Colby, the Matthew McConaughey of the Ogakor tribe, is all of a sudden the most popular man in the entire Australian outback.
Last week, at the tribal council, Jerri, the rebarbative schemer, announced that she was best pals with Colby, the not-too-bright Texan; Mitchell, the unclear-on-the-concept beanpole; and Amber, the administrative assistant, who has thus far distinguished herself only by an ovine tendency to do whatever Jerri wants.
It was a typically arrogant show of strength from the tribe's reigning Heather.
The bald statement left Keith, the reluctant but game professional chef, and Tina, the vague nurse, on the outback's B-list, big time.
Ogakor has lost the last two immunity challenges. Under Jerri's gleefully cruel direction, they kicked off Kel, whom Jerri had demonized, and then Mad Dog Maralyn, the 50-something cop.
Keith and Tina, like many other people, watched "Survivor" the First. They saw what happens to those who just fumble about when rats and snakes start establishing alliances.
The fumblers get led to the slaughter, one by one, like so many cuddly and innocent but Darwinianly challenged wallabies.
"I didn't come to be pushed around by a bartender wannabe actress," Keith says. He is referring, cruelly but not inaccurately, to Jerri.
"I am so over it I can't hardly stand it" is Tina's position, articulated in her dulcet Tennessee accent. "She's the most bossy, domineering person I've ever met."
On the two previous shows, Tina acquiesced in the ousting of Kel and Maralyn under Jerri's orders. Now all of a sudden she's on the side of goodness and light.
But we don't mind. It would be worse to watch yet another group of our species go meekly to the scaffold on a "Survivor" show.
Keith and Tina are sure Amber, who is something of a cipher, is beyond redemption. Mitchell, too, seems enraptured with Jerri.
That puts Colby in everyone's sights. Tina and Keith think he, despite his and Jerri's obvious flirtations, might be able to be weaned away from Cruella de Puddle.
It turns out that Colby finds Keith an OK guy. He's valuable to the tribe, he notes: "We need Keith right now."
Colby, who's taken to wearing a big Garth Brooks-like cowboy hat, decides to go pig hunting -- that's something he can do to put food on the table.
"I think it's a brilliant idea," enthuses Jerri.
She tags along for a little emotional arm-twisting on the outback, but confesses afterward that she felt her former flirting buddy a bit distant.
It's possible that Colby, against all odds, has perspective enough to see that Jerri has the morals of a dingo.
But you just can't tell with Colby; he's not the kind of guy who performs well under this kind of cognitive dissonance.
Is it just us, or all of a sudden are his phrases, one after the other, loaded with sexual subtexts?
"I'm bound and determined to put pork on the plate," he says at one point.
"Jerri's scared I'm going to make a back-door move," he says at another.
"There's an estrogen overload in the tent right now and I couldn't deal with that," he says, meaningfully, to Keith.
The two are lazing in the stream like a couple of sulking rhinos. Keith, who has a makeshift Lawrence of Arabia head ensemble on, takes the estrogen remark as an opening. "She ain't good enough for you," he says to Colby. "She ain't no way good enough for you!"
"Well, thanks, bro," Colby replies. This is the sort of estrogen-absent conversation he likes. Just two guys in funny hats talking and relaxing in an outback stream.
"That girl will cut your throat in a heartbeat!" Keith says.
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The reward challenge promises to get the winning tribe some chickens.
Over in Kucha, they're drooling, both physically and emotionally.
Jeff, the chronic complainer, is still mighty sick of Mike, the rigid, pompous martinet. Last week, Mike said he was bound and determined to kill a pig, to the general derision of his tribe mates.
Jeff wants the chickens both because he's hungry and because he thinks it will shut Mike up for a while.
"I want a chicken so bad," Jeff says. "For one reason, so Mike will stop fishing and walking around her flexing his arms. I want a chicken!"
The challenge itself takes place on a beautiful cliff next to a waterfall. It's a large-scale version of those little sliding puzzles in which you push some tiles around on a four-by-four grid to make a picture.
