Surf's up!

Episode 12: Floods, famine and Colby -- the Barramundi tribe faces a Bible's worth of troubles.

By Salon Staff
Published April 13, 2001 3:16PM (EDT)

God is cruel and works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. With his representative on earth, Jeff Probst, he does what he has to do and trusts that we'll figure it all out in the end.

Last year, we figured out that "Survivor" is a game, and needed to be played as such.

This year, we learned to not run out of food.

Oh, yes, and to not build a camp in a dry riverbed.

Nor to leave our last bits of rice in a place where they could get washed away.

By, say, an unexpected flash flood.

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Last week, the final six survivors, the Barramundi tribe, ran out of food. The Supreme Being, in the form of "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett, sent his suddenly uncaring representative down to the Barramundi camp with a sort of Hobson's choice.

Probst said the group could get some fresh rice and some fishhooks -- in exchange for the group's tent.

But things aren't really much better. They're not catching any fish and the rice-rationing regimen is pathetically small. And they're wet at night.

The once-chipper Elisabeth-with-an-s scrapes rice film off the bottom of a gross cast-iron pan and sucks on the end of the groups' stirring stick.

"This game, in the past three days, has become drastically primal," she says.

We wonder if Probst is going to stroll across the water with some loaves of bread and a few baskets of fish.

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After last week's debauching of listless Nick, it looks like Rodger and Elisabeth, the final representatives of the luckless Kucha tribe, are next.

But evil Heather Queen Jerri still haunts the camp like a wraith. Amber, her unquestioning henchwoman, is a reminder of crimes of the past.

In real life, Amber is an administrative assistant from Beaver, Pa. She's trying to lie low, but some people can see what she's up to.

"You can't get by flying below the radar," says nurse Tina.

Amber tries to put as good a face as she can on it.

"I just keep hoping the next three days to come I'm still here."

Elisabeth seems to like Amber, though: "They don't see she's a sweet person," she says, talking about the Colby-Tina-Keith alliance.

But she's pessimistic in her hunger-induced lassitude.

"The people who are in control are going to push your eject button one time or another, and you just hope it's not you the next time," says Elisabeth.

What does sturdy Colby think? He's a meat-and-potatoes type of guy. To him, Ogakor is still a team, and he just can't wait to see the last of the Kuchas ground down into the dirt of the outback.

"Rodger and Elisabeth both know that we've brought them along this entire time with the intent to eliminate them before we eliminate ourselves," he says unapologetically. "And they're both aware they need to win immunity to stick around."

Texas is a hell of a state, and there's a lot to be said for the Texas vision of manhood Colby so studly-ariffically embodies.

But they were also the same guys who reduced a full, bursting continent of buffaloes, in a bloodbath of annihilation, nearly to extinction in just a few decades.

And, uh, the continent's Native American population as well, via a quite similar process.

Elisabeth looks so pathetic we're rooting for her in Thursday night's reward challenge. "The next challenges are very important to me. I don't care how hungry and weak I am, there is no holding me back. I need them," Elisabeth says.

The challenge is a complex, tangled-up rope course running though the woods and the accompanying underbrush.

The survivors attach themselves to the ropes with a hook. They have to get through the course, hit a series of numbered posts and get to the finish line without unhooking from the rope.

The prize? Dingo Jeff is there to wave over a small posse of Australian cowboys -- stockmen, they're called. The winner of the challenge gets to ride off with the stockmen for a night in their camp, complete with a hearty dinner and breakfast, a night on a nice dry cot and, we assume, some traditional Australian wallaby-tipping.

Probst agreeably plugs the crappy beer company that sponsors the show.

In the event, the course race is not that exciting. Amber leads for a while, but Colby eventually wins in a walk.

He rides off with the Aussie cowboys.

We were thinking that we just couldn't think of anything more boring than watching Colby ride a horse when "Survivor" surprises us again.

Burnett is suddenly Jupiter Pluvius. A hell of a rainstorm hits.

It's blistering and hailing. It looks as if it's going to knock the horses over.

We watch interestedly as Colby and the stockmen attempt to make it through the gale, fording rushing streams with water coming up to the horses' stomachs.

"It looked like water was running uphill," Colby says.

The rain catches his five hapless fellow Barramundis, too, as they head back to camp. They come across a creek that has turned into an impassable torrent.

The five have to sit there for hours waiting for the water to ebb. We watch some cool footage of an ungainly but determined kangaroo scaling a riverbank to get out of the flood.

The survivors begin to wonder about their camp.

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After some debate a few weeks ago, the group decided to rebuild its camp in a dry creek bed, close to the shore of the river proper, rather than up on a hill. (Some of the group wanted soft sand to sleep on, and there was apparently some concern about lightning as well.)

