"Lindsey is a jackass!"

For once, we agree with Brandon. Plus: The urge to merge.

Published November 26, 2001 4:38PM (EST)

When the Taliban took control in Afghanistan, they created a slew of arbitrary laws and went around beating up anyone they could find, preferably women, who violated them. Like a lot of religious fanatics, they were basically just bullies.

The Taliban of "Survivor: Africa," who have recently begun to enjoy a fate similar to their Central Asian counterparts, were a band of loathsome twentysomethings-- clueless Silas; icky Brandon; keening Lindsey; and Kim, the faceless myrmidon -- in the Samburu camp.

Their big campaign issue, you will recall, was sleeping late and not working. The only fun part of their rule was when, after being negligent in maintaining their water supply, Lindsey got dehydrated and rolled on the ground in pain for a few hours.

But they've now been routed. At the end of the show last week, when Lindsey was summarily voted off the nature preserve, Brandon looked stricken. It might have been a face sort of like the one a Taliban leader might have made as he abandoned Kandahar for the hills of southern Afghanistan.

We thought, as the show opens this week, we'd see Brandon mourning the loss of his fellow hyena.

We'd overestimated him again.

"Lindsey was a jackass!" he says dismissively as the show opens. "I'm so glad Lindsey is gone. I could not have taken this merge with her whining and crying and bawling and being a baby."

This from Brandon, the champion complainer. There are rhinoceroses in the area who've been more active, and hyenas who have exhibited more moral and ethical fiber.

It's fun to see the chastened remaining Samburu Taliban -- Brandon and the younger Kim -- doing their best to blend in with the rest of the tribe and backpedaling furiously trying to explain away their unpleasant Taliban-like behavior.

"I felt protected," Brandon is saying by way of explanation, like a modern German skinhead rationalizing why he helped a gang of thugs set fire to a synagogue.

"The ethics of this was killing me. It's so hard!" Kim says.

The others in their camp -- Big Tom, Lex and Kelly -- watch them talk with some interest. "They were nervous as a whore in church," Big Tom tells the camera later, with some satisfaction. "You make your bed, you gotta lay in it."

And now Brandon and Kim are spatting as well. Brandon says he's going to keep his distance from her from here on in.

"It's different now," Brandon says.

Some of the guys in Afghanistan who were beating women with sticks on the streets a few months ago are saying the same thing.

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

Over at Boran, Clarence is telling us more than we wanted to know about certain of his internal digestive processes. The group has been feasting on chicken.

"The chicken was great," he says. "But I had a little trouble digesting it."

Each season of "Survivor" sees starving contestants given sudden bursts of food. And every season we watch, amused and revolted, as their clotted digestive systems remove it as quickly as possible.

Clarence calls it "doing his business."

"I was out doing my business," he says, as we see an idyllic pastoral bush portrait of him lowering his pants, "when I saw there was a little herd of elephants north of me."

The elephants, unsurprisingly, give Clarence a wide berth.

"It would have been a really embarrassing way to die," Clarence says.

As opposed to merely having footage of him doing his business broadcast on national TV, we suppose.

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

No one knows what's up with the merge. Regular viewers know that, once the teams are down to 10 total members, the Great Producer Gods force them to abandon their camps and create a new joint one. After that, it's every survivor for her- or himself.

The remaining 10 toss one more member off the show. Then, of the remaining nine, the first seven subsequent ejectees stay on the show and serve as panelists on the Jury From Hell, which will watch the ongoing tribal councils and eventually vote to award the first prize of $1 million to one of the final two players.

This forces the original winner not just to survive, but to play politics efficiently enough to acquire four of the seven votes for the final showdown.

Or, as we've put it before, be the second most dislikable person on the show. It's what gives "Survivor" its rather unappetizing charm.

But there's been some doubt sown as to when the merger will actually occur. The tribes are five and five, but since Mark Burnett mixed up the tribes a week or two ago, everything's confusing.

Of the original Boran, there's Lex, the tattooed guy; Big Tom, the goat farmer who can't herd goats; cute Kelly; hunky Ethan with the good teeth; strapping Clarence; and the elder Kim. From the original Samburu, there's the exasperating Brandon; dumb Kim; Frank, the Army guy and bowhunter who can't start a fire or shoot an arrow straight; and Teresa, the go-getter from Florida who's had twin lives as a flight attendant and a real-estate agent.

If there is a merge, it looks like the Samburu are in trouble. Brandon is a searchingly dislikable person; Frank and Teresa certainly aren't going to be getting into any alliance with him. But the Boran have their own fissures, mostly revolving around Clarence, who's big and strong (the better to win immunity challenges, as Colby did last season) and managed to lose a lot of friends straight off when the group found him sneaking some food on the side. Clarence has always been the odd person out.

Anyway, the Boran tribe now has the admixture of Frank and Teresa. As we see them eat one morning an odd, almost Beckettian sequence unfolds in which we see that Frank is unfamiliar with a certain common English word.

