All 18 "All-Stars" were on the ballot, including "All-Star" winner Amber Brkich.
The voting was narrowed down to four final contestants. The contenders were Colby Donaldson, originally of "Survivor: The Australian Outback," Tom Buchanan, originally of "Survivor: Africa," Rupert Boneham, originally of "Survivor: Pearl Islands," and last but not least, Rob "Boston Rob" Mariano, originally of "Survivor: Marquesas."
Thirty eight million votes were cast. And a very happy Rupert Bonehan tells The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen the following day, "I heard I had 85 percent of the votes. So, you know, rough math, 30 million votes I got."
Having impressed voters in back-to-back editions of the show, Bonehan proved that once in a while, the good guys can finish first.
Boneham says, "I'm sure there was a lot of different reasons why people voted out there. But out in the world, when people come up to me, they tell me, you're like my brother, my father, my cousin, me. Everybody can relate to me a little bit. I'm every man. I'm everybody."
And although it was no secret he had popularity written all over, Boneham says he did not expect to win. "I didn't want to do that to myself," he says. "I walked in there saying I was happy with what I had. My family, everything 'Survivor' had given me. My fans saying how much they loved me. I was a winner before I walked in there, and I wasn't going to let myself be disappointed."
And a very grateful Boneham tells a caller it means a lot to him to be voted America's favorite "Survivor." "I played my best. I did my best. I changed my strategy up a little bit on the second game. The third time that I got the chance, everybody helped me get it. Everybody."
Once he got the check, he immediately gave it to his wife and kissed her. "Oh, yeah, it's hers," he says. After all, she had to eat nasty dishes in Panama. "The nasty flying cockroaches, the fish head and the rotten fish. Big Tom and I sitting in the peanut gallery were having trouble sitting there. I can't imagine eating it," Boneham says.
He couldn't imagine a better ending for his game. "A million-dollar check on my baby's birthday. It was a great day," Boneham says enthusiastically.
So what present did he get his daughter, a caller asked, "We were not able to truly celebrate her birthday on her birthday," he says. "Before we left, she got her first big-girl bicycle. So we had a little celebration before we left."
His "Survivor" experience hasn't changed him as a person he notes, but winning the money is going to make his world a little easier.
He says, "First thing I'm going to do is pay my mama's house off. Second thing, I've made my wife live in a house under construction most of our married life. I don't know what neighborhood we'll get. We'll stay close in Indianapolis because my mom is there, and we got to be around my mom. But we're going to get a house that's not under construction."
He is also helping troubled kids. He explains, "I contract with an office in Indianapolis that takes problem teens. I try to - the ones that have had a little problem with school - teach them a vocation, teach them social skills, get them outside, get them working and have them get going on their life. It's so hard, if you're not going to get education and you don't have the work skills, to even make it in this world.
"So I started my kids group called Kids Help. And at least $100,000 is going straight into there to start doing the same thing that I did with taking kids out of the projects, putting them to work, getting them to work, getting them in a structured environment, and helping them make that first few years into their adult life," he says.
As for the game, if he were to eliminate himself from the 18 "All-Stars," Boneham says he would have voted for Rudy Boesch.
"At 76 years old, the man is an iron man. He showed he has got the insides to make 'Survivor.'"
Of the four finalists chosen by the audience, Boneham says, he would have voted for Big Tom Buchanan.
He says, "That is because of friendship. Boston Rob played a pretty good game. He was a little mean. But he played a pretty good game. Big Tom and I were friends through the whole thing until the end, when Boston Rob got Big Tom and I fighting. And I never really got to know Colby too much. He was on the other tribe."
Speaking of fights, America chose Boneham's fight with Johnny "Fairplay" Dalton as the best of all the "Survivor" fights. "It's scary to see me like that. That was a total intimidation on my part to try to snap Johnny's back," Boneham says.
While in Panama, Boneham distinguished himself as the provider of the tribes fishing like no other contestant. Asked by a diehard fisherman if he plans to do any more fishing and if he intends on eating the fish, Boneham says, "They kind of frown on that spear fishing in the streams and the rivers around the states. But we went down to Florida to visit my wife's family and I found a Hawaiian sling in one of the old dive shops, bought that sucker. I have it on my wall. If I ever get a chance, I'm going to take it out and use it again."
Asked for his thoughts about Boston Rob and Amber, Boneham tells a caller, "You know, out there, Jenna and I talked about it on day 15. We said, before they are out of this game, they're going to be engaged. And they were. We knew it was coming. Jenna said something about a 'Survivor' baby."