Screen: CBS


What to watch and what to skip as Survivor's family season comes to a close with eliminations, tears, and a winner. Most definitely a winner.

This has been a very good season of Survivor, and one which I have rather rarely advised fast-forwarding through. And yet, as always, we arrive at the customary two-hour finale that is rife with FF material. Add to that the sense that there is almost no way Tyson could have lost this season, and you get a fairly standard (but quick!) end to a very solid season.

Post-Tribal Night Vision

Nothing you won't see elsewhere, repeatedly, throughout the episode. Ciera is down, but not out, because she expects her mom to re-enter the game and join her and…still get voted out? Tyson needs to shore up Monica's loyalty more than ever, so he "offers" her the hidden immunity idol, knowing pretty well she won't take it. He doesn't seem to realize how transparent his manipulations are, as seemingly everything he does now makes her reconsider her options.

Redemption Island

Hayden, Tina, and Laura are all just one big love-in, hoping that whomever makes it back into the game ends up winning. Um, it will take a lot. Privately, Hayden says he likes his chances in this final redemption against "two grandmas." Can't imagine how that statement would come back to haunt him.

At the actual challenge, the three have to keep one foot on a balancing board while making sure the vase on the other end doesn't fall. No obvious body-type advantage in this one, as far as I can see. Laura is having a hard time finding her balance early, wobbling like crazy, but she manages to recover a couple times. Hayden slips only once, but he's out. Tina, however is solid as a rock. Once it's down to grandma vs. grandma, Laura starts begging: "Tina, let me have it, please." UM WHUT? Tina, to her credit, is like, "No way, sister. I love you, but this is a million-dollar challenge, honey." At long last, Tina starts to waver; her vase actually tips, but she somehow survives. Laura ultimately loses it and somehow TINA WINS! It's so great. Ciera loses it in the bleachers, and Jeff really presses his thumb on Laura to get her to cry over not "finishing strong," just so he can step in with words of encouragement/inspiration. Whatever, it's still nice when Ciera says she's so proud of her mom. Tina keeps her immunity clue, no kidding, and then she's back in the game.

Camp Life

Initially, there's nothing to see here. Tina needs to either find the idol or flip Monica: no shit. Then, even MORE time is spent on futile idol searches. It's fun to watch Tina scamper up into that tree, leaving Ciera down on the ground in awe, but there's no possible payoff.

Later, once they realize they have to get down to strategy, Tina takes a lead-foot approach to swaying Monica, telling her that the jury hates her as it stands. Ciera plays good cop and appeals to Monica's sense of making a big move -- it really is the smartest move, to take her chances versus Tina and Ciera, even if I don't see Monica winning either way.

Immunity Challenge

It's a tense but deeply frustrating challenge to watch, as the players have to balance blocks on a board while holding it up with a rope and adding more blocks. It's one of those dreaded "learning curve" challenges. The women are besting the men early, but pretty much everyone starts dropping blocks left and right. Only Tyson keeps his shit together, and he ends up winning. 

Scrumming for Votes

Tyson doesn't want to have too much blood on his hands -- uh, too late, and also, he's gonna end up getting positive credit for all that blood anyway -- so he leaves the decision of Tina-or-Ciera up to Monica and Gervase to work out. Monica wants Tina gone, while Gervase is gunning for Ciera. Both make solid points, but only Gervase gets mad enough that he starts to -- his word and hers -- bully her a bit. Monica thinks she's being bullied by Tina right now, so she's very sensitive to this. "If you're in an alliance with someone, you better be nice," she interviews. Enter Good Cop Ciera! So Monica now approaches the ladies with an idea to flip on Gervase. Ciera makes her best argument, and prays that Tina doesn't mess this up.

Tribal Council

It's kind of sad to watch Monica talk about how these last few councils of tug-of-war over her have begun to break her down. There's some business about whether Gervase and Tyson are "villains" or not (they're not), and Jeff seems to be directing Monica to trust Ciera ("another mother"). Finally, Monica says the following: "Tonight is my strategic move." Tyson shuts his eyes and despairs. Gervase looks like he might shit. "My heart just dropped out my chest." Time to vote!

The Snuffening

So that seemed like kind of a dumb move for Monica, if she was indeed planning on voting for Gervase. It scared the shit out of him, so when it comes time, Tyson hands him the idol, and Gervase plays it. Two votes for Ciera, then, are all it takes to eliminate her.

Post-Tribal Night Vision

The only thing worth knowing here is that Monica in fact didn't vote for Gervase after all, so that playing of the idol was unnecessary. Monica gets to smirk a bit about how Tyson and Gervase got so scared about it, but privately, it's a bit concerning that they didn't trust her.

Camp Life: No Shit, Sherlock

Tina needs to win immunity. Tyson reminds us that he has no idols to play. Okay, then!

