Sports radio host Danni Boatwright beat out Stephenie LaGrossa on "Survivor: Guatemala, The Maya Empire" Sunday night, winning the $1 million prize and the praise of the other survivor contestants on the 11th edition of the reality show.
Danni, a former Miss USA contestant, outlasted and outcharmed Stephenie, a veteran of "Survivor: Palau" series, to win the grueling 39-day challenge. Despite all the physical and mental challenges, it all came down to which woman was better liked. In the end, Steph, 25, had just made too many enemies in her efforts to win the game.
An enemy like former bud Judd Sergeant who was still wild-eye with simmering rage when he told Steph at the final jury tribal council, "Your strategy was just to backstab," as she and Danni defended their actions and how they played the game to the jury.
Chicken Dinner Dooms Stephenie
The final four survivors -- Dannie, Stephenie, Rafe, and Lydia -- received a visit from a small group of Maya descendents who performed a ritual ceremony in front of the ruin's largest Maya pyramid. The ritual included the sacrifice of a live chicken, and while the group shared tamales with the final four, they told them the chicken carcass that was left burning to a blackened crisp in the firepit was for the Mayan gods and was therefore, strictly off-limits.
The foursome then went off to their immunity challenge -- a maze where they each needed to retrieve puzzle pieces from stations, make their way back through the maze, climb the steps and build the puzzle. Rafe beat Steph to win immunity and a spot in the final three. This is the first of three second-place finishes that Steph is going to endure over the next two days...
Back at camp, the hungry Steph talks Lydia and Danni into eating the sacrificial chicken -- local customs be damned. Rafe is superstitious and didn't want to anger the gods so he decided not to eat. During the strategy talks, Steph tells Rafe they should get rid of Danni and take Lydia to the final three, since Lydia has always been the easy target and could be useful for another round. But the spineless Rafe who is too nice for his own good tells Steph that he PROMISED Danni (who he'll probably never see again after the show) that he would take her to the final three. Lydia also asks Steph to vote out Danni at tribal council, and just after they wolf down the last bites of the forbidden chicken carcass, a tremendous thunderstorm strikes the camp.
At the Tribal Council, Lydia says that she "knew for a fact" that the violent storm was caused by Mayan gods who were pissed off the women had feasted on the dead bird. While viewers expected Danni to be voted off (it would have been the smart choice), it came as a surprise that the three chose to eliminate Lydia.
The next day was the final grueling immunity challenge, a endurance test that involved standing on a wobbly board with only two ropes to hang on to for the first 90 minutes. After that, they released one rope, then a few minutes later, the other. While they were able to prop themselves up with their backs to the pole, Rafe made a momentary mental error and reach back with his hand to steady himself. Host Jeff called him out and the two women battled on. Danni's long legs helped her out here as Steph continued to slide down the pole in an awkward position in an attempt to hold on. When her legs finally gave out, she sat down and cried as Danni won the final immunity without any show of emotion. Rafe then made yet another mental mistake by immediately telling Danni that he "released" her from her promise of taking him to the Finals, thereby giving Danni the okay to screw him over.
Back at camp again, Stephenie tells Danni that she didn't owe her anything buuuuuut hey, you know they could have voted Danni out last night, but they chose to eliminate Lydia instead. "Rafe and I could have guaranteed ourselves the Final Two spots if we took Lydia," Stephenie reminds her. But believing that Rafe was better liked by the jury members, Danni knows that her best chance to win was to elect to take Steph to the final two to face a jury full of angry former tribemates. By chosing Steph, Danni eliminates Rafe who says his quiet goodbyes then vows (in his post-council interview) to vote for Steph to win.
The next night, Steph and Danni return for their final tribal council and face questions from the seven jury members, including a very pissed Judd who was still visibly angry at Steph and had a lot to get off his chest as he lectured her, rather than asked questions as Jeff had instructed him to do. Judd accused Steph of "backstabbing everyone in the game" and lying to Judd's wife, who had spent an overnight reward challenge visit with the survivors. Judd makes it clear he was going to vote for Danni rather than his friend Steph who had been with him from the beginning.
When the final result was announced live in Los Angeles with all 18 tribemates present, there was little suspense as to who the sole survivor would be. The first vote for Steph (obviously from Rafe), but the rest of the votes went to Danni, who won the $1 million prize and a 2006 Pontiac Torrent.
The eternal bridesmaid Steph, who came in second at the final two immunity challenges, was the runner-up for Survivor: Guatemala and received a consolation prize of $100,000. The rest of the live show was an overly-long rehash of interviews with the other cast members. Judd was a little less hostile and seemed sheepish at times. Stephenie was almost unrecognizable with a horrible make-up job and shaved eyebrows and Bobby Jon not looking much better. Danni looked fabulous but then she was a Miss USA contestant so that's to be expected, and Rafe and the others also looked fit and fantastic after 39-days in the jungle.
All in all though, a nice finish to the the toughest Survivor challenge ever. Next up: Survivor Panama!