We're stuck in some sort of hellish self-referential feedback loop.
At the start of tonight's show we see wild animals biting at each other. We see horrible contestants that we hoped we would never see again.
Maybe we've watched too much "Survivor," we think. It all looks the same to us.
And then we realize, it actually is the same: Tonight's episode is a clip-job, a mid-season breather that summarizes everything that's happened so far -- or in the case of this season, hasn't happened.
It's like an awful nightmare that we've already had. We try to recall how we got here.
At one time we were journalists, and we wrote about real people. And then we became critics, and we wrote about art and music -- stuff made by real people.
And then we became "Survivor" recappers, and we wrote about stuff that real people did on a television show carefully constructed by a team of highly competent editors.
Funny: Not one of our professors ever mentioned this line of work when we were in journalism school.
Then, as the seasons went on, we continued to write about "Survivor," and we realized that we were no longer writing about real people -- not even real people on television. We were writing about the edited version of people who were acting like facsimiles of the edited versions of real people who they saw on television.
And then it got worse. Because now we're writing about watching the edited version of the edited versions of people who act like facsimiles of the edited versions of real people they've seen on television.
Or, we're writing a recap of a recap.
We would trade in our career if we only had one.
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Yes, it's television sweeps, the time of the season when the networks determine how many people are watching, and therefore how much money they can squeeze out of their advertisers.
Sweeps can be fun. TV executives usually spam the networks with the most salacious episodes of their regular shows, sexy specials and dunce-cap crowd-pleasers. That means a lesbian tongue kiss on "Ally McBeal," a Victoria's Secret fashion show and Garth Brooks hopping up and down on the most gynormous stage you've ever seen.
Man, that guy can get worked up over a lot of really mediocre songs.
But on "Survivor," sweeps week is a chance to show another blurred shot of a fat redneck with a feather stuck between his ass cheeks, another shot of a 57-year-old woman in a thong and several more conversations with a sniveling bartender who couldn't be more out of place if he was stuck on the North Pole with a bunch of penguins.
And you wonder why the once mighty "Survivor" -- the phenomenon that saved a network, spawned an entire genre of bad imitators and bravely went head to head against the most popular show on television -- has slipped to No. 8 in the ratings.
Could it have something to do with the ass cheeks?
So, yeah, tonight's episode is a recap of the first seven shows of "Survivor: Africa." We're treated to highlights (ass cheeks) as well as some never-seen-before footage that we've never seen for a really good reason: It's deathly boring.
And by the way, Frank is probably psychotic.
The good thing is that it happens to be sweeps week here at Salon.
Don't expect a lesbian kiss.
We thought that instead of writing an entire new column about old episodes of "Survivor," that we'd just let you settle back into your work chair -- but not too much, you don't want your boss to catch you reading crap like this on company time -- and reminisce about some of the great moments we've shared.
Remember that time when we made fun of all the kids in the Samburu tribe?
And remember that time when we shredded rednecks, and gun nuts, and the sorority girl, and the asshole basketball coach, and the new-agey spiritualist, and the vomiting police officer, and the middle manager with the bad tattoos, and the disgruntled postal worker.
How bout that time when we slammed Jeff Probst, King of Hyenas?
Or remember when we made fun of ourselves for being no-life so-called journalists who write about stupid reality TV shows?
Come to think of it, the only ones we've never tore into are the people who actually read these recaps. And gee, if we're busy writing a recap of a recap about a bunch of people who are acting like the -- you know what we mean -- and you're the ones reading it, what does that make you?
Yeah, you're right -- not as lame as us. We have to watch the show twice.
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So just because we have to suffer through tonight's episode, and then tonight's episode, it doesn't mean we're going to make you endure our old columns.
And every day is sweeps week on the Internet. Why do you think the Internet is falling apart?
But forget the real world: Let's get right to the recaps of the recap.
We start in "the heart of wild Africa" with a Jeff Probst precis of tonight's episode. For those of you keeping track, that's a recap of a recap of a recap.
We already have a headache.
