Survivor All-Stars
Episode Fifteen: The All-Stars Finale
By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
May 25, 2004

First, Survivor and now the Love Boat.

This is the way Survivor: All-Stars ends; not with a bang but a whimper. No, wait, that's how it started and the status quo maintained through the episodes up until now. Tonight's three hour block promises to be at the very least surprising and potentially even explosive. Before all of that can happen, though, we are going to have to suffer through the usual gratuitous amounts of Season Finale filler.

Driving this point home, the first ten minutes of the show is a re-cap of the show to date, and they can't even make that very interesting. There is the amusing realization that Rob and Amber huddled together on the boat ride in. There is the reminder of how poorly Rob Cesternino played, destroying any lingering credibility for his wildly overrated gameplay abilities and strategy in a prior season. There is the poignance of Jenna Morasca going home to be with her sick mother. And there is the cosmic hilarity of Sue ranting like a lunatic again. Sadly, the moment that drives home how much of a failure the All-Stars experiment has been is the way that the most recent three episodes are recapped in the span of six seconds. Even the Survivor editors agree with us that this season has been a boring bust.

Night 36 finds a final four of Rob, Amber, Jenna and Rupert. The Vegas odds on those middle two making it this far were *ahem* not good. What's sad is that there is a decent chance that they are the final two. All that has to happen is for Jenna to betray Rupert and Amber to shiv Rob. As if reading our minds, the show jumps right into its patented slithering snake metaphor. Soon afterward, Jenna is given the idea by Rob and Amber that betraying her bearded ally would help her because she has "no chance to beat Rupert". At this moment this is said, we both immediately mutter "who here does she have a chance to beat?", but that's not really the point. The genius of the game Rob has played so far is that he hasn't just been willing to put a dagger in a friend. He has also given others the blood-stained weapon and said "it's up to you but you might want to stab Friend X in the back." We're astounded by how many of his cohorts have been willing to play the part of Judas based on such flimsy rationale. It's almost as if these people -want- to betray their colleagues. We imagine the Survivor lecture circuit is never going to be the same again after this season. Wouldn't you love to be at the luncheon where Lex and Tom are introduced right after Rob? We don't know exactly how much damage a person can do with a salad fork, but we would like to see Mr. Mohawk try. "I'm going to take care of you the same way you took care of me. Aiiieeee!"

Finally, we actually get to Day 37 on the island, as Probst shows up with breakfast, and nothing else worthy of note happens. It's a theme.

So, it's not particularly surprising when we quickly cut to the first Immunity Challenge of the evening. Since Jenna has made it very clear that she doesn't want a purple pebble deciding her fate, it's pretty obvious that Rupert needs immunity here. The challenge itself is a circular obstacle course which obscures various pockets where the contestants will find rungs to construct a ladder. Each Survivor must weed their way through mazes of mesh and rope to find eight different rungs. The first one to build his or her ladder will be the winner. It's a generally suspenseful race to the end, but it's Amber who walks away with the necklace -- for the *first* time in her Survivor career. Looks like it's time for a rousing game of "it's anyone but Rupert."

We come back from commercial and Jenna actually tells Rupert about the strategy proposed to her by Rob and Amber. She says she doesn't want to give TV's "It Couple" the smug satisfaction of having absolutely everything go exactly their way. That segment is immediately followed by a shot of Rob pressuring Jenna to do what he wants. She's noncommital, but it appears as though the Bostonian may have overplayed his hand for the first time in this game. Unless Jenna is just that wishy washy. Hmm, maybe he's safe after all.

Rob goes off to pout and have a little private island time with his own personal Brooke Shields, and she professes that she wants him to come to the final with her. We're a little bit skeptical about that statement, as we see a definite divide between the romantic in her thinking, "oh, wouldn't that be sweet?" vs. the "oh, hell no" from the girl who claims to be able to smell the money.

Tribal Council arrives and there's not really much to discuss. Despite editing to make it appear that Jenna might do the decent, honorable and loyal thing by sticking with her long-time ally, she casts her vote for Rupert. Say what you will about Rob and Amber, but it is extremely impressive that they are two of the final three.

And now it's time for the fast forward portion of the show, as the three remaining contestants get all crazy with body paint and honor those tribemates who have fallen before them. Seriously, if Alias were actually on tonight, we would have flipped over (though now that we've seen the Alias finale, we might retract that statement).

But wait. When the trio comes to Rob Cesternino's torch, his voiceover comment is that he believes he might be the greatest Survivor player ever. Sure you are, big guy. And Jenna also totally deserves to be in the final three. And we also are having a blowout sale on bridges.

