Survivor: Thailand recaps

Two episodes, three hours, and five Chuay-Gahns to go. That is, the five CGs, safe from eviction since Episode 4, must finally off one of their own. Oh the humanity! Or the animality, as the open montage of random insectivorous activity might suggest. That is, as this episode opens, we see a lot of bugs getting eaten: both by the contestants' "loved" ones (ahem), and by each other.


This was necessary because the traditional opening scene, showing the reaction back at camp after tribal council, apparently failed to live up even to the prestigious levels of footage deemed worthy of inclusion in Survivor: Thailand. We hear it went something like this... Helen: "So Jake's gone." Clay: "Ayyup." Ted: "Mmm." Jan: (crying). Brian: "What was his name again? Soon-Jin? Obi-Wan? Bill?"


On the plus side, the scenes of animal-on-animal crime give us the impression that this week, we're gonna see some blood. Of course, had we thought through this more thoroughly, we might have realized that insects have clear hemolymph instead of blood, so at best we're due for clear liquids, much as in Episodes 8 and 9 (ugh).


As it turns out, the correct answer actually lies somewhere in between. Twitching in its death throes, an ice skate sticking out of its back. Because with the easy Sook-Jai boots out of the way, the final two episodes will be all about ratcheting up the "intrigue," or at least whatever footage they can cobble together that points to the final pair being two people other than Brian and Clay. Which brings us to our annual hint to future contestants: If you want good camera time, make sure in every confessional you list every possible alliance you have, and say "I could go with any one of these." It really doesn't matter if you've never even talked to these people, just throw them in. That will make it much easier for the editors to create red herring story lines, in which you'll be the center of attention as the "swing" vote. And before every tribal council, make sure to say, "It's a tough choice, I still haven't made up my mind yet." No matter what the "story" is that week, you'll be center stage.


So anyway, as we were saying, Brian, no longer content with being a mere king, now has decided he has magical freezing powers (wasn't that one of the Wonder Twins' talents?). And in an extended monologue, mixing hockey and baseball metaphors, he explains his cool and calm demeanor is due to his ice skating prowess. Yeah, we bet he'd kick an ass or two....


But just as the Zamboni is about to sweep Brian away, we are relieved to see Clay standing in front of a mirror. Well, as relieved as that can possibly make us, anyway. While the men play a competitive game of "count the wrinkles," Jan and Helen complain that their mirror time has been usurped. Clay patiently (which for him involves only half the usual amount of eye rolling) explains, "Look, you two are just not part of our plans, get used to it. Okay, neither is Ted, but he's too big to move out of the way. Besides, as Ted has already pointed out, we don't want it broken, Granny. And Helen doesn't have a reflection, anyway." Clay then resumes kissing his picture and admiring his pecs.


While Clay is busy counting the "blond" hairs in his beard, Brian and Ted take the opportunity to discuss their "alliance." As he did with Helen in the previous episode, Brian shakes his head, whistles loudly, averts his eyes, and clears his throat every time Ted brings up their agreement to go to the final two. Puzzled by this, Ted asks Brian if they're still going to the final two together. "No way in hell, man. You'd beat me," Brian responds flatly. Later in a confessional, Ted begins to suspect that Brian may be "waving" a bit in his allegiance. But he's still pretty sure it's a "hello" wave.


But that's okay, because Ted can at least work with Helen on taking down Clay. With Clay sitting two feet away, they take turns cracking each other up by drawing unflattering cartoons of Clay in the sandy floor of the cave: Clay getting crushed by anvils, hanging from a noose, and having his way with Magilla. Then they build a two-times-life-size scale model of Clay (which fits neatly in the palm of Ted's hand), and take turns poking it with sticks, like a voodoo doll. Between winces, Clay pretends not to notice. But we can tell he's crying on the inside.


Then, at long last, we get another extended product placement for a Survivor advertiser, in this case the Chevy Trailblazer. And in a completely unscripted moment, Jeff Probst lists off the exciting features of the new Trailblazer, including its plush interior, ample head and leg room, seating for six adults, impressive fuel economy, and luxurious styling. "There's no way I'd ever sell this on eBay, like all those other crap SUVs you guys have given away," Ted swears. Looking over at Probst, he asks "That was enough to get me in one of their commercials after this show ends, right?"


But first, there's the formality of the reward challenge to get through. This one is yet another puzzle, this time involving collecting eight letters, and unscrambling them to form a phrase that, because the producers thought "Trailblazer" might be too difficult to spell, ought to be obvious even to Tom Green. Initially, this seems like it might be difficult, what with all the various stages, but everyone races through and collects all their letters with little fanfare. Except Jan, of course, possibly because the producers were worried about the liability issues involved in letting an old person drive a large truck around Thailand.


So it quickly becomes a race to rearrange the letters. Looking over at Ted and Clay, Brian does some quick calculations, and decides to try the decoy move of submitting the misspelled "RAODTRIP" as an answer, hissing over at Ted, "Hey Ted, it's 'Roadtrip', hurry up! And spelling it R-A-O won't work!" Getting the last tip, Ted hastily rearranges his letters, and accepts his truck with all the subtle, restrained grace of Sean Rector. And for the second part of his reward, a spa-style night full of food and booze, he selects Helen, "So we can talk about voting off Clay some more."



"Ummm, I'm pretty sure I told you the answer was in English, Brian."

Which, of course they do. Several times. On the road, during dinner, after dinner while Ted is in a drunken stupor, during their respective showers, during the massage, while Helen is trying to sleep, and during the trip back. Ted is apparently worried that Helen will forget that she needs to recruit Jan for this to work. Helen spends the entire night muttering through her gritted teeth, "Serenity now! Serenity now!"


Back at camp, Helen wearily wanders over to Jan. "Okay, Jan, I promised about a thousand times I would do this, so here goes: Do you want to vote off Clay? Please say no, because I've asked Mark Burnett if we can just hold the Tribal Council now, just so I can get some breathing room from Ted for a day." Jan thinks about it for a while, then replies, "No, Clay may a lazy, domineering jerk, but if we vote him off, Brian might not win. And Brian is the king, after all." Helen sighs, relieved. She then wanders off to give her daily "Swing vote" confessional.


Which means it must be about time for the immunity challenge. In a stunning turn of events, this one is another puzzle. On the plus side, this one is designed in such a way as to allow you to gauge the progress of the contestants (or lack, in Helen's case) as the complete the insertion of the ten puzzle-piece steps in their staircases. Brian and Clay battle it out, until with six steps completed, Clay mysteriously finds that none of his four remaining pieces fit in the seventh slot. The cameramen later explain that the producers wanted to preserve the "Clay gets booted" story line, just in case. So, despite all attempts to let someone else win, Brian gets his first chance to wear the pointy necklace.


This actually works out the best for the "drama" aspects of the show, because Helen has tipped off all the other castmembers about this "Swing vote" confessional trick. Even Jan joins in the fun! And the excitement spills over to tribal council, which is filled with insightful, creative statements such as "It's hard to vote these people off, they're like family," and "Who knows what the future will hold? This game is filled with mystery." We're beginning to suspect the cue card writers may have gone on strike.


And as another tribal council draws to a close, we begin to suspect that literacy may be a bigger problem with these contestants than Brian's creative submission would have led us to believe, since for the second straight show, the departing contestant (in this case, Ted), tries to vote Clay off by spelling it "Jan." Good thing they haven't had a spelling bee challenge. Yet.