Reality TV has come to Christmas, and bowing to tradition, Mark Burnett has taken his lump of coal, concealed it in a festive box, wrapped it in pretty paper, and tied it up with an attractive bow. With six people left, four of whom were originally on the Boran tribe, the "suspense" aspect of the show, with respect to who gets booted, has largely become obsolete: The straggling Samburus, Teresa and Kim P, are dead meat. Not that that has stopped Burnett and CBS in their obfuscatory campaign of misinformation. It is, after all, Christmas, the time for lies and deception, and hoping, wishing for phantom benefactors that just aren't there.
In the previews for this episode, CBS played up a snippet of a discussion between Boran's MamaKim and Teresa, putatively a secret plot to form an all-female alliance, breaking up the Boran juggernaut, and allowing the two women in question to reach the final three. In context, of course, this was a waterless fish of a scene, flipping around pathetically on the ground, gasping the horrible, horrible air. Just as on every other Survivor series, MamaKim stuck with her original tribe, there was no suspense, and the majority of the episode was instead an extended experiment in "Let's get Tom drunk again, and see how much screen time we can milk out of it!"
Not that this is not an entertaining way to waste thirty or so minutes, but the lingering hangover of CBS's propaganda campaign reveals what people around the country figured out a while ago: Survivor is rapidly becoming little more than The Real World in some foreign country, with slightly less food, and older, less-attractive castmembers. It's largely an exercise in putting random people in embarassing situations, and rolling the tape as the hilarity unfolds. The strategy-filled machinations people initially found intriguing have all but disappeared, and the "game show" aspect of the series is becoming as stagnant as the tribe's turd-infested water hole. One tribe gains a majority over the other, and the post-merge shows are simply the dominant tribe picking off the weaker one. Ho hum.
But this episode did make up for its shortcomings by tossing in a little ho ho ho. For once, the editing dispenses with reactions to the previous tribal council vote, and opens directly in the first morning of the episode's filming. Since Frank is gone, everyone is asleep. And in record time, we leap directly to the reward challenge. Fittingly for an episode aired during a family-oriented holiday period, this one involves extensive tear-jerking by way of videos from the contestant's families back home. Of course, this was more touching back in the second series, when the contestants actually got to interact with their families through an internet cafe hookup, but who's counting?
Each contestant, and a chosen family member, has to answer several questions: Most embarassing moment, least-liked personal attribute, biggest fear, greatest achievement. If the family member lists the same embarassing personal detail as the Survivor, a point is awarded. Most points wins a luxury safari with food and drink aplenty. On the plus side, the taped responses do set up uniquely funny situations, as the greedy contestants curse the very people they were just crying over, for the crime of not knowing their most intimate secrets, or at least, not having the audacity to broadcast them on national TV. Highlights included Kim P revealing her desire for the Tina Wesson Memorial post-Survivor breast augmentation surgery, only to have her secret shame be trumped by her own Mom telling her, "Waitta second, Missy, you've got much bigger problems than your flat chest!"
Through it all, Lex and his wife seem to share more than just their tattoos, and match answers on three questions. Tom and MamaKim come a close second with two, and as Lex rips Jeff Probst's Visa™ card from his hands, he bows to the producer's wishes, and takes Tom along with him, since everybody else would be duller than an overused butter knife, and they have a half hour of the show to fill.
And boy does he deliver! As luck would have it, this week's special guest playing the role of Tom Buchanan is Dr. Gonzo himself, reclusive outlaw journalist Hunter S. Thompson. In a remarkable coincidence, Mr. Thompson is also completely unintelligible without subtitles, and he's not even Southern. How about that? Anyway, Lex and Tom are whisked away to a luxurious safari resort (by which we mean, of course, a tent on what appears to be Astroturf, somewhere in the middle of Kenya). Upon arriving they demonstrate that, in Kenya, you can steal anyone's Visa card and use it to purchase copious amounts of food and liquor, and nobody will ever ask you for a picture ID, or check your signature against the one on the back. Budding thieves, take note.
After stuffing themselves, the Bosom Boran Buddies hustle over so that Tom can check out the nads on that wildebeest over yonder. Then it's back to more food and drink. Tommy unhinges his jaw, and consumes 50% of Kenya's national food supply in one sitting. For dessert, he empties the national liquor cabinet. Most likely after siphoning off Kenya's entire stock of ether, he then proceeds to hallucinate, apparently a post-traumatic stress flashback to the days when Frank was marching Boran around like a drill sergeant. After sitting through several hours of marching songs, Lex remembers that he didn't like Frank all that much, and enlists the help of the production crew, a large crane, and some small explosives in dislodging Tom from his chair and rolling him back to his bed.
The next day, Gonzo Tom gets even higher. By balloon of course, and no, we mean the kind you can ride in. Unfortunately, there is a struggle to keep the balloon aloft, and since the pilot is British, he's far too polite to suggest the obvious remedy of tossing the chubby Mr. Rourke and Tattoo over the side. As they dip perilously close to treetops, then near some more wheezing lions, we get some authentic Wild Kingdom footage of two lions attacking a wildebeest. Or possibly mating with it, it's kind of hard to tell. But it was gripping, nonetheless. Tom confesses that there may be more to life than goats. There's wildebeest too, which kind of look like slightly bigger goats.
Meanwhile, the hapless contestants back at camp Moto Maji are griping about having to eat maize again. The first two seasons of Survivor had the contestants roaming the countryside, battling the elements, and hunting for food to stave off starvation. This time, we're treated to four people with barely enough screen presence to illuminate a single pixel, sitting around for weeks on end, whining about how it never rains, and how they have to eat the same thing every day (except of course on about every third day, where a good number of them gorge themselves to the point of popping, as all good Americans should). Soon enough though, the lives of the party (Lex and Tom) return, and it's off to yet another recycled immunity challenge.
This one is a rerun of the plate-busting challenge from S2, in which Colby should have been eliminated with three broken plates, but the producers let him keep going, so that boring Amber could get voted off. Except this time, it's totally different. These are pots instead of plates. And instead of slingshots, the contestants break stuff by flinging femur-like objects. Or not, as is the case for pretty much everyone but Tom. Since this challenge requires arm dexterity, soccer player Ethan is hopeless, although he does demonstrate his foot control by executing a high-flying midair kick to Tom's ass after beling eliminated. Cynics would note, of course, that this is not unlike a major league pitcher being able to hit the broad side of a barn. Regardless, Tom destroys pretty much every pot, and wins the immunity toilet seat, a festive, African-themed accessory for his pet boil, Buster.
With that out of the way, it's time for Mark Burnett's patented misdirection about the vote. Even though Kim P is on the short end of a 4-2 minority, and has no visible allies, MB would have us believe that everyone is going to vote off Lex. Teresa masterminds a female alliance, but forgets that Lex has six prior votes, and would lose in a 3-3 tie, and gives up, since she can't recruit Tom to her female alliance. And, in the height of misdirection, immediately after Tom's immunity challenge win, the camera pans down across the immunity necklace sitting on Lex's torch. That's some nice editing there, CBS.
Anyway, Tribal Council inevitably comes, and the highlight is Brandon's appropriation of Kelly's skirt. Also, Frank has mysteriously not shaved since being booted three days ago, perhaps because Brandon was celebrating his membership in the "naughty jury" by playing hide-the-razor under his skirt. Tom talks about how proud he is about getting drunk with Lex, at least what he can remember of it. Everybody talks about how much they love the person they're voting off, and Kim P goes in a predictable 4-2 Pagonging. That leaves four Boran and one Samburu. This is getting pretty Boran.