Last night two veteran series reached their ends, one for just the season, the other forever. It was another finale for Survivor, the twenty-fourth, and it was a nice reminder that the show can still deliver the satisfying goods after all these years. Meanwhile Desperate Housewives, the nighttime mystery soap that we have to blame for the Real Housewives, ended its eight season run with enough wistful sappiness to sway even this non-fan. (Spoilers ahead.)
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Were you Survivor-watchers fans of this season? It was certainly a bizarre and at times narratively incoherent one. There were lots of gimmicky twists in the first half of the season, with the One World idea of both tribes sharing a camp and the division of the group by gender. At first the girls crumbled, then the guys, and then all of a sudden everyone arbitrarily switched tribes and one group — made up of all the young studly types — seemed guaranteed for victory until the merge was abruptly called. Potential dominant players like Matt were bounced out early, and then, just as he began to emerge as a surprisingly competent villain, lil' Southern queen Colton was forced out of the game by an illness. It was herky and jerky and it was hard to tell what direction to be looking.
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Turns out we should have been looking at Kim all along, the 29-year-old bridal shop owner who initially seemed like a middle-of-the-road player with no remarkable strategy. But in fact what she was doing was weathering the weird early storms and letting big personalities hang themselves with their own bloviating until the moment was right, until the ground was just steady enough, to assert herself as a clear and determined, but never flashy, leader. She rode that wave of confidence all the way to a clean victory last night, having won four immunity challenges in a row and successfully orchestrating the removal of all the once-dominating men. And, most crucially, after securing a final three that left her seeming charitable but that still assured her a decisive 7-2-0 win. It was, for this viewer at least, a terrifically satisfying mechanical ballet to watch unfold. I don't know that I've seen someone play the game that competently and smoothly in years.
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There was some grumbling about the ending being anticlimactic — hadn't it seemed like Kim was going to win for about five weeks now? — but I'd remind those people that sometimes the jilted jury can go for the quiet remora contestant who didn't piss anyone off instead of the grand strategizer who orchestrated all of their dooms. Remember when nonentity Natalie beat Russell somewhat recently? There was always the chance that someone like Sabrina or Chelsea (or even Christina, har har) could have better succeeded in the oft overlooked social game department and snatched a victory. But in the end this was a wise and not spiteful jury that chose the clearly better overall player; proof that while Kim played hard, she didn't play too hard. Well done, Kim! And well done, 24th season of Survivor, for keeping the flame burning on a show that should by all measure be completely out of gas at this point.
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Well done, too, to Marc Cherry and crew on the Desperate Housewives series finale, which had me all misty-eyed as if I'd watched the show or something. Truth is I didn't. I tried to long ago but something about its soft focus blend of mystery and soapiness just didn't click with me. That said, I did check in on the how periodically (mostly, in season two, I'll admit, to see what Andrew and Justin were up to) and certainly never hated it. It had tart humor and a pleasingly sprawling little world of characters and intrigue. It was never, at least what I saw of it, a bad show, and the performances of the four main ladies were always appealing in their gentle madcap way. So I can understand why a fan would feel a bit bereft by the loss, especially with those final ten or so melancholy minutes.
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There was a birth (Susan's a grandmother), a death (of old age, not murder most foul), and everyone moved. Not on the same day, or anything; the show did a Six Feet Under-style flash forward showing where everyone ended up in the following years (but not how they died, thankfully) and it turns out they all left Wisteria Lane at one point or another. But the first to leave chronologically was Teri Hatcher's Susan and, as so many shows end with someone driving away and feeling both sad and hopeful, she took "one last spin around the block." While she drove, the omnipresent narrator Mary Alice told us from the afterlife that lots of ghosts were watching Susan as she drove away, and sure enough there were lots of people who'd died on the show standing on their old lawns smiling in, I dunno, approval of Susan or something. It was a little hokey, but also perfectly effective. A sense of finality on a sunny afternoon tends to tug at the heartstrings, so it was a well-chosen way to close the show.
Well, actually, no, that's not exactly how the show ended. It ended with a new woman moving into Susan's house who seemed initially sweet and normal, but then, of course, had some dark secret hidden in a wooden box that she locked in the garage. What was it? What was her secret? Well of course we'll never know. It was the show's last wink, one befitting a series about all the dark mysteries of supposedly mundane suburbia. So, hats off to Desperate Housewives for a long run that, sure, dwindled in popularity as the years went on, but seemed to avoid any major backlash. That's quite a feat for three seasons (as Ryan Murphy can tell you), let alone eight.