Survivor likes to think of itself as a cerebral show. If he hadn't already done this in every edition of the Eco-Challenge, Mark Burnett would most likely be popping on-screen every two minutes to remind us all, ad nauseum, about the mental factors required for successful game-winning strategy. And nowhere was this alleged intellectual battle more evident than in this week's episode, mainly because Burnett spent almost the entire episode encouraging us to imagine stuff that really wasn't there.
Luckily, this was conveniently foreshadowed by Sean's opening monologue, in which he disputed the whole Love Tribe vibe. He didn't disavow it enough to avoid locking lips with Pappy again, of course, but that's all in a manly, Love Tribe day's work. And speaking of the Love Tribe, we quickly jump to Robert, still hacking away at a log with a machete. He's been at it since the last episode, and keeps popping up out of nowhere to do it again throughout this one. Kind of a Greek chorus kind of thing. Hack! Hack! Hack! (No, we weren't thinking of anyone in particular's executive producing talents when we wrote that. No, indeed).
Apart from blatantly lying to the viewer to disguise the grim prospect of a boot so utterly predictable that even Jeff Varner saw it coming, another theme of this episode was distracting the viewer with unnecessarily discomforting visual images. From Tammy's pit hair to Pappy's swim trunks, there was enough wincing going on to almost make you want to keep your eyes shut for the entire episode. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Case in point: having been there for three weeks, it's time for the ritual grousing from the contestants about how starving they are. Now, keep in mind that two of the loudest in the hunger pangs chorus, Sean and Paschal, ate enough food at their feast just two days prior to feed several island nations for a month. But still, there's good ol' Pappy, apparently unclear on the concept of this "fisting" stuff he's heard so much about on the net, seeing how far under his ribcage he can shove his clenched hand.
Then there's the requisite moaning about dirt and insects. Shockingly, these can be found in abundance in the great outdoors, and may even come into contact with your skin after 21 days of exposure. Perhaps they should make this more explicit in the contracts these people sign. Then again, deviating from the script during professionals is probably already covered, so never mind.
Continuing in the "let's play Fear Factor with the audience" vein, Sean is singing again. And it's Vee's birthday. As if it wasn't bad enough that she has to spend it away from her fiance, there's Sean laying on the Luther Vandross impersonation as thickly as possible. As Sean ensnares her in a bear hug, to prevent her from escaping, Vee breaks down in tears, then desperately pleads for divine intervention to just make it stop! A lightning bolt crackles down, rendering Sean musically mute. Praise be!
Anyway, perhaps Vee was really crying about the reward challenge, because she knew Sean had absolutely no chance of winning, and her only way to escape the Fourth Tenor's incessant serenades would be to win it herself. Unfortunately, Vee puts in very little effort herself, perhaps sure that the winner will bring her along, since it's her birthday and all. The challenge itself is relatively complicated - an elimination round, in which contestants must dive for shells to continue (or in Vee, Sean and Neleh's cases, half-assedly float around on top of the water until they're eliminated). In the subsequent round, which is shockingly grueling, considering the near-kindergarten difficulty level of recent challenges (such as everyone leaping off their stilts so Tammy could win immunity), they have to dive for 20-lb rocks, then run with them underwater up to the beach, and heave them at a teleporting Jeff Probst.
More surprisingly, aging, scrawny Paschal runs away with this one (at least in the underwater part - he looks near death as he imperceptibly moves the five feet between the shore and Probst's feet). And this is not without gratuitous shots of Pappy's loose-fitting, bright yellow swim trunks flapping around in the tide, thankfully still covering most of his nether regions. But not so much that we don't wish we had been blinking then. Anyway, Pappy is sufficiently debiliated by the effort that he's sadly unable to crush Probst's skull with the rock, but he's declared the winner, anyway, because by this time everyone else has given up and is playing an impromptu round of Marco Polo.
So Pappy gets food and a hot shower on a luxurious ocean liner! And of course, he brings Neleh with him, because of the outstanding effort she made in the elimination round of holding on to the buoy. Apparently, Neleh was unaware Pappy's second choice for a luxury item was his dog-eared copy of Nabokov's Lolita. Ah well, they'll just be sharing a private cabin with one shower. What's the worst that could happen?
