The name of the winner of "Survivor II: The Australian Outback" was revealed Thursday night during a special two-hour finale of the popular reality TV show that began with 16 contestants after the Super Bowl on Jan. 28.
But the real winner may be CBS. The show reached an audience of 35.8 million people, according to preliminary estimates from Nielsen Media Research. That's down from the 51 million people who watched the conclusion of the first Survivor last August but still makes it one of the most watched shows of the year.
Between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET, the audience peaked at 40.8 million, according to Nielsen.
Wesson was described by fellow contestants as both a sweet mother of two and a ruthless schemer. The truth, she said, was that she was a little of both.
You've got to have balance in life, she said.
Wesson, a last-minute alternate selection to go to Australia, owes her victory to a final miscalculation by Donaldson. After Donaldson won his fifth straight immunity challenge, he had to choose between Wesson and Keith Famie, the Michigan chef, as his final competitor. He sent Famie packing.
Donaldson's consolation prize: $100,000.
I haven't lost one night of sleep wondering whether or not I would win because she deserves to win, he said.
She really played the game, agreed fellow contestant Alicia Calaway. It wasn't winning seven or eight challenges to get this far. It was using her brain. She's a smart woman and I think she deserves it.
Donaldson won the show's final immunity challenge narrowly over Wesson. It was a trivia quiz about fellow Survivor contestants.
On the jury, Keith joined Alicia, Amber, Elisabeth, Jerri, Nick, and Rodger.
During the jury's questioning, Tina said the three things that got her into the final two were:
- Colby (who voted Keith off instead of her)
- Pay off her house
- Pay off her best friend's house
- Set up a fund to help one needy family a year. (She credits Elisabeth with that idea.)
CBS again managed to keep secret the final winner. This time, CBS trusted fewer people, counting the votes in a live portion of Thursday's telecast. Even Wesson didn't know until then she had won.
Annnounced at a live reunion on a set at the CBS studios in Los Angeles, the vote results had been kept under lock and key since the contest was shot last fall during 42 days on the banks of Queensland's Herbert River.
Host Jeff Probst, who landed in a helicopter, carried a container with the final votes into the Los Angeles studio for the count.
Tina watched as the votes from fellow contestants were counted and she was declared the winner.
"Oh, my God," she exclaimed after winning the 4-3 vote. She was hugged by Colby.
Tina's fellow contestants praised her strategy in surviving although Colby won five straight immunity challenges.
"She really played the game," said fellow contestant Alicia Calaway. "It wasn't winning seven or eight challenges to get this far. It was using her brain. She's a smart woman and I think she deserves it."
Oddsmakers had installed Tina as the slight favorite going into the final night. She smiled sweetly, spoke with a twang but manipulated quietly until she was the last woman standing.
Colby said he enabled Tina to join him in the final two because they became very close in the Outback. Keith, the chef who couldn't cook rice to anyone's satisfaction, was voted out after losing the final immunity challenge a trivia quiz about the ousted contestants.
None of the three made quite as indelible an impression as Richard Hatch from the original "Survivor" who schemed his way to victory.
Nor was the final show as dramatic as the summer's ending, with Susan Hawk's now-legendary "rats and snakes" speech. The closest was when Jerri Manthey said both Tina and Colby had manipulated ohers to get to where they were.
"I want them to look at what they've been forced to become in this game versus who they claim to be in their real lives," she said.
The Outback setting proved a hardship for many of the players, whose strength was sapped at the end by hunger. One contestant, Maralyn Hershey, a retired police officer from Wakefield, Va., said it didn't bother her.
After a couple of days my stomach was shrinking, I was losing weight, feeling good, Hershey said. If only I could have stayed there a couple more weeks, I'd be wearing a thong.
One down note: Debb Eaton, the New Hampshire corrections officer who was the first voted off, nearly cried Thursday in describing how negative media attention made the experience a bad trade for her.
I seem to have lost my belief in myself, she said. But I will get it back.
Back in Knoxville, Tina's grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins gathered at a Mexican restaurant with other fans to watch the finale on a big-screen TV.
Tina's aunt, Gail Woods, said her niece has "the sweetest personality. Her nickname is Sunshine. She has just always had a sunshine disposition. She could make lemons into lemonade."
Burnett revealed that the third "Survivor," which will be aired this fall, will be set in Africa.
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