Few will argue that tonight's episode was the Worst.Episode.Ever. That's not surprising; each successive episode has been the worst, and the series really should have called it quits around the time Sonja was booted. That was really the only time the game itself was pure. Sure, it's just a TV show after all, but it's saddening to think Mark Burnett has such little respect for the game that lies at the core of that show. He just can't leave well enough alone. Do other games change their rules to get ratings? Besides the possession arrow? And the instant replay? And the wild card? Okay, bad example. I guess I don't need to explain my frustration; we all agree that this sucked.
We DO all agree, right?
Last week the Drake tribe lost their third consecutive immunity challenge, and now ranked among the two worst tribes of the season. Though most of the Drakes ganged up on poor Trish, one mysterious dissenter cast a vote for Rupert, an act as brave and as foolhardy as singing "God Bless America" through the streets of Tehran. When they got back to camp Rupert kindly and politely asked each of his tribemates where the vote came from.
"I cannot tell a lie," Jon stated. "I voted for you. But the Martians made me do it." Rupert screamed in Jon's face like a silverback gorilla, to which Jon cowered, whimpering "gosh, it was just a vote to kick you out of the game. I didn't think you would take it so seriously." Rupert swatted his arms into either side of Jon's head, crushing it like a blond watermelon. Jon then began to cry, and apologized profusely and repeatedly to Rupert, promising that he'd only vote for him again if Burton told him to. Since Burton was long gone and never coming back, Rupert accepted this and embraced Jon, and many tears and "I love you mannnn"s were exchanged.
Next we visited the Morgan tribe, where, in what would be the first of this episode's many shocking twists, everyone was sitting around whining. Andrew was moping about hunger. "I wish, I wish, I wish I had a fish," he pouted, as he sat on the beach on his favorite rock, an orange, treasure chest-shaped boulder with strange markings that read "Note to Production Crew: make sure you bury this!" Since he wanted fish so badly, he took action, ordering Ryan to catch him some. Ryan set to work stabbing the tide with the spear gun. It began to rain, and Osten looked up at the sky in wondrous fear: "Is God crying?"
Osten, his tribemates explained, had good days and bad days. On bad days he would sit on the ground rocking back and forth staring into nothingness and rapidly reciting prime numbers. On good days he would get the numbers right.
Tree mail arrived. It was an ordinary, innocent-looking message, complete with a ring of rusty keys. Everyone agreed the poem, which read "You got complacent / Now you're screwed / We won't even bother / to make this rhyme / Burma-Shave" seemed harmless enough, and they had watched enough Survivor to know there was an 83% chance they would be merging today. Since they would only be a tribe for a few minutes longer, Jon and Shawn decided to celebrate by fighting over absolutely nothing one last time.
Jeff met them on Challenge Beach. He was smirking. He was always smirking, but this smirk was eerily malevolent. "Come on in, guys," he remarked as usual as the two tribes approached. There was a rustling from the bushes behind him. He turned and hissed. "Not yet!"
Jeff began, "Well, you guys have been out here for nineteen days, and you've survived quite a lot."
"You take that back!" yelled Osten.
"Oooookay," Probst continued. "And in surviving these nineteen days, you've voted out six of your tribemates. Yadda yadda yadda, here they are again."
And -- gasp -- out from the bushes marched the bootees. Each wore a hilariously grim expression and a dark wine-colored buff (purple being the traditional color for screwing players over), where they had written their own messages:
Nicole: "Hi, I'm Nicole"
Skinny Ryan: "KoRn R0x01z"
Lillian: "As I sit high above the Outback range on Day 36, life becomes so clear. Keep it simple, keep it true to the heart. Always listen to the voice inside, it just might be God talking."
Burton: "I Am PISSED OFF"
Michelle: "Michelle for Student Council"
Trish: "All Your Outcast Are Belong To Us"
They took their places on the purple mat between the two astonished tribes. Burton held a purple flag with a jolly roger and the words "Live Free or Die" scrawled upon it with the Rs reversed.
A CBS at 75 Moment: Survivor, out of ideas, decides to try sucking in exactly the same way as Big Brother.
