Oh, hi. What are you doing here? I believe Survivor:Thailand has finished, just as I’d predicted it would. Survivor:The Amazon, huh? Yes, indeed I have heard of it. In fact, I know quite a few interesting tidbits about the upcoming series of Survivor. I had simply forgotten that it was scheduled to start so quickly. As you can imagine, business has been booming since my incredible accuracy with the previous series. But where are my manners? Your time is precious, especially if you hope to get out of here in time to buy the Lotto tickets I know you’re considering. And do purchase them, by the way. I sense you’ll be pleased. Now pull up a giant cushion and join me as I dust off my cracked crystal ball and peer into its wondrous depths. We must be patient. The ball has long been unused. Ah. Now I’m beginning to perceive the visions, even as you struggle in the darkness. It’s very faint, but I can see the title of the first episode of Survivor:The Amazon. It’s
Noise, Purses, Curls
The show opens with a majestic view of the Amazon, the most awesome river in the world. Although the Nile is longer, no river can match the volume of the Amazon. In some places, the Amazon is as wide as six miles across. In the middle of a much narrower spot, we see two small boats, accompanied by what appears to be a convoy of logs. As the boats draw nearer, it’s evident that the logs are actually crocodiles. Normally nocturnal, these Black Caimans have detected the sixteen panicked Americans aboard the two rickety vessels and have decided to tag along in order to, you know, see what happens. Similarly, a university-sized school of piranha is churning along beside the boats. Scout piranha periodically leap out of the water to catch a glimpse of their possible future meals. What they see are eight teeth-chattering Survivors on each boat, all trying to climb into the laps of the others for comfort. They also see two locals guiding the boats downstream. And, of course, there’s Jeff Probst, standing on the bow of the lead vessel, an errant piranha clinging desperately to the flapping tail of his safari shirt.
As Jeff finishes his introduction (“Thirty-nine days, one Survivor!”), the boats veer sharply to shore, burrowing themselves on land and pitching all sixteen Survivors into a screaming pile. Several startled anacondas flee into the jungle, where they will later kick themselves (a fascinating sight) for not immediately eating all of the Americans. Meanwhile, the disappointed piranha begin thrashing about in the river, stress-eating as many crocodiles as possible in a vain attempt to make the pain go away. As the whimpering Survivors scramble together into a quivering mob, Jeff strides past them and mounts a convenient stump. He plucks the piranha off his shirt and bites its head off, crunching pensively as he watches the newest batch of Survivors writhe about in panic. Finally, he swallows and clears his throat.
“Welcome to the Amazon Rainforest,” he calls out. The chattering Survivors grow quiet and stare at Jeff eagerly, hoping he will announce a regrettable mix-up in locations before whisking them off to begin Survivor:San Diego. Jeff continues. “For some of you, this will be your home for the next thirty-nine days. For others, this place is the end of the road. Several of you will doubtless meet your doom here, either through your own careless ineptitude or the crafty brilliance of one of the hundreds of resourceful predators that are sizing you up even as we speak.” As if on cue, a jaguar leaps out of a nearby tree and hauls a cameraman into the jungle. Jeff’s eyebrows go up and he nods knowingly. “We really should offer two million dollars to anyone who can actually win the game this time, but what are you gonna do?” He shrugs sympathetically. “Anyway, we need to divide you into tribes now, so I need Roger and Janet to come up here with me.”
As requested, the two tentatively step forward and stand on either side of Jeff. He explains the rules of selection. “As usual, the locals respect their elders and stuff. As the oldest man and woman, you two will have the responsibility of choosing your tribes. Before you start complaining that this is exactly the same way we started Survivor:Thailand, let me explain the twist.” He grins enthusiastically and rubs his hands together. “On your turn, you are free to pick any remaining Survivor for your tribe. However, the person you select must be the same gender as yourself. It should be very interesting to see how the tribes take shape. Roger, you’re the oldest. You go first.”
Roger starts to say something but stops. His brow furrows and he looks like he’s trying to compute pi to the last digit in his head. Finally, nervously, he speaks. “Uh, Jeff, I don’t really see how this will be very interesting. It’s obvious we’ll wind up with all the men versus all the women.”
A vein pops out on Jeff’s forehead as his face reddens and he screams at Roger. “Do you want me to throw you back in the river, smart man? We play-tested this part of the game several times, and we always wound up with very different teams. Just pick!”
