Two by two, over and over. ... it was hard not to think of Noah and his ark as the Gitanos paired off repeatedly in the tension of their 36th day together, with "Survivor's" million dollar check so close they could almost smell it.
It's the final stretch for "Survivor: Panama — Exile Island" and a veil of secrecy is in place on who's still in the running, with the ultimate winner — the sole Survivor — to be revealed in a special broadcast Sunday night, May 14.
"Survivor" host Jeff Probst visited The Early Show Friday.
One thing's for sure: Terry, a 46-year-old airline pilot and retired Navy fighter pilot from Connecticut, and Aras, a 24-year-old yoga instructor from California, are safe — for now.
The fates of Cirie, a 35-year-old nurse from South Carolina, and Danielle, a 24-year-old sales rep from Boston, are another matter.
In Episode 13, there was a tie in the vote on which of them should get kicked out of the money — a deadlock that will be resolved in a fire-making challenge.
"It was at that point," announced co-anchor Rene Syler on The Early Show Friday, "that I threw something at my TV. Oh, you talk about your cliff-hanger!"
Replied Probst: "We've never done that. We have never done a 'to be continued.' We've never had an episode where we didn't vote somebody off. But it was so compelling and so dramatic. And because we only had four people left, we felt we could get away with it and go into Sunday's finale with all four still in the game."
As far as Probst is concerned, he said, the biggest surprise in the whole situation "is that Cirie is in it at all. I think she is one of the biggest surprises we've ever had on the show. We put her on … just to inspire other people to come out and try it. We had no idea she would make it this deep into the show."
But, as impressive as Cirie's performance has been, Syler and Probst agreed that Terry's dominance of the game has outdone even that.
"You think back to how long you've been watching this whole season," Probst ruminated. "It seems like forever that Terry has been on his own, ready to be voted out if he lost immunity and not only has he continued to dominate up until last night, but then he had that hidden immunity idol, which also really kept him safe. I give him a lot of credit."
Syler asked Probst why Terry did not give the idol away to Danielle.
"Cirie said it a few weeks ago: if he ever gives that idol up to somebody else, it will go down as one of the dumbest moves in the history of 'Survivor.' And I think that is why Cirie is still in the game, because she's right," Probst explained. "Ultimately, even if he had felt secure, the minute he gives that up to Danielle, if that's who he wanted to give it to, he could be being played by those three who are all former Casaya members and he's out of the game. I think he would have been crazy to give it to her."
Thursday night's cliff-hanger vote came after an episode a bit short on the warm and fuzzy.
Terry tripped over a torch that Cirie inadvertently placed in his path. Furious, Terry compared that to something his kids would do, raising Cirie's ire in return.
Cirie's ally, Aras, chirped up in her defense, making Terry, yet again, the odd man out. Unwelcome in the tribe, Terry calls it a night, while Aras, Cirie and Danielle continue to fret around the fire.
Outcast Terry laments: "I didn't come here to make friends with 24-year-olds. They haven't made it easy for me. The target's been on my back. I've been the underdog the whole time. If nobody talks to me for the next five days, I could give a %@. I'm winning the million dollars, and that's all."
Later, Cirie and Aras enjoyed a trip through the Panama Canal on a luxury yacht, which he won in a Reward challenge, and she got as his guest.
It didn't take long to start gossiping, and Cirie giggled hysterically as Aras mocked Terry and indulged in some gloating.
"It was huge to beat Terry at the Reward Challenge," said Aras. "But for me, what I try to practice is love and compassion, and I haven't practiced love and compassion with Terry recently. It's been ego. It's been all my ego."
His ego's ears may have been burning, as while he and Cirie sat back, Danielle and Terry were on Exile Island talking strategy.
"It's the right time to align myself with Terry," Danielle confided. "It's gotten to the point where it's like, I'm going to try to use him. I don't care about being his friend. I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to win the million dollars."
Returning from their Reward, Cirie and Aras have the camp all to themselves. Aras, having overeaten on the Reward, chooses to relax in the shelter and let his food digest, while Cirie has other plans.
Picking up the flint and the machete, Cirie determines to do something she hasn't done yet: make fire. With a leaf full of magnesium shavings and dried coconut husks, she strikes the flint, igniting the magnesium and starting a fire.
Aras awakes to the sound of Cirie squealing with glee. Aras is proud of his friend, beaming: "Wow! I'm impressed! Cirie made a fire. That's awesome. Day one out here, Cirie would not have known what to do. Now she's come full circle."
Was it a fluke, or did she finally become Queen of the Sparks?
Tune in on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/PT, when all will be revealed.