Just when you thought it was safe to be an arrogant twentysomething!

The kids get screwed as Mark Burnett mixes things up. Plus: A very scary robin!



Salon Staff
November 9, 2001 9:03AM (UTC)

It is a night of profundity, betrayal, justice and intellectual challenge on "Survivor."

We see terrible elephants, graceful zebras and a menacing, um, robin redbreast. There are unexpected surprises, including one we'd never seen on "Survivor" before.

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There are goats, and Jeff Probst in a cowboy hat.

Oh, yeah: Plus Lindsey gets a big old tick biting into her ass!

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Emotions run deep tonight, on the most confusing "Survivor" yet.

There's something delightful about seeing Brandon, the scornful, useless gay bartender from L.A., whining about the annoying, bitchy women he pledged his troth to in the Samburu tribe two weeks ago.

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Last week, the divisions in the camp coalesced, and we watched as the four lazy youngsters -- Brandon, indistinct Kim, the searchingly annoying Lindsey and the stolid and unimaginative Silas -- started picking off the oldsters. Last week they kicked off Linda, the fortysomething from Harvard, and had their sights on Frank, the Regular Army martinet, and Teresa, the go-getter from Florida, in upcoming weeks.

We have to say it looked like "Survivor" wasn't going anywhere. The Samburu were hopelessly lame. Anything could happen, of course -- Brandon, we speculated happily one evening, could stomp off in a huff some day, be kidnapped by a band of passing predators , be spirited into Tanzania and live out his days as a baboon love slave in the Serengeti -- but it seemed as if the weakened and hapless Samburu would just keep losing challenges. It would then go into the merger of the two teams the smaller, and be matter-of-factly eaten by the rampant and focused Boran.

This would be satisfying, but we guess that Mark Burnett, too, found it a little too predictable.

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Was his response legitimate?

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Boy, does life suck in Samburu. It's like a live version of the episode in "The Twilight Zone Movie" where the little boy with psychic powers holds life or death power over his family. He at least was cute.

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The ruling Taliban of Samburu are by contrast unappetizing youthful specimens of bitchicus twiticus.

Via the night-vision camera we can see the six remaining Samburu fighting wildly back at their camp after the tribal council in which Linda was walked off the plank. Frank and Teresa are unrepentant. The kids had wanted the oldsters to vote again for Lindsey, who already had votes against her. (The stray votes can matter later on in the show in the event of ties; the kids' logic was that it would keep the risk centered on one tribe member after the merge.)

But the oldsters, last week, took their anger out on Silas, hitting him with a couple of votes even as the allied four youngsters dispatched Linda. The kids have no real hope to earn their cooperation -- they were not only holding them up for council-by-council guillotining, they were being contemptuous and stupid as they did it.

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Frank and Teresa are mad that the kids didn't have the courtesy to tell them who of the three they were targeting that night.

Silas is railing at them. Brandon's doing his best to calm him down. "Don't be emotional, Silas, we're all really high strung," he says.

Brandon is talking loudly in his keening, annoying voice.

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"I totally understand Teresa," he says. "If I were in her position I would have said screw 'em all."

"No you wouldn't," says Lindsey.

"Well, I'm trying to make things easier tonight," Brandon replies.

Where do they get these people?

"You all talk about character and loyalty and honesty and it just proves right now that you guys are full of crap," says Silas. He sounds like a seventh grader who's been grounded.

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There's the most scary African creature yet: a robin -- menacing and potentially bloodthirsty.

The Survivors sat idly by while a cow got shot in the neck with an arrow two weeks ago.

We hope the robin poops in their rice.

"We're still a tribe divided," Frank says to the camera later.

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Teresa's a little exultant herself: "I felt so good last night. I know we got to 'em and it feels good!"

"Oh yeah, they definitely set up Silas!" Silas tells the camera. It's annoying when adults speak of themselves in the third person. It's is nearly unbearable to hear a 23-year-old bartender talk that way.

Brandon, who's been, after Lindsey, the tribe's most unattractively sneering and divisive member, suddenly has a new strategic religion. He rails against the girls' behavior

"I'm not used to all these emotional people," he says, in all seriousness. (Brandon lives in a constant state of near-hysteria.) "It's a game and we're supposed to be thinking," he says.

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"We have to win more immunity challenges," he continues. "It's frustrating for me to see a clear picture and have people around me not realizing that what they do has huge consequences two days from now!"