"What is 'brunch' again, exactly?" he asks.

Says the elder Kim: "Depending where you go, it's seafood or eggs and it's a set price and you get a lot of food for your money."

We didn't know Sizzler served brunch.

"I can't believe he's never heard the term before," she marvels to the camera.

Back to the breakfast: "A combination breakfast and lunch," Frank says thoughtfully. "And it's served when?"

"Frank is a three-meals-a-day man, very regimented," observes Kim.

And they say reality TV doesn't have real drama.

Meanwhile, Lex, Big Tom and Kelly are privately grooving on what they see as something of a sure thing. "I think we're pretty much locked and loaded," says Lex, who has too many tattoos.

Kelly does a celebratory little boogie. The camera swings over to Big Tom, who does an approximation of the groovy little dance he's seen African-America action-comedy stars like Martin Lawrence do when they're happy.

On Tom, it kind of looks like he's having some of the same problems Clarence was having.

Meanwhile, Brandon continues his exhausting regimen of sitting around.

"I don't want to be with a team anymore!" he says, echoing certain sentiments currently being voiced by besieged al-Qaida members in Kunduz. "This is horrible, absolutely horrible!"

He wants it to be a merge so it's every man for himself.

Lex feels the same way, though he's less hysterical than Brandon. "We're waiting for something to happen that may not ever happen," he says.

Beckett again.

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

Lex gives Tom a spoon he carved. It's an "uber-spoon" he tells him.

We're seeing some cracks appear in the alliance.

"Lex is so politicking for a win!" observes Kelly for the camera, later. "Kissing ass with everyone annoys me. I'd like to vote off Lex, in a perfect world."

In our perfect world, neither Kelly nor Lex would exist.

Time for a station break. We see Sheryl Crow, who used to be popular and now sings in a Gap commercials. It takes us a while to realize that she's singing an old song by Supertramp. At first she's with a guitar and can't help swaying back and forth 'cause she's sooo excited about mall clothing stores and the Supertramp song.

Then there's a promo for our old friend Craig T. Nelson, who is still, apparently, just what Washington, D.C., needs in a top cop.

Huh. We'd thought "The District" got canceled.

We sit silently for a minute and think about how, once "Survivor" is over, we won't have to watch CBS for a few more months.

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

"We have 20 minutes to eat and get out of here!" Clarence says.

It's the group's weekly mail, informing them that a challenge is imminent. The mail has hints that it's not going to be easy.

"That's something nasty!" says Clarence.

It seems to be an immunity challenge. Generally there's a reward challenge first, so we're pretty sure there's gonna be a merge.

It turns out it is indeed one of those endurance tests, in which the contestants have to do some mundane thing, like stand on a log, for hours and hours. We have a lot of respect for the people who win there, because strength isn't really the deciding factor. It has to do with endurance, and personal grit and will.

This could be interesting, because Brandon really needs immunity tonight, and it will be fun to watch him suffer for a while.

Jeff Probst, King of all the Hyenas, tells the group they will indeed merge after the challenge. They decide they will all go back to the Boran camp. He tells them they'll have to rename themselves, too.

Now for the challenge, which is to stand with one's arm raised up in the air. A rope around the contestants' wrists is connected to a bucket of water balanced precariously above their heads. If they move their arm even slightly, the water comes pouring down on their heads.

The elder Kim and Kelly are the first to go. They were both in Boran originally and this is their first chance to talk again. They whisper on the sidelines and discuss recent developments. They discuss who they think should go first, so he doesn't end up on the jury, but it's hard to tell who they're mentioning.

One by one various Survivors collapse. "Oh, screw it," Brandon says in his grating, nasal voice. He gets doused. What a fighter. Then comes Kim, the follower.

The kids have no endurance.

Big Tom is next -- it looks like an accident, though.

Brandon starts to clap gleefully until Kim elbows him.

Teresa starts belting out "Tomorrow," from the hit Broadway musical "Annie." She must have been a blast on a trans-Atlantic flight back in the old days. It goes on and on, and quickly becomes one of "Survivor's" greatest outrages.

Probst begins to bring out temptations for the remaining people. A cheeseburger, a pizza.

"Aw c'mon, man!" Clarence says.

Ethan drops, then, after more than three hours, Lex. Only Clarence and Teresa remain.

Teresa's amazing.

Clarence eyes the latest plate of food Probst proffers.

"If Clarence eats the whole thing I'll kill him myself," murmurs the elder Kim from the sidelines.

Lex watches intently too. "I just don't want to see Clarence wearing that damn necklace. It will piss. Me. Off," he says grimly.

Clarence and Teresa start negotiating sotto voce.

"You're stronger -- you can win more immunity challenges," says Teresa.

"They want me gone, cause I'm strong," Clarence ripostes.

"You made that up. You're trying to trick me and I don't like it," Teresa replies.