Roger shrugs and points at Daniel, who gathers his gear and stands beside his tribal captain. Janet selects Heidi. And so on. As the selection process continues, Jeff begins to look more and more confused. He pulls a crib sheet from his shirt pocket and scratches his head in puzzlement as he reviews it. At last, when the two tribes are formed, Jeff is scowling angrily at Roger. “You did that on purpose to make me look stupid. I won’t forget that. Wait till I get you in Tribal Council, Mr. Troublemaker!” He draws a deep breath. “OK, fine. You guys can have your precious boys versus girls battle. That should be rich. Ladies, you are the Jaburu Tribe. Here’s the map to your camp. Get out of my sight. And Tambaqui, here’s your map. Get lost. I mean it.” Suddenly, a rope ladder unfolds from the sky. Jeff ascends the ladder into a waiting helicopter far overhead.
“Wait!” Roger yells out. “What about supplies?” Mark Burnett leans out of the chopper and flips the bird at the Survivors. He and Jeff laugh heartily as the helicopter flies away. The two tribes stare at each other for a while, then trudge off into the jungle to find their camps, wondering which members of the other tribe will get eaten first.
As the women of Jaburu plow through the dense jungle, Jenna is feeling very vulnerable. It suddenly appears that her outfit of a two-piece thong bikini, fishnet stockings, and stiletto heels may not be as effective a weapon as she’d hoped in the current tribal configuration. Her mind races to fashion a strategy for staying in the game. Quietly, she taps Heidi and Shawna on the shoulders and slows to allow the three of them to lag behind the main pack. Jenna directs an earnest, penetrating gaze at each of them before speaking in a low whisper: “Ladies, we are in trouble.”
Heidi smirks. “Speak for yourself. At least I thought to bring a sweatshirt.”
Jenna shakes her head impatiently. “Let’s be serious here. I mean it. Think about all the previous Survivor series. People like Colleen and Elisabeth and Kim Powers managed to stay late into the game simply by looking pretty. None of them ever actively did anything strategic or beneficial to warrant such a lengthy stay in the game. All they had was their looks and pleasant personalities. But all of them had men on their tribe who didn’t want to vote them out. Do you see what I’m saying now?”
Shawna is beginning to look uncomfortable. “She’s right, Heidi. The title of America’s Sweetheart is in total jeopardy right now!” Thunder rumbles ominously in the distance.
Heidi looks grim. “All right. You may have a point. But if it’s true, what can we do about it? I see three of us talking over here and five other women in sensible clothing walking in front of us. They’re in the majority.”
“Right,” Jenna says. “But we have the advantage in that they don’t know we’re together. We form the Hot Chicks Alliance, dedicated to preserving the future of the three best-looking young women in the Jaburu Tribe, at least until we arrive at the merge and can start workin’ it with the dumb men again. We independently recruit other women to work with us and get them to unwittingly vote in a manner consistent with exactly what the HCA wants.”
“What’s the HCA?” Shawna asks.
Meanwhile, trouble is brewing at the Tambaqui camp. The men have already arrived, and disagreement has arisen about how the shelter is going to be created. Matthew has climbed into a tree and is urging everyone to consider the process. He’s also spouting off about giving him the million dollar check right now. Everyone else is ignoring him, but only after filing his name away for “first vote” consideration on their next visit to Tribal Council.
Dave, Roger, and Butch are all yelling different directions, waving their hands around excitedly and spraying spittle in the air. “You guys really need to listen to me!” Dave screams. “I know what I’m talking about! I’m a rocket scientist!”
Butch rolls his eyes. “We understand that you think you’re very intelligent, Mr. Rocket Scientist.”
Dave sighs in exasperation. “For the love of Apollo, why does everyone keep throwing the rocket science thing back in my face?!”
Roger laughs bitterly. “Maybe it’s your clothing,” he suggests, pointing to Dave’s plain black T-shirt which reads, “Welcome to Rocketscientistville. Population: Me.”
And so on. The argument continues until the sun falls. Finally, everyone realizes that no work at all has been completed on the shelter. Worse, nobody has gathered food or firewood. Angrily, the men hastily assemble eight individual shelters and peel some bark off the trees for dinner.
Next day, the tribes are awakened with a tree mail notice that the first Immunity Challenge will be conducted at high noon. The women divided their labor the day before. Half the tribe assembled a rudimentary shelter while the others gathered any edibles they could find for the next couple of meals. And so, on the second morning, while the ladies are enjoying a passable breakfast, the men sit around in a circle and eat each other’s fingernails.
At the Immunity Challenge, the women look happy and refreshed, while the men appear to be tired, hungry, and already haggard. Jeff arrives and addresses the tribes. “Well, we’ve given some serious thought to this odd men-against-women development. Obviously, we can’t go with the straight brute strength challenges we had all lined up for you guys. And we’re sensitive to the risk of furthering negative gender stereotypes on this show, so we had to throw out some really fun challenges that might be perceived as sexist. We tried to figure out a way to incorporate lingerie and pillow-fighting, for example, but we were worried it might seem gender-biased.” He nods sagely and looks into the camera, attempting to look at once solemn and enlightened but instead managing to look like he has a chicken bone lodged in his throat.
