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Survivor: Panama - Exile Island Recap

The Final Showdown

By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower

May 15, 2006

Strange, I had heard Danielle was gonna win.

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We have nearly reached the end of the Exile Island experiment. On the surface, this daring new game addition was poised to revolutionize the very nature of the Survivor dynamic. In execution, we've seen plays that were more exciting than this. Honest to God, plays! We applaud the attempt to infuse new life into a generally stale concept, but it simply didn't work.

That's not to say this season has been a complete bust. To the contrary, we have found several of the episodes decidedly engaging. Considering that since we've known the basic outcome of the show since the two main tribes merged, this is saying a lot. Ever since a tempestuous fighter pilot named Terry eschewed any semblance of team play by making zero effort to save his doomed teammates from the La Mina tribe, the names of the final players were all but assured. Let's take a moment to review this list:

The aforementioned Terry is the game's outsider. The 45-year-old is the most physically dominant player since Season Two's Colby (currently appearing in bit roles on Bones and Las Vegas) and has won all of the individual immunity challenges except the last one. Even if he had received votes in that Tribal Council, he had unearthed a hidden immunity idol that would have given him protection. Of course, his possession of this idol circles back to the weak aspect of Terry's game. On Thursday, he demonstrated once again that his selfish outlook on Survivor game play limited his ability to advance. Had he given Danielle the award, the duo would be assured a majority heading into the final three. Instead, his fate is once again out of his hands as we await the result of a "To Be Continued" tie at Tribal Council. This is (at least) the second time that his Gollum-like unwillingness to give up the precious may have damaged his positioning in the game by not taking risk in order to gain tremendous reward. As we have stressed throughout the competition, Terry is all about Terry. We would be surprised if his egotistical game play allowed him to win a popular vote.

Terry's chief physical competition is his younger peer, Aras, the yoga instructor. He has been perceived as a significant physical challenge, which means that Terry sees him as the primary competition in the game. However, throughout the game, his strategy and decision-making have been questionable. In recent weeks, however, it was revealed that he has had an alliance with Cirie from very early in the game, which makes us think that perhaps his planning had been better than we had given him credit for. It appears that he was having many behind-the-scenes discussions that the editors chose not to let us see. If Cirie wins the Tribal Council tiebreaker with Danielle at the beginning of this show, Aras is in a strong position to win Survivor. All he would have to do is win immunity and take Terry with him into the final.

Danielle is the most obfuscating player this season. To hear some people talk, she has done so little that her mere appearance in the final four is a travesty. Others feel that she has quietly played a brilliant game, making allies at the right time and betraying them when it is most advantageous. She was with Aras and Cirie until such time as the writing was on the wall that she needed to make a new play. At this point, she immediately switched off to Terry. We don't feel that she is the brains of the bunch, but she's not Terry-level stupid, either. If she eliminates Cirie, she is in fantastic shape to win the game, because she is likely to beat Terry in a vote and is a coin flip against Aras.

The real power player this year, though, is Cirie. Yes, we are as shocked to type those words as you are to read them. When the tribes were initially divided into four groups, we found it likely for Cirie to be voted off right away. After all, she didn't like to touch stuff. To our surprise, she survived not once, but twice in this manner, demonstrating that her chief asset in this game is to be a master manipulator, perhaps the best since the show's prototype, Richard Hatch. A couple of weeks ago, she performed one of the most impressive maneuvers in Survivor history when she calculated a 3-2-1 vote wherein both of her allies would be targeted while she remained safe. The deft touch she displayed in determining the voting patterns of those not within her alliance was plenty impressive in its own right, but persuading Danielle and Aras to go along with her was exemplary. Despite all her natural gifts, we don't think Cirie is going to win, and no it's because she doesn't like to touch leaves and bugs and things. Instead, she has that Rob Cesternino type of respect that makes other players recognize they can't beat her. Terry's ego might have him believe otherwise, but Cirie is easily the biggest threat remaining on the island. Unless she beats Danielle in a quest for fire in the tribal council tiebreaker then wins immunity at the three, Cirie's only chance of making the final two is if Aras is loyal to a point of fault. We don't think he's willing to become the new Colby.

There is no lollygagging at the beginning of this episode. We start in at the moment where the prior episode cut. Danielle and Cirie are ready to battle it out to determine which one of them will be sent home this evening. The first one to spark a fire earns a spot in the final three alongside Terry and Aras.

