“Survivor 46” finale recap: A stunning vote from a juror tips the scales

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Maria saves the most shocking move of the season for the last possible second.

Previously on… Survivor! Yes, before we can get to this week’s Survivor finale, I’m making like my main man Jeff Probst to harken back to what happened on last week’s episode, even with the super dramatic pause and everything. That’s because in last week’s recap of Survivor 46’s penultimate episode, I babbled on and on about how fascinating it was to see two island BFFs in Charlie and Maria decide to cut the cord at the same time. Maria wanted to take out Charlie. Charlie wanted to take out Maria. And once Maria won immunity, Charlie did the next best thing and took out her ally Q instead… all while Maria attempted to blindside Charlie.

There were no fireworks or shocks or surprises — just an intriguing look at what happens when friendship comes up against gamesmanship. Little did we know the biggest shock was yet to come... and at the last possible second. After being eliminated at the final five thanks to a weird combo platter immunity challenge performance by Kenzie and Liz, Maria went to the jury. And when asked to vote for the winner of Survivor 46, she did not vote for Charlie.

That is not a typo. Maria Shrime Gonzalez voted for Kenzie to win Survivor 46. Even writing it out here feels like a mistake. (Can someone please fact-check this recap?) But when joined with Tevin, Q, Venus, and Tiffany’s votes, that made five to Charlie’s three (from Hunter, Liz, and Soda). Had Maria voted for her closest ally to win, it would have been a 4-4 tie and the tiebreaking vote would have gone to third-place finalist Ben. And judging by how Ben brought Charlie to the end and made Kenzie go to fire, it is reasonable to assume that Maria’s vote cost Charlie a million dollars. (Well, $900,000 minus taxes.)

What a brutal and inexplicable way to lose a million dollars. Charlie and Maria worked in lockstep almost the entire way, and while they both ended up coming for each other, it’s only because they recognized and respected the massive threat the other represented to their chances of victory. Even as they voted for one another, all they did was profess ultimate love and admiration for each other. SO WHAT IS MARIA DOING VOTING FOR KENZIE?!?

It's hard to imagine Maria would be upset about Charlie trying to take her out when she did the exact same thing at the exact same time to him. That would be super hypocritical and make no sense. She gave here reasons during the after-show portion of the finale, telling Probst "I’ve said this before: I’m a competitor, and the fire in this woman’s eyes when she made fire last night, that, to me, clinched it for me. She owned her game and her story just really moved me. This woman deserves to have this money for her, to start her life, to start her family and I am so proud of you and can’t wait to see this beautiful family you create.”

That's nice, but I’m still super confused. And if you think I'm confused, imagine how Charlie feels. That dude just lost a million dollars due to that single vote, and after Maria apparently told him, "You better get to the end, my jury vote is going to you." (I also assumed Charlie had Q’s vote locked up seeing as how Q was the one who desperately wanted to take Charlie out, saying how they could not beat him at the end, but trying to make sense of what Q says or does is a fool’s errand, or, as some might say, a… BIG MISTAKE!)

<p>CBS</p> Maria Shrime Gonzalez and Charlie Davis on 'Survivor 46'


Maria Shrime Gonzalez and Charlie Davis on 'Survivor 46'

Related: The Survivor 46 final 5 speak!

We expect confounding nonsense from the inventor of the Q-Skirt and we love him for it… but Maria? We expect logic and reason and common sense and careful consideration from Maria, and this was the ultimate curveball. However, as magnificent as Maria’s screwy vote was, do not let it distract from the masterful social game that Kenzie played. This is a woman who straight-up told the jury at final Tribal Council: “Yeah, I got brought along on votes. I’ll take it. I’ll own it. It’s true. I’m not going to say I drove a vote.” She said all that and yet still won!

