Survivor: Thailand recaps

Every so often, we have to wonder at the titles chosen for Survivor episodes. This week's episode was called "The Power of One." Could it be the power of one banana to turn the Sook-Jai tribe against Robb? (Nah, they were already against him). The power of one argument with Ken to get Robb booted? (Probably not). The power of one person to singlehandedly win a feast for his tribe, then get repaid by being booted? The power of one bottle of wine to convert Robb's screen time into a sobbing audition video for Real World: Las Vegas? The power of Robb's one remaining brain cell to somehow control all of his bodily functions, including his ceaselessly flapping gums?


Given the mathematical themes bubbling through this episode, we think the title may have referred to the fact that any number, raised to the power of one, equals itself. Much like the intriguing way the much-vaunted "all new challenges" somehow end up bearing striking resemblences to the same old sh..., uh, "challenges." Or how every Survivor season, given a different name and cast, pretty much is the same as the ones that came before it. Phew! This is all way too confusing, we'll let you figure it out.


Congratulations, you may already be a winner! Or not.

We start the show in a new and exciting way: Penny talks! Actually, we see quite a bit of the MIA duo, Ken and Penny, in this episode, so we can probably call off the search party. We're seeing Penny because she's the instigator of some patented Sook-Jai Drama. As we've seen over the last five episodes, this mostly involves Robb doing something, and everyone around him staring in slack-jawed disbelief. Okay that's pretty much all that ever happens at Sook-Jai, since the activities of the non-Robb tribemates there generally run the gamut from motionless staring to stationary observing. Next week, we expect to performance art piece, in which the Sook-Jais take turns impersonating statues.


Anyway, it seems somebody, at some time, considered voting against Robb. The exact details are hazy, but nonetheless, Robb is dumbfounded, because (1) it's completely inexplicable that anyone could possibly consider this, (2) Ken may have been involved, although he actually wasn't, and (3) this is Robb we're talking about, dumbfounded kind of comes with the territory. As one might expect, Robb proceeds to rant and rave, flailing his arms about (with apparently so much motion that he manages to change from a long-sleeved shirt and no buff into a sleeveless shirt with a buff on his head in the space of about 0.75 seconds - nice continuity checking, SEG!). As you might expect, there are a lot of "dude"s involved, in addition to several words that you can't say on TV. We're not sure what is accomplished by all this, apart from Robb demonstrating with great vehemence that while he doesn't really mind being voted against, it's other people thinking about voting for him that really gets him riled up. Oooookay....


Things are taking an even more logical turn at Chuay-Gahn. Despite having only three days left of needing to fetch water from their distant well, an activity Helen and Brian seemed able to complete with minimal fuss in the previous episode, the guys decide they need to swim to the island in front of their beach, to look for their missing boat. Never mind that: (1) the island is nearly as far away as their water source, (2) the incredible odds that the boat would actually be there, and not on some other part of their own island, or (3) Ted and Clay can't swim a lick, this must be done, and it must be done now, right before a physical reward challenge.


As luck would have it (here, "luck" would be a tip from the cameramen who towed it over there in the previous episode), the island does indeed contain the missing Chuay-Gahn boat. But of course, not within the five square feet of shoreline the guys search before making the twenty thousand league return swim. As always, the ever-helpful cameras zoom around to the far side of the island to show the location of the boat, as the guys are swimming.


You'd think that with that much nail-biting excitement in the first ten minutes, the producers would slow down the pace for a bit, so as not to upset pregnant women or people with pacemakers. But no, we dive right back into the hubbub at Sook-Jai, this time involving Robb (surprise!) eating a banana. This of course throws everyone into a tizzy, which involves (surprise!) them sitting around, rolling their eyes (this is a strenuous activity at Sook-Jai), and orally re-examining their extensive collection of rules for banana eating. Robb, having almost single-handedly won them in the first place, is anxious to eat them, ripe or not, before he gets booted in two days. Shii Ann, having sat out the challenge in which the bananas were won, thinks this is incredibly selfish. Rightfully, they should have been saved until after Robb is booted, but before she is.


Luckily, this scintillating "action" is eventually interrupted by another reward challenge, in which Robb wins them more food. Surprisingly, by Survivor standards, it's actually a fairly entertaining competition, possibly because it involves giant slingshots, and people running into each other, waving sticks. It's really tough to go wrong with those ingredients. Okay, they could have blindfolded them, and put them on horseback, but we'll have to wait for that when it's an "all new challenge" on Survivor: Amazon.


