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Season Finale, August 10, 2004
We are hiding on the rocks, just above the sand -- seven or eight of us huddled around a walkie-talkie. Of course, by the time anyone reads this, everyone will know how it turns out -- the suspense will be long gone. But right at that moment, ducking low, out of the view of the cameras, everyone from wardrobe to the bodyguards to the drivers to the host are crouched, waiting to hear Brady's whispered voice over the radio, telling us who is heading for the boat and who is heading home.
But, as usual, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Cape Leveque is an isolated little stretch of pristine beach about 250 miles from Broome -- the closest actual city in this part of Western Australia. Nearly a dozen chartered planes, of every imaginable size, have shuttled about half of the crew from the Kimberly Wilderness to a tiny dirt-and-sand airstrip that dead ends into the ocean. Those with a morbid sense of humor are singing John Denver and Buddy Holly songs, much to the dismay of the nervous flyers in the group.
But we arrive safe and sound on the windswept beach and settle in for the home stretch of this odyssey. I have to say that compared to the scorching heat and bugs of the Outback, this is a luxury vacation. Lou and I are sharing an incredible safari-tent. But 'tent' doesn't do it justice; we have power and a balcony that looks out on the beach and, most importantly, we each get a real bed.
For some strange reason, there's no alcohol sold in this part of the country (a very un-Australian regulation, to be sure) but the powers-that-be have seen fit to dedicate a little of our precious cargo space to beer and wine, so even here at what feels like the end of the earth, I can watch the sunset with a glass of Shiraz (thank you, Andrew!).
Way off in the distance, I can see the camp on the beach, the last camp, the last leg of the journey. It must be hard for Jack, Natalie and Marissa to see the awesome beauty all around them with so much weighing on them emotionally. The girls are hardly speaking to each other, and I think Jack would give anything to have the cameras shut off for twenty-four hours so he could live outside of the fish bowl long enough to see what's right in front of him.
Over the course of the night, the beachfront camp nearly blows away, and by 5am we're having emergency meetings about where to put the girls if and when their tents disintegrate in the gale that is blowing across the sand. Even on this stunning beach, Australia reminds you that it's a rugged, untamed place.
Marissa and Jack head out on their date first, a seaplane ride to a picnic and a little snorkel. But you'd have to be a fool not to notice that Jack steals a quick kiss from Natalie on his way out. This is classic Jack. Where some guys would be charging down the beach ready for a hot date, Jack is thinking about how Natalie is going to feel being left there alone. It's also why the eliminations are so genuinely painful for him. He's not thinking about the show or his future. He's thinking, "What does it feel like to be rejected on national television? This poor girl's family is going to see me send her away." For all he may or may not have expected from this experience, I don't think he ever fully understood how those moments would make him feel.
When the dates and the one-on-ones are over, it's all about the beach, the boat and the final decision. And there we are, twelve of us now (the group keeps growing) camped out with one walkie-talkie, trying to stay quiet, dying to know how it all ends. Everyone has a different opinion about how it will work out and why, but the speculation is just more chatter. The walkie sparks to life and the answer comes in, causing a mini-uproar that is quickly SHHHHHHed by the audio department. It's done, once and for all, it's finished.
Minutes later, I'm walking Marissa down the beach, trying to figure out exactly how she's feeling. It's not my role to be anyone's counselor, but I also don't want her feeling alone or depressed. I ask her how she's doing, if she's going to be okay and she looks at me with that mischievous, Marissa smile and says, "Hey, I'm the boomerang girl, remember? I'll be back."
Somewhere on the horizon, getting smaller by the second, Jack and Natalie are so relieved, they're both ready to cry. You couldn't ask for a more magical sunset or a more beautiful place to share it. At long last they can both relax and sink into the joy of being together. No more cameras, no more eliminations and -- perhaps best of all -- no more JD and his crazy, evil twists.