Like all final Immunity Challenges, this season's is all about endurance. The Survivors must stand barefoot on two thin posts while keeping one hand on the Immunity Idol. Last man/woman standing gets to choose who faces the jury with them.

At the two hour mark, Jenna lifts her back foot and is eliminated. Rob's grin is so big it almost eclipses the sun.

But then...

Amber suggests that Rob should step down and give her immunity, and he almost does until Probst stirs the pot. A mini-argument ensues, and Amber reveals that "she just wants to win." The fact that Rob would have to agree to quit in order for her to beat him is apparently irrelevant.

At three hours, 11 minutes, Amber loses focus during a conversation with Rob and puts her second hand on the idol without thinking. Rob, who has been in control of the game the entire time, is in the final two.

After that, we get ten minutes of "It's Anybody But Jenna." Ten minutes later, we find out it's Jenna, who claimes she was more strategic and observant the second time around. We consider this to be more a damnation of her play in the first season than a compliment to her abilities in All-Stars.

Night 38 is the realization of Mark Burnett's dream for the show. The only two remaining contestants are a cute boy and a pretty girl who are head over heels in love. It's almost certain to be the only time in the run of the show that events unfold in such a manner. As Amber points out, "There's nobody here -- it's just you and me." Isn't it romantic?

The mood quickly turns as the duo is brought before the jury a few hours later. To say that this encounter is tense would be like describing the weather in The Perfect Storm as rainy. The people sitting around Big Tom should have worn their thickest winter coats in order to account for the chill coming from him. Hell hath no fury like white trash scorned.

Once the opening statements are completed, something unexpected happens. After an uneven season of countless dull moments, the show manages for 90 minutes to become something truly special. The emotions are real, the feelings are dramatic yet believable and the tension is palpable.

This aspect of Survivor mirrors something that the producers of MTV's Real World/Road Rules challenges stumbled upon a few years ago. Once the people know each other well enough to interact in social gatherings, a return to the treacherous behavior normally performed during the show becomes much more of a violation. These people are no longer strangers, but instead someone you have introduced to your family...and they have betrayed you.

Betrayal amongst a group of people who are effectively co-workers is the one sequence of events reality television creates that may not be mirrored by actors playing parts. The fly-on-the-wall feeling this gives viewers is tantalizing voyeurism in its purest form.

Getting back to the speeches, Rob's is summed up as, "Vote for me, because I just whipped your ass." This is the Stone Cold Steve Austin approach. Amber's speech is summed up as, "Vote for me, because I wasn't the one who whipped your ass." This is the Don't Blame Smithers for Hanging Out with Mr. Burns approach.

How about the questions? Well, let's just say Ron and Amber should put on their cups.

Lex is first up, and he is quick to go the route of King Hypocrite. Lex, who never once described his decision to keep Amber around as a favor a friend, has managed to convince himself that he was totally backstabbed. Lex, who assassinated friends Ethan and Colby and betrayed Jerri (you know, the girl he had an alliance with), has decided to break out his wagging finger on Rob.

We said the instant Lex chose to ditch Jerri that it was a fatal mistake, and we're very disappointed that Mr. Mohawk has gone into denial about the problem. The fact that he is blaming Rob for being no more reliable than he had been with those three is comical to us.

Kathy's speech is much more deeply personal. It's very clear that she looks at Rob as something close to a son (albeit possibly in a Colby's Mom kind of way) and her disappointment in his tactics has cut her deeply. At the same time, her maternal instinct for Rob hasn't disappeared, because her question for Amber is whether she played Rob as a Patsy or if their relationship is genuine.

Next comes Rupert, who is considerably more upbeat. He thanks the duo for sticking to the pact they made with him and smiles encouragingly when they answer his questions. Rob hits the jackpot when he tells Rupert that the reason the big guy should vote for him is that Rupie is a man of his word. It's quite apparent that our favorite pirate likes both remaining contestants a lot, though.

Alicia steps up and tops Lex in competitive finger wagging by literally breaking hers out. She seems to think she's making some sort of significant point, but really just looks foolish and bitter. She asks Rob how he thinks he's played the game, and his correct answer of "Competitively" only serves to rile her up more. She asks Amber the same question, but you get the definite feeling that it doesn't matter what she says. She's got Alicia's vote anyway.

The humorous high point of the evening comes from Shii Ann, who correctly calls her fellow angry jurors out as the hypocrites they are. She might suck at the game itself, but she at least has a realistic view of the situation.

