Who Decided to Keep Her Around (Episode 11-14)

As I predicted before the season began, Danni became the newest sole Survivor on the finale of Survivor: Guatemala. Since this might be the start of a trend for me, I’m predicting the Linz family to win The Amazing Race: Family Edition and Bethenny to win The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.

Any fear that Lydia might win was erased early in the episode. The editors suddenly felt that, of the final four castaways, Lydia should narrate the action. After spending most of the season as a bit player, Lydia got more facetime than any of the other contestants–a clear sign that she was not long for the show.

Rafe had reason to believe that both Danni and Steph would take him to the final two, so he didn’t need to keep Lydia around. Danni had already made a promise to Rafe (who would be immune from the vote anyway), and she knew her easiest final two opponent was Steph, so she was ready to vote Lydia out. With two votes already decided, there was no point in Stephenie forcing a tie. Plus, she’s so ultra-competitive that she decided she’d rather lose the final immunity challenge to a better opponent than win over the less imposing Lydia.

The diminutive fishmonger didn’t stand a chance, and the editors let us know it early on.

Before the first immunity challenge of the episode, five local tribespeople performed a ritual in front of the temple. They thanked their ancestors and roasted a chicken as an offering to their gods. What wasn’t clear was how many of the remaining contestants understood that these tribespeople weren’t Mayan. Their ancestors were Mayan, but the Maya empire died centuries ago. The way the final four were talking made it seem like they missed that distinction, which is too bad, since they did spend almost 40 days living in Guatemala.

The first immunity challenge took place in the largest maze ever constructed for Survivor. Contestants ran through the maze collecting puzzle pieces, bringing each piece to their puzzle board as soon as it was found. It was a tiring game, but it didn’t require brute strength, so contestants were pretty evenly matched. Rafe completed his puzzle first, narrowly beating Danni and Steph.

Upon returning to camp, Steph ignored the potential for divine retribution and ate the sacrificial chicken, as did Lydia and Danni. Rafe abstained but wasn’t safe from otherworldly punishment. As soon as they finished eating, the most powerful storm in 37 days rained down on the contestants. Their fire went out, all of their belongings were soaked, and a tree struck by lightning fell into their camp. Despite Lydia’s prayers to every god in the pantheon, the storm didn’t abate until it was time for tribal council, where she was voted out.

On Day 38, the three remaining survivors took the customary hike to honor contestants they’d voted out. There was an unsettling line drawing of each player tied to his or her torch, which was helpful, as no one would’ve remembered Brianna, Brooke, or Morgan without a picture. When the trio reached Bobby Jon’s torch, he voiced over slow motion shots of his eyes rolling back in his head on day two, saying that the experience was a “refining moment” for him.

The final immunity challenge looked as if it would be simple. Each contestant had to stand on a small board that swiveled on top of a base. For the first hour, contestants could hold on to one rope with the right hand, and another with the left. Rafe, Danni, and Steph all balanced themselves perfectly for that first hour until they were instructed to let go of one rope. Immediately, all three lost their footing as the board swiveled underneath them. After a few tense seconds, they realized that they could lean on the post that held the ropes, which stood about three feet from the board, an easy distance for the lanky Danni.

They were allowed to continue holding on to the rope until they reached the 90 minute mark, at which point they wouldn’t be allowed to use their hands at all. About 99 minutes into the challenge, Rafe pushed himself up the pole using his right hand and was disqualified. It’s always sad to see a good player lose because of a momentary lapse in judgement. Danni and Steph lasted another hour before Steph fell while trying to lean in a more comfortable position. She cried while trying to recuperate from a challenge that took a much greater physical toll on her than it did Danni.

As Steph sobbed, Rafe did the unthinkable and released Danni from a promise she’d made to take him to the final two. He felt sure that she’d take him anyway, but wanted to give her the chance to make her own decision. While many viewers point to this as the moment Rafe gave away $1 million, Danni might not have honored her promise, anyway, if she really thought she couldn’t win against Rafe.

After he freed her from her oath, Danni thanked Rafe for being “a great guy.” As any guy who’s ever had a pretty girl call him “a great guy” can tell you, this meant Rafe was toast. Fortunately, the experience of playing Survivor was the real prize for Rafe; the money just would’ve been a bonus.

As expected, Danni brought Stephenie to the final two, knowing that there was a lot more ill will directed at Steph than either her or Rafe. Her assumptions proved correct, as the almost jovial jury lit into Steph about her ruthless gameplay. At the final Tribal Council, Judd accused Danni of skating into the final two, and he accused Steph of lying to his wife. Despite the fact that his accusation against Stephenie was false, Judd had gotten it in his head that she’d hurt his family, and nothing would change his mind.

Steph’s lone advocate was Rafe, who asked her to use her closing comments to explain why she deserved to win. That was her last hope, but she’d known for days that she couldn’t win. She’d angered the two people who couldn’t be swayed by reason (Judd and Jamie), and everyone else resented her because she’d gotten to play the game twice.

Steph’s answers to the jury’s questions were better and more honest than Danni’s, but honesty wasn’t really what the jury wanted. They wanted Stephenie to give them a reason not to vote for her. They didn’t want to hear that Stephenie was willing to do anything to win the game, or accept that her actions were the right ones. Her presence in the final two should’ve been proof enough.

If Stephenie would’ve belabored how sorry she was or said that she should’ve played differently, they would’ve called her a hypocrite and voted against her because of it. Instead, she gave them the truth, and they still cast their votes for Danni because they were mad at Steph. While Stephenie’s gameplay was ruthless, six of the jury members voted out of pettiness and spite. They voted not to give Danni $1 million, but to keep Stephenie from getting it. That hardly puts them on any moral high ground.

The reunion show was as uncomfortable and forced as always. Jeff Probst asked Jamie about his paranoia, and Jamie’s incoherent answer showed that he probably is a bit off his rocker. Cindy rambled about feeling lost now that she’s out of the Guatemalan jungle, and then begged for someone to give her a job since she’d lost hers to be on the show.

Apart from seeing what the contestants look like when they’re not dirty and starving, reunion shows are always a letdown. Jeff never asks the questions the audience really wants answered, like why none of the jury members but Rafe voted for Stephenie. While Jeff remarked on the fit appearance of Amy and Judd, he didn’t ask Danni how her lips got so huge. In the final Tribal Council, she’d said that the prize money would go to good use, so maybe she meant collagen injections and botox treatments.