TDT Survivor: Africa recaps

Active BrandonIt's Thanksgiving, which means that it's time for Americans around the world to gorge themselves on food, drink too much, and sit around making rude comments about their boorish visitors.  And nowhere is this more true than on Survivor, conveniently edited to satisfy all of these lasting holiday rituals, even though this "reality" episode was filmed in Africa in late July.  As will ploddingly be revealed, this is an episode steeped in deep sense of tradition.


One tradition, of course, is starting the night's action back in the previous episode.  This enables us to witness the startling interpersonal dynamics as the prior losing tribe returns from voting someone off at tribal council.  Or, in this case, the utter lack thereof.  But first, we flash forward to the next day for some comic relief from Brandon, who is emerging as a budding prodigy of ironic commentary.  Splayed dramatically across a rock, his spindly arms outstretched in a crucificial pose, he complains loudly at length about how pleased he is that that bitch Lindsey is gone, since all she ever did was complain loudly and lengthily about things.


Anyway, Brandon and Kim P, now without their protective shield of Silas and Lindsey, discuss their feelings and strategic goals.  Both agree that it's best to continue doing nothing and hope nobody notices.  Brandon intends to curl himself up into a little ball and remain completely motionless, hoping his tribe mistakes him for a dust bunny.  He is aided in his efforts by a clever act of camouflage, concealing himself stealthily in a fluorescent orange hat.  KimP has an easier time, partly because we're not entirely convinced she's actually on the show.  She simply reactivates her luxury item, a portable cloaking device, and is not seen again for the rest of the episode.


Next we move on to another exciting Survivor tradition:  Since there are now only ten contestants left, it's time to dispense with action altogether, bring the two tribes together as one, and casually observe the festering hostilities for the next hour.  Unfortunately, thanks to producer Mark Burnett's clever "twist," this already happened two episodes ago.  But tradition is a demanding mistress, and the union must proceed, so Burnett quickly comes up with a foolproof, dramatically rich plan: crank up the suspense by delaying the merge for twenty minutes, then fill in the dead air with scintillating footage of the players sitting around, doing nothing.


At Boran, the anticipation of the merge and its attendant feast is so strong, Frank immediately enlists volunteers for an emergency sandbagging effort, to contain the drool cascading from Ethan's lips.  In an attempt to escape the flooding, Clarence races off to take a dump in the middle of a herd of stampeding elephants.  Well, not so much stampeding as standing around listlessly, much like their human counterparts.  But the suspense is there, all right.


The exiled ex-Borans in Samburu are feeling the tension, too.  Lex displays his mastery of mathematics to Kelly and Tom by explaining that, despite the continued presence of more-favored teammates MamaKim and Ethan back at Boran, all three of the emigres are now guaranteed spots in the final four.  Kelly and Tom break into an impromptu rendition of the traditional SurvivorFinal Four dance, ensuring that one or more of them will not actually make it that far.  With that out of the way, the remainder of the excitement for the day involves a lengthy struggle to avoid anything resembling activity.  Luckily, Samburu has Brandon and Kim P to look to for guidance in this endeavor.


Desperate for both footage and new villains, what with Silas, Lindsey and soon-to-be Clarence gone, CBS reluctantly switches Kelly's weekly "Survivor: Insider" diatribe about Lex and his "annoying daddy voice" from their pay-per-view web service to the actual show.  Burnett then hops into action, swiftly editing Lex's character away from the benign knowitall and into the obsequious, irritating, dorky micro-manager.  Lex politely obliges by spending thirty minutes explaining how has expended tremendous effort "carving" an untouched, vaguely spoon-shaped (in a Dali-esque sense) twig into a spoon, and also how he learned the definition of "über" from listening to old Dead Kennedys songs.  Yup, tool-free carving and one-word German lessons: a sure-fire recipe for third-season Survivor excitement!  Whee!


We progess, on a geological time scale, to Day 20 of the compelling drama.  And suddenly, everyone is aflutter: we have a challenge!  Hooray, something other than altering one's position every three to four hours to avoid bedsores!  The Survivors happily tromp through the savannah, only to stumble smack into another revered Survivor traditon: In the merge episode (oh yeah, they do merge after all... kind of an afterthought, actually), the immunity challenge involves standing motionless on a log for hours at a time.  Thankfully, Mark Burnett, presciently sensing viewer ennui with predictable, recycled challenges, has spiced up the action this time around with a delightful twist: This season, the contestants will again be standing motionless, but this time, they have to raise an arm over their head.  But fear not, the other extraordinary production values remain intact - instead of jumping into water to quit, they pour water over themselves this time.  So those valuable wet swimsuit shots will not be lost.  Happily, the barely-clad players step up to their hours-long action-free struggle with destiny.


Or, if your're Brandon, and you've just discovered that your body does actually contain the muscles required to make the international sign for volunteering for things, one entire side of your body undergoes a paralyzing tetanic contraction after a mere 18 minutes.  And he wasn't even the first to go.  As contestants drop like Boran's water supply, Teresa senses victory may be within her grasp, and breaks out the psychological torture tactics, warbling shrill show tunes. From "Annie."  Sadly, while this does leave the departed contestants wincing, her direct competitors - the professional soccer player, Uncle Lex, and the only man in America who publicly admits liking Yanni (that would be Clarence) - actually appear to enjoy it.  Frustrated, Teresa settles in, mentally steeling herself the way she does for those long-haul transcontinental flights that don't involve renewing her Mile High Club membership.


