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We begin with a reward challenge at F4, which Amanda wins, only to find herself in a difficult spot when Jeff offers her the opportunity to eat her booty (so to speak) alone, or to take either one or two other people. Her first of several potential strategic blunders arises when she fears offending Denise by making her the odd person out and fears offending Todd by not including him, so she takes just Todd, which is probably the least intelligent of her possible moves here. At least if she took Courtney, she could claim it was based on how skinny Courtney is -- this just comes off like sucking up.
After the March Of Dead Survivors, the F4 find themselves at the final immunity challenge, which involves balancing dishes on the end of a pole. Todd sucks at it, and Courtney doesn't seem to have the strength to make use of her proven ability to stand stock-still, so the two of them are out, leaving Denise and Amanda. Denise makes a rather pathetic attempt to make a deal with Amanda that seemingly consists of, "I am willing to lose, which I'm about to do anyway, and I will agree that after I lose and you win, I will not vote you out, which I will not be able to do anyway, since you will be immune, in return for you not voting me out." Or something. Amanda has no interest in a deal that isn't even a deal, and, at least in part as a result of actually doing a better job of stacking dishes than anyone else, Amanda wins the final immunity. Somehow, this is perceived as putting Amanda in charge of who gets voted out. Denise embarrasses herself something fierce by going to Amanda with straight-up begging, telling Amanda to refuse to vote Denise out simply because Denise's life is so pathetic and sad (she has to go back to her family, oh noes!) that she needs the money more than other people. Having just seen this direct preview of the sob story Denise will unleash on the jury in the event she gets to F3, Amanda wants Denise at the end even less than before, but tries to remain noncommittal, with the exception of a really weird moment where it appears that she tells Denise in great detail why she's not sure whether she's voting for Denise, and then says one thing's for sure: she's not voting for Denise. I suspect shenanigans there on the part of production, but it's hard to say.
At the F4 tribal council, Denise hits the sympathy/guilt card hard, boo-hooing about how Amanda promised not to vote for her. Amanda glimpses her future and realizes that, as a result of trying to play smart and look after Denise's self-pitying feelings at the same time, she's walked right into a trap, which is looking like a great big phony -- the same "better a snake than a rat" trap that has sunk women at final tribal councils going back to Kelly and Rich. So she weakly tries to defend herself, and Todd seizes his moment, having a big old mugging moment of hilarity at her expense. Amanda suddenly realizes that she's going to be (1) the mean girl; (2) the phony; and (3) the one everyone gangs up on and laughs at, and thus begins the collapse of confidence that will ruin the rest of her game.
Denise is booted, just like everyone told her she would be, and when Amanda, Todd, and Courtney get back to camp, Amanda is upset with Todd for mocking her in front of the jury, which he disingenuously denies having done on purpose, even (it appears) to himself. By the time the F3 get to the final tribal council, Amanda feels defensive and torn between trying to be nice and trying to defend her gameplay. She, of course, decides to try to have it both ways, which is the one thing that can't work.
The jury questions aren't as horrible as some -- James is mercifully brief, to begin with. Jean-Robert complains about having to vote for any of them, but -- continuing his streak of doing everything possible to make it look like whipping his ass at poker would be the easiest thing ever -- he totally falls for it when Todd unloads a wagon full of horseshit about how he got rid of Jean-Robert because Jean-Robert was such an overwhelmingly huge threat. Huge! A huge threat! Jean-Robert, unable to argue with his own greatness, shuts up. Peih-Gee asks the question Amanda anticipated when she ousted James, which is what she did that was worth anything, and Amanda says she ousted James. Erik is nice, Frosti (to his credit) is mostly unmoved by Todd's sucking up and mostly appreciative of Courtney's straight talk, and Jaime makes an absolute ass of herself by trying to attack everyone simultaneously in a weird quest for relevance. She needs to shut up, hard. Denise then gets up and squanders every bit of goodwill she's earned throughout the game by acting like a self-pitying asshole, taking home the award for Most Disappointing Juror by a landslide. She was betrayed! (By a situation everyone saw coming!) She thinks Amanda and Todd are dishonest! (By trying to beat her!) She is a lunch lady, and therefore deals in honesty! (O...kay?) Denise sucks.
