Lord of the dingoes

"Survivor 2," Episode 2: In the outback, no one can hear you scream.

Published February 2, 2001 4:09PM (EST)

When you're lost in the Australian outback and have eaten nothing but mushy rice for four days, your teammates start looking ... strange. They're not behaving normally; they're hiding something!

It's almost as if they're plotting against you. They're giving you the evil eye, and when you walk away from them, you're sure they're talking about you behind your back.

As the saying goes, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean someone's not trying to get you.

Over in the Ogakor tribe, everyone's hungry and paranoia is striking deep.

Keith, who's supposed to be a chef, doesn't seem to know how to cook rice.

It's mushy and has the consistency and taste of glue.

"This guy's supposed to be a cook," Jerri says, emphasizing the last word with derision.

Comely Jerri, who's a bartender in Los Angeles and is billed as an "aspiring actress," is the villain in this new edition of "Survivor."

She's going to be crowned as the new Richard Hatch, but she's really something else.

She's a Heather. In the movies, Heathers, superficially pretty but internally insecure, are the compulsively plotting high school girls who humiliate the shy guys and the plain Janes. They always get their comeuppance in the end.

But "Survivor" is not a movie.

Jerri's supercilious enough to look arrogant and self-satisfied even while sitting in a pool of river water, from where her cutting criticisms of most of the other people in her group punctuate the rest of this episode.

And sometimes she dispenses worse than criticisms.

Kel, the quiet 32-year-old Army intelligence officer, has fishhooks but no fishing line and is getting nowhere trying to bring in some tasty marine treats.

Tonight's big drama comes when Jerri tells the Ogakor group that she saw -- or thought she saw -- Kel walking in the woods, gnawing on something that looked suspiciously like beef jerky.

After she tells the other members of the tribe, in minutes the group turns into the outback equivalent of a band of Jacobins running torches through the streets of Paris and looking for someone to behead.

Kel is out in the brush scrounging for bait, and we think it's lucky he is. The light in Jerri's eyes is positively Robespierre-like. We expect a quick camera cut to a shot of Kel buried up to his neck in the sand, Australian fire ants approaching, and Jerri standing over him dripping honey onto his head.

Instead, in Kel's absence the other seven members of the group root through his personal effects, looking for his secret stash of Slim Jims.

They don't find anything. No one calls Jerri on what sure looks like an accusation made up out of whole cloth.

Kel comes back to find the rest of the group confabbing in the tent. Jerri's lying on her back with the hunky, not-too-bright Colby splayed out beside her like an eager-to-please Labrador.

Kel knows something's going on. He has overheard the group talking about him. When he comes back he claims that he was just chewing on grass. He knows he's not fitting in well, so he offers up two shaving razors as a friendly gesture.

The group responds with a lot of skeptical looks and knowing chuckles.

Kel goes back off to fish. Jerri says the razor offering is an admission of guilt. Mad Dog Maralyn, the retired cop, is the only one whose conscience seems troubled by this activity. We should apologize, she says.

No, says Jerri.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Over in Kucha, morale isn't very good, either. They're hungry too. And Michael's driving everyone nuts.

Mike's one of those pushy guys who are so sure they're right they seem almost sociopathic. He's a big guy and has a weird hang-up about being considered the tribe's leader, for which he has already drawn some flak.

With his bald pate and rigid Christian impassiveness he can't help looking a bit like a walking, talking phallus.

Mike gets up early one morning to make rice; this scandalizes Alicia, the well-toned personal trainer, and Jeff, the bitchy, always complaining New Yorker.

Mike protests that he was just trying to make breakfast for everyone, but they're unforgiving.

Mike doesn't know how to make rice, either. "It was all mashy and nasty!" Jeff exclaims. He sounds like a drag queen describing seeing a naked female in the next-door dressing room.

Mike makes no apologies. "I'm a student of nutrition," he tells the camera, pompously. "I know what this is doing to my body. They have no idea; if they did they'd be out hunting and fishing."

Mike is successful, and comes back with a big bag of fish.

"When Mike catches fish there are trumpets that blare and angels that sing," Jeff says, cattily.

A minute later, we see Mike at his psycho best. He forces the group to sit around the frying pan and pray!

This is what he says: "Dear God, you know I said a lot of prayers today and you answered them in fish for us, and I am so happy to provide fish for the troops. I know that this could easily get turned around in some way to make me be the leader of the tribe, but from the bottom of my heart it makes me so happy to be able to provide for everybody here."

Mike's got an old religious trick down perfect: You can always preach to the hungry before you feed them.

The group's so famished no one complains.

