The crying game

Episode 13: It's a three-hankie night. Plus: Fire -- the TV of the outback!

By Salon Staff
Published April 20, 2001 4:21PM (EDT)

You can imagine what it's like. The unending hours of unmitigated boredom.

Trapped suddenly, amid what was once a world of infinite possibilities, in the presence of people none of whom have anything interesting to say and can't think of anything interesting to do.

Watching any real possibility of actual action or conflict go out the window as the most interesting personalities, one by one, are led away, as a cruel god seems to laugh from the heavens.

We're telling you, watching the last days of "Big Brother" were murder.


You thought we were talking about "Survivor"?

Well, that's pretty boring too.

It is getting a little surreal, though. The survivors now have some rice, and look a little less like they've just been rescued off a raft adrift for weeks in the ocean.

But there's still very little to do. Fire, says Colby, is "the TV of the outback."

We get to experience this phenomenon secondhand, so to speak, and the meta-experience isn't much fun.

But then we noticed something else, an annoyingly odd sensation: a pulling, almost ... a tugging. It took a while before we realized that the "Survivor" producers were going for our heartstrings.

Yes, folks, it's a three-hankie edition of "Survivor," complete with lots of crying, lots of snifflin', kids missin' their moms and wives missin' their husbands and all sorts of other sentimental stuff.

Like a metaphorical suicide to save a friend.

And we haven't even mentioned the marriage proposal yet!

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

It's still grim on the outback. After the flash flood wiped out most of the camp, the group has food and fire again, but their lean-to sucks, and when it rains, as it did last night, they just get soaked.

We get to hear Elisabeth-with-an-s and cowboy Colby talk about how the rain seeps in and soaks their pants and legs and socks.

The days go on and on. Besides fire watching, the group has a backgammon game.

You gotta wonder about people who lost their food and matches in a flood but somehow managed to make sure their backgammon didn't get lost.

Indeed, we also get to see the damage that the flood did to the original Barramundi camp. It's now under a foot or two of water.

Nurse Tina is looking grim: Colby says, "It's the worst I've seen Tina. Yesterday, Tina hit rock bottom. Elisabeth's been that way for a while."

Elisabeth looks bad, too: She sometimes has an almost disturbing vacant look.

We watch her as she tenderly picks away an ant or something from the eyelid of her closest outback compatriot, Kentucky Joe, the older Rodger.

He, like chef Keith, seems to be holding up OK.

But the reward challenge changes everything.

As the group reads its tree mail, they figure out that they're going to have to answer questions about the outback -- with help from their family members, online!

Elisabeth has a conniption fit at the thought.

"My mother's my hero," she tells the camera, crying and crying. (We dimly seem to remember her telling us that Rodger was her hero some weeks ago.)

"She's the most amazing, strong woman," Elisabeth says, her face wrinkled up with tears. "She got through breast cancer and chemotherapy like a trooper. And any time I think that things get tough out here, I think of what she's been through. With her I can do anything!"

Jeff Probst, Benevolent King of All the Koalas, meets them at a makeshift cabana with an iMac beneath it. It is indeed an online quiz. The winner gets to chat, via the computer, for 30 minutes with his or her family -- and also gets $500 to send the family on an online shopping spree!

The reward challenges uses the Mac and AOL's Instant Messenger, but apparently these two companies didn't pony up to be sponsors and don't get mentioned. The name of the rapacious credit card company, however, gets tossed about freely by Probst.

The players also get some coffee and Danishes while they chat. Each of the five sits down at the computer and exchanges one message with the families; they're supposed to read them out loud to the group.

We also get to see the families themselves as they get the messages.

It's a big fat weepfest.

Rodger's so overcome he can't even talk; Jeff has to read the note: "We're doing good: We miss you and we're very proud of you."

Colby talks to his mom. She's sitting at a desk with a Texas flag ostentatiously hanging behind her.

Sometimes Texans can be a little ... overbearing.

Her note to Colby says simply, "Hi, baby." He breaks down. Tina and Elisabeth start crying just watching him.

Keith, we discover, calls his girlfriend "Peas." She calls him "Carrots." "Hello, Peas, miss you so much. I'll never be gone this long from you again," Keith reads. He's crying, too.

"Hello, Carrots," Peas writes. "You can call me Sweet Peas," she adds.

At this point, we think, the Internet may have achieved all of its human potential.

The test comes next: five fairly easy questions. What causes heat cramps, how fast does thunder travels and so forth. One's kind of a trick question: How many of the outback's 10 most poisonous snakes are from Australia? (The answer is 10.)

