In the end, Survivor: Palau ended as it began -- with 41-year-old New York City firefighter Tom Westman dominating the game's challenges.

Sweeping Survivor: Palau's final three individual immunity challenges (and five of the season's seven), Tom muscled his way into the competition's final Tribal Council, where he defeated Katie Gallagher, a 29-year-old radio sales advertising executive from Merced, CA, to emerge as Survivor: Palau's ultimate survivor and $1,000,000 winner during last night's season finale broadcast on CBS.

Survivor: Palau's finale episode began with the Koror tribe's final four castaways returning from the Tribal Council ceremony in which Caryn Groedel was voted out of the competition in a 4-1 decision. As Day 37 dawned, the castaways discovered a gift basket of eggs, fruit, and champagne. Strategizing before the day's upcoming immunity challenge, Katie, Jennifer Lyon, and Ian Rosenberger agreed that if Tom failed to win the day's Immunity Challenge, the three of them would vote him out at the evening's Tribal Council. "This is the moment that I've been waiting for the entire game, [if] I win the challenge, Tom goes home, [if] I don't win the challenge [then] Tom's all of the sudden my best friend again," Ian explained in confessional.

After assembling for the Immunity Challenge, Survivor host Jeff Probst explained that the challenge would be a two-phased challenge, with the first phase involving a complicated knotted and locked obstacle course that also featured a three-story tower. The first two finishers in the first phase would move on to the second phase, where they would have to fly down a flying fox zipline, retrieve a box, and then use the numbers contained in the box to unlock a combination lock.

Once the challenge started, Katie quickly fell well behind, making the first phase a three-way race between Tom, Ian, and Jennifer. While Tom began to pull away from his competitors and ended up easily finishing first, the race for second remained somewhat close until Jennifer struggled mightily in the grappling hook portion of the challenge, allowing Ian to finish second and face Tom in the second phase shutdown.

In the second phase, Tom took an early lead, beating Ian back to shore after retrieving his numbers box. However, Ian jumped ahead as Tom struggled to undo the knots of the bag that contained the combination's numbers, allowing Ian to become the first one to begin testing various combinations of the three numbers -- and requiring Tom to hope that Ian would prove unlucky in his first couple of attempts. In the end, Tom's luck proved better than that of Ian's, allowing him to become the first to unlock his box and win the game's immunity necklace for a second consecutive time.

Back at camp, Tom approached Jennifer and explained that he intended to honor his long-standing agreement with Ian and take him to the Final 3, after which they would fight "toe to toe." As Ian wandered up, Tom told him how he'd explained to Jenn how despite how tempting it was to not do so, Tom planned to stay loyal to Ian and not vote him off at the evening's upcoming Tribal Council.

"You know when the other guy is going to stand by you, and he should know that you'll stand by him," Tom explained to the cameras. "I'm taking a risk, but that's my move." Later in the afternoon, Tom, Ian, and Katie continued to discuss Tom's decision, with Ian admitting to Tom that "if I woulda won immunity today, it'd a been a really difficult decision for me too."

The statement shocked Tom, causing him to doubt whether his blind loyalty to Ian was misplaced... and non-reciprocal. "I thought it was an easy choice and he told me 'wow, I'm glad I didn't have to make it, that would have been a tough one,'" Tom confessed to the cameras. "I thought we were rock solid [but] when he said that I was like, 'oh, maybe he wouldn't have chosen me...' [it] makes me think."

The comment caused Tom to approach Jennifer, who confirmed Tom's fears -- that had Tom failed to win the day's Immunity Challenge, Ian had agreed to join with Katie and Jennifer in voting Tom off at the upcoming Tribal Council. Tom confronted Ian about his comment, after which Ian confirmed Jennifer's claims that he'd planned to vote Tom out, but prefaced it with a note that "I'm playing the game just like everyone else."

At Tribal Council, Tom couldn't let go of Ian's possible betrayal, causing him to cast his ballot for Ian and cause a 2-2 tie vote between Jennifer and Ian. After Tom and Katie revoted and neither changed their vote, Jeff revealed the vote's tiebreaker -- a firestarting challenge similar to the Episode 8 Tribal Council challenge in which final two Ulong tribemembers Stephenie LaGrossa and Bobby Jon Drinkard competed.

