This was, if Entertainment Tonight was to be believed, the most intense, shocking episode yet of Survivor: Thailand. Intrigue! Injury! Alliances switched! Lost boats! Unnecessary exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!
And yes, they would be unnecessary in retrospect, because, well, this episode was called "The One Where Nothing Much Happened." Okay, well, actually, Mark Burnett opted against this exact title, because (1) it blatantly steals from Friends, even moreso than the casting of Robb as someone named Joey Zbacnik, and (2) this would not differentiate it from any other episode of Survivor: Thailand. So it's called "The Ocean's Surprise" instead, in an attempt to "surprise" the viewers by returning, after a lengthy one week hiatus, to the pattern of the episode bearing no discernible resemblance to the show the previews promised.
Basically, the entire episode was the Survivors talking, eating, talking about eating, eating some more, talking about eating some more, and eventually, putting stuff in their mouths without eating. Oh, and Robb talked a lot. Especially about eating. And if you rush to the CBS website, you can watch him talk about not eating, too. Really, top-notch, fascinating stuff. If CBS didn't explicitly forbid such activities, we might recommend burning about 12 DVDs of the episode, just so you'll have enough to give each of your grandkids some day.
Oh, what the hell, go ahead and do it anyway. We're pretty sure you'll thank us later.
So anyway, we begin our descent into the land of obfuscation by visiting Chuay-Gahn, as they return from the previous tribal council. It appears that Clay is not particularly pleased that Jan voted against him. Never mind that Helen did so in the first episode, this time he's pissed. Everyone on Chuay-Gahn confirms the obvious, they're voting against that traitor Jan next time. Including Jan! Since five minutes of the show have been wasted going through all this, we think this means that Chuay-Gahn does not return to tribal council again as a tribe, or if they do, they all vote against Jeff Probst.
Next, we go to chipper, zippy Sook-Jai camp, where the happy campers decide the rooster, which has had almost a full day to assist the hens in their egg-laying, is disturbing their beauty sleep. But wait! In an exciting guest appearance, Rob Mariano from Survivor: Marquesas appears, opens up the rooster's cage, and proceeds to chase it around the island. Many happy, carefree, fiddle- and banjo-filled hours are spent, as Rob eventually races the rooster into a coma.
No, no, no. We're sorry, that was just a flashback. As we recall, that was the time-filling crutch used in the last Survivor series. This time, they just snap the rooster's neck, then boil it. Then they eat it. The exciting thing is, we get to hear every detail of the snuffing, plucking, cooking and eating, right down to the entrails, as we observe the thrill-a-minute Sook-Jais sitting around their campfire, watching each other. Whee! Bet they're not having this much fun over on Friends! Shii Ann eats the neck, and Robb thinks this is icky. Oh, the drama!
Dude! And then? We like smoked the banana skins? Duuuuude! That was like... dude!
Poor Chuay-Gahn, in contrast, has no food, apart from the piddling crab Clay brought back to feed his hungry tribe. So Brian and Ted decide to go "fishing." So far, the men's "fishing" has appeared to involve laying about in the water, while the women cooked and cleaned. This time, it's totally different, because Ted and Brian are laying about in the boat. With Ghandia gone, Ted wants to firm up his "arrangement" with Brian. After all, he explains, it gets mighty cold at night, and, well, Brian is the prettiest one left in camp. Brian sort of nods and agrees non-committally, silently planning to sleep on the beach tonight. "Great," Ted sighs contentedly, "maybe if I loan you my shaving kit, you could lose the beard. Huh?"
Actually, this was, according to the previews, a "shocking" conversation about strategy and alliances. See, it was shocking because Ted and Brian have a "secret" alliance. So secret that they've voted exactly the same way at every tribal council, and have talked strategy together in pretty much every show. Also so secret that Ted doesn't seem to realize that Brian doesn't view it as an alliance in any fashion, but that's another story. Because, as it turns out, the whole thing was merely a distraction to set up the loss of good ol' Bessy the Boat upon their return. Ted flips the mooring rope loosely over a stake (which he later classifies as well-secured), and they wander off to camp. As the camera spends an extra ten minutes fixed on the rope, you can feel the subtle drama percolating, just like watery McDonald's coffee.
Next, it's time for the other, action-packed storyline at Sook-Jai. Having eaten every shred of evidence that the rooster once existed, the team relaxes on the beach. First, they watch Robb get puncture wounds from a sea creature, then they sit around, swapping stories about Robb's propensity for yelling, as he writhes around in agony. Keep in mind, though, this is serious stuff. We're reminded that he could have been poisoned, or something. That's Survivor for you, always providing the conceptual entertainment. Sure, he could have had a serious injury, just like he could have picked up an axe, taken Uncle Camerman hostage, demanded a million bucks and a plane, and flown to Cuba, where he could deny any and all association with this miserable show. No wait, this is Robb. Never mind.
Still later, those wacky Chuay-Gahns are sitting around the campfire, singing Christmas carols. Or at least grinding their teeth in time to Helen's warbling of them. Helen, of course, apart from her hallucinations of being in the finals of American Idol II: Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Lamer, is another distraction, as the rising tide steals Bessy the Boat away. Okay, the rising tide and the psychologically scarred cameraman who, in a desperate attempt to sneak away from the fourteenth stanza of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," shoved the boat out to sea. But at least he got it on film as it drifted away.