Immunity Challenge

It's your standard "physical challenge + puzzle catch-up opportunity," where an obstacle course is traversed to collect bags of puzzles which then need to get solved. Monica is in the lead early -- including a nifty box-out of Gervase -- but she and Tyson and Gervase make it to the puzzle stage at around the same time. Meanwhile, Jeff won't stop badgering Tina about lagging behind, because he's a super guy. Tyson wins, and now, once more but officially now, there is NO WAY he loses this game.

Scrumming for Votes

Gervase is already prepping for his jury speech, which gives me the faintest glimmer of hope that he's going to get upended. Monica is considering her options, and the boys are thinking Monica might be a jury threat (for real though?). I wonder if the smart move for the guys is to offer Tina final three in order to kibosh any possible 2-2 votes. Would Tina take it or go running to Monica? For her part, Tina thinks she can beat Gervase in fire-making. Monica is kind of into the idea of making Gervase work hard for the money by building a fire. But she's not sure she's as psyched about the idea of sitting next to Tina in front of a jury.

Tribal Council

Honestly, nothing but stuff we already know.

The Verdict

Tina voted out. Boo.

March of Dead Survivors

Entirely too much happens in this finale to even get to what is annually the most skippable part of any season, when Monica, Tyson, and Gervase would normally celebrate their last day with a feast, followed by a tour of their vanquished foes. In lieu of the segment this year, let's just pretend: All the people we've already forgotten about! Remember Candice? She hated Brad. Remember Brad? He hated counting. Remember Rachel? No. Nobody remembers Rachel. Once he gets his check, it'll be a wonder if Tyson remembers Rachel.

Opening Arguments

Nobody ever makes groundbreaking arguments at this stage, so honestly, who cares? Tyson says he played a strong game, found idols, and he manages to make himself cry about Rachel's "sacrifice" in order to drum up some sympathy. Gervase makes the best possible argument he can make for himself, by taking credit for eliminating Aras, because he was the only one close enough to truly betray him. Risky gambit, banking on Aras not being overly bitter. Monica tries to make the argument that not flipping on Tyson and Gervase put her in a final three with two players who have more blood on their hands than her. The trouble with that argument is that juries only buy it if they want to, and this jury seems like they really want to blame Monica for beating them.

Juror Bitch-Fest

Early prediction for most bitter: Vytas. See how that pans out. He's the first up, in fact, and he…could have been worse. He reminds Tyson of his last-ditch promise in the game not to vote for Tyson at jury if Tyson eliminated him, and he plans to honor that. Honestly? Fair enough. Those kinds of threats mean nothing unless you think there's a chance they'll go through with it, so for the sake of future players, I support Vytas in this. He does less well with Gervase, trying to belittle his "old-school game," by saying, "You linked up with a dope new-school player who carried you through." Minus a million points for "dope." Minus a few hundred more for using his Monica question to guilt-trip her for betraying him.

Katie rags on Tyson for being a gratuitous dick to her when she got white-rocked, though Tyson plays it off well. Caleb's questions don't have a ton of consequence, beyond letting Gervase advance the notion that he let Tyson take the heat and allowing Monica to talk about her "journey."

Ciera asks Tyson if he sees himself as a villain, which allows him to stress that all his moves were strategic, not personal. He also brings up Rachel again, and if I never hear again about this "sacrifice" that Rachel made so that Tyson could stay and win, I would be very happy indeed.

Laura demands Monica own up to some ugliness, and Monica starts crying again, saying she felt out of place, because "people say you're a puppy dog and talk too much and tell boring stories." She isn't sure what Laura wants from her, so she again cries and says she fought hard and was half the size of the others. Looks like Laura wanted to pull just that out of her, in order to help her make her case maybe?

Tina's question is kinda boring, and Hayden initially softballs Tyson by asking where that second idol was hidden. As has been the trend all night, he saves his hard-hitting question for Monica, as he addresses the perception that she's fake. Monica once again just doesn't know what they want of her. In her frustration with this succession of people whose questions boil down to "Why don't I like you more?" she flips out in kind of an awesome way: "Have you all never met a nice person? Have you all never met a neat lady?" HAVE YOU NEVER MET A NEAT LADY? I may never stop asking that question. Of the universe.

Somehow, Aras gets the final slot, even though his question doesn't really go anywhere. He asks each player to choose between the other two. Basically, he gets Gervase and Monica to each say that Tyson should win, while Tyson turns his answer -- in which he says he'd award Monica the win, because she was able to ferry information back to the group from the others -- into kind of backhanded compliment to himself, because people see him as running Monica.

Final Verdict

The votes we see: Caleb votes for Tyson. Vytas, after all that talk, votes for Monica ("You're a little bit annoying, but you're a real strong woman"). This would seem to herald a 7-1 vote. Then they do the thing where Jeff walks out of the jungle and into a studio in Hollywood, and when Douchey Jeff emerges in L.A., we see Tyson's hair is gloriously conditioned, in preparation for his win. Monica is kind of adorably supportive of him, because he's seriously, like, already crying.

Jeff reads the votes, and indeed, instead of Vytas's vote for Monica, they're all Tyson's. Tyson wins! Congrats on playing the best game, Tyson. Try to hide it better next time, CBS.

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