After 39 days on the island and after having seen 14 contestants have their million dollar dream shattered, "Survivor: Cagayan" finally crowned its winner during Wednesday night's two-hour season Finale. From the 18 contestants that started this "Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty" season, the episode started with only four players remaining: Tony, Kass, Woo and Spencer. One of them was about to be named Sole Survivor. Which one? It was a Finale that, for the first time ever, had live cut-ins with Jeff Probst from the Reunion Show stage. The best of which was a quick interview with Spencer's mom, who admitted that she thought her son "would be the first to go" from the entire season, not just from tonight's Finale! Talk about an uphill battle for Spencer! But here we go, on with the full Finale recap sans live cut-ins:
Drop Your Bluffs. Returning from an emotional Tribal Council where Trish was voted out of the game, Spencer and Kass seem surprised that Tony's vote was for his closest ally as well. Tony does show real emotion and regret in having voted out Trish, but there is still a lot of game to be played. Tony is still holding on to the "Special Idol" and is lying to the others: The Idol is now useless (it could only have been played by Final Five) but he is telling them that he can still use it at Final Four. "I'm lying my ass off," Tony tells us. Kass openly expresses some doubts that Tony's Idol can still be played, so Tony is feeling very vulnerable. If they believe his bluff, he is safe for another vote. But if not, Tony's game could hang in the balance.
Loved Ones? On the morning of Day 37 after a brief discussion between Kass and Tony, where Kass tells us, "I'm pretty sure that everyone dislikes Trish," a boat is seen pulling up the beach at camp. Suddenly, Kass notices her husband on the boat! A loved ones challenge! Those sneaky producers, blindsiding the audience once again. After Kass's husband, we meet Spencer's sister and Woo's little cousin. It seems Tony was expecting his wife, Marissa, but instead his best friend Arnold arrives to greet him. It turns out that Marissa wasn't able to make the trip due to her and Tony's infant daughter. Tony is devastated. Woo reads a note that they brought informing them that there would be an Immunity Challenge today. It seems to take them off guard, since they weren't expecting another challenge until the next day. Woo visualizes himself winning Survivor and then proposing to his girlfriend, after getting permission from her parents, of course.
Kass Reflects. Chatting with her husband, Kass tells him, "I'm not a goat, I'm just hated." She reasons that a portion of how she is perceived may be due to sexism. "If I was a guy, I'd be strategic," she said. "But because I'm a woman, I'm a bitch." She just hopes that the jury gives her some credit for the way she's played the game.
Immunity Challenge #1. The loved ones would root on from the bleachers but would otherwise not participate in this all-important challenge. Spencer is a huge threat and knows he needs to win Immunity to have a chance in the game. The challenge was an awesome one: The contestants were perched on a tall wooden beam in the water and had to lower a bucket down, then pull it back up full of water. They then needed to dump the water into a chute on their beams to release a key, all while remaining balanced on the beam. Once they had the key, they could swim to shore and use it to solve a very difficult puzzle. The beams were so high that Tony was a bit nervous. Jeff told him, "Imagine it's a foot off the ground," to which Tony replied, "Yeah, that ain't workin'." When the challenge began, Tony had the early lead but Spencer was close behind. Kass was all but out of the challenge, not even off of her perch by the time the other three had began their puzzles on shore. But miraculously, Kass kept fighting and somehow, someway, came all the way back to win Immunity! "To lose to a brain-dead weasel like Kass, that's the most humiliating way I could have lost," Spencer tells us. "It's time to play my ass off."
Talk of Two. With Spencer having lost, they other three begin to silently celebrate that they've made it to the end...but wait. "It's a Final Two," Spencer tells Tony. He correctly picked up on Jeff's verbiage at the challenge, noting that ALWAYS at the final challenge, Jeff tells them not only do they have a chance to win Immunity, but that they "get a chance to plead your case to the jury for the million dollars." Spencer then points out to Tony that his chances of getting to a Final Two with either Woo or Kass in the game are worse than if he were to keep Spencer. Tony listens and tells him he will consider all options. Elsewhere, Kass and Woo agree that they are both voting for Spencer.
