Karoly ’03 outwits, outplays, outlasts on ‘TOWFI Survivor’

En fuego.

Four months of waiting boiled down to one special night on May 2, when Julia “The Game” Karoly ’03 emerged from the final four to win the title of “Take Our Word For It Survivor: Ben’s House,” and with it the $500 grand prize, before a packed house in Goodrich’s Payne Hall.

By six votes to one, Karoly beat out fellow junior Kate “Psycho” Leonard ’03 for the fantastically lucrative honor, awarded in inimitable “Survivor” fashion by an electorate of eliminated contestants including final four participants James “Archie” Kingsley ’02 and Drew “Mr. Weatherbee” Newman ’04. Also among the voters were former Pencer Tribe members Brooks “Hungry Like the Wolf” Foehl ’88 and the extremely embittered Shamus Brady ’04.

The votes from the panel – recorded at the conclusion of “Survivor” recording in early January, and kept sealed until the night’s proceedings – were presented live to the audience in Goodrich, who listened to the final episode of the semester-long radio reality program in Payne Hall. While the show was simulcast on WCFM 91.9, attendees were treated to several exclusive videos filmed on the set of the show, presented and narrated by “TOWFI” host and creator Topher “The Big Show” Goggin ’02.

The episode itself was a two-part extravaganza, containing a pair of distinct Immunity Challenges and Tribal Councils that pared the pre-finale foursome down to the two final contestants. Early on in the program, it looked like trouble for Newman, the lone remaining underclassman of the quartet and avowed target of known troublemaker Leonard.

“We’re going to try to knock Drew out,” said Leonard early on in the broadcast, speaking for herself and her partners Kingsley and Karoly. “But if Drew gets immunity, honestly I have no idea. I think all three of us have no loyalties anymore, other than [to] ourselves.” It was a rather mercenary take on the situation, and a persistent failing that would come back to haunt the skier later in the competition.

Words from Kingsley later implied that Leonard’s idea of an alliance might have been something of a misconception. In the end, however, it was all the same for Newman, who was brutally eliminated in the initial Tribal Council following the first Immunity Challenge.

That challenge tested the cheese-grating skills of each contestant. Four graters, blocks of Vermont cheddar and pieces of wax paper were distributed amongst the group, with the objective being to form a cumulative ball of cheese from the shavings off the block, minus an inch-long piece of cheese on the end for finger safety. Only when absolutely all of the bits had been collected and assembled into sphere form would a winner be determined.

It was a crucial rule – one that would decide the outcome – as Karoly prematurely declared herself the winner only to be instructed by Goggin that her wax paper had not been entirely vacated. With Newman’s fingers rubbed bloody and Kingsley lacking opposable thumbs, the path to victory opened for Leonard, who took advantage of the confusion and stole the Challenge from Karoly with a quick bit of finger-work at the end.

Newman was knocked out after several rounds of voting, with an initial deadlock of two votes apiece between himself and Karoly eventually broken by the infidelity of Kingsley, who joined the ladies in casting his vote for Drew during the tie-breaker round. It was a sad moment for charity, as Newman had promised to donate his winnings from the competition to a scholarship fund at his high school.

There was little time to mourn, however, as the second Challenge began soon thereafter. Rather than gain immunity, its winner would automatically advance to the final round and would be able to choose his or her rival for the Grand Prize voting.

The Challenge itself was a construct of the demented mind of Goggin, elegant and cruel in its seeming simplicity: contestants were given a long piece of string and a banana and were forced to tie the string around their waist and hang the banana so that it dangled indecently between their legs. The constructed “tool” would then be used to race by knocking a large rubber ball along a track in the snow, with players banned from actually touching the banana with their hands to advance the ball.

In a related story, you have a dirty mind.

Karoly was absolutely hopeless, failing to move her ball more than a few feet during the entire race. Kingsley – theoretically the favorite – adopted a slow and steady technique that earned him the early lead. A pair of monster strikes from Leonard, however – each sending the rubber spheres at least five feet – vaulted her into the lead, a position that she would hold until the end of the event, giving her the first spot in the final grouping.

With both rivals at her mercy, Leonard chose Karoly as her finals partner, condemning the Big Dog to a humiliating third-place finish reminiscent of Michelle Kwan’s collapse in Salt Lake City. Kingsley was nonetheless to be praised for his worthy performances throughout the competition, escaping the train wreck that was the Arla Tribe to take a place on the medal stand.

The only thing remaining between the final duo and $500 was an extensive question-and-answer period with the voters. Following closely on the heels of the second Tribal Council, it was one of the lowlights of the evening’s broadcast, as each of the voting panel members in turn asked rather pointless, cliched questions of Karoly and Leonard, who answered with as much tact as they could muster.

With all that said, the voters did find the answers that they were looking for, as the resulting landslide in favor of Karoly would seem to indicate. As the votes they cast on that snowy Sunday in January were revealed, a pattern seemed to emerge, as numerous electors cited the “low-key, personal approach” of the hockey star as a turn-on. Clearly, the electorate spoke their mind about “what they viewed as manipulative scheming by [Leonard].”