Recap: 'Survivor: Tocantins' Finale - And the winner is...
Would JT and Stephen stick together til the end, or would strategy get in the way?
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Pre-credit sequence. It's Night 36 in Forza, as the Final Four returns to camp, celebrating their 1-in-4 chance at a million bucks (a statistical proposition which is, as always, totally specious). JT is feeling good that he kept his word to Coach and voted for Erinn, as he admits that he's been thinking about jury votes. Stephen is also aware that JT now looks like the loyal ally, while he'll look like a villain, like the man who betrayed Coach (which kinda ought to be a plus, if you ask me). Stephen acknowledges that loyalty is one thing, but a bigger thing is who he can beat in the Final Two to win a million dollars. Is this the first crack in the JT/Stephen bromance? Say it ain't so! If Stephen and JT break up, it'll be the most miserable reality TV breakup since tensions rose between Dustin and Kandace on "The Amazing Race."
Dot, dot, dot. It's remarkable that the Jalapao Three is still in this game, perhaps one of the great reversals in "Survivor" history. But cracks are breaking in that alliance, where Taj tells Stephen that JT is their biggest threats. They both speculate that if JT were to lose Immunity "dot dot dot..." They acknowledge that they could never do that. Tree-mail contains a big art-y spider, which confuses everybody.
Spider? I hardly even know her. The challenge set-up is shaped like an even larger spider. It's actually a tarantula-shaped obstacle course leading to puzzle pieces. The legs are tunnels, the body a bouncy trampoline. As we can safely expect whenever physicality is involved, JT gets out to a huge lead, but as Jeff Probst warns us all, "It's a difficult puzzle." Does that give Stephen an advantage? In an unexpected twist, Erinn gets to the puzzle last and becomes competitive in a hurry, especially when the last piece thwarts JT. Just as it looks like Erinn might achieve something in the game, JT finds that last piece and wins Immunity. Again. Erinn knows this may have been her last chance.
It's a popularity contest. Taj figures that regardless of which Jalapao member had won, it would have been the same. She's certain that the guys will be loyal to her. Erinn goes to Stephen and JT to plead her case, which is based upon how likable Taj is and how well she'd probably do at a jury vote. Suddenly JT's alliance is to the money. Stephen agrees that either one of them would beat Erinn at the jury. They continue to reassure each other that they're going all the way together. Compounding Stephen's concern is the feeling that Taj would be more likely to win an Immunity and that she'd take JT to the Finals, rather than him. Everybody reassures Taj that the vote is for Erinn. Well, Erinn doesn't reassure her of that.
Tribal Council #1. With Jeff's prodding, Stephen lays out the Jalapao strategy. "I'm pretty proud of myself and not in a vengeful way," Erinn says of her status as Last of the Timbira. Erinn acknowledges that if everything stays true to form, she's going home. Jeff raises an issue that keeping Erinn around would give the largely Timbira jury a point of sympathy. Stephen's push toward diplomacy is a bit ridiculous and it's hard to imagine anybody on the jury being swayed. Sierra keeps adding more makeup each week the jury comes out. Taj says she'd be shocked if she were going home, but that there are no rules. Erinn gives herself a 33% chance of sticking around, which also raises statistical concerns.
Vote # 1. Erinn votes for Taj. Taj votes for Erinn. Has anybody raised the possibility of splitting Stephen and JT up? Ever? That's some weak strategy. Anyway, the votes go according to form at one apiece. The third vote goes against Taj and Sierra is stunned. Taj is sent home. She smiles broadly, but doesn't look JT in the eye. Taj isn't impressed with her Jalapao comrades She has kinder words for Erinn, saying that if Erinn makes it to the end, she has Taj's vote.
Is that 100 percent out of 110? Erinn keeps repeating "Crazy" as she returns to camp. JT tells the camera that the decision was based on ease of winning next challenges. Erinn can't stop talking about how well the Tribal Council went, which isn't helping JT's increasing guilt. Stephen and JT both refer to Erinn as "annoying." The next morning, interesting conversations bubble up, as Erinn assures Stephen that she'd take him to the Top Two. She senses that Stephen and JT may not want to go against each other. Indeed, Stephen is finally saying that he may not be so sure on going with JT, even if he reassures his bro that they're 100 percent together. More statistical confusion. JT seems not to have any actual doubts about staying true to Stephen.
Necrology. Are there people out there who love this part of the traditional "Survivor" finale? I mean, I liked Carolina, with her hilariously appropriate attire, but I'd completely forgotten Jerry. And I only barely remember Candace. I sure don't need to get nostalgic about then. Ah, Rites of Passage. Burn, baby, burn.
Playing with their balls for a million dollars. The season's final Immunity Challenge relies on concentration and coordination. It's a kinda funny challenge where the goal is keeping your balls going through a twisty puzzle without hitting the ground, all with one hand tied behind their back. No, that doesn't do it justice. I'm not sure how this challenge is really proper as a determining factor in a million dollar game, but it's deceptively hard. Out first is Erinn. As I said, I'm a fan of the "Who wants it more!" brand of Final Immunity Challenge, but once four balls are in play, this is plenty tough. Stephen drops out next. Giving JT yet another Immunity win. He'll have to really blow this thing not to win. "Promises come cheap in this game," JT admits.
