Back to Alaska
Author's Commentary
Part 6 of 6

ALL-STAR ALASKA: Behind the Scenes (episodes 12-finale)
by Mario Lanza

(Note: These articles give away the whole plot, so don't read this if you don't want to know the winner of Alaska. Read the story first!)


Back in episode seven or eight (I forget which one) I had vowed that, from now on, I would write all the rest of the episodes. I was tired of dealing with multiple schedules, and different styles, etc, it was just too stressful. And this was really nothing new, it happens every series. Alaska was no better or worse than Hawaii. But I really did feel like I could handle all the writing in the last six episodes.

For a while anyway.

By now, I was just burnt out. Too much writing. I was cranking out 25 pages of story every five days, and that is not healthy! I was tired of doing it, and I knew some of the other writers' schedules were starting to open up, so we actually split this episode three ways. Ryan wrote day 34, CJ did 35 and I did 36. And it is funny that, for all the talk about us being a writing "team," this was in fact the only episode of Hawaii OR Alaska that was written by three people. Usually, we do one writer per episode, two at most. So this was the only true collaborative effort between three writers, in either series.

It opens with Tammy's letter from home. A very nice moment, definitely an attempt to give Tammy some humanity and open her character up. We had to do some research to find her husband's name (Michael) but I screwed up when I signed the letter "Love always, Michael." I found out afterwards that he goes by "Mike" instead. Oops! Hope you didn't catch that. Ryan wrote the body of Tammy's love letter himself and did a great job. But then again, he has been stalking Tammy with love letters for months now, so this was just an indirect way to get around the restraining order.

Just kidding, Ryan!

Most of the time, Tammy felt she had a good understanding of Greg’s game plan, despite the fact that he constantly seemed to be fine-tuning it. He was always off in the shadows, laughing, smiling, joking. But the smile never quite touched his eyes, that was something she had picked up right away. It was a mask.

Tammy was a crime reporter in real life. She dealt with sociopaths and deviants and scumbags on a weekly basis. She tended to notice little things like that.


I added these paragraphs in final editing and was very proud of them since I studied deviant psychology in college. I know exactly what sociopaths are like. I wrote my senior thesis on serial killer Ted Bundy, so Tammy is definitely on the right track here. It just fit perfectly, since she writes about criminals. She would recognize a mask when she saw it!

Ryan wrote a LOT of Paschal-Helen interchange at the start here, with some Greg thrown in. This turned out to be crucial, because we had established a close Paschal-Helen bond for the final two. If we hadn't had these scenes, the final vote would not have been so suspenseful. These two honestly like each other. And be reminded that we had NO idea who the final two would be yet, we just got lucky that the two had some backstory when we actually got to the final vote.

Here's a funny running joke that few people caught. It was very subtle:

"Well how ‘bout Tammy?" Tom asked, brainstorming. "Maybe we could get her t’vote with us against Helen." Tom was hopeful, but Paschal just shook his head. That simply wasn't going to happen.

"I don’t think so" he said. "If I were a betting man, I'd guess that Tammy is the one who will be leaving next. I certainly view her as the biggest threat, and I imagine Greg does too. She's one or two immunity wins from being unstoppable."


The basic rule is... every time Paschal makes a prediction or gives an opinion, it is correct. That was our general rule. Paschal is ALWAYS right. Nearly everything he says turns out to be true, and that was on purpose. Go back and read some old episodes, it was a pattern we followed pretty religiously.

Ryan came up with the reward challenge, where all the contestants come back for the trivia game. It was a GREAT idea, kudos to Ryan. He thought up the Humvee reward and the idea for the questions. It was my idea to have Clay driving the Hummer, just because I didn't think he could actually see over the dashboard. I knew Tom could make a funny comment about it:

"What'd they, have you sittin' on a phone book?" yelled Tom, laughing. "How'd you see over the steerin' wheel?"

And here's an error that no one caught:

"Helen," continued the host, "I could totally see you in that thing."

"Yeah," she joked, "I'll just go pick up my daughter at school in it."


If you read her bio, you will see that Helen's daughter is college-aged. I'm not sure why mom would need to go pick her up... I thought Helen's daughter was younger when I wrote this line.

This challenge was also a nice little inside joke to all the people who whined we needed to "Bring back Jeff Varner!" Well, here he is. Enjoy!

I was very happy with this exchange, in which Brian "passes the torch" to Greg. It shows that Brian maybe isn't that bad a guy at all. It also shows that he isn't quite as vindictive as Helen, he just seems to have laughed the whole situation with her off. It just adds a nice playful side to Brian Heidik, which I think he really needed.

Jerri shuffled back into the pack with a wave and a call of "Good luck," and then it was time for Brian to stroll to the stage. He walked slowly, casually, in no hurry.

"Hey everybody," he said casually, "Long time no see." He smiled at Helen. "Love ya, H." She just smiled back, shrugging. It was a dance, sometimes one would win, sometimes the other. Helen happened to be on this side this time around.

"We asked Brian," Jeff said, "Who he most wished he would have outplayed."

Brian revealed his vote, which indeed was "GREG." Tammy was the only one to have answered correctly. Brian flashed Greg a wink and a nod, which no one else caught. Greg was making him proud, indeed. Perhaps Brian had chosen the wrong protege after all. Silas Gaither had nothing on Greg Buis.


And this next line is a key, key interchange. At the end of the episode, Greg votes out Tammy instead of Paschal. There are a few reasons why, but there is one that a lot of people forgot about, and it happens right here. Tammy is the only one who is ON to Greg's plan, and he knows it. He needs to get rid of her, pronto, because of this:

"OK, Tammy," he said jokingly, holding up a vote for the fiery reporter, "Here's one right back at ya!" Tammy grinned at him, but it was a look that made him nervous. She was not a subtle person. The smile said, simply, you don’t fool me.

And does it get any better than Clay and Tom making fun of each other?

"Make this one easy, Stubby" Tom hollered, "Ah need a pity point!"

"You already lost anyway, you big fat dumbass!" Clay hollered back, chuckling.


Here's another one, which includes a stupid misspelling on my part. Let the record show that I know how to spell "raccoon." I just added this line, in editing, at the last minute and typed it wrong. It was a funny line, but I HATE misspellings, so I have no excuse for this one:

"Thanks a lot," complained Tom to Clay, "You didn't think I could win?"

Clay laughed.

"I aint votin' for anyone who brought a damn raccon penis as their luxury item," he joked back.


And the challenge ends with the traditional red herring. Varner gets a great line and totally sets Tammy up for the win. But alas...

Tammy got a big hug from Jeff Varner, who picked her up and spun her around, like a little girl. He then leaned over and proudly whispered into her ear.

"You’ve got the car, now go win that fucking money. You've only got five more days to go."

Tammy smiled at him, nodding. Her thoughts exactly.


Let me point out that the person who wins the car (like Tammy) often gets voted out in 5th place. That was no different here. Originally we were going to have someone warn Tammy about this (jokingly), but I guess we forgot and that line never got written. But we intended to, honest!

Greg starts day 35 in a tree, too high for the cameras to come up. Another attempt by Greg to foil the game and the production crew.

Greg's decision to vote Tammy off instead of Paschal is made here, and a very controversial one it turned out to be:

The problem with Greg's strategy was in his probable target for the next vote. Paschal English was the logical choice to take the next walk of shame, and that was liable to pose some serious problems.

"Everyone loves him," Greg had admitted in an earlier confessional. "Including me. But he needs to be on that jury. There's no way around it." Greg had debated this decision more than he had the previous boots. Sure, they all needed to be on the jury. All four of them. Elisabeth, Gina, Kelly and Paschal were the four votes he needed to win. But the catch was that he had been able to disguise his intentions with the past few votes. He had set it up so Kelly had been the bad guy, or Helen. If he was going to be the tiebreaker, it would be apparent to everybody who had voted off the judge. It would be in front of the jury, in front of Qinaliut, in front of everybody. All of them would see that Greg had been the third vote that got rid of Paschal.

It was a recipe for political suicide.


This was actually an idea I had in mind ahead of time, but a few posts by a guy named Colleenlover on the discussion board just cemented it in my head. Greg really was playing with fire, with either choice. It was a bad spot he was in. But we eventually went in the direction that Greg figured he could get rid of Paschal later. I know it wasn't unanimously loved, but that's the plot we went with and stuck with it 100%. But I WILL add that the outcry over this decision probably was a factor in the final vote. If Paschal had won, it might have been tainted due to Greg's decision here (ie, people think we skewed it so Pappy could win). Don't think we ignore the voices of the readers, because we definitely pay attention.

I still think Greg made the right call. Unfortunately Greg is not available to ask him these things (unlike Kathy last season) so we just had to wing it.

You couldn't win a final vote against Paschal English. Everyone knew that. It was part of the reason Helen had fled to Amarok. Well, of course Gina had pretty much kicked her out as well, but Helen had been on the way out anyway. There were too many people in Tuktu that you didn't want to face at the end. Elisabeth? No way. Kelly? Not a chance, people felt bad for her, she would have been the world's biggest pity vote. And, of course, Paschal. Paschal was the worst case scenario.

You could not beat the man.


Helen, think again!

One of the things we got accused of in Alaska was that we made the story into too much of a soap opera. For example, at least THREE times in the story, the person slated to be booted wins immunity. This episode was probably the most blatant of those instances. And let me say that YES, we were totally guilty of it here. We knew Greg would be safe, and Tammy would leave. But as writers, we also had the luxury of saying "Gee, now how do want the story to proceed so it is a dramatic end to the episode?" And the idea I came up with was that Tammy FINALLY has the votes to oust Greg. She has done it, she has Helen and Tom on board. I knew the readers would get their hopes up (most people HATED Greg), but the little twerp goes and wins immunity, this saving himself. So yeah the story didn't have to be that dramatic at the end, but I loved how close she came. She was literally inches from winning immunity, but Greg pulled it off and Tammy became a martyr. I loved it, but I could see how some readers thought it was too much like a soap opera.