"Okay," Jeff explained. "Of course, this is a pirate culture. And in the days of pirates, the meaner pirates would cast out the weaker pirates into exile. Usually they died, and it was a close one with Lill. But sometimes, they would come back. And when they came back, they would dress up in purple bandanas and make flags out of beach towels and correction fluid, and take votes over which of them would get to re-enter the group. And they only wanted one thing. Michelle, what is that one thing?"
Michelle glanced off to the side, as though she were reading a cue card. "Revenge?" she said hesitantly.
"That's right! Revenge!" cackled Probst, laughing to mask his pain.
Each tribe was locked in a cage maze and expected to break out. Drake did well in the early going, but midway through was bogged down by an inconveniently-placed mud pit, which also plagued the Morgans. The Outcast tribe fought to catch up, realizing eventually that their cage seemed to be made of material slightly inferior to that of the other cages. The three tribes fought valiantly to the end, where they had to reach the keys by assembling a pole from the materials laid out on the floor of their cage. The Outcasts were given a state-of-the-art titanium alloy, the Morgans a few wet palm fronds, and the Drakes a basket of elbow macaroni. Shockingly, in the upset known forever more as The Shark Jumped Round the World, the Outcasts won the challenge, and the right to replace one player on each tribe with one of their exiles.
"Wow! I never in a million years thought that would happen!" remarked Probst.
Morgan returned to camp and tried to figure out who to vote out, which wasn't easy because Osten kept interrupting them saying he wanted to quit. "I'm just shut down," he said in a confessional. "My mind is tired, my body is tired, and my mind is tired. I can't last much longer. Plus, if I quit, I can just come right back again in another 18 days!"
Drake didn't have things so easy. The Rupert's Angels alliance couldn't decide which of the boys to get rid of: the dim-witted, serene challenge threat of Shawn, or the unstable human bobblehead Jon. The alliance decided to just ask the two which they would prefer.
"Shawn should go," said Jon.
"Jon should go," said Shawn.
Since this didn't work, the tribe went to Plan B, which was to let them fight over it.
At Tribal Council, Sandra explained to Probst that it was either going to be Jon or Shawn. When he read the votes, however, it turned out that, no doubt due to some unfortunate editing mistake, it actually WAS between Jon and Shawn, or at least between Shawn and nobody in particular. It was a unanimous vote. As Jon voted for Shawn he simply cursed and spat into the camera, which would be funny if he didn't do the same thing every time he voted. The ballots were read and Shawn took it like a man, wishing luck to Neleh, Kathy, and Vee in turn, and disappeared into the night.
Probst checked his watch. "Okay, clear off, scram, vamoose, make like a tree and get outta here, I've got two more Tribal Councils to do tonight."
Drake left and Morgan arrived, bringing their stormy weather with them. Andrew had barely sat down when he pointed to Osten and tattled, "Osten wants to quit!"
"Is that so?" Probst replied. "Osten, is this true?"
"Naw, naw, I don't want to quit! I just want to leave the game."
Andrew said that if Osten really wanted to go home, it was all right with him. He personally wouldn't quit, he had ruined his best suit for this and wanted something to show for it. Ryano agreed, though he knew it meant losing the tribe's only eye candy. Tijuana shrugged and said that she had nothing left to say to Osten, and felt he was only quitting so he could get out of their personal contest to see how many fish they could catch and then lose, in which he was far behind. Darrah said he could go to, and started to add that if he had pulled this back on her plantation..., at which point Probst cut her off.
Jeffy decided that if the tribe allowed Osten to quit, he wouldn't need to make them vote, and just asked Osten to bring up his torch. With a great deal of effort Osten lifted up his torch and tromped over to the host, who snuffed out the flame with unusually spirited malice and glee. "You wanted a ticket home, well there ya go, buddy. My associate Victor here will show you to the helicopter." Victor cracked his knuckles and Osten followed him into the darkness, each step bringing him closer to home, which with any luck is somewhere in southern California.
Probst took Osten's torch and threw it to the ground, or at least set it on the ground gently. "Let us not speak of him again. He is gone."
"...er, until the next time we decide to fuck with the game, that is."
