Talk about your arrows of outrageous fortune!

Who knew Ethan was a regular Robin Hood? Plus: The chickens cower, and Lindsey squirms.



Salon Staff
November 16, 2001 9:20AM (UTC)

The worst thing about watching "Survivor" is leaving the channel on CBS at night and waking up in the morning to be confronted with "The Early Show."

A lot of people don't like all this reality TV stuff. It degrades the medium, they say.

"The Early Show" is officially part of the CBS news department, which at one time was considered to be illustrious, back before it got bought by MTV and became a punchline. "The Early Show" stars the vacuous Jane Clayson, the fatuous Bryant Gumble and the fat Mark McEwen, all pretending to be real newspeople.

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Not to mention Julie Chen, still plugging away as a real live newscaster after her unforgettable work on "Big Brother."

We often wonder why "The Early Show," a news program, would employ her after she was an incompetent host of the worst TV show in the history of the world.

This morning, we found out why. "The Early Show" is actually tackier than "Big Brother."

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We often see, on "The Early Show," the previous night's "Survivor" ejectee. We won't give away who it is just yet. We only bring up "The Early Show" to relate this priceless bit of Tiffany Network badinage.

The program's pathetic entertainment correspondent, Laurie Hibberd, tells Gumbel she interviewed Robbie Coltrane, the classy British character actor who landed the part of the big bearded Hagrid guy in that overhyped new movie about the child wizard.

Coltrane is a big guy, Bryant observes.

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"Yes," responds Hibberd. "He's a real pantload."

"A whatload?" asks Gumbel.

"I can't believe I just said that," she replies, giggling.

She's a real pantload, too. So's Bryant.

So's CBS.

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For the third week in a row, "Survivor" opens at night. Dark doings in the African bush!

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Why look: Here are some chickens in a cage. And there's a rascally predator, something with a long tail, sidewinding his way through the scrub.

There's no evidence that the hungry lurker is anywhere near those four chickens. We can see the real meaning by that greenish, low-light-photography tint. It speaks to us in quiet, urgent tones.

It whispers, "Danger!"

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Cut to a close-up on a chicken's head. The creature makes a little pathetic moan. We don't know much about poultry, but we guess that the little moan might not have anything to do with being threatened, or cooped up, or even with knowing that it will probably die a quick death tomorrow if a machete-wielding Detroit basketball coach named Clarence goes machete mad for Kenya McNuggets.

For all we know, the poor chicken moans because she's been watching a lot of selfish, annoying celebrity wannabes vying for a million dollars in an exotic private wildlife preserve in the middle of Africa.

This chicken is whimpering with disgust.

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She's whimpering, sympathetically, for us.

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Last week, of course, the "Survivor" producers, led by all-knowing, all-seeing Mark Burnett, played God. Not the kind of God that fills sacks with cornmeal, drops 100-gallon water towers from the sky or constructs large game-show sets in the middle of one of the poorest, most corrupt nations on Earth.

More of a setter-of-arbitrary-rules God.

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A Dungeon-master God.

The producers work through Jeff Probst, a Jesus figure-slash-Level 9/1 Summoner Wizard with 44 kill points. Probst took three survivors from the Boran tribe and switched them with three players from the Samburu tribe. Then, at tribal council, Jeff hinted that the two-tribe merger might not happen the same way it did during the first two seasons of "Survivor."

The switch screwed everything up, and while we admit that it makes the show far more interesting, we have to agree with exasperated Boran soccer stud Ethan: It sucks when you start playing a game with 20-sided die and you end up with 10s.

OK, no more Dungeons & Dragons allusions.

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Besides the strategic implications of the switch, or at least the merger, or the potential that there will be no merger, one of the new problems is that the Boran tribe has rationed food to last only for three more days. If there's no merger, then Boran will run out of food. (Apparently, the players get more manna when they come together.)

This tiny segment is a setup to one of the major plotlines of this episode: People are hungry. Food's running out.

We make that chicken noise again.

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Meanwhile, over at the Samburu camp, Big Tom the goat farmer and tattooed Lex are tossing logs on the fire and burning intrigue. They've been standing watch at the camp for the last five hours, making sure that big animals don't stop by for Brandon tartare.

They're pissed. Everyone is supposed to do three-hour shifts, but gay bartender Brandon, listless Lindsey and that other blandly pretty woman whose name we always forget just sleep through the night, content to let the others do their work for them. It doesn't make things easier that that's what they do during the day, too.

Brandon, you will recall, is the constantly scowling, sweepingly unattractive guy who's always shooting black glances about and scrunching his face up into impossibly disdainful sneers. Lindsey is currently the all-time champion "Survivor" basket case, her unpleasant personality matched only by her emotional instability, which is always erupting into ugliness and laziness. And that third one ...

