Last week, we found out what reality TV is all about: life and death, sex and chocolate. This week, almost as if to acknowledge that the delightful potpourri of what we saw last episode will not return, the talk in the outback is of good old-fashioned vote counting.
It's bringing out the inner ward heeler in the survivors. And even the slowest one of the group -- that would be Colby -- can count to five.
And a 5-5 tie is what the two tribes are looking at.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. The lean-and-mean Kucha tribe has been running over Ogakor with regularity.
The tribe jettisoned Kimmi, the whiny vegetarian who wouldn't bathe, and was left with Mike, the fanatic who delivered; Alicia, the honed tough gal; Rodger, the can-do older guy; Elisabeth-with-an-S; sturdy Nick; and whiny but game Jeff.
Ogakor was made from weaker stuff: Jerri -- the evil Cruella de Puddle -- whose intrigues merely weakened the tribe; factotum Amber, Jeff to Jerri's Mutt; malleable Tina; hunky but dim Colby; and Keith the chef.
On their imaginary "Survivor" Palm Pilots, Kucha, ahead 6-5, had stomping on Ogakor scheduled for the following show. Ogakor was going to shrink to four. The two groups would merge, and then Ogakor would be tribal council hors d'oeuvres for the next four weeks, marched off like so many Australian chickens to Kentucky Joe's chopping blocks.
This scenario worked for us.
It would be great, of course, to see Jeff booted off the show. Jeff is the ultimate back-seat complainer. He seems to have spent most of his time in the outback chatting to the "Survivor" camera, rattling off observations that always seem to be ... wrong.
There was, for example, his assessment of Mike's pig-catching skills. "'I'm going to catch pigs,'" he mocked. "Classic Mike -- he's an idiot. I want to see your pig. Go get me a pig."
Mike found the pig and killed it. We felt sorry for the pig, but it had to go, just to keep Jeff quiet for a day or so.
But Jeff aside, the Kimmi-less Kucha members are straight-up folks. We couldn't wait to see the members of Ogakor slurped up one by one, like a platypus dining on shellfish.
It was going to be good clean Australian fun.
But then Mike had a crazy accident. He fell into a fire, burning the heck out of his hands in the process. He was taken off the show by a "Survivor" helicopter.
The powers that be at "Survivor" decreed that there would be no immunity challenge that day, and that the tribes would merge as they were, five to five.
Mike, we see now, may turn out to be "Survivor's" version of Harold Godwinson: anointed leader, casualty of battle.
Will Kucha rebuff the invaders on the field of Hastings? Or will history repeat itself and see a once proud and defiant empire brought to its knees by the outback equivalent of a band of energized Frenchmen?
The kangaroos are restless! We see night-vision shots of them hopping, in the way kangaroos do, through the forest.
They're running off to tell their kangaroo friends that dark planning is afoot in the Kucha tent. Mike, strapped down on his stretcher, told them to persevere. The five are intent on sticking together.
Besides that, they, like us, saw the first edition of "Survivor." They know that the tribe that stays focused gets to think seriously about the endgame.
Those who don't sleep with the dingoes.
"The last thing Mike said to us was that someone from Kucha needs to take this money and regardless of what happened we need to chew them up and spit them out," Jeff says.
Mike didn't really say that, of course. What he said through his oxygen mask was "You know what to do."
But Jeff is all of a sudden the keeper of the Mike flame.
"It's gonna get ugly," says Alicia.
Kucha doesn't really have a good sense of the Ogakor personalities. We wish we could say the same. But the tribe knows enough to zero in on Colby and Jerri; Kucha members sense that they are what passes for leaders.
Jeff talks about his limited interaction with Jerri at one of the challenges: "She was putting on a face and was a shrewd woman," Jeff says.
More strategizing comes to the fore. Under "Survivor" rules, if there's a tie in the vote, then the candidates' previous votes count against them.
Jeff's been dinged once before. He says that Kimmi had told the other tribe during a challenge that he had a vote against him.
Over at Ogakor, they're just miserable. The days are long and the producers have apparently been giving them the silent treatment.
"It seems like there's 20 hours of daylight," Colby says. "We have no idea what's gong on."
The group doesn't do much but sit around and complain. Ogakor is the aboriginal word for "whining bandicoot."
Jerri, of course, is the one who brings good thoughts to the table.
"You don't think Rodger had a stroke or anything?" she speculates.
Tina groans. "Jerri!" she says.
Finally the tribes get their tree mail marching orders. "Boys Night Out!" Amber announces to the tribe, reading from the message. It tells them that Colby and Keith will be going over to meet the Kuchas, have dinner and spend the night.
The group immediately sees the plan -- the producers are going to mix up the tribes, letting the Ogakor guys mix with the Kucha gals and vice versa.
Colby, mighty sick of Jerri and her lesser twin Amber, can't contain himself. "We finally get out to do something!" he exults.
