Probst directly asks Taj if she would feel betrayed if she were voted off. Her indication that she would be surprised and alienated by such a move leads to a nervous look exchanged between the boys. It appears that Erinn's decision to talk up Taj has paid dividends. Sure enough, three out of four votes go to Mrs. Eddie George, as the Day One alliance among the Jalapao trio falls apart. Taj smiles as her flame is extinguished, but her comments afterward indicate that this act of treachery will not soon be forgotten. Under any circumstance, we applaud her for telling people that she was rich and famous, yet she still came pretty darned close to winning the game.
Back at camp, we see Erinn having the equivalent of a giggle fit at a funeral home while the mourners look at her in horror. J.T. says that he almost immediately regretted his decision to send Taj to the jury, commenting that Erinn is the most annoying person on the planet. Erinn comments that she can't believe how "every vote since the merge has gone exactly the way we planned it." It's pretty clear that Stephen and J.T. don't appreciate her including herself in that royal "we".
From discussions that take place at camp, here is how the final appears to be shaking out. Stephen is in the final no matter what. If he wins immunity, he's obviously going. Erinn tells him that she would take him to the final, and so does J.T. (obviously). We think that J.T. has a two in three chance of going, but there's the question of whether Stephen will hold true to his schoolboy crush or whether he gets more enamored of strategy and thinking through the jury vote. And clearly, Erinn has to win immunity to be certain of going, and she's going to have to make a compelling argument to Stephen to have him take her along with him to the final. From the way the editing is playing out, it's looking like Stephen is going to have to make that choice.
Treemail tells us that it's time to fast forward through a whole bunch of the show, because it's time to honor the contestants who have fallen before the Final Three. We looooooooooove having a TiVo remote.
The second Immunity Challenge of the evening is one of the coolest ever. Imagine you're playing pinball, but the object of the game is to catch the balls as the exit the machine at velocity. The contestants are told that they must insert their balls (huh huh, huh huh) into a contraption that spins them around and ejects them in one of two spots. As the game goes on, they must add more and more balls, meaning that keeping them spaced properly is crucial. Oh, and they have to do all this with one hand tied behind their back.
It doesn't take long before Erinn is ejected from the challenge. She has a near miss as she almost drops a ball, and that seems to permanently throw off her rhythm to the point that she cannot concentrate. This leave us with a showdown between the Bromantics, and we're thinking this particular game favors Stephen. However, he has four close calls, and he seems to have a mental letdown, resulting in him dropping a ball. J.T. has won immunity yet again, insuring himself a one in two chance at a million dollars.
And so, it's time once again to play It's Anyone But Erinn. Will J.T. betray his other ally from Day One? We understand how it would be tempting, but believe it would be a game-losing move if he did this. That doesn't mean that Erinn doesn't try to convince him to take her to the final instead of his friend. She tells J.T. that Stephen's really good with words and stuff, and that his eloquence will serve him well on the jury. For Stephen's part, he says that he's relieved that he doesn't have to make the decision between Erinn and J.T., and we believe him. We think he would have felt that the strategic move would be to take Erinn, but that his heart would have told him to take J.T., and that's a tough battle to play out, particularly in the diminished mental state that a lot of people are in at this point in the game.
Of course, there's also the pesky matter of Erinn telling J.T. that Stephen would have taken her to the final. When he directly asks Stephen if this is true, Stephen perhaps doesn't do the best job of quickly denying this that he might have. He offers to help J.T. think things through, which is pretty noble of him, and it will likewise be noble for J.T. to take his ally from the first day to the final.
Despite Stephen's best attempts to argue himself right out of the final (he claims that perhaps the promise of a breakfast together would be more important than $1 million), J.T. does in fact hold true to their alliance. The boys are going to the final together. We hope we get some good bow-chica-wow-wow music as they go about their final day.
What happens the next day? Stephen celebrates the fact that J.T. has finally made a commitment. He appreciates that his friend's mind works similarly to his. Oh, he also said that he thought he was a charmer when he first met him. Awwwww.
At long last, it's time for Tribal Council. For their opening statements, we see two different approaches. Stephen talks about how if it had been a contest between who was the best woodsman or who had the most charming Southern accent, they could have just voted for J.T. on day one and been done with it. He notes that he thinks the reason he should win is because he has changed the most during their time on Survivor. When he arrived, he was uncomfortable in his own skin, had never been camping, and never thought he could get through an ordeal like this one. His life has been profoundly affected by his time on the island.
As for J.T., he effectively says that he might not have a fancy English degree, but he is the first person in his family to graduate from college, and he's smart enough to have been the driving factor in the majority of decisions that have taken place with regard to various votes. At the same time, he's humble enough to note that had things just gone slightly differently, he'd be on the jury while one of the other players would be in his seat. He turns up the accent a little bit and it's probably not the worst idea in the world, either.
Brendan is the first jury member to speak to the boys, and he gets his money's worth. It's been very clear the whole time that he's been enjoying watching the game play out, and he says as much. He asks Stephen if he really thinks that his argument that he has changed is a legitimate reason for him to win, especially considering that it's not a factor in other games and sporting events like football or the like. Stephen counters that he thinks in Survivor, it should matter, because "outwit" is a crucial component of the game. J.T. disagrees, saying that he thinks just because someone had a harder time overcoming some obstacles, it doesn't make that person better. In fact, he claims that Stephen hid in the shadows during a lot of challenges, which perhaps means he's less deserving of respect. Stephen rebuts by saying that hiding in the shadows is a good Survivor strategy. Any notion of a gentleman's agreement not to hit each other is out the window, obviously. Brendan is delighted with the whole thing.
