Mario's Trip To The Finale: Part 2: The Rich Get Richer
Posted by Mario Lanza on 12.20.02

This is part two of my big whirlwind Survivor reality tour on Thursday. If you haven't yet, please read my account of attending the Elizabeth Glaser Survivor Fundraiser Brunch. I got to meet a lot of Survivors!

This is an account of my first trip to a live Survivor finale. I am using a style in honor of the funniest sports columnist of all time, Bill Simmons ("The Sports Guy") over at I have been a fan of his for a long time, including way back before he ever hit it big at ESPN. He often writes a running diary of things, so I am attempting to do the same thing here. It's a tribute, people, not a ripoff.  Hopefully you will enjoy the finale as much as I did,


Part Two: The Live Finale

2:50 -  We arrive at CBS studios in Studio City. I am with Murtz, the webmaster at Survivor-Central.  I'm not sure if you are aware of how S-C works, but Murtz is the boss; the shadowy, lurking figure who none of us has ever seen before. He doles out orders and instructions from his ivory tower in Canada. We receive these messages through a speaker on a desk, much like Charlie's Angels, where we are told to write columns and, occasionally, go undercover and solve crimes. So this is my very first time meeting Murtz, despite the fact that I have written for his website for two years.

2:51 - We arrive at the wrong gate. They say we have to pick up our tickets at the BOX OFFICE gate, not the STUDIO gate. That means we have to drive a block to the east.

2:53 - We pick up our tickets at the BOX OFFICE gate. Luckily, the tickets we were promised were right there, waiting for us. Thank you CBS! We want to walk from here to the studio, but the guard tells us no. Apparently we have to get back in the car and drive back to the STUDIO gate. Sonja Christopher (Survivor I) pulls up in a cab and she asks where the studio gate is, and the guard tells her to drive around the corner. We offer to let Sonja and her friend walk with us, but no dice.  Oh well, would have been fun.

2:58- The car is parked and we are ready to go. I think it is very charitable that CBS has stayed in touch with Stacey Stillman, as they have given her an excellent job, valet parking the cars in the lot. I flip Stacey a shiny new quarter for her efforts and we are ready to go.

3:00 - We are walking toward Studio 36, wearing our spiffy new "AUDIENCE" Survivor passes.  On the way, we see two female ex-Survivor contestants, who are looking for the entrance, although they don't really have any interest in talking to us. They are both a bit pissy that they didn't get a red carpet for the event tonight, and they have to walk in the studio with the fans.  This whole thing seems like it is all a big hassle to them.  I'm not going to tell you their names, but they were both in the same cast.  Email me your best guess.

3:15 - We are waiting by the entrance, along with a bunch of other photographers. There is a red carpet here, and I try to take a picture of a couple of the Survivors. I am gently reminded by the CBS goons that this is for paparazzi only and that I need to go away. Translation: Piss off, web nerds.

3:16 - I take a picture of Sarah Jones anyway, just to spite the security guy.

3:17 - I am pistol-whipped by CBS security until I pass out. (Just kidding)

3:20 - We are waiting by the paparazzi area, watching to see which Survivor alums show up tonight. A pregnant Vecepia Towery arrives with Leander, and Ethan and Kelly Wiglesworth arrive together along with a group. We are just hanging out here, watching, until another CBS dude walks over and tells us that we only have audience credentials, and that means we need to go away. Translation again: Piss off, web nerds.  We are sent off to exile in the audience waiting pit, also known as the loser area. No more fun is to be had for a while.

3:30 - We have to go through heavy security just to get into the audience area. No cell phones, no pagers, no cameras. They confiscate our cameras and our cell phones, and they tell us we can pick them up again after the show. But on the plus side, there is free food for everyone: water, potato chips, pretzels, cookies and candy.

3:31 - Tom Buchanan and Ted Rogers arrive to loot the food table.  There is now no longer any free food.