The long and the short of it is that, as usual, the jury makes it rats-versus-snakes and chooses the snake, handing the victory to Todd -- though Courtney makes an interesting surge with an outstanding performance at final tribal council (probably better than Todd's, if you ask me) and gets two votes. Amanda -- in the great tradition of women who play well, feel obligated to either pretend to be sorry or actually try to feel sorry, and who fall into the ravine between "keep it real" reality-show expectations and "don't brag" socialization-of-women expectations as a result -- receives one vote, having played a smarter strategic game than anyone. Her vote comes from Erik, the only consistently nice and decent person on the jury, which certainly says something.
It's an incredibly unsatisfying end to a very bad season, topped off with a reunion where Todd, downright delusional in the glow of his victory (which he pretends not to have seen coming even though everyone who saw the final tribal council saw it coming, going so far as to burst into tears of "surprise"), explains that he foresaw everything that would ever happen in the game, and that everything -- up to and including the casting of 93-pound Courtney -- was part of his master plan. James takes the popularity contest, grabbing a hundred grand that production basically handed him by presenting him as the lovable, down-to-earth truth-teller that he totally was not. Boo to this season; bring on the half-All-Star season, and you better get some Jonathan Penner in that mofo, because I can't take another season without anybody who's capable of landing a satisfying punch.
Previously on Shanghai Surprised: Everybody started out in Shanghai, where they were left in their regular clothes, which came as a shock to everyone who showed up braless in cocktail dresses, Jaime. From there, it was basically the world's most boring Pagonging, in which nobody from the losing tribe really tried to get up a revolt, and nobody from the winning tribe who clearly wasn't going to make it to the end particularly cared that they weren't going to make it to the end, and there wasn't even a really good along-the-way booting like Edgardo or Leann or one of those.
Credits. For some reason, someone felt it necessary to caption the final four with their occupations: Todd "The Flight Attendant" (in reality: desperately aspiring media personality), Denise "The Lunch Lady" (in reality: janitor), Courtney "The Waitress" (in reality: aspiring media personality), and Amanda "The Beauty Queen" (in reality: aspiring media personality). It's interesting that everyone was referred to by occupation except Amanda, whose current occupation, whatever it may be, was thrown over in favor of mentioning a past status. I mean, at least the rest are all jobs, but I doubt Amanda's current paychecks come from the Beauty Queen Company. In any event, as I look thoughtfully upon the faces of the jury, I think to myself, "Wow. Not only do I not care, but I haven't cared in weeks and weeks."
Hae Da Fung, Night 36. Two frogs discuss tribal council, where Peih-Gee was voted out. "Guys, we actually did it," says one frog. Oh, wait. That's a voice-over from Todd, who's coming back with the rest of the F4. They all congratulate themselves on what a great plan it is, and the great part is, they can now all play as a team, because nobody else has to be voted off! And so it goes in DeniseLand, where Denise is living. "DeniseLand: Where Four Equals Three, Forty Is Old, And Everybody Gets Mac And Cheese!" Courtney interviews that she figured on coming in last, and now she has a one in four chance of winning. She learned probability, you will note, from Jeff Probst. They share a group hug, and Todd literally says, "I love us." By which he means, "I love myself, and all that I see of myself in you." Courtney tells the others that these four were "the bottom of the totem pole from the beginning," which is...a lie, which probably explains why Denise, who has dual citizenship in Hey I Notice There Is A Fire Burning Up Your Pantsylvania, agrees with it. Courtney interviews further that she would love to win immunity in the last challenge and wind up in F3 with the necklace. That's thinking, there. Never let it be said that teeny girls aren't crafty.