There are those who think that "Survivor" is getting formulaic in its third season. What's the big deal? they say -- the galumphy old guy, the sneering young guy, a few babes, a hunk or two, the nice older woman who gets fed to the hyenas early on ...
That question, of course, rings with an almost perfervid urgency here at "Survivor" recap central.
But let us make a case. There is an interesting dynamic to "Survivor" that people don't notice. Like a (very) slowly evolving species, the contestants on the show have consistently demonstrated a molasses-like but dogged ability to learn from past seasons, and past mistakes.
They're competing for $1 million. What excuse do viewers have?
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A case in point is unfolding in the Samburu group, one of the two tribes battling it out in a Kenyan wildlife preserve this time around.
Last week, we saw a generational rift unfold, as the four older members of the group -- Frank, the rigid weirdo; Teresa, one of those nice older women; beefy Carl, the dentist; and Linda, the fortysomething cancer survivor -- acted industrious and sensible and the younger ones sat around doing what younger people do: Nothing, basically.
Well, they do have a way with low-level sarcasm and a lot of cooler-than-thou posturing.
Last week, we saw Brandon, the bartender with the West Hollywood drawl, busily keeping stumps warm. This week, his chief physical contribution to the group is sleeping in late.
Indeed, the rift in the tribe has gotten worse this week, and based on past "Survivors," we know what's gonna happen. The older and more focused group will make mincemeat out of the youngsters. Last week, in fact, they'd efficiently enlisted Silas, the tribe's other L.A. bartender, in their scheme.
Well this week it turns out that Silas has ineluctably been drawn back in to his generational fellows -- the vapid Brendan, and then the two women who are too indistinct to be adequately described.
A scene opens with Silas pulling gunk out of his eyes as he awakens, one of any number of unappetizing vistas "Survivor" gives us this week. We watch as the older contingent march off to get water, while the other four get an extra 40 winks.
"So, yeah: If they want to get the water and let us conserve our strength, great!" gloats Lindsey.
"Don't ever forget what they've been putting us through the past six days," says whining, sunken-chested Brandon, of the oldsters.
We're not really sure what indignities he's talking about -- the ones where they provided him with water and shelter and won three challenges in a row?
"They are conniving miserable little people," he says.
All we can think is that we wish Brandon would shave.
The four cook breakfast and scarf down a bunch of food before the others get back .
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At Boran, things are going bump in the night. Roaring, too.
"We could hear it breathe!" marvels Clarence.
"We knew it was going to be real, but we didn't consider it was going to be quite that real," says Lex. He's sitting on a rock wearing nothing but shorts, and it's difficult to pay attention to what he's saying because he has so many tattoos covering such an alarmingly high percentage of his body.
We guess he thinks of his body as a work of art.
But it's bad art.
Big Tom, the bumbling goat farmer from Virginia, was sobered by the sounds, too: "Mah mahnd sed stay but mah feet sed go!" he rumbles. "It was all Ah could do to keep from running somewhere but there's nowhere to run!"
They're all talking about a pair of lean and hungry looking lionesses prowling around outside the group's circular compound. The lions roar, growl, rumble and, yes, just breathe. We actually see some pretty good-looking night footage of the beasts wandering around.
They've got to have a pretty good communication system in the African bush; you could tell the two lions knew that there was, in the form of that goat farmer, some pretty good potential eating just steps away.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with animals, desire does not equate with the ingenuity needed to grasp the ease with which, actually, they could have that delicious dinner of Virginia ham. A lion could easily leap over the group's pitiful brush encampment; you figure they could take down Tom, the scrumptious-looking Ethan and a "Survivor" cameraman or two before the group could marshal any defense. But the lions just can't visualize the act.
And Tom lives to drawl another day.
But that doesn't stop the Boran from a sleepless night, and awestruck looks, the next morning, at the huge paw prints the nighttime visitors left in the dust.
Lex gives the group tips to avoid becoming an appetizer at a big cat luncheon: Don't move fast. "As soon as you run away," he says, "you throw a signal that you're prey. You're inviting the lion to attack you."
He has a good point.
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At the water hole, the oldsters from Samburu worry about Silas.
"My gut feeling is that he's playing both sides," says Teresa. She's the go-getter from Florida.
The two groups aren't even civil to each other anymore. "Your breakfast is burnt," says Brandon blandly to the elders when they get back.
The four unpleasant youngsters play with Lindsey's little set of beads to demonstrate their tribal togetherness.
"We'll have these necklaces to represent that we're one unit, like little kids in the fifth grade," Lindsey giggles delightedly. She has an odd, unattractive rasp in her voice.
The kids think they're striking blows against the oldsters. "It was flaunting, right in their face," says Kim proudly. (There's a Kim in the other tribe, too. This is the younger, more annoying one.) "It was our strategy to drive them crazy."