3:35 - Murtz is mad because he wants to bring his camera inside, so he goes on a 15 minute crusade to get his camera back from security. He says this is a much different mood than the New York finale had last year, this one is far more strict. It is just like any other studio taping. The audience is also much smaller than the New York one was last year.

4:05 - We are still waiting in the audience area, and it is cold outside.  We were supposed to be seated at 4:00, but they are running late tonight.  Murtz never did get his camera back from security.

4:08 - The family members of the Survivors arrive! They shuttle in behind us, and Murtz points out Penny's husband, Ted's family, Jan's kid, and the army of John Raymond supporters. Of course, the big question floating in the air is, "Will C.C. Heidik show up?" All the people in the audience seem to be looking for her, we don't know if there is still a restraining order against her or if that was just hearsay. We see no sign of C.C. whatsoever.  I theorize that maybe they lowered her in through the roof on wires, just so she could avoid the crowd.

4:10 - The door to the studio opens and the mob of audience members decides to push towards it.  We are all crammed together, trying to get in, but the guards hold us back like we are unwashed steerage passengers on the Titanic. The actual ex-Survivors have to enter first, so we are forced to move back and wait.

4:20 - Hold the phones! The party can now begin! Peter Harkey is here! Peter Harkey is in the house! Immediately identifiable by his height and his hair, Peter walks in to the roaring cheer of an adoring crowd. Children avert their eyes.

4:21 - Once Peter has been seated, the rest of the Survivors file in. Many of them have changed clothes since the fundraiser brunch that morning. Lindsey and Jessie are dressed to kill, and Alicia is wearing this funky hat and halter top combo. They all seem excited to be here. We see Gina, Tammy, Lex, Jeff Varner, Kelly Wiglesworth and Paschal as well. We barely see Kathy, but you can immediately identify her because of her laugh. Gabriel shows up in a really loud yellow and orange Hawaiian shirt.

4:25 - The audience losers (aka us) are now allowed to funnel in, at our own peril.  There is only one tiny door open for all us, so we ALL have to squish together and funnel through it.

4:30 - Everybody is allowed to go in and take their seat except for Murtz and me. The door guard asks who we are with, and we say "Survivor-Central."  She says, "Okay, well websites will be seated separately," and we are forced to stand off to the side and watch everyone else go in the studio instead. I'm surprised she didn't just spit in our faces. "Websites? (spit) Bah! Go home and download some porn, computer geeks!"

4:38 - We try to finagle our way in, by saying we are guests of Teresa Cooper.  The door guard doesn't buy it.  She points out that alumni sit separately from the fans.  But finally, some other website people show up and we are all allowed to go in as a group. We walk into the hallowed darkness of the studio in awe, like the kids entering Willy Wonka's chocolate factory for the first time. This is quite a studio!  Great set, they have a perfect representation of the Thailand Tribal Council down there.

4:40 - We get in and we take our assigned seats. Sure enough, you guessed it, we are seated in the very last row. Top level, Row ZZZ, seats 98 and 99.  Because of the amount of prestige afforded to websites, I'm surprised we even got seats at all. We are seated next to Wezzie from ez board, David Bloomberg from Reality News Online, and a few people (sorry, I didn't catch names!) from Survivor News. We all comment on how CBS apparently don't care much for the websites anymore, it is pretty obvious in the fact there are only 16 seats reserved for website people. But we are all happy to be here. This place is buzzing and it is really quite the spectacle right now.

4:48 - Quick thought: Does Big Tom have to wear the overalls and the hat everywhere? Does he ever go anywhere not wearing overalls?

4:54 - The show is almost ready to start.  The emcee for the evening comes out and announces that we can do whatever we want in the crowd, but we need to shut up once the taping gets to the live part. This will be repeated at least 42 times throughout the evening.

4:56 - Mark Burnett and another producer come out to address the audience. Ever the hypester, Burnett starts off by saying that this episode will feature "The greatest twist in Survivor history, and you'll be a part of it!" Sounds ominous.  We are excited.  Burnett then explains that they will be switching from tape to a live feed in the middle of a scene, and that has never been attempted before on a TV show. Ok, that's not really a -twist- per se, but whatever.  It will be cool to see regardless.

