We're with the elephants!

Everyone's a TV critic these days. Plus: T-Birds are an endangered species.


Salon Staff
January 7, 2002 10:25AM (UTC)

It's all so desperate in the "Survivor: Africa" compound -- the production one, not the contestants' -- that the producers are resorting to didgeridoo music, sounds like to us.

A cheap trick, trying to make us remember the halcyon days of lunkheaded Colby, colorless Tina, and Keith, the cranky cook. Remember Mitchell, the gangly whiner? Jerri, sitting regally in her puddle of evil? Her unquestioning myrmidon Amber?

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Oh, our youth. Covering reality TV was new to us. We were young and easy, and happy as the grass was green.

The night above the dingle? It was starry.

And we sang in our chains like the sea.

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

We've reached the point in each "Survivor" where we see that the survivors aren't surviving very well. Everyone is thin and tired and lassitude has taken over.

We can't tell you the exciting TV this produces.

All Ethan, the hunky soccer player and the only survivor whom malnutrition and exhaustion have not made less attractive, can do is state the obvious: "We have five people left in Africa, in Kenya. We started with 16 and we're down to five."

"Every little thing we do now is a huge effort," says the elder Kim.

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"Every night my arm goes to sleep," says Big Tom.

"My ass goes to sleep, my shoulder goes to sleep," Lex chimes in.

"Now it's so close to the end, I'm exhausted," says Lex. "But you can't afford out here to be a sissy."

Yeah, tell it to Brandon, we think.

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The producers are desperate for footage of anything besides game-show contestants lying around not eating. They luck out when the group goes to its water hole and find that an elephant had recently visited, and had left a calling card, to boot.

The pachyderm obviously fancies himself something of a TV critic.

The group finds it endlessly interesting. So do the show's producers, and they devote most of the first section of the show allowing the survivors to marvel at a pile of elephant dung.

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"We had an elephant disrespecting our spring," says Lex.

"It's a monster of a turd!" says Ethan

"We love this spot; we come here all the time and today we got a big giant gift -- very fresh, very smelly, very large -- and we're getting used to it," says Kim.

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Funny -- that's kind of how we feel about "Survivor" generally.

This late in the game, it's hard to surprise us, the viewers, but we learn that Kim Johnson washes in elephant shit every day.

There's a lot of long languid footage of her daubing the polluted water over herself.

"Kim washes herself in elephant shit every day," says Big Tom. "She washes her face and her hands and her heinie. I tell her that every day and she washes in it every day. She has yet to understand that and I've quit telling her."

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We think she kind of glistens!

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"Boredom has become a reality," says Lex.

Uh, yeah.

"We're running out of things to talk about," he continues. Putting example to words, we see the show's second extended sequence, which is about how bad Big Tom's feet smell.

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"Tom's feet stink the worse of anyone's feet on planet earth," Ethan confides. "He's got some funk I never smelled before."

Tom waves them at the camera and we can smell 'em, too.

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

Big cats laze.

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Then there's the third exciting thing to happen on this week's "Survivor," and that's one of the chickens' getting loose.

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We would describe the scintillating chain of events that follow, but our descriptive skills simply aren't up to the task.

Well OK, we'll try:

A chicken gets loose ... and Tom catches it!

Then Tom and Ethan pretend they're going to eat the chicken alive!

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Hilarity ensues.

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

What follows is an epistolary pastoral, as the survivors get to read letters from home.

Teresa, the coffee, tea or me girl, gets a letter from her dad, and gets teary, 'cause she's worried about him. Yawn

Tom reads a note from his son: "Don't forget the pressure's on, so if you feel like giving up and being a puss, just remember that you have to be tough and uphold my reputation now that I'm the big dog."

Tom looks up proudly. "Now is that some way to talk to your dad?"

He doesn't even seem to notice that little Tom is barely literate.

Ethan marvels that someone in his family has actually touched the letter he's holding in his hand.

"They put their ink to this paper!" he marvels.

Even before I came on this they called me "Survivor Kippy!" says the elder Kim.

It would have been more impressive if they'd called her "fourth place Kippy."

Time for the group's tree mail, which tells them what their challenge will be.

It's an enigmatic note, in the form of a haiku.

"I cain't even say 'haiku.'" says Tom.

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

The producers make an attempt to even up the challenges for the women, who can't hope to compete with the men's strength and endurance at this point.

So it's a mental challenge, a word-search-type puzzle, but with words in Swahili. (Swahili uses the English alphabet.)

Lex is unstoppable and races through the challenge. The puzzle he's supposed to solve spells out a word that turns out to be the model name of a car from a big automaker that paid money to be on a money-obsessed reality TV show that has done everything product-placement-wise but put a Mountain Dew tattoo on Jeff Probst's butt, so we're not going to mention it here.

Ethan's steaming with jealousy. "When I saw that truck and saw it wasn't mine, I was so ... jealous!"

The second part of Lex's win sees him and Probst going to a hospital in a Kenyan village and dropping off a couple of truckloads of medical supplies to help the hospital deal with the AIDS epidemic.

"I'm focusing on this game 'Survivor,' but I haven't been thinking about what the word 'survivor' means!" pontificates Lex. "I walked away a changed person."

