We have less than two hours until the finale of Survivor: Panama -- Exile Island, which has been a step up from the previous season. While nothing can top the awesome spectacle that was Palau (coming to DVD in August), we may have a winner that can match Tom Westman in terms of providing entertainment every week.
No, I don't mean Terry Dietz. Should Terry win immunity tonight, he will have matched Tom's record of six individual wins. But while Tom managed to kick butt on the field and pull deft manuevers to the point where nobody voted against him, Terry has been a strategtic dud. All he does is win immunities, cling to the hidden immunity idol he found in the fourth episode, and not make any friends from the majority Casaya faction. After a while, it gets boring. This past Thursday, I opened up a copy of the Daily News, only to find a sickening love letter to Terry written by noted reality hater David Bianculli. This guy, who also likes psuedo "hippies" BJ & Tyler, invoked Richard Hatch's name while speaking of Terry, and said that he deserved to be considered one of the best players ever.
One hundred and eighty degrees removed from Terry is Cirie Fields. Cirie is an operating room nurse from South Carolina, orginally from Jersey City. She looks to be on the heavy side, with her bosom barely contained inside her shirt. Why have some people fallen in love with this woman, who has admitted to underestimating herself all of her life?
In the beginning, there was the original Casaya tribe, made up of the four oldest women in the game. When Casaya came in last in the four-way immunity challenge, somebody had to be jettisoned from the game. Cirie was the obvious choice, especially since she had a fear of stuff jumping out from underneath leaves. But when Tina the "lumberjill" isolated herself from the group, Cirie was spared the axe, taking a single vote from the departing Tina.
With Tina gone, Casaya looked to be in trouble, since she was one of the hardest workers in the game. But luck would look after Cirie when the four tribes were merged into two. Cirie stayed with Casaya, which turned into one of the more dysfunctional tribes in the show's history. After Shane decided to leave the game, Aras had to keep an alliance strong, and he talked him off the ledge. Aras then turned to Cirie and Melinda (also from the original Casaya), telling them point-blank that one of them had to go. This time, Cirie got no votes, as she and Melinda voted for Shane, while everybody else took out Melinda. From that moment on until Day 36, Cirie would not be in any danger of leaving the game.
Over time, the Casaya tribe would lose only one member until the merge. They managed to go into the merge up 6-4 on the rival La Mina. Casaya was a tribe against itself. Courtney rubbed Bobby and Bruce the wrong way. Shane made an alliance while swearing on his son's name, then begged to take it back. And through it all, Cirie would do her interviews, laughing in a high pitch, happy as a clam not to be on anybody's radar. During one immunity challenge, she managed to pin Sally at one stage and shoved Misty donw hard in another. She wasn't the most dangerous person to watch, but she was highly entertaining. And unlike most of the competitors, she was intentionally funny.
The merge came, and Cirie found herself on Gitanos. The story remained the same...Terry would win challenge after challenge, and his inability to utilize his hidden immunity idol resulted in departures for Nick, Austin and Sally. Cirie's story started heating up with the tenth episode, where she won a reward challenge for knowing more about her fellow castaways. She went to a spa, allowing Aras and Danielle with her, leaving a jilted Shane to stew back at camp. In the end, Bruce was dismissed from the game due to blockages in his colon and bladder. Before that, Shane went off about how he himself had to carry Cirie, "all three hundred pounds pounds of her." The guy had actually exposed a rash to her the week before, and he was talking crap about her. Nice, right?
In the following episode, Cirie let her inner Cesterino out to play. After Terry wins immunity yet again, it looked as if Danielle was on the way out. But Cirie had an idea: why not get rid of Courtney, one of the bigger headcases in the game? This way, a potential winning scenario would be taken away. At Tribal Council, a clueless Shane voted for Danielle, Courtney and Terry voted for Aras...and Aras, Cirie and Danielle booted Courtney to the jury box, where she will no doubt make a spectacle of herself this evening. All Cirie had to go afterwards was convince Shane that there was no time to let him in on the plan. Oh, and she managed to catch a big fish on her first try, much to the bemusement of Shane. She was squimish about killing a snail for bait, laughing the whole time. In her interview on The Early Show, Courtney referred to Cirie as "a wolf in sheep's clothing." Given her constant laughter, "hyena" might have been more fitting.
Cirie got a pleasant surprised in the next episode. After Terry won yet another reward challenge, he got to determine how much contact the contestants would get from their loved ones. Terry allowed Cirie to let her husband Clarencio come to camp for the evening. Cirie entertained her "Honey Bunny" or "HB" at Gitanos, as he helped out with chores, in amazement that a couch potato such as his wife can live like this. Later, Cirie worked her magic again, engineering the surprise ouster of Shane.
This past Thrusday, the penultimate episode ended in a cliffhanger. Terry and Danielle got into an alliance, but Terry wouldn't give her his hidden idol. Had he done so, and had she decided not to double-cross him, Cirie would have been guarenteed to get her torch snuffed. Instead, Terry and Danielle voted for Cirie, while Cirie and Aras voted for Danielle. Both women competed in a tiebreaker: make a fire high enough to burn a rope. That's where we left off.
I think Cirie will nail the tiebreaker and move on to Day 38. It's a matter of story structure...at this point, I don't know who Danielle is. You can put her next to Sally and Misty, and I'd be confused. Remember Darrah from Pearl Islands? My point exactly. And there are three reasons why Cirie might win the million dollars this evening:
1. Aras and Terry hate each other with a white-hot intensity. Since the merge, Terry has tried to vote off Aras three times. Last Thursday, the two almost came to blows, settling on throwing verbal jabs at each other. The temptation is there for one to win the final challenge and cast the likable Cirie to the side, going for the most anticipated Day 39 ever. On the other hand, one could spite the other and take Cirie to the Final Council. And we've seen supposedly weak players wiggle to Day 39 with a shocking immunity win (Lil Morris, anyone?), so there might be hope for Cirie.
2. Today is Mother's Day. Cirie is the only mother left in the game. It comes together, does it not?
3. Okay, this is going to sound really stupid, but bear with me. Last year, we had the pairing of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. The two finalists on Survivor that season? Tom and Katie. One year later, "TomKat" had a child, and her name is Suri. Close enough, right?
I believe that Cirie is the sentimental favorite coming into tonight's episode, CBS.com popularity poll numbers be damned (Terry currently leads all contestants at 56.88 percent, which I really don't get). Last year, I rooted for Tom because the novelty of an overachiever winning was too much to bear. That guy pulled his tribe to victory, won six of eight individual immunities, and managed to stay popular to win 6-1. Cirie comes from a different angle as the woman who went from dead woman walking on Day 3 to a legitimate power player...all that while retaining her self of humor. Even if fools such as Shane and Courtney were to grill her for her moves, Cirie will deftly dodge the venom. In contrast, Aras hasn't felt the pulse around camp that well, and Terry is one of the most socally inept players in the show's twelve-season history. And I'm 98 percent sure Danielle loses the tiebreaker tonight.
In the end, Cirie will leave a great legacy behind even if she falls short. If she can last five weeks in the game after she got scared about looking under leaves, then anybody can win the million bucks. But only a few can from start to finish with a big smile. Here's hoping that the laughter gets doubled tonight. Go, Cirie!