The King of Hyenas tells us that we'll see highlights and never-seen footage, and gives us a peek at basketball coach Clarence putting on war paint, gun nut and resident psycho Frank banging deer antlers together, some people eating a giant ostrich egg and redneck Big Tom asking swishy Brandon if he's, you know, gay.
We're back at Day 1. All 16 survivors are dumped out of a truck in the middle of nowhere. An African with a machine gun sends them on their way. Both tribes find their camps and some muddy water. We meet Diane, the postal worker, who is in charge of keeping big animals away from the Boran watering hole. She's jumpy, and she thinks she hears a lion.
Big Tom calls her a "crybaby."
Then neither tribe can make fire, and then Samburu figures out a way with the lens of a telescope.
There's a lot of footage of people falling down at the first immunity challenge. It's still funny.
And then we go through the great bean caper again, when Coach Clarence opened a can of food for Diane, and then the tribe voted off Diane because she was weak in the challenge.
And probably because she's a crybaby.
And maybe because she's a postal worker.
You know what? We can't do this. There's just no comedy in it. The show is going through stuff from two months ago with lightening speed. And we've already written the jokes -- two months ago.
We're going to have to keep this recap of the recap to the never-seen footage. We've, of course, already seen the show twice, and boy can we tell you -- we didn't have much to look forward to that second time around.
We should have spent sweeps week finding out if Rachel is pregnant.
OK, so, never-seen footage, take one. We're learning the story behind Clarence's black eye make-up.
We guessed that he probably wasn't some Alice Cooper groupie, but we never really knew what was up with those streaks under his eyes. So we see a lot of shots of Clarence in front of a little pocket mirror. He tells the camera that "war paint" was his luxury item. He puts it on because it makes him feel like a warrior, like "an instrument of our decisions" -- whatever that means.
He thinks it makes him look cool. His tribe mates, on the other hand, think it makes him look like an idiot.
Sorority girl Kelly is particularly enraged. She says something about how ridiculous it would be if "I put socks in my boobs." We don't really follow her, but we do notice that she grabs her breasts.
Soccer stud Ethan notes that Clarence paints his abs to make them stand out.
We make a mental note to pitch an ab-painting story to Men's Journal next month.
Tattooed Lex, who probably knows that you really shouldn't criticize the cosmetic decisions of others, sums it up best. "You don't want to laugh at your fellow teammates, but ...."
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King Hyena brings us up just shy of the second immunity challenge before introducing more new footage. It's of Frank, and it's a glimpse into how he prepares himself for those big challenges.
Let's see, first, he walks around and stretches out.
And then he looks around a little.
And then he goes over to his team's flag.
And then he grabs two deer antlers and starts smashing them into one another!
It turns out that Frank has brought the deer antlers of two "mature white-tail North American bucks" as his luxury item.
He looks like a fussy little boy slamming Hot Wheels cars into one another and making them go crash.
It's very weird.
The thing is he thinks this ritual inspires his teammates. "I want them to see that Frank's getting in the mood," he says, talking about himself in third person, which, it should be noted, is the way that crazy people talk about themselves. (Salon recappers would know.) "They should be thinking, maybe we should get in the mood."
Actually, they're just thinking that he's really weird.
"He goes over to our sign and freaks out with them," says the conniving Lindsey.
"Are you talking about the antennas?" asks bartender Brandon.
His exasperation is even funnier than the malapropism. He can't believe that Frank would bring the antennas as his luxury item.
There's no way he can get "Absolutely Fabulous" all the way out here.
But frankly, we're with Brandon on this one. Brandon sensibly brought chap stick.
Brandon corrects himself, and mocks Frank for the camera later: "He bashes them together like two somethings fighting, like he's this big testosterone stud."
"Such a redneck."
Monkeys. Lions. Bleeding cows. Cop Jessie voted out.
It's all stuff that we've already seen, but this time there are more bad puns.
"Boran finally got the ball rolling," says Jeff Probst over footage of the tribes rolling giant balls in one of the challenges.
And just when we thought it couldn't get any worse: "They got their first taste of victory," he says.