Besides, a soap opera is a GOOD thing. People get addicted to those storylines, so why not do the same thing here? I never saw being called a soap opera as an insult. I was like, yeah, well that was the purpose of writing a serial novel.

The immunity challenge (hacking through the vines to freedom) was my idea, and something I came up with on the spot. We were basically out of ideas, so I just ripped off one from Hawaii. I thought everyone would notice that, but only one or two people mentioned it. The final four immunity in Hawaii is four people lost in the woods. The first one to escape from the woods and make it to Tribal Council wins, and Kathy ends up winning immunity. That is the exact same idea here, I just added Devil's Club and machetes, to make it a little more primal. But it's the same basic premise. I guess it isn't plagiarism if you rip yourself off...

Tammy spotted the clearing at nearly the same time as Greg. Peering through her sweaty bangs, she spotted a large dirt area. The whacking to her right had stopped. Apparently Helen had given up. But she could hear Greg, smashing plant after plant to her left. It was just the two of them. She knew it now. Her hair had been bothering her, so there was just one option. In one motion, she grabbed the offending bangs and sliced them off with the machete, tossing the meddlesome hair to the dirt.

The passage above is one I waffled over for some time. Should I keep it in? Is it too over the top? Do women ever cut their bangs off for ANY reason? Would Tammy do so? And I basically decided that yeah, it shows Tammy's desperation and determination to win. I should leave it in. And I'm glad I did, since a bunch of people commented that they loved that image. Yay!

Paschal English was standing by the shelter, talking with Helen, as they discussed tonight's vote.

"I think it's going to be Tammy," he said, quietly. "Greg has so much as told me so, and she's really his biggest threat right now. I can't really see any other reason why he'd vote for somebody else."


Once again, Paschal correctly predicts the future. Also note at the end in the final vote, when he tells Helen, "You're going to win..." He is the first person to ever suggest it. Even Helen felt she could not win against Paschal.

At Tribal Council, Tammy goes on about her pre-game training rituals. Let me say that I did some research on Tammy and she DID do this sort of thing before Marquesas. She basically went through boot camp every morning with her husband Mike. And some of her quotes here are, word for word, stuff she said in interviews before and after Marquesas. When in doubt, I use the contestants' exact words for my purposes, especially her opinion that you can control your body, but not the game. That's something she said in a Tempe newspaper interview:

Jeff laughed at the answer, but turned to Tammy.

"Tammy," he asked, "Speaking of conditioning, I know that you put yourself through a rigorous training ritual before you came out here. Do you feel it has helped you at all?"

Tammy smiled, always loving to explain her training rituals. They were always good to impress people.

"I was out in the morning every day, doing crunches, kickboxing, kayaking and windsprints," she explained. "My husband would be out with me every day, being my trainer, putting me through boot camp. Do I think it has helped? Sure. I mean, you can't win challenges if you aren't in shape."

"Hey, don't jump to conclusions," interrupted Tom. "I've won mah fair share and I aint done a windsprint in twenty years, Jeff."

Tammy stopped mid-sentence, and laughed to herself. Tom was one of the few people who could make her laugh. She shot him a look, but one that was not entirely without humor.

"What I was saying," she smiled, "Is that you try to maximize your success in the things you can control. Coming out here, you can't control your teammates. You can't control your luck. You can't control the votes. But you can control how well you hold up, and how strong and fit you are. So that's really been my strategy all along."


Oh, and here's my little slam on all the Survivors who sell their cars. You cheapskate deadbeats, enjoy your prizes! And this isn't directed only at John, I just felt like picking on him this time. The whole idea is almost laughable now, anytime a car is won on Survivor, you know will end up on Ebay in a few months. That's just how it works.

"So," added Jeff with a smile, "Did you enjoy your new car?"

Tammy grinned, the little girl in her coming out from her hiding place. She had been grinning ear to ear during the whole car ride, it had been a blast.

"Loved it," she said. "Thanks."

"And I don't want to see that thing on Ebay," Jeff joked. "We picked it out special for you guys. So try to hang on to it, okay, John Carroll?"

I always thought it was funny that Greg might win Alaska (and I thought he would at this point) and Jeff would have to sit there and watch it. Thus I wrote this:

"And finally," he said, "Let's turn to the man of the hour. Greg Buis." He stared at his arch-rival. This is awful, Jeff thought. He's going to win, and I have to sit here and to watch this. But Jeff sucked up his personal pride and continued as planned. He was a professional.

And then we end with Tammy being voted out. Let me say now that I LOVED writing for Tammy, and I think it showed. She and Greg were such great characters to write for, I would take her in another story in a heartbeat. And characters like that always get a swan song, so you went out in style, Tammy!

