Neither waterboarding, bamboo driven under the fingernails, nor an endless series of naked Kardashian photographs begin to match the cruelty factor of enduring two hours of Survivor, as we must tonight. Even soldiers in Japanese POW camps enjoyed more intellectual stimulation than the American viewing audience will have watching this motley bunch of nimrods in bathing suits sniping at each other, plotting incomprehensibly, and competing in challenges less rigorous than your average round of Parcheesi. Worse still, we can expect more filler than there is in Jeff Probst’s face.
In “special” back-to-back episodes that are just regular episodes shown one after the other, the cast, whose ordeal on San Juan del Sur is now a month along, vie for a coveted spot in the Final Six and a before-and-after pictorial in OK! Magazine. In a less striking development, one person is determined to eliminate what is described as “the game’s strongest player.” I have no idea who that might be, since someone different seems to win every challenge, but then I’ve already forgotten who got voted off last week.
Post-recap, the Huyopas are observed by a nocturnal rodent–no, not Keith–as they return to camp. Alec is angry that Keith gave away their plan at the Council meeting. Reed suggests that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. As if he would know anything about that. Natalie disses Jon as a flaccid figurehead. Jon and Jaclyn plot frantically, but she resents him taking credit for her work. How dare he claim he was the one prancing around displaying a lot of cleavage?
Off to the Reward Challenge. It’s a test of how well everyone knows their tribe mates. They’re certainly all familiar with everyone’s distinguishing marks. Correct answers earn chops on a rope tied around a big rock, which, when it’s finally freed, will crash down upon a skull representing a tribe member. Three chops and the rope is severed. The winner of the challenge gets to take a horseback ride, which hardly seems appealing when you’ve been sleeping on the ground for weeks, to a luxury resort where, along with a chosen two, he or she will enjoy barbecue and brownies (brownies?) before staying overnight in the Fantasy Suite with Juan Pablo.
Jeff presents the first question: Who else has a twin besides Natalie? Everyone except Keith knows it’s Jeremy. Why did he play with his wife when two Jeremys would be such a winning duo? Natalie chops Reed’s rope. Jon chops his, too. Alec chops Natalie. Missy chops Reed as well, causing his rock to crush his skull, which pours out marinara sauce. I realize Survivor is not recognized for being factually accurate, but surely they’re aware that skulls don’t generally bleed. Still, it’s nice to see the production crew getting a little more creative with the props.
Jaclyn chops Baylor and Reed chops Missy. Next question: Who owns and operates a tanning business? You’d think it was Missy with that face like a Frye boot, but everybody says Julie, which is correct. Jon chops Alec, crushing his skull, although I’m not sure how since no one else chopped him. But does it really matter after Fukushima and what happened to Casey Kasem? Now Alec chops Jon, Missy chops Keith, and Jaclyn chops Keith, too. Keith chops Missy. Baylor chops Keith, for his third strike.
Natalie consults with the others before making her chop. Suddenly, Jeff realizes that they’re colluding to cede the win. He demands to know to whom. If only he would apply these keen deductive skills to finding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It’s Missy. Why, why, I ask you? What stunted form of reasoning drives these people? Jeff proclaims the game officially over before any more pasta goes dry. A triumphant Missy sends Jon to Exile Island, and invites Baylor and Natalie to come with her to the resort.
Jeff points out that now Jaclyn must return to camp with a bunch of lotharios who don’t like her. That’s not so bad when you realize the entire viewing audience hates her, too. Reed calls Baylor a brat, indicating that Jaclyn is not the only unpopular person there. When Missy bristles with maternal indignation, Reed counters, “Gurl, I know she’s your kid.” Baylor mutters darkly, “Girl? She’s a mom.” Baylor hasn’t been watching the WB.
Jaclyn is distressed that the three “top people,” something which is measured by a standard that remains a complete mystery, just left to blithely enjoy themselves after Jon sacrificed for them. What did he sacrifice and when and how? It’s like Pirandello and the Theater of the Absurd, only on LSD.
