Last week, we bid farewell to Dirk the proselytizing virgin from Wisconsin, the most obviously stock character on this season of Survivor. He’s an archetype that, by the year 2000, was already familiar to reality-TV viewers, mostly thanks to the mini culture wars played out in season after season of The Real World.
Funny, then, that even without Dirk, “Udder Revenge” plays so much like a desert-island version of that other groundbreaking reality show. This week we’ve got the usual assortment of physically demanding challenges and gross-food consumption, but if you ask me, what makes this such an entertaining episode is the growing tension between the
roommates castaways—the petty bickering, the constant shit-talking, the blatant provocation. Whether it’s set in a loft in Soho or a remote island in the South China Sea, a reality show is only as good as its casting, and this season of Survivor is superb.
The show’s khaki-clad overlord introduces the episode by explaining that, in three days’ time, the remaining castaways will merge to form one mixed metaphor. Both tribes are anxious about the imminent change, and are charting out their strategy for the next phase of the game. Tough girl Kelly is pithily dismissive of Pagong: “They’re playing island 90210.” Likewise, Susan isn’t too happy about teaming up with a bunch of frivolous jungle nymphs. She rattles off a bunch of insults: Greg is “psychotic,” Jenna is a “speedball,” and Gervase (who she calls “Jarvis,” like he’s a skinny British rocker or something) is “a pervert.” The producers use some hilarious B-roll as evidence of her allegations: there’s Greg in face paint (schizo!), Jenna raising her arms above her head (spaz!), and, best of all, Gervase doing some kind of amateur Lambada with Jenna (sicko!). In all seriousness, I do wonder where this very specific claim came from. We’ve seen Gervase act lazy and cocky, but perverted? The only conclusion I can draw is that Susan has a deep-seated fear of black people (seems fair to jump to conclusions under the circumstances).
Admittedly, though, Greg does have a bit of a “lone wolf” vibe going on:
Little do the Tagi cynics know about the mass slaughter taking place on the other side of the island, where the Pagong team members decide they’re going to go on a protein binge, eating their three chickens before the tribes merge. Of course, this means they’ll have to kill them first. Sounding a little too much like the cute girl she is, Colleen says, “I like to ignore that whole aspect of the food chain, the whole death part.” Gretchen, ever the sensible one, leads the charge, and thinks anybody who can’t handle killing a chicken should be a vegetarian. I confess I have deeply mixed feelings about Gretchen. On the one hand, she’s pragmatic, level-headed, and totally right about the vegetarian thing. On the other hand, I feel like Gretchen would be annoying to live with for days on end. She’s extremely self-righteous, especially at the end of the episode when they return to camp to find that a lizard has devoured their last chicken, leaving only half-eaten scraps behind. She insists that the remaining carcass is still edible (all I could think about was the disgusting germs that must live in the mouth of a lizard, and I say that as a firm believer in the 10-second rule). We get it, Gretchen: you come from hardy stock. You’ve got mad survival skills. You could teach Laura Ingalls Wilder a thing or two about living off the land. Blah blah blah. Little does she know that’s not what Survivor is really about. Plus, barbecued rats are one thing, but pre-chewed chicken carcass covered in reptile saliva? Shit’s nasty:
We’ve experienced a lot of firsts so far in our walk down memory lane, and this episode brings us one of the most iconic images from the inaugural season of Survivor: Richard Hatch’s jiggly naked flesh. It’s unclear when Richard began walking around in the buff, but it’s obvious that his nudity has more to do with strategy than self-expression. “Naked isn’t sexual to me,” he claims, which might be plausible were Richard not being totally disingenuous. Whether or not he fesses up to it, the sole purpose of going nekkid is to intimidate his team members. It’s brilliant, I guess, but also deeply creepy. Richard might be gay, but that doesn’t give him license to show his wang anytime or to anyone he wants. He’s still a big, aggressive male, and as a woman I’d find his constant nudity unsettling (especially to my stomach at meal times). I suppose you could argue that Richard is using his nudity to challenge Rudy and Sean’s homophobia, but that’s not really the point, is it? Rather than confronting their prejudices, he’s actually playing right into them for his own benefit. Not cool, bro.