The picture here is a map that tells the winning tribe where the chickens are.
Neither group seems up to the challenge, but Ogakor, particularly, seems unable to work together at all.
Jerri has a frustrated look on her face.
Kucha wins easily. They go merrily scampering off to get their chickens.
This is a cue for Kimmi, who vies with Jeff for the title of Most Annoying Kucha Member, to talk some more about being a vegetarian.
She starts crying when she sees the chickens crated up. "Can't they give us some tofu?" she says.
There's nothing wrong with vegetarianism, of course, but we can't help reflecting that one would have to be a complete moron to volunteer to be on a survival show and then expect to be served garden burgers.
Also, she's a bore, nattering on about her personal belief system to people who have bigger things to worry about, like starving.
And is she really more worried about the fate of the chickens than, say, the plight of the Aborigines?
She just won't shut up. Kimmi has the distinction of being, at that moment, the most frivolous, clueless person on an entire continent.
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Once the Kucha get back to camp, another debate ensues. Mike tells us that he wants the tribe to eat the chickens immediately, so his hunting skills will be at a premium again.
He gets a wild look in his eye and appears to want to start slaughtering the birds wholesale.
There are three chickens and one rooster. Nick specifically says Mike was going to kill the rooster.
We're not experts on poultry, but we're pretty sure that roosters, besides crowing a lot, have something to do with the production of eggs.
Nick cautions that he thinks the tribe should talk about it.
The group eventually decides to eat at least one chicken.
Kimmi causes yet another vegetarian scene. When the group ignores her she goes waddling off into the forest with a pout on her face, looking for all the world like a spoiled college student going to a rolfing class.
Mike's still worried about his place in the tribe now that the Kucha members have chickens.
"It ups the stakes definitely for me to catch the food," he says. "To keep me in the limelight is going to be harder and harder. I have to keep one-upping myself. What am I going to do now?"
The comment will take on an added significance later in the evening.
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"Physically and emotionally, I'm gone," Mitchell is telling the camera back at Ogakor.
He notices that Keith is lobbying Colby hard. He wonders if Colby is buying what he's selling.
"Maybe Colby is trying to take him for a ride," he says hopefully.
But Keith has everyone feeling a little jittery. "I feel a little bit threatened," Jerri concedes.
Amber talks about Colby with a barely disguised contempt: "Colby can be talked into things easily," she says. "He's not really strong in his own opinions. He sways a lot depending on what people tell him."
The Texan sure wouldn't want to know the girls were talking about him like that behind his back.
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After the commercial break we get an unexpected, ominous legend from CBS:
"The following scene contains material that may be unsuitable, particularly for young viewers. Viewer discretion is advised."
Most of Kucha is having an afternoon nap. Nick is sitting on the riverbank; Elisabeth-with-an-s is playing in the stream with a Frisbee.
Nick suddenly yells, "There's a pig in the water!"
Sure enough, we see a little black pig -- a baby pig, practically! -- running down the bank.
In a flash Mike has grabbed the camp's knife and has lit out after the poor animal.
Now we know what the warning was all about.
We're about to see where pork chops come from.
Mike catches up to the pig. "You guys! Come help me surround him," he orders.
Nick tries to help, but the pig runs off.
And damned if Mike doesn't run the thing down and stab it to death with his bare hands.
We don't actually see what's happening to the pig, but we see the knife going up and down in a Norman Bates-like frenzy.
That -- and the look on Mike's face, and Nick's -- is bad enough.
Nick breathlessly relates the story to the others. "He got a pig! He killed it! He had to ... "
He mimes multiple stab motions.
Jeff comes down to check out the action. He rolls his eyes and leaves. He could at least say, "You know, Mike, I've been mocking your pig-hunting idea behind your back all along, but I was wrong."
But he doesn't.
He does go back to the camp to tell cringing Kimmi that there will be a lot of pork and bacon and ham in the camp for the next few days.
"What is wrong with you people?" she squeals.
