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Survivor (Classic): “Death Of An Alliance”


Survivor (Classic)

“Death Of An Alliance”

Season 1 , Episode 12

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Readers, I begin this week with a question: Is there a more elusive creature on the island of Pulau Tiga than The Wiglesworth?

So many of her fellow castaways are easy to reduce to a few descriptors. Richard is the conniving genius, Rudy is the old coot, and Sean is the dopey nice guy. But Kelly? Homegirl is tricky. Yes, her interests are stereotypically crunchy—she likes things like white-water rafting and beach yoga—but she’s no hippie. Don’t forget, Kelly can be credited with coining the now-ubiquitous reality mantra, “I didn’t come here to make friends.”  It's hardly the kind of thing a flower child would say.

It’s funny that this episode is called “Death Of An Alliance” since Kelly has been straying for some time now. It opens on the morning after Colleen’s dismissal from the island. I know, I know—the pain is still fresh, isn’t it? Everyone is scheming wildly, saying whatever it takes to stay on the island another day, and a fight erupts between Colleen and Susan. Susan accuses Kelly of betraying the alliance, but she fights back, claiming that it was part of the alliance’s strategy to make it seem like they weren’t voting off Pagong one by one. It’s hard to know if Kelly is messing with Susan, or if Susan is just hyper-sensitive to a perceived slight by her one-time BFF. Is Kelly a double agent, as Colleen suggested? Somehow I can’t bring myself to believe she’s that scheming, despite evidence to the contrary.

Another facet to Kelly’s personality is that she’s physically tough without being abrasive like Sue or Rich. Fresh off her triumph in the miserable plank-standing game, Kelly wins two more challenges in “Death Of An Alliance.” The reward challenge is one of the grossest—and the most entertaining—displays we’ve seen so far on Survivor. Using only their bodies, the contestants have to get as much mud as they can into their buckets. [Insert joke about “playing dirty” here.] The reward? A round of brewskis with the Probster—and a chance to preview the first episode of Survivor. I have to admit, it’s a pretty great reward, especially the beer part. I’m sure I would have been fantasizing about having a nice, cold one by day three on the island.

At this late point in the game, everyone’s looking pretty scrawny—even Richard—so their bathing suits are stretched out and threadbare. The sight of them wriggling around in the mud is mildly pornographic, and not in a good way. (No offense, Rudy, but droopy, mud-coated, old-man balls don’t do it for me.)  I thought Richard, with his vast surface area, would have the edge, but it turns out this is one of the few challenges where the ladies seem to have an advantage. As Kelly promptly discovers, long hair makes for a really great mud mop, and she squeezes every last drop of the gray muck out of her tresses. Sean piles a giant turd of mud on his head, then plops it into his bucket.  Everyone looks ridiculous, but for some reason Richard, with his muddy beard, makes me laugh the hardest. Maybe it’s because, with his beard, he looks like an old Civil War statue come to life:

Having transported 15.9 pounds of mud to Sean’s 15.4, Ms. Wiglesworth is the champ once again. Looking like members of some post-apocalyptic gang (see above screengrab), the contestants return to camp and wash up. Kelly and Sue help each other get cleaned up, even popping each others’ zits.  It’s a nice little moment of girly bonding between these two, a moment when they both let their guard down and act like friends rather than competitors. Naturally, Richard thinks this is “bizarre.”

Come nightfall, Kelly puts on her jungle finery—a sarong and some sneaks—and is whisked away to “Survivor Bar” for a sudsy pow-wow with Jeff Probst. I have so very many questions about this scene:  Did the Survivor producers build a bar from scratch and just pay a bunch of locals to hang around pretending to be regulars? Or did this bar already exist, and they just put up that goofy neon “Survivor Bar” sign? How much did Bud Lite pay for this product placement? And is that ketchup all over Kelly’s massive plate of fusilli? I guess when you’ve been eating nothing but rice and grilled stingray for a month, your standards are pretty low. Nothing much happens over dinner, which is disappointing; it would at least have been interesting to hear Kelly’s thoughts on the first episode of Survivor.

Back on the island the next morning—day 36—Kelly and Susan officially reach a weird truce, agreeing to treat each other civilly for the remainder of their time on the island, while also acknowledging that they’d like to vote each other off if possible. It’s not exactly heartwarming, but by the standards of Survivor, it counts as progress.

Right out of the gate, Survivor laid it on pretty thick with the hokey “tribal” imagery, and it returns with a vengeance in “Death Of An Alliance.” Probst explains the immunity challenge, which, in a wonderfully dated touch, is inspired by The Blair Witch Project. “This island is rich with tradition and superstition,” Jeff says. “Today’s challenge deals with jungle spirits.” For a second there, I thought we might have an episode of Survivor that was actually informative—as I’ve mentioned before, one of my gripes with this show is its utter lack of any historical, biological, or anthropological context.

Alas, no. What we get instead are more clichés seemingly plucked from an adventure novel circa 1920. Here’s how the challenge will work: armed with a video camera, each contestant will venture into the jungle in search of masks. On the inside of the masks are trivia questions related to local folklore. As Jeff explains, entirely in earnest, the first contestant to collect all the masks and answer all five questions correctly on tape “will appease the jungle spirits and win immunity.” Oh, brother.

Jeff sits down with the remaining tribe members and shares the five clues which, perhaps inevitably, involve snakes, headhunters, and goat sacrifices. The best—by which I mean the silliest—“fact” is that each tribe member’s departure has been foreshadowed by the same event: their flame has gone out on its own. (OMG, you guys. I totally have goosebumps all over.) Time comes for the challenge and Rudy, once again, proves to be a less than formidable competitor. He doesn’t even bother trying to answer any of the questions. I guess “remembering basic information for longer than five seconds” is for sissies? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I do not find Rudy even kind of endearing, and I’m annoyed that he’s made it this far while making almost no effort. 

Kelly narrowly beats out Richard, clinching her third victory in a row. Going into the tribal council, Richard and Sue both look extremely vulnerable, but in the end it’s nice guy Sean who gets sent home. (His torch goes out during the vote. Spooooooky.) I’ve been unkind to Sean, but in the end there are far worse things than being a guileless reality-show contestant, and I’m a little sad to see his emaciated frame go. One of the issues that’s come up in the recently comments is the deceptive editing of this first season, which will make it seem as if the vote is going to go one way, only to have it go another, with little or no explanation about the change of heart. Here we’ve got another prime example. This might have have been called “The Alliance Returns,” because despite Kelly’s proclamations—she claims she’s going to vote for Richard or Susan—she casts her ballot for Sean. Was Kelly bluffing for the cameras? Or did she simply perceive Sean as the biggest threat? Or did one of the angry jungle spirits intervene? We may never know.

Au revoir, Sean.

Stray observations:

  • Just to make you feel old, the episode of Survivor that Kelly watches is on a VHS.
  • Susan reminds us that she hasn’t won a single reward or immunity challenge the entire time. She and Rudy are testaments to how far contestants can get by being totally mediocre.
  • I love it when Jeff asks Sue which has won, “Midwestern values” or “corporate America.” Down with the 1%!!!
  • You guys want to take a private yoga class with Kelly Wiglesworth? You totally can
  • Watch some of this episode here