Prior to the penultimate tribal council, Amanda raised the key question that plagues Survivor contestants every year: If you win the final immunity challenge, do you bring someone with you to the final three who deserves to be there, or someone you think you can beat? Because this game isn't a strict meritocracy. To win, you have to kind of cleave to the middle, winning only when you must (lest you be judged a threat), and double-crossing people only when you must (lest you lose the votes of your fellow survivors at the final tribal). And if you plunge a knife into the back of one of the "good" people, that can reflect badly on you at the end. (This dynamic goes all the way back to the first season, when Susan Hawk voted her sworn enemy Richard Hatch a million dollars over her "best friend" on the show, because she thought that friend had screwed her over.)

The drama came early and often in this finale, building steadily during the immunity challenge—an interesting variation on the "how long can you hold this?" concept that had the contestants balancing a stack of china—and then reaching a higher pitch after Amanda "guaranteed" Denise she wouldn't vote for her, then voted for her anyway, effectively costing her at least one vote on the jury. (Shades of Susan Hawk!) Suddenly, the full weight of what she'd done all season caught up with her, and at the end of a few days of peak paranoia and lying, Amanda crumbled emotionally. Or perhaps that was the moment she realized that she'd played the game well enough to make the final three, but not well enough to win.

If Amanda had any lingering hope, it died at the final tribal council, where she couldn't hide her disgust with herself. The main architect of her downfall: Peih-Gee, who skewered Amanda by saying (and I'm paraphrasing here), "I'm sick of your doe eyes and your apologies, trying to make Todd the fall guy."

The unexpected benefactor of the rise in Amanda-hate: Courtney, who convinced a couple of people that her roach-like survival in the game was admirable in and of itself. Even more unexpected: Courtney's sentimental streak as the competition came to a close. But just when it looked like she had turned a corner and become a lil' darlin', she had this to say about Denise's chances of winning a sympathy vote from the jury: "This isn't welfare. She doesn't deserve it just because she sucks at life."

In the end, Todd's strategy of being open from day one about his conniving ways paid off, as most of the jury accepted his excuse that he was just playing a game (although he still loves them all personally). And I'm sure everyone who voted for Todd regretted it as soon as he won, and starting acting like a smug little twerp on the reunion show.

Still, good job, tiny gay Mormon flight attendant. May you never have to serve anybody a half-can of gingerale again.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

-During the recap, it was nice to see the elimination of Chicken again, and hear that resounding, "DAMN!"

-Is there anything lamer every year than the farewell to past competitors? Particularly this year, when it only served as a reminder of how many unlikable people we met along the way?

-I like peanut butter and all, but even if I was stuck in the wilderness for 40 days, I still don't think I would go as apeshit for peanut butter as the Survivor contestants do every season.

-Everyone always looks so different during the reunion shows. Todd, with his faux-hawk and mullet, Courtney with her added bulk (more or less), and Denise…well, okay, Denise looked exactly the same. But at least during the reunion show, we found out why she wears her hair that way: because her husband likes to be reminded that he's having sex with a woman, during those rare times when she's not scrubbing elementary schoolers' shit off of miniature toilet bowls.

-"I'm not Bitter Betty."