This week's episode was creatively titled "Underdogs." In the Bizarro world of Mark Burnett's editing room, that means, basically, no matter what you are led to believe is going to happen, the opposite actually occurs. So if, say, the previews fall all over themselves screaming that Rob and John get into a big fight, after which Rob votes against John at tribal council, the logical conclusion is that Gina, the one on the other tribe, gets booted. Oops! Did that slip out? Oh well, pretty much everyone knew this anyway. Try to keep up, will you?
The show starts, as always, filling time by reminding us what happened the week before. In addition to providing another spot for commercials, this allows CBS to admit that the preview that showed Rob casting his ballot while saying "I'm gonna getcha" was actually from the previous episode, just not aired during the show. Sure, internet geeks such as us may have figured that out a while ago, but this may have smacked a few casual viewers around, inducing them to reach for their remotes, and jump over to the soothing, predictable laughs on Friends.
Which means it's a great time for a commercial break (and what isn't?). First, there's Snickers, featuring former Survivor contestants (sometimes, these are more entertaining than the show itself). Next up, Reebok, featuring (gasp) a former Survivor contestant. This seems as good a point as any to let you in on a secret: We have a dream. That some day, Survivor-laden commercials and product placement-laden Survivor, will live peacefully side-by-side. Seamlessly blending into one another, not unlike the smooth, homogeneous food-like product known as American cheese. We may not get there with you, but that'll probably be because we've tossed the TV, and re-devoted our lives to playing video games full-time. At the current pace, that may be around Episode 8.
At some point, the show comes back, and Robert talks about how, drunk on kava, he and John explored traditional Polynesian rites of passage, and gave each other tattoos. The General took his on his foot (John may have mistaken "tattoo" for "tearing chunks of flesh off with a knife"). John had asked, as a gesture to a sponsor, to have the logo for Target stores emblazoned on his back. "Great idea!" thought Mark Burnett, and dialed up the chain's marketing department. In the meantime, Robert slipped, and the tattoo ended up on John's butt. Now the next day, and still a little tipsy, John climbs up the Rotu waterfall, and prepares to share his product placement spirit with America. And he does, although as word gets back to the company, Target decides it's a little too upscale to be associated with Survivor, and backs out of the deal. And sadly, John's ass gets replaced by a blurry flesh-colored box. Watching from home, he thinks, "Oh well, at least now that I look exactly like Richard Hatch, people will like me more."
Fully clothed again, John goes over the fine art of tossing challenges with the original Rotu. Or maybe he did it a few days earlier or later, it's hard to tell, since the same scene pops up later, and his confessional talking about the plan was in Episode 5. But anyway, at some point, booting an immunity challenge was discussed. The other people may have been digitally spliced in at a later date, and John does have acting experience, but it's reasonably safe to say that the words may have come out of his mouth at some time during the game.
Meanwhile, true to CBS' preview word, Rob and Sean spend a lot of time working. Whoops! Boy, was that a funny typo or what? We meant worrying... grumpily at that, that they can't trust Vee any more (which is odd, since she doesn't actually appear to be on the show), and that all the (expletives deleted) from Rotu are against 'em. Rob doesn't have a plan, but somehow, he's going to get John (insert your own joke here... sometimes, pity overtakes us, and we just can't swing at the easy targets like this one). Again, since this is "Underdogs," this means that John and Rob are probably in the final four together.
Speaking of crabby, we return to the seafood smorgasbord that is Maraamu. Seems they're all out getting crabs again. Then again, since the exact same scenes were used in previews for Episode 5, it's hard to tell what they were actually doing that day: most likely hugging each other, then producing a small play about the Pilgrims, and how the native crabs came to them and slaughtered themselves upon the rocks, so that the Pilgrims wouldn't starve. Who knows? Regardless, we were deeply impressed with Kathy's hunting strategy of lowering the crabs' self esteem by calling them names. "Boogerhead!", she shrieks, and the crab slowly comes to a stop, wallowing in self pity. Paschal, sensing the kill, chimes in: "Son of a gun!" After dyeing its hair black and spending way too much time listening to Marilyn Manson, the crab leaps upon the stones, shattering its chitinous exoskeleton. Just as the crabs did in the days of the Pilgrims. The Maraamu, as all native hunters do, treasure their kill, then go back to the hugging.
