For once, this was an episode that wasn't completely obvious. Or at least it shouldn't have been, had it been edited that way. The tribes entered split four-four along the original tribal lines. Only three people had votes against them in the event of a deadlocked Tribal Council vote. Clearly, this was an episode where a lot of thinking was going on, a cerebral treat. A deep-delving, probing look into the sociological factors that drive people to trust or suspect, follow or lead, calculate or divine. All stretched across a gripping chess match of allegiance-making and -breaking.
Okay, that's what it could have been. But, this being Survivor, what we got instead was 55 minutes of the "Rile Up the Good Ol' Boys and Make Fun of the Cream Puff Variety Hour." True, there may have been some thinking going on, somewhere. There were certainly a lot of shots of people sitting around silently, staring at each other with eyebrows a-cocked. But, this being "reality" TV, you kinda have to go with the footage cards your actors, oops, "contestants," deal you. And when your episode's star players are Tom and Kim P... well, in the Big boy's own words: "If it's anything mental, we're screwed."
We start off, interestingly enough, actually in this episode! Groundbreaking stuff! It's the morning after Brandon's phony turncoat stunt got Kelly booted, thanks to Boran's eternal faith in the sanctity of Lex's gut. As Brandon said while voting, his plan was to go back to Samburu and vote off Lex next time. Of course, this part was only shown on the rinky-dink Insider clips, and was skillfully excised from his on-air statement, so as far as we're supposed to know, Brandon is now in, solid, with Boran. Brandon also mentioned getting to the final four, tsk tsk. Hint to future contestants: Never predict on camera that you'll finish in the final two, or final four, or whatever. It worked for Richard Hatch, but it's been certain death since then. Most likely, the cameramen take this footage around to show your tribesmates while you're off taking a dump, and everyone has a good giggle over it. (Alternatively, just don't take a dump).
So where were we? Oh yeah, Brandon is bleeding-yellow Boran now. Except Lex and Ethan immediately start talking about voting him off. Lex is sure as sure can be that Brandon would never, not in a second, betray their trust. They bring MamaKim in on the discussion. Lex points to his magical gut a few times, then drives his point visually by waving his arms around like a windmill. MamaKim suspects Lex may be using sign language, and quickly comes to the conclusion that Lindsey has votes against her. Or maybe Lex. Yeah, definitely Lex. Next, Ethan is off with Tom, and nearly says something, but Tom leaps in at the last second, and saves the day by talking about how they should get rid of that Brandon. Frank is no more fond of Brandon, either. Brandon, for his part, earns their distrust by curling himself up into a ball, and rolling his eyes occasionally for exercise.
But enough of the we-hate-Brandon bandwagon. There's fun to be had! In this episode, to test the possibilities of Product Placement, Stage II (beta version 1.0.3), the character of Tom has been digitally spliced in from the beloved children's series Fat Albert. Seems Bill Cosby is trotting out the old gang for a Christmas special this year, and he wanted to slip some plugs into popular shows. Unfortunately, Bill's last network was CBS, so instead of popular shows, he ended up with Survivor. Sorry, Bill! Anyway, this week, Tom is played by... you thought we were going to say Fat Albert himself, right? Duh! Tommy can only be played by Mush-Mouth.
Anyway, Tom says, "Heyba manba, whyba are the womenba so slowba?" (Or something like that. Mush-Mouth is kind of hard to understand). Frank joins in with a sensitive critique of how slow women are to get ready. Tom agrees (we think). Then, all of a sudden there's water, naked female skin, and all is forgiven. Tommy is dancing around like the elephants in Fantasia. Speaking of members of the animal kingdom (note the smooth segue), the camp is now infested with flies. We're not sure why this merited 50% of the time in the previews, since it's largely here to provide padding in between the extensive footage of people hating Brandon, but there sure do seem to be a lot of flies. Ayup.
Back to horny Tom. Hey, he's actually growing one, what do you know? It's on the side of his neck, so it looks more like a Frankenstein bolt, but Tommy says it's a horn, and by gum, he must know something. This is the thinking man's show, after all. All the women come up to fondle it. Hilarity ensues, accompanied by selections from the Hee Haw boxed set.
Finally, it's time for the Reward Challenge. Or thinking about it, at least. Which means, of course, it's back to Brandon-bashing. Since the challenge footage was recycled from episode 9 of Survivor 2, the fun this time around is seeing who gets to play Colby and Jerri. Everyone agrees that Frank and Brandon make the cutest couple. Shockingly, when they dramatically draw slips of paper, each containing the names of a two-person team, both Frank and Brandon have slips matching them up. Since the RC isn't until after the next commercial break, the remaining five minutes are devoted to Tom's gales of laughter at the side-splitting concept that a gay man and a straight man could work together. More hilarity ensues. Just before leaving, Tom takes Frank aside, nods gravely, and warns him, "I don't want to scare you thar, but I think that feller you're paired up with might be a little... funny."