5:00 - The show starts, and we all get to watch the opening recap montage. It's kind of hard to hear, the audio isn't very loud and people in the audience are talking too much.

5:01 - Robb gets stung by a stingray and he flops backwards into the ocean. It is the 103rd time I have seen that clip and for the 103rd time, I giggle. The audience loves that clip.

5:02 - Brian doesn't even APPEAR in the flashback until almost the very end.   Interesting.  But I still think he will cakewalk to a victory tonight. Time to show the world how to play this game, Brian.

5:04 - The Survivor: Thailand opening credit sequence.  This is a fun little popularity contest, as people in the audience cheer for their respective favorites.  Jed, Robb, and Stephanie all get really big cheers, but the biggest cheer for them all is for John Raymond.  Like I said, he has a whole army of fans and family here tonight.  I think he brought all of Slidell.

5:05 - First bathroom break. There are four porta-potties outside, and they are shared by the entire audience. And you have to run out there fast if you want to beat the crowd once the commercial starts.  I am standing in line for one of the porta-potties, and Jenna Lewis is standing right in front of me.  And ha ha, she almost yanks her arm off trying to open one of the stall doors.  She tries a few times and then she finally notices it is locked because someone is inside.  She then turns around and jokingly reminds everyone within earshot that the light on means that the stall is OCCUPIED. The guy inside finally  comes out of the toilet and he says he thought it was turning into a stunt from "Jackass." He thought that somebody was trying to tip him over.  It was pretty funny.  Jenna was a good sport about it.

5:09 - Back in the studio.  The final four players are building little boats to represent all of their comrades who were voted off.  It would be funny if they lost Ted's boat just like he lost the Chuay Gahn boat.

5:10 - Brian pats himself on the back just for getting this far. Man, I love this guy.  The audience is all abuzz right now because of his brazen cockiness.  It is hard to tell if this is a pro-Brian crowd or an anti-Brian crowd right now, it is very borderline.

5:12 - Just as I predicted!  No "Fallen Comrades" immunity challenge this year.  I figured they would ditch that.  This challenge is going to be physical.  I tell Murtz that Brian so wins this.  Murtz asks me, is it good or not that the late challenges are going to be physical? I say it's good because now they can get rid of Jan.  I am very worried about Jan sneaking in a win tonight. I also comment that this is a very early challenge, it means there is still a lot left to happen later in the episode.  Maybe we will see the big "twist" that Burnett promised...?

5:13 - Clay falls on his balance beam and he cracks himself in the nuts. Funny moment.

5:14 - Brian finishes his puzzle first, and the audience cheers. But I think they were actually cheering Jeff's line about Brian not letting Clay copy off of him.  Jeff says, "Brian has the knife out," and I comment that Brian has had the knife out since day one.

5:16 - The audience cheered when Brian finished, but people -really- cheer when Helen makes it across her balance beam.  Helen is clearly the most popular of the final four players, people in the audience are rooting for her hardcore right now. But Brian eats his spider first, amidst groans from the crowd, and he wins immunity.  I'm happy about that, and the crowd claps politely for him. Go Brian!

5:17 - Here's an interesting thought:  Brian had one chance to get down the tarantula. But if he puked it up, would he have gotten another? Does he have to pick up the half-eaten one off the ground and eat it again, all covered in puke? Or does he get a fresh one? What are the rules here? Hey, this is the stuff that I think about, people.

5:21 - Informal poll among the people here in the website section:  Jan is going to go home first.

5:24 - By the way, it is freezing inside this studio.  I think they have to keep it cold inside, so that people's makeup doesn't run when they are on camera.  But I am shivering up here in seat 99ZZZ and I NEVER shiver.

