After a china challenge eliminates Denise, Todd wins by admitting to the jury that he played them all; plus, James and Denise get money for being good sports

By Dalton Ross
Updated March 13, 2015 at 02:14 PM EDT
Jeffrey R. Staab


S15 E14
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Dammit! I’m trying to write this TV Watch for theSurvivor: China finale, but it’s so hard. You see, I live in an old house. Over 100 years old. Sure, it has Victorian charm, but the place is falling apart, and the repair costs are killing me! And don’t even get me started on the mortgage and taxes I need to pay every month. I just…just…sorry, I’m getting a little choked up here, but I’m just not sure we’re gonna make it. You know, I have a family to feed, and it’s just so damn hard sometimes. Soooooooo, uh, Mark Burnett, you think maybe you can help out? It’s just that I saw you gave Denise $50K during the reunion show, so I figured maybe you were, you know, making like Santa this holiday season. Anyway, feel free to send any spare change you have lying around to me courtesy of EW. (Oh, and Josh Wolk has a new baby. He could use a new car seat if you don’t mind. And a car, for that matter.)

Now, on to the show. I could sit here and gloat for picking the Survivor winner from the very first episode for the third season in a row, but I won’t sit here and do that, because I already just did! I can see the future! Check my s— out! I felt Todd’s game stumbled a bit down the stretch, but he made up for it in a huge way at the final tribal council, in the process saving what was an otherwise dull finale. Here’s why: He did something that no Survivor finalist has ever done (except Hatch, to a degree): Instead of sitting there and apologizing for all the lying and backstabbing that got him there, he embraced it. He not only took full responsibility for it but demanded that people recognize it and respect it, giving the best final performance since Will Kirby in Big Brother 2. He looked even more convincing next to Amanda, who came off as wishy-washy (apologizing over and over until Peih-Gee gave her a shove into finally taking credit for engineering James’ exit), and Courtney, whose only argument seemed to be ”I’m really weak! I shoulda been the first person out!”

Todd stole it. He flat out stole it. Had Amanda gone in there and been authoritative and talked about getting rid of James, and talked about doing all the stuff Todd was doing but in a more stealthy, less showy way, and talked about winning the last two challenges, well, she probably would have won. Instead, she choked. And Todd shined. I’ve been waiting for years for someone to take control of a TC like Todd did, so it made me forgive the first 90 minutes of the finale.

The episode started off with a really, really cool challenge involving a ladder bridge, a puzzle, and huge blocks that turned into another puzzle. Unfortunately, it was for pizza and beer. Yes, they were positioned as offering the winner the advantage of extra strength before the final immunity challenge, but still, a bit anticlimactic for such an epic-looking event in the final episode. This is another reason I don’t like the concept of a final three. Yes, Ozzy and Yul probably wouldn’t have both made the finals in Cook Islands had there not been three at the end, but had this been a final two, that would have been an all-important immunity challenge instead of a race for a slice of pizza. The days of the final two meant two immunity challenges and three tribal councils. Now, we’re down to one immunity challenge and two TCs. In my book, that’s less bang for our buck.

So Amanda won the pizza and chose to invite Todd to help her devour her food. This led to Denise telling us for the 317th time how she was the unpopular kid again. I feel bad for her when she says stuff like that, but even worse for myself for having to sit through it every other time she opens her mouth. After they all reunited back at camp, it was time for the Survivor Segment That Simply Will Not Die: that’s right, the Fallen Comrades tribute. Producers tried to enliven it by blowing things up next to all the names, but not even the exploding firecrackers could make this bearable. At least the segment offered the always humble and modest Todd the opportunity to inform us that ”every single person that’s been voted off has helped me to get here. I am grateful for them. I absolutely think that they’ve all done a huge part in me getting to the end.” Anyone else want to punch the television set at this point?

Then it was on to the trademark final endurance challenge. I love, love, love these. Mind over matter. How much pain can you take? How do you handle that pain? Lately, the challenge department has tried to come up with more elaborate ways of staging these, and while I respect that, I do kind of miss the more simple contests that just amounted to basically seeing who could stand on a stump the longest. The teacups didn’t really do it for me. Maybe that’s just because it reminded me of a challenge on The Benefactor where contestants had to play Jenga, and if there is one thing I never want Survivor to do, it is remind me of a Mark Cuban reality show, but anyway, it wasn’t my favorite. Big props to Amanda, however, for turning her last two bowls upside down for better balance. (If only she had crowed about that too at tribal council.)

So Amanda won (again) and Denise tried to save herself using — what else? — the pity card, talking about how she was going to go back to making seven dollars an hour working as a lunch lady and how this was it for her. One problem, Denise: Amanda’s not an idiot. You use that argument on her, you’re going to use it on the jury should you make the finals as well. So, in effect, you were basically giving Amanda a reason not to bring you along. Now, no way am I going as far as Courtney to proclaim that Denise ”sucks at life,” but she sure does talk about how much her life sucks a lot.

NEXT: Amanda’s sorry performance

Not surprisingly, Denise got dumped at tribal, but not before Todd made a funky facial expression at Amanda’s expense, putting her in a tizzy that she apparently never recovered from. She started out at the final TC apologizing for voting out James, Jean-Robert, and Frosti, and it was all downhill from there. You shouldn’t be apologizing, woman, you should be taking credit! The questions themselves were kind of weak, with James proclaiming that he didn’t want to be a ”Bitter Betty.” (Negative Nancy on Thursday and Bitter Betty on Sunday. We could almost fill a jury box with all these alliterated nicknames.) But it didn’t matter that the questions were lame and tame — Denise didn’t even ask a question, merely standing up to remind people that she is, yes, a lunch lady and that ”I believe the jury would have voted for me” — because Todd was providing all the entertainment in putting on a clinic for how to present yourself as a deserving winner. He may not have played the best game, but he did the best job of convincing everyone he played the best game.

As for the reunion show, I thought it was pretty good. Probst reminded James that ”you’ve got fans, in spite of making the biggest blunder in the history of the game.” The host with the most had several good one-liners throughout the hour, although his asking Erik if he was still a virgin now that he’s dating Jaime was a bit OK magazine for my taste. Denise scored herself a $50,000 check by informing us that ”I’m a janitor now. I clean the toilets….I wash the floors in the bathroom. I miss dinner with family. I haven’t been to a field hockey game yet.” (Oh! Oh! Guess what, Mark Burnett! I haven’t been to a field hockey game, either! Now send me some freakin’ money.) Finally, Courtney told us she hates kids, James was named the Sprint Speed Player of the Season, worth $100,000 (take that, Denise!), and it was revealed that the next season will be back in Micronesia (Palau, if you want to get specific) and will feature fans versus favorites. I was actually there at the start of filming, so hopefully I can share some on-location insights when that season rolls around in February. But first we have to put a cap on Survivor: China. As I wrote the other day, a solid if unspectacular season. A true gamer won, and for that we should be thankful. Even if no one gave us $50,000. Thanks for reading, guys. Happy holidays and all that jazz. See you in 2008!

What do you think? Did the right person win? Did Amanda blow it at tribal council? How does China stack up as a season on the whole? Post away!

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