Tina Was Tantalizing, the Show Was Not

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Sole 'Survivor': Tina

And there were disappointed shrieks across the land when, at a few minutes before 10 p.m. ET at the CBS studio in Los Angeles, Jeff Probst read the seventh and deciding vote: Tina wins the million bucks.

Get this: Everybody had waited all this time, weeks since "Survivor" finished taping in the Australian Outback, so CBS could do it live. Thursday night. May 3, 2001. In the studio, recreated in the image of the real Tribal Council cave, with everybody in the same exact clothes they wore that fateful last gathering all those cutting rooms ago. And Probst was there, and Colby (who had really hit the pantry in the interim), and Tina, because in the hour before (in Television Time, that is) the cowboy and the nurse had entered into some weird suicide pact.

How’d we get here? At 8:54 p.m. ET, (or, weeks ago in the Outback — still with us?) Colby cast his vote to cast out Keith. It was a puzzling ballot, on the face of it — Colby had, once again won immunity, and the smart play seemingly would be to get rid of the stronger player (Tina) for the final round. But then, remember this: "No matter what happens," Colby said to Tina at one point, "Keith Famie doesn't win a million bucks."

There had been much handwringing all night about how to play the game, and the way they felt about getting this far, and montages and such — indeed, there was precious little else. But the path to the Los Angeles soundstage was straight. Colby and Tina were serious players, each undeniably talented. Keith was just a hanger-on.

(Ahead of the vote, Keith seemed to understand he didn't belong on the big stage, and he talked about those 41 days being a "cleansing." But Keith, like woman-scorned Jerri, will be bitter about this the rest of his days.)

So we knew it wasn't going to be the chef. And Colby and Tina had just put their heads down and gone for the Final Two to let the votes fall where they may. By the looks of things, five of the seven player-judges were split according to their personal visions of who was the better player. But Jerri and Keith were both out to nail Colby, and that did it. The blithe nurse turns out to have been an evil genius all along.

Colby, grossing $100,000 in addition to the "sweet" yellow Aztec he's already won, took it very, very well.

One more time: "No matter what happens," Colby said to Tina at one point, "Keith Famie doesn't win a million bucks."

The fact that the two turned out to be such a pair, however, was but a speck of entertainment in an endless sea of fluff. This was the most painfully obvious of the "Survivor" episodes. If Colby was going to win the immunity challenge (like we thought) and pass up the chance to walk all over Keith in the finals just because he liked Tina (like we thought), then why, exactly, had we sat through 115 minutes of the Longest Two Hours of My Life?

I realize that for Colby and Tina and everybody, all this waiting must have been torture. And by the time Probst, at the last possible moment (you could almost see the producer offstage making the "stretch it out" gesture) read the seventh and final and deciding vote, I knew how they must have felt.

I mean, those were some long two hours.

How did Keith, Colby and Tina spend Day 40 and 41? They talked to the camera some and spent a full day making a totem, whereupon each of them chucked their totem in the river. Probst stopped by once. There was the remember-obscure-facts-about-your-teammates immunity challenge. That was it.

How did Colby and Tina spend their full day after waving goodbye to Keith (and gloating not a little)? Jabbering on about "the land," and reminiscing about all their crazy adventures here in the Outback. Hiking a lot. Cue the James Horner flutes. Cue the sunset. Cue the bright morning, the day before the month before one of them was eventually going to win, in a studio in Los Angeles with a live audience.

No wonder they didn't seem to care much either way. (A buck says Tina doesn't give one thin dime of her tiny after-tax, after-house haul to charity, and good for her.) By the end of it all, one wonders how many of the show's viewers cared either.

So that was the end of the end of "Survivor II: The Outback," the Outback part of which was, as Colby said in his best Cosell imitation, "the 17th player." The sequel to the Richard Hatch Show was a lean, mean, elementally compelling show — wrapped in a coating of ridiculous fluff, and trying to get out.

OK. We knew this wasn't going to be "Sopranos"-dense. And the cheese, especially in Probstian form, is part of the charm. At best, it's very good television and at its worst it's gloriously bad, and, well, there's nothing else good on anyway. And while the ratings have settled, the show is clearly a juggernaut made to run a long time. As Colby said, "I don't care how many Survivors you have, you'll never be able to predict the winner" — the business model is sound

But CBS sure does load their thoroughbred down. So many Bud Lights. So many Aztecs. So many commercials, and so many empty montages. Tune in next week for "Back From the Outback," to mop up what CBS can of May sweeps.

Thursday night's two-hour special didn't even technically end. The celebration scene melted seamlessly into Bryant Gumbel, charged with wringing the assembled full cast dry of their last bits of gossip. He led with perhaps the most ridiculous post-award words ever uttered:

"Well, the tribe has spoken, but in many ways, the surprises are just beginning."

Sorry, gang — that’s a little too real. Let me know when "Survivor III" is ready to roll.