Survivor: Thailand recaps

Sometimes Survivor is what it is. Despite Mark Burnett's editing modus operandi being to tell you the opposite of what's going to happen, the "secret" of this episode's outcome was known even to casual readers of the National Enquirer (which would limit the scope to people who have to wait in lines in grocery stores). And, while there was a little hedging here and there with possible changes in direction, this week's episode played out pretty straight, from the previews to the closing credits. With that in mind, we pledge to make this recap completely factual, with none of our usual deviations onto flights of fantasy.


We begin, as is often the case, following the previous episode's tribal council attendees back to camp. Which means it's time to break out the nightvision, and the perfect opportunity to break out the "new tribemate" the previews promised. That would appeat to be someone named Penny. At least, we think it's her. The night vision distorts colors, and since she hasn't actually been on the show yet, so it's hard to make a positive I.D. She says something about wanting to kick ass in the next few challenges. We have a feeling she may be from Texas. She also celebrates Jed's departure, complaining about how he was always trying to run things. This clearly identifies her as a newcomer, since the previous three episodes made it appear Jed didn't do anything but sleep. That couldn't have been the result of editing, could it?


In another shocking development, Robb can't understand why nobody voted for him. "Dude, what do I have to do to get some votes out of you people? Bribes? Dude!" Robb pledges to bake some cookies before the next tribal council, if that will help. "Dude, I know I can be the prom king, if I just try harder." It's a touching scene, and if Robb can't figure out that everyone was too busy voting off Jed (also known as Jebb) to write his name down, we certainly don't want to stifle his youtful enthusiasm.


Okay, that might not have happened exactly as we described it. It's not our fault. We blame society. Plus, we were distracted by the following, blatantly misleading scenes, which Mark Burnett will be pitching to CBS as a pilot for a Survivor spin-off series, called Everybody Hates Stephanie.


Dawn rises at Sook Jai, revealing a beauty-filled, peaceful beach, replete with a homeless person sleeping by the firepit. Oh wait, that's just outcast Stephanie. As you can probably guess from the title of the show, Everybody Hates Stephanie. And as you no doubt know, the laughs come rolling in fast and furiously, just as in the hilarity-filled Ray Romano-led sitcom of a similar name. Like when Shii Ann screams at Stephanie for putting the squid in the water pot. "You stupid backwoods idiot!" Shii Ann screeches. "You spend 22 hours a day at this fire, then you go off and get food for us when we come down from our fort to drink the water you boiled? That stupid, selfish act made you miss the grand moment in which we - okay, I - made this important decision about the water pot! How could you?" See, it's writing like this that keeps the Emmys rolling in for CBS in the comedy categories.


And the laughs keep on coming over at Chuay-Gahn, where Jeff Probst has a brainstorm, and comes up with his own entry for CBS's fall 2003 schedule: Everybody Hates Ghandia. It's fresh, original programming like this that keeps the critical acclaim pouring in, rightfully proclaiming network television to be the single greatest achievement in human cultural advancement, ever. But fear not, they've retained the comedic masterpiece scriptwriting that made the other shows such hits.


So as you might expect, Everybody Hates Ghandia. Ted, in a confessional filmed right before he voted her off, but shown here on the first day of a three-day episode, hopes never to see Ghandia again, ever. Classic! But there's more: Ghandia Hates Ted. She talks about bodies and dismemberment, all the sure-fire, laughtrack-filling humor points. How can you not laugh?


In an intriguing development, Chuay-Gahn also has a new tribemate, some woman with excessively curly blond hair. Could it be Farrah Fawcett? Boy, she hasn't aged well, has she? No, upon further review, it's just Jan (alternately named Janny and Granny). If memory serves, she was the one who started this mess by picking both Ghandia and Ted in the first place. Then she disappeared for a couple of episodes, possibly with the help of the Witness Protection Program. As always, she keeps out of the everybody hating Ghandia actions, but she does speak for the first time in a couple of episodes, proclaiming to none and all, "10 days, and we're still alive." Clay, stomach growling as he looks at his delicious breakfast of beachwater and wood shavings, wonders silently how many meals they might get out of Ghandia if she were to meet with an untimely "accident."


Luckily, at around this time, treemail arrives, along with a banana. That's right, a whole banana. And a 250-lb dummy! No, not Ted, this one's stuffed. A plain, white canvas dummy, which, in an annual Survivor event called "Give the Prop Crew the Day Off Day," each tribe is forced to decorate to look like a member of their tribe. The Chuay-Gahns all pitch in to help, and they spend the day decorating, ending up with something resembling Ghandia. At Sook-Jai, everybody sits around in the fort, same as they always do, waiting for the work to do itself. Eventually, Stephanie steps in, and the Sookers end up with an exact clone of Robb, except slightly more clever and eloquent.