Luckily for them, the reward challenge also features food. And we mean "for them," because, being a ruggedly physical challenge, there's no way this collection of misfits can possibly beat the Rotu stallions. Except if the episode title is "Underdogs," of course. This one's a relay - racing through the forest, untying knots, waving paddles around, smashing things, then watching John argue with Robert about how to row a canoe. As a leader, John immediately seizes upon the obvious truth that it's impossible for two people to row a canoe. Sure, they could paddle on different sides, or use a J stroke, but that's not important. One person has to steer. Okay, sure, the women from Maraamu who are passing us right this instant, despite our insurmountable lead, seem to both be paddling, but that's different. And wasn't this the challenge we were going to throw, anyway? Aw crap, no this was the one with the food. Right.
Yes, despite having the slowest runner on the show in Paschal, and turtle-like rowers in Gina and Kathy, Maraamu is pulling towards the shore. But then Kathy forgets about the flag, and John races past her for a Rotu win. Except that's not how the script goes, because symbolically, the Underdog Maraamu need to win. The Maraamu give Probst a list of grievances, any one of which should overturn the outcome: Rob had an unfair wind-resistance advantage, due to his lack of facial hair; Rotu had six people cheering (at least potentially), also unfair; Maraamu had to go slow, in fear that John's pants might come off again as Rotu neared the water. After a few hours of shooting down appeals, Maraamu finally strikes gold, and both the canoe and Robert appear to have been in the wrong place. So Maraamu get to binge. Cue the happy music!
But before doing so, all are cautioned to refer to the sponsor's product solely as "Sierra Mist," and not as "soda," "a Neleh-like Sprite," "Dr. K's Soothing Sea Urchin Elixir," or "7Up Yours, Pepsi!" The gorging begins, continues, goes on some more, and eventually peters out. Yup, watching people eat sure is entertaining! Cruelly, however, all we get in the way of consequences this time around is a rather uninspiring Kathy belch. No tents that smell of ass, no holey leaves. What is this show coming to? Cookies and yoga? At least we get to visit the whining Rotus, just as the cameras appear tempted to bring us another Maraamu group hug.
And whine Rotu do. Rob graciously passes the official Survivor "Dumb and Dumber" championship belt off to John, but swears he will eat him alive in the rematch at Caesar's Palace in December. To take people's mind off of food, John whips up a batch of coconuts and bivalve slime. Mmm. Notably, this gives Burnett a golden opportunity to reinforce more racial stereotypes, as, responding to "Cue up the Amos 'n' Andy schtick!", Sean bugs his eyes out, and drools at the thought of fried chicken. Responding to NAACP critics, Burnett responds, "I'm British! I couldn't possibly have learned any American ethnic slurs! Okay, okay, will you people just back off if I take out the watermelon scene?"
"We're giving up religion for Lent. Let's try new-age mysticism instead! It's kinkier!"
Back at Maraamu, everyone is exprimenting in "alternative lifestyles." Kathy wanders off to become a Falun Gong member. Neleh and Paschal explore their auras. Gina pretends she's assimilated into their tribe, and therefore can't be the obvious bootee. In a desperate effort to save the dwindling supply of eye candy, the production crew sets to work sabotaging Kathy's chances, trying to make Gina's goal "reality."
But not before we get to see more misdirection from the Rotu camp. Zoe makes a cameo appearance as the Woman Rob Interrogates. Rob asks John if he can read the new tattoo on Rob's forehead, the one that says "I'm with stupid," and has an arrow pointing down to his crotch. "You'd have to be blind not to see that!" John exclaims. "Where's Paschal when we need him?"
Eventually, IC time mercifully draws near, so that Burnett can finally put the challenge-tossing "intrigue" away until Survivor 5. This one is your basic regurgitation of the Maze from The Australian Outback, which was designed specifically to let the pathetic, undermanned Ogakor finally win a challenge. So, it would seem tailor-made to send Rotu to another tribal council, except that this is "Underdogs," so Rotu cruise to an easy, 5-2 victory. Sample dialogue includes classic gems such as "where are we?", "let's go back," and "slow down, guys."
Then, as in every episode of every Survivor, the spin machine goes into overdrive painting Kathy as the victim. Not even Kathy's losing the challenge, nor the production staff's assistance in putting out the fire while the tribe was away at the IC, can save Gina, though, even though everyone swears they have no idea she's going. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Gina gets the 3-1 boot, and another episode limps to a close. Whatever, you can now officially look forward to the merge, which appears to contain lots of exciting... hugging.