In Survivor: China's first episode, various people (Chicken, Aaron, Dave) expressed extreme reservations about being perceived as leaders. Hearing this with modern ears, that sounded hilariously quaint, because this doesn't seem to be as much of a thing any more. Furthermore, thinking back, it hadn't been *that* long since Tom Westman had won Palau while maintaining an iron grip on the Koror tribe, or since Aras and Terry had butted heads as opposing leaders in Panama. Or, for that matter, Yul and Earl winning the two seasons just prior to China. So what was the perceived downside to leading, exactly?
Even so, despite these prophecies seemingly making no sense, they clearly ended up coming true. Chicken left in Episode 1, after both trying to be a leader, then trying not to be one. Just in this episode, everyone at Zhan Hu was irritated by Dave's (admittedly autocratic) leadership, and at Fei Long, James immediately got angry at Jean-Robert's "orders," which were merely translations of the Chinese fisherman family's requests.
To be fair, Dave did seem to come across as an exceptionally dour, dogmatic, consensus-avoiding leader. Frosti tried to warn him that he was annoying the tribe, and needed to tone it down, but Dave didn't listen (or at least couldn't adjust). Surprisingly, a sharp contrast was drawn between that guy (ugh...) and the wacky, over-the-top goofball who shows up when kidnapped by Fei Long. He's on vacation! Dropping his pants! Hugging everyone! Staggering around, giggling, like a drunkard! That's the Crazy Dave we were promised in the pre-game, and it's difficult to recognize Fei Long Dave and Zhan Hu Dave as even the same person. So it's disappointing that Zhan Hu's absolute rejection of any sort of guidance in camp, while also saddling Dave with the leader role he desperately wanted to avoid, robbed us of so many episodes of goofy Dave. If only production had swapped Dave and Jean-Robert on the original tribes! Oh well.
Still, it's not terribly surprising that the starving youngsters of Zhan Hu, each out to try to win a million dollars for him- or herself, didn't take kindly to having some gray-haired guy order them about. Which makes us wonder: could this general antipathy to being led (by anyone) be a part of the resistance to older contestants winning? Does being older automatically imply some degree of authority, and therefore annoyance? Leslie was tagged as "Mom," despite never being shown telling anyone on Fei Long what to do. To be fair, she was probably mostly voted out (as was Ashley) for being sick/weak early on, and also for having perceived ties to several Zhan Hus, thanks to her being kidnapped. (Maybe this season it's more the kidnap curse than the leader curse?) But could being seen, even subconsciously, as a parent be enough to trigger resentment?
Either way, as good as this season otherwise is, it's a bit sad that of the first four boots, three were the precious few "older" people (with Dave and Leslie having reached the ripe old age of their late 30s) on this heavily young-skewing season. China still has the youngest average age, at 30.1, well below Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers's 30.6. At least until Ghost Island (28.1) airs, that is. As current-day Survivor continues its younger-and-younger casting lurch, it'll be interesting to see if the China situation casts a similar pall over "older" (i.e. > 35) players' chances.
This two-episode arc also demonstrated a swift evolution in the kidnapping decision. Everything seemed fairly innocent way back in Episode 2, when Fei Long picked Jaime for no obvious reason. But by Episode 3, when Zhan Hu returned the favor (apparently at Jaime's suggestion), and brought Leslie over to their camp, change was already afoot. The change of scenery seemed like great news to Leslie, who had already connected briefly with Jaime over at Fei Long, and now had a chance to further discuss her Christian faith with Jaime and Erik, and lament not fitting in with the cynics over at Fei Long.
In relaying that seemingly innocent part of her visit (three of the Zhan Hus being Christians) back to Fei Long, Leslie immediately raised Aaron's hackles, who now saw Leslie as an imminent threat to flip, come the merge or a swap. (Which is somewhat ironic, because being sent into the Zhan Hu lion's den in Ep.5 is the event that ends up taking out Aaron, instead.) As shown on the show, Todd and Amanda were all settled on either Courtney or Jean-Robert as the target at Fei Long's first Tribal Council (in Ep.3), until Aaron raised objections, asserting that Leslie's cross-tribal connections loomed as a larger potential menace than Jean-Robert's general Jean-Robertness.
Fast forward to Episode 4's kidnap decision, and now Fei Long seems to realize the full potential for mischief. Zhan Hu reacts at seeing Fei Long arrive sans Leslie at the nighttime RC. Then during the challenge, as Zhan Hu races to catch a fumbling Jean-Robert/James pair in the final leg, Frosti and Peih-Gee are yelling advice at Dave, which he doesn't take, resulting in disgruntled faces throughout Zhan Hu as they lose. Sensing that Dave is on the outs, Fei Long kidnaps him, which both gives the Zhan Hus a chance to enjoy camp life without Dave, and keeps him away from any strategy talk for two full days. Had they taken Sherea instead, maybe Dave relaxes and Zhan Hu runs smoothly. Instead, Dave seems even more of an outcast when he returns, and he's promptly gone.
It's interesting that production kept this going for two more (post-swap) episodes, even though some of their favorites (James) started getting picked. And that the kidnapping actually ended up helping James. Or it would have, in theory, had he felt the need to play one of his idols.
That's it for Episodes 3-4 discussion, but feel free to (rewatch and) comment below. See also:
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes