Just a note before I begin the summary. Since so many people missed this show when it went up against TAR I am writing this summary “straight” without a lot of snarky parody. Not as much fun maybe, but I liked this show, and I pretty much liked the people too. It wasn’t perfect but it tried to be honest and respectful of all the contestants while still being good entertainment. That is a rarity in Reality TV.
Winner Takes All (Maybe)
The finale begins on Necker Island, with aerial views of Branson’s fabulous resort-style vacation home. A voiceover announces “This is it!”
Sara and Shawn, the two finalists are ready to give the “speech of their lives,” and seem very surprised when they realize that they will be giving this speech to all the previously eliminated contestants. Yes, they are all assembled and waiting—even the two Red Virgins—as a barefoot Branson escorts the Finalists in. Candida and Nichole are both wearing straw hats. One of the guys is too—maybe Timl? Branson is wearing a royal blue short-sleeved shirt and rolled up pants. With his bare feet it is a very casual look. Sara has on an aqua skirt with a coordinating aqua pendant, a black tank top and black Mary Jane style shoes. Shawn is in jeans with a dark, button front shirt. They both look extremely nervous.
Sara speaks first. She seems a bit awkward and very emotional as she tells the group about how she started her company, Spanks, and about her commitment to creating opportunities for women. Branson perches casually on a nearby end table/trunk and listens with the others. The audience is very poker-faced and gives virtually no feed-back to either Sarah or Shawn as they speak.
Shawn seems a little more relaxed as he talks about his company Love Sac. He addresses his “cockiness” head on, but he does more pleading than Sarah did and talks about his “dream” and how he wants this prize so much “his teeth hurt.” He also says “please, please, please!”
They then show several of the eliminated contestants stating their take on the speeches. Candida says that Sara was “honest” but didn’t reveal enough “personal information.” Jermaine and Michael thought she focused too much on women. Regarding Shawn’s speech several people, including Tim, are unimpressed and point out that they too have a dream and want the prize so much their teeth hurt.
And after all the hype about “The Most Important Speech of Their Lives” there is no immediate result of this speech. Branson just nods thoughtfully and moves on to the next thing! “Put on your suits” he tells Sara and Shawn “and join me on the beach.” It turns out that the Speech was merely the first of four tests that the two Finalists must endure. Since Branson likes “to mix intellectual and physical challenges” the next challenge is very physical.
It’s a windy day on the beach. I mean serious wind! Blow-your-lawn-chairs-down-the-street wind! Which makes it a perfect day to learn sailing—in Branson’s mind anyway! Shawn has never been on a sailboat, so he is given a catamaran-type sailboat for this challenge. Sara has done a little sailing, but has never been on a kiteboard. Thus she is assigned a kiteboard for the challenge. (For land-locked idiots like me who have no idea what kiteboarding is, here is a brief description. With your feet strapped to a small surf board and your body harnessed to a parachute-type sail far above you, you skim across the water trying to control the sail so that you go fast but not so fast that you actually become airborne. It looks freakingly difficult!)
The challenge for Sara and Shawn is to race out to a nearby reef and then back again using this unfamiliar equipment. And in gale-force winds! Foolhardy fun, Branson style. Branson tells them to get there and back “any way they can.” This gives a loop-hole to Sara who tells Branson’s kiteboard riding expert that the way she chooses to go is on his back! The guy looks very surprised. “On my back!?!” He glances at Branson to see if this is okay before agreeing to the piggy-back ride. Branson laughs and says “outfoxed by a smart lady!” The rules state “any way you can” and do not prohibit piggy-back rides. Shawn appears to miss this whole exchange since he is likely focused on his own hurry-up-and-learn sailing advisor.
They take off. Shawn struggles gamely and manages to move forward in more or less the right direction without overturning his boat. No small feat in the gale force winds! Sarah whips by his boat like it’s standing still! And poor Shawn is so distracted by trying to stay alive that he doesn’t even realize she is piggy-back. He thinks it’s just Sara whizzing past!
Sara hangs on for dear life. No small feat for her, but still? The tough job belongs to the kiteboarder who has to carry her weight while he fights to control the sail. At one point they go airborne and soar yards above the water. Everyone on the beach gasps, but the expert gets control again and brings them back to the surface of the water without a wipeout. Needless to say, Sarah wins the race. And? Branson just says “that was good fun” and moves them on to the next thing while we go to commercial. I guess the challenge was just to try.