The members of Pagong are also divided over issues of sexual politics. Gervase, whose continued presence on the island is a complete mystery to me (“I haven’t done a thing out here, since I’ve been here. I’m just out here hanging,” he confesses to the camera) has angered his female teammates by claiming “girls are the stupidest thing on the planet next to cows.” We’re not privy to the original conversation, so we have to wade through all the hearsay. It sounds like Gervase was probably kidding, but the remark sets off a tidal wave of complaints about the tribe’s true male chauvinist, Joel. The world’s most patronizing health-club consultant, Joel says, “I can’t really think of anything I’ve done that’s bad.” Cue the montage of Joel undermining every decision the women make, from how they cook their rice to what knife they use to open a can of oil. Even he doesn’t look convinced when he denies being a chauvinist (see inset photo).
Unusually, the challenges this week are both fun and yet not entirely irrelevant to the task of surviving in a harsh wilderness setting. For the reward challenge, the teams have to scavenge a number of useful items—a knife, a can opener, etc—from a fake abandoned barrack. Whichever team wins gets a cache of prepared food, including chocolate (upon hearing this detail, Jenna loses her shit). After Richard fucks up and brings back a second knife, the spoils once again go to Pagong. Visually, it’s a cool challenge—filmed at night on a rather elaborate set, it’s all very cinematic. But what I found really interesting was the way the challenge was introduced. Probst explains that during World War II, the island was a “hotspot of military activity,” one of the only times the show has made any effort to teach us anything about Pulau Tiga beyond “It’s full of snakes ’n’ stuff.” Both teams get an unlabelled can of mystery meat that is, in all likelihood, dog food. Richard takes a bite out of it and can barely keep from gagging; Jenna and Gretchen fry it up without even batting an eyelash.
Despite its full bellies, Pagong loses out by a hair in the elimination challenge, an obstacle course constructed by Green Berets (retired ones, I’m guessing). One thing that I’ve noticed about this season is just how well-balanced the teams really are. Pagong is younger and more fun, but Tagi has them beat when it comes to street smarts (err…beach smarts?). And so it is that they basically tie in a challenge that combines both elements, though frankly I don’t really get what was so complicated about the “blown bridge” part of the course. Anyway, the weirdest thing is that it’s Richard the Corpulent Homosexual who crosses the finish line first. Sean must really be conserving his energy.
In the queasy hours before tribal council, the Pagong tribe members discuss their pending votes, and it’s a toss-up between Gervase and Joel. As clouds roll in over the island, Jenna predicts that it’s going to rain. Naturally, Joel disagrees, saying that it looks like the storm will pass. (It pours.) Given the editorial emphasis on Joel’s know-it-all tendencies, it’s not super surprising when he’s eliminated with four votes against him. Joel’s parting words pretty much sum up his obliviousness. Once again denying the allegations of chauvinism, he proposes another theory: “I think the girls on the team had a little inferiority complex.” Exactly, Joel. Exactly.
- I'm really looking forward to the upcoming merger of the tribes. Things are about to get awesome.
- Kelly might have lost to Gervase last week in the rowing challenge, but she’s still a serious athlete. See her performance in the obstacle course as evidence.
- While I understand why the ladies sent Joel home, Gervase would have gotten my vote. At tribal council, he’s still (!) totally confident that he won’t be eliminated—this after sitting out the elimination challenge and blithely admitting that he does fuck-all for the tribe.
- Conspiracy-theory alert! Gretchen votes for Joel, but her “J” is written backwards, making it look like she’s written in Hebrew or something. I went back to re-watch the segment of the episode where she’s casting her ballot, and she actually writes the name backwards, starting on the right side of the paper. Either she’s sending a coded message to the viewers back at home, or she’s not so smart after all. Any theories?
- When she’s casting her vote, Gretchen says that Joel seems to have the most money of anybody. And here I thought “health-club consultant” was a fake job.
- I love that the Survivor producers went to the trouble of tracking down two Green Berets, flying them to the ass end of the globe (probably paying them an appearance fee) all for the totally unnecessary purpose of introducing a single challenge. Did the US Army underwrite this episode or something?
- The fiddle music that’s played during the rainstorm is hilariously Ken Burns-esque.
- Greg votes with the women. Make of that what you will.
- Watch this episode here.