Tina Wesson, the sweet-talking nurse from Tennessee, joined Richard Hatch in the Survivor millionaires club on Thursday.
The 40-year-old mother of two from Knoxville outlasted Colby Donaldson, the heartthrob Texan, to become a future pop-culture trivia answer as the winner of the Outback edition of television's favorite game show.
Wesson watched live in a Los Angeles studio as the votes from fellow contestants were counted and she was the winner.
"Oh, my God," she exclaimed after winning the 4-3 vote.
She was hugged by Donaldson, whose final miscalculation — picking Wesson to be the finalist with him — ultimately cost him the million-dollar prize. Donaldson won $100,000.
Keeping the Winner a Secret
While not the phenomenon the original Survivor was last summer, the series has been a ratings giant again — and a giant-killer against NBC on Thursday nights. CBS already has plans for a third edition to air in the fall.
Once again, the network managed to keep the show's winner a secret, despite filming last fall.
This time, fewer people were trusted with the secret. The final votes were to be counted live on the air Thursday; even the contestants weren't sure who would take the $1 million prize.
Host Jeff Probst carried a container with the final votes into a Los Angeles studio for the count.
"I never thought I could get this far," Wesson said when she was one of the three remaining contestants with Donaldson and Keith Famie, the chef from West Bloomfield, Mich.
Her fellow contestants knew better, praising her strategy in surviving although Donaldson won five straight immunity challenges.
"She really played the game," said fellow contestant Alicia Calaway. "It wasn't winning seven or eight challenges to get this far. It was using her brain. She's a smart woman and I think she deserves it."
Oddsmakers had installed Wesson as the slight favorite going into the final night. She smiled sweetly, spoke with a twang but manipulated quietly until she was the last woman standing.
‘Naked Fat Guy’ Missing
Macho Texan Donaldson, 27, said he enabled Wesson to join him in the final two because they became very close in the Outback. Famie, the chef who couldn't cook rice to anyone's satisfaction, was voted out after losing the final immunity challenge — a trivia quiz about the ousted contestants.
None of the three made quite as indelible an impression as Hatch, the "Naked Fat Guy" from the original Survivor who schemed his way to victory.
Nor was the final show as dramatic as the summer's ending, with Susan Hawk's now-legendary "rats and snakes" speech. The closest was when Jerri Manthey said both Wesson and Donaldson had manipulated others to get to where they were.
"I want them to look at what they've been forced to become in this game versus who they claim to be in their real lives," she said.
Back in Knoxville, Wesson's grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins gathered at a Mexican restaurant with other fans to watch the finale on a big-screen TV.
Wesson's aunt, Gail Woods, said her niece has "the sweetest personality. Her nickname is Sunshine. She has just always had a sunshine disposition. She could make lemons into lemonade."
Actually, Hatch and Wesson aren't the only Survivor millionaires. So is executive producer Mark Burnett, likely several times over.
Celebrity Survivor in the Works
Burnett revealed that the third Survivor, which will be aired this fall, will be set in Africa.
CBS is also considering a celebrity edition. Comedian Ray Romano, actress Kate Hudson and Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant have expressed interest, CBS President Leslie Moonves told Access Hollywood.
Fifty-one million Americans tuned in to watch the final Survivor episode last August, second only to the Super Bowl last year. Survivor: The Australian Outback wasn't likely to match that number and, unlike last summer, viewership slipped as the weeks went on.
Still, Survivor has usually been the week's most-watched program, even though it usually competed against first-run episodes of NBC's hit sitcom, Friends.
Coupled with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, scheduled immediately after it at 9 p.m. ET, Survivor made CBS the first serious challenger to NBC's dominance on Thursdays in almost two decades.