... we're not really sure about that third one, save that she's just as lazy and unpleasant as Brandon and Lindsey, without distinguishing herself in any other way.

Two weeks ago, this was a generational split. The older people were amped up to work, and the younger ones complained that the others were pushy and overeager and maybe even something approaching evil.

Then, once they kicked Carl off, they turned into a little ruling Taliban, lording their power over their betters.

Fate intervened, and now we know definitively that the three remaining young hyenas are just lazy complainers.

"It was painfully obvious the moment we stepped foot in camp here that we had three people who were here for a little resort vacation," says Lex of Brandon, Lindsey and that other woman. "They weren't here to do anything but nap and eat and make a couple of meals."

Of course Lindsey and company are in complete denial. In the morning, Lindsey asks about the previous night's shift and acts surprised when she finds out that no one else -- i.e., her -- bothered to relieve the night watchmen.

She's a blamer. "Everyone's stressed out right now," she says. "This whole switcheroo thing has made everyone's mind go crazy."

Actually, it's Lindsey that's making everyone's mind go crazy.

The lines are clearly drawn. Within the new Samburu tribe it's Tom, Lex and sorority girl Kelly against Brandon, Lindsey and that other woman.

If this were a Navy show, like the fabulous CBS network's forceful drama "JAG," it would be Can-Do vs. Can-Won't.

So, the other major plotline tonight is the power struggle between the two sides of the new Samburu. A visit to tribal council will theoretically produce a tie vote, and in cases of ties, the person with the most prior votes against him or her will lose.

The mystery, then, is whether Can-Do can figure out that Lindsey has four votes against her, and if Can-Won't can keep them from figuring it out.

Remember when people said that this reality stuff was going to reinvent television? It's this kind of plot that makes you hanker for a good ol' episode of something like CBS's "CSI."

You know, they have ass shots of dead hookers on "CSI" now.

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

We switch back over to the Boran tribe with a lame concept of country music. There's a violin sound and maybe keyboard-created banjo sound too.

This music means that we're back to the chicken part of tonight's show.

Last week, remember, Boran won three chickens and a rooster in a reward challenge. Clarence wants to eat chicken for dinner, but the others think that maybe they should wait to see if the hens start laying eggs.

If you've seen the previous "Survivor" shows, you know this is a recurring debate -- one that usually ends with a pile of chicken bones and some unheard protests from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"I will not deny that I am having homicidal feelings about these damn chickens," says Clarence.

Somewhere in the Midwest, a self-righteous 16-year-old girl writes the first line of a petition that will be distributed at the next local PETA meeting:

"Dear CBS Executive,

We, the undersigned, are furious, dismayed and incensed that your show promotes cruelty toward delicious animals."

The tribe decides to wait and see what happens at the reward challenge; they'll figure out what to do with the chickens later.

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

Notice of the reward challenge comes, and the hint suggests that it might be something cerebral. The Boran take the opportunity to bone up on their "Survivor" manuals.

We don't see what the Samburu do, but it probably has something to do with taking a nap.

It turns out that the challenge is in fact a trivia contest. The reward is a bucket of highly caffeinated soft drinks from one of the show's sponsors and a big lunch spread. The survivors lick their lips.

The questions are rejects from the $100 round of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

Both teams know that the Atlantic is not the ocean nearest Kenya. Both teams know anyone poaching elephants will be shot.

In fact, both teams know pretty much everything that the other team knows, except that the Samburu know that the leopard is one of the animals on the "Big Five" safari list and the Boran do not.

Samburu wins. Cruelly, the lunch spread, with pasta, sandwiches and cookies, is set out right in front of the other tribe. The Samburu race to the feeding trough, unable to contain their excitement. It's a big slap in the face to the Boran, who watch for a while, and then walk off malevolently.

Several gratuitous shots of the soft drink later, we see that one girl from Samburu walking back to camp. Turns out her name is Kim P. (The other Kim is an older, blond woman in the Boran tribe.)

You know, we've seen Kim P. and her bland good looks dozens of times on "Survivor," but like every "freelance marketing executive" we've ever met, we forget her name the second we hear it.

Anyway, what's-her-name drank too much soft drink or something back at the picnic. She now looks like she's going to puke.

It's amusing to watch. Even more amusingly, that bland woman's teammates also find it amusing that she's in such obvious pain.

"If you barf it out, just barf a little of it out and keep the rest," says a helpful Lindsey. Lindsey seems to have some familiarity with managing barfing.