Jon likes being back on the island, so he can try to find another idol. He has a lot of time to think there, too, since it’s difficult to find a free moment to think when you’re lying around on a beach doing nothing with other people present. Hopefully he’ll dedicate some time to considering a tweak to that cut-rate nose job of his. He finds the idol after analyzing the clue about a sideways tree and concluding that it refers to a tree that grows sideways out of a cliff. Now he can plan his and Jaclyn’s future, he reports joyfully. Only fools anticipate inheriting a good sum of money or earning tenure–Jon believes the key to a secure retirement is a chatchke the prop department made from some Sculpey.
Meanwhile, the ladies arrive at the resort covered in filth with their hair hanging in hanks. A better prize would have been a trip to the salon. Missy says Natalie will be like a daughter to her forever, or until she figures out that Natalie is playing her like a saxophone. Together the little family bitches about how easily Jaclyn might be swayed to join the men’s alliance. Baylor and Natalie then reveal that they have an idol. Missy is proud of her daughter for finding it. Never mind graduating college or launching a career; digging up a resin figurine valuable only on a reality show will really distinguish Baylor’s resume from the pile.
Back at camp, Jaclyn complains that it was stupid for Missy to choose Natalie to go with her. After all, Missy should want to make Jaclyn happy. I suspect Jaclyn often entertains this opinion about other people. Reed wants her to see the logic in it–that she and Jon will be quickly dispatched by this bikinied triad of power-hungry broads–and come over to his side. He suggests that Missy is ruthless, although the evidence weighs more on the side of her being toothless. Jaclyn marvels that once again, she and Jon hold all the cards. I marvel, too, but not in a positive way.
Missy returns to camp, fearful that Reed has induced Jaclyn to join him. This particular concern is getting a little repetitive. Jaclyn asks Alec what he thinks about Baylor. He doesn’t want to date her, that’s for sure. He must not like the intellectual type. He declares Jaclyn preferable because like cream cheese, she goes well on anything. Alec has never tried Tempt-Tee on meat loaf. He proposes going on a double date with her, his brother Drew, and Jon, but it is not clear which one he wants to be his date. The prospects are chilling. Baylor worries that Jon will do whatever Jaclyn decides, even if it’s the result of her flirting with Alec. This particular concern is getting even more repetitive. The whole point of the show is that loved ones stick together, isn’t it?
Onto the scintillating excitement of the Immunity Challenge. They must get a number of balls to roll down a paddle handle and land in indentations on the paddle surface, which is balanced on a stand. Not exactly like watching Apollo 11 land on the moon, but eventually Keith wins. “Gowlee,” he declares in flawless Gomer Pylese. This means that Reed’s whole plan hinges on Jon and Jaclyn now. This particular circumstance is so repetitive, they need to rename the show Survivor: Jon and Jaclyn.
As a primate shrieks throatily, the tribe members return to camp. Jon tells Jaclyn he missed her for the 48 hours he was away. She starts to update him on all the repetition, which makes him paranoid. His reaction makes her irate and she stalks away, revealing a glimpse of that future Jon’s so excited about. She sobs to the camera that he doesn’t appreciate her. What a shrew. On the other hand, he’s no George Clooney.
Sensing an opportunity, Reed swoops in and tries to use the conflagration to steer them his way. Jon angrily accuses him of trying to set up a blindside, a word which is apparently now used as a noun. Reed insists he likes the couple better, and would rather work with them than Missy. Work? Work? Who’s doing any work around that place? Unless you count Reed still managing to wax his chest religiously out there in the rainforest.
Jon insists he can’t trust Reed after he voted to send him home. Wait, how does he know who Reed voted for? Natalie appears beside the group and makes trouble by winking conspiratorially. She is some talented player. Jaclyn jumps in the ocean, embodying the best metaphor yet for what the audience wants all of these bozos to do. Reed goes to Alec and Keith to explain that he thinks he can lure the couple over to their side. He’s like a dog with a bone on this topic, Jon being the bonehead. Meanwhile, Jon goes to talk to Missy, which angers Jaclyn who feels he is too dependent on her. Natalie wants it all smoothed over so there will be no surprises at Tribal. Jon tries to make up with Jaclyn, but she refuses to talk to him. Keith spits. On Mars, the robotic rover Curiosity continues to document the surface of a dead planet that is considerably more interesting than these people.