Eventually, after six hours of pole-standing, with just Clarence and Teresa remaining, it's time for another fine Survivor tradition: cutting a deal so that the network can take a commercial break.  But not before sneaking in an all-important product placement pitch for crisp, refreshing Mountain Dew (TM).  But, strangely, not for Bud Light, which this season has been replaced by generic "beer."  True, while the contestants could probably not tell the difference by taste, did Anheuser-Busch not receive the brochure extolling product placement as the advertising wave of the future?  Or did they foolishly blow their advertising budget on all those new ads featuring the "It's not so bad" guy?  Whatever, back at the challenge, T-Bird and Clay settle on Rochambeauing for immunity, and Teresa goes first, hauling off and kicking Clarence square in the nuts.  Sensing it might hinder his endorsement-garnering potential to return the favor to a mother of two on national TV, Clarence nobly gives up, sealing his fate.


Now Burnett is in a quandary: He's only 30 minutes into the show, and he's already blown through his "will there be a merge?" *cough* "drama," and his sole, action-packed challenge.  Not to mention that, despite the editing indicating it's Frank who's the target, even a brain-dead chimp can see that, with a comfortable 6-4 margin over old Samburu (thanks to the switch), old Boran will now leap at the opportunity to rid themselves of untrustworthy, immunity streak-threatening Clarence.  So what's a reality producer to do to fill a half-hour of dead air?


The solution: reruns of old movies.  Frank volunteers to stage a reenactment of all 14 hours of "Dances With Wolves," taking the Kevin Costner role for himself, while enlisting the aid of a wayward elephant for the wolf's lines.  Or it may have been reversed - the voice-overs weren't very clear, and we dozed off halfway through.  In fact, almost the entire rest of the episode was a soliloquy from Frank, which means of course that he's gone in the next episode.  In the stunning, heart-warming conclusion, Frank gives play-by-play as the elephant takes a massive dump.  Clearly, this symbolizes Mark Burnett's perceived mission in bringing this show to his audience.  A touching, family-friendly Thanksgiving bonus.


Meanwhile, things are going swimmingly back at the shiny new merged tribe, which took up residence at the Boran camp, after a voice vote in which all eight existing Borans voiced their approval, with Brandon and Kim P abstaining, in fear they might be detected (they must have taken our survival hint from last week).  Despite Frank's sterling thespian efforts, there are still 25 minutes to fill.  So Burnett plies the tribe with copious quantities of wine and a basket of fermented fruit, then lets the good footage roll.  We learn lots of fascinating stuff.  For example, it is revealed that Big Tom (portrayed in this episode, in an extra-special November sweeps guest-star appearance, by a cheekily uncredited Austin Powers) has taken a strong, physical shine to every woman he's seen since stepping off the bus three short weeks ago, marriage be damned, including even Brandon (although he seemed a little off-put by B's general flat-chestedness and unsightly facial hair problem).  For visual stimulation, Lex and Ethan recreate Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo in its entirety.


In time, the wine-soaked discussion turns to the grisly prospect of naming the new merged tribe.  After twenty votes produce the choices of Boran, Boran Again, Still Boran, and Boran Free, marketing executive Lex notes that CBS's sales department has told them in no uncertain terms that they cannot choose the name "Boran" again, because that will confuse the billions of people clamoring to buy the exciting new green Buffs (TM) at CBS's online store.  After consulting the dictionary, Lex decides on Moto Maji, which everyone agrees is a fine idea, as it roughly translates to "hot water," even though Clarence's sacrifical shower was room temperature, at best.  The next day, even after repeating the name several thousand times, nobody is able to remember it.  Kelly guesses it was "Magic Mountain," while Clarence, thinking about food again, swears it was "Iron Chef Japanese Masaharu Morimoto."


The discussion about this continued on for hours, but Mark Burnett was duty-bound to replace most of it with another Survivor tradition: obfuscation, by way of repeated explanations of how it's really Frank, or possibly Lex, or maybe Brandon, who's going this week.  Even after Lex is shown informing Clarence of the obvious.  And there is a Survivor first, as well: While Lex is performing his noble quest of letting Clarence know of his imminent demise, Brandon is actually seen outside the manyatta, and he appears to even be carrying wood!  This alone was worth sitting through the previous 45 minutes for.


Finally, when the truth can be avoided no longer, we grudgingly make our way to tribal council, where we revisit another time-honored Survivor tradition: voting out the African-American contestant who has a chance to win all the post-merger challenges, so that a white person can do it instead, and take second place in the final jury vote.  This, of course, requires that just about everyone votes for Clarence, except for Clarence himself, and Teresa, who cut a deal with Clarence, pledging that she would help him join the Mile High Club on the flight home, as long as she casts her vote for Lex.  Predictably, Clarence gives the traditional loser's speech about playing with honor, almost concealing one startling development: Kim P has now completely vanished, and has been replaced by another woman whose hairstyle in no way resembles the Princess Leia Starter Braids set.  The replacement "Kim P" appears equally silent.  Will Moto Maji notice?  We'll have to wait two weeks to find out, as next week sports a thrill-a-minute recap/regurgitation.  Sit tight, we can weather this crisis together.