Tribal Council #1. Spencer pleads his case and makes tons of sense. Kass flat out tells Tony, "I have a better chance against Woo I think, not Tony," Tony is shocked to hear this, even giving us an "Oh snap." Chaos Kass lives! So basically, Kass and Woo are voting Spencer but Tony could decide to vote with Spencer to vote out Woo, which would create a 2-2 tie and force a fire-making tie-break challenge. It's a long-shot, but it's Spencer's last chance.
The Vote. We see Kass vote for Spencer and Spencer for Woo. Before the votes are read, Tony lets everybody in on his little Idol secret, that it was basically worthless and that he wasn't able to play it. Well played, Tony, well played! The Votes were then read by Probst: Spencer - Woo - Spencer....and Spencer. With that, Spencer's nine lives in the game finally ended. "Well done, Tony," were his parting words and then his torch was snuffed.
Final Three. "Things went the way they were supposed to for once," Kass proclaimed. The three celebrate having made the Final Three but now understand that they are staring at a Final Two. Despite their happiness, they are all a bit depressed that in other seasons, they would have made it to the end of the game. When Tony walks off, Kass and Woo solidify a pact to stay together and vote out Tony. "We've got no shot against Tony," Woo tells her. "I'd be the stupidest Survivor player, taking Tony to the end." "Me too," says Kass. It seems that Tony's only chance for Final Two is to win the upcoming Immunity Challenge.
Final Immunity Challenge. In what has to be one of the largest, most massive challenge constructions in the show's history, Kass, Woo and Tony arrive for their final challenge. It's a sprawling obstacle course maze, with a series of turn-styles, some which turn and others that don't. The players had to navigate the maze to retrieve four medallions, then use those medallions to unlock a box containing cog puzzle pieces. Once the cogs were correctly constructed, they could use them to raise their flag. First person to raise their flag would be guaranteed a spot in the Final Two and would also have the power to choose who sits next to them in the end. Tons were at stake. In one of the closest challenge finishes maybe ever (and definitely for the final challenge), Woo was able to raise his flag literally one-half second before Kass was able to raise hers. Woo won Immunity! It seems Tony's game had just ended...but don't turn that dial just yet. Not this season.
A Million Dollar Decision. "My destiny now lies in Woo's hands," Tony tells us, and he's right. All Tony and Kass can do is plead their case to Woo to choose them to sit next to. Tony tries to appeal to Woo's sense of martial arts integrity, talking about honor and loyalty. "Is he buying it?" Tony rhetorically asks himself. "I wouldn't buy it. I would take my chances with Kass." Kass tells Woo that she will vote for Tony should Woo choose Tony over her. She also reiterates to Woo that he stands a much better chance of winning against Kass than against Tony. Woo tells them both that he will take the day to think about his decision and he seems genuinely stressed over it.
Tribal Council #2. Woo is questioned about what he will do and what criteria he is using to make his decision. Abruptly, Woo stops Jeff and says, "Do you mind if I go off subject? I hope they both respect my decision but I just want to get to the vote." Probst honors Woo's wishes and Woo is sent off to cast his single vote.
Woo's Vote. So it's Woo and Kass, right? Everybody wants to sit against Kass for the million, right? But wow. The vote is read and Kass became the final member of the jury. "Thank you Woo, man," Tony tells him. Just wow! So the Final Two is now set and it's Tony and Woo, two players who have been together from the very beginning. In her parting interview, Kass sums up what many of us viewers were thinking: "Woo, stupid, stupid, stupid. I think you made a horrific decision."
Final Two! So Woo and Tony celebrate making it as far as they can in the game. "What you did for me tonight was more than I ever did for you," Tony candidly tells Woo. So why did Woo choose Tony? "My decision was based on what I thought the jury would respect...taking him just felt right." Woo added, "If I do win now, it's just that much more honorable." The next morning the two share their final feast and a hidden note leads them to a mirror and a scale where they were able to see how crazy they looked after 39 days in the game.
