This particular take on the last 15 minutes of the finale is not intended to replace, supplement or compete with Woeisme's fantastic summary or any other summary that may be forthcoming. It can be viewed as a demonstration of my writing ability (or lack of it!) for any future summaries that may need to be written.
But what it really is is my boiling down this show to what I consider its essence, and taking a much closer look at what was going on at the end.
Advance Warning: No One Is Trashed In This Summary
After meeting the production staff, the whole cast gathers in the living room of the mansion, with a cozy fire in the fireplace to keep them warm and glasses of beer and wine to keep them warmer. Tim and Amanda sit in front of the fireplace looking relaxed, except that Tim's neck seems to have lost the ability to turn more than 5 degrees to the left. Every time he scans the room his neck seems to stop dead at that minus 5 degree angle. On a long shot we see that Valerie Azlyn, Piper, just happens to be occupying the spot where Tim seems to be unable to look.
Finally Piper pipes up, saying to Tim, "It has been really scary and very hard to keep pulling it off."
Tim suddenly regains full use of his neck muscles, turns to her and says, "Yeah, I'm crying right now."
She ignores his sarcasm and says, "Well - it HAS been hard."
"Then good luck with your career," Tim says. (Hey, with that kind of razor edge wit he could have been writing for this show!)
His comment elicits laughter from the cast, but frustration from Valerie who takes the punch and says, "I know you hate me right now... as you said. (A conversation we evidently were not privy to.) But I hope you won't hate me forever."
Tim says, sounding sincere, "No, of course not. I get angry for ten minutes and that's it."
Valerie doesn't look at all convinced, but Ralph decides to cut this "lovers' spat" short to show a tape of all the actors saying nice things about Tim and Amanda, or "how we talk about you when we're not in character" as Ralph puts it. (Did they ever show Ingrid the tape where Valerie Azlyn when not in character called Ingrid the "spawn of the Devil"?)
So the actors all say their piece on the video; Valerie pops up on it with a big sunny smile and a remarkably glib "Hey Tim, you're a super sweet guy, I'm sorry I had to shut you down on your birthday, but it's all fun and games, and you'll have your bar when this is over, and you're gonna be a really happy guy, and you're gonna meet a really great girl." But the split screen reveals the current Valerie, who is watching this video, looking like her body is about to collapse in on itself, and a switch to Tim shows him lowering his eyes from the video image of Valerie. In the midst of good cheer and jokes and one hundred thousand dollar checks, something is really really not right.
And yes, she really said that on the tape -- "It's all fun and games". You can't make this stuff up. If there were any five words on the planet that could have been worse for her to have said to Tim at that moment, they're beyond this writer's imagination.
The tape ends with Ingrid, who clearly wins the award for the Second-Most-Guilty-Feeling Player on this show, apologizing profusely for duping Tim and Amanda, but saying she also had fun and that since they all live in D.C. and they know where she lives and works, she hopes they won't hunt her down.
End of tape. Applause from everyone. Before the applause dies down The Most-Guilty-Feeling Player on the show, Valerie, stands up and says, "I have something to say. Because I'm struggling as a person." She is completely in tears. Tim starts trying to comfort her immediately before she even looks at him or says a word, because he knows exactly why she's upset. "I'm still gonna call you 'Beautiful'," he tells her. But she needs to speak, and does so, in spite of his interruptions (which include: "Hey I only get mad for ten minutes"..."at the most twenty minutes"... "it's okay"... "no, no, it's all right"...
"maybe thirty minutes"... "please don't cry"... "six months max").
"It's a weird position," she says, and the more she talks the more she cries. "Because, you're an actor, and you sign on for this job, you start living in this world with you guys, and... I feel really really bad. If I hurt you in any way, shape or form I'm really really sorry." At this point the tears are rolling like a river.
Cut to a heavily-previewed clip of her, which some weren't sure from the previews whether it was her in character as Piper or her speaking candidly as herself - the preview obfuscated that deliberately, I believe. I guessed in advance that it was her speaking as herself because she's not THAT good of an actress - she summoned up tears as Piper during the show and did very well with the role - but what they were showing in that clip was too raw and too real. Turns out I was right, it's Valerie Azlyn speaking:
"You take a job and you're doing this character and you don't think you're going to wind up hurting somebody. (voice cracks) But you do."
Cut away from the clip back to the living room as we hear her finishing the interview with "I really hope that Tim can forgive me and I think he's an amazing guy."
Well, whether or not he forgives her, he's pleased with one thing - he's been holding her hand the whole time she's been speaking, which it turns out is a first between them on this show. "Actually I get to hold your hand for the first time," he tells Valerie/Piper. "That's awesome." She smiles at him through her tears. "You're beautiful," he tells her. "I love you. You're great." (This is Tim in "Don't worry, I'm over you" mode - "You're beautiful. I love you. You're great.")
He then stands and turns and asks if he can make a toast. Ralph, sounding uncannily like Derek in the host role, says "Please."
Tim lifts his glass and thanks everyone in the cast. He admits he felt betrayed for just a while, but he realized that they were all just doing their jobs -- and he tells them they did them very well. He thanks them for the best birthday he's ever had. And then he thanks them for the best time he's ever had - in his life.
He then turns to Valerie and says, "And to my co-star (laughter from the cast) -- You're great. You're absolutely beautiful. I hope that everything you portrayed as that character is actually you -- because that is one hell of a person." Awwwwww's all around, including from Valerie. For the first time she is smiling again. She stands up, leans forward and they embrace.
"You're still beautiful," Tim says to her.
"You're awesome," Valerie says to him.
Ralph, back in Derek Newcastle role, speaks to the camera saying goodbye from "Last Chance for Love":
"We hope you've laughed, loved, and maybe shed a tear or two... Newcastle out."
All of the above, Derek. It's why we're all here.