Cut to a close up of someone vomiting.
More stuff we already know: The young-old fissure in Samburu, the SOS challenge, Lindsey passing out from dehydration.
Ah, the memories.
Then, ass cheeks.
Astonishingly, we don't see that scene of Doc Tom pulling the tick out of Lindsey's butt.
Next, Doc Carl voted off. The conflict between Lindsey and the new-agey Linda.
We realize how much editing does for this show when we notice that we're not even that irritated by Linda this time. She doesn't say anything about "Mother Africa" and we even see a pretty heartfelt apology to Lindsey that makes her more sympathetic.
Then her tribe votes her off.
And then, remember that big gift basket that Samburu won in one of the reward challenges? It turns out that the basket had a big ostrich egg. We see a short segment on cracking it and frying it up.
It's not clear if we're supposed to find this gross, but the survivors love it.
In fact, the only thing that is clear is why this segment got left on the editing room floor the first time around.
As Jeff Probst would say, "The producers have egg on their faces."
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More stuff we know: The producers switch up the tribes, sending three from one tribe to three from the other and vice versa. Lex and Kelly disappointed by their new tribe.
Then we see some footage of Big Tom, the goat-farming hick, and Brandon staying up together for a night watch.
It starts out with Tom talking about how hard Africa is. Well, there's the weather, and then there's the wild animals.
And then he says something that we don't really understand. "And here you are in camp with a paddlethog."
We replayed the tape a dozen times and we're still not sure that's exactly what he said.
Unfortunately, we don't speak hick.
But we're pretty sure from the context that the word is a disparaging term for gay.
So Big Tom and Brandon are sitting by the fire. This is their conversation.
"You'll have to tell me a little more about your lifestyle, 'cause I got a lot of questions," says Big Tom.
"About what?" says Brandon.
"Well, are you ..."
"About me being gay?"
"Well, are you, are you, are you gay?"
Now, asking Brandon if he's gay is kind of like asking the Queen Mum if she's old.
Brandon's gayer than Gold's Gym.
But Big Tom's never met a gay man, he says, rolling the word "gay" around for the first time. He's obviously more familiar words like "paddlethog."
He starts to tell a story about a hysterical mix-up, about this one time he "got in trouble" in college and ended up in a gay bar, but he gets cut off.
Unfortunately, later, Brandon can't tell us what he said. He wasn't really listening to Tom, he explains.
And that's what we personally have against Brandon: We don't care if he's a paddlethog or not; it just seems like decent people listen to what other people are saying, especially if they're the only other person awake in the middle of Kenya.
The two of them move on. Brandon points out that he and Big Tom both grew up on farms, and they probably like the same food. There's a sweet moment of Brandon trying to connect with him on cornbread and buttermilk.
Tom never liked that stuff.
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Jeff Probst in that cowboy hat!
More golden memories: Boran throwing an immunity challenge so they can vote off Silas. Lindsey's dismissal.
In the final new segment, we see both teams preparing for the merge. Samburu packs their bags. Boran goes to the stream to do laundry and wash up. We see Kim washing her thong.
It's a pastoral scene. Ethan, who is on look out, talks about the threat of big animals, but we see no big animals.
Then, the merge between the two tribes. Teresa wins the grueling endurance contest. Clarence gets thrown out, taking with him the last chance for a person of color to win "Survivor: Africa."
We go back to that scene with everyone getting drunk right after the merge. We find out that Teresa was one of those coffee-tea-or-me stewardesses; she's had sex on an airplane.
Frank is very uncomfortable. Everyone is hanging out, getting drunk, eating food. It's nice. The show is winding down.
"I was anxious to get it over with," he says.
Funny, we we're just thinking the same thing.
He suggests they go gather some firewood.
Then Teresa points out an elephant near camp, and shortly we see Frank acting just like the massive creature, walking slow and swaying his arm like a big trunk.
"There's a few humans who I wouldn't interact with," says Frank. "But the animals, yes."
We know just how he feels.
Does that ending seem familiar?