This is a woman who had only one vote cast against her all season… AND IT WAS A MISTAKE! She started off on one of the worst tribes in the history of the show with a cast of kooky characters that you had to see to believe, and then made strong bonds with people she was playing both with and against. It once again firmly affirmed that while the challenges are nifty and the strategy often scintillating, Survivor is at its heart a social game. If people like you, they will find a reason to vote for you. Jeremy Collins told me before Winners at War that he HATED the Edge of Extinction twist and could never see himself voting for someone to win who had been voted out of the game, yet then did exactly that when his San Juan del Sur pal Natalie Anderson — who was voted out on day 2! — came back and made it to the end.

People want to vote for their buddy! And Kenzie became everyone’s buddy. She comforted Ben when he was having trouble with panic attacks, she did arts and crafts projects with Hunter, she bonded with Tiffany even while plotting at times to take her out, she… uh… did the best she could with Q (LOL). Kenzie’s energy is infectious, and while Ben talked a lot about vibes, it was Kenzie’s vibes that won her the million dollars.

That’s not to say people didn’t like Charlie or Ben. Charlie also struck me as having a superb social game. Unlike Kenzie, he did mastermind some votes, and did so seemingly without pissing anyone off… at least maybe until Maria? He’s a super likable guy with an only mildly disturbing Taylor Swift infatuation who played a great game. Nothing to not like there. And Ben is such a super genuine dude. I felt it when I met him out in Fiji. But while the jury could excuse Kenzie for not leading the votes, they clearly felt (either accurately or not) that she was at least in on more conversations than Ben, who also was refreshingly honest at final Tribal, telling his judge, jury, and executioners: “I openly admit that I was a goat for a few votes.”

Who played the best game? Depends on what game you are playing. Even Kenzie would admit that Charlie had more control of the course of action than she did. But if the game is making people like you enough to want to give you a million dollars, than Kenzie edged out Uncle Charlie, and she did it by nabbing the most unlikely vote imaginable. I’m still stunned by it. Okay, let’s get into what else went down during the three-hour Survivor 46 finale and aftershow.

<p>CBS</p> Kenzie Petty, Maria Shrime Gonzalez, Liz Wilcox, Ben Katzman, Charlie Davis, and Jeff Probst on 'Survivor 46'


Kenzie Petty, Maria Shrime Gonzalez, Liz Wilcox, Ben Katzman, Charlie Davis, and Jeff Probst on 'Survivor 46'

Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.

A puzzling situation

Because Charlie is unfortunately not a big crybaby who runs off half-cocked at the slightest slight or insult, we knew there would not be a lot of drama back at camp after Maria was caught trying to take her island BFF out at Tribal. They made nice and each pretended like it was no big deal, so let’s just get to the first challenge, where a few very interesting things happened.

I could take you through every step of this immunity contest, but the most important thing to know is that the contestants were racing to bang a gong. I say that for a few reasons. 1) “Bang a gong” sounds inherently dirty even though it is not. 2) “Bang a gong” also reminds me of T. Rex, even though I am guessing Ben Katzman is the only player on this entire season who has any idea what that reference means. And 3) The most important reason of all: This is most likely the closest we will ever go towards forcing contestants to once again awkwardly bang a giant gong as they enter Tribal Council — one of my three favorite absurd relics of the game that I would sell my first born to get back into play… right along with that super cheesy trunk of cash that used to sit at Tribal Council and the Medallion of Power. Because it was called the Medallion of Power — and also made no sense.

But the gong was not the only intriguing addition to this challenge. After going through a massive obstacle course, the contestants then had to solve a puzzle. LAME! An obstacle course ending in a puzzle. Again? Is this all you can come up with, Survivor producers? Shame on you! This is the next to last challenge of the season and you’re not going to serve us up something special? Something iconic? Something new?

Hold on… not unlike Kenzie Petty, I am being told that the challenge is not over. That the puzzle is not the last stop in the challenge but gives a clue that must then be solved to solve a combination. MY BAD! But let me say this: I love it. Such a smart wrinkle. So smart that I’m kinda mad I have not riddled my recaps for the past 40+ seasons with pleas for them to do exactly that. (They did, at least, finally listen to my request to hide idols at challenges, while my other bright idea of putting in an underwater puzzle remains sadly unseen.)