Now that the game had been forever altered beyond recognition, the floodgates had opened on a new universe of show-tampering. Anything went. Black was white, up was down, Morgan was competent. A new era had begun. And what better way to show this than to start the second hour of the episode Memento-style: air Tribal Council first. That way we could get the interesting scene out of the way and only miss the first ten minutes of Friends.
Morgan filed out of Tribal Council, having just voted out Osten, or more accurately, having borne witness to his becoming Survivor's answer to Spiro Agnew. As they left they took the merciless thunderstorm with them, and Probst asked the bailiff to call in the next case.
"Case No. S7E7-3, Outcast Tribe vs. Mark Burnett!"
In marched the Outcasts, resplendent in the purple buffs they'd spent all night making in Michelle's basement while they watched Freddy movies. Jeff smirked at them.
"Well, this is a first: a tribe excited to come to Tribal Council!" he remarked, apparently forgetting that Morgan had discarded Osten just twenty minutes earlier. He asked each of the also-rans how they felt about the chance to re-enter the game.
"A breath of fresh air," said Lill.
"Totally awesome!" exclaimed Ryan, flashing the"rock on" sign for perhaps the forty thousandth time since jumping off the boat.
"Great! Go team!" chirped Michelle.
"Meh," shrugged Trish.
"What?" said Nicole.
Burton remained silent, staring into the fire, lost in thought. Jeffy called his name several times, and then picked up Osten's torch and started poking Burton in the ribs. Burton snapped out of the trance and looked around.
"Are you okay?" asked the host.
Burton deadpanned, "The fire was speaking to me. It beckons to me. I hear the call of the Spirit of Ashes. Flame of Udun! I obey your commands!" Lill cuffed him on the side of the head.
Probst then told each of them to plead their case as to why they should be one of the players voted back in. Nicole pledged that she would devote every minute to exacting revenge on her enemies, regardless of who got in the way. Lillian begged to be reinstated simply so she wouldn't look like a complete failure to her scouts watching at home. Trish insisted that she didn't want a second chance, merely a first chance, since she wasn't really on the show the first time around. Michelle promised positions on the Homecoming committee to everyone who voted for her. Ryan simply jabbered on and on about how "totally awesome" and "stoked" he was. Burton just said, "vote for me or don't vote for me, Burnett's paying me either way."
They voted. Ryan voted for himself twice. "Ryan, you're a great guy, totally awesome in fact, but you just can't stay out of the game forever, you're too much of a threat in Loser Lodge." Burton voted for himself twice, saying nothing but winking into the camera. Each cast-away castaway reached the urn, and each voted for themselves twice, except, it turned out, for Nicole, who thought it was a normal Tribal Council, and voted Burton and Lillian out of the game again.
And so it was revealed when Jeffy read the votes. "And the two players voted back into the game...Lill, and that one guy." They all celebrated for several minutes. When the excitement died down, the four ex-players and the two ex-ex-players stood looking at Probst, who was fumbling through his note cards. He looked up at them nervously, then called off the set through the side of his mouth: "Um, what do I do now?"
Later that night, it began to rain, undoubtedly the hurricane that "completely missed" the Pearl Islands last summer. Drake was tending their fire and huddling under the shelter, cursing their fortunes. They didn't seem to want a new tribe member, as it would delay their master plan of collapsing into bickering Pagongs. They did all seem to agree that whoever was coming back, it had better not be Burton.
"I'll take anyone as long as it's not Burton," insisted Sandra, and then took a poll of the tribe. "Jon, do you want Burton back?" Jon grunted a negative from his sleeping bag, which he called his "Smackdown Shelter". "How 'bout you Christa? Want Burton back? Didn't think so. Rupert? Of course not. How 'bout you, Burton? You want Burton back?" Burton shook his head. "Didn't think so. ANYONE but Burton."