Last week, we saw, the river was swelling with rain runoff, nudging closer to the camp every day.

But the group took no precautions to protect its food or belongings.

We get to see what they don't see: a rush of water hitting Barramundi beach, hard.

The flood takes away everything that isn't nailed down, including clothes and cooking utensils.

We get to watch the camp's last can of rice get nudged into the stream and off into the current.

We wouldn't put it past the "Survivor" producers to have put the rice can out there to make it more vulnerable, but even if they did there is a valuable lesson or two here for bedroom Boy Scouts and future survivors alike:

Don't camp in a dry creek bed.

And don't leave your food and fishing material vulnerable.

And don't let go of the only knife.

The survivors look stricken when they get back.

"Oh, gosh," Rodger says.

The climax of the tragedy sees the five trailing downstream at dusk to scavenge what they can. They catch sight of the rice tin caught in a tangle on the other side of the rushing stream, and then assay a daring rice rescue mission.

By this time it's dark and looks mighty cold as well, but Keith and Tina make their way across, rescue the rice and get back. It's all filmed in night vision and doesn't look pleasant.

The group gets back to the camp -- or what's left of it. They figure that, if nothing else, they'll be able to dry off and eat something after a depressing day.

Then they realize that the fire is out and the matches are gone as well.

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Meanwhile, Colby's out at the stockmen's camp, loading up on beans and beef.

Probst, guzzling samples of the sponsor's bottled cow piss, queries him on how it feels to win another reward challenge. (Last week, remember, Colby won the trip to the Great Barrier Reef, where he then illegally looted some coral. This is a clear violation of "Survivor" rules, but God inexplicably gave him a pass.)

"To be able to jump on a horseback and go ride out to a ranch with a bunch of cowboys and sit around a campfire and eat some beans and beef stew -- I mean, that's something I would do at home," Colby marvels.

At home, in Christoval, Texas, Colby is a custom auto designer. When does he have time to do all that riding?

How does he think his tribe mates feel? "Inevitably there's got to be some resentment there," he confides to Probst.

To Colby, the food and the beer are so good that listening to one of the stockmen sing a little outback ditty, accompanying himself on the guitar, seems a small price to pay.

There follows yet another explanation of how the human body's digestive system responds to a sudden influx of food after a couple weeks of a starvation diet.

It involves lot of trips to the latrine.

"It went right through me," Colby says proudly.

Back at Barramundi, the five, all in rain gear, cold and wet, huddle together without shelter and try to sleep. You can't really tell who says what.

"This is 'Survivor,' you guys; this is what you just couldn't plan for!"

"You can't even describe this."

"This is no longer a game. This is life right now."

Instead of shilling for Doritos or Mountain Dew, the survivors are now plugging the show itself.

And Burnett saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

We see a couple of 'roos boxing playfully.

Back to Barramundi. "It was the most miserable night of my life," Keith says soberly.

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The immunity challenge is a shooting game, with ceramic plates hung from the trees. Each survivor's name is on three plates. The object is to try to hit your opponents' plates with shots fired from a slingshot. The player with the last plate left intact wins.

Elisabeth and Colby get to the end, Colby with one plate left, Elisabeth with two. Colby methodically blasts the last two of Elisabeth's plates, and wins immunity again.

At the tribal council that night, no one looks happy.

"Who's idea was it to put the camp in a dry creek bed?" Probst asks.

Rodger, perhaps unwisely, says it was the girls' fault. "They thought we would sleep better in the sand," he says.

Elisabeth says life's gotten hard: "I used to think challenge to challenge. Then I was playing day to day, and now it's minute to minute."

"It's hard to put the game into focus," she says.

Probst also queries Tina about who's nice and who isn't, looking for pressure points.

"I'd rather spend the last few weeks with people who get along," Tina replies, as diplomatically as possible.

Jerri, Alicia and Nick, all part of the Jury From Hell, sit and watch the proceedings silently.

The ouster is surprising -- it's Amber!

Colby and Amber both nick Rodger, but Elisabeth and Rodger are joined by Keith and Tina to boot Jerri's myrmidon.

It seems an odd development. Keith and Tina, perhaps foolishly, have eliminated one of the only players whom they could have hoped to beat in a jury trial. They must be convinced that the two of them will make it to the final round.

So perhaps now Colby is on the outs! Perhaps Keith and Tina will form a new alliance with Elisabeth-with-an-s and Rodger.

But then, Colby's so physically strong it may be hard to stop him from continuing to win immunity.

Unless Colby thoroughly alienates Tina and Keith in the next episode and collapses in the challenges, it sure looks like Elisabeth and Rodger are still at risk.

Out in the distance, a kangaroo, patron saint of the endangered Kuchas, howls in confusion.

-- Bill Wyman

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Salon Staff

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