NEW YORK – The sole "Survivor" (search) will be left standing Sunday night - capping one of the series' most anticipated finales in years.
With an average of almost 20 million viewers, the latest edition of the show, "Survivor: Pearl Islands," has turned out to be one of the biggest of all seven seasons.
Ratings have grown each week as the finale approaches, with over 22 million viewers tuning in last week.
Fans of the show say that "Pearl Islands" has been more entertaining than previous versions because of the unbelievable amount of back-stabbing, lying and twists that turned the reality show into something akin to a scripted soap opera.
Among the latest season's highlights:
* Rupert Boneham (search). The barrel-chested, shaggy-bearded vocational and clinical mentor for troubled teens has become the most popular "Survivor" ever, thanks to his teddy-bear qualities, bad temperament and charm.
When he was betrayed by his friends and voted off the show three weeks ago, his bizarre behavior, hurt feelings and lack of media appearances afterwards had some fans wondering if he had been put in a mental institution.
He is rumored to be a contestant in a all-star version of "Survivor" that is set to debut in February after the Super Bowl.
* Crazy Twist. For the first time, two castaways who had been voted off the show in early episodes were allowed to return. Burton Roberts, a San Francisco marketing executive, and Lillian "Lill" Morris, a Boy Scout scoutmaster from Loveland, Ohio, got a second chance at winning the big bucks prize - thanks to a controversial twist that caught the game's contestants and viewers off-guard.
Both of them made it into last night's episode, which featured the final five castaways.
* Jon Dalton. This "art consultant" from Los Angeles turned out to be the ultimate snake. Over the course of many episodes he successfully manipulated his fellow survivors to form alliances and vote out those he didn't like - and then stabbed his allies in the back when it suited him.
Dalton gained a loyal following of fans who love to hate him when he convinced the rest of the castaways that his grandmother had just died - in order to win a night hanging out with his best friend from home and eating a tasty meal. Grandma was, in fact, quite well, thank you.
Dalton later laughed about it, saying that his grandmother was probably "at home right now watching Jerry Springer."
* Osten Taylor. This Boston equity trade manager turned out to be the first "Survivor" contestant ever to quit the game. Taylor was so miserable that he asked his co-contestants to vote him out of the game halfway through the season.
On Sunday's two-hour finale, three contestants will enter but only one will leave - pocketing the $1 million grand prize.