Over at Morgan, the four remaining players were staying up to see who they were getting for a new bunkmate. They mysteriously had raincoats now, but since they hadn't discovered fire yet, they were still forced to sit in the rain on the muddy beach until company arrived. Having just lost their spiritual leader Osten, they were all feeling quite depressed. This is how Lill found them when she returned to Morgan beach. In the dark, Tijuana couldn't tell who it was at first. "I heard a female voice," she later explained, but apparently didn't consider Lillian as a possibility, perhaps hoping instead for Debb Eaton, or Trinity, or the Panamanian goddess of quick, merciful death. She greeted Lill enthusiastically however, and brought her back to the shelter to show the others. Andrew barely stirred from his slumber. "Lill? I thought I voted you out!"
Where is that Silas? He must be behind this somehow...
Early the next morning Rupert grabbed Burton and dragged him off into the woods, either to clear the air with him or to eat him, Rupert hadn't decided yet. Luckily for Burton the storm had dampened Rupert's feral instincts and the two men ended up sharing a heart-to-heart talk, a talk that brightened the spirits of every viewer in America, as we finally began to get hints that Jon Dalton was in danger. Rupert explained that he had always been picked on in school, and was now taking out a lifetime of frustration on every male in the Pearl Islands, starting with Burton and ending this spring with Rudy. Jon was next on his list. Burton was fine with this plan. He had no choice; he knew firsthand what happened when you crossed Rupert. He had the scars to prove it.
The morning at the Morgan tribe unfolded much like every other morning. The tribemates woke up slowly, both astonished and disappointed to find that they had lived through the night. Ryno went down to the tide to fix up the tribe's usual breakfast of seawater and sand. Andrew donned his best "bewildered Charlton Heston" expression and began to stagger back and forth along the beach, staring into the distance with his jaw hanging open. Tijuana resumed picking at the scabs on her legs. Darrah simply stood by the pitiful shelter and glared at the ocean as menacingly as she could, which was laughable as she was quite possibly the only person in the world who would lose a fistfight with Mr. Burns.
Lillian saw the morale on her tribe had worsened since she left. She went to each of them to try and raise their spirits, but they seemed rather resentful that she had returned. Andrew grunted and pushed her out of his way. Ryan was equally cold. "Leave me alone, witch," he muttered, tasting his sand soup. "Go away," Darrah spat. "In my neck of the woods only two people come back from the dead, Jesus and Elvis." Darrah then looked Lill up and down. "And you definitely ain't Elvis."
The two tribes met for the immunity challenge. Jeff greeted them with another malicious grin. "Hi guys. Morgan, do you have any food?" Morgan shook their heads. "That's too bad. Drake...talk about food." Drake happily obliged, discussing all the food they were eating each and every day, though they noticeably gave no credit to Rupert, for he was the one who was doing all the cooking, and he was the one who was catching all the fish, and he was the one who had discovered the KFC on the other side of the island.
Probst smiled. "Well, now that that bit of sadistic torture is over, it's time to merge. Everyone drop their buffs." And so everyone dropped their buffs, even the women, who were simply SHOCKED to hear of the merge, yet conveniently chose this one day not to wear their buffs as tube tops (good catch Baba!). The host passed out the new merge buffs, which were black as Burnett's soul. Everyone thought this was very cool indeed, and murmured with enthusiasm. Then the former Morgans reluctantly handed over Pokey the Immunity Idol. "Hey Probst, whose skull was that anyway?" asked Christa. Jeffy just grinned. Then he grabbed the handle of the axe and started smashing the skull to bits on the rocky shore, screaming "Die! Die, you bastard, die! Nature Phone my ass!"
Probst explained the challenge was based on an ancient pirate tradition called keelhauling, in which misbehaving mutineers were randomly assigned numbers and forced to compete in successive elimination rounds against other pirates. Of course, it was much more dangerous back then, since they had to worry about sharks and barnacles and Simon Cowell. The modern Survivors needed only risk rope burn.
The challenge was rather uneventful and mundane, with the notable exception of Andrew, who was immediately devoured by a shark on his first dive off the platform. He was replaced by Survivor: Thailand winner Brian Heidik. No one noticed. In the end Burton won the challenge, unnecessarily, of course, as was the story of his life. He was already granted a bye due to his resurrection, but he accepted the new idol anyway, a plastic sword taken from a Highlander Halloween costume.
