Todd Herzog was rewarded for being Survivor: China's primary puppetmaster, as the 22-year-old flight attendant from Pleasant Grove, UT was revealed to be Survivor: China's winner during last night's finale of the long-running CBS reality series' fifteenth edition.
"All I could hope for was that people would be able to say, 'Survivor is a game,'" Todd said after host Jeff Probst revealed him to be the competition's winner. "I meant it when I said I made relations and bonds with people, and that those were true. But everything inside of the game was the game, and I meant that."
Todd -- who was only 14-years-old when Survivor: Borneo premiered in Summer 2000 -- claimed Survivor: China's $1 million grand prize during the live portion of last night's finale broadcast from CBS Television City in Los Angeles, CA.
"I knew that the second that I got out there -- that no matter what it took -- I would do everything I possibly could to be sitting right here," said Todd. "I had all of these people in my mind that could help me get here, and I can't believe it worked!"
Todd received four final Tribal Council jury votes, besting runner-up Courtney Yates, a 26-year-old waitress from New York, NY who received two jury votes; and third-place finisher Amanda Kimmel, a 23-year-old hiking guide and Miss Montana USA 2005 from Los Angeles, CA who received one jury vote.
Survivor: China's finale broadcast began with a video montage of the competition's first 36 days before the four remaining castaways returned to the merged Hae Da Fung camp following the previous elimination of Peih-Gee Law.
The next day, the castaways met for Survivor: China's final Reward Challenge, and Jeff explained the rules.
Each castaway would begin at the top of a platform, which they'd have to climb down via a ladder before crossing a bridge. Each castaway would then have to use planks to assemble another bridge before they could cross it. They would then use a traditional Chinese carrying device to move 12 large puzzle blocks back to the top of the platform, where they would solve the puzzle. First one to complete the puzzle would win the challenge's reward: pizza, beer, soda and brownies.
Todd grabbed an early lead and was the first to build his bridge, but Amanda was hot on his heels. Todd maintained his lead throughout the piece-moving portion of the challenge and was the first to have all of his puzzle pieces at the top of the platform, however Amanda was persistent and eventually emerged as the first castaway to complete the puzzle, winning reward.
Jeff gave Amanda the option of eating the food -- which would have been a very large meal for just one person -- by herself; with one other person; or with two other people. After deliberating, Amanda chose to share her feast with Todd. Amanda explained she chose Todd to see where his head was in the game, unsure if she was able to trust him.
"I don't trust you that much from what I've heard," Amanda told Todd. "I just have the feeling that if anyone of us back-stabbed me right now, you would."
Todd was hurt by what Amanda said, claiming when they formed their alliance on Day 1 he had full intentions to stick with it until the end.
"I swear on my life... I'm in this to the end with you," Todd told Amanda, adding it was the "honest 100% truth."
Back at camp, Courtney and Denise Martin, a 40-year-old school lunch lady from Douglas, MA, chatted, with Denise commenting she thought Todd should be the next one to go.
"He's a slippery little sucker," agreed Courtney.
Amanda and Todd returned from their Reward Challenge outing, and Todd proceeded to live up to his "slippery" billing by sweet-talking Denise about his fear that the three remaing women would vote him out of the game in favor of an all-female "girl power" Final 3 alliance and telling Denise that he felt Amanda and Courtney had the best chances of winning the jury vote.
After overhearing Todd's conversation with Denise, Courtney decided that Todd was only "looking out for himself." As Courtney and Amanda discussed their trust issues with Todd, he approached and wanted to make sure Denise was still going to be the next person on the chopping block if any of them were able to win immunity.
"Ya," Amanda assured him.
After remembering Survivor: China's 12 previously booted castaways via the game's traditional "Fallen Comrades" journey, the Final 4 arrived at the game's final Immunity Challenge, which would test their endurance and ability to focus. Jeff explained each castaway would balance a stack of porcelain dishes on a long, wobbly balancing arm. The more dishes that were added to the stack, the more difficult the challenge would be and the last castaway to not drop their stack would win immunity.