5:25 - Okay, now Helen has made some enemies in camp. The guys want Jan to vote out Helen.  Informal poll among the website people is that this will now be a 2-2 tie. Helen vs. Clay.

5:28 - Jeff Probst busts Jan for lying at Tribal Council. The crowd chuckles. Then Jan casts her vote and they don't show who she voted for. Look, I KNOW it would ruin the suspense, but I would like to know her reasons for the choice she made. C'mon you pansies, show us Jan's vote!

5:32 - Helen is gone! And BOY is she pissed. The crowd was very much pro-Helen, this isn't a popular moment. Somebody near me in the audience comments, "Now the jury is gonna get ugly."  People clap as Helen walks out of the game, one last moment of respect for their fallen favorite.

5:33 - People in the audience cheer loudly at Helen's final words. "Break a leg, and I MEAN it." Great speech. Total Helen.

5:34 - Another informal poll of the website people.  Most people think that Brian has started to lose some votes on the jury. I disagree with this.  I say that Brian will win anyway, they may hate him but they all still respect him. I don't think that anything has changed.

5:38 - During the commercial break, the emcee yells out, "Who do you want to win?" Most people in the crowd yell "Brian," but I decide to be a smartass and I yell "Ethan!" No one really hears.

5:40 - Another Brian speech, where he praises himself for being awesome. Could this guy be more cocky?  The debate now comes up among the website people, who is the best Survivor player of all time? Murtz says Brian, David Bloomberg says Richard. I think it's Brian, but I also say it is like apples and oranges, they weren't competing in the same environment.  Although I still think you could make a case for Vecepia.

5:42 - The final boat ride, where the final three player reflect on their fallen comrades.  Everyone's little boats of tribute are released.  Geez, there's still 1:20 left in the show??? This is going to be a long jury scene.

5:43 - Jed's flashbacks get a loud cheer from the audience.  Weird, I didn't realize he was so popular. Jake is also very popular.  Robb's tribute shows him choking and mocking Clay, and everyone in the audience laughs.  People love Robb, although I think it was a little odd that they showed that as his "highlight." I didn't realize I liked this cast that much.  I am getting a little misty-eyed sitting here and watching all their greatest moments.

5:47 - It is a commercial break, and-- holy crap!-- C.C. Heidik walks right by us.  I am the first one to spot her, and I nudge Murtz and point her out so he can take a look at her.  She is wearing a very expensive, very gaudy looking fur coat.  I brag that I have a God given talent that I can always spot an adult film star anywhere in a crowd.  It is a gift that has been bestowed upon me by the heavens, who am I to sit here and question its purpose?  C.C. walks right by us and we immediately all gossip about why she is there, and if she is with Brian's family or not.

5:51 - The final immunity challenge.  A dark set, lots of candles, very cool.  It's not an outdoor challenge for a change, this time it is inside and it is in 105 degree heat in a cave. The frame that the players will stand in looks like a torture rack, this challenge is going to be brutal.  Murtz says that Brian should throw this one.  I don't think there is a chance in hell that he will, he is way too much of a control freak.  Once again though, no Fallen Comrades!  They scrapped that challenge entirely this year.

5:55 - The challenge has started. And oh my goodness, look at that Christ imagery on Brian. The long hair, the glowing halo of light behind him, the outstretched arms, the serene look of peace on his face. Eerie. I point this Christ imagery out and one of the website people says, "Hey, you're Tapewatcher, aren't you!"  I deny it.  I figure that whoever can do yoga the best will win this challenge.

5:56 - Brian is able to shut Jeff out and ignore all of his questions.  I think he is going to pull this off.

5:58 - Clay is hurt! Clay has the jimmy legs. Then Jan abruptly quits.  It is now down to Clay and Brian, and then it appears that Clay just quits too.  I don't think he threw it, but Murtz does. But who cares, Brian wins, yay Brian!