Hours later, Jon is moping around camp and tries to lovey up Jaclyn, who isn’t buying. Do they have to sneak off to have sex in the underbrush or are they bored seeing each other nearly naked 24/7? He notices her flirting with Alec, and conjectures about whether to vote for Reed or Missy. No wonder she feels unappreciated. Baylor makes rolly-eyed goofy faces as she eavesdrops on their bickering. No wonder Reed called her a brat. Reed is stymied as to how to proceed. No wonder I hate every one of them. Even the iguanas are annoying with their bulgy eyes and creepy tongues. It’s time for Council.
In comes the jury. They’re somber since without speaking roles any longer, they probably don’t get paid. Jon explains what happened between him and Jaclyn, even though Jeff watched it on the tape already while beering it up with the editor. “So this was a public argument,” he rhapsodizes. With that, the terminal dad, and Jaclyn’s 38Ds, this pair spells ratings juggernaut.
Jeff points out that the couple is again in the middle of things, a development as incomprehensible as why half-and-half doesn’t spoil nearly as quickly as regular milk. Reed explains his hope to bring them around to his side, which Missy recognizes as not good for her. She’s a sharp one. “She was literally flirting with Alec,” Missy sneers about Jaclyn, as if she herself managed to get married three times by playing hard to get. “Maybe I’m too nice and too friendly,” Alec suggests. Just like cream cheese is too tasty. Baylor remarks that Jaclyn and Jon are lucky to be able to choose an alliance. Can’t everyone? Isn’t that what an alliance is?
Naturally, at voting time, Missy chooses Reed and Reed chooses Missy. No one plays an immunity idol. Reed, Missy, Reed, Reed, Reed, Reed. Like baby Moses, we are lost in the Reeds. Jon looks disappointed. He tells Jaclyn he loves her and she agrees. Thank God, because if these two crazy kids can’t make it, who can?
“When you play with a loved one, you bring your personal life into the game,” Jeff warns sagely. Alternatively, when you play by yourself, everything about your personal life is completely private. Back at camp, the troubled couple kiss tenderly, giving hope to struggling relationships on reality shows everywhere.
As the next episode begins, Jon tells Alec he trusts Missy and Baylor. Too bad he can’t trust Alec. He’s happy to be steering the direction of the game. Too bad it has no direction.
The Reward Challenge begins. They must each stand on a small block and stabilize a wooden ball against a board with a rounded thingy on a dowel. The winner gets a king-sized canopy bed and Italian food with wine, which they will eat in the bed. I would rather eat at a table to avoid getting sauce on the sheets. Alec fails immediately. Too many drugs will do that. Twenty minutes later, Jeff is monotonously explaining how their feet and backs hurt. Then Missy and Keith drop out. Jon is losing it. Keith spits. Baylor’s ball falls. I wonder if they hand-paint all those wooden pieces? Jon loses his ball. It’s Natalie versus Jaclyn now. Oh, the irony. It’s almost as if it were set up to end like this.
“Survivor pushes you past that place of comfort,” Jeff declares, perceptively acknowledging the universal sense of discomfort with having to spend a long time stabilizing a wooden ball against a board with a rounded thingy on a dowel. Finally, Jaclyn drops out. Who will Natalie send to Exile Island? Alec, because no one worries that he’ll figure out the clue and find an idol. She invites Jaclyn to join her in the bed. Jeff says to invite one more person, so she chooses Jon. A menage a trois.
Missy and Baylor are obviously upset. Natalie’s betrayal will be rubbed right in their faces since the three will be dining and dozing at camp, in front of everybody and their bowls of plain rice. But Natalie wants to show Jon and Jaclyn that she is loyal. That, or she wants to get into Jon’s pants.
Everyone admires the bed. Then Keith stalks off, confusing people. Did he think Natalie was going to share the bed with him? He should have stopped spitting so much. Jon is more assured that Natalie is on his side. But Natalie doesn’t trust him in the long run, and wants to get rid of him. I want to get rid of him because he’s a doofus.