It is much later when we return, with aerial shots of Necker at night. That island looks so gorgeous! If I ever will the lottery or find a suitcase full of money floating down the St. Croix River, I am so going to go there for a few days!
For their third challenge on Necker, Sara and Shawn have to pick teams from the former contestants. Each team will be given a brief period to come up with five questions to ask their opponent. Branson says “leaders must know how to surround themselves with people they trust” and display “poise under pressure.”
This picking is a two-edged sword, of course. Each time they pick a person Sara and Shawn are not picking everyone else—and everyone in this group feels like they are the best person there.
Sara goes first and picks Gabe. Shawn too promptly picks Gabe. Now Gabe gets to choose who he will go with. After much silent agonizing he goes with Sara. The rest of the team selection is fairly uneventful as they take turns picking people from the group. Sara picks (in order) Gabe, Heather, Steve, Jessica and Sam. Shawn picks (in order) Candida, Tim, Nichole, Jermaine and Erica. The people who got the boot right after the taxi ride in Ep One are not chosen for teams although they are on the island with everyone else.
The teams meet and brainstorm. Sara’s team decides to go after Shawn’s weaknesses, including his cockiness and self-centeredness. Shawn’s team develop a turn-the-tables approach and will try to force Sara to say positive things about Shawn rather that promote herself, which they think she can do very well.
Shawn is first up this time and is asked to list his three biggest weaknesses. He says
1. I’m a bad listener
2. I’m very cocky
3. I often get caught up in my own head and can’t see when other people need help
Shawn is peppered with question which all have a negative lead-in. “Why do you snap sometimes?” “Should you have pushed harder (as leader)?” Etc., etc. Finally Shawn snaps and gets annoyed. He tells people to “quit lecturing me, and just ask the questions!” At which point Heather sticks in the final knife and asks Shawn to tell each person sitting there what their company or business is, as proof that he has gotten to know them as individuals. Shawn strikes out almost totally. Branson says that last question “damaged him.”
Sara starts out a bit better, but when asked to say positive things about Shawn she thinks and then talks about herself again. Tim says “as team leader you routinely challenged and undermined the leader” and asks her to explain. She disagrees with this assessment, but does admit that she is more comfortable being the “Chief” than an “Indian.” When asked to list her weaknesses. She pauses for the longest time and doesn’t seem to ever state what she sees as her weaknesses.
Richard then has the same question for each of them. Of whatever monetary reward you might win here, “would you give half to charity?” Sara immediately says “yes.” Sean hesitates then says “no.” He thinks that if he invested all the money in his own company and grew it, that this would do more for the world.
Then they all go to dinner and reminisce about the journey. This is a fine excuse for a bunch of flashbacks to Japan & Africa & London, and allows us to have a last look at all the contestants.
The next morning Branson has a private meeting with each. He mentions that he has “looked at” Shawn’s company’s figures, and that “while they are iffy, he will probably make it.” He thinks Shawn is in the “first stage” of building a company, where it takes all his own time and energy. Sara is in the “second stage” where she has a functioning business and has “learned to delegate.”
As Sara and Shawn each try to prepare mentally for the final challenge, they speak to the camera. Sara says she “feels great!” Tired, but “ready.” Shawn thinks his chances are “50/50.”
For the last challenge, Branson tells them they each must choose “one person you trust to advocate and argue on your behalf.” He tells the camera that “leaders must inspire trust” and that who they pick is more important (to the game) than they can possibly know. Again, they each pick Gabriel.
Gabe is thus stunned for the second time. He seems to like them both, but after agonizing briefly he once again decides to go with Sara. Shawn is visibly crushed. I guess he thought there was no way Gabe would reject him twice.
Then Shawn picks Heather to be his advocate—which totally amazes everyone except Heather, who thinks it is a “complement to Shawn’s intelligence” that he picked her.
Once their selections have been made Branson drops a bombshell. Gabe and Heather will determine who the final winner is! Shawn looks thunderstruck. He immediately regrets his choice—although not in front of Heather, of course.
Gabe and Heather have a limited time in which to deliberate. Just 2 hours. As they leave, there is a very funny shot of the 5 remaining women standing in a circle and talking about Heather. The general consensus is that Shawn has made a fatal error. Heather has never had a good opinion about Shawn. Candida, however, gets the final word for the women: “I have never seen the real Heather so I have no idea what to expect.”