We decide it would be funny if Survivor Productions accidentally left Kimmi out in the outback when the show is over.
Everyone else stands around and eats yummy, freshly killed pig.
Jeff loses another chance to tell Mike he'd been mercilessly mocking the pig-hunt idea for days. Or perhaps he did but his mouth was too full and we couldn't hear him correctly.
We're on Mike's side on this issue, despite the brutal slaughter of the cute pig we just saw. As we've said before, too much of "Survivor" is watching people lie around and be hungry.
Still, there is a lesson here. In the Age of the Hunter-Gatherer, our food was obtained for us by raving psychotics.
Mike is higher than a kite. "Life is just a funny little blending of experiences," he says.
He paints his cheeks with pig blood.
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Time for the immunity challenge. Whichever tribe loses this test has to kick another person off the outback. Ogakor has lost twice in a row, and its members are keenly aware that they're going to suffer when the tribes merge if they don't start preserving their numbers.
"The next immunities are crucial for both us and our survival at the merger," Jerri tells the camera.
At the meeting of the tribes, Jeff Probst, King of All the Koalas, asks Kucha about their eating habits since winning the chickens.
Mike gets off a good line:
"We haven't been eating the chickens much," Mike says, "because we all went out on a pig hunt and got a pig and stuck a knife right through its heart. We've been eating it for a day now."
Jeff looks at Ogakor. "They caught a pig," he says.
Colby says that he, too, would like to have a pig.
"You been out looking for pig?" Probst asks, a touch of disbelief in his voice.
"Yeah" is all Colby can say. How humiliating for Colby. Behind him, Mitchell tries to look like a danger to any pigs that might be in the vicinity.
The challenge is a simple quiz of facts about the outback.
It all comes down to an extended tiebreaker between Alicia, the tough personal trainer, and feckless Mitchell.
It takes a while, but we can see where this is going: The whole show has been about who's going to get tossed off Ogakor next. Mitchell finally blows a question, and the demoralized Okagor wanders back to camp to prepare for its third ouster in a row.
At the tribal council that night, Probst gives it to them. "Kucha is kicking your ass," he says.
"Does it change your strategy?" he presses. "About what tribe you need to take to the merge?"
Probst is none too subtly reminding people that Jerri's de facto leadership has been less about what's good for the tribe than what's good for a master race of Heathers.
When the vote comes, we see Tina vote for Mitchell, not Jerri, as we expect. "It's not my original intended vote. But a new scheme has developed," she says cryptically.
The vote comes down three to three for Keith and Mitchell, the first tie on a normal "Survivor" show. (There was one tie during the extended final episode last year.)
Colby, it seems, has peeled away from Team Heather.
There's another vote. It's clear that Jerri and Amber are on Mitchell's side, and that Colby and Tina are on Keith's.
Mitchell and Keith get a few seconds to lobby for votes. Keith tells the group that he'll continue to work hard for the tribe. "I won't give up," he promises.
Mitchell, in arguably the lamest campaign speech in the history of human politics, concedes that he's weak and tired and has lost his spirit. He talks about "you guys" as if he's already left. But he still asks people to vote for him.
For the second vote, Jerri and Amber stick to their guns.
It's another tie.
This has never happened before. We have a sudden, awful vision of Antonin Scalia and Katherine Harris descending upon the tribal council like the flying monkeys from "The Wizard of Oz" and carrying off poor Keith while a green-faced Jerri cackles gleefully.
However, Probst says that under "Survivor" rules, expulsion votes from previous tribal councils are added to the current vote.
Mitchell, it turns out, has been dinged once before.
He's out of the outback. Jerri has been confronted and rebuffed.
There is a lesson here for the weak and the persecuted. You can stand up to bullies.
As for Mitchell, all we've seen of the guy is whining, passivity, laziness, cheap negativity and sheeplike behavior.
We're sure there's more to his personality than that, but we -- and a nationwide audience of millions -- will never know, will we?
At least he didn't ask for a recount.
-- Bill Wyman