Loyalty or an easy million. Stephen is relieved. On one hand, he's pleased because he trusts JT. On the far bigger hand (yes, Stephen may have mismatched hands), he's glad not to have the responsibility of making a choice. Making her case, Erinn reassures JT that the Timbira people on the jury don't much like her. She also tells JT that Stephen told her he'd have taken her to the Final Two. The final part of her argument is that Stephen will make a better speech to the jury. She figures that while taking Stephen may be noble for JT, he also needs the money. Everybody is taking Erinn much too lightly. Heck, even Stephen says that JT's best play may be taking Erinn, telling him he'll win regardless.
Tribal Council #2. Taj has washed her hair and acquired glasses, looking like a totally different person. Stephen is impressed with the new Taj. It's a finally Tribal Council, since both Erinn and Stephen are couching their pitches around his inevitable win. Does JT go moral or strategic? In what is certainly a "Survivor" first, Stephen interrupts JT's thought process to remind him about their plans for a happy Top Two breakfast. Jeff's having none of it, cracking, "I've got to admit, when you weight a million dollars against a breakfast with your 39-Day Friend, you're right. That's a tough one." Stephen adds that while he and JT may still be friends if JT votes him out, they won't be the same kind of friends.
The Vote #2. JT voted for... Erinn. He kept his word to Stephen. Coach pumps his fist for the Warrior Alliance. Stephen looks more surprised than anybody. JT's really gonna have to Amanda Kimmel the Final Tribal Council to blow this one. Erinn had a tremendous run for a woman without strategic, social or physical skills.
A million dollar breakfast. The sun rises on Day 39. And Stephen promises JT that they're going to be friends for life. That may not be the case, but they're absolutely going to have a yummy breakfast, the Warrior and the Wizard. With the champagne going to their heads, they talk about their first impressions of each other. JT, it turns out, thought Stephen was ultra-religion. Stephen thought JT was a charmer. How sweet? Stephen vows that he's not going to go down without a fight.
Final Tribal Council. Stephen opens by saying this isn't a competition for who's the best woodsman or who has the best Southern drawl. His focus is on how much the game has changed him and on how he had a harder road and more struggles. JT says he lacks Stephen's pretty words, but that he worked hard, was a provider and put a target on his own back from Day One.
The Jury responds. Brendan, who has been eating well on the jury, kicks things off by reminding Stephen that in most sports, it isn't really about improvement. JT says that growth is a great thing to take home, but it isn't outplaying. Stephen interjects that "hiding in the shadows" is a legitimate strategy. Erinn tells Stephen that he managed to form and betray three different alliances. Stephen protests that he zigged and zagged appropriately. [How did Erinn never make flirtation a part of her strategy? She's really very pretty, even emaciated. If she'd flirted, that would have counted as doing something proactive.] Deb, who claims to be undecided, asks JT if he was really as charming as he seemed at first or as deceitful as he later seemed. JT references his mother's advice that with a million dollars on the line, you make choices. Deb then asks Stephen, point-blank, if he'd have taken JT to the Final Two. Stephen says he doesn't know, which Deb isn't taking. Stephen gulps and says, "I hope I would have taken JT, but my fear is I would have taken Erinn." Coach positions his query as an essay question, something along the line of, "What does The Noble Warrior mean to you?" JT says he gave 100 percent. Stephen announces that he voted for every person on the Jury, that he never weaseled out. Sierra reassures Stephen that he's a sweetie and then turns on JT, accusing him of actually taking weak players, in picking Stephen over Coach and Erinn over Taj. Sierra's unhappy. At Tyson's prodding, JT says he could have made it through the adventure without Stephen's help, but that Stephen made it easier, prompting Stephen to get passive-agressive about JT "devaluing" the alliance. The last jury member is Taj, who begins with "Crushed, betrayed, extremely disappointed." JT says it was hard to vote Taj out and that they were like brother and sister. Stephen, sensing this could be his last chance, tells Taj that JT had wanted to vote her out for a long time and that it was all on JT. He goes back through votes dating back to Jalapao, claiming to have saved Taj against JT's wishes. "Is this the same guy I brought with me?" JT says. In a rare situation, the Jury ends with the two finalists sniping at each other. It's an ugly lovers' feud.
The live results. Stephen has kept his beard. With Erinn's grooming assist? JT is clean-shaven. Vote one: JT. Vote two: JT ("The Warrior," making it Coach's vote). Vote three: JT. The rout is on and well-deserved. Vote four: JT.
The winner of "Survivor Tocantins" (and the season's most dominant player): James Thomas Jr. The vote was unanimous.
What'd you think of the finale? Was there really any doubt? Any at all?