The next day, the Chuay-Gahns read the cue cards describing their shock and horror at losing the boat with all the energetic expressiveness of David Letterman on Ny-Quil. "Oh dear," says Brian. "The boat. Is gone." That's why he gets paid the big bucks in the fine world of cinema! In fact, the only person visibly upset is Clay, who, being Clay, is merely pissed off that everybody's not more pissed off. Then we get more thrilling talk about how hungry everybody is.
Through a remarkable coincidence, which we're sure was planned long before they stepped foot on the island, all of the talk of hunger will not go unrewarded. In a breakthrough moment of television, it appears both tribes, in yet another "all new challenge," will get to bid big bucks on food items at an auction. See, this is brand new, because previously it was done with local currency instead of US money, and it was an individual, rather than tribal challenge. Totally novel idea. Totally.
Oh yeah, it also allows us to stumble past the last of the hyper-hyped "preview" bullet points, one throwing the internet world for a loop: will the Survivors switch tribes, once Jeff Probst offers them the chance to?
Uh, no. Okay then! Back to the challenge we've seen over and over again since Australia. Instead of Amber's glass of river water, the "surprise" food item is cooked grubs. Mmmm. And, demonstrating the black hole that has swallowed product placement, Burnett apparently couldn't even talk Jose Cuervo, which has its Own Damn Island, into sponsoring Chuay-Gahn's margaritas. Given the entertainment level of this episode, we can't imagine why.
Yawn. Okay, with the show more than half over, it can't get much slower, right? Well, before we pass judgment on that, here's the Angel of Death, also known as "Penny," telling us how much the tribe loves Stephanie. Which is a shame, since they're voting her out, as soon as they get through with throwing another immunity challenge.
Turns out the IC has something to do with fish. Helen makes a hilarious joke about eating the metallic fish in the treemail, then the rest of Chuay-Gahn take turns telling the camera about how sad it is that they'll have to vote Jan off tonight, after they get done with throwing another immunity challenge.
Luckily for Jan, Chuay-Gahn screws that up, too. In their continuing quest to come up with rigorous, nail-biting challenges that echo the sheer athletic struggle of the Eco-Challenge, the Survivor production team brings us... fish sorting. We can see what you're thinking: "Yes, I watched the national qualifying tournament on ESPN, and I was glued to the World Cup playdowns during the summer, as was the rest of the world. How do I get to watch the Olympian heroics of fish sorting, right in the comfort of my very own living room, all without those exorbitant pay-per-view fees?" Why, through the limitless time, labor, and generosity of the Survivor Entertainment Group, and a charitable donation from Hallmark, of course. Thank you, CBS!
And yes, the challenge itself was nearly five-and-a-half times as exciting as you might have thought. Two teams. Four buckets, one table, one pile of fish each. Lots of shots of people holding fish, often in their mouths. More shots of people looking at fish, fondling fish. Flinging fish. Eyeing fish. Carrying fish. Fish, fish, everywhere. Some are thin. Some are fat. The fat one has a yellow hat!
After a seemingly interminable amount of time, Chuay-Gahn's table is suddenly empty. Oh no. But wait. One of their fish is mis-sorted. There's still time to savor those memories of Stephanie cramming her mouth full of barramundi, and Robb and Jake picking fish out of the sand. Please. Don't let it end. Oh. No. Chuay-Gahn found it. It's over.
Ah well, there's always the World Cup again in another four years. Finally, the six-pointed star casts its rays of hope over the dejected Sook-Jai camp. We'll take this opportunity to make a bold prediction: Ethan wins.
But we still have to get back to booting Stephanie. Or, as the ritual misdirection would have it, Shii Ann. Yep, apart from Jake, it appears everybody hates Shii Ann. Especially Robb, who, overlooking for a moment that he is a bartender in the sixth-largest city in the country, derides her for being a "city girl." Of course, Robb was probably just auditioning for the role as the annoying, hay-toting male model in the Old Navy Green Acres ad. Not to be outdone, Jake auditions for the role of the ghost of Ward Cleaver on the upcoming Touched By An Angel Timewarp: Back to When TV Sucked Even More, giving Shii Ann one humdinger of a pep talk. Awwww.
And finally, they actually get around to voting Stephanie out. Perhaps the highlights were Robb's amazing ability at avoiding being slapped by Jeff Probst during questioning. That and Robb's all-business parting message (he hoped) to Shii Ann, singing at the top of his lungs, "Weeeeelllll... Shii Ann's a bitch, she's a great big bitch, she's the biggest bitch in the whole wide world, she's a stupid bitch if there ever was a bitch, she's a bitch to all the boys and girls!" Then, thinking strategically, in case getting voted off fifth somehow puts her on the jury, he follows it up with: "Nothing personal." We also especially liked the knowing glances Robb and Stephanie exchanged when their two votes for Shii Ann (against five for Stephanie) were revealed. High five!
Sigh. What the hell are we going to have to write about after Robb gets booted?