At the challenge, which is of course, the "Paired Off" obstacle course, several earth-shattering moments of classic television entertainment occur. MamaKim manages to be on a team that beats another in a physical challenge. Then, as millions of senior citizens consider switching over from Touched By An Angel reruns to watch the spring chicken compete, she loses again. To the team with two men on it. Ruined, oddsmakers in Vegas close up shop. And, just as it looks like a certain disaster is imminent, Teresa rushes in to prevent Brandon from contacting Frank during his victory hug.
Back at camp, the "losing" contestants all agree this is the most fun they've had since throwing the immunity challenge that got Silas booted. Tom just can't stop giggling: "A gay man, and a straight man! Well, don't that beat all!" Kim P actually gets to say a few sentences on-camera, doubling her screentime for the series, clearly marking her for departure in the next episode.
Meanwhile, Brandon and Frank are dreaming longingly of the exotic, helicopter-borne, lavishly-catered beach honeymoon vacation at the Great Barrier Reef that Jerri and Colby enjoyed. Then, reaching the end of their hike through the crappy brush they've been stuck in for the last three weeks, they see their fabulous prize: some hot dogs, a family size bag of candy, more product placement for Mountain Dew, some folding wooden chairs, and a movie that's almost as old as Brandon. Sweet! The pair relax, fondle some hot dogs, stare at each other, remove some footwear... and then we cut to Frank saying "It's old news, let's move on," the next day.
With everyone back at camp, it's time for another round of swinging the stick at the Brandon pinata. Lex and Ethan discuss voting off Brandon. Frank and Tom form a binding pact to ditch him at the next tribal council. Brandon tells Kim P, "ah screw it, just vote for me." Knowing that Mark Burnett is the master of misdirection, the audience takes this in stride, nodding knowingly, "But Samburu has an easy vote coming up, since they're tied 4-4, and both Tom and Lex have the most prior votes. They can't both win immunity. Samburu couldn't be that retarded, could they?" As we said, this is the thinking person's episode.
At the immunity challenge, Jeff Probst reminds the contestants that, even though their primary focus this season has been water, fire is actually the theme of the show, as it was in the Australian Outback series (except that was mostly water, too), from which this challenge came. That's right, this challenge is a regurgitation of the build-a-fire-to-burn-through-string challenge, which Colby cheated at by loading the bucket on his teeter-totter up with rocks and mud from the river. Luckily, this time around, the production assistants were too lazy to build the elaborate wooden seesaw thingies, the contestants can't use the water, and their budget wouldn't allow for fireworks, so they have to just burn through string.
It's a gripping, white-knuckle challenge, as we watch tinder slowly, gradually smolder, eventually ignite, in turn become roaring bonfires, and, several hours later, finally singe Lex's string, making him the winner. KimP, devastated that her strategy of screaming "Burn! Burn!" failed, collapses sobbing at the realization that 50% of the words she got to say in the entire series were the same one, repeated over and over during this challenge.
Now it's time for all the Machiavellian strategizing to commence. Surely Samburu realizes they should target Tom, right? Instead, Tom and Frank give each other matching tattoos saying "Brandon must go." MamaKim paints herself up a t-shirt saying "I'm voting for Brandon tonight," then babbles endlessly about the power of sticking with an alliance, shocking the remaining senior citizens who haven't dozed off with the admission that she didn't make it this far due solely to her Olympian performances in the challenges. Tom talks extensively about something or other, although CBS again fails to provide subtitles. It was probably pretty funny, though, because he smiled a lot.
At the tribal council, Jeff Probst starts off the interrogation by asking Brandon, "So, everyone's voting you off tonight, did you have fun with your little coup?" Brandon assures him that he did, and hey, no hard feelings everyone. Cagey Survivor-watching veterans scoff at this ploy, confident that Samburu will still stand united, and Pagong away the dim-witted Borans, who foolishly followed Lex's gut away from a 6-4 advantage. After several hours of Probsting questions about why various people are voting for Brandon, how much they hate Brandon, and what they think of Lex for believing Brandon, Jeffy finally allows the voting to proceed.
Skipping the usual counting of the votes, Probst trots back with the ballot box, and says, "Who are we kidding here? Brandon, bring me your torch." Lex looks up, eyes bulging, aghast at the thought that Frank might not actually be going, and may have overheard one or two of the nasty comments Lex yelled at the top of his lungs while voting. Brandon, despite being from Texas, demands a recount. Relenting, Probst goes through the box and finds two votes for Frank mixed in with the Brandon landslide. "Here, you can keep these as souvenirs, if you want," he says, snuffing Brandon's torch. As Brandon slinks away, Frank rocks back and forth happily, confident that his 3-4 minority will soon turn the tables on Lex's gut again. Tom yells something unintelligible, which we're pretty sure was a quick strategic note to Lex concerning their course of action in the coming days. Most likely, it was his old stand-by: "If it's anything mental, we're screwed."