Even before this season of Survivor started, CBS was crowing about the terrific new super-villain it had rustled up this time. Colton is a doozy, all right, as mysterious in his power as the kid from The Twilight Zone who could wish people into the cornfield, but the show seems to have decided it doesn't want to make it too easy for him. That's my best explanation for why, only five episodes in, Jeff Probst calls everyone together and announces that he's scrambling the two tribes. To decide who goes where, he has everyone take an egg that's filled with either blue or orange dye and orders them to “smash it against your skin.” As cool as that sounds, in its competitive-reality-show Burning Man kind of way, most of the players opt to squish it between their hands, instead of boldly smashing it against their chests or tummies and then yelling “Arrrgh!!” I'm guessing that was one time the director was tempted to ask if they couldn't do a second take.
When the smoke has cleared, Colton is still on the Manono tribe. along with the doddering Tarzan, the short person Leif, and Jonas, whose pathetic insistence that he's eager to be Colton's “bitch,” that he'll gladly be whatever the evil genius wants him to be so long as it gets him to within spitting distance of the million dollars, is starting to seem perversely likable. He may be a jellyfish, but he's practically unique in seeming to understand what show he's on. Whatever else you may have found likable or dislikable about the players who've gone done so far, they all shared a baffling naivete about how the game is played, and just how little things like performing well in feats of strength, and having the good heart of someone who's devoted to his dreams, count in the face of a ruthless tactician who knows how to single out those with weaker wills and convincing them that they have no choice but to jump off whichever cliff he points at. When tonight's episode is over, the pattern will not have been broken.
Colton's new teammates are his gossip buddy Alicia; Monica, whose alpha-female stature makes you wonder if “Ex-NFL Player's Wife” ought to be some kind of action hero category; and Monica's sidekick, Christina. The newly constituted Salani tribe, meanwhile, is basically a bunch of tall, athletic people in their early 20s and early 30s, plus Troyzan—a collection of “Greek gods,” Colton calls them, twice. They kick sand all over Manono's face in their first reward challenge, which involves filling a large, leaky bucket with water and running through an obstacle course to empty its contents into another bucket that's positioned on a teeter totter, until the weight drops the bucket to the ground. The tricky part is that the holes in the side of the first bucket necessitate having some of the people transporting it do their best little Dutch boy impression, while in motion.
It sounds like something out of a Hal Roach comedy, and Tarzan, in particular, is happy to do his bit to pay tribute to the slapstick tradition. The winners are gifted with mass quantities of peanut butter sandwich fixings, and this delicacy, which has been wielded as a punishment on Big Brother, is spoken of here jealously and reverently, as if it were manna from Heaven. Colton in particular wonders aloud how anyone could kid themselves that they might best competitors who've been fueled by George Washington Carver's miracle energy supplement, while the winners jump up and down yelling, “Peanut butter and jelly! Peanut butter and jelly!” They will get to enjoy their sticky dinner at their old camp site, without a bunch of hungry people staring at them, because the Manono tribe will be uprooted and forced to relocate to a different stretch of beach. “Losers!” Probst bellows, while the challenge is still going on. “Go to a new beach! Win nothing!!” It will not be the last time tonight that I caught myself wondering if everything is going okay for him at home.
After a little time at their respective new digs, during which time Kim locates an idol and Colton cements his hold over his teammates while repeating fifty times a minute that they're all idiots and they make him sick (he keeps saying that he wishes he had more intelligent people to play with. Doesn't he know that more intelligent people would have voted him off by now?), Probst kicks off the elimination challenge. It's a game of water basketball, with people splashing through the surf while competing to be the first team to make three baskets. Seeing Michael and Lief standing near each other before play commences, Probst is moved to chortle, “A little height discrepancy down at this end!” I'm less surprised that he said it than that the editor left it end. Lief quickly establishes that he has the heart of a lion, fighting a valiant defensive game as he tries to keep his taller opponents from scoring. Michael, in turn, proves himself a fit and aggressive man with the soul of a douche, throwing both women and Lief around with the kind of violence that would get this show shut down in a heartbeat if he did it to a horse. I kept waiting for Probst to stop play to scold him, or at least make sure that nobody had suffered a concussion and drowned. He didn't seem to notice how rough things were getting. I feel certain that something in his life has hurt him badly.
After Michael has personally delivered victory for his team by scoring the necessary three goals, all that remains is for Colton to decide who he's sending home. Because ruthlessness and intelligence can be mutually exclusive qualities, he decides that Monica, the most aggressive and athletic physical player on his team and the only one to score a point in the latest challenge, must be voted off because she's too big a threat. The only suspense is whether he can explain this to Tarzan, whose reaction to being told to vote for Monica is to ask, “Tell me who Monica is again?” I expected Colton to tell him that he didn't have to know who she is, he only has to know how to spell her name. But instead, he says, “She's the head of the snake.” The metaphor is lost on Tarzan, but he promises to vote for her at tribal council, so long as he can remember.
Tribal council may have brought down the curtain on my own 12-year-old man-crush on Jeff Probst. He has a lot of material to work with, but discussions of everything else that's going on take a back seat to his making fun of Tarzan for talking funny. I make fun of Tarzan for talking funny, and for much else besides, but I don't do it to his face, and if I did, I hope I wouldn't do it while wearing that vicious smirk. Things start out okay, but then, when Probst asks Tarzan how he felt about having his tribe shaken up, Tarzan says, “My immediate response was to drop my assertiveness to a different lodestar, which is one member of the group,” and just like that, the wheels come off the wagon. It's true that Tarzan does himself no favors of any kind. For one thing, when Probst asks him questions about the internal dynamics of his tribe, Tarzan says that he can't comment on anything like that, because “The game is afoot,” a phrase that he seems to believe means, “I'm playing a game that is not over yet.” But instead of just playfully kidding Tarzan about being eccentric and having a pretentious streak, Probst mocks him, rather cruelly I thought, for his fancy-schmancy “vocabulary” (“I need a dictionary!”) and for seeming out of it.
Ultimately, Monica is exiled, leaving Colton looking smugger than ever and Christina looking as if she might as well have coins on her eyes. The remaining tribe members return to their new locale, leaving the rest of us to ponder the age-old question, why is Jeff Probst acting like such an ass tonight? At one point, Probst giddily asks Tarzan if he can remember all his tribe mates' names. Tarzan proceeds to go down the line, and he does name them all, though he blanks on Jonah until he's given Jonah's first initial as a hint. “If Monica hadn't given you the first letter,” Probst says, “we might still be there.” Tarzan gets major points for letting that go, instead of pointing out to Jeff that they are indeed “still there,” as evidenced by the fact that Tarzan is still in earshot and has to listen to this shit.
- Carrie will be back next week. I strongly advise Probst that, for his own good, he get whatever's bugging him out of his system by then.