But first, it's time for yet another gratuitous flashing of Jeff Probst's Visa™ card. That's right, when you're checking into a room that you're not sleeping in, on an ocean liner that's been rented exclusively by Mark Burnett for the past month to house his production crew, you'd better bring your Visa™ card. Because even though there are no bills here, we're going to go all out pretending there are on TV.
Pappy and Neleh get a nice, hot shower and fresh clothes. Sadly, Neleh did not get the opportunity to resume her non-show job of hawking Clinique products, perhaps because they neglected to pony up the product placement dough the way Visa did. And as Neleh steps into the shower, we get visuals lifted directly from Psycho - the showerhead, the screeching soundtrack, Pappy approaching, clad in a wig, knife in hand, and... well, apparently the rest of the scene was cut out when Pappy stopped by the production facility below deck, later in the evening.
Later, the dynamic duo gets to have a private catered meal on board the deck of the ship. Normally, if you're on a passenger cruise vessel, you might wonder where all the other passengers have been all this time. Shouldn't Isaac be making drinks out on the Lido Deck? But alas, not our Pappy and Neleh. They're distracted, because for one sweet night, they're trading in their three-week-long diet of slimy aquatic crustaceans for a delectable meal of slimy terrestrial crustaceans. Bon appetit! Later, we're led to question their deductive capacity further, when they think they're pulling quite a hilarious prank by tipping the waiter $200, courtesy of the magical Probst Visa™, despite the fact that everyone they've seen since stepping on board is an SEG employee. This does nothing, however, to stem the ceaseless flow of "oh my heck" from Neleh's lips.
For some reason, despite the elaborate show of their side-by-side beds in the cabin, they are then whisked back to the island as night falls. Just in time for Neleh to threaten to replace her steady stream of "oh my heck" with some rich, buttery, French-influenced puke. And, as is intended with such luxurious rewards, the non-winners are regaled with tales of the ship's splendor. This is edited to make us think everyone is extremely jealous, and now hates Neleh. Which of course they don't, but we need something to distract us for the next half hour as we inch towards Tammy's inevitable ouster.
Not that the misdirection is entirely without entertainment value. Sean does get to do an extended comedy routine, in which he complains that others (okay, Neleh) are selfish and lazy, for lazing about the camp when there are chores to be done. We suspect this was actually a Patricia diatribe from way back in Episode 2, and Sean was just lip-synching, but it was still pretty funny. Also, we get to see digital editing at its best, in which Robert is inserted into old footage of John setting his pig snares. Surely it will work this time. Surely.
Eventually the immunity challenge rolls around, and since Robert is shown fretting about being booted beforehand, he must win it. Which he does. Essentially the same fire-starting challenge they've used every season of Survivor, although with a few new twists. First, we're shown why this batch was given idiot-proof magnifying glasses to start fires, rather than flint-and-steel. For about ten minutes. Also, there's popcorn! So much for them not being given food this time around, eh? So, since Tammy doesn't win, she's almost certainly out. Unless you believe Robert's voiceover claiming "you're not going anywhere."
Apparently, however, he was merely misquoting Sonic Youth's "Tunic." Because, no matter how much Burnett wants us to believe Tammy and Robert have some big plan to save their respective skins, they don't seem to be sharing this scheme with any of the other potential voters. It's unclear how they expect to defeat a 5-2 majority on their own, but we're expected to dispel basic mathematical principles to believe it's so.
Soon, Burnett has exhausted the available scenes of people saying nasty things about Neleh, so everyone has to trudge off to the boat that drives them to Tribal Council. There, Probst asks a series of questions about how much everyone hates Neleh, and how good they'll feel when they vote her out. The votes are cast, and we hear Tammy's vote going against someone who doesn't pull their weight around camp. Especially gullible viewers think this is Neleh. Seasoned cynics guess it's Sean. And as Probst reads the votes, it turns out their brilliant scheme was to give two votes to... Vecepia (or, if you're Tammy, someone named Vesepia). Happy birthday, Vee! And as Tammy goes through her post-boot tirade, we realize she's lip-synching over Hunter's parting shot. Ain't technology great?
Final scores for the week:
Great White Huntress: 0, Sharks: 50
Accurate narrative: 1, Pointless misleading subplots: 99
Oh my hecks: 6.02 x 10e23, Other annoying catchphrases: No room!