Next up, the finale... we had to see if we could make up for the unpopular Hawaii finale... so a LOT of work went into the last episode...


Okay, first things first. I was not that optimistic going into the finale. I was a little stung from the criticism of Hawaii's finale, and I wasn't entirely sure it was possible to EVER write a finale that would please the readers. I had a nagging suspicion that you would never be able to wrap up every subplot in one episode, and never be able to finish it all neatly, in one package, with a winner that people would be happy with.

Of course, it doesn't help that we are all so burned out by the thirteenth episode. But I figured I would give it my best shot and try to pull it off. But if the Alaskan finale hadn't come off well, or wasn't well received, I was prepared to say that you could never write a satisfying finale, and it likely would have meant the end of the All-Star series (my contributions to it, anyway). The Alaska finale was really a make-or-break moment for me, to see if it could be done.

The first thing we did is the random selection for the immunity winners. We can do this via coin flip for the team challenges, but once you get down to individual immunities, I used a computer program I wrote that will randomize a winner. And the first challenge went to... Paschal.


I have nothing against Paschal, but I was running out of challenges that he could probably win. I mean I like the guy, and would have been happy with him being the Ultimate Survivor, but, really, how many immunity wins can the guy pull off?? He is turning into Colby here! And it just wasn't that realistic, but I had vowed to ALWAYS use the random immunity to decide the game, to keep us from cheating. So Paschal was going to win this challenge, like it or not.

Let me add that I KNOW a lot of readers have a problem with the random immunities. A lot of people HATE that important events in the series can come down to random choise, but then again, so do a few members of our writing staff. Ryan Crist, for one, HATES the idea that anyone can win immunity at any time. So does CJ Blake. They were both a little upset that I would let random immunity happen so late in the game, but I simply said that was always the rule and I wasn't going to let it change. We would just have to come up with a challenge that Paschal could win.

The challenge I wanted to use was Fallen Comrades. I didn't use it in Hawaii, and was prepared to use it here. The idea was Fallen Comrades in the first challenge, and Snow Perch in the final one. But then common sense got the better of me and I realized that Fallen Comrades only works on TV. It is boring to read in print. So I decided to come up with something else here, something exciting and new that Paschal could win.

The idea for the chessboard challenge came from Murtz Jaffer. Murtz and I are good friends, despite the fact that I banned him from the project earlier. We were talking about challenge ideas, and he had a good idea for a chess challenge. And neither of us were inspired by Harry Potter, if you are wondering, although the challenge ended up looking like we ripped it off from the movie.

Murtz's original idea was to have two pawns and two kings, and have the players try to protect their king while trying to take out the other team's. A four person challenge is ideal for a team game like this, and I loved the idea. I loved it, that is, until I sat down to write it. It was a good idea, but very complicated. There were a lot of rules and subrules and stuff, and it was going to be too complex. I try to keep the challenges as simple as possible, that is a rule I follow religiously. So I suggested a change to the challenge, where instead the four players start in the four corners of the board, and each one is a different chess piece. They try to eliminate all the others. It worked for us, so that became the challenge. Human chess, and Paschal won.

Four things about this challenge:

1. I specifically kept the moves as vague as possible. I didn't describe the actual moves (I just hinted at them) because I didn't want people to try and replicate the game on a chess board. Why? Because I don't think a game like this would ever end. I'm not sure it's possible for pieces like this to capture all the other three. And I'm not much of a chess player as far as strategy, so I couldn't even guess how they would play. Thus the vague gameplay. I know some chess whiz would have nailed us on strategy if we screwed up the moves, so I just didn't mention them at all. Ha, I beat you at your own game, nitpickers! :)

2. I was a little worried that a lot of readers wouldn't know the rules of chess. Luckily we didn't get any complaints, so people understood how the pieces were supposed to move.

3. Greg would probably be the best chess player, so we needed to eliminate him from the game (thus Paschal could win). The idea I came up with was for the other players to gang up on him. Even the best player in the world couldn't get out of that trap.

4. When it got down to two pieces (Tom and Paschal) I came to a pretty good conclusion that this game could go on forever. You would have to be rather dumb to get captured at that point. Thus I added the time limit as a way to end it. Tom got fooled and didn't make his move in time. Otherwise, it would never end! That was just a sneaky way on my part to end it and get Paschal the win.

Ok, onto the episode notes as I read through it again:

"I don't really think Tom deserves to be here," said Helen, as she sipped from a cup of hot water. "Frankly, I don't think he's done as much as the rest of us, and I've never really felt he was a part of the group."

This is Helen speaking for all of us writers. There is always one person in the final four who we feel doesn't belong, and Helen was giving our point of view. And yes, last season it was Colleen.

Maybe Greg is coming around after all, Paschal thought, smiling. Maybe he IS the type of young man I thought he was all along.

This is my attempt to leave the ending open, just in case I wanted Greg to redeem himself. I wanted to leave it open as to whether Greg would come around. And in a way, Paschal predicted the future, as always. Greg voted with his heart at the end, giving his vote to the one he had screwed over the most (and no, it wasn't Paschal.)