The new merged tribe, which was named Balboa in memory of Rupert's dead snake, even though seven of the ten tribe members didn't even know the thing had existed, arrived on Drake's beach, where a glorious feast awaited them. The Morgans shot out of the boat and descended on the spread at nearly the speed of light, and had devoured every crumb by the time the Drakes caught up to them. There was still plenty of liquor, and a good time was had by all, particularly Jon, who suddenly developed an uncharacteristic craving for attention.
Later on, as everyone napped before the big Tribal Council, Lillian stole away down the beach, walking along the shore and thinking to herself. As she scuffled along, kicking up sand as she walked, she could hear something in the shallow water to her left. She stopped. It was very faint, but was definitely in the water behind her, getting closer. It was a voice. A familiar voice. And it was singing.
"Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, what do we do, we swim..."
And suddenly a majestic, shimmering fish leapt out of the tide and landed on the wet sand at Lillian's feet. It looked up at her, and then spoke in a high-toned but practiced English.
"Oi! Who should it be but the very lass who pulled me from the sea!"
Lillian put her hand to her chest. "The magic fish I caught in Episode 3! The one who granted me a wish and then stole my last fishing hook!"
The fish bowed deeply. "Your memory does me honor, O queen of the red hair. But why so glum? Do not be disheartened, for has your wish not been granted?"
"Oh, I'm not glum, Mr. Fish. It's just the bags under my eyes that make me look that way...wait. My wish? Has been granted? You mean..."
"Your wish to be the Sole Survivor of the sport you partake? Indeed! I have given you a second chance, and set you on your way to glory and fortune!" The fish giggled, pleased with itself.
"But," it continued, its voice becoming grave. "though I have set you on the road, you must decide which direction will lead you to your desired victory...and which will lead you once again to doom."
Lillian frowned, a position her face had permanently adopted. "Oh," she muttered. "That's tricky, because I have a problem. Burton asked me to vote with the Drake tribe to get rid of Andrew tonight. I really want to get back at Andrew, but if I leave my old tribe, I might lose everyone's trust and become a target. What shall I do, Mister Fish?"
"Alas, milady, I know not of your strange ways and customs," replied the fish. "I cannot help you find the way. I have only given you new life."
"But wait a minute! My wish was to be the Sole Survivor. I didn't just wish to be brought back into the game if I was voted out! I want to win! You have to tell me how to win!"
The fish looked around nervously. "Uhhhhhmm..." it began...and then suddenly it vaulted backwards into the crashing tide. "Bye!" it called, and was gone.
At Tribal Council Jeff asked Ryan if the ten players had successfully formed a single tribe. "Well," Ryan replied, "since they wanted to name the tribe the 'We're Taking Lillian And Banding Together to Vote Out The Morgan Scum' tribe, I think there are probably some old tribal lines that haven't been erased." As he said this the Drakes were whispering to each other, pointing at Andrew, and snickering. The host asked Andrew if he felt vulnerable. Andrew started to answer but was interrupted by Jon cackling madly and making odd spasmic gestures with his arms. A medic entered the set and administered a sedative to Jon.
Burton was given the chance to transfer the immunity sword, with the knowledge that he had a bye this week anyway. Burton scanned the faces of his tribemates from right to left until he reached Rupert, who was leaning into his face and glaring at him. "Um, I th-think I'll g-give it to R-Rupert," he stammered, and no sooner had he finished than Rupert yanked the sword from his neck, nearly decapitating him.
The votes were cast and Probst began to read them. "Savage, Savage, Andrew. That's two votes Savage, one vote Andrew. Andrew, Andrew. Jon. Jon. Jon. JON. And the seventh person voted out of the tribe..." Jeff grinned evilly and looked at the last vote. His grin vanished and he sighed heavily, cursing under his breath. Then he flipped it over reluctantly. "Andrew."
Lillian had turned to the dark side and done the unthinkable: ousted one of the strongest leaders of one of the strongest tribes in Survivor history. As he reached for his torch, Andrew's entire Survivor life flashed before his eyes: complaining about the weather, complaining about the hunger, complaining about his tribemates. So much work had been avoided, and it was all for nothing. Now it was over.
At least he had his dignity.