What we learn from the competition is that cavemen get a bad rap. It's hard making fire! The contestants are required to build enough of a fire that it will burn a tiny rope roughly 18 inches above their embers. Cirie gets flame first, and we are certain that she is going to win this tiebreaker in record time. As it turns out, the reason that Cirie gets fire first is that she has not laid the foundation for a healthy burn. Her sparks die out, setting her back to step one. Simultaneously, Danielle almost wins when her small fire suddenly has a volcanic eruption. She is almost hit in the face as the flame shoots a good foot over the rope. To her frustration and our surprise, the fire does not burn through. Danielle blows so hard that she almost puts out her fire, and at this point, Cirie moves back into the lead. She has a steady but small flame, which she inexplicably finds unsatisfactory. Cirie blows out her fire in what we can only describe as an epic mistake. At this point, Danielle has learned from experience and nurtures a more methodical flame in a new effort. Her rope catches fire not once, but twice, before finally burning through on the third attempt. Danielle wins the tiebreaker and a spot in the final three. To our extreme amusement, Courtney begins to celebrate as though she has been rooting for Danielle all along. Courtney is the American voter.

In an amusing turn of events, when Danielle returns back to Gitanos camp, she is now unable to start a fire. Team Terry lends an assist and the two celebrate the fact that if either one of them wins immunity, they'll be the final two. Now all we have do is kill 45 minutes to get to that point.

Day 37 of the show starts by showing the viewer a frog's throat as it is croaking, which doesn't bode well for potential upcoming excitement. Terry caresses his hidden immunity idol, which he doesn't seem to realize is worth 100% less today than yesterday. He talks about taking it to a pawn shop. Hey, Terry. Ever hear of this little thing called eBay? On the Internet? As he shows the idol to his competitors, Danielle takes it to mean that Terry is again trying to point out that his penis is larger than Aras's. We suddenly recall that Danielle actively dislikes Terry. We begin to wonder how certain it is that she takes him to the final. Of course, she'd have to win the immunity challenge for that to happen. That would be the modern-day equivalent of Buster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson.

"Aras better give him a run for his money at the immunity challenge, or else Aras will be going home." -- Danielle. Er, never mind what we just said.

Probst sighting! Hey, we're going to get the immunity challenge over with much faster than...oh, wait. In order to kill time on a two-hour show, Mark Burnett is sticking in a superfluous reward challenge at the 20 minute mark. Unless this reward is for a long weekend with Scarlett Johansson, it's entirely pointless.

The inventive competition involves three segments. The first one requires the players to navigate a peg through a maze. The best comparison we can make is those children's games where they have to get the Hamburglar out of French Fry Prison. The kid draws a line from start to finish, avoiding dead ends along the way. Terry and Danielle struggle in getting through, allowing Aras a slight lead heading into the second leg. That second leg is simple, as players uncover a bag full of pegs by solving a couple of clues. Aras opens up a bit larger of a lead, with Terry just behind and Danielle effectively eliminated. The final segment is wall climbing. Aras and Terry have to use the pegs they uncovered to scale the incline. After being ahead, Aras stumbles twice, allowing Terry to surpass him at the last moment and claim victory. Aras simply loses focus when Terry is on his tail. As always, Terry is super classy in victory. Yes, we're being sarcastic. The only aspect of this reward challenge that is at all important is that it is specifically created to give a player an advantage in the final challenge. Terry receives a "power meal" full of healthy, sustaining foods like chicken and fruit. Additionally, he gets a cot with a pillow for his night's rest. We'll see if the reward makes a difference.

Aras and Danielle also feel like they've won an award, since they're separated from Team Terry for a while. Of course, the instant Terry returns, he can't wait to describe the massive dinner. We dislike Terry so much, we're starting to miss Shane and Courtney.

Now is the time when we fast forward through a big chunk of the show. It's the ever-dull "tribute" portion of the final episode, where the remaining Survivors pay honor to those who went home before them. We pause only to watch Austin's clip, because he was our favorite and only bad fortune caused his downfall. As for the rest, we just. Don't. Care. We do get a significant amount of portion in watching Exile Island burn down. We hope it never comes back.

Unlike past seasons, this final immunity challenge is designed to go quickly. A series of four platforms are balanced in a row in the water. Each of the four is successively smaller and difficult to stand on than the previous one. The players must maintain balance on the platform for 15 minutes, then they have one minute to advance to the next platform. If they are unable to attain balance in that period of time, they are eliminated. The genius of this challenge is that all three of the players are relatively equal at the start. Terry has demonstrated a fiery competitive streak, Aras's yoga skills will serve him well in terms of balance and stability, and Danielle's low center of gravity will assist her. The first 15 minutes pass without incident, with Danielle being so unchallenged that she spends part of her time contemplating how good the fishing would be in that spot. When they move to the second platform, Aras experiences an instant of difficulty, but soon recovers. We prepare for a long, grueling competition.

