Frank, my dear ...

We don't give a damn! Plus: The lions are restless.

Published December 21, 2001 7:46PM (EST)

It's the night after the Moto Maji tribe booted out Brandon. Brandon is a gay bartender from L.A.; you'd think he'd have been a blast to have around, but he turned out to be lazy and ageist, a whiner and a bad schemer, cranky and untrustworthy.

He was a 6-year-old in a twentysomething's body.

The only interesting thing about his demise is that he somehow charmed the paranoid Lex into joining forces with him.

Lex already had an alliance -- with Big Tom, the goat farmer; Ethan, the smolderingly handsome soccer player; and the elder Kim. He thought a temporary concord with Brandon gave the main alliance the security it needed to get the combined tribes down to a manageable level. The others, however, didn't, and in the end Lex was the only person who didn't go along with the Brandon ouster.

And that has left his alliance-mates a bit suspicious.

Brandon's departure leaves the younger Kim, the dumb one, as the last surviving representative of the nearly extinct Samburu Taliban, a cadre of intolerant youngsters who would have been beating their elders with canes like their Afghanistan counterparts if they could have gotten away with it.

Kim, like Lindsey before her, had seen Brandon's betrayals up close and personal. But she's feeling a little guilty about voting to oust him: "It still tugged at my heart a little bit."

The only body part of ours Brandon ever disturbed in this manner was the digestive system.

But Lex's tempestuous dalliance with Brandon is raising eyebrows.

He's spinning it as if it was no big deal: "Tom, Ethan, Kim and I are all still standing and we have an advantage now; we have an advantage because we got everyone else outnumbered," Lex says.

This is actually true: All they have to do is stay together and knock off dumb Kim; Frank, the intolerant gun nut; and Teresa, the "coffee, tea or me?" girl. The guys can thereupon jettison the elder Kim, and then Ethan and Big Tom, the mountainous goat farmer, can turn to the endgame, the object of which is to end up in the final two with dislikable, stressed-out Lex.

(The $1 million grand prize is given to one of the last two players by vote of the previous seven ejectees; either Ethan or Tom seems likely to garner more votes than Lex in a one-to-one matchup in this fashion.)

But Lex still has to worry about getting that far; he knows he's pushed some boundaries, and he needs to make sure his alliance is strong.

He tries to shore things up with the elder Kim: "We're still solid, right?"

Kim mutters something unintelligible -- does she say, "100 percent?"

"All right," he says hopefully.

Ethan continues to speak philosophically about the nature of a promise and ponder what the meaning of the word "word" is.

"He gave his word to Brandon and gave his word to us as well," he reasons with Big Tom. "His word was just as strong with Brandon as it was with us."

Still, he recognizes, "Lex went out on his own and covered his own ass."

The elder Kim is rationalizing furiously herself: "As much as Tommy, Lex and Ethan think they're going to go down to the finals, the three of them, they're all skeptical of each other. They know when it comes down to crunch time, one of them has to be voted off."

She thinks she might end up in the endgame. It doesn't seem like a good bet at this point.

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

The group lives in a large circular compound made of six feet of scrub. Early on, we heard that they had to worry about predators -- lions and such that might try to come in and sample some of that tender American meat they've heard tales about.

But we haven't seen much of them -- perhaps because of the camera vans, we suspect, round the compound at night and perhaps because the "Survivor" producers aren't coming clean -- that there's really very little danger of such an occurrence.

Ethan and little Kim are on the night watch, shown through the spooky, nightmarish night-vision camera, when they hear a lion growling.

Little Kim is scared: Her eyes are as wide as Frisbees. The next few minutes of the show have a cool, "Blair Witch Project" feel.

"The Blair Witch Project" was a cool flick. It was fun seeing slacker, hapless kids get systematically taken down.

We're reasonable sure, unfortunately, that "Survivor" this season will not end as satisfactorily.

Says Ethan, shaken as well: "I think the lion is stalking, but I don't know why it would make a noise."

Says Kim: "I thought they made that noise when they were calling other lions to come feed!"

The "Survivor" cameras capture some great shots of a hungry lioness scowling in the dark, her eyes ablaze, growling as if to say, "I sure would like to eat a muscular soccer player right now."