Based on what Lex and Kim have been saying, we don't think he's making it up.

Clarence tries to communicate with the others, but they cant tell what he's saying.

After six hours, Clarence and Teresa agree to settle the standoff with an exciting round of scissors-paper-stone.

One, two ...

Clarence does rock.

Teresa does paper.

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

What are the alliances at this point? There are 10 survivors. Brandon and dumb Kim, the last vestiges of the children's Taliban, are two. Lex, Kelly, big Tom, the elder Kim and Ethan seems to be sticking together. Then there's Teresa and Frank, the bruised victims of the short reign of the Samburu Taliban.

The new combined tribe goes back to the camp and finds a bunch of party food. Should the group eat it right away or cautiously save some of it?

"Let's celebrate," Brandon says, thinking about the future, as always.

No one seems to like poor Frank. As the groups go back to the Boran camp he says, "It's like going to a Wagner family reunion and your last name is Smith."

We see a lot of shots of lonely Frank wandering around.

"Frank's a very big loner," says Kelly. "But there are prescription drugs to counteract that and he should maybe be on them."

A touch! A definite touch!

And then we see the beginning of the mating dance of a rare African mammal.

Tom's got a thing for Teresa, the spunky stewardess. They were in separate camps before. It's Tom's first look at her. To him, that rendition of "Tomorrow" was what a big red butt is to a male baboon.

"Teresa's a good woman," he says, with a passionate glint in his eye we haven't seen since he was digging a big old tick out of Lindsey's ass a couple of weeks ago.

"She shore ain't bad to look at," he continues, whistling as he warms to his subject. "Mah wife knows I'm just a man. I don't care if Teresa had one eye in her forehead, I'd still take her!"

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

Unfortunately, the food the producers give to the contestants includes wine.

In the Governing Commandments of Reality Television, all convivial drinking is required to be accompanied by a drinking game.

They're playing "I Never."

I've never walked in a crowd naked," shares Ethan.

"I have been turned on by a 56-year-old woman," Tom says, unclear on the concept.

"I never had sex on an airplane," says Brandon.

Teresa exclaims, "I have!" to ooohs all around. Teresa was apparently one of those "Coffee, Tea or Me?" girls.

It finally gets to be Frank's turn. "I've never broken the honor of a handshake," he says.

We were more wondering if he'd had sex on an airplane.

There follows another African idyll. We see Frank eyeing an elephant. "He's taking a little dump," Frank shares.

"I'm downwind," he reports. "He doesn't have a good smell."

There follows seemingly interminable footage of Frank walking slowly around waving his arms, presumably either like a tail or a trunk: His portrayal leaves something to be desired.

"He doesn't know what I am," Frank says.

Oh, it's a nature preserve, Frank. We're sure he's seen a few slumming Americans before.

Next the group tries to come up with a new name.

They all agree on one, based on two words that are A) allegedly Swahili and B) allegedly mean "fire" and "water," but no one can really say it.

"OK, show of hands," someone say. "Majimoto."

"Right -- Motomaji," someone else says.

Lex is in awe of this process. "It's much more than a game!" Lex says. "We're creating a society."

Indeed -- everyone's plotting.

Clarence whispers with Kim.

Tom huddles with Ethan.

"What are we gonna do?" he asks.

"Huh?" says Ethan.

"The hatchet," Tom explains.

"Huh?" asks Ethan.

It's kind of like a Burns and Allen routine, minus the actual humor, or smart and clever people writing and saying it.

"The knife in the back," Tom finally deigns to explain. "Who we gonna slay?"

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

Lex, we can see now, is feeling a bit full of himself.

"The person who's gonna be voted off doesn't have a clue about it." he says. "I'll take him aside and tell him, but I don't know how he's going to be."

Kelly's had it with Lex. "Grandmaster Lex," she sniffs.

Lex is talking about Clarence. "I know it sounds like a cliché, but it's not personal," he tells him. The alliance, which seems to include Lex, Big Tom, Kelly, Ethan, the Elder Kim and presumably Frank and Teresa, is planning on offing him that night.

"We can't let you win all those things," he says to Clarence.

Kelly feels bad for Clarence. "He's a part of the group, unlike crazy outcast Frank."

Says Big Tom: "I'm ashamed to vote anyone off except Brandon."

We're with Tom.

Teresa tells us she's not voting for Clarence, however.

Brandon says he thought Frank was a fun guy at the celebration last night. "When he smiled and cracked a joke, I almost hit the floor with a stroke." Ah, promises, promises.

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

It's time for the tribal council. Everyone looks freshened up. Does "Survivor" let them shower before the TV shows?

Clarence comes off great; he says he hopes there is some remaining tribe loyalty.

In the event, there isn't. He's history.

When Clarence votes, he dings Lex. "I just gotta make things a little hard on you on the way to winning this thing," he says.

(Bill Wyman)

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By Salon Staff

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