<p>CBS</p> Jeff Probst with Charlie Davis, Ben Katzman, Kenzie Petty, Liz Wilcox, and Maria Shrime Gonzalez on 'Survivor 46'


Jeff Probst with Charlie Davis, Ben Katzman, Kenzie Petty, Liz Wilcox, and Maria Shrime Gonzalez on 'Survivor 46'

Related: Jeff Probst says there is 'more blood to spill' in the Survivor 46 finale

Of course, putting a stage in after a puzzle can be dramatically dangerous because if someone is way ahead of everyone else, then that final stage becomes super anticlimactic. That would not be an issue here. Kenzie finished her puzzle and then read her instructions to “Count the number of geckos, puzzle pieces, and holes in your plank.” Only she had no idea what plank it was referring to. She was more befuddled than yours truly trying to understand the rules of any single Devil’s Plan competition. So Kenzie did something quite odd: She asked another player for help. Next thing we knew, Liz was racing back to grab a plank. Now, I’ll be honest: When this first happened, I was really, really hoping Liz was just reading Kenzie’s clue and then going grab a plank to solve the combination for herself after Kenzie thought she was helping her. I was hoping for that because it would have been 100% hilarious.

Unfortunately, I am guessing there was a rule in place where you had to solve your own puzzle before you could attempt the combination lock. Boooooooo! Anyway, Liz was not getting the plank for herself, she was bringing it back for Kenzie in an attempt to deny Maria her fourth individual immunity victory. Teamwork makes the dream work, people! Or, in this case, turns someone else’s dream into a nightmare, as the tag-team effort ended Maria’s dream of becoming the Sole Survivor.

A tough way for her to go, but a great wrinkle from Kirhoffer, Milhouse, and the challenge team, as well as a smart play by Kenzie and Liz to activate their Wonder Twin powers and take out the game’s biggest threat. Good stuff. Of course, Charlie was happy to send Maria to the jury where she could be his “champion” and help sway other jurors to write his name down… or so he thought. By the by, my least favorite thing about the entire finale is the fact that editors didn’t drill down on lots of hilarious footage of Charlie doing an even worse job of idol hunting than Venus after Venus had already found her idol. Like, was he actually looking while pretending to help Maria? And what was his plan if he accidentally found something while Maria was right next to him? That search would have been the entire three-hour finale if I were in charge. No final Tribal. No aftershow. Just Charlie halfheartedly turning over flip-flops in search of an idol he had no desire to find. You say boring; I say riveting.

Anyway, Maria got the full hero exit. In fact, they laid it on so thick at Tribal Council with the compliments, and the sad piano music, and the background life story that I half thought it was a fake-out. It was not.

<p>CBS</p> Charlie Davis, Ben Katzman, Kenzie Petty, Liz Wilcox, and Maria Shrime Gonzalez on 'Survivor 46'


Charlie Davis, Ben Katzman, Kenzie Petty, Liz Wilcox, and Maria Shrime Gonzalez on 'Survivor 46'

Rock out with your puzzle blocks out

Before we got to the second and final immunity challenge, we had to hear from Liz how she was definitely going to be put into fire because she was the biggest threat of all and would destroy any of the others and paint the Tribal Council set with the blood of her victims should she make it to the final three. I’m actually semi-surprised the producers did not airlift Venus out of Ponderosa and put her into the background of that confessional interview so she could roll her eyes on cue every time Liz boasted about how unbeatable she was.

Thank God for Venus on the jury, by the way. I was 100% positive that folks like Soda and Tevin would be serving looks every Tribal with dropped jaws, eye rolls, and shaking heads, but they disappointingly comported themselves with a lot of class and thoughtful consideration. SCREW THAT! I want the bitter stares, the mocking expressions, the unimpressed gestures. I want it all! As much as you all know I loved this cast, the lack of jury histrionics and wild gesticulation was a major bummer. Venus at least gave it a good effort.

