Exciting episode, well worth watching. The show starts off with Lydia happy as she finds some interesting tree mail. At first, nobody seems to share her elation, but she seems to understand better that there's going to be some sort of ceremony and a native feast.
Sure enough, a group of Mayans come by to do a ceremonial sacrifice of a chicken (I am thankful that it took place off-camera). I couldn't help thinking that if it were the real Mayans, it wouldn't be a chicken getting killed. They burn the chicken in the fire, then share some tamales. Steph makes Lydia ask if they can eat the chicken. No, this is a sacrifice to the gods.
Up comes the penultimate immunity challenge. It's an immense maze, from which the contestants must find eight sticks. The sticks have been whittled so that they form a triangle along the axis. Each of the three sides has a piece of a puzzle, and the contestants must assemble the puzzle to win immunity.
Lydia stays reasonably competitive, but predictably she arrives with the final piece just as Rafe wins immunity. They go back to the camp, where Steph gets the idea of eating the chicken now that the Mayans are gone. It turns out to be quite edible, but Rafe, who was really somewhat moved by the ceremony refuses to eat. In perhaps a little too good to be true moment, the gods respond by drenching the camp with a torrential rain.
There does not seem to be much plotting and scheming going on prior to tribal council. I had assumed that whoever didn't win between Rafe and Steph would be out, but it turns out that Lydia finally draws the short straw. This shows that Rafe and Steph are thinking ahead to the finale, when neither of them want to be facing "Everybody loves Lydia". This also works for Danni, too, and is so logical that I should have realized it.
One final night, then they do the mumbo jumbo with the final goodbyes to all the players they've lied to, backstabbed, and cheated to get ahead of. Mostly a device to get us to remember these people, many of whom haven't been on the show for a couple of months, and who will be shown in the reunion.
Then it's the endurance challenge that always ends the season. The players have to balance on a board while holding onto two ropes. After an hour, they have to let go of one of the ropes. When that happens, Steph almost immediately gets into trouble, and it looks like she'll quickly be out. She has to dangle from the single rope while trying to get the board into a position where she can rest her feet on it. But almost immediately the other two start spinning as well. As it works out they all find the optimal position, with their backs against the frame of the challenge and their feet on the boards. Jeff warns that they can no longer touch the frame. But shortly later, that is exactly what Rafe does in a moment of forgetfulness. He's out of the challenge.
And it quickly becomes obvious that for once, height is an advantage in this challenge. Danni is able to maintain a comfortable position, while Steph, with her shorter legs, is more awkard and begins to slide slowly down the frame. Finally, sobbing, she hits the deck. Danni is guaranteed a spot in the final two!
Rafe, apparently moved by Steph's effort, mentions to Danni that he is releasing her from her promise to take Rafe to the finale with her. So now we've got some drama again.
At tribal, Danni mentions that if she does the honorable thing, she'll take Rafe, but if she wants to win, she'll take Steph. Rafe quickly points out that he's backstabbed the same people that Steph has, perhaps not the smartest move with the jury sitting across from them.
In the end, Danni votes off Rafe, and so now it's Danni versus Steph in the finale. One last day in the camp, with just the two of them, which they spend burning their hut. Then back to tribal council.
I don't remember all the questions, but I think the killer question was Cindy's. She asked if the finalists could eliminate anybody from the jury, who would it be, and why. Danni gave a straight answer: Rafe, because she knew he was voting for Steph. Steph gave the weird and obviously untrue answer of Bobby Jon. Bobby Jon was about the only vote besides Rafe that Steph had a good chance at getting.
The jury votes; we only see Rafe's and Judd's. Cutaway to Los Angeles, live at the CBS studios. Jeff comes back with the votes and quickly reads them. Danni. Steph. Danni. Danni. Danni! And it's all over; apparently Steph lost a 6-1 vote, with only Rafe sticking with her.
Would Steph have won any of the possible matchups? I don't think so. She might have gotten another vote if she'd been up against Rafe, or she might have lost 7-0. Lydia? I think that would have been another 6-1 vote. So she probably did the best that she could on the final night given all that had come before. Interestingly, this was the second time she managed to stay in the game by crying and getting somebody to virtually give up their spot in the game for her. Of course, it is certainly arguable by what Danni at the finale that she would not have taken Rafe with her even if he had not released her from her promise.
Next up: Panama, with some sort of weird island to which players will be periodically exiled from their tribes, but which contains a clue to the game.