He mugs for Keith. "Well, I'm just going to have to iron a shirt!"
The two plop in the stream and scrub up, with all the enthusiasm of Snuffy Smith getting ready for Sunday-go-to-meeting dinner.
They want to be at their aromatic best for the Kucha babes, Alicia and Elisabeth-with-an-s.
But the group discusses keeping entirely silent about the fact that both Keith and Jerri have had votes against them.
"If they were to vote for myself or Keith" -- here Jerri pauses at the injustice of it all -- "we'd be out!"
Over in Kucha they get a similar message, except this one says "Girls Night Out." Just as the Ogakor did, the tribe members immediately assume that the other team is getting the exact same message.
Jeff, with his usual flair for working on insufficient information, starts spewing commentary: "You guys are going over there," he says to Alicia and Elisabeth," and the girls are coming over here! They're keeping the chicks apart!"
The boys, noticeably enlivened at the thought of showing off for the bikinied Ogakor babes, start talking about roasting a chicken.
Alicia and Elisabeth note that they won't be getting any of the last chicken, and say they want to take some and the soda they won in the challenge last week to the other camp.
Jeff immediately has a vision of Colby gulping down some of his spoils.
"No!" he exclaims. The other guys chime in and shout the girls down.
"There are more of them to woo," Jeff says. "We need to woo them."
"Woo woo woo woo woo!" chirps Elisabeth in disgust.
The girls walk off and the boys go back to primping for Jerri and Amber. It's gonna be a hot time in the old tribe tonight!
Boy are they going to get a surprise when a freshly bathed but still ratty-looking Colby and Keith come in all straggledy-assed.
The women go trotting over the land toward the Ogakors. They meet the other women and immediately hug and squeal together, as women do.
They all have a good laugh. Alicia and Elisabeth tell them that the Kucha boys are waiting for chicks to show up.
They breathlessly tell Jerri, Amber and Tina about Mike's accident, dressing it up a little for effect.
"His hands were burned off!" says Alicia.
"We were crying, we were a mess," Elisabeth says.
Meanwhile, Keith and Colby make it over to Kucha, and are greeted with some surprise by Nick, Rodger and Jeff.
"We were expecting the women over here," Rodger says uncomfortably.
"Rodger, I'm really sorry; I didn't even bring a skirt," Colby says.
Later, talking to the camera, Colby's appalled. "We came strolling in, and they were expecting to wine and dine the women of Ogakor!"
He makes it sound like the rape of the Sabine women was in the offing.
"The women of Ogakor" has a nice dramatic ring to it, until you remember it's merely shorthand for an evil ice queen, her unquestioning henchwoman and a morally indistinct nurse.
"All I saw from Colby was teeth," Jeff says later, back to his bitchy postmortems. He further demonstrates his mastery of the vehement declaration based on little or no evidence. "And Keith just seemed like a little puppy tailing behind him."
Keith, of course, masterminded the stinging rebuke of Jerri two weeks ago.
The Kucha guys impress their Ogakor guests mightily with their camp and, particularly, the chicken, which Rodger kills and plucks and chef Keith wraps in bark and roasts with lemon pepper.
The Ogakor women are as sorry as they come. They're kind of like a trio of shabby working-class wives trying to host a little party for the tony Welcome Wagon ladies and making a big mess of it.
It starts to rain, and Jerri has to scramble to protect the fire. Keith's walked off with the tribe's matches.
It's all Jerri can do to not burst out in a rant against Keith. The group is trying not to let on that Keith is vulnerable.
With the last of her tribe's flour she makes her guests the tortillas she's been lording over her group since the first days in the outback.
In front of the classier Kucha women they suddenly seem a little ... pathetic.
"They normally look better," Jerri says fretfully, poking at the pan.
"I'm going home," Elisabeth says in mock disgust, trying to break the ice.
Jerri, Amber and Tina make a gesture and open up a can of tomatoes for their guests.
The women all sit around and talk about food, getting themselves all worked up again.
"We were torturing ourselves!" Elisabeth says.
Everyone goes to bed.
In last year's "Survivor," one person from each camp was deputized to go over, check out the other camp and decide which one to combine into for the merge.
The producers, you will recall, stuck Sean the affectless internist and teary Jenna into a candlelit tent, but no business resulted.
This time the producers surprise the groups in the morning. They have to abandon their beloved camps!
They have 15 minutes to take what they can and then walk two hours through the underbrush to a new combined camp, at which they're going to have to rebuild their tent and start a new fire.
It's fun watching Jerri when she gets distressed.
She tramps through the brush with a put-upon look on her face. It says, "Why am I, comely queen that I am, forced to put up with this?"
She has brought along her bongos, on which we saw her last week accompany her chanted pleas for hot outback wallaby sex.
We don't think the bongos are going to be appreciated by her new tribe mates.
But when they get to the new camp, the 10 are delighted to find that the producers have left a big box with the fixings for an elegant picnic. No crappy fructose-laden and oversalted American fast food this time -- just figs, crackers, blueberries and wine.
