05/19/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
You've got the friendly school principal, the conniving class clown, two cliquey, quick-to-strip hot chicks and Creepy Machete Guy. Add snakes, rainstorms and an incongruously well-groomed Jeff Probst and you've got the anything-can-happen finale of Survivor: The Amazon, airing May 11. The sixth and most satisfyingly Machiavellian season of the popular CBS series "was a crazy roller coaster," says Shawna Mitchell, the outdoor-equipment salesperson voted off in episode 6. "You have no allies, no structure, no safety net. And there are things out there trying to get you—both animals and people."
The Amazon gang proved equally adept at back-scrubbing ("I was in heaven," departed triathlon trainer Alex Bell sighed after getting soaped up by Shawna) and back-stabbing (see geeky computer-projects coordinator Rob Cesternino, who played his cooler cohorts like so many Peruvian panpipes). "I had no idea he was such a snake," says Alex, who until the instant of his ouster thought he had Rob in his hip pocket. "He started lying from day one, and none of us had a clue."
Besides Rob, the final five include under-the-radar operator Butch Lockley, the principal with "no pretenses, no mask," says deputy district attorney Deena Bennett, kicked off in episode 9. "What you see is what you get." Which was definitely not the case with those "freakin' evil stepsisters," as vanquished adventure guide Christy Smith referred to comely phys-ed teacher Heidi Strobel and sneaky swimsuit model Jenna Morasca, who forged an impenetrable pretty-girl pact that had the shunned women feeling like they were in high school. And, of course, restaurant designer Matthew Von Ertfelda, who spooked his castmates more than any croc could by sharpening his machete in the dead of night. "He's nutty," says Deena. "I didn't think we should be out there doing fire watch by ourselves with him around."
So what did our cutthroat contestants learn from their adventure? "You can use a really thick piece of bark to "comb your hair," says Heidi. "And you're supposed to rub sand on your teeth to keep them clean."
Fannie Weinstein in the Amazon