The freelance marketing executive clutches her stomach. Did you know that some freelance marketing executives say that product placement is the future of television advertising? We brace ourselves for a shot of yummy green soft drink erupting out of her mouth.

Makes you just wanna reach for a refreshing Mountain Dew!

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

Back at Boran, Clarence is really hungry. He is still going on about the chickens.

"The members of my tribe are of the opinion that given the right conditions, the chickens are going to lay eggs, which is completely a joke to me," he says.

Apparently, Clarence, who is a basketball coach in Detroit, knows a lot about chickens, or he's at least confident that Jeff Probst was talking smack when he called them "egg-laying chickens."

We see Clarence's wacky tribe making a small coop for the chickens.

Clarence makes a deal with them -- the chickens and the tribe. If the chickens lay an egg in the morning he will spare them.

On tonight's drama-starved episode, this passes for a portentous moment.

Sure enough, the next morning Kim J. finds an egg in the coop.

Much is made of this egg. The survivors place it in the middle of their big skillet stone, presumably not because they're dreaming of omelets and benedicts, but because it makes Clarence look like a fool.

"Hell naw!" Clarence dutifully replies when he wakes up and sees the egg.

There are a few laughs. But then the entire segment is undercut by a new announcement: They're going to eat one of the chickens anyway.

This plot development makes no sense. What are we watching, "The Education of Max Bickford"?

Strangely, we hear some sax music, day turns to night, and we see everyone picking at chicken bones.

We are watching "The Education of Max Bickford."

Nope. There's Ethan, who is a vegetarian in real life (although nothing is made of it here), and he actually drools over his portion.

Clarence insists it was delicious.

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

At sundown, over in the Samburu camp, sorority girl Kelly decodes a secret message. She's sitting with her former Boran mates, goat farmer Tom and tattooed Lex. At the last reward challenge, it turns out, Boran's Kim J. was throwing up signs: She was making an "L" with her fingers.

You know, like the international sign for "loser."

Or, in this case, "Lindsey."

Kelly gets it: Kim J. was trying to tell her that Lindsey has votes against her.

Or maybe not. Because she thinks that Kim J. might have been suggesting "B" by holding up her palm. Kelly tells us that Kim knows sign language.

Kelly is also telling us that she does not.

She, Tom and Lex decide that they need to take this new information and do absolutely nothing with it: If they go to tribal council they're still going to vote for Brandon.

We would make fun of them, but we understand their logic: There's no way that Brandon could be that annoying without attracting at least one or two votes.

Turns out, though, that he hasn't. And now Brandon knows that Kim J. was throwing up signs at the reward challenge. It turns out that the other Kim witnessed the whole ill communication.

Brandon suspects that the Can Do trio will vote for him.

And he thinks the Can Won't trio should go after Tom, because he's positive that he could beat Tom in a trivia challenge. To prove Brandon's point, we see a few shots of Tom making some Homer Simpson moves, like snoring in the middle of the day and trying to balance a giant straw thing on top of his cowboy hat. In our own heads, we replay the scene of him trying to climb the palm tree.

But we know Big Tom's not as dumb as he looks.

Brandon's team, however, agrees. Lex is smart, they think. And Kelly is "a walking thesaurus," says that bland woman.

And now we have a way to identify dumb Kim P.

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

Boran finds a bow and arrow in the day's tree mail. It looks like the immunity challenge will be an archery showdown. Boran starts training for the challenge immediately.

Gun nut Frank is a hunter, and knows his way around a bow and arrow. He teaches all of them how to get the thing to shoot, and they seem pretty grateful for the lesson, especially Ethan.

We don't see Samburu practicing.

The challenge is pretty straightforward. There are five targets per team, placed 30 to 70 feet away. The goal is to light each one on fire with a flaming arrow. The producers have the targets rigged with some sort of fuel so that they burst into flames when the arrows hit.

The production values are great, although they probably should have shot the scene at night. There are some cool whooshing sound effects, and the targets explode satisfactorily into instant flames when the survivors score.

Samburu gets a solid head start. Lex is a regular Robin Hood.

Brandon is priceless. He winces and shrinks and scrunches up his face as if the bow was a dirty diaper.

He nearly shoots himself in the foot with a flaming arrow.

Ethan is an archery machine. He hits two of the four targets.

Frank, curiously, misses every shot. He's another one of those hapless "Survivor" contestants -- the chef who can't cook rice, the goat farmer who can't herd goats.

It comes down to the wire, Brandon vs. Ethan. Brandon screws up his face and drops his arrow just short of the target. Ethan, who has already hit two targets, nails the last one.

Samburu will go to tribal council.