The girls squeal with delight and paw at the food like starved dingoes. Nick steps back, a little disgusted. Shouldn't the group as a whole decide what to do with the food and make sure everyone gets a fair share? he wonders.
Everyone seems happy, but Jeff sees a plot behind every scrub brush.
"I saw Colby go and talk and whisper to Jerri," he says, "and then go over to Keith and start whispering and counting on his fingers. They weren't here 15 minutes and it started!"
He's probably offended that they got a head start.
They group has to decide where to put up the tent. The guys want to put it up on a hill under some trees; Jerri, reverting to form, starts getting pushy and wants it down closer to the river.
"Sometimes you run into a situation where there's too many chiefs and not enough Indians," sniffs Colby.
The group decides to call itself Barramundi, which is the name of an Australian fish.
The immunity challenge this week is a variation on a tried-and-true "Survivor" Zen test. Last year, the show had the group spending hours standing on a board set up in the middle of the island's bay.
And then there was the infamous final endurance challenge, in which Richard, Kelly and Rudy had to stand and keep their hands on a pole until two gave up.
This time, 10 pillars are set up in a stream. Each tribe member has to swim out and stand up on the pole -- and whoever stays on their pole the longest wins.
There are apparently no bathroom breaks.
Nick drops off first. He's not worried about getting dumped, and he says he'd been sick.
After a while he's joined by Colby, and then Rodger, and then Jeff. The men seem to have the women doing the dirty work.
What a bunch of pussies.
Colby tells us later that he's trying to "make the Kucha guys mad" and draw attention away from Jerri and Keith.
Hmmmm -- that's a plan just crazy enough to work!
After four hours, Jeff Probst, Benevolent King of all the Koalas, appears to entice people off their poles with food -- peanut butter and apples, then hot chocolate and coffee.
At seven hours, he comes back with ice cream and chocolate. Jerri and Amber, her little shadow, scamper down immediately.
The scene is now becoming surreal. Alicia, Elisabeth, Tina and Keith stand on the posts for six hours, seven hours, eight hours. It's an impressive feat of endurance.
"I've never seen anything like it!" says Colby. We haven't either.
It's dark and getting cold. After eight-and-a-half hours, Elisabeth, now a shivering little doobie, asks Jeff if any other deals were being offered.
How about a boat ride back? she asks.
He paddles out and brings her in.
More time goes by. Keith, Alicia and Tina remain.
Dingo Jeff paddles back out with hot chocolate. Alicia caves.
Keith turns to Tina. "I need this," he says.
Tina gets down. Keith raises his arms in triumph.
He's stood there for 10 hours and 17 minutes.
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Time for the tribal council.
Probst tries to probe some pressure points.
Alicia says she jumped down finally because "I don't think it's gonna change what's gonna happen."
Keith is gracious toward Tina. "Tina gave it to me," he says warmly. "I firmly believe if she didn't go that we'd still be there. She's my sister. It was definitely a gift."
Tina says, "I'm still a team player; Keith needed this."
Finally, the vote.
We don't see what Colby votes for, but he says, "This is a strategic move determined the first week we were here." It's not clear what he means.
Rodger votes for Colby. "I like the guys but they have got to go." If the Kucha members have targeted Colby instead of Jerri, they've made a bad decision. Wouldn't it be plain that of the Ogakor tribe, Jerri has been the most polarizing member?
Cocky Jeff goes in to vote and gives us another one of his glib assessments: "Since everything's bigger and better in Texas, this lone star has got to go!"
Jeff counts the votes -- Kucha has targeted Colby, and Ogakor Jeff. It's a 5-5 tie.
Probst allows Jeff and Colby to address the group before a second vote.
"I play the game full tilt and if that makes me out then so be it," Colby says.
Jeff: "There's nothing I can say to change anyone's mind."
It's another tie. Probst asks the two if they'd had any previous votes against them. Colby says no. Jeff says yes -- one.
You're outta here, Probst says, in so many words.
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In a recent edition of Us Richard Hatch, last year's "Survivor" winner, makes a big deal out of predicting that Jeff would win the 2001 edition.
Hatch, even in an era of overrated celebrityhood, strikes us as a particularly fine example of the breed.
As we noted last year, Hatch won by a fluke.
Kelly Wigglesworth won the last four immunity challenges and wound up in the final two with Hatch. Then, because of Sue Hawk's animosity toward her, she lost the vote that determined the winner.
Anyone else left on the island would have won over Richard.
This year the participants are a lot cannier and more thoughtful about how to win the game. And it's plain that the Hatch plan -- sitting in a tree and criticizing others -- isn't working this year.
Jeff bitched and bitched and bitched -- until the tribes finally responded: Talk to the hand.
Off in the outback we hear screams. We can't tell if it's a crazed wallaby, brave Harold turning in his grave -- or stout William laughing.