Survivor China: Finale

Amanda was likable, strategically sound, and she won the show’s last three challenges — two of them for immunity. So it should have taken a colossal choke job at the final Tribal Council for Amanda to finish the season in second place. She wound up in third.

The final episode of Survivor: China started off well for Amanda. She won a puzzle-laden Reward Challenge, and chose Todd to share a meal of pizza, brownies, and soda. It gave her a chance to lay a guilt trip on Todd and remind him that they’d promised to take each other to the finale.

Then she bested Todd, Courtney, and Denise in the final Immunity Challenge: balancing plates on a stick. Amanda must have been known for her poise during her beauty pageant days.

Back at camp, Amanda was torn between casting her vote against Todd or Denise (apparently, Courtney was considered such a long shot to win that she was guaranteed a spot in the final Tribal Council).

Denise told Amanda that everyone else had better opportunities to go back to than she did. "I’m gonna go back to making seven dollars an hour working as the lunch lady," said Denise, "doing the same things day after day like I’ve been doing."

Meanwhile, Courtney discussed with Todd how humiliating it would be to lose to Denise: "This isn’t, like, welfare. Like, she doesn’t deserve it just ’cause, you know, she sucks at life."

Courtney paused for a moment before adding, "I’m the biggest bitch on the planet!"

Amanda pulled Courtney aside to talk about their final strategy. Amanda observed that Todd, despite being widely considered the game’s mastermind, was also well liked by many of the jury members and had better personal connections with them than any of the three women did.

Ultimately, Denise’s guilt trip worked. Well, it worked at making Amanda feel guilty. Instead of following her instincts about Todd, voting for him, and forcing a tie, Amanda stuck with Todd and Courtney and whacked Denise.

The wave of guilt that had hit Amanda lingered long after Tribal Council. Upon returning to camp, Amanda declared, "I’m so over this." Thus, her smart strategic gameplay came to an end.

She went in front of the jury for the final time apologizing to everyone she’d wronged along the way. During the Q&A session, Peih-Gee told Amanda, "I’m sick of you looking at me with doe eyes, and every time you’ve opened your mouth to one of these people, you’ve sounded apologetic."

Courtney gave the best opening remarks, highlighting that she (as someone who didn’t come in as a fan of the show) had successfully learned how to play and thrive at the game as it went along, and that she surprised even herself by winning an individual Immunity Challenge.

But Todd’s mix of straightforward and flattering answers won the day. In his opening comments, he immediately copped to being deceptive, but hoped the jury would understand it was all in the context of the game. When Jean-Robert asked why Todd voted him out before James, Todd answered, "You started to strategically place ideas in people’s heads, which is what I wanted my job to be. I had to get rid of my biggest strategic threat, which was you."

James laughed raucously as Jean-Robert sheepishly returned to his seat on the jury bench. When Jeff Probst asked James what was so funny, he replied, "I ain’t never heard nobody shut him up before."

Their candid, unapologetic answers earned Courtney two votes and Todd four, giving him the victory.

After looking like a shoo-in to win, Amanda got one vote. It came from Erik, who was the only one who appreciated Amanda’s outward expression of the ethical turmoil which she should’ve kept internal.

At the Reunion Show, Peih-Gee looked stunning, and Courtney surpassed her pre-show weight of 93 pounds. Jaime and Erik confirmed that they are currently dating, although he said he remains a virgin.

Denise’s life after Survivor didn’t go exactly as she’d predicted to Amanda it would. It actually got worse. Because of her appearance on the show, the school where Denise worked thought she would be a distraction to the students. So, she was kicked out from behind the lunch counter, and she had to take a job as a janitor, working the after-school shift.

Show producer Mark Burnett offered to give Denise $50,000 to help her out. The money was nice, but it wasn’t quite as good as the $100,000 James got from Sprint for being America’s favorite player. And it certainly wasn’t as good as Todd’s $1 million.

In the end, I was a little sad Amanda didn’t win. Though Todd was the "schemer," it seemed he often wanted to make moves out of paranoia, or just for the sake of scheming. One of Amanda’s greatest skills was reining Todd in when necessary and leading the charge in making bold moves only when they made the most sense. If she’d been able to communicate that to the jury, she might have had a chance.

But Amanda had a few things working against her. First, it’s near impossible to get pity votes for being mopey and conflicted at the final Tribal Council. Nobody’s going to feel bad for you for beating them.

Second, though Amanda really was one of the season’s two masterminds, the jury never saw her as one. Part of me wonders if — when given the choice between two Survivors who, like Todd and Amanda, work in tandem for most of the competition — jurors may tend to notice the man as the brains of the duo. When Todd discussed moves, it was obvious to everyone he was plotting to further himself. When Amanda did the same, she was better at disguising her motives and coming off as just socializing or working on behalf of the entire alliance. In the end, I think her subtle, socially-aware methods may have worked against her.