Food's a big issue in "Survivor": The same difficulties dogged the cast in the first edition. CBS has some mighty talented editors working for it, but even they had a hard time disguising the fact that the remaining castaways were nearly comatose for lack of food their last week or so on the island. Lacking their rice rations, the group would have starved to death.

While Kel tries to fish, the other members of the Ogakor tribe loll about in the river like so many pasty-white seals, making fun of him.

It's all accompanied by farting digeridoo sounds.

"Our plan for getting food is, uh, we don't really have a good plan, actually," Keith says.

"I don't think there are any fish out there," Mitchell scoffs. Mitchell, 7 feet tall, is an aspiring singer-songwriter who must have learned a lot about fishing in his temp job in New York.

Cut to a shot of fish swimming happily about the river.

Colby, who's said to be an "auto customizer," dogs poor Kel as well. "The guy couldn't fish a rubber ducky out of a bathtub," Colby says.

"Kel should keep his day job," Jerri says, plopped in her puddle. She laughs her Heather laugh.

Kel doesn't catch any fish.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Next up: the reward challenge. The groups have to take a mighty leap off what looks like a 40-foot cliff. Then, together, they have to drag a big box down a river and up onto a beach. The reward is blankets; it gets cold at night.

It's one of those sequences that show how superior "Survivor" is. While the gang on ABC's "The Mole" are fiddling with French ATM machines, the "Survivor" tribes are doing vertiginous, Butch Cassidy-style jumps off cliffs.

Each person does it, and each time it's a thrill. Only Rodger, Kucha's oldest member, is scared -- he can't really swim.

In the event, he makes the jump like a trouper, but his slow swimming ultimately costs Ogakor the prize. The sequence ends with a slo-mo of the losers dragging their sorry asses back down the beach.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Back in Ogakor, Jerri's still dogging Keith and his bad rice.

She finally makes some tortillas.

"Keith has gone out of his way to compliment me now," Jerri reflects happily in her puddle.

"But I see right through it. I don't think his compliments are necessarily genuine."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The immunity challenge is the contest that decides which of the two tribes has to kick a member off the island that night.

It's a gross-out. The group stands before a spinning wheel of exotic aboriginal dining, from worms and huge crunchy bugs to cow brains.

The abrasive Kimmi suddenly declares she's a vegetarian. "I'm not eating amphibian, I'm not eating reptiles, I'm not eating mammals," she says, like a 3-year-old refusing her vegetables. She declares it a matter of "morals."

"Coming into a game like this, you can't come in with a list of things you're not going to [do], because you're not helping your team out," says Alicia, with hard-to-challenge logic.

It's quite a nauseating sequence -- the members of the two groups crunching and slurping their way through a whole lot of very icky samples, with "Dingo Jeff" Probst cheerfully explaining the gross details of each selection.

Kimmi refuses to eat hers -- a delectable pile of cow brains. She goes to the back of her group and cries.

It looks like she's going to cost her tribe the game until Tina, the older woman on the other team, barfs up some cow stomach. Kimmi smiles in the background.

There's a sudden-death slurp-off -- Kimmi vs. Tina. It's a big, foot-long worm whose phylum falls inside Kimmi's dietary code.

She gets it down before Tina, and suddenly she's a hero.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ogakor has to vote someone out of the outback.

Who's gonna get offed? Keith, the crummy chef? "He's bossy and condescending and close to going," says beanpole Mitchell.

Kel says he's going to vote for Jerri. He says he has a pact with Maralyn and Tina, dating from the first day.

Maralyn, he says, he can trust.

Jerri, again from her puddle of evil, says Kel's a liar and a cheat.

Up at the tribal council, Probst takes a shot at Keith: You got fire and a professional chef, he asks the group. Why the heck aren't you eating well? Keith tries to compliment Jerri's tortillas; she smiles condescendingly.

Probst doesn't ask the group about its mob-action root through Kel's knapsack.

Tina says she's willing to take the fall because she blew the disgusto-smorgasbord challenge. It's plain she studied the treacherous first season; she says she should be "voted off the island."

As the group marches up to cast its ballots, we see Maralyn vote for ... Kel.

Seems she's not so trustworthy.

The Mad Dog gets off a slicing reference to Sue Hawk's final speech on the first "Survivor":

"Kel, if you were lying in the desert dying of thirst, every single one of us would give you a drink of water. Good luck to you."

But on the first season, Kelly really did betray Sue. Here, the outback lynch mob couldn't even produce a beef-jerky wrapper as evidence. They're being manipulated, big time.

We can see what's happening. Kel votes for Jerri. Everyone else gangs up on him.

Bye, Kel!

-- Bill Wyman

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By Salon Staff

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