"Besides, what better drama is there for a fallen hero to come back to his senses? I mean, it's like Darth Vader. I fell from grace, I was corrupted, and then, when all appeared lost, I suddenly swooped back to the good guys." He smiled. "It's like Return of the Jedi. You had Paschal, lying on the ground, near death. Tammy's shooting bolts of electricity into him and I'm sitting there, watching. And then, at the last moment, I pick her up and toss her into a pipe shaft. I mean, what could be more heroic? Paschal's saved, the hero is back, everyone wins."

I personally liked Greg's comparison to Darth Vader. I take any chance to get a gratuitous movie reference into the story!

Right before the chess challenge, they sit down to talk about the vote. This served two purposes. One, I wanted to set up the fact that a tie was coming. We avoided the purple rock several times in Hawaii and then here in Alaska, but as writers we decided we could not avoid this any longer. We were going to have to leave a bootee up to chance. There was no way around it, we were going to have a 2-2 tie. As a writer, this terrified me, because I didn't want Helen or Greg to go, and we would have no say over it. But the die had been cast, and we were just setting it up here.

We also gave Tom a chance to blast Greg right out of the water, and I know all the anti-Greg people loved that scene. It really gave Tom a chance to shine, really brought his character out. I'm glad he finally got to show his temper, he had been laying low for too long. And Greg, of course, never saw it coming.

Ok, the chess challenge ended, and Paschal was immune. That means we were going into a Warrior Box showdown with three people. It was time to pick the random bootee. I closed my eyes and started the randomizer program. This consists of picking numbers for each player. In this case, 1 for Helen, 2 for Greg and 3 for Tom. Then I had the computer pick a number between 1 and 3. And fate chose the number of ... 3. Tom.


Honestly, this was played completely fair and Tom just happened to lose the draw. I was relieved, because I felt his story was pretty much over anyway. But if Greg or Helen would have lost, they would have gone, no questions asked. I never override the random choice. So Tom reached into the Warrior Box and felt the sharp stab of elimination. So long, Tom, we enjoyed writing for you.

Since the story was really about the triangle of Greg, Helen and Paschal, it all worked out perfectly. They ended up being the final three.

I was very proud of Tom's plea to Helen though, in an attempt to get her to change her vote. I think it came off very well, and people at home WOULD be screaming at her to change her vote. But she needed Greg in that final two, or so she thought. It was just a nice TV moment:

"Now, I think you ought to look long an' hard at yer friend thair. Greg aint no better than Brian, and you keep him around, just proves y'aint learned from yer mistakes. You think the people at home aint sittin' there, sayin', 'Wake up, Helen?' They probably sittin' in front of their TV, screamin' at you right now to do the right thing. So I'm just askin'. Give me another chance, and ah'prove that I deserve to be here."

And then Greg fakes like he picked the wrong hole. This was my subtle attempt, as a writer, to get the reader to crap his pants. Sorry! But it wasn't really cheating, since Greg had done this sort of stuff the whole story. A precedent had been set already:

"Ow!" he exclaimed suddenly, making Helen jump. Greg pulled his hand out, wincing in pain. Jeff grinned, until Greg suddenly dropped the act. He held up his hand, smiling. No blood. It had just been a joke. Greg was safe.

Ryan Crist suggested that, in the story, all three people should reach into the box at the same time. He thought it worked better than if they did it one at a time. And this was a good enough idea, but then I would have had to cut out Greg's little joke, which I wanted to keep. It only worked if Greg reached in first. But Ryan, you were probably right, for logistic reasons.

On day 38, Jeff greets them with the feast and then this:

"Well," said Jeff, as the three of them rested, recovering, "It's a good thing you're full of food. Because you've got some work ahead of you today." He smiled. "Greg, this will be right up your alley. Because we're going to the big mountain today. You guys are hiking to Mount McKinley."

As I said earlier, the point of the whole story was to get to McKinley. Greg alluded to that many times. And I was still sure that we would have snow perch (on McKinley) as the final challenge but, first, we had to pick our final immunity winner. So I ran the randomizer program and the final immunity would go to...


What the hell? Now, let me be the first to point out that none of us were happy with this choice. CJ could not BELIEVE that I would let the final immunity winner be determined by random chance. And Ryan, I think, was ready to just quit altogether, he was very much against this winner. Because it looked like Paschal had just wrapped up an Alaskan win. We had pretty much the same opinion that Helen did at this point. NO ONE could beat Paschal in a final vote. It was likely to be 7-0, and that would have sucked. Nothing against Paschal, but there would have been no suspense at all! So it is safe to say this was not a happy moment among the writing crew.

But at the same time, I reiterated my position once again. I will never override the immunity choices. Paschal is in the final two, and it is OUR job to make it interesting. It is our job to decide how he gets there and what happens then. The immunity is left up to fate and everything else is up to us.