It must be hard to have the soul of a visionary empire builder in the body of a scrawny irritating bartender whom no one listens to.

The next morning there's lots of sighing.

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Then mark Burnett, the Great God of "Survivor," stands like Jupiter Pluvius and sends down a thunderbolt.

His Mercury is Jeff Probst. The groups are told to prepare for a quest, and to send their three "best" people.

Samburu sends Frank, Silas and Teresa. Boran sends Big Tom, the goat farmer from Virginia; Lex, the overtattooed guy; and Kelly.

Probst assemble the six -- and tells them they will be switching camps!

Frank, Silas and Teresa head off to Boran. Tom, Lex and Kelly go to Samburu.

It seems to not be a trick -- it seems to be final.

Everyone's stunned. On the trek to a new home in Samburu, Lex keeps calling them the "Sam boo-hoos."

Little does he know!

"How many times did I say, 'I'm glad I'm not part of that team!'?" Kelly says.

The trio resolve to keep their ears open and find out who has votes against them.

The implications are hard to figure out. While it seems that the tribes have to accept new members, in reality they've each been split in half, so the newcomers can't be victimized by an entrenched majority.

There are a couple of immediate implications. It seems like Tom, Lex and Kelly are getting the bad end of the rhino, so to speak. They have to go to a camp run by rampant bratty lazy hyenas.

The hyenas are waiting back at Samburu -- bitchy Brandon, bitchy Lindsey and the younger Kim, who is bitchy. They're stunned.

Even more stunned are Tom, Lex and Kelly, who have been living in comparative comfort at Boran. They are now like a decent, hard-working couple invited over to dinner at the hillbilly neighbors who have moved in next door.

Except they don't get to leave at the end of the meal.

At Boran, it's confusing as well. The three there -- Ethan, the heartthrob soccer player; buff Clarence; and the elder Kim -- have to sort out what they quickly discover is a rat's nest of resentment in the relationships among Frank, Teresa and Silas.

More robin footage!

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But the real contretemps is at Samburu. "We were pissed!" Lex tells the camera later. "A bunch of lazy people had been running the camp!"

We know, Lex. Think how much fun it's been to watch them on TV!

"There was a mound of ash [in the fire pit] a foot and a half high! There's no firewood!"

He and Tom busily set about dragging firewood into the camp. Brandon watches warily, suspicious as ever whenever work is being done, lest someone ask him to contribute.

"It's painful," Lex says.

"Do they think wood's gonna fall out of the sky?" ask Big Tom. "That there's just gonna be an artesian well?"

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Silas, over at Boran now, is crushed. "Now I'm on the bad side!"

He's enormously annoyed at Frank and Teresa. "It's rejuvenated their life; it's a whole new opportunity for them."

Teresa's overjoyed. "Frank and I looked at each other and, you know, [said,] 'We're alive again!'"

"I told you not to give up didn't I, girl?" asks Frank, a bit paternalistically. "Not till the end!"

We suspect the "Survivor" editor was beginning to understand the robin footage was sort of undercutting the show's danger themes. For the first time, we watch the group in the actual physical presence of elephants.

The Boran are slowly coming to understand in what tatters the Samburu tribe camp was. They get bits and pieces of info from Frank, Teresa and Silas.

"It was like all-out war," Clarence marvels.

The remaining original Samburu are terrified that the three will find out that Lindsey has votes against her.

The newly configured Samburu also see that they're physically out-gunned as well.

"We're outmanned so drastically," sobs Lindsey. "If the challenge is in any way physical we will lose!"

"They have Silas and Clarence and Ethan!" Brandon gripes.

The only good thing is that everyone sees how annoying Lindsey is. We see her crying uncontrollably. It's some of the most satisfying footage "Survivor" has yet telecast.

But then follows, as if in punishment, an extended scene that will go down in "Survivor" lore with the footage of Richard Hatch running around in his birthday suit.

Lindsey gets a tick on her ass. Tom takes charge of the extraction, quipping all the way.

"This is one of the nicest jobs I've had to do here so far," he says.

It turns out he's not quipping. He and Lex spend a lot of time pouring hot water on her butt cheek to get the thing to let go.

Lindsey is forced to bend over to give the boys access to her ass, which allows the "Survivor" camera to do its best to get shots down her shirt front.

CBS -- still the Tiffany network!

After what seems to be the passage of several eternities, a rueful and chagrined tick is removed.