As they dine on their spaghetti in the bed, Jon jabbers on about his love of wine. It reminds him of his dad, who taught him to appreciate the grape, although apparently also to be a pretentious buffoon about it. He expounds on its complexity and how he wants to be a wine expert. It irritates Natalie. She is not alone.
The next day, Natalie complains to Baylor about how awful it was spending all that time with Jon. Think how Jaclyn feels. He egotistically thinks he has this thing sewn up, she says, but nevertheless she views him as a good player. The two women decide to get rid of him. The problem is that Missy, Baylor’s closest alliance, is allied with him. Missy evidently is one of those women who will choose a man, any man, over her own daughter. Let’s see if Jeff has anything to say about that when he next waxes sentimental about loved ones.
Natalie figures they can get Keith and Alec to jettison Jon, too, since they don’t like him either. Does anyone like Jon? Surely his barber doesn’t. Keith accuses Jon of just coasting. Jon feels that he’s getting a weird vibe from Keith, but it may just be because Keith is thinking about the skin suits he left hanging to dry in his barn. Jaclyn asks if Jon really trusts Natalie. She’s concerned that he’s complacent about his security. He’s certainly complacent about that orthodontia.
Time for the Immunity Challenge. Alec returns, reminding us that he exists at all. Jeff asks Baylor about the emotional state of the group. She reports they’re exhausted, but she means physically because she’s an android. Missy starts crying. She’s depleted and needs sleep, she sobs, ramming home the guilt about not sharing Natalie’s bed. Baylor wishes she could do something for her mother, but you know, she can’t. Viewers have learned an important life lesson from Survivor tonight: No matter how painful, a person cannot compensate for a loved one’s physical exhaustion, unless perhaps that person is a physician who can write a scrip for some kind of amphetamine. Someone should really collect all these nuggets of wisdom and publish them.
The game is something involving a swinging tabletop controlled by a rope, and blocks that have to be set upright without falling over. Who the hell cares when the world is plagued by militarization of the police, enterovirus outbreaks, and candy corn-flavored Oreos. “Please be with me, God,” Jon murmurs as he places a block. Sorry, Jon, he’s busy helping that football player make a touchdown. But Jon wins, ensuring a more exciting Tribal Council for all and continued hand-in-hand strolls on the beach alongside Jaclyn’s exposed torso. The tabletops were rigged! Natalie is frantic to come up with a Plan B for who to eliminate. Plan C should be to color over the ombre hair.
Another desultory march of challenge-losing tribe mates precedes Jon’s glorying in his immunity. He recommends splitting the vote to get Keith out. Missy agrees. Natalie is outraged that Jon won immunity. It was a wasted night in bed with him, which is probably something Jaclyn says all the time. Alec accuses Baylor of wanting to vote him out. He’s willing to do anything to stay, even lie or be polite to a woman. He starts sweet-talking Baylor, who buys it. She doesn’t rate the cream-cheese line, though. Maybe she’s only as good as Neufchatel.
Natalie does her lying to Keith, who spits. She realizes suddenly that she could flip the entire game. If she convinces Keith to send Alec home, that will spin things in her favor, although Jon will likely turn on her, but…but…why? This is like trying to play Risk with Putin.
At Tribal, Jeff remarks that it’s not only who you vote out, but who remains, but only because the only other people there are the director and crew members, who can’t play. As they all chat, a rat appears and scurries past. What a metaphor! It’s almost as if a production assistant brought a caged rat to the set and let it out just then. Jon discusses his dying dad and how being here reminds you of what’s really important, such as spending time with your dying dad instead of going on a reality show in another country for a month. Could Jon’s tragedy work against the others, Jeff asks Keith. It certainly works against Jon’s dad.
Time to vote, thank God. Kieth (ha ha), Alec, Keith, Alec, Keith, Alec, Alec. Alec’s out. Missy looks stricken. “What the…?” says Jon, a look of incredulity on his face, which is not much different from his standard look of incomprehension.
Something tells me he says that a lot.