The challenge involves Robb racing Sook-Jai out to an insurmountable 4-1 lead in balls caught (out of the five needed to win). In a stunning display of master strategy, Chuay-Gahn takes this opportunity to re-group, and concentrate on not letting Robb catch any more balls. This sees to work, and the old folks manage to tie the game up. Sook-Jai then decides they need to talk strategy, which as Penny succinctly puts it, requires one of them to actually catch a ball. Remarkably, they do.


Back at the dejected Chuay-Gahn camp, we are re-exposed to Ted's formidable math skills. He laus his tribe for its ability to put "a million percent" into the challenge (leading to CBS's new tag line for ads during football games: "Survivor: we give you ten thousand-fold more than your average sports cliche!"). Still, there's grumbling, as Ted suspects that the Thai feast the Sook-Jais won may be slightly better than pulling muddy clams off of rocks. Ted may not be a mathematician, but his psychic skills are top-notch.


At the feast, Robb, who took the lead in chastising Shii Ann's table manners in the previous episode, educates the rest of his tribe on the proper techniques required for achieving maximum volume with your belching. Everyone is dutifully impressed, including Penny, who bestows the MVP trophy on him for this feat. We're not really sure what they were eating, but judging from Shii Ann's comments, it was apparently some magical Thai creature that is half-pig, half-shrimp. Mmm, making bacon on the beach.


There's no water or food at Chuay-Gahn, but there's still a lot of thinking going on. The guys (correctly, sort of) suspect the merge is coming, as Clay states, before two more immunity challenges. After Clay wanders off, Brian and Ted chat about their alliance again, particularly the importance of keeping this secret from Clay, who they don't trust. Being master strategists, they do this while staring directly at Clay, pointing, and shaking their heads. We're pretty sure this strategy is going to work out perfectly.


Then it's time for an impromptu nature special on bats. Robb and Ken find a bat cave while wandering off into the forest. Ken admits to Robb that the tribe asked him to take Robb out in the woods, and release him into the wild. But after seeing Robb's giddy attempts to cover himself in bat guano and swing from more vines, Ken decides to take Robb back with him instead, just to figure out where Robb has been stashing all the hallucinogens that make him appreciate the warm piss water in his canteen so much.


Seeing Robb at one with the bats, it's time for some "subtle" foreshadowing. Jan has bats of her own. Possibly in her belfry, but this particular one happens to be a dead bat fetus, decomposing on the ground. Seeing as this is an area of the world populated by Buddhists and Muslims, Jan decides to give the fetus a good Christian burial. As always, many tears are shed, amidst snarky commentary from Brian and Helen. Surprisingly, Clay has no opinion on this matter.


Finally, it's time for another immunity challenge. Chuay-Gahn realizes that winning immunity is important, since they would then go into the merge tied with Sook-Jai in numerical strength. Sook-Jai, seeing that it's a mental challenge, wisely realizes that it's a good challenge to let Robb sit out. The challenge involves the two tribes taking turns removing from one to three flags from a group of 21, so as to force the other team into letting you take the final flag.


If, as Seftor from did, you did the simple math to figure out that finishing your turn with four flags (or multiples thereof) remaining was the way to control the game, you spent the entire challenge groaning, as both tribes stumbled through, randomly plucking flags, with no eye to strategy. Except for finishing at four flags, which Chuay-Gahn figured out at the start, then promptly forgot again, at least until the opportunity was dumped in their laps by Sook-Jai. This being Survivor, where successfully counting the number of players in an opposing alliance could qualify you for the Fields Medal, it was a relative feat of brilliance that Clay noticed this, winning the game for Chuay-Gahn.


And so, we finally get around to booting out Robb. But not before some thrilling footage normally reserved for the last episodes of the series, where the players lay around helplessly, weeping about their families. Luckily, this is the catatonic Sook-Jai tribe, and they have liquor left over from their feast, so they end up in about the same state. Robb tearfully bemoans not having been wasted for the past 17 days. Tears flow readily from every available eye. Even stoic Jake cries, and continues to do so the next morning. Although it could be because there was no way for Mark Burnett to do his patented pre-tribal council misdirection this episode.


At the tribal council, everyone follows the traditional script. Shii Ann continues the thoroughly unremarkable line of contestants answering Jeff Probst's weekly question of "How will you make the decision of who to vote out tonight?" with the stock response of "I don't know, it's so hard!" Perhaps the only note of interest is that not one person managed to spell the name on their ballot correctly, with five people voting for "Rob" (perhaps thinking back to Rob Mariano's guest appearance on the previous episode), and one (Robb) voting for "S.A." Guess math isn't the only problem subject on this show.