Final Tribal Council. Tony began his remarks by letting the jury know that all of his decisions were based on strategy and he also thanks Woo for taking him to the end. Woo talks about honor and integrity with his martial arts and also brings up his disabled mother. It was then time for each individual jury member to have their say or ask their questions of the finalists. Here is the order and what was discussed:
Sarah. Sarah begins the bitterness by calling Tony out on their blue blood alliance, telling him she's not sure she can vote for him to win. She then asks Woo if he would have voted for her to win had the situation been reversed and they had played similar games. Woo says he would have given her a lot of credit for making it so far without any Immunity Idols.
Jefra. Jefra begins by telling them that she is not bitter, but then goes on a bitter rant, demanding that Tony "own up" to his back-stabbing. Tony gets a bit defensive and refuses to call Jefra's ousting a blindside, because it was Jefra that was targeting Tony first. He does admit that he was making "strategic moves to save myself."
Morgan. Ugh, OK Morgan, we get it. You think you're beautiful, but the more you talk about it, the less beautiful you have become, to me anyways. After an arrogant opening, she asked a forgettable question to Tony and then made a statement to Woo that was more of just a dig at Kass. Yes, we get it, you also don't like Kass. Thanks for playing.
Jeremiah. The bitter parade continued with Jeremiah, who called it "pathetic and pitiful" that Tony would actually swear on his wife and kid. He was hoping Tony had just made them up. He then tosses Woo a softball question: Does Woo want to win? Um, yes Jeremiah.
Tasha. Another seemingly bitter jury member, she gets Tony to admit that Trish was the only player that didn't deserve her fate at his hands. Woo thinks it was good strategic gameplay to have latched on to Tony when he did.
LJ. Tony admits to LJ that he was scared of him in the game and that was why he was looking for any excuse to get him out. He goes on to explain why and how he turned on him.
Kass. Kass decides to question Woo's decision to keep Tony over her. Woo plainly tells Kass that she didn't deserve to sit next to him, but that Tony did. Ouch.
Trish. Trish gets Woo to admit that it was actually his idea to blindside her. In a very emotional rant to Tony, she tells him, "I spent the entire game putting out little flames for Tony," and that a large part of his success is due to her. But she can't quite get over the fact that Tony had promised her on his father's grave. Looking for a simple yes or no answer, she asks him: "Was it worth sacrificing your own father for a million dollars?" To which Tony replied, "Yes."
Spencer. Up until Spencer, things did not appear to be looking good for Tony. But Spencer hoped to change that with the most memorable speech of the night. He started off by comparing Woo's game to that of a dog's, where Tony was his master and Woo his little pet. Instead of questioning Tony though, he turns to plead to the jury on behalf of Tony. "Tony was behind every great strategic decision," Spencer told them. "He blinded his alliance to what he was doing in the game, like a puppet master. Vote for a player that played the game and honored it." Staying classy, he ended his time by congratulating them both before returning to his seat.
The Final Vote. So who would win "Survivor: Cagayan"? We are shown that Spencer voted for Tony (no surprise following that speech) and Tasha, somewhat surprisingly, voting for Woo. As we switched back to the live vote out in Los Angeles, Jeff Probst read the votes. As it turned out, Tasha's vote was the only vote for Woo. That meant that Tony Vlachos, the New Jersey cop and founder of the Survivor spy shack, was crowned as Sole Survivor!!!!!! (The Final Vote was 8-1 in favor of Tony).
Analysis. As it turns out, Woo's decision to try to "beat the best" was a million dollar mistake. But Tony's win had to be the most rewarding and fulfilling way that this season could have ended. In a season where several people really came to play, none played harder than Tony. We don't yet know how much of an impact - if any - Spencer's final speech had on the jury's votes, but if you are looking for reasons as to why Tony should have won, just rewind your DVR and listen to what Spencer has to say. For fans who can't get enough of the strategic side of Survivor (like myself), Tony's win signifies a very strong finish. Nothing against Woo, but it would have been a bit of a disappointment to see him win over Tony, or even over Kass for that matter. In choosing to try to "beat the best," Woo inadvertently ended "Survivor: Cagayan" on a high.
Live Reunion Show. Click here for highlights from the Live Reunion Show, including a preview of the upcoming Fall season - Season 29 - of Survivor.