We're telling you, as Lex went back to his game show set he was a changed vacuous game-show contestant!

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

Time to plot for the Tribal Council.

Kim is trying to keep options open. Last week, where there was a sixth tribe member, the three woman could have joined together to knock out one of the men.

But with little, dumb Kim gone, Teresa and the elder dumb Kim are hyena food. Kim says that the guys are all feeling vulnerable at this point, but it's plain that the three guys have formed the core of the alliance from the start and she knows that she's going to get booted off right after Teresa.

Tom and Ethan seem noncommittal to her entreaties.

Then Lex comes tramping back in.

"The vibe was thick at camp," he says to the camera later.

"There was some strange stuff going down. The mojo was just funky!"

Ethan acknowledges that Lex has just been getting healthier with all the extra wins.

Kim tells the camera that Tom'd been trying to get Lex voted off; that Tom had come to her and encouraged it but that "he didn't want to know anything about it."

Ethan broaches the subject with Big Tom as they lay on the ground and savor the odor coming from Tom's feet.

Tom dismisses the idea. "We made an alliance and we gotta stick with it. What will be will be. I don't know no other way."

"Well, the other way is getting Lex off," says Ethan.

"Lex is gonna be hard to beat [in the immunity challenges]," Tom says.

Kim goes to Teresa, too, to plot -- a week too late. "Good for you, you're finally thinking," Teresa says mockingly to the camera later. "You're waking up a little bit."

Teresa says she's gotta give it all she's got. "I'm the last Samburu!"

Her expulsion is inevitable at this point; she's a wounded gazelle with a crowd of hyenas surging around.

But she's going to the mattresses, for her brother, for womanhood, and for all the coffee, tea or me girls who once proudly served the nation's air travelers.

The show is making a big deal out of Lex's vulnerability, and it seems as if he needs to keep getting immunity, just in case any of the women's arguments begin to make sense to Tom and Ethan.

Neither of them are Napoleonic strategists, and we can't see either of them really trying to take Lex out. The point of "Survivor" is to get into the final two with as dislikable a person as possible. And no one's more dislikable than Lex.

At the immunity challenge, the test is an amalgam of bits of previous "Survivor" challenges: Assembling a ladder, building a puzzle, firing an arrow at a target and so forth.

Again, there are one or two elements that don't involve brute strength, but as a whole it's clear from the start neither Teresa nor Kim has a chance of winning.

The amazing Kelly Wigglesworth won a series of challenges at the very end of the first "Survivor," of course, but since then it's seemed to us that the challenges are far too physical. The deck seems to be stacked against the women.

In the event, the women seem to be sleepwalking through this challenge. Both barely have begun the thing by the time Lex wins. Lex wins handily and gets immunity again.

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

"T-bird [that's Teresa's nickname] is the odd person out. She's in a mess of hurt," Lex reflects, rather cruelly, to the camera.

"Lex getting immunity limited my options," she acknowledges.

Her last-ditch effort is to let Lex know that Tom's been tacitly encouraging them to work out a way to knock him out. "Watch yourself!' she warns him portentously.

She also tells him that it was she who voted against him at a Tribal Council some weeks ago.

Lex is surprised to learn this. "At the time I thought it was Kelly," he tells the camera. (He doesn't say, "whom I subsequently drummed out of the tribe in a paranoid frenzy.")

The info on Tom hurts, however. "It's completely gone to cutthroat mode. I'll cut his throat!"

Time for the Tribal Council. The Jury from Hell -- now comprising Kelly, the younger Kim, Frank and unbearable Brandon -- wanders in. Frank is wearing a Kenyan skirt. He looks kinda sexy in it. We bet the guys at the local Kenyan gay bars thinks he looks good enough to eat.

What's changed these last weeks? Probst asks the group.

"Mentally, you're not as sharp -- you're tripping over things you didn't trip over before," says Ethan

The producers and Probst try mightily, but there's nothing that can make this Tribal Council interesting.

Teresa is history. Even Kim votes for her. Teresa herself votes for Tom.

The elder Kim looks like toast next week, barring her unlikely ability to scratch out immunity. Notwithstanding Kim and Teresa's attempts to sow distrust, none of the boys would like to be in the final two with her. (On the other hand, if there is a split, previous votes might come into play. By our calculations, Kim and Tom now have one previous vote each.)

In the second part of next week's finale, if the pattern from previous shows hold, there will be an immunity challenge the winner of which will essentially be able to choose the person he'll go into the final two with. If Lex gets immunity again he'll probably dump Ethan, because the Jury from Hell would probably jump at the chance to give a million dollars to Ethan over Lex.

Ethan would probably choose Lex for just that reason if he wins immunity, and Tom would choose Lex as well.

Of the Jury from Hell, Lex would certainly not get Kelly's vote, nor Frank's. Brandon, however, might reward Lex for allying with him for a week, and might drag dumb Kim along with him.

But it's hard to see Lex getting either Teresa or the elder Kim's votes.

We think Lex is a creep and a bully, and hope he loses.

Sic semper tyrannis.

(Bill Wyman)

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