Survivor: Thailand recaps

There wasn't a whole lot of real action to speak of this week. As the title suggests, the majority of the proceedings involved screwing with the contestants' (and their family members') heads. So let's get straight to the fake action, shall we?


Day 31. The Survivor: Thailand crew is sick of watching the remaining cast (particularly Brian and Clay) cockily describe their situation, whine about their lack of food, and spend all their time sitting around camp, plotting to stab each other in the back. Hapless host Jeff Probst gets the unhappy job of entering producer Mark Burnett's castle to pass along the complaints. He finds Burnett, as always, staring out the window, muttering the phrase "Teamwork is the most important component for finishing this race" under his breath, over and over again.


And as always, Burnett is not pleased with the news. "So they think they have it all worked out, eh? Family visit today, someone wins an SUV in three more days? Well, okay, they're right, but we can't let them be that comfortable. As luck would have it, I have just the solution! The genetic engineering department has been working on these since Africa, and they finally delivered the finished product today."


Waving with a dramatic flourish, he gestures towards a cage in the corner. Peering in, Probst makes out what appears to be a small troop of Magilla-like monkeys, but is shocked to doiscover that each has a pair of feathery wings protruding from its back. On closer inspection, it looks an awful lot like Magilla himself, with ordinary chicken wings stitched to his back, but Probst feigns awe and fascination with these wondrous creations. Stalking over to the cage, Burnett bellows to his pets, "Now, off to Chuay-Jai camp to harass the contestants!" Raising the cage door, Burnett points toward the window and commands, "Fly, my pretties! Fly!"


A hideous din of screeching arises as the monkeys leap from the cage. Not the least of which is because, instead of flapping into action, the wings (like just about everything else associated with Survivor: Thailand), while appearing authentic, instead lie stiff and motionless, resulting in a steaming pile of gristle, bone, fur and feathers at the bottom of the several-storey drop from Burnett's window.


"Well, crap. There goes the challenge prop budget for Survivor: The Amazon," groans Burnett wearily. "Now what are we going to...." Pausing, he looks down at the mound of viscera: "Wait, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

Almost without hesitation, Probst glances into Burnett's twinkling eyes, and the two scream in unison, "Gross Food Challenge!"


After the euphoria dies down, Burnett realizes that, dammit, they'll be expecting that. So a plan is hatched: make the loved ones compete in the challenge, in order to win 24 hours in camp with the Survivors. After Probst reminds Burnett that they just did that on Survivor: Marquesas, which the entire cast watched before leaving, Burnett produces an evil wrinkle: "The losing family members will not be allowed to contact the contestants. They'll both writhe and bawl in sheer agony! It will be beautiful!"


"Uh... boss, isn't that a bit cruel?" wonders Jeff Probst aloud. "I mean, it's been over a month since they've seen each other. I mean, I can see the family members not minding all that much, since the contestants' stench is getting pretty unbearable. And you know I like telling perfect strangers they are losers and browbeating them to tears on national TV as much as the next guy, but we might lose some market share if we're too obviously cruel. Just guarding the bottom line, you know. Begging your beneficent pardon, of course, my gracious liege."


"Oh fine! Why don't we just give them spa treatment and wine while we're at it? Oh, right, that's next week too." Burnett sputters and fumes, pacing around the room, the furrow in his brow threatening to overpower the massive gravitational field of his sideburns. Suddenly, a maniacal grin crosses his face, and his head drops back in a bellowing howl of laughter, scaring off several nearby flocks of birds, many of which had crecently dropped in to dine on the fresh monkey innards. "On second thought, they can have their contact, but not until they've suffered at our hands. But we'll still torture the family members, too! It'll be fun! Lord knows we haven't had enough tears on this show yet, and excessive crying is our one-way ticket to the Emmys. Yes, yes! I can just feel it! There's no way this can possibly fail!"


And so it comes to pass. After the ever-so-subtle foreshadowing showing Jake's ritual of keeping a diary composed of letters to his beloved wife (which, despite being a ritual, has not appeared onscreen until this point), we are introduced to the loved ones of the remaining contestants, almost all spouses, apart from Jan's son Jeff, and Ted's brother Alwan. They gamely down spoonfuls of ants, but as Brian's wife C.C. tearfully departs, after refusing an extra juicy water beetle, Burnett's audible cackles echo through the jungle. "Yes! Yes! It's working! They're emotional wrecks! Bwahahahaha!"


Brian: "Oh yeah, by the way honey, I told everyone we were Amish.