Tom slaps Lindsey on her ass. "It was good for her and good for me," he says with satisfaction.

We're the ones who feel violated.

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The reward challenge is simple and fast. There are 40 goats in a pen. The first group to herd 20 to another pen wins!

Jeff Probst, King of All the Hyenas, is wearing a fetching cowboy hat.

It was just as Lindsey feared -- Clarence and Silas and Frank make mincemeat out of the Samburu.

They don't exactly herd the goats. Mostly they carry them.

We see African tribesmen, in full get-up, laughing.

Brandon stands around and scowls.

It strikes us, suddenly, that Big Tom, the rumbling tub of lard from Virginia, should have taken the lead in this endeavor.

He is, after all, a goat farmer!

You'd think he's be a veritable Schwarzkopf in this situation, marshaling materiel and personnel to wreak havoc on the enemy.

The "Survivor" producers either miss this angle entirely or are so contemptuous of his plain-talking farmer shtick that they ignore him.

Last season we had a cook who couldn't serve up rice. Right now we have a goat farmer who can't herd goats, and an army guy (Frank) who can't start a fire in the bush.

Next you're gonna tell us that Brandon can't serve up a Jell-o shot.

The reward is a bunch of chickens.

You can eat them or use the eggs, Probst observes. One the other hand, he notes, chickens attract predators.

We think a hungry lion would go for Tom first, but Jeff, we suppose, is the expert.

But the Boran come home happy with the chickens. "Frank's in seventh heaven killing a chicken tonight," murmurs Lindsey blackly in the other camp.

She is so unhappy she can't bear it. She has scrapes and bruises all over her face and arms.

Not to mention the tick bite on her ass.

"There's no stability here -- I'm walking on eggshells," she sobs.

The "Survivor" producers cut to a shot of a big African beetle vainly trying to climb a small hill of coarse sand.

Lindsey, Kim and Brandon are in trouble. They try to meet in secret, talking so fiercely and rapidly that we can't understand them. The women are delightfully freaked out. Lindsey's plotting like a cheerleader in danger of getting kicked off the squad.

But Brandon is beyond exasperated at them now. "You have to tell them everything!" Brandon complains. "And all they do is cry and bitch and moan!

"It's such, such a great thing I'm gay," he remarks nastily. "I couldn't put up with a crying woman now, I couldn't!"

On behalf of American womanhood, let us say we're glad you're gay, too, Brandon.

Back at Boran, there's some high-level "Survivor" strategizing. Ethan's thinking that he might want to just throw the immunity challenge, to deal with the uncertainly of the new tribe members right away.

The immunity challenge is a big puzzle that looks to be about 15 feet by 10 feet. The groups have to fetch the dozen or so pieces and put their puzzle back together.

The Boran can't get it together, particularly with Silas barking orders. It's hard to tell if they're deliberately throwing the challenge.

Somehow, the Samburu manage to get their puzzle together first.

The Boran look a little lost.

Silas throws tiles down in disgust

"You know what's coming next, right?" Probst asks

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It looks like there's some sentiment left at Boran to jettison Clarence. Silas tries to start politicking. He seems to be one of those people who has gotten all his tips on interacting with other people from bad movies and TV shows. He's clumsy and utterly transparent.

"Frank stabbed everyone in the back!" he tells Ethan melodramatically.

Silas is gnawing on his lip industriously. He looks like a wildebeest chewing his cud.

No one is buying what he's selling.

"He may be a nice guy but I don't buy his schmooziness," says Kim.

At the tribal council Probst tries to look for some pressure points. Silas answers the questions like a lesser basketball player after the game, mouthing platitudes he barely seems to understand.

"As soon as you gave us the new colors, obviously it was a new game," he says.

Frank's a true plain-speaker. When Jeff asks him how his position has changed with the switch, he says, "It improved, most definitely."

Jeff asks Clarence how he feels about another "alpha male" coming in. Probst doesn't seem to know what an alpha male is. Both are buffoons, not leaders.

Clarence handles the questions classily: "I think we're stronger together."

Silas gets voted out by a landslide.

"I love you, man," says Clarence as he votes, quoting a well-known beer commercial, "but I can't trust you!"

Silas himself votes for Frank.

We think other TV shows should make it a habit of voting off their most annoying stars.

Let's start with "The Early Show." Bye, Bryant!

(Bill Wyman)

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