Jenna, who looks like a painted harlot, compliments the duo on their gameplay and notes that she has no negative feelings toward them. She's honestly thrilled that she got to play with the cool kids for as long as she did.

Burnett and Co. cleverly save the best tribal council moment for the end. Big Tom steps up to the microphone. We pause the TiVo for a moment to go pop some popcorn.

Tom, who has dressed for the occasion by wearing his typical stylish combination of overalls and no shirt, has spiffed things up a bit by sporting a trendy new hat. After noting that the duo broke the alliance they supposedly had with him from Day One, he decides to get all metaphorical and talk about goats, their nannies and castration. We don't quite know what it all means, but it must surely be as profound as William Wordsworth's ruminations on Tintern Abbey.

His question for Amber is why she deserves the million dollars over Rob. Tom later very nicely summarizes her answer by saying, "You lied a little bit but Rob lied a lot." Her rationale is that Tom's alliance with Rob was more significant than his alliance with her, so she only transgressed a wee little bit. Frankly, it's probably the only thing that she could say here that doesn't sound insincere.

Tom asks the same question of Rob, and the Bostonian gets a tad defensive, spouting conspiracy theories about Tom's plans to eliminate him first. At this moment, Tom comes up with one of the truly great moments in Survivor history as he approaches the couple with his hand extended, saying "no hard feelings." When Rob reaches out to reciprocate, Tom pulls his hand away and says, "Don't be stupid, stupid." It's petty, childish and utterly hilarious.

The only difference between the initial speeches and the final ones is that emotion has crept into Rob's game. Faced with the startling, passionate criticism from his peers, he is reduced to stuttering and even a stray tear.

Whereas Amber is able to look everyone in the eye and state her honesty tonight as if it were the stain remover for any previous duplicity, he is left only able to feebly mumble an apology to one and all. At the last moment of the game, he shows only his second sign of weakness in 39 days (the previous one being Amber's tribe switch).

We fear that this demonstration of vulnerability will prove to be a fatal mistake as we have deduced the swing vote to be Shii Ann. She has demonstrated a distaste for the weak and a lust for power and those who hold it. Had Rob ruled the final council with an iron fist, the best player this season and the most dominant one in the history of the show would be a lock despite his issues with some of the vanquished opponents, but now we have concerns.

The votes of Jenna, Rupert and Kathy appear certain to be his since the other half of the final four were appreciative in his allowing them to make it that far. Kathy suspects Amber of bewitching Rob in order to further her stay on the island so any personal issues she might have with her baby boy are secondary at the moment. That's three votes we think are in the bag.

While Rob is never in a million years going to get the votes of the Doth Protest Too Much whiny hypocrites (Lex, Alicia and Big Tom), it's the loss of Shii Ann's vote that would prove costly.

The votes are cast, and we cut to Madison Square Garden, where a huge crowd is wild with anticipation for the results. Amber is wearing an "I heart Rob" t-shirt, which is cute and also convenient in the event that she should ever trade up for Rob Lowe or Rob Burnett (not to be confused with Mark), or even if she should trade down for Rob Cesternino or Rob Schneider (assuming Colleen Haskell is done with him).

Moving right along, Probst notes that All-Stars has been the season of Rob, and he's completely right. Love him or hate him, Maashole's been the one compelling reason to watch the show this season. He's one of television's great characters.

Rob proves this fact as his response to the host is to say that regardless of what happens with the vote, he feels like he's already won. He trumps anything that Burnett (Mark, not Rob) could have planned for this big finale by proposing to the girl who captured his heart. His actions on that stage go a long way toward showing why Mariano was so well-liked among his fellow Survivors and why it cut them so hard when he played the game irregardless of any friendships he may have formed. He's a charming and amazingly human young man. Naturally, Amber accepts. Who wouldn't? Well, Big Tom excluded...

Probst is quick to point out that Rob's popping the question was actually not the big surprise they had planned for the evening, and notes that the million dollar winner hasn't even been revealed yet. It says a lot about the sweetness of Rob's gesture that we'd honestly forgotten about the vote. We're such suckers.

The results of the vote are read, and the vote is as close as it can be. Amber wins by a one vote margin, as her name was written down by Alicia, Tom, Lex and Shii Ann, who was indeed the deciding factor. Jerri's little toady sure has come a long way since Season Two.

And that's the end of the show itself for this season. There is still the cast interview process and a bonus episode to re-cap. We'll get to those in our next update.