Has it come to this so soon? Five episodes, spanning six full hours (plus another hour recap) of Survivor: Thailand remaining, and already the grand total of activity in challenges in this episode was about one minute of breathing. That's right, breathing. Consider that on previous seasons, contestants were chopping coconuts, jumping around on catapults, or at least flying kites around this time. Even poor Magilla seemed listless this episode, relegated to various staring scenes, and a fleeting glimpse of banana thievery. If there were any less action, we might have thought we'd mistakenly come across an Al Gore 2004 campaign rally on C-SPAN.
Nah, based on the beyond-excessive amount of tears in this episode (which, lucky you, will be ten-fold more prevalent next week!), we're pretty sure this is Survivor. We're beginning to understand why they named the chicken "Lucky" right before Jake wrung his neck.
At least Lucky got to miss most of the waterworks in this episode.
So let's get to the "action," shall we? We start, as always, in the night of the previous episode's tribal council. Although in a highly dramatic and "emotional" twist, we get to see the Chuay-Gahns sitting around in camp, guessing who has just gotten booted at Tribal Council. Seems they all think it's either Erin or Shii Ann, which is odd, since Erin has been edited in the past seven episodes to be seen as Penny's loyal follower, and one of the core strategists in Sook-Jai (when she's been visible, which is to say, never). Wait a second, could a key piece of information have been edited out? Say it ain't so, Mark Burnett!
Actually, reliable sources suggest that significantly more was edited out of this episode, which accounts for the strange lack of a Reward Challenge (apart from the obvious excuses of: the production staff was sick of coddling these losers, the product placement sponsor got a look at some early footage of the series and backed out at the last minute, and so on).
Here's what really happened:
Crickets are ratcheting up a din as Jeff Probst steps from the moist, turgid air into the bone-chilling shadows of Mark Burnett's air-conditioned cabin. A solitary candle flickers, casting brilliant flashes of orange across the producer's furrowed brow. "You summoned me, oh master?" Probst stammers, nervously raising his voice barely above the persistent hum of the fan.
Yes," the Great Burnett, Master of WB Sitcoms, growls, drawing the terminal consonant out slightly, spooking the jittery Jeff into thinking a snake may have entered the cabin. "I am growing weary of these pantywaste challenges. Who designed these last few, that Canadian intern? Fire him, then bring me his head."
Um, sir, I think beheading is illegal, even here in Thailand. Except in Bangkok, maybe. I'll look into it, but first: What's the matter?"
Walking around with flags? Reaching for keys? This is not the Golden Girls Olympics, I need action! I promised this would be more like the Eco-Challenge, and look what you're bringing me! Tangram puzzles? Feh!"
Probst raises his hand uneasily. "Uh, the what-Challenge now? Was that on Survivor: Africa, because this show is pretty much the same as that one was. Except with more tears, a cast full of Big Toms, and less action. My polls suggest people loved that one."
Burnett leaps out of his chair, hissing, "The Eco-Challenge, the Eco-Challenge! My calling card for this godforsaken show? My pet project?" And, seizing Probst by his dyed-formerly-khaki lapels, drawing his face within spitting distance, "My adventure racing show, pitting teams of four contestants each against each other in a grueling 10-day, 250-mile cross-country trek? In which I get to be on screen for about four-and-a-half hours of the five-hour running time?"
Straining for air, Probst gasps, "Oh, uh, yeah, umm... that Eco-Challenge. So uhhh, okay, how about for the next RC we have a 50-mile traverse of Tarutao, replete with rappelling and a river-kayaking leg?"
And so it comes to pass. Unfortunately, all nine remaining contestants drop dead of exhaustion within the first 10 minutes of the challenge, forcing Burnett to replace them with "lifelike" animatronic robots for the remainder of the series. At first, this seems like an ingenious fix, but upon extended operation (about 20 minutes), the heat and humidity overloads their circuits, resulting in nine robots who, while still "functional," spend all day laying around and crying. "Oh well," sighs Burnett dejectedly, "at least nobody will be able to tell the difference. That should save us on the lawsuits."