I came up with the final immunity challenge (after sadly scrapping snow perch). I don't remember where I got the idea, but I wanted a "mindgame" that Greg thought he could win but didn't. I wanted the irony of Greg losing a mindgame challenge. But since he was likely smarter than Paschal, I needed a challenge that would be impossible to master. The one I came up with (Elimination) was part trivia, part luck. It is a challenge that a cocky smart person might overthink and screw up. And that is exactly what happened!

First off, we had the final torch walk. It is notable for a few things, mainly for the fact that the tone here is so goofy. A few people commented that the tone here is completely different than the rest of the story and, yeah I guess that was intentional. I wanted to make it lighthearted and fun, and not so serious. We see it as serious on TV, and I figured the people actual doing the walk are probably cracking jokes and making comments, so that's what I did instead. I knew there was enough drama in the rest of the episode, so the torch walk could be fun.

And of course, they were SUPPOSED to be memorizing the torches. But no one told them that. I wanted there to be one final twist to catch them all off guard.

About an hour into the trip, Helen spotted the first torch. It was Neleh's. The long, slim staff leaned up against a tree, with Neleh's named carved into its side. Paschal reached over to touch it.

"I wish I had been able to see her during the game," he said, "And be on her team just once."

"She didn't have a chance," said Helen, laying her hand on his shoulder. "Tammy planned to vote her out before they even got here. You either went along with it, or you were next."

Paschal nodded, smiling. Of course that had been it. Neleh had not been voted out for any fault of her own.

"Here's my favorite Neleh moment," said Helen. "You two will get a kick out of it." Even Greg looked interested, as he came over to listen. "The first night around camp, we sat and talked about food," smiled Helen.

"Let me guess," joked Greg, "Your idea?"

Helen shot him with a sarcastic glare. He just smiled.

"We were all going around," she continued, "And sharing our favorite recipes. And Neleh came up with something called 'funeral potatoes.'"

"The heck is a funeral potato?" asked Paschal.

"See, that's the thing," said Helen. "We asked her, but she could never explain them. She assumed we all knew what they were too. I think it was some Mormon thing. She said that it was something that people brought to funerals a lot, and hence the name. But she was in disbelief that none of us had ever had them."

Greg shrugged. He had never heard the term either. And he usually knew terms like that.


Ok, there's two funny things going on here. First off, I wanted to use this moment to explain why Helen voted Neleh out. She was just going along with the mob. Since we didn't quite grasp Helen yet at the start, we didn't really know who she was yet. So now, retroactively, we can have her explain her first vote. Cheating? Heck yeah it is, but it helped her character a little here.

And as for Neleh's "funeral potatoes," yes they are a real thing, and I was told about them when I was in Utah last year. I went to Salt Lake City for a business conference and I remember the subject of Mormon foods came up. A few people told me about "Fries sauce," which is a dipping sauce popular in Utah. It is basically thousand island with a little spice added to it. But the other Utah food was "funeral potatoes." I was told they are basically twice-baked potatoes that people bring to funerals a lot. Why there are so many funerals in Utah I have no idea. But I was told it is "just a Mormon thing." So I remembered the potatoes and used them here. It was a little joke that no one really got. Oh well, I tried.

"Well, my friend," said Paschal, looking at the torch. "This is for you."

He reached up and removed the immunity talisman from his neck, placing it atop the torch and letting it rest there.

"You probably needed this more than I did," he said, a small tear in his eye. "I want you to keep it."


The scene where Paschal gives his immunity necklace to Neleh was one of my favorites. Some said it was stupid, but on the other hand, some people really liked it. But it didn't mean Paschal was relinquishing his immunity altogether. He was just giving her the necklace. I think some people saw it as similar to Superman 2, where Superman gives up his super powers so that he could marry Lois Lane. Uh... not quite. He just gave Neleh a prop necklace. Like Paschal said, "They can make another one, this one's for Pixie."

We also explained the Rudy boot better at his torch (something we didn't do a good job of in episode two). Like with Neleh, I used the boot walk as a way to clear up any questions about early boots:

"He just didn't fit in," answered Greg. "No one really wanted to vote anybody out, but Rudy had no allies. Clay said he wanted to get rid of him, so people just jumped on the bandwagon. Mob mentality."

Ok, here's a moment that some people questioned. People asked, why would Helen put a muffin next to Jerri's torch? Isn't Helen starving?? Didn't she and Jerri hate each other??

Helen nodded. Jerri had been a great teammate for a while, until the stress had started to kick in.

"Here," she said, remembering something. She fished around inside her pack until she came to a small chocolate muffin, which she had wrapped up from breakfast that morning. "Jerri, this is for you." She placed the small chocolate muffin at the base of the torch.


Well the answer is no, and no. Remember, Helen just had a MASSIVE breakfast feast just before this, so she could probably spare a muffin. After all, they were all going home tomorrow. And remember that she and Jerri were friends for a long time. Helen was one of the few in Tuktu who talked to her. The only issue Helen ever had was at the end, when Jerri went stir crazy and attacked Kelly. But Helen probably felt bad for Jerri, and this was her peace offering. I liked this moment, personally.