Tina wins.

Each of the survivors gets to say bye. Everyone cries again.

"Continue the adventure," Colby's mom says.

It starts raining. Keith sits under the shelter and types a goodbye message to his girlfriend:

"I can only think of one important question that came to me one night as a shooting star shot across the sky in some wee hour of the morning. Will you marry me, Peas?"

"Oh, my God!" chorus the girls as he reads the question.

Peas replies, "YES!!!!!"

Keith jumps to his feet and picks up Probst in a bearhug. Probst takes it well.

Tina then gets to spend half an hour chatting with her husband and kids.

"I got a major rush from getting to talk to my family," she beams later. "That's enough to get me through the next eight days, easy.

"I thought, eight more days? Got it beat, girl!"

It rains again that night.

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

Day 35. Colby and Keith are fighting over the rice. They say that every chef has his or her nemesis of a food group. (We just made that up.) In Keith's case, it's rice.

In the first week in the outback he demonstrated that he was a chef who couldn't cook rice well. For this he was ridiculed in print by the chief restaurant critic of the New York Times, which isn't going to help his cooking career when he gets out of Australia.

Now he's making portions that by Colby's lights are too big. Colby finally snaps at him.

Later Keith says he's been planning that the last three in the outback will be he and Colby and Tina; but all of a sudden he's worried about Colby's anger.

Indeed, Colby really unloads on him to the cameras later: "He's a fool," he says flatly. "The guy's a bozo. I'm tired of it and I'm tired of dealing with him. I don't take anything that Keith does at face value. There's an ulterior motive for everything he says and everything he does, whether it's cooking rice or proposing to his girlfriend online.

"I don't like the way he's playing the game. I think he's trying way too hard because he can't make it by being who he is. My game with Keith is over at this point!"

But Colby's not going to do anything to Keith. The Keith-Tina-Colby alliance is essential to both Tina and Colby. They would like to take out Rodger and then Elisabeth and then duke it out to get into the final two with the unlikable Keith.

In that eventuality, they assume either would gratefully be given the million over Keith by the Jury of the Damned.

The immunity challenges, of course, could throw a wrench in the works, but it doesn't look like Elisabeth or Rodger is likely to pull one off. Not unless there's a shoe contest or something having to do with farm machinery.

The immunity challenge this week is a faux jailbreak. Probst reads the group a short tale of the criminal history of the settlement of Australia. Each member of the group is then shackled with five locks.

They run around an abandoned cattle station to a series eight posts. At each there's a question about the story Probst told them. If they have the answer, they get a key to unlock one of their locks.

First one who brings back his or her five opened locks to Probst wins immunity.

The race is between Colby and Keith -- Tina, Elisabeth and Rodger aren't good at contests like these.

Keith dusts Colby soundly -- except that he somehow manages to drop one of his locks!

He goes back to look for it, but Colby gets back first, and wins immunity for the third time in a row.

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

Tribal council is tonight. It looks bad for either Rodger or Elisabeth. At this point, Tina is sent to discuss matters, executioner to executionee, with Rodger.

The runners-up on "Survivor" get some sort of compensation; which of the two of you, Tina asks Rodger, needs the money more?

"I said Elisabeth probably does," Rodger relates in his dulcet Kentucky drawl. "Because of Elisabeth's background and her mother being sick and what have you, and I decided I would just as soon be off first as Elisabeth.

"Elisabeth's a nice young lady. I think about as much of her as I do of some of the members of my own family."

Rodger is throwing himself on his sword for his youthful buddy.

It's a very moving scene. It reminded us of something, but it took us a while before we remembered. It was, mutatis mutandis, just like the emotional climax of "Terminator 2," when Arnold Schwarzenegger lowers himself into the vat of molten iron to save John Connor, humanity's only hope for survival, from ever being victimized by a terminator again.

At tribal council that night, Probst milks the Elisabeth-Rodger thing like Bob Costas calling the Olympics.

Alicia, Jerri, Nick and Amber -- the Jury of the Damned -- look on balefully as Rodger opines that Elisabeth is "a fine young lady, character-wise, morals-wise."

That, it struck us, was dangerously close to "answers to questions we haven't asked" territory.

Elisabeth says Kentucky Joe is her "outback daddy," which we're pretty sure is also the name of a chicken-hawk bar we once visited in Brisbane.

The tribe votes Rodger out of the outback, 3-2. Rodger and Elisabeth vote for the newly affianced Keith.

-- Bill Wyman

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