Survivor: Thailand recaps

Seeing as how it's been four long months since we've had fresh Survivor episodes to ridicule, we thought we'd take it easy on them this week. It is a new season, and in light of the wretched snubbing poor, poor Mark Burnett took at the "Creative" Emmys this week, we thought we'd take a week off from the sniping, as a gesture of respect.


Luckily for you, that brief pause happened last week, and we're raring to go for another 13 weeks of crabbiness, finger-waving, and name calling. And from the sounds of it, you might see some of that on the show, too, around the third episode. This is one of the beneficent, expository gestures Mark Burnett made as he slithered his way through the requisite rounds of media whoring this week. In another revelation (and as he notes, "This is huge!"), get this: the tribes will not be men vs. women. Really! We're wondering if he's going to sue himself for revealing that closely-guarded trade secret.


Robb auditions for George of the Jungle II.

And if you're among the 1% of Survivor watchers who hadn't known this since mid-August, when the cast was announced on the Early Show, perhaps you should stop reading now. The stunning revelations contained within may be too much for your fragile eggshell of a mind to withstand. Either that, or you could join Sook-Jai, and help raise their collective I.Q.

But we should have had suspicions about Sook-Jai's collective "genius" from the start, as the cast emerges stumbling through poor Hat Sai Yaow villagers' laundry. Yes, it did in some ways resemble them emerging from a curtain. But considering the expense put into Jeff Probst's fancy gold-leaf- and jewel-encrusted snuffer, couldn't they have just made one? Rather than having Penny wave cheerfully at villagers, as if to say, "Hi! Thanks for letting me stick my head in the underwear you're trying to dry!" In retrospect, it may have been worth it, because we did get to see Robb ride his skateboard. How sweet.


Eventually, after waiting through Jeff Probst's traditional "39 days, 16 people, 1 Survivor" monologue (faithfully starting the show in a "whole new way,") and an extended intro, we get the new pack of hamsters onto their Habitrail island. First, Jeff Probst has the cast introduce themselves, stating their name, age and occupation. Showing remarkable memory skills, Jeffy is able to, through no added prompting from the producers, recall that Jan is the oldest woman (really!), and that Jake the oldest man. Amazing! This is important, because, in the producers' enduring effort to keep the show "fresh," they replace the traditional pre-assigned teams with a draft. Yes, Survivor is going back to 8th-grade P.E. class. And in a touching moment sure to garner many, many future Emmys, the point of picking the oldest contestants is made clear: so that they can grunt and point at people whose names they just heard 30 seconds ago.


Slowly, slooooowly, they select tribes. Until, as in gym class, poor lonely Erin and Clay sit forlornly, hoping to still hear their names called. Or at least a grunt and wave in their direction. After this, a spontaneous game of dodgeball breaks out, as the contestants whing their authentic-looking Thai bags at each others' heads. Jeff Probst leaps into the middle of it, screaming, "Save it for Episode 3!" After dusting off, they decide to row to their respective camps. Sook-Jai, naturally, decides to do this backwards, despite having seen the direction in which the bow is supposed to point all of ten minutes ago. Oh, those wacky kids!


Luckily for the senior citizens on the competing Chuay-Gahn tribe, Pastor John is already busy telling them how to row. Silently, his tribemates each mutter, "Well why don't you just part the Andaman Sea there for us, God-boy?" Apparently, John had not bothered to watch the first episodes of Survivors 2 or 3. Tanya, between vomiting episodes, cheerfully begs the producers to put her on the other tribe.


To which Mark Burnett responds, "Have you actually seen the other tribe? They scamper around faster than a bunch of coked-up spider monkeys, and we seem to have lost half of them in the jungle. Several cameramen, too." After an exhaustive search, it turns out they were all just watching Robb swing around on vines for several hours. "He's a [word deleted by CBS censors] case," Jake admits. "We tried to get him to come down, but he just kept jumping back up. It's like he has ferrets down his trousers, or something." Silently, as he watches his hand-picked tribe cavorting about the island like hyper-caffeinated hummingbirds, it begins to dawn on Jake that maybe his strategy of "Picking the hot chicks, and the guys who look like hot chicks" may have backfired. Still, if he can build some sort of net-like device, he might be able to corral his horde of skinny dippers long enough to build some sort of shelter, and perhaps get some food. At least before the merge.


Meanwhile, Chuay-Gahn coast into their beach, disembark, and have a group hug. Then they retire to their cave. *Yawn*.

With the immunity challenge still two days away, the time has to be filled with something semi-substantive. For Chuay-Gahn, it's the half-day trek to their water supply. Once again, John finds ways to ingratiate himself with his tribe along the way, wandering off by himself, and playing funny pranks. Oh, what a kidder! At least he avoided talking about holes. Well, except for the water hole, of course.


With their water source within spitting distance of their camp (we're pretty sure they had a contest to test this out), the Sook-Jais settle down for a good long day of bickering. Several factions seem to emerge. Jake and Ken, who do the work. Jed and Shii Ann, who do what they please. And Robb, who does a little bit of everything, including yelling at everyone who's not doing what he wants. Shii Ann cries, possibly because he called her "Dude." Unexplained blood pours from his lip piercing. And as it appears the tribe's previously inexhaustible amphetamine supply has run out, it starts raining. Robb, the thinker of the group, uses this opportunity to remind the others that shelter protects them from the rain.


Finally, we get around to the long-awaited immunity challenge. Mark Burnett comes through on his promise of "all-new challenges" this year, by replacing the canoe race in the first IC from Survivor 4 with... a canoe race. Ah, but since challenges include a mix of "brain and brawn" now, there are stops along the way to test the tribes mental fortitude. Collectively, Sook Jai breathe a sigh of relief when Probst reveals there are only two mental tests, requiring one person each, so Robb and Erin will not be forced to participate. True, they do end up putting a former cheerleader on one of them, but hey, this is Sook-Jai.


Surprisingly, the challenge ends up not being won by Sook-Jai's brawn, but by Ghandia's inability to open the knife drawer. Perhaps it was glued down, or something. Anyway, Chuay-Gahn must vote someone off, and the candidates quickly emerge. Helen makes note of Tanya's continued puking, suggesting it may be a liability. Tanya acknowledges this. So of course, she doesn't receive any votes. Instead, it's shrewd, practical-joking John, who confidently states that it "hasn't gotten tough yet" for him. Even after being voted out, he seems surprised that his strategy of isolation and bossiness has failed. If only he'd been a Sook-Jai.