"It could be incredibly ballsy or incredibly stupid," says Brandon.
You have to admit that the youngsters have studied their earlier "Survivors" and understand what the stakes are. If they don't stick together, it is a given the older tribe members will indeed vote them off.
"If we don't stay together they're going to pick us off," says Silas. "I'm no longer with the older people and I don't care if they know that."
"They're immature and trying to get under our skin and it's working," admits Carl.
Later, there's a scene where the kids question Carl, the moneyed dentist, who admits he owns a Porsche and a Mercedes. This is taken by the youngsters as de facto worthlessness.
Carl looks like a big dope, but at least he's raised a family and built up a business, while Brandon and Silas have been serving cosmos to visiting valley girls in Hollywood.
"It bugs me how much money he has," Brandon says recklessly. "The rest of us are here for the money."
"You can't re-create a work ethic when they've never had a work ethic. This is Generation X, this is definitely Generation X!" says Carl to the cameras later, visibly exercised. "I'm glad I'm 46 years old and I'm glad I'm not part of it."
The group seems to have a rigid four-four split. We wonder what's going to happen if they end up at the tribal council this week.
But that's unlikely. The Boran -- Swahili for "lion food" -- have lost three challenges in a row.
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"Survivor" is ratcheting up the wildlife footage this time -- we see massive elephants, one of them apparently attempting sexual congress with an enormous tree.
We also see gorgeous zebras coursing across the plain, and even a rambunctious rhino, which we thought for a second was Richard Hatch dropping in for a visit.
The animals could be 10 miles away, but there's at least one shot where it certainly seems as if elephants are within sight of one of the tribes.
We wonder what the "Survivor" producers would do if one of the elephants decides to use Brandon as a footstool.
We have a big bag of Kibbles for the Active Elephant for the one that does!
Later, in the scenes-from-next-week footage, we see a great shot of a peeved-looking water buffalo, whose jet-black coloring and extraordinary capacity to generate drool made it look like a Newfoundland a friend of ours owns.
None of these animals looks friendly. When the rhino comes back, we're staying far away from Big Tom.
But, as we said last week, we like to see more hyenas. They are the true symbol of Africa, and the true symbol of "Survivor." There are no gentle lions on the show, not rampaging rhinos.
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The group reads the missive from the "Survivor" producers about this weeks' reward challenge. It looks like it involves rolling a stone.
The prize will be a huge bin of fresh water -- enough, says Jeff Probst, when the group assembles, to give each member of the tribe a gallon a day until the tribes merge.
(The merger comes when the groups have whittled themselves down to a total of ten. Fourteen remain as of this week.)
We see that it will indeed involve rolling large boulders. Once the challenge gets going, we can't really tell if they are true stones or not. They seem too light, in the first place -- they were truly 10 feet tall. Wouldn't a rock that big be too heavy to move?
Is Survivor cresting fake boulders? What are they using -- Kenyan papier-mâché? Sheesh.
The groups have to maneuver the builders though a long course. The rocks may not be real, but it doesn't look like too much fun, and they are heavy. At the beginning, when the two groups are close to each other, it really looks like someone's going to get hurt -- at one point, there's a deeply pleasurable scene of the Boran stone literally rolling over Lindsey and Teresa.
Later, with the show on tape, we rewind over the scenes several times.
It's a Kodak moment.
These are the sort of memories that money can't buy.
We personally have found, when eating "Survivor" contestants, that a flattened Samburu, breaded and fried, makes a darn fine substitute for weinerschnitzel in the desert.
Unfortunately, the two women get up with little in the way of injury. We guess papier-mâchéisn't that heavy.
Still, it's hard work.
While the race is the Samburu's to lose -- they've won three in a row and seemingly would be more fortified with their reward goodies -- the once-pathetic Boran just don't let them win. They give it their all, and get to the finish line first.
Suddenly, the Samburu looks like losers. It seems like the psychic divide in the tribe is taking its toll.
There's no "I" in "team," Brandon!
The Boran celebrate.
Those in the audience cheering this feat are treated to a good side shot of Big Tom barfing. That's special.
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The second challenge of the week is more complicated; it's a twist on a game the first season. The two tribes have to come up with the best "SOS" signal visible from the air. Once they're done, Probst flies over in a small plane, accompanied by some survival expert, who judges the two attempts.
What follows is a lot of fairly uninteresting footage of the tribes deciding what to do, marked only by more antics from Big Tom, including his sticking a big black feather down the crack of his ass and wiggling his butt.
The idea is that the feather, thus utilized, might attract attention in an emergency.
We would love it if a male rhino saw the move and got the wrong idea, but they're apparently all wallowing in a muddy pond somewhere.
Over at Samburu, they just can't get it together.
