I believe that T'Pring waited to see Spock before firmly deciding to challenge. It was established in more than one episode that Spock (and probably other Vulcans) could sense and even send feelings across distance. When Spock showed up with two human friends, (one of whom was radiating disapproval at the idea of surrendering his friend to marriage) T'Pring could have sensed something funny going on between Spock and Kirk. It probably suddenly occurred to her that it would be interesting to pit Spock against Kirk to see what would happen. T'Pring might have sensed (quite rightly) that Spock wouldn't want to fight his beloved friend Kirk. The executioner would have stepped in to execute Spock if he refused to fight Kirk (or Vice/Versa). If Kirk was victorious, Kirk wouldn't have wanted to marry T'Pring, and the result for her would be: Stonn would still be there.
This way she protects the man she really cares for, and guarantees he'll still be available when the dust has settled! Pretty smart! Cruel, but smart.
Stonn was surprised at T'Pring's choice of Kirk. He was pissed! He was there to fight and win her the old fashioned way, and protested that his expectations and chances were being fucked with. This indicates that it was an impulsive thing on T'Pring's part, despite all later pretenses to logical reasons and advance planning. That must have been a pretty castrating moment for Stonn, the poor schulb. Stonn is the one who has the most at stake, don't forget: if he fails to win a bride he will certainly die, and he's pinned all his hopes on T'Pring. I'm surprised Stonn didn't fly in a rage at Kirk and fight him for the right to fight Spock! They should have cut some bad dialog and put that in instead, huh? Action! We want action! More action, less talk, on an occasion like this especially, huh!?
That T'Pring...what a dragon lady! Keep your back to the wall around that bitch!
When Spock waded up from the depths of Plak Tow to plead with T'Pau to forbid Kirk to fight, I believe it's because his love for Jim was so strong that he didn't want Jim to be put at risk. He knew how strong the urge to fight was, and he couldn't be sure he wouldn't really kill Jim.
The hardest thing to understand and explain is why Jim agreed to battle with Spock for T'Pring. Kirk told McCoy his reasons were that he was afraid that Stonn would really kill Spock. He figured he'd play fight for a while then throw the fight. He also told McCoy he didn't want to look chicken in front of the grand Vulcan matriarch T'Pau. Both of these "reasons" smack of pure bullshit, IMHO. I feel the real reason Jim agreed to fight is because he had been offered ONE thing he could do to effect the outcome, and it was the only choice he had to change the situation.
It was well established long before this that Jim Kirk is not the kind of guy who'll stand idly by, watching while things go to hell, if he has a choice. He'll accept any choice or chance if it means he can do something.
Neither Kirk nor McCoy are lawyers, or they might have fruitfully protested that they agreed to the battle before all the facts were on the table, and therefore weren't bound by the agreement. I don't think Kirk would have agreed to fight if he'd known it was supposed to be a fight to the death. They should have been able to legally wiggle out of the agreement, and normally Kirk would have seen something like that and played it. Here's why Kirk maybe chose to not do that:
Spock went home to Vulcan because he thought it was the right thing to do, and Jim had gone along with all of this because he thought it was the right thing to do, but then T'Pring made it plain that she didn't want Spock, and you know what? Kirk thinks it's wrong for a woman to be forced against her will! That meant it was no longer the right thing to do! So Kirk very logically took the one choice that was given to him to do what he could to interfere!
I like to put a K/S spin on this situation, because it actually helps to solve some of the problems otherwise left unsolved by this episode. Spock didn't stop to assuage his sex drive, so he should be dead, right? Later backpedaling by Paramount's killjoy hacks is unconvincing, since it basically still makes no sense. What's the point of guys fighting to the death for a bride if they don't have to? What's logical about that? The only thing that makes it logical is if it's an irresistible natural imperative. Still, Spock is half-human...maybe it's not fatal for him to go without as it would be for a full-blood Vulcan man. OTOH, maybe he did find a sexual outlet that didn't include T'Pring. That's logical, isn't it? It also fits the facts we were given, and explains the otherwise unexplained.
In the alternative universe of my fanfic, Kirk and Spock have previously acknowledged that Kirk is attracted to Spock, but they haven't done anything about it because the feeling is not mutual. All that changed that day. Spock realized that T'Pring didn't want him, but that Kirk did. Instead of staying to claim T'Pring for his bride (as was his right), Spock returned to the Enterprise, and to the one person who really loves him. This way, everybody has a happy ending, because T'Pring (clever girl) got Stonn just like she wanted!
I also think that Spock went back to the Enterprise because, without knowing that Kirk was really still alive, he might have sensed very strongly that that is where he belonged. So, blah blah blah, ignore the stupid dialog. That was actually a brilliant script, because with acres of bullshit for a smokescreen they managed to get this incredible, historic, ground-breaking outcome past the family-hour censors. "The first interracial kiss on TV" is a minor achievement by comparison
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