Putting the robots back into action, we see little has changed since the meddling began. Penny-bot, credibly reproducing the massive sincerity of a former Texas cheerleader now working sales, tries to ingratiate herself with the Chuay-Gahns. This is met with discrete eyerolls, cackles, and benign head-shaking. Possibly more systems malfunctions, although after looking into it, the production crew can't seem to find any problems.
Ken-bot lies around and complains that his decision to lay down right in the middle of the Chuay-Gahn toilet has smelly consequences. This is how we can tell Ken is actually a poorly-programmed robot, because this supposed NYPD cop has obviously never smelled a city street in New York.
Then, just when it looks like Brian and Jake are about to leap into action, dragging the boat out into the water, we realize they are actually just planning to lay in it and talk. And by "talk," we mean chat inanely about nothing, since they're both excessively paranoid about spilling tribal "secrets" (such as how they almost voted Erin out in the last episode, and will do it this week instead). Actually, Brian classifies the activity of the two half-naked men, both lying down in the boat just out of camera range, as "feeling each other out." But don't worry, he goes on to assure us that he didn't "expose" anything, unlike in his previous films.
Soon, but nowhere near soon enough, it's time for the "exciting" and "most dangerous ever" Immunity Challenge. That's right, we get to watch the Survivors breathe. Stay tuned for next week's thrilling, show-stopping challenge, as the contestants watch dust settle, for piles of cash and other luxurious prizes. As you probably surmised from the previews, the challenge involves going underwater, and breathing through a bamboo snorkel. The mouthpiece is rather large, but still, this doesn't seem incredibly difficult. Cumulative time underwater for the four people competing wins the tribe immunity.
Naturally, the contestants fail miserably at this seemingly simple task. Penny manages a whopping 9 seconds underwater, followed closely by Ken at 15 seconds, and pretty much everyone else between 20 and 25 seconds. Only Jake and Brian remain, and shortly Jake pops up, too. Brian, who apparently acquired the skill of putting his mouth around large-diameter cylindrical devices in some previous career, has to be pulled off the snorkel by Clay. Chuay-Gahn wins again, even after sitting out their most experienced aquatic competitor, Helen.
You'd think having the two tribes that just "competed" against each other living together might provide some drama. But instead, what we see are the Sook-Jais sitting around moping because they lost, and the Chuay-Gahns sitting around moping because their sense of decorum prevents them from celebrating. So instead we see a lot of tears. Not as many as are likely to fall in next week's exciting episode, but a lot nonetheless. If you can't make the show interesting, you can at least make the cast cry.
So Jake does this, blaming himself for Sook-Jai's loss. Erin, in a monologue that gives her more screen time than she had received in the previous seven episodes combined, comforts the old guy, telling him it's not his fault. Although she conveniently avoids pointing the finger at Nine Second Penny, and her massive lungs of steel.
After the flooding from the salty Sook-Jai river of tears recedes slightly, everyone decides to perk up by killing a small animal. Since catching Magilla would require actual movement (unless they built one of those highly successful Marquesas pig snares... hint, hint), they settle on killing Lucky the chicken. And in a development that nobody could possibly have foreseen, this starts Jan crying. Then burying Lucky's head and feet next to Oliver the Dead Bat Fetus (because all dead bat fetuses need disembodied limbs and heads for friends). Then Jan cries some more.
As if this weren't enough bawling, Sook-Jai gathers to talk about tribal council. Jake asks if anyone wants to know who's getting the boot tonight. Looking at their watches, millions of people across the country (okay, given the buildup to this scene, by this point the remaining audience may have numbered in the tens) scream at their TVs, "Yes, dammit! Just get it over with, so we can turn this crap off until CSI!" But of course, this being Survivor, nothing further is said. And still more weeping follows.
At tribal council, with only four people's votes to fill the ten minutes allotted to the segment, Jeff Probst is forced to dig deep into his bag of questions, and the audience is forced to sit through every mind-numbing answer. Yes, it's hard living with the Chuay-Gahns, but gosh they're nice, kind-hearted folks. Golly, every one of us is an asset to the tribe. And then, clutching each other like Brian and Jake "feeling each other out," the votes are read, and Erin goes.
We'd ask how they came to this decision, since we're not exactly sure Erin was ever on the show, but the answer would probably involve way too many tears. So screw it.