Twenty-seven minutes and several dishes into the challenge, Todd became the first castaway eliminated from the challenge when his stack of dishes fell to the ground. Courtney followed shortly thereafter, leaving only Amanda and Denise still in the running for a guaranteed spot in the game's Final 3.
Denise immediately tried to strike a "I won't write your name down, you won't write my name down" deal with Amanda, but she refused and insisted they instead "battle this out." Denise's stack eventually fell to the ground, winning Amanda immunity anyways.
"I'm so excited that I'm for-sure in the Final 3... I have nothing to worry about tonight," said Amanda back at camp. "But I'm afraid whoever gets voted out tonight is going to think that it was because of me... So it's such a good thing and then it can be such a bad thing."
Denise said she was "really, really nervous" as the "old lady" on the "outside." She tried to sway Amanda, who said she hadn't decided yet who she was going to vote for and added she respected Denise's determination. Denise explained how this was her one shot since she was the oldest of the Final 4. Todd sensed Amanda might have been weakening and made it clear he intended to vote for Denise at the upcoming Tribal Council. Courtney and Amanda agreed.
However despite her conversation with Todd and Courtney, Amanda still seemed uncomfortable with the idea of voting Denise out, and as she talked further with Denise, Todd told Courtney he hoped they could still trust Amanda.
Courtney said she didn't think Denise deserved the $1 million "just because she sucks at life" -- a reference to the $7-an-hour-lunch-lady-with-kids sob story that, having already used it on them in camp, Todd, Amanda and Courtney were sure Denise would play for the jury if she made the Final 3. Courtney also realized her comment about Denise made her the "biggest bitch on the planet."
Amanda explained her current position to Denise -- that she had been in an alliance with Todd since Day 1 and didn't want to back-stab him but would also rather have Denise in the Final 3 instead of Todd. While Amanda requested more time to think about it, she did offer Denise some hope.
"I will guarantee you I will not vote for you tonight," Amanda told Denise.
Afterward, Amanda discussed the situation further with Courtney. Amanda attempted to convince Courtney that in addition to knowing how to "sugarcoat things so well," Todd was well-liked and had "connected" with everyone on the jury, however Courtney disagreed.
"Denise is gonna cry [and win jury votes]... he's the schemer [and the jury will hold that against him]," Courtney told Amanda.
But despite her personal feelings, Courtney still seemed willing to turn on Todd if Amanda decided to do so.
"Just let me know, cause I'll vote with you," Courtney told Amanda.
"This is not just for me, it's not just for you -- it's for both of us," Amanda replied.
"Right now in the game, my biggest threat is probably Todd," Amanda later explained to the cameras. "Todd has made a lot of personal connections with a lot of people on the jury [and] the jury is a younger jury so I think he's my biggest threat right now. I'm at an awful crossroads... Denise [or] Todd... I'm still undecided, I don't know what I'm going to choose."
Survivor: China's fourteenth and penultimate Tribal Council then commenced, with Peih-Gee, Erik Huffman, James Clement, Michael "Frosti" Zernow, Jean-Robert Bellande and Jaime Dugan observing as the first six members of the jury.
However rather than using Jeff's Tribal Council questioning to make a last-minute attempt to convince Amanda and Courtney to vote out Todd, Denise -- apparently certain that there was no longer any chance of getting Todd's allies to turn on him -- instead confidently boasted about what a huge final jury threat she'd be.
"I don't know why they shouldn't vote me out," boldly stated Denise, explaining she'd be sure to receive sympathy votes from the jury if she made the Final 3.
Denise then outed Amanda, telling everyone Amanda claimed to have her back at the Tribal Council. Needless to say, Amanda wasn't too happy with Denise's comment and stated that while she might have told Denise she "had her back," she had made the statement "a while ago.. .not today." Todd made a face and commented how if he was Denise, he wouldn't have found Amanda's reaction encouraging.
Denise voted for Todd, who along with Amanda and Courtney voted to boot Denise, making her the thirteenth castaway eliminated from Survivor: China and the seventh and final member of the jury.