You haven't done or said anything to give anyone a different impression, have you?"

Soon, the contenders are whittled down to Jake's wife, Jeni, and Helen's husband, Jim. After several rounds, it boils down to a sudden-death race to eat a boiled scorpion. As Jim and Jeni struggle to stuff the 20-lb invertebrate down their throats in under a minute (tragically, the stewed flying monkey brain course would have been the tie-breaker), Probst regales all present with his adventure-filled yarns of his scorpion and jellyfish stings, and the electric fence incident. Clay, visibly annoyed, yells out, "For Christ's sake, Jeff, we get enough of this crap from Jake!"


Immediately, Probst shoots back, "Just because you're going to the final two, Jordan, doesn't mean I need any more of your lip. And since you're the only male contestant who's ever been shorter than me, Burnett has given me the green light to smack you, if I see fit. Now hurry the hell up and swallow, you two, so I can go back to the production camp and get stung by something else."


And miraculously, Jim overcomes his frequent gag reflex, not only long enough to swallow the scorpion, but also to wander over to the bench full of reeking contestants, and, against his better judgment, hug his wife Helen, who has spent the previous twenty minutes shrieking and bouncing up and down like a Super Ball.


Back at Chuay-Jai camp, Jim appears bemused at the contestants' pride at their luxurious surroundings. "I flew half way around the world to sleep in a cave that smells like month-old piss?" he wonders. Luckily for him, the gracious contestants have offered him and Helen the "honeymoon suite," which in addition to retaining the choicest odors, is positioned in the best spot acoustically to transmit every sound made within it to the rest of the tribe. Sadly, poor Jan, even with her ear pressed to the separating fabric, can't make out much more than her own internal voices crying out for beer.


Which is lucky for her, because if Jim had any designs on consummating the suite, he was sadly mistaken. Helen is intent on spending the entire night talking, giving a second-by-second recounting of all the excitement that has befallen her thus far on Survivor: Thailand. From John's clever jokes, to the many piles of Tanya's vomit ("Look, there's one right here, under your head! We call this one 'Ralphie!'"). Around four a.m., as Helen positions Jim to re-enact the Grinding Incident, and Clay leaps out of bed in glee ("Oooh, this is gonna be good! Hee hee!"), poor Jim lapses into a coma of exhaustion. Somehow, he is revived the next morning, possibly when he and Helen realize that the honeymoon suite lies directly downstream of the Chuay-Jai bathroom.


The tribe quickly puts Jim to work fetching water, finding crabs, doing laundry, sweeping the camp, and building a small statue in Brian and Clay's honor. Sensing her husband's perplexment at the last directive, Helen reminds him, "Well, Brian is the king, you know." But all too soon, a speedboat arrives, plucking Jim from the midst of the excitement. Helen seems a bit upset that Jim raced out of camp, leaped into the surf, and swam a half mile out to the boat immediately upon hearing the first whir of the outboard motor. "I certainly didn't teach him to swim that well!" But as a grinning Burnett gives her a big thumbs up, and mouths the word "Emmy!" to her as the tears roll down her face, we can see that all is right with the world.


And so, finally, we come to the "big surprise" of the episode (there were supposed to be two, but we're not sure where the other one was, perhaps that Magilla disappeared at the same time the "flying" monkeys showed up). That's right, as the downtrodden contestants tearfully recount the pain of seeing their loved ones dismissed without so much as a hug, the family members march right back in, to help compete in the immunity challenge. Probst had expressed doubts about yo-yoing with the tribe's emotions in this manner, but Burnett countered with, "The ends justify the means, Jeff! Emmy! Emmy!"


Hugging, tears, bondage, and yet another puzzle challenge follow. One in which the pairs assemble magical eight-faced cubes (that look suspiciously like your garden-variety six-faced ones, but if Probst says it, it must be true). Like many of the Survivor challenges this year, this makes for gripping, edge-of-your-seat entertainment, because there's no possible way to figure out who's leading or trailing until, as if by magic, several minutes later, Ted and his brother Alwan let out hollers of joy, having won. Whew! And then the families leave again, to more tears.


Wrapping things up, all that's left is disposing of poor, completely outnumbered Jake. Naturally, the confessionals before and speeches at Tribal Council are edited in such a way as to give the impression that Clay is actually on the chopping block. So equally naturally, Clay doesn't receive a single vote, and all five Chuay-Gahns shockingly vote off Jake, the sole remaining Sook-Jai.


We're not sure, but there were probably even more tears shed as Jake left. Surefire. Emmy. Contender.