The third platform proves us wrong. Aras's attempts to find balance turn into a Keystone Cops routine. With 45 seconds to go, he finally sustains stability. Terry is even less fortunate. The only other guy we've seen jump in and out of the water this much is Aquaman. With 15 seconds left, it appears Terry will be unable to continue. He impresses us at the last moment by somehow raising his hands out of the water and maintaining balance. We've been hard on Terry throughout the season, but make no mistake on the point. The man's force of will is awesome to behold. Even he cannot master the power of gravity in this setting, though. Terry crashes into the water, becoming the first contestant eliminated. We expect some level of negotiation to ensue between Aras and Danielle, as they could work a deal to advance to the final two. Danielle seems to nod her head at Aras, but before anything else can happen, he accidentally plunges into the water. Danielle wins immunity and the right to choose her opponent in the final vote. We raise Danielle's odds of winning Survivor this season to 75%.

We reach the halfway point of the show and it's time for Danielle to debate who she should take to the final. Terry takes the first possible opportunity to seek reassurance from Danielle that their pact still stands. She earns a spiritual high five from us when she says, "If you had given me the hidden immunity idol, I would a hundred percent have taken you. Without any question, it wouldn't even be an issue right now." In a way, finding that hidden immunity idol is the worst thing to happen to Terry. All he's done since he's had it is screw the pooch.




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At this point, Terry does what humans do best except for one animal. He weasels. "You should like totally take me because that would be the best thing for you because of, you know, loyalty and stuff."

Aras's approach is 100% more clever. He threatens her by pointing out that Danielle needs seven votes to win. If she takes Terry to the final two, she will lose both his and Cirie's vote.

To her credit, Danielle, who never thought she would actually be in this position, dispassionately makes a list of the potential jurors and which way their votes seem likeliest to go. Her focus is on the million dollars and she is strategizing to the end.

At Tribal Council, the questioning more or less follows that same line. Terry emphasizes that he thinks Team Terry is the better play here, while Aras comments that when Danielle nodded to him during the immunity challenge, he really believed he was golden. Even as she is in the voting area, Danielle appears to struggle with the decision. Ultimately, she holds to her original team alliance and Aras accompanies her to the final. As for Team Terry, our comment before that the hidden immunity idol has kicked his ass really is the truth. Had he given it away earlier in the game, he might have been able to swing a numbers advantage. If he had given it to Danielle at the final four tribal council, she would certainly have taken him to the final two. In the end, it was a worthless relic that represents absolutely nothing other than perhaps bad karma. Danielle's task at the final vote just got a lot harder.

A seemingly innocuous decision is made when Aras asks Danielle if they should have orange juice or a mimosa. Danielle chooses the mimosa, which leads to another unnecessarily violent scene on the beach. Aras slides on a slippery rock and falls backward. The glass he was carrying shatters and becomes embedded in both his lower back and one of his hands. At first, it seems like a funny pratfall. Then, the blood starts pouring. At this point, the scene takes the shape of a Mick Foley thumbtack match. Danielle helps Aras back to camp and nursemaids him as much as possible, but eventually, stitches are required. Aras does manage to keep his wits about him. He asks to not be given any drugs that would impair his ability to "form sentences". Aras, we don't think they can give you any talents you didn't have before.

It's time for the touchy-feely segment of the show. As Aras recuperates from his drunken tumble, he and Danielle reflect on the game's impact on their lives. There is also the level of hugging you would expect from a man and woman, both in their early 20s, who haven't had sex in 38 days. We suspect Danielle would be pregnant if they were out there another 72 hours.

Probst sighting (again)! Oh, Jeff. We're going to miss you for the next four months. Call us!

In his opening statement, Aras played the "I played with integrity" card, which warrants a guffaw and a sneer from Courtney and Shane. Stay classy, Shane Diego! Danielle takes a different approach. She says that there are times in this game when one has to deceive other players, and she feels that she should be graded on the fact that she chose the appropriate times to do so. This is twice during the episode where we have been impressed by Danielle's tact and maturity.

The first jury member to ask questions is Sally, who is classy to the end. She asks them both to tell her which member of Casaya had the most to do with their being in the final two. Danielle's response is calculating and somewhat of a gambit, but probably also the truth. She says that she relied on Cirie for information and believed that Cirie was trustworthy. Aras, of course, names the same person, this time for more obvious reasons. He and Cirie had an alliance to the end and were very close friends. This statement affirms our earlier contention that Cirie has been running the show indefinitely. It's just a damned shame she doesn't like touching things.