The two stand there in fear.

Big Tom appears and gives them a start. "I'll protect you!" he says.

The close call has Ethan feeling philosophical again. "It's not our land at all. It's their land, and we're just living on it for 39 days."

In other words: They are wild animals; I'm just a game show contestant.

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

The lions aside, the show this week is a pastiche of "Survivors" past. There's very little we haven't seen before.

Here, for example, is the wacky physical problems montage. There's Tom's boil, of course, which is now the size of a baby wildebeest.

Tom is clever, and seems to have a natural knack for neutralizing jokes about his rather too expansive physique. He's quick -- a little too quick -- to make the joke first.

There's another affliction as well, an ickier one. The elder Kim's legs are swelling. And it's an odd sort of swelling. When you poke her skin, the indentation stays.

It started in her lower legs and now it's moving upward.

"It's climbing up. Wait till it gets to my breasts," Kim cracks.

We couldn't tell if that was just a normal campy remark among familiars or a fairly sophisticated crack about how a certain one of last season's "Survivor" contestants lost weight in every part of her body save one during her time in Australia.

Everyone's thinner. Everyone but Tom is gaunt.

Tom himself says he's lost 40 pounds.

They have nothing, really, to eat. There are still chickens there, but it doesn't seem as if they're producing anything.

"You guys want the mush or the gruel this morning?" Lex asks mockingly.

Their other staple is water with a few kernels of corn in it.

"It's like eating chalk twice a day," Tom says.

Like other groups of "Survivor" contestants, they don't have much in the way of actual survival skills and seem to have made little effort to go out and find other sources of food. We kind of miss Mike, who last season went out and killed himself a baby pig.

(We learn on "The Early Show" this morning something we suspected but that we're pretty sure hasn't actually been vouchsafed by the "Survivor" powers that be -- that the group, being in a Kenyan nature preserve, isn't allowed to kill animals. We don't think slumming Americans should be allowed to kill animals for the purposes of a game show, but it is a tremendously bogus restriction on a show purportedly about survival.)

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

Ethan and Tom are discussing Lex's strategic infidelities.

"Lex is worried," Ethan says.

"Lex is worried 'cause he knows I didn't like what he done," Tom says flatly.

Tom tells the camera: "We had an alliance, me and him and Ethan, and the alliance was we'd vote together, and he jeopardized the alliance when he voted for Frank!"

"I don't understand why you don't let Lex know," Ethan prods gently.

"Because when he made that agreement with Brandon, he didn't come to me. All he was worried about was Lex. Now he's got to be thinking about me and you, right?"

Tom means, Now he's worried about him and Ethan. We think Tom's got Lex in a good position.

"It'll take a while to get Lex back on his good side," Ethan tells us later.

Tom's having none of it: "From here on out I'll have questions about Lex."

The group gets its note about the reward challenge in a little toy that looks like a rhinoceros. Tom holds his head down next to the rhino.

"What's the difference?" he mugs.

"There's no boil on the pig!" practically the entire camp says in unison.

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

Now it's time for a food auction, another "Survivor" staple. This is basically a way for the producers to give the contestants some food so they don't starve. We'd rather see them suffer.

They each get 20,000 Kenyan shillings to bid on different portions of food, from a beer and a hot fudge sundae to some good stuff: a hoagie, a plate of pancakes and bacon. Most of the time the contestants see what they're getting; sometimes, though, the plate is covered.

Lex pays 3,000 for a cup of coffee and a chocolate croissant.

The elder Kim pays 6,000 for some cheese and crackers.

As the auction goes on, people ally in distinct ways. Frank, the uncompromising gun nut, shares food with Teresa, his only friend. Kim eats her sundae alone. And Tom and Ethan share a breakfast.

Teresa likes her hoagie: "It's good enough to make you wanna slap your momma," she says.

Unlike last year, none of the mystery dishes is a booby prize. Everyone seems to be happily chowing down a dish of food.

The only thing good about this episode is that we don't get the now-traditional bathroom scenes, as the digestive systems of the famished survivors quickly expel the alien food.