At the reward challenge, the tribes learn all this delicate artwork was necessary, because now they get to drag the dummies around a small island, rolling them down hills, and scraping them over rocks. This is to demonstrate the high esteem in which they would hold a new tribemember, or possibly one who was injured, since they'll be getting both in the next episode. But what really gets the tribes (okay, mostly Robb) jumping up and down and screeching like a troop of chimpanzees that have been self-administering cocaine for eleven days is the reward: a big heaping pile of bananas. Judging from the ravenous looks on Sook-Jai's faces, not to mention the fact they've handily won every challenge they haven't thrown or been disqualified from, we think we have an idea who's going to win.


And, following the play-it-straight approach of this episode, we're right. Sook-Jai circles the island, gobbles down their entire supply of bananas, takes an extra couple of victory laps, then cools down with a relaxing 20-mile swim, all before the bumbling, stumbling, wheezing Chuay-Gahns have managed to lift their dummy off the ground. Eventually, the challenge gets called due to darkness, Probst's general boredom, and Chuay-Gahn's inability to complete the checkpoints before the 10-day cutoff.


We return to a dejected Chuay-Gahn camp, accompanied by unexplained foghorns. Clay's snoring? Ted's singing? Ghandia's primal screaming? Hard to say, but it could be the braying of Clay and Ted, taking turns blaming the challenge loss on the women, especially Ghandia and Granny. This even though Clay didn't look like he was moving particularly quickly, or perhaps at all, on the last leg. As he whines on and on, we begin hoping that somehow, some way, we could be transported backwards to the pirate challenge, and have Robb's grip around his neck become just that much tighter. That is, when we're not being distracted by his uncanny resemblance to Cotton Hill. But maybe that's just us. Well, us and Ghandia, of course, who hours later is threatening to stop complaining about the guys. Luckily, Jan and Helen will have none of it. "Please, go on," urges Helen. "Especially if you make that horsey face and funny voice again. That was totally sweet."


Mmmm, wood shavings.

Eventually we're taken directly to the immunity challenge, which unfortunately for Ghandia, involves more puzzles. But wait, there's a reprieve: only four people can compete from each tribe, meaning Ghandia can be spared the indignity of blowing two straight puzzle ICs. Unless, of course, Chuay-Gahn is stupid enough to let her compete.


Oh, right. They are. Luckily, as one might surmise from the massive popularity of puzzle-solving TV channels, stadium shows, and pay-per-view events, this challenge is thrill-a-minute exciting to watch. Perhaps the greatest highlight (okay, the only one) comes when Sook-Jai, having completed their second puzzle and won the game, asks Jeff Probst to confirm their solution. Probst adopts a serious look, and begins glancing from the cheat sheet in his hands (which he had been trying to get Chuay-Gahn to follow, to no avail) to Sook-Jai's board. Crickets chirp, day becomes night, the leaves turn Chuay-Gahn burnt orange, and fall from the trees. As Mark Burnett prepares to start poking Jeff with a stick, to make sure he's still alive, he suddenly erupts with "Yes, Sook-Jai wins!"


And that's about it. Well, almost. Unable to break completely free from his formula (as, it would appear, were we), Burnett tries to throw in some half-assed misdirection, by having Helen read the cue card that says "I haven't decided how I'll vote yet." Even without her sunglasses, Helen does a remarkable job of keeping her eyes from visibly moving along the lines of the cue card as she reads. We think she'll have a real shot in Hollywood once this show finishes.


Anyway, Chuay-Gahn dutifully troops off to tribal council to get rid of Ghandia. Probst, feeling like he's going through the motions, asks Ghandia if there's any tension on the tribe. Shockingly, she says yes. Even more shockingly, smooth player Clay flatly contradicts her response. We do learn that Helen's reward for reading the cue card well was a heaping pipeload of sweet, relaxing crack, as she manages to pack every word in the dictionary into a 2-minute explanation of her duties around camp.


Apart from that, the highlight of the evening was Jeff Probst's barely-contained rage when Clay manages to fill his entire ballot with words, not one of which is a contestant's name. "Look buddy, where are you from, Florida? I have one job here, apart from saying 'Survivors ready? Go!', and that's reading names off of these cards in the most dramatic fashion possible. And if you don't write a name, that comes directly out of my paycheck! So help me, if you do this again, I'll wring your backwoods hick, whiny little neck! And no, Pat Buchanan is not on your tribe!"


So, despite being named on only two ballots to Clay's three, Ghandia gets the boot. Maybe they are in Florida, after all. But if so, why are there so many Texans?