Bruce comes out and points out that winning a million dollars is a responsibility as well as an honor. Aras says he would "improve himself" because he doesn't feel capable of inspiring others. Bruce raises his eyebrow in disappointment. Going for a different angle, Danielle wants to be an inspiration to children and would go speak to them about her experiences. Bruce doesn't really seem to like this answer either. He all but looks in the camera and says, "I was never voted off" as he sighs heavily.

Now is the time when Team Terry preaches the Team Terry gospel. Today's sermon involves the fact that Danielle should not have voted off Terry. Terry feels that his elimination from competition was a bad thing. The self-deluded jerk steps off from his high horse long enough to ask how Danielle and Aras rated themselves with regard to their effort in the game. Aras offers a nine, stating that he knows he went all out as much as possible. Danielle's answer reads our minds as she indicates that she only merits an 8.5 because she ate the cheeseburger in that one competition. What we take from all of this is that Terry would rather spit on the flag than vote for either one of these enemies of the state. They're too young, dammit! Terry doesn't know what instant messaging is, but he's pretty sure it's bad. Wait until he hears about myspace.

The game's best player, Austin, once again proves what a genuinely nice guy he is. He offers condolences to Aras over the "drinking incident". He then asks each of them what their best move was as well as the main move that was not quite on the up-and-up. Danielle says that she believes her best strategic move was to fight to keep Bruce from being eliminated. This elicits a smile from Bruce and perhaps secures his vote. Her regret is over voting Courtney out. In some ways, Danielle and we are quite different. As for Aras, his best move came at the beginning of the game when he told Melinda that she was being voted out and being honest with her about the fact. His worst move was in lying to Shane and breaking their alliance. This move could backfire for Aras depending on which side of the bipolar pendulum Shane's mood is currently swinging.

Courtney says some stuff, but we're not going to acknowledge her existence. Britney Spears thinks this girl is a drama queen. She asks the two contestants what the biggest thing they are taking away from this experience is. Aras takes this opportunity to point out that she voted for him at the same time he voted for her, and also says that he never professed to tell the truth the whole time (except that he did in his opening statement). Danielle says she learned to be strong. Courtney says more stuff, and we say to her, go die. Namaste.

Cirie cuts to the chase and asks each contestant why she should vote for the other person. Danielle praises Aras's morality and kindness, while Aras praises Danielle for helping him during his injury situation. It's a foregone conclusion that Aras receives Cirie's vote, anyway.

Shane is saved for last, because they always save the angry, crazy loon for the end. Courtney missed it by that much. We're just going to transcribe the angry words of a hostile man for you.

"Fun! Um, well, congratulation. The last two, I'm disappointed that it's the both of you. I wish that Terry would have been there. I believe that Terry is the most deserving person on the 16 to win the million dollars. I'm gonna tell you why I think both of you are undeserving. Danielle, you were useless at camp. The only time you were ever motivated to do anything was when it was time to eat, and the outwit part? I don't know. Because at the end of the day, I was with you for 33 days, and I don't know anything about you. I know you can complete a coherent sentence, and you contradict yourself all the time, and that's a drag. Aras, we had an agreement on what was most important to both of us – my son and ‘your yoga'. Which at this point is sort of laughable and contradictory. But we had an agreement, a bond. And when it came time to make the hard decision, I signed Danielle's name and you signed mine. Danielle, you didn't lie to me. You played the game straight up. You didn't lie to me at all. I have no beef with the way you played that part of the game. Aras, you lied, you cheated, and you wrecked me personally. You know, you're young, you're a good kid. You're striving to do the right thing. But we cannot judge people based on their intentions. If I'm judged on my intentions, I'd be president of the planet. I have to be judged on my actions and I've learned that through experience. You are broke, you are homeless, and you freeload off your dad. So you don't know what it's like to be judged, and that is why I cannot vote for you. And I don't know who to vote for. And I can't abstain. So this is what we're gonna do. We're gonna have a little challenge. A number between one and a million. I want both you guys to pick one."

Aras picks four, Danielle picks ten. We pick mental institution.

The closing statements are basically a regurgitation of what has already occurred. The only clever moment is when Aras turns Shane's words back on him, pointing out that if he is indeed a homeless freeloader living off his dad, a million dollars would help change that. Somehow we don't think this is going to change Shane's mind, but the fiendish logic has to impress his foe.

Now that all the questions have been asked, all that remains is voting. We are stunned when Aras walks away the winner. Despite being billed as the closest vote ever, it doesn't appear that this is the case. See you all in September!


     


 
 

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