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

Next a mini-documentary on one of Africa's strangest beasts, Big Tom.

At the auction, he said he would share his bacon with the "Jew-boy," meaning Ethan.

Everyone thinks this is just part of his adorable political incorrectness.

We see him and Ethan playing chess and checkers on a makeshift board.

The consensus is that Tom's not as dumb as he looks, or as he plays it.

"I go back and forth as to whether Tom is for real or whether part of it's put on," says little Kim.

"Tom plays the good old boy, but he's not as backwoods as he makes you think," agrees the elder Kim.

"His old 'I'm a hayseed from Virginia and I'm not that smart' -- I knew quickly he was a lot brighter than he let on," says Lex.

We see him checkmate someone in chess and raise an eyebrow shrewdly.

Then we see him pull up a pole to get water and face off the other direction, Pushme-Pullyou style, from Frank, who's already facing the water hole.

You be the judge -- is he playing dumb? Or just dumb?

As the group troops off to get water, they come across an extraordinary herd of zebra thundering across the bush. That's something you don't see every day!

At the water hole, Big Tom busies himself pouring water over everyone's head for bathing purposes, taking special delight pouring water down the front of comely little Kim's bikini.

Everyone's relaxed with each other now, Ethan explains: "I can fart and not really care."

He says it like it's a good thing.

"We've lived together closer than most families live together!" marvels little Kim, as the cameras wanders over her thighs like a lecherous uncle.

The elder Kim says Tom's leering behavior doesn't bother her. "It's not like he's going to jump our bones or anything."

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

Time for the immunity challenge. They meet in an abandoned enclosure. Jeff Probst tells them a story about African rites, enjoyably detailing those surrounding circumcision. They then have to run around, answering questions painted on signs and collecting a leather strap with each correct answer.

They need to get five leather straps on their poles to win.

Lex gets back to home base first, only to find he's lost a strap! Can he find it and get it on his staff in time to beat Frank, who's close on his heels?

In a word, yes. Lex has immunity for the second week in a row.

Last season, Colby rolled up an amazing run of immunities in the last weeks, protecting himself thoroughly. (So did the underappreciated Kelly, in "Survivor's" first season.) Lex's situation is a bit different. While he may be vulnerable simply because he's become so irritating, it's not clear that it's in Ethan or Tom's best interests to toss him off; it would be ideal for either of them to be left with him in the final show, because the object of "Survivor" is to get to that position with the only person in camp more dislikable than you.

On the other hand, with Brandon in the Jury of the Damned, with his former Taliban pal little Kim soon to join him, it's possible that Lex's alliance with Brandon may bear fruit.

However, it's never clear how much information is spread around on the show. Probst seems to make it a point not to reveal the rest of the votes at Tribal Council once a verdict has been reached. (We get to see all the votes during the credits at the end of the show.)

Does Lex ever have the opportunity to get to Brandon to make that case?

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

Next we see one of Frank's little endearing moments -- an extended rant about people who think guns should be regulated. He natters on and on about the "little liberal special interest groups the media give an open market to."

Even Teresa is getting sick of him.

"He brings up this gun stuff," she marvels. "Today is a day you don't want to ruffle any feathers!"

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

At Tribal Council, Probst takes the interview time to prod the players on the problems with both voting people out and still retaining votes on the Jury of the Damned. How do you balance the need to scheme to knock people off and still retain votes on the jury?

He doesn't say anything directly about it, but you know that Probst and all the players are looking at the jury thus far, an unappetizing phalanx of Kelly and Brandon.

"I'm trying to be as honest as I could be; I hope they're respect my decisions," says Teresa

"You hope that how you treat people before the vote will put you in a good light," says Ethan.

The show is trying to build suspense, so we don't see any of the votes as they're cast until the very last one, which is Teresa putting a knife into the back of Frank.

"It's not a vote of betrayal, it's a vote of strategy," good-time Teresa says, crying.

That tells us that Frank's in the tribe's sights. Frank himself dings little Kim.

"The tribe has spoken," Jeff says as he puts out Frank's little torch.

Frank doesn't say goodbye.

(Bill Wyman)

Back to the "Survivor: Africa" home page

By Salon Staff

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