"You gotta be a damn fool to go 100 percent for a bunch of kids who won't appreciate it," Frank says.
Lindsey says she'd like to see some of the older people show some weakness, for once. "They keep talking about weeding the weaker people out," she says.
Lindsey reminds us of that U.S. senator who defended Richard Nixon's pathetic Supreme Court nominees by saying, "Well, mediocre people need representation, too."
They can't really agree on what to do, but decide on writing a gigantic "SOS" using brush, and the circular encampment as the "O."
But they have a new problem. Lindsey, suddenly, is sick.
She was actually working, for once, and quickly overdid it. Lindsey is dehydrated. She has a pain in her kidneys and stomach.
We see her writhing in pain in the dirt.
"I tried to get her to drink but she keeps spitting it up," Kim says.
"I'd rather die right now than deal with this pain, I swear to god," Lindsey says.
Linda comes over to check up on her. "Linda, will you go away please," says Kim coldly.
"Lindsey likes to say how strong she is," Linda gloats later. "Well, she's not that strong."
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The Boran make a much smaller "SOS" and try some experiments with dyeing fabric. They also tell the women to strip down as much as possible so they can attract attention that way. Linda even wears a thong bikini!
"We've got a young lady shakin' bacon," says Tom. "If that don't get attention I want to talk to the pilot!"
This seems weird -- Tom alone is big enough to be seen from space. Bikinis are superfluous in this crowd.
Back at Samburu, Frank's trying to get attention as the plane flies over.
"Drop dead," Lindsey hisses.
But the Samburu site blends in with the brush all around. The Boran, by contrast, set theirs up in a wide open space. You can see "SOS" spelled out clearly, four spots of colors and a bunch of losers running around.
Boran is the winner.
We get a parting shot of the other, older Kim's jiggling buns as she runs around in excitement after the win. It's another "Survivor" moment to treasure.
It's fun to watch the Samburu grimly trek to the tribal council that night. It's evident that there's going to be a four-four split once they get around to voting, and we wonder where it's going to end. The Samburu haven't been to tribal council yet, so there are no old votes floating around.
On the way there, the youngsters are muttering about how the oldsters liked it that Lindsey suffered so much.
Which they did!
"Barbie went down in Africa!" Frank says with satisfaction.
"I'm going to be really cognizant of my water intake." Lindsey says.
"They viewed it as a little victory," Brandon says.
Well, we liked it too, and we're not even in the group!
Probst has fun at the council.
"Being here with buddies would be tough," he says. "I don't even think you guys like each other!"
Some of the people try to put a nice face on things. "It hasn't been that unpleasant," Brandon says, but Probst interrupts.
"Lindsey, you're cracking up."
Technically, she was sniggering.
Probst also points out that the necklaces are fairly divisive.
"We're [supposed to be] a team! I wanted to know where my necklace is!" says Linda.
Time for the showdown.
"Mother Africa is a very spiritual place," says Linda as she votes. This has become a refrain of hers, and, as we've noted before, it's a particularly galling one. Mother Africa is appalled that a bunch of decadent American game-show contestants watch her cows get arrows shot into their necks, and then drinking the poor thing's blood.
And that's not even to mention Jeff Probst, an aesthetic outrage on any continent.
There's a predictable tie -- four for Lindsey, of course. The kids gang up on Carl. Probst lets the two address the group. Carl, the burly dentist, tries to play up his sportsmanship.
But Lindsey doesn't even try to make an argument. "This is about money and you don't need the money," she says snarkily to Carl.
But Lindsey, the winner also becomes an irritating TV presence, and you're already an irritating TV presence.
Lindsey may be the most dislikable Survivor contestant yet.
They vote again and it's another tie.
Probst puts the group into a tie-breaking sudden-death quiz about survival in the bush.
"First time one of you misses and the other one doesn't, you're out," says Probst.
Neither, truth be told, knows much about the bush.
We thought Carl was older and wiser but we see it's not true. Neither of them know much about anything, and both miss a lot of questions.
We realize it's another "Survivor" imponderable. When it seems like age and wisdom should win, fate in the form of an Africa dust devil blows in.
Carl blows a question. Lindsey can't believe her good luck. Carl looks resigned. Youth is wasted on the young, we can see him thinking.
The four lazy, whining youngsters of the Samburu seem to have the upper hand. On the next three tribal councils they face, they can knock out Frank, Linda and Teresa.
Their only problem is going to be going into the merge with at least five people, and by targeting the tribe's biggest assets they're making that less likely. Indeed -- what's Frank's motivation, at this point, to help them out at all?
On the horizon, lions roar, the zebras are restless and rhinos barge through the brush.
Oh, well, we reflect. Lindsey could develop liver pains again. That will be entertaining.
Otherwise, there aren't too many bright spots on the Kenyan horizon.
-- Bill Wyman
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