In their private room, Gabe and Heather, as they have all through the show, immediately butt heads. Gabe thinks Sara would be a better leader for a large group. Heather prefers Shawn. They are both very conscious that they are representing Richard, and really try to reach a decision. They list the qualities of a good leader: humility, charisma, bravery, respect, listening skills, communication skills, quick opinions, self- and company promotion, etc. etc. They interview the other contestants to gather their input.
Remember, at this point neither Gabe nor Heather, nor anyone other than Branson knows what the actual prize will be. They are competing on trust. Branson has only specified that the prize “will be worth” their effort.
Now we get dramatic Decision Day music as everyone assembles on a patio overlooking the sea. Branson is still barefoot. Sara has on a pink sundress. Shawn is in a light blue shirt with tan pants. Heather reports that she and Gabe are deadlocked. They can not decide.
Branson looks both relieved and concerned. “The decision rest with me then” he says. As usual, he speaks to each of them and gives his impressions of where they stand. He tells Shawn “the group is concerned that you are not a team leader.” He tells Sara that others find her “so even-tempered they couldn’t get to know you.” Then he makes his choice, saying “the criterion has to go beyond this journey.”
Sara hugs the happy Shawn. Then Richard pulls out his personal checkbook to reveal a hand-written check for $1,000,000.00. Shawn is ecstatic! The other contestants too are wowed. A million dollars!
“Yes, but it’s not over yet,” Richard says. “There’s more.”
Then he makes Shawn a very diabolical offer. Shawn can take this money now, or he can risk winning the money and something else wonderful too—all on the flip of a coin. If he calls it correctly, he wins all. If he calls the coin toss wrongly, he walks away with “nothing but a good time.”
Shawn slumps and sits on a garden-side boulder while he tries to sort out what he should do. He asks Richard “Is this another waterfall thing?” remembering when Sam was tarmaced because he was willing to risk going over Victoria Falls in a very flimsy “barrel”. Richard: “You have to decide.”
Thirty long minutes pass as Shawn sits and agonizes. The other contestants seem to all want him to go for it. They offer him thumbs up signs, and say “do it! You’re a risk taker!!” Sara advises him that he can “always make another million.” “You’re a risk taker. Go for it!”
After 45 minutes, Gabriel goes up to the boulder, puts his hand on Shawn’s shoulder and tells him the others are giving thumbs up because they just curious. They want to see what might happen. “It’s your money,” he says. “Right now, this is your money. You have to separate that from taking the risk.”
Shawn thinks a bit more then tells Richard no. “I have people who haven’t taken paychecks so they could help grow my business,” he says. “It would be reckless and irresponsible for my employees” to take the gamble. Plus. “I have to live with my wife!”
This? Was the right answer.
Branson: “I would have lost all respect for you if you gambled everything on the flip of a coin, and I wouldn’t have offered you what I’m about to offer you…” “I am creating a new position. For the next three months you are President of Virgin Worldwide!” Everyone gasps. “For three months you will share my job. If you do well, I will give you a permanent stake, as president of one of Virgin’s smaller subsidiaries—maybe even outer space!” “And you still get this million.” He hands Shawn the check, then pulls out the small box we have seen so often in previews, opens it up and takes out a golden key with a large, Virgin ‘V’ engraved in the fob. “Catch” he says, and sails the key through the air to an overjoyed Shawn.
Then Shawn’s wife Tiffany is brought out as a special surprise. Branson tears up, and all the contestants cheer.
But wait. There’s more!
Branson tells Shawn he can choose his “right hand” from the assembled contestants. Someone to help him and be at his side during the next part of his journey. Shawn has kind words for Sara, his Final Two teammate. Heather is convinced that the choice will be between herself and Sara. Did she not advocate so well for Shawn? And did not Gabriel refuse to help him twice?
Shawn picks Gabe, who looks stunned and overjoyed. I think Gabe’s last words of advice to Shawn, telling him to think and not just go for the coin-flip on a risk-taker’s impulse were the deciding factor here. Sara and Heather both wanted him to go for it.
But wait! There’s more!
Branson turns to Sara. “I haven’t forgotten about you, Sara!” He offers her $750,000.00 to set up a charity for women’s issues. Sara looks very happy, and truly this is a fabulous second place prize.
Only Heather is left out in the cold. “I got the shaft here,” she says.
But wait! There’s more!
Since Billionaires just wanna have fun, Branson and Shawn celebrate the end of the world-jaunting contest by strapping themselves into harnesses dangling from two Virgin helicopters. As music plays the helicopters rise into the blue Caribbean sky with Shawn and Branson “flying” like Superman, arms out-spread, as the helicopters swoop and soar over Necker Island.