<p>CBS</p> Soda Thompson, Tevin Davis, Hunter McKnight, Tiffany Nicole Ervin, Venus Vafa, and Q Burdette on the 'Survivor 46' jury.


Soda Thompson, Tevin Davis, Hunter McKnight, Tiffany Nicole Ervin, Venus Vafa, and Q Burdette on the 'Survivor 46' jury.

Related: The Survivor 46 jury speaks!

Oh, sorry, where were we again? RIGHT! The second immunity challenge. I guess I just got a bit distracted by the fact that Jeff Probst welcomed the contestants in with a funky Ricardo Montalbán Fantasy Island accent, like he was about to start bragging about Corinthian leather and whatnot. (“Smiles, everyone! Smiles!”) I also have no idea why Liz pretended to be an old lady with a cane. It was as if she was auditioning as the second coming of Vicki Lawrence for a CBS reboot of Mama’s Family or something. Odd. Also odd that I would choose to namecheck shows like Fantasy Island and Mama’s Family that mean absolutely nothing to 95% of my reading audience, but that’s where we’re at, I suppose.

If there is one thing I have complained about when it comes to Survivor…. Okay, that is not even remotely true. I have nitpicked over the years on everything from the color of Jeff Probst’s baseball hat to the methodology for choosing the S.O.S winner. But one of the things I have complained about in recent years is that there have been too many challenges where people line up, stand still, and hold something up or balance something on a weird part of their body. Individually, all the changes were good, but the lack of diversity in their implementation annoyed me.

So let’s give props where props are due. The players have definitely been out and about more in the past two seasons, and that trend continued with contestants on the move for both finale challenges. In the final one, they had to solve a simple Survivor puzzle. But again, there was a twist, as the players had to toss a ball up a high ramp onto a giant Price Is Right Plinko-type structure and then work on the puzzle. But if they failed to catch the ball before it hit the bottom, they would be assessed a time penalty where they just had to stand around awkwardly being pissed off. That never happened to Kenzie, but she did manage to self-inflict time penalties of her own by attempting to toss her ball clear to the Survivor Sanctuary, where rumor has it good things happen.

A very good thing happened to Ben when he played it slow and steady and won the challenge. What a cool moment for Ben. Look, if you can’t win Survivor — and the vast majority of people do not — you at least want to have that one huge moment to hang your hat on. Jake had a pretty brutal outing last season in many ways (including being disqualified in a challenge), but after so many soul-crushing defeats, he won at fire and will carry that memory with him for the rest of his life. Ben also struggled, albeit in different ways. He had panic attacks. He had night terrors. He struggled emotionally after the Tim vote, as we saw in an EW exclusive deleted scene. He freakin’ wrote down the wrong name at Tribal Council! Like Jake, he got zero votes at final Tribal. But when Ben most needed a win, he got it, and nobody can ever take that away from him. And if he wasn’t going to do something hilarious like mistakenly throwing his ball up the wrong Plinko ramp in a truly Fishbachian display of athletic prowess, this was the next best thing. It may have taken him 25 days, but Ben got his signature moment.

<p>CBS</p> Charlie Davis, Ben Katzman, Kenzie Petty, Liz Wilcox, and Maria Shrime Gonzalez on 'Survivor 46'


Charlie Davis, Ben Katzman, Kenzie Petty, Liz Wilcox, and Maria Shrime Gonzalez on 'Survivor 46'

Fire woman

I won’t go on at length about the fire-making competition between Kenzie and Liz. As expected, Kenzie won. But I still don’t like the expectation imbalance fire-making puts on players in the game. Kenzie said she wanted to go to fire because she could build her résumé, while Charlie said “I need to get in front of the jury. Forget fire.” And yet he then got lightly dinged for that approach by the jury, as if he was playing too safe a game.