And here is the famous spleen joke coming back to the forefront:

"Elisabeth," read the ninth torch. They were almost nearing the end of the walk, and the torches were closer together now.

"She was the heart," said Greg, nodding.

"That's right," remembered Paschal. He paused to think. "Who was the brains again? Was it Helen?"

"No," said Greg. "Kelly Goldsmith was the brains."

Paschal snapped his fingers.

"That's right. I forgot."

Helen just stared at them.

"What in the heck are you two talking about?"


Like I said, we got a TON of feedback from people loving the "Helen is the spleen" line Ryan wrote back in episode 2 or 3. So I was determined to use it again in the finale. Since all three players involved were still here, it was a natural fit. Viva the spleen!

"The wha..?" Helen scrunched up her face in an exaggerated look of disbelief. "The SPLEEN?? What the hell does the SPLEEN do?"

Greg shrugged.

Paschal shrugged.

It was best to just move on.


I ended it like that because I had no idea how that conversation would end. So it really WAS best just to move on

Ok, here is another use of the torch walk. You can clear up some character issues:

"She and I didn't get along very well," said Helen, softly. She was very much dreading what would happen if she got to the final two, and had to face Gina in the jury. "We're like oil and water."

"More like oil and oil," said Greg. "Face it, you two are exactly alike!"

"C'mon," said Helen, disbelieving him.

"It's true," said the judge, "You guys are both as stubborn as heck and won't back down. You two were destined to have problems eventually."


We had been accused of making Gina a bitch. And that wasn't our case at all, Gina was supposed to be a scorned, hurt woman. So I cleared it up a little by saying that Gina and Helen were so similar. Helen would have behaved the same way if she had been in Gina's shoes. It was really my attempt to say that no, I don't have anything against Gina. In her eyes, her anger at Helen is pefectly justified.

We get to the final challenge. No comments here except it is basically Fallen Comrades with some mindgames thrown in. I always thought it was a particularly evil game, but then again I like nasty challenges. The nastier, the better.

At the end of the challenge, Paschal wins, and has to make his choice. At this point, we figured he would tell them what he was going to do. Paschal wouldn't want anyone to be caught off guard. And I felt pretty strongly that he would pick Helen to go to the final 2, since Greg had been revealed. In fact, in the first draft, I had Greg just basically fess up at this point, and then was eliminated. I originally wanted to have Greg come around and reveal the truth, thus redeeming his character somewhat.

But Ryan made a good point. He asked, would Greg just give up like that?

Ryan was dead on. Greg would NOT just give up. If anything, he would appear to give up, but be using it as a last ditch attempt to save himself. And we figured, if he reiterated how badly Helen would lose in the jury, it might get Paschal to feel bad for Helen and spare her the embarassment. So that's the direction we decided to go:

Greg looked at her. It was time to deliver the death blow. He knew that Helen hated confrontations, and it was time to use it against her.

"Helen," he said, "If you go to the final two, that jury will tear you apart." He shrugged. "I'm sorry, but it's true."

This was the truth, for the most part. But Greg couldn't resist making it sound a little more ominous than it was. After all, the game was still being played. He wanted to make sure Paschal realized the danger he would be sending Helen into.

Helen frowned, and rested her chin on her hand, thinking this over. She hadn't really seen the big picture until now, but it was out there. Greg had been along with her the whole time, helping her out, teasing her, playing with her head. It had all been one big mindgame. But the game was over now, the truth was out, the secret had been revealed.

Greg Buis was the devil.

"Paschal," asked Helen, a scowl on her face, "Is that true?"

"I'm afraid it probably is," he said. "There are a few people on that jury who are waiting for you. They told me so themselves."

"Crap," she muttered.


Greg wanted to use Paschal's pity against him. And it ALMOST worked, but we felt Paschal would still pick Helen. We felt he would do his best to defend her in the final vote, out of a sense of chivalry. Paschal simply wouldn't let the jury tear her apart, not if he could stop it.

Greg was voted out, but not without one final dig at Probst:

Greg nodded and watched as the torch was put out. But he wasn't about to go down without one last moment of mischief. Jeff was taking this moment far too seriously. That simply couldn't be.

So Greg reached over and gave him a hug.

Jeff stiffened up, not ready for it at all. But Greg cried against his shoulder for a few seconds, making the jury laugh, until his point had been made. He let Jeff go and turned to walk out of the cabin, and the game.

"Thanks, Jeff," he said, over his shoulder, "I needed that."


For the record, this was Kixxy's favorite moment of the series. I wanted to have Jeff break the protocol somewhat. One of the ideas was for him to just walk over and sit in the jury. One of the ideas was for him to take his torch with him into the forest, and not let Jeff snuff it. But I decided on the hug, just because it would make Jeff squirm the most. We love to see Jeff squirm.