Erinn, who almost made the final, asks Stephen how he was able to be in so many different alliances and expect the people he lied to within those alliances to vote for him to win a million dollars. He says something confusing about dynamic structures and aggressive gameplay. We're not sure what she or the other jurors will think of that answer. She asks J.T. why he believed that he took the strongest person with him to the final. He says that from early on, he believed that Stephen was a strong mental player and that when the merge occurred, he told other players such as Coach that Stephen was the best.
Now we move on to Debbie, who is one of those annoying jurors that likes to pretend she has a ton of power in her one vote. This year, it might be true, though. She tells J.T. that she responded to him early on because she thought he was honest, but as the game went on, she realized he might be a little devious. She asks him which of those people he really is. His answer is before he came on the game of Survivor, his mother told him that he should never believe anything people tell him. And he reminds her that she was lying to people as the game got to its later stages, and gets the fact out there that she lied to Coach. She seems to accept this answer. She asks Stephen the super tough question, though. She asks him if he would have taken J.T. or Erinn to the final with him if he had won immunity. He says he doesn't know, but she won't accept the answer. Therefore, he says he thinks it would have been Erinn. He would like to think he would have taken J.T., but he just doesn't think that's what he would have done. J.T. is visibly hurt by this declaration. We're not sure how the confession affects the voting other than continuing to ensure that J.T. has Coach's vote, but it's a big deal.
Coach comes up and says some things about blah blah blah honesty and blah blah blah nobility. He asks J.T. about those things, we think. J.T. tells him that he promised not to vote for Coach and he held to that word. He also explains that the nature of the game forced him to occasionally keep things from Coach, but that he did not directly lie. Additionally, he makes an argument for his own nobility by noting that he could have taken the easy way to a million dollars by choosing Erinn to go to the final two with him. Instead, he went the noble route and went man to man against his good friend. This is a darned compelling argument and might have just won him a million bucks.
Now Coach moves on to "evil wizard" Stephen and asks the same question. Stephen says that he voted for every single person sitting on the jury. This makes him honest, somehow. As for nobility, he correctly states that he hasn't said a single bad thing about J.T. during this Tribal Council. This was probably a better answer than Coach wanted to hear.
Sierra comes up and is pretty much worthless. She has nothing to ask Stephen, but asks J.T. how he can truly believe that he is sitting next to the strongest person. He says that Stephen won individual immunity and came close to beating him in the final challenge. She mutters something about J.T. having lost her respect, which just kind of makes us say ooooooooookay. She's the kind of chick who writes love letters to death row inmates. She likes really miserable sons of bitches. The J.T.'s of the world are just too nice for her.
Tyson comes up and is insidious, just like he likes to be. He notes that the two of them have commented a lot about how they have shared a mind when it comes to the game, and wonders if J.T. believes he could have gotten to the final without his alliance with Stephen. J.T. says he believes he could have. Stephen then says that he's hurt by this assertion, because he thinks it devalues their friendship and their ability to work together so well. He reasons that both Erinn and Taj would have taken him to the final instead of J.T., and J.T. doesn't have much he can say to that, really. Tyson smirks as if thinking he's victorious, but come on. If any of you people sitting on the jury had explored these cracks in the J.T./Stephen relationship during the game, you could have been sitting there right now instead of them. Don't act like you've done something clever.
Finally, we have Taj, who was crushed and betrayed by both her boys. She says to J.T. that she doesn't understand how it could have been so hard for him to write down Coach's name but it seemed effortless to write down hers. J.T. says it absolutely was not, and he considered her to be a sister to him. She is even more upset with Stephen, and says that he displayed some baffling behavior during the late stages of the game. Stephen tells her that there were many times during the course of the game that J.T. wanted to take her out and Stephen protected her during those times. J.T. counters and said that there was never a time when he was making that suggestion on his own. They argue about it some, but Taj is done with them. Stephen gets a little upset and tells J.T. that he's tired of him slandering him all night. He then says that their friendship just isn't worth this fighting. J.T. humorously says, "Should have brought Erinn." This works on a couple of levels since we know that Stephen would have taken Erinn and we know that J.T. is extremely hurt by this admission.
This was a pretty big time Tribal Council - one of the best ever. The questions were all excellent and much was revealed. And we have no idea who's going to win, which is great. Either one is deserving, which is also great.
Jeff Probst reads the votes, and the first four go to J.T., which makes him the Survivor winner. It was unanimous, for only the second time in Survivor history. This season surely didn't match up to the awesomeness of last season, but the final Tribal Council was pretty amazing. Congratulations to the Southern Gentleman. Friday Night Lights should just go ahead and sign him on to the cast right now.
*One final note: we learn in the post-show discussion that J.T. was totally putting it on when he acted hurt about Stephen possibly taking Erinn to the final. He figured it would get him a few more votes. *This* is what we we've been talking about when we tell you that he's more devious than anyone ever gave him credit for.