6:01 - Commercial time.  I run down to the porta-potties for one last bathroom break. After I do my business in the stall, I come out and there is Robert DeCanio ("The General"), who was next in line. He teases me that I was in there for a long time, "C'mon buddy, you were in there forever!" I explain to him that I had stuff to do, man, but he was just trying to give me a hard time.  Funny guy.  I return to my seat but I -just- miss Alicia Calaway, who was also in line right after The General.  I wanted to tell her about my All-Star Hawaii story, and how she was one of the top characters.  But sadly I haven't had a chance to talk to her yet.  Hopefully I can run into her later.

6:02 - Back in my seat. Teresa Cooper comes over and she tells us she is interviewing Mark Burnett after the show. She wants to know if Murtz or I have any good questions she can ask him.  I say, "Give me ten minutes to come up with something." She asks us who we think will win tonight. I say Brian, Murtz says Clay.

6:07 - The jury files in for the final three Tribal Council.   And boy does Helen Glover look pissed.

6:08 - Brian walks up to cast the only vote.  He walks very slowly.  Is he cocky?  Or is he just sore from the challenge? You decide.

6:11 - Jan is voted out.  No big surprise there, but I breathe a sigh of relief anyway.  I was very worried that she was going to win this thing tonight.  People in the audience clap for her, politely. I announce to everyone around me that Brian has won now.  Clay thanks Brian for taking him to the final two, and I comment that this is the first time in Survivor history that the final vote has come down to two males.

6:15 - The emcee comes out and, once again, he warns us that we are switching over to live TV in the middle of a scene at 6:55.  He warns us that it will be a helicopter shot, and after that shot we all have to be silent.

6:18 - Murtz and come up with a list of questions that Teresa can ask to Burnett. Among them:
* Who do you think was the best player of all time?
* Does anything about this game surprise you anymore?
* How do you pick what challenges to do, and when?
* Who were you pulling for to win in Thailand?

6:19 - The last bathroom break has anded, we are all now required to stay in the studio for the next 90 minutes.  Hope you didn't drink a lot of water tonight.

6:20 - Brian bows to himself in the mirror, and then he thanks his mirror image for being awesome.  You know he does this every day before he goes to work.  You gotta love Brian Heidik.

6:22 - The CBS staff asks everyone in the back few rows to move down, so there will be no visible empty seats once we switch over to live TV.  We end up seated right behind the army of John Raymond's family, and also right next to the band.   We are seated directly under the big swivel-arm camera.

6:23 - Time for the opening jury statements.  Watch the used car salesman in his element now.

6:24 - Mark Burnett addresses us again about the tape-to-live switch. He says it will be an incredible challenge but adds, "I like challenges." He is a great public speaker, always enthusiastic.

6:28 - The actual Thailand Survivors file onto the stage during a commercial, and take their places. Brian, Clay, Helen, they are all there, wearing their same clothes. Helen is the big star, very giggly and waving to her family. She's like a little kid. Everyone in the crowd seems to love Helen.

6:30 - They turn down all the lights in the studio, for the final segment. I can't really take notes now, but the jury speeches are great. Ken was funny as hell, playing the "bad cop" interrogation routine. Ted's comment about racism came out of nowhere, and everyone loved Helen's harassment of Brian, particularly when she growled at him. It was funny to watch all the open-mouthed reactions of surprise from Brian, particularly when Clay reeled off all the info about Penny. The mood is that Brian did poorly with the jury questions, this could be anybody's game right now. Murtz thinks Clay did well with the jury. I honestly don't know what to think now.

6:47 - Final commercial break, we are coming back for the money shot ending. Murtz thinks Clay will win. I think Brian will win, but Murtz's confidence is making me nervous. It is very tense. I comment that the person I wanted to win has won all four previous final votes, so I am banking that Brian can pull this off.

6:55 - We switch from tape to live, in the middle of a shot. Jeff Probst walked out to retrieve the ballots, and on the walk back, we switch to a live shot. Looks pretty seamless, but you can tell on TV if you watch for it. Also, Clay gained some weight, so he doesn't quite look the same anymore. The audio in the studio goes out for a few seconds, and we think they screwed up. But on TV later it looked fine.