Note that Paschal predicts the future yet again, just before the final vote:

"I don't want to go," she smiled, a little nervous. "Can we just give you the check and get it over with?"

"Oh, come on," said the judge, reassuring her. "Don't count yourself out just yet. You could still win this thing. Besides," he smiled. "If they come after you, I'll just tell them to grow up. This is just a game, you didn't do anything they wouldn't have done in the same place."


On the way to Tribal Council, there's a weird interlude where the jurors give their thoughts on who will win. They are swimming, eating, relaxing, and we pull them back in the game to speak their piece. This was added because of some complaints last season, where we never gave the juror pre-thoughts. And truth be told, I don't like this section very much, it is out of place. I will likely cut the jury pre-thoughts out in the next story altogether.

Okay, on to the final vote. My basic idea in the final vote is to make everyone come off as good as possible. I want both the finalists to give kickass speeches and both make a good case. Call me biased, but I never want anyone to come off poorly in their jury speeches. I like everyone, they should ALL do well!

Now to the jury votes. We did not really plan out who would win at this point yet, but we all assumed (begrudgingly) that Paschal would win in a landslide. It wasn't the result that we wanted, but it looked destined to happen. That is... until we actually start to COUNT the votes. We were pleasantly surprised:

Gina - Would vote Paschal. No question.
Elisabeth - Would vote Paschal. No question.
Tom - Would vote Paschal. No question.

Tammy - Would vote Helen. No question.

To our astonishment, we realized that three votes were up in the air: Kelly, Silas and Greg. And you could make a pretty good case for Kelly voting Helen. If you remember a few episodes back, Kelly was the one defending Helen against the Tuktu firing squad. But more than anything, we went back to Pulau Tiga. Helen was just on the receiving end of a blistering attack at TC. Would that sound vaguely familiar to Kelly? Would Kelly go for that at all? So I thought it pretty realistic that Kelly would try to help Helen out, and throw her a pity vote. After all, everyone knows Paschal will win, why not spare Helen the embarrassment of a unanimous vote? So that makes two votes for Helen.

The final two were Silas and Greg. And these two were just completely unreadable. I defy ANYONE to predict what Greg Buis would think in any given case. And what happened here is we ran into a unique situation, one we have rarely encountered in our experiences with All-Star:

We had no idea what the players would do.

And when that happens, the policy is we can do whatever we want. So I told the writers, if we can come up with a realistic scenario where Silas and Greg vote Helen, we will go in that direction. We all loved the idea of an underdog victory here, something no one would see coming. I knew the readers would eat it up. But it HAD to be realistic. It had to be a scenario where people would say, you know, that COULD happen.

Greg was the easiest one. We figured he would just vote for whomever he screwed over the most. If nothing else, he seems like a nice guy, and that is only fair. And he screwed Helen and Paschal over equally, so it was a wash. So why did he pick Helen? Who knows! He rarely gives a straight answer. But there was no overwhelming evidence that he would pick Paschal either, so we could get away with it. Greg is good like that, you can do whatever you want with him. We just said he wanted to make exciting TV, and he certainly did. Truth be told, he probably felt that Paschal would win in a landslide, and wanted to make the vote closer. So that makes two pity votes for Helen. Hmm... things are getting closer...

The final undecided vote was Silas. What on Earth would Silas do in this situation? He isn't close to either of them, so we were completely free to pick either person to win, so long as we could justify it. And let me say I mulled over this option for two days, until it finally struck me in my car one day. I know guys like Silas. Silas is a jock, Silas is an athlete, Silas is cocky.

And he would not want to lose to the old guy!

And sure enough, it worked. Of course, Silas probably wouldn't want to lose to a girl either, but Helen works in the military and trains soldiers for a living. I think he would respect that toughness. So that's the choice we made. Silas actually voted for Helen out of respect (or shallowness, you pick). Combine that with Tammy's alliance vote and the two pity votes, and you have a legitimate Helen win.

And who would have predicted it? Besides Paschal, that is...

The finale was set in Los Angeles. It is basically a remake of the Thai finale, which I was fortunate enough to attend. Anyone who has attended one of the L.A. finales will recognize the setting. It really is like a Roman gladiator arena in there, people cheer their favorites the whole show and it is very rowdy.

And then Helen wins. All was right in the world, and we had a winner most everyone could agree with. And let me reiterate that Paschal would have won had we not been able to come up with a realistic reason for Helen's win. But the Silas and Greg uncertainty gave us some control in the outcome, something we don't always get. We got lucky!

And luckily, the fans seemed very happy with the Alaska finale, thus proving that it WAS possible to do a good one. You just have to put a lot of work into it.

And as for the All-Star series... the next installment is just about ready to go. All-Star Survivor: Greece, the second chance edition, will premiere in late May. Keep watching Survivor-Central for updates, as we will be having a pre-season countdown starting soon. And be sure to check out the All-Star Greece homepage, including the cool new logo (generously created by Danielle Wheelis).

Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed it!


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