"I definitely believe I would have won this entire thing if I'd have stayed in the game," Denise -- apparently still unaware that Survivor juries have never crowned "sympathy" winners when given the opportunity -- opined following her ouster. "I'm just proud of what I've accomplished -- I think I did a great job -- I never gave up and to make it 38 days out here is a spectacular thing for a 40-year-old woman."
Once the remaining threesome returned to camp, Amanda made little secret that she was upset about Todd's Tribal Council comments. Amanda said felt "horrible" about it and thought Todd's goal was to make her look bad in-front of the jury. Todd apologized, but Amanda was still pissed and questioned the intentions of Todd's comments.
"She I don't think believes me -- that it was an accident -- but it was," said Todd.
The next morning Amanda, Courtney and Todd received a celebratory breakfast basket for being the Final 3 before journeying to Survivor: China's final Tribal Council. Amanda, Courtney and Todd would each have an opportunity to make an opening statement before each jury member could either address the Final 3 with a statement or question.
Amanda said she felt "blessed" to be in the Final 3 and had a specific strategy at the start of the competition -- to align herself right away -- and she chose Todd. After the merge, Amanda said her strategy was to align herself "with people I had a chance to physically compete against, and I did, I won the last [two] Immunity Challenges." She concluded by saying there were some things she wasn't proud of -- specifically her votes to oust James, Jean-Robert and Frosti -- and apologized for any hurt feelings.
Todd thanked the seven jury members for playing a role in helping him reach the Final 3. He was aware he lied and back-stabbed, but hoped the jury realized the difference between the strategic and personal relationships he had with them. He concluded by saying he had lived his dream and was ready to face the firing squad.
Courtney said she had no strategy entering the competition and was actually surprised she survived with each passing day. She said the fact she's not a Survivor buff set her apart from Amanda and Todd, especially since she felt she was still able to make the game work for her. She was happy with the way she played and thought she deserved credit for it.
The jury then addressed the Final 3. Low-lights included James tossing a softball because he didn't want to be a "bitter Betty;" Erik asking Amanda what her riskiest move of the game was; and Frosti learning his personal relationship with Courtney was real and not a product of the competition.
Jean-Robert said that since Todd had betrayed him and voted him out of the game, he'd entered the final Tribal Council verbally obligated to not vote for Todd and was undecided about what to do. Always the strategic mastermind, Todd decided to appeal to Jean-Robert's ego and said he'd been forced to vote Jean-Robert out because the professional poker player was becoming an "extremely great strategic player" in the competition.
Jaime wanted to know why each of the Final 3 felt the other members of the Final 3 didn't deserve her vote. Courtney struggled with the question -- but not Todd, who thoroughly bashed Courtney and Amanda by claiming he played a more strategic game then either and adding he "did the dirty work for the nice girl," aka Amanda.
Denise was still upset she was on the jury rather than facing the jury before calling Amanda a liar and calling attention to Todd's "deceptive side." Denise concluded by saying she respected Courtney being outspoken with her thoughts.
The seven jury members then cast their votes and the majority of them recognized Todd for his strategic game play by writing his name down -- giving Todd the $1 million prize and leaving Amanda to wonder what would have happened if she had followed through with her idea to vote Todd out instead of Denise.
During the subsequent live reunion show, Jeff revealed the obvious: that James -- the man he acknowledged was Survivor's most popular castaway "in a long time" -- had won the "Survivor of the Season" text message/cbs.com vote that allowed home viewers to award $100,000 to one of the season's castaways.
At the conclusion of Survivor: China's reunion show, Jeff formally announced Survivor's next edition -- which was reportedly originally set to be a second "full all-stars edition" featuring castaways from the show's last seven seasons -- will be a "half all-stars edition" that will feature popular former Survivor castaways competing against a group of "superfans."
As previously announced, Survivor's sixteenth edition -- dubbed Survivor: Micronesia -- Fans vs. Favorites -- will premiere on February 7, 2008.