“Today’s challenge will play to the strengths and weaknesses of both sexes. Last night, we constructed a jungle department store right through those trees. On my go, you will run to the department store and go inside. Men, you’re not allowed to ask for directions. Yuk, yuk. Um, anyway, once inside the store, each member of your tribe must grab a purse you’ll find on a table just past the entrance. As a group - meaning that nobody may stray more than a couple of feet away from the other members of their tribe - you must then run through the store and find exactly $100 of merchandise to put in each purse. That’s $800 worth of goods for each tribe. Once every member of the tribe has their purses filled, your tribe must return to this area and line up at your tribe’s weight machine.” Jeff gestures at some gym equipment off to the side. “You will attach each tribe member’s purse to the weight hook on the back of the machine, then each member of the tribe must take a turn lifting the bar on the front of the machine. Each Survivor must execute ten bicep curls. You may use both arms at once, or, if you’re feeling macho, you may use just one. But once you’ve made your decision on how many arms to use to lift the weights, you must complete the ten curls in that manner. First tribe to complete all eighty curls, ten per tribe member, wins Immunity and is guaranteed to stay on the island another three days. Losers will see me tomorrow night at Tribal Council. Everybody understand? Good. Survivors ready? Go!”
The men take the early lead as they thunder through the trees, but they quickly get lost. The women notice the handy directional signs hanging on the trees and follow them efficiently to the Jungle Mart. The men quickly correct their mistake and are right on Jaburu’s heels. As the two tribes charge through the sliding doors, they are greeted by Jeff’s startlingly loud voice over the store’s PA system: “Attention, Jungle Mart shoppers. We have a special surprise for you. Just to make things a little more difficult, here’s some crowd noise from last season’s baseball playoff games at the Metrodome in Minnesota. Not only will it be nearly impossible to communicate verbally as you seek your $800 in merchandise, but some of you may also suffer bleeding ears and maybe even total unconsciousness. Good luck!”
With that, the sounds of cheering at peak volume commences. Everyone grabs their ears in exaggerated Captain-Kirk-in-extreme-pain fashion. Quickly, the men begin tearing their shirts and stuffing the scraps into their ears. Some of the women follow suit. Then the two tribes run off in different directions. The women remember from their discussion the previous night that Christy can read lips. She becomes the goods collector. The purses fill rapidly. The men, meanwhile, are trying to create a form of non-verbal communication based on established base-stealing standards passed down from third-base coach to third-base coach over the years. The only problem, of course, is that there are no standards. Every time someone tries to suggest a plan of attack, somebody else lays down a squeeze bunt or tries to steal home. It’s very slow going.
Before long, the Jaburu Tribe has all their purses filled properly, and they’ve even managed to keep the overall weight of the handbags down by gathering expensive perfumes and so forth. They leave the store while the guys are still working on filling their fifth purse. The women return to the clearing and hitch all eight purses to the weight machine. HCA members Heidi and Jenna jump in and perform their ten bicep curls. The two women have no trouble at all with the relatively light weight of the eight purses, but Janet, who goes next, strains violently to lift the weights. While she struggles, the men arrive with their merchandise-filled purses draped on their forearms. After preparing the weight machine, the team has a brief disagreement about who should lift first, which allows Janet to finish her ten reps. Daniel finally just pushes the other men out of the way and rattles off ten blindingly-fast curls. He sets the tone for the rest of the team as the Tambaqui Tribe gradually overtakes their female counterparts.
Soon, it’s a dead heat for the finish. Only one player remains for each tribe: Matthew for Tambaqui and Shawna from Jaburu. It’s a complete physical mismatch, and Matthew, sensing an opportunity to prove his worth to the team, attempts to lift the purses one-handed. On the ninth curl, though, he’s shaking visibly. Unlike the women, the men filled their purses with power tools and other masculine gizmos. The total weight of all the purses is, therefore, rather significant. As Matthew struggles to complete the ninth curl, Shawna comes from behind and finishes her tenth.
“Jaburu!” Jeff cries as the women cheer. The Tambaqui men glare at Matthew as if he’d just flushed the remote down the toilet. The following evening at Tribal Council, Matthew tries to explain his motivation for the one-handed curls as a desire to humiliate the women and crush their spirit right out of the gate. The other men nod in understanding before unanimously ejecting the pompous restaurant designer. As his torch is snuffed, Matthew wails to the heavens, “Why?! This was supposed to be a cake walk!”
And, suddenly, the crystal ball has gone dark. You’ll have to return next week to see what happens in the second episode of Survivor:The Amazon.
Your comments are welcome. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.