While Jennifer was the first to make a small flame, Ian quickly built a far larger fire, burning the rope that held his flag and making Jennifer that seventeenth castaway to be eliminated from the game.
Reality TV World is now available on the all-new Google News app and website. Click here to visit our Google News page, and then click FOLLOW to add us as a news source!

Returning to camp after Tribal Council, the mood was very tense, with both Katie and Tom verbally attacking Ian for what they both viewed as his lack of honesty (although Katie was likely more motived by her hope that creating a Tom/Ian wedge would allow her to advance to the Final 2 than by any legitimate slight.)

The previously well-liked Ian had trouble dealing with his tribemates' anger. "No matter what I say, I'm the bad guy tonight," a clearly exasperated Ian attempted to explain. "We're playing a game!" The following morning, the sensitive Ian was still having trouble dealing with the previous evening's confrontation, breaking down in tears while discussing the topic during his morning confessional.

After a visit from Jeff, the three castaways were off to pay their respects to their fallen comrades, paddling out to sea and dropping each eliminated castaway's torch into the ocean.

With the fallen comrades ceremony complete, the three castaways gathered for their final Immunity Challenge, an endurance challenge that would require the castaways to remain perched to a navigational buoy as it swayed from side to side. Since the challenge appeared to get off to an unusually late start (at least in comparison to previous editions' final challenges), the castaways had to endure a late afternoon rain shower only three hours into the challenge, after which the late afternoon sun once again resumed shining. Despite the fact that Survivor's final endurance challenges historically tend to favor women, Katie dropped out just before the five hour mark, leaving only Tom and Ian competing in what was now a nighttime challenge. After eight hours, Tom told Ian that if Ian quit the challenge, he'd take Ian to the Final 2, however if Tom succeeded in winning the challenge without Ian quitting, then he'd instead take Katie to the Final 2. Anxious to hear Ian's response, Katie roused herself from her nap and looked on in anticipation. In the end, it turned out Katie woke up for nothing, with Ian refusing Tom's offer, telling him "I'm not gonna to go out on your terms," and noting that "I thought you wanted to duke it out?"

Finally, just before the twelve hour mark, Ian shocked Tom by making him a peculiar counter-offer. Stating that he wanted to "get back you guys' friendship," Ian offered to step down and give Tom immunity -- but only if Tom agreed to take Katie to the Final 2 with him. Under questioning from a shocked Jeff, Ian explained that he had spent the last 24 hours struggling with how to resolve his issues with Tom and Katie and felt that the offer would allow him to regain his respect and integrity. Tom agreed to Ian's strange offer, causing Jeff to remark that "no one would have predicted this move."

Given the extremely late hour, Jeff asked the castaways if "there was any reason we shouldn't have Tribal Council right now?" After Tom gave Ian a second chance to confirm his decision, Tom agreed to move forward with the immediate offsite Tribal Council ceremony, making Ian the eighteenth contestant to be eliminated and leaving Tom and Katie as Survivor: Palau's Final 2 castaways.

After leaving camp for one last time on Day 39, Katie and Tom faced their final Tribal Council, during which the seven member jury had a chance to question them before voting to determine who would win the million dollar prize. As the eliminated castaways confronted them, Tom kept stressing his loyalty and integrity, and (taking a page from the jury session of Survivor: Vanuatu winner Chris Daugherty) frequently appeared remorseful and apologetic. Tom apologized for his betrayal of Gregg, blaming the decision on what he now considered false information -- provided by Ian -- that Gregg was planning to turn on Tom (for his part, Gregg declined to clarify that Ian's information had not been false, opting instead to move on to questioning Katie.) While not agreeing that he'd ever betrayed her, Tom similarly apologized to Caryn for not believing her claims that the other castaways were targeting him

Meanwhile, Katie explained that her strategy had been "self preservation," and that given her lack of physical strength, she "played the only card that she could play" -- opting to "outwit" her competitors. Katie appeared to be shocked when numerous jury members made it clear that they felt she was a lazy, phony, cruel, hurtful person who, in addition to being "worthless around camp" and "embarrassing in challenges," also "ridiculed" her fellow castaways. Asked to explain how "being so pathetic" was her plan, Katie repeated that getting to the Final 2 was her strategy.

In the end, it appeared clear that most of the jury deeply resented what they perceived as Katie's lack of gameplay and poor Tribal Council responses -- making Tom Survivor: Palau's sole survivor and $1,000,000 winner.