6:58 - Jeff pulling out the last vote. VERY tense in the studio, I honestly don't know what will happen. This is great TV.

7:00 - Brian wins! Everybody cheers and screams, although we are instructed to do that anyway. They said, "Just stand and cheer no matter who wins." But I think deep down it was a pro-Brian crowd, people may not have liked him, but they respected him. It just looks better if Brian is the winner.

7:02 - The Survivors file out for the reunion show. My God, Ghandia is wearing something from the Sgt. Pepper line. I hope Brian pats himself on the back during the reunion.

7:15 - First commercial. Ted and Ghandia have not looked at each other yet. I think it's still a touchy issue.

7:16 - David Bloomberg from Reality News Online is pulled randomly from the crowd to dance for the audience, during a commercial. This breaks Jeff Probst's "No singing, no dancing" rule.

7:19 - They come back from a commercial, with the 5-4-3-2-1 countdown. I am disappointed that they don't do the silent "3-2-1" point like in "Wayne's World."

7:20 - Ted vs Ghandia. They still don't look at each other, and don't laugh at the clips. Still very sensitive. And I noticed Tanya kind of looks like Jessie, when they both have their hair down.

7:25 - Wow, Jed looks incredibly uncomfortable up on stage. He always looks like he's got a stick up his butt, never so bad as now, though. I wonder if he is always like that, or just on live TV.

7:26 - The audience laughs and cheers at everything Robb says. He is clearly the funniest of all of them, although Helen gets her fair share of laughs too.

7:29 - Probst slams Stephanie for never showing up. Nice!

7:33 - Commercial break. Murtz asks if Probst will ask about Brian's porn past. I doubt it. Brian really has yet to smile, he is really kind of in his own world. Ghandia gets up and tries to dance with her kid in the audience, but the CBS people make her sit down.

7:39 - It sounds like Jed is crying but I am told he was just up late and is probably exhausted. They had a lot of cast parties on Wednesday night and I think his voice is gone.

7:44 - The emcee asks who is in the audience, and the website people loudly announce their presence. He comes up and asks what sites we write for. We yell out "Reality News Online" and "Survivor Maps" and then Murtz loudly screams "SURVIVOR-CENTRAL!" He yells it again, pointing at the emcee, and I think the guy was legitimately frightened of us. He backs away, saying "I think I'll move away from you people." Nice try by Murtz though.

7:45 - Wrapping up now. Brian claps coolly for everything that happens, like he doesn't give a crap. Helen is very animated with all her answers, she is great on camera, I would love to meet her.

7:46 - Promo for Survivor: The Amazon. Cool logo!

8:00 - The show is over! We all get to file out. Those going to the after-party to the left, others (me) to the right. I have to retrieve my camera from check-in and am lucky to FINALLY run into Alicia. She is with Jeff Varner. Murtz greets Jeff, saying "You were right" in regards to Brian winning. I introduce myself to Alicia, telling her about All-Star Hawaii and that it was very popular and that she was the winner. She said that was cool, and I say I want to send her a copy, since she will get a kick out of it. She said she had heard that she won, but had not read the story yet. So in the middle of a big mob I hand her a note with my email address and my mission is now complete. (note: She never contacted me.) It's time to go home and watch the show on TV now!

(Mario's afterword: I obviously couldn't write this in the column at the time but on the way out Jeff happened to give us some other info as well. Murtz started asking Jeff what he knew about Amazon (which was still filming). And Jeff said he heard that there was a guy in Amazon who was "just killing people". Apparently this guy was like Richard Hatch only he was young, and he was the most evil person the producers had ever seen. Turns out later we were being told about Rob Cesternino, although through most of the first episode I was pretty sure it was going to be Ryan Aiken.)

Mario Lanza lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two small children. He is one of the writers of All-Star Survivor: Alaska, as well as this weekly column.

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