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

There's a rare scene of Brandon working. Lex approaches him to talk about tribal council. Everyone knows that there's a three-three split. Lex tells Brandon that no one should take things personally, because they like all of them.

Lex is a good liar.

Brandon figures this means that he's the one who's going to attract votes.

You get the sense that the Can Won't trio talk about the vote endlessly.

Talking is all the trio has ever done, and, like last week, this week they're in paroxysms of plotting, doubt and recrimination.

Like maybe so much that someone on the other team might overhear them?

And what do you know? Kelly is standing nearby during one of their conversations and overhears that they're trying to protect Lindsey.

Can Won't spots her and immediately knows they messed up. Lindsey, who is a blamer, goes off with Kim P. alone and blames Brandon.

Dumb Kim P. says there's nothing that they can do.

And here we see, once and for all, the real Lindsey.

"Yeah, there is something we can do," Lindsey points out. "Vote with them."

Her rationalization: Sure, she had a pact with Brandon, but now this pact has been violated because he's betrayed her by letting the other players overhear him.

We're pretty sure he wasn't talking to himself.

Kim P., however, was right. There's no point to Lindsey's quisling behavior. The other three on her team can't trust her to do what she says she'll do.

But Lindsey busies herself with her betrayal. She takes up her case with Kelly.

"This isn't cheating," she says of her plan of self-preservation.

Well, we think, at least she's not going to get any television endorsements. If she's voted off, we'll probably never see her again. Because you know, even Playboy might pass up someone who so baldly broke her word and sold out her friends. It's not very girl-next-door.

Then again, Playboy went for Jerri, last season.

On the other hand, we haven't heard much about Jerri lately.

Maybe Lindsey will score with Penthouse. It's a little less dignified, but then this is a girl who had a tick in her ass last week.

"I'm kind of in a no-win situation," says Lindsey. "Do I go against my personal morals and values and vote against Brandon? Or do I vote with Brandon and Kim and risk being the next one out of here? I don't know what I'm going to do, and I don't think I'll know until I get to tribal council."

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

At tribal council, Jeff asks dumb Kim P. if she finds the show more ethically challenging than she expected.

She does, and she makes a little speech that lashes out at Lindsey, even if no one else in the tribe knows what she's talking about: "You either decide that you play this for me ... or you play this with values and integrity."

It might have touched Lindsey.

The votes come out three-three Tom and Lindsey.

Lindsey gets up to walk away.

"Sit it," says Jeff.

It's been pretty clear that "Survivor" as an entity hates the Can-Won't tribe. That's why they mixed up the tribes, and that's why the producers have taken such delight in the indignities Lindsey's gone through. We think, happily, again of the time Lindsey was curled up on the ground moaning in pain from dehydration. (Because she and her coevals couldn't be bothered to collect water.) Or standing with her tribe after a tribal council in which she'd garnered three votes, furiously jabbing at her teeth with a makeshift toothbrush while she warned them "Not to fuck with me." (Because she and Brandon had been so contemptuous of their elders.)

Or when she had that big old tick in her ass. (Because she spent all her time sitting around on her behind.)

"Survivor" is a game of ritual, or routine, or at least little phrases that Jeff Probst has to say in the right order. There's a formality here, dammit.

So Jeff shuts Lindsey down and we, and the "Survivor" producers, get to watch Lindsey confront her fate for a few more minutes.

Everyone's superemotional. Brandon can't sit still. Lindsey tries to put on a Joan of Arc face, but it comes off more as a Tori Spelling face.

Probst calls for a revote, and says Lindsey and Tom each have to make an appeal to save their own skin. Tom goes first. He says that with him, you get what you see.

"I'm who I am," Tom says. "I'm nobody different and I'm not going to change."

That, we're reminded, is a portly, 46-year-old goat farmer who can't herd goats and is not ashamed to be seen on national television wearing a pair of shorts with a big black feather sticking out of his butt crack.

Lindsey admits that she'd considered voting for Brandon, but on the way to tribal council her "dignity took over."

This is an interesting concept of personal dignity. Lindsey starts to cry and says that she's "the happiest person on earth" because she didn't vote for her friend.

But no one was tempting Lindsey. The plot to screw over Brandon was all her own, and the only reasons she didn't follow through with it is that it was just a fruitless and last-minute desperate attempt to save herself.

The revote is again tied, and Jeff finally gets to what everyone knows: Lindsey has four votes against her; Tom has none. It's time for her to go.

The tribe has spoken, but not nearly loud enough.

Brandon glowers like the thwarted would-be bully he is.

Lindsey walks off the set. Her butt's all dirty.

(Jeff Stark)

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