Hard disagree. If anything, Charlie should be awarded bonus points for having such a strong social game that he did not need to go to fire. I’m sick of players being punished for not volunteering to go to fire. This Chris Underwoodization of the game needs to stop. If you win the final challenge, you have earned your spot at the end. If you can convince someone to bring you there, you earned it as well. We need to knock it off with all the nonsense.

Anyway, it was a nice win by Kenzie to seal the deal on Liz, who ended her stay in the game by informing the other players that “It was really over for you guys. I would have beat all of you.” Perhaps in an awesome Tribal Council face-making contest, but that’s probably about it. Me thinks Liz was not even within sniffing distance of the million dollars, but I also think she was such a quirky odd duck, and I kinda love her for it. She also gave us the best emotional meltdown of the new era, and will always hold a special place in my heart for that alone. Liz more than earned her spot on the cast, and while she is no doubt off somewhere yelling “Fudge!” over the fact she did not win the game, she should still be proud of how far she made it — and how much entertainment value she gave us along the way.

<p>CBS</p> Ben Katzman and Kenzie Petty on 'Survivor 46'


Ben Katzman and Kenzie Petty on 'Survivor 46'

Judging the jury

Look, my ideal final Tribal Council would have talk of evil stepmothers, oxen and chariots, rats and snakes, and whatever crazy insults Eliza Orlins may want to hurl at someone for lord knows what reason. Give me the drama. Give me the chaos. Give me the anarchy. Bitterness and revenge is the fuel on which my Survivor fandom was formed. But if we’re not going to get that from the jury, what I would at least appreciate is a jury asking smart questions and not just looking to prop up their favorites with softball queries meant to promote their obvious talking points. And we got exactly that from the Survivor 46 jurors.

“We are not looking for Taylor Swift lyrics. We are not looking for pop culture or rock & roll references. We are looking for serious and thought-provoking responses,” said Tiffany to kick off the proceedings. Later, Soda literally put each contestant on a 30-second clock, asking them to rebut her at least semi-unflattering impressions of them, even cutting them off immediately when they exceeded their time limit. Venus smartly asked about the mistake they made that they used to their advantage, Tevin inquired about the best example of using a jury member to get to the end, and Hunter wanted to know what Kenzie and Charlie would have done with their fire-making choice. The jury pushed back when they did not agree with something, and also fact-checked with each other when a finalist threw something potentially suspect out there.

It may not have been riveting television. There was no angry pointing. There weren’t branches falling from the sky and almost knocking out a juror while he was speaking (shout-out to Butch from The Amazon). But it was a solid conversation with generally strong questions, which is more than we have had from most final Tribals over the past few years. Solid if unspectacular. My guess is that will be the general assessment of Kenzie as a winner as well. Nobody is going to mistake her for Tony, or Kim, or Boston Rob, or Dee. She even admitted she was never in any control of any vote. But she once again proved the power of easy charm and likability. If Survivor is about making connections, nobody did it better this season than Kenzie Petty, and she is one million dollars richer because of it.

<p>CBS</p> Kenzie Petty on 'Survivor 46'


Kenzie Petty on 'Survivor 46'

And we are not done making connections here either. For much more insight from the entire final five, check out the pre-finale deep dive interview I did with them as well as the pre-finale chat with the jury. We’ve got our first look at Survivor 47, including some intel from the Hostmaster General on the upcoming season (which just began filming). We also have an exclusive deleted scene from the finale — and exit interviews with Kenzie, Charlie, Ben, Liz, and Maria. And if you’re wondering if Survivor 46 will move in the season rankings after the finale, the answer is… no. It sticks at number 21, for now.

Before we wrap up the recapping for the next few months, just another huge thanks to anyone and everyone for wasting their time each and every week reading these unhinged musings. Your support and kind words keep me going season after season, long after I probably should have retired the laptop and moved on. So I guess what I am saying is… it’s your fault I continue to ignore my family. Okay, have a great summer, everyone! I’ll be back in September with another scoop of the crispy.

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.